‘Without the Spirit the World of Mankind is Lifeless’

Kaleidoscope Sunrise by Caroline Street

‘Abdu’l-Bahá contrasts our present unbalanced material civilisation with that of a civilisation which balances the spiritual and material.

‘And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that although material civilization is one of the means for the progress of the world of mankind, yet until it becomes combined with divine civilization the desired result, which is the felicity of mankind, will not be attained. Consider! These battleships that reduce a city to ruins within the space of an hour are the result of material civilization; likewise the Krupp guns, the Mauser rifles, dynamite, submarines, torpedo boats, armed aircraft and bombing aeroplanes—all these weapons of war are malignant fruits of material civilization. Had material civilization been combined with divine civilization, these fiery weapons would never have been invented. Nay, rather human energy would have been wholly devoted to useful inventions and concentrated on praiseworthy discoveries. Material civilization is like a globe of glass. Divine civilization is the light itself, and the glass without the light is dark. Material civilization is like the body. No matter how infinitely graceful, elegant and beautiful it may be, it is dead. Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit, otherwise it becomes a corpse. It has thus been made evident that the world of mankind is in need of the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Without the spirit the world of mankind is lifeless, and without this light the world of mankind is in utter darkness’.



‘The Wiles of Politicians and Diplomats’

The Four Riders of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Durer

In 1912 in Boston, Massachusetts ‘Abdu’l-Bahá highlighted the immorality of war and international politics.

“A man who kills another man is punished by execution, but a military genius who kills one hundred thousand of his fellow creatures is immortalized as a hero. One man steals a small sum of money and is imprisoned as a thief. Another pillages a whole country and is honored as a patriot and conqueror. A single falsehood brings reproach and censure, but the wiles of politicians and diplomats excite the admiration and praise of a nation. Consider the ignorance and inconsistency of mankind. How darkened and savage are the instincts of humanity!”

The Promulgation of Universal Peace

Sauron, Saruman and Owen Barfield

I have sometimes wondered why Tolkien chose to represent two poles of evil in Lord of the Rings that of Sauron and Saruman, an unusual structure both in fantastic fiction and in the epic myths from which the story grew. Amongst other ideas it has been suggested that the relationship of Sauron to Saruman reflects the relationship of the various dictators of the Second World War but I find no major evidence of this in the text. A more convincing explanation is that it is part of a theme of how even the supposedly wise and virtuous can be seduced by evil- with the proud Saruman  seduced by Sauron in a way the more humble hobbits are not.

‘A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful. But Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived-for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child’s model or a slave’s flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength’.

A more esoteric explanation of the twin poles of Sauron and Saruman is perhaps the influence on Tolkien of fellow Inkling Owen Barfield (1898- 1997) Barfield was a long-term friend of C.S. Lewis and a founder member of the Inklings. He was a philosopher influenced by the tenets of Anthrosophy. One of the tenets of Anthrosophy as expressed by the founder Rudolph Steiner was the idea of the soul of man being pulled between the two extremes of materialism and spiritual pride personified as ‘Ahriman’ and ‘Lucifer’.

‘To form a right conception of the historical evolution of mankind during approximately 6000 years, one must grasp that at the one pole stands a Luciferic incarnation, in the center, the incarnation of Christ, and at the other pole the Ahrimanic incarnation. Lucifer is the power that stirs up in man all fanatical, all falsely mystical forces, all that physiologically tends to bring the blood into disorder and so lift man above and outside himself. Ahriman is the power that makes man dry, prosaic, philistine – that ossifies him and brings him to the superstition of materialism. And the true nature and being of man is essentially the effort to hold the balance between the powers of Lucifer and Ahriman; the Christ Impulse helps present humanity to establish this equilibrium. Thus these two poles – the Luciferic and the Ahrimanic – are continuously present in man. Viewed historically, we find that the Luciferic preponderated in certain currents of cultural development of the pre-Christian age and continued into the first centuries of our era. On the other hand the Ahrimanic influence has been at work since the middle of the fifteenth century and will increase in strength until an actual incarnation of Ahriman takes place among Western humanity’.

The Ahrimanic Deception Lecture by Rudolf Steiner in Zurich on October 27, 1919.

Viewed in this light Sauron and Saruman can be seen as opposite poles of false spirituality and gross materialism. Sauron as ‘Lucifer’ has spirit servants (the Ringwraiths) insubstantial and formless given a kind of false immortality (in fact slavery to the ring). Wearing black robes to ‘give shape to their nothingness’.

