The Perennial Philosophy
The Machine Will Never Triumph, part fifty
Under a sun
whose meaning is also unfolding,
thousands and thousands of people,
buffoons of a modern age of fire,
cross paths, teeming dark
along the blinding sidewalks, against
housing projects stretching to the sky.
I am a force of the Past.
My love lies only in tradition.
I come from the ruins, the churches,
the altarpieces, the villages
abandoned in the Apennines or foothills
of the Alps where my brothers once lived.
I wander like a madman down the Tuscolana,
down the Appia like a dog without a master.
Or I see the twilights, the mornings
over Rome, the Ciociaria, the world,
as the first acts of Posthistory
to which I bear witness, by arbitrary
birthright, from the outer edge
of some buried age. Monstrous is the man
born of a dead woman’s womb.
And I, a fetus now grown, roam about
[…] in search of brothers no longer alive.1
The Mohammedans say that the sound of bells
especially big ones, is obscene.
That hard clapper striking in a hard mouth
and resounding after with a long hiss of insistence
Yet bells call the Christians to God
especially clapper bells, hard tongues wagging in hard mouths,
metal hitting on metal, to enforce our attention
and bring us to God.
The soft thudding of drums
of finger or fists or soft-skinned sticks upon the stretched membrane of
sends summons in the old hollows of the sun.
And the accumulated splashing of a gong
where tissue plunges into bronze with wide wild circles of sound
and leaves off,
belongs to the bamboo thickets, and the drake in the air flying past.
And the sound of a blast through the sea-curved core of a shell
when a black priest blows on a conch,
and the dawn cry from a minaret, God is great
and the calling of the old Red Indian high on the pueblo roof
whose voice flies on and on, calling like a swan
singing between the sun and the marsh,
on and on, like a dark-faced bird singing alone
singing to the men below, the fellow-tribesmen
who go by without pausing, soft-foot, without listening, yet who hear:
these are other ways of summons, crying: Listen! Listen! Come near!2
Though it is not often acknowledged, Lawrence was a great proponent of the sophia perennis, the perennial philosophy. It, perhaps, should come as no surprise that Lawrence’s friend, Aldous Huxley, was the first, and most prominent, presenter of perennial wisdom to the modern world. The core doctrine of the perennial philosophy is that there is one Truth, though there are many forms, and ways to the truth. There may be one ultimate goal, but there are many paths that lead to that goal. Certainly there have always been false religions; and often true religions degenerate, but there are many true religions, and there is still truth even in the degenerated faiths. Whatever differences exist between a Muslim, a Christian, and a pagan, they are infinitesimally small compared to the gulf that separates all believers and modern materialistic atheists. The Muslims may call to prayer using voice, the Christians using bells, and others with drums, but they all call, and the answer is prayer.
Now, some may argue that monotheisms could be reconciled with each other, but never with polytheisms, but that claim lacks the esoteric knowledge that there is one God, but there are many Gods. There is one Fire that is prior to and beyond all, including the Gods, but that Fire is not static—how could it be—and is in constant flux. The Fire, needing to live to the fullest, entered the realm of manifestation. The realm of manifestation has nearly limitless forms. The more fiery the form, the greater the being. Humans with fiery souls come close to the Gods. Now, any one God is not limited to one particular form. To claim that it is, is to limit it. When Muslims say that Allah exists and Aphrodite does not, they are committing a serious error. They limit the power of the Divine. Allah and Jesus exist, but so do Hermes, Pan, and Thor. For the Muslims there may be no god but Allah, and that is okay, for them. But, that does not cancel out the existence of other Gods. But, just because there is truth in all religions, doesn’t mean that all religions are equally true. There is much good in some forms of Christianity, but some forms of Christianity are, in fact, anti-Christianity, evil, and tools of the Machine. We need a good, strong, vibrant paganism or a paganized Christianity to counteract the depraved machine-Christianity. Aldous Huxley, in the following passage, both advocates for the need of polytheism and a religion of Life, and also rails against degenerate forms of Christianity that have led to the rise of the Machine:
Man can and does conceive of himself and of the world as being, now essentially many, and now essentially one. Therefore—since God, for our human purposes, is simply Life in so far as man can conceive it as a whole—the Divine is both one and many. A purely monotheistic religion is thus seen to be inadequate and unrealistic. The present age is predominantly monotheistic—monotheistic either because it feebly believes in a decaying Christianity, or else secularly and irreligiously monotheistic, with the unitarianism of science, of democracy, of international capitalism. In the interests of the Man as opposed to the Citizen (and incidentally in the interests of the Citizen too—for you cannot ruin the individual without, in the long run, ruining society) it has become necessary to protest against this now pernicious doctrine. Christian monotheism and spirituality prepared the way for our intellectualism and machine-worship by rendering disreputable all that in human nature is not mind, not spirit, not conscious will. The established religion decayed; but the philosophical and ethical habits which it had generated molderingly persisted and persist.
