Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012: probably NOT the end of the world

Prophecies of the end of the world in 2012 are based on a misreading of the Mayan calendar. This is pointed out in Robert Bolton's excellent study of the cycles and philosophy of time, The Order of the Ages. Himself a Catholic Neoplatonist, Dr Bolton examines the various calendrical systems and prophecies of different ancient civilizations, finding a number of significant convergences, indicating the possible end of a cycle of history (NOT "the end of the world") towards the end of the present century. The Mayan calculation is complicated, but if Dr Bolton is right we should take the Mayan "year" of 360 days as a symbolic round number. The Mayans were as aware as anyone of the fact that a solar year was a few days longer than this, and if this fact is taken into account the end of the present cycle would come around 2087, according to their calendar.

Of course, this kind of speculation will not convince or even interest most people, but some would like to go further and explore the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, comparing these to the messages of the various apparitions and visionaries approved by the Church (Fatima, La Salette, and so on). For those readers, Emmett O'Regan's book Unveiling the Apocalypse will be a delight. In it he even goes in some depth into the ancient number symbolism of the Bible, called Gematria. His website (follow the link I just gave) gives further material and offers a sample chapter of the book. Some of these topics, such as Gematria, also come into my book All Things Made New, although unlike O'Regan in my "spiritual" interpretation of the Apocalypse I don't refer to extra-scriptural prophecies and I don't come to conclusions that relate to specific dates and historical events.

Illustration: Fresco from Osogovo Monastery, Macedonia (Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A mystic in New York

If you go to New York, and have any interest either in art or in mysticism, do visit the Nicholas Roerich Museum, tucked away in a brownstone building up on 319 West 107th Street. Roerich was a Russian-born artist, spiritual teacher, and peacemaker – a collaborator with Diaghilev and Stravinsky – whose paintings explore the myths and symbols, the natural beauty, and the spiritual strivings of humanity around the world. The Museum displays approximately two hundred of these
works, and keeps them permanently on display. It is also a cultural centre, offering free concerts and poetry readings. The museum itself is a lovely building to visit and beautifully designed and kept.

"Kiss to the Earth"
You don't have to be an admirer of Nicholas and Helena Roerich's eclectic theosophical ideas (they were joint founders of the Agni Yoga Society), or even his efforts to bring about world peace through the harmony of religion, science and art, to appreciate his landscapes, many of which were painted in the last part of his life when the family lived in the foothills of the Himalayas, or his gorgeous set designs for various ballets, like the one on the right. The strong but often subtle colours and bold shapes give the impression of a world seen though the eyes of a child.

"Where can one have such joy as when the sun is upon the Himalayas; when the blue is more intense than sapphires; when from the far distance, the glaciers glitter as incomparable gems. All religions, all teachings, are synthesized in the Himalayas." – extracts from Shambhala.

Friday, December 23, 2011

What's in a landscape?

In a previous post some time ago I mentioned G.K. Chesterton's aversion to impressionism, with which I did not quite agree. I want to look now at some landscape art that I find particularly inspiring, both to recommend it to your attention and to investigate a little for my own sake why I find it so appealing. I begin with a group of artists known as THE GROUP OF SEVEN or Algonquin School, whose work is being exhibited at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until 8 January. Unfortunately I will miss the exhibition, but do go if you can. The artists in this group were born or lived in Canada from the end of the
nineteenth century, and they all tended to work outdoors. They loved the forests, the plains, the rivers, the mountains of Canada, and would take off into the wilderness with a sketchbook small enough to carry in a canoe or a backpack, capturing what they could usually as far from human habitation as possible. As a formal group they exhibited between 1920 and the year they disbanded, 1933.

What is it that is so attractive about their work? It is sensitive to place, indeed it celebrates particular features of the Canadian landscape, but quite stylized and intense, almost as if  they were trying to capture some ideal version of each scene, an Edenic vision of it in bright colours and bold shapes. Unlike the impressionists, they don't particularly try to capture the weather or the passing moods of the light. In fact mostly the pictures seem not even to contain shadows: each neatly framed scene glows with an interior light. Or else the shadows are just there to accentuate form. They include human habitations in the landscape, but were sometimes accused of overlooking the effects of humanity on the landscapes they portrayed – it wasn't what primarily interested them. Browse the "Gallery" in the link provided above and make up your own mind what you think.

Next: Nicholas Roerich.

Pictures: Tom Thomson, "Autumn's Garland"; Lawren Harris, "Mount Lefroy"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Social network

Billed as the "social network of the JP2 and B16 generations", Ignitum Today seems well worth a visit.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Weaver on Education

A superb essay by Richard M. Weaver is featured by "The Imaginative Conservative", one of the blogs I recommend. Please read it if you have the time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Faith formation

Some readers might not be aware that I am currently working on two other blogs, which explains why postings are a bit slow on this one for the time being. One of them is on Catholic social teaching (The Economy Project). The other is about the Christian mysteries (All Things Made New), and currently features a series on the revival of "mystagogy", or faith formation through the study of symbolism and sacraments and liturgy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A tribute to John Paul II

The Humanitas review of Christian anthropology and culture, edited by Jaime Antunez Aldunate for the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, has until now been available only in Spanish, but a new English-language edition has just been launched, and is available free of charge online if you register HERE. The first issue is a superb 252-page tribute to Pope John Paul II, containing some of the best photographs and the best articles about him to be available anywhere. Contributors include Livio Melina of the John Paul II Institute in Rome, Carl Anderson, Avery Dulles, Angelo Scola, Stanislaw Grygiel, Josef Seifert, and many others, probing to the heart of the late Pope's spiritual, theological, and philosophical vision. If you have any interest in JPII, please don't fail to look at this superb volume.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nature full of grace

For reasons of space, the following had to be omitted from our recent "Gardens" issue of Second Spring. Meanwhile readers who enjoyed that issue may like Jane Mossendew's blog Gardening with God.

An Early Kalendar of English Flowers

The Snowdrop in purest white arraie
First rears her hedde on Candlemas daie;
While the Crocus hastens to the shrine
Of Primrose lone on St Valentine.
Then comes the Daffodil beside
Our Ladye’s Smock at our Ladye-tide.
Aboute St George, when blue is worn,
The blue Harebells the fields adorn;
Against the day of Holie Cross,
The Crowfoot gilds the flowerie grasse.

When St Barnabie bright smiles night and daie,
Poor Raged Robin blossoms in the haie.
The Scarlet Lychnis, the garden’s pride,
Flames at St John the Baptist’s tide.
From Visitation to St Swithin’s showers,
The Lilie White reigns Queen of the floures;
And Poppies a sanguine mantle spred
For the blood of the Dragon St Margaret shed.
Then under the wanton Rose, agen,
That blushes for Penitent Magdalen,
Till Lammais daie, called August’s Wheel,
When the long corn stinks of Camamile.
When Mary left us here below,
The Virgin’s Bower is full in blow;
And yet anon, the full Sunflower blew,
And became a Starre for Bartholomew.
The Passion-floure long has blowed,
To betoken us signs of the Holy Roode.
The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Blooms for St Michael’s valourous deeds;
And seems the last of flowers that stode,
Till the feste of St Simon and St Jude –
Save Mushrooms, and the Fungus race,
That grow till All-Hallow-tide takes place.
Soon the evergreen Laurel alone is greene,
When Catherine crownes all leaned menne.
The Ivie and Holly Berries are seen,
And Yule Log and Wassails come round agen.

Anon., cited in Gladys Taylor, Saints and Their Flowers (Mowbray, 1956), 51-2.