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  • Michael Martin

In my book Transfiguration, a kind of manual of practical Sophiology, among other things I propose the idea that what the world needs now is to take up the idea of the hedge school. Hedge schools were part of Irish society when that brave nation was under the domination of Britain and the only schooling available to the Irish was an Anglo-version that did its best to erase Ireland’s culture, history, and religion from the Irish imagination. The British educational model, much like modern secular schools that promote the “gender spectrum” silliness or the residential schools to which Native Americans were subject, was essentially a program of propaganda and “social engineering.” The Irish weren’t having it and ran their clandestine hedge schools—illegal until Catholic emancipation in 1829—in barns and other places outside the panopticon of the Empire.

The hedge schools were a prime example of what later came to be called a “parallel polis” promoted by Válcav Havel and other Eastern European dissidents under Communism and which also included the idea of “the flying university” in Poland that had also been in existence from the late 19th century. I have written on the parallel polis here and you can hear my conversation with Mike Sauter on the topic from last summer.

The time is certainly ripe for the regeneration of the parallel polis and the hedge school. I have been in education for the past thirty years, and it is a toxic, disorganized mess. And that’s on a good day. On a bad day, and there are many, it is an environment inhospitable to creative or original thought, or any thought that deviates from a very narrowly proscribed set of allowed opinions. Not only have the alleged concerns for social justice (usually neither social nor just) compromised the educational project, but the diminishment of the humanities in higher education has almost wholesale destroyed the search for wisdom so inherent in the young. A generation or two ago, the study of the humanities was the core of higher education, while now the humanities have been reduced to a tragi-comic level of irrelevance. Not only that, but humanities departments have been disappearing at an astonishing rate from most liberal arts colleges and their presence has been profoundly reduced at state and private universities. Prior to the COVID pandemic, the majority of us in higher education thought most liberal arts colleges in the United States would soon be shuttered for good, demographic winter, excessive tuitions, and diminishing returns on the higher ed investment all taking their toll on a model that has outlived its usefulness. But “quantitative easing” and a flood of COVID cash that flushed through the educational system via government decree postponed the immanent fall of liberal arts colleges for a time—but they are once again facing difficult decisions—removing even tenured faculty, condensing or eliminating entire departments of disciplines as they try to find new ways to avoid the inevitable. But inevitable it is. And everybody knows it.

The predicament some of my own children are facing has also inspired me to think of educational alternatives. My eldest son is in business and attended but did not finish college. My next two sons and eldest daughter did go to college, the boys studying automotive design and biology respectively and my daughter studying music. But the next one, a gifted young man of intelligence and initiative, dropped out of college at Detroit’s Wayne State University recently because of the dreadful quality of the education he was receiving in mathematics and physics and his being unable to justify the return on his investment. It wasn’t worth the money. But the situation with the next two, young women now 18 and 19, really caused me to rethink the educational opportunities available to them. Neither one wants to attend college, though both have strong gifts in music and writing and interest in the world. They could use a hedge school—or even a number of hedge schools—in order to nourish their innate desire for truth, beauty, and goodness. And that is where we find ourselves.

Outside of the Matrix that is higher education and beyond the tyranny of so-called “accreditation” racket, the hedge school offers a forum that would allow an organic unfoldment of the in-born human impulse to seek wisdom. This is really a project of self-development and entry into what John Keats called “the vale of Soul-making.” For an education that does not feed the soul is no education at all.

Of course, this idea is nothing new, but cultural conditions, I think, call for a reimagination not only of the hedge school but of education writ large. And, besides the educational projects of the past already mentioned, there have been other initiatives—some still in existence, some relegated to posterity, and some modified in mission and scope.

The Lindisfarne Association, for example, started in 1972 by rogue academic William Irwin Thompson and a number of colleagues and drew a number of extraordinary members, including Christopher Bamford, James Lovelock, and the poet Gary Snyder. In the mid-eighties, I remember buying cassette tapes (!) of lectures held at their gatherings by the great poet and Blake scholar Kathleen Raine and geometer Keith Critchlow. I learned so much. I think some of Raine’s lectures have since been digitized and are available on YouTube.

