Tag Archives: Styx

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.”

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Mythological Cycles in “Library of Souls” by Ransom Riggs

LibraryOfSouls

If you follow my blog, you probably know how I feel about trilogies. They are not my favorite and I am frequently annoyed by stories that start out great and then seem to drag on in an attempt to fill three volumes. Thankfully, this book is one of the exceptions. In fact, this is as great if not better than the first book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children trilogy. Not only is it very well written and illustrated with “found” vintage photographs that add to the overall surreal weirdness of the book, but the text is rich in symbolism and mythology. I was so engrossed in this book that I found it difficult to put down.

I want to focus my post on the allusions to mythology that permeate this book. For those of you who have not read this yet, fear not, I will not include any spoilers, and hopefully this will help you enjoy the richness of this novel.

On the whole, this book is a classic example of the hero’s journey. We have all the motifs that make up the hero myth, and early in the book we are clued in to the fact that we are going along on the epic adventure.

The present seemed suddenly strange to me, so trivial and distracted. I felt like one of those mythical heroes who fights his way back from the underworld only to realize that the world above is every bit as damned as the one below.

(p. 47)

There is a beautiful scene where three of the peculiars encounter Sharon, the boatman. He is a spectral figure and clearly a representation of Charon, the mythical boatman who ferries souls across the river Styx.

“STOP!” came a booming voice from inside the boat.

Emma squealed, Addison yelped, and I nearly leapt out of my skin. A man who’d been sitting in the boat—how had we not seen him until now?!—rose slowly to his feet, straightening himself inch by inch until he towered over us. He was seven feet tall, at least, his massive frame draped in a cloak and his face hidden beneath a dark hood.

“I’m—I’m so sorry!” Emma stammered. “It’s—we thought the boat was—“

“Many have tried to steal from Sharon!” the man thundered. “Now their skulls make homes for sea creatures!”

“I swear we weren’t trying to—“

“We’ll just be going,” squeaked Addison, backing away, “so sorry to bother you, milord.”

“SILENCE!” the boatman roared, stepping onto the creaking dock with one enormous stride. “Anyone who comes for my boat must PAY THE PRICE!”

(pp. 50 – 51)

A common theme among myths is the classic battle waged by the gods, the proverbial “clash of the titans.”

“… There dawned a dark time, in which the power-mad waged epic battles against one another for control of Abaton and the Library of Souls. Many lives were lost. The land was scorched. Famine and pestilence reigned while peculiars with power beyond imagination murdered one another with floods and lightning bolts. This is where normals got their tales of gods fighting for supremacy of the sky. Their Clash of the Titans was our battle for the Library of Souls.”

(p. 194)

I had read in a book by Umberto Eco how legendary and mythological lands occupy a unique place. We cannot say for sure that they never existed, but through the retelling of the stories, they become places that also exist in our collective consciousness, a place that is the source of our imagination and creativity.

“We may never know for certain if Abaton is a real place,” Bentham said, his lips spreading into a sphinx’s smile. “That’s what makes it a legend. But like rumors of buried treasure, the legendariness of the story has not stopped people, over the centuries, from searching for it. It is said that Perplexus Anomalous  himself committed years to the hunt for the lost loop of Abaton—which is how he began to discover so many of the loops that appear in his famous maps.”

(p. 195)

But in the end, what makes a story a myth is that it is more than just a story. It is a story that contains universal truths that convey what it is to be divine, sentient beings living in this realm of existence. The myth expresses parts of us that cannot be told other than through the rich symbols and metaphors that comprise the myth.

Just a story. It had become one of the defining truths of my life that, no matter how I tried to keep them flattened, two-dimensional, jailed in paper and ink, there would always be stories that refused to stay bound in books. It was never just a story. I would know: a story had swallowed my whole life.

(p. 371)

I confess that I felt sad when I finished this book. I felt really invested in the story and connected with the characters. I didn’t want it to end. But isn’t that the thing with stories like this? They never really end. They just cycle around again, waiting in our collective consciousness for the next great writer to resurrect the mythical beings that have inspired us since time immemorial.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #5

Sabrina_05

It’s been nine long months since the last installment in this series. I had pretty much given up on it. But lo and behold, on my last visit to Comic Envy, there was a new Sabrina issue in my folder. It felt like Halloween came early.

It was worth the wait! Sabrina is so dark, so well written and illustrated, so steeped in the occult, there is really nothing that compares to it.

In this installment, Sabrina is placed on trial for alleged sins against the Satanic Church of Night. The trial is presided over by none other than Aleister Crowley. Sabrina is forced to undergo cruel tests to prove her innocence, reminiscent of Puritanical tests administered during the colonial witch trials.

After Sabrina’s “innocence” is established, she undertakes the dark rite of necromancy to raise her dead boyfriend, Harvey. The scenes of the rite are visually chilling and the text is as dark as the imagery.

