“…love is a fusion in the sun’s core. Love is a blurring of pronouns. Love is a subject and object. The difference between its presence and its absence is the difference between life and death.”
Stephen Mitchell, “The Bone Clocks”
I.”The men where you live,” said the little prince, “raise five thousand roses in the same garden–and they do not find in it what they are looking for.” “They do not find it,” I replied. “And yet what they are looking for could be found in one single rose, or in a little water.”
II.”It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The rich minimalism of the Little Prince’s wisdom brings to mind the apparent simplicity of the Japanese karesansui (dry-mountain-water) gardens, known as Zen gardens in the West. The origins of those gardens are long lost in historical obscurity, but most probably they go back to Shinto – the Japanese native religion, which founded the sacred in elements of nature such as rocks, trees, mountains or rivers. The wavelike patterns of the raked gravel are believed to evoke currents of running water, while lone-standing rocks could be viewed as mountains rising out of the ocean, but one would be fooled to trust such limiting interpretations. The dry garden, always viewed from inside a room and composed like a painting, is first and foremost a place of contemplation; it is meant to startle the mind of the observer into a spiritual state by purifying it from pre-conceived ideologies.
“The dry garden at Ryoan-ji consists of fifteen rocks distributed in five groups across a rectangular field of coarse sand, surrounded on three sides by a rustic wall that shuts out the world and on the fourth by a narrow veranda from which you view the garden, raised several feet above it. You cannot enter, but only contemplate it. There are no plants, unless you count the moss growing at the feet of some of the stones, or the trees looking over the wall from outside, which barely enter your field of vision and which you might notice for the first time looking at photographs afterward. There is no water, except that some people count the raked sand as a sea, from which the stones poke up like islands. The rocks are rough and uncarved, quite wild when you focus closely on them, but don’t fill much of the space. It is a place stripped practically bare, much more empty than full. Distances between the groups can seem vast, even cosmic, the dark punctuation of the rocks a heavenly constellation. The sand is more prosaically likened to clouds from which mountain tops poke up. Ryoan, in the name of the temple, means ‘Dragon Peace’; the rocks are also described as a tigress and her cubs swimming across a river. Maybe all these narratives that translate rocks and sand into something else are weak-minded efforts to get over the discomfort of an assertion of pointlessness that is at the same time inexplicably beautiful. The wall draws a clear line round the experience and says the random grouping forms a whole, but the parts will always look like fragments. You might come to accept that the fragments make sense or that the disturbance can be tolerated, even enjoyed, but you cannot escape entirely from the feeling that something is out of place. The most wonderful interpretation of Ryoan-ji known to me occurs rather late in a film by Yasujiro Ozu called Late Spring in English. The father (a widower) and the uncle of the main character (a daughter who cannot bring herself to leave the nest) sit for a long time in front of the stones without speaking, and then discuss the question of the daughter’s marriage. The distances between the stones correspond to the distance between even the closest human beings. They convey this with a soothing remoteness but without fudging; they are immovable; there are truths we cannot argue with or change. No one says anything like this, but the camera looks at the two men’s backs and then at the rocks standing there, and the stones are momentarily individuals enduring their lots, a fleeting perception from which we soon turn away.”
Robert Harbison, Ruins and Fragments: Tales of Loss and Rediscovery
The central symbol of the Zen garden is the stone. For Jung, it signified “something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul;” for Cirlot it is “the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.” Stones are pure and perfect in their simplicity, yet powerful, mysterious and inscrutable like the gods.
In Shinto the purified places where spirits or gods gathered were called “niwa” – a word which means “garden.” Spiritual purification, a return to soulful simplicity, seems to be a unifying idea behind all Eastern gardens. At last that was the impression I got from an exhibition dedicated to the history of gardens, which I have seen recently (http://www.rietberg.ch/en-gb/exhibitions/vorschau-gaerten-der-welt.aspx). An inscription next to an installation dedicated to a well-known Korean ghttp://www.rietberg.ch/en-gb/exhibitions/vorschau-gaerten-der-arden reads:
“Yang Sanbo became disillusioned with politics at the imperial court and retreated to his father’s country estate, where he made himself a garden. Called a Hermit’s Garden, it is surrounded by a bamboo forest. Through the middle of it, a mountain stream crashes down over a rock. Its Korean name Saswaewon means ‘the garden in which the spirit is refreshingly cleansed just as bamboo leaves are cleansed by the rain of a thunderstorm.’”
