Ezra Pound wrote the following about T. S. Eliot: “READ HIM”. They say that criticism is the highest form of flattery. As such, this review will be highly critical both to differentiate my views from the views of the author of Wyrd, but also in the hopes that some of the more glaring faults in the book will be rectified in a second edition. Notwithstanding the criticism below, and following Pound, I will simply say this of Elani: READ HIM! If you wish to proceed no farther, turn around and read Wyrd. It is a good and necessary book; a good and necessary book with faults, but good and necessary nonetheless.
Wyrd: Against the Modern World has a pleasant cover design, good quality creme colored paper, and is printed in Canada. The book appears to not be printed on demand. In this age where most books are either printed on demand or imported from China, this is a pleasant surprise. On the other hand, the typesetting and layout of the book has serious issues. The text is left-aligned rather than justified, and with tools such as LaTeX and Pandoc out there, leaving a jagged right edge is inexcusable and seriously hampers the reader’s enjoyment. One also has to wonder whether spell-checkers are the worst things to happen to writers, since it seems books are no longer read closely for errors and typos. It is a fact that many books these days are not edited at all, and even those that are edited, are edited by outsourced individuals with subpar English skills working for paltry sums of money. I have, sadly, read a number of expensive books published by highly regarded academic presses that contain dozens of typos per page. Elani’s book is published by a small, start-up publishing company, yet the number of typos is far less than that encountered in many Routledge and Bloomsbury books. Great, but there are still dozens of simple typos that could have easily been fixed with a good close reading prior to publication. Examples include: too many spaces in places, missing spaces in other places, out of place carriage returns, “ommunication” instead of “communication”, “connects” instead of “connections”, “become” instead of “became”, “depending” instead of “depended”, “were” instead of “where”, “is was” instead of “it was”, “it” instead of “is”, “lead” instead of “led”, “Lawerence” instead of “Lawrence”, “or” instead of “of”, “found discovered”, “the our”, “xhumanity” instead of “humanity”, etc. All of these simple typos could have been fixed by the editor and it is a shame that they were not. The typos are easily discoverable and don’t seriously impact one’s ability to read the text, but they are an annoyance. None of the book’s citations are cited according to common academic practice: there is no bibliography and there are no page references. This is not a bad thing, for Jacques Ellul stated that books are meant to be read, not consulted.
I am not sure what Ramon Elani’s precise spiritual tradition is, but from Wyrd it seems to be some sort of amalgam of northern polytheisms. Many of my disagreements with the book probably come down to issues of theology and differences between northern and southern traditions. I, for one, am far more attached to the southern traditions of the Greeks, Etruscans, and Egyptians. On pages 12-13 it is stated that the Gods are not dead, but that they live in our dream world. Yes, this is true, but they also live truly and really. The Gods are not just within us, but they are out there, even though they may have distanced themselves from us. There is one God and there are many Gods! Or from D. H. Lawrence: “For me, there may be one god, but he is nameless and unknowable. For me, there are also many gods, that come into me and leave me again. And they have various wills, I must say.” Some wonderful writers, such as Kathleen Raine, have gotten much out of Jung, but for me, the weakest part of the book was the chapter on Jung. Lawrence’s Fantasia, to me at least, trumps anything Jung wrote, and Lawrence transcends so-called psychological polytheism. Just look to Lawrence’s essay On Being Religious: “I tell you, it isn’t blasphemy. Ask any philosopher or theologian, and he’ll tell you that the real problem for humanity isn’t whether God exists or not. God always is, and we all know it. But the problem is, how to get at Him. That is the greatest problem ever set to our habit-making humanity. The theologians try to find out: How shall man put himself into relation to God, into a living relation? Which is, How shall Man find God?—That’s the real problem.” I believe the book would have benefited from a longer chapter on D. H. Lawrence, and the replacement of the chapter on Jung with one on Heidegger.
