Friday, March 31, 2006

Der Stahlhelm as image in Paul Celan's "Encounter"

Yesterday, while discussing image clusters in Paul Celan's poem "Encounter", I mentioned that Celan ties two images together- "bell" and "helmet"-through their similarity in design.

I thought it might be instructive before I explicate the second stanza to include a picture of the emblematic helmet worn by German soldiers.

This design was developed and adopted during World War I.

In that regard, I have written a novel, unpublished, about a World War I German war hero. The novel is based loosely on the life of Ernst Junger, who, coincidentally, wrote a memoir entitled Der Stahlhelm.

I am including a segment of the novel, which discusses the change in design.

“When the war started, the Germans thought that they would repeat their victories of 1870. Over the years, prior to 1914, they had worked out a plan to bypass French strongholds, strongholds that were constructed specifically to forestall any quick German victories. The plan was called the von Schlieffen Plan, a strategy designed to have the German army encircle Northern France and take Paris rapidly. The plan, however, failed when the German army was stopped and the French immediately counterattacked. The two armies, then, locked in a deadly struggle, began to dig trenches. The trenches grew and stretched northward toward the sea, as each army tried to outflank the other. An elaborate trench system evolved and ran from Switzerland to the English Channel. On the allies’ side, the French occupied the south, while the British took up positions in the north. At the beginning of the war, the British had a small standing army of approximately 100,000. It was a professional army that operated primarily in the British colonies but by 1915, the British were expanding their army, filling it with civilians and colonial troops. As I told you, I did not want to fight the French because I loved Paris and the French language. Luckily, I was sent north, where the British were entrenched.

“My first stop was in the village of T, which was being used as a supply station and a makeshift headquarters. I had not been assigned to a specific unit yet and my orders were to report to a Colonel Siebert, a friend of my father’s. When I arrived, men wandered the streets, awaiting an assignment or, in some cases, a re-assignment after recovering from wounds, and a constant stream of lorries and wagons delivering munitions and supplies clogged the cobble stoned arteries of the small town.

“World War I began as a 19th Century war and ended as a 20th Century one. When I arrived, I wore the Pickelhaube, the spiked helmet of a 19th Century Prussian soldier. When it ended I was wearing the Stahlhelm of the Stormtrooper. Colonel Siebert ordered his orderly to assign me to some housing and told me to look around and report to him the next day.

Limestone in Paul Celan's Poem-"Encounter"

Yesterday, we began our discussion of Paul Celan’s poem, Encounter, by discussing the image clusters in the first stanza.

The first line of the poem is indicative of the depth of meaning to be found in Celan’s short poems and instructive in helping us devise a methodology on how to read Celan’s poetry.

Therefore, before I move on to the second stanza, I wanted to concentrate on the imagery of just the first sentence: Tonight it’ll rain on the green dunes of limestone.

As we saw yesterday, the poem deals with memory and death. The use of the word-limestone-connects and adumbrates that theme.

Limestone is sedimentary rock composed of mineral calcite, chert, flint, clay, silt and sand. The calcite originates in marine organisms that secrete shells that settle out of the water column and are deposited on the ocean floor as pelagic ooze.

Once we know limestone’s connection to the sea, we become aware that limestone joins the image cluster, which we labeled yesterday as water, but it is also a part of Celan’s overall use, throughout all of his poetry, of mineral images.

A further connection is made when we know that limestone is soluble and susceptible to erosion. Because of its soluble nature limestone formations possess potholes, caves, indentures, gorges, and weathered and roughened surfaces.

Pure limestone is white but because of erosion, it may take on colors from the other minerals in it.

Limestone used in construction in rainy areas may be responsible for acid rain.

Limestone is also the main ingredient in quicklime, a substance used in industry.

However, here, I believe Celan is referring to the fact that before the Nazi death camps became mechanized, “the prisoners were shot, thrown into mass graves, and then covered with quicklime.” Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust, Richard Rhodes, Knopf 2002.

So, the use of “rain” plus “limestone” immediately creates images of death, toxicity, erosion, putrefaction, decomposition, and transformation through breakdown, mortification, and ooze.

"Green" limestone furthers the image of decomposition and ties in with other images of decay employed by Celan.

For instance, in the poem entitled "The Sand from the Urns," in the collection Mohn und Gedactnis, the first line reads-Moldgreen is the house of forgetting. Pierre Joris's translation in Paul Celan, Selections, University of California Press, 2005. Here the sand in the urn is coupled to forgetting and joined with mold.

I will return to this poem when we reach the second stanza.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Paul Celan's Romanian Poems

Recently, I was making my monthly run through Half Price Books, when I discovered Paul Celan: Romanian Poems, translated from the Romanian with an Introduction by Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi, Green Integer 2003. All translations in today’s posting are theirs.

I was excited to find this little book because it contains Celan’s works written during the time he “spent in Bucharest, Romania’s capital between his departure from his native Bukovina in 1945 and his arrival in Vienna in 1947.” (p. 7).

The first poem, Encounter, introduces a number of Celan’s central images and illustrates the way in which he maintains, supports and carries meaning, tone, and unity through images.

The poem consists of three, four lined stanzas. I will deal with only the first stanza today.

Tonight it’ll rain on the green dunes of limestone,
The wine preserved til today in the mouth of a dead man
Will awaken the land of the foot-bridges, displaced in a bell.
A human tongue will trumpet audacity in a helmet

His chief clusters of images involve water, bell shaped containers, and trees. Water imagery emerges through the use of “rain,” dunes,” “wine,” “coast,” “tide,” “dripping,” “waters,” “douse,” “land of foot-bridges,” and “imbibed.” The concept of “container” comes through the use of “mouth,” “bell,” urn,” and “helmet.” Tree imagery arises through the use of “tree,” “leaf,” “autumn on fire,” and “laurel.” These clusters of images intersect, reflect, and repeat.

The memories and the poem begin with rain falling on “green limestone.”

When the Germans interned Celan, he worked in a quarry, hauling stones and debris from the Prut River for the reconstruction of a bridge. While in this work camp, he learned that his father died in a slave labor camp from typhus; and, in the winter, he heard that his mother had been shot.

The rain drips into a container-“the mouth”-and becomes “wine.” This transformation is an allusion to John 2:3, where Mary asks Jesus to turn the water into wine. Celan’s use of Christian imagery is, of course, ironic and also hostile.

The wine awakens the memories of the camps-the German and Romanian soldiers used wooden planks to transverse the sea of mud that was created by the rains in winter-and forms an obvious allusion to Venice, the city of the dead. Additionally, the dead stuck in obscene positions in a sea of mud is emblematic of both world wars.

These images, then, are placed into another container-the bell, which is shaped like the German helmet (the Stahlhelm). The bell, perhaps ringing at a Christian Church, awakens the memory of the dead, and joins the audacious tongue, wearing a German Stahlhelm, and trumpeting, like the last days a call to awaken the dead and raise them from their graves.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Salmacis and Space

The attached painting, by Edward Burne-Jones, is of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus.

