The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Sophia in Exile.

Because human creativity, as ubiquitous as it is, defies explanation, recourse to religious language offers what may be the only rhetorical ecosystem up to the task. This is most obvious with the fine arts, of course, but the innovative dimensions of the practical arts likewise trespass into the numinous precincts of the hallows. It is worth noting, then, that the language we use for the creative individual often mimics our language for divinity: “maker” and “creator.” The classical understanding of the poet as both poeta (maker, i.e., “craftsman”) and vates (prophet or seer) is emblematic of the challenge in discernment when the question of creativity arises, providing what Slavoj Žižek calls a “parallax view.” Without a doubt, there are elements of training and natural ability involved. For example, I’m a decent musician and poet and know what creativity is in those domains, but while I can handle the tools of the carpenter reasonably well, my skills in that realm are far from anything resembling creativity. And it should be obvious that many “professional poets,” for example, are essentially craftsmen or wordsmiths whose work never intrudes into the templum, whereas carpenters, glaziers, and stonemasons (think of the great churches of the Middles Ages and Renaissance) not only enter the temple, but make it present to the senses. Creation is nothing if not incarnational.

It is interesting, however, that after the classical era, at least in the West, precious little was said about the role of human creativity until the rise of Romanticism in the late-eighteenth century and through the first half of the nineteenth, though currents of it have persisted, often underground or in the shadows.

The reason for this silence about the role of the maker in the post-classical West is not hard to figure out. Nikolai Berdyaev gets directly to the problem: “There is not one word in the Gospel about creativeness.” And not only is the Gospel silent regarding human creation: “We have precepts from the Holy Fathers on fasting and prayer. But we have not, and there could not be, precepts of the Fathers about creativity.” [1] This didn’t keep Christians from creating, of course, as the marvels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance attest, but at the very least no one was that concerned with understanding the metaphysics of human creation. One exception may be Paracelsus, that eternal outlier, who claimed, “All natural arts and human wisdom are given by the stars, we are pupils of the stars, and they our teacher. God has ordered everything in the light of Nature that we may learn from it.” [2] With the arrival of the Protestant Reformation, however, a palpable anxiety about human creativity and the allure of the beautiful crept into the Christian psyche—an anxiety that extended also to the Creation as such, let alone the stars that so inspired Paracelsus— which resulted, among other things, in virulent attacks on the Mass as nothing but a performance piece, a falsely pious form of theater. As Eamon Duffy astutely observes, “Iconoclasm was the central sacrament of the reform.” [3]This anxiety, habitually erupting into psychosis, pervades the early modern period and is found to a profound degree in even some of the finest poets of the age, particularly Edmund Spenser, John Milton, and even George Herbert. More recently, it haunts the philosophy of Jacques Ellul, which renders his thought austere and off-putting for all his cogent insights into the problems of modernity. Reform achieved its telos in the Enlightenment, and then it was left to the Romantics to reimagine the role of the maker in human societies.

The Romantics rejected the sterile self-assurance of the modern subject and upheld a vision of being human that both looked back to an integral imagination of medieval Christendom (as in Novalis’s Christianity, or Europe?) and forward to a transfigured human society. Much of this, as in Wordsworth and above all Goethe, had to do with finding a new way of seeing the world. For Wordsworth, the goal was to reenter the garden from which we were expelled and become like children again, as he writes in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” its language resonant with the theological aesthetic of Thomas Traherne:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

For Goethe, this project even sought to reform the “gloomy empirical-mechanical-dogmatic torture chamber” (his words) that science had become in the wake of Bacon, Descartes, and Newton. [4] For Shelley, like Goethe, the poetic is not restricted to the crafting of verse so much as to the making implied in the Greek term poiesis, “the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before.” [5] This kind of making, then, is potential in every domain of human experience, from the fine and practical arts to philosophy to economics to politics to domestic life. As Shelley writes in The Defence of Poetry, “Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, the root and blossom of all other systems of thought.” [6] But as Keats reminds us, the action of this making influences not only external productions, but is essential to his understanding of Creation as “The vale of Soul-making” and the development of the Self. [7]

