Teachings from Thomas.

The Gospel of Thomas was buried in the desert at Nag Hammadi along with other sacred texts by gnostic monks fleeing persecution. They were hidden for safekeeping, in the hope that someone of their number would survive the wrath of powers already Orthodox and Deadly by the fifth century;  not averse to giving any-one they didn’t like the chop.

None returned, though the books themselves…

”lay unmolested until such a time as the established Churches lost the power to be able to subdue them.”  H. MacGregor Ross.

They were discovered ‘accidentally’ by someone who thought to himself, in all the vastness of the unforgiving desert, that this particularly parched and arid spot looked like a perfect place to do a bit of a recreational digging…

in 45* of desert heat.

Curiously the book itself is about persecution, the persecution of ourselves and how this leads to our treatment of one another. It also tells us quite explicitly how to resolve this….

and it doesn’t involve being good.

which is why the church wanted to get their hands on it.

These undisturbed ‘logia’, straight from the mouth of the Master, are undoctored by millenia of fiddling kings. And they record, in typical Gnostic style, just how entirely dismissive he was of the Establishment.

”Grapes are not harvested from thorn trees, nor are figs gathered from thistles.” logia 45

sometimes he’s a bit less polite..

”for they are like dogs in the manger for neither does he eat nor does he allow the oxen to eat.” logia 102

and sometimes, plain insurrectionist..

”I will overturn this house… logia 71.

But what really made the Church at the time want to kill him and the Church that then bore his name to twist the story into such a butchered parody, is what he has to say about sin and redemption, the mere thought of which would quickly have had him roasting over an Inquisitional fire had they been around at the time.

He doesn’t even want us to be sorry..

”Do not lie and do not do what you hate.” logia 6.

His philosophy (philo-Sophia) is not about imposed morality, or sanctioning behaviour, or codified law. Be square with yourself and with the Image, the Other, within.

At-one-ment, right now.

and so buying your way into a future heaven on the basis of good behaviour becomes laughably like prisoners applying for parole..

‘If those who guide your Being say to you, ‘behold, the Kingdom is in the heavens, then the birds of the sky will precede you.’ logia 3

no-where to go, nothing to do…

”The Kingdom is in your centre, and it is about you.’ logia 3 

It turns out that redemption is not only available without having to weigh your sins in the balance or having to go to church on Sunday. It is actually more a matter of fulfilling your own destiny, of living out your undivided potential, whatever it is..

”If you bring out what is inside you, what is inside you will save you. If you do not bring out what is inside you, what is inside you will kill you.’ logia 70

Sin is then the failure to become oneself,

They said to him ‘let us pray today and let us fast!’  Jesus said, ‘what is the sin that I have committed or in what have I been overcome? When the bridegroom comes forth from the bridegrooms chamber, then let them fast and let them pray’. logia 104

According to the uncensored Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is attained by resolving inner dividedness…

”If two make peace with each other in this single house they will say to the mountain ‘move’ and it shall move. logia 48

There is no gaining of favour, no propitiation, no sacrifice, no prayer, no offering, no special diet, since this in itself already creates a world of divisions between one thing and another and therefor misses the point. Rather we have to turn to the Image within, unmediated by any prejudice or external opinion and try to digest its import without being swallowed up in turn.

”Happy is the lion which the man will eat… and abominated is the man whom the lion will eat.” logia 7

This means that we must take everything as it comes and experience our circumstances as independant of  salvation. To favour one set of circumstances over another is just to go back into division. So when someone from the crowd shouts out to him..

”fortunate is the womb that bore you and the breasts that suckled you…”

he replies..

”There will be days when you say fortunate is the womb that did not conceive.’ logia 79

Jesus is pointing to what alchemists centuries later would call Unus Mundus, One World, a coniunctio oppositorium, the collapse of Division in on itself from contradiction into paradox, atonement but with a hint of death since the experience of the Image within is always deflating, crucifying.

”A death blow is a life blow to some, who till they died did not alive become. Who , had they lived did most surely die, but when they died – vitality began.” Emily Dickinson.

The death blow is the bloodied nose of ego realising it isn’t king of its own castle but it is also the end of division, of alienation from Self and others.

Its as if we are three and bickering when suddenly a competent adult steps into the room and calmly takes charge. And that person is you.

Division on a collective scale is at its most evident in our war-mongering but there is an aspect of modern atrocity that deserves special mention. The body counts and broken buildings are all too evident and its that which catches our attention. Less obvious but at the core of Western alienation is that we just don’t care.

