Problems With Perennial Philosophy

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I. Admitting biases


Before starting this brief recount of reasons for rejecting some of the aspects of Perennial Philosophy (later ‘Primordial Tradition’), it would only be fair to admit to some of the own biases that affect this judgement. In so doing it will also be useful to point out how this background, and a particular take on them, results in a discrepancy with what I understand to be Perennial Philosophy and what seems apparent from a direct experience and pondering on the general subjects (rather than specific expertise in the contents of The Book of the Dead, for instance).

First of all, my first serious introduction to esoteric studies was through Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, which I grew to respect a lot without necessarily believing everything it asserted —something the author of the work herself constantly stresses is relevant here: she admits to the fallibility of her writings and constantly reminds the reader she is interpreting and re-transmitting what she thought was an ancient set of teachings. This attitude and approach were more valuable to me in this area of intellectual inquiry than any claims to complete validity (which are only marginally supportable in the social sciences —including History).

Secondly, I received a rather brief but effective introduction to the premises of Perennial Philosophy by a scholarly friend who had spent some time studying them and adhered to them. Our conversation was especially effective because we quickly came to the points of contrast between what I had taken (and personally interpreted) from Blavatsky and the views of Perennial Philosophy behind which my friend stood in a more reasonable and conservative stance than my own burgeoning and militant attitude regarding what is and what can be.

Lastly, my foremost reference regarding the idea of a Tradition from the Golden Age and beyond comes from Julius Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World. Evola is sometimes mentioned by those who adhere to Perennial Philosophy, but he was not himself an adherent in the same way that Alduous Huxley, for instance, was. The degree of compatibility extends to where all agree that there are teachings and practices from so-called pre-historical times that seek to connect human beings with the greater aspects (whether higher or lower) latent in themselves, and through them towards a greater occult reality. Evola himself, it must be said, was strictly discriminatory between what he found as ‘better’ and ‘worse’ approaches to transcendence; and his specific opinions on those matters I respectfully ponder on and pay attention to although I do not necessarily share.

Most recently, my on-going reading of Gwendolyn Taunton’s Primordial Traditions, Vol I. has brought me back to the subject. Taunton made it possible for me to very clearly see what things my own thought shares with Perennial Philosophy and where the great basic points of divergence are. More of a collection of essays in and around the Primordial Tradition (another, more organic, name for Perennial Philosophy), Primordial Traditions, Vol I. presents the reader with a good introduction to the modern form of a Tradition of and for transcendence.

In general, the greatest value of Perennial Philosophy is as a gateway for scholars into a greater reality, which enables us to also peruse their abilities as researchers, thus excavating and re-discovering much knowledge and teachings in a spreading area of subjects. While a subject remains stuck in the ideas of Perennial Philosophy, he will be tied down by civilized, and thus temporal, thought.


II. Blinded by inclusiveness 


The first thing one notices about Perennial Philosophy is that emphasizes the inclusion of all religious ideas, wishing to see beyond the gaping differences between them. The method followed is not difficult to see: cherry-pick the similarities, especially those that align with tolerance and love (because they are nice and marketable), interpret some aspects to match their vision, and simply dismiss discrepancies and the more violent aspects as temporal cultural distortions of the ‘truth’. Now, besides the obvious difference of opinion, I have no problem with the method itself so long as they acknowledge that theirs is a particular interpretation of traditions as per their own premises and even prejudices; but they do not and as good modern scholars, hide behind the facade of academic pretense to attain the closest thing one can get in the ‘modern age of science’ to a kind of supernatural authority.

Whatever Blavatsky did with Theosophy, I never cared much for; I rather followed the wise advice of an older person in holding on to my own ideas while openly exploring and considering new ones insofar as I could learn from them unbound. At the end of the day, the greatest ‘sins’ to modern eyes of both Blavatsky and Evola, are that they outright rejected Judaism as degenerate, though each in their very own and detailed way. When doing so, they both presented specific reasons that were logical and sound, but most would not accept them simply because today’s status quo demands inclusiveness and brainwashes the population into an emotional need for it.

