Rumi Inspi000099 By Shams
Perennialist Art

Psychic Upheaval
and Epiphany

    The distinguishing feature of Perennialist art is its power to produce psychic upheaval in a prepared mind and transport that mind to a higher dimension. I am using the term "Perennialist art" to include the conscious production or arrangement of words, sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that enables a person to understand and experience Justice, Truth, Beauty, and the other Forms in the Higher Realm.

   Within the term "Perennialist art," then, I include those specially created instances of literature (prose and poetry), drama (including screenplays), painting, sculpture, architecture, music, dance, or illustration (including illustrated books and Web sites) which possesses the distinguishing quality of empowering a reader or viewer to gain a higher state of consciousness.

     The person must have carried out specific preparation to be able to conceive of new possibilities, understand new concepts, and participate in transformative experiences. To an unprepared psyche, Perennialist art appears lackluster or bizarre.


"For a Sufi at a sama', 1 prepared readiness involves a special attentive listening. In the Muslim tradition, hearing is the most highly valued sense, the ear the way to spirituality and gnosis. One does not read scripture silently to oneself; one listens to it being recited by others, or recited aloud by oneself. The habitus of the Sufi listener at a sama' in New Delhi begins with the listener's understanding of the passages in the Qur'an that remind the faithful of the need to be a careful listener.

"Sufis are concerned to bring about a transformation of ordinary consciousness to make receiving spiritual knowledge possible. Attentive listening is the path."

Judith Becker, Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion, and Trancing, 2004

     Transformative art leads the readied psyche to dimensions higher than previously experienced, to epiphanies. These epiphanies involve inspiration, a fusing with the universe, transcending time-space-ego, infusion with knowledge and awareness, and gaining a sense of endowment. Psychic upheaval and transport to higher awareness can occur in any area of human life at a multiplicity of levels. Illuminating art has been with humankind since its beginning, leading humans in their evolutionary ascent.

   Upheaval is required to displace the psyche--mind and personality--from its entrenched intellectual and emotional routines. This is not some vague feeling of uplift or emotion; it is an eruption within the soul.

"The metaphysica, the plastic parts of poems

   Crash in the mind."

Wallace Stevens. "The Glass of Water"

  As Wallace Stevens indicates, the metaphysically unconstrainable elements of poetry CRASH IN THE MIND. They do not merely suggest quietly or show gently. The ontologically astonishing, fantastic, outlandish, or contradictory concepts smash into one another, creating cacophonies and eruptions.

   Virginia Woolf felt that the upheaval element was a key component of her being a writer.

"And so I go on to suppose that the shock-receiving capacity is what makes me a writer. I hazard the explanation that a shock is at once in my case followed by the desire to explain it. I feel that I have had a blow; but it is not, as I thought as a child, simply a blow from an enemy hidden behind the cotton wool of daily life; it is or will become a revelation of some order; it is a token of some real thing behind appearances; and I make it real by putting it into words. It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole; this wholeness means that it has lost its power to hurt me; it gives me, perhaps because by doing so I take away the pain, a great delight to put the severed parts together. Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what; making a scene come right; making a character come together. From this I reach what I might call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we--I mean all human beings--are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are part of the work of art."

Virginia Woolf. Moments of Being

  Coleman Barks, the remarkably insightful interpreter-translator of Rumi, speaks of how this psychic upheaval occurs in Rumi's poetry through the use of disparate, incongruous points of view.

"The voices in Rumi's poetry come from many points on the inner-outer spectrum. There's a modulation between realities. This is similar to what happens with the fluid pronoun in Rumi's poetry. The you and I are sometimes the lover talking to the beloved, the personal self and a without-form presence within and beyond the senses. Yet sometimes that presence, amazingly, speaks to Rumi through the poetry; voices slide back and forth within the same short poem! Often the poem serves as a slippery doorsill place between the two, 'partly in my self and partly outside,' the voices coming from a between-place. This expanding and contracting of identity is one of the exciting aspects of Rumi's art."
The Essential Rumi,1995

  To take another example, the Enlightenment art of the eighteenth century produced upheavals in religious and social dimensions, causing mental apoplexy in the dictators and their scholastic lackeys. When Voltaire published his Philosophical Letters Concerning the English, extolling the intellectual emancipation fostered by Newton and Locke, the horrified French authorities had the book publicly burned as a "scandalous work, contrary to religion and morals and to the respect due to the established powers." King Louis XVI of France would later say that Voltaire and Rousseau had destroyed France.

