Quotes and Excerpts

The Inklings:

Lewis, Tolkien, Williams and Barfield

explore Theosophy and Reincarnation


See also Inklings -- Charles Williams

Philosopher Owen Barfield : Of all the Inklings, the group of Oxford scholars that met regularly to discuss Christianity and mythology in the early 1900's, one of the least often memorialized on the Net is Owen Barfield. The other central three -- C.S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams -- wrote fantasy, as well as theology and philosophy.


Legacy of the Second Friend

by Dale Nelson1

www.owenbarfield.com/Barfield_Scholarship/Nelson.htm (new link)

"Many people who look into the writings of Owen Barfield.... are C. S. Lewis admirers who are curious about this man who was Lewis's close friend throughout his adult life, from 1919 till Lewis's death in 1963. Barfield was Lewis's legal and financial advisor, and became an executor of his estate. Lewis dedicated his first scholarly book, The Allegory of Love (1936) to this 'wisest and best of my unofficial teachers,' stating in its preface that he asked no more than to disseminate Barfield's literary theory and practice, and dedicated the first Narnian chronicle to his friend's adopted daughter Lucy.

"In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis portrayed... Barfield as the Second Friend, the one who never fails to challenge one and prod one to new understanding. ...

"Another sign of Barfield's thought in Lewis appears in the third lecture of The Abolition of Man (1947), where Lewis suggests that 'Dr. Steiner'* meaning Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy [and of the occult Waldorf Schools], which Barfield embraced as a young man* may have found the way to a redeemed scientific method that does not omit the qualities of the observed object. ... [Notice that this was 16 years after Lewis' supposed  conversion in 1931]

"Barfield, raised in an agnostic family, was baptized and became a member of the Church of England only in late middle age. ....However, he retained the Anthroposophic beliefs [his personal twist on Theosophy] he had begun to learn while a young man. Rudolf Steiner's 'occult science' seems to be a modern Gnosticism, complete with reincarnation, Christ and Jesus as two separate beings, a 'Fall' engineered by 'Luciferian' beings to promote man's ascent to his destiny of spiritual freedom...."

But God's Word says, "...it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment...."  Hebrews 9:27-28


"In keeping with the teaching of Anthroposophy, Barfield espouses his belief in reincarnation on several occasions. Indeed, reincarnation is essential to his understanding of the evolution of consciousness. In Unancestral Voice, the Meggid [a "spirit being" in Barfield's book] elucidates reincarnation for Burgeon... 'It is only through repeated earth-lives,' he explains, 'that mind could gradually, and as an historical process, become more and more individualized, that is to say, could gradually emerge from the spirit which gave birth to it....

"But 'the Western understanding of man's repeated earth-lives' the Meggid foresees is not to be confused with that of the Orient, for 'when at last it does awaken. . . , it will be virtually opposite to, the Oriental doctrine of 'reincarnation.' For it will not, as the East has done, lay the whole emphasis on the period of life on earth, but will understand that the opposite pole, the period purgatorial and celestial between death and birth, is of at least equal significance for the present predicament of the human soul; and it will seek to investigate that, too. . . . And secondly, it will, though with a sober realization of the cost of suffering, see rebirth as a thing to be sought rather than one to be avoided."

www.owenbarfield.com/Encyclopedia_Barfieldiana/Ideas_Concepts/Reincarnation.html (new link)

Owen Barfield (1898 -1980) "...after reading English at Wadham College, Oxford, he worked as a freelance writer for seven years. During that time he was influenced by Rudolf Steiner and joined the Anthroposophical Society....

"Apart from his brother, Warnie Lewis, C.S. Lewis' best friend was Owen Barfield and from 1927 they went on three or four day walking tours together in the spring. His great contribution was to persuade C. S. LEWIS, and through him TOLKIEN, that myth and metaphor has always had a central place in our language and literature. When he was working in London (1931) he occasionally joined the INKLINGS when he came to Oxford. Barfield wrote... a volume of essays, Romanticism Comes of Age (1945). Though he joined the Church of England (about 1946), he continued to believe in reincarnation (which C.S. Lewis said no Christian could possibly believe in) and he later wrote several books on Anthroposophy (1957-1971).


Evolution of Consciousness: Studies in Polarity: "Owen Barfield’s thought ranges over many disciplines, reflecting his belief in the unity of knowledge—its 'all in every part' character. ... There is no 'early' or 'late"' Barfield (to accord with current fashion), he tells us emphatically in the interview with him that follows, 'just the same Barfield all along.'"

War in Heaven: "In War in Heaven, [Charles] Williams gives a contemporary setting to the traditional story of the Search for ht Holy Grail. Examining the distinction between magic and religion, their eerily disturbing book graphically portrays a metaphysical journey through he shadowy crevices of the human mind.

Lilith by George MacDonald: (Foreword by C. S. Lewis): "It must be more than thirty years ago that I bought... Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier. I had already been waist deep in Romanticism, and likely enough, at any moment, to founder into its darker and more evil forms, slithering down the steep descent that leads from eh love of strangeness to that of eccentricity and thence to that of perversity. ... What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptize (that was where the Death came in) my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience....

