The End of the World as We Knew It

The Annunciation  By Fra Angelico - Based on same source tiles as File:La Anunciación, by Fra Angelico, from Prado in Google Earth.jpg but cropped. JPEG compression quality Photoshop 9., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15262356

The Annunciation

By Fra Angelico - Based on same source tiles as File:La Anunciación, by Fra Angelico, from Prado in Google Earth.jpg but cropped. JPEG compression quality Photoshop 9., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15262356

This is a bit of The Long View entry from February 14th, 2005. March 25th is in many ways the most important day in the Christian calendar. It also happens to be Waffle Day, thanks to a pun in Swedish. Vårfrudagen —> Våffeldagen


Readers of Tolkien will recall that Sauron fell on March 25. In choosing that date, Tolkien acted as a good medievalist. The Feast of the Annunciation itself commemorates the revelation by an angel to the Virgin Mary that she had conceived Jesus: nine months from Christmas, you see. By rumor and tradition, however, almost everything important that ever happened was ascribed to March 25, if it could not be positively dated otherwise. As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

All Christian antiquity (against all astronomical possibility) recognized the 25th of March as the actual day of Our Lord's death. The opinion that the Incarnation also took place on that date is found in the pseudo-Cyprianic work "De Pascha Computus", c. 240. It argues that the coming of Our Lord and His death must have coincided with the creation and fall of Adam. And since the world was created in spring, the Saviour was also conceived and died shortly after the equinox of spring...Consequently the ancient martyrologies assign to the 25th of March the creation of Adam and the crucifixion of Our Lord; also, the fall of Lucifer, the passing of Israel through the Red Sea and the immolation of Isaac.

And if March 25 is the anniversary of the Creation, then it follows, sort of, that it is likely to be the date of the Second Coming. Dr. Richard Landes notes this document from about the year AD 1000:

Abbo, scholasticus, then abbot of Saint-Benoit of Fleury sur Loire (ca.945-1004) [wrote a letter to the king] of France dated ca. 994-996 [in which] Abbo recalls several incidents of apocalyptic rumors circulating in earlier years:

[M]y abbot of blessed memory and keen mind rejected another error which grew about the End of the World; and after he received correspondence from Lotharingians he ordered me to answer. For a rumor had filled almost the entire world that when the Annunciation fell on Good Friday, without any question, it would be the End of the World.

54525440_2148112612166187_1472767452851994624_n.jpg

The Long View: War in Heaven/Heaven on Earth

If I could find a reasonably-priced copy of this book, something like the proceedings of the annual meeting of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, I might pick it up. I’m sufficiently intrigued by John’s précis that I want to read all the contributions. I’m also curious whether the Damian Thompson listed is the current editor-in-chief of The Catholic Herald. I suspect so, but a quick internet search didn’t turn up the article in question.

John provides links to his contributions to the Center for Millennial Studies conference.

Soft Landings

The World After Modernity

After the Third Age

Each one is well worth a read, and they can function as a useful summary of John’s thinking on the subject of millennialism at the close of modernity.


War in Heaven/Heaven on Earth
Theories of the Apocalyptic
Edited by Stephen O’Leary and Glen S. McGhee
Equinox Publishing, 2005
290 Pages, US$26.95
ISBN 1-90476-888-1

Millennialism is not a new subject. Casual readers are likely to have encountered the topic in such books as Norman Cohn’s classic (if dated) study of early modern millennial “revolutions,” The Pursuit of the Millennium, or Leon Festinger’s application of Gestalt theory to the evolution and breakup of a flying-saucer cult, When Prophecy Fails. Considered most broadly as the expectation of an imminent, collective, terrestrial, and total transformation of the world for the better, millennialism has long interested not just theologians and anthropologists, but also social scientists, experimental psychologists, literary theorists, and political scientists. In the 1990s, scholars in various disciplines prepared to observe what was expected to be an outbreak of millennialist activity in and around the year 2000. One of the chief venues for discussing the results of this activity was the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, which held international conferences from 1996-2002. War in Heaven/Heaven on Earth is one of three anthologies in the Center’s “Millennialism and Society” series, which contains papers by the Center’s members.

The writer of this review was also a member of the Center. None of the papers I presented at the annual conferences appears in this volume. One is here; another is here; the last is here.

The Center and its conferences provided unexampled opportunities for scholars who otherwise would have had little occasion to encounter each other professionally to discuss their own findings and theoretical models. The result was not quite a general theory of millennialism, but the definition of a set of important methodological and substantive issues. One thing the Center did not provide, however, was a forum for discussing contemporary millennialist outbreaks, since, for the most part, they did not occur. In the 1990s, of course, there were some mass suicides by apocalyptic cults, and attendant to the year 2000 itself there was an extraordinary (and expensive) wave of anxiety about the ability of the world’s computer systems to handle the date change. However, the social reaction to the millennium was not what the members of the Center had anticipated.

In this anthology, Damian Thompson suggests in his contribution, “The Retreat of the Millennium,” that classic revolutionary millennialism may no longer be possible in the developed world. Millennial and apocalyptic idea systems are if anything more easily available than they have ever been, but as entertainment. The “structures of plausibility,” which is to say, the social networks that turn ideas into movements, are so transparent to modern mass communication that self-reinforcing communities of the elect cannot form. To me this seems improbable. Modern communications are quite capable of facilitating the organization of new movements. Often these are movements with apocalyptic premises, though in the West itself these ideas are more likely to have a scientific or pseudoscientific basis. In this anthology, David Redles’s contribution, “‘The time is not far off…’: The Millennial Reich and the Induced Apocalypse,” we see that the Nazi movement in Germany was in many ways a millennialist movement, one that seemed quite consistent with modern conditions, indeed with modern conditions when the only media were the mass media, which one would think would favor consensus rather than cultic views.

One of the dangers of millennial studies is the temptation to expand the concept excessively. Still, one of the great merits of this book is the range of phenomena that the authors usefully treat as millennial. Marc Fonda, for instance, in “Postmodernity and the Imagination of the Apocalypse,” suggests that postmdernism is implicitly an apocalyptic mindset. It does exactly what millennial ideologies do: it “sees through” consensus reality and unmasks it as a fraud; it is at war with the recent past; and it makes its adherents profoundly uneasy. Implicit in every work of deconstruction is the desire for a new synthesis. Postmodernism is a transitional frame of mind that hopes for its own supercession by a new age. That insight chimes very neatly with Joel Martin’s “Before and Beyond the Sioux Ghost Dance,” which develops the idea that millennial movements resemble “rites of passage,” but for collectivities rather than individuals.

The anthology does not neglect millennial movements in the narrow sense. There is Rosalind Hackett’s assessment of the relatively recent Maitasine uprising in northern Nigeria. The movement in question was of doubtful Islamic provenance, (its founder called Mohammed “just another Arab”), but it set the pattern for Christian-Muslim confessional strife unto this day. A real surprise for many readers will be David Cook’s “The Beginnings of Islam as an Apocalyptic Movement,” which looks back to a time when it was not clear that Islam was not just another exotic Christian sect. In any case, the piece argues that early Islam was able to expand as quickly as it did because of its ability to harmonize with the millennial expectations of the Christian communities in the regions it conquered.

A recurrent issue in the study of any millennial movement is how it reacts when events seem to cast its historical scenario in doubt, or even plainly refutes it. This issue goes to the fate of modernity, or so says John Turner in “The Deflating power of Progress,” which argues from a Nietzschean perspective that even the faith in modern science is a millennial ideology that cannot be sustained indefinitely. As Cathy Gutierrez explains in “The Millennium and Narrative Closure,” millennial movements construct history in a novelistic fashion, so that the end gives meaning to all the preceding events. The millennial models are different, however, in that they must always defer closure, or risk disconfirmation. Glen McGhee’s critical piece, “A Cultural History of Dissonance Theory,” observes that Leon Festinger’s concept of “cognitive dissonance” has held up rather well to empirical study, but not his claim that millennial groups commonly react to evidence contrary to their beliefs by proselytizing. (That piece also does an almost perfect back flip by showing how the development of dissonance theory actually resembled the evolution and dissolution of many of the millennial groups it was designed to explain.)

Albert Baumgarten’s “Four Stages in the Life of a Millennial Movement” shows how millennialist groups often survive their earlier histories as active apocalyptic movements to be come stable social institutions. They may maintain their millennialist ideas in some form, but interpret and background them in a way that makes ordinary life possible again. This is also a key point in “Roosters Crow, Owls Hoot,” the contribution by the Center for Millennial Studies cofounder, Richard Landes. Millennial ideas are often a part of the social environment; their influence depends on the success or failure of the proponents and opponents of an apocalyptic interpretation of current events. Ted Daniels actually begins this anthology with a discussion of the role of prophets and the conversion experience in sparking millennialist movements. “A Cups Catastrophe Model of Cult Conversions,” by Leslie Downing, applies a Gestalt model to the process of sudden conversion.

The end of the world disappointed many of the participants in millennial studies in the year 2000. In retrospect, that seems to have occurred not because the subject lacked value, but because of a failure to imagine the ways in which millennially motivated behavior would manifest itself in the 21st century. I would argue that the final contribution to the book, Charles Strozier’s “From Ground Zero: Thoughts on Apocalyptic Violence and the New Terrorism,” errs on the side of being too metaphorical. The War on Terror and the Clash of Civilizations have more than incidental apocalyptic elements. We ignore them at our peril.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Retribution: Galaxy's Edge Book 9 Review

Retribution: Galaxy's Edge #9
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published October 29th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B07GNGLDWM

I threatened to write an elaborate thinkpiece on this book, and since no-one talked me off the cliff, here it is. I think I’m going to go full spoiler here, because I doubt I need to talk anyone into reading the 9th book in a series I’ve been recommending for a year. If you haven’t read the book, don’t read on unless you want me to ruin the ending for you.


The end has come.

In Message for the Dead, I thought the end was upon the galaxy, but Goth Sullus used his connection to the Crux to stem the tide, vanquishing the murderous and hateful Cybar and binding them to his will. Alas, it turns out that his victory was to be short-lived, and he would not succeed at building an Empire to last a thousand years. At the very moment of his triumph, his dreams turned to ashes in his mouth, and his power deserted him.

Unfortunately, despite his advanced age, Goth Sullus forgot to heed the advice of the venerable 100 Tips for Evil Overlords #22, “do not consume an energy field bigger than your head, no matter how much power is at stake”. [on a side note, I see that the author of the evil overlord list’s last name is Anspach. Coincidence?]

Of course, I am kidding. Goth Sullus pretty clearly knows most of these things. Sullus did not make any cartoonish mistakes. He was just undone by his moral failings, as nemesis follows hubris. It would be easy to condemn Sullus as a monster, which he is, but he is also genuinely a great man. Thus his end, when it comes, is all the more tragic.

I wish to focus here on Sullus, in part because I am fascinated by his character, but also because in retrospect, the entirety of the first nine books of the Galaxy’s Edge series turns upon Goth Sullus and his actions. Even the Battle of Kublar was but the preamble [with the collusion of X] to his campaign to bring justice to the galaxy.

If we now turn to the events of Retribution, one of the key threads is the final temptation of Goth Sullus. In Message for the Dead, the dread secret of the Cybar was heavily hinted, but here in Retribution, the truth is laid bare: the Cybar are but manifestations of demons and devils seeking to invade and despoil the galaxy.

I would have thought Casper’s service in the Savage Wars, and his time on the lighthuggers, would have better prepared him for this

I would have thought Casper’s service in the Savage Wars, and his time on the lighthuggers, would have better prepared him for this

Blinded as he is by pride and ambition, Sullus cannot see this. Even though preventing this was why Sullus went seeking power! As surprising as this may seem, given his history, the temptation of Goth Sullus proceeds in a plausible fashion. Like the target of the apprentice devil Screwtape, the ultimate masters of the Cybar proceed from flattery, to practical advice, to offers of service, to demands of fealty. Reading this, I thought it felt about right. The whisperings of temptation do sound like this. From my own small experience, this felt real.

No death-bed conversion for Sullus

No death-bed conversion for Sullus

I had hoped for redemption for Sullus. In the end, he had spent far too long indulging his fantasies of power and revenge to act in time. Goth Sullus was vain-glorious and prideful, easy pickings for the masters of deceit. Casper might have resisted, but that persona was long diminished by the time he had completed his transformation into Sullus. Once he [Sullus] realized his danger, he [Casper] was too far gone to resist effectively. Virtue is simply what we habitually do, and for Sullus, his habits betrayed him in the end. When Wraith walked up and put a bullet in his head, it was the best thing that could have happened to him at that point. We can perhaps nonetheless hope that his final resistance will count in his favor at the final judgment.

Last Judgment  By Stefan Lochner - Postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=153939

Last Judgment

By Stefan Lochner - Postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=153939

The end of Goth Sullus brings a fitting end to the first season of Galaxy’s Edge. Most everyone who deserved a bullet has gotten one. Order, of a sort, has been restored to the galaxy. Things will never be as they were, but life will go on.

There are just enough loose threads left for the authors to spin up another round of books, but I felt satisfied at the end of this. Each book in the series had its own feel, its own good moments, and then in the end it all came together cleanly. This was a hell of a good read, and I hope everyone else enjoyed the ride as much as I did.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review


The Long View: An Angel Directs the Storm

Calm  and  serene  he drives the furious blast; And, pleas'd th' Almighty's orders to perform, Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm. ~  Joseph Addison   By Gustave Doré and me, Angel 007 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5885087

Calm and serene he drives the furious blast;
And, pleas'd th' Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm. ~ Joseph Addison

By Gustave Doré and me, Angel 007 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5885087

This is a fine example of John's best work. In retrospect, President George W. Bush did some crazy things, but his critics were often even crazier.


An Angel Directs the Storm:
Apocalyptic Religion & American Empire
By Michael Northcott
I.B. Tauris Co Ltd., 2004
200 Pages, US$35.00
ISBN 1-85043-478-6

 

The title of this book comes from a famous question that John Page asked his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, about the American Revolution: “Do you not think that an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm?” The book’s author, a Reader in Christian Ethics at the University of Edinburgh, takes this apparently innocent question about the role of Providence in history and uses it as an emblem for this thesis:

“It is a tragic deformation of Biblical apocalyptic that in America for more than two centuries millennialism, far from unveiling [in the sense of unmasking] empire, has served as a sacred ideology that has cloaked the expansionary tendencies of America’s ruling elites.”

Northcott’s argument is compounded, in large part, of the ecclesiology of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, the eschatology of Rene Girard, the geopolitics of Andrew Bacevich, and the postmodern political prose poetry of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Unfortunately, these people are not obviously in agreement about fundamental issues, and the author makes little effort to reconcile them. What holds the book together is a rambling, Soviet-surplus critique of the United States, updated by the propaganda of the antiglobalization movement.

Some of this filler material is amazing. We learn, for instance, that 67% of the children of US veterans of the first Gulf War have some serious birth defect. We further learn that Islamism is, simultaneously, an artifact of American funding; an indigenous reaction to American-imposed post-colonial underdevelopment; and a modern, pseudo-Islamic ideology that mirrors America’s neoliberal globalism in being totalitarian and universalistic. The author even moves the great die-off of elderly people during the European heat wave of 2003 from France to Chicago. By the end of this book, American malefaction has become so ubiquitous as to be virtually unfalsifiable.

This is a shame, since there are real issues here about the nature of American political culture and the interrelationship of eschatology, soteriology, and macrohistory. The author makes a remarkable hash of all of them.

It is true, as Northcott points out, that the principle of “the priesthood of all believers” gave American political culture a bias toward voluntarism and the market. More important, it is also true that the Puritans in America saw their story as a reprise of the Book of Exodus, but on a larger scale, and with world-historical significance. There really is a strong millennialist streak that runs right through American history (the best-known discussion of which remains Tuveson’s “Redeemer Nation”). From the colonial era, and into the 20th century, the dominant model of history was “postmillennialism,” which holds that society would be perfected within history, during the millennium, only after which would the Second Coming occur. After the Revolution, a synthesis of ideological republicanism and Puritanism arose. It assigned an important but subordinate place for the Church, as the institution that would educate citizens in virtues needed to make the polity function. Northcott is not pleased:

“American postmillennial apocalyptic involves the claim that the American Republic, and in particular the free market combined with a sort of marketised democracy, is the first appearance in history of a redeemed human society, a true godly Kingdom. But true Christian apocalyptic, the Christian belief that Christ has come, that the spirit of Christ is present in the Church, and that Christ will come again, points Christians precisely to the temporary and imperfect nature of all efforts to establish the reign of God on earth.”

There are tensions in Northcott’s critique, to put it mildly. He posits, reasonably enough, that the philosophy of John Locke has strongly affected American political culture. The author then asserts that the Lockean understanding of government as essentially a device for protecting property is not orthodox theology, and is indeed postchristian, whatever the denominational affiliation of actual Lockeans may be. Well, maybe, but readers may find it hard to reconcile Northcott’s indictment of the sacralization of government with his antipathy to Locke’s political theory, which was designed precisely to keep government modest, both in its powers and in its ontological status.

Be this as it may, the most important development in the history of American eschatology was the transition to premillennialism, which began about the middle of the 19th century. Premillennialism, sometimes called dispensationalism, holds that the Second Coming will occur before the millennium, preceded by disaster and apostasy. It does not see secular progress as a good thing, if progress is acknowledged at all. Its influence has spread steadily; today, it is perhaps the most widespread historical model among evangelical Christians in the United States (and elsewhere, one might add). It is associated, often if not invariably, with Biblical literalism, and with support for Zionism, which is held to be a fulfillment of prophecies of the Endtime.

We are told that there is a synergy between dispensationalist fatalism and the ideology of the market, since both denigrate the possibility of collective action. This would be interesting, were it not for the fact that freemarketeers are optimists of the most annoying sort. Still, it is certainly easier to make that argument than to suggest, as Northcott also seems to do, that premillennialism is a religion of immiseration. In the US, the key figures associated with the revival of premillennialism were high-status churchmen and laity based in Manhattan. In the 19th century, this eschatology was not particularly popular in those regions that suffered social disruption in the course of industrialization. By the later 20th century, some form of premillennialism was becoming the mark of the rising classes of the Next Christendom outside the West. This only repeated its history in America, where evangelicals of all descriptions tend to be richer and better educated than the population as a whole.

Neither will it do to make premillennialism a religion of capitalism, either international or domestic. Contrary to what Northcott believes, Americans by the later 19th century were not satisfied with their “national Bank” and its capitalist ways. America did not have a central bank from 1836 to 1913 because the people in the states that later became highly evangelical were suspicious of large institutions. In fact, they also made sure that private banks could not operate nationally until relatively recently. High tariffs, restricted immigration, and suspicion of finance are the evangelical political tradition. The current association of evangelicalism with big business in the Republican Party is a historical accident, occasioned chiefly by the decision of the Democratic Party to walk the plank on the abortion issue.

It would be hard to quarrel with the assessment that Woodrow Wilson’s domestic Progressivism and his plan to make the world safe for democracy are manifestations of America’s traditional postmillennialism. That view of the world long lingered in elite circles. In fact, the sentiment never entirely dissipated, even if the theology did. There is a good argument to be made the Bush Administration’s War on Terror is just a revival of Wilsonianism with a Kantian twist supplied by the neoconservatives. However, Northcott’s analysis forces him to make a bad argument:

“[T]he mutation of the American dream into a global war with those who are said to oppose America’s interests and its values is a consequence of Enlightenment rationalism. The universal story of an enlightened humanity progressing toward peace legitimizes a perpetual war to bring it about…However it is not in the name of reason, but of an apocalyptic faith that Bush and bin Laden seek to take charge of the destiny of the world.”

Northcott asserts that Bush’s policy “is consistent” with the abandonment of the attempt to build the postmillennial Zion in America (of which the Puritan Fathers dreamed, however mistakenly), in favor of a premillennial project to aid the construction of a Jewish Zion in Israel. This is an interpretation against the text, since the fact is that the Bush Administration does claim to be acting in the name of reason. Certainly that is how the Administration talks about geopolitics. That is even how the Administration talks about Israel. Only when we dismiss the canard that George Bush is trying to trigger the Battle of Armageddon do we come to the really interesting point: under Northcott’s analysis, Christians would have to oppose any forcible attempt to maintain world order, or indeed national order.

This form of pacifism is based on a reading of the New Testament that retrojects 20th-century underdevelopment theory onto first-century Palestine, thereby turning Jesus into an ardent if peaceful anti-imperialist. To this end, Northcott adopts strange readings of such texts as Mark 12: 13-17. That is the passage in which Jesus, in response to a question about the licitness of paying taxes to the Romans, says to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. As Northcott would have it, that Jesus did not legitimize the payment of the tax:

“… Jesus already steals a march on his opponents because he demands that they show him the imperial coin – the Denarius – in which the tax was paid [since] neither he nor his disciples carried the coinage of empire… The question already names Jesus’ opponents as idolaters since they possess the coin and he does not.”

What we have here is a studied refusal to hear anything from scripture that the exegete does not want it to say (from my limited experience this is characteristic of Girardian exegesis). Northcott does not confine this practice to small points. Here is a broader misreading for you:

“The real meaning of Revelation is that the Roman Empire – variously the ‘beast,’ the ‘dragon’, the ‘whore of Babylon’ – and the Roman emperor – the Antichrist – are already defeated.”

To this, one may say that anyone who thinks that the word “Antichrist” appears in the Book of Revelation could have his license to practice eschatology revoked. In any case, we need to remember that if Revelation really were just an anti-Roman tract, it would not be very interesting, and we would not be reading it today. Anti-Roman sentiment is, of course, present in that book: the Whore of Babylon is Rome. However, she is killed at the behest of the Beast. The message is that, bad as Rome is, it’s really just a front for something much worse: of the archons, of whom St. Paul wrote, who really rule the world, and against whom it is the real business of Christians to struggle.

To be fair, we should note that the author acknowledges that Jesus did not preach political resistance, even of the passive Gandhian variety. We are also told, eventually, that Paul commanded obedience to the state, but then we are also told that Paul meant that the powers of the state were legitimate only when they were used for right purposes. At the risk of getting into a proof-texting contest, I find this hard to square with the remark of Jesus to Pilate that Pilate’s power was “from above,” even when Pilate was about to have Jesus executed. Theocracy is a poor notion, but it should not be confused with the immemorial Christian principle that the state is a part of a providential order, and not simply a feature of a fallen world.

The preferred eschatology of “An Angel Directs the Storm” is an almost complete preterism. Though allowing that the Lord will come again at some indefinite point in the future, under circumstances we cannot now imagine, Northcott repeatedly reminds us that all prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. Indeed, history ended then, with the resurrection. This is why, for instance, the doctrine of Just War is invalid (though Northcott says that George Bush managed to violate it anyway). The New Testament shows:

“[T]here is no more need for war; in the language of the Book of Revelation the war in heaven has already ended, Michael and his angels have already put down the elemental powers and the fallen angels…Christians are called not to fight against them, rather to enact their defeat in the communities of worship and reconciliation.”

Northcott’s pacifism rejects pietism. Pietism, he says, comes from the error of putting the soul in the care of religion, while leaving the body to the control of the state. That error, in turn, comes from viewing the Church as one association among many, rather than as a comprehensive community. The politics of the Christian community is “the non-coercive quest for peace and justice in a sinful world.” Christian community does not require self-segregation: far from it. Christians should pray for the welfare of the city into which they have been sent, and work for its welfare, as Jeremiah advised the exiles from Judea. They must never take charge, but hold those to account who try to take charge, particularly if they try to take charge in God’s name. On the global level, Christians are to reject the temptation to control history’s outcome, which was among the things that the devil unsuccessfully tempted Jesus to do.

The confusion here is obvious enough: Northcott has a divinized concept of history. Hegel did too, of course, but Hegel was trying to replace theology rather than practice it. Perhaps this will clarify the question:

The fate of the modern international system is important, because the international system is a very big thing. The atmosphere is a very big thing, too, but we usually don’t accuse people who study or to try to influence it (by controlling industrial emissions, say) of usurping a divine prerogative. The historical world is different from the atmosphere, of course, particularly in that the historical world consists of human groups in conflict. Northcott says that God does not choose sides between these groups. To that, the short answer may be to stop telling God what to do.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Gray Havens

The Gray Havens

John Reilly's 1969 paperback edition of   The Fellowship of the Ring

John Reilly's 1969 paperback
edition of
The Fellowship of the Ring

An Explanation

The Lord of the Rings is not history, and as readers of that great work are aware, the title of its last chapter is "The Grey Havens," not the "Gray Havens." Nonetheless, the world of Middle Earth that J.R.R. Tolkien imagined for us is so detailed that it is difficult to think of it as pure fiction. Because the events of the War of the Ring have something of the density of factual history, they invite the sort of stretching and speculation that factual history invites. A major genre has grown up in fiction that treats historical scenarios that did not happen. That is what I have done in this novella with the climax of The Lord of the Rings.

John J. Reilly
March 15, 2006


A Disclaimer

The work to which this page links, The Gray Havens, as contained on the pages with URLs tg1.html through tgh10.html, is not a part of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings; neither does it purport to be a part of that work or a sequel to it. The Gray Havens does not include copyrighted or trademarked material from The Lord of the Rings or from any other work. The Gray Havens is a new work that alludes to a small set of the ideas and characters that the genius of Professor Tolkien has made the common possession of mankind in a very real and legally binding sense.

(1) The Downfall of Rivendell

“The end of the world is one thing, but missing lunch is serious.”

It was March 25, in the 3019th year of the Third Age, and Arwen was not taking the lack of news from the South well. She needed to get out of her rooms. As for me, being a Hobbit, I would have gone to lunch even if I were on fire.

“Bilbo, you are incorrigible,” she sighed, perhaps genuinely glad of the interruption. “Let us go down to the Lesser Refectory, then.”

She stood up, and I took my accustomed distance. I had long since stopped being uncomfortable around Big People, but a conversation at close quarters was a strain on the necks of both parties.

We passed through the double oak-doors of her suite and headed towards the first stairway, walking down a corridor whose waxed floor gleamed under the long skylight. Like most of the younger members of Elrond’s household, it was in one of the new wings of the Great House of Rivendell, built of wood rather than the immemorial stone of the central villa. We went quite a distance before we met anyone else. Arwen was not the only person in Rivendell who had things on her mind at the moment other than the next meal.

“Lady Arwen,” said Gelmir as we entered the Refectory. He came forward when he spied us at the doorway. He was one of Elrond’s senior advisors; the oily one, I had always thought. Now he was the one who said “I told you so.” The Lesser Refectory was a fine room, used much more these days then the vast and gloomy Great Hall. Today, though, the thin sunlight that shone through the tall, narrow windows cast no shadows; it was the kind of light that seemed to cool rather than warm. The scattered diners were more interested in whispered conversation than in eating. “It is good to see you about again,” Gelmir said. Turning lightly to me, he offered: “And you too, Master Baggins. I hope that even in these stressful times that you find nothing lacking in the table of this House?”

“Even in the best of times, Councilor,” I said bowing low, “the splendid hospitality of Rivendell can be eclipsed by the quality of the company.” I carefully did not look in his eye, but I was fairly sure I heard Arwen choke back a snort. She tactfully took up the conversation.

“I saw a rider enter the eastern courtyard an hour ago, Councilor. Am I correct in thinking that was a messenger from Lorien?”

“Indeed, Lady,” he replied as we took our seats. “As you have no doubt surmised, we have no new intelligence, or we have sent to you immediately. The Ring has passed beyond our knowledge into the Shadow. So have Elessar, and the hosts of Gondor and Rohan. And the Rangers. And the sons of Elrond. It would be comical if it were no so tragic. The flower of the West has offered battle to Mordor. It will be cut down unless the One intervenes.”

“And what would you have done differently, Councilor?” I asked as the servants placed dishes of bread and melted cheese before us. As a matter of fact, the quality of the food on Elrond’s table had declined in these distressful times; the villages of the network that traded with Rivendell were being attacked, or abandoned, or just had no spare produce to sell. I had alluded once to Elrond himself about the decline in quality. He was having a bad day and took the remark with less than his accustomed good humor. Gelmir seemed determined to never let me forget it.

“Perhaps I would have done nothing differently, Master Baggins,” he said as he munched his cheese sandwich philosophically. “We all had a hand in what has been decided, after all. Perhaps all will be well. Perhaps the Enemy will flee from the host of the West, and the Lord Elessar will be greatest King of Men since Ar-Pharazon the Golden. Perhaps, contrary to all appearances, the advent of the Hobbits into the affairs of the world has not been a sign of its downfall.”

Arwen put her hand on my arm. I thought she was cautioning me against making a sharp retort; then I realized she was listening. I heard it too. Far away, someone was screaming.

“It’s coming from the Keep,” she said. That was where her father’s private quarters were.

Without a glance at her companions, she rose from table and walked, and then ran, to the doorway that led to the Keep. Hobbits have long ears, and the elvish aristocracy were, well, sensitive to their blood relatives. Gelmir, who was neither, could not hear the cry. “What is happening, Master Baggins?” he asked.

“Trouble in the Keep, looks like. Perhaps I should see whether I can assist the Lady Arwen,” I said as I rose to follow.

“Yes, that would kind of you.” He said politely. He himself did not move. Several centuries as a courtier had taught Gelmir that it was often better to be available to discuss a mishap later than to be there to stop it from happening.

By the time I had caught up with Arwen, it was becoming clear that something was very wrong. People were not running to the cries for help, which were now audible to even ordinary elvish ears; they were standing stock still. I was not quite sure that I felt a tremor through the stones of the floor.

The noise became louder and louder as we approached Elrond’s private study. We burst open the door. There was Elrond, mighty among elves and men, writhing on the floor. His right hand was bloodied and mangled. It was smoking.

Some of Elrond’s household shook themselves from their bewilderment and ran into the study; doubtless the smell of burning flesh got their attention. On the ring finger of Elrond’s right hand, or what was left of it, there was a ring that glowed white hot. I knew about what it was, though few others did: it was Vilya, the Ring of Air.

Elrond had seemed to be trying to say something like, “Get it off me!” Then, however, he opened his eyes and looked at his would-be rescuers.

It was like being hit with a blast of air from a furnace. Several of us fell. I stood, but for a moment I did not see Elrond, or the room in Rivendell. I saw a space of infinite darkness, and in it I a burning eye, an eye with a slit pupil. I head a voice like thunder say:

“Air is mine; Adamant is Mine; Fire is mine. The One is mine. You are mine.”

The vision passed, and once again Elrond was just screaming and mouthing words. I heard a rabble of advisors, knights, and servants behind me, trying to decide what to do and who should do it. At my side Arwen wept and cried, “Father what is happening!”

Suddenly, none of this was important to me. Without anyone noticing, I slipped to the window that looked to the southeast. The view was the same as it had always been, of rocky pineland that fell away to the hazy feet of the Misty Mountains. Nothing seemed to have changed, but I knew that the view was a fraud. I felt, with a certainty that I could never have achieved with mere vision, that everything had changed. And what I felt was envy and fury. He had it. It was mine, my Precious, but He had it now. I would never get it back.

* * *

The Council was held a week later, in a pavilion in the north of Rivendell. It might have been held earlier, but the Keep and the oldest parts of the complex began to shift off their foundations on the day of Doom. Everyone was evacuated from the oldest structures before they collapsed, but getting everyone billeted and accounted for was challenge enough for the government of the High Elves. Besides, Elrond was not recovering quickly from the amputation.

“My Lords, Lady Arwen, distinguished guests, this is a day that we have long dreaded,” said Erestor, another of Elrond’s advisors. He was a windbag of the first water but not a bad fellow; what he had to say was usually worth hearing, once he got around to saying it. “We have dreaded this chance so much that we could never bring ourselves to plan for it. Now there is no time to plan. The Enemy has triumphed in the field and in the Other World. Our own resources have fallen to nothing more than our lives. As I have said, there is no time to plan. We have only…”

“Yes, yes, you have only to flee to the Gray Havens, if you can reach so far, and if any ships remain to carry you.” So said Gloin the Dwarf, the father of one of the members of the ill-starred Fellowship of the Ring. He had returned to Rivendell as an ambassador from the Lonely Mountain to bring news of the defense there and seek Elrond’s advice about securing increasingly dangerous Forest Road through Mirkwood. Now it seemed he would not be going home anytime soon. Now it seemed there might be no home to return to.

“The Elves have always had the option to flee, and Men, Men seem as happy in the service of the Dark Lord as out of it. But what of the Dwarves, I ask the Council? We have nothing but this Middle Earth. Now it is lost, lost, and where shall we go? Do the Elves know any refuge for my people, for any remnant of the people, before the Shadow covers the whole world?”

“Peace, Gloin,” said Elrond with difficulty. The remains of the right arm were well-bandaged but swollen. The evil was beginning to affect his chest. “The elves do not know just what form the sorrows of these days will take. Also, the elves of my kindred have not yet determined whether to stay or to flee. That is among the things we must decide.”

“But surely there can be no doubt?” said Hador, the Councilor who performed the necessary function of stating the obvious at every meeting. “We have few men at arms, and our powers have waned almost to nothing, or passed to the Dark Lord’s control. We saw this just a week ago when the Keep collapsed. It had been built with the aid of the Ring of Air. When the Great Rings passed to his control, everything ever done with them crumbled. We cannot resist the Dark Lord, even in the near term. We have no choice but to go west. The only question is whether we can still reach the Havens.”

“And whether the Havens still stand,” Gelmir interjected mildly. “Cirdan also wielded a Great Ring, remember. And we see that Lorien is burning, where Galadriel had worn the Ring of Water.”

Actually, all we could see was a darkening of the sky on the southern horizon. When we first saw that darkness, we feared the Shadow of Mordor was spreading over the whole world. Within a few days, though, the last of our scouts reported. They were no longer able to cross the mountains, but they said that the darkness was an immense billow of smoke, almost too big to see, that an east wind blew over the mountains. There was only one explanation. Lorien was burning.

“My Lords, these are craven counsels,” said Glorfindel, the chief of Elrond’s warriors in the absence of the Elrond’s sons. He was a fine Elf, but he was also evidence for the proposition that immortality need not sharpen the wits. “We do not yet know what is happening in the wide world. Are we to flee on the mere rumor of defeat? May we altogether abandon our allies, as the worthy Gloin has hinted that we might? And if the worst has happened, a flight to the Havens would have as little chance of success as a last defense of Rivendell, and far less honor.”

“Master Elrond, may I make suggestion?” I asked.

“I think perhaps that we have heard enough suggestions from Hobbits for many an age,” Gelmir said.

“Gelmir, this is my Council,” said Elrond as sharply as he could. “What is it, Bilbo?”

“Might I suggest that an age has ended, and not the world? We cannot live as we have lived, but we need not assume that no life is possible. We do not know enough to despair, and that means we should avoid a final stand, if we can do so with honor,” I said, nodding to Glorfindel. He might be wrong, but no one had ever called him malicious. Unfortunately, was not true of Gelmir, who interjected again.

“The aged Halfling speaks unexpected good sense,” he said. “Indeed, I think that we have underestimated our remaining resources. The name of Elrond carries great weight in the North and West of Middle Earth. In this time of fear, it might be possible to turn that reputation into power. Also, the power of the Dark Lord remains limited, even now. Only in Gondor and the borderlands of Mordor can he rule like a king. His power in these parts is terror and treason. And he knows this well. He also knows that we have things to trade. We might yet secure from him leave to rule ourselves.”

“What sort of things, Councilor?” asked Arwen in a carefully noncommittal tone.

“Vilya, the Ring of Air, for one. Yes, he now controls it, but he does not have it. He might be persuaded to forgo a raid in force on these lands if he could receive it as tribute.”

“And what other things?” she asked again.

“Rivendell has ever been a center of opposition to his ambitions, and rightly so, for many lives of Men. However, we must now consider whether we can continue to support all the enemies of the Dark Lord, or any of them. The families of the Rangers who disappeared into the Shadow have some call on our charity, perhaps, but we must acknowledge that the people of Isildur have failed. We can no longer aid them in war, even if we would. There may even be some individuals who have the misfortune to be the special enemies of the Dark Lord. We may pity them, but we can no longer shelter them.” He carefully did not look at me.

“Councilor Gelmir has persuaded me to seek the Havens at all hazards,” Arwen said, “if Middle Earth is to be ruled in the way he proposes.”

“Erestor,” said Elrond, “you were about to propose a course when you were interrupted. May we hear it?”

“Lord Elrond, my first advice is that we do not deceive ourselves. We have no power in this world any longer. Our old policies have wholly failed. We have nothing with which to make new ones. The Dark Lord has no need of our bargains. Perhaps he would not trouble to send an army from Mordor to this thinly peopled country, or maybe he would. In any case, he has creatures nearer to hand. And I can only repeat that we have nothing: neither provision, nor magic, or even a decent fort. We can only run. The Gray Havens is the obvious destination, but we should not count on the ability to leave Middle Earth. As we travel, must be alert along the way to the possibility of refuge. And we must leave now. The longer we stay, the worse our case will be.”

