Faeriean Metaphysics: Seeing the Soul and the Perilous Realm

Mushrooms. A fairy ring in a lawn. Measures 7 ...

Mushrooms. A fairy ring in a lawn. Measures 7 feet in diameter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Friends and Family,

Several times now on this blog have I written about Faerie and the enchantment of our universe. Today I wanted to reflect on a few different things I’ve come across lately in relation to this.

What Is Faeriean Metaphysics?

Faeriean is an adjective I made up at the recent Centre of Theology and Philosophy Conference on the Soul after hearing John Milbank’s response to William Desmond’s paper. I’ll come back to that in a moment. I got the idea for the phrasing from Jonathan McIntosh, who has an excellent blog called The Flame Imperishable, and a whole category called The Metaphysics of Faerie, where he does some work on theology and philosophy in J. R. R. Tolkien. For me, Faeriean Metaphysics is the act whereby we recognise the enchanted nature and mystery of our universe. It helps us to see the world with fresh eyes, eyes willing to see wonder in everything. Faeriean metaphysics is the act whereby we recognise that ontology, that is being, is not static, reducible, or de-mythologised. I’m still working on this notion, but I think it is important that our metaphysics include, and be shaped by, Faerie.

The Secret Commonwealth

English: The Minister's Pine According to loca...

English: The Minister’s Pine According to local legend, the spirit of the Reverend Robert Kirk who is said to have had contact with the faerie world is trapped within the tree. To this day people still tie pieces of material or “clooties” to the branches of the tree in the hope of having their wishes granted. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Secret Commonwealth, are the peoples who make up what is known as Faerie, Fairyland, Elfland, The Perilous Land, Logres (in Britatin), and many other names. A certain Robertus Kirk wrote a book by this title in the Seventeenth Century. In this book, Kirk argues that there are some who are born with second sight, that is the ability to see those things in nature which are typically invisible, faeries, aspects of the future, etc. Kirk even seeks to connect this to the prophets in Bible. They were imbued with the second sight from birth and this accounts for the ability to hear directly from God and see visions. It also meant, however, that they could see elves and fairies. David Bentley Hart in an article on First Things entitled The Secret Commonwealth, comments that Kirk’s understanding of the world is, at the very least, better than the sterilised vision of the world given to us by Modernity. Hart writes:

Moreover, even if one suspects this is not a matter so much of illusion as of delusion, again that is of no consequence. A delusion this amiable is endlessly preferable to boredom, for boredom is the one force that can utterly defeat the will to be, and so the will to care at all what is or is not true. It is only some degree of prior enchantment that allows the eye to see, and to seek to see yet more. And so, deluded or not, a belief in fairies will always be in some sense far more rational than the absolute conviction that such things are sheer nonsense, and that the cosmos consists in nothing but brute material events in haphazard combinations. Or, I suppose, another way of saying this would be that the ability of any of us to view the world with some sort of contemplative rationality rests upon the capacity we possessed as children to see in everything a kind of articulate mystery, and to believe in far more than what ordinary vision discloses to us: a capacity that endows us with that spiritual eros that allows us to know and love the world, and that we are wise to continue to cultivate in ourselves even after age and disillusion have weakened our sight.

In the end, as Puddleglum would agree, if the make-believe is better than the real world, I’ll take the make-believe every time.

John Milbank, Faerie, and The Soul

Finally, I noted at the beginning that I came up with the word faeriean after John gave a response to William Desmond’s paper at the Soul Conference in Oxford. John said, and I’m paraphrasing here, to believe in fairies is to believe in the soul. For John, Faerie leads us to the soul, the form of our bodies (in an Aristotelian sense), for both can only be seen when we have the eyes to see. I want to turn this ’round, however. To believe in the soul is to believe in Faerie. Kirk thought only some were born with the second-sight. I would agree when it comes to prophets, especially those who see the outcome of current and future events. However, I believe every Christian who is a temple of the Holy Spirit is imbued with the second-sight, with the ability to see Faerie.

We only need to change our perception and we shall see the world rightly. This we must do, or we shall go blind.

So, do you believe in Faerie?


Related Articles

“God, Gods, and Fairies”

Why Edmund isn’t Judas: The Chronicles of Narnia, Allegory or Supposition?

