I like thought experiments.
I like Christmas.
Why can’t we think about both?
A Christmas Carol was on TV, so I started watching that the other day. The muppet version, of course. I tried to watch the Pixar CG one and it just doesn’t have the warmth. Now, being on my magical journey, I’m smart enough to recognize when someone is walking the four worlds. While I think Dickens wasn’t specifically trying to do it, I also think people do it without thinking. That’s the key to a functional spiritual model in my mind – if people do it without realizing it, you’re onto something. If you can apply the spiritual model, this isn’t proof except in your ability to adapt it. When people who are trying to write a secular Christmas story and end up wandering into your spiritual model, the proof is in the figgy pudding.
The Christmas story as Dickens wrote it is essentially pagan. LOLWUT U SAY? Pagan on this blog is the very traditional use of the word where we mean spiritual phenomena which are outside of mainstream religion. I think people could through very loose analysis claim the Christmas Carol was Christian. I think you could tell the story of Vishnu or Budda in it also. Doesn’t Scrooge renounce material wealth at the end? He does, but I think we can dig deeper and pull a good Crowley here and read occult wisdom into children’s books.
Marley is an earthbound spirit, which is missing in traditional Catholic Christianity. However it’s not unheard of in Bible canon that we encounter the spirits of the dead. He is, however, wearing the chains of his wrongdoing in his life. This is straight up Dante, and a nod towards the fact that Marley is a Christian in penitence. The interesting part is Marley doesn’t say “sin”, he says “wrongdoing”. This is important. Marley never got above the first world, and his afterlife is spent thinking about the only thing he knows, which is the first world. Marley is living in his afterlife the same way he lived in his mortal life, where he creates his own reality through wealth and what he perceives as wrongdoing. We hope by the end of Marley’s portion of the tale he resolves his wrongdoing in his mortal life and can ascend, and it’s very likely that since he’s learned a spiritual lesson and he is willing to warn Scrooge rather than hope for company in bondage that he is actually ready to move up.
The first spirit is one of two things – it’s either a female angel or it’s a seraphim. Paradoxically, as Scrooge needs to ascend, the angels need to descend to lead Scrooge to his own perfection. Dickens description follows:
The Ghost of Christmas Past had on its head a blazing light, reminiscent of a candleflame, and carried a metal cap, made in the shape of a candle extinguisher. While the ghost is often portrayed as a woman in most dramatic adaptations, Dickens describes the Ghost of Christmas Past only as “it”, and gives a curious description of it “being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away.”
Ring any bells? Dickens is describing the Seraphim – the highest angels in the Christian hierarchy. He’s describing them with a very traditional description, while at the same time putting them in a very nontraditional role. What’s a Seraphim doing coming down from the Throne of God and hanging out with lowly sinners? Who freaking knows! It’s just a neat idea.
Medieval Christian theology places seraphs in the highest choir of the angelic hierarchy. They are the caretakers of God’s throne, continuously singing “holy, holy, holy”. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in his Celestial Hierarchy (vii), drew upon the Book of Isaiah in fixing the fiery nature of seraphim in the medieval imagination. Seraphim in his view helped the Deity maintain perfect order and are not limited to chanting the trisagion. Taking his cue as well from writings in the Rabbinic tradition, the author gave an etymology for the Seraphim as “those who kindle or make hot”
Burning? Check! Can’t look at it? Check! Maintaining the order of the universe? Check! More on the point the Seraphim shows Scrooge the old order. The ghost takes him to his own boarding school (a school imposes order), and shows him breaking up with his fiancee because of his love of business and money. Finally she goes and marries another man, and the divine order is restored. More importantly, Scrooge is operating in the past. The past is the second world (yetzirah). Yetzirah is the world of forming, literally the things that made Scrooge who he was through his interaction with it, but also because in the past things had concrete presence but have faded into the spiritual worlds as they no longer exist as the were. We know what they were and how they were arranged, but they no longer are. Scrooge extinguishes the Seraphim with his cap, which is a direct rebellion to the order of God, where the Seraphim exist eternally.
