Alchemy

The Daemon of Carl Jung

In Plato’s Republic(The Myth of Ur), souls cue up to choose their next life and are assigned a daemon – an overseer for that life. In classic astrology, daemon could be determined using one’s natal chart and as the result, it was incumbent upon the individual to establish contact with (or invoke) his or her daemon. In many respects, this was exactly what Jung was doing whilst writing and illustrating the Red Book, which he considered to the ‘prima materia’ for his life’s work.

Daemon can be understood as fate – but not fate in the sense that it comes from outside us. Instead, daemon is our personal unconscious pushing through the creative impulse to encourage us to accomplish that which we are meant to do. Naturally, you may choose to reject or ignore Daemon (or your fate) but there is a price to be paid. Equally, following Daemon (either eagerly or begrudgingly) does not guarantee you an easy ride.

Carl Jung had Aquarius rising. This means that Saturn, the ruler of Aquarius was his daemon, or at least it was in his eyes although not all astrologers (classical or modern) might agree.

When it comes to daemon, it isn’t so much that Saturn the planet was running the show but instead the symbolism surrounding Saturn. According to the 3rd century Neo-Platonist, Iamblichus, symbols are the footprints of the gods, wondrous tokens sent down from above. In this sense, a symbol can never be a man-made design. Symbols pre-exist and hence carry energy that exerts power over us not unlike Jung’s archetypes.

Jung

Jung believed it was vital that he understand his daemon – no, more than that – he was determined to establish a personal relationship with his daemon and it is highly likely this was accomplished through magical ritual.

To that end, the Red Book, Jung communicates with several different Saturnian figures (Elijah, The Old Scholar, The Anchorite, The Librarian, and the Professor) that culminate with Philemon (whose name, Jung always wrote in Greek, most probably for magical reasons).

Several key points are of significant interest regarding these Saturnian figures and as ought to be expected in many respects they are all deeply paradoxical.

  • The Saturnian figures in Red Book are all associated with rocks and stones – imperishable – belonging to and of the earth – present in the beginning of time on earth and presumably present at the end. It is not surprising that this stone/rock motif comes up often in Jung’s writings. He had been fascinated with them since youth.
  • Jung’s Saturnian images are all old men – SENEX – they are also thinkers –seekers of wisdom (as opposed to knowledge). Philosophers. They are magicians, too. This is in keeping with the writings of Marsilio Ficino, a 15thcentury Italian scholar who appears to have heavily influenced Jung’s work.
  • All Jung’s Saturnian images are recluses and sad. These are in keeping with traditional associations with Saturn.
  • Several of Jung’s Saturnian images are associated with religion and more specifically, religious experience. Not all of them are complimentary or supportive of religion. Indeed, Philemon is always shown as lame and this might well be suggesting a connection with the devil. Philemon, after all, did always have a serpent hanging around.
  • Philemon was also connected with Mercury, the hermetic figure and the philosopher stone. Hermes Trismegistus, who controlled both the sun and the moon was semi-divine and he is, in essential ways, very much like Philemon (who was also a magician – possessing his own grimoire). This highlights the importance of the ancient art of alchemy. Saturn is lead, the metal of transformation and redemption.

In The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus, Dr Liz Greene suggests that because Philemon drew together Saturnian ideas and images from a number of ancient disciplines and cosmologies, he allowed Jung to build a workable bridge between the pagan and Christian aspects of his own world view.

Those  of us who are interested in similarly understanding the complexity of our own daemon, or chosen ‘fate’, might be well-advised to perform similar invocations and explorations. Dr Greene reminds us that during that difficult period in Jung’s life, his work with Philemon and predecessors gave Jung a connecting thread of meaning that helped him to understand his situation. Likewise, we may also turn to our daemons for help when things get tough.

Never forget, however, that working with daemons is not for the faint of heart. Jung’s daughter reported that things ‘went bump in the dark’ in the house when Jung was working with Philemon – things that we might well call supernatural.

Religion

Finding the Lost Spirit of Christmas

Traditionally, Boxing Day was the day when those who ‘have’ gave something to those who ‘have not’ – like coins dropped in the special alms box at church or presents given to the servants. This might sound condescending to modern minds, but perhaps in earlier times the gesture was better received than we imagine.

Boxing DayNow, Boxing Day means nothing more than beginning of the famous after – Christmas sales.  In other words, not only do those who ‘have not’ continue on their sad trajectory of ‘not having’, but those who already ‘have’ acquire even more.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love a sale as much as the next person.  But I can’t help thinking that somehow, as a society, by focusing so much on our consumerism, we’ve lost the true spirit of Christmas.

Because of its association with the Christ (and hence Christmas), reflection on the meaning of Tiphareth, the 6th sephirah of the Kabbalistic Tree, may help us to address the problem.

According to the occultist, Dion Fortune, Tiphareth is associated with the tarot sixes – victory (wands), joy (cups), earned success (swords), and material success (pentacles).

There’s nothing wrong with money.  It’s what we do with it that matters.

In Hebrew, Tiphareth signifies Beauty.  True beauty consists in the relationship of harmonious forms, on both the material and moral planes.  Yet all too often our focus gets stuck on the material plane. Given the media hype to which we’re exposed every day, that’s no surprise.

