We are the golden men, who shall the people save: / For only ours are visions, perfect and divine. / For we alone are drunken of the last, best wine; / And very Truth our souls have flooded, wave on wave.
– Lionel Johnson
WHILST the twentieth century played host to some of the most cataclysmic events in human history, the twenty-first century threatens to be just as tumultuous and destructive as its predecessor. During the course of this article I intend to present a study of the continuing attack on Tradition in light of the information provided by some of the leading authors in the field; namely, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), René Guénon (1886-1951), Julius Evola (1898-1974), Lord Northbourne (1896-1982), Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din (1909-2005) and Whitall N. Perry (1920-2005).
I will also examine the timeless wisdom contained in the sacred Hindu texts. It should be noted, however, that the word “Tradition” – after the Greek paradidormi and Latin traditio – relates to the transmission of that which is sacred and does not, as in the case of the lower-case “tradition”, indicate that it is no more than a broad umbrella term for the maintenance of those national and cultural values which are found in the comparatively more profane sphere. Jean Borella defines Tradition as something which
humanity has not invented but received, and which thus finds its starting point, in the final analysis, in the superhuman origin of all things. This tradition is identical to the Logos of humanity; it is the expression of its law and the standard of its earthly existence. Thus, normal life is what takes place according to this standard – by which all moments, all acts, all works are accomplished according to its rule and its light.
Another expression for Tradition is philosophia perennis, or the perennial philosophy, something defined by Frithjof Schuon as
the totality of the primordial and universal truths – and therefore of the metaphysical axioms – whose formation does not belong to any particular system.
Schuon, however, much preferred the term sophia perennis (“perennial wisdom”) to philosophia perennis, because the latter is too closely associated with profane ideas. But regardless of the differing terminology that one finds among its chief advocates and spiritual teachers, Tradition alludes to something that was
given to humanity at the beginning of time: it constitutes the primordial tradition which manifested itself in the ‘artic cradle’ of humanity, that is, in the ‘earthly paradise’. Afterwards it took on multiple forms – which are all the world’s religions given by God’s revelation – according to the times and mentalities; but, despite this diversity, there remains the essential unity of the truth.
One of the main sources which sets out the perennial struggle between the opposing worlds of Tradition and Anti-Tradition is Julius Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World, which was first published in 1934 when Europe was finally beginning to recover from the disastrous consequences of the First World War whilst hurtling towards a second conflict of similar magnitude. But Evola was certainly not the first to note that human history represents a vast field of battle upon which competing spiritual forces with diametrically opposed interests wage eternal war. The Catholic Church – or at least its more traditional wing – blames the Protestant Reformation for the rapid decline of religiosity since the sixteenth century, holding it directly responsible for the rise of atheism, humanism, scientism, liberalism and various other modern ills.
Evola, himself a leading thinker in the Traditionalist School, also views the distinguishing ‘lunar,’ ‘motherly,’ ‘telluric’ and ‘non-Aryan’ characteristics of Christianity with a large degree of suspicion and believes that the origins of Anti-Tradition can be located as far back as the ancient world. Not in the sense that the decline of Tradition can be traced to a common point on an historical (or pre-historical) time-line, of course, because the process of degeneration has taken place within different civilisations and at different periods. The actual rate of decline also differs from civilisation to civilisation and, in some instances – the United States being a case in point – the fabric of a civilisation can begin to unravel almost immediately.
But what most civilisations have in common is the fact that each of them have, at one time or another, experienced some kind of Golden Age, or Satya Yuga. This, predictably, is followed by an all-too-familiar and recognisable pattern of spiritual decay which results in the collapse of the social hierarchy and foments widespread disorder. Evola tells us that a Satya Yuga is something which
corresponds to an original civilisation that was naturally and totally in conformity with what has been called the ‘traditional spirit.’ For this reason, in the periods that the Golden Age is associated with both historically and meta-historically, we find symbols and attributes that characterise the highest function of regality – symbols of polarity, solarity, height, stability, glory, and life in a higher sense.
Alternatively, in Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul (1961), Evola describes the events which take place at the other end of the scale – the Kali Yuga – as a
climate of dissolution, in which all the forces – individual and collective, material, psychic, and spiritual – that were previously held in check by a higher law and by influences of a superior order pass into a state of freedom and chaos.