The Romantic sensibility, though it fell from favor, never really vanished but persisted in subterranean streams as a companionate “alternative modernity.” Often, it intersected with occultism and various forms of mysticism, both orthodox (as in the case of Paul Claudel) as well as heterodox (as in William Butler Yeats). Romanticism is intuitively if not institutionally religious, concerned with what is sacred, with the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, so it is no surprise that a movement or aesthetic so concerned with transcendence should find comrades-at-arms in other movements exiled from the power structures of the Master Culture. My claim is that the souls who have felt such a profound attraction to the Occult Revival of the nineteenth century, to Blavatskian Theosophy and Anthroposophy, to Guenonian metaphysics, to the New Age, neo-paganism, and other such movements are driven by a desire for the sacred they find unavailable in mainstream forums of religious expression, which are all too often compromised by worldly concerns and politics, if not stomach-turning scandal. Who wouldn’t take a chance on Romanticism when the institutional is so compromised? It is not for nothing that Owen Barfield named his book on the contributions of Rudolf Steiner Romanticism Comes of Age.

This idea of this kind of making has been all but forgotten in the age of prefabrication and mechanical reproduction, a point made long ago by Walter Benjamin. In the fine arts, for example, performances are so often duplicated, whether by analog or digitally, that their splendor becomes dissipated in modernity’s ocean of white noise. We treat them as wallpaper. But even wallpaper, William Morris would have argued, should not be treated as wallpaper! For Morris, the common things of our homes were not meant to be common things and the mechanization and banality of even our environments he viewed as a “desecration” that led ultimately exploitation and war. [8] He lived in an awareness that “the adventure of freedom is also always a realisation of beauty and a communion with the earth.” [9] Who hasn’t recognized the charm, the individuality, of even a dilapidated barn, exuding a presence that far surpasses that of even the most expensive prefabricated McMansion? What have we lost in the migration from wood, plaster, stone, and brick to Styrofoam, pressed board, PVC pipe, and vinyl siding? I remember as a boy going to visit friends in the newly minted subdivisions outside of my hometown of Detroit. All the houses looked alike. It was easy to get lost, a fitting metaphor for our environments and, indeed, for our times.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.

1. Nicolas Berdyaev, The Meaning of the Creative Act, trans. Donald A. Lowrie (New York: Collier Books, 1962), 91.

2. Paracelsus, Astronomia Magna in Paracelsus: Essential Readings, selected and trans. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (Wellingborough, UK: Crucible, 1990), 110.

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 480.

3. Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 480.

4. Maxim 430, from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections, trans. Elizabeth Stopp, ed. Peter Hutchinson (London: Penguin Books, 1998), 55.

5. Donald E. Polkinghorne, Practice and the Human Sciences: The Case for a Judgment-Based Practice of Care (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2004), 115

6. Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Defence of Poetry in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald h. Reiman and Neil Fraistat, Norton Critical Editions (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 202), 531.

7. John Keats, “Letter to George and Georgiana Keats, 14 February...3 May, 1819” in John Keats, Selected Letters, ed. Robert Giddings, rev. Jon Mee (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 232.

8. Jack Lindsay, William Morris: His Life and Work (New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1979), 217.

9. Ibid., 378.

  • Michael Martin

I have written before about how Czeslaw Milosz’s 1951 book The Captive Mind is one of the most important—and seldom read, alas—books of the twentieth century. The book is a taxonomy of the usually gradual (but absolute) capitulation to Communism of a number of Polish intellectuals familiar to Milosz following World War II. Intellectuals, in my experience, are the most prone to ideology, and the higher up the academic (BA, MA, Ph.D.) scale they are, the more inclined they are to an uncompromising resoluteness. As a biodynamic farmer with a doctorate in early modern English literature, I may have a unique perspective in that my life straddles the worlds of academia and the working-class / small business owners. I prefer the latter world. By a long shot.

I have often wondered what it is that makes academics so prone to ideology and so intolerant of those holding opinions opposite of theirs. Certainly, one contributing factor must be the conditioning centers of higher education, and especially graduate programs (particularly in the humanities--but please do not think this makes the sciences any more moral: see here). People in these programs are conditioned to at least act the part of the dutiful Progressive—at least until tenure. Even then they might be in danger of retribution if they step out of line. (You can read one account of the process here.) It didn’t use to be that way, and I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule. But this is pretty much what I saw during my twenty years in higher education.

