Tag Archives: moon

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Conflicting Archetypes in “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman: Issue 02

In this installment, Shadow accepts the job as bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday and then has an unpleasant encounter with Technical Boy.

Wednesday and Technical Boy embody two archetypes that are in conflict with each other. Wednesday is a manifestation of the Trickster as embodied in the American con man or highwayman, the person who lives on the road, scheming and chiseling people in order to get by. Technical Boy is a modern archetype, that of technology as a god. There is a tension between the two, and the arrogant Technical Boy views Wednesday as an archaic thing whose time has passed.

You tell Wednesday this, man. You tell him he’s history. Tell him we are the future and we don’t give a fuck about him. You fucking tell him that, man. He has been consigned to the dumpster of history, while people like me ride our limos down the super-highway of tomorrow. Tell him that language is a virus and that religion is an operating system and that prayers are just so much fucking spam.

What is the most fascinating to me about this is the fact that we may be living in a time when new archetypes are forming. The digital age has altered human existence in such a way that it has thrust open the doorway to a place where it is possible for new archetypes to arise. It really feels like we are in the midst of a paradigm shift of such proportions that we may need new archetypes to help us navigate the new landscape.

As I look around me, I see people reacting to this paradigm shift in different ways. Some people are energized and inspired, while others are fearful and seek to return to the relative safety of the bygone era. It’s no wonder that there is so much polarization in the socio-political climate right now. The storm is gathering, so to speak.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman: Issue 01

In my humble opinion, Gaiman is a literary rock star. There is nothing of his that I have read which has not completely blown my mind, particularly his novel American Gods, a book I was considering reading a second time. But then when I learned Gaiman was writing a graphic series based upon his book, I figured I would read that instead… for now anyway.

This first installment contains the beginning threads of two strands of the tale. First, we are introduced to Shadow Moon, who is released from prison right after his wife is killed in an automobile accident. He is approached by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday who offers him a job. The second thread introduces us to a goddess incarnate as a prostitute. She convinces her trick to worship her during sex, which increase her power (divine beings require worship for strength). The scene concludes with a reverse birth, where the man is returned to the womb of the goddess in a symbolic representation of the spiritual cycle of birth-life-death-rebirth.

One of the symbols that figures prominently in this first issue is the storm.

Inmate: We got to talk.

Shadow: mmm?

Inmate: Storm’s on the way.

Shadow: Feels like it. Maybe it’ll snow soon.

Inmate: Not that kind of storm. Bigger storms than that coming. I tell you, boy, you’re better off in here than out on the street when the big storm comes.

Shadow: Done my time. Friday I’m gone. Eagle point, Indiana.

Inmate: Like I said, big storm coming. It’s like… what do they call those things continents ride around on?

Shadow: Tectonic plates?

Inmate: That’s it. Tectonic plates. It’s like, when they go riding, when North America goes skidding into South America, you don’t want to be in the middle. You dig me?

Shadow: Not even a little.

Inmate: Hell, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The coming of a storm is something unseen, yet very tangible. Even before you see the dense clouds gathering on the horizon, there is an electricity in the air, a heaviness, a sense of foreboding. Forces build to the point where there is a violent release of pent-up energy. I have felt this in society. It certainly feels like there is a storm on our global horizon right now, too. If we are lucky, the clouds will dissipate and not coalesce into a storm, but whether this happens or not is truly beyond our control.

As far as the artwork in this graphic series goes, it’s OK. It is not nearly as great as the artwork in some of Gaiman’s other graphic works, particularly the Sandman saga, but it’s not the worst artwork either. But it is Neil’s craftsmanship of the written word that really drives this tale; the art just seems to add another layer of symbolism to it. I’m really excited to see how the story plays out on the pages. Second installment should be out soon. Expect my thoughts shortly afterward.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

Occult References in “Promethea: Book 4” by Alan Moore

promethea_4

As with the first three books in this series, this volume is also steeped in occult mysticism and symbols. The text and artwork are so rich that it would be too much to cover in a single blog post, so I will just touch on some of the key passages that stood out for me.

