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  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

My grandfather, Michael Patrick Conlon (back, 4th from right) with his class in Carrick-on-Shannon, Ireland, c. 1919

What is the purpose of education?, and, in particular, what is the purpose of a K-12 education? I know this might sound like a stupid question, but it’s not. Furthermore, I’m not sure many people really know what the purpose of an education is, or, if they do, on closer examination they might find that their assumptions about it are gravely mistaken, if not entirely incoherent.


Educational theorist Kieran Egan (who, sadly, left us in May of 2022) clearly articulated this incoherence in a number of books, most notably in The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding (1997)—and it is an incoherence not merely of the general population but of the educational establishment itself. For Egan, three “old ideas” haunt contemporary educational paradigms and these ideas, often mixed together awkwardly, have aims completely incompatible with each other. These incompatible ideas are based on what he identifies as commitments to: 1) Socialization; 2) Rousseau and Nature’s Guidance; and 3) Plato and the Truth about Reality.


We can all identify the socialization project. When I was a boy in Catholic school during the 1970s not only was this ethos promulgated by the daily prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance with which we began each school day, but also through weekly Mass attendance, and the ungodly punishment of The Baltimore Catechism for Children, a book that has arguably created more atheists than either Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. More recently, we can see Project Socialization in the relentless instruction (okay, “indoctrination”) students have in public schools (and even in a good number of parochial schools) that gender “is on a spectrum” and that “structural racism” is built into the very fabric of western democracies. And don’t even get me started on the drag queen-ification of public schooling. You get the picture: socialization.


When it comes to Rousseau and Nature’s Guidance, contemporary educational models, in addition to socialization, seek to trust the child’s natural instincts and let him or her discover the world somehow organically, as we can see in the unschooling movement favored by some homeschoolers or in various educational experiments like Montessori (to some degree) or the Summerhill School in England. In this model, the education is intended to fit the child instead of the child fitting the system. Considering the systems available, it is not the worst idea one might encounter. In more mainstream settings, the Rousseauean project can be seen in the overemphasis on the child or student and his or her experiences, particularly in the overemphasis of the personal narrative in writing studies. The danger, of course, is that education then becomes a fostering in narcissism and self-absorption, seen nowhere so evidently as in the postmodern fascination with social media and turning oneself into a brand.


With Plato and the Truth about Reality, we find an education that is content-heavy and its aims are to create free individuals able to think independently of the crowd. This approach is often favored by those of a conservative inclination and often a reintroduction of Latin and of the classical Trivium and the Quadrivium accompany this commitment. Unfortunately, a kind of bunker mentality also often haunts this project to the point where it becomes a kind of cosplay that looks like a romanticization of the British public school system, as if the system of history’s long-lost elites is the template for human progress and can save us from the snares of postmodern secularism. But the platonic model is also a feature of the venerable college preparatory schools that tend to lean more to the liberal side of the political spectrum. It’s a system bent on creating tomorrow’s elite class, but I think the family money and prestige that make such an education accessible have far more import on creating a future ruling class than do the study of Aristotle, Virgil, or Shakespeare. And I probably don’t need to mention that Plato’s original model had a fifty-year-long syllabus.


Whatever the case, we can see, as Egan points out, that these three educational paradigms are completely at odds with each other. One can’t have a system committed to both socialization and creating free-thinking, independent agents. Nether is socialization comportable with trusting the child’s instincts (seriously, is participating in a drag show ever a childlike instinct?). And we can’t have a school system focused on a content-heavy curriculum that is also directed toward self-actualization. Yet, in the main and across the board, we do have such a school system. And it’s a disaster.


Egan proposes a new way of thinking about the way to map education that is none these. Instead, he maps a way of structuring curricula based on what he sees as stages of understanding found in children as they grow and mature. He names these somatic understanding, mythic understanding, romantic understanding, philosophic understanding, and ironic understanding. While it is not my intention to lay out his entire philosophy, I will briefly describe what he means by these terms.


Somatic understanding is the kind of understanding, pre-verbal, particular to infants. It’s connected to the body and its way of unconsciously coming to terms with its environment and its self-awareness, even if unconscious.


Mythic understanding is the kind of understanding exhibited by small children, pre-K to about age eight or nine. Egan points to how such children have an almost magical interaction with the world and think in deeply imaginative ways, contrary to John Dewey’s demonstrably false assertion that children of this age are “concrete thinkers.” One wonders if Dewey ever met any actual children.


