Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Blog > Hills and Dales of Columbia County

Hills and Dales of Columbia County

Posted by Pir Zia Inayat-Khan on May 6, 2009

At any event the world is the result of a mutual effect between myself and the divine being. Everything that exists and comes into being—does so out of contact between spirits. —Novalis 

What better way to celebrate the birthday of Novalis than to ramble over sun-dappled hillsides tracking the traffic of elementals, as we did last Saturday?

The day began in the Abode herb garden. At eye-level, the herb garden presents itself as a jumble of beds bearing a variety of culinary and medicinal herbs and flowers. But look down from the bell tower of the adjacent barn and a pattern is revealed: the garden is a vegetal winged heart!


The Abode Herb Garden, May 2, 2009

A dozen or so of us formed a circle within the heart and made introductions. Among us were community residents, Green Hermeticists—including Seven Pillars Guiding Voices Christopher Bamford and Peter Lamborn Wilson —and a team of rural architects working on a master plan for the Abode.

Descending from the herb garden’s terrace we made our way to the farm fields below. These semi-permacultured fields keep the Abode kitchen flush with aromatic organic vegetables throughout the harvest season. Here, as in the herb garden, one senses that the rites of Ziraat have sealed, as it were, a spiritual treaty between the genii loci of the land and its human custodians.

Our next stop was the Sanctuary, a sacred space perched on the hillside overlooking Lebanon Valley. Symbolically, the Sanctuary is to the Abode’s residential compound what heaven is to earth. The Sanctuary was built in the ‘seventies on the model of the Universel, an interfaith temple conceived by Hazrat Inayat Khan (my grandfather). Five years ago a fire burned the wooden edifice of the Sanctuary to the ground, leaving in place only its foundation, a hollow square of quartz blocks. After much deliberation, we have recently decided not to rebuild with wood, but rather to cap the foundation, thereby creating a Chishti-style chilla-khana (meditation grotto) below and an open-air “altar of earth” above.


The Abode Sanctuary, before the fire.

From the Sanctuary we wended our way down the forested slope that leads to the pond, the farm, and the Orchard of the Prophets (a project of a recently-graduated class of the Suluk Academy). In pre-colonial times, this forest was quite possibly well-groomed parkland; in the era of the Shakers, it was treeless pastureland. 

Between pond, farm and orchard bubbles up a spring that always enchanted me as a child. Its subtle mystique bespeaks the presence of Khwaja Khizr, the Sufi Green Man and tutelary genius of living waters.

After lunch we reconvened indoors. At this point our tech-savvy Director Alia Wittman used Skype to digitally conjure up our good friend and colleague Paul Devereux, who greeted us from his home office in the Cotswolds. Paul’s ideas on astronomical alignments, dream incubation, and the significance of archaeological evidence kept the conversation lively. The meeting ended on a note of tribute to the much-lamented mystagogue of Earth Mysteries, John Michell.   

The day was not yet over. What remained was a visit to Phudd Bottom, the one-time home of John Cowper Powys situated below Phudd Hill in the old Dutch farming town of Harlemville, New York.

I discovered John Cowper Powys a few years ago when local bookseller Grover Askins confidently handed me an antique copy of Wolf Solent. Askins’ confidence was not misplaced. Wolf Solent, and indeed all of the works of Powys that I subsequently read, compellingly resonated with my own “personal mythology” of Elementalism1. When Powys’ biographer Morine Krissdottir describes the psychology of Wolf Solent’s protagonist as a “Sufi-like mysticism,” I am inclined to agree.

Powys’ mysticism is a kind of participation mystique in which humans, animals, trees, stones and stars perform spiritual transactions through the medium of the great “Inanimate Mystery” in which all life is embedded. A few favorite passages follow, drawn from three novels wherein Powys reaches the height of his lyrical power.

But his mind was grappling now with something more than machinery. More? Yes! There was more … somewhere … more … than just this dawn chilled Space, through which, like a wingless, tail-less, beak-less bird’s head, with oceans for eyes, the earth he lived upon lurched, darted, oscillated, shivered, spun! (Wolf Solent)

There are things that happen in the world that have an effect out of proportion to their apparent importance. It is as if there were always blowing a faint, supernatural wind through the world, holding a secret assuagement for troubled hearts, that is only perceptible when it can find a straw, a feather, a gossamer-seed, a leaf, in the debris of circumstances light enough for it to stir. (Weymouth Sands)

Burning angels of the spheres they were, moving so rapidly in their eternal circles that their very speed made them motionless. … He began to feel as if all those enormous burning Beings were projecting in ever-widening circles a dazzling and glittering spray of desire as they plunged and dived and floated, and then rose up again, following the great astral wheel of supermundane life that is encircled by the Primum Mobile of the cosmos! Yes, he was sharing, he was sharing the high translunar impulse of those celestial creatures as they drew sweeter and ever sweeter music from the dark bosom of eternally receding space! (Owen Glendower)

Christopher and Peter are likewise avid readers of Powys, and last week Christopher managed to contact the owners of Phudd Bottom, who were kind enough to invite our little group to visit on Saturday. Powys lived with his companion Phyllis Plater at Phudd Bottom from 1930 until 1934, during which time he wrote three major works: A Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands and Autobiography.


John Cowper Powys House, Phudd Bottom.

More than the house, it was the hill behind the house that interested me. It was here that Powys used to converse with indigenous spirits. At the summit of the hill is a path that winds through a series of stone piles resembling cairns. Powys suspected these were the grave mounds of Mohawk chiefs. He writes in his Autobiography: “At certain seasons during these four years, at the two equinoxes and other pivotal days, I used to climb to this wooded summit and walk up and down this “death-avenue,” as I liked to call it, kneeling in front of each pile of stones and invoking these dead Indians.” 

Whether or not there are native bones under the stone piles on that hilltop, the Avenue of the Dead exudes an unmistakable aura of sanctity and magic. So indeed do all places when one is privy to the “contact between spirits.”


1. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Elementalism as “a method or theory which divinizes the elemental powers of nature.”  

Comments (3)
  • Oh how touching the heart to be invited having a pleasing stroll through the magical gardens at the abode -Shakur! Shakur!Shakur!Love and Blessing Peace be upon
    You and your Beloveds,Dear Pir Zia

    — Chaitanya on May 7, 2009

  • “Oh elemental child, hold the glove of gold behind you, love the glove of truth”

    — Tom Sciaroni on May 25, 2009

  • i loved the description of your ramble, if another one is planned, please me know.

    — janet fleming on July 11, 2009

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6 May 2009

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