I have found my Holy Guardian Angel to be sly and subtle. As I cannot be instructed in what I do not comprehend, I must be led to comprehension via an accretion of vocabulary, new concepts and unfamiliar imagery. I must become a fit receptacle, and so I must be led by the nose.
Even if I do successfully tune in to the HGA’s revelatory message, inner experience is inaccessible unless it can be revealed in a form that communicates with a listener (and perhaps I am that listener). It is not sufficient to live an intense inner life; after all, everyone has dreams, drug experiences, bouts of illness, and harrowing and traumatic experiences. We all have something to communicate. It is another matter to bring forth this inner life, to give it shape, to reify it and fix it neatly into the culture of one’s time … and to do this without the cliché, sentiment, and clumsy and dated metaphors that blunt so many works of a revelatory nature. When I look at Blake (an artisan engraver) or Boehme (a shoemaker) I am conscious that they were autodidacts of the first order. They turned themselves into fit receptacles. Not only did they experience visions, they had the power to articulate what they saw.
So, when my HGA nudged me in the direction of Milton, I was somewhat perplexed. The push was too insistent and unexpected to be ignored, and I had no idea how I might benefit, or what the outcome might be. Much of my private life for the past 50 years has been given to the Western Esoteric Tradition, and I felt baffled by this insistent prompting to devote my time to Paradise Lost. I could not explain it to anyone – least of all to myself. I have learned to trust these nudges, but it is faith in the HGA that carries me through months and years of what is often tedium and unfamiliarity.
I have devoted most of nine months to this project. I began with the poem itself, then I began to work through the secondary literature. The secondary literature extends through the centuries. Keats, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth – even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is rooted in Paradise Lost and poses perplexing questions of creation and obedience that were valid in that early 19th C New Age of terrifying political revolution, the wonders of electricity, and the galvanic mysteries of life. These questions are even more relevant in an age of artificial intelligence.
The secondary literature from the 20th C is vast. Scholars trek towards Paradise Lost as if on the long trek to the Klondike river, toting gold pans, a years supply of food, and hopes of a novel discovery. I have a scholarly monograph devoted to the biology of Milton’s angels. The level of scholarly scrutiny and discussion is beyond everyday comprehension.
After some months devoted to Milton it became apparent that I would have to read Virgil, and then Dante, and so I have been reading Virgil and Dante. Thanks to C.S. Lewis I realised I would have to read some essential chapters in Augustine’s City of God.
Where is this leading? I cannot say in any brief way. I can say that Milton lived at the precise point where the universal and consolidated worldview from the time of Homer and Hesiod, the composite of classical tradition combined with Judeo-Christian embroidery, began to collapse. Milton was publishing Paradise Lost in the same year that Isaac Newton was elected a fellow of Trinity College in Cambridge. Two thousand years of the finest aesthetic and intellectual development began to come apart almost from the moment that Paradise Lost was published.
I can also note that Homer, Virgil, Dante and Milton, taken together with the Bible, were the epic stories that united Europe in a common understanding of humanity and our place in the cosmos. Story-telling enchanted the cosmos. The Zohar, for the most part, inhabits that same realm of enchanted story-telling. So does Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, Crowley’s Liber al vel Legis, and so on.
Many of us will have made the journey through Nietzsche and modernism and postmodernism, the disenchantment, the collapse of grand narratives, the slide toward nihilism. The modern WET sits somewhere between a background of enchantment and a foreground that looks like a deserted concrete multi-story car park. I see the tradition much more clearly than I used to. The quest, the journey, the putative goals, are more clearly defined. I am curious to know where my HGA will take me next, what new kind of enchantment will appear out of the soil of so much effort.