Nature: A Symbol of the Divine Archetype

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

The presence of God was often experienced by the Prophets in the wilderness, because it was there, in that refuge from the modern world, that the environment still retained a primordial quality. Moses (as) was in the wilderness when he saw the burning bush:

“Behold he saw a fire: So he said to his family `Tarry ye; I perceive a fire; perhaps I can bring you some burning brand therefrom, or find some guidance at the fire.”1

According to the New Testament, John the Baptist (as) would preach in the wilderness of Judea2. The Prophet Muhammad (saws) would retreat from the world into the solitary space of the cave on Mount Hira outside Mecca to be close to God. It was in that cave when he was visited by the Angel Jibril with the first Revelation:

“Read in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher who Created.”3

When I see nature, from a humble grass to a great oak tree I am immediately brought to a higher state of consciousness where I feel at one with the order and perfection in the universe.

I seek fulfilment in my life, but so often the experience falls short of what my soul craves. My life seems beset by a constant sense of imperfection. It is often only in those brief moments of `connection` when I feel at peace.

In short, nature can connect us with a deeper sense of reality. All around and within is disturbance, yet when we see a sunset or a bird hopping about in a tree, a sense of meaning and harmony is restored. Thomas Hardy wrote in The Darkling Thrush:

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware

A momentary mystical experience of nature such as this can restore a troubled soul to a feeling that, as Julian of Norwich wrote, `All shall be well`4. Often it is like a sudden awakening. For example, one morning I was out for a walk on the lonely moors, the thick fog encroaching around me. No sounds could be heard except the wind and the occasional shriek from a pheasant. I felt a sense of constriction and depression and understood how myths of the devil appearing as a black dog may have come about. The wilderness can have a powerful affect on the soul. Then the fog lifted and revealed a dramatic vista of green fields, villages and forests. My heart soared into a vision of clarity and happiness. These experiences in nature provide a sense of meaning and purpose in our otherwise mundane existence.

This sense of meaning arises as, the Quran teaches us, because the universe was designed for a specific purpose:

“He has created the heavens and the earth in accordance with an inner truth, sublimely exalted is He above anything to which men may ascribe a share in His divinity.”5

And it was created in perfect harmony and order:

“Hallowed be He who has created seven heavens in full harmony with one another: no fault will thou see in the creation of the Most Gracious. And turn thy vision upon it once more: canst thou see any flaw?

Yea turn thy vision upon it again and yet again: and every time thy vision will fall back upon thee, dazzled and truly defeated.”6

It is this purpose and flawless design that gives rise to a feeling of connection with God in nature. In `Symbol and Archetype”, Martin Lings explains that the natural world is a symbol of the Divine Archetype. In other words, we connect to God who is the Absolute Perfect, through the symbolic perfection we experience in nature:

“the universe and its contents were created in order to make known the Creator, and to make known the good is to praise it; the means of making it known is to reflect it or shadow it; and a symbol is the reflection or shadow of a higher reality.”7

The existence of the higher reality was a teaching of Plato, who said that, although we cannot `see` a perfect Divine reality existing behind our material one, there are signs which indicate its presence, such as in the mathematical perfection of geometry. Similarly, Emmanuel Kant also recognised that, although what we experience in the phenomenal world was only inside our minds, there was a reality existing outside our minds, which he called the `Noumenon`.

Our heart, is at the centre of our being, and as such is capable of transcending the material realm and accessing into higher dimensions:

`it is the heart of humans, lying above the psychic domain which has access to these dimensions`8.

We feel a sense of peace and resolution in nature because our hearts resonate with the flawlessness of the universe, which brings us back to Allah.

Therefore, although we are subject to our own weaknesses and imperfections and trapped within the worldly sphere, nature can provide a re-unification with the Divine. This is so because higher dimensions are accessible through the heart. This helps us understand how experiencing nature can be a form of `worship`, allowing us to travel towards the Transcendent, what is outside creation.

