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With loud hoof-thunder, clangor, ring and rhyme, With chariot-wheels flame-trailing where they rolled, Cuculain rode from out the ages' prime.
I saw his eyes, how darkening, how sublime, With what impatient pity and power ensouled; (For he had heard this earth was stained with crime!)
Song on his lips--I heard the chant and chime.
The stars themselves danced to in days of old:-- Cuculain rode from out the ages' prime.
Love sped him on to out-speed the steeds of Time: No bliss for him, and this world left a-cold, Which, he had heard, was stained with grief and crime.
Here in this Iron Age's gloom and grime The Ford of Time, the waiting years, to hold, Cuculain came . . . . and from the Golden prime Brought light to save this world grown dark with crime....
Well; from the schools of Findian and his disciples missionaries soon began to go out over Europe. To preach Christianity, yes; but distinctly as apostles of civilization as well. Columba left Ireland to found his college at Iona in 563; and from Iona, Aidan presently went into Northumbria of the Saxons, to found his college at Lindisfarne. Northumbria was Christianized by these Irishmen; and there, under their auspices, Anglo-Saxon culture was born. In Whitby, one of their foundations, Caedmon arose to start the poetry: a pupil of Irish teachers. At the other end of England, Augustine from Rome had Christianized Kent; but no culture came in or spread over England from Augustine and Kent and Rome; Northumbria was the source of it all. You have only to compare _Beowulf,_ the epic the Saxons brought with them from the continent, with the poetry of Caedmon and Cynewulf, or with such poems as _The Phoenix,_ to see how Irishism tinged the minds of these Saxon pupils of Irish teachers with, as Stopford Brooke says, "a certain imaginative pa.s.sion, a love of natural beauty, and a reckless wildness curiously mingled with an almost scientific devotion to metrical form."
Ireland meanwhile was the heart of a regular circulation of culture. Students poured in from abroad, drawn by the fame of her learning; we have a poem in praise of generous Ireland from an Anglo-Saxon prince who spent his exile there in study. Irish teachers were at the court of Charlemagne; Irish teachers missionarized Austria and Germany. When the Nors.e.m.e.n discovered Iceland, they found Irish books there; probably Irish scholars as well, for it has been noted (by Matthew Arnold) that the Icelandic sagas, unlike any other Pre-Christian Teutonic literature, bear strong traces of the Celtic quality of Style.
They had their schools everywhere. You hear of an Irish bishop of Tarentum in the latter part of the seventh century; and a hundred years later, of an Irish bishop of Salzburg in Austria.
This was Virgil--in Irish, Fergil, I imagine a native name of Salzburg: a really noteworthy man. He taught, _at that time,_ that the world is a globe, and with people living at the antipodes; for which teaching he was called to order by the Pope: but we do not hear of his retracting. Last and greatest of them all was Johannes Scotus Erigena, who died in 882: a very bright particular star, and perhaps the one of the largest magnitude between the Neo-Platonists and the great mystics of later times, who came long after the new manvantara had dawned.
He is not to be cla.s.sed with the Scholastics; he never subordinated his philosophy to theology; but approached the problems of existence from a high, sane, and Theosophic standpoint: an independent and illuminated thinker. He taught at the court of Charles the Bald of France; and was invited to Oxford by Alfred in 877, and died abbot of Malmesbury five years later,--having in his time propounded many tough nuts of propositions for churchmen to crack and digest if they could.
As, that authority should be derived from reason, and not, as they thought, vice versa; and that "d.a.m.nation was simply the consciousness of having failed to fulfill the divine purpose,"-- and not, as their pet theory was, a matter of high temperature of eternal duration. The following are quotations from his work _De Divisione Naturae;_ I take them from M. de Jubainville's _Irish Mythological Cycle,_ where they are given as summing up Erigena's philosophy,--and as an indication of the vigorous Pantheism of Pre-christian Irish thought.
"We are informed by all the means of knowledge that beneath the apparent diversity of beings subsists the One Being which is their common foundation."
"When we are told that G.o.d makes all things, we are to understand that G.o.d is in all things, that he is the substantial essence of all things. For He alone possesses in himself all that which may be truly said to exist. For nothing which is, is truly of itself, but G.o.d alone; who alone exists _per se,_ spreading himself over all things, and communicating to them all that which in them truly corresponds to the notion of being."
I think we can recognise here, under a not too thick disguise of churchly phraseology, the philosophy of the _Bhagavad-Gita._ Again:
"Do you not see how the creator of the universality of things hold the first rank in the divisions of Nature? Not without reason, indeed; since he is the basic principle of all things, and is inseparable from all the diversity which he created, without which he could not exist as creator. In him, indeed, immutably and essentially, all things are; he is in himself division and collection, the genus and the species, the whole and the part of the created universe."
