Tag Archives: mythology

Occult Symbolism in “The Song of Wandering Aengus” by William Butler Yeats

Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

There is a lot of mystical symbolism woven into this poem, so it seems that the best way to approach it is to start by looking at the overarching symbolism, and then narrow down and focus on each of the three stanzas.

One must assume that the structure of the poem is symbolic. Three is a mystical number and correlates to the Trinity; mind-body-spirit; Triple Goddess; birth-life-death; just to point out a few. Yeats would certainly have been aware of the importance of the number three when he was composing this poem. Now, something else that we need to keep in mind is that the poem also makes references to the four magical elements: earth, air, fire, and water. So because the poem is structured in three parts and incorporates the four elements, we can assume that Yeats’ intention was that the poem work as a magical invocation of sorts.

Let us examine each stanza more closely.

At the beginning of the first stanza, the wanderer describes himself entering a hazel wood. Hazel is considered to be “the tree of wisdom and learning” for Celts and Druids, and “adds its strength to the bright fire burning.” It was considered ideal for enlisting the aid of fairies; gaining knowledge, wisdom, and poetic inspiration; and for “for making all purpose magickal wands.” (Source) So the fire in his head is either a burning for knowledge, poetic inspiration, or communication with the fairy realm (or possibly all three). He then creates a wand from a piece of hazel wood. It is important to note that Yeats chooses the word “wand” as opposed to “rod.” Based on the rhyme scheme, he could have used either word, so it is clear he wanted to emphasize the fact that a wand is a mystical tool.

The next thing to point out in the first stanza is the imagery of the moth. The moth is a symbol of transformation, and foreshadows an upcoming transformation within the poem.

At the end of the first stanza, the wanderer recounts drawing a silver trout from the stream. The stream represents the subconscious mind of the speaker, so he has used the wand, thread, and berry to draw something from the deeper recesses of the psyche.

The second stanza is one of transformation, hinted at by the moth in the previous stanza. The fish, which is associated with water (element 1) is placed onto the earth (element 2) as fire is stoked (element 3) and then transforms into a fairy who disappears into the air (element 4). There is almost a sense of alchemy here, transformative magick initiated through the use of elements. What is important to note is that the trout does not transform on its own. It is pulled from the water, into the air, placed on the earth, beside a flame. The wanderer appears to have had intent to initiate this metamorphosis.

In the final stanza, we hear from the wanderer in his present state. The first two stanzas were memories. Here he is old and seems to be nearing the end of his journey. What is key to this stanza are the last two lines. The goal of the wanderer is to reconnect with the fairy and then take of two apples: a silver apple associated with the Moon and a golden apple associated with the Sun. Yeats seems to be drawing on Judeo-Christian symbolism, of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and also from the Tree of Life, respectively. But also, there is Celtic and alchemical symbolism associated with the image of the apples.

In Celtic legends apples appear as the fruit of the Otherworld. More specifically, they are associated with the mythical Avalon, the ‘Island of Apples’. The otherworldly apple tree was also said to have been the source of the Silver Bough. In Norse tradition the tree bearing the golden apples of immortality was protected by the goddess Idun, whence they were stolen by Loki. The gods began to age, but they recovered the apples just before they were overcome by senility and death. In alchemy, when the alchemist is represented eating an apple at the end of the Great Work, he enjoys the fruit of immortality.

(Source)

So the ancient wanderer in Yeats’ poem is one who is seeking knowledge and immortality, through the aid of otherworldly entities, represented by the “glimmering girl / With apple blossom in her hair.” And he is drawing on all the occult knowledge and tools available to him in order to attain his goal.

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“American Gods: The Moment of the Storm” by Neil Gaiman: Issue #09

This issue concludes the graphic telling of Gaiman’s masterpiece. I followed it from the inception, and enjoyed every issue. In fact, I may reread the entire series at some point.

After going through the trials of exploring the realms of the gods, of going through death and rebirth, of observing the cycles of the various manifestations of the Divine, Shadow is left wondering what to do. He realizes he cannot go back to his old life. Once you have plunged into the mystic, you can never return to your old life. You are forever changed.

Shadow said nothing. He had had enough of gods and their ways to last a lifetime. He would take a bus to the airport, he decided. Get on a plane and go somewhere he had never been. He would keep moving.

As a reader reaching the end of this tale, one feels like Shadow. It is not realistic to think you can just go back to your old ways after glimpsing the mysteries of the gods. You must move on to some place you have never been, and likely, that will be somewhere inside yourself.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading and exploring.

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“American Gods: The Moment of the Storm” by Neil Gaiman: Issue #07

People believe. It’s what people do. They conjure things, and then do not trust the conjurations. They populate the darkness with ghosts, with gods, with electrons. People imagine and people believe. And it is that belief that makes things happen.

There is a lot of truth here. Our thoughts play a tremendous part in the manifestation of our realities. When we step back and consider the fear, mistrust, anger, and cynicism of the past couple decades, should it be all that surprising that we find ourselves in the current socio-political climate?

