Levels of meaning

Exoteric        -          Esoteric
Profane         -          Sacred  
Many            -          Few  

Unsophisticated minds will interpret things in unsophisticated ways. Information is interpreted at the level of the recipient, meaning that something complex and nuanced ('Level 4') is often received as simple and schematic ('Level 1'). The detail is removed, leaving only broad strokes. What emerges in one mind as an intricate conundrum, may be interpreted by another as little more than a basic affirmation of crude prejudices. 

Sophisticated minds often fail to consider this when transmitting their thoughts. Many will make broad prescriptions, without thinking how these prescriptions will be interpreted by the culture at large. Most people are looking for simple programmes that they can simply 'run', without the need to expend the kind of time and energy that complexity generally demands. 

Modernity insists on a radical free-flow of information, and so anything that may dam this flow is condemned or removed. The strata of tradition is reduced to rubble strewn along a plane, and all levels of meaning collapsed to a baseline; one meaning for everyone, everywhere.  

Globalism, attuned to universals, views translation as a superficial process - a mere re-skinning. Localism, attuned to context, recognises that translation always involves loss. Something that is 'high-context', like a ritual or ceremony, requires a deep grounding in the relevant tradition in order to tease out its various implicit and explicit meanings.

Those of us living in a Western culture can today best understand a Nhunggabarra story in terms of four levels of meaning […]

A Nhunggabarra person, undergoing the traditional education, would gradually learn more and more meanings. Not everybody would learn them all; how many meanings one learned depended on one’s role.

The four-level model […] meant that all stories could be told freely to the whole community; the four levels and the education process ensured that each person understood the story on the level that fitted their individual level of development.

Children would understand the first level and have their curiosity satisfied, while the older people could reflect on the higher levels of meaning. And everybody, young and old, would enjoy the drama and the excitement of the performance.

First level

The first level is the text itself […] This level answers some of the fundamental questions that little children living in a natural environment probably pestered their parents with: why does the crow have black feathers and white eyes?

Typically, the first level is also exciting and entertaining.

Second level

The second level of meaning concerns the relationships between the people within the community. The second level meaning does not come straight from the story and it was never told explicitly. You had to extract the meaning as part of your education and you had to have some pre-knowledge about the law to be able to do this.

This level therefore remained hidden for non-initiated people.

Third level

The third level concerns the relationship between your own community and the larger environment - that is, the earth and other Aboriginal communities. Again, the third level does not come straight from the story and it is never told explicitly. You have to pull out the meaning yourself and you have to hold some pre-knowledge about the law.

Fourth level

Many, but not all, stories had a fourth level. The fourth level taught spiritual action and psychic skills; it was more doing than talking and listening. The fourth level included practice, ceremonies and experiences, which gave access to the special esoteric knowledge hidden in the story.

The wiringins were the only ones who learned the fourth level of the stories. 

They passed through very striking ceremonies and had experiences which gave them access to a special body of spiritual and esoteric knowledge. They had insight into the minds of their fellows, and by observation they built up a wealth of information about the members of their community, which they could draw upon when needed […] The wiringins were […] ‘men of high degree’.

[Karl-Erik Sveiby & Tex Skuthorpe]
Treading Lightly, p. 42, 45, 48-51, 148

Benjamin Boyce: Do you think that that's a fault in certain modes of discourse, that they try to constrain thought or sense-making to one level?

Jonathan Pageau: Yeah, definitely. I think that the levelling of thought has been one of the problems of the modern age. We see everything at the same level.

BB: What is it about modernity that has led us to this levelling of thought?

JP: I think it is, in a certain manner, the fact that scientific thinking has taken over the horizon of thought, and people want to approach everything as if it were equivalent to a scientific problem.

If you want to think at different levels you can't level everything like that, you have to be able to see hierarchies of purpose [...] hierarchies of beings even.

There's so much going on right now which is good - the fact that everybody is trying to talk about emergence, complex systems - all of this stuff is showing that the simplistic levelling of thought has run its course, and now we have to understand that the world has levels and manifests itself in hierarchies of beings, and we can't avoid that.

[Benjamin Boyce & Jonathan Pageau]
'Masculine Actualities, Feminine Possibilities'

Are they new friends of 'truth', these coming philosophers? In all probability: for all philosophers have hitherto loved their truths. But certainly they will not be dogmatists. It must offend their pride, and also their taste, if their truth is supposed to be a truth for everyman, which has hitherto been the secret desire and hidden sense of all dogmatic endeavours. 

