‘Spring is the Cause of New Life’

As I look out of the window at the spring flowers dappled with sunshine in my garden I am reminded of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s  beautiful description of spiritual renewal. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes the progress of the soul as being like the changing of the seasons.

“In this material world time has cycles; places change through alternating seasons, and for souls there are progress, retrogression and education. At one time it is the season of spring; at another it is the season of autumn; and again it is the season of summer or the season of winter. In the spring there are the clouds which send down the precious rain, the musk-scented breezes and life-giving zephyrs; the air is perfectly temperate, the rain falls, the sun shines, the fecundating wind wafts the clouds, the world is renewed, and the breath of life appears in plants, in animals and in men. Earthly beings pass from one condition to another. All things are clothed in new garments, and the black earth is covered with herbage; mountains and plains are adorned with verdure; trees bear leaves and blossoms; gardens bring forth flowers and fragrant herbs. The world becomes another world, and it attains to a life-giving spirit. The earth was a lifeless body; it finds a new spirit, and produces endless beauty, grace and freshness. Thus the spring is the cause of new life and infuses a new spirit”.

Some Answered Questions

Naw-Rúz

'Hyacinth' by Josephine Wall

“Praised be Thou, O my God, that Thou hast ordained Naw-Rúz as a festival unto those who have observed the fast for love of Thee and abstained from all that is abhorrent unto Thee. Grant, O my Lord, that the fire of Thy love and the heat produced by the fast enjoined by Thee may inflame them in Thy Cause, and make them to be occupied with Thy praise and with remembrance of Thee…”

Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh

Florimel the Vampire in James Branch Cabell’s ‘Jurgen: A Comedy Of Justice’

Illustration by Ray Coyle of Florimel the Vampire from a 1929 Edition of ‘Jurgen: A Comedy Of Justice’ by James Branch Cabell

Florimel in James Branch Cabell’s ‘Jurgen: A Comedy Of  Justice’ (1919) is a notable appearance of a sympathetic vampire character in early Twentieth Century fiction. The episode in which she appears is possibly a comic allusion to the gothic novel ‘Carmilla’ by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872) which features a female vampire as a central figure. Florimel becomes the bride of the anti-hero Jurgen during his sojourn in hell and is described as ‘a very poisonous and seductively beautiful creature.’ Something of a social climber her affection for Jurgen is based on his claims to be Emperor of Noumaria, King of Eubonia, Prince of Cocaigne, and Duke of Logreus’. She is conjured into being through the (feverish) imagination of Jurgen’s father who has consigned himself to a netherworld of his own invention.

“Jurgen met precisely the vampire of whom he had inveigled his father into thinking. She was the most seductively beautiful creature that it would be possible for Jurgen’s father or any other man to imagine: and her clothes were orange-colored, for a reason sufficiently well known in Hell, and were embroidered everywhere with green fig-leaves”.

(Her role as a seductress is emphasised by the ‘green fig leaves’ embroidered on her clothing- an allusion to the conventional image of Eve as a temptress in the garden of Eden).

The name Florimel means ‘honey-flower’ and is probably an ironic reference to a character of the same name in Spenser’s ‘Faërie Queene’, a maiden noted for her sweetness and timidity.

“My name, sir,” replied the Vampire, sorrowfully, “is Florimel, because my nature no less than my person was as beautiful as the flowers of the field and as sweet as the honey which the bees (who furnish us with such admirable examples of industry) get out of these flowers. But a sad misfortune changed all this. For I chanced one day to fall ill and die (which, of course, might happen to anyone), and as my funeral was leaving the house the cat jumped over my coffin. That was a terrible misfortune to befall a poor dead girl so generally respected, and in wide demand as a seamstress; though, even then, the worst might have been averted had not my sister-in-law been of what they call a humane disposition and foolishly attached to the cat. So they did not kill it, and I, of course, became a vampire…”

Cabell portrays Florimel in an ambiguous manner which wavers between irony and sympathy. She feels sorry for herself because of her ‘abhorrence of irregular hours’ and thinks it very unjust that she should be fated to be a vampire but feel sorry for her victims.

Then Florimel told Jurgen of her horrible awakening in the grave, and of what had befallen her hands and feet there, the while that against her will she fed repugnantly, destroying first her kindred and then the neighbors. This done, she had arisen.