Following the mythic stage comes romantic understanding. Romantic understanding, according to Egan, is that stage (ages 9-13 or so) when children become fascinated with mega ergon and the limits of human potential. Think how boys of this age are often interested in achievements in sports, world records, or even whether a person can have three legs, not to mention conjoined twins. Coupled with this is an attraction for the heroic—King Arthur, for example, or Florence Nightingale, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Lucy Maude Montgomery, herself a rural schoolteacher in early 20th century Prince Edward Island, in the Anne of Green Gables series, illustrates how central romantic understanding is to children of this age via her heroine, a girl who possesses a remarkable “scope for imagination.” Indeed, Anne of Green Gables is a veritable handbook for teaching children (and I have assigned it to students in education courses for precisely this reason).


With philosophic understanding, the student moves into thinking in systems as a way to situate and comprehend the complexities of the self in relationship to society. This is a kind of understanding seen particularly in high school students when young people often take up this or that world view as a lens for interpreting, well, everything. Anyone who’s ever met a sixteen-year-old witch, a twelfth-grade Communist, or a fifteen-year-old atheist will know exactly what Egan is talking about; and one has to wonder if the trans ideology currently infecting so many high school kids is not also a part of the phenomenon Egan observes.


At last, the young reach the stage of ironic understanding, which could also be called Socratic understanding. At this stage, the systems taken up in the previous stage are called into question as anomalies implicit to the system are introduced and, we might say, real thinking arrives. This stage arrives, typically, in early years of college, though Egan suggests that not everybody is up to the task of interrogating their assumptions in a very serious way. That used to be what college was for, of course, though it is a very rare commodity in the current ideological landscape.


Egan also hints at the notion of spiritual understanding, though I don’t think he ever developed it to any significant degree. Though a former Franciscan novice, he identified (as far as I can tell) as an atheist, but Pythagorean and Platonic notions of a moral life were profoundly important to him.


What I find attractive about Egan’s model is that it is not ideologically driven but based on a kind of anthropology, a schematic of human cognitive development that is deeply phenomenological in its approach. Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner likewise maintained sound anthropologies in their educational projects and I think the success in their approaches is directly related to the ways in which they viewed human development.


But back to our question: what is the purpose of education? I would suggest that the purpose of education is to make us more fully human. Certainly, the realization of such an ideal depends on what one thinks a human being is. I’m no Hobbesian; and while I see plenty of evidence in the world that man is a thoroughly immoral, cruel, and sadistic creature, I still hold to the divine image of man grounded in the Christian tradition and promulgated from thinkers from Goethe to Schiller and from Traherne to Blake (among many others). That said, my operating assumption is that, fallen though we be, human beings are essentially good and that education’s aim should be at gaining as much as possible of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful as we wander through what Keats called “the vale of soul-making.” A Classical curriculum certainly operates under such an assumption, and I lament that even the lip service once paid to the rich cultural inheritance of the West in college courses in Western Civilization or Western Humanities have entirely evaporated in the dry winds of wokeness. But I also worry that the current counter-trend of “the Classical Academy,” often distributed along franchise means (!), offers too arid an environment for the promise of human flourishing.


In my thirty years of teaching experience—everything from kindergarten to graduate school, including homeschooling my own children—I have found that the educational models available to us are enormously inefficient. Basically, schools are holding cells created to monitor (and, often, propagandize) children while parents are at work. That is, schools are outgrowths of the factory model, replete with bells telling children when to start, when to stop, when to eat, and when to defecate. It’s Pavlovian. My own children follow a modified Waldorf-Classical curriculum, but their school day usually ends by noon, with maybe a little math or reading practice after lunch. The problem, I think, is the over-emphasis on the intellect, not that the intellect is a bad thing. But our highly technologized culture is nothing if not intensely intellect-based. That is, it takes place almost entirely in the head; and education, where even useful skills such as handwriting are in the process of atrophy if not abandonment, is not any different.


In the age of the Classical curriculum—when it wasn’t a weapon in a culture war but the foundation for any education in the West—people were not captived by the technological snares in which we are all so enmeshed. Instead, they were ensconced in the Real—in the world of plants, animals, clouds, birds, rivers, art, music, sound. An education in the intellect, then, was a supplement to the human-making properties of the Real. What is missing from education now, whether in a socialization, Rousseauean, or Platonic model—is reality. And it is only through the Real that we can create the Human. Otherwise, we are merely simulacra of the human.