We sat in silence for several minutes. Finally, Elrond spoke.

“I have no ambition to be the viceroy of Mordor. Neither do I wish to leave Rivendell. For the moment, in fact, I cannot. We are not strong enough to fight. We do not know enough to flee. We will remain where we are, and gather news. That is all for now.”

* * *

And so we did nothing for two months. Actually, we did even less than Elrond had proposed, since news got scarcer and scarcer. We learned that Orthanc had been briefly abandoned and then occupied by a lieutenant of the Dark Tower; then all news from that quarter ceased. The wizard Rhadagast joined us from southern Mirkwood, which was becoming a lawless jungle. He came through a northern pass that, remarkably, the Beornings had managed to keep open. He said that Lake Town had been sacked. However, the Lonely Mountain had come through relatively unscathed. The siege was lifted after King Dain paid a heavy tribute to the Dark Tower and pledged fealty to Sauron. Gloin did not like this news any better than Elrond did, but on the strength of it he risked the journey home. Rhadagast himself, seeing Rivendell had slender hospitality to offer, continued West. From that direction scouts brought sporadic reports of Trolls, Wargs, and even the occasional Orc raid, but worst of all were the Men. Most of the recent immigrants from the South had been simply displaced persons looking for a home. Rumors of the great change in the world, and the influence of the Enemy’s agents, had here and there turned the newcomers into marauding hordes.

Our own situation deteriorated, first slowly and then quickly. Ordinary supplies that had been hard to import in January were unobtainable by the middle of April. Rivendell was self-sufficient in some commodities, notably dairy products, but there was not nearly enough to feed a population of 500. Hunting and fishing supplemented the dwindling stores, but hunting became harder and more dangerous, and fishing at Rivendell could never be more than a sport. Soon we were eating the cattle, and then the horses. Just as bad, the place was literally falling apart. The pavilions and outbuildings had never been meant to be lived in, as a late snowfall proved. There were no materials or enthusiasm for repairs. The softwood ornament beloved by the Elves was designed to be ephemeral; it almost melted in the wet, cold spring. Meanwhile, the new wings of the Great House that had connected to the Keep suffered several major fires, and another major collapse. By May, Rivendell had decayed to a network of encampments, cut off from the outside world and bickering with each other. I myself wound up in a tunnel with straw for a floor, like my remotest hobbit ancestors. I was better off than many.

The end came on half-a-day’s notice. A scouting and hunting party that had ventured as far south as the border of Hollin returned in a panic. “A host is coming this way! Hundreds of them, thousands of them! They are attended by Wargs and evil birds!”

“Hundreds or thousand of what?” asked Arwen. She and Elrond had taken up residence at one of the few decent lodges remaining in Rivendell. I happened to be present when the scouts made their report. Arwen said I cheered up her failing father, and maybe she was right. “We are not sure what kind they are, Lady,” continued the scouts, “but we saw from afar, in the dusk of the morning. We think they were Orcs at the end of a night’s march.”

“Or maybe they Men at the beginning of a day’s march,” I suggested, to no one’s satisfaction, including my own.

“Men or Orcs or wraiths, they are coming this way, and they can be here in a day’s march. They could even arrive tonight!”

“Or they could miss us,” I observed. “You know hard the entrance to this valley is to find, Master Elrond.”

“That obscurity was partly a glamour created by my will, Master Baggins, with the aid of my Ring. We no longer enjoy that protection. If anything, we must reckon that the Ring draws our enemies and guides them. No doubt the Dark Tower has dispatched this force to collect it. And me, I suppose. The simplest course might be to give them both. Then, perhaps, they would overlook the lives of my people.”

“Father, you are talking nonsense,” Arwen said. “The Enemy would not forbear to destroy Imladris and everyone in it once he has it in his power. And if you think to make a quick end, consider that Gelmir was right in this: your name really is known through all these northern lands. If we are to find a new refuge, or fight our way to the Havens, we will need the authority of your House.”

A hurried meeting of the Council was called. No one even suggested that we not flee. Glorfindel might have done had he been present, but he was away south toward Tharbad. We trusted that he would notice our absence when he returned. Nonetheless, the Council still managed to argue for several hours about what to do. Elrond was almost unconscious, and Arwen lost control of the meeting. In the end, with the sun already about to set behind the mountains, the order went out: “Take everything. Go West. Now.”

* * *

There was never a moment when the flight from Rivendell was not a catastrophe. The lack of clear instructions began the evil. “Everything” was interpreted to mean the books and chief treasures that had escaped the destruction of the libraries. The valuables were taken from storage places, where they had been safe from the weather and well hidden against theft, to assembly areas, where they were supposed to be loaded on carts. Arguments and then fights broke out between people trying to load the valuables and those trying to load the foodstuffs. Nothing was properly packed. It started to rain. Books and much grain were spoiled. Maybe it was just as well. There were not enough carts for either, much less for both.

Since there were only a few draught animals, most of the carts were pulled by soggy Elves and the few adult Dunedain whom Elrond still had under his protection (most of the Rangers’ families had drifted off into the wilderness since March 25). We reached the Ford of Bruinen with difficulty, and some injuries. Elrond was one of the few to be riding in a cart; certainly he was too weak stay astride one of the few remaining horses. (I rode in a cart, too: not because I was held in such high honor, but because no one noticed me among the barrels. It was like old times.) Elrond tried to exert his power over the ford, which was submerged in swift-flowing water because of the recent rains. The other Elves of power tried also. It started to rain harder. Arwen, finally, signaled that the train would have to make what headway it could against the flood.

It was not our good luck that the first carts had almost reached the other side before the lead cart overturned, spilling its contents into the water and sending its handlers downstream. Nearly the whole train was stranded in the current. The carts were not linked together (maybe they should have been) but the stream did not seem to grow especially stronger. For whatever reason, three quarters of the carts overturned within a few moments. Mine was among them, but as I said, it was like old times: I latched onto a barrel (of glue, as I later discovered) and quickly washed up on the nether shore. Many of us were not so lucky. An unknown number disappeared into the darkness then. So did most of our goods.

The survivors assembled at the western side of the ford. In the nearly total darkness, there was no way to count noses, but I was sure that Elrond was there, soaking wet and carried on a litter. Arwen was nearby, just as wet. We abandoned the few carts that had reached this side of the ford, and made up backpacks of the remaining goods (we later found out we had left quite a lot of preserved meat and accidentally took several packages of bunting and other festive decorations).

We were on the Great East Road, and many of us knew the lands about it well. This land was almost empty, but to the south of the Road were a few villages that helped provision Rivendell. One of Elrond’s stewards led us west into the dark to what he assured us was a secure refuge perhaps 10 miles distant. Then the really bad part began.

There was movement in the night that was not our own. The enemy did not come from behind: if that army ever reached Rivendell, assuming that’s what it was, it would not have followed us over the ford in this weather. Rather, it was clear that things were moving in the dark to either side of us, both in the forest on the north and the high grass to the south. Some of those things sounded as if they were quite large.

Elves had always had sharp eyes, and did so still in this dark new Fourth Age. Archers and spearmen moved off from the main body of our group, and sometimes found a mark, as some of the gurgling death cries attested every few minutes. What the Elves no longer had was luck; some of those cries had elvish words in them. Our stragglers soon began to be snatched. Later, an intrusion of shadowy shapes from the trees cut our column in half. Elrond was in the rear section, so that was where his guard rallied. Possibly all the Household of Elrond, along with its guests and dependents, would have disappeared into the shadows that night, if Glorfindel had not come up from behind just then.

He was mounted on that magnificent white horse he had refused to let us eat. Accompany him was a small squadron of guards on foot. It was like the old days; like this time last year, in fact. The intruders were beaten off or killed, but the forward group of our column was much smaller when the rear made contact again. I knew this because I was in the forward group. I actually was picked up by something that was very strong and very foul smelling, but it had caught hold of my backpack. The pack came loose and the thing slouched off with it, apparently not noticing I was missing. Or maybe it really was interested only in the backpack.

The march went on so long, or so it seemed, that I had actually forgotten about the refuge; I had been accustoming myself to the assumption that we would always be walking. I felt as if I could have done so. Since the day of the great disaster, I had seen no further visions of the Lidless Eye. The Ring was affecting me, though. I felt, if not younger, then at least of no definite age. I felt quite up to walking forever in the dark, but I did not have to.

We were led down a trail to the south of the road to a sturdy stone doorway. It was set into the end of a low ridge that made two levels of the forest floor. The heavy wooden door itself had been split in half. The doorway led to a burrow that served as a warehouse and a refuge for a nearby village that had sold produce to Rivendell for time out of mind. The burrow had been dug, however, as a shelter for the Rangers and others of Elrond’s household who had need of it. When we lit some torches, we found that the villagers were here, too, along with their butchery tools. The bones had been stripped and cleaned and some had been broken open for that marrow. Any food that had been stored there had been looted. We set a guard outside in the dark. At least the bunting we draped across the entrance allowed us to make a fire without being seen.

Just 200 of us remained. Erestor was with us; and so, for better or worse, was Gelmir. Arwen was with her father. Glorfindel was there, with all his personal guard. It was apparently safer to hunt the nightwalkers than to be hunted by them. Hador was never seen again.

(2) Weathertop

Even Elves needed some sleep after a night like that. In the morning, Glorfindel remonstrated with the remnants of Elrond’s Council. The exchange was actually part of a general meeting, however; elvish culture at its dissolution was retuning to democratic forms of its origins. Glorfindel spoke for almost an hour about the folly of taking off in the night like that, and especially about not taking him. When he had run out of expletives, he answered some questions.

No, he did not know whether Rivendell had been occupied. He had come north on the western side of the Loudwater and found at the ford the wreckage from our passage. He guessed what must have happened. No, very few people were passing through Tharbad now, or heading northwest on the Greenway. He did meet bands of folk fleeing across the countryside, many of them people of Gondor and Rohan, and even Belfalas. Tharbad, the long-ruined city, had briefly been choked with refugees, but they were massacred a month ago by an army of the Great Eye. The army came through the Gap of Rohan, most of the refugees thought.

Yes, they told many tales. Some said that Sauron had moved his capital to Minas Tirith. Some said the city had been besieged twice but still stood. Others still said it had been abandoned without a fight. No one he spoke to, he was sure, had been in a position to know. It was certain, though, that the Host of the West that had gone eastward had disappeared. The only survivors were a small group that had been assigned to guard some islands in the Anduin. They fled after March 25. Many people throughout the South fled then, long before the Enemy appeared.

Elrond could barely speak, but he whispered to Arwen, who finally asked something relevant:

“Glorfindel, is it safe for us to travel on the Road?”

He considered the question with evident care. “No,” he answered. “Of course not: but at least we can know a little about what is happening on the Road. That is not true a hundred yards to either side. If we send scouts before us and behind us, and we don’t do anything suicidally foolish, such as traveling at night, we may hope to arrive at our destination.”

“And what might that be?” asked Gelmir.

The members of the Council groaned. Some of the ordinary Elves gasped: this was the first they learned their leaders still had not decided what to do. Erestor responded almost through clenched teeth.

“Councilor Gelmir, I thought we had decided to head toward the Gray Havens, but also to look for alternatives along the way.”

“That is certainly what we discussed,” Gelmir replied. “I do not recall that we ever decided. We followed that course in any case, and lost more than half our number in less than a day’s march. Perhaps at this point we should reconsider.”

“Do you propose to return to Rivendell, Councilor?”

“I think that we should at least determine the state of things there before we proceed. If the valley of Imladris has not been taken, we should consider reestablishing our position there and maintaining our contacts with the outside world.”

“We were slowly starving in the cold at Rivendell,” Arwen noted. “No one was offering us aid, or asking for it. The only people who were coming to visit were probably Orcs. We might as well ‘reestablish our position’ in any hollow to the side of the Road, if it comes to that.”

“The point, Lady, is not so much where we are, as what we are doing there. We should be seeking an accommodation with the powers of the age. As I noted, we do have things the Dark Tower greatly desires. In any case, I insist that we ascertain the state of our ancient home before we go much farther west.”

“My Lord Gelmir may do so if he insists,” said Erestor dryly, “but I fear he may have to go on foot. I doubt that Lord Glorfindel would consent to lend him his horse.”

The strange thing was Glorfindel almost did lend Gelmir his horse, or ride off himself on the same errand. Glorfindel had not wanted to leave Rivendell, either. In part, that was because he really was willing to make a brave stand, but also because, after living there for so many centuries, he could not easily imagine being anywhere else. Elves often got like that. It was a wonder that so many ever managed to reach the Gray Havens.

In the end, we decided to split the difference. We would go west to Weathertop, Gelmir included, and there set up a camp where we could gather information. Meanwhile, we sent a small party back to Rivendell to see how matters stood there. Glorfindel finally decided not to risk his horse on that trip after all.

That was good, because the Last Bridge, which crosses the Hoarwell, was held by the Enemy. There they were, three Men on the bridge in some dark livery. They had two horses between them. They were not really a guard on the bridge, perhaps, but relay riders. Certainly they fled when they saw us. The much diminished Host of Elrond would have been adequate to deal with this unit even without Glorfindel, but he was able to make sure that none of the Men escaped alive.

We crossed the Hoarwell without further incident. After walking for a few more hours, we camped a short distance to the north of the Road. The land on that side was rising and not heavily wooded. We did not dare risk a fire. In the morning, we continued west, and by noon we were approaching Weathertop. Glorfindel went scouting a mile ahead of the column. The bulk of our party had just left the Road for the trail that led to the peak; then we heard a single horse behind us.

Through the bushes I saw a large black figure on a large black horse. He face was covered, and he was riding the horse hard. One of the elvish archers saw him, too. He launched a single arrow that felled the horse. The rider, who was limping after his fall, tried to run back east, but two spearmen quickly broke from the foliage and killed him. Erestor came out to examine the body. I came with him.

“A messenger, clearly,” Erestor concluded, “and from some force in Mordor, but not from the Dark Tower. Look,” he said, indicating a badge on the man’s shoulder strap that showed the Eye and some elvish characters rendered in an unlovely script. “The Morannon,” I said. Erestor continued searching until he found a round leather case. “The message. We will look at it when we reach safety.” Erestor gave orders to hide the corpse and to butcher the horse.

Horsemeat would not have rendered the evening merry, even if there had been more it, but at least we had some fires. I suspect we were in the same dell where Frodo and friends had been attacked a few months ago. The Elves had rediscovered their skill at scavenging. Arwen and, surprisingly, Gelmir proved particularly adept at finding folk-salad. The result tasted like the hash of weeds it was, but at least it was not poisonous. After supper, a small group gathered around Erestor to examine the message borne by the dark rider. Erestor opened the leather carrying case and extracted a sealed scroll.

The seal, predictably, was impressed with image of an eye. When Erestor broke it, the paper around it began to ignite. He was not the person to whom the message was addressed, evidently. We did manage to put the fire out without losing any text, but the paper was smoking and quickly decaying. “The script is elvish,” Gilmer observed, “but the language is not Elvish or Westron.”

“It’s the Black Speech,” Arwen. “My father can read that tongue, but not now.” We glanced at Elrond, who was flat on his litter a few yards away. His eyes were half open. He was breathing with evident difficulty. He was shivering. “What do you make of this, Bilbo?”

“Here, move aside; let me see,” I said as I bowed over the document.

“You know the Black Speech, Master Baggins?” asked Erestor with evident surprise.

“Some. I made quite a study of it when I first arrived at Rivendell.”

“May I ask why?

“Because it is the language of the One Ring, Councilor. Now give me a moment.”

In Elrond’s libraries, there had been only two kinds of texts in the Black Speech. One consisted of spells and curses, often inscribed in stone to protect hiding places. The document before me fell into the other category: a message of administration. The latter were rare, outside the Black Tower and Dol Guldur, since only the elite of Sauron’s government used the language regularly. The mere presence in the West of the intended reader of such a document was a very bad sign.

“As nearly as I can make out, it says:

“To the Prefect of Ecstasy, now succoring the Ratland, the Second Secretary of the Office of Persuasion of the Ministry of Peace reflects a glint of the Great Eye, and sends this instruction:

“The Prefect is to double and redouble his efforts to find the principal traitor. The Rat People whom the Prefect has dispatched to our Office have proved unsatisfactory patients. They know nothing. Our Office is surprised and displeased that the Prefect supposed they would know anything. Our Office judges that the Prefect has sufficient means at his disposal to induce ecstasy without further taxing the resources of the Ministry.

“The Prefect’s request to remove his seat of operations to Tharbad is denied. The Prefect is to persevere.”

“That sounds as if they are in the Shire,” said Arwen. “Sorry, Bilbo.”

“It also sounds as if there is someone in this land with the authority to treat with us,” said Gelmir.

“Treat with us about what, Counselor?” asked Erestor. “We have nothing they want but our lives.”

“As I have had occasion to remark before,” Gelmir replied, “we have two things they want: a traitor and one of the Three Great Rings.” This time he did not trouble to avoid indicating me.

“Do you have a Great Ring, Counselor?” Arwen asked innocently. “You really should have told us.”

“But your father’s Ring…!” he spluttered.

“…Is still in the lodge at Rivendell. It’s well hidden. I put it under the rug in the study.”

I don’t think I had ever seen Man, Elf, Orc, Hobbit, or Troll so surprised. Gelmir’s mouth made a perfect circle.

“Are you mad!?!?” Gelmir shouted.

“No, and I am the daughter of Elrond, which you should keep in mind when you address me, Gelmir. Look, we could no longer use the Ring. We cannot even pick it up without being burned. We suspect it may draw the Enemy. Also, I suspected that its presence might have been what was keeping my father sick.”

“The ring must be recovered.” he said, a bit more politely.

“You are welcome to try, Councilor, provided you don’t return to us with it. As for Bilbo, he is a thief; no, excuse me: a burglar, not a traitor. The Dark Tower seems uninterested in Hobbits at this time.” And so we went to a night’s uncomfortable sleep. Well, sleep for some of them: I was having increasing trouble telling day from night.

* * *

The next morning, we found that Elrond was dead. There were plenty of shaped stones on Weathertop, so we were able to make a decent burial chamber. We used the last of the bunting as a winding sheet. Still, it was a barbaric end for such a cultured being.

When we returned to the Road, we met the scouts who had gone to Rivendell. No, they said, Rivendell was not occupied. It had been disturbed, probably by no more than a band of robbers, or maybe just refugees foraging for food. Some of the remaining structures had been damaged, though.

“Was Master Elrond’s lodge destroyed?” Gelmir asked.

“There had been a small fire, and part of the roof collapsed, Councilor,” one of the scouts replied. “Most of the house still stood when we left.”

“Lady Arwen, I will take you at your word,” Gelmir said. “I am returning to Rivendell for the Ring.”

“Councilor, why?” she asked.

“Because anyone who follows the road you are on will die in the woods like a sick dog. The Three Rings set us apart from all the other Speaking Peoples. The Ring of Air may have passed out of our power, but only a fool would let it out of our possession without getting something of value in return. The Enemy knows he has defeated us. That means he has nothing to fear from a bargain. I at least propose to try to make one. Will any come with me?”

Ten people did; that was ten more than would have gone if Elrond had still been alive. The small party left the main group after dispirited farewells. We continued westward.

(3) Bree

As we marched, we came upon more signs of habitation, and of former habitation. Columns of smoke rose above the trees to the north, presumably from burning homesteads. On the other hand, sometimes we found farms immediately to the south of the road that had not been touched. Occasionally we found bodies of men and animals. We even saw a few living farmers, but they ran off as soon as they saw us. Obviously, someone had been pillaging the country, but not very systematically.

We met no sign of the Enemy until that evening, when we were bivouacked to the north of the road. It was fortunate that we had put our fire out. Suddenly in the dark, we could hear the clanging tread of iron-soled Orc shoes on the road, and see the glitter of torches through the trees. They were heading east, apparently in a hurry, and did not seem to be looking for victims. Could it be that the Enemy had finally found the leisure to dispatch a force to Rivendell?

The next morning, we arrived at the gates of Bree, or rather the place where the East Gate used to be. Today it was gone, and the hedge that had surrounded the town was smoldering. The fires have gone out in most of the buildings of the town itself. We passed gingerly through the main street, since that was the fastest way to pass from east to west. Then, to our surprise, a hail of arrows came from ruins to either side of the road and struck three of our number dead.

“Take cover!” shouted Glorfindel in Sindarin, so we did. The arrows stopped. Before we could get off any of our own, a voice speaking the same language came from the north of the Road:

“Ahoy! Who are you? What sort of folk are you?”

“Who are you, who murder strangers unawares?” asked Glorfindel.

The rhetoric became heated, but it was immediately clear that neither side was Orcs or allied to the Enemy. By and by, the chief Elves, plus me, were standing in a town square and talking to a young Man and a few companions. They were dressed in the ragged remnants of what must originally have been some fine uniforms.

“I am Faramir, the Steward of Gondor,” the young Man explained after our party had introduced themselves. “I ask what pardon you can give for our ambush. In the past fortnight, an army has passed twice through this town. However, it is the smaller units of the Enemy, no bigger than yours, that do us most damage now. They raid the hamlets and the homesteads to which the people of this land have retreated. I have, of course, heard of all of you, particularly of Lady Arwen and the Halfling.” He bowed to Arwen. He looked as if he were about to pat me on the head, but thought better of it.

“And I have heard of Gondor, Master Faramir, and that its Stewart is named Denethor,” said Arwen. “If you are the Steward, you are far from office. Tells us, does that city still stand?”

“The buildings may still stand, but only as a mirror to Minas Morgul. The people are scattered.”

Then he told a remarkable story: a siege of the city, the lifting of the siege, and the coming of a pretender to the long-vacant throne.

“I might have followed such a one, had he achieved victory over the Enemy, or even restored our defenses, no matter the strength of his claim. Now whether his claim be true or false is no matter. He and the principal lords of Gondor went into the Shadow, and were swallowed up on the Day of Doom.”

“The ‘pretender’ of whom you speak was Aragorn son of Arathorn, Man of Gondor, and his title was more firmly established than yours!” Arwen said with unaccustomed ferocity. “Also he was my betrothed, and I will not hear his memory dishonored!”

“Lady, I meant no disrespect,” he said in the polite tone used by one who plainly believes he has been given every reason for discourtesy. “He fought well and he meant well, but he played a central part in the downfall of my country.”

“The downfall of your county?!” she nearly shouted. “The downfall of your country, Man of Gondor, was the fault of….”

“Arwen,” I suggested, “maybe we should hear the story before we cast the blame.”

Faramir told the story. On That Day, despair flowed from Mordor like a wave. The darkness did not return, but spirits fell lower than they had been during even the worst of the siege. There had been plans to evacuate the Minas Tirith again if the Enemy again crossed the Anduin. Faramir never received a report of such a crossing, but rumors of one spread as quickly as the despair. A trickle of citizens had begun to leave the city by sundown on the day the pretender fell. By morning, there was panic flight, and no order from Faramir could control it.

Perhaps 400 men at arms could be persuaded to remain in the city. Chiefly they were men of Gondor, but also some of the people of Rohan, commanded by Queen Eowyn. She had ascended to that unlucky dignity on the death of her uncle, who had been king for many years, and of her brother, whose kingship ended with the pretensions of the pretender. There was also an intrepid Halfling who had helped to slay the Enemy’s most fearsome commander and lived to tell about it, but not, alas, for long.

The guard and the Rohirrim could not give their whole attention to the defense. A degraded rabble had remained in the city to loot and dishonor it. By the time the Enemy did come, the lowest three levels were already burning. Some of the guard remained occupied, even at the end, with preventing the rabble from pillaging the treasures of the citadel.

The force that Mordor sent was an insult, but more than sufficient. A few thousand Orcs, and some Easterlings who could bear the daylight, entrenched only about the gate. The assault was made with a single siege engine of no great size. The Great Gate fell in a day. Thereafter, the defenders removed to the higher levels as the Enemy took over the city ring by ring. The Halfling fell in the brief defense of the Second Gate; he had never really recovered the wound he took when he attacked the commander of the Dark Tower.

Sometimes the Orcs and Easterlings captured and slew the rabble; sometimes they recruited it. They had no great need of recruits, however, since a leisurely column of the Enemy poured into the city night after night. Finally, the guard realized that the host of Mordor did not distinguish between them and the looters. The city was considered abandoned; it was being repopulated, not conquered. A remnant of the guard and the Rohirrim, no more that 100 fighters in all, quietly abandoned the city by taking secret paths that led into the White Mountains.

“Useless human weasels…” muttered Arwen with no attempt at inaudibility. The tactful Erestor cleared his throat. Faramir continued:

Descending again to the plain of Anorien, Faramir and Queen Eowyn headed northwest. As they moved, they acquired horses at the widely scattered homesteads. Often they found horses riderless in the fields, still saddled with the gear of their luckless owners. In four days they reached Edoras.

In Edoras there ruled Grima, who had taken the title of Protector. He had escaped from his detention at Isengard and returned to Rohan to rally those of the folk who believed that the alliance with Gondor had been folly. That number had never been small, and the return of deserters and survivors from Gondor and Anorien had only swelled their number. Grima, in fact, commanded no fewer than 1000 lances. He immediately took Faramir’s little band prisoner when they arrived at his door, though their capture and imprisonment were framed in the most polite terms. The very next day, he acknowledged Eowyn’s title. He also announced that he would rule with her as her advisor and wedded consort. Grima then sent heralds to the Orkish army in Anorien to seek terms from Mordor, and to offer them Faramir as a token of good faith.

The queen did not survive her murder of Grima on their wedding night, but Faramir and 15 of his men did contrive to escape in the confusion that followed. They stole horses, but no one pursued them. The next noon, when they were well away from Edoras and nearing the gap of Rohan, they looked back and saw smoke rising from the direction from where the town lay. Grima’s heralds, Faramir surmised, had found that the Dark Tower no longer needed to parlay.

The rest of Faramir’s tale was soon told. He and his little band continued to the northwest toward Tharbad. Their first thought was to seek refuge in Imladris, but when they realized that none could tell them where it lay, they continued up the Greenway with the other refugees. Some of these were men of Gondor who held Faramir for their lord; others were simply folk of goodwill who sought any legitimate authority in the chaos. Soon Faramir and his caravan of a few dozen followers reached Bree, which had not yet been sacked and whose townsmen refused to admit any strangers. However, Faramir drove off the outliers of an army of the Enemy, maybe part of the host that had burned Edoras that was coming up the Greenway a few days behind him. Some of the cannier folk of Bree Village surmised that the main force could be not be far behind, so they left with Faramir for the remote and more easily defended village of Archet. Faramir informally assumed command of the defense of Breeland after Bree Village, Combe, and Staddle were destroyed.

When Arwen and her people arrived, he and a few scouts had been in the ruins of the village to reconnoiter the movements of the enemy. When it came to the point, Faramir was not much happier than the Breelanders had been about taking in our contingent of strangers, particularly that aggravating Elf woman. Nonetheless, he agreed to admit us to Archet for a few days. He sent a few of his men with us to show the way.

We did not take the old track to the village. When the army of the Eye left for the West, the Breelanders set about erasing the track as much as possible, so that no one without local knowledge could find Archet by accident. What should have two hours’ walk became an afternoon’s scramble along twisted paths among bushes and ravines. The village turned out to be both heavily fortified and very well camouflaged. We entered through a nearly invisible gate hidden among fir trees. The center of the village was dense with temporary structures to house the new refugees. We were escorted to a long, low shed, evidently used as a sort of barracks. There we were given water and promised food.

Breeland had traditionally been governed by an annual meeting of the householders of all four villages, but now it was ruled by an Extraordinary Council of Both Sizes, with six Men and six Hobbits. The Senior Councilor was a Man named Barliman, who had once owned an inn in Bree Village. He owed his position in part to his ability to organize relief for the many displaced Breelanders. Besides, as the keeper of the largest public house in Breeland, he knew everybody.

“Baggins: now there’s a name I remember. Didn’t your nephew stay in my house one night last year, Master Bilbo? He caused quite stir, I can tell you, or at least what we used to call a stir in those days. No time to worry about that sort of thing anymore, of course.”

I was wondering whether to try to explain what Frodo’s visit had meant, but Arwen interrupted me.

“Master Barliman, my people and I are trying to go west, to the Gray Havens, or possibly north, if the Havens no longer exist. Do you get news here from those quarters?”

“Aye, Lady, lots of news; none of it good, but maybe none of it true, either. Many of the Fair Folk have passed through Breeland since the Bad Day, and most don’t come back. A few do, though. They say the Shire is too dangerous to pass through. It’s not just the Enemy, though there’s a proper army of Orcs and Men there, by all accounts, burning or killing whatever they see. The greater danger is the Shirefolk. They now shoot at everyone they see who isn’t a Hobbit, no questions asked. Anyway, the ones who come back say they will head back East over the Mountains until things calm down, or they try to go around north to Fornost and Lake Evendim.”

“Isn’t that the way to the Blue Mountains?” I asked. “Do the Dwarves still have works in the Blue Mountains?”

“Seemingly, Master,” he answered, “some of their traffic even finds its way through Archet these days; but not much, as you can imagine. Some Men and even a few Elves are seeking the Blue Mountains, too. That looks as if it might become the safest place in this part of the world. I’ve been thinking of heading there myself. It’s a dangerous way, though, and a slow one.”

Erestor addressed our party:

“It is not far from the Blue Mountains to the Gray Havens. The wiser course may be to seek shelter there, until we find how things stand at the Havens. We might, perhaps, even make a haven for ourselves there. That part of the world is too remote to be of much interest to the Enemy.”

Arwen thought otherwise. “Councilor, I suspect that time may be of the essence with regard to the Havens. They can be defended longer than almost anyplace in Middle Earth: certainly longer than Imladris could have been, even had we had the fighters to make the attempt. However, if there is an army of the Enemy in the Shire, then can we doubt that the Dark Tower will move against the Havens before the summer is out? We must go now. The Havens may be besieged in a few weeks, if they are not already.”

“And if they are already closed to us?” he asked.

“Then we will know; and as you say, the Blue Mountains are only a few days further north.”

Barliman watched the argument with placid interest. Finally he interrupted to suggest that we need not settle the matter now. We were welcome to stay until tomorrow, and then our further journey would be provisioned through the generosity of the People and the Extraordinary Council of Both Sizes, though of course neither the People nor the Council would take it amiss if we cared to contribute trinkets or other valuables to the general fund. Additionally, our leaders were invited to dine with him and the rest of the Council that evening at the inn of Archet, which these days served the small republic as a sort of capitol. The Steward Faramir would also be there, and could advise us further. Arwen did not actually spit.

“Yes, there is room for you in Breeland,” Barliman answered Erestor after a surprisingly sumptuous dinner. One of the few advantages to rapid depopulation is that, briefly, there is more than enough for all the survivors. “There are only about a thousand of us here now. But think: if you stay, you would have to become farmers or gardeners, or maybe hunters. And we might not stay. We are hidden here, but Breeland is right on the Road, and the Road is where the Enemy moves. My thinking is that we will all have to move north. If the Dwarves won’t have us, then maybe we would be left alone at Fornost, or the Hills of Evendim.”

These possibilities interested Erestor, but not me. Pioneering did not appeal to me at my age. I had my reasons seeking the Gray Havens, but it seemed less and less likely that I would ever get there. Still, I had hopes of seeing the Shire before I died. I did not care if I were shot for a Mordor Orc as soon as I crossed the Brandywine; which is what might happen, seemingly.

These possibilities did not much interest Arwen at the moment, either, not when she had Faramir to hand to berate for the fall of Gondor.

“And you say these Nazgul never appeared again after the siege of Minas Tirith was lifted?” she asked him. “I could understand your terror of them, you being a mortal, but it seems to me that your people fled at the mere rumor of the Enemy.”

“Lady Arwen, by your grace, the people had had enough. And speaking of having had enough…”

“I think the Lady has made an important point,” Glorfindel broke in. “If these winged nightmares can fly like the wind and cannot be resisted, then why have they not come here?”

“Perhaps we are not important enough for them,” Barliman suggested.

“The Enemy thought these parts were important enough to send an army here, to look for ‘traitors,’” I interjected. “Why not send a Nazgul? And besides, Gelmir was surely right that the Enemy desires to collect the Three Rings. Perhaps he does not want them urgently, but is it not strange that many weeks passed after the Enemy’s victory before he reached out his hand to Imladris?”

“Would that Aragorn and his kinsmen had escaped,” Arwen said. “The true Men of the West would have found a way even in this dark time.”

Faramir actually slammed the table. “Lady, I am the rightful Steward of Gondor. I am as much of the race of Numenor as the pretender; no, I withdraw that; as the late King Elessar ever was!”

Something clicked in my mind them. I had been trying to place who Faramir reminded me of. It was Strider, obviously. Arwen had made the same connection; her problem was that she didn’t realize it.

Erestor re-imposed decorum in a very loud voice. “Lady, my Lords, Extraordinary Councilors, there is only thing we must decide this evening, and that is what we are to do in the morning. For my part, I think the wisest course would be to follow Councilor Barliman’s wisdom and go north. In that way, we could remove ourselves from the greatest danger, ascertain the possibility of making a new settlement and, with due prudence, determine whether the Havens…”

“Summer would be fading by the time we reached the Havens, if we took such a course,” Glorfindel said.

“Yet if we go directly West, we will lose much or all of our party,” Erestor countered. “So large a company could not hope to pass through the western end of Eriador in these days without serious fighting.”

Arwen said quietly, “If the remnants of the House of Elrond are as cowardly as the Men of Gondor, then I will seek the Havens alone.”

“Look,” I said, “let’s do both. A small party can go through the Shire, avoiding trouble, and determine the lay of the land at the Havens. The larger group should take the northern route. The small party can send word about what they find, either through Bree or the Blue Mountains.”

“As I said, Master Bilbo, the Shire has become dangerous, even for Hobbits,” Barliman warned. “Who would you send on such a mission?”

“Myself, for one, obviously,” I answered. “Like Arwen, in fact, I will say that if no one goes with me, then I will go alone.”

“I will go with the Lady Arwen and the Halfling,” Glorfindel said. “Perhaps no one else should come.”

Arwen decided to make the parting easy:

“Erestor, as the heir of Elrond, I charge you to take lead the remnant of his people north. Seek the possibility of refuge wherever you can, but look for word from me to come from the West. Indeed, if I find the path over the ocean is closed, I will come to you.”

Erestor nodded. “I think this is the best we can do, Lady.”

“I need to scout the region to which Elrond’s people are going in any case,” said Faramir. “With Erestor’s permission, I will accompany them.”

As the meeting broke up, Arwen remained seated with Faramir.

“Lord Steward, please forgive me for what I said in the heat of the moment. In these terrible days…”

“My Lady, you said nothing to me that I have not said to myself. You must see…”

No one saw either of them again until the morning, so apparently they did get a room.

(4) The Old Forest

The Breelanders were actually better than their word. The next morning, they gave backpacks with clothes and food for the westward-bound trio, and the loan of a small pony for as long as we remained on the Road. That would not be long; the Road was not safe, and in any case, to attempt to enter the Shire through the Brandywine Gate would evidently be suicidal. We hoped to travel in reverse more or less the course that Frodo had taken: across the Downs, through as little of the Old Forest as possible, and then into Buckland through the Brandybuck Gate. I knew the Gate, and poor Meriodoc Brandybuck had left some of his small effects with me, for safekeeping, so I also had the key. Faramir would accompany us to retrieve the pony.

As for the rest of our party, they would remain several days in Archet. The Breelanders were outfitting them as pioneers for their own move north. If the members of Elrond’s Household were not torn apart by unnamed horrors in the dark of night, then the Breelanders would follow them. Fair enough.

We four, plus the pony, returned to the Road after taking an even more circuitous route that bypassed Bree Village entirely. There was no one on it, neither armies nor travelers. On the other hand, there was a trail of discarded wrappings, some bones, occasional bits of papers, lots of spit, and fecal matter of various origins. The hardened earth of the Road had been turned to powder by marching feet. Many were prints of iron shoes, but there were as many tracks were of ordinary boots. We noted that more of the Orc tracks were headed east than west.

It was fine morning in late spring, and we made good time. I walked with Glorfindel, who explained that he was still of two minds about making a stand somewhere in Middle Earth or taking ship. He thought those Elves who had turned back east over the Misty Mountains might have made the best choice. The Sylvan Elves of Mirkwood had been as much masters of their domain as any Elves on Middle Earth, including the Elves of Lorien. Now their position was unique, since their magic was close to the ground and little affected by the changes in the great world, unlike the high magic of Galadriel and Celeborn.

“And what do you think happened in Lorien, Glorfindel?” I had never been there, but I had met Elves from there, and I had long been curious about that land.

“I think the Dream Flower burst into flame like a dry leaf. It is a loss beyond tears, Bilbo. Rivendell was a sapling compared to the Golden Wood.”

As we talked in this vein, Arwen and Faramir, and the pony, were walking a little ahead of us. They were taking great care not to look at each other. The lack of shouting between them was deafening.

