Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell is on my mind, having just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the last of her award-winning trilogy on his life.

Born around 1485, of humble origins in London, Cromwell rose to become an MP, then in 1524 an advisor to Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, right hand man of King Henry VIII. Somehow Cromwell survived the fall of Wolsey in 1529, when King Henry blamed Wolsey for the failure to get the pope to agree with annulling his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon, who had not produced a son and heir.

In 1530 the King appointed Cromwell to the Privy Council and over the following years gave him many other titles, including Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Privy Seal and Great Chamberlain. Thomas Cromwell became the second most powerful man in England, second to King Henry of course, but always resented by the traditional aristocracy. He always had jealous enemies.

In 1532 the supremacy of the king over the church in England was confirmed, the Lord Chancellor and anti-protestant Sir Thomas More resigned and was subsequently executed. The marriage to Catherine was annulled at Dunstable Priory, delegitimising her daughter Mary as heir. Henry married Anne Boleyn in 1533. All was orchestrated by Cromwell. In 1534 he was formally confirmed as first minister (compare today’s prime minister).

In 1536 came the act for the suppression of the lesser monasteries, Cromwell’s scheme to seize the wealth and lands of the monasteries, which provoked rebellion in the north of England with first the Lincolnshire Rising and followed by the Pilgrimage of Grace. These rebellions were seen off by Henry and those loyal. Those responsible were first persuaded to delay and later pursued and executed.

Anne Boleyn had not agreed with the religious changes, there were rumours of affairs, and she had also not produced a male heir. Cromwell was instrumental in her trial, fall and execution and the annulment of this marriage, delegitimising her daughter Elizabeth as heir. Henry married Jane Seymour.

Queen Jane died in 1537, after the birth of her son Edward, the longed-for male heir.

In 1538 the religious reform extended to the larger monasteries, which were invited to surrender, a process completed by 1540. Those that resisted, such as Richard Whiting at Glastonbury, were executed. The wealth and lands went to the King and his favoured lords. But the king resisted further religious reform.

Also in 1540 Cromwell had succeeded in arranging a ‘political’ marriage of Henry with Anne of Cleves, which was never consummated as neither party seemed to regard the other with any favour. But political winds were changing on the continent and it is believed that Henry blamed Cromwell for this alliance and the failure to extricate him from the marriage. Conservative forces briefed against Cromwell and the king allowed him to be arrested, tried and executed by July. At the same time, Anne agreed to annulment of the marriage and Henry married Catherine Howard.

Ten years was all it took for the once-humble Thomas Cromwell to dissolve the great monasteries of England and be instrumental in the king undertaking his second, third and fourth marriages, and for others to follow through with the fifth. Whatever we think of his dissolution of the monasteries, he seems not to have deserved the fate of beheading eloquently described by Hilary Mantel.

In fact Mantel’s books tell the whole story of Cromwell’s period in power, from the imagined perspective of the man himself. The whole trilogy is a tour de force, requiring great stamina for a complete reading, but very rewarding.

At the end of the day, Thomas Cromwell was a mere pawn on the European chessboard, in the game being played out by the English, French and Holy Roman kings/emperor, the Protestants and the popes of the Roman Catholic Church. He was dispensable when no longer convenient for his master.

King Henry VIII was a monster ego, who manipulated all to his own perceived personal advantage. We have not a jot of sympathy for him. Just beware today’s monster egos that seek similar over-arching power.

Featured image: Thomas Cromwell, by Hans Holbein

Hilary Mantel trilogy: Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, The Mirror and the Light

An Exploration of Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”

I was drawn to Martin Buber’s ideas of I-Thou while at unversity in the 1960s. Here is a great post by Andrew on the subject. How often do we treat others as objects rather than as other subjects with whom we can empathise?

Of course, much modern politics is all about I-It, treating people as objects. Those who seek empathy and treating others humanely, as opposed to cold hearted objectivity, are tarred as woolly hearted liberals.

Similarly, I-It dominates many people’s attitude to the natural world, rather than being embedded in the wonder. Which is of course why we have a global ecological crisis.

A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life

Martin Buber’s book “I and Thou” is an inquiry into how our relationships with others shape our reality. His main thesis, which runs throughout the course of the book, is that there are two different modes in which we encounter the world, namely through ‘I-It’ or ‘I-Thou’ relationships.

