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Carlyle and Hartsfell

Thomas Carlyle might have been known as “the Sage of Chelsea”, but he was born in Ecclefechan—a village with a name that sounds comically obscene (per Father Ted, it has “feck” in it); and that is rather funny, given that Carlyle was from stern Puritanical peasant stock. It was here that Carlyle watched birds of prey circle above him—peregrinate—as a boy; an intimation as to his calling to be a seer—a pilgrim on his peregrinations.

Ecclefechan is, in fact, not too distant from Hartsfell—no more than 25 miles; and Carlyle visited Moffat and Annan, both being bridgeheads to Hartsfell, many times—it is perhaps not too fanciful to imagine that Carlyle ventured on to Hartsfell on his rambles. This is significant because Hartsfell is Britain’s second ancient initiatory site after Stonehenge and the place where I encountered the UFO-gods.

This fact is particularly significant when considered in light of Carlyle’s philosophy. For Carlyle, the hidden All—effectively his God—clothes itself, sartorially, in symbols in order to be apprehended. Hence: "All visible things are emblems . . . all Emblematic things are properly Clothes," and so, "Language is the Flesh-Garment, the Body, of Thought," and "the Universe is but one vast Symbol of God,” as is "man himself".

To attain knowledge as to this reality we must follow Novalis and Goethe: Novalis, Selbsttödtung (annihilation of the self) is the start-point for all philosophy—for philosophy is to learn how to die, to skip to the end film and live there (to live dead); Goethe, "It is only with Renunciation (Entsagen) that Life, properly speaking, can be said to begin." The old Socratic point, philosophy is to learn how to die—only we who live as if we were already dead can pursue the truth, being fully objective. And, as Ortega y Gasset also saw, philosophy itself is a peregrination; it describes closer and closer circles round and round, around the self—to know thyself.

How does this connect to Hartsfell? Carlyle had autonomously—guided by intuition, blood, and locality—rediscovered the ancient philosophy (Traditionalism, the Perennial philosophy); and this means to treat all things as symbols—as the greatest magicians, the ancient Egyptians, did. It was precisely into this system of thought that men like Merlin, who dwelt at Hartsfell, were initiated. Without ever knowing it, Carlyle discovered the old truth that is neither theistic nor pantheistic; rather, it is “…the sacred mystery of the Universe; what Goethe calls 'the open secret.'…open to all, seen by almost none! That divine mystery, which lies everywhere in all Beings, 'the Divine Idea of the World,' that which lies at 'the bottom of Appearance,' as Fichte styles it; of which all Appearance…is but the vesture, the embodiment that renders it visible.”

Carlyle esteemed Goethe above all, although unfortunately he lacked Goethe’s flow—Carlyle was costive and constipated, probably because, organically, he had problems with wind and indigestion all his life. Nevertheless, he saw Goethe as his second “spiritual father” in addition to his strict Scotch peasant blood father. Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities, 1809) is key here; nominally, this novel describes a “love quadrangle” between four people—really it is about alchemy, it is about the four elements (earth, fire, air, water) and the interplay between them. Goethe was an alchemist and as an alchemist he understood that the “open secret” is that the universe is one vast symbol of God.

Although Carlyle was not an alchemist, he intuited his way to the same idea and grasped it intellectually—obviously, it helped that he lived near a site where people were once inducted to become “full-metal alchemists”, and doubtless it was in his blood too. This was why he sought out Goethe; and it is also why he sees the world in terms of myth, legend, and epic poem—for these are the clothes worn by the divine reality insofar as the affairs of man are concerned. So it is—all lives are poems.


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