THEMES IN BARFIELD'S WORK
The Importance of the Imagination
The Evolution of Human Consciousness
Language and the Evolution of Consciousness
The book which established C. S. Lewis's professional academic reputation; The Allegory of Love, contained the dedication "To Owen Barfield, wisest and best of my unofficial teachers." In his biographical work The Inklings, Humphrey Carpenter confirms that Lewis "regarded Barfield as in every way an intellectual equal and in some respects superior to himself." Indeed, among all the other references to authorities and literary texts in The Allegory of Love will be found acknowledgment of Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction.
Owen Barfield was not an academic, although he gained a first-class honors degree in English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, and was a fellow undergraduate with C. S. Lewis. His Poetic Diction was originally begun as a thesis for his B.Litt., degree in 1922, and was published in 1928, following a work on parallel lines, History in English Words in 1926. This was at a time when Barfield was striving to make a name and living as a writer but he was eventually obliged to take up the practice of law, and for most of his life as a working solicitor he wrote no more books, although some of his occasional articles and lectures were published in 1944 under the title Romanticism Comes of Age (revised and expanded in 1966).
His principal books did not therefore appear until some time after those of the other Inklings-- Saving the Appearances, the first of them, in 1957, a year after Lewis's last novel, Till We Have Faces, three years after Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; and twelve years after Williams's death. This was to be followed by three other important works, two largely in the form of Socratic dialogues or symposia, Worlds Apart and Unancestral Voice in 1963 and 1965, and What Coleridge Thought in 1971. During this period he was "discovered" and encouraged by American academe and largely as a result of visiting lectureships, books of collected essays and talks appeared: Speaker’s Meaning (1967), The Rediscovery of Meaning (1977), and History, Guilt and Habit (1979). Apart from This Ever Diverse Pair, a jeu d'esprit of 1950, though not without important psychological and philosophical implications, this is the corpus of Barfield’s published work.
But although most of it was written somewhat late in the day, compared to the other Inklings, his thought appears to have been remarkably consistent over the years, sustained by a commitment to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. And the substance of these later books is undoubtedly the grist to the mill that sustained a life-long friendship with C. S. Lewis and an ongoing debate that they came to refer to as the Great War. They undoubtedly had a certain influence upon each other, part of which is discernible in Lewis's fiction, and conversely probably Barfield's affiliation to the Church of England in 1945. However he never abandoned his anthroposophical beliefs, even if Lewis thought some of them of doubtful compatibility with Christian orthodoxy.
Tolkien's respect and liking for Barfield stemmed principally from Barfield's deep-seated interest in language that was behind his two early books Poetic Diction and History in English Words. Barfield built a practical philosophical edifice on to his researches into the changing meaning and usage of words. And of course Tolkien's imaginative worlds were based initially on his creation of an elven language and its derivatives, from which the myths and sagas developed almost of their own accord. Lewis and Tolkien were not alone in their respect for Barfield. Professor G. B. Tennyson states that
No book by Owen Barfield is more deserving of serious attention from students of literature and thought than Poetic Diction. This extraordinary study stands virtually alone in focusing on the mysterious area in poetry between word and meaning.
We are dealing in effect with the magical roots of language, and its consequent power, particularly in heightened and inspired or "poetic" form. History in English Words is almost equally highly regarded, attracting in its later editions a foreword by W. H. Auden, who regards it as "a privilege to be allowed to recommend a book which is not only a joy to read but also of great moral value as a weapon in the unending battle between civilization and barbarism." Poetic Diction in its original edition was dedicated "To C. S. Lewis - opposition is true friendship," and in the preface to the third edition, written twenty-four years later, that dedication is renewed, m celebration of nearly half a lifetime's priceless friendship'.
THEMES IN BARFIELD'S WORK
What was it then that sustained this mutual intellectual respect and fond regard! Barfield's fundamental opinions changed little over the years, save in natural development and increasing cogency of expression. Three broad themes run through them all:
1. The importance of
2. The evolution of human consciousness; and
3. How this evolution is revealed in the changing meanings of words.
Importance of the Imagination
He records in the Introduction to Romanticism Comes of Age that he was brought up as an agnostic but that the intellectual vacuum created by his scepticism was broken at about the age of twenty-one by an increasing intensity in the way that he experienced lyric poetry. This was not so much a reaction to whole poems but more to the way certain word combinations worked on his mind. "It seemed there was some magic in it;" he writes, "and a magic which not only gave me pleasure but also reacted on and expanded the meanings of the individual words concerned." Furthermore, he found that this heightened experience of the poetic use of words spilled over into his appreciation of the outer world, of nature, art, history and human relationships, throwing up significances he otherwise would not have realized. He records two fundamental conclusions from this direct experience:
1. "Poetic or Imaginative
use of words enhances their meanings";
2. "Those enhanced meanings may reveal hitherto unapprehended parts or aspects of reality."
He goes on to emphasize this second point by saying, "I found I knew (there was no other word for it) things about them which I had not known before." It was the pursuit and investigation of this phenomenon that led to the writing of Poetic Diction and History in English Words. The ground base of these studies was the work of the English Romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth and Coleridge, underpinned by Shakespeare, and a good deal of general philosophy, particularly that which borders on psychology, including the Greek of the later Platonic Dialogues and relevant parts of Aristotle, such as his work on the soul, De Anima.
During this period, however, romanticism in general was under an intellectual cloud, partly through disillusionment following the First World War, and partly through hopes of a socialist panacea. However, Barfield felt himself engaged in a longer term battle. One that was not simply confined to the twentieth century but one in which Coleridge and the Romantic poets had also been engaged. This was the fight against materialist reductionism, that had become increasingly part and parcel of the popular scientific outlook since the seventeenth century. He saw all this in a yet larger perspective in terms of the history of human consciousness, a perspective that he gained from the study of Rudolf Steiner's works. Most of Barfield’s books are deeply reasoned and observed justifications for this belief. Moreover, he saw this line of study as no mere academic dalliance with ancient usage but as of vital importance to bringing about the next stage in the evolution of human consciousness, in which modern man is in desperate need of help and guidance, as the political and economic state of the world makes evident.
Evolution of Human Consciousness
Barfield traces the evolution of human consciousness from a state of "involvement" in the phenomena of the world at large, and in this there is a parallel with the evolution of consciousness in the maturing individual, from infancy to adulthood. Early man, like the modern infant, did not experience the world as the mature modern adult does--as an individual, standing alone, in an external universe which he is disengaged from, even to the point of apparent alienation. Early man, like the infant, participated intimately in the world of nature, which was like a mother's love. There was not the differentiation from the environment that is taken for granted nowadays.
This is particularly evident in the power of the totem animal. A tribe so identifies with a bird or beast that the species is indistinguishable from the tribe itself and from individuals who make up the tribe. Individuals, although bodily separate, are more mutually participative. The feelings, the assumptions, the customs of the group, have an overpowering influence on the individual psyche. This is akin to the psychology of the crowd, be it concert audience, football club, or lynch mob. A modern crowd is a relatively transient entity but a primitive tribe more permanent. Certain anthropologists have coined the term "participation mystique" to describe this mode of consciousness. This replaced the earlier naive theories that primitive peoples think in the same way that we do, speculate about the nature of natural phenomena in an intellectual fashion, and because they are more stupid, get it wrong! Thus implying that mythological stories about gods and spirits in the storm and rain was the best they could do in the scientific discipline of meteorology!
These earlier anthropological theories made the elementary blunder of assuming that primitive man's mode of mentation was the same as our own. It is Barfield's point that early man did not think "about" the nature of an external world as we do. He was more identified with it, so that it is doubtful if he would have been able to conceive what we mean by such a term as "external world" let alone set about "explaining" it. Only gradually did a sense of individuality, a separated ego, begin to develop. And with this development comes the ability to distinguish the self from the environment, along with which comes the ability to record experience. That is, at this stage, we have the origin of language, at first spoken, and much, much later, written. It is easy to overlook the important implications of the formation of language. It is the faculty above all that distinguishes men from the beasts. It is the animal world that would seem to be almost totally identified with its environment.
