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Thoughts on “The Hosting of the Sidhe” by William Butler Yeats

Image Source: Wikipedia

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.

The host is rushing ’twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away.

Before we can begin to understand the symbolism in this poem, we have to know the names and places mentioned by Yeats.

  • Sidhe—The Faeries, but with a more general implication of supernatural beings.
  • Knocknarea—Mountain in Sligo.
  • Clooth-na-Bare—A faery who sought death in the deepest lake in the world, which she found in Sligo; hence, also a place name.
  • Caoilte—Legendary Irish hero (companion of Oisin).
  • Niamh—Beloved of Oisin, whom she lures into the adventure described in Yeats’s long early narrative poem “The Wanderings of Oisin.” Her name means “brightness and beauty.”

(Definitions source: M.L. Rosenthal)

Rosenthal provides further information regarding the Sidhe and what they meant to Yeats in particular.

Thus the Sidhe are more than mere faeries in the ordinary sense; they are supernatural beings of a more exalted character. Yeats sometimes thinks of them as including all mythical heroes, and at other times makes them quite sinister. To be touched by them is to be set apart from other mortals, an ambivalent condition common to all who succumb to enchantment.

Clearly, this is a complex poem which contains layers of symbolism. I’ll do my best to bring some of these symbols to the surface.

The Sidhe appear to embody the mythology of Ireland, a combination of the mystical and the heroic. They are the Druids, the poets, the heroes, the supernatural beings, all combined into one host. Essentially, they are the source of inspiration for Yeats.

Knocknarea and Clooth-na-Bare are both in Sligo, so we have the lofty peak and the deepest lake, respectively, in the same location. Yeats seems to be implying that the mystical inspiration for his poetry is drawn both from searching the heavens, or the realm of the divine, as well as in exploring the depths of the waters, which symbolizes the deep wellspring of the subconscious mind. This places Ireland at a sort of crossroads, a place where the divine and the human meet, where god consciousness blends with the magical power of human consciousness.

Niamh is a little more complicated. I see three possible representations here. First, she could represent Ireland as the mother country. Second, she could symbolize the embodiment of the divine creative force, or the muse which inspires the poet to craft verse. And thirdly, I suspect there is a correlation between Niamh and Maud Gonne, Yeats’s beloved and personal inspiration. Considering that there are three possible representations embodied in Niamh, it is also possible that Yeats intended her to symbolize the triple goddess (maiden, mother, crone).

I suspect that Yeats sees himself reflected in the character of Caoilte. He is an Irish hero, heeding the call of the Sidhe, lured into the adventure of creating poetry by the mythical being of Niamh. As I envision him “tossing his burning hair,” I see a symbol of the mystical poet, whose mind and thoughts are aflame with the divine fire of inspiration, burning with a passion to rekindle the creative flame that was once Ireland.

As with so many of Yeats’s poems, I suspect this one is open to other interpretations. This one is just my personal view. If you have other thoughts or ideas regarding this poem, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 25” by Lao Tzu

YinYang

There was Something undefined and yet complete in itself,
Born before Heaven-and-Earth.

Silent and boundless,
Standing alone without change,
Yet pervading all without fail,
It may be regarded as the Mother of the world.
I do not know its name;
I style it “Tao”;
And, in the absence of a better word, call it “The Great.”

To be great is to go on,
To go on is to be far,
To be far is to return.

Hence, “Tao is great,
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,
King is great.”
Thus, the king is one of the great four in the Universe.

Man follows the ways of the Earth.
The Earth follows the ways of Heaven,
Heaven follows the ways of Tao,
Tao follows its own ways.

I wrestled with this passage this morning. For me, it was one of the more challenging. I do not know for sure if my interpretation if completely accurate, but it is the impression that I got from meditating on this.

The “Something undefined and yet complete in itself” I interpret to be the ineffable source of all that is, something which cannot be adequately expressed and yet encompasses all that is. I envision the yin and yang symbol when I think of this something, comprised of opposites, and complete in itself.

The third stanza depicts the progressions of emanation and spiritual development. It conjures an image of the soul emanating from the divine source, progressing on its journey, and then returning to the source. The symbol that I see associated with this is the yin/yang encircled by the ouroboros.

Image Source: scrapbookgraphics

Image Source: scrapbookgraphics

The fourth stanza was the most puzzling for me, but I think I understand it. The key again is the yin and yang symbol. The symbol contains four components that make up the whole: the pair of curved shapes, and then two circles, one within each of the curved spaces. So essentially, we have two pairs of opposites: Tao (Mother/divine feminine) and King (Father/divine masculine); then Heaven and Earth, contrasting planes of existence. Heaven and Earth are contained within the Tao and the King, symbolizing that they are manifestations within the divine. These four pillars are combined to create the Universe, which symbolizes the entirety of all that is.