I am posting it today to finish my comments, for the time being at least, on the mythologem of Hermaphroditus.

Note that Salmacis has wrapped her arms around Hermaphroditus and he is turning to flee from her embrace.

She stares deeply into his eyes, attempting to penetrate his very being, whereas he returns her stare with trepidation, fear, and anxiety.

At this moment in time Salmacis is "animus" possessed. She acts impulsively and compulsively. The result of her attack and entrapment will be her disappearance from the myth.

Also note that Burne-Jones has chosen to represent the two characters as quite similar in both appearance and coloring. In some ways they are twins, which-when you think about it-the anima and the animus are in fact twins. They are two parts of the psyche- male and female.

The painting also illustrates an important part of the mythologem-proximity. Every being has a need to protect its own space. When a person sits too close to you, your first inclination is to move. If they stand too close, you might also feel like hitting them or pushing them away. Here Salmacis has not only invaded his space, she has wrapped her arms around him.

Sometimes lovers have the desire to consume their partners. They talk about eating them up. They hold hands and sleep like spoons. They desire to be one.

When one party does not feel this way, we have a scenario for Play Misty for Me or Fatal Attraction.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Salmacis Contained

To end our discussion of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, I want to concentrate on Ovid’s ending.

Once the merger has been accomplished, according to Salmacis’ request, she disappears and Hermaphroditus speaks. He prays to his mother and father and requests that any man that enters the pool be “weakened,” as he has been weakened.

Symbolically, I imagine that Hermaphroditus’ concept of “weakened” means that he is now in “touch with his feminine side.” And, as a by-product of his femininity, he speaks and becomes the dominant image of the myth and names it-hermaphrodite.

Jung said “in a marriage it is always the contained who projects the image upon the container, while the latter is only partially able to project his unconscious image upon the partner.”

Hermaphroditus is the container of Salmacis’ projection, which leaves him “uncontained.” The uncontained possesses the potentiality of turning to someone else to have his or her “own complexities answered.”

Jung in his essay, Marriage as a Psychological Relationship, states that “the one who is contained feels himself to be living entirely within the confines of his marriage; his attitude to the marriage partner is undivided; outside the marriage there exist no essential obligations and no binding interests.”

The situation for the “container” is more problematical, but also more interesting. If the union is not destroyed the “container” is forced to “contain” himself, which ultimately is the preferred position.

Although Salmacis is contained she has not disappeared. She still mediates the masculinity of Hermaphroditus.

In the future Hermaphroditus will activate the anima or the animus in men and women and thereby demonstrate his inherent bisexuality.

Ursula K. LeGuin played with this concept and myth beautifully in her science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, where the Gethenians are monosexual, undergoing a kind of estrus or heat once a month and where they morph into female or male depending upon the sex of the other.

And, probably most importantly, Plato, in his Symposium, relates a creation myth, where man was once a perfect being, a round creature that contained both male and female organs, rolling on the earth in happiness and contentment.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Salmacis and the Animus

Last week I discussed the myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus and I promised more discussion of the naiad.

Naiad is another word for nymph and we learned in an earlier posting that a nymph was a female divinity that inhabited and expressed different aspects of nature.

Salmacis is associated with one particular fountain. We learn from Ovid that she is unique because she is “the only naiad that does not follow behind Diana’s train.” The other nymphs implore her to “take now hunting spear or painted quiver, and vary your ease with the hardships of the hunt.” She, however, refuses to hunt. Instead, she lies around the pool, where “she bathes her shapely limbs in her own pool; often combs her hair with a boxwood comb, often looks in the mirror-like waters to see what best becomes her.” (Ovid, Metamorposes, trans. F.J. Miller (Loeb Library, Heinemann: London, 1916).

Salmacis is vain and self-absorbed. When she sees the fifteen-year-old Hermaphroditus, Ovid writes that she “longed to possess what she saw.”

She does not really see the boy; instead, she confuses his beauty with the reflection of her own face in the pool.

In Jungian terms, she has mistaken her own animus, her internal male, as the boy. Her internal male resides in her psyche but because of a lack of consciousness she looks outside herself to find her animus. She anthropomorphizes her internal attributes onto the other.

Salmacis has to retire and calm down before she is able to approach the boy.

Remember she has not yet spoken to Hermaphroditus, she has simply seen him. The French call this experience a coup de foudre, a mad love that strikes us and controls us.

When she finally is ready to talk to him, she says: O god, thou must be Cupid; or, thou art mortal, fortunate indeed they who gave thee birth.”

She wants to hug and kiss him but he pushes her away. She moves away and hides. With her gone, he is drawn to the water, removes his clothes and then dives in. She, watching, is ”as one spell-bound, and her love kindled as she gazed at the naked form.”

She is so overcome with love or desire that she rushes toward him and “holds him fast.” She desires to become one with the boy and the gods grant her wish.

Her love or desire transforms them: “they were no longer two, nor such as be called, one, woman, and one, man.”

What are we to make of this union? The Greeks and Ovid obviously are not repulsed by the image. Instead, something new is created by the amalgamation. When the two elements, male and female join, they mediate one another and form something different and unique.

When Hermaphroditus prays to his parents he asks that "whoever comes into this pool as man may he go forth half man, and may he weaken at the touch of the water.”

Rafael Lopez-Pedraza writes of the legend: “When the Hermaphrodite appears in psychotherapy, it is accompanied by a feeling of weakness in opposition to the illusion of strength of the male and female polarities, with the ingredient of ‘machismus’ they carry.” (Hermes and his Children, Daimon Verlag, 2003.)

On a symbolic level, the marriage of the two “polarities” takes place in the “uncanny pool,” in the unconscious mind. The union begun in weakness mediates the two polarities to create a new being.

On another level, how many times have men and women played out the coup de foudre, only to be repulsed and rejected. In those instances, the love or desire often turns violent and angry or corrosive and subversive.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hermaphroditus and the Anima

Knowledge of the gods presents us with a vocabulary and rhetoric to discuss human behavior or psychology.

Yesterday, I told the story of Hermaphroditus; however, because I chose to enter the story through D.H. Lawrence’s novel Women in Love, we saw the corrosive effect of Salmacis’s behavior because that is the lens that Lawrence provides us. Lawrence constantly struggled against the female and his battle was always a variation of the dynamics that existed in his relationship with his mother.

The fact of the matter is that the literary Lawrence, like Hermaphroditus, is a “weakened” man. Ironically, this so-called weakness was really the source of his strength as a novelist and as a psychologist.

In Jungian terms, his struggle was against his anima, which he tended to throw out or project upon the women with whom he involved himself.

Jung defined the anima as the feminine archetype, which was differentiated from animus, the masculine archetype. In his early writing he delineated the anima as the feminine aspect in man and postulated that the anima was “that aspect of one’s psyche in intimate association with one’s unconscious” (Dictionary of Psychology, Arthur S. Reber, Penguin 1995).

