Sunday 29 May 2022

Bach's Cantatas

 There are people who say they would rather have Bach and no one else than everyone else and no Bach. I am not of that camp but I can understand where those who are might be coming from. There is something about Johann Sebastian that answers every musical need from profound contemplation to intellectual fascination to, last but not least, toe-tapping danciness. I have known and loved Bach since I began exploring classical music seriously and among the first classical recordings I bought were performances of the Brandenburg Concertos and some harpsichord bits and pieces. 

Until recently I had a couple of dozen of Bach's cantatas on CD and had heard maybe a dozen more but I only set about listening to the whole lot a few months ago. There are over 200 if you include the secular cantatas but the great majority are on religious themes and the texts are often deeply touching. But the music is the thing and I have been astonished at the non-stop stream of creativity and inventiveness Bach shows in these pieces. Although there is the odd instrumental sinfonia they are mostly based on the format of choir, recitative, aria and choral. Some are for one voice, some for several and there are a range of obbligato accompaniments in the arias, usually violin, oboe, cello, flute, trumpet but other instruments too. Within the relatively restricted language of the 18th century baroque Bach never seems to repeat himself. His melodic inspiration never fails and he brings out the meaning of the text with unmatched skill and emotional depth. Without denying the marvels of his keyboard, chamber and instrumental music or the wonders of the B minor Mass and two Passions, I have now come to the conclusion that it is in his cantatas that Bach's musical genius is best displayed.

There are several complete recordings but I have collected them from a variety of performers, the famous Harnoncourt/Leonhardt recordings with boy choirs and sopranos, and those of John Eliot Gardiner, Ton Koopman and Masaaki Suzuki which are all excellent but I rather like the budget priced edition of Pieter Jan Leusink with female sopranos and the Holland Boys Choir which seems to capture the Lutheran idiom very well even if it can be a little rough vocally in places though that does give it a certain homespun authenticity such as one might imagine you might have heard in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig which is where Bach composed the bulk of his cantatas when he was the Kantor or musical director there from 1723 to 1750 though most of the works were composed during the first few years when he would sometimes be turning out a cantata a week for the appropriate days in the church calendar.

The cantatas are referenced by BWV numbers starting at BWV 1 and going up to BWV 215 though a few in that list have turned out not to be by Bach. The last 15 are secular and the rest spiritual. I think it would take you several days to listen to the lot and that's if you carried on day and night so here are some of my favourites which you will be able to find in decent performances on Youtube. I've deliberately left out some of the more famous ones such as BWV 147 which is the Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring one.


In that list BWV 4 is the first he wrote around 1707 and BWV 30 among the last in 1738 but the great majority were written in Leipzig between 1723 and 1726 in what must have been one of the most extraordinary bursts of creativity by anyone ever.

All the performers I mention above use period instruments but slightly older recordings were those of Karl Richter and I have a soft spot for these because of the excellent solo singers and spiritual insights of someone who actually served as the organist of the same Leipzig Thomaskirche where Bach had been musical director for 27 years. Also because among the first classical music records I bought was an LP of highlights from the St Matthew Passion conducted by Richter and I still prefer this to any version I have heard since, especially the aria Mache dich, mein Herze, rein (Make thee clean, my heart, from sin) sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Listening to this really does leave one feeling spiritually cleansed, for a while at least until the world closes back in again.

Mache dich The aria start at 2.35.

You might wonder why in a post about the cantatas the only musical link I provide is to an aria from the St Matthew Passion but the musical language in the same in both genres, and there are just too many superb arias in the cantatas for me to be able to pick one or even several. This was among the first Bach arias I ever heard and it remains special for me for that reason and also for its great spiritual beauty.

Wednesday 25 May 2022

Divine Love

 Religious people need to recapture the idea of love from secular humanists who have taken it over and recast it according to their limited conception of what a human being is and what it should be doing with its life.  We all feel love to some degree. It seems that even some animals, dogs in particular, are capable of love of a sort. Love is clearly a basic reality of conscious existence, specifically of self-conscious existence, but there are aspects of love and we need to be aware of it in its spiritual form which is the root and source of all lesser forms.