'My judgement is my judgement: another cannot easily acquire a right to it' - such a philosopher of the future may perhaps say. One has to get rid of the bad taste of wanting to be in agreement with many. 

‘Good' is no longer good when your neighbour takes it into his mouth. And how could there exist a 'common good'! The expression is a self-contradiction: what can be common has ever but little value. In the end it must be as it is and has always been: great things are for the great, abysses for the profound, shudders and delicacies for the refined, and, in sum, all rare things for the rare. 

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
Beyond Good and Evil, 43

One does not only wish to be understood when one writes; one wishes just as surely not to be understood. It is not by any means necessarily an objection to a book when anyone finds it impossible to understand: perhaps that was part of the author's intention - he did not want to be understood by just "anybody." 

All the nobler spirits and tastes select their audience when they wish to communicate; and choosing that, one at the same time erects barriers against "the others." 

All the more subtle laws of any style have their origin at this point: they at the same time keep away, create a distance, forbid "entrance," understanding, as said above-while they open the ears of those whose ears are related to ours.

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
The Gay Science, 381

It may be observed in passing that the danger of the misdirection of certain kinds of knowledge, of which this last is a very clear example, accounts for much of the secrecy that is quite natural in a normal civilization; but the moderns show themselves to be entirely incapable of understanding this, for they commonly mistake what is really a measure designed as far as possible to prevent the misuse of knowledge for a desire to monopolize that knowledge.

[René Guénon] 
The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, p.189

Now, whatever is sensuously-near is understandable for all, and therefore of all the Cultures that have been, the Classical is the most popular, and the Faustian the least popular, in its expressions of life-feeling. 

A creation is “popular" that gives itself with all its secrets to the first comer at the first glance, that incorporates its meaning in its exterior and surface. 

In any Culture, that element is “popular" which has come down unaltered from primitive states and imaginings, which a man understands from childhood without having to master by effort any really novel method or standpoint — and, generally, that which is immediately and frankly evident to the senses, as against that which is merely hinted at and has to be discovered - by the few, and sometimes the very, very few. 

The commonplace eliminates differences of spiritual breadth as well as depth between man and man, while the esoteric emphasizes and strengthens them […] There are popular ideas, works, men and landscapes […] 

The Classical geometry is that of the child, that of any layman - Euclid’s Elements are used in England as a school-book to this day. The workaday mind will always regard this as the only true and correct geometry. All other kinds of natural geometry that are possible (and have in fact, by an immense effort of overcoming the popular-obvious, been discovered) are understandable only for the circle of the professional mathematicians. 

Everything that is Classical is comprehensible in one glance, be it the Doric temple, the statue, the Polis, the cults; backgrounds and secrets there are none [...] Consider what it means that every one of our epoch-making works of poetry, policy and science has called forth a whole literature of explanations, and not indubitably successful explanations at that. 

Herein lies the explanation of a set of phenomena which we have hitherto been inclined to treat - in a vein of moral philosophy, or, better, of melodrama - as weaknesses common to humanity, but which are in fact symptoms of the Western life-feeling, viz., the "misunderstood” artist, the poet "left to starve," the "derided discoverer," the thinker who is “centuries in advance of his time" and so on. These are types of an esoteric Culture. 

Every high creator in Western history has in reality aimed, from first to Last at something which only the few could comprehend. 

We find everywhere in the Western what we find nowhere in the Classical - the exclusive form. Whole periods - for instance, the Provençal Culture and the Rococo - are in the highest degree select and uninviting, their ideas and forms having no existence except for a small class of higher men. 

On the contrary, every Attic burgher belonged to the Attic Culture, which excluded nobody; and consequently, the distinctions of deeps and shallows, which are so decisively important for us, did not exist at all for it. For us, popular and shallow are synonymous - in art as in science - but for Classical man it was not so.

Consider our sciences too. Every one of them, without exception, has besides its elementary groundwork certain "higher" regions that are inaccessible to the layman - symbols, these also, of our will-to-infinity and directional energy. The public for whom the last chapters of up-to-date physics have been written numbers at the utmost a thousand persons, and certain problems of modern mathematics are accessible only to a much smaller circle still - for our popular science is without value, détraquée, and falsified. 