Yet morality has always had a key role in a functioning society.  Without it, we could take no man for his word and that would spell disaster for commerce.

Tiphareth also called the Sphere of the Sun; because of its central location on the Kabbalistic Tree, it holds the same place in human lives, as does the Sun in our solar system.

As such, a strong sense of self is indispensible with Tiphareth.

Yet  Tiphareth requires  more.  It it requires the simultaneous centrality of self and communion with others.  Perhaps this why the gift-giving traditions of Christmas arose.

Tiphareth also is associated with the sacrificed God, the Crucified Christ, the Divine Redeemer who having, incarnated is fated to die.  Dion Fortune reminds us we can never understand Tiphareth unless we understand of the real meaning of sacrifice.

Whatever that is,  I suspect it has hasn’t much to do with the Boxing Day sales unless one counts the running up of more credit card debt (for which at some point in the future when it comes time to pay it off, real sacrifice may be necessary.

Politics

Elizabethan Protestantism – every day life in the realm

The moderate Protestantism of Elizabeth I was a compromise not only between the Protestant and Catholic faiths but also between the various competing factions in the Protestant movement (i.e. Calvin vs. Luther and Zwingli).

During her long reign, Elizabeth’s religious policy made life easier for some and harder for others but, overall, at least initially, it set the nation-state on a more even keel than it had enjoyed in years. If avoiding civil disorder was one of Elizabeth’s general political aims, then her religious policy was more of the same.

For certain individuals like John Shakespeare, this doubtless caused considerable consternation. As a Catholic, how should he fulfil his job to remove the trappings of Catholic pomp and circumstance from Stratford’s Guild Hall?  Although we do not know how he personally felt about this responsibility, we can imagine that it was difficult to part with something so culturally endemic and visually rich as the wall paintings that on his orders, were white-washed.

Similar sentiments may lay at the heart of Roger Martyn’s lamentations regarding required changes in his parish church. Like John, Roger was forced to part with an entire way of life (i.e. celebrations and festive meals) to which he had developed an emotional bond. Interestingly, for whatever reason, Roger’s accounts highlighted the impact of these changes not on his personal religious feelings and beliefs, but on the outward trappings of such. Not everyone believed such destruction to be wrong. Iconoclasm, such as forced upon Roger and John had biblical roots. For religious men like John Jewel (Apologica Ecclesia Englicanae), such lush and vibrant Catholic imagery was proof positive that, at least according to the scriptures, the Roman Catholics were the heretics, not the Protestants.

For many Catholics, Elizabeth’s policy may well have been welcomed, at least at first. Not only did it allow men like John Donne and Ben Jonson to publicly switch their religious allegiance, but it also provided Catholics with a cover under which to carry on (quietly) as before. If they were willing to superficially comply with the requirements demanded by Elizabeth’s religious policy, the Catholics were, for the most part ignored. Elizabeth had no desire to meddle with her subject’s inner beliefs – i.e. the windows to their souls. However, later in her reign, when fears over the claims of Mary Queen of Scots to the English throne were rampant and religious fighting in Europe accelerated, Elizabeth cracked down on those Catholics who stuck their heads above the proverbial parapet. Doubtless, towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign, it again became uncomfortably obvious for Protestants and Catholics alike, that their religious futures were uncertain.

In conclusion, although Elizabeth’s moderate religious policy had initially stabilised England’s political situation (for better or for worse), but the end of her reign another big and unsettling change was in the cards. Who would know if perhaps if would not be of the same magnitude as that suffered under the auspices of her father, Henry VIII, with the Reformation?

Astrology

What is Spirituality? I’m sure that I should know…

A client asked for astrological insight on her spirituality. But what she meant by that, she wasn’t too sure. I told her she wasn’t alone in her confusion and suggested that we explore this together. She wasn’t too keen on that, however. For her, spiritualty was too personal.

OK – so I decided to come up with something by myself. It couldn’t be that hard, could it? After all, I do have an MA in the Study of Mystical and Religious Experience (University of Kent, at Canterbury). Revisiting my work from that course, I realised that it’s harder than I’d anticipated – at least hard in the sense of pinning down anything specific about the definition of spirituality.

Unknown-1.jpeg

For the record, here’s my shortlist:

  • Finding purpose or meaning,
  • Tuning in to soul or psyche,
  • Giving over to a ‘higher self’,
  • Connecting with deity or the divine.

Granted, I may not know exactly for what I’m looking, but at least, as an astrologer, ought I not know where to look? Astrologically, traces of spirituality (however defined) are bound to show up in one’s natal chart. But where exactly should I start?

Jupiter is the most likely culprit, you say? Sure, why not. As long as you realise that Jupiter looks for meaning in your life – not mine – he is, after all a personal planet.

How about Neptune then? There’s a distinct possibility. Astrological Neptune most certainly has been ascribed spiritual qualities. But if you’re looking for some ‘truth’, then Neptune will be problematic, as I’m sure you can imagine. If it’s one thing about viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses that you can definitely say, it’s that what you see is not what you’ll get.

