Tag Archives: pagan

Thoughts on “The Two Trees” by William Butler Yeats

Picasso: Two Trees

Beloved, gaze in thine own heart,
The holy tree is growing there;
From joy the holy branches start,
And all the trembling flowers they bear.
The changing colours of its fruit
Have dowered the stars with merry light;
The surety of its hidden root
Has planted quiet in the night;
The shaking of its leafy head
Has given the waves their melody,
And made my lips and music wed,
Murmuring a wizard song for thee.
There the Loves a circle go,
The flaming circle of our days,
Gyring, spiring to and fro
In those great ignorant leafy ways;
Remembering all that shaken hair
And how the wingèd sandals dart,
Thine eyes grow full of tender care:
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.

Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile,
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while;
For there a fatal image grows
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under snows,
Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
For all things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold,
The glass of outer weariness,
Made when God slept in times of old.
There, through the broken branches, go
The ravens of unresting thought;
Flying, crying, to and fro,
Cruel claw and hungry throat,
Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
And shake their ragged wings; alas!
Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
Gaze no more in the bitter glass.

According to the Eden myth, there were two trees in the Garden: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. In this poem, Yeats uses these two trees as symbols for the creative and the mortal aspects of the human psyche, respectively. The first stanza corresponds with the Tree of Knowledge, and the second stanza corresponds to the Tree of Life.

While the story of eating from the Tree of Knowledge is often interpreted as something negative, a rebellion and fall from grace, Yeats does not seem to see it this way. For Yeats, knowledge of good and evil is essentially what makes us godlike, and the true mystical power of god is the power to create. The first stanza is filled with imagery of growth and flowering, which symbolizes the blossoming of the creative spirit in an individual. He encourages the reader to “gaze in thine own heart,” because that is where the “holy tree” of creativity is rooted, within the deeper self.

Other metaphors that Yeats uses in the first stanza are music and circles. Music is a fairly standard metaphor for poetry, which Yeats attributes to the eating of the fruit from the first tree. The circle conjures images of pagan rituals, most likely Druid or Wiccan, but possibly also of the Golden Dawn. The circles, spirals, and gyres evoke a sense of ritual performed within a circle around a fire. Yeats would have likely believed that the development of spiritual and occult arts was a result of the symbolic eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

And this brings us to the second stanza, and the Tree of Life. It is important to keep in mind that the archetypal humans did not eat of this tree, and as such are destined to wither and die. The effects of this tree are manifested on the outside of a person, as opposed to the Tree of Knowledge which is internal. Hence the demons hold up “the bitter glass,” which is a mirror. Gazing in to it, one becomes aware of aging, of mortality, of impending death. All the symbols that Yeats uses in the second stanza—night, snow, broken boughs, blackened leaves, barrenness, ravens—are all associated with death.

So what is the larger message that Yeats is trying to convey here? It seems to me that he is encouraging us to shift our focus from our outer selves, away from the flesh and our mortality, and instead focus on the inner self, the spirit, the divine essence within all of us. We will die, that is inevitable; but we do not have to spend our lives worrying about getting old and dying. We should live full, spiritual, and creative lives, building loving relationships with others, and creating beauty for future generations.

Thanks for taking the time to read my reflections, and as always, please feel free to share yours in the comment area below. Cheers!

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“Beltane” by Ian Anderson

Image Source: YouTube

Since today is Beltane, I decided to listen to Jethro Tull’s “Songs from the Wood” on my run. Since it is the extended remastered version, it includes the song “Beltane,” appropriate for today. For today’s post, I decided to analyze the lyrics as a poem. For those who are unfamiliar, here is the text:

Have you ever stood in the April wood
And called the new year in?
While the phantoms of three thousand years fly
As the dead leaves spin?
There’s a snap in the grass behind your feet
And a tap upon your shoulder.
And the thin wind crawls along your neck
It’s just the old gods getting older.
And the kestrel drops like a fall of shot and
The red cloud hanging high
Come a Beltane.

Have you ever loved a lover of the old elastic truth?
And doted on the daughter in the ministry of youth?
Thrust your head between the breasts of the fertile innocent.
And taken up the cause of love, for the sake of argument.
Or while the kisses drop like a fall of shot
From soft lips in the rain
Come a Beltane.

Happy old new year to you and yours.
The sun’s up for one more day, to be sure.
Play it out gladly, for your card’s marked again.

