Perspectives on the End Times
Excerpted from The System of Antichrist:
Truth and Falsehood in Postmodernism and the New Age
Sophia Perennis, 2001
By Charles Upton
The “Brief Millennium”
Those writers of the Traditionalist school who deal most directly with eschatology—René Guénon, Martin Lings and Leo Schaya—do not anticipate an earthly millennium of the latter days. They are not chiliasts. [NOTE: “Chiliasm” is the name given by the Eastern Orthodox Christians to the heresy that Christ will reign for a thousand years over an earthly
kingdom before the end of the world.] They do, however, see a brief “restoration” before the end of the cycle. In Perspectives on Initiation (p. 264), René Guénon has this to say about the advent of the Mahdi: “For that [total Messianic] redress the way will have to be prepared, even visible, before the end of the present cycle; but this can only be done by him who unites in himself the forces of Heaven and Earth, of the East and the West, and who shall manifest in the domains both of knowledge and of action the two-fold power of priest and king which has been preserved throughout the ages in the integrity of its one principle”. And Martin Lings in, The Eleventh Hour, says the following about the “restoration” or “brief millennium”: After “an imminent world-wide devastation, not total, but none the less of cataclysmic proportions, and not final, because it is ‘before the end’, though their are grounds for conviction that ‘the end’ itself cannot be far off”, there is reason to anticipate a “redress before the close of the cycle”, based in part on the prophesy in Matthew 24 referring to the “great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world”, especially in view of verse 22: “And except those days should be shortened, there should be no flesh saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened”.
One would think that the Shi’ite Muslim account of the advent, battles, final triumph and just rule of the Mahdi would be purely chiliastic, since Shi’ism, perhaps more than any other tradition except the Judaic one, conceives of the eschatological event as a revolution against tyranny (though such a revolution is also a clear subtext in the Christian Apocalypse). And in many ways the attribution of chiliasm to Shi’ite Islam is justified. According to one account, for example, the Mahdi, or his successor, will rule for 309 years. 309, however, is also the number of years the legendary Seven Sleepers of Ephesus remained in their cave in a state of suspended animation, which would lead me to suspect that this time-period may be a veiled reference to a posthumous state. Another account gives his rule as l9 years; a Sunni account says 5, 7 or 9 years. He will die 40 days prior to the resurrection of the dead and the Day of Judgement. (A related tradition of the “brief millennium” states that upon his second advent, Jesus will reign for 40 years after slaying Antichrist, and then die.)
It is also possible to interpret the Shi’ite “millennium”, as well as the Christian one (Apocalypse 20:1-10), as a “kingdom” not of this world. Jafar al-Sadiq is reported as saying, according to one source, that the Mahdi will rule for 7 years, and according to another that the rule of al-Mahdi will be as long as heaven and earth endure, and all his subjects will be in either heaven or hell—a fairly clear though veiled reference to a posthumous state. The same source quotes him to the effect that after the rule of the Mahdi will come the day of resurrection. If his rule is a posthumous one, however, this “resurrection” must refer to the mahapralaya, the re-absorption of even the highest formal paradises into their Absolute Principle.
The concept of a brief millennium can perhaps also be discerned in the Old Testament book of Joel:
….the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten….(2:24-25)
And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.
And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered….(2:28-32)
But what, if any, is the organic relationship between the idea of a brief millennial flowering immediately before the end of the cycle, suggesting the brief, terminal rally that a dying person will often exhibit, and a posthumous “kingdom” which will have no end? The answer will be obvious to anyone who has experienced the atmosphere of joyous liberation and infinite possibility accompanying a cultural renaissance which has finally arrived after long period of imaginative repression, or the rising portents and opening shots of a truly just social revolution, no matter how destructive the effects of these developments may ultimately be, several decades or centuries down the line. The experience is precisely that of a breakthrough of Eternity into passing time. The days of the Round Table are always short, but the Throne of Arthur, in Avalon, remains. In this world, a moment is over in an instant; in the next world, which is within this world in Essence as well as ahead of it in time, this moment has no end.
End and Beginning are in God’s Hands
People in the New Age movement, as well as many who are simply secularists, often believe that anyone holding the doctrine that this world must end actually wants it to end. They think of traditional eschatology as a negative self-fulfilling prophesy that prevents humanity from facing and solving global problems, and look at religious believers as spiteful maniacs who want everything to be destroyed just so they can be proved right. In some cases this may be true. But still, all that has a beginning in time also has an end. Is it a sign of mental illness to admit this? Is every person who admits, for example, that all who are born must die, necessarily depressed or suicidal?
According to Orthodox Christian and Muslim eschatology, Antichrist will co-opt the doing of good works. Does this mean that to perform good works under the regime of Antichrist is ultimately to do evil?
Antichrist, or his system, will attempt to set up the following double bind, which in many ways is already in evidence: “Whoever does good necessarily serves me, because all good is my property; whoever would oppose me, therefore, has no choice but to do, or allow, evil.” Preventing overpopulation is a clear good. But if the macro-solution to the population problem results in massive human rights abuses, as it apparently has in China, then this good becomes a tributary to evil. Protecting the environment is a clear good. Humanity, in Genesis, is commanded by God to “replenish” the earth, and according to Apocalypse 11:18, God in the latter days will reward His “servants the prophets” but will “destroy them which destroy the earth.” But if protecting the environment is done according to an oppressive, materialistic or scientistic paradigm which denies the theomorphic nature of man, then this good also serves an evil end. So not every way of doing good ultimately serves the Good. If a good end does not justify evil means, neither do good proximate ends or means justify an end which is ultimately evil. Death is clearly an evil, but the loss of one’s immortal soul is a fate worse than death.
Any large collective effort, such as protection of the environment, will necessarily generate profiteers, and attract those who are looking for political power and economic advantage. And the final parasite on all good efforts for this cycle will be the system of Antichrist. But it will always be possible to do material good in such a way that it serves spiritual good. Any effort aimed at improving material conditions, if it is based on true compassion, and on a spiritual appreciation of the human form and the natural world as signs of God’s presence and symbolic manifestations of His Nature, is a form or worship. We need not, and must not, allow the system of Antichrist to co-opt all good, to the point where, in reaction against it, we become examples of cruelty or indifference which that system can use to prove its own necessity and legitimacy. All concrete good that can be done an a basis other than that of Antichrist will undercut his power and delay his advent, giving more souls time to reject error, to discern and choose the Truth. The perennial question is: When do such efforts stop being direct expressions of the good, and start becoming attempts to seize power for the abstract purpose of establishing the good, with the result that good is dethroned and power idolized? And how far can a given group or individual, in a given place and time, take power in the name of good without starting to suppress good in the name of power? Only deep spiritual discernment, based on radical submission to God’s will, can answer this question.
Perhaps the greatest area of conflict and polarization between secular and the traditional eschatologies is environmentalism. Many traditional Christians see a Neo-Pagan “Green Socialism” which worships the material cosmos in place of the Transcendent God, and denies the theomorphic nature of man, as the price of saving the environment, and they are not willing to pay it. And many environ- mentalists, especially those with Neo-Pagan tendencies, believe that the very idea of Transcendence, as held by the traditional religions, is at the basis of environmental destruction. They forget that it is science and technology, not religion, which are destroying the environment, and that the roots of the present regime of science and technology are in the Neo-Pagan revival of classical learning during the Renaissance, not in the transcendentalism of the Christian Middle Ages. It is precisely the belief that this world is all there is which inflames our desire to “have it all now”, and forces us to devastate the earth in the process of getting it.
It is possible, however, to work to protect the environment, in a small way, without opting for de-humanizing and anti-spiritual macro-solutions. According to Evagrius of Pontus, “As for those who are far from God….God has made it possible to come near to the knowledge of him and his love for them through the medium of creatures. These he has produced, as the letters of the alphabet, so to speak, by his power and his wisdom.” Likewise the Qur’an teaches that In your creation and in all the beasts scattered on the earth there are signs for people of true faith. In the alternation of night and day, and in the provision which Allah sendeth down from the heavens whereby he quickeneth the earth after its death, and in the distribution of the winds, are signs for people who are intelligent (45:4-6). On the basis of doctrines like these, it is possible to perform environmental service as a liturgical or contemplative act, without exalting collective material survival above the salvation of the human soul.
But if the earth is doomed, many say, then why care for the environment? This is like saying, “why maintain your health if you’re going to die anyway? Why continue to care for an elderly mother if she doesn’t have long to live?” If something or someone needs care, and we have the power to give that care, then we give it. As in the path of karma-yoga from the Bhavagad-Gita, we perform the action for its own sake—that is, for God’s sake—and dedicate the fruits of the action to Him.