How about Saturn, then? At least he doesn’t lie. Not only that, but he’s hugely practical and possibly good for my bank account. However, upon further reflection I’m forced to admit that Saturn’s brand of spirituality probably won’t be as uplifting as I’d like. Not only is he dark and dreary, but also associated with death and misfortune. Even if I were willing to overlook that, Saturn is much too keen to point out my weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

If I’m really serious about my spirituality, then maybe I should go for organised religion. After all, they have been established by minds greater than mine. But after consideration, I’ve decided that I’m not that much into the suffering and sacrifice of Christianity and even if I were, I don’t see the worth of a paternalistic god. If He is only going to help those who help themselves, then of what worth is He? Besides I know that ‘believing’ can be dangerous and suspect that it isn’t very spiritual either. I mean, look at the Crusades – they were all about belief – and how ‘enlightened’ were they?

How about Buddhism? That sounds like my cup of tea. Not only have I pretty much given up consumerism but I’m also into yoga and meditation. Yet all that stuff about non-attachment and ego-surrender doesn’t really work that well in the western world, at least not unless I no longer have a mortgage, which unfortunately, I still do.Unknown.jpeg

It’s been awhile since I’ve done much with the ancient mystery religions. Definitely time to revisit those! Whilst I’m at it, modern mystery ‘religions’ like the Golden Dawn have always fascinated me and then – there’s alchemy and the kabbalah!

Astrology

Gateways of the Soul – The Seven Seals or Planets

Incarnation is a lifetime process during which my soul travels downwards through the chakras from the Sun to Saturn and back up again:

  • Down: Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
  • Up: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Earth, Venus, Mercury, and Sun.

I engage (or not) with this process with every thought, decision, and action that I take.

Whilst it is a given that I will arrive at Saturn ( first Saturn return = aged 29.5 years), it is less certain how far I’ll go on my return journey. Indeed, the round-trip may take several lifetimes; there’s little doubt that I’ll get stuck along the way.

The Saturn Chakra represents the material world. Here I’m tested as to whether I can manage life at its most basic level. Those stuck here have not yet managed to make enough of a living by which to get by.

images-1To consolidate Saturn, I look to Jupiter –  a chosen career and/or life path. Jupiter is the place of  philosophy, the guru and/or the guide. Jupiter is also place of the lawyer – i.e. one who masters the laws of Saturn; many lawyers (like me) get stuck in the Jupiter chakra, so pleased are we with such mastery.

To consolidate Jupiter, I determine what brings meaning to my life and then master the skills by which to achieve it. Sadly, book learning is never enough. Instead I must resist thinking too much and instead get in touch with my feelings. Never fear, however, because by the time I’m working on Jupiter I’ll have a few Jupiter returns (i.e. 12-year cycle) under my belt.

For help with Jupiter, I look to Mars – the planet of engagement and commitment. Now I must tie the knot; devote myself to my chosen life path and /or settle down to (a happy) marriage. Sounds easy – but in reality it’s a huge jump from intellectual Jupiter to the intuitive nature of Mars. Worse, even though I’ve committed to both my life path and spouse, I must relate to both with a clear, open mind –a complete acceptance of my chosen situation. I assure you that this is difficult. For help, I look to the next chakra, Earth.53e

The purpose of incarnation is what is known in esoteric circles, as to ‘gain the earth’ – i.e. to master the external world; the buck stops here, so to speak. This is not accomplished with arrogance and egoism  but instead with confidence and contentment. The Earth chakra = the heart of spiritual meaning and balance = the best that I can hope to achieve during incarnation. I assure you that I have not achieved this – I may have glimpsed it through spiritual teachers, but I have not managed grasp it for myself. Luckily I’m in good company. Most of us will remain stuck in either Saturn, Jupiter, or Mars.

To achieve/stabilise the Earth, I would look to Venus, which is the first of the ‘inner’ chakras. There is no way to materially grasp what Venus represents – it is an inner reality –  nothing less than being able to love everything and everybody, regardless. From what I’ve read, (Astrology of the HeartAstro-Shamanism by Michael Erlewine), I can aspire to Venus through Mercury, i.e. cosmic consciousness.

The Sun, centre of all, is more than a planet or chakra. It is the source of all creation – as it says in the Prologue to the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This one was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and apart from him not one thing came into being that has come into being. In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

 

Astrology

Should I establish an astrology practice?1465599578346

SUMMARY

YES – all signs are ‘go’ for a new astrology practice. It is likely not only to be profitable but also to be of measurable help to clients – as Liz Greene has oft reminded us, the earliest role of the astrology was that of a priest – the maker of bridges between cosmic and human realities; in regards to my astrological studies, this is and always has been my goal. I can expect the first positive communications regarding my plans to manifest within a very short time.