Example: as a visiting professor years ago, I received an email I shouldn’t have received. The department hiring committee had been interviewing candidates who had done the rounds of MLA interview, campus visit, and sample lesson. It was down to two candidates: a progressive with a degree from the University of Michigan (the kind of person who began a lot of conversations at this Catholic liberal arts college with the phrase, “As an atheist...”) and a conservative Christian (I forget where he went). Everyone agreed that the Christian was more intellectually gifted, had great scholarly potential, and was a better teacher. The students in the sample lesson were not at all impressed by the U of M grad, but thought the Christian was fantastic. Nevertheless, though all these things were admitted in the email I received by accident, the Chair of the department recommended they hire the lesser candidate because the other was a conservative Christian. At the time, I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to have received the email, but minutes later the Chair burst into my office to tell me it wasn’t meant for me, that he had sent it to all the department by accident. He was actually a bit freaked out. They hired the lesser candidate. The students didn’t like her very much, but political hegemony of the department was assured. This is how the game is played.

Academics don’t typically think of themselves as the products of classical conditioning, but Pavlov was no dummy. Reward and punishment combined with resent (often repressed) at the process make for toxic psychological and social environments. Milosz was onto it as well. As he writes,

The intellectual’s eyes twinkle with delight at the persecution of the bourgeoisie, and of the bourgeois mentality. It is a rich reward for the degradation he felt when he had to be part of the middle class, and when there seemed to be no way out of the cycle of life and death. Now he has moments of sheer intoxication when he sees the intelligentsia, unaccustomed to rigorously tough thinking, caught in the sphere of revolution. The peasants, burying hoarded gold and listening to foreign broadcasts in the hope that a war will save them from collectivization, certainly have no ally in him. Yet he is warm-hearted and good; he is a friend of mankind. Not mankind as it is, but as it should be. He is not unlike the inquisitor of the middle ages; but whereas the latter tortured the flesh in the belief that he was saving the individual soul, the intellectual of the New Faith is working for the salvation of the human species in general.” [1]

What we have here, then, is not a political problem so much as a psychological one.

After World War II and the horrors of Nazism, Fascism, and the Holocaust, Western culture engaged in a thoughtful interrogation of the psyche as many of the physicians, philosophers, and intellectuals engaged in a much needed examination of the collective conscience—people like Viktor Frankl (who survived the concentration camps), Hannah Arendt, Erich Neumann, and Milosz himself. Others played the tried and true intellectual’s game of “go along to get along.”

In my years of teaching college, a constant question I have posed to students is “How do you know if you’re brainwashed?” I ask students this in every course, in every semester, and often (depending on the course) show them the first installment of Adam Curtis’s masterful documentary The Century of the Self as an introduction to the topic. Twenty years ago, when I began my college-teaching career, I also talked much about transhumanism, an idea that at the time was dismissed by my students and colleagues alike as absurd, but now, due to its endorsement by Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum, has reached a level of cultural cache I never could have imagined in my lifetime. I attribute some of it to a dreadful lack of critical thinking in the public square, but even more to the classic technique used by both corporations and political parties known as “the engineering of consent.” Has your consent been engineered?

As I said, what we’re dealing with here is only secondarily about politics. It’s primary phenomenon is psychological and we would do well to consider Jung’s notions of the individual and collective shadow (discussed in the clip below by Marie-Louise von Franz) and do a little critical self-examination of our own. Think about when you feel tempted to project your anger (much of it built up over almost a year of destabilization) on the Other dealing with his own shadow and being overcome by the Zeitgeist. How do you know if you’re brainwashed?

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.

1. Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind, trans. Jane Zielonko (Vintage, 1953), 10-11.

  • Michael Martin

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Sophia in Exile.

