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The Cosmic Christ - A Christian Mandala.
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A series of paintings by Robert Ellaby
A CHRISTIAN MANDALA
The origins of this work lie in the dim memory of a television documentary screened several years ago. I never found out what the programme was called because I only switched on after it had started - all I know about the programme is that it has had a profound effect upon my subsequent attitude to life and my position in that scheme of things. (I have since found out it was called 'A Tibetan Trilogy').
The documentary was about a ritual that was carried out in a particular Tibetan Monastery: the Monks in the Monastery would, every year, construct a picture (Mandala) symbolising the nature of the Universe. The picture was made entirely out of coloured sand, the sand being tapped very delicately into its various astrological positions. The construction of the picture was started in the spring and took a year to complete, any mistakes made in the construction reflected various omens of good or bad luck.
At the end of the year the Monks would dress up as various demons and they would stand on the outskirts of the village where the Monastery was situated. The Monks then would enter the village, dressed as demons, and would make a general nuisance of themselves. Gradually these 'demons' made their way to the Temple and the Mandala; they then destroyed the Mandala, kicking the sand in every direction. This provoked the villagers into a rage and they then drove the demons from their village - they blew trumpets, shouted, banged cymbals and beat drums to achieve their end.
When the demons had all been driven away they changed their clothes and became Monks again, they then made their way back into the village where the villagers welcomed them with open arms, and the whole process started over again the following year.
It occurred to me at the time, that here in this Buddhist ceremony lay the true nature of mystical Christianity and Christ's entry into the underworld after his death on the cross reflected this same pattern. Being an enthusiastic, surrealist artist, I felt it to be an ideal way of not only expressing mysteries of the universe in a Christian way but of also creating a synthesis in the understanding of Pagan and Christian realities. In the years that followed this experience I have tried to create my own rapport between myself and the scheme of things: firstly, in the creation of my own Mandala, thirdly, synthesising the two in an act of faith in our Creator. In other words, I have tried to fulfill what was once termed 'The Great Work' or Magnum Opus - although it must always be remembered that its completion brings destruction, so that once again it can be re-created and a new striving for perfection can begin again. For only the living work can be judged as active in the evolutionary scheme of things; the completed work becomes the fertilizer of new growth - and subjective in its nature.
The drastic action of those Tibetan Monks is theoretically correct; but, in practice, the experience they gained in the creation of their Mandala could have helped others that followed them to create more perfected Mandalas. It is true that 'time' destroys the physical and it is "time's" duty to do this - not the Monks. All work, good and bad, feeds us with experience; it is our duty to learn from experience, not only to help ourselves but, also, to help humanity at large. This is the true Christian ethic.
This work is strongly Christian in its outlook, although I realise many Christians will see it as blasphemous. This sin is not, thank God, an offence for which I can be burned at the stake, those days are gone. In my work I have tried to bridge barriers and I know from experience that dogma is at its strongest near a barrier: nevertheless, I hope my work will appeal to Christian and Pagan alike.
William Blake has also been a recurring and important influence in my work. His Insight into the nature of the Cosmos has been a marvellous inspiration to me and in my own modest way I tread a path which he bravely blazed for others to follow. To quote his poem, 'The Divine Image':
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk, or jew
Where Mercy, Love and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
THE MAGNUM OPUS
The true meaning of the Magnum Opus, or Great Work, has been lost to the excesses of our material age. For me, the Magnum Opus is a profound need to understand, and subsequently express, our relationship with our Creator. The manifestation of the results of this quest have often been wondrous, but on most occasions the results have been modest and unassuming. For the manner of our expression can be modest or mighty, it does not matter how grand, all that matters is the intention. The Magnum Opus is, above all else, an individual contribution to the evolving nature of our Cosmos, and each aspect of that whole fertilises the growth of the generations that follow.
