It is easy to become despondent when surveying the current political and social landscape. For me, this despondency becomes all the greater when witnessing the theological complicity in these frauds and their manifold iterations—whether from the Blue Meanies writing for traditionalist Catholic blogs, from their lotos-eater counterparts at the other extreme, or even from much of what passes for more high-brow speculation on that one outlet that publishes the occasional interesting but for the most part just okay conference papers (most are high in the theoretical or abstruse but generally lacking in practical application.) Things are no better among the other Christian institutions, which manifest theme and variation on the same motif. But I’m with Mae West. I’m not ready for an institution. Turning to allegedly esoteric or otherwise alternative sources serves just as futile, enthralled as so many of them are to the totalizing demands of the political. So much fodder for malaise. So much.

One disturbing trend among Christian discourse these days is to speak disparagingly of “pagans.” I’m not sure what they mean by the term, other than that it functions as a convenient catch-all meaning “them.” This trend is as meaningless as it is tiresome, yet still motivated by the same political polarization as what we find in the vast field of current public discourse—and certainly underwritten by the primarily unconscious but nonetheless powerful Calvinist notion of being “the elect.” What begins as tragedy ends as farce. No one is more accurate than Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

I’m not sure what “pagan” means to the majority of those using the term as a pejorative. I don’t think they mean “neo-pagan.” It seems they intend something more along the lines of “nasty secularists” or something like that. Etymologically, the word comes from the Latin for “peasant” or “rustic.” As I’ve written many times before in this blog, I have no problem self-identifying as a Christian Pagan. In fact, I don’t see how someone can be a Christian without being a pagan.

To be a pagan, in my understanding, is to live in awareness and awe of both the created world and the spiritual world that stands behind and informs it. In biblical parlance, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you…. Consider the lilies of the field.” The audience Jesus spoke to was not comprised of elites or intellectuals, but to peasants, people in deep relation to the environment (shepherds, fishermen, vinters, farmers) and to craft (carpenters, weavers, potters). These peasants were pagans.

I think much of our current malaise and anxiety is not due to this or another person being elected to public office, but to our own estrangement from the cosmos, inner as well as outer. This estrangement did not occur with the last election. Rather, it occurred over time (from at least the 16th century with the first enclosure laws in Europe) but really gained momentum with the destructive winds blown by the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions which multiplied exponentially with the Information Revolution. And nowhere is this more evident than in farming.

February is kind of an exciting month at Stella Matutina Farm (where I live) as we start to order seeds and plan our gardens for the approaching growing cycle for our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and I have had farming as well as poetry on my mind as of late. I’ve been teaching a course on Romanticism, and the insights of Goethe, Novalis, Blake, Wordsworth, John Clare, and their compatriots—all from the late 18th and early 19th centuries—speak to me (and us) of our estrangement from God and Nature and of the pathological conditions thrust upon us in the name of “progress.” For Blake, government and institutional religion were co-conspirators in this madness, as he writes in an incendiary proverb from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Prisons are built with the stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.” This is a hard saying.

The sympathies of the Romantics lay with the peasantry, thrown off the land by rapacious parliaments and undefended for the most part by their churches. Yet, even in the first half of the 20th century, there were those who could still see that is was possible to heal our disruption from the land, when many of ancestors were sold into slavery in the Egypt of wage-earning and never-ending debt, and who recognized the hidden and potentially irreparable costs of such “progress.”

One such figure was Rudolf Steiner. In his seminal lecture cycle on agriculture (given in June 1924, nine months before he died), Steiner spoke affectionately of what he called “the peasant wisdom”:

When I was a young man I had the idea to write a kind of ‘peasant’s philosophy,’ setting down the conceptual life of the peasants in all things that touch their lives. It might have been very beautiful. The statement of the Count [Keyserlingk, on whose estate Steiner delivered the lectures], that peasants are stupid, would have been refuted. A subtle wisdom would have emerged—a philosophy dilating upon the intimacies of Nature’s life—a philosophy contained in the very formulation of the words. One marvels to see how much the peasant knows of what is going on in Nature.

Today, however, it would no longer be possible to write a peasant’s philosophy. These things have been almost entirely lost. It is no longer as it was fifty or forty years ago. Yet it was wonderfully significant; you could learn far more from the peasants than in the University. That was an altogether different time. You lived with the peasants in the country, and when those people came along with their broad-brimmed hats, introducing the Socialist Movement of today, they were only the eccentricities of life. Today the whole world is changed. The younger ladies and gentlemen here present have no idea how the world has changed in the last thirty or forty years. How much has been lost of the true peasants’ philosophy, of the real beauty of the folk-dialects! It was a kind of cultural philosophy.

