Any attempt to ‘explain’ Plato will inevitably expose the cultural bifurcation caused by the split between what the modern world calls spirit and matter, that fundamental polarity that has lain deep and uneasily in human consciousness and whose duality has been fully played out during our Age of Pisces. From Classical Greece onwards, spirit and matter have been adversaries within a historical creation story, and mankind’s allotment has been to face and deal with this dual dragon, having the fiery breath of fundamentalist polarity, and has most recently chosen matter as its friend and abandoned spirit as superstitious.
Plato’s works are of crucial importance in describing a cosmology which offers humankind the chance to believe in and even interact with higher intelligences. In The Sleepwalkers, the materialist Arthur Koestler is not keen on Plato. He attacks him and Platonists in general for their non-scientific and passive view of the world, which he claims held back the ancient world even though those Greek empiricists appear to have kick-started both the scientific process and logical methodology remarkably well from the sixth to the fourth century BC.
Meanwhile, Richard Tarnas, in The Passion of the Western Mind, unlike Koestler, has read and understood his astrology and his metaphysics, is pro-Plato and places him as a philosopher who saw this possibility of building of a relationship with Higher Intelligence and that scientific experimentation is not the sole way forward if one wishes to understand the workings of the Cosmos.
To Plato, it hardly mattered if one improved one’s lot by understanding how a lever worked or what made an elephant able to stand up. What mattered was that one understood that all things ‘under the Moon’ belonged to the sublunary world representing the imperfect mortal world, a distortion or false picture of the cosmic perfection of Divine Mind. Man’s task was ultimately to be able to understand, even reflect back, that perfect Form, the creative Idea that lay behind mortal experience of the senses – the Form.
The Idea precedes the Form.
By setting this as a central plank in his philosophy Plato was emphatically a metaphysician. But Plato also knew that the geometry and number science underpinning material forms was essentially derived from a spiritual idea, and this also made him an avid student of mathematics and geometry. Plato visited Egypt and had been initiated into Egyptian philosophy, which makes him a very interesting historical character indeed.
The reason I mention these two popular and well-known books first is that they are probably two of the best written and most clearly expressed popular accounts of the rag-bag path of history since the Greeks that have ever been written, sparing the reader the heavy approach required of the academic style. They explain in much detail how the modern world came about. However, neither book dares to take on the Egyptian world view nor that of the Neolithic stone movers. Honest in admitting this, by the simple act of simply omitting it, both books set the Greeks as the first recorded experimenters with what we would recognise as modern science.
However, any unbiased researcher into Egyptian or megalithic culture will quickly come to understand that scientific methodology, as one might recognise that term today, was being practiced, at least in its main essentials, fully three millenia before the rise of the Greek civilisation. The megalithic culture has been shown to have held a high level of knowledge of astronomy, geometry, number patterns and time periods, while the reader can find countless examples of deep knowledge of both science and technology within Egyptian civilization, simply by studying the odd pyramid or two.
In the post classical Greek world, as Greece fell into a corrupt quagmire of self-satisfaction, it became ripe for Roman and barbarian invasion. From about 200 BC, the outcome of all their scientific effort and understanding became diffused, even lost awhile, leaving the large scale works of Plato, a pupil of Socrates, and Aristotle the Engineer and to a lesser extent the texts and codices of other Greek natural philosophers for the new Roman world order to make sense of.
Plato’s works were in many ways a set of social, metaphysical and cosmic order guides to human life, underpinned by geometry and number science, a sort of Haynes manual for developing a working cosmology, whereas Aristotle’s works were a sort of Haynes manual of How Things Work, more physics and resembling an engineering textbook.
The inherited historical viewpoint, not even a truthful historical progression, is that had the great Greek natural philosophers carried on with their progressive work, and had Greece not fallen into the abyss it did around 200 BC, we would not have had to wait 1500 years for the enlightenment and the rational scientific advances of Galileo, Kepler, Newton et al. While Greek ideas became passé, quaint even, and the world moved on via the New Roman World Order, the Greeks, together with the Phoenicians had been the inheritors of much Egyptian, Iron Age, Celtic and prehistoric science that had gone before, and this is hardly ever pursued, and remains to be more understood and accepted within our present historical perspective. One reason for this is that the Greeks, alongside the other trading nations of the Mediterranean, had travelled widely beyond the Pillars of Hercules and had rubbed shoulders with the hyperborean cultures. The commercial links were those of friendship and mutual interest through trade, whereas the Romans stomped into the Northern lands armed with spear and sword. There are repercussions in this simple fact that may it unwise to overlook a second reason.
The Romans eschewed the Greek texts. Today we may read in whatever language we choose details of the Greek legacy. Apparently the earlier cultures, Druids, Egyptians and the Pythagorean schools were more hermetic, and chose not to write anything down, yet many Greek ideas were written down and clearly drawn from Egyptian and megalithic (Neolithic) sources, a fact that can be verified by any study of the geometry of prehistoric cultures.
