Misreading Eden

Adam and Eve committing original sin, detail from The Virgin of Victory, 1496, by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), tempera on canvas, 280x166 cm.

Woodstock by Joni Mitchell

Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, “Tell me, where are you going?”
And this he told me

Said, “I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm
Gonna join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
Got to get back to the land
Set my soul free”

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Well, then can I walk beside you?
I have come to lose the smog
And I feel myself a cog
In somethin’ turning

And maybe it’s the time of year
Yes, and maybe it’s the time of man
And I don’t know who I am
But life is for learning

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere was a song
And a celebration

And I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Misreading Eden

The crowd at Woodstock fills a natural amphitheatre with the stage at the bottom. Date August 1969. Source Own work. Author Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell (wikipedia.org)

The lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s song Woodstock suggest a longing for something dear yet elusive. The young man “going on down to Yasgur’s farm” is a pilgrim soul longing for freedom from worldly trappings. Enticed by the promise of a communal pastoral escape he hits the dusty road and heads out to Upstate New York for the Woodstock music festival.

In symbolic language, the pursuit of a fettered soul often leads one in search of the primordial experiences of the idyllic first garden. The sixties provided this celebrated festival which we call Woodstock, as a model of the phantasmagorical Garden of Eden where the young man will “camp out on the land to try to get [his] soul free.”

Woodstock evokes a surfeit of emblematic data of the sixties so much so that it has come to be renowned as an historical icon of the era.  A host of symbols identify the period and its legendary style: from psychedelia to libertine sex; a culture reveling in nonconformance while fetishizing the conceits of youth. Make love not war, women’s lib, flower power, and as the song says, “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden” – these salutations of the times signify a new inventory on an old obsession: paradise on earth.

Western civilization can claim a solid attachment for the mythos of the Eden story. It is the opus of the ages. Nature and spirit integrated – this inscrutable duality – carries with it the sublime tension of the human drama. The yearning for experience seems inseparable from the anguish of innocence lost. Paradise lost. Within the intricacy of its myriad patterns, the entire body of Scripture following Genesis is an elaboration on the upheaval of the original crisis, its ensuing consequences and ultimate fulfillment.

Eden represents the geographical setting for a cosmic revelation proceeding from a wisdom that presages the end in the beginning. The meeting of heaven and earth at the epicentre of Western religious tradition is the very promise of an awaiting garden. But our re-entry, as the story reveals, is conditional. There is the matter of the serpent and his mischief there to test the spiritual essence of humanity after having negotiated his infamous part. The scope and patterns of religious observance and thereby the standards of the western worldview are thus framed, limited and codified by The Divine beneficence and shaken up by the gall of the trickster interlocutor.

Woodstock, and the song that pays it homage, though a mere detail of its era, provide a point of entry to the inner contradictions that have similarly shaken up western history as it has given over to, what we call – modernity. Where does one go when the stability of life feels imperiled, when you are reduced to feeling like “a cog in something turning”? Vietnam and draft dodgers; civil rights and race riots; democracy and assassinations; Tip-toe Through the Tulips and The Eve of Destruction – When contradictions spin out of control there is always the rejoinder, “you got to get back to the garden” as if to say, forget it all and start over.

This brings to mind Marx’s delight in repeating, apparently ad nauseum, the line delivered by Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, “Everything that lives deserves to perish.” Throw out everything and begin again. Back to the elements; back to the garden. We translate this today, in the second decade of the third millennium, as build back better, the great reset – the salvos of our modern new world order mythology. But Eden is not a metaphor. Nor is it a stand-in for temporal desire. Eden represents the introduction of patterns of human consciousness and conduct. It is the effect of logos upon action. Not exclusively material and not exclusively spiritual; it is the story of transformation in which time (matter) meets eternity (destiny) through God who gives life and gives it abundantly (John 10:10). Perhaps this “child of God” “feels to be a cog in something turning” because he feels the menacing encroachment of forces begun centuries before him creeping into his landscape of the sixth decade of the second millennium. What is coming to fruition today, tucked discreetly into a modern pop song – no more than a colloquial grain of sand – is the effect of centuries past in its long and vain attempt to deconstruct and reinvent Eden.