“For the cattle still lived, and that troubled me. When I had put an end to this annoyance, I climbed into the church belfry, not alone, for one went with me of whom I prefer not to talk; and at midnight I sounded the bell so that all who heard it would sicken and die. And I wept all the while, because I knew that when everything had been destroyed which I had known in my first life in the flesh, I would be compelled to go into new lands, in search of the food which alone can nourish me, and I was always sincerely attached to my home. So it was, your majesty, that I forever relinquished my sewing, and became a lovely peril, a flashing desolation, and an evil which smites by night, in spite of my abhorrence of irregular hours: and what I do I dislike extremely, for it is a sad fate to become a vampire, and still to sympathize with your victims, and particularly with their poor mothers.”

So Jurgen comforted Florimel, and he put his arm around her”.

Cabell’s description of the couple’s honeymoon in the infernal region of Barathum contains a number of amusing Cabell double-entendres about a ‘cleft’, ‘a candle’ and ‘a magnificent sceptre’.

“So Florimel conducted Jurgen, through the changeless twilight of Barathum, like that of a gray winter afternoon, to a quiet cleft by the Sea of Blood, which she had fitted out very cosily in imitation of her girlhood home; and she lighted a candle, and made him welcome to her cleft. And when Jurgen was about to enter it he saw that his shadow was following him into the Vampire’s home.

“Let us extinguish this candle!” says Jurgen, “for I have seen so many flames to-day that my eyes are tired.”

So Florimel extinguished the candle, with a good-will that delighted Jurgen. And now they were in utter darkness, and in the dark nobody can see what is happening. But that Florimel now trusted Jurgen and his Noumarian claims was evinced by her very first remark.

“I was in the beginning suspicious of your majesty,” said Florimel, “because I had always heard that every emperor carried a magnificent sceptre, and you then displayed nothing of the sort. But now, somehow, I do not doubt you any longer. And of what is your majesty thinking?”

“Why, I was reflecting, my dear,” says Jurgen, “that my father imagines things very satisfactorily.”

‘Creatures Emanate From God’

‘Abdu’l-Bahá taught that creation proceeds from God rather like the way that light emanates from the sun.

The dependence of the creatures upon God is a dependence of emanation—that is to say, creatures emanate from God; they do not manifest Him. The relation is that of emanation and not that of manifestation. The light of the sun emanates from the sun; it does not manifest it. The appearance through emanation is like the appearance of the rays from the luminary of the horizons of the world—that is to say, the holy essence of the Sun of Truth is not divided and does not descend to the condition of the creatures. In the same way, the globe of the sun does not become divided and does not descend to the earth. No, the rays of the sun, which are its bounty, emanate from it and illumine the dark bodies.

But the appearance through manifestation is the manifestation of the branches, leaves, blossoms and fruit from the seed; for the seed in its own essence becomes branches and fruits, and its reality enters into the branches, the leaves and fruits. This appearance through manifestation would be for God, the Most High, simple imperfection; and this is quite impossible, for the implication would be that the Absolute Preexistent is qualified with phenomenal attributes. But if this were so, pure independence would become mere poverty, and true existence would become nonexistence, and this is impossible.

‘Some Answered Questions’

‘The Eidola And The Angeli'

The Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius

‘The Place of the Lion’ (1933) by Charles Williams concerns the fate of a group of friends when Platonic forms erupt into the mundane world in the shape of wild animals. At the beginning of the novel Anthony and Quentin are shocked to behold a lion in the English countryside.

‘The lioness as if startled made one leap over the gate, and her flying form seemed to collide with the man just as he also began to take another rhythmical step. Forms and shadows twisted and mingled for two or three seconds in the middle of the garden, a tearing human cry began and ceased as if choked into silence, a snarl broke out and died swiftly into similar stillness, and as if in answer to both sounds there came the roar of a lion–not very loud, but as if subdued by distance rather than by mildness. With that roar the shadows settled, the garden became clear. Anthony and Quentin saw before them the form of a man lying on the ground, and standing over him the shape of a full-grown and tremendous lion, its head flung back, its mouth open, its body quivering. It ceased to roar, and gathered itself back into itself. It was a lion such as the young men had never seen in any zoo or menagerie; it was gigantic and seemed to their dazed senses to be growing larger every moment. Of their presence it appeared unconscious; awful and solitary it stood, and did not at first so much as turn its head. Then, majestically, it moved; it took up the slow forward pacing in the direction which the man had been following; it passed onward, and while they still stared it entered into the dark shadow of the trees and was hidden from sight. The man’s form still lay prostrate; of the lioness there was no sign’.