Saruman as ‘Ahriman’ has as his servant the materialistic Wormtongue who craves worldly power and influence. Unlike the spells of Sauron which grant false immortality the enchantments of Saruman imprison King Théoden in a false old age.  Isengard is a place of ceaseless industry mass-producing the materials of war.

‘Iron Wheels revolved there endlessly, and hammers thudded. At night plumes of vapour steamed from the vents, lit from beneath with red light, or blue, or venomous green’

‘The Two Towers’

Treebeard says of Saruman that he has “a mind of metal and wheels.” In contrast Barad-dur is not a factory but seems rather to serve as a physical form for Sauron’s nebulous spirit.

“But Sauron was not of mortal flesh, and though he was robbed now of that shape in which had wrought so great an evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men, yet his spirit arose out of the deep and passed as a shadow and a black wind over the sea, and came back to Middle-earth and to Mordor that was his home. There he took up again his great Ring in Barad-dur, and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise, an image of malice and hatred made visible; and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Saruman has as his emblem the White Hand signifying action and industry Sauron’s symbol is that of the lidless eye ever watchful but empty within.

‘The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing’.

In a sense Sauron can be seen as spirit without form and Saruman as form without spirit not unlike the Lucifer and Ahriman of the anthrosophical teachings propounded by Owen Barfield.


Anon, Anthroposophy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy [Accessed January 15, 2012a].

Anon, How_Barfield_Thought.pdf. Available at: http://davidlavery.net/Collected_Works/Essays/How_Barfield_Thought.pdf [Accessed January 15, 2012b].

Anon, Lucifer and Ahriman, The Influences of – Rudolf Steiner Anthroposophy lectures. Available at: http://www.skylarkbooks.co.uk/Shop/media/The_Inflences_of_Lucifer_and_Ahriman_Steiner.htm [Accessed May 13, 2012c].

Anon, Owen Barfield – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Barfield [Accessed January 15, 2012d].

Anon, Rudolf_Steiner_-_Lucifer_Ahriman_Asuras.pdf. Available at: http://www.hermetics.org/pdf/steiner/Rudolf_Steiner_-_Lucifer_Ahriman_Asuras.pdf [Accessed May 13, 2012e].

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

Tolkien, J., 1991. The lord of the rings, London: HarperCollins.

‘Close Your Eyes To The Deficiencies Of Other Souls’

One of the aspects of the teachings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which impresses me is that of concentrating on one’s own spiritual development and not dwelling on the faults of others.

‘Wherefore must the friends of God, with utter sanctity, with one accord, rise up in the spirit, in unity with one another, to such a degree that they will become even as one being and one soul. On such a plane as this, physical bodies play no part, rather doth the spirit take over and rule; and when its power encompasseth all then is spiritual union achieved. Strive ye by day and night to cultivate your unity to the fullest degree. Let your thoughts dwell on your own spiritual development, and close your eyes to the deficiencies of other souls. Act ye in such wise, showing forth pure and goodly deeds, and modesty and humility, that ye will cause others to be awakened. Never is it the wish of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to see any being hurt, nor will He make anyone to grieve; for man can receive no greater gift than this, that he rejoice another’s heart. I beg of God that ye will be bringers of joy, even as are the angels in Heaven’.

Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

‘The Exponents Of Divine Philosophy’


Bahá’u’lláh elucidates the relationship between the prophets and the philosophers of classical times.

‘The sages aforetime acquired their knowledge from the Prophets, inasmuch as the latter were the Exponents of divine philosophy and the Revealers of heavenly mysteries. Men quaffed the crystal, living waters of Their utterance, while others satisfied themselves with the dregs. Everyone receiveth a portion according to his measure. Verily He is the Equitable, the Wise. Empedocles, who distinguished himself in philosophy, was a contemporary of David, while Pythagoras lived in the days of Solomon, son of David, and acquired Wisdom from the treasury of prophethood. It is he who claimed to have heard the whispering sound of the heavens and to have attained the station of the angels. In truth thy Lord will clearly set forth all things, if He pleaseth. Verily, He is the Wise, the All-Pervading. The essence and the fundamentals of philosophy have emanated from the Prophets’.

LAWḤ-I-HIKMAT (Tablet of Wisdom)

'A Dream Of An Ancient Wood'

In ‘A fragment of Life’ (1922) Athur Machen expounds one of his major themes- the transmutation of the mundane world into a place of wonder through the perception of a spiritually aware observer. The story opens with a juxtaposition of the protagonist Edward Darnell’s dream of  ‘an ancient wood’ with the ‘varnish of the new furniture’ in his suburban home.

