Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tavener on the eternal feminine

During June (sorry it's taken me a month to mention it), several newspapers published reports of the premieres of "The Beautiful Names," a setting of the 99 names of God by the leading Maryami musician, Sir John Tavener. The piece was commissioned by the Prince of Wales, and performed in London at Westminster Cathedral, and then in Istanbul at Agia Eirene (see picture).

Among all the press coverage, almost the only article to note a Traditionalist element was in The Economist, which mentioned "a school of thought which maintains that all rigorously followed religious traditions somehow converge at the 'summit.'" No other report got even that far--save for The Guardian's Charlotte Higgins.

Higgins dug deeper, and in a fascinating interview (June 11, 2007) Tavener refers to a vision he once had of Frithjof Schuon and explains about the transcendent unity of religions and the kali yuga (though he doesn't use the terms). Most interesting, however, is what he has to say about "the eternal feminine."

After telling Higgins about "a visionary to whom the Virgin Mary would appear, always naked" (the visionary's name is not given, but it can only have been Schuon), Tavener remarked:

I think our society at the moment - because I am a great critic of modernism - is very masculine-oriented, and the art I see and hear around me has gone beyond masculinity, it doesn't even possess the dignity of being masculine any longer. It is very aggressive and violent. And the feminine dimension is what everyone could do with having a good dose of.
This is somewhat closer to Aristasia than most Maryamis . . .

He added:

Even the prophet Mohammed said that the things that were most pleasing to him in this world were women and perfumes. I think women actually have that effect on me. Every woman I have known has actually deepened my spiritual awareness. Even if I have been a selfish man and treated them badly.


Curious said...

There is a new and rather extensive website at:

It seems to be decidedly Traditionalist-influenced and makes some reference to Aristasian spiritual writings. It also makes some points similar to Sir John's. It is written in British English.

Is a pattern emerging?

Mark Sedgwick said...

Thanks, Curious!

After a quick look, I'd say this comes out of Aristasia--even the graphics look familiar. But there are no obvious links from here to Aristasia. A split, then?

R. Mac said...

I was surprised at the modification of the hadith Sir John used to give a "traditional" source to his "Aristasianism" : isn't the hadith : Woman, perfumes, and prayer ?" .
Obviously, and you point this out in "Against the Modern World", Maryamis seem to use a certain amount of Islam to justify their "traditionalist" approach, and to honor the Maryami sufi origins, but not so far as to consider themselves as "Muslim Muslims". Maybe this last remark is a generalization.

Best regards,

R. Macnamara (France)

Mark Sedgwick said...

Thank you, Mr Macnamara. I should have noticed the absence of prayer myself... It makes quite a difference!

Anonymous said...

Ummm...Sir John isn't actually a Maryami...he's Greek Orthodox. Perhaps you have a new definition for the term 'Maryami', but strictly speaking it should only be applied to someone initiated into the Sufi order of Frithjof Schuon, or perhaps, more generally, to include his Christian and other disciples. However, Sir John fits neither definition.

Mark Sedgwick said...

I agree, Anonymous, that someone is only a Maryami if they belong to the Maryamiyya--or perhaps if they were a non-Muslim disciple of Frithjof Schuon.

Sir John Taverner's comments on Schuon (see certainly suggest that he is a disciple of Schuon, however. And even if he is just a "follower" in some other sense, I think it is still proper to see his music as Traditionalist--among other things, of course!