By midmorning, we came to a place where the plain to the south seemed to flow toward the forest and yet offered us a little cover from enemy eyes on the Road. The pony’s burden was unpacked and divided into bundles according to our capacities. I protested that mine was enormous in comparison to my size. Yes, said Glorfindel and Arwen, but you are also by far the youngest of us three. There’s Elf humor for you.

We said rapid but not wholly despairing goodbyes. I wondered what I would do if Arwen gave Faramir another one of those elf-broaches that seemed to have jinxed so many fine people, but the occasion did not arise. They clasped hands and he bowed lightly. Then he turned east, taking the much-relieved pony with him.

The walk south was a golden reminiscence of my own youth; which, despite the mockery of the Elves, really had been a very long time ago. The land sloped at just the correct angle to help us move swiftly over the short turf. The sunlight seemed to fill me, a feeling that received appalling confirmation when I trotted a little ahead to hop on ruined wall to see the lay of the land.

“Bilbo,” Arwen said tactfully, “you are not casting a shadow.”

This was an exaggeration. A definite darkening of the grass could plainly be seen to the north of me. When I stood in front of a white standing stone, I thought I cast a fairly clear outline, all things considered.

“Bilbo, you’re fading,” Glorfindel said.

A stout fellow, I thought: always so quick on the uptake.

I explained as we continued south.

I was not sure it had not begun to happen even before the Day of Doom. I had given up the Ring, which seemed to slow whatever had been happening to be, but still I was not ageing quite normally. No one ever noticed me fading. I saw no signs of it myself. What I did see, sometimes, was that other people faded for a while. I also needed less and less sleep. After the Day of Doom, the symptoms accelerated. The bad days still came and went, but I was surprised it took so long for someone else to notice. Elves might not be impressed by mortal longevity, but I was the oldest Hobbit alive; soon I will be the oldest Hobbit who ever lived. Did anyone think I could have gone on this journey if my condition had been altogether natural?

I was trying to explain my puzzlement about the indifference of the Eye when we came in sight of a house and garden, with a small stable attached. There was nothing alive or dead in the stable. The straw was clean but old. We knocked politely on the door of the house several times. When there was no answer, we less politely pushed it open. The house was a neat as a pin, but dusty; clearly no one had been here for several weeks. There was a bag of beans in the kitchen, along with some other non-perishable items, but otherwise nothing to eat.

We were farther west than we wanted to be, but the Elves assured me that the land was not trying to mislead us. It did not occur to them not to follow the path down the banks of the Withywindle. It was summer here already, to judge by the warmth, but there was almost no foliage. There was plenty of grass and the bushes were flourishing, but the only leaves to be seen were on this season’s saplings. It was a scene from the dead of winter on a day more than warm enough to take your coat off.

With every step we took, a sense of chill deepened that had nothing to do with the temperature. I began to be surprised that I could not see my breath smoke. Glorfindel and Arwen felt it too, I suppose, but they seemed more puzzled than uncomfortable. As the afternoon began to decline, we came to a wide place in the river where a huge oak stood on the bank. It had not been damaged; its wood seemed to be perfectly sound. However, there was not so much as a green twig in all its canopy of branches.

“Could it all have been poisoned somehow?” I asked as I put a hand gingerly on a root. I drew it back immediately.

Arwen nodded. “See, it is not dead; it is terrified.”

The root had been trembling.

“Are you saying the forest is too frightened to grow?”

“Too frightened to grow; too frighten to move; too frightened even to face the sun with a leaf.”

“Can it stay like this?”

“No,” Arwen answered again, “not for very long; no more than a Man could live if he could never wake up. This is not an enchantment. The forest is insane.”

What insane thing could a vegetable do? I thought. It could deliberately ignore the spring. Of course, considering the sort of things that one might encounter this spring, I was not sure the forest did not have the right idea.

“What about that wood sprite Frodo was talking about? Tom, Tom Bombadil was his name. He had a consort, too.”

“Wood sprites are imaginary, Bilbo. Anyway, Tom is probably hiding in a cave, as terrified as the trees. He and the forest have grown together. When the forest dies, he will die. No doubt his consort has left him.”

We saw a trail that headed west; we began walking again under the blind and barren trees. The path led us to a ridge, which we followed until we could find a way down into a ravine, which brought us a little south. We repeated the process many times in the course of the waning afternoon. I could see how Hobbits alone might have been trapped in this sort of landscape. As it was, Glorfindel set me on his shoulders during the rough parts. We made good time.

The sun was almost setting when we reached the bare top of a tall hill. We could look around us at the forest, from the coldly glinting water of the Withywindle, clearly visible in the crystal-clear air, to the ranks of bare branches that bordered the green downs. I had been in the Old Forest twice before during visits to Buckland, one time at night. I was disturbed by the new silence and light far more than I had been by the groaning of trees invisible in the dark.

“I had thought that the spirit of the Old Forest was akin to the spirit of Mordor,” I said. “Before today, I would have said that the trees would delight in the victory of the Shadow. Now I see otherwise.”

Arwen replied, “So it is. The ancient dark before the Sun rose was innocent; the dark of Mordor is mere nothing. The victory of the Dark Tower was a disaster for everything that lives, but most of all for the dumb things close to the earth. With the return of the Ring, the Great Eye had only to blink to wither the forests”.

The sun just touched the horizon as we completed this sad exchange.

“You know, “I said, “if we don’t start to run right now, I am quite sure I am going to go insane myself.”

So run we did, faster and faster, as the light of the setting sun made the trunks of each of the mad trees into a harlequin pillar of gold and velvet. Overhead, nothing shielded us from the reddening twilight sky that cruelly refused to become dark. I would have given anything for a bit of cover.

We had a bad moment when we reached the hedge. As I said, I had been there twice before, but never alone, and never at this time of day. We almost became lost as we searched for the entrance to the tunnel that led to the gate. The Elves were beginning to panic, something I had never seen an Elf do in the face of the supernatural.

Finally, we did find the gate, and we descended into the blessed dark. I had the key to hand. We passed through the gate without difficulty and closed it carefully. I walked a little ahead of Arwen and Glorfindel to the western end of the tunnel and turned to address them.

“Now you two better wait here for a few hours until I can spy out the lay of the land. Hobbits have always been leery of Big People in the Shire, even Elves, I am afraid, so let….”

An arrow thwanged firmly into the rear of my backpack. I reflected that I had not even reached the Brandywine yet.

(5) Buckland

“I can see plainly enough who you are, Master Baggins,” said Rorimac Brandybuck, the Master of Buckland, “but that does not mean I like what I see.”

The interview was held in what had been the largest parlor in Brandybuck Hall. Now, aside from the Master’s chair at one end of the room, it held racks on which weapons were stored. Maps covered much of the walls. There were also 20 Hobbits in arms. My friends were being held in the Hall’s newly improvised dungeon.

“But Rory, I am so glad to see you after all these years! And I had so many fine times here in Brandybuck Hall!”

Both those statements were true, more or less, but I did not mention how shocked I was when I saw that the Hall had been turned into a network of trenches and gated tunnels. Moreover, those defenses had obviously been tried in the recent past. By and by, I was sure, Rory would tell me what had happened, assuming he did not hang me and my friends first.

“If you liked it the Shire so much, Bilbo, then why did you run off into the blue like that? And now you come back, not much the worse for wear, and at an age when decent folk are long dead.” I was stunned to see how much Rory had aged since he attended my last birthday party in the Shire; evidently he was stunned to see how much I hadn’t. “But that’s not the worst of it: you took poor Frodo to Bag End and made him as cracked as yourself. He ran off too, you know. Now he’s the one I’d like to get news of. Strange folk were asking about him before those devils came from the South, and I’d like to know why.”

I was reasonably sure that Frodo had died horribly, and I knew for a fact why strange folk had been asking about him. Explaining all that would require explaining about the Ring. The Ring was no longer a secret, but I was disinclined to tell the Master of Buckland about it. The tale might raise the suspicion in his mind that the invasion of the Shire had been ultimately my fault; because, after all, it had been.

“What’s done is done, Rory, and I don’t know the half of it, not even about Frodo. Look, I am not even asking for hospitality. All I ask is that I and my two friends be allowed to make our way west. They are Elves on their way to the Gray Havens, Rory. No master of this Hall since the founding of Buckland would have interfered with such a journey.”

“In my time, Bilbo, in these past few years, I have had to things that no earlier Master of Buckland had ever had to do; or I hope will ever have to do in the days to come, if there are any more Masters after me. The Elves have failed, Bilbo, and we no longer think of them as friends. A great crowd of them came up the Greenway just a few days before that army of monsters. They came through Sarn Ford, broad as daylight, and hadn’t a word for anyone. They sure enough did not warn us of what was right behind them.”

“It’s possible they did not know,” I said. “Elves don’t really know everything. You can trust me on this.”

“They also don’t pay for everything they take,” Rory countered, “not anymore, if they ever did. Some of our folk west of the Brandywine have been robbed blind at night. In a few cases, not just the food and gear are gone: the Hobbits are, too. Anyway, we don’t want any more strangers of any sort in the Shire. If you don’t know why yet, you will soon enough.”

That was encouraging. He meant to keep me alive long enough to tell me all the bad news. These days, that could take a month. He considered a moment and then spoke again.

“For old times’ sake, Bilbo, I will make an exception for, and your friends. I would think better of you if you gave a better account of your movement, though, because I can see there are things you are hiding. Anyway, maybe you know that your nephew Frodo bought a house at Crickhollow before he left? Well, that neighborhood is safe again, or as safe as anyplace in the Shire is these day. You and your two Elves can stay there for a few days. And then you can go.”

I thanked him effusively. The guards showed me to the door.

The stay at Crickhollow was the most painful time for me since March 25. It was not just the Shire; it was Bag End, or close enough. It was still filled with the things that Frodo had brought from home. I wanted to stay forever, and I wanted to leave immediately. Glorfindel and Arwen favored the latter option, since grown Elves don’t really fit into a Hobbit house. They spent most of the time in a tent outside that the guard Rory set on us helped to improvise.

At Rivendell, I had heard fragmentary reports from the Rangers about what had been happening in the Shire, but the rumors had had not prepared me for the full story. Apparently, that nitwit Lotho Sackville-Baggins had made himself Tyrant of the Shire, or some such nonsense. At any rate, he tried to: his petty empire did not extend to Buckland, or away in the Tookland around Great Smials. In a way, Lotho’s presumptions had been a blessing in disguise, at least for Buckland. Rory had armed and fortified the country to keep out Lotho’s thieving men and weasely sheriffs. So, when the army of the Eye arrived, not all the Shire was unprepared. Great Smials had been sacked and burned, but it held out for several days. Thereafter the army razed the center of the Shire, and particularly the neighborhood of Hobbiton. No Hobbits had escaped from that farthing, as far as anyone knew. In contrast, the Enemy was not much interested in Buckland. They raided once east across the Brandywine and once south from Bridge, but soon turned back. Lately, most of the Enemy force had dispersed east and west. There was still an Enemy fort of some kind near the center of the Shire, though. There was no peace in the Shire; it was no longer the Hobbits’ country.

After several days, Arwen, Glorfindel, and I consulted at a picnic in the garden of the house. There was actually room for them in the parlor of the house, but it seemed polite to invite Rory’s guards, too.

“We know that some of the army of the Eye went west,” Glorfindel said as we started on the last of the tarts. “That can mean only that they were headed for the Havens. I want to see the Havens as much as the next Elf, but there would be little purpose in pursuing our journey if at the end we find Orcs sitting on the wharf.”

“I don’t think you would find Orcs there, Master,” said one of the guards. “There are still some Orcs at Michel Delving and Bag End, not that we see much of them anymore, even at night. Most went east, though, just a few days before you arrived. There would be Men at the Elf harbor. They are just as bad Orcs, if you ask me.”

“It is not news that the Enemy uses Orcs and Men for different things,” Arwen observed. “But just because the Men went west does not mean that they took the Havens. There has been word of the return of that part of the army of the Eye, has there?”

The guards shook their heads no. The Hobbits might not control what happened in the Shire any longer, but they still knew exactly what was happening in it.

Arwen continued, “That could mean that the Havens are besieged, or even that the Enemy was destroyed. The Havens are far easier to defend than Imladris, remember.”

“It could also mean that the Enemy is simply holding the Havens until they can be relieved,” Glorfindel countered. “And the Havens may have been strong, but they were built and preserved with the aid of Narya, the Ring of Fire. How do we know that what happened to Imladris did not also happen to the Havens?”

“Maybe because Narya has not been at the Havens for centuries,” I interjected. “Poor Gandalf has been wearing it all these years, you know. He did not seem to know that I knew, but of course I had worn the Great Ring, so I could see all the others.”

My skin crawled with rage as I again thought I would never see my precious again: never, never.

Arwen said, “We must find out what happened at the Havens, and the sooner we do the better. The Enemy might not have taken the Havens yet, but he will surely do so soon. We must find out now whether the Elves can still escape.”

None of us had really thought otherwise. The problem now was how to cross the Enemy’s Shire.

(6) The Conquered Shire

Two days later, we stood on the west bank of the Brandywine with new provisions and a plan, if not quite a solution. The provisions came from the Master of Buckland, who did not like his new role as warlord; he had actually offered us as much Hobbit hospitality as he judged the safety of his people would allow. The plan was mostly of our own devising, but with lots of advice from the Master’s scouts and spies about the lay of the land. The fastest way to the Havens was, of course, the Great Road, but to take the Road was out of the question when the Men of the Eye used it every day. Instead, we would take the country road that led through the Woody End to Tuckborough. We would not rejoin the Road until we were well into the West March. The Shire was not such a wilderness that we could not make good time away from the major thoroughfares.

The Buckleberry Ferry was no longer in service, obviously, but we had gotten a lift across the river in the small, swift boats that the Bucklanders still used for trade with the Marish. We waved goodbye to boatman and took a route that would take us around the town of Stock, which had been damaged by the same force that entered Buckland from east. Even more than the Bucklanders, the people of Stock would be inclined to shoot on sight anyone who was not a Hobbit. We set off west.

The walk through the Marish was unreal to me because it was ordinary. Many homesteads along the road had been pillaged, but the neighborhood was still intact, with its tidy Hobbit farm buildings and small fields like the squares of a quilt. (Why was it that people who positively disliked organization would marshal every landscape they farmed like an army camp of the Big People?) I very much wanted to walk up one of the paths to the door of a farmhouse and introduce myself. I knew some of these Hobbits, or at least I had known their fathers and mothers. I was sure they would offer me lunch. As it was, though, my friends and I had to skulk along behind hedges and across the edges of fields, as if we were Gollums of various sizes.

Eventually, we did stop for lunch at a farm house, though it had no roof. It had been overgrown by the neighboring wood, except for a stone path to the door, and seemed to have been abandoned for years. A fire was out of the question, but we were quite secure from prying eyes.

“Bilbo, you’re casting a good, solid shadow today,” Arwen complimented me.

“Fank umb bury mulk,” I say around a bite of one of Rory’s sandwiches. “As I said, it comes and goes. My spirits affect the fading; so do my surroundings. Few surrounding are as solid as the Shire. Please forgive me if I say now that Rivendell may have been a bit too ethereal for my good.”

“Or maybe for its own good, too,” she allowed.

The Shire seemed only to sadden Glorfindel. “The little people do not know what the age has in store for them. They think a storm or a plague has passed over them, but that they will be able to rebuild the lives they knew. They will be hunted like prey at the Enemy’s whim, so that first one and them another polite custom will fall from them. If they survive at all, they will be like badgers in their burrows. Alas.”

I was about to suggest to Glorfindel that it might be better to live like a badger in a burrow than to disappear in a puff of smoke, which seemed to have happened lately to some Elves I could mention, but instead we just finished lunch. When it was time to go, I said:

“Again, I better do any talking that needs to be done. I will walk a little ahead. If you two hear anything on the road, get undercover until I can sort things out. I won’t reveal your presence unless I absolutely have to.”

So we left the ruin, and walked up the short path that led to the road. It was exactly the way we had come a half-hour ago. I was gingerly looking up and down the road from the head of the path when I heard something large behind me fall.

Glorfindel and Arwen were struggling in a net that looked very much like the natural foliage. They were being held down by a dozen Hobbits in hunting clothes with quivers of arrows on their backs. Everyone knew that Hobbits were better in a wood than an Elf. Since these Hobbits had managed to approach the ruined farmhouse and set a trap without being noticed, they must have been very good indeed. Even I was impressed.

“Did these sneaking Elves hurt you, master?” asked a Hobbit. He was betrayed by a feather in his cap as the leader. “We could have just shot them, but we need something to trade to the Prefect. They’ve got another six of our folk at Bag End. The devils are particularly in the market Elves, I hear.”

“Well done, captain,” I said. “May I go along for the exchange? I think that one of those six could be one of my cousins.”

* * *

I was 129 years old, and I had once outsmarted a dragon, but I never lied so frequently, or so well, as I did over the next day and a half. I explained that I was a refugee from the West Farthing (which was true, after a fashion) and that these Elves had kidnapped me and forced me to show them the way across the Shire. I said they were particularly interested in knowing which farmsteads would be worth robbing. Indeed, I painted such a picture of Elvish turpitude that Glorfindel and Arwen would have been hanged if they were not about to be turned over to the Enemy to be tortured to death. The only plan I could make was to stay with the prisoners as they were moved from camp to camp of Hobbit irregulars. Twice I was left alone with them and almost succeeded in cutting their bonds; both times I was discovered. After the second time, the Hobbits would not let me alone with the prisoners again. The Hobbits thought I had been poking them with my penknife (which was also true, but it was an accident).

The upshot was, early one bright and warm day, I found myself peering from the cover of hedges at a flat stone in the midst of a field near Bag End. Arwen and Glorfindel were tied up on the stone. This was one of the locations where the Hobbits sometimes traded with the Enemy’s Men. The commanders of the army of the Eye had not condescended to treat with any of the Hobbits. Once the Enemy was established, however, his forces became notably less aggressive. Here and there, the Men began trading with the natives. They found they could also make a nice little pile for themselves for themselves by collecting ransom for Hobbits who had been enslaved, or sometimes simply taken hostage so they could be ransomed. The kidnappers were paid in food and trinkets. Enough Hobbits were saved this way that it was in no one’s interest to break off the contacts. Very recently, however, the Prefect had discovered the arrangement, and had begun to use it himself to police the Shire for travelers. At any rate, that seemed to be what was happening.

“Here they come,” said the local Hobbit captain, feather and all.

They were six Men, each dressed in a badly maintained version of the livery that had been worn by the Men whom Glorfindel had killed on the Last Bridge. Each led a Hobbit. The Hobbits were in even worse condition than the Men. One, whose head was bandaged to cover the eyes, was barely able to stand. The Men determined that the prisoners on the rock were alive, and apparently were Elves. Then some of our party, including me, stepped out into the clearing.

“This is a fine catch, little folk,” said one of the men, kicking Glorfindel lightly with his boot, “thank you kindly. And here are your kittens in return.” He signaled to the Men to release their prisoners.

The freed Hobbits stumbled into the arms of the Hobbits from the bush, some of whom were obviously kinsmen. “Griffo, Pearl, Saradoc, you’re alive, you’re alive!” they said amidst many hugs. I was glad to see the Hobbits released, too, but I was no closer to saving the Elves. It looked as if I would have to sneak into Enemy headquarters somehow: hard to do, without a magic ring. In the meanwhile, I had picked out one of the released Hobbits whom I could comfort without saying anything too specific about our relationship. Then one of the other prisoners said, “Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins: how dare you show your face here!” I could barely recognize the Hobbit, who of course was much older than the last time I saw him. Finally I placed him. It was Olo, Olo Proudfoot: my cousin.

The Hobbits all looked at me. So did several of the Men. “Why, Olo,” I began, “how delighted…”

“It’s Mad Baggins!” cried one of the Hobbits I had come with.

“Yes,” said Olo, “the one with all the stolen treasure! The one who started the trouble all those years ago. And the one…”

“Baggins!?! Stolen treasure!?!” aid the leader of the Men. My fame had preceded me, evidently. “Take this one, too, boys, and don’t take an argument from the rest!”

It was not actually much of a fight. Some of the Hobbits drew their knives, but only to make sure that the released prisoners got away. All the Hobbits soon scurried into the bushes. They did not stage an ambush on my behalf. Perhaps they thought I could disappear if I needed to.

(7) The Prefect of Bag End

Bag End looked much less like Bag End than the house at Crick Hollow had looked like Bag End. The diggings had been extended and the roof raised to allow for larger occupants. The old hole had become Mordor’s capital in the Shire because Lotho had used it for that purpose, and Lotho had been the first thing in the Shire that the Enemy sought. I never found out exactly what had happened to Lotho, but his family and most of his hired Men had met grisly ends, some of them in public, usually while protesting that they did not have information that the Great Eye urgently wished to have.

In any case, Bag End had become a clerical office, and a prison, and a torture chamber, but most of all it was now a hospital. The new tunnels were occupied by moaning Orcs who looked as if they had been burned. This puzzled me mightily. I had had more to do with Orcs in my time than I care to say, and I knew they did not like the sunlight, but I had never seen anything like this.

The guards and the workers were Men. There were surprisingly few. Four of then led us, with our hands tied, to the Audience Chamber of the Prefect of Ecstasy.

The Audience Chamber was in fact my three best bedrooms, with the walls knocked down and the walls painted sable. Skillfully wrought scenes of mayhem and misery were worked into the darkly stained glass of the windows. The culture of Mordor was irredeemably depraved, but it was also helplessly exquisite; that was one of its insistences, like the tidiness of the Shire.

At Man height, at the narrow north end of the room, a strangely glinting mural of the Great Eye floated in the blackness of the wall. Large iron stands stood at intervals about the room, burning huge candles that had been made from the fat of some fell beast. They produced considerably more smoke than light. It took my eyes a moment to take in the room.

The Prefect himself was unmistakable. All in black, with a high black headdress, he had the look of perpetual, dismayed surprise that characterized all the Men who had knowingly submitted to Sauron. He sat on a low-backed chair (not one of mine, I could see) on a circular dais under the Eye. Before his feet, there seemed to be a little cup in which an ember glowed redly. To his left another figure, dressed in dark brown, sat on the edge of the dais.

The figure in brown was Gelmir.

“Where is he?” the Prefect demanded. He had a surprisingly fine tenor voice, but it rasped with impatience. In fact, he sounded very close to desperate.

“This is the traitor of whom I spoke, Prefect, the Hobbit who stole the Great Ring of the Eye many years ago.”

The Prefect scarcely glanced at me; he glared at Gelmir.

“You know perfectly well, elven fool, that the Eye seeks just one thing in this land of imps. I don’t need another imp, no matter what he has done. I don’t need any more Elves, either, or to hear what they say, unless they know where the traitor is. Do you, Elf Bitch?”

I was shocked to hear Arwen Elvenstar addressed in this fashion. Glorfindel was struck dumb, or perhaps dumber. Arwen herself, however, had not lived to be upwards of 3000 years old without learning a measure of composure.

“I see that victory has not made Mordor forget its accustomed courtesy,” she said. “I normally do not address persons who have not introduced themselves to me, but in this case I will say that I do not know what the Servant of the Eye is talking about. I will further suggest that the Servant does not know, either.”

The Prefect took no further notice of them and turned his attention back to Gelmir:

“We need to find him now, today. I have already had to send most of our Orcs to the Misty Mountains to preserve them from sun poisoning. My Men I have sent west. Then, at your counsel, I sent more west to find what became of the army. The imps will realize our position any day now. Do you not know how cruel they are? But I hear nothing from the Ministry of Peace about relief. The Dark Throne is silent, or its messengers are waylaid by bandits.”

Gelmir said in a reasonable tone, “Perhaps, Prefect, it was a mistake to advise the Throne to send its messages through the eastern route rather than the southern. The imps were not that great a peril to communication.”

“Do not forget, Gelmir, that the span of you life is no longer than the span of your usefulness. If we cannot complete our mission here…”

“But Prefect, have I not brought a great gift?” Gelmir indicated the ember in the cup.

“Gelmir, you flatter yourself, and most of all you flatter your wit. You have brought a useless bauble that the Eye could have whenever it desired.” The Prefect kicked the cup away. “The Eye is sick of rings.”

The cup clattered off the dais, sending the ember skittering across the slate floor. It did not actually come to a stop very close to my feet, but no one was paying much attention to me as the exchange between Gelmir and the Prefect continued. I bent down and picked it up. It was very hot, I knew. I could even feel some of the heat. However, in the unreal darkness of this outpost of the kingdom of nothingness, I was as faded as I had ever been. One of the advantages to that was a degree of immunity to physical forces: such as heat, for instance. I picked up Vilya (Gelmir really had retrieved it; had he been fool enough to bring it here voluntarily, or had he been picked up by one of the Prefect’s sunburned Orcs?) and applied it to the cords on my wrists. No one noticed the small amount of smoke. Then no one noticed that I was free.

Well, my hands were no longer tied: I was still being kept under guard by four large men while the slithery Gelmir seemed to be losing an argument with the viceroy of darkness about whether to just kill the lot of us.

“First, Gelmir,” the Prefect was saying, “I will personally induce the ecstasy of the Eye in all three of them, to see whether they do know anything. And then, Gelmir, before we leave this place, the time will come for you; so much for your ‘offer of negotiation.’”

I took a certain degree of satisfaction in that last bit, but not so much that I did not run from the Chamber.

One of the guards did follow, but no one seemed terribly put out about my escape attempt. After all, where could I go?

Where I did go was into the largest Orc ward (made from my kitchen and my principal larder, the devils!) and tore down the curtains over the south-facing windows. Beautiful bright sunlight streamed into the room, a fair amount of it straight through me. No matter. The Orcs erupted like disturbed bees and ran screaming into the hall. Then I exited a window and walked on my lawn for the first time since my eleventy-first birthday party. When I came to the deliciously horrible stained glass of the Chamber of Audience, I used a rock to clear away the glass before jumping through. I was never a hero.

Inside, I found the situation better than I had hoped. The guards had gone to attend to the riot in the hall, and Gelmir was wrestling with the Prefect. I did to Arwen and Glorfindel’s bonds much what I had done with mine, which hurt the prisoners but not as much as the Ecstasy of Mordor would have. We were hopping through the window when Gelmir yelled, “Wait, take me!” This gave the Elves pause, but I responded immediately with the only weapon we had. The Prefect, whom Gelmir did not quite have in neck hold, could scarcely see me, what with the sudden access of sunlight and the fact I was half invisible anyway. So, he was not prepared to stop me from popping the Ring into his mouth and making him swallow it. Then he ran into the hall, too, but not to call the guards after us.

(8) North & West

Outside on the lawn of Bag End, there was nothing to do but run. There were some Men about, but none had horses, and the Men seemed disinclined to challenge us on foot: three High Elves, even unarmed, are pretty formidable. In any case, the guard concentrated on the chaos in Bag End, which seemed to taking on the aspect of an Orkish uprising. When it was just a matter of speed, Glorfindel carried me. The landscape was one of gently rolling hills, with occasional patches of trees: it lent itself to flight. Long before sunset, we were many miles away.

We had run all the way to the North Farthing. Indeed, we were not far from Bindbale Wood. I had visited here in my younger days, and I knew the people for hospitable folk. Still, the whole Shire had been brutalized, so I did not know how much the rules of hospitality still applied. In any case, I suspected that a little harmless dissimulation about my identity would be prudent.

“We might just spend the evening in the woods,” Arwen suggested.

“And we might miss lunch and dinner and breakfast and cast ourselves into the Encircling Ocean,” I said crossly. “Whatever may suit the Elves, however, I am a Hobbit. I will knock on the first door we see.”

The first door actually took a little finding, but finally we came across a farm just outside the border of the wood, a farm that looked as prosperous as any Hobbit farm ever had. Leaving the Elves at a discreet distance, I knocked on the door just as the sun was about to set.

“Good evening, madam,” I said to the farmer’s wife who answered the door. “My name is Boffo Feathertoes. Would it be possible for you to put up my friends and me for the night?”

“You’re not Boffo Feathertoes.” She answered evenly. “You’re Mad Baggins.”

“Why do you say that, madam?”

“I can see the sun setting through your stomach.”

They put us up anyway, but we had to stay in the barn. Gelmir, who had picked up a few other things besides the Ring Vilya during his expedition to Rivendell, paid quite a lot of coin for our lodging. The story that circulated afterward was that I had appeared at the door with a bang and a sack of gold. I had joined the immortals.

Gelmir was penitent. He had lost his little band of followers to Orkish stragglers or to desertion. Possibly that was just as well: if a band of Elves had approached the garrison of Men at the Brandywine Bridge, they would probably have just been shot with arrows from a distance. As it was, he had no trouble gaining an audience with the Prefect. The Prefect had no interest in Gelmir’s offer of surrender on terms, but he did seem really desperate for information about the outside world.

Mordor was not paying attention to his mission. In fact, Mordor did not seem to be paying attention to anything. The Eye had not been surprised by victory. Mordor had been planning for centuries about the course it would take when Gondor fell. Those plans had not included the recovery of the Ring; that had been pure luck. Something about the recovery of the Ring, however, had deranged even the most straightforward schemes over which the Eye had gloated for so long. Mordor could and did still overawe its near neighbors, but more and more, when the claw of Mordor reached out afar, it closed on nothing. No one at the Ministry of Peace was sure what was happening, except that anything that miscarried in Eriador was certainly the Prefect’s fault. At any rate, that was their attitude the last time he had heard from them.

Gelmir also learned what had happened at Mount Doom on March 25. Two palantiri were found at Minas Tirith, and one came into the possession of the Prefect’s Ministry. They can see through time as well as space, and stories about what they revealed spread like lightening among the Dark Lord’s principal servants.

The Ring-bearer had almost fallen to the temptation of the Ring, but in the end he rallied. He had been about to destroy the Ring when he heard a struggle behind him between his servant and the Gollum-creature. He left the Sammath Naur to help his friend, who was rolling down the path with Gollum at his throat. As the Ring-bearer stood at the entrance to the cave, however, he became aware of the approach of the Nazgul. He raised to rebuke them the hand that wore the Ring; they fell from the sky like sparks from a fire. He followed the wrestling figures down the path. When he reached them, before he speak a word of command, Gollum sprang up and ripped his throat out. The Ring-bearer’s servant eventually slew Gollum, but not before he had himself been mortally wounded. He died clutching the Ring a few yards from the entrance to the Sammath Naur. The Ring was on the Dark Lord’s hand within a few hours.

“Perhaps if he had claimed the Ring for his own, matters would have turned out differently,” Gelmir concluded.

“That is exactly the kind of thing I would expect someone like you to say,” Glorfindel sneered.

I said nothing, but I was not sure I disagreed with Gelmir. Poor, honest, doomed Frodo: if he had understood that he could not possibly achieve the Quest by his own virtue, then maybe, just maybe, a way would have been found that no one could have predicted.

* * *

The last stage of our journey to the West was not without incident. We went northwest to Needlehole, thinking to travel through Little Delving rather than through Michel Delving, which for all we knew was still in the hands of the Prefect’s Men. We discovered, though, that the Hobbits of the northern border of the Shire were no happier to see strangers than the Bucklanders had been. The northerners had not been troubled by Men or Orcs, however: their problem was the Things that Live in the Woods. Wags and trolls and nightwalkers had long haunted Hobbit mythology, for the excellent reason that they also haunted the wastelands to the north of the Shire. All that had kept them from haunting the Shire, too, were the Rangers, and to a lesser extent the sheriffs. Now both were gone. We heard a lot of sentiment that things were better when Lotho was in charge: he at least had kept up the border patrol.

We met some of the Things, on the one night when we unwisely attempted to make camp. After that, we took lodging where we could get it, sometimes without informing the owners of the barns and sheds where we took refuge. Quite often, we also made off with their goods and smaller livestock. (Yes, Elves do steal: I know this because I helped them do it. They don’t kidnap Hobbits, though: Rory had been listening to rumors.) We barely escaped from the neighborhood of Little Delving with our lives. In contrast, we were well enough received in Michel Delving to use the inn. Yes, the Prefect’s Men had been there, but had done no damage beyond some ordinary thievery. Nothing more was heard from them; no one and nothing had come from the West.

While we were at Michel Delving, however, we did hear that the remnants of the army of the Eye had left the Shire through the southward roads. It had not been defeated. When Hobbits cautiously entered Bag End and the other headquarters, they found that most of the army had died.

We stayed on the Road thereafter. We passed through the lightly people White Downs, and the Far Downs, of which I had so often heard but which I had never visited. The Elves told me that the tang in the air and the high haze in the sky were signs of the proximity of the sea. I could just detect these things, but in truth my senses were failing me, or at least my senses for natural things. It was getting so that I had to concentrate to see the ordinary world. I was beginning to be able to see another world all about me, even in the daytime. Some of it was quite alarming. I mentioned it to the Elves. They said yes, they could see that world, if they needed to do so. Usually they preferred to ignore it. I could understand why, but I was having less and less choice about seeing it.

(9) The Tower Hills

I had seen a fair amount of Middle Earth, but the White Tower was by far the most striking building I have ever seen. It rose up like a chalk continuation of the highest of the rolling green hills. It almost glowed against the sky behind it, a sky so blue it was almost black. And the Tower was perfect; no harm had come to this place.

Arwen said, “Bilbo, as you know, we three Elves have been here before. Now come up with us, and you will what you have never seen before.”

The great oaken doors of the Tower were open. No one was inside at ground level. Around the walls of the great tower was a wide stairway, punctuated by small glassed windows. The stairs wound to an aperture in the roof far above us. We climbed.

We were able to see the sea long before we reached the top. It was not the sea’s apparent infinity that astonished me. I was astonished because the sea was the one thing that looked the same in both worlds.

The top of the tower was large. A central chamber took up most of it; doors led off that circular space to other rooms. In the middle of the chamber there was stone pedestal. On the pedestal was a softly glowing white sphere.

“Look, Bilbo,” said Arwen, “here is the great palantir that looks to the uttermost West. The Elves come here in pilgrimage, so that we do not forget our true home. You are worthy to see this vision, too. Come.”

I stood up on the shallow step on which the pedestal stood and gazed into the sphere. The milky glow became clouds. The clouds thinned. And then opaque glow returned.

“I am sorry,” I said, “perhaps I am not worthy enough.”

“I see nothing but clouds and light,” said Gelmir.

“That, too, is all I see,” Glorfindel said.

We were silent for several confused moments. Then we heard a door opening behind us.

The Elves stepped back and drew their knives, but there was no need. Two young Men in gray uniforms stood politely by the head of the stairs. On their right breasts they bore a white emblem with which I was not familiar.

“Lady Arwen, my Elf Lords, Master Halfling, we greet you in the name of Warden Cirdan and his allies. With your permission, we have been sent to escort you to the Gray Havens.”

“Well met, fair-spoken strangers, for the havens are indeed our destination,” said Gelmir. “But can you tell us why the stone no longer looks beyond the sea?”

“I can merely confirm that the stone is as you say for all who try to use it. Why this should be I do not know. However, my master may know. In any case, he desires urgently to speak to you. Will you come down and take some refreshment? We have mounts for you all. We can be at the Havens by sundown tomorrow.”

We looked at each other. There nothing else we could have asked for. The two Men in gray preceded us down the stairs. I kept hopping up to the westward-facing windows to get one more look at the reassuringly solid sea.

(10) The End of the World

In the fine weather, we made better time even than we had hoped. On the journey, our hosts answered direct questions but volunteered no information. We arrived at the Havens by mid-afternoon. The Havens were a small and ancient town of square towers and substantial houses, all built entirely of basalt. The town was almost an island. It was located at the end of a long, narrow peninsula that defined the inner harbor. The Havens were easily defended and impossible to truly besiege without a formidable armada to flank its seaward side. No ships but the town’s own were in evidence when we arrived, however. The town was a perfect as the White Tower had been. Its folk were busy and undisturbed.

In former days, I would have complained that I was not offered a meal after such a long journey, but food was becoming one of those earthly things that meant less and less to me. My horror at this development grew daily, but it did allow me to be as eager as the rest to be led to the quarters of Cirdan the Shipwright, the Warden of the Havens. We came to a long room with windows of leaded glass that overlooked both the inner and the seaward harbors. Long tables along the sides of the room held maps, scrolls, and instrument of observation, as well some products of elvish ingenuity whose function eluded me.

“Arwen, Glorfindel, welcome, welcome!” he said. He gave me a wry look and said, “And welcome to you, Master Baggins, the little fellow who started this big war.” I made a similarly ambiguous expression and bowed low, wishing that I were not just faded but completely invisible already. Then Cirdan addressed the last member of our party.

“Oh, Gelmir, it’s you. You survived, I see.”

Gelmir made much the same sort of bow I had.

Arwen said, “It is good to see again, Cirdan, my friend, and good beyond hope to see your city safe and whole. Many terrible things have happened, and we must discuss them soon enough. But tell me first, if you will, why the palantir of the Hills no longer has the Straight Sight.”