In my book Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything, I proposed the idea of a “Postmodern Sophiological Hedge School.” The Irish hedge schools that inspired me were clandestine, makeshift schools devised to educate Irish children in their own religion, language, and culture and not by the classical conditioning of the state-sponsored institutions of their British overlords. (The “flying universities” in Poland and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War worked to very much the same end.) In my book, I propose what that might look like in our own cultural and civilizational context:


“The hedge school would create an environment in which the morning could be devoted to studies in the traditional sense (the three R’s, languages), but, as Steiner demanded, they should be taught artistically. No textbooks. No computers (at least before the age of fourteen). No ugly and utilitarian classrooms filled with ugly and utilitarian furniture and an ugly and utilitarian curriculum. Only engagement with what is real: color and sound, beauty and presence, human interaction and contemplation. That means that students would need time to think or, better, time for reverie in addition to time for instruction. Afternoons could then be devoted to developing practical and artistic skills. In the classical Irish hedge school, such would be redundant; in our own time, they are absolutely vital.


“The recalibration of the human ego to participation in the Real is fundamental to my conception of the postmodern sophiological hedge school. There could be many varieties of hedge school, but without participation in the Real, they would only be adaptations of the educational superego that permeates the culture. My claim is that a way of learning imbued with the arts and engaged with practical activities combined with a contemplative ethos provides a corrective to the human soul done serious damage by a culture characterized by the technology, isolation, and synthetic media that insulate human persons from nature, the cosmos, and, ultimately, from God.”


Clearly, there is more to education than the imparting of information (a data set) or than the forming of citizens (depending on what kinds citizens the Archons desire). As William Butler Yeats observed, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” And that fire is the fire of the Spirit.

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. Twitter: @Sophiologist_

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  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

I have been thinking a lot about fertility.

Fertility, of course, is important to a farmer—fertility of the soil made possible through the use of compost and green manures, fertility of the animals on the farm, of honeybees and other pollinators, and of the plants which the farmer grows. Clean water also supports fertility, as does clean air. This is not hard to figure out.

The fertility of Creation, some might say “of the ecology” or “of the environment,” is also important to human fertility and procreation. Procreation, that is, is very Pro-Creation: it fulfills the terms of the contract for living in the Kingdom: “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’”(Gen 1:28). And the means to this end follow: “Then the Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen 2:15).

Many commentators have read the language of Genesis—“subdue it; and have dominion over it”—as a kind of protocapitalist formula for exploitation. But ancient Hebraic culture was hardly a capitalist enterprise, as if this needs to be explained. Margaret Barker, for one, has suggested that the word “subdue” used here does not exactly capture the import of the Hebrew word kbš which also implies a bond, as in “being bound to” [1]. What’s important here is that Adam and the earth were bound to each other in a reciprocity of flourishing and fertility: for flourishing and fertility are spiritually, biologically, and economically enmeshed. Without the one, you cannot have the other.

But we live in a world hostile to fertility, and therefore hostile to flourishing.


This came to mind this week when I caught part of New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s remarks this week that the United States needs to allow as many immigrants (illegal or legal) into the country as possible because “we’re short of workers and we have a population that is not reproducing on its own.” I will pass over that the good senator supports abortion up until the moment of birth, which clearly would contribute to a population decline. I will also pass over that all-cause mortality is up drastically over the last two years and that thousands upon thousands of healthy young people have either died or been incapacitated due to a “mysterious cause” (that we all know). I will also pass over that this was on the heels of Bill Gates promoting the idea of death panels at the Cop27 meeting. And I won't even mention the now widespread enactment of laws that allow juveniles to self-sterlize without parental consent, as happened recently in my home state of Michigan.

But I will not pass over that fertility rates have been plummeting for decades and that this decline is accelerating. According to this report, sperm counts have plunged over 62% in under fifty years. Add to that the mounting evidence that C0vid v@ccines are probably contributing to infertility, especially in women, not to mention an alarming increase in miscarriages in vaccinated pregnant women, then we have a recipe for demographic disaster.