astrology-practiceDETAILS

  • I am the querent and because Pisces is rising, I am symbolised by Jupiter at 17 Libra which, although not in ruler-ship or exaltation, is comfortable (1) in its own (Egyptian) terms (suggesting ‘exaltation and glorification’ and (2) (mixed) Dorethean triplicity. Jupiter in sect (above the horizon with the Sun) in Libra brings ‘riches and happiness linked with glory’ It is also suggestive of being the ‘adviser of kings and princes’ and/or a ‘priest’.
  • Although Jupiter is not on, or in direct contact, with an angle, it in an angular house and hence in a reasonably strong position to accomplish its goals.
  • The 10th house (MC) cusp is considered dispositive of career and in this case with Sagittarius there (also ruled by Jupiter), it can be taken as another positive sign for my nascent astrology practice.
  • In a horary chart, the Moon functions as a general signficator of the situation, describing the surrounding circumstances as well as the forward and movements of events.
  • The Moon in this chart is at 4 Pisces (with Jupiter as its ruler) and will very soon first make a favourable sextile with Mercury – comfortable in its own (Egyptian) terms in the 10th house – highlighting favourable communication regarding ‘secret knowledge’ (which astrology undoubtedly is) in terms of career (10th house). In horary, the Moon in sextile to Mercury is ‘good for business’ as well as ‘for entering into contracts and agreements’. Because the Moon will perfect this aspect within a very short period of time (seconds of arc), I could expect the first positive communications regarding my new practice shortly. Very good.
  • The next aspect made by the Moon will be a sextile to the Sun in Sagittarius – and in a diurnal chart, this suggests ‘glory and prosper’ in wealth and power. Of note is that the Sun is in the 9th house which governs wisdom (i.e. journeys in faith bring wisdom). More good stuff.
  • The next aspect made by the Moon will be a sextile to Saturn – this is ‘bad for love affairs and friendship with women’ but favourable in building and excavation (consider astrology a delving into personality foundations and building from there). Good enough.
  • The next aspect will be a trine to Jupiter – this is more good stuff – as it is considered ‘favourable for starting new ventures and dealing with influential people’.
  • The final aspect to be made by this moon before it changes signs is a sextile to Venus – considered to be good for financial affairs (as well as for other things).Brilliant.
  • This is the end of the matter.
Philosophy

Praying

These days, there seems to be a good deal of praying going on.

imagesI have no problem with that – we need people of faith to counterbalance those of too little (or no) faith.

However, I’d just like to point out that there are a good many people who could use some help in the here and now – they are to be found in such places as hospices, nursing homes, prisons, and soup kitchens.

If  ye of good faith have not lately volunteered to help out those less fortunate than yourselves, then I might suggest that you get off your knees – stand up on your feet – and for a couple of hours each week stop praying and start doing.

literary criticism

The Concept of Canon & The Secret Book of John

Excerpt from my (as yet unpublished) novel, Adieu the Rose:

Marseilles

December 1920

“Your anger is that of all the wronged women since the beginning of time, Sophie.” Mother Superior fingered multi-coloured spines. “Yet the answer lies within not without.”

Although deeply pious, the mother superior was surprisingly progressive and she encouraged her nuns to be the same. After a challenging childhood in Corsica, this amazing woman had taught herself to read and write in several languages including English. Not only was she politically astute, but she’d developed strong allies in high places. Much to the chagrin of the Vatican, The Mother regularly published radical ideas about religious reform in the secular press. Her official library contained the accepted canon of Plato, Aristotle, and Saint Augustine. Her personal library – kept under lock and key – was deeply heretical ranging from Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to alchemy and a good bit in between.

Most of the nuns found this library alternating between fascinating and confusing. But the most confusing to Sophie was a collection of sacred alternative texts that had been handed down from ancient Mesopotamia. It was from this collection that the Mother Superior selected a slim volume.

The Secret Book of John?” squeaked Sophie.

“Like me, child, you search for the truth,” replied the Mother. “Yet when you fail to easily find it you’re all too willing to accept the lies. This Gnostic text explains a good deal about what it means to be a woman and how it came to pass that all women share the same anger.”

“Isn’t anger a personal thing?”

“Is original sin personal?”

Sophie edged closer to the ancient stone fireplace and rubbed her hands before the well-tended fire. It was the week before Christmas and Marseilles was not only miserably damp, but deadly cold.

“According to that text you hold in your hands, original sin resulted not from Eve’s encounter with the snake but from the arrogance of God.” Pouring more tea, the Mother beckoned for Sophie to sit next to her on a comfortable-looking settee. “In order to give life to his human creations, Adam and Eve, God stole light from the Mother Sophia. Eve thought this terribly unfair and it was whilst trying to return the light to the Mother, that she first tasted the fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.”

“If that’s true,” replied Sophie, “then where does that leave Christian redemption?”

This was the most pressing question. Despite the exculpating eulogy that the Bishop of Beraux had delivered at her uncle’s funeral, Sophie prayed each and every day that her relative would never find redemption. It was inconceivable that such a life of wickedness on the part of such a privileged man should receive the same divine pardon as the theft of a piece of bread by a starving child. Nonetheless, it was a sad realisation that like the hungry flames of Hell, her own anger had engulfed her. Likewise it was a sad realisation that anger such as hers had assumed a life of its own. But worst, was the realisation that was that her anger was all that she had and that she wasn’t about to give it up without a fight.

“According to The Secret Book of John, it was with this act of disobedience that Eve kick-started the process of redemption.” The Mother chuckled. “You can imagine that God wasn’t best pleased that his own sin had been found out. Let’s suppose for a moment that this story is true. Then can you imagine how Eve must have felt to be eternally damned for doing something so noble?”

“She’d be angry.”

