Friday, 8 December 2017

More on the link between reincarnation and the evolution of consciousness

Owen Barfield's central idea, and the one for which he is best known, is the evolution of consciousness - meaning that the nature of human consciousness has changed throughout history such that people in different eras and places had very different relationships with the world: these changes fall into three general categories of Original Participation, the Observing Consciousness and Final Participation.

He traces the evolution of consciousness mainly by observing the characteristic changes in the meaning and usage of words, which seem to display a cohesive development - and also looks at other cultural evidence. Barfield's idea of evolution in this regard is not natural selection, but a developmental process (akin to the growth and differentiation of a living entity): the emergence and unfolding of human destiny, interacting with the agency and free will of individual humans.

What is seldom appreciated or emphasized is that for Barfield the evolution of consciousness is divinely designed, and bound-up with reincarnation. To put it concisely, the reason for the evolution of consciousness through history is that this provides the necessary conditions by which successive reincarnations of  human spirits may learn what they require to develop towards divinity.

So, for Barfield (although this is hinted at much more often than made explicit) it is God who 'provides' the evolution of consciousness in order that reincarnating human spirits may have the necessary experiences they need to growth towards the ultimate goal of Final Participation - whereby firstly, and stepwise, the Ego or Self has become separated from its original 'unconscious' immersion in the environment and strong in its purpose and will - awake, alert and in-control; then secondly the now strong and purposive Self/ Ego comes back into a participatory relationship with The World.

To underlying rationale (the 'point') of the evolution of consciousness is, for Barfield, bound-up with the reality of reincarnation; and therefore those (such as myself) who disbelieve in reincarnation as the normal human destiny, yet who believe in the evolution of consciousness, need to be clear that we differ from Barfield; and are, indeed, denying the main reason for evolution of consciousness as Barfield understood it.

To put it bluntly: those individuals who are sympathetic towards Barfield's core idea of the evolution of consciousness yet who do not believe in reincarnation, need to explain what the evolution of consciousness is for - if not to provide the conditions necessary for educating the reincarnating human spirit.  


  1. Joe Kelly - eventure at gmail dot com22 November 2017 at 17:20

    Hello, Bruce - I'm a student of Barfield's (and Steiner's) ideas for over 25 years. I don't pretend to come close to 'understanding' all that I struggle to grasp from their writings, but I must say, in connection with your present post, that Barfield makes the connection of the evolution of consciousness with repeated earth lives quite clear in this sense: If there is to be evolution, there must be something which endures underlying the changes which that being undergoes, otherwise there would be, not evolution, but substitution. That humanity as a whole might stand in this position (which I gather might be your idea) would seem to be disqualified from the distinction which Barfield makes between an evolution of consciousness and a history of ideas. Unfortunately, at the moment, I can't point to his specific mention of this argument which I'm certain is a much clearer expression of the point, but perhaps you or I may in the future come across it to our mutual benefit. (In my case at least, a 'belief' in reincarnation should rather be considered as its 'making sense', having the 'ring of authenticity' along the lines of Coleridge's definition of faith as 'fidelity to our own being as far as such being cannot be an object of the sense').

  2. @Joe - Thanks for your informed comment - I agree that this is what Barfield says, explicitly.

    But my argument is that the same as multiple incarnate mortal lives can be achieved by regarding our lives as consisting of pre-mortal (spirit), mortal (incarnate), and post-mortal (resurrected incarnate) stages - in all of which we can experience and transform.

    These accomplish the same (in this domain) as multiple incarnations. On top of this, our mortal life situation is specifically tailored to our spiritual needs.