Likewise, Schumacher College, named after and inspired by economist E.F. Schumacher (author of the classic text Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as is People Mattered), has been around since 1990 and offers courses in ecology and horticulture in the quest to find more sustainable methods of integrating human flourishing with that of Creation.

There is also the Temenos Academy, founded by Raine and others under the patronage of HRH The Prince of Wales, now HRH King Charles. They have published a journal, given conferences, and regularly sponsor lectures in London, including by contributor to Jesus the Imagination Jeremy Naydler. Their bedrock is the perennial philosophy that Raine so passionately defended. They do a better job of teaching philo-sophia as “love of Wisdom” than probably any university or college philosophy department now in existence.

None of these initiatives would be able to survive without the generosity of patrons (I mean, come on, when you have the King as a patron you have probably arrived at the top of the patronage food chain), Lindisfarne, for example, was at times supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Schumacher College is fortunate to be underwritten at least in part by The Dartington Trust. I think the Fetzer Institute may also have supported projects like this in the past.

More power to them, but this is not the model I have in mind when speaking of the Hedge School. For one, who pays the piper calls the tune and I would dread getting into the awkward relationship with a patron who might threaten to pull the plug on funding such a project over a disagreement once I became addicted to the money. It’s happened to others. And I think “addiction” is the correct metaphor.

Also, I want the Hedge School to more flexible than these other projects allowing me to respond to needs of participants and demographics. By this I mean being able to offer courses or seminars for school-age children as well as to college-age students and lifelong learners. For example, just this past week I have been asked to give a seminar in Sophiology here on my farm (more below), give a mini-course on Biodynamic farming for interested parties in my immediate community, and give an online course to high school students in Goethean-Sophiological science. And that is in addition to the online course I’m starting next week on Shakespeare, Religion, and Magic (still a few spots available).

In addition to responding to requests and needs, I also want to offer courses that I think should be offered, such as “Romanticism and the Meaning of Love,” “The Metaphysical Poets,” “The Poetry of William Blake,” “Mysticism,” or “The Alternate Modernity.” Eventually—hopefully sooner rather than later—I will bring in other teachers (actually, I need to find a better word, like “druids” or something) to offer courses in myth, woodworking, being human in a transhuman world, creative writing, the festival year (okay, I might do that one), mushroom hunting, broom-making, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Celtic spirituality, sacred geometry—and so on and so forth. There is no limit to possibilities in the Hedge School.

As for now, I have a few courses already lined up—and more to come. Stay tuned.

Shakespeare, Magic, and Religion

Online. Fridays from 1:00-2:30 pm ET.

February 3-March 24, 2023

The Heart of Sophiology

In-person at Stella Matutina Farm.

Friday, April 21, 2023, 7:00 pm & Saturday, April 22, 9:30-5:00

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening

In-person at Stella Matutina Farm.

Friday, May 19,2023, 7:00 pm & Saturday, May 20, 9:30-5:00

You can read more here.


Oliver Cromwell was the unintended founder of the Irish hedge schools.


Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: Flesh & Spirit and The Regeneration Podcast. Twitter: @Sophiologist_

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  • Michael Martin

The 21st of February this year will mark 528 years since the martyrdom of St. Robert Southwell upon the scaffold a Tyburn upon charges of treason, though his only crime was in ministering and providing spiritual comfort to a small number of Catholics, then persecuted by Royal decree, in underground Elizabethan England.

