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Arcadia, Utopia and A Brave New World. by Colyn Boyce

Hylas and the Nymphs. by John Waterhouse. Manchester Art Gallery. courtesy of Wikipedia

The name Arcadia has been in the news in recent months in Britain, for what many may say are all the wrong reasons.

Arcadia Group Ltd, was a British multinational retailing company –  best known for being the previous parent company of such iconic brands as British Home Stores, Burton, Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins and Top Shop.  At its peak, the group had more than 2,500 outlets in the UK, as well as concessions in UK department stores and several hundred franchises operated internationally.

In one of the most spectacular crashes in recent times – and there have been several – the Arcadia Group entered administration on 30 November 2020. By 8 February 2021 all of its previously owned brands had been sold to online retailers, sealing the fate of the remaining premises and the likely loss of thousands of jobs.

The Arcadia Group has its origins in the firm founded in 1903 by 18-year-old Lithuanian immigrant Montague Burton in Chesterfield. Burton’s initial operation, a men’s clothing manufacture, tailoring and retailing operation, became the genesis for the current Burton Menswear chain, which expanded through several takeovers into a colossus whose name was changed to Arcadia in 1997.

Arcadia or Arkadia’ is a province in Greece, who takes its name from the mythological character Arcas, celebrated as the home of the god Pan. 

“Arkadia”, Peloponnes, Greece; a plateau at 800 meters. Typical for all of Arkadia is grassland for sheep, fruit-trees, and extensive beehiving. photo courtesy of Wikipedia

19th century esotericist Eliphas Levi establishes a link between Pan and the devil.

Mask of god Pan, 340 – 320 B. C. from Fassil Bojkov Collection, Sofia, Bulgaria. photo courtesy of Wikipedia

For the initiates,” . . . “ the devil is not a person but a creative Force, for Good as for Evil.” They (the Initiates) represented this Force, which presides at physical generation, under the mysterious form of God Pan—or Nature : whence the horns and hoofs of that mythical and symbolic figure, as also the Christian “ goat of the Witches’ Sabbath.” (Secret Doctrine, Volume One, p509)

Owing to its mountainous topography and sparse population of pastoralists the word Arcadia in recent centuries has become a representation of an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness.

Although seen as having much in common with Utopian ideals, Arcadia differs from that tradition in that it is more often specifically regarded as unattainable.

Furthermore, it is seen as a lost Garden of Eden in contrast to the progressive ideals of Utopia.

Helena Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, links Eden to Mount Atlas and Atlantis.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831 – 1891). ‘Priestess of Isis’ and one of greatest esotericists in Victorian England.

“ Thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God (in the Satya Yuga); every precious stone was thy covering . . . . the workmanship of thy tabrets and thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day thou wast created. . . Thou art the anointed cherub . . . thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire . . . thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. Therefore I will cast thee out of the mountain of God and destroy thee. . . . ”

The “Mountain of God” means the “Mountain of the Gods” or Meru, whose representative in the Fourth Race [Atlantean world] was Mount Atlas, the last form of one of the divine Titans, so high in those days that the ancients believed that the heavens rested on its top.” (Verse 17, of the Stanzas of Dzyan, Secret Doctrine II, pp492-93)

The inhabitants of Arcadia were often viewed as ‘noble savages’ – living a simple life, close to nature and without pride and greed – in the spirit of the Golden Age. Blavatsky likens these folk to the early Lemurians, in their innocence.

The Ash Yggdrasil by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1886). photo courtesy of Wikipedia

A representation of this time is the Ash tree, the Yggdrasil of the Norse legends, which Blavatsky observes:

“remains verdant till the last days of the Golden Age . . . Its luxuriant boughs are the sidereal heaven, golden by day and studded with stars by night  . .  .  under whose protecting shadow humanity lived during the Golden Age without desire as without any fear. . . . ” (Secret Doctrine II, p519-20)

Arcadia can be viewed as a type of paradise but only the home of supernatural entities like nymphs, rather than an afterlife abode for the dead.

Arcadia persists as the name of many cities and towns around the world. Even land used by itinerant people for temporary dwellings in Wales and England, has been referred to by the media and local Government, as Arcadia.

Giovanni da Verrazano, the 16th century Italian explorer, designated all lands north of Virginia as Arcadia. In the 17th century French navigator Samuel de Champlain fixed its present orthography, with the ‘r’ omitted, to its resting place in Canada’s Atlantic Provinces. In the language of the indigenous Mi’kmaq ‘Acadie’, means “place of abundance”.

