In my last post I discussed three levels of our natural wisdom heritage that a study of the liberal arts will lay bare. These are the universal, planetary and human levels. Let me now remind you of what these are.
Our universal heritage is that inner wisdom which we all share as vital parts of the real world.
Our planetary heritage is the wisdom bequeathed to us by the tree of life from which we have all evolved.
Finally, there is our human heritage which consists of those precious stores of wisdom that have been aggregated, recorded and preserved throughout the history of humanity.
Given that we do have such a tremendous wisdom heritage, any attempt to become more appreciative and conscious of this heritage on our part, will always be effort worthwhile. And this is one very good reason for studying the liberal arts. They will help us to reconnect with our very own wisdom heritage.
One of the main reasons that we need to do this, is that many of us were brought up according to the idea of ‘tabula rasa’. What this means is that when we were born, our mind was claimed to be a blank slate upon which our parents, mentors and teachers could effectively write whatever they liked. Moreover, whatever was written, it was believed, would then shape and determine exactly what we would later become.
However, as we are all parts of that greater whole, the real world, which itself endows us with such a great heritage, the very idea of ‘tabula rasa’ now needs to be challenged. This is because, when we are born into the world, the wisdom of the real world already shines through us. To treat our mind as if it were a blank slate is in effect to steal this precious wisdom heritage away from us, or at least to cause us to forget all about it.
The results of this can be seen all around us today. Many of us are suffering what seems to be an unfortunate state of collective amnesia, which means we no longer know, feel, or sense our true depth of connection with the real world. And I say unfortunate, because when we are aware of that connection, the wisdom of the real world will then be felt rising up within us, like a beautiful bubbling spring. As such it is necessary to restore our natural connection with the real world and by doing so, re-open the vital channels of our connection with it.
Once re-opened, this wisdom will then act as our guide, our teacher, our inner compass and we will always know just what we should be doing at any given time. Without this connection however, we will lack that strong sense of having our own internal guidance, as a consequence of which life can then seem to be confusing. Moreover, to get by we will then have to rely upon externally imposed rules, regulations, and codes of moralities that in the main have been decided for us.
So what does this mean for the process of education? It means that one of the true purposes of education should be to show us how to access the tremendous wealth of wisdom that is already present within us. That for the most part, this purpose is not being fulfilled puts us all in a very difficult position. How do we rectify this? What can we do to reclaim that heritage that is rightfully ours?
Having been in this position myself, I can say that the best policy is a concerted drive toward self-education. We need to get ourselves educated. When we do so, we soon realize that it was not always like this. At one time, the liberal arts were the mainstay of education. Moreover, these showed us how to establish a clear connection with the real world. This they did upon two levels, the trivium, which enabled us to perfect the workings of our own mind, and the quadrivium, which offered those vital tools needed to re-establish this essential connection.
Having their roots in classical Greece and before that, the great civilization of ancient Egypt, the liberal arts prevailed for thousands of years in various forms. And in doing so, educated and informed a great number of people. Even then however, problems became apparent. One was exclusivity. They were generally reserved for the cultivation of ‘free men’ who not only enjoyed the kind of wealth that enabled them to be classed as being free in the first place, but also all of the tremendous benefits of the liberal arts.
However, this no longer applies. In theory at least, we are all today counted as free persons and therefore capable of studying the liberal arts in and for our own right. Through the study of these liberal arts, upgraded and revised for a modern generation, we will then experience a re-awakening of this vital wisdom within us.
Once awakened, we will then find ourselves beginning to remember who and what we actually are. We will realize that we are the natural inheritors of all of the wonder, majesty, and glory of the real world. Having realized this, everything will then begin to make sense to us. We will feel propelled forward upon a driving wave of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that, having its roots deep in the past, will then provide us with the impetus to take us forward to a brighter and more fulfilling future. In this sense, the key to our future has always lain in the past. While the key to our past has always lain in the present. Here it is interesting to see that these are observations that have somehow not escaped the notice of our mentors.
Something that will help us a great deal, is paying a particular interest to the language that we use. Wisdom speaks to us in a particular language and unless we are alert to this, we will miss a great deal that can be of importance to us. However, bearing in mind the idea of ‘tabula rasa’ mentioned earlier, the whole notion of language can get very tricky, particularly in the hands of those who have used language, not to educate and inform, but to condition, propagandise and even colonise the human mind with values that are not necessarily natural to it.