As soon as man started to individualize from animal-man he could begin to identify discrete objects and make words to represent them. This is the stage represented in the Bible where Adam "names" all the creatures. Naming external objects is an identifiable stage in the process of individuation, and by it man begins to identify himself. Much the same occurs in the development of the child, when dawning self-consciousness goes hand in hand with the development of language. In course of words begin to be written, and from this we are better able, our modern analytical consciousness, to trace evidence of the evolution of consciousness during recorded historical periods. This includes the recording of myth and legend which the earliest writings record as actual events of the past. Here we must fight against assuming that the minds of the time, even at this comparatively late stage, were as ours are today. The myths and legends and heroic sagas are not necessarily high-flown fancies embroidering prosaic fact, but may be actual records of what those of the time experienced.
This puts new light on the stories of the gods. We may choose, if we will, to explain away those ancient encounters as exaggerations of old tales, misunderstandings of natural phenomena, or psychological projections, but these are merely our twentieth-century interpretations of a mode of reality to which we deny existence and fail to understand. We ought to consider the possibility that the events of the Iliad, of The Odyssey, and all great tales of the pantheons of ancient gods and heroes are accurate records of real experience. The various heroes, Hector, Achilles, and the rest, saw the presence and heard the instruction of Pallas Athene, Hera, Aphrodite, Ares, Zeus, in the conduct of the Trojan war. The Erinyes were very real furies to Orestes. Dionysus a very real being to the Maenads and King Pentheus. We have no reason to doubt the veracity of these accounts other than our own latter-day scepticism and disbelief that poses as commonsense. It is our natural assumption, based upon our different type of consciousness, that all these tales are simply "made up" by the poet just as a modem writer of fiction "makes up" a story.
Barfield, having drawn attention to this, was not advocating that we try to return to this earlier mode of consciousness. This would be an error that is found in regressive mediumship or "solar plexus" psychism. However, he believed that as a first step we should recognize the validity, in their own time, of these ancient forms of perception. Then, if we can realize that there is a process in the unfolding of human consciousness, then we may be able to find for ourselves a way of release from the prison house of modern reductionist assumptions, and a way forward to a higher form of consciousness that is now striving to be born. This is the basis of Barfield's investigation into the use of language, and he aimed to show evidence of this evolution of consciousness by the change of meaning in particular words. In Poetic Diction he advocated that a history of language be written, not from the logician's point of view but from the insights of the poet. He even outlined the course that such a vast work might be expected to follow.
and the Evolution of Consciousness
In the early period of written record are the great sagas of the Vedas in India, the Iliad and the Odyssey in Greece, where "Nature is alive in the thinking of man." The gods are the springs of action and spiritual beings walk the Earth. It is because they are a direct record of a wider experience that they bring a sense of sublimity and have the vitality to have made their appeal through the ages. They have the power of childhood memories, images of immensities that can be recalled in later life by the adult, and give spiritual insight to forgotten realities that may still abide. Wordsworth tried to exemplify this in The Prelude. These old stories are no arbitrary fancies but the direct record of conscious experience in the childhood of the human race. However, with the passage of time, and the development of the individualized ego there comes a corresponding loss of vividness of these modes of experience. We come, in the time of Plato, to a stage where these forces and beings are not direct personal experiences but philosophical abstractions, or Ideas. We must guard against the error of assuming that such Ideas were as cerebral and abstract to Plato as the modern experience of ideas is to us. They were realized as mighty forces behind the natural world; were regarded as more permanent than the natural world; and indeed as being the root causes of the natural world. They are close to being angelic beings, sub-creators, to what in Tolkien's world are called the Valar.
At the same time the role of the poet had been changing. From being the mouthpiece of the gods overtaken by a divine frenzy of inspiration, the poet begins to take a greater measure of personal responsibility for 'his' creative work. Even so, for a long time, it was the practice to invoke the Muses at the commencement of any major poetic effort of creation. "We see it in Spenser and also in Milton, and it is by no means entirely an empty convention even in the modern age. The early Greek dramatists met in competition, albeit at religious festivals, and with their material related to matters of the heroes and the gods. And we can trace an increasingly individualistic approach from the earlier hieratic formalities of Aeschylus, to the more flexible, individual, idiosyncratic approach of Euripides. Thus began the secularization of the theatre. Even so the plays were designed to bring about a religious experience, a catharsis induced by pity and horror, and then relieved by comedy. The impact of poetry and drama would have been much greater in those days. We should remember that it was the spoken word that was the medium of communication, with all its incantatory power. The historian Macaulay makes this point:
Men will talk about the old poets, and comment on them, and to a certain degree enjoy them. But they will scarcely be able to conceive the effect which poetry produced on their ruder ancestors, the agony, the ecstasy, the plenitude of belief
and he exemplifies this with the humane assumption, drawn from contemporary annals, "The Mohawk hardly feels the scalping knife while he shouts his death song." If this be true it would appear to give an advantage to the more primitive over the more civilized in the course of battle, sophistication of weaponry being equal! Gibbon records the use of bards by the Teutons to stir them in time of war. Indeed we have the Celtic tradition of the bards being formidable aids to warfare on the battlefield, their satires being sufficiently powerful to raise blisters on the faces of their enemies! This is certainly a poetic (or magical) power of the human voice that is scarcely available to moderns, because of the development of the ego. We are more cut off, but at the same time protected, from the magical world. Even so, public opinion can be an important factor in our behavior.
Barfield saw this period of gradual emergence of the individual consciousness from the group as marked by the spread of the written word. The invention of the printing press would thus mark a major external change that signified the burgeoning internal one. There was then a phase change, so to speak, at the end of the sixteenth century, with individual perception breaking free from the vestiges of participation mystique. This coincides with the beginnings of the scientific method which, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, is largely associated with the program of ideas advanced by Francis Bacon. We must however distinguish between the history of ideas and the history of consciousness. It is the emergence of human consciousness from one stage of growth to another that is the underlying cause of the influx of new ideas, including the invention of the necessary technology. A superficial examination of the history of ideas might otherwise lead one to assume that human beings were too stupid before the seventeenth century to apply their minds to science and technology, or that prior to then all scientific knowledge had been repressed by the vested interests of religious dogma.
Why then did not the ancient civilizations, all capable of formidable feats of structural engineering, not develop the scientific method! They were certainly bright enough to have done so. But it would seem that it just did not occur to them to apply a mechanistic, reductionist approach to the world about them. Was it because they were so aware of a vibrant multi-dimensional universe of which they were all a part that such an approach would appear ridiculous! This vibrant multi-dimensional world is no longer available to man because his consciousness has become individualized to a greater degree. He is a prisoner in solitary confinement within his own cranium. Barfield considered this to be, not an unmitigated disaster, but a necessary stage in the evolution of consciousness. In order to establish the ego, and its inalienable spiritual rights, man needs to feel alone. Only in this way, by going through the phase of feeling an insignificant speck in a vast and alien universe, can he take upon himself the full responsibility for his destiny.
Having experienced to
the full the implications of being a spiritual
the way forward is to reopen consciousness to the wider perspective that
has been temporarily lost. This does not mean a reversion to the old participation
mystique, which would be a regression into superstition and cosmic
childhood, but an opening of individual conscious responsibility to the
greater whole. This implies the growing awareness that the planet which
man inhabits, and of which he is steward and guardian, is a living organism,
containing living organisms within all its parts, even the most seemingly
inert, and part of a great hierarchy of living organisms that spans the
stars. The immediate way forward has been shown, Barfield believed, by
certain way-showers of the past two hundred years. Of particular note are
the eighteenth-century German poet-scientist Goethe,
and the English romantic poet-thinker Coleridge.