   And so they had--they and the other Enlightenment thinkers. The previous intellectual and social realities of the Old World had been done away with by the salvos of men such as Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Diderot, Thomas Paine, D' Alembert, Patrick Henry, Kant, and Rousseau, among others.

  Along with this overwhelming psychic upheaval, intellectually and metaphysically prepared thinkers both within and outside the Enlightenment movement gained a new awareness of higher dimensions. Socially these new dimensions included a realization of greater possibilities for human life--beyond the stunting limitations of ecclesiastical and state totalitarianism. New words such as "happiness" were coined and the common people realized that they had a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

   Enlightenment thinkers created ideas to illumine the people's minds and create a new social order. Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine wrote attacks on British imperialism which was trying to make raw-materials-slave-colonies of the British dependencies. Voltaire created a famous motto: crush the infamy.

  The Enlightenment activists saw their task as initiating intellectual upheaval that would lead an awakened populace to create a freer, more equitable, liberating social order. They demonstrated to the world the power of ideas to arouse people to recognize oppression under despotism. Perennialist ideas created an empowered activism built on solidarity. Since that time, rulers by whatever name have seen the necessity of creating celebrity mandarins who preach the propaganda of their masters and counter radical thinkers who might awaken the populace to an awareness of modern oppressions.

     Perennialist art leads to human liberation in all areas of life. We understand social liberation to include some means of control of rulers by the ruled, protection of the individual against government by legal rights and civil liberties. In a broader context, liberation means the ability to make decisions and carry out purposes, free from internal and external coercion, using the powers of the psyche to develop human potentialities, some of which may be unknown until revealed by illuminating art.

     In studying the Perennial Tradition it's necessary to develop an understanding of the subtleties and power of illuminating art currently available to us. We can more easily discern the dislocation produced by illuminating painting than the upheaval of transformative poetry. Not only because painting is often more explicit, but because in this TV era we have allowed ourselves to be conditioned to a devaluation of and deafness to poetry. If, as some modern Perennialist figures have said, the Perennial Tradition is transmitted through poetry, as well as other forms of literature, art, and ordinary human experience, then we must study the nature of transformative poetry in gaining intellectual and spiritual awareness.

  Part of readying ourselves for illuminating poetry is gaining the ability to read thoughtfully and with focused attention. When we begin a search for transformative poetry--for it is undeniable that only some poetry is illuminating--then the two characteristics we earlier examined stand out in bold relief. Illuminating poetry produces an upheaval in the prepared reader's psyche and assists the person to gain a heightened state of consciousness.

  To illustrate the first of these attributes, the upheaval of the mind caused by transformative poetry, we examine a poem by Coleridge. The dislocation of the psyche begins even with the title:

Kubla Khan; or, a Vision in a Dream--a Fragment.

  We begin by thinking this poem is going to be about a man named Kubla Khan. But the psychic roller-coaster starts at once and we are swept into a different meaning: the poem is "a vision in a dream"--whatever that might mean. But we're then jolted again--this is only a fragment. A fragment of what?

  Then begins the extreme psychic dislodging as we are yanked from one meaning-experience to another totally different meaning-experience without any bridging transitions whatsoever. (You can actually "hear" the clash of one universe of meaning against another.)

          In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
          A stately pleasure-dome decree;
          Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
          Through caverns measureless to man
          Down to a sunless sea.

  Head-over-heels our psyche plunges:
  • The poem's about a country named Xanadu

  • No, it's about a ruler named Kubla Khan

  • Wrong, a stately pleasure-dome

  • Nope, a sacred river named Alph

  • Now we're rushing through caverns measureless to man (measurable to God?)

  • And we plunge pell-mell down to a sunless [?] sea.

  For discerning readers, this headlong jolting from meaning-experience to meaning-experience produces a strange heightened state of consciousness. Something you can only see out of the corner of your mind's eye.

      So twice five miles of fertile ground
      With walls and towers were girdled round;
      And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
      Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
      And here were forests ancient as the hills,
      Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

      But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
      Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
      A savage place! as holy and enchanted
      As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
      By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

      [How did a demon-lover get in here?]

      And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
      As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
      A mighty fountain momently was forced;
      Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
      Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
      Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail;
      And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
      It flung up momently the sacred river.
      Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
      Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
      Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
      And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
      And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
      Ancestral voices prophesying war!
      The shadow of the dome of pleasure
      Floated midway on the waves;
      Where was heard the mingled measure
      From the fountain and the caves.