The witches set about their grim task. First, a symbol representing the gateway between life and death is grooved into the dirt with a snapped-off branch. The branch is symbolic of the Tree of Life, as well as the pole Charon, ferryman of Death, uses to cross the River Styx. Next, a set of the dead person’s clothes is laid out on the ground, over the symbol. So that when the revenant comes back, they may cover their nakedness. Then five candles are lit and positioned around the clothes, so that there is light guiding the dead back to this plane of existence. Then, Sabrina is given the dread Demonomicon, and she recites the diabolical incantation: “…corpus levitas, diablo daminium, mondo viciim…” (The Demonomicon being a sister-book of the unholy Necronomicon.) The infernal dance comes next, and the chanting… “…for you who sleep in stone and clay, heed the call, rise up and obey, pass on through the mortal door, assemble flesh and walk once more…”

The spell works, but there is a very dark twist. Sorry, no spoilers here. You will have to purchase a copy and read it yourself.

One last thing I want to say about this issue. Superimposed over the main story is the enactment of Macbeth by the high school. It works spectacularly! I cannot emphasize enough how well the corresponding scenes connect to and add depth to the overarching storyline. It’s nothing short of brilliance in the genre of graphic horror.

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book X – The Grace of the Witch

CirceAndSwine

In this book, Odysseus continues his tale of his journey. He actually covers three parts of his odyssey in this book. First, he describes his dealings with Aeolus, ruler of the winds. Aeolus gives him a bag of wind to aid in his voyage, but some of his greedy men think it has gold and open it, resulting in the boat being blown back to Aeolia. Next, Odysseus and his crew arrive at the land of the Laestrygonians, who are cannibalistic giants and devour a few of his men. Finally, they arrive at the island of Circe, who is depicted as a goddess but also a sorceress.

What I found the most fascinating about this book are the allusions to magic and ritual. Circe is obviously very skilled in the mystical arts and the imagery of her weaving “by that craft known to the goddesses of heaven” (Fitzgerald Translation: p. 171), her use of herbs and potions, and her wielding of a wand, all conjure some fantastic visions of the mystical woman.

The god Hermes offers to assist Odysseus in overcoming Circe’s spells. He provides Odysseus with instructions on how to use an amulet in conjunction with sex magic to protect himself from the sorceress.

But I can tell you what to do
to come unchanged from Kirke’s power (Note: alternate spelling in translation)
and disenthrall your fighting crew:
take with you to her bower
as amulet, this plant I know—
it will defeat her horrid show,
so pure and potent is the flower;
no mortal herb was ever so.

Your cup with numbing drops of night
and evil, stilled of all remorse,
she will infuse to charm your sight;
but this great herb with holy force
will keep your minds and senses clear:
when she turns cruel, coming near
with her long stick to whip you out of doors,
then let your cutting blade appear,

Let instant death upon it shine,
and she will cower and yield her bed—
a pleasure you must not decline,
so may her lust and fear bestead
you and your friends, and break her spell;
but make her swear by heaven and hell
no witches’ tricks, or else, your harness shed,
you’ll be unmanned by her as well.

(ibid: p. 174)

The plant that Hermes refers to appears to be mandrake, which according to myth will drive a human insane if pulled from the ground.

He bent down glittering for the magic plant
and pulled it up, black root and milky flower—
a molu in the language of the gods—
fatigue and pain for mortals to uproot;
but gods do this, and everything, with ease.

(ibid: p. 174)

Mandrake

Mandrake

Near the end of the book, Circe tells Odysseus that he must open a portal to the underworld, summon the spirit of the blind prophet Teiresias, and inquire about what he needs to do in order to return home. Circe provides instructions to Odysseus, and these instructions read like a dark magic ritual.

Here, toward the Sorrowing Water, run the streams
of Wailing, out of Styx, and quenchless burning—
torrents that join in thunder at the Rock.
Here then, great soldier, setting foot obey me:
dig a well shaft a forearm square; pour out
libations around it to the unnumbered dead:
sweet milk and honey, then sweet wine, and last
clear water, scattering handfuls of white barley.
Pray now, with all your heart, to the faint dead;
swear you will sacrifice your finest heifer,
at home in Ithaka, and burn for them
her tenderest parts in sacrifice; and vow
to the lord Teiresias, apart from all,
a black lamb, handsomest of all your flock—
thus to appease the nations of the dead.
Then slash a black ewe’s throat, and a black ram,
facing the gloom of Erebos; but turn
your head away toward Ocean. You shall see, now
souls of the buried dead in shadowy hosts,
and now you must call out to your companions
to flay those sheep the bronze knife has cut down,
for offerings, burnt flesh to those below,
to sovereign Death and pale Persephone.
Meanwhile draw sword from hip, crouch down, ward off
the surging phantoms from the bloody pit
until you know the presence of Teiresias.
He will come soon, great captain; be it he
who gives you course and distance for your sailing
homeward across the cold fish-breeding sea.

