Tuesday 31 January 2017

Understanding the implications of Owen Barfield's Final Participation

In the beginning Men were merely primordial selves immersed in the ocean of universal consciousness; and the history of everything has included the progressive and incremental separation of these selves from the universal primary reality.

We began as immersed in universal reality - joined with everything, and everything joined with us - with permeable selves... We end with a Self that is aware of its own separation from things, from other people, from memories - and even from its own thoughts...

Why? Because separation is necessary for freedom, for agency; we must first be separate in order to be free. And free in order, ultimately, to share the divine status of the Creator - because God is free.


This separation of the self can physically be be imagined as a process of precipitation - of solid bodies coming from gaseous spirits.

Or as a biological analogy; as development. A baby lives at first in the ocean of amniotic fluid, inside the mother; and only gradually, incrementally, does the baby's self become separate from the mother's self - first by birth, then by development and increasing independence... but only in adolescence does the child at some point become existentially separate - an agent.

And once reached, and attained, that cannot be undone - he can get stuck in adolescence, or move on to adulthood; but he cannot return to childhood. Consciousness, separation, can temporarily be obliterated by disease, or intoxication - or suspended during sleep - but is essentially permanent.

(Incarnation is an example. When we became embodied, we could not return to the spiritual state; the preceding spiritual being could not be restored - because our selves are in our bodies, and if the body is then subtracted, what remains is not what there was before. Therefore after death the only alternatives are resurrection - with a renewed body - or else a fundamental change of the spiritual self with loss and distortion.)


So we begin by participating in the whole of reality - that was given. But our selves were only feebly independent, and not sufficiently separate that we could be free agents. Then a process began in the history of the human race, which is recapitulated in individuals - we developed agency by separation of the self from everything else.

At some moment the self is cut-off from everything else - and therefore unfree, because isolated. So there is a step beyond, which is a return to participation with universal reality.

Universal reality is always there - that is, everywhere - we used to be in reality but the future, the destiny, is that we should think reality.

The self now needs to - voluntarily and by an effort - engage with universal reality in a free relationship; knowing that this is happening.

The task or destiny is to re-engage with universal reality - which is everywhere for everybody, as it always has been, in a deliberate, explicit, way. This is not a matter of 'thinking about' universal reality - it is a matter of thinking-universal-reality; in other words, by thinking to become part of it.


But universal reality is everything - does this mean we can know everything? Not exactly and not in practice.

It does mean that there are not ultimate limits to knowledge - excepting other selves, which lie outside the system. But in practice we must navigate through this unbounded and vast world of universal reality - and for our experience to lead to valid knowledge, we ourselves must be Good and the experience we encounter to be undeceptive.

In practice, we navigate universal reality with love. It is love which leads us to the people (and entities) we can learn from; it is love which leads us to the truth rather than the falsehoods and misleadings, the evil entities, which also lie within universal reality.

Love is the cohesion and structure of everything in God's creation. And love is our safe-guard against the possibilities that would emerge is we were motivated by power, or even merely by 'curiosity'.  

Imagine yourself as a self, guided by love, navigating the ocean of universal reality! That is the possibility. It is love which guides us to our Heavenly families and which guides them to us; it is love which guides the great composer to the beautiful music with universal meaning; it is love which guides the real scientist to the intuitive truths about reality...


So participation is given, knowledge is given... but what must be achieved is the autonomy of our-selves; and having been achieved the destiny is to return to participation; to take it up again but not to be inside it, but outside of it while yet part of it.

In a sense, with Final Participation, the vast world of universal reality is experienced as 'within us' - within our thinking. Instead us us being immersed in the ocean - the ocean is, somehow, in our own thoughts! And therefore we engage with the ocean from a place outside the ocean - and our relationship with the ocean is one of self-awareness, purpose and will.

And this is, of course, a godlike state; in the sense that a god is a cause not a consequence; outside the system and not contained-in the system; a creator not that which is created. And that is the whole point! For us to become adult, grown-up children of God, we must become like God in our nature, including our consciousness.

This moving towards divine consciousness can only happen by our choice, as an act from the agent-self.


