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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 3: Saintly Sancho Panza, a Christ Symbol

sanchopanzastatue

Sancho Panza is a very complex character. At first, I envisioned him as a manifestation of the fool archetype. He reminded me a lot of the fool in King Lear, cloaking wise perspective amid jokes, puns, and antics. But as I read on, the image of Sancho broadened and he appeared more and more as a saint. It could even be argued that he is a symbol of Christ himself.

First, consider that Sancho rides an ass and not a horse. When we remember that Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, we have an initial parallel between the two.

Sancho describes himself as a man of peace, embodying saintly and Christ-like attributes. He also emphasizes his capacity to forgive others unconditionally, just as Christ was able to forgive.

“Senor, I am a man of peace, meek and quiet, and I can put up with any affront because I have a wife and children to support and bring up; so let it be likewise a hint to your worship, as it cannot be a mandate, that on no account will I draw sword either against clown or against knight, and that here before God I forgive the insults that have been offered me, whether they have been, are, or shall be offered me by high or low, rich or poor, noble or commoner, not excepting any rank or condition whatsoever.”

(p. 109)

Shortly afterwards, Sancho describes to Don Quixote how he was given the sign of the cross on his back, and how he endured the suffering with the same acceptance as Christ and other saintly martyrs.

“They gave me no time to see that much,” answered Sancho, “for hardly had I laid hand on my tizona when they signed the cross on my shoulders with their sticks in such a style that they took the sight out of my eyes and the strength out of my feet, stretching me where I now lie, and where thinking of whether all those stake-strokes were an indignity or not gives me no uneasiness, which the pain of the blow does, for they will remain as deeply impressed on my memory as on my shoulders.”

(p. 111)

At the wedding in Cana, Christ famously turned water into wine. In this text, Sancho Panza also exchanges water for wine, strengthening the correlation between him and Christ.

… but as at the first sup he perceived it was water he did not care to go with it, and begged Maritornes to fetch him some wine, which she did with right good will, and paid for it with her own money; for indeed they say of her that, though she was in that line of life, there was some faint and distant resemblance to a Christian about her.

(p. 131)

It is also worth noting the similarity here between Maritornes and Mary Magdalene. Both were women of “ill repute” who exhibited true spiritual values of compassion and caring.

So far, I find Sancho Panza a much more interesting and multifaceted character that Don Quixote, but I still have a way to go in the book. Thanks for stopping by, and as always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

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“A Dream of Death” by William Butler Yeats

Cypresses: Vincent van Gogh

Cypresses: Vincent van Gogh

I dreamed that one had died in a strange place
Near no accustomed hand,
And they had nailed the boards above her face,
The peasants of that land,
Wondering to lay her in that solitude,
And raised above her mound
A cross they had made out of two bits of wood,
And planted cypress round;
And left her to the indifferent stars above
Until I carved these words:
She was more beautiful than thy first love,
But now lies under boards.

I read this poem twice this morning and had a good sense of the meaning, but felt that I might be missing some historical context. So I did a little research (the internet is an amazing resource) and learned that Yeats composed this poem for Maude Gonne, who had taken a trip to France for health reasons. Clearly, he was expressing concern about her being so far away from home while ill and afraid of what might happen to her in the unfortunate event that she passed away.

What struck me about this poem was the big-picture theme about death and remembrance. Most people who have lived and died are completely forgotten, and this is a sobering thought. We all like to think of our lives as being meaningful, and I do believe that everyone’s life has purpose in the grand scheme, but that does not mean that individual lives are remembered long past death. And I think this is what Yeats was getting at in this poem. His words in this poem ensure that the memory of Gonne would continue after her death, that she would not become just a nameless marker somewhere.

Another thing that is worth mentioning is the symbolism of the cypress trees. In Yeats’ vision, he sees cypress trees planted around Maude’s burial mound. The tree is an ancient symbol of mourning and possesses mystical properties, particularly in regard to ushering the soul from this world to the next realm.

The poet Ovid, who wrote during the reign of Augustus, records the best-known myth that explains the association of the cypress with grief. The handsome boy Cyparissus, a favorite of Apollo, accidentally killed a beloved tame stag. His grief and remorse were so inconsolable that he asked to weep forever. He was transformed into cupressus sempervirens, with the tree’s sap as his tears. In another version of the story, it was the woodland god Silvanus who was the divine companion of Cyparissus and who accidentally killed the stag. When the boy was consumed by grief, Silvanus turned him into a tree, and thereafter carried a branch of cypress as a symbol of mourning.

In Greek mythology, besides Cyparissus, the cypress is also associated with Artemis and Hecate, a goddess of magic, crossroads and the underworld. Ancient Roman funerary rites used it extensively.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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“A Poison Tree” by William Blake

PosionTree

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

This is a sobering poem that addresses the negative effects of not expressing your anger and allowing it to fester and grow in secret. In the first stanza, we are presented with two contrasting versions of how the speaker deals with his anger. In the first scenario, the person expresses his anger to his friend in a healthy manner and the result is that the anger goes away. In the second scenario, because the person keeps his anger hidden within, it grows. This is a common occurrence. Generally, when anger is stuffed inside, it tends to turn to resentment, which adds fuel to the wrath that smolders within.