“Might it then be possible that if, as the Church teaches, all women are burdened with Eve’s sin they might also be burdened with her anger?”

“I think… maybe…yes.” Patting the soft swell beneath her plain, brown robe, Sophie considered whether her anger was driving her crazy or whether it had already done so. “Mother, I’m confused.

______________________

Unknown-1Albeit confusing and anger-provoking, the concept of canon is undoubtedly useful. Else how could it have endured for more than two thousand years? [1] Arguably, however, a more basic question is for whom and for what purpose is it useful and in this regard, I agree with the Mother Superior’s suggestion – the answer lies within not without.

This, however, is not the current view. According to Krupat (157-158), the concept of canon is generally understood in either of two (diametrically opposed) ways: (1) as formed exclusively by power relations or (2) as ‘the very best that has been thought’. I suggest that both keep the focus solely on someone – or something- other than the reader and as such can only further the ‘canon brawl’. As Krupat (158) acknowledges, if we ‘force people to read our books now, not theirs, they will fight back, conflict unending’. As Sophie acknowledges, anger is a very engaging emotion especially when it takes on a life of its own.

Krupat’s proposed solution to the ‘canon brawl’ is to either (1) dispense altogether with the concept of canon or (2) compile a canon to suit everyone’s tastes. I purpose that neither is realistic – let’s face it – some books really are better than others and as for suiting everyone’s tastes – at least in America this has proved impossible. Even after including an impressively extensive list of ethic/racial/gender groups in his sample canon, Krupat admits that he had still left out writers representing Chicanos, Italian Americans, and Scandinavians – not to mention the Jewish immigrants.

If we accept that (1) the concept of canon has existed for at least two thousand years and likely to exist for a few more and (2) in our increasingly globally mobile society, canon formation will not become easier then we need to look for a new solution and I propose that to be a radical change in our point of view.

In this regard, it is instructive to study the formation of biblical canon which, like a literary canon, is a compilation of writings believed to possess some ‘inspired’ special quality which conveys special status. Studies have shown that this special quality is dependent not so much in what it offers the community but instead how it furthers the community’s common values and ‘faith’. While it is true that initially some person or group of persons exercises their higher authority to form the canon, when the community at large no longer supports this canon, de-canonisation takes place (Zaman, 538-542).

In other words, biblical canon is formed by and for the benefit of the community in order to establish the norms underlying ‘life and behaviour’ (Zaman, 538). Further the biblical canon is altered and embellished by the literary canon which is arguably itself built on the idea that the collective self can be known and represented through a collective autobiography called canon (Krupat, 160). In other words, rather like a democratically elected government, the canon is ‘by the people and for the people’. Your candidate might have lost this election but he or she may win the next.

For example, it is true enough that if The Secret Book of John had been incorporated into the Bible, Sophie would not have such cause to be so angry; she would never have learned (as have many Western women) to define her place in the collective vis a vis the biblical Eve. Although she might not have realised it, Sophie’s problem grew exponentially when that biblically depicted Eve was further magnified and maligned by the literary canon with, for example, the creation of Milton’s Satanically inspired Eve in Paradise Lost (Gilbert and Gubar, 189).

It is likewise true that although The Secret Book of John was well known during the first centuries A.D. and still read in the eight century (Barnstone, 51) – it was not incorporated into the final biblical canon. This was not because it did not possess that ‘inspired’ special quality or that the Gnostics were not sufficiently Christian (actually they considered themselves the true and uncorrupted Christians). It was because the Gnostics lost out politically to the orthodox Christians (Barnstone, xviii). If Valentinus, a major Gnostic thinker, had won his bid to be elected as pope of Rome, we can imagine how the New Testament, fixed at Carthage in 397, might have been different. Likewise even though Milton was originally part of the literary canon, he has since been down-graded by a ‘political act masquerading as a poetic revaluation’ when TS Eliot and critic FR Leavis determined to ‘drag’ English Studies into a ‘bright new hard-edged future’ (Jacobs, 51).Secret Book of John

It is likewise true, however, that both Paradise Lost and The Secret Book of John still remain readily available for any and all who wish to read them. As the Mother Superior points out to Sophie, even for those who search for the truth it’s all too easy to accept lies. Whilst a canon is a compilation of writings believed to possess some ‘inspired’ special quality conveying special status, canon is not ‘truth’ set in stone by those with higher authority. Nor is it ‘lie’ similarly perpetrated by that higher authority to perpetuate that truth. When the community at large gets fed up with the existing canon, de-canonisation does and will take place. Who knows but that The Secret Book of John may yet (re)join the biblical canon much in the same way that Milton might be reinstated to his.

Viewed in this way, canon takes on a different significance than simply a method by which to ‘force people to read our books now, not theirs’. Viewed in this way, readers can acknowledge that canon represents community views regarding the norms underlying ‘life and behaviour’. It is neither an edict from on high any more than it is set in stone. Whilst such change in point of view might have been difficult to sell to previous generations, I suggest there is little or no excuse for present company not to at least entertain the idea.