The Magnum Opus is also the personal refinement of an individual's soul - an attempt to become at one with our own particular part in the scheme of things. This will hopefully make life more meaningful, and the endless pursuit of the material, for material's sake, can be put into its correct perspective. For materialism is not wrong in itself, like all aspects of our nature they are only wrong in their excesses.
One may ask, 'How can I find my true place in the scheme of things, how can I express my relationship with the Creator?'. The answer is not easy to explain; this is because, not only do we grow as individuals but also we find that the human race grows and matures and, for that matter, so does the Cosmos. So we must always regard our position as transient. Consequently we have to adapt to our own position in the evolutionary scheme of things; and we must continually be aware of this ever-changing nature of our existence.
The Neoplatonists held this belief, they saw philosophical refinement as a prerequisite to the union with God. To quote Plotinus (203 - 270 A.D.):
"The only way to God is through philosophy, the only way to reach union with the divine is by living a philosophical life and thinking philosophy through to the end".
This ideal can, I believe, lead to many errors, the greatest of these being spiritual elitism. Nevertheless, the ideal in itself is not totally wrong. The ideal of spiritual refinement should be a relative one, each of us striving to make the best of the materials we have. So it is important to realise from the beginning that the successes achieved by others in their Magnum Opus does not reflect our level of achievement, but the achievement of others can be used as a target for own improvement. The Neoplatonists would use an astrological scale to achieve their ends; using the archetypal forms of the planets as aspects of their own personality they would try to refine each aspect in a balanced progression, eventually arriving at a divine union. This, of course, presents us with the dangers of spiritual elitism again, but it should be understood that because someone is more intelligent he is not necessarily more spiritually evolved. Alternately, people of lesser intelligence should not degenerate into inverted snobbery because they do not understand the philosophical gymnastics of the more intelligent.
The Neoplatonistic approach to the Magnum Opus has been an ideal one for me, and it has, I believe, helped me a great deal in the production of this work; although I do feel that a most important aspect of Neoplatonism is overlooked, and it makes no difference whether you are a dunce or a don, this aspect is vitally important - it is, of course, the Love of our Creator, and this should be the only reason to undertake the task that lies before all of us.
For my part I have chosen the paint brush as the tool with which to express my love of God. I have done this for two reasons: firstly, because I love to paint and if God is love then he will manifest in my work; secondly, I want to return the gift he has given me in a way that will fertilise the evolutionary growth of humanity. This, to me, is the essence of the Great Work, it is the purpose, it is my contribution! It does not matter if others pour scorn upon me, the dictates of fashions are immaterial, all that matters is the intention. This is what gives life purpose. The arbitrary aesthetic standards established by the critics no longer have any relevance - I am my own judge, and if I am to express my love of God I must to my own self be true. My standards are the standards expressed through my own ideals of perfection, the level of perfection I achieve is judged purely on the criteria of my own conscience. In other words, whether or not the results of my work are a worthy gift to God and his Creation.
These words, I know, sound overtly pious, so I would like to take this opportunity to explain that I am no saint, in fact I am, in many ways, a grievous sinner. But I do, thank God, recognise that I must, with the materials I have, strive toward that state of perfection from which we all fell. Some may find other ways to express their love for God, this is the nature of things. It does not matter how we do it, some may build Cathedrals - some spaceships, others sweep streets or dig graves, all that matters is the intention, and that is to express our love of God in the refinement of our physical existence.
I believe gradual refinement to be the foundation stone of the New Jerusalem, radical revolution brings bloodshed, pain and anguish; only the gradual turning back to the light can bring lasting peace and the ultimate return of the Paradise that was lost. It appears to me that only through the expression of love can we find true peace, and only in the understanding that each of us needs to express this love in a different way can this peace be found. We must learn to see God as a multi-faceted jewel who shines his light upon each of us in a different way, and each of us, in turn, sees a different aspect of his glory, and we need to express our view from the particular point at which we stand.