The lion is ‘a lion such as the young men had never seen in any zoo or menagerie’ because it is the ideal form of a lion- the essence of lionhood rather than any particular lion. On one level the novel can be read as a fantasy of ideas or perhaps the elaboration of a theological conceit. On another level it is arguably a presentation of William’s philosophical and spiritual beliefs in fictional form. Certainly Williams is credited with viewing commonplace perception as a thin veil obscuring a numinous reality.

 ‘Through his writing during the nineteen-twenties ran an increasing element of supernaturalism. He had never fully accepted the conventional distinction between natural and supernatural , or ‘Arch-natural’ as he preferred to call it; and as the years passed he came to feel that no barrier really existed between the two states , and that the supernatural was constantly present , requiring only extra awareness from the beholder to make it visible.’

The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Their Friends, Humphrey Carpenter

There is certainly an element of the magician in William’s depiction of the mysterious Mr. Berringer and his ‘study circle’.

‘Mr. Berringer is a very remarkable man, and he generally gives us a short address on the world of principles, as one might call it.””Principles?” Damaris asked.”Ideas, energies, realities, whatever you like to call them,” Mr. Foster answered. “The underlying  things.” “Of course,” Damaris said, “I know the Platonic Ideas well enough, but do you mean Mr. Berringer explains Plato?””Not so much Plato–” but there Mr. Foster was interrupted by Mrs. Rockbotham, who came up to Damaris’.

The character central to the themes of the novel is Damaris Tighe an academic and Anthony’s girlfriend. She is writing a thesis on ‘Pythagorean Influences’ and her name is a major indicator. Damaris was an early Christian follower mentioned in the New Testament-

‘Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others’.

Acts 17:34 New International Version (NIV)

Traditionally the biblical Damaris was thought of as the wife of Dionysius the Areopagite – considered to be the author of a number of mystical works with a Neo-Platonist theme. In later times this tradition was considered mistaken and the ‘Corpus Areopagiticum’ became attributed to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite who like the author of William’s fictional ‘De Angelis’ (which I will discuss in greater detail later) posits a hierarchy of forms and powers.

‘Perhaps even more vexing than the nature of union in Dionysius is the question of how the theological treatises relate to Dionysius’ two treatises on hierarchy. The Mystical Theology suggests an ascent from the lower sensuous realm of reality through the intelligible intermediate realm to the darkness of the godhead itself, all accomplished by a single person. The hierarchic treatises, on the other hand, suggest that the sensible and intelligible realms are not places reached by a single being, but different kinds of beings, and that the vision of God is handed from being to being downward through the levels of the hierarchy. On the Celestial Hierarchy describes the intelligible realm as divided into nine ranks of beings: the seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, powers, authorities, principalities, archangels, and angels’.

Corrigan, Kevin and Harrington, L. Michael, “Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/pseudo-dionysius-areopagite/&gt;.

In a presentation to members of Berringers’s study circle Damaris Tighe makes reference to this ‘Celestial Hierarchy’ and argues that angels are medieval distortion of classical ideas.

“You will all know that in the Middle Ages there were supposed to be various classes of angels, who were given different names–to be exact” (“and what is research if it is not exact?” she asked Mrs. Rockbotham, who nodded), “in descending order, seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations, virtues, princes, powers, archangels, angels. Now these hierarchized celsitudes are but the last traces in a less philosophical age of the ideas which Plato taught his disciples existed in the spiritual world. We may not believe in them as actually existent–either ideas or angels–but here we have what I may call two selected patterns of thought. Let us examine the likenesses between them; though first I should like to say a word on what the path was by which imaginations of the Greek seer became the white-robed beings invoked by the credulous piety of Christian Europe, and familiar to us in many paintings”.

Damaris Tighe also makes direct reference to Dionysius the Areopagite in the following passage

‘The Eidola and the Angeli,” Damaris answered. “It’s just a comparison, you know; largely between the sub-Platonic philosophers on the one side and the commentators on Dionysius the Areopagite on the other, suggesting that they have a common pattern in mind’.

The character Damaris seems to personify a detached intellectualism devoid of engagement. She is someone who plays with ideas but does not engage with them spiritually.

