Tag Archives: symbolism

The Symbolism of the Doors in “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

This was probably my most anticipated book of 2019. A while back, I read The Night Circus by Morgenstern, which instantly became one of my favorite books and the one I most frequently recommend to people asking me for suggestions regarding books to read. I actually preordered this book so I could get it the day it was released. Now, with books that you have high expectations for, sometimes it is hard for them to meet those expectations. But while The Starless Sea is not as good as The Night Circus (a difficult book to surpass, in my opinion), it was still excellent and well worth the read.

The book is a tale rich with symbolism that traces a young man’s discovery and journey into a subterranean realm populated with stories.

Far beneath the surface of the earth, hidden from the sun and the moon, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. Stories written in books and sealed in jars and painted on walls. Odes inscribed onto skin and pressed into rose petals. Tales laid in tiles upon the floors, bits of plot worn away by passing feet. Legends carved in crystal and hung from chandeliers. Stories catalogued and cared for and revered. Old stories preserved while new stories spring up around them.

(p. 6)

This image symbolically describes the human collective unconscious, that vast repository populated with all the stories and myths that have existed or will come into being. Every writer, poet, artist, and musician seeks to tap into this reservoir of inspiration, and some, like Morgenstern here, attempt to describe it. But it can only be described symbolically, since the wellspring of artistic creativity is something that exists beyond our comprehension. But we all sense its presence, just below the surface of our psyches.

While art can be a reflection of the mystical source of consciousness, it also has the ability to draw the audience into the realm of the mystical through the use of symbols. The door is one of those symbols, representing the transitional space between ordinary reality and the deeper realms of the subconscious.

The son of the fortune-teller knows only that the door feels important in a way he cannot quite explain, even to himself.

A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.

He traces the painted lines of the key with his fingertips, marveling at how much the key, like the sword and the bee and the doorknob, looks as though it should be three-dimensional.

The boy wonders who painted it and what it means, if it means anything. If not the door, at least the symbols. If it is a sign and not a door, or if it is both at once.

In this significant moment, if the boy turns the painted knob and opens the impossible door, everything will change.

(p. 13)

Doors to the subconscious exist not only in art, but they can manifest spontaneously anywhere in the world, instantly transporting an unsuspecting individual into the proverbial Wonderland of an altered state of consciousness.

There are numerous doors in varying locations. In bustling cities and remote forests. On islands and on mountaintops and in meadows. Some are built into buildings: libraries or museums or private residences, hidden in basements or attics or displayed like artwork in parlors. Others stand freely without the assistance of supplemental architecture. Some are used with hinge-loosening frequency and others remain undiscovered and unopened and more have simply been forgotten, but all of them lead to the same location.

(p. 61)

There is a very subtle yet extremely important warning hidden in this passage. Morgenstern writes that some doors “are used with hinge-loosening frequency.” I interpret this as a caution to those who use consciousness-expanding drugs as a portal to glimpse the hidden realms of the subconscious. Just as doors can become unhinged, the human psyche can also become unhinged when thrown open too frequently through the use of certain chemicals. While it can be difficult to seek out the undiscovered doors in remote locations, it seems a much more prudent path for those seekers of deeper knowledge.

As William Blake famously asserted in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” The Starless Sea is yet another door for us to enter into the infinite and ineffable expanse of the human creative spirit. And now the wait begins for Ms. Morgenstern’s next novel.

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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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“Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine & Ritual” by Eliphas Levi: Part 2 – Ritual

I finished reading this second half a while back, but have been too busy dealing with other things to write anything about it. (Click here to read the first part on Doctrine.) Anyway, I did take notes while I was reading, so I am now getting around to putting down my thoughts on this text.

The second half of this book is very dense and complicated, as it goes into examples of ritualistic magick, providing step-by-step examples along with additional theoretic explanations. As such, it is beyond the scope of this blog post to delve into the complexities of these rituals. In addition, as Levi points out, magic should never be a pastime and should be approached with the utmost care and seriousness.