God's Creation is multi-faceted, expressing its beauty in an infinite number of ways; each season, each year brings about new shape and form. Slowly, as he brings order out of chaos, we learn more and more; thus, we evolve, eventually, toward cosmic consciousness. There has been, and will be, times of despair. Times when thousands will be killed in wars, starved in famines or die in plagues - this is the nature of our evolution. It is impossible for us to know what is right or wrong, only the passage of time can judge the righteousness of our deeds. I once heard someone say of politics: "Politics is the art of making the inevitable seem like wise decisions". If this be true, mankind can only move forward if it has the light of love within its heart. Petty philosophy about our true position in the nature of the destiny of mankind can only express an aspect of the nature of the whole of Creation. We can never understand man's position in that scheme of things, for our destiny is a Cosmic destiny; our human form is only a form which we happen to be wearing at this particular point in our evolution.
The Magnum Opus outwardly expresses a physical striving for spiritual perfection, so long as our intention is the right intention we cannot be misled. The Magnum Opus is our gift to God, our prayer for evolution; we alone can judge whether or not our gift is worthy, our conscience is the judge. The Magnum Opus is a holy mirror that reflects a vision of our true self, only truthful acceptance of the nature of that true self will reveal the true nature of God. For me, Jesus Christ has been the revealer of my true self; his sacrifice shows us the way, he is our redeemer. Yet, I realise also that there are many other redeemers and the path that I follow is not the path for all: although, I will say this, there is one guide that will show all men the way, and that guide is love, and love can touch the soul of all men, it is the light that shines in the darkness.
'CHRIST THE IMAGINATION'
"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved". St. John Ch.3 V.17
Christianity and the establishment
In the above quotation I found the inspiration and the essence of all that is to follow, for I believe that Christ is the Redeemer of Creation and not, as some people believe, the condemner of Creation. Because of this belief I felt it important to express my view of Christ in my own, individual way. This will, I hope, bring about a different view of Christ and His Mystery. In consequence I believe that I can release the reader from the straight-jacket of established dogma and bring about the joy of finding the Cosmic Christ.
Since the conference at Nicaea, the organised Christian Church has, I believe, lost its mystery; it has become preoccupied with its 'own' dogma, it has chosen the parts of the Gospel suiting its own particular politics and abandoned what was 'embarassing'. Expedience and appeasement has forced the established Church into a path of pedantic empiricism. This attitude has alienated many of its followers; and, in the not too distant past, led to the slaughter and execution of many other followers.
Our modern world has become preoccupied with what it believes to be 'reality'. It insists on looking for the 'Real Abraham' or the 'Real Christ; but as the nature of reality and the perception of reality are philosophically debatable, I do not think that the reality which the establishment seeks is quite so important as the disbelievers in Christ or God would have us believe. Unfortunately, the disbelievers absorb doubters into their numbers, consequently the foundations of our spiritual past is being rocked by scepticism. Slowly the modern world is losing faith in what was once regarded, without doubt, as real. Slowly mankind is abandoning all links with the metaphysical, eventually we will have destroyed the very source of our existence: 'God'. This, of course, will not matter to the pedantic scientist or the empirical sociologists, they do not think God exists anyway, they believe that God is just imagination. But, as I will explain later, the imagination is as much a part of reality as the empirical world in which the scientist and sociologist carry out their experiments.
The Cosmic Christ
The language I will use to express my view of Christ is the language of Astrology. I know that Astrology is rejected by many, nevertheless I feel that its symbolic pattern is a valid way of reaching the archetypal forces lying underneath the physical world recognised by today's establishment. I know that the Church rejects Astrology because of its links with Paganism, and I know that science rejects it because it can find no physical truths within its existing framework of logic. Even so, I still think that the Cosmic relationships between God (the Universe or Macrocosmos) and Man (the Microcosmos) are reflected, mirror-like, between the inner world or psyche and the outer world of physical or empirical reality.