In Apocalypse 19:17-18, on the day of the eschatological combat the “fowls that fly in the midst of heaven” are invited to feast on “the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men….and the flesh of all men”. And according to II Peter 3:10, “….the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up”. But Dennis Engleman (Ultimate Things, p. 258) repeats the doctrine that “The ‘end of this world’ does not produce obliteration (except of evil) but rather restoration and renewal. ‘For this world shall pass away by transmutation, not by absolute destruction,’ wrote Blessed Augustine, ‘And therefore the apostle says, “For the figure of this world passeth away” (1 Cor. 7:31). The figure, therefore, passes away, not the nature.’” According to St. Irenaeus, as quoted by St. Andrew of Caesarea, “Neither the essence nor the being of the creation will perish”. As René Guénon says in The Reign of Quantity (pp. 330-331; 336; published by Sophia Perennis):
….the end now under consideration is undeniably of considerably greater importance than many others, for it is the end of a whole Manvantara, and so of the temporal existence of what may rightly be called a humanity, but this, it must be said once more, in no way implies the end of the terrestrial world itself, because, through the “reinstatement” that takes place at the final instant, this end will immediately become the beginning of another Manvantara…..it can be said in all truth that “the end of a humanity” never is and never can be anything but the end of an illusion.
It does not appear to be strictly doctrinal, then, that all life, or even all human life, must necessarily be destroyed—or necessarily preserved—at the end of this cycle. From the material standpoint, a few species or a number of human individuals may survive, through which life could begin again. From the spiritual standpoint, all will be destroyed and burnt up, after which the Creator will renew all things. But in order to save our souls—which is the only reason we’re here on earth in the first place—we must adopt the spiritual standpoint and let the material level (which is a subset of, and subordinate to, the spiritual) take care of itself according to God’s design. To be willing to face the eschatological event as the end of this cycle of manifestation, to stand ready to allow oneself and all living things to die and be reborn at the touch of the Almighty, is the door to the New Heaven and the New Earth. But to plan for one’s own physical survival beyond Apocalypse, or to imagine how the race could survive in material terms, through the stockpiling of computer-tended human genetic material in secret underground caves, or whatever other dehumanizing high-tech survivalist fantasies may presently be hatching in the brains of those who don’t know what a human being is because they don’t believe in God, is to become a servant of the Antichrist. God will save, destroy, and re-create life as He will; whoever places his hopes in something other than that Will has reserved his place in the Fire.
If we subscribe to a spirituality that would be invalidated by an end to the world, then our spirituality is not true. The same can be said, however, for a spirituality which requires the end of the world in order to validate it. The purpose of meditation upon the end of things is twofold. First, since the possibility of the end of human existence on the material plane is an inescapable part of the quality of our time, we need to have doctrinally orthodox and spiritually fruitful way of relating to it. Secondly, the end of things is always there, no matter what period of history we live in. All things are impermanent; death comes to all. The end of things remains a reminder that we must put our hands to the plough and accomplish our salvation while we still can, since time is always short. It is also a perennial metaphor for the true death, which is the death of the ego, and the true immortality, which is the eternity of the Rock of Ages, impervious to the waves of time, the cycles of creation and dissolution which break against it.
According to the Traditionalists, the latter days are not without their own particular blessings and spiritual opportunities, which could exist at no other point in the cycle. The first is the comparative ease of spiritual detachment, to those who are at all inclined in that direction. In Martin Lings’ words, “Detachment is an essential feature of the sage, and this virtue, which in better times could only be acquired through great spiritual efforts, can be made more spontaneous by the sight of one’s world in chaotic ruins”.
The second blessing is that of encyclopedic knowledge. “If human societies degenerate on the one hand with the passage of time” says Schuon, “they accumulate on the other hand experiences in virtue of old age, however intermingled with errors these may be.” Knowledge of the great spiritual traditions of the world was much more difficult to access even a few decades ago.
The third blessing, in this extreme old age of the macrocosm, is the enhanced possibility of spiritual serenity and insight. In The Eleventh Hour, Martin Lings writes:
There is….a feature of normal old age, the most positive of all….in virtue of which our times are unique. It is sometimes said of spiritual men and women at the end of their lives that they have ‘one foot already in Paradise’. This is not meant to deny that death is a sudden break, a rupture of continuity. It cannot but be so, for it has to transform mortal old age into immortal youth. None the less, hagiography teaches that the last days of sanctified souls can be remarkably luminous and transparent. Nor is in unusual that the imminence of death should bring with it special graces, such as visions, in foretaste of what is to come. The mellowing of spirituality, which is the highest aspect of old age itself, is thus crowned with an illumination which belongs more to youth than to age….in the macrocosm, the nearness of the new Golden Age cannot fail to make itself mysteriously felt before the end of the old cycle…. (p. 66)
The Transcendent Unity of Religions vs. The System of Antichrist
According to Apocalypse 20:7-8, “….when the thousand years are expired [the millennium during which the devil is bound, identified by Orthodox theologians as the church age], Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.” According to The Apocalypse of St. John: An Orthodox Commentary by Archbishop Averky of Jordanville, the meaning of Gog in Hebrew is “a gathering” or “one who gathers”, and of Magog “an exaltation” or “one who exalts”. “Exaltation” suggests to me the idea of transcendence as opposed to unity, “gathering” the idea of unity as opposed to transcendence. The implication, here, is that one of the deepest deceptions of Antichrist in the last days of the cycle will be to set these two integral aspects of the Absolute in opposition to each other in the collective mind, and on a global scale, in “the four quarters of the earth”. As for the economic and political expression of this barren satanic polarity, the false cohesion of left-wing tyranny, as well as today’s global capitalism, would fall under Gog, while both the false hierarchicalism of right-wing tyranny and the violent absolutism of the various “tribal” separatist movements opposed to globalism, both ethnic and religious, would come under Magog.
In terms of religion, those liberal, historicist, evolutionist, quasi-materialist and crypto-Pagan theologies which emphasize God’s immanence as opposed to His transcendence are part of Gog, while those reactionary theologies which exalt transcendence over immanence, look on the material world as a vale of tears, denigrate the human body, and view the destruction of nature with indifference if not secret approval, since the best we can hope for is to get it all over with, are part of Magog. The conflict between the two is precisely the satanic counterfeit of the true eschatological conflict described in Apocalypse 19:11-20, between the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and the Beast with his false prophet. Those who can be lured to fight in a counterfeit war between elements which ought to be reconciled, because they are essentially parts of the same reality as seen in a distorting mirror, will miss their call to fight in the true war between forces which neither should nor can be reconciled: those of the Truth and those of the Lie. (NOTE: Globalism, insofar as it sets the stage for the emergence of Guenon’s “inverted hierarchy,” also contains the seed of Magog, while tribalism, as the common inheritance of all who are excluded from the global elite, holds the seed of Gog: in the latter days, no party or class or sector can long retain its ideological stability; the “rate of contradiction” approaches the speed of light.)
In a world profoundly polarized between the Gog of syncretist globalism and the Magog of exclusivist “tribalism”—a word which is beginning to denote what used to be called “nationalism” or “patriotism” or “loyalty to one’s religion”—the Transcendent Unity of Religions clearly represents a middle path, or third force, at least in the religious field. It is equally opposed to the universalism of the global elites and the violent self-assertion of the fundamentalist “tribes” oppressed and marginalized by these elites. Perhaps this is one reason why groups and individuals who hold to this doctrine have been subjected to the immense degree of psychic pressure which observers on the outskirts of the Traditionalist School, such as myself, cannot fail to note. It is reasonable to conjecture that Antichrist would like nothing better than to subvert and discredit the Traditionalists, since the Transcendent Unity of Religions is one of the few worldviews that could possibly stand in the way of the barren and terminal conflict between globalism and tribalism which is the keynote of his “system” in the social arena.
If all possible alternatives to the struggle between globalism and tribalism disappear from the collective mind, then Antichrist has won. He can use economic and political globalism and the universalism of a “world fusion spirituality” to subvert and oppress all integral religions and religious cultures, forcing them to narrow their focus and violate the fullness of their own traditions in reaction against it. He can drive them to bigoted and terroristic excesses which will make them seem barbaric and outdated in the eyes of those wavering between a global and a tribal identification, and set them at each other’s throats at the same time. Unite to oppress; divide and conquer.