When Christ came to this world his principal message was one of love. Love God and love your neighbour as yourself are the two great commandments, but what was this love of which he spoke? Nowadays we tend to understand spiritual love in terms of empathy or compassion but I believe that is a mistake. Divine love is fully personal and directed like a powerful beam of light whereas empathy and compassion have a diffused all things to all men quality to them. They are a warm blanket as opposed to a passionate intensity. The moon, shining by reflected light, as opposed to the sun blazing away with its own fire. They are kind but they do not cast out fear or lay down their lives for their friends. Before you point out times when they might have done just that I would ask you to distinguish between being motivated by genuine love and being motivated by a kind of compassion ideology. There is even in some people a pathology of compassion that arises when a person falls victim to the glamour of love and of being the one who loves and who therefore loves as a self-conscious act. Such a person might not be aware of this so it is not necessarily simply a pose but nor is it a response of spontaneous, unaffected innocence.

Divine love or humanitarian compassion? Which do we choose? One important difference between the two lies in full acceptance of freedom and suffering for the sake of spiritual good. Those who respond to divine love see man's destiny in God and will accept anything to follow that path. By contrast, the merely compassionate look for happiness and well-being in this world. So, do we seek our end in this life or in the higher life in God. Do we seek freedom and responsibility in terms of divine being and creation or is it just the removal of suffering that motivates us and determines our feelings?

The first commandment is to love God. This points to the fact, unknown or ignored by humanitarians, that real love is only possible in God. Only when you love God who is the source of love can you begin to know love as it really is and not just as it is reflected in the mortal human heart. We are back to the moon and the sun. Divine love cannot be known by those who do not love God, and the more we respond to divine love the more will that love affect all other loves which only exist because of God's love. Humanitarian compassion is a good thing in its own limited way but it is only for those who do not understand the love of God and it can never be a proper substitute for that.

Saturday 21 May 2022

I Am An Individual

 Did you know that English is the only language in which the 1st person singular pronoun is capitalised? I only learned this recently and haven't confirmed it but, according to my limited knowledge of other languages (je, ich, yo, io, ego), it appears to be true. It undoubtedly has some significance, reinforced by the fact that the letter 'I' is like the numeral 1.

The significance, as I see it, is that the English-speaking peoples were those who were most conscious of themselves as individuals and, by extension, most concerned with personal liberty. These are actually highly spiritual matters because individuality is what makes a created being start to become a god in its own right and the sense of personal liberty is what gives a material being release from the control of matter into the freedom of spirit. This is why the Creator created, to make, to put it somewhat naively, friends and companions as opposed to mindless slaves.

Now, the process can go wrong. If individuality becomes important for its own sake and seeks to serve itself rather than God it has, so to speak, gone bad. But if it aligns itself with the creative purpose of the universe and seeks harmonious interaction with other individuals, it is carrying out God's will and furthering its own spiritual fulfilment.

By this line of thinking it would be no accident that English became a kind of universal language in the 19th and 20th centuries and continues to be so. The gift of individuality, hitherto present but relatively undeveloped, spread throughout all the nations of the world. This was a major step forward in human evolution. Now what is needed is for this individual sense of self to connect with the greater Self of the universe. Having become conscious of itself it needs to learn to go beyond itself but it could not do this without first knowing itself. It is the sense of separation that allows for fully conscious union.

I is the basic reality if the universe. It is how God would describe himself. I, the 1 without a second. It is what consciousness reduces to. The eternal subject. God's great gift to his creation was to bestow his supreme sense of self on us human beings so that we could become like him. This is what being made in his image means and it is an idea expressed in English more fully than in any other language. This was the task of the English speaking peoples, to give the world a full sense of what it is to be an individual.