Even the peasants’ calendars contained what they no longer contain today. Moreover, they looked quite different—there was something homely about them. I, in my time, knew peasants’ calendars printed on very poor paper, it is true; inside, however, the planetary signs were painted in colors, while on the cover, as the first thing to meet the eye, there was a tint sweet which you might lick whenever you use the book. In this way too it was made tasty; and of course the people used it one after another.”1

In the lectures, Steiner doesn’t call for a return to the past. Instead, he introduces a reimagined peasant wisdom intended to rehabilitate not only the land, adding tilth to depleted soils as well as health and fecundity to plants and animals, but also to human flourishing. In an amazingly prescient moment, he also predicted the pathologies currently afflicting the honey bee. Commenting on the then-revolutionary methods of artificial queening and artificial feeding, he had this to say:

But there we come to the whole question of artificial beekeeping. You must not think that I am unable to see—even from an non-anthroposophical point of view—that modern beekeeping methods seem at first very attractive, for certainly, it makes many things much easier. But the strong holding together—I should like to say—of onebee-generation, of one bee-family, will be impaired in the long run.

Speaking generally today, one cannot but praise modern beekeeping; so long as we see all such precautions observed of which Herr Müller has told us, we must admire them in a certain sense. But we must wait and see how things are in fifty to eighty years time, for by then certain forces which have hitherto been organicin the hive will be mechanized, will become mechanical.”

Called it.

Another one who called it was the British writer H.J. Massingham (1888–1952). Massingham saw all too clearly the pathologies and evils attendant to the removal of the peasantry from the land, and he saw the restoration of an authentic relationship to Creation as not only socially imperative but as the very heart of Christianity. Writing in 1942, Massingham, very much saw the hand writing on the wall:

An alliance between forces of agricultural technology and big business with bureaucracy as their willing promoter has appeared whose professed object in its own words is ‘to overcome tradition’ and be rid of ‘out-of-date customs which delay progress.’ The abolition of private ownership in land; the destruction of ‘nuisance’ features in our countryside such as hedgerow timber, copses, hedges, lanes and the like; the abandonment of balanced farming for specialization in crop-production; the unlimited use of machinery and artificials; total nationalization accompanied by the profit-making as the sole stimulus to initiative in agriculture—these proposals are put forward, not by irresponsible paper-ideologues but by men of weigfht and authority in national affairs…. Their advocacy of ‘larger economic units’ represents the last stage, the final act, of the 18thand 19thcentury Enclosures.”2

And, in his upholding of a true Christian culture, he recognizes its symbiotic relationship to what is too often disparaged as “pagan”:

Christianity would not have supplanted Paganism if its nature-worship had been true to the nature and adequate needs of Western man, while only history can show the dividing line when Christendom began to depart from Christianity, and to what extent the embryonic causes of that division have developed into the anarchic consequences of the 20thcentury. Nor can the Christian Faith (seeing there is no alternative to it) itself be rejuvenated unless it be equally shown that its own division from nature has pauperized it as an all-sufficient gospel for modern, grownup, Western man, wrecked in the bitter sea of his delusion of self-will. The pagan story of the Tree Iggdrasil, the Tree of Life, whose roots were in earth and topmost branches in heaven, prefigures that gospel.”3

I, for one, am proud to be thought of as a pagan. And, though I have a doctorate, I consider myself deeply ensconced in the peasantry. If one is neither a pagan nor a peasant, can one even dream of being a Christian?

So, please say a pray for my wife and me as we begin again our farming cycle, as we wait for the weather to break for the first planting, for our goats to start kidding, and the return of the bees. Then, do yourselves a favor: find a local organic or biodynamic CSA—and join it. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.

1. Rudolf Steiner, Agriculture, trans. George Adams (Biodynamic Agricultural Association, 1958), 84–85; Beekeeping, trans. Marna Pease and Carl Alexander Mier (Steinerbooks, 1964), 15.

2. H.J. Massingham, The English Countryman: A Study of the English Tradition (London, 1942), 131.

3. H.J. Massingham, The Tree of Life (London, 1943), 16–17.

The Death of Orpheus by Jean Delville

I’ve been teaching a lot of poetry to undergrads these days, and these are typically the moments my teaching becomes most inspired. I’m not sure the students necessarily understand what I’m talking about—poetry is often a very foreign, very strange object to them, for ours is a culture sadly and (for the most part) unconsciously suffering from a lack of the poetic. I ask my students how many of them know any poems by heart. None. I ask them if they remember and Mother Goose. None. Then I recite Keats’s “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” part of Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” and so forth. In general, the only exposure to poetry most of my students have is when they had the writing of haiku inflicted on them sometime in elementary school. Poetry should not be a punishment. It should be a lived experience. I fear sometimes I must appear a madman from the past or future to my students, someone speaking in a strange language that sounds like English, but a language mysteriously other. It only gets worse when I speak about the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz, John Donne, William Blake, or W.B. Yeats. Surely some revelation is at hand.