When we look for further evidence of a changing mode of consciousness and perception (the two are intimately interlinked), we need hardly go further than medieval painting. Why was there no perspective? Medieval art looks "quaint" to us because of the lack of this convention to which we have grown accustomed. Why did the medieval artist and his public feel no need for it? Perspective is a device that gives an impression of the world as it is viewed from a unique point in space. That is, through the eyes of a single beholder, from the eye-holes in an individual head. Before this time, it would seem, reality could be very satisfactorily represented in two dimensions, with the size of the figures indicating their social or spiritual status, arguably more important than the mere physical distance in space from some arbitrary observer.
The spiritual was part and parcel of the everyday world. Angels might be given the convention of wings to indicate their heavenly origin and function but they were dressed in the ordinary fashions of the day. Similarly the vehicle which transported Elijah to heaven could be of the same type and design as a contemporary farm cart, without in any way seeming incongruous. Yet to many people nowadays it would seem ludicrous, even blasphemous, to see Elijah going to heaven in a motor car, or even a space ship, or to see angels dressed in contemporary city suits or sweat shirts and jeans.
And when we turn to philosophical writings of the medieval period we find it almost impossible to follow the train of thought. Scholastic philosophers had a fineness of perception, and an ability for intellectual analysis and definition that is at least the equal of modern minds. But even if we can follow the arguments, say, of Thomas Aquinas about ‘species and genus, form and matter, subject and accident' it is only with the greatest difficulty that we can effect that alteration of intellectual perspective to appreciate what he really meant. This point is perhaps best illustrated in Charles Williams's The Place of the Lion. Here we see the difficulties of a modern intellectual, Damaris Tighe, with her graphs and time charts of "degrees of credulity in scholastic thought." She eventually learns the hard way what this "credulity" was all about. Similarly, her boyfriend, Anthony Durrant, has to come to terms with Platonic Ideas in a way that was very much more than abstract philosophizing or literary criticism.
The whole medieval world picture is described in some detail by C. S. Lewis in The Discarded Image, a study aid written for students of English literature to help them get their minds back into the frame of consciousness that was implicit in medieval and early Renaissance life and thought. At a slightly more distant remove we might also cite Lewis's hilarious depiction of the Dark Age historical Merlin turning up in a suburban villa in modern times, to indicate the differences in the assumptions of each age. The point is, that to all concerned, they are much more than just assumptions, they are a self-evident reality! Difference in perception is the key to much of this problem. And this is the reason for Barfield's emphasis on the significance of Coleridge's theory of the imagination.
According to Coleridge's theory we input a great deal of our imagination into our perception of the world about us. A blind man newly given sight has to "learn" to see--to sort out the teeming mass of incoming sensations into a picture that makes sense. This is the function of what he called the "primary imagination." It is a creative act, which we usually take for granted. Beyond this is the "secondary imagination" that sees deeper significances and connections and might be identified with poetic inspiration, although its intuitive insights are equally applicable to science, technological invention, or any other area of life. Although it is quite often referred to in a scientific context in regard to the happy accidents or dreams or flashes of insight that led to particular discoveries, its attempted use on a systematic basis is best exemplified by Goethe, particularly in his investigation into the principles of form in plant growth and the interplay of polarities in light.
So committed was he to these studies that he contested Isaac Newton's theories on the nature of light. Newton's reductionist ideas of splitting white light into component wavelengths and frequencies to account for our experience of color was challenged by Goethe. He felt that Newton was constructing mathematical theories based upon grossly limited evidence. Goethe accordingly put forward counter theories that were based upon a large number of personal observations that remain an exemplary demonstration of systematic experiment. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press reissue of his Theory of Colors in 1970 stated that although modern science does not rate Goethe's theories very highly, "no criticism has been leveled at his reports of the facts to be observed; nor should any be." Goethe's theories, it may be said, were dismissed as old-fashioned and non-mathematical when they first appeared in 1810, and have been largely ignored ever since. However, to refer again to the introduction to the MIT reprint of the 1840 English translation of these "repudiated" ideas, it is conceded that some modern readers might well come to the conclusion that "Goethe's theory, or at least a part of it, had been dismissed too quickly."
Goethe's analysis of the spectrum is in terms of the polarity of light and darkness, and he demonstrates that the spectral colors seen through a prism show only between areas of light and dark. Newton's passing light through a pinhole to analyze it he considered artificial and self-limiting in its conception, and the conclusions therefrom mathematically inflated from a special case. It is not possible for us to elaborate upon the details of this argument but it does represent a watershed in ways of perception that characterizes a modern crisis in human consciousness. The reductionist method taken to its logical conclusion by the intellectual heirs of Newton builds a gigantic edifice of technical knowledge on ever more limiting types of "pin-hole" perception - be it through the eyepiece of a microscope in one direction of magnitude or that of a telescope in the other. They are essentially "one-eyed" observations of the ever more remote that can only be explained in ever more mathematical and abstract ways. Indeed in the modern state of the art of electron microscopy and radio astronomy there is no longer any direct human observation but the computerized interpretation of mathematical data collected and recorded by electronic sensors. No sensory image is involved, save in simulated and artificial form. The whole process is one of the dehumanization of perception.
The mode of investigation pursued and advocated by Goethe was a holistic one, based on intuitive perception and appreciation of the organic process and form-building functions of the creative powers to be observed in nature. When his collected works were being prepared for publication, the editorial responsibility for preparing the scientific works fell to a young academic, Dr. Rudolf Steiner. So impressed did he become by Goethe's ideas that he jeopardized his career and reputation by putting them into practice, despite their having been dismissed as the speculations of an eighteenth-century amateur by the current nineteenth-century scientific establishment. Eventually he found that the only public platforms available to him were those beyond the fringe of academic respectability but undeterred he founded an organization to pursue, inter alia, Goethe's alternative way of investigating nature, in what came to be known as "spiritual science."
This was the beginnings of the Anthroposophical Society that Owen Barfield joined in 1922, and which continued to form the backbone of his thought, his writing, and his continuing dialogue with C. S. Lewis and the other Inklings. It was, however, the heartfelt complaint of Owen Barfield that he could never get C. S. Lewis to take Rudolf Steiner seriously, despite the fact that the arguments and discussions that Lewis found so interesting were based very much on Steiner's principles. He found it particularly incomprehensible in one such as Lewis, whose scholarly discipline in all other matters was immaculate. Lewis would never have allowed any student or colleague to pass a value judgment on any writer that he had not fully and assiduously read. Yet he seemed quite capable of dismissing Steiner out of hand. Typical of his attitude was the backhanded compliment to Steiner's concern for organic farming methods that he was a good man to consult on manure but not on God.
In the end Barfield put
down this blindness on the part of Lewis and the rest of the intellectual
establishment as evidence of "tabu."
He thought there was no less strong word to account for it. A tabu is a
convention that changes with the passing of time, and is usually concerned
with codes of sexual or social behavior; things that one cannot respectably
talk about. Different codes or beliefs may be acceptable or not in different
places and times. This current "tabu" Barfield saw as the belief that it
was not "done" to assume that the material world derives from a spiritual
basis-- despite all religious lip service to the contrary. When someone
like Goethe, or Steiner, tries to investigate the material world on the
assumption that it demonstrates an interior spirituality then, in terms
of the tabu, they are considered beyond the pale. And this is despite the
progress that has been made by followers of Steiner’s methods in education,
agriculture, or homeopathic
medicine, and so on.
When he found the time to put these things down in writing Barfield pursued the problem in the form of fictional dialogues or symposia of considerable intellectual strenuousness. In Worlds Apart he strove to bridge the gaps that have developed between the various specializations in human knowledge. It is a discussion hosted by a lawyer, and has as participants two professors, one of historical theology and ethics, and the other of physical science. They are joined by two young research scientists, one in biology and the other in aerospace technology. Also by a linguistic philosopher and a psychiatrist. The party is completed by a retired schoolmaster who is an advocate of Rudolf Steiner's world view. The aim is to find an approach to modern problems that reconciles the diverse views of reality that are assumed by different academic disciplines. Because the sheer bulk of human knowledge demands ever increasing specialization, does this mean that man is losing sight of the wholeness of life?