Tuesday 17 May 2022

God and Man

 The great achievement of the West, culminating over the last 500 years, has been the creation of the full individual. In no other culture anywhere in the world has the individual had any real value, and although there are tributaries feeding into this river from classical times, essentially from Greece, its real source can be regarded as Christianity and specifically Christ, the God who became Man and was both fully human and fully divine. No doubt, the actual human type of Western man counted for a good deal as well but the philosophical, intellectual and spiritual underpinning of the importance of the individual was rooted in the Christian concept of the person.

It is sometimes said that Man adds nothing to God. God is the Absolute, the infinite and the eternal to which nothing can be added and from which nothing can be taken away. If that were the case, why creation? But let's not reduce God to a mathematical concept or an abstraction. He is the Living God and he is Love. Note we say he. This is no linguistic accident. God is not it (if he were, there would be no love) and he is not she as he is the impregnating spirit that gives life and form to matter. He stands outside creation which is generated by him not incubated in him, and all creation is receptive, i.e. feminine, to him.

God is a person, the Person, and we are made in the image of God. What is a person? It is a free individual. Many religions discount the idea of freedom and that of the individual, seeing man as either nothing in relation to God (Islam) or part of God in a way that completely emphasises the divine over the human (most Eastern religions). Only in Christianity, the religion in which God became man, is the individual and his intrinsic freedom truly valued. In this way, man, each individual man and woman, can add something to the spiritual life of the universe and therefore to God once they realign themselves with divine being. Our God-realised individual self makes the universe a richer, more creation filled place.

Friday 13 May 2022

Evil is Evil

 There is a certain strain in esoteric thought that considers evil to be necessary for good to come about, a kind of resistance required for good to arise by virtue of being forced to push back against it. According to this understanding, evil is simply the darkness against which one can more clearly see the light. 

I completely reject that idea. Evil is evil, full stop. 

At the same time, God is God and can make good come out of evil but that does not justify evil in any way. It remains wrong and a result of the fallen ego. Lucifer is not Christ's dark twin in some mysterious way working with him for long term evolutionary benefit. He is not there to enable self-consciousness to arise and grow. He is not a misunderstood good guy. He is a rebel against God not a partner with him. It's important not to get sucked into this false idea. Sin does not have to be experienced in order to overcome it. Darkness does not have to be integrated in order for a person to be in some sense whole. Evil is not part of good. Judas was not Christ's true disciple doing his work as a form of self-sacrifice. These are all deceptions and have no part in proper holiness. To believe that evil is anything other than evil will corrupt the soul. It is like peering into the abyss. Do that and you risk being drawn in.

I was prompted to write this post after reading a comment that Bruce Charlton made on his blog disagreeing with Rudolf Steiner who apparently believed that Lucifer was 'not really evil' but a kind of evolutionary force that could go wrong but was fundamentally positive. See the comment here at 17.57.  Some of the Gnostics also thought this. I disagree with Steiner as well and so does someone else who knows better than any of us. "Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!" (Matthew 18:7)

Wednesday 11 May 2022

On the Other Hand....

I don't mean to be deliberately contrarian, following on the last post with this one, but just to make a point. Everything depends on definition, after all. I still maintain that humanity is on a path of spiritual evolution and therefore cannot remain as it was. I believe in progress but I believe in spiritual progress which always builds on the past, even though it may introduce new dimensions of being. However, it is organic meaning it grows from its roots. Any growth, or imagined or claimed growth, that is not from the roots is a perversion and a deviation. It is a cancer. Our vaunted modern growth, what we call progress, is, for the most part, a cancer. It is a response to stimulation from the higher worlds but a response from lower being and self-will. The sun causes coarse weeds and beautiful flowers to grow. Modern civilisation is a powerful and choking weed that has flourished in the dark heavy manure of sin and is driving out more delicate and sensitive plants. 