This week I had one class read Dana Gioia’s now classic essay “Can Poetry Matter?” which I read long ago and which impelled me to rethink what poetry could be. Gioia discusses all of the varieties of entropy contributing to poetry’s decline—without whining about the general public. Instead, he blames the “professionalization” of poets in academic circles as well as the insular and self-absorbed culture created by MFA programs in poetry. Before his untimely death, Franz Wright criticized the same phenomena—though in language far more strident (and far less polite) than Gioia’s.

As the founder and editor of the journal Jesus the Imagination, I can only concur with the opinions of Gioia and Wright. Most of the poetry I receive is of two types. The first is of the garden variety (I-write-for-my-cohort) MFA pablum. It all sounds the same, the voices of multitudes homogenized into a dull uniformity. This is depressing. The other kind of poetry I tend to get is reactionary formal verse, apparently intended to revive the golden age of Christendom. I have nothing against formal verse—I’ve written and published a ream of it myself—but this reactionary propaganda is poetry as ideology. And it’s bullshit.

In fact, I was so discouraged by the recent batch of submissions (not that all of them were lacking in imagination, but…) that I almost decided to suspend publication of Jesus the Imagination. But only almost. When I founded the journal, my primary inspiration was the reimagination of culture, not the regurgitation of fallen ones. Among those already mentioned, I looked for inspiration to Paul Claudel, William Everson, David Jones, and Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz-Milosz—poets unafraid to move into a space reserved to prophets—not in imitations of style but of their daring. But we live in fearful times. As Blake quotes Numbers in the Preface to Milton: “Would to God that all the Lords people were Prophets.”

In closing, let me share some thoughts from the chapter entitled “On Poetry and Prophecy” from my book, The Incarnation of the Poetic Word:

What I am describing here, then, is no less than what Nikolai Berdyaev has called “the apocalypse of culture.” Such is the product of our decent into spiritual torpor and thence into slavery: a slavery in our day of our wills to technology, our feeling to a shallow narcissism, and our thinking to the opinions of the electronic coterie which turns us all into mimetic sciolists. Cultural ennui is indistinguishable from spiritual and religious ennui. Culture without religion rapidly decays, while religion without culture loses its mooring in actual human life and has nothing to claim but the past:

Behind the ideal values there stood prophets and geniuses in their day, with creative inspiration and fire. But when monuments have been erected to the prophets and the geniuses, and the streets have been called by their names, a chilled and mediocre culture comes into shape which no longer endures a prophetic spirit and a new spirit of genius.”1

The apocalypse of culture ensues: “Culture must be transfigured into a new life, as the whole earth must be. It cannot linger on indefinitely in its mediocrity, in its cold legalism.”2

The prophet is he who lives in the barren places, attentive to parousia, eating locusts and wild honey as he awaits the coming of the divine utterance. The poetic vocation also requires such wildness, such authentic transgressivity. The much-lauded “transgressivity” of the academic poet has nothing transgressive about it. If the coterie holds the same opinions, there is no transgression. Transgression, to be authentic, requires the ground of the spirit, the source of all life. The transgression of the academy is mimetic transgression, anchored in the world, possessing no life. And, because of its privileged status, it spreads like a cancer….

...The primal quality of the prophetic voice is fearlessness. Fear of speaking permeates our society. Indeed, such fear has become its hallmark. It infests academe: show me a professor not afraid to speak truth before the archons of the academy and the assured punishment inflicted by the egregore, and I’ll show you a career destroyed. Fear poisons workers in the arts, who then become its tools of power. It even touches the episcopacy. Fear, we know, is the primary tool of the Enemy.

All the tortures of repentance are tortures of self-reproach on account of our leaving the Divine Harvest to the Enemy, the struggles of entanglement with incoherent roots. I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of mind & body to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination.” (William Blake, Jerusalem, plate 77)

Like Blake, Joséphin Péladan recognized the divine nature of the poetic vocation, a legacy fundamentally abandoned in our current cultural milieu, a milieu in which the guardians of art and poetry offer incense before the idols of utilitarianism, politics, and self-promotion and leave prophecy to the extravagances of a past that, in their postmodern positivism, they regard with condescension, themselves satisfied with the puny returns of publication, position, and notoriety.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.

1 Nikolai Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom, trans. R.M. French (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944), 129.

2 Ibid.

People often ask me if I “believe in astrology,” a question I really don’t know how to answer. Of course I don’t. Asking people if they believe in astrology is pretty much like asking if they believe in the ocean or in snow or in food or something. It’s a dumb question. Even a more precisely articulated question, such as “Do you believe the stars influence us?” rather misses the mark.