(ibid: p. 181)

I cannot help but wonder whether Homer was schooled in the magical arts. Regardless, this is a very interesting segment of the epic. I am eager to read about Odysseus’ encounter with the spirits. Check back soon for my thoughts on Book XI.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 6

Source: symbolreader.net

Source: symbolreader.net

This episode corresponds to Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus travels to the underworld of Hades and speaks with the dead. If you are unfamiliar with Odysseus’ journey to the underworld, I suggest reading “The Secrets of the Odyssey (7): Circe and the Underworld” by Symbol Reader, who is one of my favorite bloggers.

The main theme of this section is death, which makes for some morbid reading at times. The episode begins with Bloom getting into a carriage with Martin Cunningham, Jack Power, and Simon Dedalus (Stephen Dedalus’ father). The carriage is part of the funeral procession for Paddy Dignam who is to be buried. During the ride, there is much discussion and contemplation regarding death.

The carriage ride is symbolic for the journey to the land of the dead, which is represented by the cemetery. At one point in the journey, the carriage passes a waterway, which I assume is the River Liffey. This conjures images of the crossing of the River Styx as one enters the realm of the dead.

Their eyes watched him. On the slow weedy waterway he had floated on his raft coastward over Ireland drawn by a haulage rope past beds of reeds, over slime, mud-choked bottles, carrion dogs. Athlone, Mullingar, Moyvalley, I could make a walking tour to see Milly by the canal. Or cycle drawn. Hire some old crock, safety. Wren had one the other day at the auction but a lady’s. Developing waterways. James M’Cann’s hobby to row me o’er the ferry. Cheaper transit. By easy stages. Houseboats. Camping out. Also hearses. To heaven by water. Perhaps I will without writing. Come as a surprise, Leixlip, Clonsilla. Dropping down, lock by lock to Dublin. With turf from the midland bogs. Salute. He lifted his brown strawhat, saluting Paddy Dignam.

(p. 99)

When they reach the cemetery, Bloom observes the coffin being removed from the hearse. He begins to contemplate mortality, the sheer number of people who die every day. He notes that Dignam got there before they did, implying both that the hearse arrived before the carriage and also that Dignam died before him and the others.

Coffin now. Got here before us, dead as he is. Horse looking round at it with his plume skeowways. Dull eye: collar tight on his neck, pressing on a bloodvessel or something. Do they know what they cart out here every day? Must be twenty or thirty funerals every day. Then Mount Jerome for the protestants. Funerals all over the world everywhere every minute. Shovelling them under by the cartload doublequick. Thousands every hour. Too many for the world.

(p. 101)

As the burial proceeds, Bloom’s thoughts turn very morbid as he envisions the rotting and decay of the bodies within the earth, of the rats and maggots eating the rancid flesh of the deceased. The images reminded me of Poe and Baudelaire. I also couldn’t help wondering whether this was symbolic of the general decay of humanity, whether Joyce viewed the world around him as rotting just as the flesh of the dead was rotting beneath the soil.

One of those chaps would make short work of a fellow. Pick the bones clean no matter who it was. Ordinary meat for them. A corpse is meat gone bad. Well, and what’s cheese? Corpse of milk. I read in that Voyages of China that the Chinese say a white man smells like a corpse. Cremation better. Priests dead against it. Devilling for the other firm. Wholesale burners and Dutch oven dealers. Time of the plague. Quicklime fever pits to eat them. Lethal chamber. Ashes to ashes. Or bury at sea. Where is that Parsee tower of silence? Eaten by birds. Earth, fire, water. Drowning they say is the pleasantest. See your whole life in a flash. But being brought back to life no. Can’t bury in the air however. Out of a flying machine. Wonder does the news go about whenever a fresh one is let down. Underground communication. We learned that from them. Wouldn’t be surprised. Regular square feed for them. Flies come before he’s well dead. Got wind of Dignam. They wouldn’t care about the smell of it. Saltwhite crumbling mush of corpse: smell, taste like raw white turnips.

(p. 114)

Finally, Bloom’s communication with the dead slips into the realm of necrophilia. Although he seems repulsed by these thoughts, you get the sense that there is a morbid fascination with the idea of sex with the dead.

The gates glimmered in front: still open. Back to the world again. Enough of this place. Brings you a bit nearer every time. Last time I was here was Mrs Sinico’s funeral. Poor papa too. The love that kills. And even scraping up the earth at night with a lantern like the case I read of to get at fresh buried females or even putrefied with running gravesores. Give you the creeps after a bit.

(pp. 114 – 115)

For those who are reading along, I will be looking at Episode 7 next, which concludes on page 150 with the phrase “if the God Almighty’s truth was known.”


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

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