We have not only an art for artists, but also a mathematic for mathematicians, a politic for politicians (of which the profanum vulgus of newspaper-readers has not the smallest inkling, whereas Classical politics never got beyond the horizon of the Agora), a religion for the “religious genius" and a poetry for philosophers. 

Indeed, we may take the craving for wide effect as a sufficient index by itself of the commencing and already perceptible decline of Western science […] The few sciences that have kept the old fineness, depth, and energy of conclusion and deduction and have not been tainted with journalism […] address themselves to a very narrow and chosen band of experts. 

And it is this expert, and his opposite the layman, that are totally lacking in the Classical life, wherein everyone knows everything. For us, the polarity of expert and layman has all the significance of a high symbol, and when the tension of this distance is beginning to slacken, there the Faustian life is fading out.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, p. 326-9

In Islam, long before nihilism, the initiatic Order of the Ismaelis used the very phrase “Nothing exists, everything is permitted." But it applied in this order exclusively to the upper grades of the hierarchy.

Before attaining these grades and having the right to adopt this truth for oneself, one had to pass four preliminary grades that involved, among other things, a rule of unconditional, blind obedience, taken to limits that are almost inconceivable for the Western mentality.

For example, at a word from the Grand Master one had to be prepared to throw one's life away without any reason or purpose.

[Julius Evola]
Ride the Tiger, p. 62

It is well known that Christian and Catholic attitudes are characterized by the antithesis between “flesh" and spirit, by a theological hatred for sex, due to the illegitimate extension to ordinary life of a principle valid at best for a certain type of ascetic life.

Not being able to ban sexuality altogether, Catholicism has tried to reduce it to a mere biological fact, allowing its use in marriage only for procreation. Unlike certain ancient traditions, Catholicism has recognized no higher value, not even a potential one, in the sexual experience taken in itself.

As a whole, whether through its conception of sexuality, or through its profanation of the marriage rite as something put in everyone's reach and even rendered obligatory for any Catholic couple, religious marriage itself is reduced to the mere religious sanction of a profane, unbreakable contract.

Thus the Catholic precepts about the relations between the sexes reduce everything to the plane of a restrained, bourgeois mediocrity: tamed, procreative animality within conformist limits […]

[Julius Evola]
Ride the Tiger, p.190

The ability to see the Great Truth of the hierarchic structure of the world, which makes it possible to distinguish between higher and lower Levels of Being, is one of the indispensable conditions of understanding. Without it, it is not possible to find out where everything has its proper and legitimate place.

Everything, everywhere, can be understood only when its Level of Being is fully taken into account. Many things are true at a low Level of Being and become absurd at a higher level, and of course vice versa.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.22-23

Within the layers of an Indigenous language there are ways of speaking that will only be used on ceremonial occasions. Linguists have noted, for example, that the size of the vocabulary of what they call a shaman is considerably larger than the vocabularies used by other people within the same society.

Certain words have great power and should never be spoken unless the right people are present in a circle to contain the energies that circulate, evoked by that particular sound vibration.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.225

One old woman told me how an Elder would begin telling a story in the evening and continue right through to the following morning. People in those days, she said, were supposed to show respect and pay attention.

Of course, with a teaching that lasted that long she could not remember everything that happened; rather, she was expected to take only that part of the teaching that was appropriate to her level of understanding. As she grew up she would hear the story again and again, each time taking something more from it.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.73

The Ceremony accomplishes much more than the bringing together of the two biological elements; the Ceremony orders life as well. The Ceremony is high context.

A high-context communication or message is one in which most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message … The level of context determines everything about the nature of the communication and is the foundation on which all subsequent behavior rests (including symbolic behavior). (Hall 1977)

[Claire R. Farrer]
‘Singing for Life: The Mescalero Apache Girls’ Puberty Ceremony’, Betwixt and Between, p.257

Related posts:-
The Pyramid
Abstract / Concrete
Centre / Periphery
The Colour Spiral 

True Detective: Too Sure, and Not Sure Enough


"Rust knew exactly who he was, and there was no talking him out of it. And Marty’s single big problem was that he never really knew himself, so he never really knew what to want.”

['Maggie Hart']
True Detective 


Rust tends to extremes. He lives an austere lifestyle, spending too much time alone. He appears to be something of a mystic, in touch with a wild world, beyond the fringes of normality. He feels strange energies; sees and hears things that most others can’t.