Descendants of the survivors of the the Armenian holocaust, a genocide of 1.5 million people just a century ago, all say that preventing this terrible catastrophe from slipping into historical obscurity is a full time job. No-one wants to know. There are only 22 nations that acknowledge it even happened. The US is not among them.

So why all the denial?

You would think that given that the Armenians were Christians savagely killed by Muslim extremists that Western allies were at war with at the time, would be all the excuse needed to impliment, forever, the overt foreign policy of unashamed war profiteering our civilisation covertly enjoys.

But the true horror of this  genocide was in the silence that accompanied it.

No-one went to help them. We didn’t care enough to intervene. And that’s why no-one talks about it. Because its a massive blot on our collective conscience. To think that one and a half million lives came second to diplomatic manouvering that resulted in European powers actively voting against intervention on behalf of the Armenians, out of the concern that it would increase Russia’s influence in the region is just appalling. It’s inhuman.

‘…abominated is the man whom the lion will eat.” logia 7

Psychologically, when we split ourselves in order to identify with one polished corner of the p;syche we are bound to see our demons out in the world that then gives us riteous leave to regress, to do as we please, or to do nothing.

Consumers become the consumed..

And so we can suck our teeth and say isn’t it terrible what we failed to do a hundred years ago. Weren’t our forebears awful? Feeling all pimped for our piety forgetting that right now exactly the same thing is going on in Yemen. An entire people are being starved to death by Western backed blockades and arms deals.

It’s allowed.


Because folk are too divided to care..

‘On the day you were One you created the two, but then being two, what will you do?’ logia 11.

The divisions are endless, race, creed, dogma. But they’re inner divisions too, from our own shadows, from the inner image, from the mediation of the Divine Feminine.

‘for my mother has begotten me, but my true Mother gave me life.’ logia 101

and so whilst its true that we have to  stomach for just how much inner division and lethargy actually exists, so too does it seem to be the inevitable consequence of a culture that is not simply plagued with the unbridgeable tif between Yahweh and Lucifer, nor even the ugly divorce scene between Him and..




..but that the split within his own psyche between Old and New Testament is diagnostically scary because Gods, like people, tend to regress when they are under pressure. And Yahweh is not a pretty sight when he’s in his terrible twos.

What can we do?

Name what is going on.

‘happy is the man who knows when and where robbers will creep in, so that he will arise and gather strength and prepare for action before they come.’ logia 103

M. L. von Franz gives the example of telling herself that the book she was writing was a load of rubbish and should be abandoned. After some while she realised that she didn’t think that at all, but that something very persuasive, yet hidden inside her, really did.

When your robber arrives sit him down and ask him what he wants. Remember to be polite.

The White Snake.

Once upon a time there lived a king who seemed terribly wise. Nothing happened that he did not know about. It was as though he heard all the news of the land in the wind.

This king had a strange custom. Every evening a secret dish would be bought to him at dinner that no-one could see him eat. Even his trusted servant didn’t know what it was though one night he could not contain his curiosity. He took the covered remains of the dish to his room and had a peek. The dish was a white snake which the king had only nibbled at.

The now not-so-faithful servant took a nibble himself and suddenly he heard a great chattering outside his window. Two sparrows were in great discussion of all the things they had seen in the woods and fields. He could understand every word. The morsel of white snake had given him the power to understand the language of animals.

On that very same day the queen lost her ring. The poor servant was the first to come under suspicion and was compelled either to produce the thief or be executed. He went down into the courtyard in despair and while he wondered what on earth to do he everheard two ducks having some conversation..

‘Oh my stomach feels rough,’ said the one, ‘I guzzled up the queen’s ring by mistake after she dropped it into the moat from her window.’

Immediatly the servant grabbed the duck and took it to Cook who served it to the queen and the ring was discovered. The servant was offered a great reward but settled for a horse and some provisions to go a-wandering.

One day he saw three fishes stuck in reeds at the bank of a river. Feeling their plight and hearing their distress he freed them. ‘We will remember and repay you,’ they said.

Further on he heard a tiny voice complaining at the horse’s heavy feet and looked down to see the Ant King lamenting his people being crushed. So the servant moved his horse to the side of the road. ‘We will remember and repay you,’ said the Ant King.

Further still he came across three raven chicks that had been rejected from the nest. Their hungry crying was so piteous that he killed his horse and fed it to them.

‘We will remember and repay you,’ they said.

Now he had to use his own legs and eventually arrived at the walls of a great city where he heard it announced that the Princess there would marry whoever could perform a task of great difficulty devised by her father, the king. The servant immediatley volunteered though his heart sank when he saw that the task was, to fetch up a gold coin thrown into the sea. He sat on the shore lamenting when suddenly the three fishes he’d saved showed their heads.