The first passage I want to discuss is the conversation between Sophia and John Dee.

Dee: Know, child, that here is understanding. That was all of what we sought, and so we crave no higher place. For my part, I communed with angels told of in the Book of Enoch, Hebrew adept sacred to this third domain. In this third realm, form becomes possible. The number one suggests a single point. With two points, we may describe a line. With three points, we may enclose a space in two dimensions. We plot a triangle. Seen thus, the triangle is symbol to the element of water. It is here are Binah that all water, all compassion, has its origin. At Binah is the cup that overfloweth.

Sophia: You mentioned the biblical Book of Enoch, and he angels it speaks of. Did they truly teach you their language? The Enochian language?

Dee: Aye. It was dictated by the spirits in my scrying glass, as too were shewn the tables that map all existence. Boards of twelve squares by thirteen, being all together one hundred and fifty six, and on each square were symbols. Viewed from o’erhead, each square appeareth like unto a ziggurat with flattened summit, all arrayed in rows, a mighty township.

The conversation takes place in the sephirot of Binah, as Sophia is exploring the kabbalistic tree. The scene draws from kabbalah, as well as from John Dee’s conversations with spirits, in which he details the Enochian language. This is all very arcane and if you are interested I encourage you to study it more on your own (to download a free copy of John Dee’s book that is referenced, go to Archive.org).

As they continue to explore Binah, the group encounters the Shekinah, which simply put is the divine feminine aspect of the godhead. At this point, the dual aspect of the divine feminine is revealed.

Am I Marie. Girded with clouds and covered with the firmament am I made Queen of heaven… In my compassion have I not stooped low, so that my aspect is cast down? Behold, I am the Shekinah, I am the Bride, and on the World’s streets ragged go I, and reviled. In me there is descended the Sophia, that is Wisdom’s female face… That understanding is poured out like unto blood from me. Like noble wine, Mine essence runneth down into the Earth, and therein is degraded and made bitter. Yet it giveth succor to all things. Mother am I, that sways the great dark cradle of the night. Then am I Isis, am I Hecate, am I Selene. Black am I, like to the hidden Moon, or as a Womb. I taketh in, and I receive.

Finally, Sophia and Barbara make it to Kether, the crown of the kabbalistic tree of life. It is here that they encounter the unity of god, the divine one as the all and source of all existence.

Sophia: Here we are again.

Barbara: Something from nothing. One from none.

Sophia: One… Just the idea of one, of something, for that to even exist… where there was only nothing. This is God.

Barbara: Yes, and God… is one…

Sophia: And all, God is all. One is all. One perfect moment.

As heady as the text is, the artwork that accompanies it is stunning, beautiful, and full of graphic symbolism that adds infinite depth to the story. I highly recommend reading the text slowly and spending time exploring the visual panels that are such an integral part of this book.

There is one more volume left in the series. I plan on reading it soon, so check back.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature, Spiritual

“Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

(excerpt from poem)

This is a fairly long poem, and I debated whether to include the entire text here. I decided to include some excerpts and a link to the entire text. Click here to read the poem on the Edgar Allan Poe Society website.

This is a poem about being haunted by the loss of a loved one, not unlike “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven.” It is set in October and incorporates seasonal metaphors symbolizing death, such as withering leaves, ashen skies, and cypress trees. But for me, the most intriguing aspect of this dark poem is the exploration of the subconscious mind.

The protagonist describes travelling with his Psyche, or Soul, through the boreal regions of the north.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

As I read this, I envision the frozen northlands, the Aurora Borealis, and vast expanses of wilderness coated with ice and frost. These represent the speaker’s subconscious mind, where memories and dreams lie frozen in an area that is difficult to reach. He enters this realm with his Psyche, the part of his consciousness connected with the realm of dreams, imagination, and memory. There is also an active volcano, which symbolizes fiery and painful passion and emotion surging up to the surface from deep within. It’s an incredibly powerful image and captures the deep sorrow that the protagonist feels.