Jung explained the concept of the anima in an article entitled “Marriage as a Psychological Relationship” (1925):

Every man carries within him the eternal image of woman, not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definite feminine image. This image is fundamentally unconscious, an hereditary factor of primordial origin engraved in the living organic system of the man, an imprint or 'archetype" of all the ancestral experiences of the female, a deposit, as it were, of all the impressions ever made by woman-in short, an inherited system of psychic adaptation. Even if no women existed, it would still be possible, at any given time, to deduce from this unconscious image exactly how a woman would have to be constituted psychically. The same is true of the woman: she too has her inborn image of man. Actually, we know from experience that it would be more accurate to describe it as an image of men, whereas in the case of the man it is rather the image of woman. Since this image is unconscious, it is always unconsciously projected upon the person of the beloved, and is one of the chief reasons for passionate attraction or aversion. I have called this image the "anima."

In our discussion of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, I believe that a fruitful examination of the myth would be to turn the Lawrencian lens away from Salmacis' corrosive will and instead focus upon her complex. In other words, what can we learn about human psychology by developing Salmacis into a full fledged being.

Rather, than viewing her as a stereotypical devouring female predator, let’s look at her actions and her motivations.

By pursuing Salmacis in a future post we may be able to locate her feminine traits in all of us and devise a rhetoric to describe this trait.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Women in Love

In 1974, I took a graduate seminar on the works of D. H. Lawrence. I believed at that time and I still do that Women in Love is Lawrence’s greatest novel.

Recently, during my meditation on Hermes, I remembered the novel and returned to it. Where is Hermes in the Lawrence text, where is he hiding? His son Pan is obviously there running amuck but who else is there.

Then I remembered the scene of the party at the pond after the marriage of Gerald’s sister and her subsequent drowning.

In the novel Gerald’s sister and her husband decide to go swimming in the pond after dark. In the dark waters, she panics and grabs hold of her husband pulling them both under.

When they drain the pond to find their bodies, they discover her wrapped tightly around her husband, pinning his arms, causing him and her both to drown.

The outline of this scene complies almost exactly with the myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, trans. F.J. Miller (Loeb Library, Heinemann: London 1916).

Salmacis, a naiad, possesses a fountain that was in ill repute “because its waters enervate, and renders soft and weak all men that bathe there.”

Hermaphroditus, Hermes’ son, arrives at the pool and when he gazes into the water, it appears clear and clean all the way to the bottom.

Salmacis lies wrapped in a transparent robe in the grasses on the bank of her pool. She spies the young man and is immediately smitten and longs to possess him.

Salmacis tries to seduce the young boy but he does not surrender to her stratagems. She pretends to depart. Thinking that she is gone, he dives naked into the pool. Whereupon she cries, “I win and he is mine.” She wraps her arms and legs around him and “embraces him on every side.”

The boy struggles against her but she is too strong and the cursed waters are draining him of his strength.

Then Salmacis prays to the gods: “Grant me this, ye gods, and may no day ever come that shall separate him from me or me from him.”

Ovid then writes: “The gods heard her prayer. For the two bodies, joined together as they were, were merged in one, with one face and form for both.”

This myth in the hands of Lawrence illustrates the corrosive will of woman who symbolically drowns man. However, in Ovid, the myth is less dangerous, less repulsive and the union of the male and female is therapeutic and life generating.

In the Greek myth the hermaphrodite illustrates a completion, a unity. In Alchemy, the hermaphrodite represents the “chemical wedding of Sol and Luna, sun and moon, king and queen.” (A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Lyndy Abraham, Cambridge University Press, 2005)

In Lawrence’s modernist novel, the hermaphroditic images call forth repulsion and a fear of drowning. There is no submission or incorporation of the two sides into one psyche because the male fights the female to the death.

In the myth, Hermaphroditus succumbs and is weakened; however, from this weakness comes wisdom. The male element is mediated against the female and a blending occurs. In the modern’s mind, this is repulsive and an abomination; however, to the Greek it adds two perspectives-a marriage of two powers-an integration of male and female energies.

When Hermaphroditus realizes what he has become, he prays to his mother and father: “Oh grant this boon, my mother and father, to your son who bears the name of both: whoever comes into this pool as man may he go forth half-man, and may he weaken at the touch of the water.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sam Shepard, Paul Celan and the Disconnected Soul

Last week I discussed the new Wim Wenders film, Don’t Come Knocking, and in my discussion I talked about Howard Spence’s appearing in Butte Montana after many years, unaware of the passage of time, hoping or perhaps really only fantasizing that he could pick up the thread of time at the moment he dropped it.

I told a friend that Howard Spence was like Rip van Winkle. Thirty years before, he fell asleep and then awoke when he was sixty ready to live his life.

Perhaps the character, Howard Spence, resonates for me because I often have the impression that I have been asleep most of my life. Sometimes I walk through my home and wonder how I came to be there. Who paid for it? How did such a kid as I do it. But the truth is, I am not a kid. I paid for the house while I was sleepwalking through life.

As I was thinking about Howard Spence and his plight I remembered a poem by Paul Celan, entitled “Es war Erde in ihnen,” which appeared in his collection Die Niemandsrose (1963).

Jerry Glenn in his work Paul Celan, Twayne Publishers, Inc. New York 1973, writes that the collection marks “a return to Judaism.” He goes on to say that from 1948 to 1959, Celan attempted through his collections of poetry from Von Schwelle zu Schwelle to Sprachgitter “to leave behind the traditions of his Jewish heritage” (ibid. p. 111). However, in Die Niemandrose he picks up the thread by referring back through images and themes to his most famous poem Todesfuge.

There is an obvious reference in the poem to the Holocaust; however, I believe that the poem transcends the historical tragedy and looks forward to a more universal theme.

The poem could be simply Celan connecting with his heritage and with his parents who died ; however, although I see that message in the poem I also believe the poem is talking about mankind’s struggle to connect.

In a previous post, I discussed a Celan poem, where the “Ich” tried to crawl through the darkness to the “Du”. In this poem, we have the “Ich” trying to “dig” through the earth to the “Du”.

As the last two lines state: “O du gräbst und ich grab, und ich grab mich dir zu, und am Finger erwacht uns der Ring.” (Oh you dig and I dig, and I dig toward you, and on the Finger the ring awakens us.)

I believe the poem illustrates the actual existential purpose of life, a struggle toward connection. The struggle can be described as a movement between a man and woman, between man and God, between the Ego with the Self, or between man's acceptance of both life and death.

No matter the interpretation, the work is hard-it is like digging- and it is peculiarly a human task, which the first line illustrates by alluding to the Hebrew Creation myth in Genesis. “Er war Erde in ihnen.” (There was earth in them.)

We are made out of clay. We shall return to the earth from whence we came.

In the poem, they dig and dig in this earth that is in them and through the digging they reach a marriage announced by the ring with the other. Through their labor they reach a connection of some sort.