In summary, let’s face it – some books really are better than others and as for suiting everyone’s tastes – although the Mother Superior’s official library contained the accepted canon of Plato, Aristotle, and Saint Augustine, her personal library – kept under lock and key – was deeply heretical ranging from Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to alchemy and a good bit in between – but (most importantly) this amazing woman was surprisingly progressive and politically astute enough to acknowledge and bridge the difference.

__________________

Excerpt from my (as yet unpublished) novel, Adieu the Rose:

Marseilles

December 1920

“Confusion comes when you’re unable to see things for what they are,” said the Mother. “Anger, however, comes when you refuse to accept things as you know they are. Eve couldn’t change her situation, Sophie, but imagine how miserable she’d have been if she’d refused to accept it?”

“How do I find the courage to accept my situation, Mother?”

“Prayer, child, and plenty of it.” Mother Superior softly kissed her cheek. “It’s your anger that’s keeping you from God and you’ll feel better when you and He are reunited.”

Passing through the dimly lit hall on her way back to her cell, Sophie came to the bewildering conclusion that not only was her anger keeping her from God but it was also keeping her from herself.

_____________________________

Bibliography

Barnstone, Willis, ed. The Other Bible. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1984.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic, 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Jacobs, Richard. A Beginner’s Guide to Critical Reading, An Anthology of Literary Texts. London: Routledge, 2001.

Krupat, Arnold. ‘The Concept of the Canon, The Voice in the Margin’ (157-162). Debating the Canon: A Reader from Addison to Nafisi. ed. Lee Morrissey. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Zaman, Luc. Bible and canon; a modern historical inquiry Studia Semitica Neerlandica; 50. Leiden, Koninklijke Brill NV, 2008.

[1] Like the concept a literary canon, a Great Tradition also prescribes a ‘must read’ list albeit perhaps based on different terms. Hence for purposes of this essay I will treat them as substantially the same.

Cosmology and Divination

Freedom and Power in English Renaissance Revenge Tragedy

UnknownAccording to Patrick Cheney, ‘(r)enaissance tragedy tells how a freedom-seeking individual is oppressed, always to annihilation by authorities in power, whether represented by a corrupt government or by the angry gods – often by both’. I suggest that this is a dangerous over generalization at least in regards to revenge tragedies, which are a dominant theme in renaissance tragedy (Pollard, 58). Not only does it fail to recognise there is no single definition of tragedy for the whole of this tumultuous fifty-odd year period, but it also fails to recognise the various types of power mongers presented in the plays as well as the different types of freedom sought by the individuals oppressed by them.

For example, the ‘authorities in power’ (however defined) are most decidedly not always corrupt and at least with regards to the sub-genre of domestic revenge tragedy such as Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling, there are often no governments (corrupt or not) unless one accepts the view that a household is equivalent to a government in the sense of ‘everyman’s house is his castle’ and his ‘family’, a ‘private commonwealth’ (Richardson, 18-19).

In and of itself, this is not an unreasonable view. Hadfield (30) advises that in English tragedy, the fate of the ruling monarch has always been linked to the nation-state in the sense that when the monarch fails to act in the best interests of his subjects, everyone suffers and Richardson (20) argues that this applies likewise for the (male) head of a household and its residents; early modern communities the misbehaviour of a single member of a household tainted the reputation of the whole. This would certainly seem to be the case with The Changeling when after his daughter, Beatrice, has confessed her crimes and perished, Vermandero laments as how his family name and personal honour are comprised (‘Oh, my name is entered now in that (notorious) record,’ V,iii,180). Beatrice’s bereaved husband, Alsemero, however would seem to be less concerned with such damage because once ‘(t) guilty hit, that innocence is quit,’ (V iii 186). In The Duchess of Malfi, although the entire household suffers as the result of the ‘sins’ of the widowed Duchess at the end of the day all taint on the family name (quite possibly because by that time the ‘sin’s committed are no longer solely those of the Duchess) is purged leaving ‘no more fame’ than a ‘print in the snow’ when said snow ‘ever melts’ as ‘soon as the sun shines’ (V v 109 – 115).

But even if one accepts that the household is equivalent to the nation-state, at least in The Changeling it is difficult to conclude that, as head of household/government, Vermandero is ‘corrupt’ in the sense of being depraved or evil (OED II 4) or even perverted from uprightness and fidelity in the discharge of duty (OED II 5); he may be too forceful in his insistence that Beatrice marry as he pleases (‘I’ll want (my) will else’, I 1 12) for our modern tastes, but certainly this does not make him evil or failing in his duty as a early modern father. Likewise, although Alsemero might be faulted for falling in love with a betrothed woman (I i 1-12); but he makes little, if any, effort to win her and hence I cannot consider him to be depraved or evil or even to have failed uprightness or fidelity to discharge his duty; it is neither by his hand nor direction that his wife, Beatrice, dies. However in The Duchess of Malfi there is room to argue that Duke Ferdinand, as head of the household qua government is corrupt. Most certainly at times he borders on depravity and his elder brother, the Cardinal of Aragon, says as much: ‘(w)hy do you make yourself (s)o wild a tempest?’ (II v 17-18). Yet one corrupt head of household/government does not an overgeneralization like Mr Cheney’s support and besides, let us not forget that until the very end of Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, the King of Spain demonstrates his continuing loyalty to Hieronomo, the tragic protagonist, when for example, in Act 3, scene xii, he refuses to entertain the wily Lorenzo’s suggestion that Hieronimo is too ‘helplessly distract’ to properly do his job and should resign and also that in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, there is neither government nor household to be corrupt.