Have you walked around your parks and towns so knife-edged orderly?
While the fires are burned on the hills upturned
In far-off wild country.
And felt the chill on your window sill
As the green man comes around.
With his walking cane of sweet hazel brings it crashing down.
Sends your knuckles white as the thin stick bites.
Well, it’s just your groaning pains.
Come a Beltane.

Here is a little background information on Beltane.

Beltane was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Beltane (~1 May), and Lughnasadh (~1 August). Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season, when livestock were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were held at that time to protect them from harm, both natural and supernatural, and this mainly involved the “symbolic use of fire”. There were also rituals to protect crops, dairy products and people, and to encourage growth. The aos sí (often referred to as spirits or fairies) were thought to be especially active at Beltane (as at Samhain) and the goal of many Beltane rituals was to appease them. Most scholars see the aos sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits. Beltaine was a “spring time festival of optimism” during which “fertility ritual again was important, perhaps connecting with the waxing power of the sun”.

Wiccans use the name Beltane or Beltain for their May Day celebrations. It is one of the yearly Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year, following Ostara and preceding Midsummer. Unlike Celtic Reconstructionism, Wicca is syncretic and melds practices from many different cultures. In general, the Wiccan Beltane is more akin to the Germanic/English May Day festival, both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its rituals (such as maypole dancing). Some Wiccans enact a ritual union of the May Lord and May Lady.

Source: Wikipedia)

OK, now we will look at the poem.

In the first stanza, Anderson evokes a pastoral setting that is on the threshold of seasonal change. But there is some interesting symbolism hidden in here which I feel is a reference to the Yeats’ great occult poem, “The Second Coming.” Anderson’s image of the dead leaves spinning calls to mind the gyres in Yeats’ poem, and the kestrel is a type of falcon, which strengthens the connection to the opening lines of “The Second Coming.”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

The old gods are described as getting older, possibly symbolizing the readiness for rebirth.

In the second stanza, Anderson incorporates the sexual and fertility symbolism associated with Beltane. He expresses the concept of sympathetic magic, where human sexuality and fertility is connected with the fertility of the earth.

The third stanza celebrates the dawn of the new year, and acknowledges the importance of the sun in the continuation of life.

The final stanza forms a unique bridge between the old and the modern, between the wild and the “civilized.” We are presented with images of manicured parks, of towns built in a sterile and uniform fashion. But in the far-off wild country, fires are burning and the green man is ready to strike with his cane, causing our fragile construct of a world to collapse. I see the fire as symbolic of the deep desire to reject the industrial world that we have built and return to a more stable and sustainable way of life in accordance with Nature. And the green man is the embodiment of Nature. Ultimately, if we do not change our ways, the green man will smite us and we will be forced to return to our primal state.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by. If you celebrate, I hope you and yours have a very merry Beltane!

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Jews in the Qur’an

I have been struggling with the mixed messages in the text regarding people of the Jewish faith. At some points, God affirms His covenant with the Israelites and states that the Qur’an is intended to reaffirm what was handed down through the Torah. But then there are other passages that are highly critical of the Jews, and if taken out of context, are easily used to justify anti-Semitic sentiments.

Here is an example of where God speaks favorably in regard to the Jews.

Children of Israel, remember how I blessed you. Honour your pledge to Me and I will honour My pledge to you: I am the One you should fear. Believe in the message I have sent down confirming what you already possess.

(p. 6)

Compare the previous passage with the following excerpt.

How evil their practices are! Why do their rabbis and scholars not forbid them to speak sinfully and consume what is unlawful? How evil their deeds are! The Jews have said, ‘God is tight-fisted,’ but it is they who are tight-fisted, and they are rejected for what they have said.

(p. 74)

Finally, Jews are depicted as being the most hostile toward Muhammad and the followers of the faith.

You [Prophet] are sure to find that the most hostile to the believers are the Jews and those who associate other deities with God;

(p. 75)

So having read the introduction to the text, I am aware of the importance of the context of these passages. My understanding (and I am not a scholar, so it is just my limited understanding) is that the text is critical of a certain group of Jews who aligned themselves with the Arab Meccans who persecuted Muhammad and his followers. It is unfortunate that snippets of text are pulled and used out of context to justify ideologies, which I believe happens way too often. And this goes for other religious texts too, such as the Bible and the Torah. Human history is brimming with instances where quotes were cherry-picked from these texts to justify what I would consider non-spiritual acts.