The following video shows the garden’s beauty:
Ruth Ammann, a Jungian analyst, in her book dedicated to a psychological meaning of gardens, traces the roots of the word to the Indo-Germanic word “ghordo” – fence, enclosure, stockade, hence denoting a fenced-in or enclosed area. She marvels at a coincidence:
“Incidentally, ‘paradise’ has the same meaning, originating from the Old Iranian words ‘pairi’ (enclose, surround) and ‘daeza’ (wall). Thus, paradise is first of all a place or site surrounded by a wall. However, it encloses a particularly sacred place, namely the Garden of Eden, the garden of bliss.”
At its root, a garden and a paradise are one and the same thing. Ammann points out that the garden is enclosed and bounded on the horizontal plane, but it is open on a vertical plane, that is, “unbounded toward the sky and the depths of the earth.” It connects heaven and earth, the mundane changeability with the eternal permanence. The existence of the fence makes a garden akin to a hermetically sealed alchemical vessel. It is a receptacle, where the raw “materia prima” of the chaotic nature is transformed and cultivated through the gardener’s dedication, hard work and respect for nature and its creative divinity. “Half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,” wrote Kipling in his poem “The Glory of the Garden.”
Both in the East and the West, our ancestors performed sacred land-taking rituals, which, as Ammann writes, placed “the garden or the enclosed plot of ground under the protection and mercy of a godhead that represented much greater power than that available to any individual.” The gardener is responsible for attending to and nurturing his or her garden, but its ultimate prospering may in fact lie beyond the gardener’s power. That brings to mind the concept of “borrowed scenery” used by East Asian Garden designers. It involved incorporating background landscape, such as mountains or a lake, into the composition of a garden. Perhaps it is worth remembering that the whole garden is “on loan” from the mighty nature, which may claim it back at any moment. How wild should the garden be is a matter of individual taste. I cannot decide whether I prefer the wilder English garden or the geometric grace of the French one.
There is a beautiful line in The Song of Songs: “My sister, dear bride, you are a sequestered garden, a sealed fountain, an enclosed spring.” This line gave birth to the medieval concept of the Hortus Conclusus, a garden strictly shielded from the outside world, which was associated with the Virgin Mary. But perhaps the bride from the Song of Songs could also be interpreted as Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the resurrection, who mistook the risen Christ for a gardener. Or perhaps he chose to show himself as a gardener to her. In broader terms, the soul (anima) seems to have a lot of affinities with the symbolism of the garden. Saint Teresa of Avila compared a soul to a garden. Gardens are certainly places where the soul finds nourishment at the intersection of nature and culture. Whenever I stroll through a beautiful garden, I always have a feeling that it is a place conjured by my imagination, that it will disappear if I close my eyes. In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Marco Polo talks to Kublai Khan in Kublai’s garden. At one point he muses:
“Perhaps this garden exists only in the shadow of our lowered eyelids. … Perhaps the terraces of this garden overlook only the lake of our mind.”
Ruth Ammann, The Enchantment of Gardens: A Psychological Approach
Juan Eduardo Cirlot, The Dictionary of Symbols
Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
“Everyone in the world is concerned with the search for that Truth which will satisfy him eternally, but in that search each one contends against another; and hence there is confusion, struggle and pain. They lack the certainty of purpose which will determine their course through life and so rely on another for their comfort, well-being, and understanding.
Because they admit that they are weak, because they maintain that they cannot stand without the support of another, they have been given crutches that will support them momentarily, instead of developing their own strength to go forward in search of the pure waters of Truth.
If you would find that Truth you must put aside all those things upon which you have leaned for support and look within for that everlasting spring. It cannot be brought to you through any outward channel.