An attuned sense of historical patterns renders the sixteenth century a significant time-marker when the rattling force of ecclesiastical reform was set to burgeon within European culture; the accompanying social and political devastation plainly evidenced by the copious number of devout Christians executed or incarcerated under the charge of treason. This revolutionary turn in world affairs awakened the emergence of a qualitatively modernist historical curve invoking the smoky essence of solve et coagula– dissolution and reformation. It is no coincidence that by the seventeenth century the formation of secret societies set into motion their seditious design guided by a studied, purposive assault against all things Catholic.

Channeling the inroads to the Enlightenment and muscling tirelessly on through the haunts of revolutionary France, the Masonic formula, originally encrypted as liberty, equality and fraternity – a canny biblical plagiarism- resumes its sly campaign, this time in bohemian drag. It resurfaces in the body politic of the late twentieth century in the Woodstock scene under the halo of peace, love and understanding. True to the masonic enterprise it conjured its way to sex, drugs and rock & roll as the signature credo of the age but also as a prime campaign strategy. What better tactic for subversion than a stupefied intellect? Mentored by the devil’s chiefest trick, the presumption of non-existence, it dissembles under the pretense of occupying a more authentic spirituality than Christianity has so far offered – until now.

Joni Mitchell presents the symbolic garden elliptically – that is, as categorically modern. Absent is the central theme of the Eden myth that lends gravity to the condition of man falling to the temptations of nature and facing imminent expulsion from the garden of paradise. This is to appease our proclivity to a substantively modernist claim; that human beings left to raw nature would instinctively favour moral excellence. Such is the nucleic fallacy purported in the dreamy logic of Jean-Jacques Rosseau, a key player of the Enlightenment, with his eighteenth-century-style romantic obsession with the flora and the fauna; Rosseau, the amateur botanist, extracting filaments of the intumescent green world for his thin analogy with human nature.

Modernists like Rosseau take from the symbolism of the garden a souvenir mythology, never minding the inherent contradiction that reduces the creator of the universe subordinate to His creation. This reversal dismisses the evidence of a religious context for human nature and does so with audacious ease – the human capitulation to evil summarily omitted. And man denuded in his spiritual essence is simultaneously deflated psychologically as well. What remains is a mere pre-fall pleasure-garden peopled with the decadent offspring of Modernity swept up in a culture of candied perfectibility. All things Rousseau draw from the pool of this basic neurosis – a mindless accession to an illusion of sinlessness in the natural state. The story of the garden, omitting the symbolism of a talking snake or the tree with its dangerous fruit, is a fanciful plunge into banal sentimentality. It disregards the psychic gravitas of its archetypal shape; that the human being is the physical host of metaphysical indwelling.

Mitchell’s song, Woodstock, exposes the naivete of the Sixties in its mawkish veneration of nature. The chorus, “we are golden” shimmers with the revolutionary fancies of that other anthem of a subsequent era, John Lennon’s Imagine.  Impressions of, “bombers riding shotgun in the sky… turning into butterflies” unveil the gauzy elusiveness which holds the bedeviled appetite in thrall of reclaiming Eden. But only the mythical Eden. Kitsch Eden. The garden without paradox.

But here’s the thing. How can it be that the sixties generation, lustfully reveling in the decadence of carnal experimentation, also hails the garden of pure innocence as its most meaningful symbol? The youth fad that took hold in the sixties is a tribal emblem of erotic license but it is simultaneously a pretense to abandon historical social institutions by permission of some of society’s most prominent influencers. The alignment of Freud’s critique of sexual repression, Marx’s critique of capitalism with the emergence of critical theory in the areas of history, law, literature and the social sciences effervesced in the sixties and branched out in the seventies while culturally pertinent artists like Mitchell styled the ethos of that generation into one heralding communal voice. The “we are stardust” chorus which the Woodstock festival epitomized routed the synergy of this particular generation to oppose the ordinances of old traditions mainly because they were – ordinances.

Woodstock played the cradle-song to a generation putting the ordinances to sleep by the infernal refrain, “I don’t know who I am”. This message received by a generation droned ad infinitum, the subliminal reversal of I Am to mean simply I.