Because of Plato’s emphasis on a higher order being involved in the creative processes of the Cosmos, much of the New Testament draws from Plato and this explains why many of the later Christian monastic orders acquired copies of Plato’s works that survived, even the later Muslim clerics availed themselves of copies. But a crucial point one has to remember is that during the early Christian era, only the Christian monasteries had people who could actually read and translate these Greek texts, and needed these people for the simple reason that many of the New Testament codices and tracts had been originally written in Greek.
The secular world had meantime largely moved on to Latin as their language of no choice, and so did the Roman Church, this placing a further barrier in front of someone wishing to read Plato or the works of the other Greek philosophers. To read Ptolemy’s magnificent Geographia, an eight volume navigational and geographical treatise and his Tetrabiblos, a comprehensive astronomical and astrological textbook, one had to be able to both read Greek and understand the Egyptian culture into which Ptolemy had been born.
These became the standard textbooks on Geography, Astronomy and Astrology, the former work quoting the size of the earth and other key physical constants of the planet, while the second presented the known astrological lore of the time. Both texts were to eventually appear in Latin, Tetrabiblos in the 12th century and Geographia (as Geographia Claudii Ptolemaei) around 1410 AD, and then in English or German following the invention of the printing press in 1439 AD. The Muslim world had copies of all Ptolemy’s works translated into Arabic by the tenth century, and constructed accurate maps from them.
What we may term the ‘Greek connection’ provides a ‘solid reason’ why a researcher may be confident that literate monks in the early Celtic Church had access to important pre-Christian Greek manuscripts, and the ability to understand them. From this it is safe to presume that they would have drawn extensively from these authors, especially from Plato. But there is another ‘solid reason’ of equal importance. Many of the authors of the New Testament made use of the same analogies, parables and literary structures as did Plato. So, even via the backdoor, so to speak, they were understanding Plato, and why he became an important component of Christian belief for someone taking holy orders. While Aristotle may have been more your man if you were a practical sort, if you wished to know the size of the earth, construct a map or make an astrolabe, one still had to be able to read Greek, or find a translator, which almost exclusively implied someone having had an education within a monastic order.
Western culture, having emerged from a mixture of both Platonic and Aristotlean ideas, is demonstrably split apart by duality, spirit vs matter, and the polarity of good vs evil. The so-called Christian era appears to have followed a two millennia-long pathway of confusion, brutality, competiveness and aggression, by holding such a difficult paradigm in front of their world map. But the Celtic Church appears not to have held to the later nor as extreme viewpoint of Christianity, as did the developed Roman Church model of Christian belief.
The discovery of the vesica, the number sciences in Plato’s works and the metrological system revealed recently by Michell and Neal presents us with the fact that, long before the Church of Rome defined Christian thinking, and further back still, even millenia before the time of Plato or Jesus, there was a healthier tradition operating, perhaps throughout the then known world, that had essentially embraced a heavily Platonic emphasis yet was not so internally divided. And this seems to be where Plato takes centre stage as a crucially important historical figure linking the prehistoric world with the modern world.
To live the Platonian life is, astonishingly, without many of the anxieties that infest the minds of most Westerners. Basically it is all about stopping needing to control everything, leaving the higher forces to get on with keeping the show on the road, which was never man’s role in the first place. This show is found to support human progress as each individual attempts to find a better alignment with the Divine Mind. God then becomes the preserver and not the destroyer of men, even though men are demonstrably and constantly imperfect in their thought, actions and manifestations. Sin becomes the ‘Missing of the mark’ of the Babylonians.
It was Plato’s view that ‘Even if one cannot believe in God, it is good to believe that the Cosmos is better managed than one could ever imagine it to be’ and that Man is looked after as he grows up and will come to finally recognise an original spiritual state of being. Meanwhile, for those who like to hedge their bets, and because God is said to help those who help themselves, a background in the ‘Aristotlean’ practical skills has never been so useful in providing modern folk with a reduction, even an escape, from the wage-slavery imposed on them during that seemingly unstoppable and rapacious materialistic western society, during and since the Industrial Revolution.
That survival skills are an important adjunct to liberate time for contemplative matters would be reason enough to master the skills of engineering and the practical sciences alongside grasping the implications to be found within Plato’s books.
In fact, the Platonic package is strangely familiar if you ever studied the Christian stories, because many of them draw extensively from Plato. In Christian texts ‘God the Father-Mother’ exposed new possibilities for Man, and gave a large nudge to mankind in explaining how they might become spiritualised. In fact it is made clear in multiple examples from the life and teachings ascribed to Jesus and the later apostles that it is only our false thinking that prevents man from having access to the spiritual life right here and now. In this fact alone Christianity might well be thought of as applied Platonism.
This concept of false thinking, illusion or maya is nothing new, and appears interwoven throughout many eastern and oriental religions. To the western mind it appeared, and still appears, to be completely radical and often seen as complete rubbish, from Roman times onward. The accounts of the early Christian’s healing abilities, written within the Gospels with their parables and stories, provide no small support for the Christian discipline being capable of healing the sick, this lending further support to Plato’s philosophy.