The poem seems to be an expression of a type of Lebensphilosophie. Man is alone to struggle through hard work toward the goal of connection.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I have been working on a long poem about Marsyas and the great goat god-Pan.

Pan is the son of Hermes and I have been thinking about this god for a long time.

Recently, my mother sent me a large notebook that I left at her home in 1972. The notebook is full of poems, stories, and essays that I wrote between the ages of seventeen and twenty.

Within this collection of very embarrassing juvenilia is a series of poems about Pan.

In the poems Pan visits me and becomes my guide. It was obvious that he was a counter balance to the Christian Fundamentalism of my family. At the time I was considering entering the seminary.

Pan was the perfect guide to a young man, who feared he was about to be drafted at any moment and sent to Vietnam. Pan is the god of panic and brutish sexuality. For centuries he has stood as God’s shadow in his Christian form- Satan.

At that time, in the late sixties, I needed to reach a balance; I needed something that offset the repression of our church and the demands of my body. Pan was a sensualist and a perfect image for what I was looking for-compensation and attachment to the physical world.

Pan is Hermes’ son and Hermes as we have seen is not afraid of his more sensual side. Hermes is not a god of repression; he is a messenger and a connector. His son is an extension of the earthy side of the god, a representation of the god’s carnal propensities, and an inhabitant of the forest and the glens.

The story of Pan is set forth succinctly in The Homeric Hymns, translated by Jules Cashford, Penguin Books, 2003.

The mythologem begins with Hermes providing service to a human, a mortal man, a shepherd, because he has fallen in love with” the nymph with the beautiful hair, daughter of Dryops.”

The nymph gives birth to Pan, “who from the first was marvelous to look upon with goat’s feet and two horns, loving noise and laughing sweetly.”

The gods love this child but the human mother is terrified. As soon as she caught sight of his harsh face and his thick beard she was terrified and left the child alone.

The human abhors the animal. The god embodies both sides of man-his rational human side as well as his animal, irrational side. The gods love the creature and think he is beautiful, horns and all.

My poem on Marsyas is eight hundred lines. I am including the first four stanzas.

Marsyas, virtuoso of the twin flute,
Cybele’s invention, carved from the shins
Of Artemis’ sacred stag, by Hyagnis,
Dances within a ripe green circumference
A jig with Silenoi, round and round
In a frenetic gyre, and awaits his god
To release the Sylvans from their pale fire
Of ruddy greed and un-sated desire.

Pan, horned god, whose features are so horrid,
That the young midwives flee his countenance
Crawls from a distant cave, on a high ledge,
Above the snow line, overlooking
A clearing in the resinous Grecian pines,
Where in the center burns a merry fire
And Sylvan folk dance to pipe and stringed lyre.

Pan squints hooded eyes and sniffs the frosted air
And catches the musk of the rough sylvan folk and
Detects the blond curly nymphs, the red curled fur
Of the Silenoi, northern tribe of goat
Men, who dance on their hinds, tripping on hoofs,
Of cloven leather, wood nymphs, with pointed ears,
And musicians playing sweet notes from flute,
The many reeded Syrinx, and the charmed lute.

Pan, the son of Hermes, gods’ messenger,
Gazes down upon the forest revelers
And steels himself for the task before him
To descend the mountain high, to relieve
The tension of the pagan ritual down below,
To find the vaunted maestro of the glade
To guide him to the magic flute soon lost
And to his death where wyrd will dissect cost.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Prelapsarian Visions in C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet

I finished C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, Scribner 2003, over the weekend.

I read the novel for the first time in 1977, when I was a research fellow at the University of Chicago. I was quite taken with the book at that time and I liked it even more this time.

One of the things that impressed me was its unity of plot and tone. As I said in an earlier posting, I was disturbed by the breach in tone and unity in Prince Caspian. I did not have that problem here.

Lewis works with the “medieval concept of the planets as containing or embodying some reflection of the classical deities-Intelligences or tutelary spirits-the mythological-cum-astrological personifications of Saturn and Jupiter, of Mars, Venus and Mercury about which [he] was lecturing in the ‘Prolegomena to the study of Medieval Literature.’” (C.S. Lewis: The Authorized and Revised Biography, Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper, Harper Collins, 2002)

Lewis stated that his purpose in writing the book was to create myth and his donnée in Jamesian terms was to create a world where he explains the fall of man on earth by discussing a planet where the creatures have not fallen.

He writes in his essay “The Seeing Eye” in Christian Reflections, (ed. Walter Hooper, Fount 1998) that

“I observe how the white man has hitherto treated the black, and how, even among civilized men, the stronger have treated the weaker. If we encounter in the depth of space a race, however, innocent and amiable, which is technologically weaker than ourselves, I do not doubt that the same revolting story will be repeated . . . .It was in part these reflections that first moved me to make my own small contributions to science fiction.”

In the novel, two men kidnap Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist of Cambridge University, and take him to the planet Malacandra to be sacrificed by creatures of the planet called sorns.

Once on the planet Ransom escapes and hides among the hrossa, gentle creatures that live a pre-fall existence.

I was quite struck by the fact that Lewis remains consistent with the agrarian vegetarian lifestyle of Adam before his expulsion from the Garden.

The creatures of Malacandra do not sow or hunt; instead, the planet provides them food. Even the grass they walk upon is edible. This world is consistent with Eden.

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Genesis 1:28.

“Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Genesis 1:29.

Into this world of peace and innocence come the three earthlings looking for gold and Lebensraum for the human race. With them they bring their greed and their fallen-ness.

Perhaps, the most poignant section of the novel is the murder of Ransom’s friend and guide, Hyoi, by Weston and Devine. Man brings death and destruction with him, the mark of Cain.

The result is that the three are cast out of the edenic planet and sent back to earth.

Friday, March 17, 2006

"Don't Come Knocking" by Wim Wenders

Last night I attended the Dallas premiere of Don’t Come Knocking, directed by Wim Wenders and written by Sam Shepard. Wim Wenders was in attendance and this was primarily why I went.

I hate premieres because you stand in line with a bunch of people who are interested only in the free tickets and know nothing about the film, the director, or the writer.

As I waited patiently to get in, I listened to all kinds of misinformation being disseminated by my fellow theatergoers about Wim Wenders.

Those who actually knew who he was were there because of Paris, Texas, a film that was as much Shepard’s as Wenders.

I liked Paris, Texas but it isn’t my favorite Wenders’ film.

The first film that I saw by him and one of my favorites is Alice in den Städten (1974).

Interestingly enough Alice and Don’t Come Knocking share many common themes.

In Alice Phil Winter, a journalist, travels across America recording the sights and sounds of the country. On his way back to Germany he meets Elisabeth Kreuzer and her daughter, Alice, and they share a hotel room. In the morning, Elisabeth is gone and Phil is left with the child. Phil agrees to take Alice to her grandmother’s house in Germany. The problem is that Alice doesn’t remember exactly where her grandmother lives. The two displaced people travel across the world to find a home. In the process, the disconnected Phil assumes the role of father and becomes connected.