In hindsight, I find Blavatsky’s approach in The Secret Doctrine to be of a more healthily skeptical and having a scientific mentality than the little I’ve read and heard from Perennial Philosophy. This statement may leave some flabbergasted because Perennial Philosophy is the academically accepted account, which to some of us implies something very different than to others; to the majority, the endorsing by at least a certain percentage of academia means there is a degree of ‘objective truth’ in whatever is being endorsed; to others of us, it only signifies that the ideas do not present a direct or drastic threat to the modes of thinking typical of academia grounded in intellectual discourse and tolerance. In other words, academic endorsement in the social sciences is more of a political and emotional marker than anything else.

The most important point of divergence for my own thinking lies in that while Perennial Philosophy asserts that the differences between religions represent the re-discovery of exact same eternal truths through the lenses of individuals in different historical and cultural contexts that distort those teachings, Blavatsky rather posited the idea of a “Secret Doctrine”, which stood since time immemorial and the knowledge of which sipped through the cracks of not-so-hermetic circles of keepers and adherents to take on interpretations and forms that were closer to the truth in different degrees. Basically, where Perennial Philosophy offers a picture of all religions singing Cumbaya in a circle of irrelevant and superficial differences (a similar dismissal of racial differences is advocated by Politically Correct scientists) that ultimately has no bearing upon the ‘inalienable truth that all of them connect to’, Blavatsky talks about religions that got it certain things right and other things wrong, religions that were simply degenerated beyond recognition, and those that maintained a semblance of the original teaching.

One acquainted with Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World might notice the similarity in at least this admission of religions differing in terms of relations to the truth rather than simply being equally valid yet distinctly reflecting versions and interpretations of it. Where the one emphasizes reality and human fallibility, the other swims in a mystic pool of happy feelings that wishes to grant equal footing to the ‘subjective opinion’ of all religions.

In holding on to a kind of democratic/humanist ideal in mind, the Perennial Philosophers argue for this dream of human-wide brotherhood, even if they do not themselves like democracy or humanism in themselves; the reason for this is that the disease behind them is the same: the unwillingness to see that there is better and worse, even though this leads to the danger of mass prejudices. Modern intellectual types, especially those involved in academia and recognized by society as authorities have a hard time discriminating against certain kinds of characteristics; in today’s world, you can discriminate against political ideas and such, but you should not make differences of race or belief a central subject in anything. Truth and reality in all this is utterly unimportant; thus we distinguish…


III. Not far enough in either direction


Typical of any idea on spirituality that is well-received among circles of academics and well-to-dos, the present ‘Perennial Philosophy’ / ‘Primordial Tradition’ is theoretically one of commitment but mainly one of moderation where the typical social norms of the time are left relatively respected; never mind the more extremist solutions placed forth by those who would act in the plane of the relevant; never mind even those crazy and (oh, the Horror!) of those  shady and less than acceptable connections of Evola.

The desire of Perennial Philosophers to be accepted leads them to put logic aside in place of rationalizations (these two are not the same, for those not paying enough attention). They talk about faith and the necessity of pragmatic asceticism, both of which I would agree in a way, it is not so in the extremist or wholly committed way that would break rightfully and inevitably break this society apart and bring the opportunity of reconstruction. What is more, because Perennial Philosophy is primarily academic and over-intellectual  it is at the same time in a constant fear of not being deemed reasonable enough.

At the end of the day, it is not logical and skeptical enough as to uphold reason completely, nor is it fanatic enough to attain the occult power of the true ascetic. It defends this mediocre stance by stating that art and religion escape logic and reason, and that it thus can only be apprehended but never understood. With this, I might generally agree, but again, they do not go far enough; they do not go far enough to understand that all such divergences in perceptions are the illusion, and that even if they acknowledge it in words they are not actively realizing that all reality is one.

