top of page
  • Writer's pictureMichael 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.’”


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 Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: Flesh & Spirit and The Regeneration Podcast. Twitter: @Sophiologist_

336 views7 comments
  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

I am happy to announce that I will be giving on online course—though in real time—entitled Shakespeare, Religion, and Magic. The seminar will begin on Friday, February 3rd and continue every Friday thereafter until March 24th, for a total of eight sessions. The seminars will run from 1:00-2:30 pm Easter Time, which should make it possible for participants from both the British Isles and the West Coast of the US to take part, and will be recorded for archival purposes but not rebroadcast at a later time.

What I’m doing with this course is getting my feet wet for a bigger project: a rogue invisible college (tentatively named “Sophia University”) which, I hope, will eventually include a number of other druids (not sure “professor” or “teacher” are the right words) and offer a range of seminars on mythology, Neoplatonism, Sophiology, poetics and poetry, sacred geometry, music, Goethean science, literature, philosophy, theology, and history (I’m sure other things will appear as well). In addition to these online seminars, I hope to add retreats or low-residency seminars at my farm in Michigan, so we cannot rule out seminars on farming, beekeeping, handcrafts, or the fine arts. So this is just a start.

I have a long-time engagement with Shakespeare reaching back over thirty years and have not only taught Shakespeare at the college-level but have directed productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest—and I wrote music for the Bard’s many songs and ditties that sprinkle those plays.

This eight-week seminar will examine a number of Shakespeare’s better- and lesser-known plays and the ways in which Shakespeare and his times thought of Divinity and the supernatural. Plays to be discussed include Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Pericles, and The Tempest, and we will take them in this order (the first week will be an introduction). The only real requirement is that participants commit to the full eight weeks and read the play in question prior to our discussion of it.

Just about any Collected Works of William Shakespeare will be adequate to the task at hand, though the individual Arden editions are also very good. I would recommend the Norton, Bevington, or the old Riverside editions (I still have the Riverside I used as an undergrad!). All are good, all have great notes (which are supremely helpful!), and are also useful when pressing cheese (I have actually done this).

Seminar fee: $100. Contact me at to enroll or if you have any questions.

A couple of other things

If you haven’t seen The Regeneration Podcast’s recent interview with Dr. Ken Thorp, you absolutely must. He is bridging the gap between the medicine of the years prior to the “Scientific” Revolution and the medicine of the future.

In addition, please check out this beautiful article on my dear friend (she’s nearly a sister) Therese Schroeder-Sheker by music writer Ted Gioia. It, like Therese, is extraordinary.

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

397 views0 comments
  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

Anyone familiar with this blog can probably figure out that I have a deep and abiding affection for the folk music of the British Isles. This affection goes back to childhood when I would listen to my mother’s Simon and Garfunkle and Peter, Paul and Mary albums which eventually led me to artists like Fairport Convention, Dougie Maclean, and, later, The Waterboys. During high school I was a big fan of the early Rod Stewart and Faces when they were exploring folk instrumentation and idioms in the context of rock; and I likewise always loved Led Zeppelin’s habitual excursions into folk with songs like “The Battle of Evermore” and “Going to California.” I had a group of friends, mostly girls, who shared my love for this kind of music and we would repair on summer evenings to a valley in a local golf course (this was in Detroit) where we would make a small bonfire, play guitars, drink beer, smoke hash, and dream. One of the girls taught me a few chords on her mandolin and I taught myself the mandolin part from “Maggie Mae” within a few minutes. That was it: I was hooked. If you want a picture of my soul, this is the soundtrack.

These musical enthusiasms eventually led me to an exploration of their sources in Irish, Scottish, and English ballads in my twenties and thirties. This is when I learned about Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) who collected almost countless ballads, reels, dances, and so forth and to whom is owed a great cultural debt. In addition, my love for the music of Ralph Vaughan-Williams and the Anglican hymnal is no doubt due to the rich wellsprings of folk music that nourishes them. My grandfather was from Ireland and one of my best friends growing up was from Scotland, so I also had very personal attachments to this music and the cultures that had produced it.

This interest in folk music eventually brought me to more scholarly excavations of folk tradition when I read Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (the abridged version!) and Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance in my twenties. When I began doctoral studies, I entertained the idea of making my area of specialty the poetry of Robert Burns, many of whose poems are actually folk songs, but balked because I didn’t want to sour on something I loved so much through the kind of academic ennui that often infects the scholarly.

In my years as a Waldorf teacher, I drew on this tradition when working with my students. I would teach them various ballads upon occasion and put together an arrangement of “Greensleeves” for Christmas one year as well as a version of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s take on “A Soalin.” When I taught third grade, I wrote a short play for my class, “The Grain Mother,” which drew on a number of traditions and their mythoi of grains and how when a certain kind of wind blows through the fields it is said that the Grain Mother is passing through. I also wrote a version of the Mummers Play to be performed at a May Day festival by sixth graders. It was a kind of Sir James Frazer meets Monty Python type of deal, and it was dead funny. In addition, I directed three eighth grade classes in performances of Shakespeare’s plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest and set the Bard’s songs to my own tunes and arrangements in a very English-Irish folk manner, one of which from Twelfth Night you can hear below in a version recorded by The Corktown Popes and another from The Tempest during my Waldorf period which features rapper Big Sean when he was still Little Sean and my student.

