• Michael Martin

'The Empress' by Katrin Welz-Stein

Over the past couple of months I have been enjoying a couple of unrelated online discussion forums studying Valentin Tomberg’s extraordinary text Meditations on the Tarot. In one recent conversation with Shari Suter and Nate Hile at the Grail Country channel on Youtube, we discussed the third letter of the book on the card The Empress. (You can watch it here).

I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve read this book, but it is definitely in the double-digits, and every time I read it I find new riches. One thing that jumped out at me this time—and which came up in our conversation—is what Tomberg describes as the role of “sacred magic” in the world through the symbol of the Tree of life which he contrasts to the methods of science since the seventeenth century. “For the practical aspect of the scientific ideal, “writes Tomberg, “is the domination of Nature by means of putting into play the principle of destruction or death.” [1] This was not a new insight of Tomberg’s: Goethe and Rudolf Steiner had said much the same things (as did Robert Fludd and Thomas Vaughan before them), and closer to our own time Mary Midgley, Pierre Hadot, Rupert Sheldrake, and David Bohm have stood in general agreement with this claim, which is in its essence a very sophiological intuition. He continues:

Imagine, dear Unknown Friend, efforts and discoveries in the opposite direction, in the direction of construction or life. Imagine, not an explosion, but the blossoming out of a constructive ‘atomic bomb.’ It is not too difficult to imagine, because each little acorn is such a ‘constructive bomb’ and the oak is only the result of the slow ‘explosion’—or blossoming out—of this ‘bomb.’ Imagine it, and you will have the ideal of the great work or the idea of the Tree of Life. The image itself of the tree comprises the negation of the technical and mechanical element.”

The subtitle of Tomberg’s masterpiece is “A Journey into Christian Hermeticism,” and by “Hermeticism” Tomberg means a Christian synthesis of art, science, and religion. This was evident in pre-Reformation Western Christian culture in, for example, the imagery of the microcosm and its relationship to the macrocosm or in the signatura rerum, the signatures of things (plants, minerals, animals, stars, planets) and the spiritual realities to which they point. This Hermeticism, I claim, is almost identical to Sophiology.

Now the ideal of Hermeticism is contrary to that of science. Instead of aspiring to power over the forces of Nature by means of destruction of matter, Hermeticism aspires to conscious participation with the constructive forces of the world on the basis of an alliance and a cordial communion with them. Science wants to compel Nature to obedience to the will of man such as it is; Hermeticism—or the philosophy of sacred magic—on the contrary wants to purify, illumine, and change the will of man in order to bring them into harmony with the creative principle of Nature (natura naturans) and to render them capable of receiving its willingly bestowed revelation. The ‘great work,’ as an ideal, is therefore the state of the human being who is in peace, harmony, and collaboration with life. This is the ‘fruit’ of the Tree of Life.”

Biodynamic farming is a great example of this kind of Hermetic cooperation with Natura. On the other hand, modern science, for the most part, continues to operate along the lines of compulsion (which we can by extrapolation define by the, alas, too-often heard term “mandate”). If anything over the past two-plus years, we have seen the apotheosis of a “science of the mandate,” in its grasping for a totalizing and absolute dominion over all aspects of human life. This is the way of death.

In fact, as my interlocutor Mr. Hile recently observed, what we have all around us is a “death cult,” and I would add that institutional science is the high priest of this religion.

Central to this religion—though rarely admitted openly—is a hostility to fecundity, which we can see in the cult’s hostility to fertility. And this fecundity touches all domains:

The third Arcanum of the Tarot, being an arcanum of sacred magic, is by this very fact the arcanum of generation. For generation is only as aspect of sacred magic, If sacred magic is the union of two wills—human and divine—from which a miracle results, generation itself also presupposes the trinity of the generator, the generant, and the generated. Now, the generated is the miracle resulting from the union of the principles of generator and generant. Whether it is a matter of a new idea, a work of art, the birth of a child, is not important; it is always the same law of generation which operates; it is always the same arcanum—that of fecundity—which is at play; and it is always the same mystery of the Incarnation of the Word which is the divine prototype here.

We have said above that sacred magic is life such as it was before the Fall. As life is always generative, the arcanum of sacred magic is at the same time that of generation before the Fall—vertical generation, from a higher plane to a lower one—instead of horizontal generation, which is accomplished on a single plane.” [2]

So, what we have is fecundity versus the Western Death Cult, as I have recently written on the gradual opening to the possibility of socially acceptable infanticide. And the presence of the Death Cult is nowhere more apparent than in its constant attacks on Nature—most vividly shown in its attack on the feminine.