Since antiquity, Arcadia has been a popular subject, both in visual arts and literature.Images of beautiful nymphs frolicking in lush forests have been a fount of inspiration for painters and sculptors.

Because of the influence of Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’ in medieval European literature, Arcadia became a symbol of pastoral simplicity. 

Allegories of death are common in the works of the pre-eminent French painter, Nicholas Poussin – one of the most significant being Et in Arcadia ego (“Even here, I [Death] exist.”), in 1630. Famous in its own right, it is thought by some to have a possible connection with the gnostic histories of the Rosicrucians. The phrase Et in Arcadia ego also appears in the novels Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code, where it is interpreted as an anagram of I! Tego Arcana Dei (“Begone! I know the secrets of God”). And ‘Arcadia‘ is the title of Iain Pears novel published in 2016. 

Et in Arcadia ego, (The Shepherds of Arcadia) by Nicolas Poussin. late 1630s, Louvre, Paris. photo courtesy of Wikipedia  

According to the best-selling PC-game, ‘The Longest Journey‘, Arcadia was divided from the primordial original world, and represents fantasy, dreams and magic, while our world, Stark, is the world of science and technology.

Arcadia also appears in the long running British sci-fi TV series ‘Doctor Who’ as the name given to the second-city of Gallifrey – the Time Lord’s home-planet.

The gods of ancient Greece, play a central role in a future human world, in Andrea Stehle’s sci-mythology series, ‘The Gods of Arcadia‘.

And the term Et In Arcadi Ego appears in the last two episodes of season 1 of ‘Star Trek: Picard‘, in relation to the planet Coppelius of the synthezoids.

One of the most popular Edwardian musical comedies was ‘The Arcadians‘. In 1993, British playwright Tom Stoppard wrote ‘Arcadia‘ (originally to have been titled Et in Arcadia ego) a play involving themes of classical beauty and order in nature.

Arcadia‘ were a spin-off musical group formed in 1985 by three members of the successful British pop band Duran Duran. In 2010, Tobias Sammett produced a rock opera, Angel of Babylon, which features as its final track, ‘Journey to Arcadia‘.

Title woodcut for Utopia, written by Thomas More. photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The second key word in this dissertation is Utopia. Our friends at Google tells us the following about this term.

“Utopia” is a word made up from the Greek “ou” (“not”) and “topos” (“place”). It roughly means “no place” and it is used as the name for an imaginary society that is perfect or near perfect, unlike the societies we find in the real world.

Utopias have characteristics such as peaceful government. equality for citizens, access to education, healthcare, employment, and so forth. The concept name was created by Sir Thomas More in 1516 as the title of his book, ‘Utopia‘, which was a fictional description of an island that had the qualities of perfection.

An example of a society, embracing utopian values, was Nowa Huta on the outskirts of Krakow in southern Poland. Nowa Huta is one of only two planned socialist ‘realist’ settlements or districts ever built and a prime example of deliberate social engineering by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.  Built as a utopian ideal city, some of its buildings and streets resemble the grandeur of Paris or London. The high abundance of parks and green areas in Nowa Huta make it the greenest corner of Kraków. 

Nowa Huta, in greater Krakow, Poland. photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Most of the original utopias were created for religious purposes. One of the earliest was devised by a German – George Rapp – who took 600 followers to western Pennsylvania in 1804.

And since on the topic of religion, the Garden of Eden is the utopia of a mankind that yearns for something only known to him through reverie —although we must not forget that, perhaps, life is a dream. The Garden of Eden is the symbolic space of perfect harmony — the place in which absolute happiness reigns.

And utopian settlements have been in the minds of theosophical leaders for a very long time. Six months before her eightieth birthday in October 1927, Annie Besant (1847–1933), the charismatic international president of the Theosophical Society, announced an ambitious new project in the pages of the organisation’s monthly journal, the ‘Theosophist‘:

Annie Besant (1847 – 1933). 2nd International President of the Theosophical Society.

“The Happy Valley Foundation has been established in the Ojai Valley and 465 acres of the most beautiful part of the Valley have been bought.”