The Old and New Testaments are full of Astrological references, yet the Church consistently denies their importance. Any Cosmic references are dismissed as Pagan or irrelevant to the faith, we are then subjected to metaphysical platitudes and the Church relaxes comfortably into the social sciences. Consequently, our souls have lapsed into a world of emotional emptiness and we now find computer statistics matter more than personal relationships. Love becomes a sign of weakness and Honour a word of the past.
Because Astrology appears to have no basis or place in modern society, other that perhaps the daily newspaper horoscope, the Church (out of its embarrassment) has locked 'The Round Art' away in a dark cupboard, with all its other dark secrets. Unfortunately, I feel that the Church, by this action, has locked away the key to the mysteries of the Universe. I stated earlier that I felt that Astrology offers a symbolic pattern to the scheme of things, this, in turn, offers us a logical place in that pattern - after all, it was an act of Astrology that led the Three Wise Men to follow the Star that led them to the baby Jesus. So, if it was good enough for them, surely it should be good enough for us? Although, I can understand society's reluctance to take Astrology seriously, when the popular press degrades the art into mundane hedonism: Astrology was a holy and secret art, and it reflected, in a very profound way, the relationship between God and Man.
The ancient philosophers recognised the correspondences between the Zodiac and the emotional and spiritual archetypes of the psyche, in doing this they directly related themselves to the Great Work and gave their mundane existence purpose. Often these patterns were reflected in the establishment of myths and legends, this established an emotional rapport between man's inner nature and the nature of the Cosmos at large. The figures of these legends have now firmly established themselves in our subconscious and have become an eternal pattern that is easy for us to understand. This suggests that the old Gods are just figments of the imagination; I suppose this is true for the atheist, but for the believer they are very, very real. The essence of finding God is, first of all, believing in him, in other words, 'faith'.
Mythological and legendary characters are symbolic representations of emotional forces within us all. They then, in turn, reflect themselves into the Cosmos at large. These forces, because of man's original sin, have fallen into disgrace; it is the Christ force within us that redeems them and regains the paradise that was lost. It seems to me that there are great similarities between the relationship of thought patterns and star patterns - if we look at a pen, this was once a thought pattern that projected itself into the empirical world; since then it has written symphonies, designed spacecraft, cathedrals, drawn great pictures, the list goes on and on. The forces behind the veil of reality can only be hinted at in the guise of symbols, the forces exist in an abstract reality beyond our understanding. Unfortunately, it is only through faith and the belief in their existence that we can experience their reality; sometimes this reality is hinted at in the pattern of the Solar System and the structural pattern of an atom, but even this is only veiled analogy.
Consider a primitive man seeing marsh gas and thinking it a demon when it catches fire, we can think him naive; but has our position or understanding really changed? just because we know that it is not a demon but Methane (CH4 ) and that it is formed by the chemical reactions of rotting vegetable matter, does this make us less afraid of it? Does it make the force behind the gas less powerful? The archetypal shape of things is constant and those things do not alter, the abstract forms behind the veil of appearances are beyond ordinary definition, only our understanding of that force brings about any change. But I am afraid that scientific understanding is only superficial and we must look beyond this to bring about a true understanding.
Marsh gas, earth, fire, water, planets, stars, nebulae, Cosmos - they are all one and the human imagination is made of that same stuff. Just because we have created dividing walls between one side of reality and the other side of that same reality do we have to accept that the walls cannot be scaled? Is it impossible to see beyond the veil? I think not!
In order to express and demonstrate the sort of pattern established by the psyche I will use a cross-referred structure. This, I believe, will reflect an interesting way of seeing the way myths and legends affect both sides of our awareness. Often in our myths a single hero like Balder, Orpheus or King Arthur would descend into the Underworld to rescue his lover or wife - the hero is a symbol of the personna on an objective level and the soul on a subjective level, the wife or lover a symbol of the spirit he has lost. On his way into the Underworld he is confronted by various monsters, beasts or dragons - which are emblematic of shortcomings within his personna, which must be overcome before he can rescue his beloved. Eventually our hero arrives at his destination, here he finds his love imprisoned by the King of the Underworld (his alter-ego); our hero bargains with the King and his lover is released. Unfortunately, he breaks his word and the King takes our hero's lover back into the Underworld.