While in the deepest recesses of the subconscious, Poe describes the appearance of the goddess Astarte.

At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

Astarte is a goddess of fertility and sexuality, often associated with Venus. I interpret this as the protagonist envisioning the soul of his departed love having merged and become a part of the divine feminine. It’s an interesting idea, that male souls emanate and return to the masculine aspect of the godhead, while the female souls emanate and return to the feminine aspect of the divine. It is almost like a dualistic version of Plotinus’s theory of divine emanation. I suspect this is something I will be meditating on for a while.

Overall, this is a beautifully crafted and evocative poem that works on many levels for me. While I don’t think it’s as popular as some of Poe’s other poems, I feel it is as good if not better.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

“The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” by Edgar Allan Poe

HansPfaall

This is a cool short story by Poe that I would place in the science fiction genre. It’s the story of a man who decides to travel to the moon by means of hot air balloon. The bulk of the story is written as an epistle, a letter from Pfaall that was delivered to the city leaders in Rotterdam. But the genius of this story is that Poe also incorporates a satirical critique of the intellectual bourgeoisie as well as some great symbolism regarding the subconscious mind.

The first and most obvious clue that Poe is poking fun at the bourgeoisie is the names of the characters; for example, burgomaster Mynheer Superbus Von Underduk and Professor Rubadub. And then, at the beginning of his letter, Pfaall compares his trade of mending bellows (which are used to blow hot air in a forge) with the “hot air” emitted by the self-important politicians and business-persons of that time.

It is well known to most of my fellow-citizens, that for a period of forty years I continued to occupy the little square brick building, at the head of an alley called Sauerkraut, in which I resided until my disappearance. My ancestors have also resided therein time out of mind—they, as well as myself, steadily following the lucrative profession of mending of bellows;

There are many passages where Poe incorporates writing that comes across as very scientific. I cannot attest to the accuracy of the information, but it is presented in a very methodical and technical manner which aids the reader in suspending belief.

The gas to be formed from these latter materials is a gas never yet generated by any other person than myself—or at least never applied to this purpose. I can only venture to say here, that it is a constituent of azote, so long considered irreducible, and that its density is about 37.4 times less than that of hydrogen. It is tasteless, but not odorless; burns, when pure, with a greenish flame; and is instantaneously fatal to animal life.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this story is the symbolism depicting a shift in consciousness. The moon is a symbol of dreams, the imagination, lunacy, and so forth. So after Pfaall initially takes off, he experiences an abrupt shift in his consciousness.

I gasped convulsively for breath—a shudder resembling a fit of the ague agitated every nerve and muscle in my frame—I felt my eyes starting from their sockets—a horrible nausea overwhelmed me—and at length I lost all consciousness in a swoon.

As he continues his ascent, he passes through a cloud, which represents his entering into the realm of the subconscious, where lightning symbolizes flashes of imagination and insight while he gazes deep into the hidden and mystical regions of the psyche.

At twenty minutes before seven, the balloon entered a long series of dense cloud, which put me to great trouble, by damaging my condensing apparatus, and wetting me to the skin. This was, to be sure, a singular rencontre, for I had not believed it possible that a cloud of this nature could be sustained at so great an elevation. I thought it best, however, to throw out two five-pound pieces of ballast, reserving still a weight of one hundred and sixty-five pounds. Upon so doing, I soon rose above the difficulty, and perceived immediately, that I had obtained a great increase in my rate of ascent. In a few seconds after my leaving the cloud, a flash of vivid lightning shot from one end of it to the other, and caused it to kindle up, throughout its vast extent, like a mass of ignited charcoal. This, it must be remembered, was in the broad light of day. No fancy may picture the sublimity which might have been exhibited by a similar phenomenon taking place amid the darkness of the night. Hell itself might then have found a fitting image. Even as it was, my hair stood on end, while I gazed afar down within the yawning abysses, letting imagination descend, and stalk about in the strange vaulted halls, and ruddy gulfs, and red ghastly chasms of the hideous and unfathomable fire.