Let’s take a closer look at these concepts in more detail.

I-IT

I-It relationships are entered into to achieve some sort of external goal or purpose. Through these type of encounters we engage others with the intent and expectation of attaining some gain or benefit. For those familiar with the language of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, people are treated as means to achieve an end.

With the rise of political and economic bureaucracies, shift towards urbanization and the proliferation of global corporations of the modern era, I-IT relationships have become the predominant mode of interaction in our day to day lives.

They…

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Spiritual science

Can science and spirituality be reconciled? Is there a way of looking at things that brings them into alignment? Of course, the answer is ‘yes’. In his book Spiritual Science, published 2018, Steve Taylor gives a convincing answer. His subtitle is ‘why science needs spirituality to make sense of the world’. Steve gives the reasons and, from my perspective, comprehensively demolishes the arguments for the recently dominant paradigms of materialism and scientism.

Steve looks at the origins of materialism. Science originally developed alongside religion through pioneers such as Descartes, Kepler and Newton. They were not seen as incompatible. it was around the second half of the 19C that Darwin’s theory of evolution came to put into question whether the biblical stories could actually be true; there came a theory that religion was not necessary to explain the world. TH Huxley was a leading proponent of what became the materialistic viewpoint. The inner content of experience and consciousness itself were mysterious elided. After the world wars further discredited religions, materialism gradually took hold, and there came about a new faith that materialism could explain everything. As Steve points out this has denigrated the experience of the spiritual/religious life, and indeed has become a new religion. The result has become increasingly clear as humanity in the large degrades the natural world, and even imperils its own existence.

Steve then goes on to ask the simple question ‘What if the primary reality of the universe is not matter? What if there is another quality, which is so fundamental that it actually pervades matter, and matter is actually a manifestation of it? What if this othe quality also pervades living beings, and all non-living things, so that they are always interconnected?’ Of course, this sort of idea has been adopted by many cultures in history, and is similar to the perspective of the ageless wisdom propagated by Helena Blavatsky. Steve refers back to the ancient Greek philosophy, to the world’s religions, to indigenous cultures, all of whihc had similar viewpoints. It is the modern materialism that is the aberration.

Steve’s panspiritism, and the similar panpsychism, have much greater explanatory power than materialism, which tends to reject the numerous phenomena that it cannot explain, not least the question of consciousness itself, which tends to be ‘explained away’ from the materialist viewpoint (the ‘hard problem’). In the panspiritist vew, consciousness exists everywhere and in everything, and the brain acts as some sort of receiver which channels it. And of course this view allows for the possibility of ‘spiritual experiences’, which are well understood and documented.

Steve goes on to explore the correlates between mind, brain and body, near-death and awakening (spiritual) experiences, psychic phenomena, an alternative view of evolution, the puzzle of altruism, and the problems of quantum physics, which has long been known to be inconsistent with simple materialism. Finally he outlines key tenets of panspiritism and the significance of the expansion of consciousness in the evolution of our universe. This is what it’s all about!

Steve’s book is a genuine tour de force, expressed in language that is not deeply technical. Well worth reading.

All doomed?

“A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Will Durant

To make up for a significant gap in my scientific/technological education, I once waded through Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History (abridged version, a mere 1003 pages summarising the original 12 volumes), with significant help from a large Webster’s Dictionary. The ebb and flow of humanity and its civilisations was indeed fascinating. But always there was the question at the back of my mind ‘Why do civilisations fail? This has inspired many historians to produce their own stories and analyses. William Ophuls is familiar with many of these and has produced this short book Immoderate Greatness in which he summarises the conclusions, not the stories.

So why do civilisations fail? Ophuls suggest there are six fundamental reasons:

  1. Ecological exhaustion through systematic exhaustion of the civilisation’s periphery and nature. The money economy tends to become an abstraction disconnected from the real world.
  2. Exponential growth. Essentially the future is valued at a great discount to the present. Decisions are taken for now, not for future generations.
  3. The law of Entropy, disorder tends to increase despite technological advances. Technologies tend to require more energy than they can generate. The natural system based on living processes does not have this problem.
  4. Excessive complexity. Eventually the level of problems created exhausts the capacity of people to manage them.
  5. Moral decay. Glubb identified that civilisations pass through natural ages: pioneers, commerce, affluence, intellect, then decadence. Over a period of around 250 years. In the latter age politics is increasingly corrupt and life unjust with huge wealth discrepancies – with bread and circuses to distract the people.
  6. Practical failure. The previous problems inevitably lead to increasing failure. Inflation,  debasing currency and wars have been the desperate paths historically taken. Reform and revival is possible, but is not the path most taken.

