Charles Upton’s Legends of the End

A Review by Benton Rooks

In Legends of the End, Charles Upton dares to question the literal notions of the apocalypse and the ‘End Times’ in religious scriptures as real events that are imminent, and instead reveals an esoteric and metaphysical reading of mythology that uses ‘Facing the Apocalypse’ as a form of spiritual therapy.

Upton’s definition of Eschatology is as follows:

“Eschatology is the science of four ‘last things’: individual death; individual destiny in the afterlife; the end of this world or cycle of manifestation; the renewal of life and existence after that end. This essay deals with the latter two — with apocalypse, the re-absorption of forms by their celestial archetypes, and the re-manifestation of those forms in the ‘Golden Age’ of the cycle to come. (p. 15)

Following Martin Lings’ approach to Eschatology in his book “Eleventh Hour”, Upton affirms that:

“Whether the world ends tomorrow or lasts for centuries, we all exist in a ‘climate’ of the End of Days…The ‘end of time’ obviously relates to history, but—just as obviously—it cannot be contained within it. Legends of the End have always been with us; every spiritual tradition that has a story of the beginning of things must also have one of their final end—the end of the  earth, of the universe, of time itself. And just as all such myths symbolize invisible realities, so every historical event is precisely an invisible reality made visible and tangible.”[1]

When Upton writes that we live in the ‘climate of the End of Days’ he means that the traditional view of cyclical time[2] affirms that the history of humanity is essentially an archetypal fall away from Union with the Divine. This is contrary to the popular notions of linear progress[3], evolution (in both the material and spiritual sense) and New-Age philosophies that would otherwise say civilization is indeed becoming something greater in the relationship to the past. As Upton states:

“The problem with the concept that the universe evolves to higher levels of organization, which is basic to the doctrines of Teilhard de Chardin, Rudolf Steiner, and many other New Age teachers (as well as to the attempt within Judaism to apply Lurianic Kabbalah — and within Ismailism, the idea of a mass ‘unveiling’ of spiritual realities — to historical evolution) is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law states that, via entropy, the overall order of matter/energy in the universe is always decreasing, a decrease which is inseparable in principle from the expansion of the universe, starting at the Big Bang. At one point scientists posited the existence of large amounts of ‘dark matter’ which would allow the universe to contract again, via gravitation, after the momentum of the Big Bang is spent. As of this writing, however, scientific opinion is tending away from this hypo- thesis. So it     would seem that the material universe must continue expanding, and its disorder increasing, forever. This is strictly in line with traditional metaphysics. ‘This whole world is on fire,’ said the Buddha. ‘All is perishing,’ says the Koran, ‘except His Face.’ Creation, in the traditional view, is a successive ‘stepping down’ of a higher order of reality to lower ones.” (p. 3)

This is not to say that there aren’t opportunities for spiritual renewal in culture, or that the living conditions of the contemporary world are not materially and technologically more comfortable then they have been in the past—nor is it a kind of nostalgia for any past civilization—rather, it is simply facing the facts of the Reality contained in the notion of qualitative time, as opposed to any quantitative notions. Qualitative time asserts that civilization as it stands is not truly based on spiritual principles, and that at one time this was the case for human beings who lived in according to Divine Laws. This was not a time that is contained in this ‘cycle’, but rather a remnant of a truly real Golden Age, when those on Earth maintained the balance of spiritual hierarchy as it came down from the higher planes of the ‘Heavens’. We would like in our great rational-skepticism to conceive of this as purely fiction, as it is more convenient for us to do so, but there are those numerous mystics who have been beyond the veil of phenomena and have affirmed these absolute laws, each in their own way.[4]