Jacob named the site of his vision Beth-El, “the House of God,” and there is no reason to believe that every parcel of Creation is not a potential Bethel. Indeed, religious experiences tied to nature are too numerous to count, almost universal in their distribution. I would wager that they are among the most common of human experiences, though many if not most people lack a sufficient language for describing their experiences. Joan of Arc’s initial visionary experiences, for example, occurred at what was know as “The Ladies’ Tree” or “The Faeries’ Tree” in her village of Domremy. Some villagers even claimed to have seen faeries there, but Joan only claimed to have seen saints Catherine and Margaret and the Archangel Michael who “was not alone, but was accompanied by angels from heaven.”[1] Even the (at the time) hardened Marxist economist Sergei Bulgakov was not impervious to the glory shining through the landscape one sunset while traveling through the Caucasus:

I started to wonder what would happen if the cosmos were not a desert and its beauty not a mask of deception—if nature were not death, but life. If he existed, the merciful and loving Father, if nature was the vesture of his love and glory, and if the pious feelings of my childhood, when I used to live in his presence, when I loved him and trembled because I was weak, were true, then the tears and inspiration of my adolescence, the sweetness of my prayers, my innocence, and all those emotions which I had rejected and trodden down would be vindicated, and my present outlook with its emptiness and deadness would appear nothing more than blindness and lies, and what a transformation it would bring to me!”[2]

But the Glory of the Lord doesn’t only shine through the beauties of nature. Bernadette Soubirous’s first vision of the Virgin Mary came in a small alcove near a garbage dump, and Jacob Boehme’s insight into the nature of God occurred through the reflection of light off a pewter dish. There is no place where grace cannot appear. Beth-El: You are here.

But you are also not here.

One thing that keeps us from the experience of the Real is our pathological drive to control everything from fertility, to illness, to our environments. We regulate fertility through artificial birth control, through abortion, through “waiting until we’ve established our careers.” Fertility, that is, terrifies us, so we treat it as a disease, even, in some cases, by comparing a growing fetus to a parasite. It terrifies us so much that fertility rates have been plummeting for decades though NGOs have nevertheless been advocating for a massive population decrease. If we learned anything through the Covid-19 panic, it has to be that people have fetishized antiseptic living into a demigod. When people used to get the flu, it was just one of those things. You took some over-the-counter medication or homeopathy and let the illness run its course. After Covid illness somehow became evidence of moral turpitude and selfishness. Another thing we learned is that it is “safer” to encounter others through virtual environments, like Zoom, than by interacting, by exchanging genetic information, in the face-to-face of a lived life. This is entirely neurotic.

These phenomena are merely symptomatic of a way of life (bios)completely divorced from Life (zoë). We live lives in which, as John Donne says, “‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,” divorced as we are from the world of clouds, of plants, of animals, and from each other, from the cosmos, and because of these from from God. Indeed, the inverse is also true: we are distanced from the world of clouds, plants, and animals because we are distanced from God. The integral unity of life and purpose that we instinctively feel lacking is really a product of our disengagement from the calendar; and by this I mean from both the calendar of the seasons and the liturgical calendar, both of which reflected each other once upon a time. Enoch I is very clear about the repercussions of our disconnect from the cosmos and God:

In those days the angel Uriel responded and said to me, ‘Behold, I have shown you everything, Enoch, and I have revealed everything to you [so that] you might see this sun, this moon, and those that guide the stars of heaven as well as those who interchange their activities and their seasons and rotate their processions.

“‘In respect to their days, the sinners and the winter are cut short. Their seeds shall lag behind in their lands and in their fertile fields, and in all their activities upon the earth. He will turn and appear in their time, and withhold rain, and the sky shall stand still at that time. Then the vegetable shall slacken and not grow in its season, and the fruit shall not be born in its season. The moon shall alter its order, and will not be seen according to its cycles.’” (80:1-5)

Surrounded by the scientific hubris that seeks to “improve” seed by genetic engineering and that attempts to dim the sun, the moon, and stars through the dispersal of calcium carbonate through the atmosphere (among many other foolish ideas)—things we have let happen through either ignorance or inertia—is it any wonder that our impact on the Creation grows more and more devastating? We operate not in a cooperative manner with nature, but stick to a paradigm characterized by suppression, dominance, and control, but above all by hubris. We shouldn’t ask why wildfires, droughts, and devastating hurricanes occur so often: we should ask why they don’t happen more.