Lies Breathed through Silver or How God Creates History: Myths and Christianity

The Enchantment of Creation Or, I Do Believe in Faerie

In Defence of Harry Potter, Or Harry Potter and the Magic of Christianity

More Tolkien: Looking forward to the Hobbit

Before The Hobbit

In Defence of Father Christmas

Centre of Theology and Philosophy Soul Conference: Reflections


Dear Friends and Family,

Well, I’m up, if not at ’em, this morning and back in Nottingham after the Centre of Theology and Philosophy’s conference on The Soul. The conference was, in a word, excellent. Never have I attended a conference so large, so full of varying positions on the conference theme (as well as other issues) and yet so friendly and cordial. I made many new friends and got to spend time with some old ones.

My paper was given on Saturday and I am told it went well. I will be submitting for review and hopefully publication with the other conference papers given. I’ll let you know the results of that as well as who the publisher will be once I know.

Both the plenary sessions and the panel sessions were filled with excellent papers. Some of my favourites, in terms of plenary papers, would have to include both David Bentley Hart’s and John Milbank’s which both sought to show that we cannot think of ourselves or the world without a notion of the soul. For both presenters, the soul is not something one has, as if, in kind of Cartesian sense, one could still be a human without a soul, but that to be human is to be made of body and soul and to reflect on this will turn us to see God.

Before John and David, however, there was Iain and Conor. Iain McGilchrist gave an interesting presentation on the brain and the mind. McGilchrist was not wanting to go the direction of fully reductive materialism (I think), but his presentation put most of its emphasis on how the two halves of the brain were split to see things either in parts or as whole. Cunningham’s presentation, however, wanted to insist on why we need to think in terms of soul. For Cunningham (and I’m inclined to agree) pure materialism leaves you in a nihilistic vacuum where nothing can be good or bad. For Cunningham, the soul, and specifically, the Christian understanding of the world is the only way we can truly call things good and bad and have those words mean something.

Marilynne Robinson’s presentation, in part on the need for further beauty in theological writing, was beautifully presented. Robinson speaks with the voice of the unadulterated, the pre-industrialised Midwest. Though I disagreed with her, or at least did not understand her at points, her talk was beautiful. As was the response given by John de Gruchy, which was one of the most charitable responses ever given.

On the last day we heard from both Mary Midgely and later, William Desmond. Midgley, who will be 94 this September, did an excellent job, retaining the vim and vigor of her mind, if not quite her body. Midgely was one of the first to tackle Richard Dawkins back in, I believe, the 1980’s. Desmond rounded out the conference by speaking on Soul Music versus Self Music. As I understood it, the basic point of his presentation is that soul music goes beyond purely the self, that is the individual and connects all to all in expressing our innermost being.

Desmond finished off his presentation, after Milbank gave an excellent response, the fashion you’ll see below.

I definitely didn’t see this coming and was overjoyed when it did. Desmond also mentioned that enjoyed one of my favourite movies from when I was a child, Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

All in all, this was an excellent conference and certainly plan to continue attending them so long as we have the time and money for me to do so.


Preparing for a Conference: Centre for Theology and Philosophy Conference on the Soul


Dear Friends and Family,

This week I and several of my colleagues here at the University of Nottingham are preparing ourselves for this year’s Centre of Theology and Philosophy conference on The Soul. The line-up definitely looks excellent:

Plenary 1: Iain McGilchrist and Conor Cunningham

Plenary 2: John Milbank and David Bentley Hart

Plenary 3: Marilynne Robinson with response from John de Gruchy

An Interview with Mary Midgley in conversation with Graham Ward

Plenary 4: William Desmond and respondents.

Plus a great line-up of parallel sessions, one of which I’ll be presenting in on C. S. Lewis, his science-fiction, the Church Fathers, and, of course, deification.

Therefore, my time this week is going to spent working on my second chapter and refining my presentation for the conference. What this means for me is mornings spent writing one thing, and afternoons spent editing another. Here’s hoping I don’t get the two confused.

Also, perhaps quite apropos for the paper I’m giving, this year’s conference is in Oxford, so you can trust that trips to the Eagle and Child Pub, where the Inklings would meet once a week, will be in my future. I’ll write another post once the conference is over. For now, enjoy the rest of your week as I get ready to confer.