But I for one am seeing things that give me hope and inspiration, and I am making a conscious effort to believe in the better possibilities. Because let’s face it—all possibilities exist. But the possibilities which receive the most energy are the ones most likely to actualize.

Thanks for believing.

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Lady Mechanika Vol. 3: The Lost Boys of West Abbey

I was introduced to Lady Mechanika when I picked up an issue from a Free Comic Day event. I really loved the writing and the steampunk artwork, so I made a mental note that I would read a little deeper. Anyway, I was recently at the Silicon Valley Comic Con, and there was a table there with M.M. Chen, one of the writers of Lady Mechanika. I talked with her for a bit and was ready to buy a volume and have her sign it (notice her signature on the picture). I had every intention of buying the first volume, but she suggested getting Volume 3, since she said it provides some back story and is actually a great place to start, so I took her suggestion. Hey, the writer should know, right?

The books is short, but beautifully illustrated and the story is really engaging. Lady Mechanika collaborates with a police detective, Inspector Singh, to track down a person who is kidnapping and killing homeless children. It is discovered that the killings are related to some twisted experiments that are based upon concepts from Jewish mysticism, so they consult with a Rebbe to solve the case. I have to admit, the blending of steampunk and Jewish mysticism really works well.

The investigators, with the help of the Rebbe, discover that the killer is combining blood magic with Hebrew mysticism in an attempt to create a golem. The Rebbe explains to them what a golem is.

A soulless creature, made from clay and given life by magic. The golem has no free will or intelligence. It is a mindless servant of its creator and must obey his commands. In our legends, they were created to perform laborious tasks, or to protect and defend the community. They can work tirelessly, and cannot be destroyed except by the magic with which they were created.

I have to say, I am thoroughly impressed with this book. I will definitely be getting Volume 1 in the near future.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff.

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“American Gods: The Moment of the Storm” by Neil Gaiman: Issue #5

Look, this is not a good country for gods. My people figured that out early on. There are creator spirits who made the earth and so we say thank you. But we never built churches. The land was our church. It gave us salmon and corn and buffalo, and wild rice. You follow that river for a way, you’ll get to the lakes where the wild rice grows. You go far enough south, there are orange trees, lemon trees, and those squishy green things… avocados. What I’m saying is that America is like that. It’s not good growing country for gods. They’re like avocados trying to grow in wild rice country.

It’s a strange paradox that a country with a strong fundamentalist movement would not be fertile ground for gods. To me it seems more like we choose to collectively idolize the wrong things, or choose our gods for the wrong reasons. We love our distractions, we love our teams, we want to be a part of a community, we want to be freed from our guilt and shame, and so on. America is a country of “God, Guns, and Guts.” Personally, I have a difficult time reconciling those three things in my life.

There is a palpable feeling that we are on the cusp of a major global shift, that this is the “moment of the storm.” It will be curious to see how things play out in the next few years.

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Hellboy Omnibus Volume 2: Strange Places

The more Hellboy I read, the more I appreciate the quality and depth of these graphic novels. This volume is brimming with literary and occult references: H.P. Blavatsky, the kabbalah, the tetragrammaton, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm,” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” just to name a few. So while the books can be enjoyed solely for the entertainment value and the artwork, there are also layers of references and symbolism that deeper readers will find engaging.

In the book, the conqueror worm becomes a symbol for the cyclical decline of the human race, out of which a new race of humans will ultimately evolve.

… and we are all to be nothing but food for a conquering worm. It’s true. The worm is ringing down the curtain on the human race. For a while now all will be gravel and smoke. But look back to the beginning. Mankind was born out of that kind of smoke. The first race of man, the pre-human Hyperboreans… and that was mankind’s golden age… And when the polar ice crushed that world, a new race of man raised itself up from the beasts. The second race. Human… Atlantis. Lemuria. Sumeria. Babylon. Human civilizations come and go, but the human race has endured. Down long, hard centuries…

(pp. 196 – 197)

A symbol that I find very fascinating is the crossroads, and Mignola uses it nicely in this text.

You are now standing at the very crossroads of your life. And all your roads lead to strange places.

(p. 237)

This speaks to me on a personal and global level. From a personal perspective, I feel like I am at one of those points in my life where things are changing, and my life, stable for many years, is now filled with uncertainty and disruption. Not that this is bad, in fact it is good, but it is strange. And on the global level, I sense that the world is at a crossroads, that our entire reality is about to change, and we will all be thrust into a “strange place,” regardless of which road we collectively traverse. These are strange days, indeed.

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Hellboy Omnibus Volume 1: Seed of Destruction

So over the years, I have read numerous off-shoot and stand-alone issues of Hellboy, but had not read the primary arcs, which was why I was excited when I heard they were publishing an omnibus series containing the complete saga. This first volume contains five stories, as well as some artist sketches and a little bit of history about the development of the characters and story. The stories are brimming with material that interests me: paranormal investigation, the occult, conspiracy theories, mythology, social criticism, and so forth. And the great storytelling is augmented with artwork that fits well with the overall theme. Also, what is so cool about this book is that Mike Mignola is both writer and artist, an impressive accomplishment.