Given these developments, I decided to take a nostalgic peek into P. D. James’s masterful apocalyptic novel, The Children of Men. Written in the early-1990s and set in 2021, James tells the story of a world in which human fertility is no longer possible. Fertility, worldwide, suddenly stops. As a result, the surviving population watches as the world becomes incrementally more empty of souls, older and older. One character in the book, the Oxford historian of the Victorian age Theodore Faron marks the antecedents of the fall:


Much of this I can trace to the early 1990s: the search for alternative medicine, the perfumed oils, the massage, the smoking and anointing, the crystal-holding, the non-penetrative sex. Pornography and sexual violence in film, on television, in books, in life, had increased and become more explicit but less and less in the West we made love and bred children. It seemed a welcome development in a world grossly polluted by over-population. As a historian I see it as the beginning of the end.” [2]


First a drastic drop in birthrate (not unlike we’re seeing at the moment) was followed by a zero birthrate:


Overnight, it seemed, the human race had lost its power to breed. The discovery in July 1994 that even the frozen sperm stored for experiment and artificial insemination had lost its potency was a peculiar horror casting over Omega the pall of superstitious awe, of witchcraft, of divine intervention. The old gods reappeared, terrible in their power.” [3]

One of the eerier elements to The Children of Men is the post-Omega (the date fertility stopped) fad of women pushing prams bearing dolls instead of babies, a stunning psychological mechanism of the simulacra. The fad passes, as fads do, but makes a resurgence that Faron observes:


It had been years since he had seen a doll thus paraded, but they had been common twenty years ago, had become something of a craze. Doll-making was the only section of the toy industry which, with the production of prams, had for a decade flourished; it had produced dolls for the whole range of frustrated maternal desire, some cheap and tawdry but some of remarkable craftsmanship and beauty which, but for the Omega which originated them, could have become cherished heirlooms….. At one time it wasn’t possible to walk down High Street without being encumbered by their prams, by groups of admiring quasi-mothers. He seemed to remember that there had been pseudo-births and that broken dolls were buried with ceremony in consecrated ground. Wasn’t it one of the minor ecclesiastical disputes of the early 2000s whether churches could legitimately be used for these charades and even whether ordained priests could take part?” [4]


I don’t exactly expect to witness anything like what James describes in her book; she was not a prophetess. She was, however, incredibly perceptive and, though she speaks in metaphor, hers is an apt metaphor for a culture rich in sex but impoverished in love and fertility. But this is what happens when sex and procreation are unmoored from marriage in the cultural imaginary.


I wish I could say I’ve been shocked by the general ennui with which our governmental and corporate institutions—including the media—have treated our falling fertility rates and the added pressures of possible, likely true, v@x-related infertility and miscarriages. But I’m not. They seem to welcome such a development. It may even be part of the plan, as many physicians and other experts have been been warning for over two years that infertility and miscarriage were very real possibilities for an unproven and rushed mRNA product. They weren’t prophets either, just people looking to the canons of their tradition and employing a little common sense. Anyway, the indifference of the usual gatekeepers is appalling.


In his very interesting book The Function of the Orgasm, the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich claimed to have found a kind of energy implicit to the orgasm that he also detected in various atmospheric conditions. He would come to call this phenomenon orgone energy, and it seems to have some resonances with the Vedic concept of prana or the classical Greek idea of zoë (life)—concepts materialist science dismisses. He ends his book with this observation:


Having come at the conclusion of this book, the reader, like the author himself, will not be able to avoid the impression that the study of the orgasm, the stepchild of natural science, has led us deep into the secrets of nature. The investigation of living matter went beyond the confines of depth psychology and physiology and enter unexplored biological territory. Sexuality and the living process became identical, and a new avenue of approach to the problem of biogenesis was opened. What was psychology became biophysics and a part of genuine, experimental natural science. Its core remains, as always, the enigma of love, to which we owe our being.” [5]


Could it be that the energy Reich discovered (but that was always there) has been compromised in its functioning by the absolutely degraded diets to which the industrial west has subjected itself, and that, combined with the soup of toxins we breathe and ingest every day, we have primed our biology for collapse via the introduction of foreign and synthetic substances the repercussions of which we know not? There are certainly other conclusions to which one could arrive; but the apathy of the gatekeepers and their abdication of anything resembling concern for the commonweal suggests that the reality may be far more sinister than even imaginable.


Reich’s pronouncement, that the core remains in the enigma of love to which we owe our being, does give me some comfort. For I find it to be a truly sophiological insight congruent with one of the key utterances of sophiological truth:


When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:

When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:

When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:

Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;

Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the children of men. (Proverbs 8:27-31)


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. Twitter: @Sophiologist_


1. Margaret Barker, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (T&T Clark, 2010), 122.

2. P. D. James, The Children of Men (Knopf, 1992), 7-8.

3. Ibid., 8.

4. Ibid., 34-45.

5. Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm (1942; Souvenir Press, 1973), 386.

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  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

I recently wrote about thinking I saw the Great Pan in the woods just beyond our garden here at the farm. But I didn’t explain. Now I will.