I often taught students poetry from the tradition, such as the Celtic “He Praises the Trees” and “The Ripe and Bearded Barley.” Often in these poems and ballads, the Things of Nature are personified, though I’m not at all that convinced that personification is the most accurate word; as Kathleen Raine once said, “The pathetic fallacy is neither.” Their words possess a certain magic:

Come out, 'tis now September, The hunter’s moon’s begun; And through the wheaten stubble We hear the frequent gun; The leaves are turning yellow, And fading into red, While the ripe and bearded barley Is hanging down its head. All among the barley, Who would not be blithe, While the ripe and bearded barley Is smiling on the scythe! The wheat is like a rich man, It'’s sleek and well-to-do; The oats are like a pack of girls, They’re thin and dancing too; The rye is like a miser, Both sulky, lean, and small, Whilst the ripe and bearded barley Is the monarch of them all. All among the barley, Who would not be blithe, While the ripe and bearded barley Is smiling on the scythe! The spring is like a young maid That does not know her mind, The summer is a tyrant Of most ungracious kind; The autumn is an old friend That pleases all he can, And brings the bearded barley To glad the heart of man. All among the barley, Who would not be blithe, When the ripe and bearded barley Is smiling on the scythe!

In my twenties, after I left the MusicBusiness™, I would sometimes play coffeehouses or parties, sometimes with my wife or some friends, sometimes alone, and invariably drew on this tradition. Over the past year or so I have been writing arrangements for a number of traditional folk songs, including “Scarborough Fair,” “Wild Mountain Thyme,”and Hubert Perry’s setting of William Blake’s “Jerusalem” (okay, so while not technically “traditional,” it is now). When I was in Dublin in 1989, I heard a powerful version of “Scarborough Fair” performed by the only black man I saw on the entire trip, a busker on Grafton Street upon a Saturday morning. I’ve been trying for years, but finally came up with an arrangement I like inspired by his. I would love to record these songs and others along with my Shakespeare tunes sometime. I plan on winning the lottery this year in order to fund such a project. Don’t judge me.

One song I recently revived from my repertoire is the ballad “John Barleycorn (Must Die).” I first heard it, as I’m sure is the case for many of my generation, in the splendid version by Steve Winwood’s band Traffic. The song tells the story of the death, resurrection, and subsequent revenge on his killers of John Barleycorn. The first verse set up the drama:

There were three men came out of the West Their fortunes for to try And these three men made a solemn vow John Barleycorn must die They’ve ploughed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in Threw clods upon his head And these three men made a solemn vow John Barleycorn was dead

The tale, the children’s version of which is certainly “The Gingerbread Man,” progresses through the many tortures to which John Barleycorn (just “barley” to you and me) endures until he revenges himself at the end of the cycle:

And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl And he’s brandy in the glass And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl Proved the strongest man at last The huntsman, he can’t hunt the fox Nor so loudly to blow his horn And the tinker he can’t mend kettle nor pot Without a little Barleycorn

This thing just begs for a Frazerian interpretation, in which the Vegetative King is ritually killed and brought back to life in order to renew the cycle of life. Of the king, Frazer writes,

By slaying him his worshipers could, in the first place, make sure of catching his soul as it escaped and transferring it to a suitable successor; and, in the second place, by putting him to death before his natural force was abated, they would secure that the world should not fall into decay wit the decay of the man-god.”

That’s some heavy magic. And is it any wonder that the act of fermenting and distilling (“brandy in the glass”) results in the creation of “spirits”? So much mystery exists in language.

This mystery of language also inhabits the Christian imagination, and it is no great leap to connect the death and resurrection of John Barleycorn with that of Christ. Do we not drink the latter’s blood as wine, eat His body as bread? As I have been writing for a good long while, such a sensibility leads to a way of abundant life absolutely at odds with the technocratic oppression with which we contend. As H.J. Massingham wrote nearly eighty years ago:

When man lived more or less naturally, and at the same time believed the world to be the porch to an otherworldly room, his civilization made rapid and intensive growth, whereas he has made a sufficiently poor job of his own self-glorification in disowning Mother Earth and the Fatherhood of God.”

Rainer Maria Rilke certainly seized upon a similar intuition, though he drew upon not Christian-pagan folk tradition, but Greek mythology. In his Sonnets to Orpheus he precisely describes the phenomenon of which I speak, here in Stephen Mitchell’s exquisite translation of Sonnet I, 5:

Erect no gravestone to his memory; just let the rose blossom each year for his sake. For it is Orpheus. Wherever he has passed through this or that. We do not need to look for other names. When there is poetry, it is Orpheus singing. He lightly comes and goes. Isn’t it enough if sometimes he can stay with us a few days longer than a rose? Though he himself is afraid to disappear, he has to vanish: don’t you understand? The moment his word steps out beyond our life here, he moves where you will never find his trace. The lyre’s strings do not constrict his hands. And it is in overstepping that he obeys.

He has to vanish. And this is why John Barleycorn must die: so that he may rise again.

May we all be so fortunate.

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

567 views4 comments
bottom of page