If art and religion have a connection to human reality and emotion, there is also a logical (because structured) explanation to it that does not demean or decrease its power and truth. In reality, everything with an order should be explainable logically; that we cannot explain the next level only points out a present limitation in our capacity and understanding.

 

Revolt Against the Modern World, Part I

woman-571715_960_720Julius Evola’s work is one of those magnificent manifestations of human greatness that lie so removed from the mediocrity and narrow-mindedness of modern man that it is, more often than not, ignored or set aside for its apparently cryptic character.  Those who would condemn said author on political grounds have usually been guilty of forcing their own propaganda on to people who, in reality, simply do not fit their simplistic models.  Julius Evola was first and foremost a traditionalist with a predilection for ancient solar and aristocratic traditions in particular.  This would immediately put him at odds with the egalitarian and pro-plebeian secular humanist values of modern Democratic and Marxist ideologies which borrowed directly from Judeo-Christian thought1.

Evola’s mangnum opus, Revolt Against the Modern World, is divided into to main sections.  The first of these gives the reader an overview of aspects of Tradition that Evola wishes to clarify in view of the often distorted characterisations that have survived in the eye of modernity.  Its title, ‘The World of Tradition’ already hints at the author’s belief that human beings in this ancient past lived through a fundamentally different experience of life from ours, which essentially amounted to them belonging to a literally different world from ours.

“whenever the ‘historical’ and ‘scientific’ methods of modern man are applied to traditional civilizations, other than in the coarser aspect of traces and witnesses, the results are almost always distortions that destroy the spirit, limit and alter the subject matter, and lead into the blind alley of alibis created by the prejudices of the modern mentality as it defends and asserts itself in every domain.”

—Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Preface

Julius Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World goes far deeper than any popular book on history, archaeology or esoteric topics, although it uses elements of all and belongs to none of those categories.  It is not an academic treatise because its methodology and pressing tone, by its own admission, cannot allow itself to be distracted, detained or confused by methods and approaches that simply do not fit the study of the topics at hand.  Evola nonetheless shows himself as knowledgeable as any professional in academic circles from the technical standpoint of the study of ancient traditions.

“Thus, what I call ‘traditional method’ is usually characterized by a double principle: ontologically and objectively by the principle of correspondence, which ensures an essential and functional correlation between analogous elements, presenting them as a simple homologous forms of the appearance of a central and unitary meaning; and epistemologically and subjectively by the generalized use of the principle of induction, which is here understood as a discursive approximation of a spiritual intuition, in which what is realized is the integration and the unification of the diverse elements encountered in the same one meaning and in the same one principle.”

—Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Preface


§ The true nature of regality in the World of Tradition

“May our leader be our bridge.”

According to Evola’s view, the basis for the ascension of a superior caste, of nobility, had all to do with the superiority of their actions and the effectiveness of their decisions in the long run; that is, not with respect to their immediate effect only, but according to their ultimate consequences in and through nature.  The nobleman differentiated himself from the plebeian through his spirit and thought, by being able to transcend his own animalistic nature and put higher values into action.  This is precisely what Evola calls a ‘transcendent approach’: heroic action and contemplation.

“Kingship was the supreme form of government, and was believed to be in the natural order of things.  It did not need physical strength to assert itself, and when it did, it was only sporadically.  It imposed itself mainly and irresistibly through the spirit.”

—Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Chapter 2: ‘Regality’

These were not merely temporary and impulsive gestures as they are seen in the modern and passing idea that the modern world has today of the hero in the sportsman or the civil servant that aids a citizen in distress.  Attached to the idea of true regality (royalty) is the institution and preservation of traditions that reinforce and cultivate the mentality and overall spirit that is, in essence, what constitutes the superior caste.

“According to traditional man the physical plane merely contains effects; nothing takes place in this world that did not originate first in the next world or in the invisible dimension.”

—Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Chapter 5: ‘The Mystery of the Rite’

Even more telling is the idea that royalty had a different destiny in the afterlife.

“The belief that everybody’s soul is immortal is rather odd; very little evidence of it can be found in the world of Tradition.