Therefore, the task is to set-aside nostalgia for the original state of immersive participation: this is now impossible. It is to acknowledge the state of Modern Man as an error - a failure to move-on; a perpetual adolescence in which freedom has reached the absurd and self-refuting point of existential isolation - and got stuck.

Universal reality awlays was and still is there. We have cut-ourselves off from it. This was necessary as a phase - but is lethal as an end-point. We must re-engage with universal reality - and again participate in that universality; but from outside - in purposive thinking from our true selves.

Participation is given, knowledge is given, even love is given; but from where we are now, we need to make the choice and effort to acknowledge then create a new autonomous and free relationship with this reality.

Our task is to re-engage with universal reality in what eventually may become fully divine consciousness, but at first will be a partial, distorted and temporary kind of divine consciousness; which is thinking engaged with universal reality, and guided by love.

(The above is a development of the ideas of Owen Barfield, which were substaintially influenced by Rudolf Steiner.)

Monday 30 January 2017

Implications of Owen Barfield's Evolution of Consciousness

When Owen Barfield described the evolution of consciousness, he used 'evolution' in a pre-Darwinian sense of a developmental change analogous to the fertilised egg 'unfolding' to become a mature, adult organism.

In other words, Barfield regarded evolution not merely as change, but as purposive change, change with an aim or 'teleology'.

If the evolution of consciousness has a unified purpose and aim (isn't just a different purpose and aim for each entity), then this implies that there is a deity - as the source of purpose. Therefore, the evolution of consciousness is a consequence of some divine plan.

What could this divine plan be? For many Christians it will be 'theosis' - or the process of Men becoming more and more like God; aiming at becoming Sons and Daughters of God.

So, the evolution of consciousness is about our consciousness - that is, our way of thinking - becoming more divine, more like God's way of thinking.

This is a measure of the importance of the evolution of consciousness; and the need for it. Our life on earth is about 1. Accepting that salvation which is the gift of Jesus; and 2. Theosis - or working on the task of making ourselves more divine in our nature.

The moral aspect of theosis is very well known - but the consciousness aspect of theosis is almost wholly neglected - especially in mainstream Christian life.

In theosis we are not supposed only to 'do the right things', nor even to think the right things - but to think in the right way...

We should strive for a divine quality of thinking.

That is how important the evolution of consciousness is.

Saturday 28 January 2017

Negative feelings about The Silmarillion of 1977

Although I have quite recently read and listened to the audiobook of The Silmarillion several times with some appreciation; my reaction to this work remains coloured by my first encounter; still retains much of the negative affects from my earliest encounter.

The Silmarillion was published on 15 September 1977; after some four years of ever more impatient waiting and speculation following the death of the author.

The publication date was just before I left home to go to medical school - which was itself a time of intense ambivalence; of excitement and expanding horizons mixed with loneliness and homesickness.

I therefore bought The Silmarillion as soon as it was available, and of course took it with me to stand on the bookshelf in my room, but I didn't read it immediately. Instead, I saved-up actually reading it until I had arrived at college.

My excitement at reading this volume, at long last (as it seemed to me), was therefore bound-up with my excitement at leaving the family and beginning university. Tolkien, especially Lord of the Rings, stood for much that was best about my teenage years - and I was hoping that this spirit would be extended into the new era.

My sense of anticipation was therefore about as great as was possible. Yet I was so disappointed with the Silmarillion that I did not even manage to finish it - or rather, found myself skipping largish sections to get to the last chapters. So, it was less 'disappointment' than an actively-unpleasant experience - I would have preferred, indeed I expected, something much like the Appendices of The Lord of the Ring; but I was actually offered something that seemed more like the Old Testament.

In The Silmarillion there was no editorial voice (such as was present in the Prologue and Appendices of LotR) to mediate between myself and the events described (these editorial voices were sometimes Tolkien at other times Bilbo or merry or various others). Instead, there were just these rather dull, bare-bones accounts of the doings of Valar and Elves; each free-standing and disarticulated; and with no hints of how to make sense of them.

At any rate, this was my negative impression - and this accounts for my residual sense of distaste on seeing that spine on my book-shelves.

Clearly I was not also, and Christopher Tolkien expressed regret for exactly the problems that most struck me, when he came to embark upon the History of Middle earth - and he certainly set them right.