‘We said we’d help you,’ they said and spat the coin onto the shingle.

But the princess wasn’t happy. She spread eight bushels of millet over a field and demanded he collect them all up by dawn. The servant despaired over the impossibility of it all and just waited for dawn and death, but when the dawn came the job was done.

‘We said we’d help you,’ said Ant King.

The Princess was impressed but not enough to stop wanting to kill him. She gave him one final and ridiculously impossible task, to fetch an apple from the Tree of Life at the End-of-the-World.

Our languishing servant sets off and wanders through three kingdoms looking for the Tree as best he could but to no avail. Eventually he collapses, exhausted, by a stream and settles down to sleep. He hears a rustling in the branches and a golden apple falls into his hands. Three ravens fluttered down..

‘We said we’d help you,’ they said.

He takes the apple to the princess and they both take a bite….

It’s said that curiosity killed the cat because curiosity initiates us across a threshold that means the end of an old way of life. The servant’s mouthful of White Snake is more than the betrayal of his lord. It is the betrayal of his own set role in life and the disruption necessary to growing up.

Moreover the White Snake has powers. The capacity to understand the language of animals is symbolic of the hero being able to ‘hear’ the impulses, the intuitions and the wisdom of his own deep Psyche. It is the moment when you realise you are not master/mistress of your own house.

My analytic grandmother, M L von Franz tells the story of a dream which constituted her first encounter with the objective Psyche, the Other, so impactful that she curled her knees under her chin and stayed in bed all day.

Such an encounter with the Unconscious is life changing. Outwardly it is often by virtue of dubious others who are bound to enviously attack the person who has  found something seemingly unique to himself. The servant is accused of taking the queen’s ring, a motif rooted in Adam and Eve’s theft of the awakening apple.

In a sense the accusation that one must have found such good fortune by illicit means is justified, since advances in consciousness are to the cost of herd membership and its filial obligations, not to mention the gauntlet thrown at their feet. Individuation and folk going their own way depletes the collective storehouse and challenges collective hegemony.

not a popular choice.

”Every step towards greater consciousness creates a kind of Promethean guilt. Through self knowledge the Gods are robbed of their fire. The one who has ‘stolen’ the knowledge becomes alienated from others…” D Sharp.

Despite proving his innocence the servant still has to leave and, like Parsifal, goes wandering the world.

He is bound to feel be-wildered and disoriented as he sets out on his journey. Not only has he undergone a Copernican revolution of consciousness but his values have also changed. The Principle of Relatedness which has been awoken in him cannot endure the cries of the poor Fish trapped in the reeds. He has to do something. Increases in consciousness do more than constitute the capacity to ‘hear’, they also demand that we take action in line with what we know.

The vignettes about the Fish, the Ants and the Ravens all have this quality of relatedness to them, of carefully paying attention to the contents of the unconscious. The episode with the ravens adds something further. He sacrifices his horse to feed them. He gives up his own resources in a seemingly counter-intuitive way, he relinquishes an attitude that brings him down from his ”high horse”.

The scene of the Ant King and his thousands of subjects collecting up the millet seed is reminiscent of and has its roots in the story of Eros and Psyche who is tasked by Hera to separate out thousands of seeds by morning.

”there is still something which can rescue one. The unconscious is not only chaos but also order…’ ML von Franz.

Speaking of the role played by the ants as agents of the Self in the story of Psyche and Eros, von Franz says..

”The ants have mysterious unexplored qualities, they just collaborate.” ibid

but only in the wake of a brush with death.

Though he wanders and searches the three kingdoms the Apple cannot be found. The philosopher’s Stone only appears Deo concedente, by the will of the Gods, once we have well and truly exhausted the project of being author of our own meaning.

The gift of the Ravens is a kind of Mana, the experience of a redeeming intervention. Something Unknown is doing I don’t know what. Victor Frankl tells the story of a dying girl in Auschwitz who, in the moments before her death, gave thanks for the tree she could see out of the window.

The Prince and Princess eat the Apple. The gifts of the Unconscious have to be embodied. They have to be both experienced and then expressed in some way in the world.

‘When you have a big dream you have to tell it to the People. Black Elk.

A big dream of my own was that I was backpacking in a forest with friends. Bit by bit we lost our way. Then we began to lose each other. The group shrank. Then i started to lose my stuff. My boots were gone. I lost my pack somewhere, then my bearings. I was alone and naked and stumbling about in the dark.

Then there was sound ahead, beating drums, a glow in the forest, drums and dancing, wild frenzied dancing and in the middle a great pillar covered with vines and grapes the size of plums which all shook down. A great voice said, ‘Eat, so you may enter the kingdom of Heaven and live forever.’ Then I realised that the pillar was a finger and the voice came from the mouth of that to whom the finger belonged.