I Am, appearing over three hundred times in the bible, is not merely a verbal conjugation but an invocation of God’s name. To admit, I don’t know God, is the compass of the true pilgrim. It is the humble resonance of a soul hoping in the activity of grace to reveal reality through the mysteries of supernal perfection. But Woodstock’s “child of God” is not the pilgrim trying “to get his soul free” by seeking after Truth, but rather the naïve youth under the seductive influence of cultish hubris.

Who made this youth feel so small as to be a “cog in something turning”? Did God do that? The voice of this generation is the charming lie that meanders through the “half a million”, and the smog that awaits him, we now know, is a smog much thicker and darker than the smog he was attempting to lose. He might have done better to walk the other road where two or three gather in His name.

Apocalypse vs. apocalypse And now, fifty three years past the original Woodstock, I am taken aback by a seemingly benign portion of a bulletin from a nearby Catholic church. It announces a World Day of Prayer to be celebrated for the “care and creation of the planet” inspired by the Pope’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si. We are called to pray for “ecological conversion” because, as it states, we are reaching a “breaking point” and must act decisively so that “we and future generations can continue to rejoice in creation’s sweet song of life and hope.”

The spiritual animus of the sixties that took off on the bright wings of sensual abandonment has landed on a dressed-up simulacra of Christian spirituality; the usurpation of devotional language tailored insidiously to a neo-Malthusian world-plan. Ecological conversion, as it is called, sends an equivocal message in complicity with the interests of global power moguls and their multi-conglomerate factions. While we go soft in the head, teased into docility under a haze of “environmental consciousness” a real insurgence is fast underway to deform our social structure, steal our livelihoods, our property, our constitutional protections, our parental rights, and all – every single one – of our treasured institutions.

The omnipresent media under the governance of current ruling power-mongers, have latched-on to their newest invention – climate change, presented as a crisis. It is not that the climate has no bearing on us, but rather, the disasters occurring before our eyes have become the happy opportunity of powerful and malevolent agents. Sadly, the climate used as a subtext to generate political power frustrates many true environmental scientists from pursuing unspectacular yet achievable ecological projects.  The over-simplification of climate science by non-experts claiming to be experts reduces public knowledge to the shallowest level of ignorance coupled with an intensified level of fear. A dangerous mix. By a sleight-of-hand we are swamped with adulterated science and distorted facts designed expressly to mislead as many people as possible. The media is training us to be simpletons.

Green propaganda marketed as “apocalyptic” invites an ideal segue to the burgeoning of interest in mother-earth vagaries and cosmic numina. It excites the nervous energy of those who are shy of the mystical habitation of Catholic Christian practice but are at ease in the modern materialist ponderances of science with its aggressive but distorted claims to rationality. The wild projections of quantum mechanics, aliens, multiverses etc. tap the native spiritual reflex of a lax Christian consciousness. Through a roughly sixty-year-old media-driven seduction of intellectualized dogma we are given to consume the profane through our natural impulse towards the sacred. The grand machination utilizes compassion in order to leverage control over every aspect of human interest and human necessity. What better motivating agent than the Christian faithful to submit to the tenets of environmentalism and the possibility of alien beings existing somewhere in another realm, purely out of their well-spring of fellowship and charity? – Goodliness in the service of God’s creation- visible and invisible. Is it not?

An astute Christian will read the duplicity behind the messaging; the virtue of compassion used to the desecration of the second commandment. Consider the audacity of the global project selling us on a sanctimonious glorification of mother earth as both goddess of creation and supreme victim! The global rulers with all their kooky jargon and asinine promises are spinning environmentalism to generate political capital – to woo us into subjugation to their eerie design to depopulate the world as part of their protocol for Agenda 2030.

This is the essence of the Vatican-blessed “Ecology Task Force” on its “synodal path,” to ultimately humiliate the Catholic Church through misrepresentation. This ecological band-wagon is mere dress-up of environmental science and the Vatican spokespeople backing it up are, you might say, “caught in the devil’s bargain” as collaborators in their renunciation of all things Catholic. In its myriad of ludicrous disguises, the serpent still plays on docility, ignorance, and undisciplined curiosity. The ballyhoo about the climate provides entertainment, fellowship and all-around good feelings – a kind of Woodstock of the ego.

Those who have ears hear the chaotic buzz of a legion of mock-apocalypses, each vainly fixated on reversing the irony of the little sign providentially placed above The Christ crowned with thorns.

The Apocalypse will prove the irony redoubled.