In the previous post I said I was not a conservative but I don't completely deny that label. A conservative such as myself values the past and is loyal to the best of the past while not being blind to its failings. He sees how the beauty and wisdom of past achievement was a sincere response to divine impulse and an attempt to express the truth and dignity of God. He also sees how much of humanity's artistic and philosophical productions of the last, shall we say, two centuries has been a response to the devil, celebrating ugliness, sin and perversion. He doesn't want to return to the past because he is a modern man with a modern man's awareness of self but he regards it, for the most part and with provisos but certainly in respect of its higher elements, as a genuine attempt to engage with the spiritual life. We are not the people we were and can never be again, nor should we be, but we can certainly recognise that we were going along a path that led, more or less, in the right direction albeit with many twists and turns, came to a fork in the road and took the wrong turning. We should have gone straight ahead but turned left and the path we took is leading downwards.

This is the sense in which I am a conservative. As someone who recognises that the past for all its faults was usually an attempt to engage with God, and that tradition sought to preserve that in a fallen world. Whereas, in the present time for all our undoubted achievements we have largely succumbed to spiritual corruption and are putting up an increasing number of impenetrable barriers in our consciousness to goodness, beauty and truth.

Sunday 8 May 2022

Why I am not a Conservative

 I know that many people who read this blog would regard themselves as on the right but I don't think of myself in those terms. I am certainly not on the left and never have been, not even in my youth when that approach is generally fashionable, but I don't see myself as a conservative (even with a small 'c') either. There are many things from the past that I would wish to conserve and I do see leftism, for want of a better word, as the main source through which evil and spiritual destruction have been brought into the world and continue to be brought into the world, but that does not mean that we should return to a time before the leftist monster reared its ugly head. For one thing, the past was very imperfect which is why the spirit of reform was justified, but more significantly, human consciousness evolves and what was right at one time ceases to be right at another.

I am reading a book by Nikolai Berdyaev about Dostoyevsky who was my favourite author back in the days when I read fiction. Him and Tolkien anyway, a strange couple if ever there was one! Berdyaev says of Dostoyevsky that he should "not be regarded as a conservative or reactionary in the current sense. He was revolutionary-minded in a deeper way. He saw no possibility of a return to the conception of life, a static and immovable form, that existed before the arising of the revolutionary spirit. He was the first to notice how movements gain impetus in the world, the whole tending towards an end. "The end of the world is coming," he wrote in his notebook. This is not the attitude of a conservative. His hostility against revolution was not that of a man with a stale mind who takes some interest or other in the old social order, but the hostility of an apocalyptic being who takes the side of Christ in his supreme struggle with Antichrist. Now he who marches with Christ with his face towards the last great battle at the end of time is a man of the future and not of the past, every bit as much as him who marches with Antichrist. The conflict between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries is a superficial affair between the has-beens who have been supplanted and the supplanters who now have the first places at feasts. Dostoyevsky stood aside from that contest and was ranged among those for whom revolution of  the spirit opposes the spirit of revolution."

There is more in this vein but the point I wish to make is this. The past has gone. Much that was good has been destroyed but it cannot be restored in the form in which it existed any more than we can bring back the glories of ancient Egypt. What we need to do is reestablish the spirit that built the form of the past but find new ways in which to express it. And that spirit will also be different because we are different. Human consciousness has changed. It is more self-aware and that is a necessary development. It is why the past cannot be brought back.

Conservatives favour a return to or preservation of the form of the past. Whilst agreeing that much has been jettisoned that was noble and beautiful we must make a clear distinction between form and spirit. What really matters is that the connection to spirit is maintained or, in our case, restored. If and when that happens a new form will arise that grows out of the new spiritual awareness but, at the same time, will obviously be built on the same principles as the structures of the past. Materialistic revolutionaries destroy in order to completely remake but spiritual evolutionists seek to fulfil the law and the prophets not to overturn them.

The battle is not between right and left and those that think it is will find themselves in one way or another on the side of the left. The battle is between the forces of Christ and those of the Antichrist, between divine creation and that which attempts to undermine, reframe or destroy divine creation. We have to keep our eyes fixed on the spiritual ball and not be led astray by what are ultimately only worldly things. It's because conservatives often are so led astray, and also because they don't properly appreciate the evolutionary nature of human consciousness and unfoldment, that I am not a conservative.