So getting lost is not just inevitable. It is required. The servant has to wander the three kingdoms. We do way too much to combat stress. We constue it negatively rather than seeing it as grist to the mill, part and parcel of the three kingdom’s rich tapestry. When did you ever grow when life was easy?

Once in a while I remind myself that dreams do not simply ‘mean’ something. They are help.

”We said we’d help you”, they said.

Like the Ants they work at night, ordering, gathering, suffusing us with meaning.

The belief that the Psyche is whatever we know of it is the deathknell of aliveness. Knowing you don’t have the answers…

and perhaps not even the right questions,

and that much of life is supposed to be a mystery, is precisely what evokes wonder and appreciation. You’ve gotten sufficiently out of your own way to make space for that which is looking for you, while you have been so busy looking for it.




The Sin Eater.

Whether its Vampires, Frankenstein’s Monster or the Walking Dead, Modernity has a fascination with those who manage to negotiate the razor’s edge of what should be a pretty clear divide between sending out for pizza and dialing 911.

The confusion is then complicated by the question of which realm we are headed towards once the issue of whether we are sufficiently dead to qualify has been adequately settled.

Trying to exert influence over this might seem like a waste of time given the amount of life’s unheeded prayers, but up until the Industrial Revolution it was not uncommon for those at Death’s door, either side of it was good, to employ a ‘Sin-eater’ in order to swing the odds.

The Sin-eater, a person otherwise shunned by the community and living at its fringes, was tasked with taking on the sins of the departed/ing in order to facilitate their passage to a better place. This they did by ritually eating special bread over the corpse/to-be, and washing down their wickednesses with milk or cider.

Tradition dictated that a fee of sixpence also be levied. Even Sin-eaters have to live..

..for now.

The sin-eater represents something for which we seem to have no contemporary equivalent, the collision of love and hate that wishes the departed/ing safe passage whilst admitting the need to bus in a little extra help.

Dining on damnation had to be the world’s worst freelance gig; but the important thing is that the practice spoke to an implicit consensus that a person’s soul is not as discreet an entity as we might like to think.

We live in a soup of psychic material that can make it difficult to determine who’s ‘stuff’ belongs to who before the veil is even lifted, assuming that whatever we are suffering from must be the product of our own experience.

‘It is unsettling to imagine experiencing feelings and thinking
thoughts that are in an important sense, not one’s own.’ [Ogden

It nevertheless remains that in early life, and for those who remain there too long, the contents of our inner world are readily..

‘engendered in and processed by another. . . thereby relieving the self of the effects of containing them.’[ibid]

A man came to see me complaining of depression. He seemed more henpecked than depressed. It turned out his wife had sent him to see me and left him on the same day. It was too co­incidental. She had offloaded something on this man and then fled the scene to her new life.

I enquired about the ‘depression’. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘my wife told me it was depression and she is usually right about these things’. ‘What about the wife’s depression?’, I asked. He seemed surprised, ‘well, she used to be depressed when I first met her but she is much better now.’ I suggested to him that this might be because he was now carrying it for her.

He was not depressed but he was easily loaded down. We could meet to speak about that if he wished. He perked up. Next week he told me that when he got home there was a message from her on the answer phone, left at the time of our session, to say that she had suddenly felt overwhelmed with depression and desperately needed to talk to him! His house cleaning had immediately returned her chickens to roost.

Psychic material can be traded. Even Jesus dying for your sins is the first line in an arrangement that will involve crippling remorse and loads of being sorry..

‘Christian children all must be mild obedient good as he..’

People making amends for one another’s sins is as old as the hills. We fear its evil twin Contamination just as much, and with good cause, as any afternoon visit to the asylum will happily confirm.

madness is contagious.

and if you work in the place you will quickly be accosted by your own delusions of grandeur.

Karen Horney says that children deal with trauma in one of three ways, by either going Towards, Away or Against the object of their suffering. Those who chose to go ‘towards’ are often highly empathic in adult life. They are the backbone of the caring profession, teaching, public service.

But they are also prone to contagion by parental/collective ideals, undigested by anyone else in the family, that they carry or live out for Others as one of life’s crosses or as fate, but whose? The willingness to please can mean being a host to unbridled parental demons that have a way of sucking the life out of you.

Sometimes it can kill.

I spent three tours of duty subjugating already impoverished people and getting shot at before I realised I was high on something that had nothing to do with me. It had to do with a father who’s son was to be maryred for his country according to some hidden narrative. I was a bit player in an ancient drama. My death was so assured in his scripted mind, his debt to God so complete in its payment, that he even sold my stuff.

