Orphic sayings 38 through 43

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

6:15 a.m. Looking at Alcott’s write-up in Wikipedia, I see the citation I half-remembered. A writer for the Boston Post called Orphic Sayings “a train of fifteen railroad cars with one passenger.” Not that we would look to newspapers for profundity, but still, you can see that this would be the reaction to Alcott you might expect. After all, it struck me that way, why wouldn’t others react similarly? But, as we’re seeing, a slower, more careful examination reveals hidden treasure. I see, too, Emerson’s criticism that I remembered but could not have cited: “When he sits down to write, all his genius leaves him; he gives you the shells and throws away the kernel of his thought.”

Well, here we go again, rooting among the shells.


Organizations are mortal; the seal of death is fixed on them even at birth. The young Future is nurtured by the Past, yet aspires to a nobler life, and revises, in his maturity, the traditions and usages of his day, to be supplanted by the sons and daughters whom he begets and ennobles. Time, like fabled Saturn, now generates, and, ere even their sutures be closed, devours his own offspring. Only the children of the soul are immortal; the births of time are premature and perishable.

If I understand him here, he draws a distinction between the fruits of the 3D world and those of the non-3D. His view of 3D affairs is close to the myth of Progress that so many people still adhere to, that “Tomorrow is going to be better than today, because of X”, where X is “the revolution,” or “Science,” or “the return of Jesus” (though this is somewhat in a different category, being something longed for but not resulting from human labor and ingenuity) or whatever mechanism somebody believes in. Only, Alcott points out, rightly, that the real process is closer to the myth in which Saturn devours his children. First the age generates these extravagant hopes for the future, then it destroys them, and destroys the fruits of the hopes. It’s a striking phrase: “the births of time are premature and perishable.”

And, more to the point, the things generated in and of the non-3D are not.

It is the difference between sequence and coexistence, I suppose. Sequence requires that the present replace the past and be replaced in its turn as the future becomes the present. It is 3D life as commonsense portrays it – a sequence of moments of time, leaping from iceberg to iceberg, the prior iceberg disappearing exactly at the moment we leap; the new iceberg not appearing until we are in mid-leap. It’s a ridiculous idea, really, but it seems inevitably the way things are, till you move your reference point to outside 3D, at which time it is clear that all moments exist equally and equally permanently (yet equally alive and malleable), just as Seth said. So clearly all that is left of the Egypt of 2000 BC, or of Atlantis, or of King Arthur’s Britain, or Lincoln’s America, is whatever wistful memories have been preserved among myths. The past cannot linger in 3D. And by the same token, in non-3D it cannot disappear or wither.

See? Alcott has you writing more like him every moment.

Well, that’s no compliment!

We didn’t mean it to be; nor insult either. Our point is that as you absorb a certain way of seeing things, your expression, no less than your subject matter, is going to alter.


It’s just part of the price of admission. Emerson and Thoreau were far better writers, yet not just anyone could see that they were writing plainly of real things.

Wonderful. Okay, onward.


Man is a rudiment and embryon of God: eternity shall develop in him the divine image.

I admit feeling a certain malice toward someone who deliberately uses paralytic words like “Embryon,” though I suppose in Alcott’s day the word may have been in common use. (Getting tired of writing out cumbersome Roman numerals, too, for that matter!)

Still, you must admit that in this one saying Alcott achieved an almost Thoreauvian economy of words.

Why didn’t he realize that saying a thing in few words makes it easier for the gist of the thing to come through?

We will take that as a rhetorical question. Nor is it always entirely true as stated. In any case, you can see his thought here, but if you were not already in sympathy with his way of seeing things, how could this strike you, but as being either nonsense, or blasphemy, or both?

Oh, I know. It says, we are part of God and in us God is expressing and perhaps discovering his own nature. Put it in those terms and it doesn’t speak to my time either. Say the same thing in another framework and it is not only acceptable but obvious: We in 3D are part of All-D, and All-D is reshaped and developed continually by decisions made in 3D by creatures who may or may not realize that they are actually 3D plus non-3D.