(…)

A regal or an aristocratic tradition arises whenever there is a dominion over the totems and not a dominion of the totems, and wherever the bond is inverted and the deep forces of the stock are given a superbiological orientation by a supernatural principle in the direction of an Olympian ‘victory’ and immortality.”

—Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Chapter 8: ‘The Two Paths in the Afterlife’

This was not some arbitrary and superstitious assignment of privileges, but an earned merit which had to be acquired by each individual no matter who his parents were.  Lineages were created because it was thought that propensities towards greatness were lying dormant in family traits.

“If we refer, however, to the Indo-Aryan tradition in which the caste system was the most rigorously applied, simply to be born in a caste, though necessary, was not considered enough; it was necessary for the quality virtually conferred upon a person at birth to be actualized by initiation.”

—Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Chapter 9: ‘Life and Death of Civilizations’

What is hinted at is, furthermore, a conscious directing of the excellence of the lineage that is not a mere play of eugenics, but a cultivation of excellence that in each generation evaluates worth and strives to cultivate the best inner traits of the family while adopting new blood when the individual carrying it is deemed exceptional.

“Both the higher castes and traditional aristocracies, as well as superior civilizations and races (…) cannot be explained by blood, but through blood, by something that goes beyond blood and that has a metabiological character.”

—Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Chapter 9: ‘Life and Death of Civilizations’

That this became perverted and only a memory with the passage of time is what Evola himself identifies with the decay of humanity and the advent of the current Dark Age.

“Rites, institutions, laws, and customs may still continue to exist for a certain time; but with their meaning lost and their ‘virtue’ paralyzed they are nothing but empty shells.”

—Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World, Chapter 9: ‘Life and Death of Civilizations’


§ Further

“One would look in vain for ‘religion’ in the original forms of the world of Tradition.  There are civilizations that never named their gods or attempted to portray them.”

Evola goes on to discuss the difference in perceptions of the world and the experience of life as a whole between modern world human beings and those living in closer connection with nature and its rhythms.  Both time and space are said to be perceived differently, everything is perceived as being interconnected rather than strictly separated.

We will not, however, continue to discuss these details and the reader is encouraged to pick up Revolt Against the Modern World for this article is but a brief introduction and overview of what I personally perceive as some of the most general and main points made in this first part of the book.  In the future, we will be discussing the second part of Julius Evola’s book a chapter a time.  This second part is titled ‘Genesis and Face of the Modern World’, and is more pressing for us to study.  The first part of the book is nonetheless a necessary read if one is to understand what follows.


1 The wording of pro-secular humanism sources is very telling, confusing and accusing anything that does not agree with their own particular views as “superstition”, “pseudoscience” or “barbarism” without even beginning to understand it.

Concentrated Thoughts, A First Rant

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Some seemingly random thoughts to ponder on and perhaps even study.

Varg Vikernes Reflections on European Mythology and Polytheism

reflections_on_european_mythology_and_polytheismThe present book is, as the title suggests, a series of reflections and afterthoughts regarding the ancient and original European traditions now generally denominated as “paganism” (a word used by the Christian world to refer to anything different in a derogatory manner).  The study of European traditions is taken up and explored by Vikernes, not with the distanced aloofness of a scholar trying to match foreign theories to a strange phenomenon completely disconnected from himself, but as someone who cares for it as someone would care for a loved one  —a living thing in the full sense of the expression (for it certainly is, a point I am sure Vikernes would agree with).

The present article will briefly go through what the writer considers the main themes and their attitudes that stand out when one first reads this book.  It is important, however, to point out that it becomes apparent to the sensitive reader that Reflections on European Mythology and Polytheism has a rather personal touch to it, like most of what Vikernes does, and one feels as if he were sitting close by talking and expounding on the topics at hand, immersing both himself and the listener in a magical well of knowledge that melds with experience.  It mixes the giving out of facts with insightful pointing out of relations and cross-references, sprinkling the discussion of certain topics throughout different texts so that they build up in the mind of the reader.