The adaptive child does not stop at being good. They are compelled to collude with unspoken parental expectations that the child live out a certain ideal, quite often something the parent has not managed to do for themselves and so needs to acheive by proxy.

What can develop is the riteous stance of having fulfilled a host of obligations fueled by the simmering fury of never having been truly seen or witnessed…

wiv croutons of centralised power and palling up to the gods..

Somehow whatever system seems to be in power it always winds up with autocrats playing god. Turkey has just voted to put all its powers in the hands of one man, having fought for centuries to escape the grip of autocracy. Within a generation of liberty, equality, fraternity, France had an emperor.  How does it happen?

It happens because that’s the way we like it. Rulers who think they are God are our style. It means that we can do it too.

The danger is that if you give a narcissist an army he will be obligated to pick a quarrel with his neighbours, with anyone…and not just for the adrenalin, the sure sense of purpose so necessary to inner chaos, nor even the kudos or the booty, the noble regime change nor base rape and pillage, not even the laurels of victory themselves but for the sake of being the right hand of God.

The possibility that identities can overlap helps us to understand why we put people into power who are bound to abuse it, since what we suffer at their hands is outweighed by permission to take example from them, to identify with them and play God in our own small way.

Watching Kim jong Un’s parade last week I realised that what so scared me about the tyrant was that his face beemed with spontaneous joy at what his heart knew was entirely orchestrated, by him.

Thousands of people moved like chess pieces but made to seem as though they had just spilled onto the pavement from the 9.05 to Pyongyang, all carefully wearing slightly different suits and the occasional shirt sleeve to create the illusion of a spontaneous and prosperous people all exuberant for the great leader, thronging through town, though also all in rows and waving like they had been taught it by a drill instructor.

Kim had created a reality so perfect in its conception that he was taken in by it himself. Isn’t that what God does? The people, all in mystical colour coded union with one another, individual trials and tribulations washed away by identification with the Great Leader who binds them to the Gods whilst propitaiting and gaining protection from them on the People’s behalf.

And yes, of course, the people are oppressed, but you have to wonder, given that whether its Mao in Communist China, Hitler in Fascist Germany or Stalin in Socialist Russia, the similarities seem greater than their differences. Which suggests an X in Humanity’s meaning-of-life equation…

until you recall that playing God is encouraged by the glorious leader and that sins can be traded.

provided you have the coin.







The Valiant Tailor.

Some fairytales don’t end too well. They are the ones coughed up by the collective psyche as warnings cast about the forest floor… though, like hairballs on shagpile, you may not recognise them at the time. Take the charming and seemingly innocuous story of  ‘The Valiant Little Tailor’, who..

once upon a time..

bought some jam from a peasant woman, though so little she went off grumbling. ‘Now this Jam shall be blessed by God,’ cried the little tailor, ‘and give me health and strength’.

Before he could take a bite however, the many flies about congregated on his sandwich. He struck out at them and when the dust and jam had settled, seven flies lay dead.

‘Are you a fellow of that sort? he asked himself, and could not help admiring his own bravery. ‘The whole town, no, the whole world shall hear of this..’ And he stitched a girdle for himself embroidered with the letters, ‘Seven at one stroke’, and went forth into the world, now that his workshop was too small for his valor.

On his way out the door he pocketed a piece of cheese and a bird caught in a thicket.

At the top of a mountain the tailor comes across a giant looking peacefully about. Interrupting the giant’s meditation, the tailor shows him the belt saying, ‘look there and read so you may see what manner of man I am.’ The giant was quite impressed but picked up a stone and squeezed it till water ran out. ‘Can you do that?’ he asked.

The tailor took the cheese from his napsack and squezzed till liquid ran out. ‘There.’ The giant was doubly impressed. He picked up another stone and threw it so far it hit him on the back of his own head but the tailor scoffed and said he could throw a stone so high it would never come down and released the bird who duly flew off never to return.

‘Well, you sure can throw said the giant, let’s see you lift. Here, help me carry this mighty oak out of the forest.

‘Delighted,’ said the tailor, and leapt up into the branches whilst the giant had to carry the whole thing.

Always following ‘his own pointy nose’, to quote Grimm, the tailor then arrives in the grounds of a royal palace and falls asleep on the grass. People come from all sides and read the girdle. They run to tell the king who invites him to be his counsellor. The castle guard are afraid of the tailor least they all be killed by such a mighty warrior and ask to be released from service. By now the king is scared as well and sends the tailor to deal with two unruly giants hoping he won’t return but promising his daughter in marriage and half his kingdom if he does.