Is it natural I ask, for human beings to feel so isolated and alone in themselves that they feel compelled to compete against one other in a perceived ‘rat-race’? The word ‘rat’ of course, says it all, as also does the idea of ‘dog-eat-dog’. Moreover, how often have you heard people being described as ‘sharks’? So lest our educational policy makers really take all of this to heart and actually start believing that we are no better than rats in a trap, it is time I feel, for a change, away from the direction of Skinner boxes and more towards the ancient spirit of the liberal arts, which exulted in the freedom, dignity and responsibility of what it truly meant to be human.
Inevitably, this will always begin and be reflected by the language that is used. We need to recognize, not just the language of practical and economic necessity, which, using terms such as human resources or workforce, often does no more than to degrade and de-humanize, but the language through which true wisdom is expressed. Yes, our earthly existence can be difficult, imperfect and provide us with great challenges, but this is no reason to throw out wisdom for a language of reality that ultimately reduces us all to the lowest possible level.
In order to be able to recover that wisdom we will need recourse to two main languages which are:
First there are spoken and/or written languages based upon the word
Second there is the language of mathematics, which uses numbers as the vehicle of expression.
In terms of the former, we have to be prepared to be flexible. There is an incredible amount of wisdom that has been recorded and written in various different languages, some of which are no longer even extant. When studying this wisdom literature of the world, which includes works such as the I Ching or the Tao Te Ching of China; the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads of India, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Popul Vuh, or the Pyramid Texts of Egypt, we are generally reliant upon scholarly translations and as such, have to take advantage of whatever grace there is to produce and publish viable translations. In the meantime, the truly dedicated will take upon themselves the task of learning those languages necessary so that they can have a more intimate knowledge of the wisdom expressed therein.
In terms of the language of mathematics, we are on much surer ground because number is a universal language and as such, more suited to the expression of universal wisdom. However, a certain amount of repatriation is needed for the simple reason that this language is no longer properly understood, taught, or received. This is unfortunate because knowledge of the language of mathematics will enable us to then go on and read the book of nature and by doing so make vital connection with that living wisdom of which all nature is an expression.
This is the wisdom that when assimilated, can bring the most incredible enhancements to our lives. Through it, we can directly connect with the vital presence of the real world, which according to all ancient accounts and theogenies, speaks, sings, and expresses itself through the universal language of mathematics.
To the observant, the signs and signals of this language are everywhere to be seen. I mean just look at the form of the flower shown on the title page, which however you care to look at it, grows with a distinctive geometry, all of its own. Implicit to this geometry is the superposition of two triangles, one of which points upwards, the other downwards.
Where have you seen this before? It is the Seal of Solomon and it is, in a very real sense, one of the vital keys to the wisdom of the great King Solomon. The downward pointing triangle symbolizes the Macrocosm, that great whole of which we are a part. The upwards pointing triangle symbolizes the Microcosm, which is ourselves conceived as a reflection or mirror image of that whole.
As above, so below.
There is a wisdom that is ever-present, mirrored at every possible level, including ourselves.
Mathematics as such, can introduce us to these great mysteries, many of which run very deep. Fortunately, the liberal arts introduce us to these in a graduated fashion, for which purpose:
The language of words provides the foundation for the trivium whose three subjects are grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric.
The language of numbers provides the foundation for the quadrivium whose four subjects are arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
When studying the liberal arts therefore, we are essentially dealing with two tiers, two languages, and two levels of approach to the wisdom of the world. Moreover, through the combination of these, we will then have the keys to everything that we have ever wanted. We will be able to explore all of the incredible mysteries of the world. We will be privy to nature’s very own book of secrets. Above all, we will begin to understand who and what we are, as human beings living here upon the planet Earth.
Given two languages to consider, whose media are words and numbers, together with seven subjects of the liberal arts, an important question is posed. Where is the best place to start in order to get a proper orientation to the study of the liberal arts? The answer to this is with the first subject of the liberal arts, which is grammar.
However, bear in mind that we no longer understand what the liberal art of grammar is or even means. We think that it somehow pertains to the proper use of our spoken and written languages. Yet as I stated in my first talk, Introduction to the Liberal Arts, this is only the tip of a very large iceberg.
For me this is fortunate because as a writer I often make grammatical errors when I am writing. And I am quite used to other people pointing these out to me. In one of my books, I created a ‘glossary of terms.’ Having done so a kind student pointed out to me that I had fallen to the use of a tautology, a pointless double-statement. In this way do I then learn more about formal grammar and as a result, my writing hopefully improves.