“To me only the beauty of European polytheism remains”

— Varg Vikernes, ‘The Lord of the Elves’

These are given in a rather unapologetic tone proper of esoteric treatises which do not make claim to a perfection of the text but which deem the reader worthy enough to receive the statements as they are and then proceed to judge on their own.  The mistaken modern view that  expects a writer to keep apologizing and self denigrating so that the reader does not think he is pretentious is a waste of energy, time and material resources.  If only people would consider content before rhetoric, and then proceed to the discourse only after they have understood the value and significance inherent in the content itself, something close to a proper understanding of things would be possible for the public.


§ Correction of outsider interpretations

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Christians destroying symbols of European culture.

The most important feature of Vikernes’ writing and attitude that should be considered as the most important for even the casual reader is the attempt he is making at correcting the biased and often twisted view of ancient European traditions.  Somehow, in the sudden upsurge of views that sought to bring respect and awe for traditions of the East as well as American aboriginals and other foreign groups, the establishment forgot that before the invasion of Christianity, Europe also had equally valid and rich customs that deserved the same degree of respect.  Furthermore, they forgot that these being their own, they deserved an even larger amount of attention.

This may, at first, sound like bigotry, but it can be easily shown it is not when one points out that it is natural and proper that the Chinese person protects and seeks to understand the ancient cultural roots of his folk1; so are the Quiches of Guatemala encouraged and protected that they may cultivate their Mayan roots free of the invading oppression of colonial Christianity and sterile modernity.  Why should it be any different for the peoples of Europe?

“When I — arrogantly as some have claimed — said in the foreword to my book Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia that there are no good books (at least not in English, German or Scandinavian) out there about our mythology and religion, to some degree save The Golden Bough, by the anthropologist Sir James Frazer, this is what I mean; just about everything we know about our mythology from these books is seen through dense Judeo-Christian filters and interpreted in a Judeo-Christian light, it is twisted and distorted, and is unrecognisable.”

—Varg Vikernes, ‘Shadows amongst the Ruins’

The point he makes is very important because while we have striven to correct our views on, for instance, Hinduism, so that we can try and understand (as far as that is possible for us as foreigners) them from their own perspective, no such attempt has been made by academia to understand the original traditions of Europe, we have been seen as lowly enemies by the invading and strangling thought of Christianity as an aristocratic way of controlling large masses of people.  Thus arose the image of the Witch-cult2 as an enemy of all that was “proper and good” in the eyes of the authorities throughout Europe, while these were most probably just the extreme expressions of the actual local culture.


1Mythos gives rise to Culture and Culture gives rise to Folk, and Folk gives rise to Race.”, K.

2 The reader may want to refer to Margaret Alice Murray’s book, The Witch-cult in Western Europe; though certainly not perfect and based on conjectures from sparse evidence, this is a book despised on an ideological level because it challenges the standard conception people have of Europe to the point that they start to panic when confronted with the idea of a Europe unified by underground expressions of original culture.


§ A physical and psychological naturalism

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It is important to clarify that, to the best of my knowledge, Varg Vikernes is a traditionalist of the most pragmatic kind. The esoteric overtones which his subject matter contains are cut down by him after the manner of Sir James Frazer himself, who saw anything beyond material explanations as mere superstition.  Now, Vikernes does not strike one as having this opinion, for he believes in inspiration and the power derived from symbols and stories.  For him, however, this is simply manifested on the psychological level that then may transfer that into physical action.

This in itself does not contradict occult thought and is perfectly in line with it.  But we can perceive from the text that nothing higher than that in the manner of spheres of existence or levels of manifestation are implied. For him, the interpretation is of the most flat one can give to Jungian explanations of a collective tradition functioning through interaction with the human unconscious.  What must be clarified here is that Vikernes is not a mystic per se, because there is no conscious and direct search for a purposely created space.