References

  1. Quran 20:10-12
  2. New Testament. Gospel of Matthew 3:1-3
  3. Quran 96:1
  4. Julian of Norwich. The Revelation of Divine Love
  5. Quran 16:3
  6. Quran 67:3-4
  7. Lings, M. (2005). Symbol and Archetype. Fons Vitae, Louisveille –

Lings writes: `The openness of the Eye of the Heart, or the wake of the Heart as many traditions term it, is what distinguishes primordial man – and by extension the Saint – from fallen man. The significance of this inward opening may be understood from the relationship between the sun and the moon which symbolise respectively the Spirit and the Heart: just as the moon looks towards the sun and transmits something of its reflected radiance to the darkness of the night, so the Heart transmits the light of the Spirit to the night of the soul. The Spirit itself lies open to the Supreme Source of all light, thus making, for one whose Heart is awake, a continuity between the Divine Qualities and the soul.` p 3

 

 

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Dependency on the Unseen

Ever since the dawn of mankind, we have expressed our recognition and dependency on an unseen realm. Some of the earliest cave paintings are spiritual, in that they demonstrate an awareness of another reality behind this one. For example, the costumed man from Les Trois Freres in the Ariege in France, initially estimated at over 20,000 years old, has been interpreted as showing the Shamanic transition into the spirit world1. The earliest known man-made symbols are `lozenge` or diamond shapes which date from 60,000 years ago in Blombos cave, South Africa which also point to a development of human consciousness beyond the immediate material perception2.

Les Trois Man cmp

In Europe, most terrestrial habitats succeed to forest if left un-managed, and in Hunter Gatherer societies, this prevalence of forests gave rise to the worship on the tree3. The tree became a symbol of the world axis, or `Axis Mundi`, the link between heaven and Earth.

The dependency tradition continued into the Neolithic period, when standing stones, symbolising the Axis Mundi, replaced trees when nomadic people settled4. However, the worship of the tree spirit is a legacy which has lasted into modern times. The term “touch wood” can be traced back to the practice of carrying a piece of wood in one`s pocket. A `touchwood` embodied the healing powers of the parent tree of the wood. The Rowan was particularly favoured because the berries have a tiny five-pointed star on them, an ancient magical symbol of protection4. Maypole celebrations in Europe, when a tree truck was taken from the forest and brought to the village and set in place amid great merriment, were an expression of tree worship linked with fertility festivals on Mayday.  Sometimes, parts of the tree were taken around the houses to spread the blessings of the tree-spirit5.

Despite efforts by the Church to stamp out these practices during the Puritan period of the 17th Century, decoration of churches with greenery on Mayday survived into the early modern period6. And the Green Man, which represents the nature spirit, can still be found in church stonework, both from Medieval and Modern periods.

Reason for the dependency

If we measure the height of individuals, no two will be exactly the same to an infinite number of decimal places, yet we can envisage true equal height abstractly in our mind. We can therefore also imagine true social equality and true justice.

Our experience of imperfection is what makes us recognise perfection. But since we do not fully experience perfection in our life, it becomes in a philosophical sense, a transcendent idea. In the Symposium, Plato describes transcendental beauty:

“First, this beauty always is, and doesn`t come into being or cease; it doesn`t increase or diminish. Second, it`s not beautiful in one respect but ugly in another, or beautiful at one time but not at another, or beautiful in relation to this but ugly in relation to that; nor beautiful here and ugly there because it is beautiful for some people but ugly for others. Nor will beauty appear to him in the form of a face or hands or any part of the body; or as a specific account or piece of knowledge; or as being anywhere in something else, for instance in a living creature or earth or heaven or anything else. It will appear as in itself and by itself, always single in form; all other beautiful things share its character, but do so in such a way that, when other things come to being or cease, it is not increased or decreased in any way nor does it undergo any change.”

Everybody has their own view on what is beautiful. But what Plato was saying was that there exists in a higher realm a beauty which is not relative to personal tastes. It is the primal beauty, unchangeable, beyond shape or form. It simply `is`. The place where this beauty exists would be traditionally referred to as heaven or the unseen realm. But Plato was appealing to our reason. Transcendental `perfect` ideas of beauty, justice and equality can be understood rationally, and point to an invisible reality running concurrently with our own visible world.

Emmanuel Kant described this inaccessible realm as the `Noumenon`, where God, freedom and immortality resided. It was however possible to connect with it through the ideal of human morality, which in the early period of the Enlightenment was still seen as immutable as the laws of physics.

This instinctive recognition of a perfect realm, is according to religious traditions, due to our pre-existence in a primordial Garden of perfection. `The Fall` was the descent from this heavenly realm, and its subsequent veiling to our senses. The desire for fulfilment is rooted in the soul`s yearning to return to Eden. The dependency is therefore a deep desire for reconciliation with the spiritual realm. So religious worship becomes the means to satisfy the sacred longing.