… there can be nothing more dangerous than to make Magic a pastime, or, as some do, part of an evening’s entertainment. Even magnetic experiments, performed under such conditions, can only exhaust the subjects, mislead opinions and defeat science. The mysteries of life and death cannot be made sport of with impunity, and things which are to be taken seriously must be treated not only seriously but with the greatest reserve.

(p. 322)

As such, I am going to abstain from sharing the details of rituals presented here. I do not want to have any responsibility for individuals doing acting irresponsibly. But I will share some passages that I think would be enlightening. The first one deals with transmutation.

St. Augustine speculates, as we have said, whether Apuleius could have been changed into an ass and then have resumed his human shape. The same doctor might have equally concerned himself with the adventure of the comrades of Ulysses, transformed into swine by Circe. In vulgar opinion, transmutations and metamorphoses have always been the very essence of magic. Now, the crowd, being the echo of opinion, which is queen of the world, is never perfectly right nor entirely wrong. Magic really changes the nature of things, or, rather, modifies their appearances at pleasure, according to the strength of the operator’s will and the fascination of ambitious adepts. Speech creates its form, and when a person, held infallible, confers a name upon a given thing, he really transforms that thing into the substance signified by the name. The masterpiece of speech and of faith, in this order, is the real transmutation of a substance without change in its appearances.

(p. 366)

What Levi is asserting here is that individuals with enough focus of mind can use language to alter the fabric of reality. Basically, this is the creative power of God. God “speaks” all things into existence. And what are words but auditory symbols representing thought, which is our creative energy. We live in an age where people seem to have lost respect for the power of words, and as such spew forth without care anything that comes to their minds. As a result, we have collectively created an environment of chaos and fear. We have essentially transmuted our world through the careless use of our words, and the will behind those words. Is it any wonder that many of the magi of old were also poets? A poet understands the evocative power of words to foment change within an individual who hears those words, and internal changes eventually manifest in the external.

A common use of magic is for protection, but as Levi points out, the best protection against negative influence is a clear mind, a strong will, and to stay grounded.

To preserve ourselves against evil influences, the first condition is therefore to forbid excitement to the imagination. All those who are prone to excitement are more or less mad, and a maniac is ever governed by his mania. Place yourself, then, above puerile fears and vague desires; believe in supreme wisdom, and be assured that this wisdom, having given you understanding as the means of knowledge, cannot seek to lay snares for your intelligence or reason. Everywhere about you, you behold effects proportioned to their cause ; you find causes directed and modified in the domain of humanity by understanding ; in a word, you find goodness stronger and more respected than evil ; why then should you assume an immense unreason in the infinite, seeing that there is reason in the finite? Truth is hidden from no one. God is visible in His works, and He requires nothing contrary to its nature from any being, for He is himself the author of that nature. Faith is confidence; have confidence, not in men who malign reason, for they are fools or impostors, but in the eternal reason which is the Divine Word, that true light which is offered like the sun to the intuition of every human creature coming into this world. If you believe in absolute reason, and if you desire truth and justice before all things, you will have no occasion to fear anyone, and you will love those only who are deserving of love. Your natural light will repel instinctively that of the wicked, because it will be ruled by your will. Thus, even poisonous substances, which it is possible may be administered to you, will not affect your intelligence; ill, indeed, they may make you, but never criminal.

(pp. 431 – 432)

This book is definitely not for everyone. But if you are a serious student of the occult, then it is indispensible. Thanks for stopping by and reading my musings. I hope you have a blessed day.

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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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Thoughts on “The Premature Burial” by Edgar Allan Poe

This is a great story to read for Halloween. It’s dark, creepy, and the topic is one that gives the chills. For as Poe states early in the tale: “To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.”

He goes on to describe the feeling of being buried alive, of awakening to find oneself trapped within a tomb. He even makes a nice allusion to his poem, “The Conqueror Worm.”