Now we have a global civilisation that has been around for about 250 years. It exhibits many of the symptoms mentioned. Collapse is possible, are we all doomed? Not necessarily.

What is clear is that fundamental change is needed – not least re global warming, catastrophic decline of the natural world, pandemics and global security. All require global cooperation.

The evident reversion of some countries to populism and posturing nationalism are moving in the wrong direction – that of moral decay, privileged elites, bread and circuses. This is the last thing that is needed.

Entangled Life

I’ve always known that there are mushrooms and fungi and yeasts and strange underground things called truffles. And I’ve increasingly become aware of just how interconnected is all life on earth, which shows through as one of the themes in this blog. What I had not fully realised is that fungi are fundamental building blocks of this interconnected life, even to the extent that plants could not exist without them,  and live in symbiosis with them. Of course this also applies to animals, including human beings. Indeed, some of the largest beings on the planet are fungi.

The actual fungal body is the mycelium of threads (hyphae) that runs through the earth, the compost heap, the rotting corpse, the living being. The mushroom and truffle are the fruit, which provides the mechanism to facilitate spreading of the spores.

For millennia fungi have provided the means for human relaxation and psychological transcendence, through psychedelic mushrooms and the alcoholic beverages that come from fermentation through yeasts, which are also simple fungi. Who knows what role they played in the visions of prophets and mystics, and the evolution of the human psyche.

All this and more is the subject of Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life. It is a very readable story of the discoveries of modern science related to fungi, woven with Merlin’s own personal journey. Well worthy reading for a better insight into the ever-increasing complexity of our understanding of the natural world, which is just about keeping pace with our ignorant destruction of it.

I should perhaps declare a minor bias, in that Merlin’s  illustrious father Rupert Sheldrake stayed overnight at our house in the early 90s, in order to give his Knutsford Lecture on Visions of a New Renaissance. Rupert’s innovative approach to science, that led to his theory of morphic resonance, appears to have rubbed off well onto his son Merlin, who is proving to be another great communicator of science.

Featured image of edible fungi in a basket is by George Chernilevsky, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mystical scientists

The greatest scientists are also mystics. They recognise that their science is just producing mathematical models of the real world, and there is always a mystery beyond that. The model is a map, not the territory.

In one of his early books Quantum Questions (1984), American philosopher Ken Wilber collated mystical writings of some of the main physicists who created the 20th century revolution in physics, including relativity and quantum theory. This effectively shows that those pioneers were, each in their own way, also mystics.

I recently got hold of a secondhand copy of the book to check it out. These are the scientific mystics included:

  • Werner Heisenberg, who gave his name to the famous ‘uncertainty principle’
  • Erwin Schrödinger, who developed wave mechanics
  • Albert Einstein, famous for his special and general relativity and contributions in quantum theory and Brownian movement
  • Prince Louise de Broglie, who developed the theory of matter waves
  • James Jeans, who made numerous contributions to the theory of gases, electromagnetism, the evolution of stars and galaxies…
  • Max Planck, father of quantum theory
  • Wolfgang Pauli, whose numerous contributions included the ‘exclusion principle’ and forecasting the existence of the neutrino
  • Arthur Eddington, leading exponent of relativity theory, who led the expedition leading to its first ‘proof’

As Wilber points out, they were following in the tradition of predecessors such as Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton.

All these great scientists recognised the philosophical nature of the work they were doing, and what was not within its scope. It’s a great shame that modern practioners of the strange faith of scientism and materialism did not have that same recognition and came to reject any concept of mysticism or spirituality.

Is the book worth reading? Only if it’s of particular interest for you. But it’s good to know of its existence!

Featured image shows attendees at the famous 1927 Solvay Conference, including
Front Row: Planck (2), Einstein (5),
Middle Row: de Broglie (7),
Back Row: Schrödinger (6), Pauli (8), Heisenberg (9).

by Benjamin Couprie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Creativity and Humour

One of my themes in this blog has been the over-dominance of left brain as against right brain in current Western societies. This was the subject of Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary, reviewed here in 2016. So I was delighted to come across this video of McGilchrist in conversation with John Cleese (of Fawlty Towers fame) on the subject of Creativity, Humour and The Meaning of Life, and their essential relationship with the right brain.