The high-minded man who would, in the past, have been an earnest Christian, is now—what? Not an earnest (or preferably light-hearted) pagan, but an earnest intellectual, living ascetically for knowledge. And the low-minded man? He is no ascetic, of course, and his goal is not knowledge, but money, comfort, and a “good time.” The intellectual despises him for living grossly, on the plane of the body. The contempt is justified because he lives so inadequately and poorly on that plane. (If he lived well there he would be a much better man than the intellectual.) Lacking all religious significance, his physical and instinctive life is pointless and rather dirty. It is also lamentably incomplete. By deconsecrating his body and the diverse world with which it participatively communicates through the instincts, feelings, and desires, by robbing them of their divine meaning, Christianity has left him without defense against our mechanized civilization. Rationalized division of labour takes all the sense out of his work. Machines relieve him, not merely of drudgery but of the possibility of performing any creative or spontaneous act whatsoever. And this is now true of his leisure as well as of his labour; he has almost ceased even to try to divert himself, but sits and suffers a standardized entertainment to trickle over his passive consciousness.
By men with a religious sense of Life’s divineness the inroads of this civilization would have been bitterly resented and stubbornly resisted. Not by Christians, however. Christianity had taught that the worship of any aspect of life but the spiritual was a sin. Good pagans might have found a satisfactory method of dealing with the problems raised by the coming of the machine. Good Christians could hardly see that there were any problems to solve. Passively they accepted the evil thing. […] Trying to live superhumanly, men have sunk, in all but the purely mental sphere, towards a kind of sub-humanity that it would be an undeserved compliment to call bestial. Turned against Life, they have worshipped Death in the form of spirituality and intellectualism. Deprived of the support of Life’s divinities, they have succumbed to the shoddy temptations of the Devil of the Machine. By exhorting men to lead the “higher life,” Christianity and its philosophical successors have condemned men to an existence incomparably lower than that “low life” against which they have always fulminated. […]
If men are ever to rise again from the depths into which they are now descending, it will only be with the aid of a new religion of Life. And since life is diverse, the new religion will have to have many Gods. Many; but since the individual man is a unity in his various multiplicity, also one. It will have to be Dionysian and Panic as well as Apollonian; Orphic as well as rational; not only Christian, but Martial and Venerean too; Phallic as well as Minervan or Jehovahistic. It will have to be all, in a word, that human life actually is, not merely the symbolical expression of one of its aspects. Meanwhile, however, the Gadarene descent continues.3
As Huxley mentions, a new religion would have to be both monotheistic and polytheistic; it would have to worship one and many Gods. One should be able to honor the sun in the cosmos by praying five times a day according to the sun’s position. One should be free to primarily worship whatever God or Gods spoke to him or her, but even if one worships Allah in the morning, he should pour out some wine to Dionysus in the evening. Catholic comes from the Greek katholikos, meaning universal. If we prospective members of Rananim are going to work towards the universal church that Lawrence, Vladimir Solovyov,4 and many great saints desired, then it needs to be a fully inclusive church. As Lawrence writes:
Why not let it be the Universal Church of Mohammed as well: since ultimately, God is One God, but the peoples speak varying languages, and each needs its own prophet to speak with its own tongue. The Universal Church of Christ, and Mohammed, and Buddha, and Quetzalcoatl, and all the others—that would be a Catholic Church[.]5
There was a time and place when a certain religion was the only one available, or it was in a far less corrupted form, so there was far less need for religious choice and the perennial philosophy, but today religion will die without the sophia perennis. Even with the perennial wisdom, religion is teetering on life support. During the Hellenistic period and late Roman empire, there was a great deal of religious freedom, but also great corruption and degeneration of the faiths. The once great faiths failed, but they were renewed in the form of Christianity. The true Christianity is the heir to all that was great in paganism. We now need a new renewal. Some people may need to find prophets outside the established religions—such as Lawrence—but others could still find their salvation with the old prophets, such as Jesus and Muhammad, but only if those religions are renewed. In the following passage, Lawrence advocates for the renewal of tradition, but also for the opening of new ways:
Did Jesus ever say: I am the way, and there is no other way? At the moment, there was no other way. For many centuries, there was no other way. But all the time, the heavens were mysteriously revolving, and God was going His own unspeakable way. All the time, men had to be making the road afresh. Even the road called Jesus, the Way of the Christian to God, had to be subtly altered, century by century. […] As a matter of fact, never did God or Jesus say that there was one straight way of salvation, forever and ever. On the contrary, Jesus plainly indicated the changing of the way. And what is more, He indicated the only means to the finding of the right way. The Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is within you. And it is a Ghost, forever a Ghost, never a Way or a Word. Jesus is a Way and a Word. God is the Goal. But the Holy Ghost is for ever Ghostly, unrealisable. And against this unsubstantial unreality, you may never sin, or woe betide you.
Only the Holy Ghost within you can scent the new tracks of the Great God across the Cosmos of Creation. The Holy Ghost is the dark hound of Heaven whose baying we ought to listen to, as he runs ahead into the unknown, tracking the mysterious everlasting departing of the Lord God, who is forever departing from us.
And now the Lord God has gone over our horizon. The foot of the Cross is lifted from the Mound, and moved across the heavens. The pole-star no longer stands on guard at the true polaric centre. We are all disorientated, all is gone out of gear.