The story is relevant on several levels: on one level it reflects the pattern of the seasons, the hero being Man and the wife or lover being Nature. In the autumn the damsel is captured by winter and the vegetation dies, our hero pursues his lover into the depths of winter and rescues her. He brings her back to the earth in spring, and this brings Nature back to life - but this is short lived, winter soon recaptures her.
On another level it is humanity who, by original sin, has fallen into disgrace and is then rescued by the Christ. Or it is Israel captured and in bondage, then freed to find the promised land. These archetypal relationships are the links that help us to transcend the limitations of physical perception. It is only through the sacrifice of our hero that we are allowed to do this, and it should be noted that all the hero, or Sun-God archetypes, have to die to gain Cosmic awareness. In their resurrection we realise that all things are made new. By their sacrifice we too become aware of the infinite nature of our Creator.
In this work, above all else, I am trying to reveal that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of other Pantheons; he is man perfected, the hero of heroes, King of Kings, the Son of God! No hero other than he fulfills the pattern by transcending the physical and cosmic planes, he fulfills all Biblical prophecy and he does it for all Creation. In the past, previous heroes did it to save their beloved (a symbol of the spirit or true self), Christ's act is individual, for it is humanitarian. His act raises us all through the eye of the infinite, if we are prepared to follow that is. Christ is the Creator made flesh, his is the incarnation of the Logos.
So much is missed from the understanding of Christ by ignoring his Cosmic nature. I do not think it mere coincidence that he happened to have twelve disciples, one for each sign of the Zodiac; or that he had four evangelists, one for each of the four elements. In my opinion the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, abounds with Astrological references. Look, for example, at the 'Revelation of St. John', it is here, in Chapter 21, that we find the description of the New Jerusalem:
V. 2. "She is lifted down from Heaven, she is prepared like a bride adorned for her husband".
V. 9. "And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven plagues".
V. 12. "And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and the gates had twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel".
The perfection exemplified in the New Jerusalem is emblematic of the perfect horoscope; in other words God, or the Macrocosm. This should represent all that we strive for. This pattern is the example of the balanced polarization of Planetary forces, e.g. Wars) strength - (Jupiter) mercy, (Mercury) intellect - (Venus) emotion. These correspondences are best studied in the form of the Otz Chimm, or 'Tree of Life', but this warrants a complete study in its own right.
The perfected horoscope, as I have just said, should be worked towards by all who seek the completion of the Great Work. This perfection must be worked for on both the inner and outer levels and a mirror-like rapport should exist on both sides of Creation.
Many people concern themselves with the Apocalypse, and they fear it. They should not fear it, for if they try to read it Astrologically they would see that the 'Last Judgement' and the Second Coming as the end of their own life and the beginning of the New Life. It should be noted though, the grim punishment dealt to sinners is just as real, for the sins we commit in this incarnation must be paid for. Although I must say that I believe that individually, and as humanity at large; we strive evolutionarily towards this goal.
Like the Alchemists of Old
Who turned base metal into Gold.
We should try to refine
Our own place in God's vast rhyme.
BLAKE THE MYSTIC
The importance of the corresponding relationship between God and Man was stressed at the very beginning, Genesis Ch.1 v.26:
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness".