A bit of a bug-bear throughout the text is the constant focus on climate change. Yes, we are going through climate change, yes, we caused it, and no, we probably won’t be able to fix things as a society, but there are so many other problems than just climate change, so I wish Elani would have used a more generic term, such as eco-catastrophe. Lawrence, in Movements in European History wrote the following: “It seems the climate of North Europe was colder then than now. In those days great armies of Romans marched across the frozen Rhine, rolling their ponderous baggage-wagons on the ice. This could never happen now, the river does not freeze to this extent. The reindeer, also, which roamed the northern swamps and the Hercynian forests, now cannot live even round the southern Baltic. He must go much farther north, or he dies of warmth. Again, we are told that the wine of the Romans froze into lumps in the German camps. Now, in these very regions, the vine grows.—Perhaps the clearing of swamps and forests has made the difference, perhaps there is a change in the world.” Yes, there is a change in the world, a material change that is the external manifestation of our interior emptiness.
All of the modern religions have sold their souls, and it has been well demonstrated that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all contributed to the advent of capitalism, but polytheism is not necessarily a solution. Just look to India, which had the great tradition of the Vedanta, yet is now the most technology obsessed country on the planet. No, it is not the religions that are at fault but the people. Revelation 7:3 states the following: “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees.” If the Christians followed this simple precept they would be the most environmentalist community on the planet. A true polytheism does not disparage Christ, Allah, or Jehovah, because they are welcome under a big tent. All Gods, even the most jealous Gods are Names and manifestations of the one Divine. There is one God, yet there are many Gods.
I also take exception to the statement on page 15 that “the universe will not weep for the salmon”. The universe is alive, and the Gods live! The Gods do weep for all creatures. Lawrence wrote the following corrective to this:
And I think in this empty world there was room for me and a mountain
And I think in the world beyond, how easily we might spare a million or
two of humans
And never miss them.
Yet what a gap in the world, the missing white frost-face of that slim
yellow mountain lion!
With a book having the title Wyrd, one would expect a focus on fate, but at times the book ventures from fate to fatalism. It is near certain that humanity will not change, that the crisis will not be averted, and that hope for this world will be in vain, but hope there must be. It pleases the Gods when one works for the Good. Even if it is a losing battle, one must always fight, and one must always hope. One would wish for Wyrd to encourage hope, while still being realistic. Our modern techno-hell-civilization chases techno-transcendence like Ahab chased the white whale. Perhaps the most we can hope for is that the whale destroys our civilization before it is too late for life to exist on this planet, but it is hope nonetheless. Technology is the incarnated forces of Satan, Dajjal, Prometheus, and Hephaestus. We must fight the evil forces.
On page 41, in discussing modern medical science, Elani could have improved the section through reference to the works of Ivan Illich.
On page 43, it is stated that we must love climate change. No! There is a time for hatred and we must hate, hate, hate technology and all the horrors it has wreaked upon this earth, our home. Again, Lawrence, from Quetzalcoatl: “Oh for revenge, for revenge! Oh his terrible hatred of men, his hate of the hearts of men. Oh to be able to strike out their hearts and hold them smoking to the sun, as his ancestors had done in the blood-stinking temples of Huichilobos. To take revenge, a colossal blood-revenge. Revenge is for the gods. But men are executors for the gods. To serve the god of revenge. Only that! Only that! To take an unspeakable revenge on mankind, because of the utter unmanliness of mankind.”
It is wonderful that Chapter 1 included a brief section on René Guénon, but I wish it was longer. The book would have benefited from an expanded section on Guénon that included references to his other works, especially Reign of Quantity and Signs of the Times. Including a chapter on Guénon and Frithjof Schuon could have broadened the appeal of the book.