In this light, we can see that the exclusivism of conservative and/or traditional Christianity is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness; the same could be said, with certain reservations, of Judaism and Islam. The exclusivism of these Abrahamic religions allows them to consciously fortify themselves against the System of Antichrist—Christianity by its “catacomb spirit,” its ability, ultimately derived from monasticism, to build spiritual fortresses against the world, and Islam by the fact that dar al-Islam remains the largest bloc of humanity which, in part, is still socially and politically organized around a Divine Revelation, although to greatly varying degrees, as were Medieval Europe and the Byzantine Empire. On the other hand, their very exclusivism has prevented these religions, in all but a few instances, from making common cause against and globalist universalism and secularism. They remain vulnerable to the “divide and conquer” tactics of the system of Antichrist, a phase which could well be the prelude, if traditional eschatological speculations such as those found in Dennis E. Engleman’s Ultimate Things are to be believed, to a later “unite to oppress” phase—a capitulation by the exhausted exclusivists, longing for the end of endless conflict, to the satanic universalism of Antichrist himself.
According to Ultimate Things, Antichrist will reveal himself in Jerusalem and proclaim himself King of the Jews; the Jewish nation, as well as many Christians, will accept him. From the Islamic perspective, however, any world ruler who begins as a King of the Jews and is later submitted to by the Christians would be immediately and universally recognized as Antichrist himself. It is inconceivable, unless traditional and even fundamentalist Islam were to virtually disappear, that such a figure could tempt Muslims to accept him as the Mahdi or the eschatological Jesus. So if the predictions Engleman recounts are in any way accurate, he is in fact presenting, as the most likely eschatological scenario, a mass apostasy of Jews and Christians which would leave only the Muslims aware of who Antichrist really is, and ready to do battle with him. How then could Antichrist emerge as a true global monarch, albeit a satanic one? Perhaps the militant opposition of an Islam discredited in the eyes of the rest of the world to an almost universally admired “savior” is the very thing which will ultimately consolidate his power. I hasten to say that this is in no way a prediction; God forbid. I am simply allowing myself to imagine various scenarios based on the quality of ultimate irony and self-contradiction which is the keynote of all historical forces in these latter days. And one of the twists of this irony is the fact that many semi-secularized Muslims—Dodi al-Fayed, for example—seem much more in tune with the mores of postmodern globalist culture than any Christian I could name.
If the greatest strength and greatest weakness of traditional Christianity is in its exclusivism, the comparable strength and weakness of Buddhism, especially in the West, is in its ability to “fit in”. (The same goes for heterodox westernized Hinduism and various influences, such as Feng Shui, Taoist meditation, and Sino-Japanese martial arts, originating in the Far East.) At its best, this represents a radical detachment from the norms of “the world,” allowing it to avoid all forms of dogmatic literalism and fundamentalism, and the marginalization such a stance often entails. At its worst, it indicates a capitulation to the collective egotism of this very “world”. In the United States at least, Buddhism is an acceptable part of the general Neo-Pagan cultural drift, which, while it may not identify with globalism, nonetheless often ends by serving it. (The same is true of certain strands of American Sufism, especially those which attempt to separate the Sufi tradition from Islam.) As a religion which recognizes a fall (into ignorance) and posits a goal of salvation (via enlightenment), it “naturally” has a much greater affinity with the Abrahamic religions than with a Paganism which accepts the ontological status quo and seeks only to profit from it.
But that’s not how things have worked out sociologically. American Buddhism, as a non-theistic religion (though certainly not an atheism, since it possesses a doctrine of the Absolute), has been attractive to many people—especially, as it turns out, many American Jews—who are in flight from their own narrow-minded and superstitious ideas of God. An acquaintance of mine, a traditional Catholic who studied for years under the Hopi elders, tells the story of a “Buddhist Halloween party” where a well-known American Buddhist teacher, dressed as a “Sufi”, made the statement that Buddhism is better than the Abrahamic religions because, just like the Native Americans, the Buddhists don’t believe in God—a statement which my friend knew, from long personal experience with Native American spirituality, to be totally false. It was nonetheless an idea which would “play well” to the general liberal, New Age and Neo-Pagan culture from which this teacher draws his students, the kind of people whose appreciation for the American Indians is even more destructive to Native American spirituality than their attraction to Buddhism is to Buddhism.
The false ecumenism of Neo-Pagan, New Age culture is the seed-bed for that “world fusion spirituality” in which fragments of every spiritual tradition are promiscuously thrown together, to their mutual corruption. True ecumenism on the other hand—the outer expression of the “esoteric ecumenism” of the Transcendent Unity of Religions, which understands the very uniqueness and particularity of the authentic religious traditions as the transcendent basis for their unity—is not a syncretistic amalgam or a diplomatic glossing-over of doctrinal differences, but a united front against a common enemy: that unholy alliance of scientism, magical materialism, idolatry of the psyche and postmodern nihilism which is headed, with all deliberate speed, toward the system of Antichrist.
Leo Schaya, writing primarily from the standpoint of Jewish esoterism, sees the eschatological mission of Elias as a re-establishment of the “unanimous tradition” in preparation for the advent of the Messiah. Before the event known in Genesis as the “confusion of tongues” which followed the fall of the Tower of Babel, humanity spoke a single religious language. After that time, however, God’s Self-revelation to Man took the form of discrete religious traditions, each one self-enclosed and self-sufficient. The Tree of Life, which had been a single trunk, now divided into several branches. According to Schaya, however, the primordial unanimity is destined to be re-established before the end of the cycle:
….according to Jewish tradition, the entire Torah of Moses amounts to no more than a single line of the Sepher ha-Yasher [the “Book of Justice” which Elias must bring with him], which means that this Book, by virtue of not being “scriptural” but “operative” in nature, will be the veritable final accomplishment of Scripture, the “realization” which by definition goes immeasurably beyond the “letter”. At the same time, Judaism tacitly places the remaining “lines” of this “Book” at the disposal of all the Divine revelations, whatever they may be, each one formulating or announcing in its fashion the same Eternal Truth and the same Destiny of man and the world. The “Book” of Elias is the integral Wisdom of the unanimous Tradition and the eschatological Manifestation of the one and only Principle. For the Jews, Elias represents the transition from traditional exclusiveness to the universality which they too possess, since they affirm that the Tishbite will raise his voice so loud to announce the spiritual peace that it will be heard from one end of the earth to the other; and the Doctors of the Law teach that “the righteous of all nations have a portion in the life to come” or, again, that “all men who are not idolaters can be considered Israelites”.
….Elias must re-establish all things in the name of, and for the sake of, that spiritual “peace” which the Messiah will bring once and for all: it will be crystallized forever in the New Jerusalem “founded by—or for—peace”, according to the etymology of Yerushalem or Yerushalaim. Elias came down, and has come down for centuries, to the world below to prepare, with the concurrence of those he inspires, this final state of humanity. He reveals, little by little and more intensively and generally toward the end, the spiritual and universal essence, the transcendent unity of all authentic religions. It is as if the radiant city were being patiently built by putting one luminous stone after another into place. The motivating power of this task can be called the “Eliatic flow”, at least in the orbit of the Judeo-Christian tradition, whereas other traditions will each use their own terms to describe this same universal flow. According to the terminology of Jewish esoterism, this flow belongs to the “river of highest Eden”, the “river of Yobel” or “great Jubilee” which is final Deliverance. Revelations calls it “the river of the water of life, clear as crystal” Rev . 22:1); it will be crystallized in the “precious stones”, the unquenchable lights of the New Jerusalem. (“The Mission of Elias”, Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 14, Numbers 3 & 4, pp. 165-166)
The doctrine of “the Book of Elias” is strictly paralleled by the Shi’ite Muslim doctrine that when al-Mahdi emerges from his occultation he will bring a new Book. That this Book represents the Primordial Tradition itself, which transcends the revealed traditions without negating them, is indicated by the tradition that the Mahdi will “rule the people of the Torah according to the Torah, and the people of the Gospel according to the Gospel, and the people of the Qur’an according to the Qur’an.” (Nasir al-Din Tusi, Ghayba). That the Mahdi will restore the scriptures of Adam and Seth, and tear down the Kaaba so as to rebuild it as it was in Adam’s time, also refers to the Primordial Tradition. The same order of truth is perhaps symbolized in Apocalypse 7:4-8 by the “144,000 sealed” who are drawn (12,000 at a time, like the 12,000 followers of Ali who will rise from the dead to follow the Mahdi) from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and who in this context obviously cannot be identified with the Jews, but must represent twelve separate facets of the human form, and also by the fact that the Heavenly Jerusalem will contain no temple, “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” (Apocalypse 21:22-23). In the words of Jesus, “other sheep have I.”