In stark contrast was my encounter with the Book of Unfinished Tales, which was published in 1980 but which (thanks to the above aversion) I only read in about 1986, when I found a copy left behind in a holiday cottage in Keswick. I liked Unfinished Tales so much, that I always carried it around since; still have the same dog-eared paperback copy; and before long it kick-started a Tolkien resurgence of interest - strengthened by reading the Biography and Selected Letters and Tom Shippey's 'Road to Middle Earth' (again, rather later than their actual publication).

And this second phase never stopped but has continued up to the present. But still, deep down, I hold my grudge against the Silmarillion of 1977...

More on this theme: 

Thursday 19 January 2017

The Romantic Theology of the Inklings (considered as a complementary group)

Here, I am further exploring the idea of The Inklings as a complementary group entity; which I began recently:

Charles Williams named the concept of Romantic Theology as a Way of Affirmation of Images (or Christian Via Positiva) - in other words the Christian life rooted in marriage and (implicitly) family. CW's own life did not live-up to this ideal - in that he was an unfaithful husband and resentful father; however in many respects that of Tolkien did.

Tolkien was a devoted family man - and this extended to writing fairy stories of mythic quality for his children; most famously The Hobbit, but perhaps most significantly The Father Christmas Letters the writing and illustrating of which extended over his four children and twenty-five years.

Owen Barfield, in his early essays collected as Romanticism Comes of Age, clarified that 'Romantic' also had a profound meaning of being the - uncompleted, and indeed culturally distorted or abandoned - next stage of the Western evolution of consciousness that was destined (i.e. divinely-intended) to follow after the Industrial Revolution.  

So Romantic Theology can be understood to mean Romantic in both a personal (CW) and cultural (OB) sense.

CS Lewis took at least two major Christian themes from literary Romanticism. One (from the likes of Longfellow and Wagner, as well as direct from the primary sources) was the spontaneous human appeal of Paganism - especially that of the Scandinavian pagans - and that this could be seen not as opposed to Christianity, but as a partial precursor. Thus Christianity includes all that is best in paganism; and should be seen as a completion of paganism.

Lewis's other leading Romantic idea was that Christianity was of Joy - which was his term for Novalis's Sehnsucht. Lewis interpreted Joy as a yearning for something beyond this world; and the fact of this yearning as evidence of the reality of what was ultimately yearned-for – to be found in the world beyond human mortal life.

Tolkien apparently agreed with Lewis concerning the positive values of Northern paganism – and also used a version of the Joy argument in an implicit fashion for example in his essay On Fairy Stories; and the posthumously-published Debate of Finrod and Andreth.

In the (posthumous) Notion Club Papers, Tolkien also pursued the Romantic idea that Myth was more primary, real and important than History - and that an ideal for the future would be the recovery of the mythic attitude on Life.

Tolkien and Lewis shared the view of history as divided between pre-modern and modern - and beyond modern lay only the End Times. Williams saw a desirable possibility of a future Christianity overall at least the equal, perhaps better than, any phase in the past - although this is mainly hinted-at rather than made explicit.

But Barfield (taking his lead from Coleridge) took Romantic Theology as the destined future of Western Man, and a living possibility - to be achieved via a further evolution of consciousness into what he termed Final Participation. Final Participation could be understood as a qualitative step in theosis - or the task of becoming like God during mortal life (itself a major theme of CS Lewis).

For Barfield, Romantic Theology is something only possible to man after modernity (after the Industrial Revolution) has led to the development of the autonomy, agency - indeed freedom - of The Self; it is a positive choice to re-connect with the rest of creation, understood as both alive and conscious; and this re-connection (history becoming myth) is achieved by Love.

Taking all four of the main Inklings as providing different and complementary components; we can therefore discover in the work of the Inklings nothing less than a well-rounded and multi-disciplinary account of a new - and I would say deeply inspiring and motivating - Christian theology.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Review of The Hobbit animated movie 1977

The Hobbit - Script by Romeo Muller, made for TV on 1977 by the Rankin/ Bass Studio (78 minutes)

Although my first view about a decade ago did not leave much of an impression; I recently rewatched this cartoon Hobbit, and enjoyed it considerably - being very impressed by the seriousness of intent that went into making it.