Examples of these attacks are rampant, particularly in the rhetorical games (and I’m an English and philosophy professor—I know about rhetorical games) currently at play by the Enemy. One absolutely tragi-comic example is the recent story in which midwives in the UK’s Brighton and Sussex Hospitals were told by higher ups to stop using “vagina” when referring to a woman’s reproductive organ and, instead, adopt “‘front hole’ or ‘genital opening’”—an idea that surely is the product of some woke administrator’s back hole. Such innovations would be unthinkable without the interventions of Science, Inc. Just as Huxley predicted in Brave New World, the word “mother” is now increasingly equated with the most vulgar profanity. A similar word game now coming into common parlance is to replace “pedophile” with “minor attracted person.” O brave new world that has such people in it.

Tomberg’s exact contemporary Lewis Mumford also saw what was happening and what was coming. Writing in 1964 (very close to the time at which Tomberg wrote on The Empress), Mumford had this to say about the march of technology:

The danger springs from the fact that, since Francis Bacon and Galileo defined new methods and objectives of technics, our great physical transformations have been effected by a system that deliberately eliminates the whole human personality, ignores the historic process, overplays the role of abstract intelligence, and makes control of physical nature, ultimately control over man himself, the chief purpose of existence….

The bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe. Under the democratic-authoritarian social contract, each member of the community may claim every material advantage, every intellectual and emotional stimulus he may desire, in quantities hardly available hitherto even for a restricted minority: food, housing, swift transportation, instantaneous communications, medical care, entertainment, education. But on one condition: that one must not merely ask for nothing that the system does not provide, but likewise agree to take everything offered, duly processed and fabricated, homogenized and equalized, in the precise quantities that the system, rather than the person, requires.

“…. Once our authoritarian technics consolidates its powers, with the aid of its new forms of mass control, its panoply of tranquillizers and sedatives and aphrodisiacs, could democracy in any form survive? That question is absurd: life itself will not survive, except what is filtered through the mechanical collective. The spread of a sterilized scientific intelligence over the planet would not, as Teilhard de Chardin so innocently imagined, be the happy consummation of divine purpose: it would rather ensure the final arrest of any further human development.” [3]

Medical, technological, and rhetorical attempts to control Nature are ultimately attempts to control the Real. Attempts to control Nature and the Real, therefore, are assaults on both the feminine and the masculine, as well as on the family. Assaults on the feminine and the masculine and the family, then, are finally assaults on the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine—and they’re not on a spectrum.

It is a matter of what kind of science one wants: a science based upon the will to power, or a science of collaboration with life. It doesn’t seem like a very difficult choice.

Scene from Terrence Malick's Tree of Life. He certainly understands Sophiology.

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: The Divine Feminine.

1. Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (Amity House, 1985), 68.

2. Ibid., 72-73.

3. Lewis Mumford, “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics,” Technology and Culture 5, no. 1 (Winter 1964); 1-8, at 6-7.

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  • Michael Martin

In 2012, I was teaching a course in college writing, as I have done many, many times over my career as a professor, when a very interesting article made a few waves in the academic zeitgeist. It was short article—easy enough for students to read in about fifteen minutes—and an excellent subject for introducing students to rhetorical analysis. It was co-written by two philosophers teaching in Australia, apparently former students or colleagues of Peter Singer.

The thesis of Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva’s “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” is stated very plainly in the abstract: “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” You have to admire the clarity of expression here, despite the horror.

I have used this article in the classroom regularly ever since its appearance, but I’ve noticed a change in student reception over the years. In 2012, I would watch my students read the article in class and see their growing horror and outrage at what they were unpacking. They were offended and outraged, incredulous that any professor would propose such a thing. While I hated to be “that guy,” I told them to get used to it: not only would this idea become accepted over time, it would eventually be celebrated as a good. They thought I was being alarmist. However, that outrage and incredulity has subsided over time: now students barely bat an eye.

I mention this because recent bills introduced in California and Maryland are proposing that “perinatal deaths” of newborns not be investigated—a rhetorical move that some have interpreted as opening the door to the legalization of infanticide. As expected, various news outlets have pushed against the interpretation of the proposed laws, saying that the bills do not explicitly legalize infanticide and that “the term “perinatal death” in the bill is intended to mean the death of an infant caused by complications in pregnancy.” On the other hand, the term “perinatal” is very ambiguous and could mean any time from birth to even 28 days later or more.

