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Visionary and vision

In the PWN Polish Language Dictionary the word ‘visionary’ is explained as follows: ‘creator of bold plans or ideas concerning the future’. The word ‘vision’, comes from the the Latin ‘visio’ (seeing) and has several meanings in Polish. Let’s stay with the one we use when we talk about “the imagining of some events to take place in the future, usually depicted in a book or film”. So the basis of vision will be seeing/perception, combined with any of the human competencies – physical (material) or intellectual, spiritual. Seeing is connected with recording, but also with comprehending and knowing. That is why visionary seeing is special, because it is inseparably connected with the future (futurum), with the time that is yet to come. Thus, it is a kind of going beyond the here and now, entering the mysterious sphere of the “later” which remains unknown to us. Into the sphere of speculations, premonitions or projects, desires and fears. On the one hand, futurology is a combination of times (present and future), on the other, it makes us aware of the distance that clearly separates today from tomorrow, even if we assume that “tomorrow is today, only a bit further”.

Curiosity, hope, fear, rule

It is unclear what path leads the visionary into the realm of the future. And on whose strength they enter that sphere.
Certainly one of the characteristics of humanity is curiosity. We would like to know what awaits us. Our need for security, stability, the hope of avoiding problems and fulfilling our intentions is behind our desire to see the future and possibly anticipate setbacks or disasters. Fear of uncertain, capricious Fatum or even ominous developments that we set in motion. Information about what will happen in the future was (but still is today!) priceless. An accurately made forecast, in which knowledge of the richness of material reality is combined with a deep understanding of historical processes and awareness of the essence of human nature, has always been an object of desire. This is what ancient rulers expected from haruspiks (using the bodies of sacrificial animals to explain the future), shamans, fortune-tellers, diviners, bards, magicians, astrologers. They also wanted the discernment of the future to be an intrusion into the power of ruling over time, reserved for God or deities.

The gift and temptation of mystification

Hence the conviction appears that seeing the future is an exceptional, rare gift, given to those to whom divine knowledge wishes to be granted. Vision of the future is a gift to a particular person (and through them to a group), being at the same time a choice by a supernatural Force. Some people knew this well: prophets, called to reveal the future, including the will and intentions of God, to their people, or priests of various cults and shamans. The visionaries in this (sacral) perspective become mediators between God and men; they know the human language, but also understand the language of the Transcendent. What is inherently dark and obscure, they see clearly and are able to give an account of new knowledge, even when they are limited by the infirmities of human language. The false prophets, giving their imaginations the sanction of the superhuman – risked much. Revealed mystifications, usually connected with demagogy, exposed themselves to the anger of both men and gods. The clairvoyants, on the other hand, reduced to the role of a tool/medium, even when faced with the rejection of their own community, communicating to it uncomfortable, sometimes quite fatal truths, were faithful to the daimonion (the inner voice, which was also the “divine touch”) and ultimately fulfilled the mission entrusted to them. They were protected by truth, which they served unconditionally.

Dream, ecstasy, trance, illumination

The path to the future may lead through sleep, through ecstasy (achieved in various ways, sometimes also by psychogenic means) or trance. It can also be the result of illumination (enlightenment, inspiration) or grace (charism).

Sensitivity, intuition, empathy

Either way, a visionary is usually characterized by special intellectual, mental or spiritual aptitudes that enable them to transcend the era. They are certainly characterized by sensitivity, strong intuition and no less empathy, necessary to open themselves to the New and the Unknown. They must become attuned to that which is just taking shape, or even better: finding its proper shape. That is why the visionary “lives” in at least two times – the one defined by the course of their own biography and the one that goes beyond it.
Running ahead, especially running into the future, had and has its price, like any otherness. It is often associated with doubts expressed by the surroundings, incomprehension, and loneliness.

Symbol, metaphor

It is also uncomfortable that the bard has to find adequate means of expression for what appears to them, and often they do not find such in the available “communicative resources”. They are these who have to grasp the phenomenon that has appeared or move towards them. Hence the messages of visionaries at first seem muddled, somehow flawed. That is why visionaries often use symbols, metaphors and those literary forms that reach for them. Sometimes they do not hesitate to go against the rules of the language used so far, they experiment with it. They must speak with a power that will convince the community of the truth of what they have discovered/what has been shown to them. The visionaries are always mystics because they recognize a given mystery, although sometimes their mysticism is painfully sober, rational, and calculated. After all, the recipients of their message must find at least a handful of reasons to trust them.

“Didn’t I tell you?”

To trust at once or to return years later to what at first was considered too fantastic to be true. The visionaries must (like it or not) be humble and wait for history to verify their recognition. They must submit to the judgment of history. For what is a vision without evidence of its accuracy? Only an illusion, a beautiful dream or a terrible dream. The visionary must therefore have the inner strength needed to be patient. They must endure disappointments and accusations. When the vision comes true, defend against hubris (“Didn’t I tell you so?”).

We needed, we need, we will need

For a visionary is a maker of bold plans, as the dictionary definition says, but also a restorer – or even – a seismographer of That which is only partially in our power. We can rationally foresee what is to come, but no reasonable person can ever be sure that our judgment is not mistaken in the complex reality. We still know too little about the complicated world and ourselves. That is why we needed, need, and will need visionaries.
It is an uncomfortable function and position. An enviable one, like any place that offers a boundless perspective. But also risky when measured only by human criteria, among which myopia is often the order of the day.