        It was a miracle of rare device,
        A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
        A damsel with a dulcimer
        In a vision once I saw:
        It was an Abyssinian maid,
        And on her dulcimer she played,
        Singing of Mount Abora.
        Could I revive within me,
        Her symphony and song,
        To such a deep delight t'would win me,
        That with music loud and long,
        I would build that dome in air,
        That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
        And all who heard should see them there,
        And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
        His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
        Weave a circle round him thrice,
        And close your eyes with holy dread,
        For he on honey-dew hath fed,
        And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Psychic Upheaval in Motion Pictures

  A forceful way to experience the psychic upheaval of illuminating art is to view, with receptive mindfulness, the movie The French Lieutenant's Woman. The screenplay by Harold Pinter wrenches us from one world of meaning-experience--the lives of the actors making the movie in the late twentieth-century--to a totally different world of meaning-experience--the lives of the nineteenth-century characters of the movie.

  At one point, for example, the two actors are practicing a scene in which the actress says: "You know what I say in the graveyard scene, about going to London?" Suddenly, we are propelled into the experience-events of the nineteenth-century characters as she says: "If I went to London, I know what I should become . . .I should become what some already call me." [a whore]

  Pinter's screenplay involves the overlapping of the two experience-event worlds. For example, we think of the female actor's feelings as she relates to the male character of the movie, the amateur paleontologist who is smitten by the allegedly scarlet woman. The female actor likes the male actor but he is married--as the male character in the story is betrothed. We experience the emotions and thoughts of both the actress and the French Lieutenant's "woman" in the single dramatic enactment of the character.

  In Coleridge, the tumultuous plunge from one meaning-idea to another takes place primarily stanza by stanza. Other transformative poets such as Wallace Stevens and Shakespeare sometimes thrust us from one meaning-event to a totally different meaning-event word-by-word. The speed of being wrenched from meaning-world to meaning-world is so fast-paced that we must carefully focus our attention on each word.

Psychic Upheaval in Poetry

Wallace Stevens begins this poem with a seemingly academic title:


Then we're told that next comes the:


When we're then given the theme, the psychic upheaval occurs in a split second!

"How happy I was the day I told the young Blandina of three-legged giraffes . . ."

    To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day.
    To the last syllable of recorded time;
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    William Shakespeare

Rumi   When we experience Rumi's poetry, we are thrust not merely from one meaning-world or event-experience to another, but from one realm-of-being to a completely different realm-of-being.

     "In the orchard a certain Sufi laid his face in Sufi fashion upon his knee for the sake of mystical revelation. Then he sank deep down into himself. An impertinent fellow was annoyed by his semblance of slumber.

'Why,' said he, 'dost thou sleep? Nay, look at the vines, behold these trees and marks of Divine mercy and green plants.

'Hearken to the command of God, for He hath said, "Look ye!": turn thy face towards these marks of Divine mercy.'

"The Sufi replied, 'O man of vanity, its marks are within the heart: that which is without is only the marks of the marks.'

The real orchards and verdure are in the very essence of the soul: the reflection thereof upon that which is without is as the reflection in running water.

In the water there is only the phantom reflected image of the orchard, which quivers on account of the subtle quality of the water.

The real orchards and fruits are within the heart: the reflection of their beauty is falling upon this water and the external world."

Perennialist Music As A Portal to Higher Consciousness

"The Egyptians believed that sound was the basis of creation; their most sacred ceremony, the Mystery of Mysteries, used sound frequencies to create a connection between the earth's center and the pole star of the heavens. The frequency codes of this sacred ceremony, was called 'The Raising of the Djed.' (The Djed is the earliest known World Tree archetype and was the central focus of the Osirian mysteries.) A cylindric column of light, it was considered the cosmic axis that linked Earth to the Pole Star, the still-point around which the heavens revolved. The ceremony, prefaced by the reenactment of a mythic cosmological drama, was performed to evoke stability, continuity and regeneration during unstable periods between cycles. Historically, the Djed was raised at Winter Solstice, and was a time of intense joy and celebration. The event was orchestrated with resonant acoustic formulas performed by sacred drummers and chanters. Rhythms of systrum and cymbal filled the air, along with the percussive clapping of hands and beating of feet. Research of the texts of the Temple of Horus indicate that the Djed served its greatest purpose at the ending of one world age and the beginning of another. According to ancient calendric reckoning, Winter solstice December 21, 1992 inaugurated such a period."

     A Perennialist musical composition contains various levels of spiritual meaning. Only a small number of musical compositions are actually Perennialist in reference to their source--created by a Perennialist artist--and meaning. Some musical compositions--"high musical art"--contain the essence of Perennialist music while other musical pieces contain Perennialist strains only.

      An artist's--soloist's or conductor's--rendition of a Perennialist or "high" music composition can be at any of the various levels, depending on his or her level of spiritual awareness. Only an artist who has an understanding of the highest level of meaning of a musical composition can reveal the true essence of the piece. A soloist must be a master of his or her instrument to perform a rendition of the composition which is at the highest level.