The prophesy that the primordial unity of religious truth will be re-established before the end can also be found in the Zoroastrian tradition. According to the Vendidad (2),Yima, the first man, the Zoroastrian Adam, was the human being to whom Ahura Mazda first preached the Ahuric or Zoroastrian religion; likewise Muslims, on the same plane of understanding, see Adam not only as the first man but also the first prophet. After expanding, cultivating and ruling the world of manifestation for (as I read it) 1800 years, Yima was summoned by Ahura Mazda, who predicted that bad winters would come to the material world, one of which would be especially destructive. (This is substantially the same doctrine as the eschatological Fimbulwinter of Norse mythology; the name Yima is also related to the Norse Ymir, the original giant who was slaughtered to create the material world, whose bones became the mountains, whose blood the rivers, etc.). Ahura Mazda then commanded Yima to build a Var (enclosure”) with a square floorplan, stock it with golden hay, and gather into it the seed of the best plants, the best animals, the best human beings, 1800 persons in all, as well as the sun, moon and stars, which, in the Var, can be seen setting and rising only once a year. However, to the inhabitants of the Var, each day will be as a year. (1800 x 80 = 144,000, the number of the elect in the New Jerusalem.) There is to be a river watering the Var, which will also contain meadows, houses—the whole manifest world in microcosm.
TheVarof Yima, then, is the Zoroastrian equivalent of Noah’s ark, though the world-destroying catastrophe is seen as a freeze rather than a flood. It is also similar in some ways to the New Jerusalem, which is likewise four-square and watered by a river. Yima’s Var, however, seems to be underground; it is an enclosure, a cave, and also an ancient subterranean kingdom, like the Celtic realm of “faerie”, whose denizens reside in “fairy hills”—the barrow tombs which dot the Western European landscape. (The birthplace of Christ in a stable or cave surrounded by animals, his crib a manger filled with hay, and his visitation by three “wise men” who are usually considered to have been Zoroastrian Magi, would tend to identify him with Yima, at least in the eyes of Zoroastrians, but also perhaps to those Jews, such as the Essenes, who may have maintained ongoing Zoroastrian connections.)
According to the story, Yima’s Var was designed to help humanity and nature survive a series of hard winters; yet it is also said that the Var of Yima will only be opened at Frashdegird, the end of time. So it becomes clear that the “hard winters” actually represent the freezing and contraction of the cosmic environment, including human perception, which must worsen as the cycle unfolds. As Blake identified Noah’s flood as an overwhelming of the Atlantean Golden Age by “the Sea of Space and Time”, so the “bad winters” of Zoroastrian myth represent in some ways the increasing materialism of human society, and the consequent relegation of the vision of Eternity to a mythological underground kingdom. “Underground” equals “repressed”; what was once an immediate sensual vision of the natural world sub specie aeternitatis is now hidden away, for safekeeping, in “the cave of the Heart”.
In 1927, Guénon published a book entitled Le Roi du Monde, “The King of the World”. It dealt with the myth of the sacred Center in various religions (Mecca, Jerusalem, Olympus, etc.) and posited the existence of a Primordial Center, an original Hyperborean Paradise, from which all others derive, an assertion which has led some to criticize him for indulging, like Gurdjieff and Idries Shah, in occultist geographical romanticism of the “Shangri-La” variety—Shangri-La itself, of course, being a late literary rendition of the same myth of Hyperborea, the land of eternal spring which lies in the extreme North, “behind the North Wind”. This original Center is the source of the Primordial Tradition, whose representative, in terms of the Abrahamic religions, is Melchizedek. In the book of Genesis, Melchizedek, King of Salem and Priest of the most high God, blesses Abraham, in what Guénon identifies as a ceremony of initiation. Melchizedek is also mentioned in Psalm 110, verse 4: “The Lord swore and will not repent: thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”. Jesus comments upon this psalm in Mark and Luke, as does Peter in his Pentecost sermon as recounted in Acts. Guénon compares Melchisedsek with the Hindu Manu, and other original priests and lawgivers.
It is fairly clear that the Zoroastrian Yima is another version of this “King of the World”. The Sufis too have a concept of “The Pole of the Age”—obviously a Hyperborean symbol—which is similar in many ways to the Shi’ite doctrine of the Mahdi, the occulted Twelfth Imam; Shi’ite esoterism in fact identifies the Mahdi with Melchizedek. The lineage of this unknown Pole, or Qutub, would therefore appear to be the Sufi version of the primordial priesthood of Melchizedek, who, since he had no father or mother, is in a certain sense immortal: unborn, thus never to die. This places him in the same category as the “immortal prophets” Enoch, Elias and the Sufi Khezr (or Khidr, “the Green One”, identified by Muslims with both Elias and St. George). As Melchizedek was Abraham’s master in the Old Testament, so Khezr is the name given by Sufis to the master encountered by Moses in the Koran. The King of the World also has obvious affinities with figures such as Arthur, and all the other “once and future kings” of world mythology. Arthur’s knight Owain, in the romance of “Owain and the Countess of the Fountain” becomes master of the Fountain of Life; the same is true of many of the sacred kings mentioned in Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and of Khezr as well, who guards the Fountain of Life which is placed “between the two seas”, on the barzakh (isthmus) between this world and the next—in one sense the subtle or faerie realm, in another sense the Heart, situated between the bitter waters material multiplicity and the sweet waters of spiritual Unity. The Heavenly Jerusalem also encloses the Fountain of Life.
The Var of Yimais identified as the Hyperborean Paradise by the fact that it contains sun, moon and stars, which once a year (or once a day) can be seen setting and rising. Facing south in the Northern Hemisphere (i.e., looking out from the North), one is in a position to view the points where the sun and moon rise and set; facing north, one can view the stars rising and setting simultaneously. The celestial aspect of the Var of Yimais thus revealed in the constellations of the Great and Little Bear, the Revolving Castle or caer sidi of the Byrthonic Celts where departed kings consort with the White Goddess, in endless motion about the Pole Star (the Qutub), that “still point of the turning world” which is the visible pivot of Eternity in the created order, the door which leads beyond the cycles of birth and death. (Guénon, in Symbols of the Sacred Science, claims thatVarand bear are the same word.) The fact that theVarcontains the seeds of all living things, including the circling heavens, indicates that it is not only a Temple but also an Aeon: an entire cycle of manifestation witnessed simultaneously as a single form. The Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem, which bears twelve kinds of fruit, one each month—an obvious reference to the zodiac—has the same meaning: a complete cycle of time conceived in a single moment.
The Lakota call south “the direction we always face”, and in so doing identify themselves as Hyperboreans, whose seat is in the North, beyond the cycles of time, from which point they look South into this material world. They further identify the north-south axis as “the good red road” and the east-west line of the Sun’s track as “the black (or blue) road of difficulty”. Shamanism in general can be described as a Hyperborean spirituality. Not only is its home in the far North (Siberia), but the “axial” structure of Siberian shamanism, according to which the shaman ascends and/or descends the World Tree, up through many paradises or down through many underworlds, like the angels ascending and descending the ladder in Jacob’s dream, reveals it as a Polar manifestation. (Sometimes the shaman will use an actual ladder during his trance.) A poem from the Altaic tradition, adapted from Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy, speaks of a shamanic journey to a “Prince Ulgan” who lives in the sky, and who is described as the one “for whom the stars & sky/ are turning a thousand times/turning a thousand times over”— a Siberian version of the transcendent God as “the King of the World” in his celestial “var.” In the same poem the shaman is shown climbing the sky in the shape of a goose. Migrating geese, who in Celtic mythology are identified with the souls of the dead (and, undoubtedly, the unborn), follow the north-south Hyperborean path, the Good Red Road, which is a projection onto the horizontal plane of the axis mundi, the vertical path uniting Heaven and Earth. This path is identified with, among other things, the human spinal column: in Yoga terminology, the sushumna nadi with its seven chakras . Paramhamsa or “exalted gander” is also an epithet of Hindu yogis.
This North-South orientation places Hyperborean spirituality on a higher ontological plane than those religions whose sacred point of “orientation” is the East. Facing east we witness all forms and events as they enter the cycle of manifestation from the Unseen; facing west, we watch as they leave it. But if we face North, we are oriented to that Eternal Center which is beyond manifestation entirely; it is as if, instead of turning within the cycles of birth and death, those cycles were to turn within us. Hyperborean religion is thus Edenic and Primordial. When Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise, they traveled to “the East of Eden”; this, in my opinion, represents a fall from an aeonian and Hyperborean North-facing spirituality to a cyclical and Solar East-facing one—in Lakota terms, a departure from the Good Red Road to walk the Black Road of Difficulty (cf. Genesis 3:19: “In the sweat of thy face thou shall eat bread”). And the fact that, in so many ancient traditions, demonic forces are pictured as coming out of the North indicates both the rigor of Transcendence, and the fact that the way back to Hyperborea, in this cycle, is closed; the gates of Eden are blocked by the Cherubim and the flaming sword which turns every way (Genesis 3:24). The seat of the Tribe of Dan, for example, from whom the Antichrist is supposed to emerge, is in the extreme north of Israel. In other words, we can’t ignore time; we must conform our spirituality to the needs of the particular point in the cycle where we find ourselves, or risk invoking demonic energies. And this means, among other things, that shamanism is not what it used to be. To practice it this late in the cycle, especially if one is not born into one of the primal religions, is to encounter spiritual dangers which did not exist when the cycle was young. Undoubtedly some of the primal traditions are still host to powerful, balanced shamans dedicated to spiritual enlightenment and human service—and God knows best.