On the morning of Friday, 21 February 1595 by Julian reckoning, Southwell was drawn by a cart from Newgate to be hanged, drawn, and quartered as his fellow Jesuit Edmund Campion had been a little more than thirteen years earlier. Despite the government’s clumsy ruse of hanging a famous criminal at the same time at a place remote from Tyburn in order to divert the attention of the populace, a great throng had gathered to watch the priest meet his end. Eyewitness accounts, both Catholic and Protestant, are unanimous in describing Southwell as both gracious and prayerful in his final moments. When cut loose from the halter that tied him to the cart, he wiped his brow with a handkerchief and tossed the sudarium into the crowd, the first of what would become his relics. When asked if he would like to speak, Southwell crossed himself and first spoke in Latin, quoting Romans 14:8:“Sive vivimus, Domino vivimus, sive morimur, Domino morimur, ergo vivimus, sive morimur, Domini sumus.” If we live, we live in the Lord. If we die, we die in the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or we die, we are in the Lord. He then addressed himself to the crowd, saying he died a Catholic and a Jesuit, offenses for which he was not sorry to die. He spoke respectfully of the Queen, and asked her forgiveness if she had found any offense in him. Then, after the hangman stripped him down to his shirt and tightened the noose around his neck, Robert Southwell spoke his last words, echoing those of Christ found in the twenty-third chapter of Luke. Three times he prayed, “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. Redemisti me, Domine Deus veritatis,” (Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, Lord God of truth) while repeatedly making the sign of the cross. At the third utterance of these words, the cart rolled away and Southwell hung from his neck. Those present forbade the hangman cutting him down to further the cruelties of drawing and quartering commencing before Southwell was dead. Yet, despite their efforts, according to one account, he was still breathing when cut down. When the executioner lifted Southwell’s head up before the crowd, no one cried “Traitor,” as was the custom. Even a pursuivant present admitted he had never seen a man die better. Southwell had been in England on his mission from 1586, when he would have been around twenty-five years old. He was never old.

In 1587, Southwell started writing a series of letters to Philip Howard, the Earl of Arundel, who was then imprisoned in the Tower for plotting against the Queen in defense of his Catholic faith. The letters, later published clandestinely as An Epistle of Comfort, are spiritual counsel for a church and its faithful under extreme duress. The first lines of the book articulate as much:

It hath been always a laudable custom in God’s Church for such as were afflicted in time of persecution to comfort one another, not only by continual prayer and good works but also by letters and books.”


It certainly has seemed like a period of persecution for the past few years, though even longer if I am honest. We live in a world now characterized by demonic parody at scale, parody of the human being, of the beauty of biblical gendered typology, of Christ, of Sophia. What we have is not a persecution in the sense of outright imprisonment and torture, but of their more subtle deployments of isolation, compulsion, and depression. But make no mistake: this is still persecution.

To be sure, Southwell’s Catholicism is profoundly masochistic to a degree, with his preoccupation with suffering and martyrdom. Or so it may seem to us. I get it. But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer told us not all that long ago, we have become too accustomed to “cheap grace.” This is also a theme of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In that important novel, Mustapha Mond, the World Controller, tries to explain to John the Savage why the world no longer needs religion, or suffering, or God (very much in the manner of a Noah Yuval Harari) because soma (a kind of combination anti-depressant and psychedelic) is “religion without tears.” But John isn’t buying what Mond is selling. He knows madness when he sees it. “What you need,” the Savage tells him, “is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”


Nothing costs enough here. I often think of those words when I speak to students, particularly young women who have grown up in a culture where young men (boys, really) have been so pornified and compromised morally that they expect sex for the most minor of services—like a hamburger—and that love has very little to do with it. I tell them that when I was a young man, I still carried the idea that I had to earn a girl’s love before expecting so much as a kiss. They think this idea very quaint—and naive, I suppose. But they also lament that such is no longer the case, or at least that is what they have been conditioned to believe. My youthful assumption was also John the Savage’s—and it is likewise ridiculed and dismissed by the citizens of the brave new world Huxley describes, as well as the brave new world surrounding us. He clearly saw where things were headed.


I have certainly been in need of an epistle of comfort of my own these days. I’m sure I’m not alone. And these things come when and how they are needed. For one, I have found tremendous solace in reading children’s literature, both with my youngest two sons and on my own. My youngest is now twelve, and I had stopped reading to him and his brother in the evenings about a year ago when we were making our way through The Silmarillion. They could read on their own, after all. But one of their big brothers gave them a satchel of classic children’s lit books for Christmas, which prompted my youngest to say to me a couple weeks ago, “Remember when you used to read to us?” As if I could forget! So, at his insistence, we started reading Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (which I had never read, despite having been a Waldorf teacher and father of nine children—and I have been reading to children at night for over thirty years!). On my own time, before bed I have been reading George MacDonald’s Fairy Tales. They’re such a balm for the soul.


