Tag Archives: Lucifer

“A Dream” by William Blake

ADream

This is the second-to-last poem in the Songs of Innocence, and for me it was the most complex and challenging so far.

Once a dream did weave a shade
O’er my angel-guarded bed,
That an emmet lost its way
Where on grass methought I lay.

Troubled, wildered, and forlorn,
Dark, benighted, travel-worn,
Over many a tangle spray,
All heart-broke, I heard her say:

Oh my children! do they cry,
Do they hear their father sigh?
Now they look abroad to see,
Now return and weep for me.

Pitying, I dropped a tear:
But I saw a glow-worm near,
Who replied, What wailing wight
Calls the watchman of the night?

I am set to light the ground,
While the beetle goes his round:
Follow now the beetle’s hum;
Little wanderer, hie thee home!

The first problem I had in figuring this poem out was the language. Blake incorporates Old and Middle English terms which I had to look up. Emmet is an Old English term for an ant, and wight is a Middle English word for a creature, particularly a human being, that is generally considered to be unfortunate. Once I understood these terms, it was easier for me to figure out the rest of the metaphors and symbolism.

So in the first stanza, we see an emmet (or ant) that has lost its way. It seems fairly clear that this represents a person lost on the spiritual path. As the poem continues, we see a father weeping. This is likely a reference to God mourning his children who have gone astray. Again, the metaphors are fairly straight-forward. But in the fourth stanza, things get a little strange.

Here we are introduced to a glow worm, a watchman of the night, who lights the way for those who crawl upon the earth. It seems to me that the glow worm is symbolic of Lucifer as the Light Bringer, embodied as the serpent, who seeks to bestow enlightenment upon the unfortunate humans. Now, it’s possible that Blake was evoking an image of Christ in the symbol of a serpent. Either way, the serpent is a figure of light and clearly intends to serve as a guide for humanity.

Source: ouroborosponderosa.wordpress.com

Source: ouroborosponderosa.wordpress.com

Lastly, there is a beetle. The ant is instructed to follow the beetle’s hum. The image that comes to mind as I contemplate this is a scarab. In Egyptian mythology, the scarab is depicted as moving the Sun across the sky. It appears that Blake is tying in the ancient Egyptian symbol of guiding illumination and connecting it with the archetype of the serpent as the symbol of wisdom.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

In the last line, the wandering ant is urged to hurry home. I can only assume that this means that humans need to seek a return to the Edenic state, where we are once again connected with the Divine. There is a sense of urgency here, like time is running out, and we need to reestablish our connection with the divine source now or else we will become lost forever.

It is possible that I am reading too much into this poem, but I would like to think that is not the case. Blake’s poems appear deceptively simple, yet are profoundly mystical beneath the surface. I believe this is one of those poems that contains much more that what initially meets the eye.

Of course, your thoughts and interpretations are encouraged. Thanks for reading!

Comments Off on “A Dream” by William Blake

Filed under Literature

“The Younger Edda” by Snorre Sturluson

YoungerEddaThis book has been on my list for a while and I finally got around to reading it. Essentially, it’s a collection of tales from Norse mythology. As I started reading it, I quickly learned that I had to disregard all the introductory text, as well as the footnotes. It may have just been the translation, but the sheer volume of academic blather and mental masturbation that was wasting pages almost made me delete the book from my reader. Once I skipped over all the analysis and got into the actual text, though, it got much more interesting.

As with many epics, there are sections that contain lists of names, and you can drive yourself crazy trying to remember them all, especially since the gods and persons in the book are referred to by multiple names. I didn’t spend a lot of energy trying to keep track of everyone, but instead focused on the stories.

The first thing that struck me about this text is how much it inspired Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I wasn’t completely surprised by this, since I recall reading about it somewhere. Yet it seems that Tolkien borrowed not just the epic style, but he also took names from the Edda. I was surprised to see Gandalf’s name appear in the Edda.

The earlier part of the book deals with the creation myth and it was interesting to compare the Norse version to other creation myths. For example, the god Surt seems a combination of divine beings from other texts. He is similar to the cherubim and St Michael the Archangel, with the sword of flame. He also seems to embody aspects of Shiva, the destroyer of worlds.

Surt is the name of him who stands on its border guarding it. He has a flaming sword in his hand, and at the end of the world he will come and harry, conquer all the gods, and burn up the whole world with fire.

There are some interesting differences, too. The one that stands out the most for me is that when the moon and sun are created, the genders attributed to them are the reverse of what is common. In everything that I have read so far, the sun is associated with masculine energy, while the moon with its cycles is symbolic of the feminine. Not so in the Norse mythology.

The sun knew not Where her hall she had; The moon knew not What might he had; The stars knew not Their resting-places.

I thought about how this type of gender reversal would affect the symbolism of the sun and the moon. I suppose in the cold north, the sun becomes a symbol for birth, life, and regeneration, causing plants to spring from the earth. The moon, associated with might in the text, has the power to shift the tides, a power that certainly must have been important to the Vikings. So the symbolism attached to these astral bodies makes sense when you look at it from that perspective. That’s the thing about symbols—they mean different things to different people.

Although the god Thor figures prominently in the text, I’m not going to say much about him. Personally, I found Thor to be arrogant and prone to hubris. It was like his attitude was always: If I hit it hard enough with my hammer, I’ll get what I want. Thor’s flaw as a hero is that he doesn’t really use his brains as much as he should. It’s all brawn for Thor, which is his defect, in my opinion.