This kind of “seeing” occurs in a state of awareness that’s not exactly wide awake and definitely not sleeping, but in a space more accurately called “reverie.” The 20th century French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote much about the importance of reverie, particularly in his book The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos, and distinguishes reverie from dream:


In contrast to a dream reverie cannot be recounted. To be communicated, it must be written,written with emotion and taste, being relived all the more strongly because it is being written down. Here, we are touching on the realm of written love. It is going out of fashion, but the benefits remain. There are still souls for whom love is the contact of two poetries, the fusion of two reveries. [1]


Poets often retain the ability to enter into reverie—Percy Bysshe Shelley certainly attests to this in his Defence of Poetry; and Thomas Traherne as well as Eleanor Farjeon, both of whom I write about in Sophia in Exile, are two exemplars of poets who lived in reverie by which they could enter a childlike state of radical amazement. I am also a poet, and I think the reason their work resonates so much with me is that I can attest to their witness from experience as opposed to ideology or theory. But back to my story.


On the day of the sighting, I had been checking on the yurt I built in our woods and which we rent out to visitors as an escape from the world. If I do say so myself, it is a beautiful spot. We had some lodgers coming later that day and I wanted to make sure it was tidy (as per directions from my wife). On the way back to the house, I stopped for a minute to look into the woods—I don’t know why—and, as it was a warm October afternoon with sunlight touching the multicolored leaves rustling in the breeze, it wasn’t very hard to make myself pause. It must have been just for a second or two, but in my reverie I saw Pan—or thought I did—but dismissed the notion right away. I started to walk back to the house, made it about ten steps on the way and thought to myself, “Wait...did I just see Pan?” He was standing still, not looking at me, but appearing to gaze off to my left toward the goose yard and the garden. The same thing happened when I saw (but wasn’t sure I did) a few green men traversing the tops of some poplars and maples when I was twenty-two or so (I also write about this in Sophia in Exile). Reverie, it is my claim, doesn’t allow us to see things that “aren’t really there.” Rather, it allows us to see into a parallel reality, the invisible world that co-inhabits the spaces we occupy.


Of course, I don’t know that what I saw was “the Great Pan,” but I do think these inhabitants of the invisible world take on forms that respond to our own imaginative vocabularies. That is, they take a form that is amenable to our conceptual framework. I recently found confirmation of this in a piece of writing by R. Ogilvie Crombie (aka, “Roc,” about whom I first heard mention in this clip from the film My Dinner with Andre), a physicist who was part of the original Findhorn community. Roc claims that the true forms of these types of nature spirits is more akin to light, but that they take on humanoid shapes as a courtesy to human perception and understanding. (You can read all about it in his collection Encountering Nature Spirits). In fact, there’s a great scene in Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth (one of the most Catholic movies ever) that shows precisely how this might work, as Ophelia, the protagonist, shows a faerie, which first appears insect-like, how it is supposed to look from one of her books on faeries. You can get the idea from the trailer:

Now, I don’t think I have any special powers about this. I am not exactly unique, and I am sure many, many people possess this ability (though “ability” is not quite the right word, as if saying I have some unique ability to taste salt or something). I can’t just turn it on. It just happens upon occasion. It’s probably closer to having an innate ability for mathematics (which I don’t) or music (which I do), and it is not, I think, confined to occasional peeks into the invisible world.


A couple of examples:


When I was training as a Waldorf teacher, one afternoon I was helping the teacher I was shadowing prepare a physics demonstration using magnets to be shown to his class on the next day. It was a very simple demonstration using bar magnets, a sheet of paper, and iron filings that could show the energy pattern of the magnetism at the poles (it’s a very beautiful image). He was using some brand-spanking new magnets, still at full potency—and I suddenly got really woozy. I said to him, “Can you feel that?” “Feel what?” “The energy coming from the magnets.” “I don’t feel anything….you must be a sensitive, Michael.” I guess! I was, quite literally, “mesmerized.” (Anton Mesmer, in case you didn’t know, made himself famous in the 18th century through the use of magnets in therapeutic situations.)


A few years before the magnet experience, my then girlfriend asked me if I wanted to attend a meeting of her “spiritual development” class being held through her school district’s community education outreach program one evening at a local high school. The class session was on seeing auras. I was a pretty naive twenty-two year old, so, always open to new experiences—and the class was all young women—I went.