Yet as a subject belonging to the ancient liberal arts, there are much more exciting features that eclipse any worries about falling to grammatical errors. Would it surprise you if I pointed out that the liberal art of grammar will give us the key to the whole world? And by world, I mean that greater whole of which we are a part. Would it also surprise you that this key is at the same time connected with our personal use of an incredible creative power, one that for many ancient cultures was seen to be so enormous that it was considered supreme?
So what am I talking about? I am talking about the power of the word. To understand this power, think back to some of the old stories, myths, and accounts of the creation of the world. Surely, it is no coincidence that many of these attribute the creation of the world to the utterance of a certain word or words.
A good example of this is ancient Egypt, whose divine scribe, the ibis headed neter Thoth, was said to have first conceived the world in the realms of thought. Having done so Thoth then uttered the words necessary to bring that world into actual being.
His consort was the great Seshat, the ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom often portrayed with what appears to be a seven-rayed star above her head. These rays clearly signify the seven aspects or expressions of wisdom, which very much later, then coalesced into what we now call the seven liberal arts.
Similar ideas are reflected in the Vedic wisdom of India. Consider the vocable OM that signifies that primal vibration from which everything in the world was believed to have come into being. Even the notion itself is incredible to consider. Thousands of years ago, the great rishis of India sensed that the essence of the universe lay in a vibration, a sound, a word. That sound is also Brahma clashing upon the cymbals to announce the commencement of the world creation; it is the conch of Vishnu signalling yet another incarnation, it is the shabda, the divine sound current flowing through the universe like a silver stream, that brings enlightenment to all who apprehend it.
Hence that great emphasis upon intoning this great mantra OM. It’s purpose is to attune oneself to the primal vibration that is the root and cause of the all. In this sense, OM signifies the vital shimmering essence of the universe, of which everything that we are, know or do is a direct expression.
Yet we need not always look to the East for such profound ideas. Just think about the Fiat Lux of the Biblical book of Genesis. God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. In this way, to name something was at the same time, to create it. The very secret of creation in other words, lay in grammar. Then there is St John who begins his gospel with the epic words ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.’ This word is at the same time the ancient Greek logos, the divine reason and order behind the cosmos itself.
In some accounts, the logos was conceived in a more musical sense as a song. As a musician, this idea really fascinates me. It appears with the Celtic idea of Oran Mor, the great song of life in which we all play a part. Its strains can be heard everywhere, providing of course, that we are prepared to listen out for them. It is the song of our ancestors, of the fairy folk, of the gods and goddesses of old, and its echoes can still be heard in the wild forests. As an idea it is beautifully conveyed, not just through music, but also through the intricate knots of Celtic artwork, composed more often than not, of one single strand that follows the most intricate possible path, evocatively depicting the fundamental sense of unity of which Oran Mor is the perfect expression.
Consider also the Native American myth of spider woman, who from the web of her dreams sung the world into being. Thought of as grandmother spider, she has been and still is revered and respected as the source and fount of all wisdom. She is the creatrix, the universal web or loom whose subtle threads continually shimmer and vibrate to produce the eternal song of creation.
Each of these accounts, regardless of the culture from which they originate, say something important about the world of which we are all a part. The clue to this lies in the nature of a word. A word is a vibration, a tremor of the air in response to a certain stimulus. Through words, that vibration can be given a characteristic shape, identity, and character. When we learn what these signify, we can then understand what another person is trying to communicate to us.
However, think what this says about the world as an expression of the word. Although the world appears to our senses to be solid and substantial, underneath it is composed of nothing but vibrating fields of energy. What we perceive to be solid is energy that is moving at one speed, while the gaseous is energy moving at another.
So consider this thought. What if there was just one primal field of energy underlying it all? What if everything was simply a modification of that one energy? It means that what we see to be a cup is not what we think it is. It is not a stable object. It is simply vibrating energy in a state of transit. Consequently, if we come back in a thousand years we will probably find that the cup is gone. The energy from which the cup was made is not gone however. It has simply changed form.
Now in a world of solid objects, words have only a brief transitory power. However, in a world composed of energy in a state of vibration, the picture then becomes quite different. All of a sudden, words acquire the most tremendous power. Words are the vibrating patterns that we can use to help bring forth our reality from the shimmering sea of energy that is the universe.
Just think of the difference that the use of certain words can make. What kind of world do you want to live in? Because whatever kind of world that is, it can be shaped, summoned and called forth through the sheer power of your words. Therefore, the words hate, difference, division, and discord call forth one kind of world, while the words love, togetherness, union and harmony call forth another. The choice is of course ours.