The Return of the King and the Resacralisation of the West
In his book The Eleventh Hour the Traditionalist scholar Martin Lings (1909-2005) suggests that as we approach the end of this age of dissolution - what Traditionalists call the Dark Age or Kali Yuga - so the light of the Golden Age to come starts to shine discreetly into the darkness of our times. Even as our world disintegrates - especially as it disintegrates - flashes of beauty and glory appear and begin to make their presence felt.
This is a paradigm-changing concept. If true, then nothing matters more. Where do we find these shafts of light? What do they look like? How do we tap into their radiance and work alongside them? These should be the leading questions of the day.
The Greek theologian John Zizioulas (b.1931) has much to teach us here. For Zizioulas, faith is a line of force which pulls us forward into the future. It is this future state of completion and fulfilment - the Eschaton or the the 'Eighth Day' - which does all the work, calling us up and on, 'farther up and farther in.’ As C.S. Lewis shows us at the end of The Last Battle, it is this level alone which is truly real. It gives form and structure to both past and present. As Zizioulas says:
The ‘future age which does not end' becomes not an effect, as happend in time as we know after the Fall but the cause of all past and future events. 1
The 'doyen' of Traditionalist writers René Guénon (1886-1951) believed that what we are facing today is not so much the culmination of the aeon - the end of the world - but rather the end of a world - what we regard as Western civilisation.
Generally speaking, this is my sense too. Nothing lasts forever and we know that Christ will return one day as king and judge. Nonetheless, civilisations rise and fall continually, usually in circumstances even more tempestuous than today's. The 'smart money’, I feel, would be on a continuation of this pattern. We have been here before as St. Augustine's City of God illustrates. Composed in the aftermath of the sack of Rome in 410 AD, the book is a profound act of what the Rebel Wisdom
Augustine tries to chart a course through the ruins and debris of the fallen Imperium. Out of this initial trauma came at length the civilisation that built the great cathedrals and found its fullest literary expression in Dante's Commedia. This 'steady state' felt as eternal to the Medieval mind as the Pax Romana had to Augustine and his contemporaries. Yet it faded too, and now it seems that the worldview which ultimately succeeded it - rationalist materialism - has run its course as well. It no longer maps onto the deepest part of the human psyche. It has lost its imaginative force, and its narrative no longer drives us forward. The material prosperity which it formerly provided cannot be relied on any more. Without this, the post-Enlightenment settlement has very little intellectual and spiritual ballast to support it.
So what replaces it? The truth, at the moment, is that nobody knows. We are in an interregnum - a 'wood between the worlds', as it were - with the old order not fully dead and its successor yet to take recognisable shape. Something deeper is stirring though - of that I am sure - beyond both the safeguards and the limitations of the rational mind. We see it in wokeism, we see it in Putinism, we see it in many places. With Christianity largely ousted from the public square we are left scratching around for a compelling myth or universal story to bind us together and help us steer the coming paradigm-shift in fruitful, creative ways.
The return of the sacred is a wild and scary thing. Aslan is 'not a tame lion' and there are no guarantees. The fall of empires, we should also note, as Rome and the Soviet Union remind us, is normally violent and traumatic. Rod Dreher, in a recent post gives us notice of one potential outcome:
We are living in a late phase of culture before “heroic masculinity” comes roaring back in destructive ways. We are going to see this. Most people alive today are going to see this happen. If or when we have a major economic collapse, the decadence that has permeated the structures and institutions of Western civilization will be violently borne away.
This is all salutary and true. Yet we also need to be alive to the possibilities the current moment offers us. In another book, Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions, Lings writes:
In the walls of the edifice of the modern world cracks are beginning to gape which were not there before, and those cracks give access to a point of view which represents the very opposite of what the modern world stands for. 2
This - to a 'T' - is what is happening today. Topics are presented and discussed, which fifteen years ago, when the New Atheists were in their pomp, would have been considered marginal or 'woo woo' - the symbolic structure of the universe, our inner need for mythic pattern and coherence, and the magnetic pull of the numinous and Divine. All these themes and more are gathering momentum on YouTube and other platforms in ways which could not have been foreseen in the days when we thought we were living through the 'end of history'. In retrospect, the New Atheists seem now more like a by-product of the boom years - lightweight and ephemeral. Serious times call for a serious response - deep calls unto deep - and naive materialism cannot dig down to the depths of the collective transformation we are undergoing. It neither explains nor transcends. As a model of reality it remains one-dimensional and stuck on the surface of things.
Jordan Peterson blazed the trail, of course, in fleshing out our maps of meaning, while Jonathan Pageau, Paul VanderKlay, John Vervaeke, David Fuller (Rebel Wisdom) and others have picked up the torch and ran with it. This Substack site is my own contribution to this phenomenon. The age of archetypes is upon us again, and I want to focus here on one archetypal trope in particular - the return of the King. The horizontal worldview which has embedded itself in the West these past five hundred years is breaking down and the vertical dimension is beginning to reassert itself. The King is coming back - make no mistake - but will he be a blood-soaked tyrant - Yeats's 'rough beast' - or a 'servant of the servants' à la Arthur or King Alfred, sacrificing his ego for his people and his land as Christ humbled himself to wash his disciples' feet?
Tolkien's Aragorn is the great exemplar here. The way out of our crisis, I am sure - the way up and through - is the way of Aragorn: warrior, ascetic, priest and king. He is all the archetypes rolled into one. He restores harmony and order after the dark confusion of the War of the Ring. He ushers in a new Golden Age - not the Eschaton or the Eighth Day - but similar in kind if not yet degree, a prefiguration of the completion and fulfilment to come when Christ returns in glory.
This is the archetype, the symbol, that with your help I want to tune into and invoke. This is the authentic way of the West, what Lewis in That Hideous Strength calls the Old West or the True West. It is the way of communion, community and reciprocity - the 'Way of Exchange' in Charles Williams's phrase - neither the atomised individualism of late modernity nor the clunky authoritarianism rampant now in Russia and China. It is the soul of the West - salvific, transformative, and revelatory - the Secret Fire that Ilúvatar flings forth into the void on the first day of creation to become the concealed, yet all-sustaining heart of Middle Earth.
Over the next twelve months, between now and next Easter, I intend to publish a monthly 3000 word essay on different writers who have engaged with these twin themes of the return of the King and the resacralisation of the West. Tolkien, Lewis and Williams will be there, as will Yeats, Valentin Tomberg, and more. These essays will not be book reviews or exercises in literary criticism. I will sift each text instead for its prophetic content and consider how it foreshadows either the advent of an Aragorn/Elessar figure or the return of Christ Himself. I will also be looking at Catholic prophecies on the 'Great Monarch' to come plus his Islamic equivalent, the 'Hidden Imam'. A YouTube channel to support this site is currently in development and I will let you know here when the first video is available.
If you can subscribe to this Substack, please do. It helps me gather momentum and create a bit of a buzz. If not, no worries. Thank you for being here and for reading. Thank you for your interest and support.
All the best and Vive le Roi!
Steven Underdown, Living in the Eighth Day: The Christian Week and the Paschal Mystery (Pickwick Publications, 2018), pp.236-238.
Martin Lings, Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions (Archetype, 2001), p.61.