Fearful indeed the suspicion — but more fearful the doom! It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs — the stifling fumes of the damp earth — the clinging to the death garments — the rigid embrace of the narrow house — the blackness of the absolute Night — the silence like a sea that overwhelms — the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm — these things, with thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed — that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead — these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil. We know of nothing so agonizing upon Earth — we can dream of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell. And thus all narratives upon this topic have an interest profound; an interest, nevertheless, which, through the sacred awe of the topic itself, very properly and very peculiarly depends upon our conviction of the truth of the matter narrated. What I have now to tell, is of my own actual knowledge — of my own positive and personal experience.

As with so many of Poe’s tales, there are often parables or symbolism woven into the macabre stories, and this one is no different. The following passage describes the protagonist’s vision of the sheer number of people who were buried prematurely.

I looked; and the unseen figure, which still grasped me by the wrist, had caused to be thrown open the graves of all mankind; and from each issued the faint phosphoric radiance of decay; so that I could see into the innermost recesses, and there view the shrouded bodies in their sad and solemn slumbers with the worm. But, alas! the real sleepers were fewer, by many millions, than those who slumbered not at all; and there was a feeble struggling; and there was a general sad unrest; and from out the depths of the countless pits there came a melancholy rustling from the garments of the buried. And, of those who seemed tranquilly to repose, I saw that a vast number had changed, in a greater or less degree, the rigid and uneasy position in which they had originally been entombed.

I see this passage as an allegory for the general state of humanity. Many of us die having never fulfilled our life’s purpose, or never doing the things we long to do, or without expressing to another how we truly feel. In essence, we are buried prematurely, with unrealized life still within us. I see this as Poe’s way of telling us to live now, don’t put things off, because soon, you will be food for the Conqueror Worm.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. I hope you have a blessed Samhain.

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Symbolism in “The Imp of the Perverse” by Edgar Allan Poe

I always like to read some Poe around Halloween. This is one that I had never read before, but on my first pass, I noticed some really interesting symbolism.

The protagonist of the story explains why he committed a murder, claiming to be “one of the many uncounted victims of the Imp of the Perverse.” He describes the perverse as the desire within all humans to do what they know is wrong. We all have those random thoughts come into our heads, envisioning some heinous act which we would never actually act out. But the protagonist claims that the longer you dwell upon these thoughts of the perverse, the stronger they become and the higher the likelihood that you will act upon them.

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness, and horror become merged in a cloud of unnameable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius, or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore, do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him, who shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge. To indulge for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.

So this passage also holds the key to the primary symbol in this story—the imp. The definition of an imp is “a small, mischievous devil or sprite.”  (Oxford) So where is the imp? If we look again at the passage, right near the beginning, we come across the word “impulse,” the first three letters being “imp.” So the imp is that subtle impulse that grows into an uncontrollable urge. But keep looking at the paragraph, and you will find the imp appearing throughout: impulse, imperceptible, impetuously, impatient. These are all aspects of one’s psyche that could lead one into the abyss, all manifestations of the mischievous imp.

And the imp continues to show itself throughout the rest of the story, popping up like that dark thought that you just can’t make disappear. When providing details of the murder, the protagonist states:

But I need not vex you with “imp”ertinent details.

As he describes how his small thoughts of guilt begin to grow into gnawing mental anguish, he says:

I could scarcely get rid of it for an instant. It is quite a common thing to be thus annoyed with the ringing in our ears, or rather in our memories, of the burthen of some ordinary song, or some un”imp”ressive snatches from an opera.

And finally:

For a moment I experienced all the pangs of suffocation; I became blind, and deaf, and giddy; and then some invisible fiend, I thought, struck me with his broad palm upon the back. The long-“imp”risoned secret burst forth from my soul.

(Note: the quotation marks in the above quotations were put in by me for emphasis.)

Now that you have been made aware of the imp, it will be “imp”ossible for you to remain “imp”ervious to its antics. Hope you enjoyed the post, and keep reading cool stuff.

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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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