Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Keeler's Three Worlds & the Sacred Tree of Life

The ideas here are inspired by a talk I went to by Ahmed Paul Keeler, but my questions and conclusions might be quite different.

Medieval Christianity revered its saints and its sacred artefacts, built society around religious authority and buildings, and went on crusades to spread its faith and teach obedience. The Enlightenment brought the dawn of reason and doubt which revered heroes and philosophers, wiping away the sacred and in its place revived the dead civilisations of Greece and Rome, building society around concepts and ideals and the ghosts of history, colonising the world in the name of civilising it, teaching progress and achievement. Modernity reveres celebrity and money, builds society around democracy and corporations and through debt and war makes the world depend on the market, teaching free-trade, growth and the translation of everything human into a market value. On the bright side, these three represent morality, reason and efficiency through which the world is fed — spiritually, mentally and bodily. But what each lacks is an open-heartedness and in certain moments of history, each projected outwards their dark side, rejecting some aspect of humanity (the magical, the black; the primitive, the tribal; the poor, the natural) with devastating consequences (burning witches, slavery, colonisation, genocide, exploitation, environmental destruction).

Traditionalism reveres order and a return to sacred life and community. It values the living memory of language, calligraphy, music, folklore, culture, celebration and prayer. However, just because something has always been done a certain way is surely no reason to perpetuate it and stifle change? By contrast, post-modernism reveres freedom and self-expression and individuality. However, might this not involve the opposite risk of an unconditional acceptance of a chaotic present? Instead of seeing traditionalism and post-modernism as opposite choices, is it not possible for us to imagine a beautiful synthesis? Order within chaos, freedom within community, the light of the sacred within self expression?
Maxfield Parrish
Garden of Allah (1918)
The tree of life and the tree of tradition are the same tree. It has roots that go deep and wide, as well as leaves that reach for the light and whose breath is the scent of the wind. The roots nourish the leaves, the leaves nourish the roots. In everything a balance: it need not mean a choice nor a restriction. 
Gustav Klimt
The Tree of Life (1905) [detail]
Perhaps all this is just ideas and concepts, but if we seriously care about the world, then should we not think about it? Isn't thinking a proof of love? Despite the limitations of our thinking, it might lead us one day to a deeper understanding.

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