For another, as ever in my life, I have turned to music. Now this happened by a very serendipitous path. In a course I teach on persuasive writing, I forbid the students to write “college papers.” Because I CAN’T EVEN. Instead, I expect them to find other methods, other genres for persuading their readers. This week, my topic was “mash-ups,” the combining of different genres to create something new and exciting. For such an enterprise, I chose, quelle horreur!, Taylor Swift. First of all, we look at Jared Smith’s “Taylor Swift: A Socratic Dialogue” from McSweeney’s, certainly one of the cleverest and funniest pieces of writing on the internet, mashing up Plato’s style with Swift’s. I know. I also throw in Swift’s collaboration (while still a teenager) with, of all people, Def Leppard, performing their metal megahit “Photograph.” It’s mind-blowing. I do this to show how combining things one would never put together can come up with surprising results. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the creative-process book.

Finally, I show them Swift’s collaboration with the, alas, now defunct Civil Wars on “Safe and Sound,” the song they wrote together for the first Hunger Games film, based on the book of the same name (talk about timely children’s literature!). It is a superb modern folk song, and the version below, under T-Bone Burnett’s visionary musical production, is sublime.

I always tell my students that I’d love to see Swift do an entire album like this and prove that she has gravitas when she wants to and is not really as superficial as her music may sometimes suggest. Of course, this was a little easier before she started (as all of her profession do) weighing in on politics, religion, and culture. But that’s how it goes. I’m so glad nobody ever asked for my opinions when I was 23.

Anyway, I told you that story to tell you this one. After showing “Safe and Sound” to my students, I decided it was time I learned how to play it on the guitar. It didn’t take but a couple listens, and it is a lovely progression courtesy of the wonderfully talented John Paul White. But that led me to searching for White’s Civil Wars partner Joy William’s version of their “From This Valley,” a folk-gospel barn-burner if ever you heard one. I bet I listened to it 20 times on one day, learned how to play it on the guitar, and played along with the video. The lyrics are poetic, uplifting, and grounded in Jesus. You can’t ask for more.

Oh, the caged bird dreams of a strong wind That will flow beneath her wings Like a voice longs for a melody Oh, Jesus carry me

Won’t you take me from this valley To that mountain high above? I will pray, pray, pray ‘Til I see your smiling face I will pray, pray, pray To the one I love

There is something downright miraculous about seeing a woman, a genuine female and pregnant woman at that, lifting up her voice in song and rejoicing in the glory of the Lord. In our perverse times, it is nothing short of salvific, a fresh draft of cool spring water in the desert of the technocracy.


So this was my epistle of comfort this week, albeit it arrived by a circuitous route. But that’s how grace works, isn’t it? You think you’re doing one thing, following one trace, going about your daily tasks, and it brings you where you need to be. That’s the world I want to live in. I don’t want to live in a world without religion or suffering or God. So I will pray, pray, pray until I see his smiling face.



Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: Flesh & Spirit and The Regeneration Podcast. Twitter: @Sophiologist_

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  • Michael Martin

It started, as many things do, with an observation I dropped on social media:

Hypothetical: imagine you belonged to a Church that not only failed to condemn the greatest evil of our times but actively supported it. What would be the proper response?

I have a gift for controversy (I know, BIG SURPRISE), so the comments that followed were as telling as they were predictable: everything from the CatholicCon citation of “the Magisterium” (whatever that really is) to the defense of the “Church founded by Jesus Christ” (claimed, predictably, by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants without exception—though often excepting each other in that designation, at least provisionally). Surprisingly, to me anyway, most people seemed to think that I was indicting only the Catholic Church, to which I more or less belong, in this statement. But, hey, I’m an ecumenical guy: I was including all the churches. But I did not have the average believer in mind; I was thinking about the institutional churches, meaning the guys who run things. And, before you get on your Christian feminist high horse, just know that I hold women bishops—and even that one non-binary Anglican dude—as responsible as their male counterparts. Because they have all failed to condemn the greatest evil of our times. Full stop.

Of course this begs the question, What is the greatest evil of our times, Mr. Sophiologist? I think it’s obvious, don’t you? We have been witnessing and, for the most part, to my absolute dumbfoundedness, ignoring what can only be called crimes against humanity and which have resulted in perhaps millions of excess deaths across the world. Millions. In addition, we have seen a shocking rise in miscarriages, fetal abnormalities, stillbirths, and infants born with heart problems; not to mention the untold number of healthy young people “dying mysteriously” from heart ailments and stroke. And this is early days: we still don’t know how many young people will be rendered sterile from playing pharmaceutical Russian roulette. The outlook is bleak, indeed. We’re heading for Children of Men territory, but, I fear, unlike the book, this is all by design.