In Don’t Come Knocking, Howard Spence, played by Sam Shepard, an aging western movie star, flees the set of his latest film in an attempt to escape one more time. The insurers set a private detective, Sutter, played by Tim Roth, on his trail.

Howard is disconnected from himself and from time. When he arrives at his Mother’s home he picks up the thread of time where he left it. He wears his father’s clothes and drives his vintage fifties automobile to Butte Montana, where we learn he fathered not one but two children with two different women.

Note that this motif was used in Until in the End of the World, where Rüdiger Vogler, who once again plays Phil Winters, follows Claire Tourneur and Sam Farber on their journey to Farber’s mother. Through the journey home, the protagonist finds himself.

Howard has been sleepwalking for years, like Travis in Paris, Texas. Both men, Travis and Howard, resemble Odysseus; however, unlike Odysseus, Howard’s Penelope, Doreen, has not remained faithful nor does she want him.

He does, however, act as a catalyst that unites his children, who at the end of the film set off on their own journey.

Sutter takes Howard back to the shoot, where he finds a home at last in his work.

I heard several comments afterwards that the film did not seem realistic. This comment is accurate. However, I don’t believe that either Wenders or Shepard meant the story to be realistic; instead, it is supposed to be mythic and comic. It is comic because Howard is not ultimately tragic. Instead, he acts as a connecter, as a catalyst, reuniting the threads of time that he unraveled when he “disappeared himself.” He reappears and becomes conscious, accepting the structure of making films, making art.

After the film, Wim Wenders very patiently answered the audience’s questions. He is a soft spoken, intelligent man, who told us that he read Huckleberry Finn when he was six years old, that Karl May’s novels engendered his love of the American west, that one of his uncles flew with Baron von Richthofen, and that Red Harvest by Dashiel Hammet is one of his favorite novels.

I was too shy to ask him a question, but if I had had the courage, I would have asked him about Rilke’s influence on his best film Wings of Desire and does he really believe in angels.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Rafael Lopez-Pedraza, in his brilliant work Hermes and His Children, Daimon Verlag 2003, repeatedly mines nuggets of insight.

One nugget that I was particularly taken with was his observation that “out of pondering upon his [Hermes] crafty nature came his desire to taste flesh, as if the two had a deep and primordial connection. The myth points to a past in the origin of mankind, a past of primal concern to modern scholarship which has given great attention to the search for food and the killing of animals with man’s invention of the wooden spear, hardened in fire.”

Once Hermes is connected to the most primal of complexes, the desire to taste flesh, his role in our psychical development becomes clearer, deeper, and more profound.

On a literal level, a meditation on Hermes might lead us to an understanding of eating disorders, kleptomania, and cultural anxiety. On a metaphoric level, it illuminates certain aspects of religion and the role of ritual sacrifice and eating. And, on a political level, the myth provides a vocabulary to describe current American politics and a solution to our most titanic impulses.

Once we begin this meditation, we are, however, immediately confronted with another mythological character, a Titan, Prometheus, who is also a thief. Both Prometheus and Hermes deal with fire, a symbol of technological progress. Without fire, Hermes could not have made his fire hardened sticks nor burned the cattle for the sacrifice of the gods. Prometheus, however, stole that fire and its use and gave it to man in opposition to the gods.

Hermes mediates his thievery through sacrifice and creation, while Prometheus steals for power. Both gods demonstrate man’s role on the earth after the fall; however, they present two different responses to the fall. Prometheus would have joined the workers at the tower of Babel. Hermes would not. Prometheus would use the earth up in his desire for progress and excess, Hermes would not.

Hermes seems to be in eclipse while Prometheus has been freed from the rock to roam the earth and steal its riches without sacrifice.

Titanic impulses seem to rule modern life. Hermes offers a counter balance to the titanic impulse for excess.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

St. George’s Dragon

When food is plentiful some nonmammalian species employ parthenogenesis to reproduce because it is quicker and it allows the species to take advantage of the available resources.

-Georg Löwe

Her yellow eyes shine in the shadows of a summer night under the Pont St.-Louis, the short bridge connecting the Ile de la Cité with the Ile St-Louis. She listens to the rumble of the machines that cross the bridge.

At dusk bats fall from the bridge’s supports and fly off into the night. Her stomach rumbles from hunger, as she watches the bats disappear into the city.

Her leather wings held tightly against her body twitch and for a moment she almost flies up with the bats into the darkening sky to hunt but instead she sinks beneath the water as a bateau mouche passes overhead, its props churning the water and its engines spewing gas and oil.

When she re-surfaces her nostrils flare, filled with the smells of the boat and the odor of food.

She hears voices across the water and the rumble of the engine and she imagines flying up and snatching some food from the boat so fast that no one notices.

She thinks of it often now, flying up above the city, snaring her prey where she finds it rather than stalking cats and rats in the sewers or waiting in the water, hoping that something edible falls nearby.

As the sun disappears she floats away from the shadows to the shore where prey walks along the edge. There is so much food here, she thinks, it would be so easy but then she becomes fearful, afraid of their numbers.

She tried it once before and they attacked her and hurt her and since then she has been careful. But she was younger then, smaller, and her wings were barely developed. Now, her wings are wider than her length and she flies.

She flies on dark nights and each time her wings grow stronger.

The night darkens as rain clouds gather over the city.

Encouraged by the threatening storm, she floats with the current away from her nest under the Ile de la Citè and the shadows beneath the bridge.

Drops of rain splatter on the water and she squints to see the banks of the river.

It is dark enough to fly, she thinks, so she spreads her wings over the water and beats them against the air and they fill with air. She rises higher and higher into the night sky and circles first Notre Dame Cathedral and then the island and each bank of the Seine.

On the left bank a murder of crows rise from a park where they roost and chase her away.

With each circle she widens her gyre and soon she is two thousand feet above the city.

In a moment of sheer pleasure she snorts a blaze of fire across the sky, forgetting the creatures below. She dives and circles and climbs, playing among the rain clouds.

Later, the rain stops and she spies in a wood far from her nest, prey standing in a circle of light, while others pass slowly, yelling. She glides over the scene and detects two of the creatures separating from the others and entering the dark woods.

She makes another pass, lower this time, following the two into the woods until they reach a small clearing, where they lie down onto the ground.

She makes another pass, lower than before, her wings beating just beyond the tops of the trees. Her heart thumps, as she anticipates the attack and capture, and her stomach churns and juices roil in her mouth.

She makes one final pass and then hovers above the couple and spews two bolts of fire, burning them black. She descends and takes the smaller one in her rear claw and flies up into the darkening sky. The other one, though burned, moans and she turns and sprays another flare of flame across him. He sizzles and rolls over the grass of the clearing setting it aflame.

When she reaches the island she closes her wings, moves her prey to her front claws so she can use her tail and legs to swim, and dives into the water.

The entrance to her nest lies deep beneath the ground in a basement of a ruin that time buried beneath the Cathedral.