A better question would be “Do you believe that we are part of the cosmos and that the cosmos is part of us?” To this one, much in the spirit of James Joyce’s Molly Bloom, I would answer in an ebullient and whole-hearted “Yes.” In fact, as I have proposed in all of my books, I think most of the problems we now face—environmental degradation, rapacious capitalism, adolescent socialism, isolation, a lifeless preoccupation with cyberspace—are precisely due to our having been estranged from the cosmos. The absurd assumption that we are somehow separate from the world which René Descartes inflicted on the West in the seventeenth century—a disorder that jumped into hyperdrive with Judith Butler and others in the twentieth—has done unbelievable harm to our humanity (and our planet and those with whom we share it). Nominalism and its inheritance, let me say (again), is complete bullshit.

As a biodynamic farmer, I plant by the sun, the moon, and the stars (a motif richly permeating the language of fairy-tales). In general, I plant leaf vegetables when the moon is in a water sign (Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio), roots in an earth sign (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), flowers in air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius), and fruits in fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius). It gets a little more complicated than that, but that’s the idea.

It’s also pretty clear that animals respond to movements in the cosmos—breeding patterns, for example, responses to tides—but when it comes to human beings things become more complex. Here I hold to the maxim (variously attributed to Aristotle, Plotinus, and so forth) that “The stars incline, they do not compel.” The reason for this, is that we humans, due to our having an ego, have freewill: we can choose. The less liberated our thinking is from our emotions and our wills, however, the less freewill we have, which renders us closer to plants and animals in the degree to which the stars might influence us (especially for ill). I came to this insight not through reading, but from an actual study of astrology going back over thirty years. I am not at the moment a practicing astrologer (though I was once upon a time), though I do keep my eye on the stars.

Some people, especially my more orthodox Christian friends, may be aghast at such a confession. But astrology has a rich history in both Christianity and in Judaism (particularly in the Kabbalah). The Christian antecedents, obviously, begin with the Star of Bethlehem and the astrologers (magi, three kings, wisemen, whatever), but span the last two millennia, sometimes in the underground, sometimes out in the open. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how many traditionalist-leaning Catholics have emailed or messaged me about astrology—though they admit they’d never announce so publicly, as they fear it would decimate their traddie street-cred. (The same goes for Sophiology, incidentally.)

One of astrology’s “out” periods was during the Renaissance. Many a Christian humanist practiced astrology, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Kepler, Robert Fludd, and Marsilio Ficino among them (a comprehensive list could probably fill a small volume). In a letter to the great patron of the Florentine Renaissance, Lorenzo de Medici, Ficino, spiritual head of the Plato Academy as well as a Catholic priest, had this to say.

26 September 1480

Lorenzo, today and also tomorrow, be on your guard; for Mars, passing into Capricorn, your ascendant, is seen to look with square aspect, today at Saturn and tomorrow at the Sun. Besides this, Saturn himself, the lord of your ascendant, has not quite passed through the rays of the Sun. For this last reason I, too, should take care.”1

Ficino, translator of Plato and the Corpus Hermeticum among many other contributions to scholarship, was no naive dummy. He knew very well the problems inherent to placing too much trust in an interpretive art and in 1477 wrote Disputatio contra iudicium astrologorum (Disputation against the Judgments of Astrologers) calling into question the practice of astrology. Then as now, unscrupulous practitioners of any art—medicine, finance, and politics no less than astrology—were plentiful enough to remind any potential customer that caveat emptor.

Of course, with the Reformation (and the Tridentine reactionarianism of the Counter Reformation) all of that slowly came to a halt, though it persisted in subterranean streams forever after denigrated as “occultism” or “esotericism.” As Ioan Couliano has written,

In response to Luther and to Puritanism, the Church embarked on its own reform…. Far from consolidating the positions assumed by Catholicism during the Renaissance, this movement severed itself completely from them and went in the same directions as protestantism. It was along the lines of severity and harshness that the Reformation developed, from the Protestant as well as the Catholic side.2

I think it’s time to recapture a healthy relationship to the cosmos. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we need to subscribe to a heedless and superficial approach to astrology. But we do need to heal our relationship to this blessed Creation in which we live and move and have our being. We need to disrupt our sense of alienation from our own home. And the heavens are part of this home, as Blake so eloquently writes in The Four Zoas:

Thus were the stars of heaven created like a golden chain

To bind the Body of Man to heaven from falling into the Abyss.

And “abyss” is precisely the correct word.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.

1 Meditations on the Soul: Selected Letters of Marsilio Ficino (Inner Traditions, 1997), 166.

2 Ioan Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (University of Chicago Press, 1987), 194.