The tailor finds the two sleeping giants and alternately pelts them with stones..

‘until they got in such a rage that they tore up trees and belaboured one another so long that at last they both fell dead.’

The king renages on his promise and sets the tailor another great task, to catch a Unicorn who was ravaging the countryside. No problem for our hero who tricks the Unicorn into goring a tree and chops off his mighty horn with an axe.

Again the king prevaricates and sends him off to battle a great boar who’s making great havoc in the forest. The tailor traps the beast in a chapel and adamantly claims his reward.

which is grudgingly given.

However…the new queen overhears her mysterious husband talking in his sleep as if he were back in his tailor shop and the secret is out. The old king gets ready to arrest him, but, forewarned, the crafty tailor pretends to be asleep when the guard comes to his door saying, ‘I have killed seven with one blow, two giants, a unicorn and a boar. Why should I fear the king’s guard….?

who then ran away, ‘as if the wild huntsman were behind them….’  and so the little tailor remained king for the rest of his life.

though he had no experience, real skill or acumen and had lied and cheated his way into power.

As image becomes ever more important to a world that values appearance over substance then what we say about something begins to become more important than the thing itself. The signifier trumps the thing signified. Words become imbued with the power not just to describe but to create..

like god..

How? because the tailor’s words create reality. He buys his own PR. But the fact that he eventually gains a kingdom and a crown does not detract from the fact of his ineptitude, vanity or psychopathic disregard for reality.

He lies, cheates and deceives a path to the crown.

The poor old king is gaslighted as the villain in need of regime change, for having smelt a rat and devised strategies to keep his kingdom safe from a con-man, whilst the boastful tailor bluffs his way to power.

The problem is that by the time the story closes after the first telling everyone is cheering for the clever tailor. He has managed to seduce the reader as well as everyone in the story. All of which goes to show how easily otherwise intelligent folk are dazzled by slogans and the punchy bravado, the uncompromising confidence that the tailor discovers is there to be had if he can only ennoble the regressive choice to identify with a grandiose persona in constant need of drama and enactment to stay afloat.

His delusional belief in his own greatness, emblazoned like a political slogan across his belly, can only be maintained by lurching from one crisis to another.

The king’s challenge to capture the unicorn and the boar are a set of developmental tasks that the tailor actually fails. Unicorns are tamed by virgins, not by having their horns hacked off. The boar is a symbol of Arthurian proportions in that the grail king is wounded in his ‘thigh’ by a boar for refusing the quest to individuate. Another amplification is that Hercules task to similarly hunt down the Erymanthian boar was a punishment for his hybris.

In the meantime we might ask how it is that everyone seems to be so taken in by this charlatan with zero qualifications or experience. The answer is that the rest of us secretly subscribe to be like him and harbour more omnipotent fantasies of sweeping aside life’s frustrations than we’d like to admit.

Its a kind of soft fascism that allows us to identify with forceful others without having to deal with our own power issues, and allows the poor to identify with their oppressors rather than being set against them.

Sartre uses the example of the coachman who waits hours in the freezing winter chill for his master to emerge, taking sustenance and comfort from a shared anti-semitic joke which somehow makes them brothers despite the fact that he can’t feel his feet.

Moreover, we tolerate those who are identified with the gods because it gives us leave to identify with them, and therefor with the gods themselves, without seeming to break with propriety or decorum.

For the sake of this collective vanity the little man manages to get things he doesn’t deserve and triumph over legitimate rulership, even over reality itself, euphemistically expressed as that piece of patriotic whimsy that anyone can be the President.

Well, now its true.

And he too likes to throw rocks at sleeping giants hoping he’s not in the tree nearest to hand when they wake up. Though, you might be.

What’s to be done? The clue lies in the beginning of the story. The tailor buys jam from an old lady embittered by his measly purchase after much comment and inspection. The flies are attracted because he doesn’t eat his sandwich despite the invocation of the gods to bless his jam he never gets to taste it.

Had he treated the old lady decently, bought a decent sized pot of jam and simply tucked into his good fortune, his involvement in life would have obviated the compensatory lust for power and the dangerous blurring of fantasy and reality required along the way.

Being a jammy tailor would have seemed just the right kind of thing to be.

I once saw embroidered on a pillow, ”to be happy you need three things: someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to.”

Work, jam and community.

The story of the pupil who wants to change the world and is told by the master, ‘then change yourself’, is almost cliched. Yet chopping wood and drawing water, work jam and community, is precisely the inexorable force that brings about change.

It also means that if my values are right, if I can gratefully give the old lady the time of day, feel nourished by her jam, let the world in, then life is already good despite the world’s dictailors.