“All in good time, Arwen. Indeed, may mysteries will be made clear before the sun sets. I had asked several other persons with an interest in these matters to be here, but you are a little earlier than we planned, so it will take a few moments to alert them. Ah, here are two now!”

Erestor and Faramir had entered the room. Warm greetings were exchanged. Faramir and Arwen actually embraced; they did not entirely disentangle from each other when they were finished. Erestor seemed a little concerned that there was less to me than when we last met. Gelmir smiled and nodded and overlooked the fact nobody met his eye.

“There were monsters to fight in the Hills of Evendim,” Faramir was explaining, “but no Men, fortunately. The Breelanders think they can make a go of it there. Some of us then continued west and met the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains. They are eager to help us. They were beginning to wonder how they would support themselves in a world without farmers to trade with.

“After that, I came south with Erestor and most of the other Elves. When I arrived here and learned the state of things in the Eriador, I was about to head east into the Shire to search for you. Then we heard you were on your way.”

“Yes, better monsters than Men. Would that I had taken that advice earlier.”

Someone unknown to me had joined us, a tall bearded figure in a gray uniform. Like the uniform of the men who had brought us, his bore the symbol of a white hand.

“Saruman!” said Arwen and Glorfindel in dismay. Gelmir said nothing. Perhaps he was struck dumb with happiness at there being someone in the room who was even less popular than he was.

“At your service,” he said with a small bow. “And yours, Master Halfling,” he said, turning to me. “The famous Bilbo Baggins, Esquire, if I am not mistaken?”

I bowed back. “The very same; and my service to you.” I knew enough about Saruman not to like him one bit, but I also knew enough about villains to be polite to them until the last possible moment.

“Cirdan, you know well that Saruman was cast from the White Council,” said Arwen, “and that he was long in secret league with the Enemy. How comes he here, your ally and apparent friend?”

“Lady Arwen, I have done many foolish and wicked things,” Saruman said to Arwen before Cirdan could reply, “yet now I have learned a little wisdom, at an immense price. Cirdan has heard my tale, and has become reconciled with me. I ask that you, too, hear me out.”

It was quite a story. We had heard that Gandalf had imprisoned Saruman with Grima at Orthanc, and set the Ents to guard them. On the Day of Doom, however, the Ents were terrified quite as much as the trees of the Old Forest had been. Unlike those trees, the Ents were mobile. They ran away. Saruman and Grima simply walked out of Orthanc and parted company, with slight expressions of mutual esteem.

I had not heard that Saruman had had dealings with the Shire. Now that he mentioned the matter, I began to understand how someone as clueless as Lotho Sackville-Baggins could cow the country into submission. In any case, Saruman fled to the Shire. He believed he had done so in secret, but the secret was apparently not as tightly kept as he had hoped.

Then something clicked in my head.

“The traitor: you are the traitor that Sauron was seeking in the Shire!” I said. “You were the reason for the invasion!”

“Yes Master Baggins, I was the proximate cause, and I deeply regret the great harm that was done to your beautiful country in the search for me. May I remind you, however, that the Dark Tower had business with the Shire that had nothing to do with me? There were more remote causes for the invasion. How regrettable that your own noble self was among them.”

He was better at innuendo than Gelmir was, I thought. Much better.

In any case, Saruman did not remain long in the Shire, but fled westward when he realized that the hand of Mordor was reaching out for him. Before many days had passed, he was at the Gray Havens. He had an awkward interview with Cirdan, who detained him at first. However, Cirdan was growing desperate. He knew that an army of Mordor was on its way to Havens. He could not defend the Havens indefinitely. He did not have the ships to evacuate its people, either to the West or to some remote place on the shores of Middle Earth. Saruman reminded him of his power of the Voice, and asked Cirdan to let him meet the army marching from the Shire.

“It was the best display of the great Art in my very long career,” Saruman said in a voice that failed to convey modesty. “With an hour’s talk, I stopped their advance. Within a day, I had turned their allegiance. In a week, most of them were reformed characters. Many now choose to continue to serve with me here, though of course now I have little extraordinary power of persuasion: other than reason, of course.”

“And how can that be,” asked Gelmir, “if that is a power that is native to you?”

“This can be, Councilor Gelmir, because what mortals call ‘magic’ is ending.”

This was food for thought for everyone. I thought of an objection.

I stood up on a chair in front of a window that looked out on golden afternoon light falling on the inner harbor. “If that is the case, wizard, than how is it you can see the white sails through my body, and in a week you will be able to see the masts?”

“Bilbo, let us consider your strange case. May we take it as proved that you are indeed fading, as the Nazgul did of old?”

“Just follow my voice if you can’t see me when I climb off the chair. Yes, Saruman, I am fading.”

“But when the Nazgul faded, the disappearance of their bodies was the least grievous matter. Their wills faded, too, Bilbo, until their minds became only puppets of the mind of Sauron. Has anything like that happened to you?”

I considered a moment, but I had already given the matter much thought. “I saw the Eye just once, on the Day of Doom. I am aware of it, like a stove across a room, but no, it does oppress me. The Eye is silent. I had, frankly, been hoping to leave Middle Earth before it began to speak.”

“It will not speak to you, Bilbo. Indeed, even in his bodily form the Dark Lord no longer speaks to his own servants. You may have noticed some of the effects of this silence on the government of his kingdom.”

“Is he then dead?” asked Gelmir.

“By no means. Sauron cannot die. He observes all that passes in Middle Earth. No doubt he sees us here now. He shouts and struggles and tries to affect the course of events, but he is like a man at the bottom of a waterfall who cannot make himself heard. The power of Sauron was Nothing, or rather the control of the flow of power and substance from this world to the absolute void that is not Arda. That is why every exercise of Sauron’s will was always a loss of some kind. His towers rose to the sky, but at the cost of realms that had held much greater substance. The Rings were only valves to give Sauron greater access to the void. When he acquired the Great Ring, the hole he had drilled through the world of substance became too great, a chasm not even he could control. All the magic in the world is flowing through it, and at an ever faster pace.

“I tried once to warn him that this could happen. He would not listen.”

Glorfindel became alarmed. “But what about the Elves?” he asked. “Is even the West safe, and can we still go there? Was the palantir clouded because the West is no more?”

Cirdan reassured him. “The palantir is clouded because Those Beyond the Sea obscured it when they realized the magnitude of Sauron’s victory. They do not wish their secrets spied out, and they know Sauron might well acquire the stone. Perhaps they did wisely, though now they have no way to see what is happening here. In any case, the very fact the palantir is still obscure is proof that the West still exists. The magic will not flow out of all creation, Glorfindel: only Middle Earth.”

“The Elves can still leave Middle Earth,” Erestor said, “but the time is short. The Straight Road to the West is a special grace between two worlds, but it cannot long endure now. As Cirdan can tell you, his ships have ever more trouble traversing the Gulf. I judge that no ship will be able to reach the West after the end of this year.”

“But what will happen to Middle Earth? What will happen to the race of Men?” asked Faramir.

“Some part of the effect you have already seen, Steward of Gondor,” answered Saruman gravely. “The creatures of this Middle Earth that belonged to the elder days are passing away. That would have happened anyway, but what would otherwise have taken centuries will now require only a few months. All of them: Trolls, Orcs, Ents, the good creatures and the bad, all will simply fall apart under the inflexible laws that will order nature in this Fourth Age.”

“So you are saying that Men will have the world to themselves?”

“For the most part. I tried very hard to tell Gandalf this. I tried too hard, and in the wrong way, and maybe I did not deserve to be listened to. In any case, I thought to use my knowledge of the new age for my own benefit. I started as a fool, and I became a tyrant.”

“Yes, you did,” said Arwen.

“O wise persons,” I broke in, “a mere Hobbit is unworthy to learn such great secrets as I have heard in this room. But may I point out that I am still disappearing?”

“You are no longer disappearing for quite for the reasons the Nazgul did, Bilbo,” Saruman said. Gently. “You are disappearing because, in your long and remarkable life, you have become magical. You are one of the immortals, my friend.”

“In that case,” I said, “this is no longer the world for me.”

* * *

Arwen chose to remain with Faramir: no surprise there. He was still calling himself the Steward of Gondor when our ship left, and talking about reconstituting the kingdom. I suspect that is wishful thinking. By and by, Arwen will persuade him to declare himself king of someplace new. Is he is as good a Man as Strider was? Maybe not, but he is willing to try.

Saruman had the option to stay, but chose to submit himself to the judgment that awaited him in the West. Perhaps, in light of what happened to Sauron, he considers that the worst the Valar would do to him is better than the best he would have devised for himself. I still don’t trust him, but he is quite a conversationalist.

Erestor will be coming in one of the last ships, if he comes at all. He was taking about staying in Middle Earth. He would be satisfied with mortality, he says. The fact is that none of the Wise know whether the Elves can long endure in the Fourth Age. The Wisest Wise are not taking any chances.

Gelmir was supposed to come on this ship. I got Cirdan to change the passenger list.

The sea journey itself has been one continuous storm. I really thought we would capsize in the first few days. The winds have quieted a little, but since then there has been rain and more rain.

And as for me, I keep to my small cabin and do what I have done for many years: write an account of my adventures. My first diary is still at Rivendell, probably, unless someone has used it to start a fire already. So much happened between the end of that book and the beginning of this one. Whole lifetimes passed: Merry, Pippin, Sam, Strider, and of course Frodo. They are all gone now, fallen in a crack that opened between one world and the next.

Only I am left to tell the tale, but who will care to hear it? Do they even have memoirs in the uttermost West? We’ll find out. At least, as I write this, I have the satisfaction of seeing that my fist once again casts a shadow.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Rosicrucian Enlightenment

Rosicrucians

Rosicrucians

The Rosicrucian Order is the kind of thing I couldn't get enough of when I was a teenager and a young man, and now bores me to tears. Accordingly, I'm sympathetic to John's critical reading of what the history of such movements really means.


The Rosicrucian Enlightenment
By Frances Yates
Routledge, 2004
(First Published 1972)
333 Pages, US$14.95
ISBN 0-415-26769-2

 

Did companies of English actors once prowl the capitals of western Germany and Mitteleuropa like Cathar troubadours, providing entertainment to the masses, to be sure, but also heralding to the wise a the impending arrival of an alchemical Millennium? And did the mind of modernity really spring from the Monas Hieroglyphica, John Dee’s dense and enigmatic little book, whose evangel Dee spread during his time in Europe in the 1580s, when he became a figure at the uncanny court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II at Prague? To answer a flat “yes” to either of these questions would be to put the matter more crudely than it appears in this careful classic study of the Rosicrucian moment in European intellectual history. (And actually, in asking those questions, I put in the comparison to the troubadours myself, though the author does make much of the role of Elizabethan drama.) Conspiracy theorists cannot be greatly comforted by this book, since it deals in large part with a public if overambitious political project, though the book does touch on the origins of the Freemasons and the other not-particularly-secret societies that began to flourish in the 17th century. Be that as it may, the real theme of the work is that the origins of the culture of modern science are closely linked with millennialism and a form of neoplatonism.

The centerpiece of the story is brief reign of the Winter King and Queen of Bohemia: Frederick V (1596-1632), Prince-Elector of the Palatinate, and of Princess Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662) of England. In 1619, the Kingdom of Bohemia rejected the Catholic Habsburg heir to the throne and chose the Protestant Frederick instead. His marriage in 1613 to Elizabeth, the daughter of James I of England, had been seen as a great strengthening of the Protestant cause in Europe. The offer of the Bohemian crown raised the possibility of a league of Evangelical princes that would break the hegemony of Habsburg and Spanish power. The supporters of the Bohemian project, as manifested in the literature of those years that purported to issue from an ancient but theretofore secret order of the “Rosy Cross,” also seem to have hoped that Frederick’s move from Heidelberg to Prague, the old capital of Rudolph II (1552-1612), might be the preliminary to Frederick’s ascension to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire (an elected position, remember: Frederick was one of the electors). Thus the connection between that ancient federation and the Church of Rome would be broken, and the empire would become the instrument, in the words of the Rosicrucian literature, of “a general reformation of the whole wide world.”

As it happened, few enterprises have ever turned out quite so badly. There had been a long truce in the wars of religion in the decades before the Bohemians chose Frederick. In those days, every state in Germany and Middle Europe seems to have been ruled by Ludwig the Mad, and the recluse Rudolph with his hermetic studies and keen interest in alchemy is usually denounced as the most frivolous of all. In retrospect, though, his absent-minded tolerance was probably the best course. His Habsburg successor (after the brief reign of his brother) refused to accept the loss of Bohemia to the Protestant cause (though it was largely a Protestant country). The Thirty Years War began with the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, when Frederick and Elizabeth were driven from Prague. Frederick simultaneously lost the Palatinate to invading Catholic armies. They then established a long-running but penurious court at the Hague.

The key documents on the Rosicrucian Furore, as it was called in Germany, were the pseudonymously published pamphlets, the Fama (to use the abbreviated title), which appeared in printed form in 1612, and the Confessio, which appeared two years later. To some extent, they were just partisan literature extolling the future of Frederick and his House. However, as we have seen, they also announced the existence of a secret society, an “Invisible College” of long-lived persons founded by one Christian Rosenkreuz, who was said to have acquired his knowledge in the East. This society promised to inaugurate an era of universal enlightenment in the very near future. The recovery of ancient wisdom was to be the foundation of this new reformation, but a crucial feature of it was to be the perfection of natural knowledge gained by experiment and by the consultation of scholars.

These documents and associated publications included the numerological reworking of ancient prophecies to prove that a great change was imminent. The model of history they proposed was not so different from the postmillennialism familiar from later centuries, which holds that the Millennium will be established on Earth by human effort before the Second Coming; this model is not so different from Age of the Holy Spirit forecast by Joachim of Fiore, to which the author of this book tells us the literature actually alluded.

The Christian Rosenkreuz after whom the Rosicrucian fashion was named was not so much a myth as a joke, an imaginary monk who was said to studied in Damascus and Fez. The spirit of the anonymous literature is captured in the work of a “Rosicrucian” whose name we do know, Johann Valentin Andreae. His allegory, written in German but appraently under influence of English drama, is known in English as The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. The work depicts a royal wedding spread over seven days, whose events track in some ways the alchemical process understood as a spiritual exercise. The Wedding ends with the sending out of “missionaries” to spread the new science. It is reasonably clear that this did not describe an actual missionary enterprise, but the spread of a new historical optimism based on the hope for a new synthesis of knowledge.

Persons less astute than Andreae took the Rosicrucian brotherhood literally. In Germany, until the defeat of Fredrick V in 1620 burst the bubble of irrational enthusiasms, there was a flood of literature by people defending and attacking the brotherhood; many sought admittance to it. The echo of in France of the German furore was a sort of witch hunt, occasioned by the appearance in 1623 of posters in Paris announcing the arrival of the invisible Rosicrucians. “Invisibility” was sometimes taken to mean not just “clandestine,” but unable to be seen. Young Rene Descartes, who had actually fought at the Battle of the White Mountain on the Catholic side, was rumored to be a Rosicrucian until his return to Paris proved him to be visible after all.

What was this new science that the Rosicrucian literature claimed to be about to transform the world? It was Renaissance Hermeticism, heavily focused on mathematics but with a keen interest in the mechanical arts developed by the engineers of antiquity. Frederick’s gardens at Heidelberg, for instance, were famous for their automata and other mechanical marvels. “Hermetic” in this context usually meant the theosophy of “Hermes Trismegistus,” who was purported to be a philosopher of ancient Egypt whom Renaissance had identified with Moses, though in fact the writings ascribed to him date from the Greco-Roman period. Like the earlier Renaissance, it included a systematic interest in alchemy, but in the “new” alchemy of Paracelsus (1493-1541), with its heavy focus on medicine and the philosophy of the parallel nature of the macrocosm and microcosm. The novel feature was the Cabala. This, too, had been an element of Renaissance thought since at least the 15th century, but the Rosicrucian Cabala was the new, Lurianic Cabala that developed in the Levant after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. It was not just Messianic, it was “reformist,” looking to the reconstruction of a damaged world.

The English element clarifies the story greatly. The order of the Rosy Cross itself, for instance, is plausibly explained as an allegorical reworking of the rose and cross among the symbols of the English Order of the Garter, which James I bestowed on his new son-in-law Frederick, and which had recently been given to the prince of Württemberg. Most significant of all, however, was the role of John Dee (1527-1609).

Dee was a serious mathematician and a notable statesman. He is sometimes credited, perhaps with a measure of exaggeration, with founding the British Secret Service. He was interested in the natural world as such; and to use Francis Bacon’s later phrase, he hoped to use natural knowledge for the relief of man’s estate. He was also quite chatty with angels.

In his Monas Hieroglyphica, Dee tried to unite all these themes in a synthesis whose ambitions are at least as great as, say, Thomism, or the search for a Theory of Everything. Empirical science was an element of what Dee sought to promote, but as a component of a grander structure whose focus was elsewhere. As we read in this history:

To return to the general analysis of the Rosicrucian outlook. magic was a dominating factor, working as a mathematic- mechanics in the lower world, as celestial mechanics in the celestial world, and as angelic conjuration in the supercelestial world. One cannot leave out the angels in this world view, however much it may have been advancing towards the scientific revolution. The religious outlook is bound up with the idea that penetration has been made into higher angelic spheres in which all religions were seen as one; it is the angels who are believed to illuminate man’s intellectual activities.

Readers will note how these ideas reflect the doctrine of Perennialism and anticipate later speculation about the transcendental unity of religions. In connection with ecumenicism, this reviewer notes that Dee’s Hermetic progressivism seems to have been an element of what Paul Johnson later called the Third Force: Johnson’s treatment of the topic in his History of Christianity (1976) is largely a paraphrase of The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. According to Johnson, this Third Force operated in both the Catholic and Protestant regions of Europe before the Thirty Years War to mitigate the friction between Catholic and Protestant, and between the different denominations in the Protestant camp, with a view to eventual reconciliation. The author of this book does note the existence of associations during that period whose members were systematically indifferent to confessional affiliation. They might claim to belong to any church, while adhering to their own version of slightly esoteric Christianity.

Sometimes the esotericism of these years overbalanced the Christianity. That seems to have been the case with Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), yet another familiar of the court of Rudolph II. Unlike the pious Evangelical Dee, Bruno espoused turning to the “Egyptian Religion,” by which he meant the new synthesis of Hermeticism and alchemy.

As for Dee himself, his version of what we must call “Rosicrucianism” (though that is not necessarily a term he would have heard himself) certainly had political dimension. In addition to his still somewhat murky adventures in Prague, during his stay in Europe in the 1580s he seems to have been attempting some such link between England and the Palatinate that the marriage of Frederick and Elizabeth later achieved. This policy was not necessarily anti-Catholic. Dee’s own Anglicanism had not quite gelled yet as a Protestant confession, for one thing. Dee could still talk to the Emperor Rudolph without a strong sense that each was a member of a different confession. The strongest insistence that Catholic and Protestant choose sides, this book suggests, came from the Society of Jesus. Officially recognized as an order in 1540, the Jesuits required some decades to become the ubiquitous, and allegedly omniscient, face of Counter-Reformation Catholicism. Indeed, maybe the phantasm of the Order of the Holy Cross was intended as an image of the Jesuits as they should have been. (We may note that rumors were not lacking that the Rosicrucians actually were the Jesuits, presenting themselves in other guise.) In any case, by the time of the marriage of Frederick and Elizabeth, the Rosicrucian movement had become less generically reformist and more specifically anti-Catholic, or at least anti-Jesuit. At the same time, its focus on the improvement of the secular world had become more emphatic:

The Rosicrucian manifesto may now take a somewhat wider meaning. It calls for a general reformation because the other reformations have failed. The Protestant Reformation is losing strength and is divided. The Catholic Counter Reformation has taken a wrong turning. A new general reformation of the whole wide world is called for, and this third reformation is to find its strength in Evangelical Christianity with its emphasis on brotherly love, in the esoteric Hermetic-Cabalist tradition, and in an accompanying turning towards the works of God in nature in a scientific spirit of exploration, using science or magic, magical science or scientific magic, in the service of man.

The actual outcome of Frederick’s Bohemian adventure was sufficiently appalling to occasion what Richard Landes of Boston University has called “millennial disappointment,” which is what happens when the perfection of the world is promised but does not arrive. This was a key theme in Endless Things, the last novel of John Crowley’s Ægypt series. The series is based on an analogy of the Rosicrucian Enlightenment to the Consciousness Revolution of the 1960s; it tells tales from both eras in parallel. However, as The Rosicrucian Enlightenment reminds us, it is possible to argue that the Rosicrucian Millennium did arrive, though not quite in the manner expected by John Dee or Frederick V.

The later story of the Rosicrucians links in obscure ways to the other obscure beginnings of the 17th century. It had something to do with beginning of the Freemasons (of the real Freemasons, as distinct from the bogus lineage that runs from the Temple of Solomon through the Templars). It also had something to do with the foundation of the Royal Society in 1659. That august institution is, perhaps, the Invisible College made visible, however much its founders sought to distance themselves publicly from all the occult sciences, and especially from any taint of association with John Dee. The important link here is Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the statesman and philosopher who is sometimes credited, not altogether accurately, with the discovery of the scientific method.

Certainly some of Bacon’s ideas were diametrically opposed to those that we have been considering. He had no interest in secret societies or invisible colleges; he was keen, rather, to promote the exchange of scholars and discoveries among the visible colleges of Europe. Though he, too, urged the development of the sciences, mathematics does not seem to have been on his list of disciplines that needed perfection. Mathematics seemed to him to be too close to conjuration. (Some of his contemporaries thought the same, and supported the development of mathematics for just that reason.) No doubt his disinterest in this subject was related to his rejection of the Copernican model of the solar system. Be this all as it may, though, to read Bacon’s New Atlantis is to be confronted with a Rosicrucian utopia, down to the rosy crosses on the turbans of the Christian priest-scholars who benevolently manage the great temple and research institute on the hidden continent with which the story deals. These scholars dispatch secret observers to the rest of the world, to keep abreast of developments in every country. What more could a Rosicrucian ask for?

Bacon was certainly the spiritual founder to whom the first histories of the Royal Society looked back, though this book reminds us that the Society had a pre-history at Oxford before its official founding in London, a prehistory when its membership may have felt less need to be intellectually respectable. Be that as it may, the precautions of the founders to disassociate themselves from subjects that Bacon would have considered questionable was in vain. In its second generation, the world reputation of the society was made by the mathematical attainments of Isaac Newton, who was also an alchemist and a millenarian, though he was discrete about those interests. Unlike John Dee, he did not talk to angels, or at least not that we know of.

This book emphasizes the reciprocal Rosicrucian influences that went back and forth between England and the continent, particularly in the form of refugees from Germany and Bohemia. It may have been that the foundation of the Freemasons was “blowback” (a term the book does not use) from Dee’s sojourn in Europe. The most interesting political figure in this story is Elizabeth, the Winter Queen of Bohemia. She maintained her court-in-exile after the death of her beloved but not particularly useful husband. During the English Civil War and the Protectorate, she contrived to stay on good terms with both Roundheads and Royalists. Meanwhile, intellectuals and persons of a mystical bent flocked to the Netherlands to be near her. (Descartes was devoted to her daughter.) If she had seriously hoped to become empress of a magical transformed Europe, then no doubt she was disappointed. Still, she did live to see her son restored as ruler of at least part of the Palatinate. Much later, her grandson became George I of England.

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Augustine: A Biography

St. Augustine  By Unknown - http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=3553, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6029808

St. Augustine

By Unknown - http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=3553, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6029808

I don't have much to add to this fine book review of a biography of St. Augustine, other than to highlight this:

At the end of his life, with the Vandals already approaching Hippo, Augustine was carrying on a long polemic, all for publication, with John of Eclanum. (It is amazing how much the theological discourse of the early Church resembles Internet flame wars.) Brown suggests that Augustine might have done better to read Julian more carefully, since Julian was close to the sort of workable synthesis of theology and Aristotle that Thomas Aquinas was to achieve many centuries later.

Augustine:
A Biography
By Peter Brown
University of California Press, 2000
Originally Published 1967
548 Pages, Various Prices
ISBN 0-520-22757-3

A Review By John J. Reilly

 

Aurelius Augustinus, known to history as Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, lived from 354 to 430. When he was born in Thagaste (a town in the Province of Numidia: perhaps the Roman equivalent of the American Midwest), a provincial like himself might hope to pursue a career as a public intellectual in Italy and the great cities of the east. At the time of his death, Rome had already been sacked 20 years before. Roman Africa, long the most secure region of the empire, had collapsed in the space of two years. The Vandals were besieging Hippo Regius, the port city where he had been bishop for 35 years. There are many reasons for studying the life of Augustine, but among them is surely the fact that he was a highly articulate man who lived at the end of the world.

This biography by Peter Brown is now almost 40 years old. Since he finished it, Brown became one of the leading authorities on late antiquity. This edition includes an epilogue with some second thoughts and a survey of writings by Augustine that came to light in the last quarter of the 20th century. It is hard to imagine what more one could want in a book this size, but as Brown himself points out, it has certain blind spots. He follows Augustine's theology only to the extent it seems to have some psychological significance for Augustine or the culture of his period. Brown also notes that, while our growing understanding of Augustine's society makes him appear no less original, it also highlights the fact that the Bishop of Hippo did not loom as large as earlier historians had assumed. I have often felt there to be a problem with Shakespeare studies: they forget that, when Shakespeare was alive, being Shakespeare was not such a big deal. Something similar may also have been true of Augustine.

The future saint was born about 400 miles west of Carthage, a Roman city on the site of the Roman Republic's ancient enemy, and about 150 miles southeast of Hippo. The region was traditionally a granary of the Roman Empire. Augustine's hometown, Thagaste (Souk Ahras in modern Algeria) was a conventional Roman grid-city, but going to seed. Major building had stopped for almost a century, and the neat layout of streets was supplemented by warrens of shantytowns.

There are continuing questions about Augustine's ethnicity and knowledge of languages that this book does nothing to clear up. Some secondary sources say baldly that “Augustine spoke Punic,” which they identify with the Semitic language of ancient Carthage. Brown says no; he even says that the “Punic” to which Augustine and his contemporaries referred was actually a form of Berber. In any case, Augustine in later life did seem to need an interpreter to deal with the country people from the non-Latin-speaking parts of his diocese.

Augustine's education, in Thagaste and Carthage, was based on scraps and tatters of Roman authors. It involved the minute analysis of great chunks of Cicero, but as Brown points out, Augustine as a student seems not to have encountered any philosophy as a coherent system, not even in translation. He studied Greek, and he could make translations at need, but he could not write or speak it. His family was Christian, or at least Monica his mother was (his father would be baptized on his deathbed). However, part of his difficulty as a young man with Christianity was that the Latin translations of the Bible then in use were subliterary. Only much later would Augustine's friend, Saint Jerome, produce the Latin Vulgate version that would remain standard throughout the West even after Latin ceased to be spoken. Like the King James Version, Jerome's Vulgate may have been too pretty for its own good.

Augustine's first conversion, if we may use that term, was to Manicheanism, a form of gnosticism created in the 3rd century by Mani, a prophet from Mesopotamia. This doctrine held that the evil in the world was the result of there being two principles, dark and light, evil and good. The disgust with the mere physicality of human beings that people of all religious persuasions felt in late antiquity made this doctrine intuitively attractive. The late empire was nominally Christian and Manicheanism was proscribed, but it created little cells everywhere, in a manner reminiscent of Masonry, or for that matter, of 20th-century Communism. Augustine was a fellow traveler.

He quickly found problems with it, however. The sacred texts of Manicheanism were not subject to philosophical inquiry. Doctrines about the movement of the moon were central to the system, but Augustine knew enough astronomy to know that they were nonsense. There was also the deeper problem that the Manichean Light was helpless. The Elect might hope to purify themselves of darkness, but there was nothing to be done about the state of things in this life. If the Light could do nothing, then why bother about it?

According to some historians, notably Toynbee, the real date for the fall of the Roman Empire is 378, when the Visigoths killed the emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople and the empire lost control of the frontier in the Balkans. Contemporaries recognized the gravity of that event. Still, it was not so serious that Augustine could not sail for Rome in 383 to teach rhetoric at an advanced level. As a teacher in Rome, he famously discovered that Roman students were deadbeats about paying their school fees. A little later, influential contacts and natural ability secured him an appointment as a professor of rhetoric in Milan in northern Italy. In effect, he was an imperial flack, work that he did not appear to find satisfying.

We should remember that Milan was then the capital of the empire in the West. In the empire's last two centuries there were normally two emperors, nominally colleagues, with the senior emperor resident in Constantinople and the junior somewhere in Italy. The effective seat of government had actually shifted to Milan as early as the 2nd century: under the empire at its height, its rulers discovered that, strategically, Rome was in the middle of nowhere. Later in Augustine's life, the government would move permanently to Ravenna. There it was no more effective, but it was at least protected by marshes.

In Milan, Augustine completed the transition to Platonism that he had begun long before. By “Platonism,” he meant what is now called “neoplatonism,” the mystical, even ecstatic doctrine of Plotinus and Porphyry, but which people of Augustine's day saw as perfectly continuous with the school of Plato. In any case, the doctrine was a revelation to him on several levels.

To begin with, this was his first acquaintance with the idea that there could be real entities that are not material. The Light and Dark of the Manicheans were thought to be different kinds of stuff. Even the grossest superstitions of late antiquity were “materialist” in this sense, as indeed were most forms of late Classical philosophy. Augustine saw that the notion of the non-material Idea was far more useful.

More important, Augustine saw that the Good need not be helpless. Quite the opposite: it was overwhelming. In the neoplatonic view, the world we see is simply a pale image of the Good, which exists at the summit of the chain of Being, each link of which is more perfect than the one below. Neoplatonism promised direct experience of the Good, which was also the Beautiful and the True, through contemplation and asceticism. This was a rather more satisfactory goal than the ritual purity of the Manichean Elect.

Many sophisticated pagans made their peace with Christianity through Platonism, which they believed allowed the common people an image of the Good. Platonists of this sort might attend church in good conscience, without being baptized, as a social convention. Augustine was a member of this class for a time, perhaps. However, in Milan he met not just sophisticated Platonists, but also sophisticated Christians, the most important of whom was the city's famous bishop, Ambrose, later to be acclaimed a saint.

Ambrose successfully faced down emperors when the need arose. He also succeeded in overcoming Augustine's largely literary prejudice against the Christian scriptures. In any case, Augustine's experiences in Milan led up to the day in 386 when, in an Italian garden, he heard a child's voice say, “take up; read.” His encounter with scripture in response to this injunction completed his conversion to Christianity. His baptism soon followed. He then set about reforming his own life; a little later, he turned his attention to reforming other people's lives. We remember Saint Augustine because of the record he left us of his discovery of the extent to which these things were and were not possible.

During the next two years, Augustine briefly lived in a group home, a sort of proto-monastery, with similarly minded philosophical Christians. Like most people of his day, he assumed that deep conversion would require a renunciation of married life, if not quite of family life: Monica, his mother, had followed him to Italy and apparently managed his household. In any case, he canceled plans for marriage to an heiress. He also sent away his concubine, by whom he had had a son, who died as a young man. (“Concubine” sounds rather racy in modern English. In the Greco-Roman world it was a prosaic arrangement in the nature of a “civil union,” though not generally a union of equals.) Monica's Catholic orthodoxy was not the least of the influences in her son's conversion. She died just before they were all about to return home to Thagaste. She became a saint, too.

Brown notes that Augustine left Italy at just the time when it began to cease to be true that all roads led to Rome. He would do business all the remainder of his life with the government in northern Italy and with the pope in Rome, but he belonged to the last generation of provincials who went to Rome to make their reputations. Through invasion, and even more through irresponsible uprisings by local commanders, the wheels were starting to fall off the political system. Increasingly, the empire was unable to guarantee the security of its citizens, even at the cost of oppression.

Back in sheltered Africa, though, Augustine now had a reputation as a man of learning and good character, so much so that he was essentially drafted as a priest by the congregation of the basilica of Hippo in 391. Four or five years later, he became bishop. His transformation began into Saint Augustine, the great Doctor of the Latin West.

Augustine wrote quite literally a library of books. When he spoke of his library at Hippo, in fact, he seems to have been referring to a small research and publishing enterprise, dedicated in no small part to disseminating the wide range of texts he produced. Still, when people talk about Augustine, they are normally talking about two books: the Confessions, which began to appear about 400 and which deals with his conversion; and The City of God, parts of which began to circulate in 413, and which tried to make sense of the sack of Rome three years before.

Two points are particularly interesting about the Confessions, in light of what we know about Augustine's background. The first is that, despite Augustine's Platonic readiness to conceive of God as an intellectual object, Augustine seems him as the prime mover in his conversion. The book, in fact, is largely a second-person address to God, to Whom Augustine recounts how God led him through reason, through joy, and through happy accident to that garden where Augustine heard the child's voice. For someone who had recently been a Manichean, this was a very favorable assessment of world of the senses. Human nature itself was full of handles for God to grab onto.

The other point is that the story does not end with Augustine's conversion. That was unusual: conversion narratives, then and since, often assumed that the protagonist would be effortlessly holy ever after. Neither was it usual for high paganism: neoplatonic philosophers and Stoic sages were supposed to “get it,” to achieve enlightenment, and then to live an untroubled life in semi-retirement, where they would try to explain the ineffable to eager students. As we have seen, Augustine actually tried to do something like that, but discovered he was not good enough. Even after his conversion, he was still Augustine. He needed God's help at least as much after his baptism as he needed it before. Perfection in this life was not an option.

This was, perhaps, why Augustine had little patience with sects and theological opinions that promised perfection, or that even said it was possible.

One such sect was the Donatist Church, a schismatic group that was actually the dominant church in Africa when Augustine returned from Italy. It grew out of the last pagan persecutions. In those days, many Christians, clergy included, apostatized to save their lives, but later repented and were received back into the church. The Donatists were the institutional descendants of some of those who had not apostatized, and who refused to recognize the repentance of those who had. They also did not recognize the power of former apostates to baptize, or ordain their successors.

The Catholic Church did exist in Africa, in the sense of bishops who were in communion with the bishops of the patriarchal sees, and especially with Rome, whose bishop enjoyed a unique primacy even then. It was the Catholic bishops that were recognized by the imperial government. The Donatist Church differed from this universal establishment in no point of doctrine or liturgy. The Donatists differed only in claiming that they were a church of saints: they were the true Church in Africa, and maybe the only true church in the world.

Augustine attempted to heal this schism through persuasion and polemics, not wholly without success. In the final analysis, though, it was the willingness of the imperial government to seize Donatist property and place the Donatist faithful under civil disabilities that destroyed Donatism, or at least drove it out of the cities. Augustine justified persecution, at least at this relatively moderate level, for much the same reason that he had recognized the necessity of the world for his own conversion. The social environment can lead us to God, but this implies that the environment must be cleared of delusions and distractions. Augustine was prepared to use the state toward that end.

This is not to imply that when Augustine said “jump!” the Proconsul in Carthage asked “how high?” Particularly in the letters that came to light in the late 20th century, we see Augustine working as an ombudsman between his flock and a government that was becoming simultaneously less competent and more brutal. He tried to get pardons for tax protesters. He tried to get death sentences commuted. He tried to stop a new and appalling recrudescence of the slave trade. Taking advantage of the eclipse of imperial order, private entrepreneurs had taken to capturing free peasants in Africa and selling them to buyers in Gaul and Italy. They embarked their captives through Hippo, under the nose of the port authorities, who had been bribed. When members of Augustine's cathedral chapter sought legal redress for some of the captives, the slavers sued for interference with their business.

Augustine was not an uncritical admirer of the Roman Empire, which, again, was somewhat unusual for a man in his position. The tendency of his time was to increasingly regard the empire as a providential historical development, created by God to foster and protect the Church. The ideology of the medieval Holy Roman Empire was not so different; Dante's theory of universal monarchy made the Church and the Empire equivalent divine institutions.

Brown emphasizes that Augustine was skeptical of these ideas long before the sack of Rome in 410. After that event, he canonized his measured dismay of those years in his greatest work, The City of God. Brown notes that the immediate audience for the book consisted in significant part of literary refugees from Italy. In fact, the book started life in part as a series of sermons.

Augustine explains that the Church, City of God, was a pilgrim in this world. (“Pilgrim” did not suggest to Augustine that to travel hopefully was better than to arrive; he always hated traveling.) It could cooperate with the City of Man, with which it was inextricably connected. Indeed, as citizens, Christians had some duty to work for that City's good. However, the City of Man was ultimately transitory. It could not command our final loyalty.

Augustine was a patriot. He knew the empire was in trouble, but he said it might recover, as it had done so many times before. And in fact it did recover for a few years; Alaric the Visigoth turned out to be more an unsuccessful extortioner than a world conqueror. Augustine, clearly, was wise not to link the troubles of his contemporary world with the prophecies of revelation (one of the great faults of Brown's book is that we get almost no discussion of Augustine's views on eschatology). What Augustine did do was create the historical framework for a livable world. Augustine has even been called “the father of progress,” since he held open the prospect that the betterment of the secular world was at least possible.