To pick just two points that it inspired for me:

  • Comedy is essentially ‘right brain’, and is not ‘politically correct’ or ‘woke’. Comedy depends on irreverence, and being able to laugh at things that are potentially forbidden subjects. Just think of those TV images of masses of men leading the Soviet Politburo or the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Not much comedy in those solemn faces.
  • Meaning, imagination and inspiration are very much related to right brain. Have you noticed just how boring politicians are on the media when they are in the process of spouting some ‘party line’ that the left brain is following? The only interesting speakers on programmes such as the BBC’s Question Time are those with the freedom to speak out from their own life experience.

You will have your own takeaways from listening to this fascinating conversation between an outstanding academic/psychiatrist and a top class comedian. The video is in 3 parts of around 20 minutes each. The first part follows, and will naturally lead you on to the others..

The Fall

Most of us are familiar with the biblical story of the fall, when Adam and Eve were thrown out of paradise after an incident with a serpent and a piece of fruit. I remember it from Sunday School at the local Methodist Chapel. Why did our ancestors place so much emphasis on this story? It comes in Genesis 2, in verse 8, just after the creation of heaven and earth.

And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man…

God creates Adam and then Eve and by the end of Chapter 4 (verse 23), because Eve partook of the fruit of a forbidden tree (it was clearly the woman’s fault):

…the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth…

This was obviously highly significant to the men (well they probably were of that gender) who set down the Old Testament. Why? Well, Steve Taylor’s book The Fall has an answer to this question, not only for the scribes of that era, but also for ourselves and future human beings.

It’s taken me a while to get around to reading this book – first published in 2005 and highly recommended by many reviewers. I guess I sort of thought I knew the story, but it was not with the wonderful vision encompassed by this book. Steve is a psychologist, so his story is imbued with a deep understanding of human psychology, but he has also clearly researched and understood many disciplines to produce a work of this scope. This is a history of the fall and a vision of our potential return to paradise.

Read More »

Galileo’s Error?

Galileo Galilei is thought of as the founder of modern science. “One of his most significant contributions was his radical declaration in 1623 that mathematics is to be the language of science.”

Before that time there was mathematics, but there was also the recognised ‘inner world’ of sensory qualities. The latter was excluded from the emerging science.

The triumphant march of science, with its handmaiden technology, since then, suggests that this was a useful simplification.

But what have we lost? Since Galileo’s time the measurable objective has significantly eclipsed the sensed subjective – not only in science, but across society and in our relationship with nature.

We clearly cannot blame today’s ecological and economic crises on Galileo, but I’d suggest that the trend he set in motion led to the problems we now grapple with. We need a new balance between subjective and objective, which other theorists have suggested is a balance between left and right brain hemispheres.

Incidentally Galileo’s simplification also created the so-called ‘hard problem of consciousness’, by excluding subjective consciousness from science.

Led by quantum theory, science has, over the past century, increasingly come to the realisation that this does not work. Objectification of everything leads to meaninglessness. Basically, mathematical models tell us little about the intrinsic nature of things.

How often, in politics do we see ‘managerialism’, where everything is measured and managed by number, being rejected by the people, in favour of more passionate and idealistic inner-directed politicians. Could this be a part of the natural rebalancing that is going on in the human psyche? It won’t be all ‘good’ – see eg Trump and Brexit…

This reflection was inspired by Philip Goff’s book Galileo’s Error, a well-written, readable and fascinating reflection on the history and philosophy of science and the foundations for ‘a new science of consciousness’. The case for different ontologies of materialism, dualism and panpsychism comes down firmly in favour of the latter. Well worth a read!

Featured image is 1636 portrait of Galileo by Justus Sustermans, via Wikipedia.

The Fight for The Fens

Having grown up surrounded by The Fens (see earlier post), I was delighted to receive the book Imperial Mud by James Boyce, which outlines the history of this area of England. But why a book about English history written by an Aussie historian from Tasmania? This becomes clear as you realise that Boyce is also author of Van Diemens Land, a history of Tasmania. It turns out that the history of The Fens in England has strong echoes with the history of Tasmania – both being stories of displacement or co-opting of indigenous peoples in a colonial project, stealing their land for settlement.