Transforming Envy.

Years ago and far away there lived a young lad called Sanji whose home was above the local Bakery in his village. Every morning Sanji would sit on his balcony and savour the delicious aromas that wafted up, cinammon and chocolate, fresh bread and fancy pastries. A myriad wonderful smells swirled in the street and curled in through the windows.

The Baker, Sanji’s landlord, was a miserable curmudgeon who begrudged Sanji his youth and vitality, his enthusiasm for everything, his happiness at so little. For it was not just the smell of his wares that Sanji so brazenly delighted in but Life itself. Every occasion seemed like a wonder to the ignorant brat. Summer heat and Winter chill couldn’t dampen his annoying smile and so the Baker fumed at Sanji and hardened his heart.

Many years had passed since the Baker found any joy in life. He secretly envied the lad his carefree spontaneity, his faith in a life unencumbered by all the pressures that seemed to beset the Baker so much so that he could no longer enjoy the taste of his own bread let alone the smell of it on the breeze.

One morning, a Wednesday, and therefor spicy jam tart day, Sanji was taking in the morning on his balcony as usual when the Baker stormed up the steps and banged on his door.

”You can’t be enjoying all those smells for free you know,” he shouted. ”I want seven gold pieces in arrears for all the smells you’ve enjoyed at my expense”.

‘Dude, you can’t be serious.’

So the Baker took him to the Magistrate who listened to both sides and scratched his beard throughout. Eventually he said, ‘Sanji, go find seven gold pieces, we will reconvene in the morning”.

Sanji felt stumped by the unfairness of everything but towards the wee hours he realised it was more that he felt so deeply sad for the Baker who would not be a richer man for the seven gold pieces he’d spent the evening trying to rake together.

Next morning they both showed up before the Magistrate who gestured to Sanji for the bag of gold. He shook it before the Baker,”how do you like that then Baker?” he asked.

”Oh, I like it just fine”, said the Baker, reaching out for the chinking purse.

”Good,” said the Magistrate, ”because that is your payment.”


”Fair’s fair, the sound of gold for the smell of cakes. Dismisssed.”

The key to understanding envy is that it is a defense against experience. The Baker splits his vibrant yet vulnerable and heavily defended inner life onto Sanji and then persecutes him for it, since as much as it relieves him of the burden of longing so does it rob him of sponteneity and the possibility of rediscovering himself. So Sanji seems like a thief, not just of smells but of love and life itself. Much paranoia on behalf of the Narcissistic character is at this level of giving away responsibility for personal destiny to seemingly powerful Others who the person then feels has robbed them…

The problem with growing out of Narcissism is that it leads you straight into the experience of the Other, who is bound to attract all your demons and shine a light on all your imperfections, failings and losses. Envious spoiling by intellectually abstracting something so as not to feel it like a punch in the guts seems inevitable, but it does allow one’s sanity to stray. The Tulipmania of Holland in the 18th century is a good example. ‘Special’ bulbs were worth small fortunes, until someone woke up one day and decided that they were not…

Folk went bankrupt and ended up having to eat their former prizes, humbled by the extent to which such a covetous enviable fancy could be so succesfully attributed to a cousin of the onion.

”People will do anything, no matter how absurd in order to avoid facing their own souls.” C. G Jung

Much of what constitutes our leisure time is easily identifiable as avoidance of life. We favour technology that allows us a degree of abstraction from the real world. Much of it prevents communication rather than aiding it; the alienating TV screen that halts all conversation, the incessant beeping of mobiles and pagers that prevent communion with self that only a quiet hour can bring.

By the same logic of the lush, who drinks to drown the shame of being a drunk, so too do we seek refuge in abstracted realities to find some respite from disocciated lives. This it cannot do because it is symbols and people that are meaningful and not the words we use to describe them. If this were not so the need for a holiday could be satisfied by reading the broshure and the need for company by describing the kind of person you are looking for.

”In the intellect, symbols and images have become dried up and dessicated, an abstract skeleton, all structure and no life.” E. Edinger

You can watch Western Narcissism alive and well in its natural habitat throughout the world of conceptual art, a genre which now embraces anyone still alive who has had the cheek to express themselves. Its not just that I don’t like the pretentious work, or that I just don’t get exploded sheds or kiddy mittens on spiked railings. It’s that what people say about their work has become more important than the work itself. There is no contemplation, no feeling, just buzz words, slogans, intellectual abstraction whose purpose it is to interrupt experience rather than induce it.

”you just sayin’ that because you was refuse’ yourself, mon.”