Interesting as all this is, the issue that made Augustine's reputation was the controversy with Pelagius about free will, predestination, and original sin. Pelagius, a man of British extraction, argued against the doctrine that we are born tainted by original sin. He also argued that the human will, informed by teaching, was capable of rejecting sin and choosing the good. In many accounts of this debate, Pelagius is portrayed as the champion of reason and human autonomy, while Augustine is seen as the proponent of infant damnation and of a God who arbitrarily predestines some fraction of the human race to Hell.

Brown's thesis is that, at every point, Augustine's concern was actually to make the Christian life livable. Pelagius's account of the autonomy of the will meant that people bore a terrible burden for their own choices. In Pelagius's system, the least infraction of divine law merited damnation. Pelagians laid great stress on the value of threats of hellfire to encourage the faithful to greater efforts. To that Augustine responded, oddly like a philosopher of the Enlightenment 1,300 years later, that a man who fears hell does not fear sinning, but burning.

And in fact, the Pelagian party was not a would-be Broad Church of moral uplift, but yet another example of Late Antique spiritual athletes trying to form a tiny minority of the elect. When Augustine defended original sin, he was defending the power of the rite of baptism to offer some surety of salvation, even to infants. Augustine's version of predestination rejected the notion that one could say that conversion and continuance in grace were either personal choices or divine intervention; he did insist that the unaided human will was insufficient. He cited scripture, but this insight is really what the Confessions had been all about.

In his debates with Pelagius, Augustine articulated a concept of freedom that has fascinated and repelled the West ever since. In this view, the mere perception of a choice is evidence of the corruption of the will. True freedom, in contrast, means transcending choice. A truly free man is one whose will has been so cleared of error and bias, particularly the biases created by desire, that he can see there is only one real possibility.

This has a fine Hegelian ring to it: freedom is the conformance of the will to necessity. And like the politics that descends from Hegel, it can be breathtakingly oppressive. At its worst, it means than a government can ignore popular opposition to its policies as the product of false consciousness, or that an established church could assume that there is no such thing as an honest heretic. On the other hand, the procedural notion of freedom, as a choice that is externally unrestricted, is subtly self-contradictory. The existence of objective value in the things we are choosing among, that is, the possibility that a choice might be right or wrong, is the kind of external constraint that a procedural system has to ignore or suppress. Freedom then means the right to choose between things that there is nothing to choose between.

The philosophical question remains with us, but Augustine did succeed in settling the matter for a long time as far as dogma went. A council of eastern bishops found nothing wrong with Pelagianism (the Greek church has never very interested in psychological questions), but Augustine had enough influence to light a fire under several popes to get Pelagianism condemned. Even then it did not lack for brilliant defenders. At the end of his life, with the Vandals already approaching Hippo, Augustine was carrying on a long polemic, all for publication, with John of Eclanum. (It is amazing how much the theological discourse of the early Church resembles Internet flame wars.) Brown suggests that Augustine might have done better to read Julian more carefully, since Julian was close to the sort of workable synthesis of theology and Aristotle that Thomas Aquinas was to achieve many centuries later.

There are ironies in the aftermath to Augustine's life. The world that he was trying to make tolerable for Christians did not survive him. The Catholic Church in Africa was soon being oppressed by the Arian Church of the new Vandal kingdom. A little later, and the Vandal kingdom was conquered by the Byzantine Empire, whose Greek orthodoxy Augustine would have recognized as Catholic, but which was imposed by force over sullen populations with their own ideas. Three centuries later the Arabs came, and Latin-speaking, Christian North Africa evaporated as quickly and thoroughly as had Roman Britain.

Almost all that is left of that world is the writings of Saint Augustine. As it happened, his was the last voice from the Latin West of antiquity.


These books scarcely mention Augustine, but they essentially restate in modern terms the story of Augustine's conversion:

The Long View: Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages

Ignore doomsday at your peril.


Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages
by Eugen Weber
Harvard University Press, 2000
294 pages, US$16.95 (Paperback)
ISBN 0-674-00395-0

 

The University of Toronto asked Eugen Weber, the noted emeritus professor of modern European history at UCLA, to give the 1999 Barbara Frum Lecture on the topic of “fins de siècle.” This seemed reasonable enough, what with the end of the 20th century coming up and the fact that he had already written a book entitled “Fin de Siècle.” We must imagine his horror, however, as his preparation for the lecture revealed the matter did not allow of pluralization. There was only one fin de siècle, something that happened at the end of the nineteenth century and mostly in France. Western society had rarely taken much notice of century years before the 18th century. Even the kinds of millennial excitement that attended the ends of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were different from each other. The apocalyptic atmosphere at end of the 19th century was, to a large degree, an aspect of the period’s famous “decadence.” There was probably at least as much decadence in the colloquial sense during the 1990s as during 1880s. Back in the Paris of the real fin de siècle, however, decadence was high theory. 

Happily freed of the media myth that all dates ending in “00” have incited millennium-mad masses to howl at the moon, Dr. Weber went on to produce this very engaging survey of the chief apocalyptic themes in Western history. I have never seen it done better. The author is particularly successful in demonstrating the continuing importance of millennialism for the study of intellectual history. Apocalyptic thinking is obviously relevant to an understanding of John of Leiden and the Reverend Jim Jones. It is also, however, just as necessary for a full understanding of Isaac Newton and Joseph Priestley, or even of Balzac. Eschatological scenarios informed the decisions of the participants in the English Civil War. They may also, more debatably, have had a hand in deciding that the First World War started when and how it did. The widespread opinion of the middle 20th century that millennialism was a historical curiosity has been pretty thoroughly refuted. We ignore Doomsday at out great peril.

Though the presentation in “Apocalypses” is roughly chronological, the author realizes that there can be no “history” of millennialism. The world seems likely to end in somewhat different ways to the people of different cultural periods, despite much continuity of language, and even of systematic eschatological theology. However, every period does seem to have a characteristic millennialism of some sort. Also, the persistence of detail is striking, all the more so because the specifics of the apocalyptic scenarios flip back and forth between natural and supernatural. For instance, the Book of Revelation is full of things that fall from the sky, notably the star “Wormwood” (Rev. 8: 10,11). This was a ludicrous notion in the Aristotelian physics of the first century, of course, and probably a bit of an embarrassment for Christian apologists. In contrast, the idea that the world may be in imminent peril of asteroidal impact was common by the end of the 20th century, due in large part to the dramatic Alvarez hypothesis about the Cretaceous die-off. Long before the dinosaur fashion, however, 20th century millenarians had appropriated pretty much the same idea as a gloss on the scriptural text. Now Weber tells us that, in 1773, a lecture to the Academy of Sciences in Paris on the menace of cometary flybys occasioned civil disorder. In a way, this continuity is comforting.

Readers generally familiar with the history of apocalyptic thinking in English-speaking countries will find “Apocalypses” particularly valuable for its attention to the francophone world. This is one of those books that reminded me of the full extent of my ignorance. I had imagined that Jansenists, members of a rigorous but condemned Catholic sect that had attracted minds on the order of Pascal’s, were essentially Calvinists without the whimsy. Only now do I learn about their ecstatic and visionary side, and how their long persecution drove them to view themselves as an elect living at the close of the age. I had been aware that the Métis rebellions in nineteenth-century Canada had an eschatological element, even a specifically Catholic eschatological dimension. A feature that you could not have made up, however, was the belief of the Métis leader, Louis Riel, that the Vatican would move to Canada. Last but not least, we are also treated to a summary of the French fin de siècle, with its colorful combination of Satanists, popular science, eschatological communism and Restoration-minded monarchists. What had our own etiolated flutters about the Y2K bug to offer in comparison?

Since the territory covered in this book is beyond anyone’s expertise, there are nits to pick. For instance, the authors says about the eschatology of St. Augustine of Hippo: “Since Christ’s coming, regeneration no longer depended on cosmic revolution or explosive revolution, but on individual effort to salvation; not on divine destruction, but on human decisions and effort.” While this summary is not entirely wrong, we should remember that Augustine is the father, not just of progress, but also of predestination. (This is not a coincidence.) To take an issue of social history, it is hard to see how, after reviewing all the odd dates that have excited millennial attention these last 2000 years (1260, 1484, 1844), the author can still link millennialism with the rise of numeracy. If anything, it’s dates like 1900 and 2000 that are the no-brainers, and they fell in literate centuries. These, however, are small matters that simply reflect the opinions found in the secondary sources from which a survey like this is necessarily written.

Just as “Apocalypses” does not purport to be a comprehensive history of millennialism, it also does not attempt to formulate a general theory about it. Weber is duly suspicious of the assumption by E.J. Hobsbawm and Norman Cohn that millenarian revolutionaries are really social revolutionaries suffering from false consciousness. The phenomena associated with millennial ideas are just too various for such an explanation to work, even as an approximation. Weber is obviously impressed, not just by the persistence of millennial thinking, but also by its uncanny, well, prescience. The age did not end with the planetary alignment of 1484, for instance, but the unity of the West did shortly thereafter, just at the moment when the horizons of the known world were exploding. He remarks about the flurry of Marian apparitions that occurred in the early 20th century (for some reason he calls them “Marial apparitions”) that the fire-and-brimstone prophecies they produced were “right on target.” St. Augustine may have been right when he said that signs of the end are present in every age. It is also true to say that those who pursue the millennium are not necessarily following a chimera.

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: Beyond the End Times: The Rest of the Greatest Story Ever Told

The minutiae of eschatology matter quite a bit to many people. This book review was my introduction to preterism, the claim that all of the events prophesied in the New Testament have already happened. Like John, I don't think this really fits into a systematic Christian theology, but systematic theology has never really been a popular endeavor.


Beyond the End Times: The Rest of the Greatest Story Ever Told
by John Noe
Preterist Resources, 1999
300 Pages, US$ 17.95
ISBN 0-9621311-4-8

 

The idea that the eschatological prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life and mission of Jesus is scarcely new. That is why the Old Testament is part of the Christian canon. However, most forms of Christianity have usually held that prophecy also points to events in the indefinite future, when the work of salvation will be completed along with history itself. The proposition that all the prophecies of the "end times" were fulfilled in their entirety in the first century is known as "preterism." In "Beyond the End Times," John Noe, a writer on business topics and president of the Prophecy Reformation Institute, makes a vigorous case for preterism. His intended audience are the theologically conservative evangelicals who, he feels with some reason, have been ill-served by the premillennialism that has dominated American evangelicalism for the last century and a half.

Quite a few members of the evangelical audience are likely to find this book more than a little disconcerting. All the familiar landmarks by which many believers have oriented themselves in contemporary history are systematically leveled. The founding of modern Israel becomes a political accident, with no significance for salvation history. There will be no Third Temple, no Antichrist and no Battle of Armageddon. There will be no Rapture of the Saints before the Tribulation, and no Tribulation. Indeed, there will be no Second Coming.

And, since the millenarian streak in evangelicalism is only a special case of the millenarianism that runs through American culture generally, evangelicals are not the only ones whose most cherished images of future horror are dismissed. Preterism, in Noe's understanding, requires the doctrine that the world will have no end. This means that neither the human race, nor the planet Earth, nor the universe itself will ever cease to exist. Noe makes a moderate critique of the more hysterical kinds of environmentalism. He also points out that, while a general nuclear war would be very terrible, it would not exterminate the human race. Perhaps most remarkably, this is the only book I have ever encountered which suggests that the second law of thermodynamics, at least as applied to cosmology, may be contrary to scripture.

Noe does not argue, as might a typical theological liberal, that the prophecies of the Old Testament were simply mythology or metaphor. Wherever possible (which is not everywhere), he prefers a literal interpretation of prophecy. Rather, he argues that the prophecies referred to concrete historical events that have already occurred. His particular care is to show the compatibility of Matthew 24:34 with history. That verse comes at the end of the so-called "Olivet Discourse," in which Jesus predicts great tribulation and the coming of the Son of Man. Then he says, "I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened." Noe argues that this need not be, as C.S. Lewis called it, "the most embarrassing verse in the Bible."

The basis for Noe's argument is the Book of Daniel and its prophecy in chapter 9 of "70 weeks of years." This prophecy was supposed to predict the history of the Jews after their return from the Babylonian Exile. Daniel is set in the sixth century BC, though most scholars prefer a date for its composition in the second century BC. Noe is willing to live with either date of composition. If the second-century date is accepted, then the book's "prediction" of the desecration of the Temple by a wicked tyrant was actually a contemporary account of the successful Maccabean revolt in 168 BC against the Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes, who had in fact defiled the Temple. In contrast, the book's prediction of the coming of "Michael" to save the people really was a prediction, and did not occur. At any rate, it did not occur in the second century BC. Christian apologists, however, have long noted that, if you start the 70 "weeks" running from any of several plausible dates for the end of the Exile in the fifth century BC, then "Michael" is predicted to appear during what turned out to be the life of Jesus. Noe explicates the arithmetic in detail, capping it with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That event, he holds, was the finale, foretold in both the Old and New Testaments, of the "end times" that began with the career of Jesus.

Noe's system has unusual implications for scripture. To begin with, if this version of preterism is to work, then the books of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation most especially included, must all have been written before AD 70. The proposal of such an early date for Revelation is new to me, as it is to both traditional and modern biblical criticism, both of which were quite happy with a late first-century date. Furthermore, the "Babylon" which is destroyed in Revelation turns out to be Jerusalem itself, which is here characterized as apostate for its refusal to accept Jesus as the messiah in the generation after his life on earth. References traditionally thought to have been prophetic of the Antichrist, such as the ruler mentioned by Daniel who would end the sacrifice in the Temple after three-and-a-half years, turn out to refer to Jesus himself, whose crucifixion made the Temple and its liturgy obsolete.

Noe attempts to be faithful to the principles of both the "plain meaning" of the text and of "sola scriptura." The result is often a cautionary example of the degree to which these principles are incompatible. There are numerous passages in both Testaments to the effect that "the earth endures forever," and Noe insists on their literal truth. On the other hand, he says that passages which speak of a "new Heaven and a new Earth" after the "time of the end" actually refer to the New Covenant, which will follow the end of the Mosaic Covenant. The images of cosmic catastrophe in the apocalyptic texts of the New Testament, from the earth being shaken to the stars falling from the sky, are just that: images. He notes that they also occur in prophecies in the Old Testament that predicted punishments against specific peoples and cities. These prophecies actually came to pass, quite without a universal conflagration.

The same method is applied to predictions of the Second Coming. When Jesus spoke of the Son of Man "coming on the clouds" in a way that would be visible "to all the nations of the Earth," he was in fact predicting his return to exact a judgment that would be famous throughout all later time, but in a mode familiar from other chastisements that God had exacted in the Old Testament. This mode was the "sign" of his coming spoken of in Matthew 24:30.

Actually, the principle of sola scriptura notwithstanding, Noe seems to come close at times to opening up the biblical canon to include the "History of the Jewish War" by Flavius Josephus, the famous turncoat of the anti-Roman revolt of AD 66-70. At any rate, it is only through reference to such nonscriptural sources that we can clearly see how the fall of Jerusalem might be interpreted as the culmination of the time of the end, since nowhere in the Bible is that event referred to directly as an accomplished fact.

Noe's use of Josephus is frequently ingenious. For instance, he uses him to identify "the Antichrist," or at any rate, the worst of the class of persons to whom that title might be given. One of the passages frequently cited as referring to a future Antichrist is II Thessalonians 2, where St. Paul says that the Lord cannot come until the "Man of Sin" sets himself up in the Temple as God. Jesus refers to an "Abomination" in the Temple in Matthew 24:15, and both passages can reasonably be taken to echo Daniel 9:27. Consulting Josephus for the events of the Roman-Jewish War, Noe identifies the Abomination as the slaughter of the Temple priesthood by the insurgent John of Gischala, the son of Levi, whose intransigence and viciousness made impossible both negotiations with the Romans and the coordinated defense of the city. This person, Noe concludes, must have been the Man of Sin Paul was predicting 20 years earlier. Well, that's settled.

People who are at all familiar with biblical prophecy can easily think of many verses that would seem to tell against this outline of Noe's version of preterism. All I can suggest is that they read the book. Noe does get around to attempting an answer to most of the familiar proof texts, though not always in the principal discussion of the doctrines to which they are supposed to relate. (Something this book needs is an index, and particularly an index of scriptural citations.) Let me put aside the labor of a close analysis of scripture, however, to ask a larger question: Does this really work? Can Christian theology, even within its own frame of reference, really claim that biblical eschatology was completely fulfilled in the first century? Most important, would such a theology be of more than academic interest?

Again, all I can suggest is that Christian eschatology has always had a large element of immanence, an element that is present in greater or lesser degree throughout the New Testament. Even within the lifetime of Jesus, even in what he says of himself, it is clear that the Kingdom of God already exists. It is accessible through prayer and sacrament, a matter of personal experience that may affect history but that transcends it. The remarks of Jesus about the Son of Man coming in glory in that generation have traditionally been linked with the account of his Transfiguration before Peter, James and John (Matthew 17) and his mock-triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The higher criticism implicitly endorses a "partial-preterist" point of view in the early church, by insisting that the synoptic gospels could not have been written before AD 70. The argument is that the fall of Jerusalem was experienced by contemporaries as an apocalyptic event, the foretelling of which was later put into the mouth of Jesus by the evangelists. As for the Gospel of John, normally considered the latest of the gospels, it deals with little except eschatology, yet is quite devoid of "apocalyptic" elements in the conventional sense: God is fully revealed in the life of Jesus, and salvation is complete.

There are problems with the modern dating of the synoptics: Luke may well be post-AD 70, but I have doubts about Mark and even Matthew. Still, there is little doubt that the first century church thought of the fall of Jerusalem as a confirmation of eschatological expectations that were already well established when it happened. But did they think of the catastrophe as a complete fulfillment of prophecy? There is a dearth of evidence that they did, plus a lot of evidence that they did not, including just about all the earliest post-biblical writers on the subject.

The fact is that the sack of Jerusalem by the Romans just was not big enough to be the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, or even of the Olivet Discourse. To try to limit the "end times" to that single event smacks of the complacent surmise by Tacitus that the whole of Jewish messianic prophecy was fulfilled by the ascension of Vespasian to the imperial title in Rome. Christians living through AD 70 may well have expected a quick, universal end to the order of things when Titus, the son of Vespasian, took Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. As things happened, they did not get to witness the fall of Babylon the Great (which I think it is a bit perverse to associate with Jerusalem in any case), but they did understand that they were living through a "type" of the tribulation of which Jesus spoke. Four hundred years later, Christians did get to see Babylon the Great fall. Maybe they got to see it fall again in 1989. As John Newman remarked, Revelation is a drama that is produced on an ever increasing scale.

Aside from the theological issues, is there any hope that a system like preterism could ever become the basis of a living religion? Preterism presents many of the problems that Francis Fukuyama's famous "End of History" thesis presented at the end of the Cold War, when he proclaimed that the history of political theory had terminated with the triumph of liberal democracy. I share this thesis, with certain reservations, but it leaves you with the problem of what to do next. In preterism's case, we are left with the problem of what the 1,900+ years of Christian history were all about. Biblical prophecy provided a sort of plot for the story of history to follow, but preterism claims that the story ended in AD 70. Is God now to be found only in the text of the Bible and in religious practice, and not at all in history?

Noe clearly does not think so. In fact, he does not even think that revelation, broadly defined, is yet at an end. He has written on the many "theophanies" of Jesus in the Old Testament, and says he sees no reason why these cannot happen at any time. He even looks forward to the 21st century as the occasion for a new Reformation, this one concerned especially with the church's understanding of prophecy. While not precisely a Social Gospeler, he does deplore the deadening effect that millenarianism has on the participation of Christians in constructive politics and other social activities. That is something which he hopes the coming Prophecy Reformation will remedy, after people see that conventional evangelical premillennialism is a false idol.

I would not dismiss these expectations out of hand, but I suspect that preterism would have to grow in certain ways to realize them. Frankly, the model needs a future. If it cannot provide a universal eschaton, it must at least define some goals for the world short of eternity. The slightly unsettling thing about preterism is that it seems to leave itself almost absolute freedom in that regard. The Bible is capped by AD 70, and has nothing more to say about history. One cannot help but wonder whether something like preterism might be the necessary predicate for a "Third Testament."

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Coming Age of Cathedrals

Times Square in 1978

Times Square in 1978

In 2014 I speculated that John Reilly probably knew Richard Landes, because of their common interests. I managed to miss this essay of John's where he talked about meeting with Landes in New York City. I'm not sure how, since I referenced the ideas here in a couple of talks I gave at my local Catholic parish on millennialism

This essay is also an interesting point of contact with my unreleased review of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. By 2004, New York City had begun to decisively move away from the archetype of Gotham City that it had been embodying ever since the 1970s[popularly referred to as the Sixties, this trend really started about 1968 and peaked in 1973]. The fate of Times Square is a synedoche for the city as a whole. The only time I have been to Times Square was in 1998, on a school trip, and it was less seedy than in 1978, but far less clean than John saw it in 2004, or the sanitized version we have now.

The story of how that happened is a fascinating one, and it illuminates the curious nature of American politics at present. But that is a story for another post.

I really like Richard Landes' theory that millennialism is embarrassing to most educated Westerners, while also being absolutely fascinating to almost everyone, even the people who find it embarrassing. John takes that idea here, and links it up with a great many other ideas that he often featured on his blog, and produces a truly great essay on how the idea of historical progress fits in to the broader cultural trends of the West.

Written in 1997, this essay is more optimistic than it would have been in 2017. In 1997, the United States was in the middle of an economic boom, had no serious rivals, and had not yet been humbled by 9/11. An interesting twist to 2017 is that the optimism of 1997 really did manage to leave out a number of Americans from the increasing prosperity, but since they were largely concentrated in the declining industrial heartland, the hidden losers of the dotcom boom, the coastal elites largely ignored them. This was likely helped by a very robust late 90s stock market. Pensions were generally pretty strong then.

For all that, John had enough historical depth to know that good times don't last forever.


The Coming Age of Cathedrals

 

by John J. Reilly

 

I rarely have occasion to walk through Times Square in Manhattan. My visits to the city usually have to do with business to the east or south. That was why, when I walked through the area one morning in the summer of 1996 on one of my even rarer visits to Lincoln Center, I was taken aback by how much the place had improved since the last time I saw it. It was still noisy and crowded (it is hard to imagine that location in the city being otherwise), but the area was clean. The facades and many of the buildings were new. If any of the stores specialized in pornography, they were discrete about it. Shabby persons did not wait under the eaves of storefronts to offer goods and services to passersby. There was a cop or security guard on every other corner.

If the dark, dystopic film "Bladerunner" is the popular image of the future American city, then here was a city that was evolving in a different direction. It was not just Times Square, of course. The reason you see few politicians trekking to the South Bronx these days is that the burned-out neighborhoods that provided such dramatic photo opportunities for several election cycles have been substantially torn down and rebuilt. Actually, good news like this seems to crop up more and more these days, in areas ranging from medicine to crime statistics. Like many of the people who pass through Times Square each day, I generally just note the improvement and continue on my way. That morning, however, I was going to a meeting that gave me reason to consider such things in a broader context.

I was in Manhattan to speak to one Richard Landes, a medievalist from Boston University and an authority on the year 1000. With each year's calendar getting closer to the double-millennium figure, this previously obscure subject is becoming increasingly topical. It is already fashionable to attribute this or that event to "millennial fever." (In a way, that is what I am going to do here.) Anyway, we were meeting to talk about several of the academic projects that are in the works in connection with the upcoming turn of the millennium.

Landes is something of a revisionist. Like many revisionists who seek to overturn the accepted wisdom on a subject, his new interpretation is a dialectical synthesis that strongly resembles the view of the matter which preceded the accepted wisdom he is revising. For reasons which I trust I will be able to make clear, his ideas about the 11th century may have a great deal to do with the once and future Times Square.

It was perhaps the nineteenth[-century] historian, Jules Michelet, who was most responsible for popularizing the idea of the "terrors of the year 1000." You can find contemporary, or nearly contemporary, chronicles of the period which describe the people of Western Europe as living in a agony of apocalyptic expectation. There are accounts of civil disturbances, of grotesque acts of mass public repentance, of popular prophets and their crazed followers. All in all, Michelet made the turn of the millennium sound like the sixteenth century on particularly bad day. By the beginning of the twentieth century, historians realized there was something fishy about this picture. For one thing, while these accounts turn up in some historical literature from the period, they do not dominate it. More generally, Western Europe in the decades following the year 1000 really did not act like a society that was paralyzed by fear of the imminent end of the world, or that was disappointed by the failure of its eschatological schedule.

The 11th century was the time when the great cathedrals began to go up and the crusades were launched, following decades of increasing contact with Byzantium and the Levant. Western Christendom in those decades was an expanding, curious, inventive society. To that extent, it did resemble the Western Europe of the sixteenth century. However, this earlier age of discovery and change was not characterized by the dark disasters of the century that followed Columbus and Luther. This perhaps is the chief reason why for nearly a hundred years historians have generally believed that the "terrors of the year 1000" existed largely in the minds of the nineteenth century Romantics.

Well, maybe not. Landes and other medievalists are taking a third look at the primary sources, and finding both more and less in them than did their predecessors. It is true that nothing happened around the beginning of the second millennium on the order of the Peasants' Revolt in sixteenth Germany. (For purposes of eschatological anxiety, by the way, the millennium did not turn in an instant. The year 1033, for instance, was at least as good a year for the Second Coming in the minds of apocalyptic literalists as was the year 1000.) On the other hand, it is not hard to find discussion about questions of universal eschatology in the writings of the period. Evidence of popular interest in these questions is fragmentary, but it is there. More accessible is the scholarly debate which arose about when the age might be expected to end.

Landes believes he detects a degree of censorship among the writers of the period in favor Augustine's model of history. Whatever else might be said of Augustine's ideas about the end of the world, certainly they tended to downplay the catastrophic and revolutionary. (Violent, popular endtime belief is sometimes characterized as "millenarian," to be distinguished from the less dramatic "millennialism" with which Augustine is often associated.) Augustine, in most interpretations of him, preserved the events of the Endtime depicted in Revelation and the Prophets as literal expectations for the indefinite future. However, his system (to the extent he had one) was very wary of any attempts to discern eschatological significance in the events of secular history.

The medieval Latin Church, in its eschatology as in so much else, was at least nominally Augustinian. The Church around the year 1000, however, dealt in two ways with what probably was perceived to be a crisis of apocalyptic expectation. The immediate response was to deal with millenarianism on its own terms. The more long-term and more important response, however, was to transform apocalyptic into theodicy.

The proper Augustinian reaction to millenarian enthusiasm, particularly to enthusiasm sparked by calendrical considerations, is to declare the time of the end to be unknowable. What many of the authorities around the year 1000 did, however, was to quibble about chronology. Thus, accepting for the sake of argument the old thesis that the world would last 6,000 years, they answered doom-mongers with estimates for the age of the world that put the beginning of the seventh millennium a comfortable distance into the future. Such arguments were not always wholly convincing on their merits, and they did have the disadvantage of leaving time bombs for later Augustinians. (The excitement about the year 1000 was perhaps a time bomb planted by Augustine himself.) Be that as it may, such arguments sufficed for the immediate occasion, and they probably did contribute to the pacification of millenarian sentiment, especially among the lower clergy.

On the other hand, there is a great deal more to Augustinian eschatology than the suppression of other people's enthusiasms. Augustine is sometimes called "the father of progress." This view can be exaggerated, as it was perhaps in Robert Nisbet's "History of the Idea of Progress." Certainly St. Augustine's ideas about the future bore little resemblance to those of, say, the Fabian socialists. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be said for the proposition that his model of time is the basic template on which more specific ideas about history can form, of which progress is simply one instance.

Augustine freed time from the constriction of an imminent eschaton, thereby making history a theater of grace and will. Augustinian history need not be progressive, but it can be. In fact, it has a predilection to be under certain circumstances. The Augustinian view of time is not unique in being linear or in its suspicion of revolutionary enthusiasm. Neo-Confucianism, for instance, has these characteristics. For that matter, Neo-Confucian historiographers, like Landes's turn-of-the-millennium ecclesiastics, did indeed tend to de-emphasize or mischaracterize popular millenarian movements. What makes Augustinianism different is its ability to impart meaning to favorable historical trends.

Although the idea of historical progress has received more than its share of derision in recent years, the fact is that many facets of history, and even whole historical eras, really are progressive. The statistics on population growth and economic output in certain parts of the world often rise steadily for a long time. New arts and sciences appear and are perfected over the course of a few centuries. These things were almost as true of the Hellenistic Age as they were of the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet notoriously the ancients were without an idea of progress, despite the fact that at least part of their history was progressive by any measure. Other fortunate times and places have suffered from a similar lack of imagination.

Was Western Christendom at the turn of the first millennium the first society to take steps toward giving historical meaning to "progress," to great social enterprises terminating only at a horizon of unguessable distance? Naturally, the classical nineteenth-century idea of progress is no more medieval than it is Hellenistic or Neo-Confucian. However, the cathedrals and the crusades may stand as symbols for a wider cultural assumption that social development can be a moral enterprise, perhaps even a morally necessary enterprise. Such a conviction would be far less deterministic than, for instance, the theology of the Social Gospel. Socially progressive Christianity in this century has demanded progress from history. Augustine merely hoped for it. Perhaps he did not hope for very much, just that the Vandals would go away and that future emperors would be more edifying. Nevertheless, he hoped with good reason.

Whatever the validity of these reflections with respect to the 11th century, certainly this interpretation of Augustine is alive and well and being expounded from the Throne of St. Peter. John Paul II's 1994 encyclical on the celebration of the coming turn of the millennium, "Tertio Millennio Adveniente," can hardly be described as a millenarian document. Nevertheless, it looks forward to the turn of the century as far more than a peculiarly obvious occasion for historical commemoration. For reasons which are perhaps intuitive, the Pope anticipates that the beginning of the next millennium will be a time of novel significance in the history of salvation. The encyclical puts the Second Vatican Council into perspective as a providential event whose true significance was to prepare for this new era. The specifics of the document are concerned with how the Church should ready herself to take advantage of these coming opportunities.

If in fact the next century is another time of constructive hope, future historians who attend to such things will probably see this transformation as in part a reaction to the dark images of the future that have prevailed since the 1960s. While the `60s were a time of exhilaration for the young, we should not forget that one of the tenets of the Counter Culture of that era was the coming collapse of civilization. William Irwin Thompson perhaps best captured the mood of the period in his still-interesting book, "At the Edge of History" (1971). Visiting the Esalen Institute retreat center in the summer of 1967, he learned that the end of civilization was not only expected by hippies of nearby San Francisco, it was devoutly hoped for. Many of the people attending Esalen with him that summer, who like himself would soon become prominent figures in the nascent New Age movement, were of similar if subtler mind. They were less likely than the hippies to put their faith in predictions of world-changing earthquakes or in the public arrival of the flying saucers. Instead, they anticipated salutary effects from the breakdown of American society from more conventional causes. After an era of "broken-back" technocracy, they expected a new spiritual age to emerge. The immediate future did not turn out the way that the budding opinion-makers of those years anticipated, but as with so much else about the Counter Culture, their view of the future became a popular orthodoxy.

The hope for a new spiritual age has waxed and waned, but the expectation of a future with a broken back has shown a quarter century of resilience. Examples of it can be found from before the 1970s, of course. It is related to "post apocalypse" stories, tales built around the idea of a new barbarism that arises after some great catastrophe, usually a world war. H.G. Wells's novel "The Shape of Things to Come" (1933) may be the classic of the genre, despite the fact it antedates the invention of nuclear weapons (which were another one of Wells's ideas, but that is another story). However, while many of these stories, including Wells's, are about the rebuilding of civilization, the broken-back future is about civilization's progressive darkening. It depicts a society in which social chaos often continues to exist with high technology. Among its prominent literary exponents is Doris Lessing, in such novels as "Memoirs of a Survivor" and "Shikasta." It achieved a somewhat cultish respectability in the work of J.G. Ballard. It appeared in the short novels by John Crowley, notably "Engine Summer." As for cinema, we find it in films from "Soylent Green" to the appallingly-influential "Blade Runner." The influence of the "Mad Max" series has, of course, long been inescapable. In fact, in recent years it has become difficult to find fictional presentations of the near future that do not feature decaying cities, a ruthless ruling class, economic collapse and impending ecological catastrophe.

These images have effects beyond the arts. They informed, though of course they did not determine, a great deal of the social and economic thought of the last twenty years. The "declinist" school of geopolitics, most notably associated with Paul Kennedy's provocative book "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," sometimes seemed to depict a future for America more than a little like the shabby International Style cities of the "Max Headroom" television series. On a more serious level of ethical reflection, John Lukacs' "The End of the Twentieth Century" anticipated a new dark age, in which ethnic nationalisms clash in the twilight like street gangs with national anthems. This image of the geopolitical future is not original with Lukacs. It is close to being the consensus view of the post-Cold War world.

One might be tempted to see these motifs as simply reflections of America as it changed during the Reagan Administration, but they antedate the Reagan years. It is, indeed, quite likely that they affected the way those years were reported. Certainly they affect the way America is perceived by its public officials at this writing. Charles Lane, writing recently in "The New Republic," describes how a group of staffers from the Clinton White House met for a briefing by a German economist to get some international perspective on U.S. economic policy. They had come expecting a lecture on the comparative disadvantages of slovenly American work habits and the lack of coherent U.S. industrial policy. They quickly became highly disoriented. The economist lamented the way things are done in his own country. He came close to depicting the United States as a Shangri-La of job growth and technological innovation. The staffers were at a loss to know what to say.

America is not Shangri-La, nor likely to become such a place anytime soon. However, it is also no longer the country in desperate need of restructuring that it was in 1976. At various levels, the realization that this is the case is gradually seeping into elite opinion. It is, perhaps, even affecting public administration, as projects like the renovation of Times Square illustrate. If you expect Mad Max to rule the future, then you are unsurprised by the decay of public places and disinclined to do much about it. What is perhaps most interesting about America culture today is the revulsion, sometimes inarticulate but with increasing clarity, against the assumption of a dark future.

Regarding the material side of things, the case for a merry beginning to the next millennium was recently put by the economist (and senator's nephew) Michael Moynihan in "The Coming American Renaissance." Even if the title is over-optimistic, nevertheless it is useful to have a handy compendium of good news that is only gradually becoming reportable.

Economics is not everything, of course. If you want a positive image for American society as a whole in the next century, you could do much worse than to consult William Strauss and Neil Howe's "Generations." It appeared in 1991, and it apparently has something of cult. It stays in print for good reason, since its anachronistic forecasts of declining crime rates and rising academic performance have proven remarkably accurate.

The book is another attempt to interpret American history as a recurring sequence of generational psychologies. The elder and younger Arthur Schlesingers tried this with a model using two types of generation, whereas Strauss and Howe use four. The latters' thesis owes its popularity in large part to its description of Generation X as a set of demographic cohorts fated to be misfits and tragic heroes. They are like the Lost Generation of the 1920s, and thus more noble than the be-ringed and be-whiskered zombies they appear to be at first sight. The Xers, it seems, are destined to be the parents of a new "civic" generation, one that could accomplish works of daring and organization in the next century as great as those accomplished by the "civic" generation that began to come of age about 1940. They will be the sort of people who could colonize Mars, create universal peace and end poverty. They will have their faults, just as the World War II generation did. Still, any future they would create would be more in the spirit of the 11th century than in that of "Bladerunner." One hopes that at least the lighting will be brighter than in the film.

Attempts to predict the future are best kept to the briefest of outlines, unless you want to afford amusement to people who live in the future you attempt to describe. Certainly these reflections have been at a sufficiently high level of abstraction to protect them from disconfirmation by grubby facts. All I am suggesting, really, is that if the turn of second millennium is significantly similar to the turn of the first, then we should look for a dynamic century of hope and progress on many levels. On the other hand, these reflections have also been too specific, since they referred mostly to the United States. A millennial future would involve the whole West as well, since all our civilization runs to some degree on the same historical clock.

Many people make a point of ignoring the current pope, including some who work in the same building as he does. In this case, however, I wonder whether he may not have sniffed a change in the eschatological wind. We live at the end of a chaotic interlude. That it was going to end should not have surprised us: few conditions are so ephemeral as chaos. Order always reasserts itself, whether in international politics or in personal mores. This insight is likely to be a commonplace of the other side of what John Paul II calls the "Holy Door" of the year 2000.

End

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric

William Miller

William Miller

In case anyone needs help with the terminology of millennial studies, I have a glossary in my lecture notes.


Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric
by Stephen D. O'Leary
Oxford University Press, 1994
314 Pages, US$19.95
ISBN 0-19-512125-2

 

The study of millennialism did not begin with the build up to the year 2000. Theologians, sociologists and anthropologists had been writing for decades (in the case of the theologians, for centuries) about the end of the world and about the ways that people react to that prospect. After a long period of subcultural obscurity, the subject again came to the notice of the general public in the 1980s, and a flurry of academic and journalistic treatments appeared in the 1990s. Among the most theoretically ambitious was this book by Stephen O'Leary, Associate Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

"Arguing the Apocalypse" attempts nothing less than a "general theory" for millennial studies, one that could help relate the many disciplines that have dealt with one aspect or other of the Last Things. The book develops the theory through a detailed examination of two familiar episodes of apocalyptic thinking in American history, the Millerite Movement that culminated in the "Great Disappointment of 1844," and the return of date-setting premillennialism that began, very approximately, with the publication of Hal Lindsay's "Late Great Planet Earth" in 1973.

The theory is useful, though the book does share some of the defects of late 20th-century literary studies. (I hope never to see the words "rhetor" and "topoi" again.) The historical exposition is gripping, and the author's insights are essential to anyone interested in the field.

"Apocalyptic" is really a term for a genre of biblical and apocryphal literature that flourished in the Near East around the beginning of the Christian era. It deals with a class of ideas that are part of the broader category of eschatology, the study of the final or ultimate things. The latter also includes questions addressed by philosophy, cosmology, anthropology and other disciplines. The aspect of eschatology that usually attracts the most interest, however, is the study of what societies do with apocalyptic literature, particularly with the prophetic books of Daniel and Ezekiel in the Old Testament, and the Book of Revelation in the New.

The most conspicuous social manifestations of apocalyptic ideas are often called "millenarian" or "millennial," with reference to the thousand-year reign of the Saints, or "Millennium," mentioned in Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation. (To put an extraordinarily complicated matter quickly, "millenarian" usually refers to violent or even revolutionary expectations for the future, while "millennial," a more general term, can also refer to hopes for gradual improvement as history nears its end.) Though not all eschatological systems, not even all models of history, necessarily have a moral dimension, O'Leary deals with apocalypse as a solution to the problem of theodicy, of how God can permit evil to exist in the world. Essentially, the apocalyptic solution is that God will not permit evil indefinitely, and in the final accounting, all the suffering in history will have been justified.

There is a considerable literature that attempts to explain all or most millennial activity in terms of some single sociological or psychological cause. Class conflict was an early contender, but equally plausible cases have been put for millennial activity as a delayed reaction to disaster, or as a reaction to modernization, or as a manifestation of one kind of mass psychological pathology or another. "Arguing the Apocalypse" starts with the sensible observation that there is no obvious single cause underlying all the millennial activity in the world, but that there is quite a lot of similarity in the way that people talk about it. The beginning of wisdom in the understanding of millennial behavior, in fact, is the appreciation of the fact that apocalyptic rhetoric is persuasive. By examining millennial activity from the perspective of rhetoric, O'Leary is able to look at texts, the "rhetor" who expounds the text and the rhetor's audience as an interactive system.

"Arguing the Apocalypse" amplifies the long-standing thesis that apocalyptic is essentially a form of drama. (This is particularly the case with the Book of Revelation, which looks for all the world like a classical Greek play; it even has a chorus.) Now drama, according to Aristotle, comes in two flavors. There is tragedy, which features good and evil characters who proceed to an inevitable catastrophe. Dramatic plots tend to be about how sin is met with revenge. Comedy, on the other hand, is about foolish or mistaken characters who stumble into a happy ending. Error is cured by enlightenment, eventuating in reconciliation.

The Book of Revelation has both tragic and comedic strands: the Beast and his followers prosper mightily in this profane age but meet with everlasting punishment on the last day, while the sufferings that the Saints endure in this age are all set right at the end. These tragic and comedic strands also appear in the history of millennial movements, often as pure types.

According to O'Leary, the topics (that's "topoi" to you, partner) on which apocalyptic rhetors engage audiences are "evil," "time" and "authority." There is some reason to suppose that, for the earliest Christians, the evil that faced them was the malice of the devil working through the powers of the Roman Empire. The time when the evil would be amended was very near, and the authority for these propositions was the direct prophecy of the apostolic generation and then of texts ascribed to them. This type of apocalyptic is often associated with "premillennialism," the belief that the Second Coming will occur before the Millennium. Premillennialists are often profoundly pessimistic about the future, which scripture says will be filled with disaster and persecution in the days prior to the Second Coming. Postmillennialism, in contrast, is the belief that the time of the Second Coming will not occur until the end of the Millennium, during which period the church will have gradually rid the world of natural evil. The "authority" invoked by postmillennialists tends to be a metaphorical interpretation of scripture at the service of pragmatism. This distinction between pre- and postmillennialism roughly corresponds to the tragic and comedic "frames" that Aristotle proposed. (St. Augustine was a comedian? Wonders never cease.)

The Second Great Awakening, a generation of reform and revival that characterized the first few decades of the nineteenth century in the United States, produced just about every possible form of millennial activity. It's earlier phase, however, was predominantly postmillennial in theology. This Awakening was associated with a variety of reform movements, from the abolition of slavery to the prohibition of alcohol. These movements were attended by acute religious fervor. When some of the reform movements made little or no progress even after years of mass rallies and evangelism, however, some members of the generation of the Awakening began to doubt whether real reform was possible in the current world. The result was a turn toward premillennialism, manifested most spectacularly in the Millerite Movement and the Great Disappointment of 1844.

William Miller was a respectable farmer in Upstate New York who came to believe, probably about 1830, that the Second Coming would occur around 1843. A diligent amateur student of scripture, his authority was arithmetic, as applied to the complex prophetic number system of the Old Testament prophets and the Book of Revelation. The transparency and reasonable tone of his argument seized the imagination of a large fraction of the public.

Respectable and learned ministers from many denominations either embraced Millerite ideas wholeheartedly or expressed sympathy for them. (Miller himself was an influential voice rather than a prophet in the movement. Indeed, the date of the Great Disappointment, October 22, 1844, was not set by Miller, but welled up out of the movement.) Publications with large circulations sprang up to spread the doctrine, and the mass meetings used to promote the reform movements of the earlier phase of the Awakening were put to new uses. As O'Leary notes, all this activity was not intended solely to persuade people. Proselytism was supposed to be one of the features of the latter days. By proselytizing, the Millerites were not just telling people about the apocalypse; they were enacting it.

The Disappointment itself was dealt with in various ways. The kernel of the Millerite movement decided that the event actually foretold by Miller's computations was an event in Heaven that prepared for the earthly Second Coming at some imprecise point in the future. Many went on to found the Adventist movement. Other Millerites threw themselves into the Abolitionist movement. O'Leary reports that the fiasco of 1844 ensured that, for a long time to come, only the most marginal rhetors would dare set a specific, near-term apocalyptic date. However, we should also note that the turn to premillennialism evidenced by Millerism survived the Great Disappointment, at least in evangelical circles. After the end of the Civil War, the historical pessimism associated with premillennialism was one of the factors that induced evangelicals to recuse themselves as much as possible from public life and practical politics.

There are many reasons why evangelical Christianity returned as a public force in the last quarter of the 20th century. One of the chief reasons, as O'Leary notes, was that history was making their worldview more plausible. The Jews really had returned to Israel, something that evangelical eschatologists had been talking about for over a century. Furthermore, the invention of the atomic bomb made the apocalypse something that everyone could believe in, one way or another. Indeed, not only did premillennialism again challenge the implicitly postmillennial "civic religion" of the United States, but apocalyptic date-setting came back, too.

O'Leary is at pains to emphasize the differences between Millerism and the brand of apocalypticism that Hal Lindsey promoted in his fantastically popular books that began with "The Late, Great Planet Earth." Their scenarios were different, for one thing. Although the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture of the Saints existed in the 1830s, it was not incorporated into Millerism, and did not really become important until after the Civil War. Lindsey's future, in contrast, contains both the prospect of another world war and a pretribulation rapture of the Saints to Heaven that would save believers the trouble of living through the final struggle. The difference that chiefly impresses O'Leary is that, granted their premises, the logic of "The Late Great Planet Earth" is much shakier than that of William Miller and his followers.

Lindsey's warrant for starting the countdown to the end is the assurance given by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse that "this generation" would see the fulfillment of all apocalyptic prophecy. In Lindsey's model of history, the machinery of salvation paused when the Jews failed to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Salvation history started up again only when Israel was founded in 1948. (This approach is called "dispensationalism," as opposed to the Millerite "historicism.") "This generation," therefore, refers to the people who were alive in 1948. In his earlier work, Lindsey made bold to wax more specific. Alleging that a biblical generation is about 40 years, he speculated that 1988 would be a reasonable date for the rapture to occur, followed by seven years of tribulation, and then the Second Coming.

Even granting the greatest deference to scripture, these interpretations are not obvious. That was not the case with the Millerite computations: they may not have been correct, but were reasonably clear. Furthermore, Miller and his colleagues invited criticism and answered their critics in print, something that Hal Lindsey never did. Nonetheless, while Millerism was extinguished in a bit over a decade, the apocalyptic revival of which Lindsey was so conspicuous a part is not completely extinct, even after 30 years. This is partly because Lindsey's system was tentative enough to avoid outright disconfirmation, even after the end of the 20th century. A factor that was at least as important, perhaps, was that evangelicalism has gained a measure of cultural acceptance, and even political power.

O'Leary devotes an interesting chapter to the conservative revival of the 1980s, and particularly to the eschatological aspects of the Reagan Administration. This period posed a problem for apocalypse-minded conservatives. Not only was the clock running out on the best-known estimate for the rapture, but evangelicals now needed a theory that would justify them in helping to reform a society that was doomed in several senses of the word. In O'Leary's nomenclature, they needed to move from the tragic frame to the comic frame. To a limited degree, this is what they did.

In his later books, Hal Lindsey held out the hope that conservatives could keep America out of the hands of the Antichrist right up to the rapture, if they all pitched in to aid the process of conservative reform. This was an exhortation to his readers to become tragic heroes, united in the last stand against the forces of darkness. Ronald Reagan became, in effect, "President of the Last Days" for some of his supporters. Like his medieval type, the mythical Emperor of the Last Days, his reign ensured present safety, while in no way compromising the inevitability of apocalypse in the more distant future.

Televangelist Pat Robertson went even further in his serious though failed bid for the White House. He stopped making premillennialist predictions of doom entirely, and began to speak about the future with the sunny optimism of a postmillennial preacher of the early Second Great Awakening. The strategy did not lessen the suspicion in which the press held him, though it did cause his erstwhile supporters to suspect him of backsliding on doomsday. Still, what did not work for Pat Robertson may work in other contexts.

"Arguing the Apocalypse" ends with a meditation on just what we are supposed to do with the apocalypse. There is obviously no getting rid of it. O'Leary suggests that the best course would be to seek to keep it in the comic frame. The idea seems to be that the apocalypse can be permanently tamed by turning it into the ever-receding horizon on the road of progress. People might still dread impending disaster, but they would not think some final disaster to be inevitable, and so would not be tempted to historical fatalism.

While there is something to be said for this strategy, we should keep in mind that the comic frame is not coextensive with postmillennialism, or St. Augustine's amillennialism. Even if the images of disaster and judgment in the Book of Revelation are taken as metaphors whose application is never exhausted by any particular event in history, that does not mean that ultimate questions are not posed by historical events. To take the most obvious example, even if all persecutions are types of an ultimate persecution by Antichrist that never arrives, martyrs throughout history have nevertheless been killed just as dead as the hypothetical Tribulation Saints are supposed to be. To make the apocalypse immanent or episodic does not lower the stakes. The opposite, rather. This is the real meaning of the saying of Franz Kafka that O'Leary quotes: "Only our concept of Time makes it possible to speak of the Day of Judgment by that name. In reality it is a summary court in perpetual session."

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: The Great Disappointment of 1844

John maintained the HTML for his website by hand. I also starting making webpages in the late nineties, and that was just how you did it. As such, he had indexes by topic for his major interests, for example eschatology. I debated recreating these for a long time, but I finally decided to do it because a few items slipped though the cracks of the blog-centric chronological method I had been using to repost John's writings.

This also gives me an opportunity to escape the tedium of John's topical political blog posts from twelve years ago. While nothing looks more dated than old scifi movies, old political controversy is an especial trial to read.

Thus, let us move on to this short book review of a book that never existed, combining John's interests in eschatology and alternative history into one!


The Great Disappointment of 1844
by John de Patmos
Misketonic University Press, 2001
567 Pages, US$30
ISBN: 0-7388-2356-2

This item is Alternative History.

The Second Coming did not actually occur in 1844.

The Great Disappointment is a real hisrorical term, however.

Look under Eschatology for the review of Arguing the Apocalypse.

 

The Millerite Movement and its sequel are, for obvious reasons, the most studied manifestations of mass millennialism since the New Testament period itself. Indeed, so carefully has this grand finale of America's "Second Great Awakening" been examined that one may wonder whether there is anything new for historians to say. Certainly the author of the present study does not aspire to novelty. Rather, "The Great Disappointment of 1844" performs the invaluable service of sifting through the last generation of scholarship on the subject to provide a narrative that is both readable and current.

The optimism of America in the early decades of the 19th century was reflected in the "postmillennial" view of history that underlay the great outbreak of religious revival and social reform that we know as the Second Great Awakening. Postmillennialism, as all students of eschatology know, was the doctrine that the Second Coming of Christ would occur at the end of the thousand year reign of the Saints, the Millennium foretold by Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation. The implication was that the Saints would themselves put the world in order in preparation for the great event.

The Second Great Awakening was in fact characterized by a high level of political and cultural engagement by Christians. The reform movements of the time, from Abolitionism to Women's Suffrage to the Prohibition of Alcohol, began as aspects of postmillennial religious revival. While some progress was made on these fronts, the failure of the reform movements to remake society as a whole caused many persons to despair of the possibility that the world could be perfected purely by human efforts. The time was ripe for a return of premillennialism, the doctrine that the Second Coming would inaugurate rather than conclude the Millennial kingdom, which would then develop under divine guidance.

The name that became inextricably linked with the triumph of premillennialism was William Miller, a respectable farmer and keen amateur student of scripture living in northern New York State. His reexamination of the dating of people and events in the Bible, set alongside certain familiar interpretations of the complex prophetic number systems of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation, convinced him that the Second Coming would occur around the year 1843. Though his analysis was multi-layered, a key feature of his logic was a demonstration that a proper calculation of the generations mentioned in the Old Testament showed that Bishop Ussher, who had famously announced that the world had been created in 4004 BC, had in fact underestimated the age of the world by a good 150 years. Thus, the six-thousandth year of the world would occur in the first half of the 19th century. Then would begin the "Seventh Day of Creation," a concept long associated with the Millennium.

William Miller was not the first student of scripture to set a near-term date for the Parousia. Still, he was a little unusual in the transparency of his argument and his willingness to engage critics. Miller was never the "prophet" of Millerism; his authority was arithmetic, not personal revelation. It was possible to disagree with his calculations, and many people did. Still, the argument was of such a nature that it could not be merely dismissed; it had to be refuted.

William Miller reached his conclusions about the dating of the Second Coming about 1830. He soon began to disseminate them in print and, more diffidently, on speaking tours. His message took on a life of its own, becoming the template for an interdenominational network of evangelists and publications. People abandoned their ordinary affairs to propagate the gospel of the last days, often giving away their property or neglecting to plant their fields. The precise date for the great event, October 22, 1844, did not come from Miller, or indeed from any of the leading figures of the movement. Rather, it appeared among the mass of believers, who overwhelmingly gave it immediate acceptance.

Of course, as we now know, the prediction was correct. The study of the Parousia Event of 1844 naturally overshadows the Millerite Movement (as it does the contemporary Taiping and Babist movements). However, the Days of the Presence required the creation of a new historiographical discipline, which the present study only briefly outlines. The Millerite story picks up when coherent documentation again begins to become available in January of 1845.

Against the unsettled economic and cultural landscape of the early Millennial world, Millerism presents the not unfamiliar spectacle of a movement destroyed by its own success. The ironic details are well known. Even historical survey courses devote some attention to accounts of the attempts by exasperated Millerites to regain control of property that they had given away, sometimes by arguing in court that they had been temporarily insane during the months leading up to the Advent. Far more important, however, was the fact that Millerism, and premillennial Christianity in general, had nothing to say to the Millennium.

The movement had come into existence as a reaction to the theory that Christians, as Christians, had a duty to leaven the world. Premillennialists had consciously recoiled from the labor of formulating a social philosophy, or even a coherent political program. The Millerite Movement had been entirely about chronology. Though the train left at the expected time, the premillennialists found that they had no idea where they were going.

This vacuum at the heart of post-Millerite evangelicalism had profound implications for the role of religion in the English-speaking world during the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a commonplace among historians that the great events of those years, the US Civil War and the First and Second World Wars, were to a greater or lesser extent "Wars of Armageddon," fought by societies for reasons that were essentially millenarian. All the great social movements of the period were also informed by the millennialist "Social Gospel." However, though evangelicals took part as individuals in the general historical process, they did not engage the great issues on a soteriological level. It was only in the last quarter of the 20th century that they began to emerge from the isolation of the denominational subcultures into which they had retreated. The end of the long alienation of a large a fraction of Christianity can only be applauded.

We will never cease to experience the influence of the events of 1844. Even the completion of the current Sabbatical Millennium will not nullify the process that began with the Parousia of that year. However, there are stories within that greater story, some of the saddest of which deal with the disappointment occasioned by the fulfillment of prophecy. Those stories can have an ending. Thus, though the historical debates may go on, we may hope that the long afterlife of Millerism is at last drawing to a close.

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: Far Futures

Last and First Men

Last and First Men

John J. Reilly never really cared for Steve Sailer, even though they had some ideas in common. Even fifteen years ago, Steve traveled in intellectual circles that were considered gauche. However, the very first line of this review is an idea John and Steve share: science fiction usually tells you more about the author's present than the actual future. In part, this is because science fiction tends to be set within the author's or reader's expected lifetime. However, some notable counter-examples can be found.

John lists Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night, and H. G. Well's The Time Machine as examples of serious attempts to imagine a future very distant, and very different, from the present. I might add Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, although I only know it by reputation. Also Orson Scott Card's Xenocide sequels to Ender's Game, although theis series is not usually considered classic.

There is another thing these books have in common besides being set very far in the future. All of them deal with the end of the world, in some fashion. John wrote a whole book on this subject; there is something in the Western literary tradition that tends to the eschatological when the remote future is considered.

After reading this book review, I think I will add this book to my list for when I trawl used book stores. I have come to love short sci-fi because of Jerry Pournelle's There Will Be War series, as well as C. M. Kornbluth's collected works. This set is novellas instead of short stories, but the basic idea is the same. Take a great idea and run with it, but you don't need to flesh out a novel's worth of dialogue and plot.


Far Futures

Edited by Gregory Benford
Tor Paperbacks (Tom Doherty Associates), 1995
$15.95, 348 pages
ISBN 0-312-86379-9

 

The problem with most futures in science fiction is that they are usually pretty much like the present, but louder. They are also rarely more than a generation or two away. The count of classic science fiction stories that are set in a really distant future is surprisingly small. There are Olaf Stapledon's "Last Men" books and Arthur C. Clarke's "Against the Fall of Night." At the very beginning of modern science fiction, there was H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine." Other examples can be adduced, but they very fact they stand out in memory shows how rare they are.

The editor of this set of five original novellas decided to alleviate this situation by requiring that the authors place their stories at least a thousand years in the future. Since the writers in question, Poul Anderson, Charles Sheffield, Joe Haldeman, Greg Bear and Donald Kingsbury, are among the hardest of hard-science fiction writers, he also ensured that all this time would be put to good didactic purpose. The format, in fact, is precisely right: each of the pieces is just long enough for the contributors to take an idea for a spin around the block, without the need for padding into a full-length novel. This practice should be encouraged.

Stories about the far future need not logically be eschatological, which is to say, they don't have to be about the end of the world or the end of an age. However, all of these stories deal with end-of-everything themes to one degree or another. The universe as a whole ends twice in this book, and the sun blows up at least once. The least eschatological story is "Genesis" by Poul Anderson, but even that one really just addresses the flipside of the same question. Perhaps any sufficiently distant point in time looks like the end of the world temporally for the same reason that the visual horizon looks like the end of the world spacially: at the limit of observation, there is no detail.

The distinctive feature of the most recent futures has been their relentless cybernetization. Many of these futures are temporally parochial, not to say myopically trendy. According to the transhumanist movement, for instance, computer evolution is accelerating towards an asymptotic limit in the next century. At that point, the world either disappears into a sort of black hole, or enters into a new phase-state, like water turning into steam. To my considerable surprise, another class of future that has become popular is founded on what might be called "The Physics of Immortality," as set out by the relativity physicist Frank Tipler in his book of that name. To put an extraordinarily long story very briefly, Dr. Tipler demonstrates that (1) the universe must be fated to collapse in on itself ("closed," in physics-speak), (2) everything in the universe will eventually be incorporated into a single great computer, and (3) this computer, essentially a universal mind, will be able to prolong its subjective experience to infinity as the final singularity is approached. Despite superficial differences, both types of cyber-apocalypse share a certain family similarity, since they are both about the dissolution of the world in the approach to a limit. (In Kabbalistic terms, the ontological limit was called the `en-sof, but that's another story.)

The two stories in "Far Futures" that reach the end of the universe share some plot similarities, too, even though they have different theoretical premises. "Judgment Engine," by Greg Bear, assumes not a closed universe, but an open one that will die the heat-death at some very distant point. In fact, it will not just disperse into an ever-finer vacuum, it will dissolve back into the quantum foam from which, presumably, it emerged. The final computer intelligences are therefore chiefly preoccupied with creating an ultimate entity that can affect the state of the foam, so that the foam will give birth to another universe that is an improvement on this one. "At the Eschaton" by Charles Sheffield, on the other hand, sticks much more closely to the Tipler scenario, though inexplicably he makes the opening of a naturally closed universe the final task of his characters.

In any case, both these stories involve a 21st century man, whose brain and body had been uploaded as a computer file, being reconstituted in some cosmologically distant future in order to solve a problem beyond the wit of the post-organic intelligences that superseded mankind. Both protagonists also attempt to contact or revive their long-dead wives. Indeed, the eons-long quest by the protagonist to revive his wife is what "At the Eschaton" is all about. Again, this is a little inexplicable in terms of the story's Tiplerite premises. Since, according to Tipler, everyone is supposed to be resurrected as a virtual reality emulation at the eschaton (meaning simply "the end"), the protagonist need not have spent so many centuries lugging his wife's cryogenically-preserved corpse from star system to star system. On the other hand, that story does offer two pieces of good advice for people who plan to achieve immortality by having their bodies frozen. The first is, pay the extra $5 and go for liquid helium rather than liquid nitrogen. The second is, make sure, before you go in the deep-freeze, that someone in the future will have a good reason to thaw you out.

Poul Anderson's "Genesis" is also more or less on Tipler's track, but since the story happens a paltry 1.5 billion years in the future we don't get to see whether the universe is open or not. What we do get to see is a galaxy dominated by machine intelligences ultimately derived from Earth, many of whose programs are the minds of human beings uploaded in the geologically distant past. However, most of the story takes place on Earth, which is experiencing desertification as the sun slowly expands. The story centers on the fact the collective computer mind of Earth, called "Gaia" for obvious reasons, has reconstituted human beings and set history going again in the narrow range of high latitudes that remain habitable. All this was done without telling the galactic mind, which would probably have had ethical objections, and which in any case became suspicious and sent an inspector. Much of the interest of the story is provided not by the flesh-and-blood humans, but by the computer simulations that Gaia runs of possible human histories in order to find the best way to guide Earth's latter-day inhabitants. These simulations, which are so complete that the "actor" programs in them are fully conscious people, illustrate a basic flaw with Tipler's philosophy (which is what it is, as distinguished from the hypothesis he imagines it to be). You might call this flaw "The Icebreaker Paradox."

Many years ago, members of the Monty Python troupe did a series of television parodies called "Ripping Yarns," one of which took care of every British public school story ever written. In one scene, a master is inspecting the school's hobby room, where most students are building model boats. One of the students, however, has built an actual 110-foot- long icebreaker. When challenged, the boy says that it's a full-scale model. "If it's full-scale then it's not a model!" the master replies reproachfully.

I think that much the same would have to be said for any absolutely perfect virtual reality emulation. You could not emulate a universe on any coarser medium than a universe, in which case the emulation is not an emulation, it's a universe. It may even be that this line of argument could lead to a final refutation of the idea of computer-hosted consciousness. If you make a computer that is more and more like a brain, which apparently is what artificial consciousness is going to require, then eventually you will no longer be dealing with a computer, but with a brain. Another way of putting it is that not everything can be reduced to information, since not everything can be expressed in every medium. Just as long carbon chains are the only really practical medium for biology, so matter itself is a privileged medium, the only really suitable one for life and mind. If this is so, then cybernetic devises might amplify and supplement conscious life, but they could never subsume it.

This is more or less the state of things in Donald Kingsbury's "Historical Crisis," the only really cheerful piece in the book. This novella's apocalypse is the most modest, since it treats merely of the end of the Second Galactic Empire, the one all those slightly Stalinist psychohistorical planners in Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy were trying to establish. The story is set 40,000 years in the future, when the Second Empire has been so long established that its comfortable citizens have begun to find it wanting. Kingsbury took the liberty of updating Asimov's premises to rectify the two major problems that readers today have with the original Foundation books: the lack of computers and the fact that the kind of linear extrapolation that "psychohistory" seems to require flies in the face of chaos theory.

The computer problem is dealt with neatly. People are mated for life to small chip-devices, called "fams" for "familiars," that are in effect extensions of their brains. Fams enormously expand people's memory capacity and save them from most of life's mental drudge-work. The problem, which the young genius-level protagonist discovers when his fam is executed, is that without one he cannot do simple arithmetic or find his way around city streets. As for the chaos theory, the focus of social control strategies just shifts from minding events to minding strange attractors. The Imperial Police police trends, not people. In fact, the psychohistorians who run the Empire first become aware of an effective insurgency when they notice sporadic outbreaks of astrology at various points in the galaxy.

Most 1990s cyberculture buzzwords are here. You have your topozones and your memes and your smart drugs, all for the most part put to good use. Indeed, the Second Empire falls not in an interstellar battle, but in a sort of apocalyptic seminar in which the insurgents prove to the powers that be that historical stasis is neither possible nor desirable. The author also has a gift for ironic turns of phrase. There is something to be said for any story which makes it perfectly plausible that a polite form of address should be "Excellent Frightfulperson."

Joe Haldman's novella, "For White Hill," is also a sequel to an earlier work, in this case of his own Nebula Award winner "The Forever War." (The novella does posit some minor changes in background, apparently to make the story even more depressing.) Readers will recall Haldeman's earlier novel as a very convincing infantryman's account of a seemingly interminable interstellar war. Its well-merited popularity was based on the way it caught both the cynicism and the apparent shapelessness of the Vietnam War, of which Haldeman is a veteran. "For White Hill," set about 400 years after the action of the novel, adds yet another Vietnam parallel, since in it the human race finally, unexpectedly, loses the war.

"For White Hill" is by far the most apocalyptic in feel of these novellas (it is also, by the way, quite erotic). Before he learns of the war's last stratagem, the narrator visits an Earth that had been sterilized by the enemy's nanomachines centuries before, in the first few years of the war. The infection essentially melted the human population within a week, and then turned on all other forms of life. The planet was later lightly resettled by natives who had been in space at the time of the disaster. Earth had many colonies and so the war continued, but not, it would seem, forever. The end of the human race, it fact, barely makes it beyond the editor's thousand year minimum. That will teach him to set deadlines.

This book probably does not have a lot to tell us about apocalyptic anxiety at the end of the 20th century. The constraints under which the novellas were composed puts the action at a distance too remote to interest popular culture. This is the sort of science fiction in which the science is more important than the fiction. Half the fun is looking for possible mistakes and anachronisms. For instance, since these stories were written, new estimates suggest that the Earth will not be consumed by the sun when it enters its red giant phase: the sun will outgass much of its mass, its gravitational attraction will fall and the Earth's orbit will expand. This particular fact does not affect any of the stories here, though it does touch on their sketches of solar evolution. However, one may hope for more collections like this one, in which this kind of projection could make a differenc.

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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Far Futures
Tor Books

The Long View 2003-11-17: Arnold's Apocalypse

Unfortunately, the planned Governator series was canceled following [another] revelation of martial infidelity by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Which is a pity, because I thought the whole idea was quite funny. 

Schwarzenegger's career, and the Terminator movies, represent largely ignored parts of American culture and political history. Absurd! you say. Yes, it is absurd if you only look at the popularity of the movies or media attention Schwarzenegger gained as Governor of California. What is interesting here is how Arnold's rise to stardom and political power has a lot to do with the largely unexamined role of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Since steroids have played a big role, but we haven't really admitted they have played a big role, so we don't really want to talk about it. When I was a kid, I heard a lot about how any day now, women's records for the 100M dash were going to be the same as men's. Then drug-testing came to the Olympics, and the trend lines stopped converging. No one every talked about it again.

If you look, you can see this same pattern elsewhere. And Arnold Schwarzenegger is a prime example of how it works.


Arnold's Apocalypse

It's unlikely that I would have rented the video of Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines if the star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had not been about to be sworn in as governor of California. The film was short on political subtext. Arnold the Good Robot does say, "We need a new vehicle," when the roof of the stolen hearse is swiped off in a chase scene, but it would probably be over-interpreting the text to read that as an allusion to Candidate Schwarzenegger's promise to repeal the vehicle-tax increase.

Nonetheless, the movie was strangely charming. At one point, the Arnoldbot remarks that he is an obsolete model, and the film does not flinch from showing that the actor and the franchise are too old for this kind of thing. There are moments of genuine wit, as when Arnold reaches into the pocket of his newly stolen leather jacket in search of sunglasses, and extracts a pair that Elton John might favor. The multivehicle collisions were too complicated for me to follow, but no doubt they were good of their kind. The major fight scenes are between Arnold and an evil dominatrix robot (played by Kristanna Loken), who is also from the future. They rip up whole floors of office buildings, and they are as funny (and non-threatening) as Punch-and-Judy puppets.

The story, however, continues to be about John Connor (Nick Stahl), the future savior of the human race who is now a young man, and his future wife, Kate (Claire Danes). In any other plot summary, Kate would be called a love interest, but in this film Arnold simply arrives from the future and announces that these almost-perfect strangers are destined to have children. The voice-over commentaries by the Connor character express his visceral repulsion at the thought that the future might be predetermined, even as he acknowledges that in fact it seems to be so.

This is the film in which the future actually arrives. Skynet takes over the world's interlinked computer systems and launches its nuclear extermination campaign against the human race. The plot is facilitated by the fact that, today, we easily imagine AI software with no physical location; in contrast, when the first Terminator movie premiered in 1984, the Web did not yet exist. John Connor and Kate are misdirected to a deserted defense center by Kate's dying father, who tells them Skynet is based on a supercomputer there. In reality, Skynet is everywhere, and he just wants to put them out of harm's way. At the very end of the film, pleas for help start to come into the center from civil defense offices across the country. Connor starts to coordinate them. Arthur grasps Excalibur and draws it from the stone, somewhat to his own consternation.

This is a Strauss & Howe moment. Indeed, at the risk of sounding like the folks at Metaphilm, one could expand on the allegorical significance of T3 for the relationship between the generations today. John Connor was raised by his mother, and he points out that Arnold the Robot (or the incarnation of him in the second movie) was closest thing to a father he ever had. That's a parody of a certain kind of Babyboomer father for you: largely absent, even when he has visitation rights, but liable to visions about the future, and driven by inner certainties that scarcely take note of the people around him.

One might also note the timing of the film. The development of T3 was halted by 911, in part because the producers wondered whether there would ever be a market for this kind of mechanical carnage again. There still is, apparently, but it's not what it was; in any case, Mr. Schwarzenegger has taken up another line of work. Nonetheless, T3 could be said to represent the historical moment when the film was conceived. Even as the script was being finalized, a long-foreseen catastrophe arrived, after a decade of neglect and denial.

The people who have to handle it are of an age with the characters in the movie; and there are few John Connors. No one told them the world could be like this. At any rate, their teachers didn't. Films, sometimes, offer a more reliable sense of the possible.  

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-10-28: The AntiChrist meets Halloween

This is your regular reminder that just because the world is ending doesn't mean life can't go on.


The Antichrist Meets Halloween

Many strange reports are circulating about the upcoming CBS miniseries on Ronald Reagan, but I suspect we will see few stranger than this alleged piece of script that appeared on The Drudge Report yesterday, under the headline CBS REAGAN: 'I AM THE ANTI-CHRIST':

REAGAN: It's Armageddon... that's what it is. Armageddon. The Leader from the West will be revealed as the anti-Christ, and then God will strike him down. That's me. I am the anti-Christ.

I gather that this scene is depicted as taking place between Ronald and Nancy; the president was distraught about the truck bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut, in which more than 200 personnel were killed.

Actually, speculation that Ronald Reagan might be the Antichrist does date from the 1980s. More recently, some people have tried to save this bracing speculation by suggesting that he may have been the first of a series of antichrists, the one who started the countdown to doomsday.

That said, though, it is difficult to believe that Reagan suspected this about himself, even on his bad days. In the popular pre-tribulation dispensationalism that Ronald Reagan was so widely reported to entertain, the Antichrist who comes from the West is the leader of the European Union. The Rapture of the Saints occurs long before (by most accounts, seven years before) the beginning of Armageddon. Perhaps President Reagan embraced a garbled version of this demotic eschatology, and the screenwriters were reporting the fact. If this material really is in the script, though, the odds are that they just did not know what they were talking about.

Incidentally, the best recent survey of the evolution of the figure of Antichrist is Bernard McGinn's Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination With Evil, which was published in 1994. If you are interested, there is also a review on my site of Archetype of the Apocalypse, a Jungian take on the Last Days. It's not so much that a Jungian approach is particularly fruitful in this area as that somebody had to do it.

* * *

Here's a query for readers: have any of you ever been to a Halloween party where someone came dressed as the Antichrist? There is no modern iconography for this figure, of course, but that is remarkable in itself. Here we have an agent of supernatural terror who is real to many people in a way that vampires and werewolves are not, but no way has been devised to represent him.

One might argue that Antichrist and Halloween are apples and oranges. The Antichrist is a biblical figure, or at least derived from the Bible. The name does not occur in the Book of Revelation, of course, and Luther rejected the idea of a personal Antichrist, but that's not relevant here. No matter the origin of the notion, Antichrist is a creature of history, of a universal scenario. Halloween, in contrast, is the high holy day of perennial folkmagic. It is antihistorical; its uncanniness has nothing in common with the cunning of history.

I suggest that this need not be the case. Halloween is the old Celtic New Year. (By the way, a Celtic day runs from sundown to sundown; those of you who are really into the spirit of the thing are in no way off the hook at midnight.) Every New Year celebration is about the destruction and re-creation of the world in an annual cycle. That is why they often feature rowdy parties; chaos is briefly triumphant.

In many New Year celebrations even today, the old year is represented by a Lord of Misrule. He is a person of mean station who, as a joke, is treated like the king or the head of the household. At least, now it's a joke. In ancient societies, the mock-king was sometimes a criminal who was executed at the end of the celebration.

There's your Antichrist for you: the Lord of Misrule on a universal scale. The Tribulation can even be thought of as a Halloween Party that really got out of hand. Why the Halloween card-and-costume complex has not exploited these connections is a real mystery.

* * *

As readers familiar with my website know, I have no problem with the end of the world, provided you don't expect too much from it. The apocalypse does appear in secular history from time to time, however, and it's just unrealistic not to acknowledge the fact. Even the otherwise commendably realistic Victor Davis Hanson can stumble in this regard, as we see in his recent essay, Why History Has No End

Hanson summarizes the thesis of Francis Fukuyama's famous book, The End of History and the Last Man. To put it briefly, Fukuyama argued that liberal democracy had permanently defeated all its rivals because it best accorded with human nature. To this Hanson replies:

How naive all this sounds today. Islamist hijackers crashing planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the looming threat of worse terror outrages, have shown that a global embrace of the values of modern democracy is a distant hope, and anything but predetermined. Equally striking, it's not just the West and the non-democratic world that are not converging; the West itself is pulling apart. Real differences between America and Europe about what kind of lives citizens can and should live not only persist but are growing wider.

To this I would say that you have to distinguish development from corruption. Islamism is traditional Islam in a state of combustion. If not suppressed, it will consume its putative base of support. (That seems to be the effect that the suicide-jihad in Iraq is having.) Similarly, the post-democratic transnationalism of the EU is skating on ever-thinner ice. It creates consumers of public goods rather than citizens. Come the crisis, it will have no defenders.

Hanson's assertion that France or Germany is going to try to behave like a 19th-century Great Power is a delusion, though one might say in his defense that the delusion is not original with him. In any case, it is strange that someone who writes so often of “the West” and its splendid ways should have so little care for its common institutions. No doubt Hanson is correct that NATO is not of much account as a military alliance. It is, however, one of the constitutional organs of the West. Understood in that sense, it should be the apple of his eye.