Most people, as a result of these words, assume that God must look like man: two arms, two legs, head, etc.; but I would like to suggest that this is a naive view, for God's nature is omnipresent. He is in the smallest atomic structure and, at the same time, exists as a huge galaxy in outer space. I believe that the likeness of God and Man is a symbolic likeness, and His true nature is hinted at in the patterns exemplified in the structure of atoms and galaxies. I am not the first to think this way; many, many others have had this same view. Poets, time and time again, see the magnificence of the Cosmos corresponding to the structure of our diminishing or expanding relationship with God. To quote William Blake's 'Jerusalem', Ch.1:
"Of Man inwards into the Worlds of thought; into eternity. Ever expanding in the Bosom of God the Human imagination". This concept has created food for thought for many, and if we look at thought as an atomic reaction (which it is), then we could see a corresponding reaction as star systems are born, live, go super nova, then die. Einstein saw that all things were relative and the concept filled his life. When we first discover this concept of the Cosmos and its structure we find ourselves bewildered and frightened by what appears as our insignificance, but in time we discover that each atom, each Man, each star has an integral role to play in the 'Great Work'.
To return to Blake cannot be avoided because he, in his wisdom, saw that the images of his imagination were the seeds of empirical reality; consequently, his vision of Jesus went beyond the mere bounds of dogma. The restrictions of the Establishment could not chain his spirit, he truly experienced cosmic consciousness. To him the imagination was flesh, it was reality; to him the imagination was also the stuff that stars were made of, it was the Zodiac within the Zodiac. I, like him, have that same view, and like him I argue that 'all religions are one', and I also argue that poetic genius is at the source of the quest to unite them in God. To quote Blake's 'Four Zoas':
"Then those in eternity met in the council of God
As one man for contracting their exalted senses.
They behold Multitude or Expanding they behold as one
As one man all the Universal family and that one man
They call Jesus the Christ and they in him and he in them.
Live in Perfect Harmony in Eden the land of life".
To lower everything we experience to the limits of the empirical insults our integrity as human beings; the whole of God's Creation is 'One'. Admittedly, His Creation does have its dividing walls between one level of perception and the next but I believe it may be better if we see ourselves as the manifestation of the thoughts of God. So, if we allow His thoughts to manifest through us we could, perhaps, be united in the Paradise that was lost. All the mechanical marvels of our modern world have transcended these barriers, they were, at one time, seeds in the garden of the imagination - so if we plant the seeds of Utopia in that garden, Paradise can once again be ours: always remembering that Paradise, like God, is like a multi-faceted diamond and each man, although seeing the same thing, gets a different view of the same reality.
I believe that the path back to Paradise is an evolutionary one, and on our journey back we are never asked to carry more than we are able. All things depend on our place upon the evolutionary path and we should always remember that those on the lower end of the path need to be helped along, otherwise we are not helping ourselves. Each of us needs the other to raise our consciousness into a truly cosmic reality. Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit Priest and paleontologist, saw the whole of Humanity growing organically back to God, to him all of mankind was linked together by a vast, subconscious instinct. So, if we visualise the whole of Humanity as a vast tree growing back to the light, we can perhaps understand better our relationship with the Macrocosmos (God); for, as the tree twists and grinds its way through each season, time marches relentlessly onward, year after year, civilisation after civilisation, empire after empire. Its leaves fall in Autumn and are then reborn in the Spring.
The Tree has been a human archetype from the very beginning, the Jews saw it as 'The Tree of Life', the Celts 'The Sacred Oak', the Norsemen 'The Tree Yggdrasill', even the Lord Buddha was inspired under 'The Bo Tree'.
I now return to 'Christ the Redeemer', who descended into Hell to save us all. It was this act that revealed to us that the Kingdom of God is within us all, so, I believe that if we follow him into those dark labyrinths he will, in turn, show us the 'lover' we have lost (our spirit) and lead us back into the light.
"So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand". St. Luke, Ch.21 v.31.
I do not see the point in looking for the Lord Jesus in archaeological remains like the Turin Shroud or the Dead Sea Scrolls when he is alive and well within our hearts, he is within every atom, every cell of our being. He is, as Blake called him, 'Christ the Imagination'; he is as much a part of reality as that 'in which we live and breathe, and have our being'. Once we realise this we know that the Second Coming is at hand, and our Lord and Master will enter into our inner world and bring light into our darkness.
"And the Word was made flesh and the flesh dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten Father) full of grace and truth". St John, Ch.1 v.14.