According to Guénon, Melchizedek represents the Primordial Tradition for the Abrahamic religions; but it is probably simpler and more enlightening to say that the King of the World is Adam, in line with the Muslim doctrine that man is not only God’s abd or slave, but also His khalifa or vice-regent. The metaphysical principle, here, is that since every fall is from a relatively realer and more eternal plane of being to a relatively less real and more temporal one, there is always a sense in which the fall in question never took place; a fall into illusion is always, in one sense, illusory. (Herman Hesse’s novel Journey to the East is all about this.) As the Buddhists say, “all beings are enlightened from the beginning”. So the Adam who never fell, the archetype of Man in the subtle material plane, who is Yima, the Hindu Manu, and Melchizedek, is, in a way, still ruling us. If he were not still there on the subtle plane we would not still be here on the material plane, since he is part of our “stem,” our living and ongoing connection with our Creator via the Unseen World.
The question is, can we turn to him as a “Pole” in any real and spiritually effective sense? Much water has flowed under the bridge since the Golden Age, and it keeps flowing faster and faster. Primordial spiritualities can still look to that one who is called by the Mandaeans of Iraq “the Secret Adam,” but historical man is not primordial now, except in essence. The cycle has moved on; we have entered the world of fall and redemption, and so must turn to saviors instead, prophets like Abraham, Moses and Muhammad, avatars like Rama, or Krishna, or Jesus. Certainly religions still exist which look back to the Primordial Ancestor rather than to the Savior, already come or yet-to-come, as their spiritual focus; this is true of many African religions and of totemism in general, as it was of the ancient Chinese worship of the Yellow Emperor. But virtually all these religions show signs of serious degeneration. And the lateness of the hour is further reflected, in a way I take to be normative, by the fact that the cult of Brahma the Creator has essentially died out in Hinduism; Hindu devotees now look either to Vishnu the Preserver or Shiva the Destroyer. Furthermore, history has proceeded so far toward the end of the aeon that the expected advent of Kalki, or Maitreya, or al-Mahdi, or the eschatological Christ begins to exert its magnetic attraction, and become our new spiritual Center. Cyclically speaking, this leaves the primordial Adam far behind.
And yet eternity is never “behind.” The truth that Adam, in a specific sense, never really fell, will always be there in the background of this fallen world. It is in some ways closer in Islam than in Christianity, at least Western Christianity, since Muslims do not recognize a total fall of man, a corruption of the human substance itself, but only ghaflah, “heedlessness,” the Platonic amnesia —though the consequences of this heedlessness are as dire as those of any original sin. In Islam, a human being can still stand as Adam before God, in his original unfallen nature, his fitrah. But as Blake shows through his figure of Albion the Ancient Man, the King of the World is, in a very real sense, fallen or deposed. Within the Christian universe, he needs Christ to redeem him; this is what is meant by “the harrowing of hell” which follows the crucifixion and precedes the resurrection. (Yima, too, is fallen in one way, unfallen and eternal in another.) As in Blake’s Jerusalem, Jesus must awaken Albion/Adam from his death-like sleep upon the Rock of Ages, where he lies submerged, like the lost Atlantis, beneath the Sea of Space and Time.
Guénon in TheReign of Quantity says that Antichrist will be a kind of inverted Chakravartin, a false World King. So the question inevitably arises: What does this false King have to do with the true King of the World supposedly still reigning in Shambhalla/Belovodia/Avalon? Are they at war in that other world? If the King of the World is in one sense unfallen and still reigning, and in another sense deposed, and if the Antichrist is destined appear as a false World King, then exactly what is the eschatological role of le Roi du Monde?
In C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength a war is fought between the powers of Light and Darkness to see if the ancient Pagan magic represented by Merlin—who himself had no human father, and who never died (like Elias, Enoch, Khezr and the Twelfth Imam) but was “occulted”—will fall under the power of the forces of Truth, or those of Antichrist. If we take Merlin as representing the Primordial Tradition, at least to Lewis (who furthermore relates Merlin to the priesthood of Melchizedek), we can support him in his intuition that the remnants of certain archaic spiritualities can and will support the forces of Light in the eschatological combat: According to the relevant Zoroastrian doctrine, during Frashegird the Var of Yima will be opened; its inhabitants will emerge and join the cosmic struggle until the final triumph of the good. So primordiality joins forces with eschatology, just as one’s original nature as created by God joins forces with redemption and divine Grace; Yima supports Saoshyant; the first “savior” fights by the side of the last. In the same way, Shi’ite eschatology envisions a return of the most righteous as well as the most unrighteous of the dead before the general resurrection, giving the righteous an opportunity to triumph at last over their oppressors. The most common epithet of the Shi’ite Mahdi, al-Qaim, “he who rises,” denotes both the resurrection of the dead and to a “rising up” against tyranny. When John the Baptist, dressed in animal skins and eating gathered rather than cultivated food, announced the advent of Jesus Christ, I believe he was consciously enacting the part of the Primordial Adam (possibly in his Essene/Mandean rendition) as herald and ally of the Savior.
Since the eschatological event is a breakthrough of Eternity into time, it has to include all the manifestations of Divine Truth comprised within the cycle which is coming to a close; it must be a summing up as well as a death and rebirth. The emphasis of the Traditionalist writers on the Primordial Tradition and the Transcendent Unity of Religions is therefore a necessary and providential expression of spiritual truth for these latter days.
The ever-present shadow of primordiality, however, is atavism. The return of the archaic spiritualities, in degenerate form, toward the end of the cycle inevitably has a destructive effect on the revealed religions. Only the messianic theophany itself has the power to shake primordiality free from its atavistic husk. And the distinction between the Transcendent Unity of Religions on the one hand, and that syncretistic “world fusion spirituality” which is the hallmark of Antichrist on the other, a collection of fragments entirely postmodern in its nihilism, is simply too subtle to be understood by everyone attracted even to traditional metaphysics. (Schuon himself seems to have suspected as much in The Transcendent Unity of Religions, his second book, when he characterized his open revelation of esoteric doctrines as an abnormal response required by an abnormal situation, and expressed his belief that “the harm which might in principle befall certain people from contact with the truths in question is compensated by the advantages others will derive from the self-same truths.”)
The satanic shadow of the Transcendent Unity of Religions, in other words, is precisely the pseudo-esoterism of the Antichrist. If the symbolic patron of the primordial spirituality is Adam, then we can say, using Christian terminology, that although he has been redeemed through Christ’s sacrifice, the consequences of his sin have not thereby been erased. Since the Redemption, he, and the human race, have been in a purgatorial state. His soul is in Paradise, but his descendants—who are, in one sense, his body—though virtually redeemed (“it is finished”) are not fully sanctified (“take up your cross and follow Me”). Only in apocalypse, only at the resurrection of the body, when the dead rise and the living are changed, are the consequences of human action, both virtuous and sinful, finally harvested on the macrocosmic level. Only then is the good grain stored away and the weeds consigned to the fire. Therefore to invoke primordial spirituality in the latter days of the cycle, before the second coming of Christ invokes it definitively, is to further the agenda of both good and evil, both Christ and Antichrist. It is to make virtually present, along with the primordiality of the Edenic state, the entirety of the human karma for this cycle, and in so doing serve the final polarization, that separation of sheep from goats which will climax at the battle of Armageddon.
In Logic and Transcendence, Frithjof Schuon clearly articulates what he hopes (though hardly expects) to accomplish by promulgating his doctrine of Transcendent Unity of Religions:
….in the cyclic period in which we live, the situation of the world is such that exclusive dogmatism (though not dogmatism in itself, since dogmas are necessary as immutable foundations and have inward and inclusive dimensions) is hard put to hold its own, and whether it likes it or not, has need of certain esoteric elements, without which it runs the risk of exposing itself to errors of a much more questionable kind than gnosis [which, to Schuon, is not an error, though it certainly is to some dogmatists]. Unhappily the wrong choice is made; the way out of certain deadlocks is sought, not with the help of esoterism, but by resorting to the falsest and most pernicious of philosophical and scientific ideologies, and for the universality of spirit, the reality of which is confusedly noted, there is substituted a so-called “ecumenism” which consists of nothing but platitudes and sentimentality and accepts everything without discrimination.
