Cormac Jones: The Cosmic Chiasmus

An Orthodox Christian man in Texas with whom I correspond sent me a link to Cormac Jones’ ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus’ yesterday. His note did not include anything except the url and he really didn’t need to explain why he thought of me while reading Jones’ wonderful article. My friend has heard me speak both at his parish, St Maximos Orthodox Church in Denton (‘Everything I Need to Know I Learned from St Maximos the Confessor’) and at a Classical Christian school in Dallas about ring composition and the symbolism of the cross. Jones’ ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus‘ turns on theological points made by St Maximus and the chiastic narrative structure of Christian scripture and Orthodox liturgics and iconography.

I differ with Jones on several points, as you might expect, given my sad self-importance and preoccupation with these subjects for more than ten years. Having written my MFA thesis on the relation of ring writing and literary alchemy, a subject expanded on in my PhD thesis, I was disappointed with Jones’ choice of Maximian references (specifically, his neglect of more pertinent ones and the translation of the passage he leans on most heavily with respect to logos), his framing of the question (his focus is exclusively Christian rather than universal), his relatively pedantic and academic posture (there’s little in the piece’s presentation of the parabolic quality he celebrates), and in the experts on inclusio and symbolism he cites as authority, all of whom are excellent but which list of sources does not include Mary Douglas, John Welsh, or Rene Guenon.

Writing up a detailed review of these differences might be of some interest to Jones and satisfying to me, I suppose, but to few others. Unfortunately, such a critique would also necessarily obscure the importance of ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus‘ especially for Christian students of the Bible and iconography and the symbolism in each. Worse, my focusing on my points of difference with Jones’ approach and choices he makes would be read incorrectly as a suggestion that I am not wonderfully excited by this article and that I do not hope it receives the widest possible audience. That would be the worst possible misunderstanding and take-away. I beg readers interested in understanding Rowling better, especially why they enjoy her novels more than those of other writers, to read Jones’ piece, regardless of their religious beliefs.

As readers here know, I hope, I think the writing of J. K. Rowling is as popular as it is because of her integration of three traditional elements in her stories, from the relatively short and sweet stand-alone Christmas Pig to the epic Strike series in progress. She is writing psychomachian allegory of the soul’s journey to perfection in Spirit, exteriorized presentations of the inner spiritual transformation of every human person, allegories she suffuses with alchemical symbolism of repentance, purification, and apotheosis as resurrection, all of which she gives a signature chiastic or ring structure. How this allegory, symbolism, and narrative scaffolding work together to foster and advance the transformation of a reader’s vision through the imagination I think is best understood through the critical lens of Coleridgean and Patristic logos epistemology and soteriology.

Jones’ article, as you’d expect, makes no references to popular culture or contemporary fiction. What ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus‘ does, though, is, in the context of explaining the symbolism of the Cross in chiastic narrative as it does for a specifically Judeo-Christian audience, is attempt to explain the universal power of this kind of writing on the human soul. Though we differ on particular points that are more and less important, Jones ‘gets’ and brilliantly presents the ‘so what?’ I have tried to say for the last twenty years about why Rowling’s work affects readers the way it does.

All of which is to say I recommend ‘The Cosmic Chiasmus‘ to readers here with all enthusiasm and without reservation. The article fails to say all things to everybody as any discursive argument must, but what it does say about the centrality of understanding chiasmus and its attendant symbolism for living a proper human life is invaluable, even essential. I urge you to set aside an hour as soon as you can to dive into this piece’s depths and reflect on its applications in your inner and outer orientation with respect to God, man, and the world, your logos inner essence and its relation to the Logos fabric of reality.

Many thanks to my friend in Texas for sharing the link to this wonderful article and to Jones for writing it!

Ink Black Heart and Deathly Hallows: The Heart is Not About Emotions and Affection but the Human Spiritual Center

I have two quick points to make tonight about Rowling’s use of the word “heart.”

First, she revealed in Deathly Hallows that the heart is not about emotions and relationships per se but the human spiritual center. In Hallows, the critical moments in the transformation of Ron Weasley and Harry Potter are described with repeated references to their hearts and the light and darkness within and around them. More than Half-Blood Prince or the ‘Hairy Heart’ in Beedle the Bard, this is where we find the clearest references to what it means to have an ‘Ink Black Heart’ and how to overcome it.

Second, this use of the heart as the home of the noetic faculty or ‘Spirit’ is in keeping with traditional teaching across the great revelations, especially Christianity, though a great departure from prevalent Valentine’s Day sentiments about the heart as the metaphorical home for affection and emotion. Harry and Ron’s illumined hearts after their time in inky blackness in Deathly Hallows are signs of their enlightenment and self-transcendence, not emotional or affectionate accomplishment.

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Mercury Markers, History and Theory

In my last post I went over the story of my read-through of Ink Black Heart. I focused on my claim that each of theStrike books has had its primary villain secretly indicated by a hidden reference to various Hermes-related figures, what may alliteratively be called “Mercury Markers”. This, aside from its predictive value, seems to be, on the face of it, a very strange thing to expect an author to do. I wish to make the claim that a move of this type is common for any author like Rowling who writes within Hermetic or Alchemical traditions. The central motif of the Hermetic tradition is this: a hidden word or sign, that will make itself readily apparent only to the “initiated” who have been informed to expect the word or sign, brightly highlights a Deeply Important Something that is going on “behind the scenes.” Below, I plan to track the main places I see similar effects being used and provide a more detailed account of where I see this being used in the Strike novels.

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Encanto: Soul Triptych Magic

Disney’s animated films are known for being enchanting. Whether we are taken deep into the forest to the castle of a Beast or swept off to the glorious savannahs of Africa, these films can take audiences somewhere, somewhen that is magical. In its sixtieth animated feature, Encanto, Disney again brings the enchantment, like the title indicates, as it presents the story of a non-magical girl trying to help and heal her magical family. Like a squib in a house of wizards, Maribel Madrigal is unable to communicate with animals, lift buildings, or control the weather (all abilities her family members possess), but she comes to understand that families and love are not about those kinds of gifts. In part, since the story is set in Columbia, the film relies beautifully on the tradition of magical realism. However, it also relies nicely on a very specific literary structure that we have often visited here: the soul triptych. Join me after the break for a look at the way in which the number three (and twelve), along with a familiar triune structure helps Encanto weave its spell. And yes, we will talk about Bruno!

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“For the Straightforward Path Was Lost”: A Few Starting Notes on The Christmas Pig

To get discussion started on The Christmas Pig, I thought I would post some thoughts, aligned with a few of our keys to interpretation, that I was left with after my first read through. Or, rather, first listen through. The audiobook proved really quite wonderful, with excellent cast and sound design. On any of these points below, consequently, much more can be said. These points are also not in any particular order as they are something of a collection of first impressions. The discussion below will not be spoiler free.
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