Numinous Foundations of Human Culture

High Acre - A Painting by Richard Moult
The Numinous Foundations of Human Culture

In your recently published autobiography, Myngath, you wrote that, and I quote – “a shared, a loyal, love between two people is the most beautiful, the most numinous, the most valuable thing of all.” Is that how you now feel about life?

Certainly. I have now reached the age when there seems to be a natural tendency to reflect on the past – to recall to one’s consciousness happy, treasured, moments from decades past, bringing as such recollections seem to do some understanding of what is important, precious, about life, about our mortal human existence.

One remembers – for instance – those tender moments of one’s child growing in the first years of their life – the moment of first walking, the first words, the time they feel asleep in your arms on that day when warm Sun and their joyful discovery of sand and sea finally wore them out… Or the tender moments of a love, shared, with another human being; perhaps evoked again by some scent (of a flower, perhaps) or by those not quite dreaming-moments before one falls asleep at night, or, as sometimes occurs with people of my age, in the afternoon after lunch or following that extra glass of wine to which we treat ourselves.

It is as if – and if we allow ourselves – we become almost as children again, but with the memories, the ability, to appreciate the time, the effort, the love, the tenderness, and often the sacrifice, that our own parents showed and gave to us but which we never really appreciated then in those moments of their giving. As if we wish we could be back there, then, with this our ageful understanding – back there, full of youth and unhampered by the ageing body which now seems to so constrain us. Thus, are we as if that, this, is all we are or have to give: this, our understanding, our now poignant understanding; this – perhaps a smile, a gesture, a look, a word, or those tears we might cry, silently, softy, when we are alone, remembering. Tears of both sadness and of joy; of memories and of hopes. Hopes that someone, somewhere, at some time, might by our remembering be infused, if only a little, with that purity of life which such ageing recollections seem to so exquisitely capture.

That purity which becomes so expressed, so manifest, if one watches – for example – a young loving mother cradling her baby. Look at her eyes, her face, the way she holds her hands. There is such a gentle love there; such a gentle love that artists should really try and capture again and again in music, in painting, in moving images, in words, in sculpture. And capture again and again so that their Art reminds us of that so very human quality, that so very fragile quality, which enables us – each, another separate human being – to be so gently aware of another person, and thus able for ourselves, if only for an instant, to feel that gentleness, that tenderness, in another. This tenderness, this love, should be captured and expressed again and again because such love is one of the foundations of human culture, and something we so often, especially we men, are so prone to forget when we allow ourselves to become subsumed with some abstraction, some idealistic notion of duty, or some personal often selfish emotion.

Thus are we reminded of the value, the importance, of human love, and the need for us to be empathic beings – to have and to develope our empathy so that we can shed our selfish self and the illusion of our separateness.

That sounds very much like some old hippy talking – preaching love and gentleness. But don’t you still uphold honour and surely that itself might sometimes require the use of force, of violence? Surely there is a contradiction, here – between such tenderness, such love, and such force?

Personally, I think there is no contradiction, only a natural human balance. One prefers love, gentleness, empathy, but one is prepared, if necessary, to defend one’s self and one’s loved ones from those who might act in a selfish, dishonourable, harmful, violent, way toward us in some personal situation.

This nature balance – an innate nobility – is possessed by many human beings, and has been, for millennia; which is why some people just naturally have a sense of fair-play and would instinctively “do the right thing” in some situations, for example if they saw two men (or even one man) battering a women in a public place or if they came across a group of yobs taunting an elderly disabled man. And it is this natural balance, this notion of fairness, which is another of the numinous foundations of human culture.

Thus, it is that, according to my understanding, it is personal love – with all its tenderness – combined with fairness, a sense of personal honour, and with the ability to empathize with other human beings, that are not only numinous, but which also express our culture, our social nature, and are the things we should value, treasure, and seek to develope within ourselves.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that our predilection for manufacturing and believing in abstractions has, over millennia, and especially in the past hundred or more years, detracted from these three noble virtues of personal love, personal honour, and empathy, and instead led to the manufacture of new types of living where some abstraction or other is the goal, rather than such virtues.

My own life – until quite recently – is an example of how a person can foolishly and unethically place abstractions before such virtues and thus cause suffering in others, and for themselves.

One reviewer of your autobiography wrote of it as a modern allegory; a story of personal redemption, but without God. Would you agree?

With my four-decade long love of abstractions I certainly seem to have been a good example of human stupidity and arrogance; of someone obsessed with ideas, and ideals, for whom love and personal happiness came second, at best. Someone who arrogantly, sometimes even fanatically, believed they were “doing the right thing” and who found or who made excuses for the suffering, both personal and impersonal, that he caused.

Even worse, perhaps, was that there were many times in my life when I understood this, instinctively, emotionally, and consciously, but I always ended up ignoring such understanding – at least until recently. So, in effect, that makes me a worse offender than many others.

So, yes – perhaps my life is one such allegory; one story of how a human being can return to the foundations of human culture, and thus embrace the numinous virtue of compassion, of ceasing to intentionally cause suffering, of considering that a shared and loyal love between two human beings is the most beautiful, the most precious, the most numinous, thing of all.

But without a religious dimension? That, surely, is the key here, and what makes your story so very interesting?

Certainly, a kind of redemption without a belief in conventional religion. But that is only my own personal conclusion, my own personal Way, which therefore does not necessarily mean it is correct. It is only my own Numinous Way, deriving from my own pathei-mathos, founded on empathy, compassion, honour, and where there is no need for some supreme deity, or some theology, or even for some belief in something supra-personal. Instead, I feel there is a human dimension here – a natural return to valuing human beings, born of empathy. That is, that what is important is a close, a personal and empathic, interaction between human beings, and a living in a compassionate and honourable way – rather than a religious approach, with prayer, with rituals, with notions of sin, of redemption by some some supra-personal deity, or some belief in some after-life and which after-life is ours if we behave in the particular ways that some religion or some Sage or teacher or prophet prescribes or describes.

Without, in particular, any texts or impersonal guidance or revelation – since we have all the guidance we need, or can have all the guidance we need, because of and with and through empathy; by means of developing empathy, and so feeling as others feel. Thus, we lose that egocentric – that selfish, self-contained – view of ourselves, and instead view, and importantly feel, ourselves as connected to, part of, other human life, other beings; we know, we feel, we understand, that they are us and that we are them, and that it is only the illusion of the self, the abstraction of the self, that keeps us from this knowing, this feeling, this understanding of ourselves as a nexion to all other Life.

Thus, there is – or seems to me to be – a natural simplicity here in this Way of Empathy, Compassion, and Honour: a child learning and maturing, to perchance develope into another type of human being who might perchance with others develope new, more loving, more empathic, more balanced, ways of social living, and thus a new type or species of human culture where abstractions no longer hold people in thrall.

Is this – in enabling this new culture – where you think artists have an important rôle to play?

Yes, artists and artisans as pioneers of a new type of human culture – artists and artisans of the Numinous who can presence, and thus express, in their works those things which can inspire us to be human, to be more human, and to value the numinous virtues of empathy, compassion, personal love, and personal honour.

 

David Myatt
2010 CE

Source – http://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/numinous-foundations-of-human-culture/

See also –  Myatt: The Culture of Arete


 

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