The obverse attitude, of narrowly literal belief, is still spiritually feasible within a closed system knowing nothing of other traditional worlds, but in the long run it is untenable and dangerous in a universe where everything meets and interpenetrates….It has become impossible effectively to defend a single religion against all others by declaring the rest anathema without exception; to persist in so doing (unless living in a still medieval society in which case the question does not arise) is a little like attempting to maintain the Ptolemaic system against the evidence of verified and verifiable astronomical facts. All the same, we do not believe that the spiritual solidarity thus imposed on us can or must imply complete mutual understanding; it can stop half way, at least for the average person, particularly as it is always possible to put in parentheses those questions which one cannot or does not wish to resolve. What we have in mind, let us stress once more, is not the idea—self-defeating in practice—of a generalized metaphysical and quintessential understanding, but simply the possibility of an adequate understanding which will serve, on the one hand, to safeguard the religious heritage against the advances of the ubiquitous scientistic mentality, and, on the other, to bring about a perfectly logical and unsentimental solidarity between those who traditionally take cognizance of transcendence and immortality. (pp. 4-5)
Schuon seems to have forseen possible harm to individuals from the open revelation of esoteric truths, as well as the inevitable tendency to mistake the Transcendent Unity of Religions for syncretism. But when he dismisses “a generalized metaphysical and quintessential understanding,” what I would call an extra-traditional, generic metaphysics, as merely “self-defeating in practice,” he seems not to have fully grasped the danger of this development.
Self-defeating it may be, in spiritual terms; in social and psychological terms it is self-propagating. As Guénon says in The Reign of Quantity, pp. 293-294: “….the ‘counter-initiation’ works with a view to introducing its agents…. even….into authentically initiatic…. organizations, but only when their traditional spirit is so weakened that they can no longer resist so insidious a penetration….the last-named case….is the most direct application possible of dissolutionary activity.” And, I would add, these “agents” are not necessarily individuals; they can just as easily be unconscious beliefs and assumptions with a high degree of collective psychic energy behind them.
The danger of a primordial approach to spirituality is that it may lead its devotees to imagine that the Golden Age has actually returned. But even if the boundaries of the present cycle grow so translucent, due to its extreme old age, that the outlines of the cycle to come can be clearly seen through the skin of it, still, we cannot get there from here. And to believe that we can get there from here, without the inconvenience of apocalyptic judgement, or simply one’s own personal death, is perhaps the central error of the New Age. The shape of the primordial tradition must shine through the thinning walls of material reality at the end of the cycle; the light it gives has the crucial function of preparing us as nothing else could for the wrath to come, and the greater Mercy by which that wrath is destined to be overwhelmed, when death is swallowed up in victory. But those who follow that light in a literal fashion, as if they could possess it, are being led into deep temptation: what could be more spiritually deluding than to believe that a primal Edenic innocence can be openly manifested in this most degenerate of human times, without casting our most precious pearls before the worst pigs of the cycle? We hippies tried that, and learned the hard way that it doesn’t work. If we want to be harmless as doves, we had better also be wise as serpents.
It was Frithjof Schuon’s mission (though not his alone) to unfold the Maya of the Transcendent Intellect for the final period of this cycle, and project his incomparable doctrinal formulations on the vast screen of it. Maya, however, is boundless, uncontrollable, ruthlessly scattering the seeds of all things, good and evil, stale and fresh, wise and deluded. As an aspect of the Divine Infinity, it cannot be kept within either moral or doctrinal bounds. In the face of this Maya, all one can do is submit to God’s will and implore His grace, sacrificing all self-willed attempts to reach pragmatic or conceptual closure. This is the path to Paradise—just as persistence in the struggle to derive strategic imperatives or make systematic sense out of the mystery of God’s Infinite Self-disclosure is the path to Hell. It is for just this purpose, apparently, that the Maya of the Transcendent Intellect is unfolded in eschatological times: to separate the sheep from the goats.
To Fight or Not to Fight
The looming One World Government shows many signs of being the predicted regime of Antichrist. But as I have already pointed out, it’s not quite that simple, since the “tribal” forces reacting against globalism are ultimately part of the same system. According to one of many possible scenarios, the satanic forces operating at the end of the Aeon would be quite capable of establishing a One World Government only to set the stage for the emergence of Antichrist as the great leader of a world revolution against this government, which, if it triumphed, would be the real One World Government. Or the martyrdom of Antichrist at the hands of such a government might be a deliberate or even staged self-sacrifice, counterfeiting the death of Christ and leading to a counterfeit resurrection. I am not saying that this will happen; I am not prognosticating. I only wish to point out that Antichrist, as a counterfeit manifestation of the Divine universality, will have the capacity to use all sides in any conflict, including a global one, to build his power—except the ultimate Messianic Conflict, called Armageddon in the Apocalypse, which is initiated and concluded by God Himself.
The “discernment of spirits” in apocalyptic times can perhaps be reduced to the ability to answer, in many different circumstances, a single question: what is the real war? If the Antichrist can tempt us to fight prematurely, or on too restricted a field—or, conversely, if he can influence us to delay too long before choosing sides—then he has won. Here, however, is the danger of the approach I have taken, that of multiplying the criteria by which the coming Avatara can be distinguished from Antichrist. The danger is that we may become stuck in a kind of paranoid infinite regression, as in the world of espionage where every double agent is really a triple agent and things are never what they seem. Because, in another sense, things are always what they seem—to the pure in heart. If you know your own ego, you know the Antichrist; if you know the God within you, you know God. The criteria by which we can recognize the Antichrist are the same as those by which we can recognize sin: If we understand what Divine Wisdom is, we will recognize what is contrary to that Wisdom; if we know what Divine Love is, we will be sensitive to what violates that Love. The signs of the end in the various traditional eschatologies cannot be applied directly to history, without first being applied to the state of one’s soul. Only after “the discernment of spirits” is established within our own intellect, will, and affections can we turn and see the forces operating in these latter days of world history in the light of objective truth. If we know how the ego operates, especially when it attempts to appropriate our struggle against temptation in order to claim holiness for itself, or break its way into the mysteries of God in order to claim wisdom, then we will not be fooled by the analogous moves of the Antichrist on the field of history.
The matter of our lives will always belong to this world; our wealth will pass to others, as our bodies to the earth. But our form belongs to God in eternity, unto ages of ages. This is why, in the resurrection, it is capable of being newly “incarnated” in a glorious and incorruptible substance. The lesson is: that it is not the matter of our lives we must protect from the Antichrist—as certain survivalists clearly believe—but our form. In the latter days, as always, the real struggle is not to retain our possessions, or even our lives, but to avoid losing our souls. Ultimately, this is all that is required of us.
In a world defined by false conflicts of every kind, what is the true war? The Muslim answer is: “The Greater Jihad, the war against everything in oneself that is opposed to God.” But the Greater the Lesser Holy Wars—the Lesser Jihad in this case being the struggle in the outer world against all that would attack or subvert religion—are not unrelated. All we can hope for in the end times—and it is really the greatest hope humanity can ever be blessed with—is that we ourselves will remain faithful to the Truth. But sometimes, in order not to be driven away from that Truth by fear, or lured away by satanic seduction, it must be actively defended in the outer world, either by word or by deed. If we are not willing to risk our reputations, our livelihoods or our lives when circumstances demand it, how can we be sure that our inner faithfulness to God is anything more than lip service, or spiritual pride? On the other hand, if we had truly defeated the Beast within, the “commanding self,” the world’s terror and seduction would have no power over us. So the Lesser Jihad, no matter how necessary in certain circumstances, is always in one sense a “projection” of the Greater Jihad on the world stage; it is the war against the commanding self fought in allegory, and by proxy.
Perhaps the best answer to the question “to fight or not to fight?” is: Learn to deal only with the single enemy, inner or outer, who is directly in your path. If you try to fight somebody else’s battle, God will not support you. And if you depart from your own true path because you are hungry for conflict, or just impatient to get it all over with, then you have already been defeated. This is why it is so important to know your path as it really is, so you can tell the difference between God-given talents which must not be buried, and self-imposed agendas which need to be sacrificed.
The least that can be said in concrete terms is that a denunciation of the regime of Antichrist, such as that of the “two witnesses” in the Apocalypse, will be appropriate in many circumstances—though clearly not in all, since concealment for self-protection, or protection of others, will sometimes be called for. But we must always remember that the war against Antichrist in the outer world—and even more so the inner world—is also fertile ground for the growth of spiritual pride. What could be more heady than the belief that one is part of an elect remnant called on by God to defy the Beast? We have seen plenty of heartless political and religious fanatics possessed by this idea, and we are destined to see many more. Luckily, triumph in worldly terms is ultimately not possible to the faithful in the latter days, though small victories can still be won. The best we can hope for is that we all—from whatever true and God-given religion we may arise—will some day find ourselves with our backs against the same wall. O fortunate wall! Every hope will be realized there, by those who, through God’s grace, have been left with no other hope but Him.