Exactly. And, as you say, it is a matter of how the context is described. People respond to the unconscious or semi-conscious framework around any given conceptualization. Say the exact same thing about “God” or about “All that is,” or about “Nature,” or about “The All-D” and it will seem to people that you are saying very different things, because they will not be able to consider what you say as if it were in isolation. Always there will be the threads of unconscious or semi-conscious association attached. That’s why we continually build new frameworks, to allow you to get free of older ones and see with new vision.


Possibly organization is no necessary function or mode of spiritual being. The time may come, in the endless career of the soul, when the facts of incarnation, birth, death, descent into matter and ascension from it, shall comprise no part of her history; when she herself shall survey this human life with emotions akin to those of the naturalist, on examining the relics of extinct races of beings; when mounds, sepulchres, monuments, epitaphs, shall serve but as memoirs of a past state of existence; a reminiscence of one metempsychosis of her life in time.

“Metempsychosis”! I do hate these words! Silly of me, but there you are. I take this to be saying, simply, that once we’re safely out of a given 3D life, its details fade in importance.

That may or may nor be just what he meant, but true enough. Proceed.


Divined aright, there is nothing purely organic; all things are vital and inorganic. The microscope is developing this sublime fact. Sense looking at the historic surface beholds what it deems matter, yet is but spirit in fusion, fluent, pervaded by her own immanent vitality and trembling to organize itself. Neither matter nor death are possible: what seem matter and death are sensuous impressions, which, in our sanest moments, the authentic instincts contradict. The sensible world is spirit in magnitude, outspread before the senses for their analysis, but whose synthesis is the soul herself, whose prothesis is God. Matter is but the confine of spirit limning her to sense.

This is a remarkable insight, for the 1840s in America! But, who can deny that it is literally true?

Well, we certainly wouldn’t! Didn’t we give you an entire book’s worth of material explaining how the 3D world is only somewhat real? And more material before that? Proceed.


The soul works from centre to periphery, veiling her labors from the ken of the senses. Her works are invisible till she has rounded herself in surface, where she completes her organizations. Appearance, though first to sense, is last in the order of generation: she recoils on herself at the acme of sense, revealing herself in reversed order. Historical is the sequel of genetic life.

This more or less repeats something he said earlier. Intuition works from the interior outward, as sensation works from the exterior inward. Am I missing something?

No, that’s the sense of it.


The popular genesis is historical. It is written to sense not to the soul. Two principles, diverse and alien, interchange the Godhead and sway the world by turns. God is dual. Spirit is derivative. Identity halts in diversity. Unity is actual merely. The poles of things are not integrated: creation not globed and orbed. Yet in the true genesis, nature is globed in the material, souls orbed in the spiritual firmament. Love globes, wisdom orbs, all things. As magnet the steel, so spirit attracts matter, which trembles to traverse the poles of diversity, and rest in the bosom of unity. All genesis is of love. Wisdom is her form: beauty her costume.

“Globed!” “Orbed!” Oh, Alcott! Give us the sense of this, guys. It makes me tired to read it, even.

We smile. It reads easier when you realize that the first six sentences are the world as the senses see it, and the remainder is the true situation.

It’s still written in a clotted argot scarcely akin to English.

You can complain or you can explain. Choose.

I choose to do both. The former relieves my feelings, allowing me to consider so that I may do the latter.

Understandable. So, given our hint, what do you make of this one?

Well, I get that he is saying that conventionally, people see “God” and “the world” as separate and somewhat uncoordinated. (What he means by “Unity is actual merely” escapes me entirely.) As to what he means by using globe and orb as verbs rather than nouns, fortunately we can get the meaning by intuition and context. I certainly couldn’t get it by analysis.

You see, then, the problem dispassionate and even sympathetic observers had with him. Still, he knows that “all is one” and he works hard to say it. But the words stick in his throat.

It’s true. Look at that last sentence. Isn’t he just saying, “Love is wisdom and beauty”? Isn’t he saying, the world doesn’t have any spare parts, nor accidents, nor coincidences? Isn’t he saying, long before Seth, that, appearances to the contrary, this is a safe universe?

We are glad to see you sticking up for him. Said smiling. There’s your hour. Till next time.

And our thanks as always.


Frank DeMarco, author

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


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