The anthroposophical view, which of course is closest to Barfield's heart, is represented by Sanderson, the retired schoolmaster, but Barfield himself is also represented as chairing the discussion in the person of Burgeon. Barfield was quite fond of this character Burgeon, who was, in a sense, a higher aspect of his own character. He appears in an amusing little semi-autobiographical book of 1950 entitled This Ever Diverse Pair. In this assorted collection of vignettes from a lawyer's life, he depicts himself as a split personality--Burden, the persona he finds himself adopting as a professional solicitor; and Burgeon, the more humane, somewhat vacillating, inner man. Towards the end of the book the two disparate characters are seen to be attempting to integrate.
Behind its wit and humor this little book contains much personal wisdom in the form of a review of his own life. It is largely a coming to terms with the question why a young man whose whole purpose in life was directed towards literature, language and spiritual concerns, should have been forced by circumstances into the prosaic duties of a practicing solicitor for most of his life. At the end we see this as a realization of what might from one point of view be regarded as "karma," or from another the one course that was destined to bring out the best from within himself. In other words, that his life circumstances are ordered by a wiser and higher intelligence, irrespective of some of his own beliefs and inclinations. It is the realization of this that concludes the book, together with the reconciliation of the two sides of himself that had hitherto been kept apart. In a sense This Ever Diverse Pair is an individual account of the similar wider human dilemma that is addressed in Worlds Apart. It might also be noted that the realization of 1950 indicated in This Ever Diverse Pair seems to have sparked off the creativity and opportunities for his voice to be heard in his later years. In other words, our outer circumstances depend on our inner conscious assumptions, far more than we may think. Hence the initiatory injunction, 'Man, Know Thyself.’'
The greater part of the argument in Worlds Apart is carried by the two professors, Hunter, a professor of historical theology and ethics, and Brodie, a professor of physical science. These two represent the classical sides of human debate and speculation about "fundamental issues." The other characters have less central roles. Upwater, the biologist, is there to represent conventional views of evolution, which Barfield felt to be in particular need of revision. Ranger, a young rocket-station researcher, is plainly out of his depth in such philosophic company, and indeed hardly realizes that there is a problem at all. Dunn, the linguistic philosopher, is another who can contribute very little to the symposium, largely because he regards most of what it says as meaningless in terms of his own limited viewpoint. Burrows, the psychiatrist, also tends to be wallowing somewhat out of his depth, while assuming that all are in the shallows of his own clinical concepts and diagnoses. However, Barfield obviously felt that their viewpoints should be put forward, if only to demonstrate their limitations. The two professors, representing classical scientific method and the traditional humanities, are considerably less arrogant or ignorant in their appreciation of the fundamental issues.
In fact Brodie cooperates with Burgeon in conducting a genuine Socratic discourse for the benefit of most of the others in order to demonstrate the illogicality of contemporary "scientism," particularly as it applies to popular conceptions of the prehistoric world. These assume, for instance, that there was no human consciousness on Earth in ancient times because of the lack of a fossil record. This is an assumption that is at best unproven, because absence of evidence does not prove non-existence. All it can possibly "prove" is that there were no solid bodies as we know them today. In popular conceptions of the significance of molecular physics there is also an illogicality in the importance placed upon an alleged "real world" of atoms and molecules that appears to exist side by side or behind the world of our physical sense perceptions, an abstraction of mathematical probabilities in vast areas of nothingness that replaces the ordinary world of human consciousness about us. And in the field of popular astronomy mathematical projections of vast distances and time scales replace the indigo vault of the heavens perceived by the natural eyes of man.
There is no question that these worlds revealed by astronomy and physics are untrue. They have proved much of their validity by the acid test of technological achievement. However, central to all is the role of human consciousness without which none of this would exist. Or if it did it would be unperceived. If there was no such thing as human consciousness Barfield asks us to ponder on just what would exactly exist! How could the quantum world of the atoms of physical substance make itself apparent without our consciousness to perceive it? For the world in terms of Coleridge's primary imagination is a system of representations, of appearances, in which perception is an act of imagination; and imagination is a creative act. Without the latter, what could possibly exist? Would there be a "grey veil" of electro-magnetic quanta in a force field sufficient to itself alone? Fascinating as mathematical speculations might be as to the origin of the physical universe, or the extent of its outermost bounds, without a perceiving or an indwelling consciousness they are meaningless. It follows that to all intents and purposes investigation of the universe must centre upon man.
And one does not have to go to the far astronomical or sub-atomic limits to see this. It is enough to consider the comparatively recent palaeontological scenario, say in the time of the dinosaurs. Many pictures and models may be found in books and museums that purport to show what life was like in those times. It is of course admitted that these projections are conjectural, but this appears very much in the small print, and the impression given is that all that is shown is part and parcel of proven scientific fact. However, if we remove the factor of human consciousness and perception, nothing that is depicted in those prehistoric panoramas could possibly have existed. The best that can be said is that if a human being, with the conscious perceptions of a modern man, had been there at that time, then possibly it might have appeared to him like this. Barfield's point is that if no human being had been there it would not have appeared at all. Which is not to say that nothing would have existed (he is not a Berkeleian idealist), but he does ask that we be honest about what might have been there, and how it would have appeared to whom.
Furthermore, popular "scientism" that passes as the prevailing common sense of our day (just as a flat earth or the burning of witches appeared commonsensical to those of an earlier day), makes two major unproven assumptions:
1. No intelligent life
existed in prehistoric times;
2. The physical laws that condition the world were the same then as they are now, unchanging through the millennia.
It is the function of Sanderson, in Worlds Apart, to sketch in, in his allegedly unscientific and inexpert Goethean way, an alternative to the speculative assumptions that are passed off in our times as established fact. He gives an early indication of this in an early part of the seminar when he responds to the enthusiasm of the space researcher Ranger by saying that he cannot get very excited about the prospect of man getting further and further into space, because he is there already! This pulls the others up short for a moment, but when challenged to explain this apparently nonsensical remark he withdraws it, apologizing for appearing to be needlessly provocative. He then lets the others get on with their slow progress of discussion until he comes in again at the end with a detailed exposition of his alternative theories based upon a different way of looking at things and of investigating the phenomena of the world about us.
These theories are based upon the view that human consciousness is evolving and that the process is traceable through the changing use of language. At his present stage it is not only possible but essential for man to break out from the sense of isolation that his temporary immersion into materialism has caused. This has been a necessary phase, particularly acute over the past three or four hundred years. The next stage is an awakening to the spiritual world in all its range of expression about us, This includes not only recognition of our own spiritual being but of other spiritual beings that surround and dwell within the Earth. This is too much for most of the others, whose assumptions do not permit them even to consider such matters. It is a demonstration of the 'tabu" that Barfield describes elsewhere; a self-imposed blindness to any reality beyond the physical world, even when that reality can be demonstrated by examination of the processes of the physical world, as in plant morphology or the behavior of light as investigated by Goethe.
Even Hunter, who, as a historian and student of theology and ethics, one might assume to be open to such a view, reacts strongly to these propositions. He is appalled by what he regards as a "clairvoyant" means of investigation, and the assumed possibility that consciousness might exist beyond the limits of the physical body. This distaste is not just a reaction to the lunatic fringe. Rather is it a common, and in some ways healthy assumption that individual spiritual integrity is somehow very closely bound up with a specific location in a physical body. To abandon this physical grounding is to risk becoming attenuated into some kind of rootless spook, a prey to whatever spectral wind might blow. However, Burgeon asserts that this natural fear is based upon an illusion: the concept of a mind sitting safely inside a cranium looking out through its perceptual windows on to a mindless universe, with which it has no connection except through the physical senses.