Friday 6 May 2022

Earth is a School review request

 The publisher of Earth is a School has reminded me that it has received no reviews on Amazon yet and reviews generate sales, to put it bluntly. Bruce Charlton and J.M. Smith of the Orthosphere were kind enough to provide endorsements and it has received a few favourable reviews elsewhere for which see below but nothing on Amazon so if anyone has read and appreciated it and doesn't mind saying so, I would be very grateful.

Lynne Jordal Martin at reviewed Earth is a School on NetGalley  
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. "I will consider inviting the author to write an op-ed for Fox News Opinion based on this book. It's a thought provoking, intriguing perspective on life that deserves a wide audience"

David Lorimer, the Programme Director and Editor at Paradigm Explorer, also reviewed the book. “Many spiritual teachers see Earth as the school, and in this book the author suggests that we are in an end of term examination period. It is based on 40 years of study and experience, arguing that we ignore invisible spiritual forces at our peril in a dense age of materialistic bureaucracy. There are valuable discussions of the nature of spirituality, cycles of change, reincarnation and evolution, and the role of Christ. We are encouraged to follow the line of most rather than least resistance, holding fast to our spiritual core while balancing immanence with transcendence. In this way, we can light a candle in the darkness.

Ana Isabel of the In the Light-Growing Your Soul podcast reviewed the book on Good Reads and gave it a 4 (out of 5) star rating.

Why are we here? This is possibly one of the oldest and asked questions in history. In this book, William Wildblood presents his understanding learned through communication with Ascended Masters. He looks at how each Soul develops and grows through each life on Earth. This is a deep and thought provoking book which can inspire us to be the best that we can be.”


Tuesday 3 May 2022

Cyclical Time and Linear Time

In many traditional spiritualities time was regarded as flowing in cycles with a primeval Golden Age when man walks with the gods descending to a spiritually darkened time in which matter becomes more dense and impenetrable and consciousness collapses in on itself. Then the process concludes in cosmic destruction and a new era commences with another Golden Age.

Christianity rejected that idea, presenting a new understanding in which time progresses in a linear fashion from creation in the Garden of Eden leading eventually through a historical process to the city of the New Jerusalem in which creation is transformed and drawn up into divine reality.

Many people in the spiritual world nowadays reject the Christian view and prefer the cyclical one, seeing it as making more metaphysical sense. Strangely enough, one approach that roughly mirrors the Christian idea is the modern materialistic understanding of human life which would maintain we are progressing to a better human form in which science and technology correct all the faults of our physical bodies and give us, if not immortality, at least a more perfect vehicle to house our consciousness which will also be tweaked and improved though technological means whether that be drugs or even by blending us with machines. This is transhumanism, a great spiritual evil because it denies the spirit replacing it entirely with matter, but one to which the modern world seems inevitably to be tending.

Which of these two ideas about time is the more accurate? My answer is that both are true. Time is indeed cyclical but it also moves forward and if there is a spiritual descent the purpose of that is to bring about conditions in which consciousness can become more individualised with a greater sense of personal freedom in the constricted material conditions. Then there can be a reascent but with the fruits of greater self-awareness.

Most people interested in traditionalist metaphysics believe that all religions convey the same essential truths. There is a perennial philosophy which is the root of them all and they differ only in externals and certain relatively unimportant doctrines. I think this is a mistake. There is something qualitatively different about Christianity and what Christ brought to human consciousness. It has to do with freedom, it has to do with love and it has to do with time. In traditional metaphysics time is something to be transcended. One goes beyond all aspects of the material to enter into complete spiritual consciousness. But Christ redeemed creation which means the qualities of the relative world are not completely transcended and effectively lost but they are spiritualised and thereby add something to divine reality, something that was not there before.

Time is certainly a great mystery in that there is a state beyond earthly time which is the state of divine being. But it is not simply an illusion from the spiritual point of view. It is not just swallowed up in eternity. Through time creation is brought to fulfilment but then at the end of worldly time something happens that is similar to what happened to Christ's body at the Ascension. Time will be taken up into eternity but it will thereby enrich eternity, its quality sweetening eternity as sugar when dissolved sweetens tea.