The difficulty in attaining spiritual fulfilment has been expressed in many myths. Most ancient civilisations had a mythical tradition of the `Active door`. This is a narrow passageway or journey through two constricting poles (such as the clashing rocks of Greek myth), which represent the almost impossible feat of transcending the veil7. This crossing point is indicative of human trials of the spirit, or spiritual development, and can also be represented by rungs of a ladder. There is a tradition of the human being travelling upward towards heaven, such as is seen in Chinese, Pictish and Christian symbols of the fish. The Salmon travels upstream from the lower to the upper waters. Part of the symbology of the Axis Mundi is to represent this spiritual ascent.

 

Dependency on the unseen manifests when we start to recognise the differences in the two realities: the lower world and the higher. A simple analogy of this can be seen with electricity. When an electrical force is created through a voltage it is called a `potential difference` and this creates an attraction between two poles. The connection between the human soul and the Divine is like this. As the differentiation between our state, which is weak and dependent becomes more apparent in comparison to the perfection of the Divine, our connection gets stronger. Our dependency is realised through tribulation and suffering, necessary for spiritual development.

The word `religion` is from Latin religio which means to bind together, which may be seen in the context of binding a group of people together. However, it also relates to the connection between humans and the Creator.  In examining the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam we find variations on the same concept of the link between heaven and earth and a transcendent perfection:

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord” Psalms 1:1

“And the light shineth in the darkness” John 1:5

“in accordance with the natural disposition God instilled in mankind” Quran 30:30

Dependency tradition in Literature

In Dostoevsky`s Brother`s Karamazow, Father Zosima says:

“On earth we are as it were astray… Much on earth is hidden from us, but to make up for that we have been given a mysterious hidden longing for our living bond with the other world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds. This is why the philosophers say that we cannot apprehend the reality of things on earth.” (II, 6,3)

We can take from this firstly, a reference to the Fall, (on earth we are as it were astray). Then the nature of the soul`s separation from our pre-existent heavenly condition, and subsequent eternal longing to return, and thus dependency is expressed. Finally Plato`s perfect realm of ideas is alluded to, and Kant`s Noumenon (we cannot apprehend the reality of things on earth). Dostoevsky wove into the words of the monk Zosima, the dependency tradition in its many connotations.

In 20th century literature allusions to a sacred reality can be found which are both romantic and existential. In Herman Hesse`s Steppenwolf the hero has this experience:

“..and suddenly the forgotten melody of those notes of the piano came back to me again. It soared aloft like a soap-bubble, reflecting the whole world in miniature on its rainbow surface, and then softly burst. Could I be altogether lost when that heavenly little melody had been secretly rooted within me and now put forth its lovely bloom with all its tender hues? I might be a beast astray, with no sense of its environment, yet there was some meaning in my foolish life, something in me gave an answer and was the receiver of those distant calls from worlds far above.”

Earlier in the novel, the difficulty of maintaining this spiritual harmony is expressed:

“Ah it is hard to find this track of the Divine in the midst of this life we lead, in this besotted humdrum age of spiritual blindness…”8

Hesse expresses those moments when we feel the connection, when everything suddenly makes complete sense, as if the universe, and our place in it, is just as it should be. That`s because at that moment we are in harmony with the frequency of higher dimensions. Most of the time we feel an uncomfortable sense of disorder and fragmentation. Sartre describes this feeling in Nausea, whilst sitting in a cafe the hero is:

`.. quietly slipping into the water`s depths, towards fear`.

But when a record is put on the duke box he suddenly feels his `nausea` disappear, `I am touched, I feel my body at rest like a precision machine`.9

Both Hesse and Sartre are describing how music has the power to lift us out of our fragmented state. To galvanise our inner focus. It is the contraction of our senses, and the harmony of musical notes which strengthen the sacred link to the heavenly realm deep within us.