In the second stanza, we see that fear continues to add to the suppressed anger, causing it to grow more. In addition, the protagonist now begins exhibiting signs of deception, smiling at his secret enemy while quietly plotting his revenge. In the third stanza, his silent anger finally bears fruit, the result of which is the death of his foe in the final stanza.

As is often the case with a Blake poem, there are other layers of symbolism woven in. This poem is no exception. I suspect that Blake also intended the speaker of the poem to represent Satan. Satan is certainly depicted as a being “with soft deceitful wiles.” And the apple is a definite reference to the Eden myth, where Adam and Eve are tempted to eat the forbidden fruit. Essentially, eating of the fruit in the Garden poisons the minds of the two archetypal humans.

Finally, it is worth meditating on the image that Blake incorporates with this poem. Beneath the tree is the outstretched foe. The positioning of the body resembles a crucifixion image. I think it could be argued that the foe beneath the tree is Christ, who was not only killed on the cross, but was suffering another symbolic death as the Industrial Age led many people to abandon Christ’s teachings for science and technology. Remember, the apple is also a symbol associated with Sir Isaac Newton.

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“Lady, Weeping at the Crossroads” by W. H. Auden

WHAuden

I read this poem today on a fellow blogger’s site. Rather than post the poem here, I will direct you to her site, which is fantastic.

Symbol Reader: Auden Poem

The crossroads is a very powerful symbol. In voudou, it represents the point where the worldly and the spiritual realms meet. I believe that the Christian crucifix is a visual form of the crossroads. Finally, I interpret the crossroads as the place in the psyche where the conscious and the subconscious intersect.

The woman in the poem is suffering the loss of a loved one. She is at the crossroads, hoping to encounter his spirit. The birds in the second stanza are the messengers that can move between realms. The bribe could be either to bring her lover a message or to silence them from letting Heaven know that someone has crossed the threshold between realms.

Being at the crossroads also implies that one must make a choice. The woman must make a choice: does she take the road that continues into the future of her human existence, or does she take the road that ascends to Heaven, where she will reunite with her love?

In the end, she decides to take her life and join with her love.

Put your hand behind the wainscot,
You have done your part;
Find the penknife there and plunge it
Into your false heart.

I feel that there is also another meaning to this ending. Metaphorically speaking, the woman may be symbolically opening her false heart to the divine being. If the crossroads are where Heaven and Earth intersect, then she may be opening her heart to the divine presence, allowing the divine essence to fill her. I personally like this interpretation, but as with all great poems, you can interpret them in many ways.

Thanks again to Symbol Reader for sharing this today. I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I did.

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“To the Rose Upon the Rood of Time” by William Butler Yeats

WBYeats

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!
Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:
Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;
The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed,
Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;
And thine own sadness, whereof stars, grown old
In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,
Sing in their high and lonely melody.
Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate,
I find under the boughs of love and hate,
In all poor foolish things that live a day,
Eternal beauty wandering on her way.

Come near, come near, come near—Ah, leave me still
A little space for the rose-breath to fill!
Lest I no more hear common things that crave;
The weak worm hiding down in its small cave,
The field-mouse running by me in the grass,
And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass;
But seek alone to hear the strange things said
By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,
And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.
Come near; I would, before my time to go,
Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:
Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.

RosyCrossGDThis is a pretty cryptic poem. The title suggests that there is Rosicrucian symbolism woven into the verse, the rose and the cross being the symbol of the order. Yeats would have been familiar with this symbol, being a member of the Golden Dawn (which used the Rosy Cross as a symbol) and he was familiar with various occult symbols. He is definitely drawing on occult symbolism as well as Irish mythology. Cuchulain and Fergus were part of the Irish Red Branch cycle, or Ulster cycle. The Ulster cycle is a collection of medieval Irish legends and sagas that influenced Yeats. For a brief overview, click here.

I get the sense that Yeats considered himself to be like the Druid, conjuring a realm of magic as he sings his sacred bardic poetry. The second stanza in particular has the feel of a mystical chant. He repeats the opening phrase of the stanza “Come near” three times, like an invocation. The fact that he says this three times would have had occult symbolism also, three being a mystical number. Finally, the following lines imply that Yeats is conjuring in a sacred language, that of God which is unknown to all but a select few.

But seek alone to hear the strange things said
By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,
And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.

I am not sure what language Yeats is referring to. If I had to guess, I would say either ancient Irish or the sacred Enochian language of angels, possibly both. (Click here to read the Enochian Dictionary online.)