This is how the rhetoric (read: propaganda) game works. Make things sound innocuous or vague enough to be accepted, dress them up in euphemisms and/or neologisms (like the nonsensical “after-birth abortion”) and incrementally and eventually the goal of popular acceptance will be achieved. This is how the engineering of consent works.

I have certainly received a good deal of scorn for being an opponent of abortion. I wasn’t always against it. But then I started to give it some thought. People years ago were fond of saying that they believed abortion was acceptable, but only until the fetus had achieved “viability,” which, at the time, meant about five months into gestation. I was okay with that (at the time), but then I thought: “what about four months, 29 days, and 23 hours gestation?” So where is the magic moment? It should be obvious: there isn’t one. I was forced to change my position. In The Submerged Reality I speak out against abortion culture, and one online reviewer assumed I have never consoled or listened to a grieving or traumatized woman post-abortion, as if I speak only from an ideological position and not an experiential one. Well, I have done precisely this—and more than a couple of times. I’m still in contact with one of the women, and she may be the most pro-life person I know. She feels the culture betrayed her by telling her it was an acceptable choice. She still bears the pain of her choice over thirty years later.

Of course, now many jurisdictions in the US allow abortion not only after five months, but through all nine months of pregnancy, even to birth. This has not been a slippery slope.

As a farmer and as a sophiologist, I am intimately aware of the delicate dance of life and death, and I don’t take either one of them lightly. I deal with life and death every day. This morning, for instance, I contemplated euthanizing one of our roosters. He seems to have injured one of his eyes recently and the other rooster (who lost an eye as a chick) has capitalized on this weakness and has been attacking the injured one. I didn’t kill him, choosing to wait and see how and if his injury heals. So, I’m not against killing, per se. But I am against killing vulnerable human beings, and I’m against infanticide.

Giubilini and Minerva know their neologism is sophistry, so they try to obfuscate behind arguments such as “the moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus”—a statement with which I am in total agreement—though they also argue that “neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense” which is hogwash (and I’ve washed hogs, so I know what I’m talking about.) They try to justify their rhetorical sleight of hand, that what they say is not what they say:

In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk. Accordingly, a second terminological specification is that we call such a practice ‘after-birth abortion’ rather than ‘euthanasia’ because the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.”

My claim is that the use of the term “perinatal death” works in a disturbingly similar manner.

As anyone who ever studied Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex in high school or college would be aware, exposing an unwanted baby to the elements or the hunger of wild beasts was a standard and socially acceptable practice in the ancient world. Didn’t work out in the case of Oedipus though! The people living in the age of the “Greek miracle”—the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, the plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus, the poetry of Sappho, the art of Phidias, the rise of democracy, the wonder of the Parthenon—was also an age that didn’t think twice about the problematic morality of infanticide. It was a non-issue. This remarkably sophisticated culture gave no thought to the most vulnerable.

Our own culture is already mired and falling more deeply into this dynamic of a technologically sophisticated culture masking its own barbarity (and not only as regards to infanticide).

It was only with Christianity that this dynamic started to change, and in the Didache we read: “You shall not murder a child by abortion, nor kill a child at birth.” Seems pretty clear, but without the black magic of propaganda.

For the technologies so rife throughout our culture are indeed technologies of death, bent on the domination of Nature: mineral, plant, animal, and human. Call it “The New Black Magic.” As Valentin Tomberg once observed (and as Ioan Couliano later affirmed) what we find in technological and industrial science “is the continuation of the ceremonial magic of the humanism [of the Renaissance], stripped of its occult element.” Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.

Sophiology is the opposite of this dubious magic, as it affirms life and does not fear it.

Choose life.

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: The Divine Feminine. There are also a few spots open in the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening as Christian Path course being offered at the end of April. See more here

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  • Michael Martin

hand study, Leonardo da Vinci

For a while there, I regularly taught philosophy in a couple of Catholic liberal arts colleges. Most professors don’t teach philosophy to undergraduates the way I do, preferring instead to run a kind of survey of historical philosophic movements (Platonism, Scholasticism, Pragmatism, Utilitarianism, and so forth), which is okay, I suppose, but rather a scholarly or almost antiquarian approach. It’s also often impossibly dull (for students, anyway). It would also be dull for me. So I don’t do it that way.