The thing about the English Fens is that they were not easily settled by farmers, nor easily dominated by landowners. The low-lying land comprised varying degrees of bog/marsh, depending on season. But there was an abundance of fish and wildlfe, so it was possible to survive without the large farms in other areas of England. Also, travel was difficult, so the local people were very independent and distrusting of outsiders.

Boyce tells the story of the formation of the Fens and what he calls the ‘Fennish’ people with the emergence of a marshland environment in the East of England around 3-4000 years ago. The Roman invasion in AD43 had a significant impact, draining and colonising part of the Fens, provoking the rebellion led by Boudicca. After the Roman withdrawal in 410 the next ‘invasion’ came from the Christian church, through establishment of numerous monasteries, which grew into powerful centres integrated into the social fabric, and doing their own drainage projects. With the Norman invasion of 1066, feudal lords owned much of the land, alongside the monasteries, but there was still much ‘common land’ managed according to traditional practice, particularly in the Fens.

Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s led to major change, as many of the new landowners eventually wanted to enclose some of the common land and drain it for farmland. Land reclamation by drainage became big business in Holland in the late 1500s and this expertise inevitably found its way to the Fens. The political will came with the Stuart kings in the 1600s.

Boyce outlines the events of the ‘fight for the Fens’, where landowners sought to drain the land and create settlements by removing access to the Common land of the people. This was naturally resisted by local people whose way of life was being destroyed.

Read More »

Having grown up surrounded by The Fens (see earlier post), I was delighted to receive the book Imperial Mud by James Boyce, which outlines the history of this area of England. But why a book about English history written by an Aussie historian from Tasmania? This becomes clear as you realise that Boyce is also author of Van Diemens Land, a history of Tasmania. It turns out that the history of The Fens in England has strong echoes with the history of Tasmania – both being stories of displacement or co-opting of indigenous peoples in a colonial project, stealing their land for settlement.

The thing about the English Fens is that they were not easily settled by farmers, nor easily dominated by landowners. The low-lying land comprised varying degrees of bog/marsh, depending on season. But there was an abundance of fish and wildlfe, so it was possible to survive without the large farms in other areas of England. Also, travel was difficult, so the local people were very independent and distrusting of outsiders.

Boyce tells the story of the formation of the Fens and what he calls the ‘Fennish’ people with the emergence of a marshland environment in the East of England around 3-4000 years ago. The Roman invasion in AD43 had a significant impact, draining and colonising part of the Fens, provoking the rebellion led by Boudicca. After the Roman withdrawal in 410 the next ‘invasion’ came from the Christian church, through establishment of numerous monasteries, which grew into powerful centres integrated into the social fabric, and doing their own drainage projects. With the Norman invasion of 1066, feudal lords owned much of the land, alongside the monasteries, but there was still much ‘common land’ managed according to traditional practice, particularly in the Fens.

Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s led to major change, as many of the new landowners eventually wanted to enclose some of the common land and drain it for farmland. Land reclamation by drainage became big business in Holland in the late 1500s and this expertise inevitably found its way to the Fens. The political will came with the Stuart kings in the 1600s.

Boyce outlines the events of the ‘fight for the Fens’, where landowners sought to drain the land and create settlements by removing access to the Common land of the people. This was naturally resisted by local people whose way of life was being destroyed.

Read More »

Out of the Wreckage

I haven’t had time to read George Monbiot’s book ‘Out of the Wreckage’. This excellent post by Zoe O’Kill gives a good summary – and an excellent overview of our predicament related to the insane neoliberalism that our politics seems to be increasingly in thrall to, both sides of the pond but especially the US.

What is Philosophy for?

Mary Midgley was 99 when this book was published. This was also the year she died. What was so important as to keep this English philosopher active to such a great age? She had seen generations of academics come and go, and observed the follies of many thinkers in varying disciplines, who even denigrated the purpose of philosophy itself. She’d probably fought many battles. And now she had the clarity to write in a small volume what was the essence of the need for philosophy, in the process pointing out its wide range of applicability and the limitations of its critics. This is a wonderful, clear and refreshing book, remarkable for one of such advanced years.