"What is a pure idea? It is, in proper terms, a theophany: that is to say, a manifestator of G.o.d in the human soul."
You would be mildly surprised, to say the least of it, to hear at the present day a native, say in Abyssinia, rise to talk in terms like these: it is no whit less surprising to hear a man doing so in ninth-century Europe. But an Irishman in Europe in those days was much the same thing as an Oxford professor in the wilds of Abyssinia would be now;--with this difference: that Ireland is a part of Europe, and affected by the general European cycles (we must suppose). Europe then was in thick pralaya (as Abyssinia is now); but in the midst of it all there was Ireland, with her native contrariness, behaving better than most people do in high manvantara.
The impulse that made that age great for her never came far enough down to awaken great creation in the plastic arts; but it touched the fringes of them, and produced marvelous designing, in jewel-work, and it the illumination of ma.n.u.scripts. Concerning the latter, I will quote this from Joyce's Short History of Ireland; it may be of interest:--
"Its most marked characteristic is interlaced work formed by bands, ribbons and cords, which are curved and twisted and interwoven in the most intricate way, something like basket work infinitely varied in pattern. These are intermingled and alternated with zigzags, waves, spirals, and lozenges; while here and there among the curves are seen the faces or forms of dragons, serpents, or other strange-looking animals, their tails or ears or tongues elongated and woven till they become merged or lost in the general design. . . . The pattern is so minute and complicated as to require the aid of a magnifying gla.s.s to examine it. . . . Miss Stokes, who has examined the _Book of Kells,_ says of it: 'No effort hitherto made to transcribe any one page of it has the perfection of execution and rich harmony of color which belongs to this wonderful book. It is no exaggeration to say that, as with the microscopic works of Nature, the stronger the magnifying power brought to bear on it, the more is this perfection seen. No single false interlacement or uneven curve in the spirals, no faint tiace of a trembling hand or wandering thought can be detected.'"
The same author tells us that someone took the trouble to count, through a magnifying gla.s.s, in the _Book of Armagh,_ in a "small s.p.a.ce scarcely three quarters of an inch in length by less than half an inch in width, no less than one hundred and fifty-eight interlacements of a slender ribbon pattern formed of white lines edged with black ones."--One of these ma.n.u.scripts, sometimes, would be given as a king's ransom.
An unmasculine art, it may be said; and enormous laborious skill spent upon tribial creation. But once again, the age was pralaya; all Europe was pa.s.sing into, or quite sunk in, pralaya. The Host of Souls was not then holding the western world; there was but a glint and flicker of their wings over Ireland as they pa.s.sed elsewhere; there was no thorough entering in to take possession.
But the island (perhaps) is the Western Lay-center, and a critical spot; the veils of matter there are not very thick; and that mere glint and flicker was enough to call forth all this wonderful manifestation of beauty. If I emphasize over-much, it is because all this talk about 'inferior races,'--and because Ireland has come in for so much opprobrium, one way and another, on that score. But people do not know, and they will not think, that those races are superior in which the Crest-Wave is rearing itself; and that their superiority cannot last: the Crest-Wave pa.s.ses from one to another, and in the nature of things can never remain in any one for longer than its due season. It is as certain that it will pa.s.s sometime from the regions it fills with strength and glory now, as that it will sometime thrill into life and splendor the lands that are now forlorn and helpless; and for my part, seeing what the feeble dying away of it, or the far foam flung,--no more than that,--raised up in Ireland once, I am anxious to see the central glory of it rise there; I am keen to know what will happen then. It will rise there, some time; and perhaps that time may not be far off.--Oh if men could only look at these national questions with calm scientific vision, understanding the laws that govern national and racial life!
There would be none of these idiotic jealousies then; no heart-burnings or contempt or hatred as between the nations; there would be none of this c.o.c.k-a-doodling arrogance that sometimes makes nations in their heyday a laughing-stock for the G.o.ds. Instead we should see one single race, Humanity; poured now into one national mold, now into another; but always with the same duality: half divine, half devilish-idiotic; --and while making the utmost best of each mold as they came to inhabit it, the strong would find it their supreme business to help the weak, and not exploit or contemn them. But it will need the sound sense of Theosophy,--knowledge of Reincarnation, the conviction of Human Brotherhood,--to work this change in mankind.
Well; now to the things that brought Ireland down. In 795 the Norwegians began their ravages, and they seem to have had a peculiar spite against the monastery-colleges. That at Armagh was sacked nine times in the ninth, and six times in the tenth century. In the same period Glendalough was plundered seven times; Clonard four times; Clonmacnois five times betnveen 838 and 845, and often afterwards. These are only samples: there were scores of the inst.i.tutions, and they were all sacked, burnt, plundered, and ravaged, again and again. The scholars fled abroad, taking their precious ma.n.u.scripts with them; for which reason many of the most valuable of these have been found in monasteries on the continent. The age of brilliance was over.