In fact, every course I teach is essentially a philosophy course, even, for instance, the current course I am finishing up, Love & Romanticism. How can one teach Blake, or Coleridge, or Shelley, or even John Clare without asking some fundamental questions concerning society, ultimate values, the possibility of transcendence, or the existence of evil? It’s impossible.

When I have taught those official “philosophy” courses, I used many literary and ostensibly religious texts as well as more technically philosophic works. A short (and incomplete) list includes Sophocles’s Antigone, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Plato’s Symposium, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, Tao te Ching, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, as well as Simone Weil’s “Human Personality” and Georges Poulet’s “The Phenomenology of Reading.” These allowed the students to reflect upon their understandings of, for example, familial, religious, and political obligation (Antigone); the existence of evil (Blood Meridian); love (Symposium); the idea of living a moral life (Tao te Ching and Meditations); the (pre)existence of the soul (Tibetan Book of the Dead); self-examination (“Human Personality”); and the spiritual activity of reading (“Phenomenology of Reading”). All of these considerations are part of what we can call “the Life Questions.” If we live our lives without asking and attempting to answer them, are we living a life at all? As Socrates asked, “Is the unexamined life worth living?”

As Brad Gregory notes in his outstanding The Unintended Reformation (is it old enough to be considered a classic yet?), these questions are very simple:

Despite the pervasive influence of science in our world, very few people look to it for answers to questions about the most important concerns of human life, and for good reason. ‘What should I live for, and why?’ ‘What should I believe, and why should I believe it?’ ‘What is morality, and where does it come from?’ ‘What kind of person should I be?’ ‘What is a meaningful life, and what should I do in order to lead a fulfilling life?’ These questions and others like them are Life Questions: they are serious questions about life, with important implications for life.” [1]

These simple questions are essential to self-knowledge; and, from what I’ve seen among college students (and, let’s be honest, most of our culture) over the past twenty years, students have been increasingly less and less concerned with them. With humanities programs more and more marginalized (if not completely eradicated) in the higher education landscape, this should come as no surprise. Of course, humanities programs in philosophy, literature, and history have only themselves to blame, captured as they have been by the simplistic and adolescent politics of “social justice” (which is neither) and cancel culture. So, I am not entirely saddened to see higher education in its death throes.

One book I have often used in philosophy courses is Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life. Philosophy, as I have alluded above, is typically taught in a scientific way, as if both professor and student are impartial observers of philosophy over time. Hadot’s tack is much simpler: philosophy as spiritual exercise. This approach has inspired, among others, John Vervaeke’s project concerning “the meaning crisis” (and it is a very real crisis), and when I had the honor to speak with John a couple of months ago we both expressed our admiration for Hadot. John criticized Martin Heidegger as being a bit cagey or stingy as regards to his practices, though I think Heidegger’s writings on poetry (I’m not sure if John is familiar with them) do offer some hints at philosophical praxis. But that is a minor disagreement since both John and I believe the spiritual practice of philosophy is central to living a life of meaning.

Hadot offers a simple recipe for this practice in a quote from George Friedman:

Take flight every day! At least for a moment, however, brief, as long as it is intense. Every day a ‘spiritual exercise,’ alone or in the company of a man who also wishes to better himself…. Leave ordinary time behind. Make an effort to rid yourself of your passions…. Become eternal by surpassing yourself, This inner effort is necessary, this ambition, just. Many are those who are entirely absorbed in militant politics, in preparation for the social revolution. Rare, very rare, are those who, in order to prepare for the revolution, wish to become worthy of it.” [2]

My own spiritual practice includes prayer and liturgy, but also includes farming, playing music, and writing poetry. Even scholarship can become a spiritual practice. All of these are ways by which I “take flight,” and are the means by which I have come to a sophiological understanding of the cosmos. As I write in The Submerged Reality, Sophiology is intimately related to phenomenology in the way by which its practices or dispositions allow phenomena to reveal themselves to us. This method of becoming intimate with the cosmos inculcates a method of self-knowledge which arises, oddly enough, by forgetting oneself in the contemplative movement which such practices nurture.

Become eternal by surpassing yourself.

Outstanding documentary on skillful practices that become spiritual practices--whether you know it or not.

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: The Divine Feminine. There are also a few spots open in the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening as Christian Path course being offered at the end of April. See more here

1. Brad S, Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Belknap, 2012), 74.

2. Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (Blackwell, 1995), 70.

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