Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The 'sacred landscape' of England is the opposite of geometric!

We took a rail trip out to Hexham yesterday - a favourite place. The Abbey, in an earlier version built by St Wilfrid during Northumbria's 'golden age' was once the largest building in Europe, north of the Alps.

The views of the River Tyne and its valley, seen from the train window, are evidence of the wonderful strength of beauty that remains, waiting; and it is delightful that the buskers (i.e. street musicians - a melodeon player in one place, and two fiddlers in another) were playing folk music - including this (first) tune:

Anyway, as I travelled out I was reading a collection of John Michell's essays (Writings and rants of a radical traditionalist - recommended by this site's sometime guest blogger John Fitzgerald: Thanks!) - and reflecting on Michell's popularisation of the idea of the sacred landscape of Britain.

But Michell was a 'geomancer' and described the sacred landscape in terms of straight tracks, roads and Ley Lines of energy force - the ancient sites along along such alignments - and the detailed geometric/ astronomically-oriented  diagrams of monuments such as Stonehenge - this kind of thing:

Michell also painted geometric designs, e.g.:

But, I am struck by exactly the opposite!

That the sacred landscape of England - in large and in microcosm is extremely irregular, asymmetric and un-geometric - and this applies to Neolithic/ Bronze Age - Celtic or Anglo Saxon designs, sites, roads etc - I see little in the way of straight lines, sharp points, repeating patterns:

So, although I am pleased that John Michell drew attention to the subject of sacred landscape - I feel he was barking up the wrong tree in discussing it in terms of geometry and numerology.

This would, indeed, be appropriate to somewhere like Ancient Egypt, with its stereotypical obelisks, pyramids, right-angles - sharp edges, smoothed and polished stone - all silhouetted against a plain blue sky...

But England is all mists, rugged rocks, and wavy lines - it was an English painter (Hogarth) who said the line of beauty was a curve - and English literature prizes its array of unique characters (not 'representative' 'types') which fill Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens... Harry Potter.

John Michell was a Christianised (but not actually Christian) Platonist - with a strong element of the Pythagorean number mystic. This is alien to my temperament! - I find it a mystery why anyone would want to 'explain' spiritual beauty with mathematics!

Why would so many people want so much to describe everything as ultimately a matter of geometric shapes, or of 'fractals'!

Yet to regard mathematics as the underlying truth or reality - the archetypal world of 'forms' - is a deep and powerful urge among many, probably most, Western intellectuals since Ancient Greek times. So they see nothing absurd or contrived about covering the British landscape with abstract lines, angles and shapes drawn on maps, and aligned.

Although I reject this approach, I don't have any equally comprehensible and depict-able alternative for the sacred landscape - so me it is a miracle of intuitively sensed but undescribable rightness - like an unique character from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or Shakespeare's plays, the 'design' can be shown and felt, but not made into a formula.