‘Edward Darnell awoke from a dream of an ancient wood, and of a clear well rising into grey film and vapour beneath a misty, glimmering heat; and as his eyes opened he saw the sunlight bright in the room, sparkling on the varnish of the new furniture’.

Machen also contrasts Darnell’s spiritual journey through surroundings perceived though a nascent higher consciousness with a routine bus journey to his place of work in ‘the city.’

‘Yes, I think every journey was a success. Of course, I didn’t go so far afield every day; I was too tired. Often I rested all day long, and went out in the evening, after the lamps were lit, and then only for a mile or two. I would roam about old, dim squares, and hear the wind from the hills whispering in the trees; and when I knew I was within call of some great glittering street, I was sunk in the silence of ways where I was almost the only passenger, and the lamps were so few and faint that they seemed to give out shadows instead of light. And I would walk slowly, to and fro, perhaps for an hour at a time, in such dark streets, and all the time I felt what I told you about its being my secret—that the shadow, and the dim lights, and the cool of the evening, and trees that were like dark low clouds were all mine, and mine alone, that I was living in a world that nobody else knew of, into which no one could enter.’

‘But in spite of these distractions he fell into a dream as the ‘bus rolled and tossed on its way Citywards, and still he strove to solve the enigma of his vigil of the night before, and as the shapes of trees and green lawns and houses passed before his eyes, and as he saw the procession moving on the pavement, and while the murmur of the streets sounded in his ears, all was to him strange and unaccustomed, as if he moved through the avenues of some city in a foreign land’.

Despite his limitations Darnell becomes aware of a greater reality than that of mere ‘common sense’

‘It was, perhaps, on these mornings, as he rode to his mechanical work, that vague and floating fancies that must have long haunted his brain began to shape themselves, and to put on the form of definite conclusions, from which he could no longer escape, even if he had wished it. Darnell had received what is called a sound commercial education, and would therefore have found very great difficulty in putting into articulate speech any thought that was worth thinking; but he grew certain on these mornings that the ‘common sense’ which he had always heard exalted as man’s supremest faculty was, in all probability, the smallest and least-considered item in the equipment of an ant of average intelligence’.

Machen describes life as a kind of pilgrimage- condemning a modern world which through concentration on the mundane aspects of life means that ‘a race of pilgrims had become hereditary stone-breakers and ditch-scourers on a track that led to destruction’

 ‘Life, it seemed to him, was a great search for—he knew not what; and in the process of the ages one by one the true marks upon the ways had been shattered, or buried, or the meaning of the words had been slowly forgotten; one by one the signs had been turned awry, the true entrances had been thickly overgrown, the very way itself had been diverted from the heights to the depths, till at last the race of pilgrims had become hereditary stone-breakers and ditch-scourers on a track that led to destruction—if it led anywhere at all. Darnell’s heart thrilled with a strange and trembling joy, with a sense that was all new, when it came to his mind that this great loss might not be a hopeless one, that perhaps the difficulties were by no means insuperable. It might be, he considered, that the stone-breaker had merely to throw down his hammer and set out, and the way would be plain before him; and a single step would free the delver in rubbish from the foul slime of the ditch’.

The work ends with an epiphany as Darnell realises that that the mundane world is an illusion and the ‘ancient wood’ of his opening dream is a hidden reality.

‘So I awoke from a dream of a London suburb, of daily labour, of weary, useless little things; and as my eyes were opened I saw that I was in an ancient wood, where a clear well rose into grey film and vapour beneath a misty, glimmering heat. And a form came towards me from the hidden places of the wood, and my love and I were united by the well.’

Text of ‘A Fragment of Life’ from ‘The House of Souls’ by Arthur Machen http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25016/25016-h/25016-h.htm

‘This Limitless Universe Is Like The Human Body’

Emblem of Microcosm/Macrocosm from Jan Moerman ‘De cleyn-werelt’ Amsterdam,1608.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá made a profound comparison of the universe with the human body.

‘…this limitless universe is like the human body, all the members of which are connected and linked with one another with the greatest strength. How much the organs, the members and the parts of the body of man are intermingled and connected for mutual aid and help, and how much they influence one another! In the same way, the parts of this infinite universe have their members and elements connected with one another, and influence one another spiritually and materially. For example, the eye sees, and all the body is affected; the ear hears, and all the members of the body are moved. Of this there is no doubt; and the universe is like a living person. Moreover, the connection which exists between the members of beings must necessarily have an effect and impression, whether it be material or spiritual’.

Some Answered Questions