      "...the quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live." (xi-xii )


Book Review: A Question of Time - J. R. R. Tolkien's Road to Faërie

by Professor Ralph C. Wood2

"Tolkien was caught on the cusp that joins two worlds: the traditional Christian world of angels and demons and dream-visions wherein the natural and the supernatural were inextricably interwoven, and the modern world where space and time have been radically relativized by scientific discovery, psychological exploration, and imaginative invention. ...

"What comes as a genuine shock is the news that Tolkien's mind and work were marked by the fictional dream-journeys of George Du Maurier, by the psychic experiences of Charlotte Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, by the time-travel fantasies of H. G. Wells, and especially by the notion of J. W. Dunne that all temporal events are simultaneous. Dunne held that time is no less constant than space, and that by certain habits of mind we can move backward and forward over time as we traverse space, even experiencing events that have not yet happened....

"In both books Flieger has shown us a darker, less cheering Tolkien than many of his Christian apologists have acknowledged. Here again she is right: Tolkien was a man whose faith was shadowed and doubt-filled, and whose fiction thus counsels a sad joyfulness as the most that we can hope for this side of eternity.... Flieger gives us a Tolkien who is much closer to the heterodoxy of Owen Barfield and Charles Williams than to the orthodoxy of C. S. Lewis....

"Yeats and Steiner, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, the theosophists and anthroposophists and seancers all practiced a gnostic neo-Platonism which sought to overcome the mortal limits of time-bound flesh by human imagination alone. ....

"Flieger is right to contend that Tolkien shared their neo-gnostic critique of our century's decadent and violent materialism. Yet she fails to see that Tolkien also resists what is spurious in the attempt to have God without incarnation or cross or resurrection."

We disagree with the last sentence. Tolkien adapted many of the theosophical notions to his mythical world. For example, Gandalf and Saruman match the theosophical-occult view of "ascended masters" "devas" or evolved angelic beings sent back into the world to guide receptive humans. As Tolkien himself wrote,

"Gandalf is not, of course, a human being (Man or Hobbit). There are naturally no precise modern terms to say what he was. I would venture to say that he was an incarnate 'angel'.... with the other Istari, wizards, 'those who know', an emissary from the Lords of the West, sent to Middle-earth as the great crisis of Sauron loomed on the horizon. By 'incarnate' I meant they were embodied in physical bodies capable of pain and weariness...."[3]

"Why they should take such a form is bound up with the 'mythology' of the 'angelic' Powers of the world of this fable. At this point in the fabulous history the purpose was precisely to limit and hinder their exhibition of 'power' on the physical plane, so that they would do what they were primarily sent for: train, advise, instruct, arouse the hearts and minds of those threatened by Sauron...."[3]

"Gandalf really 'died' and was changed....  'I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death'."[4]

In a book titled The Lord of the Rings, a "visual companion" to the first segment of the three-part movie, describes the Istari:

"The Word 'Istari' is an Elvish term denoting an order or brotherhood of wizards. Such wizards are Maiar -- spirits older than Middle Earth itself--who have been sent by the Valar, the oldest and greatest beings of all -- out of the Undying Lands into the mortal world to guide the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth.... They have come secretly....

"As one of the Istari, Gandalf is able to wield potent magic..."[5]

See also Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: Truth, Myth or 'Discovered Reality"? 

and   Narnia - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3



Some Bibliographical Notes on The Inklings & Mystical Christian Thought:

The writings of The Inklings (JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Dorothy Sayers, et al.) are well known, especially in Christian circles. Here are a few references on Tolkien and Williams, which may be of interest to students of many spiritual paths.

(1) J.R.R. Tolkien: "Tolkien wrote a personally revealing essay On Fairy Stories embodying his theology/philosophy of Faerie and Sub-Creation (as he called it). In addition to his magna opera The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and his many story notebooks which his son Christopher has been editing and publishing over the last decades, he has two short stories which succinctly illustrate some of the aspects of his feelings about Faerie: Smith of Wootton Major and Leaf by Niggle.

      "...the best commentaries on Tolkien’s work emphasizing his mystical and spiritual thought are by Verlyn Flieger of the University of Maryland: Flieger, Verlyn. A Question of Time:  J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to Faerie, Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World."

(2) Charles Williams: "One of the unfortunately lesser known Inklings, Williams wrote Arthurian mystical poetry and seven supernatural mystery novels."

1. Dale Nelson: "Associate Professor of English at Mayville (ND) State University. His "The Uncertain Legacy of Owen Barfield" appeared in Touchstone 11.3 (May-June 1998), 36-38. Barfield himself contributed to his "'But This Time It's True': C. S. Lewis and William Law" (CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society 22:1 [1990]: 1-10)."

2. Dr. Ralph Wood: "Professor of English at Baylor University, is a Tolkien expert and has studied Christian literary classics and the Inklings (the close group of Oxford literary masters including C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and Tolkien). He taught for 26 years at Wake Forest University, where he won awards for distinguished teaching. His publications include "Traveling the One Road: The Lord of the Rings as a 'Pre-Christian' Classic," Christian Century 110, 6 (February 24, 1993): 208-11."

3.The Letters of J. R. R Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, editor  (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981), page 202.

4. The Letters, page 201.

5. Jude Fisher, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Visual Companion (Boston: New York, 2001), page 55, 57.


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