In walking a singular path with conviction he has found himself in uncommon places; cresting mountains, and plumbing seas. Such things are the boons of the extremist. However, in walking to the periphery he has become estranged from the centre, from normality.

Marty is his link to the normal world, and normal people. No matter how much Rust may prefer his rarefied air, he cannot entirely cut ties with normality: he still needs the conventional world. He exists at the borderline of society, but is not so extreme as to have stepped beyond it (or so it appears). A large part of him pulls outward, away from the centre; but another, smaller, yet significant part, keeps him in its orbit. He is connected to society, and so lines of communication, strained as they may be, must remain open.

However, Rust’s time in strange lands has given him an equally strange dialect, one that most normal people can’t understand. They are repelled by his tones - he seems aloof, terse, obscure, idealistic. They cannot tolerate him long enough to see beyond their first impressions.

Not so for Marty, who acts as a mediator between Rust and the conventional world. With Marty by his side, Rust becomes just about palatable to normal people. He acts as translator, able to frame Rust’s needs in a common tongue, and through him Rust is able to act in the world of people, to make things happen. As he finds out following their estrangement, without Marty he cannot act as effectively: he lacks the language, the contacts.

As in any close relationship, an exchange takes place. Their friendship lights a path between them, allowing each to venture along it; Marty edges outwards, becomes a little more reckless, entertains wild theories and notions; Rust edges inwards, becomes conventionalised, to a degree - goes on a date, tries a romantic relationship. Without Marty he drifts back to the extremes, and to the few people whom he can tolerate, and who will tolerate him.

Chances are that Rust has always tended to extremes - I think certain people are naturally drawn to the frontiers - but we gather that at one time he was more conventional; a family man, with a wife and child. These things probably tethered him, to a certain degree, and prevented him from drifting too far out: without them there was nothing to stop him from floating off. It may have been at this point - free from a tempering influence - that he came to know ‘exactly who he was.’ Turning his back on normality, he retreated to the simplicity of extremism; a place without shades of grey, give and take, or compromise: a place where they speak a pure dialect, in a sure voice.

And so Rust became solid, like a statue: frozen forever in a single pose. He knows who he is, and doesn’t want to be any other way (or can't be any other way). His personality has very definite outlines; impassable boundaries with specific entry and exit points. He must be tackled in a certain manner, from a certain direction; it is easy to get it wrong, and to rub him up the wrong way.

As with anybody who is stuck in a definite position, Rust can only communicate effectively with very specific types of people: those who are like him, or those who fit his shape without too much of a rub. It is an unconventional shape, and not one most people are used to accommodating, but Marty has just enough flex to adapt to it, unusual as it is. And this, it seems to me, is to his credit.

Marty is not as solid as Rust. He has a little give in his system, is softer, more supple. He does not know what he wants - hasn’t settled into an exclusive position - and so flits between poses; now the burdened family man, now the carefree youth. The only problem is that one pose threatens the other: he cannot do both, at least not in the long run. He must decide.

And so the fact that he doesn’t know himself - that he can’t hold a single position - is a problem for Marty. However, whilst you could say, along with his wife Maggie, that Marty’s problem is his lack of self-knowledge, you could, on the other hand, say that Rust’s problem is that he does know himself, that he is too sure of who he is.

His lack of flexibility condemns him to the outskirts, to a frontier lifestyle that is, by conventional standards, toxic. It seems, then, that each could stand to learn something from the other; Maggie certainly seems to see it this way. She wishes her husband were a bit more like Rust, more able to commit to a single pose; and she wishes, although she may not see it this way, that Rust were a little more like Marty; more flexible, more inclined to come in from the fringes and lead something approaching a normal life.

Perhaps what Maggie's perspective misses is the positive aspect of these problems. Yes, Rust may be too extreme for his own good, but his extremity makes him an extraordinary detective. And yes, Marty may not know himself well enough, but his lack of sureity makes possible his relationship with Rust; a relationship that allows each to be more effective in certain ways.

Is it possible to know who you are whilst remaining open to other ways of being? Is it possible to be sure without becoming a statue?

Perhaps Rust’s main problem was not that he knew who he was, but that that there was no talking him out of it. If what life demands of us is to become solid and commit to a position, then perhaps what it also demands is that we allow ourselves to be talked out of it, at least every once in a while.


Related posts:-
Land and Sea
Centre / Periphery
Status Quo