     To get a sense of the different levels of renditions performed, listen first to:
  • Herman Scherchen conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra performing Ravel's Bolero; then listen to
  • Leonard Bernstein conducting the l'Orchestre National de France performing Ravel's Bolero (Return after linking out to music on Youtube).

Sufi dancers      No matter how many times you may have heard Ravel's Bolero, when you hear Scherchen's rendition of it, you will be hearing it for the first time--since this is the Real essence of the composition--its true sound and spirit. The Bernstein/New York Philharmonic rendition of Ravel's Bolero is at a much lower level of meaning--and hence you get almost none of its essence.

     Scherchen's rendition of the Bolero allows us to understand that this is an Eastern composition containing Perennialist strains--there is nothing Western in it. Ravel apparently was allowed by a genuine Sufi group to hear the actual Bolero. He was then able to reproduce--in the first part of his composition--the exact sound he had heard. Then, in the second part of his Bolero, Ravel interprets the essence in a more orchestral framework. When experiencing this work of art, the same sort of psychic upheaval occurs in us as in our experience of all other Perennialist art.

     The level of a rendition of a piece of music is in relation to the performer's understanding of that particular composition. So, for example, the Bernstein/New York Philharmonic rendition of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is at a higher level than the Leonard Slatkin/Abbey Simon (pianist)/ St. Louis Symphony Orchestra rendition of the same composition by Rachmaninoff.

"...Particularly in the realm of music . . . right comes in the value of the interpretive artist. Through his individual rendition he is able to avoid the brittle hardening of the mold consequent or mere literal copying; and to contribute that flexible freshener of interpretation which will preserve its integrity."

Betty White, The Gaelic Manuscripts, circa 1935

Perennialist Music: Its Performance and Appreciation

Edward Kilenyi      While most soloists merely play the notes and produce what they understand to be the sounds, master soloists are able to reveal the essence of musical compositions. To experience this phenomenon, listen to Edward Kilenyi's rendition of Chopin's Twelve Etudes and then listen to any other soloist's rendition of the same pieces.

     Chopin knew spiritually the essence of the piano, so he was able to write music which could reveal this essence--if performed with perfection--as in the case of Kilenyi.

     Part of the magick of an "advanced" musical artist is to reveal not only the essence of musical compositions but the "reality" of a musical instrument. When we listen to Kilenyi playing Chopin's Twelve Etudes, we suddenly, for the first time, realize that the piano is actually ten different instruments. The sounds Kilenyi produces with a piano reveals that it is a multi-faceted reality, not the simple instrument we had thought.

     In 1935, when Sir Thomas Beecham, famed English conductor, first heard Edward Kilenyi play, he remarked: "That's the way to play the piano!" and booked young Edward on a concert tour to introduce him to the entire English music loving nation. Born in 1910 in Philadelphia, Edward Kilenyi was the son of violinist-composer Edward Kilenyi Sr., with whom George Gershwin studied composition from 1919 to 1921. Edward studied in Hungary with Erno Dohnanyi.

"Each adept has a particular grade in listening to transformative music and the feelings which he gains therefrom are proportionate to his grade. Listening to transformative music is like the sun, which shines on all things but affects them differently according to their level: it burns or illumines or dissolves or nurtures.

"Seers in listening to transformative sounds penetrate to the reality. When a man attains so high a degree as this he hears spiritual truths from every object in the universe."

Hujwiri, The Revelation of the Veiled Mysteries

    As Hujwiri makes clear, a person's ability to understand and appreciate transformative music is entirely dependent on his spiritual state of attainment. Transformative music has the identical power of all Perennialist art: the ability to create psychic upheaval and epiphany in the viewer, listener--recipient. An interesting way of determining if a piece of music or a specific group of musicians has transformative power is to view instances of the phenomonen titled Flash Mobs.

Flash Mob: Ravel's Bolero

Flash Mob: Handel's Hallelujah Chorus

Flash Mob: Bizet's Arlesienne

Flash Mob: Carmina Burana

    If your viewing and listening to the Flash Mob performing Beethoven's Ode to Joy doesn't bring tears to your eyes, something is wrong with you.
"The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.
Mark the music."

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

    Quite a number of pieces of music simply do not "work" as flash mob performances. The music has to be transformative and not merely "popular."