In a prospectus dated 11 January 1927, Besant declared the purpose of this purchase:

“We desire to form on this land a Centre which shall gradually grow into a miniature model of the New Civilization, in which bodies, emotions, and minds shall be trained and disciplined in daily life into health, poise, and high intelligence, fit dwellings for the Divine Life, developing the spirit of Brotherhood practically in everyday arrangements and methods of living.”

The land was situated about 80 miles north of Los Angeles. Besant called it the Happy Valley.  According to American theosophist and author, Kurt Leland, she hoped to create there an utopian community that would fulfil two aspects of the grand destiny of the TS (Theosophical Society), as she saw it.

One aspect of this destiny was to realize a statement attributed to a high spiritual being called the Mahāchohan (“Great Lord”), received in a letter of 1882 by an early member of the TS in India:

“The Theosophical Society was chosen as the corner stone, the foundation of the future religion of humanity.”

The second aspect of Besant’s vision to be fulfilled in the Happy Valley was to develop a new physiological and spiritual type of humanity that would eventually replace our current competitive, mental-bound civilization with another based on co-operation and intuition. This new civilization would develop the principle of buddhi, a Sanskrit word which Besant defined as follows:

“the faculty above the ratiocinating mind, the Pure Reason, exercising the discriminative faculty of intuition, of spiritual discernment.”

According to Kurt Leland, in an article entitled Annie Besant: Philosopher-King

Kurt Leland

Besant’s “pure, compassionate Reason” entails “the principle of unifying . . . separate individualities [into one], and making them realise the spiritual unity which overshadows and underlies them all. For Besant, “the inner purpose of the Society was to prepare the world for the coming of a new Race, and itself to be the nucleus of that Race” —hence its focus on universal brotherhood, “the only thing which is binding on members of the Theosophical Society.”

In a series of lectures given in London in June 1927, Besant stated:

In what I have called the “Happy Valley” . . . we shall have a kind of miniature of the New Civilisation which will have economic Socialism, practical Brotherhood, as its basis, added to that hierarchical form of Government which places the Government in the hands of the wise.

Happy Valley was a project no doubt inspired by the utopian vision outlined in Plato’s ‘Republic‘: a government of the wise by highly trained guardians under the direction of a philosopher king.

Besant did not live to see her blessed project come to fruition, however, Besant’s educational aspects were included in the core philosophy of the Happy Valley School founded during World War II – now called the Besant Hill School of Happy Valley.

H. P. Blavatsky speaks about happiness and utopia:

Happiness cannot exist where truth is absent, erected upon the shifting sands of human fiction and hypotheses. Happiness is merely a house of cards, tumbling down at the first whiff. It cannot exist in reality as long as egotism reigns supreme in civilised societies. As long as intellectual progress will refuse to accept a subordinate position to ethical progress and egotism will not give way to the altruism preached by Gautama and the true historical Jesus – the one of the pagan sanctuary, not the Christ of the Churches, – happiness for all the members of humanity will remain a Utopia.” (Collected Writings, Volume 8, page 77)

And she pens the following about Brotherhood and Utopia:

“So then we postulate the idea of Universal Brotherhood, we wish it to be understood it is held in no utopian sense, though we do not dream of realising it at once on the ordinary plane of social or national relations. Most assuredly if this view of the kinship of all mankind could gain universal acceptance, the approved sense of moral responsibility it would engender would cause most social evils and international asperities to disappear for a true altruism, instead of the present egoism would be the rule the world over.”(Collected Writings, Volume 13, page 302)

Altruism, seems to be a core tenet of life in a Utopian world.  And at the very root of the Buddhist way of life – i.e. living for others.

Gautama the Buddha, we are told, remained in solitude long enough for him to arrive at the truth, to the propagation of which he devoted himself from that time on – begging his bread and living for humanity. The idea is that these great teachers do not feel the need to hide in caves.

Mother Teresa, Washington D. C. 10th June 1995. photo courtesy of Wikipedia

And we have had several examples in the modern world of just that. Many of you are familiar with the name Mother Teresa, who died early in this century after decades of service in India, working amongst lepers. As an example of a person whose heart was in the right place, she never caught the disease with which she was dealing.

There is an order of nuns based on the edge of London’s Hyde Park – just around the corner from Marble Arch and the TS in England’s HQ. Again, not a cloistered existence, they work amongst prostitutes in the red light district of Soho.

Diana, Princess of Wales. Washington D. C. 1996. The most photographed woman in her time. photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Many of you recall Princess Diana working with Aids victims. These are not people who have to give in this way, simply for publicity.