For the ancient Aryans, the beginning of the end was represented by the fierce conflict between the luminous deities (deva) in the north-east of India and their demonic adversaries (asura) to the south; for the Egyptians it was a crucial shift of power that finally resulted in the gradual triumph of the priestly caste over its regal opponents; for the Sumerians it was partly the reinterpretation of the myth of Gilgamesh by the Hebrews, who later cast him as Adam the primordial sinner; and for the ancient Greeks, meanwhile, it was the victory of the Dionysian spirit over that of the increasingly sterile Apollonian society. And so the list goes on. But despite the intermittent revival or reintroduction of the solar principle by way of notable exceptions such as Zoroaster, Ahura Mazda, Mithras and even the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) of Iran, the rot always sets in eventually and the long and protracted war against Tradition is now well under way and has become the very hallmark of the modern world.
The move away from Tradition, however, must go through two further stages before it enters the Age of Iron, or Kali Yuga. These are the Age of Silver, or Treta Yuga, and the Age of Bronze, or Dvapara Yuga. The metallic terminology is mostly used in relation to the West but, nevertheless, the three stages which follow the Satya Yuga result in a gradual loss and decline of primordial and spiritual truth. The four maha yugas, or age-cycles, are said to accord with 1,728,000 (Satya), 1,296,000 (Treta), 864,000 (Dvapara) and 432,000 (Kali) years respectively. Collectively, the four human cycles are known as Manvantara, or Breath of Life.
The French intellectual, René Guénon, one of the fiercest critics of the present epoch, spent a great deal of his time analysing the signs leading up to the Kali Yuga. In his acclaimed The Crisis of the Modern World, first published in 1946, Guénon suggests that mankind has already been living in the Age of Iron for over six thousand years and that during this period
the truths which were formerly within reach of all have become more and more hidden and inaccessible; those who possess them grow fewer and fewer, and although the treasure of ‘non-human’ (that is, supra-human) wisdom that was prior to all the ages can never be lost, it nevertheless becomes enveloped in more and more impenetrable veils, which hide it from men’s sight and make it extremely difficult to discover.
The Kali Yuga is equivalent to just one-tenth of the entire Manvantara, which gives us an insight into precisely how arrogant and puffed-up modern civilisation has become. Paraphrasing Metamorphoses by the famous Roman poet, Ovid (43 BCE – 17 CE), Roy Walker wrote:
Of iron / Is the last / In no part good and tractable as former ages past; / For when that of this wicked age once opened was the vein / Therein all mischief rushéd forth, the faith and truth were fain / And honest shame to hide their heads; for whom stepped stoutly in, / Craft, treason, violence, envy, pride, and wicked lust to win.
The main primary source which provides us with most of the detailed information about the nature of the Age of Iron, the period in which the people of Western civilisation now find themselves, is the Vishnu Purana. This Hindu text, which amounts to a total of 23,000 verses, is one of eighteen Mahapuranas. According to Srimad Bhagavatam, the Puranas themselves are
supplementary explanations of the Vedas intended for different types of men. All men are not equal. There are men who are conducted by the mode of goodness, others who are under the mode of passion and others who are under the mode of ignorance. The Puranas are so divided that any class of men can take advantage of them and gradually regain their lost position and get out of the hard struggle for existence.
Meanwhile, returning to the matter of the Kali Yuga, or Age of Iron, the Vishnu Purana – which functions in a manner not dissimilar, perhaps, to that of the Christian Book of Revelation (apokalupsis) – informs us that Kalki, the tenth and final avatar of Vishnu himself, will arrive on a white horse to bring to an end the chaos and disorder that will have enveloped the entire planet in darkness:
When the practices taught in the Vedas and institutes of law have nearly ceased, and the close of the Kali age shall be nigh, a portion of that divine being who exists of His own spiritual nature, and who is the beginning and end, and who comprehends all things, shall descend upon earth. He will be born in the family of Vishnuyasha, an eminent brahmana of Shambhala village, as Kalki, endowed with eight superhuman faculties. By His irresistible might he will destroy all the mlecchas (Barbarians) and thieves, and all whose minds are devoted to iniquity. He will re-establish righteousness upon earth, and the minds of those who live at the end of the Kali age shall be awakened, and shall be as clear as crystal. The men who are thus changed by virtue of that peculiar time shall be as the seeds of human beings, and shall give birth to a race who will follow the laws of the Krita age or Satya Yuga, the age of purity. As it is said, ‘When the sun and moon, and the lunar asterism Tishya, and the planet Jupiter, are in one mansion, the Krita age shall return.