So what is philosophy for? Midgley has a simple answer, in the spirit of a whole line of philosophers since the time of Socrates: “it is surely the effort to examine our life as a whole, to make sense of it, to locate its big confusions and resolve its big conflicts.” She goes on to ask why people need to study philosophy at all: “because it explains the relations between different ways of thinking”, suggesting that new developments in thought largely come from seeing across the disciplines, rather than from following tracks within them.

Midgley lived through the times when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and academia in the UK was required to become more ‘relevant’. Many traditional philosophy departments were forced to close and what were left focused on the business of ‘research’. Her attitude to such research is well expressed: “…I don’t do any, because I’m certainly not organizing any static mining operation of this kind. I suppose that instead I try to follow the argument (as Plato said) wherever it runs, and I may finally catch it in a territory quite far from the one where it started.”

Why did she write the book?

What makes me write books is usually exasperation, and this time it was a rather general exasperation against the whole reductive, scientistic, mechanistic, fantasy-ridden creed which still constantly distorts the world-view of our age.

This gives a good clue as to the content. I will pick out a few areas where Midgley’s views are far from the mainstream, but largely accord with the ideas you have read in this blog and elsewhere on the needs for a New Renaissance.

Read More »

Queen’s Gambit

We just completed watching the popular Netflix miniseries Queen’s Gambit, the fictional story of a female chess prodigy Beth Harmon, based on a novel by Walter Tevis.

The story is well told, in such a way as to make it interesting to non-chessplayers. As an ex-chessplayer, to county standard, I can say that it does get over quite well the reality of playing chess at the time – the fictional period is round about the time I was regularly playing chess. You really get the feel of the excitement of playing the games, but without need to understand precisely what is going on at the board. Indeed, the chessplayer cannot easily tell what is happening. But the drama is excellent.

It does give an idea of the misogyny that was prevalent in the game at the time, which reflected the wider society. Boys just did not believe that girls could really play chess as well. Although in the USSR things were different. Women’s world champion Nona Gaprindashvili was a very strong player, as I discovered when drawing with her in a simultaneous diplay in Cambridge in the 1960s.

This is also a deep psychological story, of how Beth copes with a deep trauma from childhood and how this affects her chess and relationships, again well done.

When she goes to Moscow (funnily enough around the time when I was involved in a real chess trip to Moscow), the film also only hints at the extreme measures taken by the USSR to ensure its hegemony at chess. The shenanigins of the matches between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky and between Anatoly Karpov and Victor Korchnoi are notorious. She would have needed seconds along with her to survive.

And finally, when she has beat a Russian opponent, he hugs her – a modern sexism for effect in the film, but no, it would not have happened then.

Still, it’s a great story. I give it 5/5.

Featured image is from Netflix publicity.

Our Story

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

TS Eliot, Little Gidding

In the beginning, after the big bang and the formation of the earth and living beings, human beings emerged embedded in the dream of nature. There was no differentiation.

Gradually there emerged language and groupings of people.

There were some societies where the connection with nature remained strong, where language worked in consort with the one, where men and women each brought their own strengths to that cooperation with others and with the one. They developed wonderful creativity in their cave paintings, and a wonderful science that enabled them to comprehend and relate to the cosmos through great stone constructions. They told stories that passed through the generations, passing on archetypal knowledge, lessons of experience to each new generation.

With the coming of written language, some feared that the knowledge of connection would be lost. They wrote it down, hidden away for when ignorant barbarians came, which surely they did.Read More »

Wilding

wildingIsabella Tree’s book Wilding (2018) is one of the great books of nature writing. It had me spellbound from start to finish.

First, there was the great adventure of giving nature its head in a marginal farm at Knepp in Sussex, inspired by similar experiments in Netherlands, with the removal of fencing and the introduction of cattle, pigs and ponies. Remarkably the land soon reverted to a mixed landscape of trees, scrub and grassland. Biodiversity increased incredibly. Almost extinct species came back to life and thrived. It’s a story to warm the heart of anyone with a feeling for the natural world.

Of course there was opposition from conventional farming and a view of what the countryside ‘should’ look like, which simply goes back to around the 1800s. Part of the story is how these obstacles were co-opted or overcome. The thing is, the experiment was clearly a huge success from a biodiversity perspective and will surely provide a model for many others.

