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Civilisation Art and Beauty by Wayne Gatfield

One of my favourite articles by HP Blavatsky is “Civilisation the death of Art and Beauty.” The only part of it that I wasn’t keen on was the word ‘death’ which I thought was a little pessimistic!

In this article she bemoans the fact that countries like Japan, who have strong Spiritual traditions, began to imitate the West and abandon their beautiful traditional dress and customs for those of the materialistic west.

St Cecilia by John Meluish Strudwick

We can see this today in Japan and other countries where the men wear suits and ties and the women western clothing. Kimonos are used just for special occasions and tourist events it seems.

She writes in the above-mentioned article: “Like a hideous leprosy our Western civilization has eaten its way through all the quarters of the globe and hardened the human heart. “

These are strong words and indeed the whole article has such vehement criticism of the west: “Therefore, do we find hitherto artistic and picturesque Japan succumbing wholly to the temptation of justifying the “ape theory” by simianizing its populations in order to bring the country on a level with canting, greedy and artificial Europe!

For certainly Europe is all this. It is canting and deceitful from its diplomats down to its custodians of religion, from its political down to its social laws, selfish, greedy and brutal beyond expression in its grabbing characteristics. And yet there are those who wonder at the gradual decadence of true art, as if art could exist without imagination, fancy, and a just appreciation of the beautiful in Nature, or without poetry and high religious, hence, metaphysical aspirations!”

Perhaps she wasn’t aware of artists like the Pre-Raphaelites who were at least trying to bring a little of this beauty into the world and the great poets like Shelley, Byron, Keats, Yeats, Wordsworth and Tennyson etc. She certainly admired Shelley as she mentions him in some of her writings.

I think that what she wrote is even more relevant today than then. There are not many ‘Romantic’ poets left, it is all about being ‘street wise’ and expressing ‘reality’, but not in a Spiritual sense. The same with most art, though a few are still producing beautiful and uplifting works. Sadly they are in a minority at the moment, but there are always reasons to be optimistic. Seeds are planted and many are keeping the flame of true beauty in art , poetry, music and literature burning.

She also had a remarkable awareness of mankind’s effect on the climate, which was well ahead of its time:

“Owing to the triumphant march and the invasion of civilization, Nature, as well as man and ethics, is sacrificed, and is fast becoming artificial. Climates are changing, and the face of the whole world will soon be altered. Under the murderous hand of the pioneers of civilization, the destruction of whole primeval forests is leading to the drying up of rivers, and the opening of the Canal of Suez has changed the climate of Egypt as that of Panama will divert the course of the Gulf Stream. Almost tropical countries are now becoming cold and rainy, and fertile lands threaten to be soon transformed into sandy deserts. “

Art has followed the path of materialism rather than that of the Spirit. We have to look at what is meant by civilisation. One of the dictionary definitions is: “…the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced.”

Everything then rests on what certain people in positions of power regards as ‘social and cultural development and organisation.”

Those who have no affinity with the “Good the True and the Beautiful” will believe that material progress is aligned with cultural development and has little to do with anything artistic. The personality is all that is fed, not the Soul and Spirit. To feed those you need to read Spiritual literature, meditate, listen to inspiring music, look at beautiful art or read uplifting poetry. Otherwise, your inner Self may starve and your lower intellectual mind grow fat with mere facts.

Caring for the environment doesn’t just refer to the physical environment, it also means our inner environment too. What is outside always begins from the inside and it is essential to take care of our inner landscape so that it reacts upon the world outside and our fellow creatures upon this planet.

To do this we must allow the light of the Spirit to illuminate us slowly through our studies, meditations and practices until we are moulded in its image.

This is why to say everyone is perfect just as they are cannot be right and just succeeds in hampering our progress to return to our Spiritual nature. If we just accept that point of view then it will just bring about stagnation and no desire to align oneself with the Spirit within.

There is a fascination today with ugliness, which is a symptom of a society that is Spiritually dead. There is also a denial that ugliness even exists and it is said by some, that it is in fact beauty in another sense. Plotinus states:

“Let us, then, go back to the source, and indicate at once the Principle that bestows beauty on material things.
Undoubtedly this Principle exists; it is something that is perceived at the first glance, something which the soul names as from an ancient knowledge and, recognising, welcomes it, enters into unison with it.
But let the soul fall in with the Ugly and at once it shrinks within itself, denies the thing, turns away from it, not accordant, resenting it.”

So why have people nowadays such an obsession with ugliness, even going so far as to call it beauty?

Why do so many abandon looking natural to alter their appearance towards the grotesque and why an obsession with everything that is foul and degenerate in film, art and literature? Why also is there an interest in those who commit evil acts, such as serial killers and tyrants, etc?

It is a reflection of our divorce from nature. Not only do we deface the landscape we also deface ourselves as part of that very nature. Society has drifted away from the natural and the truly beautiful to follow a path that has been laid out by those who are guided by selfish and materialistic concepts and who are so divorced from their Spiritual nature that they mould themselves into a form that is opposed to that very nature.

Of course, inner beauty is much more important than outer. Physical beauty can be a façade and hide an ugly soul. On the other hand, someone who is not outwardly attractive can possess a shining Spirit. The latter is of infinitely more value, as someone who is physically attractive may become vain and arrogant as a result.

Nuruddin Abdur Rahman Jami writes:

“Wherever beauty peeped out, Love appeared beside it; wherever Beauty shone in a rosy cheek, Love lit his torch from that flame.
Wherever beauty dwelt in dark tresses, Love came and found a heart entangled in their coils.
Beauty and Love are as body and soul; Beauty is the mine and Love the precious stone.
They have always been together from the very first; never have they travelled but in each other’s company.”

Therefore, in summary, the key to creating artistic works of Beauty is to Love, and that is what is lacking in the world at the moment. If Love dies, then so does Beauty and vice versa. To have a vision of Real Love we have to open the eye of the Soul and see clearly what quality of Beauty awakens in us an awareness of our Spiritual nature. This Beauty may be in things we see or hear; in nature, art, poetry, music or other human beings. Or it may be in a compassionate and caring heart, or in the Silence where we can become “recipient of the Soul of the World “, as Ralph Waldo Emerson expresses it.

Let us hope now we will witness the renaissance of Spiritual Art and a just appreciation of True Beauty. Please check out Wayne’s YouTube channel:


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.

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