Religion, like nations and individuals, passes through the regular gradation, first of infancy, when religious ideas and thoughts are crude in the extreme; the age of Puritanism, when innocent women and children are burned at the stake for witchcraft, when with gloomy faces and in unsightly dress the poor fanatics sacrificed every pleasure on the altar of duty; the time when Sunday was a day of horror to children from its gloom, a day when every innocent amusement was forbidden. After religion’s infancy comes youth. At that stage, the absurd dress and gloomy faces were not considered essential adjuncts to religion, but free discussion was not allowed upon religious subjects. Everything must be taken for granted, without any investigation on the part of the people. After youth comes manhood, the time when reason has full sway, when superstition and credulities form no part of religious teaching and thought. People are able to think, to reason for themselves. After the age of manhood, comes old age and that is the stage of agnosticism. Questions are being asked, and ideas propounded which must not be overlooked nor treated with contempt. All questions asked in a fair spirit, must be answered in a fair manner. It is not sufficient to say, “it is so”, but good and tangible reasons must be given to prove the truth of an assertion. We are now in the stage of “old age.” Agnosticism and Infidelity are wide spread. After old age comes decay and the decline of the absolutely orthodox. From time immemorial, every religion has passed through the same gradation, of infancy, youth, old age and decay finally comes philosophy.
The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason by John V Fleming, from W W Norton, is a new release that may be of interest [HT Arts & Letters Daily, also].
“Why spiritual and supernatural yearnings, even investigations into the occult, flourished in the era of rationalist philosophy.
In The Dark Side of the Enlightenment, John V. Fleming shows how the impulses of the European Enlightenment—generally associated with great strides in the liberation of human thought from superstition and traditional religion—were challenged by tenacious religious ideas or channeled into the ‘darker’ pursuits of the esoteric and the occult. His engaging topics include the stubborn survival of the miraculous, the Enlightenment roles of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, and the widespread pursuit of magic and alchemy.
Though we tend not to associate what was once called alchemy with what we now call chemistry, Fleming shows that the difference is merely one of linguistic modernization. Alchemy was once the chemistry, of Arabic derivation, and its practitioners were among the principal scientists and physicians of their ages. No point is more important for understanding the strange and fascinating figures in this book than the prestige of alchemy among the learned men of the age.
Fleming follows some of these complexities and contradictions of the ‘Age of Lights’ into the biographies of two of its extraordinary offspring. The first is the controversial wizard known as Count Cagliostro, the ‘Egyptian’ freemason, unconventional healer, and alchemist known most infamously for his ambiguous association with the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, which history has viewed as among the possible harbingers of the French Revolution and a major contributing factor in the growing unpopularity of Marie Antoinette. Fleming also reviews the career of Julie de Krüdener, the sentimental novelist, Pietist preacher, and political mystic who would later become notorious as a prophet.
Impressively researched and wonderfully erudite, this rich narrative history sheds light on some lesser-known mental extravagances and beliefs of the Enlightenment era and brings to life some of the most extraordinary characters ever encountered either in history or fiction.”
Author Allan Moore (just one L, not the celebrated comics writer) heads up a university department of music and sound recording, and it shows in this study of the Jethro Tull album Aqualung. Writing for a popular audience, Moore takes some care not to get too musically arcane, and he explains technical terms as he introduces them. Even so, there are a few passages in the book where his discussion of chord sequences made my eyes glaze over a bit, and I’m enough of a musician to have played many of those chords myself out of a Jethro Tull sheet music book I have.
One aspect of the musical discussion that I found very worthwhile was consideration of the “sound box” — i.e. the virtual acoustic environment engineered through stereo sound — in tandem with the instrumentation and other recording effects. I’ve read one other volume in this “33 1/3” series about the masterpieces of audio vinyl, and this element didn’t come up in that case.
Besides the musical features of Aqualung, a chief part of its incontrovertible lyrical and semiotic substance is a struggle with/over religion. In this case, the lack of sophistication in Moore’s treatment might be due to either his trepidation about confronting readers with difficult religious ideas, or his own anemic grasp of them. Anyhow, while he makes a few interesting points on these lines — such as his consideration of the charcters in “Locomotive Breath,” — he ultimately doesn’t do justice to Ian Anderson’s perversely pious and profound confrontation with conventional Christianity.
Still, the whole book is a quick read, and if its only effect had been to motivate me to reacquaint myself with a terrific album of music, it would have been well worth my time. [via]
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