Holy Objects

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Turin shroud


Having recently watched yet another programme on The Turin Shroud, I am prompted to wonder what all these experts think they are up to. Why does it matter? This is a length of cloth which may – or may not – have been in actual contact with the body of Christ. Amazing! – But so what?

I have had the same problem in holy places – Canterbury, Bethlehem, Lindisfarne and Lastingham, for example. I stand and wait for the revelation to kick in, but usually nothing happens.

In the Middle Ages, of course, it must have been much easier to experience holy magic. Pilgrims might travel across the country for a glimpse of some blessed shrine. Trading in holy relics was presumably a profitable enterprise. To possess some saintly toe-nail must have been comfort indeed. Where, then, has all the magic gone?

We still have our places of pilgrimage. When I make my way to the British Library to see again the Lindisfarne Gospels it is with more than simple interest. I marvel at the craftsmanship and devotion that went into its making – the work of one man, so they say. Some of these early manuscripts do reveal a sense of the magical: you only have to
look at some of the marginal grotesques to feel a kind of respect for the supernatural.

But holy ‘things’ are different – just bits. Theirs was the power of association: has it now
all drained away? Like The House that Jack Built, how far back can we trace the holiness before it becomes so diluted that it can no longer be felt at all? This is the leaf, That fell
from the tree, That produced the timber, That formed the loom, That wove the cloth, That made the shroud, That lay on the body of Christ.

I don’t want to dismiss these things. It just seems that, these days, our values have changed, which is perhaps a pity, since, I suppose that attempts to forge bridges between heaven and earth is what religion is all about. Superstition may not be nonsense, after all. I suspect that a sneaking taste for lucky charms is more widespread than we think.
Myself, I would love to have St.Cuthbert’s little finger on my key-ring. There is a story, however, that many years after his burial, at his elevation, it was discovered that the body had miraculously survived intact – no decay, and no holy bones on offer.

The Bible, of course, retains its pre-eminence as no ordinary book – still in demand –
Christianity’s greatest treasure – respected by church-goers and others – available in almost every bookshop in the land. Still used, I think, in courts of law. Dare I suggest that this high regard has little to do with the popularity of its reading matter? It is treasured for its holiness.

It may be that holiness can not be made by human hands: it can not be manufactured. Perhaps we now begin to realise that the ‘spiritual’ informs and infuses the ‘natural’:
it doesn’t work the other way round. So if the scientists succeed in uncovering all the secrets of the Turin Shroud, they may also succeed in destroying its magic.


Copyright 2010 G Roland Smith


Posted on25th October 2011CategoriesMeaning of life, ReligionTags, , , , , , , ,, , , ,  Leave a comment

Religious superstition — Is that all religion is?

Are myths anything more than superstitious beliefs?

Today we are discovering or, to be more exact, rediscovering that the inner and outer worlds of our experience are closely related to each other. What we see in the images and experiences of the outer world is in some sense dependent on what elements are currently active within our psyche.

In that way outer images and forms can mirror or reflect, and, therefore, reveal living aspects of our inner world. Potentially, therefore, everything in our outer experience is a possible source of revelation of our inner realities and current state — as many mystics report. How we perceive and interpret events is very much a reflection of our individual selves.

Universal import of myths and legends

Just as there are underlying universal physical laws in the physical world, and underlying universal patterns of growth and development in the biological world, would it be so surprising to discover that there are also underlying universal patterns of psychological development which lie within the great myths and legends that have survived eons of human ages and development?

Witness the frequent emotive and evocative use made of them by so many of the great poets. Today, the psychologist Jung’s discoveries and interpretations in this area of ancient myths and legends is now well known, and have been influential in dispelling the rationalist’s judgment that myths are no more than primitive and superstitious beliefs about non-realities, or primitive pre-scientific attempts to explain natural phenomena.

Daedalus and Icarus

Remember the myth of Daedalus and Icarus? In order to escape from the Labyrinth in which they had found themselves imprisoned, Daedalus made wings (of wax!) for himself and his son Icarus, but warned his son not to fly too high. Ignoring his father’s advice, Icarus soared proudly up towards the sun which melted the wax, causing Icarus to fall into the ocean and drown. ‘Trying to fly too high’ — with wings of wax’.

Could a legend like that have originated without any deeper message for the hearer; without some inner significance that was the real reason for the story being told in the first place? Today we are perhaps uncovering some of the deeper awareness of the ancients which they were able to express only in story form. The difference is that, unlike them, we have an articulate psychological terminology with which to express it.

Psychospiritual Import of Sacred Scriptures

And further would it be so surprising to find that the key stories within the ancient sacred scriptures are still alive and vibrant today, retaining their emotive and sacred power because they symbolically express deep universal spiritual patterns of human experience and development?

The Buddha and Jesus are perhaps the best known ‘spiritual psychologists’ from the past, who demonstrated their incisive ability to plumb the spiritual and psychological depths in humanity through the use of symbol and parable, in the ancient scriptures as well as in their own parables, so many of which have also come down to us. For example, Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son  with its universal experiential patterns has stirred up and brought to light countless deep spiritual emotions and insights in those who have been prepared to ‘hear’ it with an open spirit.

The Old Testament

Generally, ‘tales’ inevitably become embellished and details changed in the telling. But in the Old testament of the Bible we have a record of ancient religious myth and sacred history of accuracy second to none due to the meticulous copying skills and strict rules of the semitic scribes known as the Massoretes.

Sadly, later interpretations of the Old testament by scholars and theologians in the Christian era became merely historical and literal, lacking spiritual and psychological depth so that it became largely dismissed or neglected as too archaic and repulsive for the modern mind. So it remained unrecognised as a potential revelation of timeless psychospiritual truths and inner realities concerning potentials divinely embedded in the human spirit, the obstacles to their development and the ways these may be overcome. The key to such deeper meaning became lost.


It was not until the 18th century when rationalism was getting into its full stride that a psychospiritual breakthrough came. Emanuel Swedenborg, a distinguished philosopher, following a period of humbling transformative inner experiences, began to publish his revelatory writings. In 1747 he startled leaders of the Christian church with the opening statement of his great work, Arcana Caelestia (Heavenly Secrets).

“The Word of the Old Testament contains heavenly secrets…Every single detail, even the smallest…means and embodies matters that are spiritual and celestial — a truth of which the Christian world is still profoundly ignorant…The subject of Genesis 1 is, in the internal sense, the new creation of man, that is, in general, his regeneration.”

In the Genesis creation story Swedenborg sees how the emergent kingdoms of nature correspond to emergent levels of the human mind and spirit and so provide a universal key to the interpretation of natural images in all the subsequent stories in the Bible.

Thus the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with its two trees, the divine prohibition, Adam’s falling into a deep sleep, the serpent and the ignoring of the divine warning, reveals how the human spirit is drawn into an egocentric state which, spiritually, is dreamlike and inevitably becomes subject to negative consequences.Some form of psychospiritual rescue operation is needed which, as Swedenborg, shows, the Bible goes on to symbolically outline in detail.

So the Bible will never become dated or irrelevant so long as the human mind is able to recognise its own universal inner states and stages of spiritual development reflected in the personae, events and dramas of such well-preserved sacred narratives.

Copyright Michael Stanley 2012