There is however a god. But despite Faustus’ protestations that He is ‘fierce’ (13, 108), this god is protrayed not so much angry but as business-like, concerned with enforcing the terms of a valid contract freely consented to by both parties. Indeed Cheney’s statement regarding ‘angry gods’ would seem better suited to the classical pagan pantheon depicted in The Spanish Tragedy (presented in the first act by the ghost of Don Andrea recounting his journey through the pagan underworld of the Greeks) than to the New Testament Christian God of Doctor Faustus, complete with hellish devils, heavenly angels, and frequent calls in the name of ‘Christ my Saviour’ for repentance (7, 78-80). Let us also remember that in both The Duchess of Malfi and The Changeling to the extent that any god is mentioned, Divinity plays a very insignificant role.

Perhaps the biggest fault with Mr Cheney’s sweeping assertion is that although it is qualified as pertaining only to ‘freedom-seeking’ individuals, Mr Cheney neglects to define ‘freedom’. This is problematic because over that fifty-odd year period of Renaissance Tragedy, these plays incorporate a mix and match of many different notions of freedom ranging from that of Roman Stoicism ( choice of personal response limited to conformance with cosmic laws ( ‘Logos’), (Macintyre, 101) to that of the grandeur of the renaissance pursuit of ‘self-chosen goals’. Not only that but with these various definitions of freedom come different consequences for the failure to judiciously utilise it; indeed I suggest that the notion of freedom has evolved to ‘self-chosen goals’, we have reached a complete end to ‘angry gods’. By the time of the English Renaissance, tragic protagonists like Shakespeare’s Hamlet (is it ‘nobler’ to ‘suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, than to ‘take arms’ against one’s ‘troubles’ and ‘oppose them’? (3.1, 57-61), no longer struggle against fate and/or supernatural powers (i.e. ‘angry gods’), but instead with the overwhelming responsibility of shaping their own destinies (Dupré, 125).

It is widely agreed that after Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy the form of tragedy favoured by English Renaissance playwrights was drawn heavily from the revenge plays of Seneca, Roman philosopher and playwright. Hence it is only reasonable that in English Renaissance tragedies, there would be some evidence of Seneca’s Stoicism, one of the basic tenets of which is that every man must act ‘true to himself’ to make his own life journey and although he may be aided by others, at the end of the day he must assume responsibility for himself and to the extent that requires going against the authorities in power then so be it. (Asmis, 224).

This certainly seems to be the case with Hieronomo. Witness his agonies (‘this way or that way?’, III, xii, 16) before finally deciding he has no alternative but to seek revenge for the death of his son, Horatio. Further, although Hieronomo’s choices appear narrowly constrained to his ‘duty’ within a defined cosmos (‘Logos’), where ‘neither gods nor men be just to me’ (III 5 10-13) in the true Roman Stoic sense, it is important to note that even in this we find a mix and match of philosophies regarding freedom; for despite Seneca’s own use of revenge in his tragedies (perhaps as a backlash against the limitations of Stoic impassivity), Roman stoicism would have counselled against revenge for if a man is unable to remain calm in the face of disaster, he cannot be trusted to properly navigate his life journey (MacIntyre, 102)

As compared to Hieronomo’s Stoicism, Doctor Faustus takes a wider, more modern view of freedom; his perceived range of choices are more in line with the grandeur of the renaissance pursuit of ‘self-chosen goals’ when he follows his wildest fancies, the ‘metaphysics of magicians’ and the ‘heavenly’ books of necromancy ( I 49-50). Also while the consequences of Heironomo’s decisions appear to lie firmly in the hands of those pagan gods (the ghost of Don Andrea chooses to ‘lead Hieronomo where Orpheus plays, adding (s)weet pleasure to eternal days’ (IV v 23-24), the responsibility for the consequences of Faustus’ decisions are considered by him to be shared by himself and the Devil (‘(n)o Faustus, curse thy self’ and not god, but the devil (‘curse, Lucifer’), (13, 102-103).

Like Faustus, the Duchess of Malfi pursues her ‘self-chosen’ goals as she ‘winked’ and ‘chose a husband’ of her own liking (I i 340) and although the consequences of her action is execution at the hands of her brother’s henchman, she does not appear to repent for having by her own choice shaped her destiny any more than did Faustus – ‘I am the Duchess of Malfi still’ (4.2 134) – and indeed she demonstrates more calm and bravery in the face of death )’(t)his cord should terrify you? Not a whit’ (4.2, 206 – 207) than Faustus who in his final moments momentarily thrashes about looking for someone else to blame (‘(c)ursed by the parents that engendered me’). Similarly the tragic protagonists of The Changeling, Beatrice and Deflores pursue their own goals – ‘I shall want (my will) if you do’(I i 213) and ‘I’ll have my will’ (I i 230) respectively. Although by the end of the play Beatrice exhibits token remorse for her behaviour (‘Forgive me, Alsemero, all forgive! ‘Tis time to die, when ‘tis a shame to live’, V iii 1178-179), Deflores exhibits none whatsoever when he wields his penknife.