“Non-believers say, ‘some people in every generation have always thought they were living through the darkest times in history; all this whining about  the degeneration of humanity in the “latter days” is nothing new.’ And believers, at least traditional believers, agree with them. According to a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), ‘no generation will come upon you that is not followed by a worse.’ The course of history is not uniformly downward, in the traditional view — there are peaks and troughs, religious revivals, ‘redresses’, partial renewals of a given spiritual tradition leading to small and short-lived ‘golden ages’, heroic struggles of succeeding generations to cut their losses and re-stabilize society on lower levels, delirious renaissances based on the sudden impulse to squander the cultural and spiritual capital inherited from earlier ages — but the basic drift is always away from order and in the direction of chaos. The ability of the race to see, understand, draw its life from, and base its social and cultural forms on higher spiritual realities inevitably diminishes; as it speeds ever farther from the spiritual Sun, the light of Truth fades into  the surrounding darkness; and the warmth of Life fades along with it. The final result of this inevitable process is the end of a particular world or world-age. This world may never end according to the time-table of those simple-minded people who take eschatological predictions literally, but it will have to end some time.” (p. 12)

An example of a common eschatology in the literal sense (and one that is popular amongst Fundamentalists) is that of the Antichrist, who, in the Bible, brings about a deceptively hellacious reign on Earth through the purposeful subversion of spiritual truths and the establishment of a false kingdom that is opposed to the true Christ. The Messiah is said to come to replace the Antichrist, to bring peace on Earth and restore the link between Heaven and the sensible realm. This is why we sometimes see the sign-wavers on suburban city streets who declare that “The End Times are near” and that only a faith and belief in Jesus may save us. Upton’s interpretation of this myth goes much further however, and reveals the esoteric kernel contained within it:

“So when will the real Messiah come? The answer is always two-fold: he will come Now; he will come at the End. If we stand in the Now, we stand in wait for him; if we fail to occupy the Now, we will miss him when he comes. We have already missed him, times with- out number. But when Now and the End come together — the end of this ego, the end of this world — then we are standing in the presence of the Messiah. History is always carrying us away from the day of the messianic advent, the door of the Now — and yet             history must end some day; this endless departure must, in one mysterious moment, be changed into an arrival. What we receive in the secrecy of our hearts and what dawns on the ‘horizons’ of outer reality, must one day come together.” (p. 15)

Time is opposed to the Eternal insofar as it blinds the Now from giving way to everlasting life. If the Soul knows the Reality that lies beyond the senses directly and experiences itself by itself—it will know that Time is a veil to be passed beyond, and not an iron curtain that only bestows impermanence, death, and mortality. If one begins to think of a contemplative practice such as Yoga within the context of Eschatology, one sees that the end of the world is the death of the ego and Mind itself. Once this barrier is passed beyond, and the individual has ‘died while living’ (removing the Soul beyond the confines of the psycho-physical complex) he or she will never fear any such future end-times—if they happen within their own lifetime or otherwise.  It is in this context that Upton’s book becomes spiritual therapy for the reader who senses that certain structures are indeed collapsing in the 21st century, whether it is a psychological structure that must give way the renewal of Spirit, or a decaying cultural construct that must give way to a new one that remains sustainable. The Western world will eat itself alive because it is based on a sense-based world and material gain, but those who are ever in touch with the worlds beyond this one will never fail to realize that the worst is ever in accord with the best of plans, fashioned in Eternity itself. As William Blake once said, “Eternity remains ever in love with the products of Time.” Upton’s words of warning are those of responsibility in spiritual preparation, a call to master oneself and find the eternal Light within, despite the apparent decline of all truth and value in the world.


[2] The doctrine of Four Ages is found most explicitly in Hindu cosmology, but it is also affirmed in every sapiential tradition East and West. “We have often called attention to the obvious equivalence of the four Yugas with the four ages of gold, silver, bronze, and iron as they were known to Greco-Latin antiquity, in both cases, each period is marked by a degeneration in regard to the age that preceded it; and this, which is directly opposed to the idea of ‘progress’ as understood by the modern world, is very simply explained by the fact that every cyclical development, that is in sum every process of manifestation, quite truly constitutes a ‘descent’ since it necessarily implies a gradual distancing from the principle, and this is moreover the real meaning of the ‘fall’ in the Judeo-Christian tradition.” (Guénon p. 5) On this point, see Guénon’s “Traditional Forms and Cosmic Cycles”.

[3] Which, as Upton points out, is really a myth no older then the 17th century in the philosophies of the Renaissance.

[4] See Kabir’s epic poem the “Anurag Sagar” or the “Ocean of Love”, for an example of this kind of affirmation.