Also, the spiritual "integrity" or spiritual solitude which is apparently so prized is indeed something of a dangerous curse. It menaces the future of civilization, and has caused a systematic cutting of traditional links with the old world of spiritual beings. It is now essential that we make a start by recognizing the Earth itself to be an organism of conscious beings and not an inert mass of mindless matter. Sanderson goes on to assert that release from this subjective prison comes only by death or by initiation. This implies that physical death will ultimately be followed by reincarnation for a further phase of evolutionary experience. Initiation on the other hand is a natural growth in spiritual stature that transcends current limitations of physical perception. However, it is only comparatively rare souls who have anything like open vision. These tend to form a body of revelation to which students seeking the wider vision are attracted. One example of such a soul, in Sanderson’s view, was Rudolf Steiner.
Professor Hunter reacts in the way of a traditional theologian, and describes Sanderson’s attitude as one that is best fitted by the Inquisitor's description of Protestantism: "a diabolical pride masquerading as a saintly humility." He goes on to add however that most modern materialists do not even bother to set up the masquerade! Sanderson sees no conflict between his spiritual evolutionary theme and accepted religious belief, and indeed Barfield himself, whose views are largely those of Sanderson, became a member of the Anglican communion.
These elements are further pursued in Unancestral Voice, together with an interesting description of inner communication with a spiritual being. This occurs in a perfectly natural way by use of the intuitive and imaginative faculties that need have caused no alarm to Professor Hunter with his fears of trance mediumship, astral projection or abnormal states of consciousness. In this account, which must surely have a strong autobiographical element, Owen Barfield cites as a principal authority the work of a sixteenth century Jewish rabbi, Joseph Karo. This Cabalistic rabbi, like Barfield himself, is a lawyer who is also deeply concerned with the spiritual side of life. He kept a diary known as the Maggid Mesharim in which he recorded the details of communication with a kind of inner voice that spoke within his mind in periods of silence and solitude. Although, as some of his contemporaries bear witness, sometimes it inspired Karo spontaneously to speak its words.
This inner voice was identified with various possible sources by Rabbi Karo and his associates--as an angel; as the "Shekinah" or' presence of God; as the Spirit of the Mishnah (a record of traditional written teachings). In modern times alternative labels might have been accorded it--the subconscious; the "active imagination"; Coleridge's "repetition in the finite mind of the infinite I AM"; or even a dominating mother image. Burgeon, the modern protagonist of this story, determines to cast aside other people's prejudices and to try it for himself. First of all he needs to go through something of an internal confrontation, as his alter ego Burden attempts to pour all sorts of commonsensical cold water upon the project. However, Burgeon refuses to be put off. At first his contact with the Meggid takes the form of realizations that come into his mind when he is meditating about some general problem. One instance is his concern about the generation gap between post-war youth and its elders. Another is a celebrated issue of the time, the court case over the alleged obscenity or literary merit of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In the conceptions brought to his mind by the Meggid these are but contemporary symptoms of an impending phase change in the evolution of human consciousness. An old age is going out and a new age is coming in.
In the time since Unancestral Voice was written, "New Age" speculation has become almost commonplace but this was less so in 1965 when Barfield's book was published. He uses the type of terminology favored by Rudolf Steiner in his designation of the different forces acting upon general human consciousness. Thus the period going out is represented as being the Gabriel age, and the phase coming in as that of Michael. The names are derived from the traditional major archangels. The transition from one age to another is complicated by conflicting forces of disruption, commonsensical cold water designated as those of Ahriman, which represent forces of die-hard conservatism, and of Lucifer, which represent new energies and attitudes trying to come in too fast. This accounts for the conflict between the generations that came to a particular crisis in the 1960s, and the Lady Chatterley case also encapsulated much of the current confusion. D. H. Lawrence correctly realized that the old mind-dominated ways of thought were deadening, but his error was to assume that all could be put right by a rush into sensuality. Certainly the focus of creative expression has been changing in that direction, and Lawrence condemned the old conceptions as "sex in the head," which includes the transcendent medieval imagery of Dante and the divine beloved, Beatrice.
Barfield refers to C. S. Lewis's Allegory of Love to illustrate some of the issues involved. Following upon the early medieval vision we see sex beginning to be focused in the heart in the elaborations of courtly love. And in the wider term creative art begins to be applied more to the depiction of the human as opposed to the divine. In the more recent turn of the spiral creativity is coming in to human expression further down in the archetypal human frame, hence the emphasis on physical sexuality. The modern hero and heroine express themselves as much through the loins as through the head or heart. However, as Barfield succinctly points out, it is not likely that enthusiastic copulation is all that is required to set things right!
The way ahead is demonstrated in a symbolic dream that comes to Professor Hunter in the postscript to Worlds Apart. In this lucid vision (which he was presumably not too horrified to receive as a symptom of "clairvoyance" or altered states of consciousness), he finds himself outside great symbolic gates, where he meets three strange human figures. The first has a hollow box in place of a head, and great light is pouring through the eye holes. It represents "subjective idealism." The second has a great lion's head with a mane extending out like radiating sun's rays. This represents "the Key to the Kingdom." It is the expression of our own spirituality and creativity as a centre of radiance. The third figure has no head at all, and represents "the Kingdom" itself. It implies that the "internal," the inside of one's head, is co-extensive with the infinite universe.
Following upon these colloquies with the Meggid, Burgeon discusses the implications while on a sea voyage with a Christian and a Buddhist. Much of their discussion revolves about an evolutionary view of history and whether, if it is true, it is "driven from the inside," by consciousness. In the words of the Meggid, that "the interior is anterior." As he converses with his ship companions Burgeon finds that, as was recorded by Karo the Cabalistic rabbi, words seem to be coming to him of their own volition. He is becoming a voluntary mouthpiece for the Meggid, or, as he puts it,
that the Meggid himself was now speaking in him. How long that had been going on, he could not say, for it was definitely "in" and not "through"; there was no question of his being used as a sort of microphone; and yet it was almost as much like hearing someone else speak as it was like speaking. . . .
He finds himself uttering, "with all the confidence of personal experience," things that he could not possibly have known from personal experience, because he had not lived them, let alone "lived up" to them. This comprises the second stage of his contact with the Meggid. A third stage develops at a scientific conference. Here the discussion revolves around the implications of quantum mechanics, and Burgeon finds himself unable to intervene because of his lack of scientific knowledge. There is, however, a young scientist on the platform, whose ideas, at least in embryo, appear to lie close to his own. The young man has something of a chilly reception from sections of the audience and Burgeon wishes that he could somehow help him in the ensuing discussion.
The gist of the talk by the young nuclear physicist, Kenneth Flume, is the problem that is currently posed by the investigation of sub-atomic particles. These have become increasingly difficult to conceptualize, and there has been considerable difficulty in deciding whether to regard them as particles or as waves. The generally accepted solution (if such a compromise can be called a solution), is to regard them as particles like packets of waves, which are called quanta. Niels Bohr, the pioneer atomic physicist, has suggested that if we are indeed to conceptualize these quanta then we need to visualize not one but two models in parallel, one picturing them as particles and the other picturing them as waves. Meanwhile the phenomena continue to be interpreted mathematically in terms that become increasingly meaningless to the majority of mankind. This is further complicated in that as soon as one set of "ultimate particles" is analyzed, a further set is discovered, involving concepts such as zero magnitude.
Flume suggests that this is possibly a quest for knowledge that is rushing down a blind alley. That if it becomes impossible to conceptualize a situation then the way is blocked for further progress, because the intuitive and conceptualizing powers of the human mind are denied any platform to work upon. He tentatively suggests that instead of a continued mathematical quest for the ever more minute and fundamental particle, that the way forward might be the application of the imagination to modes of function and purpose. He concedes that this may seem an unlikely route to most of his audience but the crisis is such that some radical new direction seems imperative, and so no possible avenue of investigation should be left unexplored.
The ultimate destination to which such a line of thought may well lead is not lost upon Burgeon, who is familiar with Goethe's approach to phenomena. Goethe's method, both in terms of the structure of light and in the morphology of plant growth, leads naturally to an appreciation of the "etheric" realm wherein the forms of nature are shaped and conceived. And these are open to human perception with the requisite training, the cleansing and opening of the appropriate doors of perception. This will lead ultimately to the discovery of a different type of entity from the sub-atomic particle, to the hierarchies of form-building intelligence that create the particles and use them as building blocks in the structure of the life forms of nature. Thus everything in the universe, even the most seemingly inanimate, is a mode of life, although with an ego placed differently in relation to its form than is the case with the human (where it coalesces with the body).