The next spirit is a personal favorite in the traditional lit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and it exists in Beri’ah. Since this is a story involving Western Occultism, I get to mix and match my angels. From the Carol:
The Ghost of Christmas Present appears to Scrooge as “a jolly giant” with dark brown curls. He wears a fur-lined green robe and on his head a holly wreath set with shining icicles. He carries a large torch, made to resemble a cornucopia, and appears accompanied by a great feast. He states that he has had “more than eighteen hundred” brothers (1,842 to be exact, the story being set on Christmas Eve 1843, the year of its publication) and later reveals the ability to change his size to fit into any space. He also bears a scabbard with no sword in it, a representation of peace on Earth and good will toward men.
We’re describing a wealth of occult information here, the Ghost of Christmas present could represent Pan, or Baccus, or any one the jolly greecian gods. Wiccans should be able to find plenty of good stuff here, with the Ghost being the Green Man or the Lord (Odin, depending on how traditional your Wicca is). Most importantly this spirit seems to be Baphomet.
The spirit finally reveals to Scrooge two emaciated children, subhuman in appearance and loathsome to behold, clinging to his robes, and names the boy as Ignorance and the girl as Want. The spirit warns Scrooge, “Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”, underscoring the book’s social message. The spirit once again quotes Scrooge, who asks if the grotesque children have “no refuge, no resource,” and the spirit retorts with more of Scrooge’s unkind words, “Are there no prisons, no workhouses?”, filling Scrooge with self-loathing.
The Waite-Rider tarot deck should provide sufficient illustration, Baphomet with a man and a woman chained at his feet or Odin with his two wolves and ravens. But if we go back to our correspondences of Christian angels being applied in rank, the Ghost would be a Cherub. We have to reach a little here – Cherubs are four faced angels: Ox, Man, Lion, and Eagle. This is a nod towards the procession of time. I believe Dickens was making a hat tip towards the zodiac with this image. The procession omits Cancer, but would be Tarus, Gemini, Leo, and Virgo. The trick here is Virgo is the eagle – it’s a winged being. It’s also interesting to note that the Cherubim were stationed outside the Garden of Eden, and they would have been the first angels to be subject to and knowledgeable of time. One of the particular features of the Ghost of Christmas Present is that he ages, and each year he is reborn. This smacks of every Solar deity story we’ve ever heard.
Whew, all this and we haven’t even talked about Beri’ah yet. Beri’ah is the world of creation. It’s the world where we come up with very abstract designs of what could be. Scrooge is showed what will happen if he doesn’t come up with some plan to save Tiny Tim and he is shown the notional idea of Christmases in other peoples homes. Scrooge doesn’t actually know what Christmas is like there – he only has some idea of whats happening. It’s firmly a Beri’ah form.
Finally, that brings us to the Ghost of Christmas Future. Oh, scary stuff.
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. … It thrilled him [Scrooge] with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.
Death! But what is Death except an Angel? Specifically, this ghost is an Ophanim – a symbol of God’s authority and justice. This is the same class of Angel as a Throne. What does Scrooge deserve except death? Again, imagery is important here. The Thrones or Ophanim are covered in eyes, which is the only part of the spirit Scrooge can actively perceive. The Thrones are described as follows:
Thrones are known in scripture as the bringers of justice, but their status in hierarchy is often confused, sometimes placing them above the Seraphim, and sometimes placing them at the same level as the Cherubim. They do however, come in the second Choir, and are assigned to planets. This position makes them some of the most powerful angels in service to the Lord. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Thrones have the task of pondering the disposition of divine judgments. In other words, they carry out or fulfill the divine justice of the Lord.
How are we brought to judgement? We die. Again, there’s this idea of very Christian, very Catholic imagery but we see Dickens has also accounted for the occult ideas of the time too. The world this spirit comes from is Atziluth, the world of emanation, and the highest of the four worlds. How do we end up in the highest world here? The spirit is showing Scrooge what his emanation has brought into the world. Tiny Tim is dead. The mourners at his own funeral make fun of him. He’s buried in a shallow grave. Finally when he pleads for mercy, he’s shown that a family who owed him a paltry sum rejoiced in his death as he’ll be unable to collect it. In this way, Scrooge is showed change in what he has perceived to be unchangeable – all the book balancing in the world hasn’t made a difference, but he has through his own creations affected the path of the world in it’s own way. Scrooges own spiritual emanations are spiritual in nature, and take the form of money.
Thankfully at this point Scrooge is dizzy from the heights he has climbed or the depths he’s plumbed, since we’re talking about what amounts to a qliphothic operation, and wants nothing more to return. When he wakes up the next day, his spiritual transformation is complete. We find Scrooge a new man, with generosity and love in his heart.