The naturalism that he seems to follow with stoic resolution, however, clearly opens up a channel and we see in him, his thought and his artistic work traces of greatness and inspiration.  It might be further observed that contrary to the pretentiousness of self-aware mystics or would-be occultists of the common variety who make overt attempts at being something by following trends in fashion and ways of speaking, there is no such attempt at pretending in Vikernes’ work.  On the contrary, we find a constant flow of observations, facts, and conclusions which are then sprinkled with stout opinions.

We see action before speech, we see concrete results and facts instead of the empty banter of he who claims to experience but has nothing to show for it.  Not that proving your personal journey to someone else is important, in fact, the contrary is closer to the truth.  But Varg Vikernes stands out as an honest man of deep thought who exemplifies through action who he wants to be, offering us in his book the results of his meditations, as it were, through the eye of his own knowledge and experience.


§ Judeo-Christianity as alien to European customs

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The other prominent theme that runs throughout the whole of Vikernes’ work is his emphasis the fact that Christianity as stemming from Judaism is an alien religion that was imposed on European peoples.  That this is still contested by the public at large is unsurprising for they have been brought up believing that Christianity is essentially a European religion.  It is incumbent upon the writer to reassure the reader that Christianity was in fact an artificially adopted tactic by the aristocracy which was then used as a tool to oppress and manipulate the native people of Europe.

We do not need to refer at all to any of the books written by Vikernes to confirm this as anyone acquainted closely with Charlemagne’s unification of Western Europe and his involvement and use of religion to this end will already understand this.  The reason why any conquering aristocracy might want to make use of Christianity rather than stick to old religions of local variations is simple: Christianity’s character is essentially universalist. This means that anyone and everyone should be brought under its banner. In this, it mirrors Islam, which seeks to spread its righteousness like black clouds over the whole of the world (and the universe, if they could).

To make a clear distinction here, completely unrelated to the book under discussion, although Judaism is the indisputable father of those two other monotheistic religions, they do not share that attitude of ideological conquering, for Judaism is more of a closed ethnic and tribal authentic tradition that seeks to separate itself from outsiders through custom and race.  Vikernes does not speak about Judaism itself except in some passing light remarks, but we here recommend the reader to inspect books such as Maurice H. Harris’ Hebraic Literature, to understand both differences and roots of Christianity and Islam in Judaism. It is, furthermore, important in understanding its difference with European tradition as seen in Germanic, Celtic and Hellenic traditions, for instance.

Europe has a unifying general concept throughout its geographical territory that is expressed in particular modes that can be easily and directly correlated without much effort.  These all express the values of individual freedom and the value of a personal strength of will, even when under a leader and a duty towards tribe.  This contrasts highly with Judeo-Christiantiy which is, as a famous philosopher once said, “slave morality”. European tradition is one imbued with pride and one that seeks to find its place within a nature it admires and worships as mother. The desert religions, on the other hand, see everything as given to them by god to use as they see fit, and they see humans or themselves as separate from it.  Fundamental contrasts like this one go on and on.

“Man has a free will and is left to find his own way around in the universe, but he is not free from the consequences or the impulses of nature.  In ancient times this free will was seen as a sorcerous tool; a man with a strong will could by the force of his sheer will cause different effects in the world.”

—Varg Vikernes, ‘The Power of Will’


§ A glorious rebirth

Despite the permanent theme of European traditions in opposition to Christianity, the dominating tones in Reflections on European Mythology and Polytheism remain in the reverential and calmly explanatory.  There is, furthermore, a very proud and hopeful outlook that believes in the rebirth of a European population that will reach back and connect with its original roots.  This is completely in line with the traditional beliefs of Europeans, which see after the twilight of the gods, the rule of new and perhaps lesser gods who then become the old gods themselves. This last bit cannot be understood correctly when Germanic/Scandinavian religion is sought to be Christianized or understood in terms of sterile anthropology or Freudian terms, but becomes readily apparent when understood and inspected from the inside out.

“Return to your roots! Like any tree out there, you too need your roots to survive: to grow tall and old, strong and beautiful.”

—Varg Vikernes, ‘The Roots of Europe’