Naturally, without going even this far, the speaker's suggestions have moved into realms that are far too speculative for the majority of his audience. He is subjected to vociferous attack and finds some difficulty in coping with it particularly as he is himself only tentatively beginning to grope his way into this avenue of alternative thought. Burgeon feels that some kind of help is needed. This is beyond his own intellectual capabilities in such company, so it would seem to be a case for the wisdom of the Meggid. This is duly invoked, and he becomes aware of the Meggid's "approach" by a variety of subtle psychosomatic indicators to which he has become accustomed. Then, to his surprise, the Meggid seems to pass him by. And to his even greater surprise it makes contact directly with the speaker, inspiring him to formulate his final reply to the whole discussion. The form of this reply is very much like a challenge and a challenge that extends from Einstein's ultimate objection to the way nuclear research was heading when, almost in despair, he asserted "God does not play dice."
The Meggid, through Flume, reminds his audience that the classical scientific search has been for the stable basis, the stable entities, that are fundamental to the processes of perpetual transformation that are observable in the world of phenomena. That the waters have been muddied by the introduction of field theory, which implies that the laws governing large-scale phenomena are not necessarily those governing small-scale phenomena. This has led to a dichotomy between defining the field as the behavior of its constituent particles, or alternatively considering the behavior of the particles to be determined by the field. Then the element of randomness had been brought in (to Einstein's dismay), which implies that ultimately all the structure we see about us is based upon chance--the average result of a system of irrational irregularities, definable only in terms of "fields of probability."
Although this might be mathematically consistent, it implies abandoning the age-old quest for stable entities. It is at root a renunciation of the principle of causality. Reminding his hearers of the ideals of those who began the scientific revolution, Flume insists that the phenomenon of "the random, the fortuitous, the unexplained" is a challenge for us to seek out the causes in some new, hitherto unexplored, domain. In the processes of transformation that are observed in the apparent discontinuity of motion, where particles appear randomly to disappear, or to appear elsewhere, it is not enough to retreat behind mathematical barriers, avoiding the concept that creation is being operated in another domain, the appreciation of which would reveal the true transformative relationship between the whole and the part. To try to do otherwise is to try to understand the architecture of the house by analyzing the bricks.
Finally he makes a direct challenge: "What kind of source can there be for the complex interacting rhythms of energy, of which we now find that the physical universe exists! What other can it be than a system of non-spatial relationships between hierarchies of energetic beings!" This implies the need for using the imagination in a new way, which many of the audience find amusing or embarrassing. Yet this may be the only way to obtain perceptive access to the realm of these causative entities and forces. Indeed, the way forward may not be a process of thinking about them but endeavoring to think with them, in their particular mode of activity, so that their energy informs our thought. This indeed is what is already occurring in the case of Flume although he does not yet realize it. And it has all been happening in a perfectly natural way, not through ecstatic trances or oracular phenomena of a bygone age, when man was incapable of direct personal intuitive perception. Then they had to depend on the immersion of the consciousness more deeply into the preternatural environment at a time when the individuality was less well defined.
This modern mode of mentation might be called the operation of pure reason, and, like the power of the primary imagination in perception, it is part of the grand philosophic design of Coleridge which he never systematically completed. Owen Barfield did his best to reveal it as a coherent organism in his final book What Coleridge Thought, a project that he had first tentatively approached in a lecture of 1932 on "The Philosophy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge," reprinted in Romanticism Comes of Age. Reason, for Coleridge, is not something to be found manifesting in human beings, it is something in which human beings, and the whole of nature, are manifest. It is not merely a part of the function of the individual mind. It is that spiritual whole in which the individual mind (along with all other individual minds) subsists. It is in fact as much an objective as a subjective reality. It is, to quote his term, "superindividual."
We may from this perhaps glean some clue as to the true nature of the Meggid, whom Burgeon was ultimately to address in time-honored fashion as "Master," only to be gently reminded that the Meggid was but a servant of others, all of whom were servants of one master of them all, who in turn was the servant of all of them, as indeed the Meggid was servant of Burgeon, as he of his readers. And in an encoded farewell salutation he signed himself as "I am" and "Yours," combining the intimacy of a love letter with the fiery statement of identity from the Source of All that spoke from the burning bush.
Most of Owen Barfield's writing is densely packed intellectual argument, and the closest he comes to purely imaginative work is in these conversation pieces. However, he did write a poetic drama, Orpheus, in the early 1940s, at the instigation of C. S. Lewis, which is pure mythopoeia, or what we could equally call magically loaded writing, for the performance of it could provide an initiatory experience to participants and audience alike, if appropriately performed. Or if read in a meditative fashion, dwelling with deep feeling upon the visual images, could have a profound effect upon the individual reader.
C. S. Lewis thought very highly of it, not only as poetry, but for its mythopoeic element, and wrote to Barfield, "I await with great interest the public reaction to a work which has influenced me so deeply. . . ." However, public reaction has been scant because of the play's limited exposure. It received a week of performances at the Little Theatre, Sheffield, in 1948, and would have disappeared from sight but for publication of the text in 1983 by the Lindisfarne Press (a small press dedicated to a fourfold program of "the transformation of individual consciousness; the understanding of the inner harmony of the world's great religious traditions; the illumination of the spiritual dimensions of world order; and the creation of an ecologically and spiritually appropriate meta-industrial culture." These aims might well serve to summarize Owen Barfield's lifelong concerns).
An undated letter from C. S. Lewis records how disappointed he felt at the lack of any great acclaim for Orpheus. "It is better than I remembered. How can they not see!" However, thanks to the dedication and detective work of John C. Ulreich Jr. of the University of Arizona, it survived to be published. Ulreich records that his first reading of the play struck him with the force of a revelation; that here was Barfield's belief in the evolution of consciousness made flesh. By its very nature the play is capable of many levels of interpretation, and to attempt to describe it is to risk ignoring, distorting or destroying more than one illuminates. However, a broad storyline may serve to help rather than hinder those who may find Barfield difficult, for much may be rendered plain in parable that seems obscure in abstraction.
In the opening scene the Nereids, the fifty daughters of the ancient sea god Nereus, are seen at play. There is a certain macabre element to this in that they are sporting with the headless corpse of a drowned sailor. However, this serves at one level to foreshadow the eventual sacrificial death of Orpheus, and also to remind us of the significant encounter that Nereus once had with Heracles, the archetypal human hero. Heracles found the sea god sleeping and bound him fast until he revealed the secret of the golden apples that grow in the gardens of the far west, watched over by a dragon. In this parallel myth, the formless sea of primal consciousness, with its ever-changing shapes, had been conquered by the spiritual principle of human individuality expressed as hero. This theme is repeated, after another fashion, in the action of the play, where Orpheus appears on the shore and identifies one of the Nereids as the object of his desire, individuality calling her forth from the watery element to join him on the dry land.
At first she is incapable of self-conscious identification and refers to herself in the third person, but she develops her individuality as Orpheus sings to her about all the things of nature. He also teaches her memory, which is the basis of ratiocination and understanding. She begins to realize the nature of permanence, symbolized in the difference between the soil of the earth and the sand of the seashore. The sand runs through her hands, leaving no trace of its passing, while the loam leaves its mark on the hands that have held and shaped it. Eurydice attains full self-consciousness when Orpheus gives her the gift of a mirror, the eye aware of itself. But as he does so, a serpent rears up from a nearby tree root. This frightens Eurydice but Orpheus puts the serpent to sleep and Eurydice, with her new-found self-awareness, goes to adorn herself. This runs parallel to the Garden of Eden story although with a rather different emphasis. As Eurydice goes she throws her scarf to Orpheus, who buries his face in it, which also indicates an element of self-blinding or limitation. Orpheus, in so far as he represents the spiritual principle, undergoes limitation in the very act of bringing individualization to the lower consciousness.