If in his sweeping statement Mr Cheney has neglected to define ‘freedom’, he equally has neglected to define what he means by ‘tragedy.’ Although for Chaucer tragedy was a little ‘ditty’ about a time of prosperity ending in wretchedness, by early Elizabethan times, tragedy was commercially (if not idealistically) defined in line with Marlowe’s Tamburlaine and Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy – ‘tragical’ in the sense that it usually involved love and sexual desire gone wrong (Pincombe, 5-6, 11). Interestingly, according to Pincombe (12-13), many of these tragedies could equally be labelled as ‘heroic romance’ (romantic elements including a wandering hero, exploits of war and love, and the gratification of wish-fulfilling fantasy), leaving the defining terms of tragedy even more enigmatic. Love and sexual desire gone wrong most definitely underpins The Changeling; if Beatrice had not fancied Alsemero, there would have been no story. But love and sexual desire does not figure into Dr Faustus (his coupling with the incubus, Helen of Troy aside) and although lies behind the inciting incident – the death of Heironomo’s son, Horatio – it does not impact the way in which Heironomo takes his ‘tragic’ decision. Although the ‘sins’ of the Duchess of Malfi did revolved around love and sexual desire, I suggest that they cannot be said of have gone wrong except perhaps in the eyes of her designing brothers; indeed Chaucer’s definition of prosperity ending in wretchedness might equally apply, again underlining the difficulty of pinning down the defining terms of English Renaissance ‘tragedy’.

In summary, Mr Cheney’s statement regarding ‘(r)enaissance tragedy telling how a freedom-seeking individual is oppressed, always to annihilation by authorities in power, whether represented by a corrupt government or by the angry gods, is a sweeping over generalisation, dangerously failing to account for the variety of themes and plots combining under banner of ‘tragedy’ as well as different notions of ‘freedom’ represented. Often enough gods or governments are neither present nor materially significant to the plays’ denouement and indeed even when gods are represented they are not always ‘angry’ any more than the governments are always corrupt.

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Bibliography

Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus (based on the A-Text). London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2014.

Middleton, Thomas and William Rowley. The Changeling. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2013.

Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy. Manchester: Manchester Univeristy Press, 2002.

Webster, John. The Duchess of Malfi and Other Plays. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Asmis, Elizabeth. ‘Seneca’s Originality’, (224-238). The Cambridge Companion to Seneca, ed. Shadi Bartsch and Alessandro Schiesaro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015 (online).

Dupré, Louis. Passage to Modernity – As Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Hadfield, Andrew. ‘Tragedy and the nation state’, (30-43). The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy, ed. Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. A Short History of Ehtics. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2002.

Pincombe, Mike. ‘English Renaissance tragedy: theories and antecedents’, (3-16). The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy, ed. Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Pollard, Tanya. ‘Tragedy and revenge’, (58-72). The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy, ed. Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Richardson, Catherine. ‘Tragedy, family and household’, (17-29). The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy, ed. Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Astrology

Today is a ‘Tower of Destruction’ Day

The TowerWith the Sun in Virgo (perfection) and the Moon in Leo (aspiration), today is a ‘Tower of Destruction” day.

Throughout history, there have been plenty of examples where hubris (i.e. excessive self-confidence, OED, n) has been the cause of a disastrous fall. Check out The Icarus Syndrome by Peter Beinart for insight.

Yet if in today’s world we’re pushed to ‘be all that we can be’ (and more) then where ought we draw the line between well-deserved success and hubris?

Meditations on the Tarot (A Journey into Christian Hermeticisim) provides a thoughtful answer:

Every Christian has been taught that man was ejected from the Garden of Eden for desiring more ‘knowledge’ than God wished to reveal.

Yet why was it so important to have such knowledge?Meditations on the Tarot

Origen (circa AD 185) suggests this is hard-wired in our souls – i.e. we are built to push the boundaries of nature with the purpose of breaching them – i.e. for example through scientific research.

According to the Hermetic tradition, this is dangerous for if God wished us to have such knowledge, He would have revealed it.

Does it mean that we should never strive for more than we’ve been given?

Of course not. The StarAccording to Hermetic wisdom, it is absolutely necessary for us to work and grow – to think and await the ripening of our thoughts – to cultivate and maintain ourselves as we would care for our garden – wherein we realise all will grow and be harvested in its own time.

So why do we push ourselves more than we push our gardens?

Hermetic wisdom suggests that (through ignorance), we identify ‘self’ with ‘ego’ – ‘I’ must have this or that because ‘I” want it (not because I need it or because it is good for me but because I WANT) – and such behaviour is further fueled by advertisements suggesting you should want whatever is for sale for no other reason than because ‘You’re worth it’.

Danger – danger – danger !!!!

What will you be ‘worth’ after your personal fall?

If on a ‘Tower of Destruction’ day, you’re tempted to push beyond your boundaries- beyond the bounds of your own nature  – and like Icarus, fly too close to the sun, resist and be heartened.

In the tarot, the card following ‘The Tower of Destruction’ is that of The Star’ – a kneeling woman with two urns being poured in equal measure so as to achieve balance and equilibrium.

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