* * *

Speaking of refusal to learn from history, some prime examples can be found in the article, The Stealth Bush Boom by John Berlau, which recently appeared in Insight Magazine. The hook for the piece is unexceptionable: it really is true that a large part of the media is refusing to report good economic news during the Bush Administration, and putting the worst possible spin on all the news it does report. The problem is that the author then tries to argue that Bush's fiscal policies are a universal truth. Citing one Brian Wesbury, chief economist for a Chicago broker, Berlau reports:

While Wesbury blames the recession in part on Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's panicky tightening of the money supply, he says Clinton's 1993 tax increases ended up hitting the economy at the end of the decade when productivity pushed more and more into the upper brackets through a phenomenon called real-income bracket creep.

This is breathtaking. A decade of economic expansion does not require a special explanation for its end; it needs an explanation for why it lasted so long. Part of the answer surely has to be that there was enough fiscal restraint to prevent the economy from overheating. But then this article also puts the word "bubble" in parentheses when speaking of the '90s. In reality, when we see billion-dollar companies that are based on artists' conceptions of the services they might be able to deliver someday, we know that there are excesses that are going to be corrected.

There has always been a kind of capitalist who is willing to disable the state and trash the financial system to keep a speculative boom going. When the crisis comes, they have no defenders. 

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: After the Eighth Day

When I think about the transition to Empire, this is the story that gives me nightmares.


It is usually a bad sign when a very short story needs an introduction. Nonetheless, here are some links that might make this piece slightly less obscure.

The general historical scenario for this story is that of Spengler's Future. The Contents page for that book is here.

The politics and theology of the story are based, very loosely, on Hardt & Negri's cosmo-anarchist rhapsody, Empire. A review of that book is here

Another short story using the Spengler's Future scenario, but set 170 years later, is Ecumenical Twilight. You can find here

Alternatively, you can just read the text and make up your own background for it. I dare you.

 

After the Eighth Day

"Board of Lustration, Hearing No. D5647, Greater Chicago Western District. Is the applicant present?"

"Yes, Mr. Chairman."

"Mr. Smith, you have requested this hearing in order to dispose of any suspicions regarding your behavior prior to the Liberation. If your application is granted, you will have unimpeded access to all the privileges of citizenship. As you know, this is not an investigative body. We are limited to the material in the public record and to your own testimony, which is not even sworn. However, you must answer fully any question that the Board may ask. Do you understand?

"Yes, Mr. Chairman."

"Please state your name and place of residence for the record."

"My name is Winston Smith. Since the firestorm last May, I have been living in a hostel at my place of work."

"You are a supervisor at the Ecumenical Dictionary Foundation, are you not, Mr. Smith?"

"Yes, Mr. Chairman. In the Orthographic Reform Section. Abstract nouns, mostly."

"What is your date of birth?"

"2 June 2065. In the Year of the Lord."

"So you were just 15 years old at the beginning of the Day. Did you move with the Rave before then?"

"No, Mr. Chairman."

"But soon afterwards?"

"Yes, Mr. Chairman."

"Were you a regular participant?"

"Once or twice a month, before the Militia, I mean."

"Were you coerced to join the Rave in any way?"

"No, Mr. Chairman."

"Then why?

"Everyone I knew moved."

"Did you ever see a miracle?"

"Yes."

"How many and when, Mr. Smith?"

"Just twice, Mr. Chairman. The first time was at the beginning of Fourth Month, Year 2 of the Eighth Day."

"That was a local event?"

"Yes, sir. The city returned to normal by the next morning. Of course, I also saw Sixth Month, Year 4. Almost everyone did. By then people expected it."

"What did you think the first time?"

"I believed the First President. I thought reality was changing."

"Some people still think that way, Mr. Smith. That is why we have to hold these hearings for senior civil servants. What do you think of the First President now?"

"He lied, Mr. Chairman."

"Do you think he lied about everything?"

"Well, he certainly lied about the Eighth Day being eternity. He also lied when he said the only real democracy was direct democracy, with no bureaucracy or hierarchy. What he meant was that he did not want anything to be between him and us."

"Do you think he lied about the angels?"

"I don't know, Mr. Chairman. I do know that I don't want to see any more angels."

"The Board sees that you have several unusual notations in your permanent file. Let's start with the earliest one. Can you explain the entry about the principal at your senior high school?"

[Pause.]

"Mr. Smith?"

"We didn't hurt him, Mr. Chairman."

"As far as we know, but his neighborhood Rave moved against him and the body was never found. You were on the student council that called the student strike. Would you care to explain the circumstances?"

"He just was not enthusiastic about the City of Man. He took down all the American flags after the Day began, but the only City flag he put up was in the lobby. He always referred to the First President as 'Mister.' We just did not see what his problem was. Most of the world belonged to the City of Man; why not our high school?"

"Did it occur to you he might get in trouble?"

"No, I can honestly say it didn't. Besides, he capitulated immediately. The news hardly mentioned it."

"And nobody ever saw him after a week later. Did it occur to you there might be a connection?"

"Well, yes."

"Did it bother you?"

"No, I'm ashamed to say."

"How did it make you feel?"

"It was another miracle. That was what the Day was like. People just seemed to organize spontaneously. There was flow, not structure. Nobody gave orders."

"You sound almost nostalgic."

"I'm not."

"Let's move on a bit. You served for 11 months in the Militia of the City of Man during year Four of the Eighth Day. Why not the standard eighteen months?"

"I was a communications-technician during the Caspian campaign, Mr. Chairman. That was about the time the standards began to disappear, even in the military. After the campaign ended, my unit just dissolved."

"You were discharged early?"

"It was more informal than that. The City of Man was everywhere, except for a few caves and jungles. The City was supposed to be self-similar, without a standing army separate from the people. That never applied to the elite units, but it did apply to support units and local auxiliaries. Most of us just made our way home."

"You stayed in the area for a while, though, did you not?"

"Well, not quite the same area. I studied descriptive linguistics in Jerusalem. That is what got me my present job."

"Did you take a degree?"

"I did the course work, but I decided against a degree."

"Why did you do that?"

"I was warned that advanced degrees might soon be regarded as marks of hierarchy."

"That was good advice, Mr. Smith. Do you recall who gave it to you?"

"No, Mr. Chairman."

"Did you move with the Rave at Jerusalem?"

"The Rave was prohibited in Jerusalem at that time."

"That's not quite what I asked."

"Mr. Chairman, not only did I not participate in the Rave, but I was already beginning to doubt the Day. I have given the Board documentation..."

"One thing at a time, Mr. Smith. Were you in Jerusalem during the incident at the Temple?"

"No, I came home to Chicago just a month before. Like most people, I did not even hear about the incident until 2096, when the Years of the Lord began again."

"In your application, you allege that you offered some aid to the Ecumenical underground during your stay in the Levant. A few purchases using your personal characteristic continued to be made in Jerusalem until the end of Year Five of the Eighth Day, months after you returned home."

"Yes, Mr. Chairman. I had made some friends in the underground; I saw no reason not to give them limited use of my credit."

"The Board notes, Mr. Smith, that all the Ecumenicals who might have used your characteristic disappeared during the Desolation, and are presumed dead. We also note that you filed a police complaint alleging identity theft in connection with those purchases."

"I had to maintain a cover story, Mr. Chairman. I don't claim to have been a hero. It was the least I could do."

"I see. Well, moving on, after you returned to the Midwest, you worked as a technical editor for the Chicago Tribune. Your records were destroyed during the firestorm. However, we do have a copy of the resume you submitted in Year 7 to the Word Collective, as your current employer was then called. In the resume, you make special mention of your movement with the Rave at the Tribune. You even give a list of persons against whom the Rave moved. Would you care to comment?"

"As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Rave by then was not really voluntary, especially not at a prominent media outlet. You will note that I never called a gathering. Certainly I never informed on anyone."

"It's a one-page resume, Mr. Smith. You don't give any specifics but the names. In any event, the list could not be complete. The Rave there moved frequently."

"It moved back and forth, Mr. Chairman. One month it moved to stamp out discrimination between all forms of life. Not long thereafter, it moved to support the 'single species' principle against food processors who took non-discrimination too literally. The names I listed were of people who seemed unlikely ever to be rehabilitated."

"Why did that seem unlikely?"

"They were guilty, of ordinary corruption and things like that."

"Very prudent, Mr. Smith. There is just one item about your time in the dictionary division that the Board has a question about. According to the office journal for 6 Second Month Year 14, the First President visited your office and spoke to you personally. Would you care to elaborate?"

[Long Pause]

"We're waiting, Mr. Smith."

"The Board cannot be serious. That was a dream. Lots of people imagined things like that, all through the Day. In any case, the Collective often did visualizations; the journal might just have noted the theme of one."

"Some people still have these dreams, Mr. Smith. Sometimes there is still independent corroboration, five years after the First President's death. It is the policy of the Ecumenical government to investigate all sitings with any corroboration that occurred during his lifetime, however improbable. So, what did you say to him, Mr. Smith? And what did he say to you?"

"The Board is asking me to remember a hallucination."

"Yes."

"The recollection isn't very clear, Mr. Chairman."

"Did he just say hello? Did he ask about your family? Did he talk about your work?"

"I can't even say whether the exchange was short or long. Most of what I remember was just friendly-boss stuff: How do you like the department, that kind of thing. Some of it was very specific, though."

"Such as?"

"Well, he seemed to know everything I knew about lexicography. That's how I know it could not have been real."

"Did he say anything to you about the Day, Mr. Smith?"

"Nothing unusual, just typical City of Man propaganda from late in the Eighth Day, when things were starting to come apart."

"Please tell us exactly, Mr. Smith."

"He said there was no need to worry anymore, that I would always be with him in the City of Man. He said that, in the end, I would see nothing but the Eighth Day. What happened in ordinary time could no longer change that."

"And what did you think of that, Mr. Smith?"

"I thought it didn't happen. Even then."

"And if it did happen?"

"Then it was a lie. It was a lie whether it happened or not."

"I think that is all we need to hear about the matter."

[A pause; the Chairman continues.]

"We have no documentation at all about you between 2096 and the filing of your lustration application at the beginning of this year. That's not unusual; lots of things were lost during those three years. Do you have any comment about the period, Mr. Smith?"

"I think there are some things about the last 20 years we all want to lose, Mr. Chairman."

"The Board will probably concur, Mr. Smith. We'll let you know. This hearing is adjourned."

 

End 

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Archetype of the Apocalypse

Edward F. Edinger

Edward F. Edinger

I've always been impressed that John could wade his way through a book like this and find something interesting to say about it. I am not sure I could have managed to finish it. John, and others of my favorite authors like Tim Powers have managed to make some interesting stories using Jungian ideas, but actual Jungians always seem a bit cracked to me.


Archetype of the Apocalypse:
A Jungian Study of the Book of Revelation
by Edward F. Edinger
Edited by George R. Elder
Open Court Publishing Company, 1999
222 Pages, US$26.95
ISBN: 0-8126-9395-7

Once upon a time, there was a film producer who said that the kind of movie he liked was one that started with an earthquake and then built to a climax. In a similar spirit, the editor of "Archetype of the Apocalypse" prefaces it with the warning that the "book will challenge the reader to accept a disturbing premise: namely, that *the world as we know it* is coming to an end in the very near future." "Archetype of the Apocalypse" examines most of the "Book of Revelation" verse by verse, but the basis for this prophecy is not the authority of scripture. Rather, the future is proclaimed by the voice of the collective unconscious, as manifested in the culture of the late 20th century and in the psychology of the author's own patients.

Objections to this thesis quickly present themselves. For one thing, just once I would like to hear a prophecy about the end of the world as we don't know it. More generally, it is hard to take any school of analytical psychology altogether seriously these days. Nonetheless, I urge readers to suspend their disbelief for a few hours. This is a fascinating little book, filled with provocative observations that transcend theory. Moreover, aside from the analytical psychology, "Archetype of the Apocalypse" is a surprisingly useful introduction to the parallel apocalyptic texts that pepper the biblical canon and the apocrypha. "The Book of Revelation" is in some ways irreducibly obscure, but even a passing familiarity with its literary allusions makes it much less so.

The book's author, Edward F. Edinger, was a noted Jungian analyst and a founder of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York. The series of lectures that became "Archetype of the Apocalypse" were delivered in 1995. They were edited by George R. Elder, a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist, who worked on the text with Dr. Edinger before the latter's death in 1998. The result is more coherent than are most lecture compilations. Another merit of the book is the use of classic black-and-white illustrations, notably from William Blake and Albrecht Duerer, to help to explicate the biblical text.

It is not surprising that a follower of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the famous Swiss depth-psychologist, should take an interest in the notion of the "apocalypse" in general and in the "Book of Revelation" in particular. Jung himself viewed history in much the way Hegel did: it is a process that began in unselfconscious animality, passes through ages of division and strife, and will culminate when mankind finally understands itself and the world. Jung posited that this process was mirrored in the development of the psychology of individuals as they matured through life. The goal of personal psychic development was the integration of the personal, conscious ego with the Self. Jung held that the Self is "transpersonal." It contains an individual's memories, drives and desires, but also, in some way, those of the individual's culture, and even of the human race as a whole. The Self is the repository of Jung's famous "collective unconscious." The purpose of Jungian psychoanalysis is to bring this collective unconscious to consciousness. The patient will then understand himself as he really is, which includes some appreciation of how the Self surpasses the ego's understanding.

Jung gave this process of integrating the psyche the name "individuation," but did not claim to have invented it. Cultures throughout history have aided integration by generating symbols, or archetypes, that represent features of the collective unconscious, or stages in the process of individuation. These archetypes are the common possession of the whole species; they are why similar myths appear in distant societies that have never had even indirect contact.

A symbol system that particularly interested Jung was alchemy. He believed that the transformations that occurred in the alchemists' alembic, or that they believed to be taking place there, reflected the processes taking place in the alchemists' own psyches. The real goal of alchemy was not to make ordinary gold, but "the philosopher's stone," the symbol of the individuated Self. He also believed that the stages in the alchemical processes corresponded to the great phases in the cultural history of the world. The human race, therefore, went through a pattern of crises and discoveries similar to that experienced by patients undergoing analysis.

Jung discussed these topics chiefly in his books "Mysterium Coniunctionis" and "Aion," and Dr. Edinger applies aspects of the analysis in those books here. (There is a brief discussion of Jung's alchemical model of history in my own book, The Perennial Apocalypse.) Another symbol system that reflects the process of individuation is to be found in apocalyptic literature. While writing of this type is not confined to the biblical tradition, it was chiefly biblical apocalyptic literature (literally, the literature of "revelation") that interested Jung. He discussed the matter at length in "Answer to Job." Dr. Edinger insists that "Answer to Job" is of great significance for the future of the world, and so "Archetype of the Apocalypse" is largely a systematic application of insights from that book.

For Dr. Edinger, as for the Jungians in general, the personal is the historical. Regarding the notion of the end of the age, he says: "[T]he essential psychological meaning of the Apocalypse [is] the coming into consciousness of the Self -- and anxiety is a harbinger of that phenomenon." While archetypes are, by their nature, ubiquitous in time and space, the fact is that some archetypes are more relevant to some times and places than to others. That was why he delivered these lectures when he did. "I think it is evident to perceptive people," he says, "that the Apocalypse archetype is now highly activated in the collective psyche and is living itself out in human history."

This roiling of the transpersonal is not arbitrary; it reflects events in the outer world, just as it causes them: "One way or another, the world is going to be made a single whole entity. But it will be unified either in mutual mass destruction or by means of mutual human consciousness." The choice between the unity of fulfillment and the unity of death turns, however, on the way that individuals manage their own psychic lives. The choice thus really depends on whether we can distinguish the real nature of events in the outer world from our own psychic projections. We have not been doing such a good job so far, with the result that psychic processes are being externalized:

"The Self is coming, and the phenomena that ought to be *experienced consciously and integrated by the individual in the course of the individuation process* are occurring unconsciously and collectively in society as a whole."

The idea that inner conflict can be projected onto external enemies is not particularly mysterious. In fact, this is one context in which the Jungian terminology is helpful:

"The Self is projected into one's national community and is the basis of national and ethnic identity....Collective exteriorized manifestations of the Self lead to the constellation of the opposites in the Self; and those opposites generate conflict."

Edinger was very interested in messianic figures, who have a strange way of being "saviors and beasts" at the same time. According to Edinger, Captain Ahab in "Moby Dick" is a literary example of an ego that has activated an archetype and been devoured by it: that is what makes Ahab such a compelling character. Jung once made much the same assessment of Hitler after seeing him in person. "Archetype of the Apocalypse" contains two appendices, one dealing with David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, the other with Bonnie Nettles and Marshall Applewhite of Heaven's Gate. About David Koresh the author says:

"This man represents...a new phenomenon that is quasi-criminal, quasi psychotic due to possession by the archetype of the Apocalypse. And that means, since a human ego has been bypassed, that the possessed individual is functioning `inhumanly.' It is by that very fact a psychological state that generates charisma with tremendous energy in it!"

To some extent, the activation of certain archetypes at certain points in history is foreordained. The Jungian system assumes that there is an entelechy, a natural organic destiny, in the evolution of the mind of the race. The impending apocalyptic era, according to Edinger, will finish up the process that was advanced but not completed around the beginning of the Christian era. The psychic struggle that produced the classic apocalyptic literature, and that eventuated in the Christianization of late antiquity, had its own task:

"[T]he vast, collective, individuation process which lies behind history required at the beginning of our era the creation of a powerful `spiritual' counterpole to the `instinctual' degradation and excesses that accompanied the decadence of the ancient world."

Thus, the drama in the "Book of Revelation" is very much about sorting out the good from the bad and simply rejecting the latter. There are hints of apocatastasis, of the renewal of all things, in the "Book of Revelation." This is particularly the case with the vision at the very end of the Bible of the New Jerusalem, the perfectly integrated city where the human race at last has access to the Tree of Life that was withheld from it in Genesis. This image of wholeness, however, overlays a text about separation and judgment. At the time, though, this was just what the world needed:

"[T]he meaning of this double-layered structure is this: at certain levels of development a decisive *separatio* is, in fact, a state of wholeness -- even if not what we, with modern psyches, would define as a state of wholeness."

The coming apocalyptic age, however, must move on to a higher level of integration. Otherwise, the human race will destroy itself in pursuit of a phantom Enemy. This time, the shadow must be assimilated. This will require, frankly, a spiritual revolution:

"The image of a totally good God -- albeit pestered by a dissociated evil Satan -- is no longer viable. Instead, the new God-image coming into conscious realization is that of a paradoxical union of opposites; and with it comes a healing of the metaphysical split that has characterized the entire Christian aeon."

We may note in passing that there are formal reasons why only a totally good God is conceivable, much less "viable," but that is another story. In any case, Jung was quite capable of giving some specifics about the spiritual regime that would follow Christianity, even down to the schedule for its appearance. When told of a dream about a vast temple in the early stages of construction, Jung said (as Edinger quotes):

"Yes, you know, that is the temple we all build on. We don't know the [other people in the dream] because, believe me, they build in India and China and in Russia and all over the world. This is the new religion. You know how long it will take until it is built?...about six hundred years."

Edinger himself suggests this about the theology, or possibly anthroposophy, of the post-apocalyptic age:

"God is going to incarnate in humanity as a whole and in that incarnated form offer himself as a self-sacrifice to bring about his own transformation, just as he did with the individual Christ."

Jung's comment was probably made around the middle of the 20th century, so the time of fulfillment would appear to be sometime in the 26th century. That puts it about 500 years after the year 2000, the conventional length of a world age. Jung, perhaps, conceived himself to be living in a time like the intertestamental period, when classic apocalyptic was born, and it is not too much to say that he believed himself to be planting the seed of a new revelation. At least in Edinger's estimation, however, the new revelation would not fulfill but defang the old:

"By understanding the psychological reality that stands behind them, we are `impoverishing' the scriptures of their content or `relieving' them of the weight of their content...while at the same time augmenting the weight and magnitude of the psyche. That operation is going on in this book."

The notion of deliberately "impoverishing the scriptures" will sound a bit diabolical to many readers; certainly it does to me. For that matter, so is Edinger's transpersonal Messianic Age. In fact, I might be outraged by all this, were it not for the fact that true diabolism is beyond the reach of Jung's system. The attempt to reduce religion to collective psychology is not so manifestly foolish as trying to reduce it to, say, neurobiology. Still, it is a form of reductionism nonetheless, an attempt to get a very big thing into a smaller thing. It's not going to work, so there is no point in getting upset about it.

Moreover, though the insight is beyond the power of his philosophy to understand, Edinger has succeeded in highlighting the provisional nature of Christian eschatology. In the old formula, the salvation of the world is "already but not yet." This is reflected not least in the text of "Revelation." He is right: the images don't quite gel, however much they may sometimes illuminate history. The notion of a schizophrenic God was one of Jung's poorer notions, and it boobytrapped the whole Jungian enterprise: Jungians are always in danger of confusing the divine with the merely uncanny. On the other hand, history really is both progressive and uncanny, just as Jung imagined it to be. "Archetype of the Apocalypse" illustrates this paradox very well. 

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Daemonimania

John major emphasis was millennialism. I think he had a minor emphasis in the occult as well, insofar as these two things have a tendency to overlap. His book reviews of occult fiction are especially good.


Daemonomania

by John Crowley

Bantam Books, 2000

451 Pages, US$24.00

ISBN 0-553-10004-1

This book is the third of the projected four in John Crowley’s major novelistic treatment of gnosticism and hermeticism. As in the two prior books, “Aegypt” (1987) and “Love & Sleep” (1994), “Daemonomania” is held together, rather loosely, through the character of Pierce Moffet, a young historian living on a publisher’s advance. We meet him in the first book as he settles down in the Upstate New York town of Blackbury Jambs in the 1970s, to write a hermetic interpretation of history. (Inevitably, the working title of the manuscript is “Aegypt.”) Through Moffet’s friends and lovers, we are introduced to a local mystery that, in this third volume, builds to a climax of universal significance. His researches link this mystery to a parallel story that encompasses Dr. John Dee (Elizabeth I’s favorite magus), Giordano Bruno and the uncanny Prague of Emperor Rudolph von Habsburg. The series makes use of the latest research about werewolves and witchhunts, ancient and modern. Readers interested in the academic study of the occult will love all this. The author is generous with bibliographical information.  

“Daemonomania” has the distinction of being one of the few books in which the world ends twice, once in 1588 and again in 1979. The author’s notion of apocalypse works like this:   

“When the world ends, it ends somewhat differently for each soul then alive to see it; the end doesn’t come all at once but passes and repasses over the world like the shivers that pass over a horse’s skin. The coming of the end might at first lift and shake just one county, one neighborhood, and not the others around it; might feelably ripple beneath the feet of these churchgoers and not of those tavern-goers down the street, shatter only the peace of this street, this family, this child of this family who at that moment lifts her eyes from the Sunday comics and knows for certain that nothing will ever be the same again.”

A recurring theme is that “there is more than one history of the world.” Each new age not only looks forward to a different future but remembers a different past. The “Aegypt” of hermetic wisdom that was known to the scholars of the Renaissance had only a few points of contact with the “Egypt” of modern archeology. The difference is not just a matter of more and better information, but of distinct conceptual universes. What seems to us to be a continuous history of ideas is really divided into “dispensations” in which people have quite different conceptions about what is reasonable and possible.

This way of looking at history is familiar to us from, for instance, Thomas Kuhn’s notion of successive “scientific revolutions,” and from Michel Foucault’s proposal that different “epistemes” governed different regions of the past. At least for the purposes of this series, however, the author goes beyond intellectual history to suggest that not just the sense of the possible, but the possible itself may change as one age fades into another.

The “Aegypt” series is about an archetypical story that is enacted during such transitions. In 17th century Prague, the Emperor Rudolph hoped to begin a new golden age by acquiring the power to make gold. He subsidized a cottage industry of alchemists, one of whom, in “Daemonomania,” succeeds. In 20th century New York State, there was a wealthy old man, one Boney Rasmussen, who was terrified of death. He subsidized a writer named Fellowes Kraft to ferret out the emperor’s secret, which is also the secret of immortality. Moffet takes up their work after they become unobtrusive ghosts. The closest we come to a resolution of the story so far is this explanation:

“’Well you know the basic idea...Kraft’s idea...[t]hat the world -- you know, reality, all this -- goes through changes. Every now and then it enters a sort of period of indeterminism, anything is possible; and it stays in that passage time until, well, until...a certain thing is found. A certain thing that only exists, or comes to be, in that time. It’s the stone, or the elixir, or the thing that Boney wanted found. If it’s not found the world stops changing, or never stops changing, and dies. But it’s always found so far.”

In the 20th century part of the series, the myth takes the form of the rescue of a little girl with the ability to see dead people. (At the risk of stating the obvious, this rescue recapitulates the gnostic myth of the rescue of the Divine Sophia from the world of matter.) The people the little girl needs to be rescued from belong to a Christian cult called “The Powerhouse,” which specializes in therapy through exorcism.

The whole “Aegypt” series is anti-Christian, but anti-Christian in a way that I have never seen in fiction before. Consider this remarkable passage from “Love and Sleep”:

“Where was it ...said...that in the religious history of the West the old gods are always turning into devils, cast from their thrones into dark undergrounds, to be lords over the dead and the wicked? It had happened to..the Northern gods...who became horned devils for Christians to fear...And now look, the wheel turns, Jehovah becomes the devil. Old Nobadaddy, liver-spotted greasy-bearded jealous God, spread over his hoard of blessings like the Dragon, surrounded by his sycophants singing praises, never enough though...”

In a way, this is an argument from process theology: Christianity may have been true in the past, or at least effective. However, it will not be so in the coming age.

That insight is far from the final truth. In a book as relentlessly post-modern as “Daemonomania,” it is hard to know exactly what we should take as a joke, as metaphor or as the author’s considered opinion. Still, it is fairly clear that the author does take seriously the gnostic hypothesis that the world is a hoax. We come from beyond the world, but are trapped in it by a succession of frauds perpetrated by powers that do not have our best interest at heart:

“O the traps the gods have prepared for us, their worshippers; how long and well they’ve worked. We are older than they, far older than the oldest of them; we have come from farther away, way back beyond where they were born: but we don’t know that, we have forgotten it -- and they know we have forgotten it. And that’s why they can do with us what they like most of the time, especially when we think we have escaped them. That’s why, in other words, the world has lasted so long, and why we are still here.”

Despite the commercials for the Old Time Gnosis, however, the “Aegypt” series is not primarily an indictment of Christianity or an exercise in cosmic paranoia. The Moffet character, a ferociously lapsed Catholic, is suspicious of Christianity in general. However, Crowley uses what he depicts as the provincialism and self-regard of the Powerhouse chiefly as a way to indict Moffet’s own sense of spiritual superiority. Moffet knows that the Powerhouse is right about the nature of magic, because he is a magician himself, in his own small way. (He uses it chiefly on his girl friend.) When this brings disaster, he realizes that “the greater error was the one that had tempted Pierce himself, to believe that we ourselves are the authors of the tales we live within. That’s the ultimate arrogance of power, the arrogance of the gods: for all gods believe themselves self-created, and believe themselves to be issuing their own strong stories, news to us.”

There are some self-referential gimmicks in the series that are more ingenious than entertaining. We have seen, for instance, that the “Aegypt” series is nominally about the writing of a book called “Aegypt.” Crowley even allows himself this authorial soliloquy, put in the mouth of the producer of a failed amateur production of “Faust”:

“I so much wanted to *knit*...[p]ast and present, then and now. The story of the thing lost, and how it was found. More than anything I wanted it to *resolve*. And all it does is *ramify*.”

Indeed it does, so much so that it is not obvious that anything remains to be said after this third volume. The world has already ended twice, after all. Nonetheless, the publisher assures me that a fourth book is planned. Some hints in “Daemonomania” suggest that a further book might deal with the near future, as did Crowley’s novella, “Beasts” (1976).

Despite these criticisms, Crowley’s blend of magic, blasphemy and postmodernism works very well as fiction. He can create uncanny affect better than anyone since Arthur Machen. Unlike Machen, he also has the sense to confine most manifestations of the supernatural to dreams and coincidences. The hermetic twilight has rarely been made to seem so plausible.

Will the series persuade many people to its view of the world? Probably not, but that may be the measure of its success. The merit of these books is that they express the indeterminacy of a time of transition. The nature of twilight, however, is to resolve into either day or night.

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

This review originally appeared in the March 2001 issue of First Things

Nota bene: John reviewed the fourth book in this series, Endless Things, in 2007

 

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The Long View: The World After Modernity

For a span, John was an unaffiliated but not wholly unrespectable scholar of millennialism. This essay dates from that time. This is a useful précis of John's thoughts on Spengler, millennialism,  and the imperial turn.

The e-book of John's entitled Spengler's Future can be found here.


The World After Modernity

Presented under the Title:
Spengler's Future

At the Sixth Annual Conference of the Center for Millennial Studies Boston University, November 3 to 6, 2001.
Another version of this piece appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of Comparative Civilizations Review.

A persistent and highly influential image of the future appeared in the late nineteenth century. It occurred to a long list of people: I might mention Ernst von Lasaulx, Henry and Brooks Adams, Nikolai Danilevsky, Nikolai Berdyaev and Walter Schubart, and for that matter Albert Schweitzer and Jacob Burckhardt. They all shared the intuition that the Western world had entered a new "Hellenistic" age, and the twentieth century was going to see a recurrence of the less pleasant aspects of Hellenism. (1) These would include such things as demagogic tyrannies, annihilation warfare, and a relaxation of traditional restraints in art and personal life.

Nietzsche had said as much, too, and in fact anyone who entered the 20th century with this modest insight would have met with few surprises. (2) During the 20th century itself, the notion was worked up into great, formal models of history. This enterprise is sometimes called "macrohistory," (3) unless it waxes very philosophical, in which case it is called "metahistory." Either way, the best-known example is still Oswald Spengler's "Decline of the West," the first of whose two volumes appeared just as the First World War ended. The biggest example, in fact the biggest book of the 20th century, is Arnold Toynbee's 12-volume "Study of History," most of which was published in the 1930s and '50s. The aspect of the Hellenistic analogy that chiefly interested them, like us today, is the way the modern era can be expected to end.

To put it more crudely than most macrohistorians do, the idea is that, just as the Hellenistic phase of Classical culture ended in the Roman Empire, and just as the Warring States period in Chinese history ended in imperial unification under the Qin Dynasty, so the modern era of Western Civilization would end in a post-national universal state. For the sake of brevity, and because some of the authors we will consider do likewise, we will call this final phase of historical development simply "the Empire."

We are talking here about the evolution from Alexander to Caesar. Some macrohistorians expected Western modernity to last the same length of time, two-and-half or three centuries. We may note that macrohistorians generally equate Alexander and Napoleon, so, if you like, you can do the arithmetic to see where we are now. (4) If you really like these analogies, we may also note that the societies most often identified as universal states, Han China, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and New Kingdom Egypt, all lasted about 500 years after their founding by a Caesar-like figure. (5) So, now you know the future. Just try to look surprised when it happens.

Philosophical history of this type gives most historians fits, but it's inescapable. Northrop Frye was not a great fan of "The Decline of the West," at least on its merits, but he also said "we are all Spenglerians." (6) For instance, Spengler can be considered the father of multiculturalism. He treats the eight cultures whose life cycles he considers as all equivalent in some sense. Although he was developing ideas that had long been familiar from German historicism (6), the fact is that he wrote the first history of the world that really was about the world, and not just a chronicle of the rise of the West.

Cyclical historical analogies affect statecraft. Henry Kissinger's undergraduate thesis at Harvard was on Spengler, and he never quite got over it. (8) Former President Bill Clinton's favorite teacher at Georgetown, at least by some accounts, was Carroll Quigley, a follower of Toynbee in the School of Foreign Service. The debates after the Cold War about globalization and American hegemony have, in effect, put the Empire front and center.

Perhaps the most topical model of international relations these days is Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations." He accepts the Hellenistic analogy as a matter of course, though with his own peculiar spin. He tells us:

"[T]he international system expanded beyond the West and became multicivilizational. Simultaneously, conflict among Western states - which had dominated that system for centuries - faded away. By the late twentieth century, the West has moved out of its 'warring state' phase of development as a civilization and toward its 'universal state' phase. At the end of [the 20th] century, this phase is still incomplete as the nation states of the West cohere into two semi-universal states in Europe and North America. These two entities and their constituent units are, however, bound together by an extraordinary complex network of formal and informal institutional ties. The universal states of previous civilizations are empires. Since democracy, however, is the political form of Western civilization, the emerging universal state of Western civilization is not an empire but rather a compound of federations, confederations, and international regimes and organizations." (9)

Among scholars interested in such things, Huntington is a little unusual in rejecting the idea of global civilization. Among people with a basically cyclical approach to history, he is also, as we will see, unusual in assuming the continuing vitality of democracy. On the other hand, he is not at all unusual in considering that the Empire already exists to some extent. This is the thesis of the fashionable book, entitled "Empire," by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.

According to those authors, the Empire is Saint Augustine's City of God. (10) They themselves are Marxists who write impenetrable postmodern prose and who hope to replace the City of God with the City of Man, but their analysis is worth considering, to the extent they will permit themselves to be understood. Like its Roman predecessor, today's Empire seems to its subjects to be permanent, eternal, and necessary. It has no outside, at least in principle, and internally it distinguishes neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. It does not rest on conquest, but on consensus.

The Empire is the post-historical incarnation of eternal justice. It does not merely happen to exist, like a historically contingent state; rather, it must exist, at least as an ideal. It closes the gap that opened in the Renaissance between the ethical and the juridical. Its wars are just wars, police actions against opponents who cannot make a principled case against the Empire as such. No civil or military stresses remain that might threaten it. The Empire is always in a crisis, so its acts are emergency measures that trump the ordinary law of the sovereignties and corporations that comprise it.

The authors say the Empire is not really a state. It does indeed have state-like organs, such as the UN and the IMF, but it has no center. For that matter, it has no geography: the old divisions between First, Second and Third World have collapsed. The difference between France and India in the world system, for instance, has become a matter of degree rather than kind. The Empire does have a tripartite anatomy, in the sense of an executive, an aristocracy, and a people, like that which the second century B.C. historian Polybius ascribed to the late Roman Republic.

The Empire is imperial, not imperialist. Imperialism, in the authors' analysis, was simply the extension of European nationalism outside Europe. The Empire arose precisely because capitalism could not endure if the divisions between nations were not dissolved. The authors count the loss of national sovereignty, and even of national identity, as no great tragedy. Nations themselves, as well as the Peoples that comprised them, were largely confected for the benefit of early capitalist production.

A retired CIA analyst, Patrick E. Kennon, recently published a witty apology for the Empire as an ideal, entitled "Tribe and Empire." He finds far deeper support for the Empire than does Samuel Huntington, who dismisses the actual membership of international society as a thin crust of what he calls "Davos People." According to Mr. Kennon:

"Now, as we enter the twenty-first century, the future of the nation-state is much in doubt...Indeed, tribalism has revived with a brutal savagery from Rwanda and Cambodia to the newly dissolved USSR and the newly unified Germany...At the same time, a kind of shadow empire...is being embraced by elites around the globe. UN bureaucrats and Greenpeace activists, Carlos the Jackal and Mother Theresa, Toyota and Amnesty International, the Cali drug cartel and the World Bank, people who worry about the dollar-yen ratio and people who worry about the ozone layer, all of these consciously or unconsciously look to empire for their profit or salvation. All of these have largely given up on the nation." (11)

Mr. Kennon attempts to account for globalization and its attendant anarchic backlash in terms of classical Social Contract theory (the very class of theory that Hardt and Negri say is the source of false consciousness in the world today). "Tribe and Empire" argues that the philosophers of the Enlightenment were too pessimistic in relegating international relations to the state of nature. According to Mr. Kennon, there is an ethical trajectory that leads away from the local and toward the universal, from the political and toward the administrative, from predation and toward commerce.

The pure forms of human life, the "tribe" and the "empire," correspond to "community" and "society," respectively. These dualities also correspond to life before and after the Social Contract. The contract turns mere homo sapiens into human beings. In the tribe, everyone is equal, every man is a warrior, and there is the war of all against all. In society, there are no enemies, only superiors and inferiors. Community is familiar and exclusive, governed by a traditional morality that is not subject to analysis. In society, there is ethics rather than morality, and right and wrong are subject to pragmatic reformulation. The most significant thing about ethics is that it is universal in principle: everyone, near and far, should ideally be treated according to the same rules. The political form that has substantially fulfilled this ideal is the "empire," something that has in fact existed at various times and places.

So far we have been talking about the Empire in terms of political theory, but that is not the only aspect of the Hellenistic analogy that interests macrohistorians. They are concerned with the way that whole societies evolve, and this is one of the points about which they have received the most criticism. They tend to speak as if societies were organic wholes, with life cycles like living things. This analogy is no worse than any other, but it is difficult to defend in detail. Burckhardt, in fact, even though he saw parallels between his own late 19th century and late antiquity, specifically rejected the biological analogy. (12) We should note, though, that even those who used organic language most heavily were not necessarily relying on it.