The spiritual principle represented by Orpheus is also represented in his half-brother Aristaeus, who now appears. Aristaeus and Orpheus are both sons of Apollo, the sun god, which gives them their spiritual dimension. Orpheus however has for a mother one of the Muses (Calliope, who presides over heroic poetry), while the mother of Aristaeus is a water nymph, Cyrene. It follows that, of the two, Aristaeus is more naturally earth-oriented than the celestially engendered Orpheus. However, as sons of a common father, the incidents that befall them are similar in nature, although differently expressed. Aristaeus is depicted as more of a rustic character than the wandering musician Orpheus. His functions are to attend the earthly altars of Apollo and to be a husbandman of the Earth. In particular he is custodian of a swarm of bees, honey being sacred to Apollo. The bees also have a spiritual function in being intermediaries between the worlds. Aristaeus, however, is currently suffering from a double misfortune. This also resonates with events in the story of Orpheus. While Orpheus has been calling forth and individualizing Eurydice from the formless waters, Aristaeus has lost his swarm of bees. Also, his beloved son, Actaeon, has been torn apart as a consequence of gazing upon the goddess Artemis bathing.
Eurydice then returns, adorned with all the sophistication of a fine Greek lady, to call Orpheus into the love bower that is prepared for them. in following her into the bower Orpheus is diverted from his intention of killing the sleeping serpent. They retire to make love, the ultimate polarization and at-one-ment of the celestial Orpheus and the lower world Eurydice. Eurydice, however, interrupts their lovemaking the more greatly to savor the nuances of a loving relationship by temporary parting, and in wandering out of the bower comes upon Aristaeus, who, inflamed by the atmosphere of love that has permeated the scene (rather like little Cupids in the form of invisible bees), tries to make love to her himself, and upon being denied attempts to use force. In her attempt to escape, Eurydice stumbles upon the serpent, who wakes and stings her, and she falls unconscious and is dragged down to Hades, the lower world of the dead.
In the second Act Eurydice is at the gates of Hades, confronted by Charon the ferryman. Charon has a problem in that it is not clear as to whether Eurydice is really dead or merely sleeping. There is a dispute between the god of the underworld, Hades (after whom the place is named) and his consort Persephone. Persephone is herself a mediator between worlds, as she spends only half the year in the underworld. For the other half of the year she returns to her mother, the Earth goddess Demeter, bringing with her the growth of vegetation. Hades is naturally suspicious of all water nymphs following his unfortunate experience with the nymph Arethusa, who in the form of an underground stream, discovered the whereabouts of Persephone and told it to Demeter when the Earth goddess was searching and grieving for her lost daughter. In this respect water nymphs play a similar role to the bees, who are here described as having the function of bringing sunlight to hell and taking something back to earth in return, presumed to be some precious essence of the virtuous dead. It is also stated that the bees can indeed be forms of Proteus, the primeval water god, "the life of light undarkened into form." It is plain that Hades is deeply afraid of all these elements of the higher worlds penetrating his world of mechanic restriction, even though they include his own wife. He insists that Eurydice should be chained in hell with the spirits of the damned, but Persephone insists that her destination is the freedom of Elysium, the dwelling place of the spirits of the blessed.
Meanwhile Orpheus in the upper world of earth is lamenting the loss of Eurydice. She "who drew down his music to the Earth." He is tempted to regret the calling down of the heavenly muses to be enchanted in the solid sphere of earthly form but puts this behind him and sings instead of a dream, in which Persephone appeared to him and showed him a higher vision of nature and of the Earth. On concluding his song, he finds that he has attracted all the animals of the Earth about him by his singing, as once he attracted Eurydice from the sea. He seeks to help them in recognizance of their having saved him from his solitary melancholy. His voice is their bridge toward a higher form of life expression, and they in turn contribute their own special wisdom to him.
The serpent and the swan with its serpentine neck speak of their embodiment of a polar relationship. One is the bright pole and the other the dark pole that is epitomized in the story of Zeus, who has appeared as a swan to Leda and ravished her, to bring forth on the one hand the bright Helen and on the other the dark Clytemnestra. The bull reveals himself as the embodiment of star music within the Earth. The ass, like Balaam's ass, reveals himself as obstinately wise, obeying higher guidance despite the blows of expediency. The eagle is revealed as mediator between Heaven and Earth, and the bearer of Ganymede, the cup bearer to the gods, who is himself likened to a human eagle. The lamb is revealed as the willing sacrifice, constantly kissing the Earth in its feeding, and then giving to man first its wool and then its flesh. The nightingale sings a song of wisdom of the heart, to be concerned with the woes of others rather than those of oneself. She is represented in the myth of Philomel, who was raped by her sister's husband before being turned into a nightingale; and she sings not of her own woe but of the sorrow and misfortune of her betrayed sister. Finally the lion speaks with authority for all of the animals, calling for Orpheus to break into the underworld and give the gift of his heavenly music to Persephone, and to follow the wisdom of his own heart. This seems a strange directive to the spiritually oriented Orpheus, for the human heart seems a wayward guide, but it is the lessons of the heart that the spirit has to learn, and is arguably the reason for its involvement in form. By the polar interchange, spirit gives identity to form, and form brings compassion to the spirit.
Orpheus thus wends his way to Hades on behalf of the animals and to seek out Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, who yet also was she who brought to him, in sleep, the wondrous vision of a transformed Earth. Hades, which we enter with Orpheus in Act III, is rather like an efficient corporation or corporate state in the world we know. All the denizens are persuaded into thinking that they live in the best of all possible worlds and that they should be grateful for their hellish lot. Sisyphus is content to keep rolling his boulder everlastingly up hill, impressed with the idea of the dignity of labor. Tantalus, ever prevented from slaking his thirst, is content with the constant thrill of desire unsated. And the Danaids, with their leaking pitchers, are happy to be ever running to the spring of transient fashion, glad that their pitchers will soon empty themselves before they are carried too far. To emphasize this mechanic culture, all movements of the denizens of Hades appear jerky and automatic, like a badly synchronized film, and Hades himself is prone to address his subjects through loud and distorted amplification equipment. The howls of the hellhound Cerberus also sound very much like the squeals of electronic negative feedback. We are clearly not so far from Hades in our contemporary culture.
When Orpheus appears with his lyre, however, he awakens all the denizens of the underworld to their lost humanity. And he himself experiences a major awakening in that in his searching for Persephone he finds instead Eurydice. A great mystery is involved here, it would seem, as the voice of Persephone bids Orpheus beware as he approaches the sleeping Eurydice. Persephone covers her face as Orpheus reaches out to Eurydice, and when he actually touches her Orpheus drops his lyre, which shatters at his feet. He has thus lost his celestial voice through the underworld reunion with Eurydice. Eurydice is awoken by his touch, and in the process of awakening, is vouchsafed a vision of stars, or star beings and goddesses, regarding each other with love and moving in stately dance. She wills and longs to become one with them, but finds there is a dreadful chasm between herself and this Elysian condition. As she wakes she is immediately enchained according to the edicts of Hades. Hell is full of laws, and its god loves to proclaim them.
Persephone protests against this chaining of Eurydice, and Hades gives Orpheus leave to break the chain, but subject to certain conditions. Eurydice will be free to come and go but she will only be able to enter the heavenly realms with Orpheus at her side. Persephone warns Orpheus and Eurydice of the dangers that may befall them despite the apparent opportunity given them by Hades, who has in fact become a subtle tempter. They will return to the upper world to do and suffer many things. They will be together but it will not always seem so, as they go "through doubt and dark." It is plain that this freedom that they have been given is very dangerous, and Hades relies on their abusing it. Already in fact we have the feeling that Orpheus has forgotten his mission on behalf of the animals as a consequence of regaining Eurydice. Persephone then leads them out of Hades, Orpheus following immediately behind her, with Eurydice behind him, and Persephone warns Orpheus that he may not turn to gaze at Eurydice but must keep his eyes on the goddess who walks before him. This injunction meets the test when Hades sends his spy, the night hawk Ascalaphos, to follow them, imitate Eurydice’s voice, and tempt Orpheus to turn his head. A great conflict is induced within Orpheus as a result of this. He is assailed with reproaches, apparently from Eurydice, that he no longer loves her. He is torn between obeying the natural promptings of his heart, as instructed by the animals, or following the instructions of the goddess. At the point where Persephone enters the upper world ahead of them, and so disappears from sight, Orpheus turns back to look at Eurydice. She is forthwith dragged back down to Hades, and Orpheus is left with nothing but a fragment of the chain that bound her.