(Especially by contrast with the unskilled, self-indulgent and irresponsible Peter Jackson Hobbit movies which I find excruciatingly awful - except for the occasional scene such as Bilbo and Gollum.)

Aspiring screenwriter-adaptors could study Romeo Muller's truly masterful reduction of the approx 250 pages of the book into just about 80 minutes of movie; without any rushing or haste, with full value given to the key scenes - and focusing on the most psychologically important moments (e.g. Bilbo's interactions with Gandalf and Gollum, the sunlight on the keyhole, Bilbo's courage in creeping down the tunnel to Smaug, the conversation with Smaug, his scene at Thorin's death bed). This little cartoon gives the heart of the Hobbit.

Why isn't it better known then? The problem is the cartooning - or rather some of it. The backgrounds are very well done, indeed rather beautiful in a Japanese precursor-to-Ghilbli kind of way; but the characterisation of some characters is frankly hideous. To be fair, Gandalf is fine, Gollum is fine... but Bilbo himself is horrible, the dwarves pretty silly, the elves absurd, and Smaug is more like a long-necked fat pussy-cat than a dragon. The 'battle' of the Five Armies is just embarrassing.

Furthermore that actual animation, the movement of the cartoon, is very poor - jerky, insufficient frames, and indeed extremely crude - for instance in the movement of Smaug's jaw which looks like a piece of cut-out card being slid back and forth (rather like Captain Pugwash, which was done by real time filming of actual cut-outs). This was probably not the fault of Rankin/ Bass because animation was at a very low ebb in 1977 (the tide began to turn in 1978 with Watership Down - which is beautifully painted, but - again - jerkily animated).

On the plus side; the voice acting is excellent; for example Thorin is done by the great Hans Conreid, who was the Disney's Captain Hook - perhaps the best ever vocal characterisation? 

The songs are good - and even have a touch of magic about them:

I would recommend watching the movie, while doing your best to ignore the crudity of animation - and appreciating some wonderful cinematic story-telling.

Here is the whole movie (albeit with Spanish subtitles)



Thursday 12 January 2017

Fantasy fiction is more important than ‘real life’: completing the argument of JRR Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories

By Bruce G Charlton

Published at L Jagi Lamplighter's blog:


JRR Tolkien’s most famous and influential essay, and indeed by far the most famous and influential essay on the subject, was On Fairy Stories. This was originally a lecture delivered in 1939 at the University of St Andrew’s, Scotland; it was published in a revised and expanded form in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, 1947 and reprinted in other volumes many times since.

The crux of the essay, and the reason for its large influence, is a defence of the value of Fairy Stories for an intended adult audience. Indeed On Fairy Stories became, pretty much, the standard explanation of, and rationale for, the genre of Fantasy Fiction - which is now a large and significant phenomenon in modern publishing.

Tolkien’s basic argument is that the author of Fantasy is creating a ‘Secondary world’ with features that are both wonderful (typically magical) and internally-consistent. And this Secondary world potentially offers a sympathetic reader the triple benefits of Recovery, Escape and Consolation.

As such, On Fairy Stories serves to justify the Fantasy genre; but on the other hand it does implicitly consign Fantasy to Secondary status as contrasted with the Primary world. Tolkien presents a strong case that Escape and Consolation are legitimate wishes. However, at the end of the day these are (merely) psychological justifications – ways of saying that Fantasy makes us ‘feel better’ in legitimate ways.

I believe that Tolkien’s argument can legitimately be extended to a stronger sense, which offers a ‘primary’ status to Fantasy fiction when understood in the context of the modern, mainstream world of public discourse. More specifically, I believe that Tolkien’s argument about Recovery contains the seeds of a much more powerful explanation of Fantasy being (at its best) more real than (so-called) ‘real life’.

That Fantasy is (in some important respects) more real than real life I will take as an assumption rather than trying to argue; because it is something that all serious Fantasy readers already know to be true from personal experience (and it is, of course, why we continue to read Fantasy). But what is so-far lacking, and what Tolkien may be seen to imply, is an explanation for why and how it is true.