As I said, this was a very challenging passage for me, and I make no guarantees on the veracity of my interpretation; but I sense that this may be at least part of what Lao Tzu was trying to express. If you have any thoughts or impressions, please feel free to share them in the comments space below. Thanks for stopping by and have a blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 20” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Have done with learning,
And you will have no more vexation.

How great is the difference between “eh” and “o”?
What is the distinction between “good” and “evil”?
Must I fear what others fear?
What abysmal nonsense this is!

All men are joyous and beaming,
As though feasting upon a sacrificial ox,
As though mounting the Spring Terrace;
I alone am placid and give no sign,
Like a babe which has not yet smiled.
I alone am forlorn as one who has no home to return to.

All men have enough and to spare:
I alone appear to possess nothing.
What a fool I am!
What a muddled mind I have!
All men are bright, bright:
I alone am dim, dim.
All men are sharp, sharp:
I alone am mum, mum!
Bland like the ocean,
Aimless like the wafting gale.

All men settle down in their grooves:
I alone am stubborn and remain outside.
But wherein I am most different from others is
In knowing to take sustenance from my Mother!

This was the perfect passage for me to read today. I was talking with someone today about the democratization of information. While a veritable universe of information is only a Google search away, so is a universe of misinformation and lies. This plethora of misinformation and opinion results in fear for many individuals. People read a Facebook post or an op-ed article and it stokes the flames of fear and anxiety. But how true is what I read, and do I really need to be afraid because someone else tells me I should be concerned? As Lao Tzu puts it: “Must I fear what others fear?”

I have chosen not to go down this path of fear. Fear is only a perspective, a mental construct of possibilities that may not even come to pass. All I know for certain is what is happening in my life right now. This is what I choose to focus on.

Like Lao Tzu, I also “take sustenance from my Mother.” When I step out into my garden, or walk around my neighborhood, or commune with Nature, or meditate, I am drawing energy from the divine source. This puts my mind in a state of happiness and tranquility. The stress and noise of everyday life tends to melt away. I am much more content when I am in this space as opposed to worrying about some news story or what another person is thinking.

As things get crazier in our society, it would do you good to take a step back, breathe, and shift your perspective. I suspect that when you do so, you will find some much-needed serenity.

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Neil Gaiman’s “Miracleman” Issue #4

Miracleman_04

Gaiman incorporates some very interesting metafiction into this issue. The story is about a woman writer who is in a failing relationship with a man who is getting ready to leave her. She is putting the kids to bed and they ask her to read them a bedtime story, so she reads them “Winter’s Tale,” which is a kids’ book about the experiences of Winter, Miracleman’s daughter. The central part of the story is “Winter’s Tale,” as a story within a story.

Symbolically, Winter’s story is based on the archetypal hero’s journey, where she ventures away from home, learns deep truths, and then returns home to Miracleman, who symbolizes the divine source.

The entire story implies a world where the divine masculine has become the primary creative power. The mother symbolizes a creative divine that has become weakened and subjugated in our modern society.

This is a very sad story. The mother is depicted as lonely and unhappy, hoping that her joy for life will be rekindled through her children. Unfortunately, this is the reality for too many women in our society, who think that having children will ultimately save them from an unfulfilled life. But contentment and happiness can only come from within. Any time you seek something outside yourself to change how you feel, it will always lead to disappointment.

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“Prometheus Unbound” by Percy Bysshe Shelley: Part 3 – The Earth

PrometheusUnbound

The character of the Earth is introduced early in the first act. Shelley presents Earth as a symbol of the Goddess, the divine mother of all.

I am the Earth,
Thy mother; she within whose stony veins,
To the last fibre of the loftiest tree
Whose thin leaves trembled in the frozen air,
Joy ran, as blood within a living frame,
When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud
Of glory, arise, a spirit of keen joy!

(Act 1: Lines 153 – 159)

This is nothing new and did not really cause much interest for me, but the passage that follows the establishing of the Earth as the Goddess is nothing short of divinely inspired. It is somewhat long, but warrants being included in its entirety here.

They shall be told. Ere Babylon was dust,
The Magus Zoroaster, my dead child,
Met his own image walking in the garden.
That apparition, sole of men, he saw.
For know there are two worlds of life and death:
One that which thou beholdest; but the other
Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit
The shadows of all forms that think and live
Till death unite them and they part no more;
Dreams and the light imaginings of men,
And all that faith creates or love desires,
Terrible, strange, sublime and beauteous shapes.
There thou art, and dost hang, a writhing shade,
‘Mid whirlwind-peopled mountains; all the gods
Are there, and all the powers of nameless worlds,
Vast, sceptred phantoms; heroes, men, and beasts;
And Demogorgon, a tremendous gloom;
And he, the supreme Tyrant, on his throne
Of burning gold. Son, one of these shall utter
The curse which all remember. Call at will
Thine own ghost, or the ghost of Jupiter,
Hades or Typhon, or what mightier Gods
From all-prolific Evil, since thy ruin
Have sprung, and trampled on my prostrate sons.
Ask, and they must reply: so the revenge
Of the Supreme may sweep through vacant shades,
As rainy wind through the abandoned gate
Of a fallen palace.