According to some Sufis, Antichrist is precisely the nafs al-ammara, the commanding self or “demanding ego”. The following passage is from Marmuzat-e asadi of Najmo’d’Din Razi; citations are from the Qur’an:
Now, in exposition of the truth about Jesus and the Antichrist and the respective contrast and similarity between them, it may be said that the similarity is superficial and the contrast fundamental. From the point of view of appearance they are both called the “Messiah”, and both have a donkey, and they are both alive, and they both bring the dead to life.
Now, Jesus is called the “Messiah” through traveling the heavens, while the Antichrist is called the “Messiah” by traveling the earth from east to west. Jesus is heavenly and the Antichrist is earthly. Jesus has vision and confers vision on others; visionary because in his infancy he said, “Indeed I am the devotee of God” (Mary, 30), and conferring vision by virtue of healing “the blind and the leper” (The Family of Imran, 49; The Table Spread, 110), while the Antichrist is blind and a blinder of others, for he presents the Truth as falsehood and falsehood as the Truth. Now, Jesus brings the dead to life as a miracle to provide grounds for faith, while the Antichrist quickens the dead as a demonstration of powers to lure one into denying faith. And the emergence of Antichrist out of the earth serves to bring about a reign of oppression and corruption on earth, while the descent of Jesus from heaven is to bring about a reign of equity and justice.
Be aware that all in the realm of form is a reflection of that which is in the realm of spirit, and all that is in the realms of form and spirit is represented in man.Hence the “Jesus-ness” in you is your spirit, as of Jesus it is said: “We breathed of Our Spirit into it [Mary’s womb] (The Banning, 12), while of you it is said: “I breathed My Spirit into him [Adam] (Al-Hijr, 29). Jesus brings the dead to life, as the spirit brings life to the lifeless frame. Jesus had a mother, whereas the Divine Breath served in place of a father for him; likewise the spirit (of each person) is mothered by the elements and fathered by the Breath.Jesus is sublime and the spirit is sublime; Jesus is the Word and the spirit is the Word, as indicated by the expression that the “spirit is by command of my Lord” (The Night Ascension, 85). Jesus rode a donkey, as the spirit rides the body.
And the Antichrist is represented in you by your “demanding ego”. The Antichrist is one-eyed, just like your ego, seeing only the world and being blind to the hereafter. Whatever the Antichrist presents as heaven is actually hell, and what he presents as hell is really heaven; by the same token, the ego presents carnal passions and pleasures as paradisical, though they are actually infernal, and it presents one’s spiritual devotion and worship as hellish, though they are really heavenly in nature.
The Antichrist mounts a donkey, and your ego possesses bestial qualities. The mystery of it all is that, though Jesus was in the world, as was the Antichrist, Jesus was carried up to heaven for a while, while the Antichrist was locked up in the bowels of the earth. Then, Antichrist will first be brought out to rampage over the earth and create havoc and wreak corruption, claiming divinity. Next, Jesus will be brought down and given dominion, claiming to be the devotee of God. He will succeed in slaying the Antichrist, then set about establishing a reign of prosperity, justice and equity. After a time, he will pass from this world, and the Day of Judgement will be at hand.
In the same way, spirit and ego are brought together in the world of humanity. However, the spirit is taken up into the heaven of the heart, while the Antichrist of the ego is confined in the earth of the human state. It takes several years for humanity to develop its full potential and for the constituents of the body to properly mature. First, the Antichrist of the ego emerges from the confines of infancy, mounted on the ass of animal qualities, launching forth on its program of wreaking havoc in the world, claiming divinity in the manner of “Have you seen the one who makes desire his god….?” (Kneeling, 23), and exhorting one toward the hell of greed and lust as the heavenly goal, while decrying the heaven of devotion and worship as hell. He slays the believers of praiseworthy, angelic qualities with the unbelievers’ hands of satanic and condemnable qualities, raising the dead powers in human nature, until, all of a sudden, the grace unimaginable bears from on high the Jesus of spirituality, mounted on the regal wings of the Gabriel of the Law, taking flight from the lofty heaven of the heart to descend into the world of humanity.
Reason, left behind, gazes as his departing stirrup,
While Love surges ahead, mounted by his side.
Jesus slays the Antichrist of the ego, by severing his head of material nature, and establishes the dominion of the justice and equity of spirituality in the world of humanity, destroying the swine of greed, shattering the cross of fleshly nature, and slashing the bonds of passion. (Quoted in Jesus in the Eyes of the Sufis by Javad Nurbakhsh, Khaniqahi-Nimatullahi Publications, pp. 61-64)
When the Antichrist rises, Christ is near. When the ego comes into plain view, the spiritual Intellect, since it sees the whole system of it, is no longer veiled by it; the Eye of the Heart is open. When what we thought was a solid object is seen to be a shadow, then, like all shadows, it bears witness to the Light.
Evil, like everything else, is here to teach us. In the beginning it teaches us its own massive reality as a wall which separates us from God, a power to be combated without quarter. In the end, it teaches us its own emptiness, its fundamental unreality. But until we know its reality, we can never know its emptiness. Until we know that the struggle against evil is entirely up to us, and that the battle will never end, we will never know that, in reality, the struggle against it is God’s business alone, and the battle is ended already. It was never necessary. It never began. When, as is predicted in the Hindu scriptures for the end of the cycle, “a hundred suns arise at once in the sky,” no nothingness can be located; no shadow appears. When God Himself takes the field of battle, He encounters no resistance: because only God is.
The Esoteric Apocalypse
When consciousness is centered on the plane of the psyche, experiences arising on the material plane are interpreted according to whether they support or threaten our sense of identity, which is psychic. When consciousness begins to be withdrawn from the psychic plane to the plane of Spirit—which, as pure Witness and pure Knowledge, necessarily transcends experience—then all experiences, including sense experiences, are understood as emanating from the psychic level, and known, simultaneously, both as possible temptations and as actual manifestations of God. Insofar as these experiences have the potential of seducing consciousness into a reidentification with the psychic level, thus reinforcing the sense of a limited, subjective experiencer, they are temptations. Insofar as these temptations are resisted, the events in question can no longer be called experiences, but are revealed as aspects, or instances, of the Self-manifestation of the Absolute.
On the psychic level, the world we experience is necessarily interpreted in terms of good and evil. And since consciousness fixed on the psychic level cannot witness that level, the contents of the psyche must appear in “projected” form as the events of our lives. (For all his metaphysical errors, Carl Jung knew this, teaching that “whatever is repressed is necessarily projected.”) But when consciousness begins its pilgrimage from the level of psyche to the level of Spirit, the psyche emerges from that unconsciousness; it is unveiled before the face of the Divine Witness. And when, by virtue of that Witness, all events, including material events, are known as emanating from the psychic plane—just as the psychic plane as a whole is known as a dramatization of those truths which reside eternally on the Spiritual plane—then the psychic projections upon the material plane are withdrawn. The world ceases to be an object experienced by an individual subject, and is transformed into a visionary apparition contemplated by the Divine Witness—or, in Buddhist terms, by no-one.
As consciousness continues to move from psyche to Spirit, events begin to be seen not as good or evil influences, but as forces which either in fact do, or in fact do not, pull our consciousness to identify them, causing it to abandon the Spiritual level and return to the psychic. This is what Sufis mean when they say that “the sin of the believer is concupiscence; the sin of the gnostic is heedlessness.” Events apparently good can tempt to heedlessness, just as events apparently evil can support mindfulness and spiritual vigilance.
In terms of intellectual warfare, of the struggle to overcome error and embrace Truth, the shift from psyche to Spirit causes the errors we recognize, in ourselves or others, to manifest themselves directly. As we begin to witness them instead of simply criticizing them or struggling against them, they appear before us; they are concretely embodied and fully enacted. In other words, they become lessons—if, that is, we resist the temptation to identify with them—and an error that is really a lesson is no longer a form of falsehood, but a form of Truth. When error is fully embodied as Truth through our own actions, the result is deep and spontaneous remorse. When error is fully embodied as Truth through the actions of others, the result is deep and spontaneous gratitude.
The motion of consciousness from psyche to Spirit, during which latent errors arise, fully-formed and fully-enacted, until they are revealed as forms of Truth, is the esoteric significance of apocalypse, which means “revelation.” Physical death is a symbol of the death of the ego—of the belief that the human psyche is autonomous and self-created. The end of the world is a symbol of the “recollection” produced by the death of the ego—the gathering together of the scattered fragments of the psyche through withdrawal of the projections of that psyche into the abstract wilderness of matter, energy, space and time.