In addition to the rose and the cross being a symbol of occult mysticism and evocation, I suspect that Yeats was also using these to represent the Irish renaissance. The rose would therefore symbolize the blossoming of Irish culture. The cross would represent a sort of crossroads in time, where the past is intersecting with the present. The rose or Irish culture, a symbol or rebirth, is blossoming in the center of the crossroads.

Although I took a class on Yeats in college, I confess that I am not that knowledgeable in regards to the Irish mythology in much of his poetry. If any of you have some additional insight into Cuchulain or the Ulster Cycle, please feel free to share it here.

Thanks, and read on!

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“Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti” by Maya Deren – Pt 1

DivineHorsemen

I am going to do something a little different. Usually, I will finish a book and then write about it, unless there is a particular passage that inspires me. In the case of Divine Horsemen, though, I feel that I need to write about the first half of this book before I continue reading, mainly because it is so dense and there is so much information here I don’t feel I could adequately cover it in one blog post.

First, a little background on why I started reading this book. I have always been fascinated with religion, mysticism, and spirituality, and have tried to learn as much about various traditions while keeping an open mind. I lived in Miami for many years and had quite a few Haitian friends there, with whom I occasionally discussed voodoo (or voudou). I also have a close friend who was initiated into the voudou religion. Anyway, following a recent trip to New Orleans, I realized that I really don’t know much about the religion of voudou, so I contacted my friend and asked him if he would be willing to instruct me on some of the basics. He gladly agreed and suggested I begin by reading Maya Deren’s book.

So far, the book is nothing short of amazing. She documents the rituals she attended with incredible detail and ties the Haitian deities and practices into larger themes of universal archetypes. Already, this book has had a profound impact on me.

Deren begins her book by explaining her concept of myth: “Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter.” (p. 21) She continues by stating:

The metaphors of the diverse myths differ; the nature of the Cosmic Catalyst is the same. It is an energy which, out of the anonymity of void, of chaos, of the wholeness of the Cosmic Egg, crystallizes the major elements, precipitates the primary areas, and finally differentiates the first androgynous life (as the solitary Adam) into the twinned specializations: male and female. (p. 23)

Essentially, she asserts that all creation myths contain the same elements, that life is first created from the void as the combined androgynous archetype, which is then divided into the masculine and feminine.

Much of the first half of the book deals with the loa (which are the voudou deities) and with the symbolism associated with those deities. “Each loa is but an aspect of one central cosmic principle differentiated by the emphases which that central principle manifests according to the varying contexts in which it operates.” (pp. 94 – 95)

One of the symbols that is explored is that of the cross, or the crossroads. The cross symbol is prevalent in Christianity and the symbol of the crossroads represents a place where one encounters beings from other realms, as evident in the tale of blues musician Robert Johnson selling his soul at the crossroads. But as Deren explains, the crossroad symbolizes the intersection between the two planes of existence: the spiritual and the physical. It is at this point where one can move between realms.

It is, above all, a figure for the intersection of the horizontal plane, which is the material world, by the vertical plane, the metaphysical axis, which plunges into the mirror. The crossroads, then, is the point of access to the world of les Invisibles, which is the soul of the cosmos, the source of the life force, the cosmic memory, and the cosmic wisdom. (p. 35)

The name of the loa that controls the crossroads is Legba, an androgynous deity that contains divine feminine and masculine principles. Deren explains that Legba’s symbol (or vever) is comprised of male and female elements.

As principle of life, as the initial procreative whole, Legba was both man and woman and his vever still bears the sign of this totality. (p. 96)

Another example of masculine/feminine divine balance is represented by Damballah (the serpent god) and his female counterpart Ayida (whose symbol is the rainbow). Together, it was Damballah and Ayida who created all existence out of the void, or from the Cosmic Egg.

OurosborosDamballah and Ayida, who together represent the sexual totality, encompass the cosmos as a serpent coiled about the world. (p. 116)

This is clearly a manifestation of the ourosboros, a symbol which represents “the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.” (Click here for source.)

The voudou religion demonstrates a genuine gender balance, recognizing that male and female energies are both required for the creative process, on the material plane as well as the metaphysical plane.

The female principle thus participates in all the major cosmic forces (with the exception of the distinctly masculine forces personified in Ogoun) and Voudoun does not idealize woman, per se, as the principle of fecundity. Neither does it give preferential emphasis to the maternal womb over the phallic principle, either as cosmic origin, or in the prevalent psychology as reflected in ritual. Because of this explicit insistence that generation is the responsibility of male and female equally, the female principle enjoys less singular and specific importance here than in several other major mythologies. (p. 137)

This is by far my longest blog post and I feel like I have only scratched the surface regarding some of the key themes covered in the first half of this book. It is a very dense and informative book, and one that must be read slowly and thoughtfully in order to fully grasp the material. If you are at all interested in religions and spirituality (and I assume you are if you have read this far), then I encourage you to find a copy of this book and spend some time with it.

I will be writing Part 2 upon completion of the book.

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