In all fairness, the text is also critical of Christians and Pagans. I’m not sure I whether I will explore those aspects of the text. Honestly, there are some spiritual and inspiring passages that I have noted which I would like to focus on in future posts. I’d much rather look at the positive and spiritually uplifting aspects of the text. That said, I will try to get another post up soon. Cheers!

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Scarlet Witch: Issue #10

scarletwitch_10

It has been a while since I wrote about a Scarlet Witch episode, although I have continued reading them. The last few were just not really blog-worthy, but this one warrants a few words.

The story is set in Kyoto, where Wanda is investigating the murder of an Aoi warrior. The artwork is beautiful and captures the essence of Japanese artistic style. The story is also well written, and weaves along the magical landscapes depicted in the panels.

I would like to talk about a quote that appears early in the issue, which captured my attention.

I should be content. All I have done. And yet…it is the way of all creatures with intelligence, that once they have awareness of their looming demise, all they can think of is the things they haven’t done.

For much of my life, I felt this way. I always thought about the things I had not done, the places I had not been, the paths I had not taken, and wondered how my life would have been different had I done things differently. I wrote a poem back then and in it, called this feeling “the weight of what if.” But over the years, I’ve learned not to dwell on the things I had not done, but instead think of the things I have done, the wealth of experiences, and the magical connection between them that has brought me to this place in life—a place where I am happy and content.

I have never made a formal bucket list. I find it pointless. Instead, I choose to walk through the doors that life opens for me, to explore and learn and experience as much as I can, and be grateful for the opportunities that have presented themselves. I am confident that I will do all the things I was meant to do in this life.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you do something interesting today.

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Scarlet Witch: Issue #05

ScarletWitch_05

I had mixed feelings about this issue. There were aspects that I really liked, and then there were things about it that I thought failed.

I’ll start with what I liked. I loved the concept and the story. Wanda is asked to investigate cases of possession at a vineyard in Spain that is operated by the Catholic Church. It is made known that the vineyard was once a nunnery and during the Inquisition, the nuns were accused of witchcraft and burned on the site. So it’s not surprising that issues of misogyny and religious prejudice are addressed, and they are done so in a very engaging and creative way which works really well. In addition, as a twist, people become possessed as a result of speaking (the nuns had taken a vow of silence and whoever speaks breaks the vow and becomes possessed), so the central bulk of the story is driven solely through images, and textual dialog only occurs at the beginning and the end. I found this very creative, and having the image-driven section flanked by the text-driven sections was interesting and engaging.

But this leads me to the problem with this issue: the artwork. For a story that is so image-focused and that is basically driven by the visuals, the artwork seemed flat. It almost felt like this was thrown together in a rush to meet a deadline. The characters lacked depth and expression, and many of the panels looked like duplicates where Photoshop was used to slightly alter the images. For a story that relies so heavily on the graphics, more time and energy should have been invested in the artwork. That’s just my opinion. Also, I checked my older issues and there was a new artist for this installment. I wonder if something happened that resulted in a last-minute change of artists. Regardless, I would rather have waited for something a little better, but I guess Marvel has a schedule they must adhere to.

Anyway, like I said, the story is really good and that alone makes this worth reading. That said, I’ll leave you with a snippet of dialog from the early pages that addresses prejudice and open-mindedness, important issues in these times:

Wanda: I’m sorry if my being a witch upsets him.

Sister Lorenz: You’re a woman, Wanda, and you have power in the world. You’re known. That’s more than enough to upset a man like Father Gabaldon, even before you start casting spells.

Wanda: You, on the other hand, Sister… My being a witch doesn’t bother you?

Sister Lorenz: Oh, I’m very much a bride of Christ, but like my Savior, I keep an open mind on all things.

 

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Scarlet Witch: Issue #03

ScarletWitch_03

Hmm. Now the creative team is tying in James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, and drawing on Irish mythology. I really like the direction this story is going.

Dublin… is not what I imagined. Based on my first impression, anyway. This Airport. All very modern. I suppose it’s the tourism industry wanting everyone to think it’s still like that old John Wayne film, The Quiet Man. All green fields, drunken poets, and old ladies in shawls. But if these surroundings are anything to go by, the Ireland of Yeats and Joyce are long ago and far away.

Even here—this modern airport, I feel the old ways—the country’s always been rife with magic… at least in terms of story and legend. I wonder what they’d say—people here—if they knew so many of their myths had a good amount of reality to them.

That’s all I’m going to share for now. No spoilers!

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Scarlet Witch: Issue #02

ScarletWitch_02

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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