Tag Archives: labyrinth

Thoughts on “The Punishment of Pride” by Charles Baudelaire

In those old times wherein Theology
Flourished with greater sap and energy,
A celebrated doctor—so they say—
Having stirred many careless hearts one day
Down to their dullest depths, and having shown
Strange pathways leading to the heavenly throne—
Tracks he himself had never journeyed on
(Whereby maybe pure spirits alone had gone)—
Frenzied and swollen by the devilish pride,
Like to a man who has climbed too high, outcried:
“Ah, little Jesus, I have lifted thee!
But had I willed to assault thy dignity,
Thy shame had matched they present fame, and lo!
Thou wouldst be but a wretched embryo!”

Straightway his reason left him; that keen mind,
Sunbright before, was darkened and made blind;
All chaos whirled within that intellect
Erewhile a shrine with all fair gems bedeckt,
Beneath whose roof such pomp had shone so bright;
He was possessed by silence and thick night
As is a cellar when its key is lost . . .

Thenceforth he was a brute beast; when he crossed
The fields at times, not seeing any thing,
Knowing not if ’twere winter or green spring,
Useless, repulsive, vile, he made a mock
For infants, a mere children’s laughing-stock.

(translation by Sir John Squire)

On my first read through of this poem, my immediate question was: Who is the doctor Baudelaire is referring to? My initial thought was John Dee, but upon my second pass, I didn’t think so. Dee did not have a tragic ending such as the poem depicts. Then I thought, “Lucifer?” No, Lucifer’s pride and fall predates the time when Theology flourished. So I did a little investigation online, and it seems that Baudelaire was referring to Doctor Faustus in this poem. That made sense to me, although, I think the dominant theme of the poem is universal and could be applied to many figures, historical and fictional. Just like the myth of Icarus—if you dare fly to close to the Sun, you will inevitably fall and suffer.

While the concept of pride leading to a fall is evident on the surface of this poem, I also got a sense of a secondary caution that is less obvious, but just as important. This is a warning to those who are called to follow the mystical arts.

We are told that the doctor traveled “Strange pathways leading to the heavenly throne.” I interpret this as the practice of occult rituals, with the intention of experiencing direct contact with the divine. While I applaud those who seek to glimpse the ineffable, every guidebook for those stepping onto the paths of mysticism emphasizes the importance of remaining grounded. Once you begin on the labyrinth, it is easy to lose one’s self and suffer the anguish of mental illness.

So the cautionary message Baudelaire is conveying to the seeker is two-fold. Remain humble in your accomplishments and in the light of divine majesty; and remain balanced and grounded, not allowing your spiritual quest to consume you to the point where you neglect and lose touch with earthly experience.

Thanks for sharing in my thoughts, and as always, if you have anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments section.

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Symbolism in “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro

This book was a selection for the book club to which I belong. The friend who suggested the book only said it was about collective memory. Since that is a subject I find interesting, I was eager to read it.

The tale is set in post-Arthurian Britain and depicts a country suffering from a form of mass amnesia, where a strange mist has caused everyone to forget much of their collective past. The story follows the quest of five individuals seeking to restore memory by slaying a dragon responsible for causing the collective forgetting.

What I love the most about this book is the abundance of symbols that Ishiguro uses to explore memory. Hence, I figured I would focus this post on some of the more prominent symbolic representations of memory.

The first memory symbol I would like to explore is a village. The specific village is described as labyrinthine, and reminded me of the city of Siena in Italy, which had strange streets that were confusing to walk.

Axl was puzzled that a village which from a distance looked to be two orderly rings of houses could turn out to be such a chaotic labyrinth now they were walking through its narrow lanes. Admittedly the light was fading, but as he followed Beatrice, he could discern no logic or pattern to the place. Buildings would loom unexpectedly in front of them, blocking their way and forcing them down baffling side alleys. They were obliged, moreover, to walk with even more caution than out on the roads: not only was the ground pitted and full of puddles from the earlier storm, the Saxons seemed to find it acceptable to leave random objects, even pieces of rubble, lying in the middle of the path.

