The Owen Barfield Literary Estate Blog

Owen Barfield’s Imagination of Ireland

As a long-time reader of Owen Barfield and as an Irishman, I have naturally wondered about Barfield’s relationship to Ireland. Did he visit? When? And since the imagination was so central to his conception of life, what was his imagination of Ireland?

It has to be admitted that, at the time I write this blog, there is not yet all that much to go by in answering these questions. What there is, though, is tantalising.

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A Word About The Riddle of the Sphinx

A new collection of essays by Owen Barfield, The Riddle of the Sphinx,  was published by the Barfield Press in November 2023. The book’s name comes from one of the essay titles.

But “the riddle” in this case does not refer to the famous one that Oedipus solved — “What has four legs at dawn, two at noon, and three in the evening?” The answer to that one was, “man”. Or today we might say, “the human being”. Oedipus realized that he crawls as a toddler, stands upright as an adult, and may be supported by a stick in old age.

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Cracking the Coded Message in Owen Barfield’s Copy of The Allegory of Love

Among the invaluable Inklings books and memorabilia shown to me by Walter Hooper during my visit to his flat on July 22, 2015 was a first edition copy of The Allegory of Love (1936), C.S. Lewis’s own presentation copy to Owen Barfield, later given to Walter by Owen. What made it so interesting was not just its provenance, but more so its inscription on the dedication page encoded in a runic cipher.

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Accidental Philosopher: How Owen Barfield Derailed My Life

Sharing my correspondence with Owen Barfield is a gift that I’m honored to bestow. Beginning in 1988 – when he was 90 years old – we traded letters until 1995, two years before he passed. He sent copies of essays and talks of his, and commented on poems and essays I sent to him. He recommended books to read. I told him of authors I’d found. All told, I have sixteen letters from him.

Sharing my correspondence is also humbling. It does involve two people, after all, and only makes full sense when both people are taken into account.

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Silje Lilly - Sunset at l'étang de l'or

A Sonnet for Barfield

‘…the poetic… that bodiless ocean of life out of which all works of art spring.’
Owen Barfield


We participate in one and the same
Consciousness, feeling its sudden changes.
Hark! Our keel scraping against pebbles,
The impending bed pronounces your name
In metallic whispers.

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Owen Barfield and the Evolution of Consciousness

The inestimable Owen Barfield differentiates three epochs in the evolution of consciousness. The first he refers to as “original participation.” The anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl meant to indicate a similar condition under the rubric participation mystique. Other thinkers refer to the same as “tribal” or “primal” consciousness. Original participation denotes a condition of consciousness in which the self has not yet precipitated out of the semantic solution of the world. For this reason, neither “spirit” nor “matter” exists as a concept because each of their meanings depends on just the phenomenological antithesis with its counterpart that is not a characteristic of the mind immersed in the state of original participation.

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Was Owen Barfield a Christian?

Even as recently as this year (2021) there has been a well-enough known C.S. Lewis commentator who wrongly states that Owen was “not a Christian.” This is not only factually incorrect, but also quite bizarre. I really feel that I must set the record straight.

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