The Traditional civilisation of the Indo-Europeans, according to Vishnu Purana, will fall into the hands of barbarians and the established monarchies will abandon their responsibilities and go on to rule with an iron fist. The prevailing caste will be that of the Shudra, or lowly artisans and labourers, whilst those in the Vaishya caste will abandon farming and agriculture and find themselves treated like serfs. Elsewhere, the warriors of the Kshatriya caste will plunder the land and property of their own people, instead of protecting them, whilst the priestly Brahmins will lose their inner piety and self-respect and be treated like ordinary men. The struggle between the Kshatriya and Brahmin castes has also been expressed in a European context, something discussed in Guénon’s 1929 work, Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power:
This opposition of the two powers, this rivalry between their respective representatives, was depicted among the Celts as a wild boar and a bear locked in combat, a symbol of Hyperborean origin and thus connected to one of the most ancient traditions of humanity (if not the oldest of all), the primordial tradition.
It is said that women will also rebel against their husbands and parents, following a path of indecency and immorality. The Bhagavad Gita, another crucial mainstay of the Aryan tradition, tells us that Kalki Avatar will appear to re-establish the spiritual order:
Whenever there is a falling away from the true law [religion] and an upsurge of unlawfulness, then I emit myself. I come into being age after age, to protect the virtuous and to destroy evil-doers, to establish a firm basis for the true law.
It is important to note that, whilst the prophetic verses of the Vishnu Purana were written in relation to future events set in the context of Ancient India, we – as the descendants of those Aryans who left the civilisation of the Indus Valley and travelled westwards into Europe – are, in many respects, an ongoing consequence of the overall shift away from Tradition. In other words, the warnings given in the Vishnu Purana can also be applied to those Indo-Europeans who now reside in the West. In Europe, therefore, at least prior to the Reformation, the so-called Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the concomitant rise of the bourgeois Third Estate, a few remnants of Tradition continued to endure through the divine right of kings and in the tripartite structures of feudalism. In time, however, these remaining scraps of Primordial Tradition were systematically erased by the arrival of the modern world.
For Guénon, the war against Tradition – like all other forms of subversion – is being directed from behind the scenes and most of its success is the result of ‘counter-initiation’. In other words, although Tradition requires the help of ‘supra-human’ intermediaries dedicated to the furtherance of primordial truth, the forces of Anti-Tradition – arranged in groups and associations with highly questionable and fraudulent hierarchies – attempt to parallel the genuine initiatic chains of transmission and further their own dangerous agendae.
The first step towards an attack on the final vestiges of Tradition in European civilisation, Guénon argues, involves effecting
a change in the general mentality and at the destruction of all traditional institutions in the West, since the West is where it began to work first and most directly, while awaiting the proper time for an attempt to extend its operations over the whole world, using the Westerners duly prepared to become its instruments.
In agreement with Evola – as well as the exponents of orthodox Catholicism – Guénon believes that the humanism of the Renaissance, the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the bourgeois nature of Protestantism each conspired to bring about the overthrow of the more Traditional and sacred aspects of the Middle Ages. The role of Enlightenment philosophy led, by way of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), to the mechanisation of Aristotelianism and helped pave the way towards full-blown materialism. Rationalists such as René Descartes (1596-1650), too, helped to sow the seeds for the rise of profane science and man – stripped of his spirit – was soon reduced to little more than a numerical unit of economic production. Quantity, if you will, over quality. Interestingly, however, Guénon notes that whilst the aim of this Anti-Traditional current was solidification, it soon resulted in dissolution. This, however, is because a thoroughly discontinuous phenomenon had attempted – and failed – to attach itself to the continuity of the past. A new humanist platform had been established, only for the whole process to lead to dehumanisation and degeneration. Nevertheless, there is a second phase in the Anti-Traditional strategy:
After having enclosed the corporeal world as completely as possible, it was necessary, while guarding against the re-establishment of any communication with superior domains, to open it up again from below, so as to allow the dissolving and destructive forces of the inferior subtle domain to penetrate into it.
Replacing spirituality with materialism, then, gave the forces of Anti-Tradition an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and fundamentally alter the course of Western civilisation. But that which began life by radically opposing Traditional values, gradually emerged from the shadows to become a counter-initiatory threat that sought to imitate – through inversion – Tradition itself. This has been achieved through a combination of deviation and subversion, although it is important to note the distinction that exists between them:
[D]eviation can be regarded as comprising an indefinite multiplicity of degrees, so that it can go to work gradually and imperceptibly; this is exemplified by the gradual passage of the modern mentality from ‘humanism’ and rationalism to mechanism, and thence to materialism…
Deviation, in other words, has led to what Guénon describes as ‘the reign of quantity’. Once it has replaced the Traditional order, however, this tendency evolves into a form of active subversion, which
is but the last stage of deviation and is its goal, or, in other words, that deviation as a whole has no tendency other than to bring about subversion.
