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The loss of time, space and reality

Friday, 28 Mar 2014

Mappa Mundi on Staff and Scrip, Dr John Dunn. It has already been noted how the pursuit of individual rights would eventually lead to a destruction of diversity in the drive to achieve the numerical unities of 1=1. The same homogenising impact was felt upon man’s appreciation of time, which became desacralised and rendered indifferent to notions of primordial order and hierarchy. Throughout the Middle Age the liturgical year, to most people quite simply the year, was spangled with religious festivities and with days marked by sacred events. ‘The whole of social life developed within the seasons of prayer, and the meaning of these was to remind Christians that their life took place within salvation history. Though the name “liturgical” year is much later than the Middle Ages, it owes the essentials of its organisation to a time before the Middle Ages, with the temporal on the one hand and the sanctoral on the other’.1

Here indeed was the residue of pagan cyclic time, which the missionary monkswho evangelized Northern Europe adapted to their own ends. They noted how the natural season of Spring coincided with the Christian season of catechesis and penance leading to Easter, with the result that it becameknown among Anglo-Saxon people simply as "Lenthen", "Spring". This is the source of our English word "Lent". Lent is a spiritual Springtime of growth and new life. Another example was the way the date of Christ'sbirth apparently replaced the pagan celebration of the Winter solstice,December 25th.2 For the people whose pagan rituals had been Christianised, time was not a linear, ‘historical’ time. Time and becoming were related to what is superior to time; in this way the perception of time underwent a spiritual transformation.

An extension of the money-based rule of quantity reduced pagan concepts of time to a memory held in the names of the months and the days of the week. With the dominance of money came the final victory of Judaic linear chronology, a current of thought introduced into mainstream Christian thinking by St Augustine in The City of God. With the stripping of the altars in the Reformation went the stripping of the year of its festivals and saints days. Time became ruthlessly linear with an indifference to its contents; a simple irreversible order of consecutive events; its parts mutually homogeneous and therefore measurable in a quantitative fashion. The emphasis from now would be upon progression, and woe betide anyone who might step into the path of progress.

Man’s very appreciation of the space around him suffered a similar diminution and homogenisation. In antiquity, as Evola described, ‘every direction corresponded to given “influences”, out of which, for example, came the doctrine of the sacred orientations in the arrangement of the temples. This continued into the Christian era in the art of the orientation of the cathedrals that was preserved in Europe up to the Middle Ages’. There were, of course, degrees of sacredness within the consecrated buildings themselves that were wholly dependent on spacial arrangements and location.

A sacred geography inspired sacred lands and cities as the centres of spiritual influence on earth; places of pilgrimage, where man could be closer to God. The celebrated Mappa Mundi in Hereford Cathedral (pictured) has Jerusalem at its centre, from which other lands radiate. It was a map of sacred, rather than mere physical geography.

However, like time, a money-based rule of quantity ensured that man’s experience of space became just as desacralised as time, being equally indifferent to its contents. Space became perceived as a ‘simple container of bodies and motions, totally indifferent to both’.3 It assumed a homogeneity: ‘a particular area of it is the objective equivalent of another one, and the fact that a thing is found - or that an event may take place - in one point of space rather than in another, does not confer any particular quality to the intimate nature of that thing or of that event’. 4

The Middle Ages offered traces of a traditional concept of land under conditions that reflected a vertically orientated order. Ownership could not be conceived as other than an aristocratic or sacred privilege, which implied a commitment on the part of the feudal lord to be faithful to his prince, by upholding religious as well as a political and military values. This fides represented a readiness to die and offer self-sacrifice in the cause of the social organism, in a way that overcame individual interests in a well-developed ethics of honour. To own, to be lord of a land was a spiritual and not merely a political title and commitment.

Things began to change with the desacralisation of space. The psychology of land-ownership was revolutionised. All notions of obligation to the social organism withered away as quickly as the religious prohibitions on usury began to crumble. This was demonstrated most clearly in the land clearances of the English countryside from the late Middle Ages, due to the expansion of the woollen industry and the economic expediency of replacing people with sheep.