I think an explanation is valuable, and perhaps necessary, if fantasy, as a genre, is to be regarded (whether by ourselves, or more generally) as more than just a pleasing pastime – as something that is of potentially great cultural importance.

Tolkien’s argument about Recovery is that the material of magic, wonder, the fantastic - and the imaginative inhabiting of a different and complex but internally-consistent world - are what allow a refreshment of our appreciation. So we come to appreciate the basics of this (primary) world, now refreshed because we have come across bread, stone, trees in a new and unfamiliar context; and we also appreciate Men anew because we have met elves, dwarves and hobbits.

This is true but I think it underestimates the profundity of what Fantasy can do; especially when it is contrasted with the modern world. The key to the value of Fantasy – here and now – is its contrast with the modern world: Modern ‘reality’ is most deficient in the most important aspects of Life. And this is because modern reality is, mostly and ever-increasingly, a mass media-generated ‘virtual’ kind of reality.

Thus modern ‘Primary’ reality is deficient in terms of lacking destiny, meaning and purpose for Life; in its ignorance, denial, or blind terror of ageing and death; in terms of regarding the Human Condition as a mixture of mechanical determinism and random chaos; in its regarding of the major virtues of Love and Courage as mere products of social-conditioning and evolution; and its understanding that Tolkien’s joyful ‘eucatastrophe’ – the unexpected ‘turn’ of events in a Fairy Story that snatches the Happy Ending from apparently-inevitable defeat – is merely a statistically improbable coincidence… The above is not exhaustive – in particular the modern lack of a living and over-arching religion; and indeed lack of any spiritual reality and depth to experience - is another vital deficiency of the Primary world as we experience it in The West.

But this list suffices to illustrate why, in our kind of world, Fantasy may be much more than just a pleasure or a preference. And why Fantasy does not simply enable a Recovery of appreciation for the basic essentials of Life – much more importantly, Fantasy may be our only sustained experience in which these real-realities are encountered.

The staleness and superficiality of modern life is a consequence of the way in which modern reality is the product of modern theories – the ‘ideologies’ that arise from science, law, politics, sociology etc. but which we mainly learn from the mass media; and to a lesser extent from a corrupted system of formal education, corporate advertising and official propaganda.

But how is it that Fantasy may be able to supply what the Primary word so horribly lacks? Well, Tolkien all-but said it – the creation of another internally consistent world of wonders provides us with stimuli, with perceptions, that do not automatically get plugged-into the subversive and inverting theories of modernism. The magic and wonders of Fantasy quite naturally and spontaneously attach themselves to our built-in, universal concepts – the mythic understandings and interpretations of the ‘collective unconscious’, or our shared divine-endowments. And it is these universal concepts which enable us to apprehend and share reality.

So the fictional experiences of Fantasy are not just apparently but literally more real than everyday Life in the modern world. They are real because they are understood by means of the eternal, the universal, the Human, the God-given; whereas the Primary world is perceived, but not understood, merely by the manipulative and dishonest and ever-changing abstract theoretical ideologies of our time and place – ideologies such as the dreary incoherence of Leftist ‘identity’ politics, antiracism, feminism, economic hypotheses, anti-colonialism, and the ever-mutating lies and inversions of sexuality and the sexual revolution.

In sum; Fantasy fiction (Fairy Stories) may currently be the only source of sustained and convincing ‘good metaphysics’ available to many people in The West: our only access to the eternal and universal truths of real reality – as contrasted with the despair-inducing, hope-less, meaningless, purposeless fake-realities of modern life.

Seventy years after Tolkien’s essay was first conceived, we are in a situation that Fairy Stories have become something close to a necessity for those who want to experience Life as it could and should be experienced… even more, a necessity for those who want to live in the real world; rather than the hellish-yet-addictive media-Matrix of alternating distractions, intoxications, lust and fear which is the world of mainstream public discourse.

Consequently our demonic overlords hate, hate, hate real Fantasy (and Tolkien above all) and do their best to ignore or mock it – or else they reinterpret and subvert it in terms of the incoherent tendentiousness of modern ideologies (such as those deadly meditations on racism and sexism in The Lord of the Rings…). Or else they create fake-Fantasy which incorporates exactly those false ideologies to which Fantasy offers us a Real Life alternative. Instead of wonder and magic, we get parables of multiculturalism or gender-bending… just like modern, mainstream, bureaucratic ‘real life’.

