Owen Barfield resources

Owen Barfield is not a well-known writer, at least not as well-known as some of the varied writers he influenced: Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow and J.R.R. Tolkien, Pulitzer Prize-winner Howard Nemerov and C.S. Lewis. Most of Barfield’s name recognition is due to his affiliation with Tolkien and Lewis as one of the Inklings, because his name is usually included as one of the four best-known members, rounded out by Charles Williams. This post is intended to be a frequently updated resource for anyone interested in Barfield, as well as a depository for my own notes as I try to understand his thought.

Susanna Clarke on Owen Barfield

The author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke, talks about Owen Barfield’s influence on her latest novel, Piranesi, in this Church Times interview with Sarah Lothian. Read Susanna Clarke: rescued by faith and Strictly.

Mark Vernon: Barfield and Evolving Consciousness

Mark Vernon is the author of the recently released book A Secret History of Christianity: Jesus, the Last Inkling, and the Evolution of Consciousness. In November 2019, Vernon hosted a one-day conference in London with several guest speakers. Watch or listen to the lectures and discussions on Vernon’s Evolving Consciousness page.

Stephen L. Talbott on Barfield

The Nature Institute has reprinted an appendix devoted to Owen Barfield in the book The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst by Stephen L. Talbott. Read Owen Barfield: The Evolution of Consciousness.

Saul Bellow writes a letter to Barfield

The American Reader has published a letter Saul Bellow wrote to Owen Barfield. Read Bellow’s Nov. 11, 1979, letter to Barfield.

The Owen Barfield Literary Estate

The Owen Barfield Literary Estate is a rich resources, especially its page of links to articles written by Barfield. Go to the Barfield articles page.

More to come, including links to videos of Malcolm Guite’s lectures on Barfield and Bruce Charlton’s blogs about Barfield.

Watch “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis” on YouTube


I haven’t blogged here in a year and a half. I want to share something I found especially helpful: the 50-part video series entitled “Awakening From the Meaning Crisis” by Dr. John Vervaeke, a psychologist and cognitive scientist at the University of Toronto. Starting last summer and continuing into the fall, I watched the entire series. One day, early on in my viewing of the series, I jotted down some of what Vervaeke said on a Post-it Note or two, and eventually I covered an entire wall in my office with multicolored quotes and concepts. I really appreciated the series for its explanatory power regarding many of the topics and issues I have blogged about here in the past, and many more. Throughout the series, Vervaeke draws on numerous philosophers, psychologists, theologians, and other scholars to present his views. The series really is a synthesis of others’ work, guided by Vervaeke’s own expertise and perspective. The result is enriching, fascinating, and encouraging. Watch it.

Malcolm Guite on Owen Barfield: Knowledge, Poetry, and Consciousness

This summer, I’m reading Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning by Owen Barfield, one of C.S. Lewis’s closest friends. By today’s standards, all of the Inklings were peculiar dudes, but back then, Barfield and Charles Williams were especially peculiar, Barfield basically a disciple of Rudolf Steiner and Williams an Anglican while also an initiate into secretive magical orders. And yet, Barfield’s book Poetic Diction influenced both Lewis’s writing and Tolkien’s, and beyond the Inklings, was praised by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Howard Nemerov. So I appreciate Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite’s illumination of Barfield’s perspectives, which take a little time to grasp. They are, however, rewarding.

A quick summertime appeal

Hi everyone — A warm welcome to the summer! As you enjoy this blog’s curious voyages through faith, doubt, and wonder, I’m asking you for a quick donation of a buck. A dollar. Just $1. Less than a cup of coffee, less than the tip on your bar tab. Because the more support this blog receives, the more I can share through it. Donating is easy through this safe and secure PayPal link: paypal.me/cfb4 . Thank you for any support you can offer. All the best! — Colin

A brief note about the influence of Neoplatonism on early Christianity

Some of my posts over the past four years have focused on the influence of ancient mystery religions on the development of Christianity. Here’s a brief quote, really a footnote, found in a friend’s book on Neoplatonism:

“That which is utterly beyond us and cannot be expressed or thought is by its very transcendence of distance and difference most intimately present. The Neoplatonists express this with particular force: it was from them that Christianity and Islam learnt their understanding of the unity of transcendence and immanence.” — A.H. Armstrong, in Hellenic and Christian Studies (Aldershot: Variorum, 1990)

What Cicero saw in the Eleusinian mystery religion and its similarities to Christianity

In Cicero’s dialogue “On the Laws,” a character comments on the Eleusinian mysteries:

“For it appears to me that among the many exceptional and divine things your Athens has produced and contributed to human life, nothing is better than those mysteries. For by means of them we have transformed from a rough and savage way of life to the state of humanity, and have been civilized. Just as they are called initiations, so in actual fact we have learned from them the fundamentals of life, and have grasped the basis not only for living with joy but also for dying with a better hope.”

So there you have four points that sound like outcomes from an evangelical conversion experience: (1) transformation from sinfulness to fullness, (2) knowledge of the source of life, (3) joy in this life, and (4) hope for life after death.

That quotation from the Cicero dialogue was found in The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, edited by Marvin W. Meyer. Here I’m including it as an additional note to some of my previous posts about ancient mystery religions, including this one and this one and this one. If you read the dialogue quotation with these three links in this paragraph, Cicero’s character seems to add something more than mere external and descriptive similarities between ancient mystery religions and Christianity. He seems to add something that maps with Christianity in the realm of interiority and values: enlightened living, joy for this life, hope for a wonderful afterlife.

It’s worth mentioning that the two most influential Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, saw these kinds of similarities not as challenges to Christianity but as supports for Christianity. Generally speaking, they believed the myths, poems, and philosophies of the ancient world were different kinds of divine revelation that prepared people for the advent of Christ — in Lewis’s famous phrase, “myth became fact,” meaning myths or pieces of myths were historically actualized and tied together in the Incarnation.

That being said, having been grown up with simultaneous influences of two very different strands of American Bible-skimming fundamentalism, I have to say the ancient mystery religions and their similarities to Christianity are a huge challenge to Christian faith (again, follow the above links). As a friend and I were saying the other night, the ancient mystery religions, sharing so many similarities to Christianity, challenge the assumptions and claims that there never was anything like Christianity before.

I finally understand the Truly Reformed approach to interpreting the Bible

My interpretation of the Bible is infallible because I’m Elect because my interpretation of the Bible is infallible because I’m Elect.

For all their stated emphasis on grace, some Reformed Christian folks demonstrate such certainty in their own understandings that they actually emphasize their own interpretative stances over anything else, including grace.

What does this have to do with anything? Take a look at a few rounds of this video debate between a Reformed guy and a Roman Catholic guy, as I did recently.

Watch how they both selectively avoid the consequences of the opposing proof texts. Notice how their selective engagements involve work-arounds that have nothing to do with the texts themselves.

The take-away from their exchange, in my opinion, is simply that systematizing the Bible into a complete set of firm answers and airtight conclusions is not possible. But some people can only have a Bible if they have an infallible interpretation of it, too.

Watching the debate also reminded me that the late great French Protestant Jacques Ellul once said “the Bible is not a recipe book or an answer book, but the opposite: it is a book of questions God asks us.”