Experience is inseparable from the sense that someone exists who is capable of having experiences. At the ultimate end of the cycle of manifestation, which is the world—at the ultimate end of the cycle of experience, which is the ego—this “someone” is confronted by Kali, the Black One. She is Maya, she is Mahashakti—at once both the unknowable Divine Essence, and every veil that simultaneously hides and reveals this Essence, with absolutely no distinction between them. To the degree that we try to hold on to our life in the face of Kali, she takes that life. To the degree that we let go of our life in the face of Kali, she is that life.
Experience is Maya, it is Shakti. If we identify with it, it becomes part of Avidya-maya, of the stream of God’s cosmic manifestation, the ultimate end of which is “the death of God.” If we break identification with it, it becomes part of Vidya-maya, of the stream of God’s redeeming and re-integrating mercy, the ultimate end of which is final Liberation from the bonds of contingent existence.
The Apocalyptic Function of Antichrist
Antichrist is the great scapegoat, who extracts from the soul all that is subhuman, abortive and exhausted, leaving the human substance purely receptive to the light of God. He is not the compassionate scapegoat as Christ is, who bears our impurities willingly, thereby demonstrating that even our deepest flight from God actually takes place in God, if we only knew it. As foreshadowed in the figure of Judas, he is nothing but the vehicle which transports all that has failed to attain integral form into the fires of annihilation, because it has refused to submit to God’s will, refused to be fully created by Him, and has therefore never known Him. And here is perhaps the deepest counterfeit the Antichrist is capable of: to portray the sullen, meaningless, barren suffering of the ego unwilling to let go of itself as the self-sacrificial suffering of that divine Love which “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” In the face of Antichrist, his fascination and his horror, his despair and his blindness, and his unutterable boredom, all one need do is choose the Real and reject what never could be real: simply, at whatever cost, like Christ when he overcame Satan in the desert, like the Buddha when he withstood Mara the Tempter, under the tree of Enlightenment, on the adamantine spot.
The Tibetan Buddhists say: “roll all blames into one”. In the process, the crimes of a cruel and mysterious fate become the fruits of karma, the consequences of the deliberate actions of sentient beings. The karma of all sentient beings becomes my own karma, the structure of my ego. And finally the crimes and sufferings of my ego become the inevitable shape of THE ego, void of all substance in the face of the Absolute. All are forgiven because no-one is to blame but him—and “he” is no-one.
The esoteric meaning of the Antichrist is: that there is only one ego. My ego is THE ego; the God Who dwells in my Heart is THE God. When my ego is annihilated, all ego is annihilated, because there is no other ego. When the God in my Heart is unveiled, He is unveiled for everyone, for all beings, because there is only one Heart. When a saint cries out, “I am the worst of sinners!”, the inner meaning is: I am the ONLY sinner. I am Adam eating the forbidden fruit; by the same token, I am Christ suffering the consequences of this act, triumphing over them, and rising up out of the ruins of them. I am the Buddha gaining enlightenment for himself, and thereby for all sentient beings, because in the eyes of the enlightened Buddha there are no such things as “numberless sentient beings to be enlightened” nor “the Buddha who vows to enlighten them”. Enlightenment is One. God is One. There is no god but God.
When I first saw the Antichrist, my response was: “This means that I no longer have a single enemy on this earth. May all beings be well; may all beings be happy.” When Antichrist lived with me in my own house, he perverted my view of God’s universe, he whispered accusations against this person or that person, this group or that group; he claimed they were followers of the Antichrist. But when he left my house to go out into the world and spread devastation, when I saw him rising like a shadow over all the earth, not a shred of hatred was left in my heart. He had nothing more to teach me, except his own emptiness, his shadow-nature. By revealing himself as pure shadow he bore witness to the Light, the great penetrating, searching, unveiling, unmanifesting, and healing light of God now breaking over the world. The breaking of that Light is eternal. It is at the core of every moment. The end of the world lies hidden in every moment. The termination of the cycle, the dissolution of all things, the passing away of heaven and earth, the dawning of the new heaven and the new earth, is always there, in time present pregnant with time future, where the whole creation groans to be delivered—until now. “When a man rejects error and embraces truth,” said William Blake, “a final Judgement passes upon that man.”
The proper use, the specific spiritual practice of apocalyptic times is: To let everything be taken away from us, except the Truth. When Blake cried, “Whatever can be destroyed must be destroyed!”, this is what he meant. Whoever can—with the aid of Heaven—not reverse, but simply resist the tremendous centrifugal, scattering, attenuating and sinking forces active at the end of the Aeon, will find that all the dross in his soul, all the sin, all the spiritual heaviness and intellectual darkness of the latter days, has been stolen from him by the Antichrist. He is welcome to it. By a radical catharsis analogous to the one attempted by the Greek playwrights, enacted not on the Athenian but the world stage, and that of the human soul, Almighty God, through the agency of Antichrist—if, that is, we recognize that Deceiver and inwardly resist him—will literally scare the hell out of us. He will burn out sorrow with sorrow and fear with fear, since only in the presence of God’s Mercy can we face the full depth of the sorrow and fear all of us feel at the end of the cycle, and witness their essential emptiness.
If we can resist despair in all its forms, including violent panic, cold-heartedness, and false luciferian hope, then, after all the karmic residues of the entire cycle have been torn away from us, there we will stand, naked, in utter simplicity, before the face of God. This is the meaning of “for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened,” and “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Whatever in us “crystallizes,” to use one of Schuon’s favorite terms, in the presence of Absolute Truth, will be “gathered into the barns” where the fertile potentials, the “seed corn” for the next Aeon, are stored. “He that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved”: he shall be saved up. Whatever withstands the end of time stands at the beginning of time. Whatever is beyond time withstands its end. If “time is the moving image of eternity,” then that in us which remains untouched by time is part of That of which the image is made. The “New Age” believes that certain “highly evolved” human beings can survive on earth to become the spiritual and even temporal leaders of the next Golden Age; but this is merely the literalistic counterfeit of the true doctrine. The truth is simply that whatever in us resists the temptation to flee from God by taking refuge in chaotic dissolution—to hide from the destruction of matter, or the fear of this destruction, in matter itself, which is one meaning of “they shall pray for the mountains to fall and cover them”—but dies instead a vigilant and obedient death before the face of the One Reality, will enter the feast of the Pirs, the ShaYkhs, the Tzaddiks, the deified Ancestors who are the fathers and prototypes of all cycles of manifestation, they who are called in the book of Apocalypse “the twenty-four Elders before the Throne of the Lamb.” As it was in the end. As it is in the beginning.
The Practice of Apocalypse
In my humble opinion, the central spiritual “gesture” for apocalyptic times is the following:
When you find yourself in a state of fear or grief over the evil of the world, the degeneration of humanity and the ruin of the earth, know that this evil, ruin and degeneration are nothing but the mass resistance of the world to the impending advent of the Mahdi, the Tenth Avatar, the Messiah—and that the fear or grief you are presently experiencing are your way of participating in that resistance. Knowing this, simply stop resisting Him, and let the Messiah come. Stop trying to maintain the world in existence by the power of your ego; let it go. Let it end. Let your ego end. You’ve been fighting off the Messiah: cease hostilities now, “resist not evil” (which is how your ego experiences Him), lay down your weapons, and let Him break through “the clouds of heaven”, the clouds of individual and collective egotism which have separated earth from its divine Source ever since the fall of man.
I asked my spiritual advisor to comment on the above paragraph, since advising an unknown public on questions of spiritual practice is not something I have either the right or the capacity to do on my own slim authority. His response was, “Remember, though: the world is perfect.”
In other words: the Messiah is already here. He has always been here. In each spiritual moment, the world comes fresh from the hand of the Creator. As God is perfect, so His expression is perfect—if, that is, we can witness it, with all its wonders and horrors, as His immediate manifestation. This is the real Revelation: “Behold, I make all things new” (Apocalypse 21:5). May God, through the grace of my Master, grant me the capacity, and the humility, to know this not only with the mind, but with the whole Heart.
Frithjof Schuon, from Light on the Ancient Worlds, p. 49:
Even believers themselves are for the most part too indifferent to feel concretely that God is not only “above” us, in “Heaven,” but also “ahead” of us, at the end of the world, or even simply at the end of our own lives; that we are drawn through life by an inexorable force and that at the end of the course God awaits us; that the world will be submerged and swallowed up one day by an unimaginable irruption of the purely miraculous—unimaginable because surpassing all human experience and standards of measurement. Man cannot possibly draw on his past to bear witness to anything of the kind, any more than a may-fly can expatiate on the alternation of the seasons; the rising of the sun can in no way enter into the habitual sensations of a creature born at midnight whose life will last but a day; the sudden appearance of the orb of the sun, unforeseeable by reference to any analogous phenomenon that had occurred during the long hours of darkness, would seem like an unheard of apocalyptic prodigy. And it is thus that God will come. There will be nothing but this one advent, this one presence, and by it the world of experiences will be shattered.