(Act 1: Lines 191 – 218)

Here the Goddess expresses the dual nature of the divine. The dual image that Zoroaster saw symbolizes the duality of humans: body and spirit, good and evil, divine and earthly, conscious and subconscious. The two realms of existence are referenced, the state of being in which we inhabit during life, and the realm of shadows, to which we transcend after we die, a realm populated by forms and archetypes.

This passage is so rich, I feel that my commentary does not do it justice. I encourage you to just read it again, and think about the duality in the divine, in nature, and in ourselves.

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“To Tirzah” by William Blake

ToTirzah

Whate’er is Born of Mortal Birth
Must be consumed with the Earth
To rise from Generation free:
Then what have I to do with thee?

The Sexes sprung from Shame & Pride,
Blow’d in the morn, in evening died;
But Mercy chang’d Death into Sleep;
The Sexes rose to work & weep.

Thou, Mother of my Mortal part,
With cruelty didst mould my Heart,
And with false self-deceiving tears
Didst bind my Nostrils, Eyes, & Ears:

Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay,
And me to Mortal Life betray.
The Death of Jesus set me free:
Then what have I to do with thee?

In order to fully grasp this poem, there are a couple religious references which should be explained. First, the name Tirzah “is derived from The Song of Solomon vi.4, and signifies physical beauty, that is, sex.” (Geoffrey Keynes) Also, the words on the robe of the aged figure offering the water of life in the engraving are “the second half of St. Paul’s sentence, I Corinthians xv.44: ‘It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body’.” (Keynes)

In the image associated with this poem, there are two women holding the body of the young man, who is the speaker in the poem. My impression is that the two women symbolize two aspects of the divine feminine: the mother and the maiden. I sense conflict in the speaker, who may be experiencing maternal love as well as sexual attraction. The mother’s name, Tirzah, is associated with sexual beauty. I’m sure Freudians would agree with this interpretation. But there is also a sense of anger directed towards the mother. The speaker feels he is a spiritual being and through childbirth is now trapped within a physical body, hence bound to the earth and to corporeal existence. At least until he dies. As such, he relates to Christ. When Christ died, his soul was restored to the divine. Hence, when the speaker dies, he also will be “raised a spiritual body” and become one with god.

This is certainly a psychologically challenging poem. Does one have to sever parental connections in order to live a spiritual life? How did Christ feel about his mother? Does the Oedipus myth tie into all this? Personally, this poem just stirs questions for me. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to post comments below. Thanks, and keep reading challenging texts.

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Afterlife with Archie: Issue #4 (Oedipal Archie)

AfterlifeArchie_04

This comic is graphic, scary, and now I can add intellectually engaging. I have nothing but praise for this.

This issue begins with a flashback to when Archie is young and his parents took him to adopt a puppy. Archie’s mom, Mary, is struck with sadness as she remembers having a dog as a child, and when the dog died, having to face the realization that death is an inevitable part of life, something her own young son must one day learn.

Mary: …I’m just remembering the dog I had, when I was a girl. Spotty. How overjoyed I was when I got him, and how utterly devastated I was when… when…

Fred: Spotty was a good dog.

Mary: He was, and it was the most awful feeling, Fred, and I can’t bear the thought of Archie going through it.

Fred: Yes, but that’s years from now, Mary. And sad to say, a part of growing up. Comes a time in every young person’s life when they realize that not everything is forever…

Mary: Too, too soon… when they learn that death’s a part of life, even their own.

Archie makes it home where his dog, Vegas, fights with the infected Hot Dog and becomes a zombie dog too. But the real dark twist in the story comes when Archie enters his house and discovers his mom is alive but that his dad is infected and has become one of the walking dead. As Fred gets ready to attack Archie’s mother, Archie comes to her defense and violently kills his father, having flashbacks of their happier times together as he is forced to smash his father’s skull with a baseball bat.

It is a very dark and disturbing sequence, but very symbolic. Archie assumes the role of an adult male and the master of the household upon the killing of his father. He then escapes with his mother in an attempt to make it back to Veronica’s house and rejoin the others. Even though there is no sexual innuendo concerning Archie and his mother, this is a clear reference to the Oedipus myth.

I am still amazed at how complex and dark this series is. I applaud the writers for taking risks and making Archie into something modern and engaging.

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