(pp. 49 – 50)

In this passage, the city represents the way memories are stored in the mind and how one struggles in the search for forgotten memories. When trying to remember something that has been forgotten, it feels like you are wandering aimlessly through streets, trying to recognize patterns which will spark and illuminate the fragment of memory which the mind is trying to bring to the surface. As is often the case, the longer we wander the streets of the mind, the more difficult it becomes to find the lost fragment of memory. Other fragments seem to jut out from nowhere, adding to the frustration.

Trees are often used as symbols for memory, and Ishiguro makes use of that symbol also.

For a moment Wistan appeared lost in thought, following with his eyes one of the gnarled roots stretching from the oak’s trunk and past where he stood, before burrowing itself into the earth.

(p. 110)

Here, the oak tree represents the conscious mind, the part of the psyche that is readily accessible. But below the earth lies the subconscious mind, and the collective consciousness. The roots represent the mind’s attempt to reach into the subconscious and tap into the hidden regions of memory.

The tree symbol segues nicely into the next symbol, which is that of tunnels underground.

They all paused to recover their breaths and look around at their new surroundings. After the long walk with the earth brushing their heads, it was a relief to see the ceiling not only so high above them, but composed of more solid material. Once Sir Gawain had lit the candle again, Axl realised they were in some sort of mausoleum, surrounded by walls bearing traces of murals and Roman letters. Before them a pair of substantial pillars formed a gateway into a further chamber of comparable proportions, and falling across the threshold was an intense pool of moonlight. Its source was not so obvious: perhaps somewhere behind the high arch crossing the two pillars there was an opening which at the moment, by sheer chance, was aligned to receive the moon. The light illuminated much of the moss and fungus on the pillars, as well as a section of the next chamber, whose floor appeared to be covered in rubble, but which Axl soon realised was comprised of a vast layer of bones. Only then did it occur to him that under his feet were more broken skeletons, and that this strange floor extended for the entirety of both chambers.

(p. 170)

The tunnels and underground chambers symbolize the portals into the subconscious. Additionally, the bone fragments represent fragments of memory, pieces of ourselves and of those who lived before us that comprise the collective consciousness. I also interpret the moonbeams entering the chamber as an individual’s glimpse into the hidden regions of the psyche.

The last memory symbol I want to mention is the river.

It was bitingly cold on the river. Broken ice drifted here and there in sheets, but their baskets moved past them with ease, sometimes bumping gently one against the other. The baskets were shaped almost like boats, with a low bow and stern, but had a tendency to rotate, so at times Axl found himself gazing back up the river to the boathouse still visible on the bank.

(p. 226)

The river, or stream, is a common metaphor for consciousness and memory, but what I like about Ishguro’s use here is his inclusion of ice fragments, which conjures similar symbolism from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. These ice fragments are shards of memory that are formed from the collective consciousness, yet also melt back into the collective stream of memory and thought. It is the fluid made solid. The random bumping into the fragments suggest that the memories that move into our conscious mind are also random. We really do not have control over the memories which come to the surface. We move along the stream of consciousness, occasionally coming into contact with the shards of memory that also float along the surface.

There is a wealth of other symbols in this book, all woven together in a beautifully written and engaging story. I don’t want to give too much away. I highly recommend this book. It’s both thought provoking and a pleasurable read.

Cheers!

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The Black Monday Murders: Issue 02 – Dabbling in the Occult

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This is one of the most challenging and complex graphic tales I have ever read. It is full of symbols, mystery, conspiracy, unknowns. It’s like trying to navigate a labyrinth or make sense of an arcane text. But this is exactly what makes it so interesting to read.

Since I am still trying to get a grasp on the complex nature of this storyline, and details are only slowly being uncovered in small pieces, I am not going to attempt to put forth any big-picture interpretations. But I will talk about a passage that I think is important because it asserts the importance of dedicating yourself to something if you truly wish to understand it.

No one has ever accomplished anything dithering around the edges. That’s the problem with Vodou and all the other manufactured religions of the world. It’s full of dabblers pretending to control the uncontrollable. Like babes left for wolves, thinking the wolves would rather love them than eat them.