It is often only when we emerge from periods of tribulation that we are able to feel a sense of expansion which allows us to recognise these higher states, to experience the light channelling from above. We tend to get trapped in apathy, depression and boredom and we fail to see our freedom and happiness is always present. In other words the connection is always there, it is our contracted and narrow vision, our weak grip that leaves us fumbling in the dark. Once we are aware that a higher state of awareness is possible, it may be possible to maintain it through raising our consciousness at will. Attention focusing, meditation. Sometimes the sound of a bird can create order out of chaos. This is the sparking of the sacred nexus. Goethe`s Faust is saved from his own suicide by hearing the Easter bells.10

“Hold fast to God`s rope..” Quran 3:103

After-thought

Recently I have witnessed a number of instances when people, who describe themselves as either Atheistic or Agnostic, saying `touchwood…. `, and feeling the urge to actually touch some wood, like a pine dinner table, before intending some action. For example, they might say “Touchwood, all will go to plan”. This struck me as demonstrating that humans recognise an unseen realm instinctively. More to the point, if there is no wood at hand, they say `touchwood` and tap their heads! Now this action shows that the instinct is far deeper than even tree worship. It is the necessity for some ritualistic action to be performed, in order that some higher power be acknowledged to ensure the unseen forces are in their favour. Then their heart is reassured. We can easily dismiss this as silly superstition that humans have always had. But that is the whole point. Despite the advances of science and technology, and the current fashion for the irreligious, there is a continuity of a dependency tradition on the unseen.

References

 

  1. Wallace-Murphy, T. (2005). Cracking the Symbol Code. Watkins, London
  2. Lomas, R. (2011). The Secret Power of Masonic Symbols. Fair Winds Press
  3. Frazer, J. (1922). The Golden Bough. Wordsworth, published 1993
  4. Bryce, D. (1994). Symbolism of the Celtic Cross. Llanerch Publishers, Feninfach
  5. Kindred, G. (2003). The Sacred Tree Glennie Kindred. Derbyshire
  6. Clarke, D. and Roberts, A. (1996). Twilight of the Celtic Gods. Blandford, London, p 113
  7. Coomaraswamy, A K. Symplegades. Studies in Comparative religion, Winter Edition 1973
  8. Hesse, H. (1955). Steppenwolf. English Translation. Penguin Books.
  9. Sartre. Nausea
  10. Goethe. Faust part I

Figure from 1.

The Shadow Man

 

Shadow man 1I saw the Shadow Man,

Prowling, mocking,

His Bedlam foundry stoked,

A violent furnace evoked,

A storm wind unleashed.

Subtle, patient,

Lying in ambush, leading astray,

To raise a tempest,

From a Flickering flame.

Don`t follow the footsteps of the Shadow Man,

His imperceptible tiptoes,

Unnoticed goes,

The relentless pursuit of his goal.

Beware the Shadow Man,

For his world is ephemeral,

Bound, delusional.

 His persistent claws stir the cauldron,

Of the imagination,

But like a mirror or a picture,

Pitiful hands reach out,

  Almost grasping it, touching it, entering it.

Him goading, roaring with laughter,

Watching you slither and flounder,

To be left warn out.

Degraded.

 

Shadow man compressed

I saw the Shadow Man.

Deceptive, cunning,

The Trickster.

He leads you down blind cul-de-sacs,

And ravished alleyways.

Where steam blows out of rusty pipes,

And metal stairs ascend.

Don`t follow the Shadow Man,

To his lair,

Below pokey window`s vacant blackness.

In the lower storey`s of abandoned mills.

Rubble, oil, plaster damp smells,

And floorboards booby trapped.

Dripping pipes, and shattered glass glint,

In the moonlight.

In cold, wet darkness.

Far from home.

Escape the Shadow Man

Run up the rusty steps,

Out through the narrow paths.

`Cross the cemetery past the Church.

He follows every step, knows your game,

Until shoulder to shoulder,

grappling with keys.

Inside the guards clasp him,

 Hear the great iron door`s echoing clang,

And chains rattle and locks snap secure,

Back down the spiral stairs again,

In his prison he wails.

 The Shadow Man, don`t give him rein.

The Holly Tree

holly compressed

The holly tree,

Channels the infinite beauty,

Towards me.

Protects me from plight,

My vessel is filled,

With Your light.

The perfect red,

The most moderate green,

`Beauty always is,

It doesn`t come into being or cease`*,

Now I have seen the beauty of the holly tree.

Oh, holly tree,

To thee I turn for truth,

A pleasant meander,

Draped in sunlight,

Beneath the infinite blue.

 

 

*The line `Beauty always is, it doesn`t come into being or cease` is from Plato`s Symposium, Penguin Books. Translation by Christopher Gill and Desmond Lee. Page 60.

Heptonstall in the rain

Follow a steep cobbled street,

Where a whimsical world meets,

Sober Medieval antiquity,

Secret alleyways beckon, uneven, like veins,

Twist and slither past old buildings left unchanged,

Since Coiner King David`s reign.