Then closer to home, in a spiritual sense, there is the Theosophical Order of Service – which is very active in helping wherever disasters strike all around the world. In Britain they have a very successful initiative called ‘Teddies for Tragedies’.

We have many examples around us of people who, everyday, are giving beyond the norm– who are simply opening their pockets, if they have money and making a difference in Society, going about it quietly and not accepting any sort of thanks. There are people who endow the Arts in the USA and Britain making it possible for cultural institutions to open their doors to the public for little or not charge. Others are anonymously helping the poor in both the developed and Third World providing the funds for much needed food, medicine and shelter.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1974. photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Another strand to consider in this article has to do with the underlying concept of conflict and duality. The Russian writer, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, has a famous quote on which we should all ponder, regularly – the essence of which is there will not be peace in the world as long as man is at war with himself.

We have this battle in ourselves and the challenge is to balance our Higher and Lower Nature – which might be compared to two sides of one coin.

As the Oracle at Delphi, in ancient Greece would have it. The goal is to ‘Know Thyself’.

This internal battle is one, which I should imagine, each and every one of us have been fighting since we were born. It manifests in a myriad of ways – and no two persons have identical ‘challenges’.

But it’s no good, acting like an ostrich, because if one does not learn a particular lesson in this life, as day follows night and night follows day, you can be sure that unfinished lesson will greet you upon your return in the next life.

The concept of a unitary philosophy of life seems to be playing out more and more in the modern world. Several ecological and even economic movements have been seeded and ordinary people are now protesting – mostly peaceably – on behalf of endangered species of plants and animals and, as well, in support of disadvantaged people suffering at the hands of tyrannical regimes. There seems to be a growing understanding at gut level amongst the young of shared goals and responsibilities for the planet and all its occupants.

While it might be easy to get drawn into taking sides on apparent injustices in our own or other countries, perhaps it might be best to try and rise above any dualistic position and practice what the Buddha described as ‘the Middle Way’.

This is where meditation comes into sharp focus as a practice that – when in touch at a deeper level – helps us to focus and become of real assistance to our fellow man. Change yourself and you can change the world.

On many occasions Blavatsky remarked that the biggest problem of the world is not material but rather one of spiritual poverty.

One should never under-estimate the effect we have on others around us – for good or ill– and ‘the Power of Thought’ , if used positively, can make the world a better place.

The most extraordinary events of the past year – with what pundits might say is a once in a century pandemic – have given, during various lockdowns, all of us a chance to ponder on what really matters in life: and it’s not material possessions. The veil of ignorance, one might contend, has been lifted (cynics might say but just for a brief spell), and with it a great outpouring of compassion to our fellow humans– with acts of kindness both big and small being experienced on a daily basis. Citizens of the world have been given a grand opportunity to take stock and reflect on their part in the greater scheme of things and their absolutely vital relationship with planet earth and all sentient beings.

Perhaps, going forward, the green agenda might become embedded in the hearts and minds of global corporations, governments and the man and woman in the street. The upshot of all this could be the return to an Arcadian way of life in a Utopian world.

A Canadian by birth, Colyn Boyce is a former radio journalist, who worked in central British Columbia in the 1970s. Born in 1951, he joined the Theosophical Society in Vancouver in 1969. An inveterate traveller, he hitch-hiked across America in 1972 and travelled extensively through southern and central Europe after arriving in Britain in 1977. What was meant to be a six month holiday, turned in permanent residency in the UK. From 1981 until 2018, he was Publicist for the English Section of the Theosophical Society – arranging an ambitious programme of lectures, seminars and courses. For about 25 years he was assistant editor of the house magazine, ‘Insight‘, which he typeset and illustrated – showcasing many of his own photographs. In 2018 he undertook a lecture tour of theosophical branches in western Canada and in 2019 – over a 3 week stint – spoke in Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York City and Buffalo.


Published by hermesrisen

writer, theologian and broadcaster, my work can be found at Colyn Boyce is co-editor for Hermes Risen and is a writer, photographer and all round good guy.

3 thoughts on “Arcadia, Utopia and A Brave New World. by Colyn Boyce

  1. Nicely written piece! Back in the early 90’s, I had an exhibition of Tarot Major Arcana images at the Wheaton Theosophical Society.There is a later more personal,less derivative version of “Strength” on my Facebook page you might find interesting. carry on the good work and thanks for friending me. Sincerely, David


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