Many of the books I have read on mysticism and the occult have sternly warned readers about the dangers of dabbling, and I think that this applies to most things in life. To do something half-assed is at best a waste of time and at worst disastrous. And I also feel that this graphic novel’s creative team is offering the same advice to its readers. This text should not be approached frivolously. It is something that demands commitment, thought, and engagement on the part of the reader. If you’re someone like me who enjoys a literary challenge, then you should look into this. But you have been warned—don’t dabble.

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The Last Bookstore

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So I just got back from a trip out to Los Angeles. While I was there, I was compelled to check out some bookstores. My daughter recommended The Last Bookstore. I have to say, one of the coolest bookstores I’ve visited.

The store is two floors, and the second floor contains works of art created out of books.

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In addition, the second floor is also home to a labyrinth of books.

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As you meander through the maze of bookshelves, you encounter things like a portal made from books.

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There is also an archway made out of books. Walking through it made my literary heart flutter.

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So I know the question on everyone’s mind: What books did you buy? I bought a couple gift books for family, and for myself, I picked up Once (a collection of poems by Alice Walker) and Beyond The Wall by Edward Abbey. Considering the sheer volume of books available, I think I showed admirable restraint.

Cheers!

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Scarlet Witch: Issue #02

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Wow! I’m completely sucked into this story. I’m totally impressed with the way the creative team has woven occult symbolism and mythology together.

In this issue, set on the Greek island of Santorini, Wanda converses with the goddess Hakate and is tasked with facing the Minotaur, who roams the dark labyrinthine streets.

The first thing that struck me about this issue was the artwork. The panels are structured in a circular fashion, divided in a way that represents the labyrinth. The curvature of the story’s graphic structure starts out subtle (the outer area of the maze) and gets tighter and more intense as the tale progresses, just as a labyrinth’s turns get closer and tighter as you near the center. The reader must focus, figure out where to turn next when reading, and follow the pathways. It works really well and fosters the sense of confusion as the reader navigates the tale.

As Wanda and Hekate talk, Hekate says something interesting.

“Of course, we of the Pantheon never stay dead for long.”

Gods and myths are recurring all the time. Gods die and are reborn in a continuous cycle. This is essentially expressing what Frazier asserts in The Golden Bough, albeit in a much shorter way.

As the witch and the goddess continue their discussion, Hekate offers another pearl of wisdom.

“The people’s faith in a god—this one or that—often that belief is what makes the god strong. It’s been many summers since I’ve smelled the kiss of iron in the air from a blood sacrifice in my name. Oh, there’s blood in the air, all right, but not for me.”

This made me think about our current global violence, where people of one faith are killing others in the name of their god. But it is not just religious fundamentalism that is adding to the blood in the air; it is also the blood from people who worship material things—money, oil, property, power—the modern gods of our industrial and technological society. There is always a sacrifice required in order to gain those things we covet.

So far, I am very impressed with this graphic series. I encourage you to check it out.

Cheers!

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Millennium: Issue 2

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Wow! This installment reminds me of why I loved this show so much when it was on TV. It draws you into a dark psychological labyrinth haunted by shadows, demons, nightmares, and insanity.

In this issue, Frank Black and Fox Mulder continue investigating into the death of Monte Propps, the released convict who had used strange runes and deprivation to drive people to take their own lives. While investigating a murder scene, Frank encounters a boy who is possessed by Legion.

Boy: She thought she could hold us… she didn’t realize I was using her to get closer to you. But you knew that. You’ve already seen it, haven’t you, with that gift of yours? I made you an offer once. That offer still stands.

Frank Black: Legion.

Boy: It’s good to see you, Frank. They put so much value on the taking of life, but so little on the nurturing of it. I know it vexes you sometimes, as it does me.

Frank Black: What do you want?

Boy: The same thing you want, Frank. The same thing they do.

If you were a fan of the show, then this series is a must-read. That said, I leave you with this thought:

IT HAS BEEN 5,527 DAYS SINCE THE NEW MILLENNIUM.


 

Further Reading:

Issue 1 Review

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