The Death and Rebirth of Culture

I recently made the mistake of purchasing a used book online, not realizing that it had a previous owner’s comments scrawled inside. Although I, like probably everyone who still has a quaint attachment to paper, have seen this before, I was struck by these comments in particular.

Though short — mostly only four or five words at most — the scribbler’s nauseating snobbish personality and sense of self-importance shined through. He had dated many of his worthless comments, addressed the publisher (Oxford University Press) in several of them — as if to psychically alert them to his overblown sense of self-importance — and had concluded the 300-plus page book with, “Interesting, but reference material.” He had, of course, signed and dated this as well, as if it were equivalent to Picasso signing Guernica. Continue reading “The Death and Rebirth of Culture”

Athens, Sparta, And The Division And Decline of The West

The West has long been split into two. “While Athens is justly credited with phenomenal achievements in visual art, architecture, theater, philosophy and democratic politics,” writes Paul Cartledge in The Spartans, “the ideals and traditions of its greatest rival, Sparta, are equally potent and enduring: duty, discipline, the nobility of arms in a cause worth dying for, the sacrifice of the individual for the greater good of the community and the triumph of will over seeming insuperable obstacles.”

Cartledge believes that the ethos of ancient Greece influenced, and to some degree came to reside in the Roman and British empires. Yet these too have gone. Rome remains, and Britain remains, though the latter is still battling to have relevance in the world — especially, perhaps, moral relevance. With the traditional religion of the country collapsed, its politicians — like the politicians of most Western European nations — believe less in representing the public than in educating and molding them morally, as priests would once have attempted. Continue reading “Athens, Sparta, And The Division And Decline of The West”

Syncretism Versus Sublimation: Thoughts on Developing an Esoteric Culture

Recently, in response to my article “Creating a Tribal Culture: Principles and Pitfalls,” I was asked whether Freemasonry was syncretic. It’s a good question, though the short answer is that I do not. However, prompted by the question, I thought I’d take the opportunity to look at syncretism, and what we might call sublimation, in regard to developing a culture, a group, organization, or movement, etc.

Sublimation has occurred throughout history. Shaolin martial arts absorbed elements of Buddhism (itself of Indian origin), Taoism, and various Chi exercises (that had already been absorbed into Taoism), etc. Islamic gnosticism absorbed the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato. The Catholic Church absorbed the thought of Aristotle and was shaped by the religious imagery and festivals it encountered as it swept (not always peacefully) across Europe. Christian mysticism borrowed very significantly from Cabala and Hermeticism (the latter of which itself leaned heavily on ancient Greek imagery). Though no one would suggest that these are syncretic. Continue reading “Syncretism Versus Sublimation: Thoughts on Developing an Esoteric Culture”