"The appreciation of beauty, in the sense of a surrender to its influence rather than a critical analysis, is another example . . . of a simple spiritual contact. Appreciation is as definite a contribution to whole creation as any of the other qualities which seem to us the peculiar property of genius. Appreciation too works in the substance of thought, and therefore joins hands as co-worker with the original creative impulse."

Betty and Stewart Edward White, The Job of Living

  An appreciator--reader, listener, viewer, experiencer--must be at a certain level of understanding to even experience--hear, see, etc.--the higher level of meaning and excellence in a rendition of a musical composition or in the performance on a specific instrument.

   "He who in passing notes with sympathetic and pleasured eye the sheen of light upon the wayside flower, has not merely pleased his own aesthetic sense, but has made a small but definite contribution to whatever intention has brought it about.

  "The deliberate, conscious, seeking appreciation of all by which you are surrounded and of all that life encounters, is more than a pleasurable functioning; it is an opportunity of contribution."

Betty White, The Gaelic Manuscripts, circa 1935

Trance Dancing

"At the still point of the turning world, there the dance is. Without the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only The Dance."

     Dance is found in every human culture. Dance scholar Alfred Gell has defined dance as "a stylized deformation of nondance mobility, just as poetry is a deformation or modulation of language, a deviation from the norm of expression that enhances expressiveness." "Style and Meaning in Umeda Dance" in: Spencer, Paul, Ed. Society and the Dance, 1985)."

"Let us say, to sum up, that music, words, and dance create at the same time a great physical effervescence and a state of 'monoideism' that, in combination, create psychophysiological conditions apparently very favorable to the occurrence of trance. . .

"But the power of music alone cannot be held responsible for the shaman's entry into trance, anymore than in the case of the Sufi. This trance must still be willed."

Gilbert Rouget, Music and Trance: A Theory of the Relations between Music and Possession, 1985

Transformative Painting and Architdecture As A Portal to Higher Consciousness

Chartres      A study of transformative sanctuaries reveals that Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres are portals to a higher state of consciousness. The Chartres Mystery School taught the esoteric knowledge of how we can apprehend representations of sacred reality with our senses and our emotions in a special manner. The initiatory training of the Chartres School allowed initiates to experience a Cathedral (or other sacred place) as a reality on the threshold of the spiritual dimension through which we can gain access to an actual experience of ultimate reality.

     "Chartres embodies the most profound expression of the Dionysian divine darkness that the world has, or probably ever will see. For Chartres, even in summer is always dark, and yet its darkness is by no means ordinary, for it has a jewelled darkness. It mediates a dappled, jewelled light which comes through countless windows of the most beautiful and priceless stained glass. Quite apart from the biblical stories depicted in them, or the huge biblical characters who look down as from on high, the colours of the glass itself, the deep reds and blues, create a light which is mystical, which transforms the vast emptiness of the building to a sacred space, as if by some alchemical magic.

Chartres      "The primary reason why pilgrims still flock to Chartres, consciously or unconsciously, is to experience the beauty of this dark alchemical light.. . The primary reason for building it architecturally in the way we see it today, was to express and embody the mystical theology of Dionysius, and to increase the possibility of experiencing the darkness of God as on the mystic journey--through the vibrations, the aura, the subtle body of the building itself.

     "The call of Dionysian mysticism still comes silently to all through the beauty of the stained glass, which bathes the carefully crafted and finely tuned sacred space in mystical light. No one can be entirely free from the possibility that their soul will be touched by this beauty, which speaks of the darkness and of the light of God together; of light in the darkness, of the light behind the darkness. . . This is the journey towards the darkness of God in which, paradoxically, we eventually find ourselves nearer to the transfiguring light of his presence."

Vermeer      This same magical use of light and darkness became the theme of painters such as Vermeer, Van Eck, and Van Gogh. Vermeer "suspended the war between light and darkness, gave the victory to light, and made light a manifestation of loving-kindness. Even when stealing into Vermeer's darkest interior by a narrow window, light is welcomed as a lover, The far corners whisper hello to light. Instead of humping their backs like angry cats the shadows under the furniture are purring. A lady smooths a table-cloth: light smooths it for her and gently holds her hand upon it, saying, 'This usual busy morning is forever.'" 3

     Perennialist art produces psychic upheaval in us, thrusting us into another state of consciousness, and, with Rumi, we wake up asking, "Who looks out with my eyes?"


1 Sama: The musical and ecstatic aspects of Sufism or Perennialist mysticism in general   "We have all heard this music in Paradise. Although the water and clay of our bodies have cast doubt over us, something of this music drifts back into our memory." Rumi.

2 Gordon Strachan, Chartres: Sacred Geometry, Sacred Space, 2003

3 Alexander Eliot, Sight and Insight, 1959