 ‘..she would go on thoughtfully playing with the dead pictures of ideas, with names and  philosophies, Plato and Pythagoras and Anselm and Abelard, Athens and Alexandria and Paris, not knowing that the living existences to which seers and saints had looked were already in movement to avenge themselves on her. “O you sweet blasphemer!” Anthony moaned, “can’t  you wake?” Gnostic traditions, medieval rituals, Aeons and Archangels–they were cards she was playing in her own game. But she didn’t know, she didn’t understand. It wasn’t her fault; it was the fault of her time, her culture, her education–the pseudo-knowledge that affected all the learned, the pseudo-scepticism that infected all the unlearned, in an age of pretence, and she was only pretending as everybody else did in this lost and imbecile century’.

When Berringer summons Neo-Platonic archetypes (‘the Eidola And The Angeli’) into the mundane world and causes a kind of apocalypse he uses knowledge referred to in a philosophical tome which he found in Berlin- ‘De Angelis’ of Marcellus Victorinus of Bologna, published in the year 1514 at Paris, and dedicated to Leo X’.

(Marcellus Victorinus is probably a fictionalisation of the Renaissance scholar Lorenzo Valla (1407 –1457) who argued that the author of the ‘Corpus Areopagiticum’ and the biblical Dionysius the Areopagite were not the same person).

As well as the ‘Corpus Areopagiticum’ referred to earlier this imaginary book brings to mind the apocryphal ‘Necronomicon ’ of H. P. Lovecraft and the various fictional grimoires of M.R. James such as the ‘Liber Nigrae Peregrinationis’ or ‘Book of the Black Pilgrimage’ in his tale ‘Count Magnus’.

“Berringer picked it up in Berlin–it’s not complete, unfortunately—and lent it to me when he found I was interested to have a shot at translating. There’s nothing to show who our Marcellus was, and the book itself, from what he says in the dedication, isn’t so much his own as a version of a work by a Greek–Alexander someone–written centuries before ‘in the time of Your Holiness’s august predecessor, Innocent the Second.’ In the eleven hundreds about the time of Abelard. However, that doesn’t matter. What is interesting is that it seems to confirm the idea that there was another view of angels from that ordinarily accepted. Not very orthodox perhaps, but I suppose orthodoxy wasn’t the first requisite at the Court of Leo…The idea seems to be that the energies of these orders can exist in separation from the intelligence which is in them in heaven; and that if deliberately or accidentally you invoke the energy without the intelligence, you’re likely eventually to be pretty considerably done for.”

That the author of ‘De Angelis’ dedicates his book to the colourful Pope Leo X is significant. Alexandre Dumas wrote in his work ‘The Cenci’ that

‘Under his pontificate, Latin Christianity assumed a pagan, Greco-Roman character, which, passing from art into manners, gives to this epoch a strange complexion. Crimes for the moment disappeared, to give place to vices; but to charming vices, vices in good taste, such as those indulged in by Alcibiades and sung by Catullus’

There is certainly ‘a pagan, Greco-Roman character’ to the theology of ‘The Place of the Lion’. In ‘The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Their Friends’ C.S. Lewis is quoted as calling the novel a ‘Christian fantasy’ but it appears to be missing many commonplace Christian themes; indeed Charles Williams seems more engaged with ‘Gnostic traditions, medieval rituals, Aeons and Archangels’ than with ideas such as sin and salvation and redemption through the sacrifice of Christ. Certainly the eschatology revealed in the closing scenes of the novel tends to reinforce this opinion-

‘There fell over the whole scene a strange and lovely clearness, shed from the wings of a soaring wonder that left the shoulder where it had reposed and flew, scattering light. The intermingled foliage of the trees of knowledge and of life–if indeed they were separate–received it; amid those branches the eagle which was the living act of science sank and rested. But far below the human figure stood and on either side of it were the shapes of the lion and the lamb. His hand rested on the head of the one; the other paused by him. In and for that exalted moment all acts of peace that then had being through the world were deepened and knew their own nature more clearly; away in villages and towns such spirits as the country doctor in Smetham received a measure of content in their work. Friendships grew closer; intentions of love possessed their right fulfilment. Terrors of malice and envy and jealousy faded; disordered beauty everywhere recognized again the sacred laws that governed it. Man dreamed of himself in the place of his creation’.

The ‘lovely clearness’ which falls upon the world seems framed in Gnostic terms with reference to the ‘trees of knowledge and of life’ and salvation through knowledge as ‘all acts of peace that then had being through the world were deepened and knew their own nature’. The ending can also be seen as a resolution of the Damaris bifurcated sensibility theme with unity of mind and soul being symbolised by ‘The intermingled foliage of the trees of knowledge and of life’.

Bibliography

Anon, Acts 17:34 NIV – Some of the people became followers of – Bible Gateway. Available at: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+17:34&version=NIV [Accessed March 5, 2012a].