For a couple of centuries, the Norwegians, and then the Danes, were ruining Ireland; until Brian Boru did their quietus make at Clontarf in 1014. Before the country had had time to recover, the Norman conquest began: a thing that went on for centuries, and never really finished; and that was much more ruinous even than the invasions of the Nors.e.m.e.n. As to the Celtic Church, which had fostered all that brilliance, its story is soon told.
In Wales, the Norman and Plantagenet kings of England were at pains to bring the see of St. Davids under the sway of Canterbury and into close communion with Rome: they and the Roman Church fought hand in hand to destroy Celtic liberties. The Church of the Circled Cross had never been an independent organization in the sense that the Greek Church was: it had never had its own Patriarchs or Popes; it was always in theory under Rome. But secular events had kept the two apart; and while they did so, the Celtic Church was virtually independent. In the eleventh and twelfth Centuries the Welsh Church fought hard for its existence; but Norman arms backed by Papal sanction proved too strong for it; and despite the valor of the princes, and especially of that gallant bishop-historian Gerald the Welshman, it succ.u.mbed.
As to Ireland: an English Pope, Adrian IV, born Nicholas Brakespeare, presented the island to King Henry II; and King Henry II with true courtesy returned the compliment by presenting it to the Pope. The Synod of Cashel, called by Henry in 1172, put Ireland under Rome; and the Church of the Circled Cross ceased to be. There, in short and simple terms, you have the history of it.
And therein, too, as I guess, you may see all sorts of interesting phases of karmic working. For the Church of the Circled Cross, that had done so well by Ireland in some things, had done marvelously badly in others. There was a relic of political stability in ancient Ireland,--in the office of the High-kings of Tara. It is supposed now that it had grown up, you may say out of nothing: had been established by some strong warrior, to maintain itself as it might under such of his successors as might be strong too. I have no doubt, on the other hand, that it was really an ancient inst.i.tution, once firmly grounded, that had weakened since the general decay of the Celtic Power. The G.o.ds in their day had had their capital at Tara; and until the middle of the fifth century A.D. Tara stood there as the symbol of national unity. When Patrick came the position was this: all Ireland was divided into innumerable small kingdoms with their kinglets, with the Ard-righ of Tara as supreme over them all as he could make himself. The hopefullest thing that could have happened would have been the abolition of the kingdoms and kinglets, and the establishment of the Ard-righ's authority as absolute and final.
Dermot son of Fergus Kervall became High-king in 544. A chief named Aed Guairy murdered one of Dermot's officers, and sought sanctuary with St. Ruadan of Lorrha, one of Findian's twelve apostles, to whom he was related. The king hailed him forth, and brought him to Tara for trial. Thereupon the whole Church of Ireland rose to a man against the mere layman, the king, who had dared thus defy the spiritual powers. They came to Tara in a body, fasted against him, and laid their heavy curse on him, on Tara, and, in the result, on the kingship.--"Alas!" said Dermot, "for the iniquitous contest that ye have waged against me, seeing that it is Ireland's good I pursue, and to preserve her discipline and royal right; but it is Ireland's unpeace and murderousness ye endeavor after." *
------ * I quote this from Mr. Rollerstone's book.
Which was true. The same trouble came up in England six centuries later, and might have ended in the same way. But the dawn of a manvantara was approaching then, and the centrifugal forces in England were slowly giving place to the centripetal: national unity was ahead, and the first two strong Williams and Henrys were able in the main to a.s.sert their kingly supremacy.
But in the Irish time not manvantara, but pralaya, was coming; and this not for Ireland only, but for all Europe. In the natural order of things, the centrifugal forces were increasing always. That is why Dermot MacKervall failed, where Henry II in part suceeded. There was nothing in the cycles to support him against the saints. Tara, accursed, was abandoned, and fell into ruin; and the symbol and center of Irish unity was gone. The High-kingship, thus bereft of its traditional seat, grew weaker and weaker; and Ireland, except by Brian Boru, a usurper, was never after effectively governed. So when the Nors.e.m.e.n came there was no strong secular power to defend the monasteries from them, and the karma of St. Ruadan's churchly arrogance and ambition fell on them. And when Strongbow and the Normans came, there was no strong central monarchy to oppose them: the king of Leinster invited them in, and the king of Ireland lacked the backing of a united nation to drive them out; and Ireland fell.
Well; we have seen how often things tend to repeat themselves,-- but on a higher level,--after the lapse of fifteen centuries.