A Component of Geometry
There is a seemingly odd component to this philosophy, one which has often been played down or ignored, so that the modern world has trouble in integrating it within the Platonic package. Above the entrance of Plato’s Academy was written the phrase:
‘Only he who knows geometry may enter here’.
How can geometry and the knowledge of geometry play a role in the understanding of the cosmic plan ipso facto the spiritualisation of Man? It sounds completely crazy to modern minds cynically sold the ‘New Atheism’ – which is largely about selling nothing as if it were something. Yet St John’s gospel teems with geometry, his Book of Revelation is full of it, and advanced associated number science, and most spiritual architecture throughout the faiths of the world is redolent with geometry and number patterns. Mysticism that goes hand in hand with geometrical thought has all but totally vanished from the modern intellectual horizon! It has disappeared below the horizon of our consciousness in our materialistic and largely Aristotlean based world.
Today we have our PCs and our aspirins, but not any more our geometry nor a dialogue with Higher Intelligence. Plato (or Gurdjieff) might have said that today we may live longer but we die earlier as a result of the over-emphasis on material science and our false belief that it can save us from… well, what exactly can it save us from? This ‘what?’ needs answering while we remain living in anxiety and fear of expressing what we really can be. Which most of us do, according to Thoreau, who in Waldon wrote:
‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,
and go to the grave with the song still in them’
The best teacher of Platonic thought I ever had the good fortune to know was my good friend and one-time co-author, John Michell. His book The Dimensions of Paradise, recently reprinted by Inner Traditions, would be my number one choice as a Plato primer that includes the geometrical and numerical material missing from so many other books that present Platonic ideas. I am, of course, biased in this sentiment, so I should add that the other two books mentioned earlier are also very well worth reading. But the vital truth remains: unless we crowbar ourselves from the human propensity to muddle through with a cobbled together cultural model inherited from our parents and their parents going back into the gloomy medieval Catholic world or the Calvanistic Protestant world of the late Middle Ages, both very Dark Ages in many respects, then we will, I suspect, remain truly lost.
This brief and hopefully helpful explanation as to how and why Platonic ideas came to infuse the Celtic Church gives a viable reason for the behaviour and activities of many of the Celtic saints. Without that reason, and not knowing about their geometrical activities makes these people appear somewhat like wandering eccentrics who fiddled and faffed about while Britain faced and had to deal with centuries of invasion and no little ruin. About this, nobody expressed it better than St Gildas in his massive ecumenical rant against the rulers of Dark Age Britain.
If Brynach Gwyddel had heard about the Preseli vesica through a local oral tradition that went back to the Neolithic era, he could have discovered Plato’s exact geometrical and numerical scheme for a temple by simply measuring what lay, and still lies, on the landscape around Nevern. By making his headquarters directly underneath the northern geodetic marker for the vesica implies that this measurement could and probably did indeed take place, enabling Brynach to understand the ancient cultural significance of the location. He was initiated into the spirit of the place because he lived in that place began to understand it. No book can do that. And Brynach certainly had the opportunity to understand Plato, at St Illtud’s college, located in present day Llantwit Major, where he had been a student alongside Samson, David and perhaps Crannog and a few more of his contemporaries besides. The early hagiography of St Samson, dating from the 7th century, tells its readers that St Illtud taught ‘philosophy of every kind, of geometry namely, and of rhetoric, grammar and arithmetic, and of all the theories of philosophy. And by birth he was a most wise magician, having knowledge of the future’.
Plato’s works offered the Celtic Saints a doorway that could be opened and provide an escape from an ailing state of being. The surviving megalithic monuments, predominantly to be found in the west of Britain, reinforced this possibility, and these artefacts would have been capable, to a Celtic monk trained in geometry, of demonstrating that a culture that clearly predated the Christian era, had erected these monuments, and had previously understood so much of what that latter day creed had salted down within some books of the New Testament and other Greek manuscripts. The central truth was waiting for them to reveal: that the principal megalithic temples in Britain had been built using some of the design rules of Plato, and with full knowledge of the geometrical importance of the vesical piscis geometry.
This revelation, and we must assume that some links were made in this connecting thread, offered an ontology or state of being that was structurally sound and aligned to a higher realm, an ordered cosmos. To study this properly any modern aspirant will, at some point, also have to work, study and reckon with geometry, work with number patterns and gain an understanding of the ancient system of metrology or measurement, in order to light the fuse for the vital process which has been bye-passed, omitted or forbidden by the modern world, and which nobody can circumvent or short circuit. One must at some stage grapple with this material, for it can and will reveal and ultimately allow entry into the Temple, as Plato had promised it would.
So, better grab yourself a survey plan of that stone ring, and study that book of crop circle photographs. Visit a few Gothic cathedrals, Watch the sun and moon rises and sets and note where these occur against the local horizon over the months and years.