She slithers up the slippery walls of the tunnel until she reaches her dank and dark nest.
She drops her food in a corner and circles her space, sniffing it, making sure that it is still safe before returning to the food.

The food is not charred enough so she sprays it again and her flames illuminate the walls of the cave, revealing ancient, sacred paintings made by creatures of another age.

She rips the charred flesh from the bone and utters a moan of satisfaction, as she eats her fill, leaving only stray bones with bits of flesh attached, scattered around the tiled floor.

Satiated, she settles onto the pile of detritus that she dragged from the river and rolls herself into a ball, her leathery tail near her mouth. As she closes her eyes, she hears rats and mice squeak, as they rummage through her nest, searching for scraps.

The next day she emits a low flame that illuminates the lair and finds the remaining bits and pieces of food. In her search she catches two rats that she also eats.

She sleeps throughout the day and at dusk slides down the tunnel into the water and takes up her place beneath the bridge to await the dark.

She will fly again tonight, she thinks, because the hunt is easy and the creatures tasty.

Later, she returns to the woods but no one stands beneath the light. She is disappointed but she smells them everywhere below her. It is just a matter of picking one.

Along the banks of the river several miles away, she spies one of the creatures walking with a smaller one with four legs. She passes quietly overhead using the wind’s currents to glide silently along the bank of the Seine. She then ascends and turns back toward her prey. As she draws closer she opens her snout and belches out a great flame and the two creatures fall to the ground, shriveling under her breath.

She circles back and grabs them in her claws and lifts them easily into the air.
Her heart sings with the excitement of the kill and she feels her fear of the creatures fading with each beat of her wings.

As the weeks pass, she discovers that the creatures so plentiful at first are now more difficult to find. Sometimes she flies for hours before she makes a kill. The creatures are there, below her, hidden in their nests but they hide from her and she is not brave enough to drag them out.
She returns to her lair hungry and confused.

The next night she flies south over the buildings and then beyond the boundaries of her hunting grounds. She has never flown this far from her nest before.

At midnight many miles away from the city she discovers hundreds of creatures in a great flat field. They are larger than the others and their smell is different but she recognizes them as food.

She swoops over them and they begin to run in unison away from her but she soon picks out a smaller one and falls upon it. One strong blast and it dies.

It is too heavy for her to take back to her lair so she eats a quarter of it in the field and then rips it in two and carries half to her nest.

This hunt was the most successful that she has had but when she reaches her lair she discovers that she is so bloated from her feast that she cannot enter the tunnel that leads to her nest.
She had noticed that it was becoming difficult to get in and out but now she has outgrown her lair.

She tries several times to enter but she is unable to put more than her head and neck into the tunnel.

She spends the day submerged beneath the bridge with only her eyes and nostrils above the water.

At dusk, she is miserable. She has not slept, she has lost the meat to the current of the Seine, and she no longer has a nest.

At dusk she flies above the city before turning south. She passes the field where she had fed the night before but flies on until she reaches a range of dark mountains. The mountains remind her of home and she feels safe flying among their high peaks. She decides to find a place to build a nest.
She turns toward the west and at dawn she finds at the top of the highest black mountain a cave with an entrance big enough for her.

She is exhausted when she crawls through the opening into a dry cavern. She sniffs and except for a musky smell she detects nothing.

She curls up on the cold stone floor and drops into a deep sleep.

She sleeps for two days and two nights and when she awakes, her belly, though rumbling from hunger, is swollen.

She stands, stretches, yawns, and extends her wings, then moves to the entrance, sniffs the air and detects the scent of the larger creatures to the south.

Within an hour she returns to the cave with half a carcass.

This hunt inaugurates a new phase. She sleeps most of the time now, just leaving the cave to feed. She is rarely hungry because the game is plentiful but she is tired and sleepy.

In the fall, snow falls heavily onto the black mountain and she sleeps even more. On a dark cold night in December, she wakes with a pain in her stomach that lasts for several hours. The pain is so bad that she rolls on the floor and bites her tail trying to escape the villain that attacks her. At dawn, her body jerks and cramps and she produces seven multi-colored eggs, which she deposits in a neat circle in her nest made of branches of pine and fir.

After the birthing the pain subsides and she wraps her body around the eggs and falls asleep exhausted.

The next night she is her old self. She hunts through the night and returns with half of a carcass.

On a spring day, she moves ponderously around the cavern. The seven eggs glow and are warm to the touch, the outlines of the baby dragons visible through the leathery skin of the eggs.
From time to time the babies belch flames within the eggs and she smells their sulfurous odor and feels content.

That night she makes three kills and brings the food to the cave. At dawn, the dragon in the yellow egg breaks through the skin of the egg with a squeak and a belch of fire.
She burns a piece of the meat a dark black and places it front of the wobbly lizard that sniffs the meat before nibbling a tiny piece.

By midday all seven eggs crack open and the tiny lizards creak and croak and dance around the cavern. She feeds them and then she rolls into a ball with her tail in her mouth as the seven push against her great heart.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

As we have seen Hermes, on his first day, on his birthday, demonstrated that he was a sly thief, when he stole Apollo’s cattle.

However, his theft is a means to an end, as he tells his mother: “No! I’m going to discover an art-the best there is-and so I’ll be able to feed myself and you forever.”

Once he steals the cattle, he cuts two out of the herd of fifty and sacrifices them to the twelve gods. Hermes is hungry and his mouth waters for the flesh of the cows but he takes not one bite. He honors the gods with his sacrifice.

Hermes does not steal the cows because he is hungry. His thievery, as he tells his mother, has a greater purpose: “We’re not going to stay here as you insist, the only two among the immortal gods without any gifts or any prayers.”

On the first day of his birth, Hermes invents the lyre, fire and fire sticks, sacrifices to the gods, challenges his brother Apollo, and takes charge of his as well as his mother’s life.

Hermes reminds me of a young immigrant who comes to America, looks around and decides that he is going to make a way for himself in this brave new world. He is full of bravado, intelligence and guts. However, as he progresses he sacrifices to the gods, he takes nothing for himself but he brings luck to those around him.

His energy and strength, plus his intelligence and drive bring a positive energy to those things he touches. He casts off sparks as he moves through the world and he impresses Zeus, his father, with his denials and subterfuge. However, the wily and intelligent Apollo, who is determined to have the truth from his younger brother, catches him.

Hermes escapes only when he plays music on the lyre. Through his art he is redeemed.

Monday, March 13, 2006

C. S. Lewis' "Prince Caspian"

I read C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian over the weekend and was somewhat stunned to see the god Bacchus and Silenus taking part in the narrative.

I am convinced that Lewis had a purpose in introducing the Greek god. But the strength of the god is such that I stopped reading immediately when he appeared. I had to discover what purpose he served in the narrative before I could continue.

Dionysus is no benign god. He is the twice born god, who demonstrates a myriad of conflicting characteristics. He has been perceived as both man and animal, male and female, masculine and effeminate, young and old, but, first and foremost, he is the god of wine and intoxication.