Patrick, probably, was born in or about 387. In 1887 or thereabouts Theosophy was brought into Ireland. Patrick's coming led eventually to the period of the Irish illumination; the coming of Theosophy led in a very few years to the greatest Irish illumination, in poetry and drama especially, that had been since Ireland fell. But Patrick did not complete things; nor did that first touch of Theosophy in the 'eighties and 'nineties of last century. Theosophy, known in those days only to a score or so of Irishmen, kindled wonderful fires: you know that English literature is more alive in Ireland now than anywhere else in the English-speaking world; and that that whole Celtic Renaissance was born in the rooms of the Dublin Theosophical Society. Yet there were to be eventualities: the Dublin Lodge was only a promise; the Celtic Renaissance is only a promise. Theosophy only bides its time until the storm of the world has subsided.
It will take hold upon marvelous Ireland yet; it will take hold upon Sacred Ierne. What may we not expect then? When she had but a feeble candle of Truth, in those ancient times, she stood up a light-giver to the nations; how will it be when she has the bright sun shining in her heart?
So now we have followed the history of the world, so far as we might, for about a thousand years. We have seen the Mysteries decline in Europe, and nothing adequate rise to take their place; and, because of that sorrowful happening, the fall of European civilization into an ever-increasing oblivion of the Spiritual things. We have seen how in the East, in India and China, spiritual movements did arise, and succeed in some sort in taking the place of the Mysteries; and how in consequence civilization there did in the main, for long ages, go forward undeclining and stable. And we have watched the Crest-Wave, indifferent to all national prides and conceits, flow from one race to another, according to a defined geographical and temporal plan: one nation after another enjoying its hour of greatness, and none chosen of the Law or the Spirit to be lifted forever above its fellows;--but a regular circulation of splendor about the globe, like the blood through the veins: Greece, India, China; Rome, Spain, Rome, Egypt, Persia, India, China: each repeating itself as the cycles of its own lifetime might permit. And then, as the main current pa.s.sed eastward from dying Europe, a reserve of it, a little European _Sishta,_ pa.s.sing west: from Gaul to Britain, from Britain to Ireland; from Ireland to Tirnanogue and Wonderland,* there to hide for some centuries until the Great Wave should roll westward again from China through Persia, Egypt, Africa, Sicily and Spain, up into Europe: when the Little Wave, returning magic-laden out of the Western Paradise should roll back Europewards again through Ireland, twelfth-century Wales and Brittany; and spray Christendom with foam from the sea! that wash the sh.o.r.es of Fairyland: producing first what there was of mystery and delicacy to uplift mankind in feudal chivalry; then the wonder-note in poetry which has probably been one of the strongest and subtlest antidotes against deathly materialism.
Hence one may understand the _raison d'etre_ for that strange correspondence between Chinese and Celtic happenings which we have noted: the main wave rolls east; the backwash west; and they touch simultaneously the extremities of things, which extremities are, Celtdom and China. In both you get the sense of being at the limits of the world,--of having beyond you only nonmaterial and magical realms:--Peng-lai in the East, Hy Brasil in the West;--the Fortunate Islands of the Sunset, and the Fortunate Islands of the Dawn.
We have seen opportunities coming to each nation in turn; but that how they used them depended on themselves: on whether they would turn them to spiritual or partly spiritual, or to wholly material uses: whether they would side, in their hour of prosperity, with the G.o.ds--as China did to some extent; or with the h.e.l.lions, as in the main Europe did. And above all, we have seen how the G.o.ds will never accept defeat, but return ever and again to the attack, and are in perpetual heroic rebellion against the despotism of materialism and evil and human blindness; and we know that the victory they so often failed to achieve of old, they are out to win now, and in the way of winning it: that we are in the crisis and most exciting of times, standing to make the future ages golden; that the measure of the victory the G.o.ds shall win is somewhat in our own hands to decide. The war-harps that played victory to Heaven at Moytura of old are sounding in our ears now, if we will listen for them; and when Point Loma was founded, it was as if once more the shaft of Lugh the Sunbright took the eye of Balor Balcbeimnech in the midst.
And so, at this point, we take leave of our voyaging together through the past.
* Perhaps, if we knew anything about American history, to America. One is tempted to put two and two together, in the light of what we have seen, and note what they come to. The great American Empires fell before Cortes and Pizarro, between 1520 and 1533. That surely marked the end of a manvantaa or fifteen hundred years period of cultural activity; which then would have begun between 20 and 33 A.D.--upon a backwash of the cycle from Augustan Rome? We are not to imagine that any outward link would be necessary. Is it possibly a fact that in those centuries, the first five of our era roughly, when both Europe and China were somewhat sterile for the most part,--the high tide of culture and creation was mainly in the antipodes of each other, America and India? And that after the fall of the Tang glory in China (750) and the Irish illumination in the west (775), some new phase of civilization began, somewhere between the Rio Grande del Norte and the borders of Chile? The Incaic Empire, like the Han and the Western Roman, we know lasted about four centuries, or from the region of 1100-A.D.--But there we must leave it, awaiting the work of discovery.