The reason for this is that the world has a soul, the anima mundi. This is an idea found throughout history. Plato, in the Timaeus, describes it this way: “we may say that the world came into being—a living creature truly endowed with soul and intelligence by the providence of God.” [3]And because the world is a living creature endowed with soul, all things within it participate in this life. As Plotinus writes, “the work of soul is something awake, both that within it and in the same way that which goes out to something else. Soul therefore makes alive all the other things which do not live of themselves, and makes them live the sort of life by which it lives itself.” [4] The Judeo-Christian tradition has a proper name for the bearer of this soul: “Wisdom, the fashioner of all things” (Wisdom 7:22).

To live in accord with Wisdom is to live in accord with both creation and God. The poetic metaphysics of this understanding can be found, among others, in the symbolism of the harmonia mundi and of the tree.

The harmonia mundi, literally “harmonies of the world” but often rendered in English as “the Music of the Spheres” has a rich history in the West, probably stemming from Pythagoras and is alluded to by Plato in the Timaeus. Plotinus provides a very beautiful description:

The harmonious adjustment of the souls to the order of this All of ours witnesses to this: they are not cut off from it, but fit themselves in in their descents and make one harmony with its circuit, so that their fortunes and their lives and their choices are indicated by the figures made by the heavenly bodies and they sing, as it were, with one voice and are never out of tune. (And this is more properly the hidden meaning of the doctrine that the heavenly spheres move musically and melodically.”[5]

Many Renaissance writers and thinkers touched on the idea, Robert Fludd and Johannes Kepler, for example, and Shakespeare in his play Pericles, Prince of Tyre. It is a very simple concept: to live in harmony with Creation and God is to be at one with All That Is. Conversely, to be out of harmony with Creation and God is to invite corruption, infertility, and desolation upon the world.

The image of the tree, as the Tree of Life, may be the symbol par excellence of Wisdom from antiquity. The Tree, of course, makes its first appearance in Genesis, but it was also a feature of First Temple Judaism as an icon of Wisdom before Her worship was banned under the reforms of Josiah and her devotees driven into exile. The Tree returns in Revelation at the restoration of All Things: “And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street thereof, and on both sides of the river, was the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding its fruits every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:1-2). Margaret Barker reads this restoration as the restoration of Wisdom, the Divine Sophia, to her proper place in Christian worship and understanding. For her, “The fate of the tree [is] the fate of Wisdom,” which is why she argues that the earliest Christian communities understood it in precisely this way: “When John saw the woman and the tree in the holy of holies [i.e., Revelation 22], he showed that the Christians were faithful to the older ways. Their temple was the ancient temple, and so the woman and her tree and everything they represented shaped their way of thinking. Wisdom/Miriam was the mother of the Messiah, and that is how the Christians told the story of the birth of Jesus.” [6]

This is the challenge presented to us at this point in history. We find ourselves confronted with a choice between the Real or a simulacra of the Real, what the kabbalah calls the qlipoth, the world of demonic powers. [7] Do we assist in the work of salvation by recognizing Sophia’s place in Creation, thereby calling her out of exile? Or do we follow the trajectory of death that has and will continue to wreak havoc on Creation and on our own souls as they descend into the technological and technocratic abyss of the qlipoth? Too often, Christians or any people of good will, leave the work of salvation to politicians or to an amorphous future event, the Coming of the Messiah. But our actions constitute a call, a summons. As Nikolai Berdyaev so stridently says, “My salvation is bound up with not only other men but also of animals, plants, minerals, of every blade of grass—all must be transfigured and brought into the Kingdom of God. And this depends upon my creative efforts.”[8] Salvation, that is, is not a spectator sport.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

1. W. S. Scott, trans, and ed., The Trial of Joan of Arc, Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings from the Orleans Manuscript (Westport, CT: Associated Booksellers, 1956), 78.

2. Sergius Bulgakov, A Bulgakov Anthology: Sergius Bulgakov 1871 – 1944, trans. Natalie Duddington and James Pain, ed. James Pain and Nicolas Zernov (London: SPCK, 1976), 10–11.

3. 30c.

4. 4.3.36-38.

5. 4.3.20-29.

6. Margaret Barker, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (London; T & T Clark, 20100), 266, 265.

7. Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, trans Ralph Manheim (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), 114.

8. Nicolas Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, trans. Natalie Duddington (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), 294.

The Center for Sophiological Studies

8780 Moeckel Road  Grass Lake, MI 49240 USA


email: Director