All right, the Lord God left us neither blind nor comfortless nor helpless. We’ve got the Holy Ghost. And we hear him baying down strange darknesses, in other places.
The Almighty has shifted His throne, and we’ve got to find a new road. Therefore we’ve got to get off the old road. You can’t stay on the old road, and find a new road. We’ve got to find our way to God. From time to time Man wakes up and realises that the Lord Almighty has made a great removal, and passed over the known horizon. Then starts the frenzy, the howling, the despair. Much better listen to the dark hound of Heaven, and start off into the dark of the unknown, in search.
From time to time, the Great God sends a new saviour. Christians will no longer have the pettiness to assert that Jesus is the only Saviour ever sent by the everlasting God. There have been other saviours, in other lands, at other times, with other messages. And all of them Sons of God. All of them sharing the Godhead with the Father. All of them showing the Way of Salvation and of Right. Different Saviours. Different Ways of Salvation. Different pole-stars, in the great wandering Cosmos of time. And the Infinite God, always changing, and always the same infinite God, at the end of the different Ways.6
Christ may still guide one to salvation, but not the Christ of American capitalism. The true Christ would recognize the Christ that American Christians worship as the Antichrist. In fact, the Machine itself is one manifestation of the Antichrist. Though Lawrence moved away from Christianity to a renewed vision of primordial religion, he was not against true Christianity. For Lawrence, a true religion must be esoteric and hierarchical:
There is no real battle between me and Christianity. Perhaps there is a certain battle between me and nonconformity, because, at the depth, my nature is catholic. But I believe in the all-overshadowing God. I believe that Jesus is one of the Sons of God: not, however, the only Son of God. I think that the men who believe in the all-overshadowing God will naturally form a Church of God. That is, I believe in a Church. And I believe in secret doctrine, as against the vulgarity of nonconformity. I believe in an initiated priesthood, and in cycles of esoteric knowledge. I believe in the authority of the Church, and in the power of the priest to grant absolution.
So that on the religious fundamentals, there is no breach between me and the Catholic Church.
But I cannot believe in a Church of Christ. Jesus is only one of the Sons of Almighty God. There are many saviours—there is only one God. There will be more saviours: but God is one God.
So that the great Church of the future will know other saviours: men are saved variously, in various lands, in various climes, in various centuries. A church established on the Almighty God, but having temples to the various saviours, is the true [church] of man.
The great disaster of religion is that each religion tends to assert one exclusive saviour. One hates Christianity because it declares there is only one way to God. A true Church would know that there are a few great roads to God, and many, many small tracks.
“I am the way.”—Not even Jesus can declare this to all men. To very many men, Jesus is no longer the way. He is no longer the way for me. But what does it matter? He is one of the Sons of God. And I will gladly light a candle to him also.
Yet I must seek another way. God, the great God, is always God. But we have always to find our way to him. The way was Jesus. And the way is no longer Jesus.
So, for the moment, we have no way. God is God—but we cannot come to him. God is God—but he has not yet sent us a prophet.
That does not mean we leave off seeking, or trying, or adventuring.7
We can come to the Fire, through a renewed vision of the living faiths, or through the prophetic guidance of D. H. Lawrence. But he did not lay out expressly an infallible doctrine and call it a religion. He was too wise for that. Lawrence can function as a great guide, such as a living Shaykh, and he may even come to you in your dreams if you pray to him, but he knew that even the greatest prophet cannot prevent a rigid doctrine from degrading, so he gave us instructions in the art of living and dying, and taking responsibility for finding one’s way to the Divine. A good place for a seeker to start is through getting into contact with other religions and with nature. As Lawrence writes:
The world is vast, the experience of mankind is vast. Let us get back into contact. We have imprisoned ourselves unnecessarily in an isolated religion, tethered ourselves to an isolated god, and listened too long to the language of isolation and exclusiveness. And a state of isolation is a state of falsity and death.
What we need is to get back into contact, into religious contact. […] [W]e too need to get back into contact with Egypt and Babylon, we need to know again as the Chaldeans knew, and the Egyptians. Our consciousness is crippled and maimed, we only live with a fragment of ourselves.8
Huxley, Aldous. Complete Essays of Aldous Huxley. Edited by Robert S. Baker and James Sexton. Vol. II, 1926–1929. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000.
Lawrence, D. H. Apocalypse. Edited by Mara Kalnins. London: Penguin Books, 1995.
———. Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. Edited by Michael Herbert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
———. The Plumed Serpent. Edited by L. D. Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Translated by Stephen Sartarelli. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
Pier Paolo Pasolini, The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, trans. Stephen Sartarelli (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 311–13.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 537.
Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays of Aldous Huxley, ed. Robert S. Baker and James Sexton, vol. II, 1926–1929 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), 318–19.
Author of War, Progress, and the End of History and A Short Story of the Anti-Christ.
D. H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, ed. L. D. Clark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 264.
D. H. Lawrence, Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 191–92.
D. H. Lawrence, Apocalypse, ed. Mara Kalnins (London: Penguin Books, 1995), 158.