While this may not be Poe’s best work, and at times it plods along rather slowly, it is certainly worth reading. There are some interesting passages and moments of brilliance which makes it worthwhile.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

Kabbalistic Symbolism in “Promethea: Book 3” by Alan Moore

Promethea_3

In this volume of the graphic novel, Sophie and Barbara (two incarnations of the goddess Promethea) proceed on a journey through alternate realms using the sephirot in the kabbalistic tree as a means to ascend the higher realms of existence. They begin by analyzing the diagram of the ten sephirot connected by the twenty-two paths. Barbara comments that the symbol resembles a game of hopscotch, which I thought was a clever analogy considering that the sephirot essentially allows one to “hop” into another realm.

Promethea_Hopscotch

The paths that the women take lead them from the lowest sephirah, Malkuth, which represent the physical world, and begin to work backwards toward the godhead. Following the reverse emanation from the divine crown, they proceed in this order:

  • Malkuth
  • Yesod
  • Hod
  • Netzach
  • Tiphereth
  • Geburah

While in each of the sephirot, they encounter symbols associated with each realm. The details are far too complex for me to elaborate on in this short post, but I will provide a couple brief examples.

When the women move from Malkuth into Yesod (Foundation), they cross the river Styx, symbolizing the transition from the conscious mind to the subconscious. It is the place where fact and fiction meet, creating the myth, which is eternal. It is associated with the moon, dreams, and imagination, all of which figure prominently in the text and the rich illustrations.

Next, they move into Hod (Splendor). This is associated with magic, mysticism, and the intellect. Here the path becomes the symbol for infinity and the women engage in a circular discussion that could go on for all eternity.

Promethea_Infinity

After exiting the loop of infinity, they continue through Hod and meet the god Hermes, who explains how language, story, and mathematics are the basis for our human reality.

Hermes:

Ha ha! Real life. Now there’s a fiction for you! What’s it made from? Memories? Impressions? A sequence of pictures, a scattering of half-recalled words… Disjointed hieroglyphic comic strips, unwinding in our recollection… Language. To perceive form… even the form or shape of your own lives… you must dress it in language. Language is the stuff of form. Mathematics, for example, is a language. Consider the forms it produces… This magic square of eight is called The Knight’s Tour. Connect its numbers in sequence and you produce the magic line of eight. Do you see? Mathematics is a language, a human invention, a fiction… and yet it creates such elegant form. It creates splendor. It creates truth.

Barbara:

So… everything’s made from language? We’re made of language? Even you?

Hermes:

Oh, especially me. How could humans perceive gods… abstract essences… without clothing them in imagery, stories, pictures… or picture-stories, for that matter.

Sophie:

Picture-stories?

Hermes:

Oh, you know: Hieroglyphics. Vase paintings. Whatever did you think I meant? Besides, what could be more appropriate than for a language-god to manifest through the original pictographic form of language?

Sophie:

Uhh… so like, what are you saying?

Hermes:

What am I saying? I’m saying some fictions might have a real god hiding beneath the surface of the page. I’m saying some fictions might be alive… that’s what I’m saying.

This only scratches the surface of the rich symbolism that is embodied in this book. Every page, every panel, contains both visual and textual symbolism and metaphor. But don’t be intimidated. While this is very complex and heady material, the story is still great and accessible, and the artwork is phenomenal. I highly encourage you to explore all the books in this series.

I will leave you with one more quote from this book, which I believe aptly sums up our reality.

“Man walks through a forest of symbols.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature, Spiritual