And the Churches are silent.

This was really driven home to me when the Vatican ruled that only the fully-v@xxed would be allowed access to its churches and museums—and mandated the shots for all employees. The game was over for me, however, when Pope Francis proclaimed that getting vaccinated is “an act of love.” That was it. Even though I still consider myself Catholic (in a very small-is-beautiful, medieval or 17th c. rural Anglican kind of way), I don’t know if I can ever step foot in a Catholic church again. This is painful for me.

And, no, the Orthodox have been no better, just less organized. So don’t even start with me.

Such acquiescence to State power can only be assumed, I assume (as various Orthodox bodies, for example, do vis a vis Russia and Ukraine). Indeed, the history of all the Churches screams this in the highest register. Yet, we, the faithful, are addicted to Church power and authority as much as the Churches are addicted to that of the State. Church history is the history of capitulation. And this, need I remind anyone?, is antithetical to the very mission of the Church. I was just reading as much in one of my most trustworthy guides, H.J. Massingham’s The Tree of Life:

Newman wrote in The Arians of the Fourth Century, ‘The Church was formed for the express purpose of interfering with the world.’ ‘Compromise,’ wrote Tawney in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, ‘is as impossible between the Church of Christ and the idolatry of wealth, which is the practical religion of capitalist societies, as it was between the Church and the State idolatry of the Roman Empire.”…. [The Church’s] spiritual impotence and inertia were indeed so complete (with the partial exception of the campaign against negro slavery) that it is to be wondered that Huxley ever bothered himself to flog the prostrate form of the dormant donkey. A conventional pietism, a set of moral precepts, or, what Tawney called the inculcation of ‘such personal virtues as did not conflict’ with plutocracy, were its alternative to it where it did not, as in the Enclosures, actually co-operate with it.’”

Ouch.

I could have done with some ecclesial interfering with the world over the past few years. We got just the opposite: the world interfering with the Church (remember when Christmas and Easter—not to mention services altogether—were canceled by State decree?). But, really, this is longstanding practice, despite pious gestures and holy-sounding press releases. (You can read more about the uneasy relationship of Church and State power in my comrade Guido Preparata’s forthcoming book, Church and Empire).

It is no secret that billions upon billions—maybe even trillions—of dollars have changed hands (from bottom to top) over the past three years. Yet, I haven’t heard a peep about the “preferential option for the poor”—from any ecclesial bodies—even once in regards to this wholesale theft. For shame. For absolute shame.


I find it telling that academia has been almost unanimous with the Churches in its worship of State and corporate power. Talk about strange bedfellows! It’s not really a surprise to me—I’ve been inside academia for decades and know what a cowardly and sniveling citizenry it embodies on the whole. Case in point is the excoriation various academic “thought leaders” unleashed on Giorgio Agamben when, get this, in February 2020 he warned about the coming “state of exception” that would accompany the various v@x passports, lockdowns, and loss of civil liberties then being proposed under threat of the “pandemic.” As he then wrote, “We might say that once terrorism was exhausted as a justification for exceptional measures, the invention of an epidemic could offer the ideal pretext for broadening such measures beyond any limitation.” Well, he was right and all the sniveling cowards (never his equals) who tried to take him down were wrong. Dead. Wrong. But, like Church leaders, they never apologize. They know how the game is played.


In the face of such corruption and complicity, as I have mentioned before in this blog, the only recourse I have found is to have house church, complete with the Eucharist. I’m sure this excommunicates me from the Catholic fold, but—I’m sure you know the phrase—“Here I stand. I can do no other.” Some will say this will condemn me to hell. But, really, who needs a god who would do that to a suffering servant? Only the god of very small men would command such a thing.

I still believe in a Universal (Catholic) Church, but more and more I feel it has to be an underground, invisible Church, disseminated throughout the world like an enlivening enzyme or agent, transformative, transfigurative, sophianic.


Church and State 1.0

Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: Flesh & Spirit and The Regeneration Podcast. Twitter: @Sophiologist_

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