Taking the typical landowner of the time, Tawney captured the change in mood.

The official opposition to depopulation, which had begun in 1489 and was tolast almost until 1640, infuriated him as an intolerable interference with the rights of property. In their attacks on the restraints imposed by village custom below and by the crown from the above, in their illegal defiance of the statutes forbidding depopulation, and in their fierce resistance to the attempts of Wolsey and Somerset to restore the old order, the interests which were making the agrarian revolution were watering the seeds of that individualistic conception of ownership which was to carry all before it after the civil war.

Once the individualistic doctrine was accepted, it was to silence the preaching of all social duties save that of submission. If property be an unconditional right, emphasis on its obligations is little more than the graceful parade of a flattering, but innocuous, metaphor. For, whether the obligations are fulfilled or neglected, the right continues unchallenged and indefeasible,... 5
In the covenantal ere of the Reformation, legal rights were extended, whilst quasi-legal obligations founded upon familiarity were repudiated.A new ideology of irresponsible ownership became the hallmark of the new order, resulting from the same apparition of the ‘will’ that emerged to light with Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas. The breaking up of property, separating it from the rigorous norms of the paternal right and primogeniture, manifested the degeneration of the traditional spirit (departure from the cosmic order). Evola described this as an act of desecration.
The land, which may also belong to a merchant... or to a serf, is a desecrated land: in conformity with the interests typical of the two inferior castes, which have succeeded in taking the land away from the ancient type of ‘feudal lords,’ the land is only valued from an economic point of view and it is exploited as much as possible with machines and other modern technical devices.6
Under disorder lived as order, both lord and serf were ‘freed’ from their respective obligations to the social organism. From now, one would be seeking the highest price for land, the other would want the highest price for labour. To one, land ownership no longer brought with it obligations; rather it had become a financial asset. To the other, work was no longer a rite; rather it had become a practical necessity. The separation of blood from the soil left all strata of society with a subjectivist pathos before nature. The poetic and subjective impressions typical of a romantic soul are something new. Before these times, however, man had real sensations of the world around him

In a life of obligation within the social organism, life itself was religion, not simply something to which one deferred on a Sunday. The experience of the world was immediate, often demanding symbolical representation ‘as gods, demons, elementals, and spirits ruling over places and phenomena’.7

And these symbols were not arbitrary acts of the imagination. Just as the pressure of the blankets might give rise to the image of a falling rock in a dream, then ordinary waking experience of the world gave rise to symbolic representations that arose out of necessity, as integrations with the world that did not occur casually. The subject and predicate were opposite to our own. Truth was the self-disclosure to man of the things around him. All man did was represent the truth.

Under life lived as order, man did not stand back from the world and observe it, he was totally engaged and immersed in a hyper-realism. How unlike the man ‘freed’ from social obligation who, separated from the world in a state of subjectivist pathos, would be condemned to understand the world from a distance; thus science and art would adopt the characteristics of the disorder lived as order, setting an academic seal of approval upon a fallen world, the chief characteristics of which would be:
  • The apparition of free will
  • Belief in a unilinear history, evolutionism and progressivism
  • Priority to quantity, not quality, and the commodification of everything, including human life
  • The desacralisation of land
  • Individualism and ’freedom’ from social obligation
  • Subjectivism and a distancing from reality/nature
Have we not already noted how, in the modern world, we have come to think about sin in a subjective way and have completely lost sight of the objectivity with which it was once understood?8

1 Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages, ed. A. Vauchez, R. Barrie Dobson, M. Lapidge, James Clarke and Co, Cambridge, 2000, p.857.


3 J. Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Inner Traditions International, Vermont, 1995, p.148

4 Evola, p.148

5 R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Pelican, Harmondsworth, 1961, p.152

6 Evola, p.156

7 Evola, p.151

8 The Christianity of gnosis eclipsed by a Christianity of progress

John Dunn.

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