There are within this book many insights into the history of farming, and why things are as they are. For example the Victorians first created the deep ploughing tools that enabled the draining of marginal farmland and the production of crops. But there has been a price to pay. Along with corresponding ‘improvement’ of water courses to transmit water as quickly as possible, and the widespread use of sheep grazing and grouse management in uplands, this has created the environment where the flooding that we see today after heavy rains becomes inevitable. Left to itself, nature slows and tames the waters, and it can learn to do so again.

Really inspiring are the stories of the return and thriving of nightingales, purple emperors, turtle doves, water voles, hares and others.

And finally, there is the story of the soil, how soil health has improved, different sorts of earthworms thrive, and how approaches such as that taken at Knepp could play a major role in helping to reverse the increase of carbon dioxide that threatens human societies the world over.

They can also help us to get back in touch with nature and our souls, from which the mad money/technological dream has been increasingly distancing us.

Yes, read it.

And you can now go on safari at the Knepp estate.

Featured image shows longhorn cattle grazing wild at the Knepp estate,
from the Knepp website.

Aluna

How do indigenous peoples perceive the world? The remarkable film Aluna gives an idea. But this is no ordinary action film or documentary. Alan Ereira produced a BBC documentary with the Kogi indians in 1990 to transmit their first warning to mankind to change course and become a part of nature again. Why should we listen? To quote the above website:

The Kogi are the last surviving civilization from the world of the Inca and Aztec, and their cities are untouched by our world. The mountain they inhabit is an isolated triangular pyramid rising over 18,000 feet from the sea, the highest coastal mountain on earth. It is on a separate tectonic plate from the Andes, and its unique structure means that it is virtually a miniature version of the planet, with all the world’s climates represented. The mountain is quite literally a micro-cosmos, a mirror of the planet on which every ecological zone is represented and in which most of the plants and animals of the planet can find homes.

Following that first documentary, the Kogi retreated to their mountain village in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Their message perhaps had some effect on the Rio 1991 environmental accord, but has apparently been more recently ignored. So they contacted Alan again and asked him to create another film to try to get their message across. The result is Aluna.

This is like no other film. Adjectives such as slow, unclear, rambling come to mind as it meanders through the story of the Kogi, their coming to London to collect a golden thread, their return and the unrolling of the golden thread around the coast that surrounds the mountains in which they live, to help the healing process. Yet it is also fascinating.

Their message is that the earth is dying because of the actions of so-called civilised man, who they call ‘little brother’. We need to stop and change the way we live and perceive the earth.

As the thread unravels between the seven river estuaries in that coastline their message slowly becomes clear. The industrial ports that have been placed at the river mouths, and the mines and related deforestation, are destroying the rivers themselves. What happens in one part of the river changes the whole river. It is a living being.

They fly up into the mountains by helicopter. We see their beautifully neat village. The nearby river is much reduced from what it was. Vegetation is dying because of this and the foreign species such as eucalyptus that have been planted by the government.

Higher up in the mountains the snows are gone and the lakes are drying up. The mountain ecology is dying. On the coast, macaws that used to be there are no more, lagoons are dying. The Kogi’s world is dying.

A scientist from a UK university flies in and confirms that modern ecology is now beginning to understand that the Kogi view of the river is indeed correct. The different parts are indeed interconnected. Upstream is affected by downstream; they are one system.

It is difficult to deny that the Kogi view is indeed correct and our world is slowly dying, bit by bit, generation by generation. Each new generation sees the baseline as what it was when they were children, so the change does not seem so dramatic. But yes, our natural world is dying. Hence all the species extinctions that we are warned about.

We need to change before it is too late. Covid-19 is clearly a warning shot across the bows by nature.

The new world that emerges must take care of nature from thereon and stop this crazy exploitation and destruction of our home.

So don’t watch this film for a great cinematic experience. It is not that, and you may find time drags watching it. But it leaves a mark on your soul, and gives a feel for the way the Kogi holistically see the world. It is haunting, and may lead you and the rest of us to do (or rather be) something quite remarkable.

In Tune with the Infinite

“There is a golden thread that runs through every religion in the world. There is a golden thread that runs through the lives of the prophets, seers, sages and saviours in the world’s history, through the lives of all men and women of truly great and lasting power.”