I would therefore suggest that we should now drop Tolkien’s idea of Fantasy being a Secondary reality, in favour of a recognition that – at its best – Fantasy is now the Primary world. Fantasy fiction is therefore a way in which we may potentially (albeit partially and intermittently) escape The Matrix imposed upon us to our detriment; and begin living from true, universal and vital concepts: living real lives from the solid ground of universal metaphysics.

Sunday 1 January 2017

Review of Tales from the Perilous Realm - Brian Sibley's 1992 radio adaptations of Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooton Major, Leaf by Niggle and some Lord of the Rings scenes featuring Tom Bombadil

I came across this little gem while browsing a list of JRR Tolkien Audiobooks available for download - it is a set of four dramatised radio programmes broadcast on the BBC in 1992.

What filled me with anticipation was that they were done by Brian Sibley. He did the excellent dramatisation of Lord of the Rings; as well as the almost miraculously good BBC Narnia Chronicles. When I approach Sibley's work I do so with pleasure and confidence that it will be sympathetic to the spirit of the original work, as well as creatively inspired.

I wasn't disappointed.

The whole collection is framed and linked by the device of having Tolkien as an avuncular narrator; who at times interacts with the characters. The role is played by Michael Hordern, who was Gandalf in Sibley's LotR, and one of the very greatest English actors of his generation. 

Farmer Giles of Ham

This was wonderful - full of delightful touches, such as having Garm the Dog brought forward as a developed 'sidekick' character. Brian Blessed was a terrific Giles; as well as the beautifully-judged voice acting, picturing Blessed was just right (Blessed is a superb actor, as well as being the most famous shouter in the world). I could not have imagined this done better - funny, with many characteristic cod-learned asides, and some gently touching moments.

Smith of Wooton Major

The original is an extremely beautiful and perfect high fantasy; and Sibley has lightened it and injected some hunour for a radio audience by framing the narrative as an autobiographical story told to some children at his forge by the eponymous Smith. This is successful, and broadens the appeal; but at the cost of losing some power from the impact of some of the most effective scenes in the original; and the end fails to achieve a full sense of closure. Smith is very well played by Paul Copley, with his trademark rural Yorkshire accent - in theory this sits oddly with the West Country accents of everyone else in the cast, but in practice it didn't seem to matter.

Leaf by Niggle

This is again a creative adaptation of Tolkien's perfect short story - to create an equally perfect play which moved me to tears more than once (tears of joy) - it really is inspiring. Niggle was played by Alfred Molina, who is an actor whose early work I regard as often touched with genius - and it  certainly was here. The interactions between the Tolkien Narrator and Niggle are beautifully contrived and performed. Really lovely.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

This is at a lower level than the three preceding pieces, and is best regarded as a Bonus. It is a kind of 'out-take' from Sibley's script of the Lord of the Rings dramatisation, done with a different cast. It covers three section. The first is from entering the Old Forest, the capture by Old Man Willow and rescue by Tom. I found this satisfying, without being fully engaged by it.

The middle section covers In the House of Tom Bombadil - and this was very good indeed! Tom and Goldberry are given Irish accents, which worked for me - although I always imagined them as dwelling in Tolkien's native Worcestershire. Bombadil is a very difficult role to pull off, I should think; and Ian Hogg captured all the aspects - including both the rather irritating heartiness of a stereotypical Old Salt seafarer with revelations of sudden depths, sensitivities and poetry.

The final section covered Fog on the Barrow Downs - and I did not find this effective. The lead-in to the capture was so brief as to seem perfunctory, and in general this somewhat superfluous scene failed to engage me. This is indeed was of the less effective parts of the original book, with too many similarities to the previous Old Man Willow adventure, and the Barrow Wight failing to achieve a genuine presence and identity. 

Overall, this is a really good set of dramatisations - I found I wanted to re-listen to the whole thing after only a week; and I anticipate coming back to them many times; as I have done with Sibley's other work.