Guest Post: The Allegory of Fantastic Beasts, 9 (MACUSA and the Founders)

FB 9Throughout the entire run of this now nine part series examining the potential allegory of Fantastic Beasts, I have operated under the assumption that J.K. Rowling isn’t just spinning an empty yarn, but is making a point about the historical connection of the United States to the alchemical aspect of Christian esoteric doctrine, what I call Mythopoeia (after Tolkien).  The idea may sound strange, because so far as Americans today are able to tell, there’s nothing remotely esoteric about any of their Founding Founders.  Even their religious allegiance is easily challenged in the public square.

This concluding post takes as its jumping off point that the founding members of the 1st Continental Congress were all devoutly religious as Christians and Deists and that they were believers of a particular stripe, namely, those steeped in a conscious knowledge of the alchemical Prisca Theologia tradition.  I further contend that it is part of J.K. Rowling’s intent to make us aware of this Framing awareness.  In order to grasp the full implications of this post, it helps to read its first part, which can be found here.

Even if the Founders were Christians, I hear you asking, how could they know anything about literary alchemy?  Besides, Mythopoeia was the word Tolkien coined for it, and he arrived two whole centuries too late.  The simplest and logical answer to the question is that Mythopoeia or Christian Hermeticism was the very background of the all the Founders’ growth, education, religious instruction, and upbringing.  Join me below the jump in putting several puzzle pieces together.

American Mythopoeia

In yesterday’s post a list was provided of all the classical-alchemic and Christian influences that were brought to the American continent by writers like Shakespeare and thinkers and immigrants like Locke, Smith, George Berkeley, and the French Huguenots.  To this several other points are relevant.

In his book The Founders and the Classics, Carl J. Richard points out:

The classical and the Christian heritage are…legacies which the founders interwove to form a unique cosmology (Richard, vii).

Esoteric scholar Neil Kamil is able to elaborate on Richard’s thesis by showing how the Founders utilized their knowledge of the Greco-Roman classics in their professional careers (Kamil, Fortress of the Soul, 186, 273-74).  Kamil also demonstrates that this early American pedagogic was inseparable from the Humane Letters of the Renaissance and their grounding in the Great Work of Paracelsus (ibid, et passim).  This influence was felt not just in America, but also in Britain through the work of Newton, Edmund Burke and Alexander Pope.  Agnes Sibley is able to demonstrate Pope’s influence on American philosophy.  In addition, Charles Taliaferro notes in Evidence and Faith:

In the British colonies, two of the most widely read authorities were Locke and Newton.  The Cambridge Platonists achieved a foothold through the writings of Henry More and the training of many Cambridge men who migrated to the colonies…H.G. Gates offers this overview: “A kind of…Platonism was the common possession of the colonial settlers (Taliaferro, 136).

This common possession was built up one migration at a time until it formed the very cultural atmosphere in which all the Founders and Continental Delegates lived and breathed.  It was so much a part of their lives that many of them probably absorbed in it before they could learn to talk.  The net result was that personalities like Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson grew up in an atmosphere that was much closer to Medieval England and Europe than might be expected by modern historians.

This isn’t to suggest that the Founders of Colonists were 18th century barbarians.  The whole point of America is that it was based on Renaissance belle letters.  This meant the educational system in practice was more or less guaranteed to instill the Humanist values fostered from the Shakespearian era.  This has unsuspected implications for the ideas that went into the creation of the United States.

Preserving the Discarded Image

Richard is correct when he refers to the classic and Christian influences on the Framers as a “cosmology”.  In fact he’s more correct than he knows.  In a sense, however, what the Founders could have said about their worldview is the same as made by G.K. Chesterton:

I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it.  God and humanity made it; and it made me (Chesterton, 14, web).

What the Founders were doing with the Nation was more about preservation than revolution.   Their concern was, in essence, the exact same as that of their Renaissance forefathers in the Virginia Council, along with their near contemporary George Berkeley.  At its core, the founding and revolution of America was about preserving the classical-medieval idea of the Great Chain of Being as expressed in the image of the Seven Heavens.  At least the Council could count on a more or less shared way of thinking about and seeing the world around them.  By Berkeley’s time, these beliefs were on the decline in Britain.  America was another story altogether.  There the old tiered structure of Being was still clung to even in the aftermath of the Puritan debacle.  In many ways, Colonial America and the delegates who later ratified it became the last stand for a more Sacramental view of reality; one that spoke in terms of Icons and Symbols (see Lazare’s The Frozen Republic for his criticism of the U. S. Constitution as being essentially an Elizabethan document of alchemical contraries, “checks and balances”).

Ellis Sandoz outlined the American Revolutionary view of reality in the best way possible:

For all the differences among them, American preachers of the eighteenth century premise an unsurprisingly biblical vision that includes a stratified, differentiated reality, an ontological Whole experienced as the community of being articulated into the familiar four-fold structure of God, man, world and society.  The human and divine are tensional polarities of this reality, the one unintelligible without the other.

Prevalent American ontology reflects the familiar biblical image of Creator and cre­ation, of fallen and sinful men, striving willy-nilly in a mysteriously ordered his­torical existence toward a personal salva­tion and an eschatological fulfillment.

A recent student has echoed Tocqueville in dubbing America the nation with the soul of a church. Another has elevated the political sermon considered as jeremiad to the rank of primary symbolic form of the American mind. Yet another has exclaimed of the Americans on the eve of the Revolution, “Who can deny that for them the very core of existence was their relation to God” (Sandoz, web).

Jerusalem: Ending at the Beginning

In the last resort, it isn’t even a question or politics, or who’s left and who’s right.  Perhaps it never really was in the end.  What it all comes down to is a simple frame of mind; a particular way of viewing the world.

In the first part of this post I claimed that religion properly begins with the recognition of an Order to reality, and of an Authority responsible for that order.  The idea isn’t my own.  It belongs to philosopher Eric Voegelin who summed it up in the maxim, “The Order of History emerges from the history of order (web).”

It seems to have been first Judaism and then the Apostles who were given a clear Idea (Eidos) of this Order.  It is the recognition of, and the desire to participate in the cosmic Order that make up the history of man’s dealing with God.

They saw the Cosmos as an interconnected series of Icons given by God to demonstrate His desire for order in the soul.  The best way for man to achieve this order was to participate in this Cosmos.  Through the years many men have come up for different words to describe the Divine Order of the universe.  Charles Williams and St. Augustine both called it De Citivus Dei.  Personally, I like how sometimes both Jews and Christians used to refer to life as God’s Temple.  It conveys both the perfect description of what life is, along with a sense of how man is to relate to it.

It’s an idea that was able to survive long enough to influence the Birth of America.  Apparently this worldview used to be common knowledge not only among people like Washington or John Adams, but also among the Colonial citizens as well.  It begs the question of how we ever lost it as a Nation in the first place.  Either way, I’d like to suggest that by penning Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them that J.K. Rowling is aware of this forgotten National Heritage, and that she seeks to remind all the seekers in the audience of what got left behind.

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts in the comment boxes!

[Further background information related to this subject can be found in the writings of M.E. Bradford, Forrest McDonald, Russell Kirk, and in particular Ellis Sandoz.]

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