The chapter on D. H. Lawrence is welcome and is to be applauded, but one wishes that the chapter was twice as long and included reference to other major works of Lawrence, such as Fantasia of the Unconscious, The Crown, and especially his poetry. The focus on the Lawrence chapter is on the “blood”, but Lawrence’s religious ideas are so much more than that. The blood is just one small facet of Lawrence’s philosophy. On page 93, Elani refers to Bertrand Russell’s claim that Lawrence was a fascist. Elani defends Lawrence, but fails to mention that Russell’s claims were made as a cowardly, posthumous revenge due to the unassailable criticisms Lawrence laid against Russell, and which cut him to the core. Again, I will state that Jung does not surpass Lawrence. Jung is dangerous, as are all the psychologists. Jacques Ellul considered the psychotherapists to be the most dangerous and reprehensible of people. Rather than an inward retreat to the unconscious, Lawrence’s way out was the same as Heidegger’s namely that the Gods can save us now. The Gods are here and now, and we only need to call them. Lawrence:
What are the gods, then, what are the gods!
The gods are nameless and imageless
yet looking in a great full lime-tree of summer
I suddenly saw deep into the eyes of god:
it is enough.
All men are worshippers
unless they have fallen, and become robots.
All men worship the wonder of life
until they collapse into egoism, the mechanical, self-centred system of the
But even in pristine men, there is the difference:
some men can see life clean and flickering all around,
and some can only see what they are shown.
Some men look straight into the eyes of the gods
and some men can see no gods, they only know
the gods are there because of the gleam on the faces of the men who see.
Most men, even unfallen, can only live
by the transmitted gleam from the faces of vivider men
who look into the eyes of the gods.
And worship is the joy of the gleam from the eyes of the gods,
and the robot is denial of the same,
even the denial that there is any gleam.
Lawrence knew that a disaster was coming, but he always fought and always held out hope. Read his poem The Triumph of the Machine and stand in awe. The poem accurately describes just what is happening in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. We humans have destroyed so much, but when we leave, the animals return. If human civilization ends in fire, the earth may heal, the birds, beasts, and flowers may once again live happy lives. For all their hubris, and their desire to be machines, humans will always fail unless they have humility and learn the art of worship. The machine will never triumph, but the Gods always triumph, and they do so with a grin on their faces.
The chapter on Jeffers is excellent, but Lawrence was not anthropocentric. Poems such as Snake, Man and Bat, and Mountain Lion show that Lawrence was, like Saint Francis, one of the people who could transcend their limited species and speak to the other forms of life on this planet. Jeffers is wonderful, but he is nearly wholly negative, and his negative perspective can be depressing and even lead to nihilism, whereas Lawrence’s world-view is God-centric and life affirming. Lawrence saw things more clearly than Jeffers.
One of the most serious errors of the book concerns the doctrine of immortality. No one knows precisely what happens after death, but there is a life after death. Lawrence believed strongly in the concept of a bodily resurrection. His symbol of the phoenix was not poorly chosen. Lawrence not only believed in the bodily resurrection, but also that spirits could affect their loved ones from beyond the grave. One must add, however, that for Lawrence, as for Ibn Sina, only those who are awakened attain to immortality, whereas the vast bulk of humanity is spiritually and physically returned to the source, and for the lack of a better term, recycled. I feel that Elani’s book would have more depth, theologically, if he delved into the southern polytheistic tradition, including Plato, Plotinus, and so on, or the writings of the Christian Platonist Marsilio Ficino. It may not be easy for the modern mind to accept such mysteries, but we must start, and to start we must make a Kierkegaardian leap of faith.
The last chapter of the book, Home, is by far the strongest in the entire book and is worth the price of admission alone. One hopes that some of the criticism and suggestions put forth above make it into a second edition of Wyrd, and one may also hope that Elani writes another book, this time expanding on home and homecoming. For Heidegger homecoming was of paramount importance, and for Simone Weil, we have an innate need for roots. These are things Lawrence writes about in poems such as The combative spirit, Things men have made—, Things made by iron—, Whatever man makes—, etc.
It may seem that this review has been largely critical, and rightly so, but let it be said that most books today are not worth the paper they are printed on and are not worth the time taken to review them. Elani’s book Wyrd is wonderful, it is necessary, and it is a true gem in the manure pile of books published every year. Read Wyrd, read it again, think about it, ponder its ideas, feel free to disagree with me and Elani, but don’t walk away without letting the book change your life.
Reviewed by Farasha Euker