The teacher, a small woman of about sixty, asked one of the students to come to the front of the class and stand before a blank white wall (so as better to be able to see her aura). She asked the class what they saw. Most of them, I recall, didn’t see much. But I saw all kinds of things. One thing I saw was a kind of dark orange, almost brown shape like a broken feather or crumpled ribbon coming from one of her shoulders. In front of the class, I asked if she had some kind of sharp pain or something like that near her collarbone. She did. I saw other things in other people, including that one woman was pregnant (the rest I don’t recall). The teacher came to me at the break and said, “You might not know this, but you have a real gift for this kind of thing.” Even though I knew the basics of aura theory, I had never tried to see them, nor was I working at “developing myself” in such a way. Some people just see this stuff, and some don’t. And it’s not like I see auras all the time or anything; I have to want to try to. I usually don’t. In fact, the only times I’ve tried over the last twenty-five years or so have been when I’m at performances or liturgies in which I am more of a spectator than a participant.


I could tell other stories—psychometry experiments in my late twenties, for example—or sensing the presence of the dead (which happens pretty frequently, even today), but I’ll set those aside for the moment—though my wife is pretty sure those MK Ultra guys would have snagged me as a kid had they known about my constitution. The point I’m trying to make is that some people just have a kind of natural sensitivity to the invisible worlds more so than others; but I also think, like carrying a tune or drawing, most people can do this at least a little. I also think our culture and education breed this ability out of us. But let’s go back to faeries.


I often talk about the possibility that faeries exist with my college students. Some are all in on the prospect, but most are pretty skeptical. To be honest, most are also pretty skeptical about the existence of God or angels. I use David Bentley Hart’s review essay, “The Secret Commonwealth,” first published in First Things exactly thirteen years ago, to open that discussion (as well as show them how to write a solid review essay). David, as many already know, is a true believer when it comes to faeries, as is John Milbank, not to mention my friend David Russell Mosley. There are more of us with terminal degrees who believe in the Secret Commonwealth than you might think.


In fact, in the recent Regeneration Podcast interview with David Bentley Hart about his novel Kenogaia and the Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl upon which it is based, we discussed faeries a little. That night, my phone mysteriously disappeared from my dresser and ended up in the back of my English shepherd Sparrow’s cage a few feet away—though the cage is draped by a blanket, a deerskin, and boxes of seeds! I’m not saying faerie mischief contributed to its strange teleportation, but…


Some people—you might be one of them—may suggest that Pan and the faerie realm really belong to the dominion of evil, but I strongly disagree. In one of Crombie’s accounts, Pan asserts just the opposite: “I am a servant of Almighty God, and I and my subjects are willing to come to the aid of mankind, in spite of the way it has treated us and abused nature, if it affirms belief in us and asks our aid. ” [2] That doesn’t sound like a deal with the devil to me.


For Eleanor Farjeon (I love her so much it hurts), Pan (whose name means “All”) is symbolic of Christ Himself, the absolute Lord of the Dance. As she writes, “For since the divine Pagan dares to exist in harmony with the eternal spirit, trees, which are the temples of Pan, are also prophets of God. He laid his secret within all his creations as they passed through his hands.” [3] And, in a dispute she imagines between Pan and the stodgy and sclerotic god Chronos, Farjeon explains why:


Have you then found a bigger star than mine?” cried the Old One in alarm. “With many moons and brighter hoops of fire? What were you doing while we were raking the firmament?”

Dancing, Old Bones, dancing.”

And where?”

On earth, with man my brother.”

I could go on.


Over the decades, I have amassed a decent library of faerie lore and research, some fictional, some academic, some somewhere in-between. The works of the poet and visionary Æ (George William Russell) are a good place to begin, and perhaps the definitive work on the subject is still W.Y Evans-Wentz’s doctoral dissertation The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (1911), not to mention the venerable The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies (1691) by the Rev. Robert Kirk. Marjorie T. Johnson’s Seeing Fairies (2014) is exhaustive, but is a bit compromised by the jargon and assumptions of The Theosophical Society. Still, it is fascinating. And then there are The Little Grey Men (1942) and Down the Bright Stream (1948) by ‘BB’ (Denys Watkins-Pitchford)—ostensibly “children’s literature,” I think the author knew more about the Invisible Country than just about anyone.


So, next time you think you saw something in the woods…maybe you saw something in the woods.


Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: Flesh & Spirit. Twitter: @Sophiologist_

1. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos (Beacon Press, 1969), 7.

2. R. Oglivie Crombie, Encounters with Nature Spirits (Findhorn Press, 20).

3. Eleanor Farjeon, Trees (London, 1914), 20.

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