Loke, on the other hand, I found infinitely fascinating. He is like Lucifer, Prometheus, Anansi, and Odysseus all rolled into one. He is beautiful; he is a trickster; he is sharp and cunning; he is the embodiment of all the things that make a character thrilling and interesting.

There is yet one who is numbered among the asas, but whom some call the backbiter of the asas. He is the originator of deceit, and the disgrace of all gods and men. His name is Loke, or Lopt. His father is the giant Farbaute, but his mother’s name is Laufey, or Nal. His brothers are Byleist and Helblinde. Loke is fair and beautiful of face, but evil in disposition, and very fickle-minded. He surpasses other men in the craft called cunning, and cheats in all things. He has often brought the asas into great trouble, and often helped them out again, with his cunning contrivances.

Loke, according to the Norse mythology, is the father of the ourosboros, which for me is one of the most powerful symbols. I was kind of surprised by this. I had always viewed the ourosboros as a symbol for cycles and eternity and had never considered that it was created by another divine entity.

Loke had yet more children. A giantess in Jotunheim, hight Angerboda. With her he begat three children. The first was the Fenris-wolf; the second, Jormungand, that is, the Midgard-serpent, and the third, Hel. When the gods knew that these three children were being fostered in Jotunheim, and were aware of the prophesies that much woe and misfortune would thence come to them, and considering that much evil might be looked for from them on their mother’s side, and still more on their father’s, Alfather sent some of the gods to take the children and bring them to him. When they came to him he threw the serpent into the deep sea which surrounds all lands. There waxed the serpent so that he lies in the midst of the ocean, surrounds the earth, and bites his own tail.

OurosborosI feel like I could write an entire book on Loke. He is by far the most interesting character in the Edda. But, I want to talk about Odin for a little bit, so I will say farewell to Loke, for now.

I learned a lot about the god Odin from this book. Not only is he the father of the other gods, or the Alfather (I like to think of him as the archetype from which the other gods were formed), but he is the source of magic and poetry, which are closely related. Poetry, or the art of “skald-craft,” was passed down from Odin, but Odin remains the master. It is said that: “With words alone he could quench fire, still the ocean in tempest, and turn the wind to any quarter he pleased.”

Odin taught the magical arts to the priests and priestesses of old. Essentially, all magic, witchcraft, and sorcery was passed down from the Alfather.

He taught all these arts in runes and songs, which are called incantations, and therefore the Asaland people are called incantation-smiths. Odin also understood the art in which the greatest power is lodged, and which he himself practiced, namely, what is called magic. By means of this he could know the predestined fate of men, or their not yet completed lot, and also bring on the death, ill-luck or bad health of people, or take away the strength or wit from one person and give it to another. But after such witchcraft followed such weakness and anxiety, that it was not thought respectable for men to practice it; and therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art… From these arts he became very celebrated. His enemies dreaded him; his friends put their trust in him, and he relied on his power and on himself. He taught the most of his arts to his priests of the sacrifices, and they came nearest to himself in all wisdom and witch-knowledge. Many others, however, occupied themselves much with it; and from that time witchcraft spread far and wide, and continued long.

This is not an easy book to read. It is very dense and the language is archaic. That said, if you are interested in mythology, magic, and the occult, it is a must read. I am glad that I persevered and finished the book. It was very insightful for me. As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments. Thanks.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Prometheus” by Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

While flipping through my tome of works by the English Romantic writers, I came across “Prometheus” by Lord Byron, which I had not read in a very long time. I figured I should read it again.

The poem praises the god Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. The first thing to remember when reading this poem is that fire is a metaphor for knowledge and enlightenment. Essentially, Prometheus is the ancient equivalent to Lucifer. In fact, the name Lucifer has been interpreted as meaning “light bringer.” So in the same way that Lucifer gave the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to humankind, thereby making them more godlike, so Prometheus bestowed divine enlightenment on humanity.

Like Lucifer, Prometheus was punished for his transgression. Zeus bound him to a rock, where an eagle came daily to devour his liver. Prometheus’ liver grows back, and the next day, the bird returns to feast again.

Prometheus

Prometheus

From the poem, it appears that Byron sees both Zeus and God as symbols of tyranny and oppression, whereas Prometheus and Lucifer are symbols of human intellectual liberation. This is clearly shown in lines 18 – 22:

And the inexorable Heaven,
And the deaf tyranny of Fate,
The ruling principle of Hate,
Which for its pleasure doth create
The things it may annihilate,

While the correlation between Prometheus and Lucifer is quite obvious, I will venture to put forth the possibility that Byron also viewed Prometheus as a Christ-like symbol. Both suffered for humanity: Christ on the cross and Prometheus on the rock. But Byron takes the analogy a step further by stating that Prometheus is like man, a combination of divine spirit and flesh, which also describes Christ:

Thou art a symbol and a sign
         To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,
         A troubled stream from a pure source;

It’s kind of strange to imagine a symbol that could represent Christ and Lucifer at the same time, and I think this is the genius of the poem. Byron successfully creates a version of the myth that embraces the two opposing figures and exalts both of them. For Byron, the only evil is tyranny, the chaining of humanity to the rock of torture and ignorance. Christ, Lucifer, and Prometheus all sought to enlighten mankind, and all suffered as a result.

Click here to read the poem online.

14 Comments

Filed under Literature