Anon, Anthony (name) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_(name) [Accessed February 23, 2012b].

Anon, CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Apocalypse. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01594b.htm [Accessed February 21, 2012c].

Anon, CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Anthony. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01553d.htm [Accessed February 23, 2012d].

Anon, Chrismons Of Many Kinds | Christian Symbols Unlimited | http://www.christiansym.com. Available at: http://www.christiansym.com/cs/lion.php [Accessed March 4, 2012e].

Anon, Complete Short Stories of Maupassant, Vol. 1 of 2 – Guy de Maupassant – Google Books. Available at: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=7PzdbcZ3CR0C&pg=PA326&lpg=PA326&dq=name+Sabot+meaning&source=bl&ots=rG76q5JLlD&sig=tD5wcw976yrwmbiX6heiENx56Ic&hl=en&sa=X&ei=RidNT6MFxZDxA7ryxM4C&ved=0CEoQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=name%20Sabot%20meaning&f=false [Accessed February 28, 2012f].

Anon, Damaris – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damaris [Accessed February 23, 2012g].

Anon, Dionysius the Areopagite – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionysius_the_Areopagite [Accessed February 23, 2012h].

Anon, Hermes Trismegistus – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermes_Trismegistus [Accessed February 23, 2012i].

Anon, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermetic_Order_of_the_Golden_Dawn [Accessed February 23, 2012j].

Anon, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pseudo-dionysius-areopagite/#DioPer [Accessed February 23, 2012k].

Anon, Quentin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quentin [Accessed February 23, 2012l].

Anon, Surname Database: Barringer Last Name Origin. Available at: http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Barringer [Accessed February 23, 2012m].

Anon, The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams « Unknowing. Available at: http://unknowing.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/the-place-of-the-lion-by-charles-williams/ [Accessed February 23, 2012n].

Carpenter, H., 2006. The Inklings : C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their friends, London: HarperCollins.

Charles Williams, The Place of the Lion. Available at: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601441.txt [Accessed January 15, 2012].

Williams, C., Shadows of Ecstasy. Available at: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0608891.txt [Accessed February 20, 2012].

Conan the Existentialist…

The Destroyer by Frank Frazetta

By Crom Jean-Paul Sartre!  Make way for Conan the Existentialist!

“Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flames and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is an illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

(R.E. Howard Queen of the Black Coast, 133)

Personally I prefer to brood over ‘questions of reality and illusion’ but there you go… with thanks to Harley J. Sims for highlighting this beautifully written passage in his review of ‘The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian’ at  http://www.mythsoc.org/reviews/coming-of-conan-cimmerian/

‘The Donkey is the Greatest Scientist and the Cow an Accomplished Naturalist’

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was famed for his sense of humour and I find his observation on the folly of materialism both amusing and insightful.

…all their thoughts are directed to material things; day and night they are devoted to the attractions of this world, without aspiration beyond the life that is vanishing and mortal. In schools and temples of learning knowledge of the sciences acquired is based upon material observations only; there is no realization of Divinity in their methods and conclusions—all have reference to the world of matter. They are not interested in attaining knowledge of the mysteries of God or understanding the secrets of the heavenly Kingdom; what they acquire is based altogether upon visible and tangible evidences. Beyond these evidences they are without susceptibilities; they have no idea of the world of inner significances and are utterly out of touch with God, considering this an indication of reasonable attitude and philosophical judgement whereof they are self-sufficient and proud. As a matter of fact, this supposed excellence is possessed in its superlative degree by the animals. The animals are without knowledge of God; so to speak, they are deniers of Divinity and understand nothing of the Kingdom and its heavenly mysteries. As deniers of the Kingdom, they are utterly ignorant of spiritual things and uninformed of the supernatural world. Therefore, if it be a perfection and virtue to be without knowledge of God and His Kingdom, the animals have attained the highest degree of excellence and proficiency. Then the donkey is the greatest scientist and the cow an accomplished naturalist, for they have obtained what they know without schooling and years of laborious study in colleges, trusting implicitly to the evidence of the senses and relying solely upon intuitive virtues. The cow, for instance, is a lover of the visible and a believer in the tangible, contented and happy when pasture is plenty, perfectly serene, a blissful exponent of the transcendental school of philosophy. Such is the status of the material philosophers, who glory in sharing the condition of the cow, imagining themselves in a lofty station.

Source: The Promulgation of Universal Peace