The fourth act commences with Aristaeus, Orpheus' alter ego, standing at the source of the stream of the waters of life that runs to the formless ocean. In parallel action with Orpheus' loss of Eurydice, all the bees of Aristaeus have become diseased and died. He stands by the side of the river, reviewing his destiny as a priest of his father Apollo on earth. This priesthood has been particularly expressed by the honey produced by his bees. This is variously described as strands of the sun god's bright hair; glory focused into taste; and liquid light charmed into the golden wonder of the honeycomb. He has, to an extent, betrayed his trust in his attempt to force himself upon Eurydice against her will, just as Orpheus has fallen short by losing sight of his wider commitment to the animals in his absorbing passion for Eurydice. Seeking the help and consolation of his mother, Cyrene, the water nymph, Aristaeus descends into the waters of the river, just as a Satyr, attendant upon the Maenads, arrives. The Satyr and the Maenads perform a wild dance that is also a mock mystery drama. It celebrates Zeus making love to Semele and begetting upon her a child. This is produced as a corn dolly with a red-rose heart.
Then the jealous Hera is represented as appearing and throwing the baby to the Titans. To commemorate this the straw doll is torn apart by the Maenads and the satyr, as Zeus, takes and conceals on his person the red-rose heart. They then enact Zeus appearing to Semele, who is blasted by the unveiled glory of the god. This gives birth to Dionysus, who is god of the vine and of the honey bee, and represented by the reconstructed corn dolly, complete with red-rose heart. The wild women of the Maenads now seek a real sacrificial victim with which to celebrate their Dionysian revel. At this point Orpheus enters, but his lyre having been broken in the underworld, he carries only the chain of Eurydice. He attempts to sing but is capable only of sentimental banalities.
The Satyr mocks him and his false notes, insisting that true sweetness is to be found only in the powers of the earth. That nature grieves not, but is a never-changing cycle where nothing lasts repeats itself. True loyalty is thus not to some ideal or spiritual abstraction but in living full-bloodedly with the lusts of the earth. (This is much inline with the message of D. H. Lawrence and Lady Chatterley's Lover that Barfield discussed in Worlds Apart.) Under pressure from the Satyr Orpheus throws away the chain, and as it sinks into the river, he is immediately stricken with guilt at having further disobeyed an injunction of the goddess Persephone, who had told him it was to be kept for a specific purpose. He now finds that he has lost even what little powers of song that remained to him. The satyr counsels him to make sacrifice to the earth born god, Dionysus, and that he should give himself to the wild women of the Maenads in whom is to be found the might of the earth. Orpheus however denies this as a remedy. He has lost his divine voice and celestial harmony because he has betrayed the Muses, who have fled from mankind as a result of man’s false thinking. The great god Pan is capable only of curing unhappy men by turning them into happy animals.
At this the Satyrb throws at him the slanderous jibe that he has coupled with animals--a reference to the old tradition of angels, or "sons of god," falling from heaven and coupling with the daughters of primeval men. And if this is not the case then he is guilty of trying to set himself up higher than the god who sprang from the earth and made ithis care, Dionysus. Orpheus maintains that his love and loyalty belongs to Eurydice, and to powers beyond the earth, which brings the fury of the Maenads upon him. They tear him limb from limb; his head is thrown into the waters, while the wild women, and the animals who accompany them, devour the rest of his body.
Slowly Aristaeus gains conscious awareness of the underwater world. He sees a nymph pouring wine drop by drop from a cup, which gives the principle and capability of form to the flowing waters. His mother Cyrene then utters a prophetic vision that declares that the ancient water god Proteus, who is all creatures except himself, and is life drifting from shape to shape, ever flowing and flowing away, must be fixed in form, using the chain that was forged in Hades, and which Persephone had placed into the care of Orpheus when he struck it from the body of Eurydice. The surrounding nymphs think they have found the chain, which Orpheus has thrown into the waters. They find instead however his head, which is still speaking of Eurydice. They reverently let it drift downstream to the sea. Having done this they find the chain, which is given to Aristaeus to use as his mother has prophetically bidden, to bind Proteus into form.
In its juxtaposition of symbols, the cup of form-giving wine, the head of Orpheus, the chain given to Aristaeus, we have various ways of expressing the form-giving powers of the spirit acting upon the natural formlessness of nature and collective ground of consciousness. In What Coleridge Thought, which can act as an explanatory commentary to the play, as the play in turn can illustrate the book, this is natura naturans (creative powers of nature) giving life and organization to natura naturata (the forms of nature), which is otherwise capable only of mechanism. At another level Orpheus and Aristaeus each represent aspects of the Reason, the divine principle in man, the neo-Platonic nous, the lux interna, the divine spark, the Promethean fire, that gives spiritual individuality and integrity and raises man above the animal condition. Eurydice represents the soul, which iscapable of being individualized from a common ground of conscious potentiality, and in union with the spiritual principle, entering Elysium.
The final scene ofthe play takes place after Aristaeushas bound Proteus, the teeming formless life force, into spiritual forms and inter-relationships. This is celebrated by the willingsacrifice of the great blackstarbull. The satyr, the Maenads, and the animals are in attendance, all of them transformed from their savagery since their dismemberment of Orpheus andpartaking ofhis flesh and blood in a mystic communionof the Dionysian mysteries raised to a spiritual level. Aristaeus confesses his own shortcomings in all that has gone before by in effect calling down the music of the spheres into the pulsing rhythm and clamor of the blood, the alien strengths of animal lust. The willing sacrifice of the bull marks the transmutation of these lower forms and forces. As the sacrificial blow is struck, in a scene that calls to mind the ancient Mithraic mystery drama, the buzzingof many bees is heard, swarming up through cracks in the Earth, their bodies radiant with light. The entrails of the bull become a source of glowing light, fermenting with glory. And the voices of Eurydice and Orpheus are heard ascending to Elysium.
The implications of this scene unite Christian and pagan visions of the glorification of the world and the re-establishment of the earthly paradise. This is aptly reflected in the Mithraic symbolism, a mystery system that ran orthodox Christianity close in being accepted as the official religion of the Roman empire. In Barfield's view, the Christian mythos would have been preserved for all mankind in some form or another even if the events of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth had been expunged from all the records, as those of the parallel Gnostic or Mithraic systems have been all but completely destroyed. They all celebrate a cosmic turning point in the history of human consciousness upon the planet, which was the possibility of individualization by the human soul and spirit.
It would serve no useful purpose to try to add commentary upon commentary in further analysis of Barfield's work. It is all there in the texts themselves and the astute, and interested reader will be better employed going to the actual source rather than to rely upon our own leaking bucket. Whether taking the Imaginative approach of the poetic mystery drama, or the rational analysis of What Coleridge Thought, they are but in their turn the modern representatives of an ancient line of tradition that Coleridge himself studied while still at school, ranging from Plato and Plotinus to Marsilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno, and Jacob Boehme. That company that Barfield describes as
that philosophical stream of thought which has not ceased to irrigate the culture of the West, and in particular its literature, art and theory of art, since it first began to flow, though it has percolated underground for much longer periods than those during which it has watered the surface.
It is our earnest hope that in the preceding pages we have given some idea of how that stream became for a time a rushing torrent, expressed through the imaginations of that remarkable group of independent but spiritually united writers, the Inklings. By their works shall we know them, and it is to those works that the sympathetic reader is respectfully now directed.