Ralph Waldo Trine

in tune withI sometimes like to reread and reflect on books that have resided on my bookshelves for many years. Ralph Waldo Trine‘s book In Tune with the Infinite was inspirational when I read it in 1987. Here was a philosophical and spiritual exposition in readable form that I could relate to and that seemed to make sense. The pages of my copy are now yellowed at the edges, but the text still makes absolute sense. Since its publication in 1899 sales of this book number in the millions, so clearly many agree with this assessment. Notably it was said to have been very influential on one Henry Ford, who created the Ford motor company.

Academically, Trine is now classified as part of the New Thought Movement, which Wikipedia characterises as holding that

  • Infinite Intelligence, or God, is everywhere
  • divinity dwells within each person, people are spiritual beings
  • the highest spiritual principle is loving one another unconditionally
  • thoughts are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living.
  • sickness originates in the mind, and “right thinking” has a healing effect.

The magic of Trine’s short (208 pages) book is to bring this down to simple language that is easily comprehended, a true popularization of psychology, philosophy and spirituality. Along the way he explains important concepts such as

  • the importance of optimism,
  • the effect of mental attitude and faith in focusing thought into fruition,
  • the effect of fear as the enemy of life forces,
  • the effect of thought on healing,
  • the importance of love,
  • the finding of one’s own inner spiritual centre,
  • ignorance and selfishness being at the root of all error,
  • the corrosive effect of negative thoughts,
  • living by example,
  • the importance of the inner guide – conscience, intuition, wisdom,
  • it is the truth that makes us free,
  • the refreshing power of sleep,
  • living according to inner soul direction – not to suit others,
  • as we sow, so shall we reap,
  • being a friend to the highest within us.

The basic philosophy and psychological/spiritual guidance in this book are, I think, just as valid today as the day they were written.

Trine’s book continues to give and give to each new generation of readers.

In the 80s I also read Prentice Mulford’s book Thought Forces, which was on similar lines, shorter but less readable.

 

Taking Appearance Seriously

The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought

by Henri Bortoft

taking appearance seriouslyThis challenging book explains where Western thinking went wrong, and points the way towards the revolution in thinking that is needed to get back on track.

I read it on Kindle some time ago, probably not wise for such an erudite work, but it did make it easy to recall a lot of key points by downloading my highlights.

Almost by definition, this is difficult reading, because it does not ‘come from’ the place where Western thinking habitually does these days.

Henri Bortoft has a good shot at making this understandable to such as myself, with an interest in philosophy but no great training or professional expertise. It is of course inspired by the thinking of Goethe, one of the giants of our intellectual history.

I’ve included my edited notes in the following, which may help to give an appreciation of the staggering scope of this book and of Goethe’s thinking. But there is no escape from the effort of reading the book itself if you want to understand its quite revolutionary message.Read More »

Ambition Unbridled

lustrumRobert Harris writes very engaging novels based on historical events. Lustrum tells the tale of the great Roman orator Cicero, from the period when he was seen a saviour of the Roman Republic, to the time just a few years later when he was exiled from Rome by populist forces. The story is written from the perspective of Cicero’s secretary Tiro.

The story articulates well the threat to the Republic coming from the influx of money and veterans from the victorious generals Pompey in the East and Julius Caesar in the West. The hapless senators of the home Republic are increasingly subject to the machinations of these men, making Rome increasingly ungovernable.

One figure stands out in this story – the ambitious, ruthless, implacable Julius Caesar, clearly destined for power and apparently unwilling to share it with anyone else. Cicero recognised the threat, but was in the end unable to do anything about it.

I also read Dictator, the third volume of Harris’s Cicero trilogy, but found it a bit of an anticlimax as it tries to make sense of the complex events that followed, from Cicero’s exile from Rome to his death 15 years later – as Rome subsided from rule by the triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus into civil war, leading of course to the dictatorship of Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire.

Featured image is 16C bust of Julius Caesar by Andrea di Pietro di Marco Ferrucci.

 

End of an Empire

fate of romeWhy did the Roman Empire collapse? Kyle Harper’s very readable book The Fate of Rome makes a persuasive case that this was much to do with climate change and epidemic disease, both of which were consequences of the process of Empire itself.

It is salutary to reflect that such a political system is a process that has consequences on its environment and its citizens and their well-being. The parallels with today’s climate change and threatening global pandemic are obvious.

We could see this fatalistically in cataclysmic terms, or we can see it optimistically as being a story in need of constant renewal and redirection. It’s our choice.

My notes below outline the Empire’s story.Read More »