Spengler himself is a good case in point. Though he spoke of the cultures he examined as living organisms, his philosophy was much more sophisticated. "The Decline of the West" is a profoundly Kantian book. In Spengler's view, the course of history is circumscribed by the limits to human understanding that Kant described. According to Spengler, just eight cultures in the history of the world have tested those limits, in the sense of trying to produce final answers to life's questions. Beginning from a unique religious base, each produced its own philosophy, family of arts, and a political style. Spengler said that even the natural science and mathematics of each were idiosyncratic. In any case, all these attempts to express universal truths are failures. Whatever meaning they have is internal to the societies that produce them, and the skepticism of the late culture realizes the fact. However, the attempts are not just failures; they are magnificent failures. The living cultures that Spengler describes die, but in the process produce fossils, canons of art and science and political forms. The period of fossilization, after the end of the culture proper, is what Spengler calls civilization, which he said began for the West at the end of the 18th century. The work of modernity, in Spengler's estimation, is the completion of the final forms.

The German title of Spengler's big book, "Der Untergang des Abendlandes," is not nearly so ominous as its English translation. Literally, it is closer to "The Sunset of the Evening Land." Spengler himself said that he might better have called the book the "The Completion of the West," or even "The Perfection of the West." (13)

All this suggests Francis Fukuyama was essentially correct in saying that the West has reached "the end of history" (14): liberal democracy really is the end of Western political thought. It will never be superseded, and it will never cease to have some effect on the way government is conducted. However, that does not mean it may not someday be honored chiefly in the breach. Spengler wrote this eighty years ago, speaking about a time that could still be a good century beyond us:

"Once the Imperial Age has arrived, there are no more political problems. People manage with the situation as it is and the powers that be. In the period of Contending States, torrents of blood had reddened the pavements of all world-cities, so that the great truths of Democracy might be turned into actualities, and for the winning of rights without which life seemed not worth the living. Now these rights are won, but the grandchildren cannot be moved, even by punishment, to make use of them. A hundred years more, and even the historians will no longer understand the old controversies." (15)

In 1920, it was easy to imagine that some totalitarian system might conquer the world, but it took a measure of imagination to foresee a world in which democracy is simply forgotten. No imagination at all is necessary today, what with the low voter turnouts in the US and the emergence of post-democratic supranational entities like the European Union. The Empire means the end of democracy as anything but a venerable anachronism. Indeed, as Patrick Kennon would have it, it means the end of politics itself. In his view, government by reliable routine has been the distinguishing feature of the Empire wherever it has existed. Politics went on, of course, in Antonine Rome or Ming China, but as self-contained court intrigues and bureaucratic squabbles. It was no longer in a position to derail the essential operation of the state. The same process in the West is far advanced, and maybe this is a good thing. The mandarins in Brussels are often crudely corrupt, and they don't respond to emergencies particularly well. They are, however, quite certain not to lead civilization over a cliff in pursuit of a manifest destiny, something that national societies have done in almost every century.

A recurrent theme in metahistory is that the economic Left always wins. William McNeill, another admirer of Toynbee, has made the observation that governance tends to expand to cover the size of the economy. (16) Where it doesn't, the result is piracy, and often barbarian powers that threaten civilization itself. The Empire, in the form of universal states, can and does facilitate economic activity through the rule of law, or at least through maintaining public order. On the other hand, it is also in a position to tax and regulate universally, which it does in the interests of income redistribution and the prevention of disruption from economic change. So, for example, the expansive, technologically innovative economy that appeared in China during the politically chaotic Sung and Yuan periods was brought to heel when order was restored in the Ming period. By the 18th century, China's manufacturing sector was still huge and sophisticated, but wholly subordinate to the imperial autocracy and gentry. (17)

On the other hand, the cultural Left always loses. The arts under the Empire are well funded, technically proficient, and highly eclectic, but they are rarely new. The art of Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, for instance, can usually be dated to within a generation, just as the periods of Western art can be easily distinguished from the Middle Ages on down. When you get to the New Kingdom, the age of the Empire, repetition predominates, except for freakish episodes like the Amarna period. The work that survives from the very end of Egyptian civilization is almost impossible to distinguish from that of the Old Kingdom 1500 years before. One might say that Egyptian history ended in a sort of permanent Gothic revival. (18)

The function of art organizations today is generally curatorial. With some notable exceptions, orchestras usually find themselves playing the familiar canon that runs from Bach to Brahms (19). In the 20th century, for the first time in the cultural history of the West, time began to no longer make a difference. Imagine two picture books, one of the famous New York Armory Exhibition of 1913 and the other of the Brooklyn Museum's "Sensation" exhibition of 1999. Now imagine switching the covers. The switched dates would still be plausible. The point is not that the work is bad; it's just that it isn't going anywhere.

What is true of art is also supposed to be true of science, but this question would take too long to explore. The notion is that some areas of rational inquiry can simply be finished. Classical Mathematics, to take the easiest example, was substantially completed in Hellenistic times by Euclidian geometry. It did not advance further, because that geometry answered the questions Classical culture asked. So, for that matter, did Ptolemy's astronomy and Aristotle's physics. Those who apply the analogy to the West note that physics entered the 20th century with quantum mechanics and relativity and spent the century merely elaborating them. A "theory of everything," which would combine the two, may be achieved in this century. If so, it would seem to meet the criteria for one of Spengler's magnificent fossils. (20)

The Empire is a theocracy. In general, macrohistorians have welcomed the prospect of religious revival. The chief example is Toynbee himself, who decided that history was really about the development of universal religions, and only incidentally about civilizations. His "Study of History" became remarkably evangelical in its later volumes. Toynbee's reputation never recovered from the derisive, secularist critique that Hugh Trevor-Roper gave his work. (21) As we know, God severely punished Hugh Trevor-Roper for this through the Hitler Diaries fraud, but that's another story. (22) Samuel Huntington acknowledges the growing role of religion, though he seems less than pleased at the prospect, calling it "la revanche de Dieu." He speaks of "the end of the Westphalian order," referring to those aspects of the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 ensuring religion would be a domestic matter.

An influential argument supporting just this change has recently been offered by A.J. Conyers in his book, "The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit." (23) Conyers says the kind of toleration that spread in the West after the wars of religion is actually something of a fraud. It is based on a nominalist metaphysics that brackets the truth claims of each confession as parochial eccentricities. Religious truth-claims must be tolerated for the sake of peace, but merit no deference from the wider world. Conyers says that toleration in the West before the wars of religion, where it existed, had a different basis. Traditionally, tolerance assumed the validity of truth claims, but took the platonic view that specific expressions of them could, at best, be expected to be incomplete. Now that the Westphalian truce is over, Conyers argues, this traditional approach to tolerance should supplant the disingenuous secularist one of the past few centuries.

Some suggestion of where it may lead is offered by Spengler's famous prophecy of the "the Second Religiousness." He tells us:

"But neither in the creations of this piety nor in the form of the Roman Imperium is there anything primary and spontaneous. Nothing is built up, no idea unfolds itself - it is only as if a mist cleared off the land and revealed the old forms, uncertainly at first, but presently with increasing distinctness. The material of the Second Religiousness is simply that of the first, genuine, young religiousness - only otherwise experienced and expressed. It starts with Rationalism's fading out in helplessness, then the forms of the Springtime become visible, and finally the whole world of the primitive religion, which had receded before the grand forms of the early faith, returns to the foreground, powerful in the guise of the popular syncretism that is to be found in every Culture at this phase." (24)

This brings us to the decline and fall of the Empire. Not all macrohistorians say that the Empire is inherently mortal. Hardt and Negri say specifically that, whatever traditional Marxism might have predicted about the fate of the world capitalist system, the Empire has moved beyond those vulnerabilities. The Empire actually thrives on crisis. It is eternal in principle. However, that does not mean that it cannot be overthrown through an act of will. They offer this comparison from a prior incarnation of the Empire:

"Allow us [an] analogy that refers to the birth of Christianity in Europe and its expansion during the decline of the Roman Empire. In this process an enormous potential of subjectivity was constructed and consolidated in terms of the prophecy of a world to come, a chiliastic project. This new subjectivity offered an absolute alternative to the spirit of imperial right-a new ontological basis. From this perspective, Empire was accepted as the "maturity of the times" and the unity of the entire known civilization, but it was challenged in its totality by a completely different ethical and ontological axis. In the same way today, given that the limits and unresolvable problems of the new imperial right are fixed, theory and practice can go beyond them, finding once again an ontological basis of antagonism-within Empire, but also against and beyond Empire, at the same level of totality." (25)

This would be more interesting if the two authors had not excluded religion as a future revolutionary force. One of their few substantive suggestions for undermining the Empire is an absolute freedom to travel and immigration. This also happens to be the only right that Patrick Kennon of the CIA says is essential for the integrity of the Empire. As the French say, go figure.

Spengler, too, was of the opinion that the Empire did not have to end. Fossils can last indefinitely. In his estimate, Classical civilization was destroyed by historical accident. There was no internal reason why it could not have gone on without collapse as he thought, wrongly, that China had done. Spengler in his later work suggested that the imperial phase of Western history was likely to end apocalyptically for the whole world, but that is a question specific to Spengler studies. (26)

Toynbee was of two minds about the future. He thought that either the winner of another world war would create a Western Universal State, or that an ecumenical society would arise peacefully. It would have western characteristics, and maybe a world government, but it would not be a Universal State in the traditional sense. For Toynbee the Universal State was a slow-motion catastrophe that was doomed from the start, even though, as he put it, its citizens "in defiance of apparently plain facts...are prone to regard it, not as a night's shelter in the wilderness but as the Promised Land, the goal of human endeavors." (27) In his view, the Empire's internal proletariat deserts it in favor of a higher religion, in rather the way Hardt and Negri mention, while at the same time the outer barbarians become stronger and stronger. This view is not so different from Huntington's "Clash of Civilization" thesis, which interprets "the decline of the West" to mean the decline of the still-forming Western universal state relative to other civilized societies.

The Empire we have been considering is an archetype. I mean this in a modest sense. It's an inevitable notion that anyone thinking about world history is going to have to confront, even if only to reject. Hardt and Negri do hit the nail on the head: the Empire does look like the City of God, though Toynbee may have been on to something when he cautioned that it is a counterfeit of the real thing. Obviously, there is no way to say today whether the Empire is going to stay in the platonic realm, or whether, as the macrohistorians speculate, it will become incarnate in the light of day. In any case, though the Empire may fall, it never goes away.

References
(1) Staring into Chaos: Explorations in the Decline of Western Civilization, by B.G. Brander, (Spence Publishing Company, 1998), pp. 21-84.

(2) E.g., The Gay Science, by Friedrich Nietzsche, trans. by Walter Kaufmann (Vintage Books, 1974), p. 318 (sec. 362).

(3) For an excessively postmodern take on the subject, see Macrohistory and Macrohistorians, by Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah (Praeger Publishers, 1997).

(4) Readers who really, really like these analogies can see them worked out for the next seven centuries in a short book, also entitled "Spengler's Future," at http://pages.prodigy.net/aesir/speng.htm.

(5) Toynbee, more cautiously, notes a common rhythm in the decline of the Empire, rather than a strictly uniform duration. A Study of History, by Arnold Toynbee: Somervell Abridgement Vols. I-VI (Oxford University Press, 1947), pp. 548-554.

(6) On the influence of Spengler generally, see Neil McInnes, The Great Doomsayer: Oswald Spengler Reconsidered (The National Interest, Summer 1997), pp. 45-76. Frye is quoted on page 68.

(7) Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics, by John Farrenkopf (Louisiana State University Press, 2001), pp. 77-90.

(8) McInnes, p. 69.

(9) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, by Samuel P. Huntington (Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 53.

(10) Empire, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 207, 394-396.

(11) Tribe and Empire: An Essay on the Social Contract, by Patrick E. Kennon (Xlibris, 2000), p. 15.

(12) Force and Freedom: Reflections on History, by Jacob Burckhardt, ed. by James Hastings Nichols (Pantheon Books, 1943).

(13) Farrenkopf, p. 167.

(14) "The End of History and the Last Man," by Francis Fukuyama (The Free Press, 1992).

(15) The Decline of the West, Volume II, by Oswald Spengler, trans. by Charles Francis Atkinson (Alfred A Knopf, 1928; German original 1922), p. 432.

(16) The Human Condition: An Ecological and Historical View, by William McNeill (Princeton University Press, 1980).

(17) China: A New History, by John King Fairbank (Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 161.

(18) The Culture of Ancient Egypt, by John A. Wilson (University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 294-295.

(19) Art Lessons: Learning from the Rise and Fall of Public Arts Funding, by Alice Goldfarb Marquis (Basic Books, 1995), p. 150.

(20) The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age, by John Horgan (Addison-Wesley, 1996).

(21) Arnold Toynbee: A Life, by William H. McNeill (Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 239.

(22) The Hitler Diaries: Fakes that Fooled the World, by Charles Hamilton (University Press of Kentucky, 1991).

(23) The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit, by A.J. Conyers (Spence Publishing Company, 2001).

(24) Spengler, p. 311.

(25) Hardt & Negri, p. 21.

(26) Farrenkopf, p. 214 et seq.

(27) A Study of History, by Arnold Toynbee: Somervell Abridgement Vols. VII-X (Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 4.

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly 

The Long View: The Dark Imperium

Here is an old essay of John's on Satanic eschatology. I'm sure there must be all of 50 people in the world who are interested in this subject, but for the rest of you, this essay is also a window back into time, when the Internet was young. Using the Internet for serious research was a new idea in 1998, and here John gives an idea what that felt like at the time.

The Dark Imperium
Satanic Eschatology on the Internet
by John J. Reilly
The Biblical tradition is short on information about the motivations of the forces of evil in history. Revelation 12:12 explains the violence of the Evil One in the latter days with these words: "Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you in great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time." In Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," the tempter Mephistopheles explains that demons tempt men simply because they are themselves wretched and seek to make others wretched, too. Perhaps the most prosaic explanation for diabolical behavior, and the one best known to modern readers, is C.S. Lewis's hypothesis in "The Screwtape Letters" that demons are hungry and eat the human souls they catch.
Whatever the merits of these explanations, they shed no light on the motivations of the human agents of conscious evil. There is, of course, a long philosophical tradition, starting with Platonism and extending even through Utilitarianism, that there is no such thing as a conscious agent of evil. Since evil is simply the privation of something good, according to this view, it must be that those who seek to do evil are merely mistaken: they are in fact really trying to do good as it seems to them. Be this as it may, it cannot be denied that there is an ancient impulse, which has sometimes assumed concrete historical form, which seeks to overthrow the whole order of things, religious, ethical and social.
This impulse need not take the form of mysticism. Subversive art, like the plays and novels of the Marquis de Sade, can manifest this mood while denying the reality of the strictly supernatural. Still, a particularly dramatic manifestation of this spirit does seem to inform the division of the modern occult that styles itself "Satanic." Satanism is a large subject, and the term is often applied to types of occultists, notably wiccans, who for the most part deny any connection with it. For the purposes of this discussion, however, the general category of "Satanic" is limited by one major criterion: a systematic concern with universal eschatology, that is, with history's goal. It is hard to imagine a Satanist who accepted the Judeo-Christian model of history, since in that model Satan and all his followers are ultimately defeated and punished. What are the beliefs about the future, then, among that minority of Satanists who are interested in such questions?
This essay is actually an extension of the chapter entitled "The Coming Man," which appears in my forthcoming book, "The Perennial Apocalypse: How the End of the World Shapes History." In that chapter, I explore what turned out to be a surprisingly widespread modern myth. This myth says that the current age of the world is nearing its end, and that in the coming age mankind as it presently exists will be replaced by a new species. In some forms of this myth, the species already covertly exists, while other forms say that it will come into being in the future. A common motif in the forms of this myth is that many human beings will help the new species come into being. I argue in "The Coming Man" that this motif was part of the motivation of at least some Nazis during the Hitler regime.
Since the material in my book is largely historical, one evening in early 1998 I had an inspiration to update my research by asking the Infoseek search-engine the following question: "Is a new human species appearing?"
So it would seem. At any rate, the search results showed that there is a lot of chatter about the subject, mostly of a New Age variety. There is even a weekly science-fiction drama on American television (the ABC network) called "Prey" which is premised on the idea. However, in light of my earlier research into the connection between the Third Reich and the occult, what immediately caught my eye was the link:
Satanism--The Sinister Path
This essay is largely based on the links I found there, and at
The Internet Satanic Syndicate
There are also several related newsgroups, of which the one with the most predictable name is alt.satanism.
(The Internet Satanic Syndicate site, by the way, has a subpage entitled "Helvete." This deals with "Black Metal" rock music, a term I had not heretofore encountered. The subpage's name is the nickname of an apparently legendary distributor of this material in Norway, where I gather Satanism has a lively presence.)
Again, Satanism is a large subject, but all the Internet Satanists have a few things in common. None, as far as I could tell, think of Satan as a personal entity. Some think of him as an impersonal "force" of some kind, others as a psychological archetype. While all perform ritual magic, which may take the form of worship, they generally think of this as a psychological exercise. If they expect the magic to affect the real world, they say the power comes from their own wills. When they speak of Satan, they speak of him in the original Hebrew sense as the Adversary or the Accuser. They do not think that Satan accuses them. Rather, they themselves take on Satan's role. By calling themselves Satanists, they mean that they are the world's critics.
We may pass quickly over the well-known Church of Satan, founded by the late Anton Szandor LaVey (who died on October 29, 1997), as well as its offshoot, the Temple of Set (whose members are called "Setians"). These are the sort of groups that provide the stage properties for the popular "Gothic" subculture of would-be vampires and fans of heavy metal music. Taken at face value, they are more Gnostic than anything else. By their own account, they seek a form of subjective spiritual illumination. By reputation, the techniques they use to achieve this state include a fair amount of perversion, ritual suicide and unkindness to small animals. In reality, there are probably worse things in the world than the Gothic subculture, though some people may think that one Halloween per year is quite enough.
Indeed, what is most striking about the material by the popular Satanic groups on the Internet is their eagerness to appear respectable, or at least not criminally indictable. Thus, they deny that they sacrifice human beings, kill animals or promote pederasty. Despite the well-known associations between fascism and the occult, some are even at pains to distance themselves from Nazi politics. For instance, there is a group related to the Temple of Set called "The Order of the Trapezoid" that purports to be carrying on the ritual magical practices of the Nazis. The order was even initiated by a magical "working" at the SS site at Wewelsberg Castle. Still, they denounce what they call Nazi "excesses," and they deny that their beliefs require racism, antisemitism or militarism. One may wonder how seriously to take these protestations from people who think that Heinrich Himmler was a misguided genius, but there is unlikely to be much harm in such folk.
Harmlessness is not a self-evident quality of the literature of at least three Satanic groups with an Internet presence. All of them claim to be "traditional" Satanic groups, with doctrine and organizational ties extending into the misty past. Such claims might reasonably be taken with a grain of salt. One recalls Ambrose Bierce's remark in "The Devil's Dictionary": "[The emblems of the Freemasons] have been found in the Catacombs of Paris...on the Chinese Great Wall...and in the Egyptian Pyramids -- always by a Freemason." For that matter, since the sources in question here are Internet material, it is entirely possible that all of it was concocted by five guys with gross haircuts who work in mailrooms somewhere. Still, the groups in question here are related and they do have a coherent historical agenda. Whatever their actual antiquity or size, these groups therefore do afford us an example of a consciously diabolical model of history.
The oldest and most influential is The Order of the Nine Angles, or ONA. This group has its own website at http://thor.prohosting.com/~atazoth. Based in England, the ONA appears to act as a sort of "mother church" for Satanists who describe themselves as "traditional." (The more popular, "Gothic" types of Satanism are often disparaged as "American.")
The ONA's beliefs, and some of its documents, are mirrored in the Internet material relating to the Order of the Deorc Fyre, formerly known as the Order of the Left-Hand Path. This group is based in New Zealand, though contact information is provided on the Web for other places in the world. Its documents suggest that it is more interested in recruiting than are other groups of this type.
The White Order of Thule, formerly known as the Black Order, seems to be pan-European. The only contact information I found was a mailing address in the United States, where this kind of thing is constitutionally protected. It has by far the smallest amount of Internet material. It is also almost pedantically Nazi: its literature even reflects something of the style of German "völkisch" groups of the early 20th century. Such material as there is suggests an acquaintance with the academic literature on the subject, such as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's "The Occult Roots of Nazism."
All these groups are unconcerned with making themselves appear respectable. They insist that real Satanic groups do and must make human sacrifices, though they emphasize that this is never done at random and is never done to children. (It's not that they are sensitive to the welfare of children; it's just that they prefer killing people for character flaws that become apparent only in adults.) They emphasize how much more serious and dangerous their kind of Satanism is than that of the popular Gothic variety. Most important for the purposes of this discussion, they also insist that their goals are not just personal but historical. They seek to set the stage for a wholly new age and a new human species to live in it.
Before proceeding to quotations from documents posted either by these groups or in their name, it would be helpful to explain a few important assumptions that all these groups seem to share. Throughout the material that follows, I have provided links to material on my website that may help to illuminate some of these assumptions:
(1) The Doctrine of the Two Worlds. These Satanists hold that are two kind of reality, the "causal" world known to physics and the "acausal" world which sometimes intersects with it. The "acausal" seems to be related to the notion, familiar in esoteric circles, of the "causal plane." This is the world of the "forms," the Platonic Ideas, that provide what order there is in the world. Any organism, according to the ONA, is an intersection of the causal and the acausal. The notion is not quite gibberish, since the idea that the structures of biological organisms are governed by a small class of mathematical patterns is gaining adherence among some biologists. See my essay "After Darwin." The stretch is the assertion that cultures and civilizations are also organisms. An even greater stretch is that intersections of the causal and acausal can be influenced by ritual magic or by more prosaic means.
(2) Popular Spenglerism. All these groups have a grasp of the cyclical historical models of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Both these historians suggested that the West had exhausted its basic stock of ideas, and that politically it was headed toward the final stage of a civilization's evolution, what Toynbee called a "Universal State." What I find interesting about this is that my own book on these matters, "Spengler's Future," sketches a future that is not so different from that of the ONA, at least in the timescale. This is not really surprising, since Spengler's historical cycles are supposed to be fairly inflexible, but it is a bit disconcerting.
(3) Satanic Dispensationalism. The most popular form of Christian eschatology in the United States is known as "dispensationalism." This is the belief that salvation history is divided into ages, known as "dispensations," in which somewhat different divine ordinances apply. Much the same is true of Traditionalist Satanism, in which history is divided into Aeons, and the Aeons into civilizations. These Aeons, like the civilizations that occur within them, are organisms with their own lifecycles. By controlling the intersections of the causal and acausal planes, Satanists can influence the course of an existing Aeon and determine the nature of a future one. These manipulations are the stuff of what they call "Aeonic magick."
So, what exactly are these people up to?
The ultimate historical goals of Traditional Satanism are reasonably straightforward:
Satanism, Tradition and The Sinister Way
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1995ev
"The Order Of The Deorc Fyre sees these goals as being two-fold: the first is the creation of a new type of Human Being - Homo-Galactica, or to put it in Nietzschean terms, 'Higher-Man'. The second is the creation of a new reality born from this noble individual."
The endeavor of Satanists today should be to create the social and cultural context in which these developments can occur:
A Path of Fire
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1997ev
"For Satanists, the practical realization of an esoteric 'current' is through political means. For as much as Sinister tradition is a way of life, so to must it evolve progressively to its eventual and ideal manifestation of a 'Satanically' inspired state, or Imperium."
The "Decline of the West" (to use the English title of Spengler's book) does not mean the collapse of the West, but its final consolidation of the whole world into a Universal State. Before that can occur, however, the present Time of Troubles (to use another of Toynbee's expressions) must come to a climax. One of the Satanists' stated goals is: "To provoke or cause, through both practical and magickal means, the destruction, the Ragnorak, which is necessary now to build a New Order from the diseased society of the present, and regain the ethos, the Destiny, which is necessary to inspire the creation of such a New Order." Just such a revolution is described in the infamous "Turner Diaries," a detailed review of which is also provided on my website.
The point of this Dark Imperium is not power for its own sake. Even the empire of the world has an ulterior motive:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"The new Aeon [which is still to come] means a new, and higher, Galactic civilization - several centuries after the energies of the new Aeon first become manifest and are presenced, via new nexions [intersections between the causal and acausal worlds]. The decline and ending of the current Aeon means the establishment of a new and expanding physical Empire: a New Order which is the last and most glorious manifestation of the genuine spirit, or ethos, of the old [current] Aeon."
World-historical goals are not inconsistent with the hope of personal "salvation" in one's own lifetime. Eschatology is normally both universal and personal. Thus, Satanists can believe in this sort of thing in both a long-term and a short-term sense:
Culling - A Guide to Sacrifice II
ONA 1990eh (revised 1994eh)
"This essence [of true Satanism] is that it is a practical means, a practical way, to create a new, higher type of individual - and eventually a new human species."
As for the distant historical goals, the very act of working towards them necessarily creates a measure of personal liberation and power:
Aeonic Magick: A Basic Introduction
Anton Long ONA
"[F]or the majority of individuals, their Destiny is that of the civilization itself - they do not possess a unique Destiny of their own. Only those individuals who have achieved the stage of evolutionary development which individuation/Adeptship represents have a unique Destiny..."
The Satanic eschatology is, as we have noted, structurally similar to some Christian models of history. The Satanists look, in fact, to the coming end of the Christian era in a way analogous to that in which Christians look to the Second Coming:
The Black Order
"'Should the subduing talisman, the Cross, break, then will come the roaring forth of wild madness of the old champions... The talisman is brittle, and the day will come when it will pitifully break. The old stone gods will rise... and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes. And Thor, leaping forth with his giant hammer, will crush the Gothic Cathedrals!'..... So wrote the poet Heinrich Heine in 1834."
On the other hand, there is deep historical patience in some of these writings which echoes the long-term view of salvation history expressed by St. Augustine in "The City of God." In both cases, there is a sense that the coming kingdom has already arrived, but has not yet fully expressed itself:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"[T]his Being [Satan] is part of the present civilization, and its Aeon, which still exists, and which will exist for several more centuries, albeit toward its decline and end. . . .the acausal energies of the next Aeon, which will give rise to a new civilization centuries after, are already becoming manifest, partly through the work of esoteric groups. . ."
The actual timescales envisaged are not as astronomical as that those found in, say, Hindu mythology, but they are long enough:
Aeonic Magick: A Basic Introduction
Anton Long ONA
"An aeon lasts about 2,000 years of causal time - a civilization lasts around 1,500 years. That is, it takes several centuries for the energies of a particular aeon, already presencing or 'flowing' to Earth from the acausal, to produce practical, visible and significant changes: to re-order the causal in a specific geographical region."
The following table of Aeons, Archetypical Symbols and Civilizations actually gives us some rough dates:
 
[Three Aeons deleted]
Hellenic Eagle Hellenic 3,000-1,500BP [1000 BC - AD 500]
Thorian Swastika Western 1,000BP-500AP [AD 1000 - AD 2500]
Galactic -- Galactic >2,000eh [?]
 
References scattered about this material suggest the hope to establish the Dark Imperium within the next 50 to 100 years. Still, it should be emphasized that the Satanists do not claim to be causing the decline of the West, or even to be the fundamental cause of the Universal State that will mark its last phase. What they do claim to be able to do is channel these natural developments for their own ends:
A Path of Fire
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1997ev
"Civilisations can rise and fall in the period of time known esoterically as an Aeon. The 'end time' of a civilisation is known esoterically as the Winter phase or as the Hindu have named it the 'Time of Troubles'. The 'Winter phase' marks the disintegration, and eventual demise, of a civilisation which is then followed by the emergence of another. This process occurs over many thousands of years, but because it is a naturally occurring cycle it can be perceived and influenced by knowledgeable Adepts."
If you believe this variety of Satanists, the Adepts have been at it for some time. Another table, this one of civilizations, their ethos and homelands, illustrates their view of the centrality of mystical Nazism to the historical process:
 
II Basic Principles of Aeonic Magick (ONA):
Hellenic Iliad Greece
Western National-Socialism Third Reich
Galactic Galactic Empire Solar System and --
 
Traditional Satanists quite clearly embrace the Nazis as part of their own tradition:
The Occult--Fascist Axis
The Black Order
"It is not surprising then that the ground for Fascism was largely prepared by esoteric societies which arose in Europe. Among these were the New Templars of Von Liebenfels, the Runic order of Von List, and the German Order. The latter gave rise to the Thule Society, which was to establish the NSDAP as its political front."
....
"These `sinister' esoteric societies proclaim the `Daemonic revolution', to usher in the New Order on the collapse of the Old; a New Order that will reawaken the Dark soul of man, that he might live as a totality with the Light and the Dark returned to balance. These esoteric societies recognize Fascism (whether called by that name o[r] not) as the political expression of primal truths. They include The Black Order of Pan-Europa, Fraternity of Balder, Order of Nine Angles, Abraxas Foundation, Blood Axis..."
Of course, the Nazis having lost the Second World War, some people might suppose that history was not on the Nazis' side. This thought does not greatly commend itself in Satanic circles:
To Comrade T
The Black Order "Firstly, TBO [The Black Order] is not a National Socialist organization per se. The role of National Socialist philosophy and the Third Reich on the Aeonic destiny of the European is however very much a part of its terms of reference."
. . . .
"NATIONAL SOCIALISM & AEONICS
National Socialism was the political form of an Esoteric Current in Europe which was then represented by The Thule Society. The Third Reich was a SEEDING of the future European Imperium. It created new archetypes and martyrs of the European folk with its BLOOD SACRIFICE and epic heroism in the service of that Destiny.
"Hitler was the central figure of that COSMIC DRAMA, but he did not seem to regard himself as the final embodiment of the Vindex/Kalki that was/is awaited by the European Esoteric Current. Rather he was something of a `John-the-Baptist' establishing the way (`seeding') for `the one that would come after', as he himself stated.
"Therefore the first experiment - The Third Reich - was not the final -aborted - form of the European Imperium, but the prelude to something greater to come: something nothing less than cosmic and starbound in scope."
These remarks about a "European Imperium" are particularly interesting in light of the supranational aspirations some forms of Neofascism are showing. As I note in my review of Roger Eatwell's "Fascism: A History," some fascists seem to be trying to fashion an ideology, not just for their own countries, but for the whole European Union.
In any case, it may be that Satanists are not much discouraged by historical setbacks because they do not regard history passively. They believe that it is an artifact, and that they are the artificers. The need is pressing:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"The Faustian/Promethean (or more correctly, the Satanic) Destiny of this current civilization must be returned, and the present cultural disease affecting this civilization cured, with the excision of the parasites sucking the life-blood of this civilization - for only this returning of Destiny will enable the Empire to be created, and only this Empire will breed in sufficient numbers the new type of individual required to create, build and expand the entirely new Galactic civilization and Galactic Empire which will arise from the eventual decline of the old Promethean/Faustian Empire."
There are various means to this end:
A Path of Fire
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1997ev
"Those Forms [of culture] of a more degenerate nature: that subvert a civilisation from its organic and desirable outcome, need to be used, or destroyed, for the benefit of those Forms that aid the Sinister Dialectic. Forms become degenerate when they cease to be a healthy and vital part of civilisation. These Forms express their identity by subverting both Life and Nature e.g.: The Magian ethos expressed magickally as the Cabala, or Political-economy expressed via Plutocracy. They have a pernicious, and inhibiting, effect on the nature of civilisation; while subverting the natural development of an Aeon."
["Magian," by the way, was Spengler's term for the civilization of the Near East, which was defined by Churches rather than nations in the Western sense. Magian societies include Islam, Judaism, Byzantine Christianity and Zoroastrianism.]
"For if there is to be a sustained flowering of higher-Human endeavour it must be predicated now, in the Winter phase of this Western Aeon. Thus it can be seen, that in its Winter phase, Western civilisation is actively seeding, or in a more strict sense, 'creating' the emerging 6th Aeon."
Direct methods can be used to promote the emergence of the coming Aeon:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"The change that is necessary means that there must be a culling, or many cullings, which remove the worthless and those detrimental to further evolution."
Individuals of no social value may be culled. So may persons who oppose the Sinister Path, or traitors to it. Before a Satanic groups culls a person or group, proper form requires a secret, quasi-judicial hearing on the matter. There should even be a "defense counsel" to argue for the life of the victim. Individuals selected for culling are to be subjected to tests to redeem themselves, of which the subject is not to be aware. Should they fail, the killing will be made to seem an accident. On the other hand, the Internet material does suggest that cullings may be made of whole populations:
Culling - A Guide to Sacrifice II
ONA 1990eh (revised 1994eh)
"[T]he correct choice of opfer [German for "victim"] means that with their elimination the sinister dialectic will be aided and thus the intrusion of the acausal into the causal speeded up. ( In non-esoteric terms read: `aid the dark forces to spread over Earth.') "
. . .
"IV) An Adept desires to practically and effectively disrupt the status quo and encourage the breakdown of the present system, aiming also to bring about a revolutionary state of affairs in his country beneficial to those whose actions and policies (unknown to them) are aiding and will aid the dialectic and thus evolution. To do this, he aims to target a particular, distinct, group - considering them all as suitable potential opfers. That is, he considers this particular group - by its nature and by its collective presence and actions - has shown itself to be suitable: removal of as many of its members as possible will be conscious natural selection in action. In effect, he wished to create a particular type of 'tension' in society by eliminating members of this particular, distinct, group."
Evolution is more normally fostered by nonviolent means, such as political organization, ritual magic, even by art:
Basic Principles of Aeonic Magick (ONA)
[Acausal energy may be]:
"a) Directed into a specific already existing form (such as an individual) or some causal structure which is created for this purpose. This structure can be some political or religious or social organization, group or enterprise, or it can be some work or works of 'Art', music and so on.
"(b) Drawn forth and left to disperse naturally over Earth (from the site of its presencing).
"(c) Shaped into some new psychic or magickal form or forms - such as an archetype or mythos."
. . . .
"The nature of such things should be akin to the type of changes desired. Each such creation should itself be represented by a unique symbol or sign; by a unique descriptive word, phrase or slogan; by a unique piece of sound [or 'music']; by particular collocations of colour, and so on - or by one particular individual who embodies that idea, ideal, mythos or whatever."
The notion of art as an upwelling of the folksoul is quite absent from these considerations. In the context of Aeonics, symbols are weapons:
Aeonic Magick: A Basic Introduction
Anton Long ONA
"A rudimentary and mostly unconscious numinous symbol is an archetype; another is a myth/mythos....Further, a conscious numinous symbol can be used by an individual to bring about controlled aeonic changes because such symbols, being understood, can be precisely controlled and directed.....A numinous symbol thus makes Aeonic magick feasible for really the first time."
All of this bears some resemblance, though admittedly not much, to Georges Sorel's ideas about the use of myth as a revolutionary weapon. The matter is discussed in Eatwell's "Fascism: A History."
Finally, one may note that Traditional Satanism has taken to justifying its traditionalism precisely in terms of its eschatology:
From "Darkness Is My Friend: The Meaning of the Sinister Way"
by Anton Long ONA 107 yf [yf = "Year of the Führer"? AD 1996?]
"Thus to scorn and reject what now is, presenced as the Satanic, is to reject what is yet to be - and thus it is to reject that which alone ensures the creation of the next civilization, its Galactic Empire and the new higher race of human beings we through our lives, our magick and our deeds, desire to create."
As is often the case in small religious groups, the Traditional Satanists seem less annoyed by the non-Satanic majority than by innovators and apostates who claim to follow the Left-Hand Way:
Satanism, Tradition and The Sinister Way
- Order of the Deorc Fyre 1995ev
"Of course there are other occult Traditions: The Golden Dawn and its heir the OTO, or Ordo Templi Orientis; and the relatively new trend of Chaoism, as expounded by the IOT, or Illuminati of Thanatos. Not one of these Traditions reflect the Promethean vision of Western civilisation; instead their teachings are derived from the messianic Cabala. At its heart the Cabala is the magickal expression of Judeo-Christianity - or more precisely the cult of the Magi."
This is not to say that Traditional Satanists are blind to the need to concentrate on their real enemies:
To Comrade T
The Black Order
"Today, we of TBO think it more fitting that the adversity and accusation be directed against plutocracy, whether in its Puritan, Jewish, or Vatican forms, which seek to LEVEL all under the doctrines of Universalism and cosmopolitism, euphemistically called the `New World Order'."
"The New World Order." Most millenarian Christians think that the Satanists are the New World Order. I guess the New World Order just can't win. In any case, people interested in following that particular line of thought are invited to look at my World Government subpage. As for this discussion, however, I think that I have already given the Devil more than his due.
Copyright © 1998 by John J. Reilly

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