Musing the First
I’ve been to the woods this afternoon, and it was beautiful, cool and refreshing. As I walked and left the stress of the day behind, I kept coming round to thoughts of music, art and naturalistic mysticism. My imagination was drawn to something Simon Russell Beale said in the BBC program on Tomas Luis de Victoria[i] about the composer being sent to Rome by Teresa of Avila. As I remember, Victoria was born in Avila and may have met the mystic when he was a boy. Later, it was said, El Greco – the painter and sculptor – was doing in Art what Teresa was doing in mysticism; that – somehow – his art had a similar contemplative logic as Teresa’s mysticism. It was also suggested that the composer Victoria heard the world as the artist El Greco saw the world and as the mystic Teresa experienced it. This led me into imagining a conversation between the three of them!
A Composer—A Mystic—An Artist
Perhaps I am exaggerating the implied relationship between these three creative people, but I cannot keep them from coming to mind; I am imagining them in scenarios which are certainly contrived by my own powers of fantasy. _I see them sitting together in the same place discussing art, music and mystical experience in very naturalistic terms—which is quite contrary to their respective orientations to the world. Yet this has become a powerful mental rune for me of the relationship between Art, Music and Mysticism. _What would someone of their genius have talked about if they had gotten together at some remote chapel or shrine, had a good beer or two, and then sang and prayed and created together? _I actually just shivered when I wrote that—a thrill went through me!
I have put a disc of Victoria’s motets[ii] on the CD player and am looking at El Greco’s paintings online. They are amazing! It is said that he anticipated Impressionism by four centuries, and that his art was a revelation to those who saw it! I can see it!
Victoria—Teresa of Avila—El Greco
So far, I have found no published literature on the implied relationship between these three creative geniuses, except one brief blog that more or less ruminates on the similarities between their works and which parallels what was said in the BBC program. Perhaps it is only an observed relationship, from the point of view of those who study them, rather than a relationship between the actual people? If anyone has any information to the contrary, please let me know.
Even so, I am deeply and creatively moved by the idea of them having known one another and gotten together to discuss Music—Mysticism—Art! Last night I imagined writing a dialogue between them, written as if they had been friends and had discussed these issues. This idea reminds me of other dialogues I used to think of writing, such as a dialogue between Mary and Brighid, or Jesus and Cernunnos—back when I was religious and trying to sort out the relationship between the different mythologies in which I was immersed. But the dialogue I am thinking of writing tonight has nothing to do with mythology or religion, even though all three of the interlocutors were deeply religious!
The dialogue as I imagine it would be about the relationship between Music, Mysticism and Art from a naturalistic perspective. What if the three of them were reincarnated in the late 20th century and found one another, recognized each other, and then, after resourcement (an old Keltelven expression for recovering one’s memory of a former life) became friends and discussed the nature of their particular arts over a course of nine days and nights?
This is, of course, a fictional framing for a rational discourse; its own kind of literary mysticism—a necessary set-dressing for deep reflection on the relationship between Music, Mysticism and Art. Mysticism is an art; a narrative and experiential art. It requires creativity on the part of the mystic to interpret ones experience in positive and re-creative ways! So be it!
Musing the Second
I have been to the woods again this afternoon. It was a warmer day than on Thursday; still beautiful and inspiring. I walked down through the gulch beyond Bear Ridge and then out to the edge of the State Park and down to the Olde Farm and back up again. I then made another circle around the trails on Bear Ridge before coming back to town. Along the way I kept thinking about Music, Mysticism and Art!
All three of these creative disciplines are grounded in our biology; we have evolved as a species to be capable of them. It could be that their appearance in the archaeological record is evidence our species reaching a significant cognitive threshold around 50,000 BP. Whatever we make of the so-called ‘cultural revolution’ at that time (whether or not it even was a revolution), our species seems to be characterized by its ability to create Art and Music and by its capacity for Mysticism (as may be indicated in the content of some early cave art). Religion is also part of this complex; but it, too, should be treated as Art. Most of its primary rituals, myths and beliefs have about them an element of primal creativity and aesthetic presence. Religion may have begun as Art employed as survival psycho-technology.
While religion has too often become destructive; an inhibitor against enlightenment and a danger to our survival—it may have once been adaptive. Now, its tendency to tribalism, its prejudices – left over from the Iron Age – and its justification of violence against those who do not conform to its tenets must all be overcome if we are going to survive as a species. Yet there is much to redeem from religions, even from a naturalistic perspective. When I reflect on religious Medieval Art and Music, I am glad that the beliefs of these geniuses and their society permitted them to look beyond the ordinary and the banal; to find vision enough to transcend it—and to create lasting tributes to the human capacity for transcendence.
Art and Music do not have these built-in negative tendencies, though they may be practiced and experienced in prejudicial, destructive ways, and they can be polluted with political ideology as well as the personal prejudices of the artist or composer. Yet Art and Music have not been the sponsors of inquisitions, holocausts and wars; have they? Usually, they suffer from the destructive behaviors unleashed by religion, ideologies and politics. And, as we can see from current world and domestic news, Art and Music can be destroyed in the pogroms of religious and political zealots, never to be recovered. Enough said.
"Mysticism is a creative art."
I said this in the first part of this blog, and have been pondering the truth of it since. In what sense is Mysticism an art? Or perhaps “Art?” Is it creative, or does it — the experience of Mystery — 'create' us? I want to suggest that it is a creative interface with one’s experience of the transcendent; with transcendence itself, as experienced in moments of powerful self-transformation, and that a self-realized mystic is always a creative person at some level. Mysticism requires imagination and storytelling as well as a maturing into self-awareness. It is a narrative art as much as an imaginative art. Mysticism integrates experience and reflects upon it through an imaginative interface that generates stories and explores psychological realities; the response of the mystic to their environment in relation to their own personal growth.
Mysticism – as I have been saying for years – is an openness to the experience of Mystery; the mystery of our being-in-becoming and of the Earth & Cosmos itself. A Mystic is someone who experiences the Mystery of What-Is; that ‘dimension’ or ‘quality’ of our existence that stimulates Wonder and Awe. The Mystic is someone open to experiences of the Transcendent; which is, in one sense, another name for Mystery—though transcendent experiences are in essence different from experiences of Mystery.
What do I mean by that? _That in the experience of Mystery a person can be lifted out of the banal ordinary into an experience of transcendence! So mote it be!
“Often we feel a sense of transcendence, as if the boundaries of the self had been expanded. The sailor feels at one with the boat, the sea and the wind; the singer feels a mysterious sense of universal harmony. In those moments the awareness of time disappears, and hours seem to flash by without our noticing.” (xiv)
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990)
[i] “Sacred Music: God’s Composer” (2012) – A video program from the BBC featuring Simon Russell Beale (narrator) and Harry Christophers and “The Sixteen.” Part of the larger “Sacred Music” series from the BBC, this program focused on Tomas de Luis Victoria’s music and life.
[ii] "Tomas de Luis Victoria - Motets" by Victorian Voices and Viols and Andrew Hope on the Gaudeamus label, 2003. Wonderful recording!