Lewis wrote that Narnia was a world where man has not fallen, a world where animals speak and trees dance and move. Therefore, I suspect that his meaning is that in such a world Bacchus or Dionysus would be associated with the divine daemonic force, which aids Aslan, rather than stands in Nietzschean opposition.

However, for me, the god’s psychological presence is so powerful that his appearance in Narnia is disturbing and breaks the spell of the narrative.

Tolkien felt that the use of discordant entities, like Bacchus and Silenus, in the Narnia stories prevented the willing suspension of disbelief and distracted from the myth making. I agree with him.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Rilke's First Sonnet to Orpheus and St. Thomas Aquinas

In my entry on March 3, I discussed Rilke’s first sonnet to Orpheus.

In the second line of the first stanza, Rilke writes: O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr!. O Orpheus sing! O high tree in the ear!

In the second Sonnet, Rilke writes in the first stanza,

Und fast ein Mädchen wars und ging hervor
Aus diesem einigen Gluck von Sang und Leier,
Und glänzte klar durch ihre Fruhlingsschleier
Und machte sich ein Bett in meinem Ohr.

And almost a girl she emerged
From this united joy of song and lyre
And clearly shining through her spring mist
And made herself a bed in my ear.

The images emerging from the song and lyre take shape and reside in the ear of the “Ich” or the “I” of the poem.

The images from the Invisible become visible through the interaction of sound and the receptor of the sound the ear.

The images from the unconscious become visible and real, knowable and understandable through hearing and harkening.

Where is this concept coming from? I postulate that it comes from both the religious imagery of the Greeks and medieval Christian imagery. In particular, I believe that the imagery can be traced first to the Annunciation, set forth at Luke 1:26-38, and second to the medieval Christian belief that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary through the ear via sound or words-logos.

The earliest representation of this style of verbal impregnation is a 12th century icon, housed in the Tret’yakov gallery in Moscow. In this icon the angel speaks to Mary and the Christ Child appears in her belly.

In the sonnets Orpheus sings and the images appear and impregnate the ear. Images become subtle and solid.

In the work, the Aurora Consurgens, attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, he writes in the sixth parable: “Thou art she who will enter my ear, who will enter my body, and who will clothe me with a purple robe, and then I shall come forth like a bridegroom, for thou willt decorate me with gems and stones and clothe me with the garment of happiness.”

For Rilke, the image of the girl, his representation of his feminine self, which he aligns with the dead girl, creates the world-makes visible- through her sleep in his ear.

In the third stanza he writes: Sie schlief die Welt. She sleeps the world.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


In the sienna clay,
Slippery and eroded
Into a trough,
By water, fly green,
Metallic, like gunmetal,
Bitter on the tongue,
Sharp as saltpeter,
From a shell spent,
Ejected, its hot copper casing,
With a splash and sizzle,
Seeping into the Gulf.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I am currently writing a fantasy novel, entitled The Hidden People, which is a reference to the Huldufolk, the hidden people of Iceland and the Keltoi, the Celts of France. In the novel the hidden people come to the aid of a Parisian policeman, who specializes in solving serial killings. We learn quickly that the murderer is a young dragon rather than a human.

Dragons often appear in dreams and that is the genesis of my dragon. On August 22, 2003, I had the following dream.

“I am in a castle, perched on the side of a mountain, facing east. Flying dragons besiege the castle. A female companion and I move throughout the castle checking the defenses. We discover that a ventilation opening has been breached and we fear sabotage. Blood is everywhere so we follow the spore and, eventually, we find a dead dragon. Someone has torn the dragon to pieces. We decide to check our escape routes to make sure they are safe. The escape tunnels are locked and we need a code to open the hatches. We open the hatch and descend into a large storage room. There are additional hatches in the floor of the storage room. Another dragon enters the storage area and we escape through the floor into yet another chamber.”

Since that dream the dragons have stayed with me.

As I was researching Hermes, I discovered that the dragon is also an alchemical figure.

At the beginning of the alchemical process the alchemist must obtain two seeds that are used to create the philosopher’s stone.

Nicholas Flamel, the alchemist made famous in Harry Potter, wrote “Looke well upon these two dragons, for they are the true principles or beginnings of this Phylosophy. . .The first is called Sulphur, or heat and driness, and the later Argent-vive, or cold, and moisture. These are the Sunne and Moone of the mercurial source.”

The two dragons must die to create the dragon’s blood, which is necessary for the philosopher’s stone. The entities that kill the dragons are anima (soul) and spiritus.

Once they are dead the dragon seeds must be joined and the one to do that is our friend Hermes in the guise of Mercurius. As Flamel writes, “the two separated seeds must be united by means of Mercurius. . . .”

The dragons appear at the beginning of change, during the negrido, or in Jungian terms, at the beginning of individuation.

In my dream the female companion is the anima, the feminine aspect of my psyche. The anima here is acting as a companion and a guide pushing me downward into the earth, into the shadowy caves. In 2003, I was running from the dragon. Now I am chasing it. Running away into the darkness is not a solution. The dragon must be confronted and a question asked: why are you here and what do you want?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

In a previous entry I discussed Rilke’s first paragraph in his first sonnet to Orpheus. We also discussed his mission of making the Invisible visible.

Hermes is the guide of the souls and Rilke brings Hermes and Orpheus together in his poem Orpheus.Eurydice.Hermes.

What I want to touch upon today is Rilke’s concept of the Invisible, which I believe is simply a metaphor for the collective unconscious.

The players in this imagery are souls, gods, angels, animals, and humans. In the poem Orpheus.Eurydice.Hermes, Rilke describes his vision of the world of the dead brought to life through the imagination of Orpheus. Therefore, in this poem Orpheus makes the Invisible visible for us for a moment through his love and lament for his wife Eurydice.

“Das war der Seelen wunderliches Bergwerk.” There was the wonderful mine of the Souls.

Rilke, like Celan and the Homeric Hymns, immediately pitches us into the physical, into the world of minerals. Also remember that Orpheus learned the secret of the Mysteries from the Dactyls and their sisters. The men were miners and smiths of iron and the sisters practiced magic.

There is always a connection to the mineral world in these stories of transformation. Hermes is born in the shadowy cave and the underworld is typified as a mine of souls, souls as minerals to be worked. Rilke compares them to silver ore moving through veins in darkness. Imagine it: molten silver following through veins, illuminating the darkness of the underworld with its silver glow. “Wie stille Sibererze gingen sie/als Adern durch sein Dunkel.”

The silver moves through roots as blood and flows to the humans, to the living, to the “bees” that create visible from the invisible. “Zwischen Wurzeln entsprung das Blut, das fortgeht zu den Menschen.

Through the geography of this underworld, only one road runs and on the road comes three figures, Orpheus, the singer, Eurydice, his wife, and Hermes, the guide. Rilke states later in the poem that it was Orpheus' music that created the landscape in which they now walk. From the darkness he caused a world to rise.