Like the irreparable rift between God and Lucifer, therefore, the forces of Anti-Tradition set themselves up to replace the very Tradition that they so vehemently oppose. Subversion, then, is akin to a ‘satanic’ denial and represents a negation of primordial truth. Continuing with this analogy, Guénon says
that ‘Satan is the ape of God’, and also that he ‘transfigures himself into an angel of light’. In the end, this amounts to saying that he imitates in his own way, by altering and falsifying it so as always to make it serve his own ends, the very thing he sets out to oppose: thus, he will so manage matters that disorder takes on the form of a false order.
Reality is fundamentally distorted and one of the main tactics of the Anti-Traditionalists is to compare the true state of nature with some form of basic animality. This leads people to dismiss their instinctual resistance to rationalism and mechanisation, allowing the Anti-Traditionalists to lull them into a false sense of security and then seduce them with a false ‘egalitarianism’ and a contrived ‘democracy’. This leads, as Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy has suggested, to great confusion:
There are types of society which are by no means ‘above,’ but on the contrary below’ caste; societies in which there prevails what the traditional sociologies term a ‘confusion of castes’; societies in which men are regarded primarily if not, indeed, exclusively as economic animals, and the expression ‘standard of living,’ dear to the advertising manufacturer, has only qualitative connotations.
Beyond all this, of course, lies an inverted ‘spirituality’ which relies on the wholesale reinterpretation of Traditionalist symbolism and, inevitably, leads – as we have already seen with the Theosophists and more recent attempts involving syncretism, ecumenicalism and multi-denominational worship – to the promotion of a profane and baseless world religion. As Mark Sedgwick explains:
The theory of cyclical time and Kali Yuga complete one aspect of the Traditionalist philosophy by providing the explanation for the state of affairs explored by Guénon elsewhere: inversion is a characteristic of the Kali Yuga.
The natural response from Traditionalists must be to remain faithful to the primordial source, although we must also ensure that we are following the right course. As Schuon contends, before
it is possible to envisage any kind of remedial activity, it is necessary to see things as they are, even if, as things turn out, it costs us much to do so; one must be conscious of those fundamental truths that reveal to us the values and proportions of all things. If one’s aim is to save mankind, one must first know what it means to be a man; if one wishes to defend the spirit, one must know what is spirit.
As the famous story about Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita demonstrates – when the latter hesitates in battle and is reminded by the former that he must perform his destiny as a warrior – we must each fulfil our particular sva-dharma, or ‘own duty’. This, of course, is the function appropriate to one’s status, or caste. Consequently, therefore, the individual must embark upon his specific karma-marga, or path of action’. Once combined, the sva-dharma and karma-marga indicate that we must act, not through ambition or desire, but according to duty. In addition, however, we need to ensure that action is founded upon truth and justice. Lord Northbourne reminds us that the most
important thing about any statement is not whether it is general or particular, but whether it is true or untrue. Unless the truth can be grasped in its broad essentials it is unlikely that specific action will be soundly based. In the end, therefore, everyone must seek for himself the application appropriate to himself.
Schuon believed that Anti-Tradition must be countered with the truth and not, as some have suggested, by establishing a new ideology. It is enough for Traditionalists to highlight the false nature of the materialistic opposition that we face, and not to imagine for one moment that Tradition itself is somehow incapable of meeting the challenge.
With the iron grip that materialism has upon our schools and universities, however, the struggle to retain one’s intellectual autonomy is becoming more and more difficult:
To think and act without the constraint of any knowledge and values other than those of the modern scientific mentality is to commit oneself to a tyranny of an unprecedented maleficence. This is why the freeing of ourselves from subservience to this mentality constitutes the second condition whose fulfilment is a prerequisite of our survival as human beings.
But lest we find ourselves wringing our hands in despair at the increasing chaos of the contemporary world, Guénon provides us with some words of divine justice:
Modern civilisation, like all things, has of necessity its reason for existing, and if indeed it represents the state of affairs that terminates a cycle, one can say that it is what it should be and that it comes in its appointed time and place; but it should nonetheless be judged according to the words of the Gospel, so often misunderstood: ‘Offense must needs come, but woe unto him through whom offense cometh.'