Quite right, I didn’t make it through to the shortlist of the prestigous Ashurst Prize, into which I had submitted my painstaking work of five years,  a mosaic of recycled ceramic shards called, ‘Abundant Delicious’.


And of course I’m a bit miffed.

But what really bites is not just that I din’t get in, but the kind of art that did…


Now maybe its because I am a connoiseur of the ceramic shard, Mrs Shorttle’s eulogy to ‘mending what is broken’ not withstanding, but this is bullshit. And I’m not just turning my nose up at it because it required no effort, nor that it actually represents a collective fantasy of instant gratification and throwing any old crap together that is then worth thousands, but that the spiel that goes with it has the power to steer the onlooker away from their own common sense.

“If you break them and then mend them, and they’re decorative, is that a valid function or are they now defunct? That question is, I think, quite interesting in terms of society’s interpretation of the elderly.” K. Shorttle.

I was unaware the elderly could be interpreted but hey ho, if you can’t blind them with brilliance baffle them with bullshit. Just say anything…

and she does..

and its all very good sounding, yuge even…

but without this bizzare yet politically correct sounding monologue her entry is just a pile of random bits..

and very small bits they are too, mon.

We think we are so evolved and yet the acme of culture seems to have become a forum for wordy invocational spells that have the power to turn crap into art, a trick way more difficult than turning a frog into a prince. The problem is that when what you have to say about something is more important than the thing itself  the psyche dissociates. Wishing, suddenly, really can make it so. In fact, the more banal and anti-art something is, the more one’s subtly bullying powers of persuasion and verbal sophistry must plaster it with Truth. Which means anything can be art so long as you can cripple the discriminatory faculties of your audience with a sufficiently ponderous incantation.

In fact it’s crap. Its alternative art and like alternative facts it only floats if it’s delivered with staccato sound bites and the kind of supreme self confidence that actual artists tend to lack. Which is why we hide in our studios. The tragedy is not simply that all of us are then taken for fools like the townsfolk in the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, but that if art is what can be said about it, then what about love and life? We are being invited, coersed, into experiencing the world from one step removed, from the perspective of another’s vantage point rather than our own.

and you think if you don’t get it you must be unsophisticated or common.

So while the art world touts itself as the vanguard and cutting edge of correctness, the way its sold means that the answer to the question, ‘what is art?’ can no longer be answered by reference to its content but on how it is presented. The garnish and the chef’s patter is now more important than what you ordered.

and don’t ask for the salt shaker.

What transforms the envy in our story is that Sanji finds meaning in his despair, that it is actually a form of compassion and therefor bearable. The wisdom and kindness of the Magistrate makes sure justice is done without excessively shaming the Baker, who he prybars into the here and now with his, ‘fair is fair.’

It’s said that art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Conceptual art does neither. To be either comforted or disturbed requires feelings. You have to be experiencing something. Conceptual art is opposed to us experiencing anything. Its intention is to prevent experience. Here is my work and this is what it means. Don’t feel, don’t contemplate. Above all don’t reflect on what you’re going to do with your broken mug once you get it home. Or remind yourself what you paid for it.

But in the spirit of pitching in and being a good sport my next submission, having researched the judges carefully, will be a burp. Not an actual ordinary burp you understand but many burps digitally recorded and amalgamated into a Platonic ideal of burps to represent the transcendence of temporal restrictions by eternal ideas, expressing a philological break with post-modern dialectic towards a fully globalist multi-culturalism.

The homogenised burp will then be fed through an electromagnetic spectrograph to emphasise social diversities interpreting inner cities which will then be rendered into a responsibly sourced food dye by undocumented immigrants using ancient skills of pasta making from the heart of Tuscany to create, ad definitum finum, the taste of the colour of the sound of archetypally broken wind.

”We are in a bad situation in the West, we live as decapitated heads. The intellect is indispensible in order to understand but you must feel yourselves to be related to the whole man.” CG Jung

To be fair the fault does not lie with Mrs Chorttle, but with a culture increasingly demanding disposable yet instant gratification that mirrors the provisional way in which we are encouraged to live.

The challenge of our time is to find the perspective of the Magistrate who can be both just and compassionate. He finds a way of engaging the Baker’s perspective, he uses his language and symbols, enters his world without being swallowed up by it. He adds to the Baker’s value system, mirroring the envious man without shaming, insulting or colluding with his dismal world veiw..

I once knew a psychiatric in-patient who’d been very poorly tended, mostly by an uncaring and gamey psychiatrist. One day she shows up for her 20 minutes a fortnight of his god almightiness. He indicates a golfball on his desk announcing, ‘this is an orange…’

‘you peel it, I’ll eat it,’ she replied.