He created this world to find her and bring her back but she was not the same. Being dead ripened her and filled her and recreated her. She had fallen back into the unconscious, into the material, and she was no longer concerned with the life of the “bees.”

When Orpheus turns to look to see if she and Hermes are following him, Hermes, the guide, says “Er hat sich ungewendet.” With this infraction to the rules of the underworld, Hermes turns and guides Eurydice back into the darkness.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Today, I want to continue with our meditation on Hermes by focusing on his birth and one of his first day’s activities, the creation of the lyre.

Remember that he emerges from a cave, from darkness, an obvious allusion to the underworld, the situs of his future work.

For us, he is to be known as a psychopomp, a guide of souls. But on his birth date he was “a son who was versatile and full of tricks, a thief, a cattle-rustler, a bringer of dreams, a spy by night, a watcher at the gate.” These are all characteristics that we, as modern men and women, would identify and argue are bad but in the Greek mind, these characteristics were “destined to bring wonderful things to light among the immortal gods.”

And I would argue that they are still things that are useful to us because Hermes is part of us. His image demonstrates an archetype of our unconscious and we need his dark characteristics to grow and progress, to bring us dreams that will initiate us into the drives, ideas and images of the Self.

Since a large portion of the self, the shadow, resides in the unconscious we need a guide and an interpreter and Hermes serves that purpose. Later he will be called an interpreter as well as a guide and be associated with the science of hermeneutics (the science encompassing any interpretive operations).

He was born in a shadowy cave. The cave is a mythologem, a metaphor or a symbol for a type of psychological state. Literature is full of images of a hero entering or emerging from a cave, going down into the underworld, and becoming lost. The cave here represents the earth’s womb and connects him to the natural world.

When he emerges he is his authentic self.

Part of the wonderful things that he accomplishes on his first day is to invent the lyre. “Born at dawn, he played the lyre in the afternoon.”

The invention of the lyre associates him with Apollo and Dionyus, the great musicians of the ancient world. Greeks used to worship the gods and associated the dithyramb with Dionysus and the paean with Apollo.

The lyre and the flute were two instruments used and Apollo appropriates one, the lyre, from Hermes, and the other, the flute from Marsyas. Marsyas is kin to Hermes through his son Pan.

Hermes constructs the lyre from a tortoise’s shell. As Neil Russack states in Animal Guides In Life, Myth and Dreams, Inner City Books 2002, the turtle sometimes represents a life that is contained and protected from the outside world. However, the one-day-old Hermes takes the tortoise and rips it apart to construct the lyre. In psychological terms he takes the contained and protected world of the psyche and rips it apart and rebuilds it to play music-either a paean or a dithyramb-to the gods or the Self.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Rilke's "Sonnets to Orpheus"

On February 2, 1922, Rilke began his Sonnets to Orpheus with the opening salvo- “Da stieg ein Baum.”

I believe that the sonnets were a spontaneous invasion of unconscious content that Rilke, because of his poetic discipline and years of experience, tamed and herded into the corral of the sonnet form.

This incredibly productive period was brought on by the death of a daughter of a friend, a death that, perhaps, provided him with a glimpse of his own mortality.

Rilke wrote, in a letter to Hulewicz, his Polish translator that “we are the bees of the Invisible. We are continually madly plundering the honey of the visible, in order to store it up in the great golden hive of the Invisible.”

In other words, we are the servants of the unconscious, gathering images from our conscious life to return those images to the unconscious that transforms those images into the greater images that flow from the unconscious in the form of archetypes, images and gods.

The unconscious brings us not a real tree but an ideal tree, a mythical tree, a symbolic, transcendent tree. A tree that rises up from the Invisible, the unconscious, becomes conscious.

Da stieg ein Baum. O reine Übersteigung. (There rises a tree. O pure transcending!).

Rilke wrote, once again to his translator, that “the fact that they [the sonnets] arose suddenly in the connection with the premature death of a young girl brings them nearer to their original fountain-head; for this connection is another point of contact with the centre of that kingdom whose depth and influence we share.”

For Rilke, the kingdom is the land of the dead or the land of the Invisible. However, it is a psychological place, a symbolic underworld that a singer such as Rilke can visit and return like Orpheus.

O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr! (O Orpheus sings! O higher tree in the ear!)

Accompanying the emergence of these images and sounds comes silence, a beginning, and transformation.

Und alles schweig. Doch selbst in der Verschweigung. (And all remains quiet. But even in the seclusion)

Ging neuer Anfang, Wink und Wandlung vor. (New beginning, sign, and transformation continued.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hermes and the Shadow

A few days ago I discussed the herm, the pile of stone that became Hermes. Now let’s look at his mythological birth.

Remember that the ancient Greeks threw a stone on the cairn every time they passed. Each stone added to the size and weight of the god and each stone accompanied a thought or a projection onto the cairn that increased the size and real-ness of the spirit that became a god.

Who was this god Hermes? What did he mean to the Greeks? How did they experience him, mold him, develop him, and concretize him?

My sources for the birth is Hesiod’s Theogony, translated by Richard Lattimore, The Michigan University Press 1987 and The Homeric Hymns, translated by Jules Cashford, Penguin Books 2003.

Hermes was the son of Zeus and the nymph, Maia, the daughter of Atlas, the Titan who holds up the world. A nymph is a divinity connected with some aspect of nature. There were water nymphs, mountain nymphs, and tree nymphs.

Maia is named, “the nymph with the beautiful hair,” characterized as shy, and a cave nymph.

Immediately, through the description of the mother and her father we are drawn to the stone, to the mountain, to the earth and the physical universe. This early characteristic will further support the connection between the pile of stones at Hermes’ beginning and Mercurius and alchemy at the end of our tale.

Zeus, a known letch, enters the “shadowy cave” of Maia and makes love to her while his wife Hera sleeps.

Ten months later Maia emerges from the darkness of the cave and reveals her child, who, we learn, will accomplish “glorious deeds.”

Hermes is a child prodigy. “Born at dawn, he played the lyre in the afternoon and he stole the cattle of Apollo the Archer in the evening.”

Zeus and Maia create in darkness a child that “was destined to bring wonderful things to light among the immortal gods.”

Hermes is the half brother of Apollo, Artemis, and Dionysius and he is connected to them in more ways than ancestry. Immediately, he steals cattle from Apollo and he invents the tortoise shell lyre. The lyre connects him to Apollo, the sun god, as well as the theft of cattle. Hermes is the trickster, while Apollo is the serious one, the god responsible for the initiation of youth into adulthood.

One is the shadow of the other. Hermes is connected to the shadow, to the unconscious. However, he is also the son of Zeus so he will be able to travel between the lit world and the shadows of the other world. He is destined to be the messenger and the guide of souls.

The next time we discuss Hermes I will explore his connection to the archetype of the "eternal child."

Tomorrow, I will discuss a Rilke sonnet and transcendence.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Bats" by Keith Harvey


Under the eave
of the tin
at dusk
away from their warmth
toward earth -


Bois d’arc apples
In autumn.