While all the stories in this volume are great, I want to focus on the last one, “Almost Colossus,” which explores concepts of God, science, the relationship between creator and creation. It’s kind of like a reworking of the Frankenstein story.

Anyway, couple quotes that are worth sharing.

“Brother, you think these humans are our betters. Not so, believe me. We two are the triumph of science over nature. Mankind to us should be like cattle, ours to use for whatever purpose we decide. We are not monsters, but the future and the light of the world!”

(p. 304)

Here we have a classic expression of hubris. The created, or creature, begins to feel superior to the creator, and employs scientific logic to back up the claim. I see this as symbolic of the human impetus to feel godlike through the acquisition of knowledge and power. And not just equal to God, but greater than God.

“Today the light of the world will be born again, and from this day forward mankind will bow and scrape before the God of Science.”

(p. 318)

This is a definite reference to the Prometheus myth, as well as the myth of Lucifer as the light bearer. Science has replaced God for many people in this age. And although I consider myself a spiritual person, and have faith in a divine consciousness, I confess that I find myself irritated at people who disregard scientific evidence because it conflicts with their established religious beliefs. As much as I hate to admit it, I too often bow before the God of Science.

While this book has challenging ideas woven in, it is still a fun and entertaining read. If you are a fan of the graphic novel genre and have not read Hellboy, I highly recommend checking it out.

Thanks for stopping by, and have an incredible day.

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Change and Transformation in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” by William Shakespeare

This was my first time reading this Shakespearean comedy. Before diving into the text, I read a quick synopsis online, which said that this is considered to be the first play that Shakespeare wrote. It’s also considered to be one of his worst plays. Granted, the ending did make my eyes roll, but that said, even a bad Shakespeare play is better than a lot of other stuff I’ve read.

The theme of change and transformation really stood out for me when I read this, so I decided to focus my blog post on this concept.

The importance of change and transformation is made evident immediately by Shakespeare naming on of the main characters Proteus, after the Greek sea god associated with mutability.

Some who ascribe to him a specific domain call him the god of “elusive sea change”, which suggests the constantly changing nature of the sea or the liquid quality of water in general. He can foretell the future, but, in a mytheme familiar to several cultures, will change his shape to avoid having to; he will answer only to someone who is capable of capturing the beast. From this feature of Proteus comes the adjective protean, with the general meaning of “versatile”, “mutable”, “capable of assuming many forms”.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Early in the play, Proteus claims that his love for Julia has changed him on a deep level.

Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphosed me,
Made me neglect my studies, lose my time,
War with good counsel, set the world at nought;
Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with thought.

(Act I; scene i)

But true to his nature, Proteus changes his mind, and decides to disregard his love for Julia in the pursuit of his desire for Silvia, whom is the object of his friend Valentine’s love. Proteus betrays his friend to the Duke (Silvia’s father), who with a twist of irony, asserts that he believes that Proteus is trustworthy and constant in his love for Julia.

And, Proteus, we dare trust you in this kind,
Because we know, on Valentine’s report,
You are already Love’s firm votary
And cannot soon revolt and change your mind.

(Act III; scene ii)

In addition to Proteus’ mental transformations, Shakespeare also has Julia go through a gender transformation, where she takes on the appearance of a young boy. When she finally reveals herself to Proteus, she claims that love makes women change their shapes and men change their minds, which I interpret to mean that men have a tendency to lust after other women, and that, women in order to maintain a man’s interest, must constantly be transforming their appearances to make sure they remain attractive.

O Proteus, let this habit make thee blush!
Be thou ashamed that I have took upon me
Such an immodest raiment, if shame live
In a disguise of love.
It is the lesser blot, modesty finds,
Women to change their shapes than men their minds.

(Act V; scene iv)

There are many more examples of change in the play to support the overall theme, such as the use of the chameleon as a metaphor, changes in music that is being performed, changes in appearance, and people changing their minds. Obviously, Shakespeare knew what we all know, that the only thing that is constant is change.

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“American Gods: The Moment of the Storm” by Neil Gaiman: Issue #4

I didn’t write about the last couple issues, not because they weren’t great (they were!), but because they didn’t include any quotes that I thought were worth looking at more closely. But this one certainly did.

Early in this issue, Shadow is entering the realm of the dead, after being sacrificed on the World Tree. He meets a cat woman, who seems to be some sort of spirit guide in the underworld. When Shadow inquires about her nature, her response is very intriguing.

Shadow: What are you? Who are you people?

Cat-woman: Think of us as symbols — we’re the dream humanity creates to make sense of the shadows on the cave wall.

This immediately made me think of Plato’s allegory of the cave from The Republic. Everything we perceive in this reality is but a shadow of a form that exists in another plane of existence. And we cannot comprehend the forms in their true essence, so we must approach them through the use of symbolism, which allows our subconscious mind fleeting glimpses of understanding, impressions of what thrives beyond our limited scope of awareness.

I know this is heavy stuff, and Gaiman’s work is very complex. But that said, he is a master storyteller, so he presents heady material within the structure of fun and imaginative tales.

That’s all I have to share for today. Thanks for stopping by.

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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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