Finally, despite the unfathomable damage that has been caused by the Anti-Traditionalists, the few of us that remain loyal to Tradition must seek to nurture and promote its timeless values both within our own communities and in our own lives. Whitall N. Perry says that
it is imperative that some sort of traditional restoration take place and the nucleus of an elect be formed with the dual role of reclaiming perennial values, and of acting as a counterforce to the aberrations of the modern world.
In the opinion of Martin Lings, who was also known as Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din, this activity can take place in a social context and the
hope of communities must lie, not in ‘progress’ or ‘development,’ but in ‘renewal,’ that is, restoration.
The distinction that Lings makes between ‘development’ and ‘renewal,’ however, rests on the fact that the natural vigour of our Traditional societies is already present and the key is to realign it with original principles. Here are a few closing remarks from Robin Waterfield:
Traditional society will not be achieved by a nostalgic attempt to re-create a vanished past. Guénon was always warning against this kind of misapprehension. There is no way back, there is equally no way out, but there is a way through. Man’s infinite worth lies solely in his freedom to become what he is, to realise his potential. Traditional social order helps him in this spiritual task.
Despite the fact that we can act on the microcosmic level, the role of the Traditionalist élite is to allow things on the macrocosmic scale to take their natural course. Those who live in accordance with the primordial, therefore, will not be disappointed.
1. Lionel Johnson; Munster: AD 1534, quoted in Nicholas Drake [Ed.], The Poetry of W. B. Yeats (Penguin Books, 1991), p.44.
2. Jean Borella; “René Guénon and the Traditionalist School” in Antoine Faivre & Jacob Needleman [Eds.], Modern Esoteric Spirituality (SCM Press, 1993), pp.340-1.
3. Frithjof Schuon; “The Perennial Philosophy” in Martin Lings & Clinton Minnaar (Eds.], The Underlying Religion: An Introduction to the Perennial Philosophy (World Wisdom, 2007), p.243.
4. Jean Borella; “René Guénon and the Traditionalist School” in Antoine Faivre & Jacob Needleman [Eds.], Modern Esoteric Spirituality, op.cit., p.341.
5. Julius Evola; Revolt Against the Modern World (Inner Traditions International, 1995), p.184.
6. Julius Evola; Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul (Inner Traditions International, 2003), p.9.
7. René Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World (Sophia Perennis, 2004), p.7.
8. Roy Walker; “The Golden Feast (1952)” in John Zerzan [Ed.], Against Civilisation: Readings and Reflections (Feral House, 2005), p.12.]
9. Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.4.
10. Vishnu Purana, Book 4, Chapter 24.
11. René Guénon; Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power (Sophia Perennis, 2001), pp.10-11.
12. Bhagavad Gita, 4: 7-8.
13. René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times (Sophia Perennis, 2004), p.193.
14. Ibid., p.195.
15. Ibid., p.197.
16. Ibid., p.198.
18. Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy; “The Bugbear of Democracy, Freedom and Equality” in Harry Oldmeadow [Ed.], The Betrayal of Tradition: Essays on the Spiritual Crisis of Modernity (World Wisdom, 2005), p.126.
19. Mark Sedgwick; Against the Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2004), p.28.
20. Frithjof Schuon; “No Activity Without Truth” in Jacob Needleman [Ed.], The Sword of Gnosis: Metaphysics, Cosmology, Tradition, Symbolism (Penguin Books, 1974), p.27.
21. Lord Northbourne; “Modernism: The Profane Point of view” in Martin Lings & Clinton Minnaar (Eds.], The Underlying Religion: An Introduction to the Perennial Philosophy, op.cit., p.16.
22. Philip Sherrard; “Epilogue” in Harry Oldmeadow [Ed.], The Betrayal of Tradition: Essays on the Spiritual Crisis of Modernity, op.cit., p.361.
23. René Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World, op.cit., p.20.
24. Whitall N. Perry; “Afterward: The Revival of Interest in Tradition” in Martin Lings & Clinton Minnaar (Eds.], The Underlying Religion: An Introduction to the Perennial Philosophy, op.cit., p.317.
25. Abu Bakr Siraj Ad-Din; “The Spiritual Function of Civilisation” in Jacob Needleman [Ed.], The Sword of Gnosis: Metaphysics, Cosmology, Tradition, Symbolism, op.cit., p.105.
26. Robin Waterfield; René Guénon and the Future of the West: The Life and Writings of a 20th-Century Metaphysician (Sophia Perennis, 2002), p.85.
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