Orphic Sayings 4 through 6

Thursday, May 13, 2021

4 a.m. Let’s continue with Bronson Alcott’s Orphic Sayings, then.


[The grander my conception of being, the nobler my future. There can be no sublimity of life without faith in the soul’s eternity. Let me live superior to sense and custom, vigilant alway, and I shall experience my divinity; my hope will be infinite, nor shall the universe contain, or content me. But if I creep daily from the haunts of an ignoble past, like a beast from his burrow, neither earth nor sky, man nor God, shall appear desirable or glorious; my life shall be loathsome to me, my future reflect my fears. He alone, who lives nobly, oversees his own being, believes all things, and partakes of the eternity of God.]

What strikes me, again, is that here everything depends upon the attitude we bring to the material. Read it in the wrong frame of mind, it is full of opportunities for you to make merry with it. But read it carefully, for the sense of it, and it is just plain truth, clearly seen if inexpertly expressed.

You see, Alcott is not for beginners on the path beyond sensory perception. His is a wisdom that requires a certain amount of wisdom to be appreciated. You can’t come to him empty-handed; you have to have the price of the admission ticket.

More so than to read Emerson, say?

The thing speaks for itself. Emerson was wildly esteemed in the 1800s, as Alcott was not. Why? Partly by biographical accident, you might argue – but more largely, because Alcott was harder for people to get. His world was too different from theirs, for them to realize that he wasn’t a fool. But Emerson – who has been called “the Wisest American – esteemed him. Thoreau, who never suffered fools gladly, valued him as a pure soul, if a somewhat impractical one.

But let us away (as Emerson might have put it) to the fourth saying.

Easily parsed. The first sentence says, “What you see is what you get,” only – unlike the computer-programmer sense of this phrase [WYSIWYG], in this case it means you will only experience things in the way you see them.

Only, it is a reciprocating process.

As usual, yes. You see the world one way, and it conforms to your vision. And then you live in the world you (in effect) have shaped, and in turn that affects how you see it. If not for the intervention of the shared subjectivity as a seemingly objective “there” factor, you would be in an endless loop, with no way to escape. In fact, that is the purpose of 3D existence, as we keep saying; it allows you to choose, thus to change.

Second sentence. If you do not, or cannot, believe that you are more than the world you live in, you will not be able to form a conception of life that is equal to its richness, its gift-ness (to coin a phrase), its value. It is unfortunate that words like “sublimity” are a sort of anesthetic, lulling the critical faculties to sleep. The author who uses such words is thus not forced to make his meaning clear. The reader of such words does not have his attention arrested. They don’t really mean anything, because they might mean so many things. Yet the meaning is there, if it can be pulled from the context.

The following two sentences merely sketch the consequences that follow from the change of attitudes toward life, and the final sentence – which also needs to be pulled apart and examined closely if it is to be understood – sums it up.

The final sentence deserves paraphrasing, for clarity to readers who are separated from Alcott by a century and a half. Do so, and we will correct if necessary, as usual.

I take it to mean this: “Only the person who lives nobly observes and shapes his or her life; only that person is able to believe, and only that person can live an everyday life in 3D while remaining aware of and true to non-3D reality. But even this sentence needs to be unpacked. What does it mean to live “nobly,” to “oversee” our own being, and particularly, what does it mean to “believe all things”?

Good questions. Now answer them.

Well, I suppose “nobly” means, live our ideals even when it is inconvenient or expensive. “Overseeing our being” I take to mean, living vigilantly lest we forget ourselves and take externals to be “the truth,” rather than internals. And I presume that “believe all things” does not mean “be gullible”; it means, I think, be able to dare to believe what we intuit but think may be too good to be true.

Nothing to criticize. We recommend that you – and other readers – re-read Saying IV in this light – remembering to connect the text with the title, “Immortality” – and then pass on to Saying V.


[Engage in nothing that cripples or degrades you. Your first duty is self-culture, self-exaltation: you may not violate this high trust. Your self is sacred, profane it not. Forge no chains wherewith to shackle your own members. Either subordinate your vocation to your life, or quit it forever: it is not for you; it is condemnation of your own soul. Your influence on others is commensurate with the strength that you have found in yourself. First cast the demons from your own bosom, and then shall your word exorcise them from the hearts of others.]

Right livelihood.

Yes, I had that same thought. Nothing needs to be added; it is clear as is.

We could add one word of commentary, perhaps. The final sentence is worth re-reading and living.

It’s just as Jesus said: First cast out the beam from your own eye, and you’ll find it easier to remove the speck from your neighbor’s.

Exactly. It is a deep psychological truth: You will always find it tempting to reform others, to reform the world, rather than to reform yourself. That’s why people do it. It is all pretense, of course. No one reforms anyone by argument, and still less by coercion; only by example.

Thoreau referred to “cowards who run away and enlist.”

You’ve seen it all your life, and you always will, regardless who “you” are, or when or where you live.

On to saying VI, then.


[He who marvels at nothing, who feels nothing to be mysterious, but must needs bare all things to sense, lacks both wisdom and piety. Miracle is the mantle in which these venerable natures wrap themselves, and he, who seeks curiously to rend this asunder, profanes their sacred countenance to enter by stealth into the Divine presence. Sanctity, like God, is ever mysterious, and all devout souls reverence her. A wonderless age is godless: an age of reverence, an age of piety and wisdom.]

This one is particularly easily misunderstood. Your age has a reflexive attitude that says, “More knowledge is good,” period. So at first blush, a saying that seems to advise not investigating seems to be on the side of ignorance, perhaps of superstition.

And here let us interject that same caution we repeatedly interjected into the study of the Gospel of Thomas: Don’t forget to connect whatever you are examining with what has come before it. Unlike Thomas, the sayings are not the crystallization of an oral tradition, nor the bullet-points for teaching a defined community. Still, examining anything in context enriches your understanding of its meaning, and may fend off misunderstandings. So here, read this in light of the subdivisions of the first saying, called Spirit.

You mean, I take it – Don’t forget that he is saying this in the context of what it really is to live in 3D without forgetting that we are also non-3D creatures.

Correct, though “creatures” in non-3D context is a little different than in 3D.

Our being created [in non-3D] being a lot farther back in time.

You could put it that way, loosely.

In any case, let us pause here, as you would be tempted to skim if we went on to another saying. Coming to it fresh is better.

Okay. Our thanks as always. Or – do something you want to add?

No, this is fine.

Okay, then. Next time.


Frank DeMarco, author

Papa’s Trial: Hemingway in the Afterlife, a novel


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