Village stocks and poky warn stone steps,

Dressed in coal black edifice,

Isolated by precipices,

Evil spirits gargoyles chase,

Their grimace reflects the Holy grace

Of this place.

Meet `Old Sal`, mercurial, cheeky.

In the candle lit Steam age,

Wise women taught the old ways,

Tales of the supernatural,

Unseen, so forgotten.

But he knows, that stone head,

Archaic, otherworldly,

Still guarding the awesome church,

There to the end,

Like a Captain duty bound,

A healing silence summons the potent energy,

Still soothing penitent souls,

The quaint and romantic ache,

Of Heptonstall in the rain.

 

New Year`s Eve 2017 Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, England

 

The Wheel of Science, The Axle of Religion

Universe

Descartes, he separated out the world of science and mind,

And Locke proposed that from the world, all knowledge we will find,

When Bishop Berkeley did enquire `for what we know`? again,

He concluded that reality is created in the brain.

If such a clear distinction separates mind from reality,

Then Kant decreed his Noumenon is behind the world we see,

And if the mind is where the source of religion emanates,

Then religion this philosophy of the mind will reinstate.

So here begins the starting point of Existentialism,

When Johann Fitche said we create the world that we live in,

But when Auguste Compte and Ernst Mach espoused Positivism,

It was the greatest influence on the twentieth century Scientism.

But such a cry for order in a world of complexity,

Is just like Revelation which provided equal clarity,

And just as religion teaches us the archetypal norms,

So now biology becomes the only discipline to inform.

But to only speak of measurements is to live in an age,

like a painter with his careful eyes pressed right against the page,

No continuity of values or certain Grand Narrative,

Where religion becomes a subject for the empirical exegete.

And traditions are broken down both textually and normative,

And morals no longer universal become relative,

That if material science becomes our only vision to reflect,

It brings us back to Descartes` doubts in human intellect.

The techno-scientific age is sure to leave us bereft,

Of guidance and of purpose in a world which is adrift,

If Revelation that neither power nor ego has tainted,

Is seen as a book which only humans have created.

For the more we measure the heavens we see a universe intended,

Or we can only fall back on that its naturally selected,

From a multitude of other places where life could not persist,

But yet we have no way of seeing if those universes exist.

For the physical constants that we know in our cosmology,

Are `coincidently` perfect baffling scientific fraternity,

And the absolute conditions required for elements to form,

Were present in the stars, millions of years before the dawn.

And the acceleration of the universe is so finely permissible,

It is on a knife edge so reduced, it is considered impossible.

So as science is now reaffirming our cosmic uniqueness,

Religion is the missing link that will restore our completeness.

Whitby

Whitby AbbeyOn the North-east coast of Yorkshire, stands a town of gothic fame,

From where a Captain sailed the world, and literati came,

From its fossil trees came jet a stunning stone worn by the Queen,

And in the inns the secret doors let smugglers go unseen.

There came in early days of Whitby Abbey a Royal Princess,

To this worldly mirror of Heav`n she was Saint Hilda the Abbess,

She established peace and justice and her potent energy,

that emits within those walls imprints a ghostly entity.

For in later years the Abbey suffered destruction and vain plunder,

Now at its poignant carcass people only stare with wonder,

Within the weathered gothic pride and romance they intuit,

The phantom figure is seen within the windows of that ruin.

For centuries the Abbey bells would chime for people`s worship,

Till Henry`s Reformation stole them `board a ship a`cursed,

Destined to sink beneath the waves the sea bed was their grave,

But still is heard their haunting echo chiming from the waves.

In the Abbey`s height there was a night of foul deeds and of penance,

A hermit monk was set upon by Nobles whom they menaced,

His piety made history, for their punishment he remitted,

If they gathered staves to halt the waves for the crimes that they committed.

And to this day on Ascension Day, is built a fence of wood,

Upon the harbour sands in Whitby for to stop a flood,

Because the monks request does hold for the bloodshed of those hands,

That should they not, then so it be a curse upon the land.

And from the Royal Crescent, and a pen the myth was born,

From legends of the black dog and the haunting sailors` lore,

And from his mind there did emerge the most deceptive demon,

That drew the spirits of powers unseen, defying mankind`s reason.

And from the cliff where stands a plaque and grows the summer thrift,

Is seen the sea where the Russian schooner Dmitri ran adrift,

Though long has past Whitby`s shipping and its Christian glory days,

Still many walk its charming streets and haunted passageways.