In search of the Truth that shall sustain, uphold, and guide you, you have looked outwards and sought for it objectively, and thus have been lost in the shadows of manifestation. To find that spring of Truth you must look within, you must purify your heart and mind.
You say to me, ‘You are different; you have attained, and because you have attained, these comforts are unnecessary for you.’ No, friend, because you desire to attain, these things are unnecessary for you. Because I have leaned on crutches to support me, I know the uselessness of crutches. When you have passed along a dangerous narrow path, and you have often slipped, and had to climb again, surely you would say to your fellow travelers, ‘Beware of these things, do not walk on the edge, walk rather in the middle, keeping your balance, and do not be led away, so that you fall over the precipice.’
Because I know that your comforts only weaken you, I tell you to throw them away. Because I have been entangled in complexities, because I have been held in bondage, I urge you to escape into freedom. Because I have found a simple and direct path, I would tell you of it. If I had relied for my happiness on others, if I had been caught up in grandiloquent phrases, or in the worship of images, or persons, in the shadows of temples, I should not have found that Truth which I sought. Not in the worship of externals do you find the spring of Truth, but in the adoration of Truth itself.
Because you imagine that without all these complications of beliefs and systematized thoughts which are called religions, you cannot find Truth, that very thought is preventing you from finding it. If you would climb to a great height, if you would go far, you do not carry on your shoulders great burdens. In like manner, if you would attain liberation you do not cling to the burdens which you have accumulated throughout the ages. You must put aside those things which you have gained and reach out for further understanding.
In search of the waters that shall quench your thirst, if you are wise, you will not act in haste. Through haste you find nothing. By patient understanding, by careful watching that you may not be caught up in things that are trivial, non-essential, you find that which you seek. It is difficult for you to realize that your own understanding dwells within, that your happiness lies within yourself, because you have been accustomed to look to objective things for your understanding and your Truth.
Invite doubt; for doubt is as a precious ointment: though it burns, it shall heal greatly and by inviting doubt, by putting aside those things which you have understood, by transcending your acquirements, your understanding, you will find the Truth.”
From “Life in Freedom”
I.“There is something special about their relationship, something not simply reducible to teacher and devotee, and all attempts to hedge and prevaricate about its nature merely render its energy more palpable. The unspoken bond between them reverberates through even the highly muted accounts in the canonical gospels, while the Nag Hammadi gospels make no bones about naming this energy for what it is. …
With her come the cadences of gentleness and forgiveness, the sounding of that core vibration of love.”
Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity”
II.“Finally at the heart of the Christian mystery there are only two people; this is the mystery of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.”
Michael Haag, “The Quest for Mary Magdalene”
III. “I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to Him, Lord I saw you today in a vision. He answered and said to me, Blessed are you that you did not waver at the sight of Me. For where the heart is there is the treasure.”
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
In December 1945 a magnificent archaeological discovery was made, as it often happens entirely by accident: an Arab peasant dug out a jar containing papyrus books bound in leather. They were the Gnostic Gospels, buried in the desert by early church authorities, ready to see the light of day only in the twentieth century. Although they were written around the time or possibly a little earlier than the four canonical gospels, they were deemed so dangerous that somebody decided to make them disappear for centuries. They unveiled a hidden face of Christianity, namely its connections with Eastern mystical traditions, and a crucial role of women in early church; furthermore, they criticized the concept of virgin birth and bodily resurrection as stemming from a tendency to misconstrue what is symbolic and inner as literal and outer. But arguably the most sensational content of those apocryphal texts was related to the role of Mary Magdalene. The shocking lines of the Gospel of Philip (described as a Tantric gospel) read:
“. . . the companion of the [Savior is] Mary Magdalene. [But Christ loved] her more than [all] the disciples, and used to kiss her [often] on her [mouth]. The rest of [the disciples were offended] . . . They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’ The Savior answered and said to them, ‘Why do I not love you as (I love) her?’”
Some Biblical scholars have argued, however, that this is nothing new, as the extraordinarily special role of Mary Magdalene can be gleaned from the canonical gospels if read devoid of years of orthodox prejudice. Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest and a mystic, lays a convincing claim that the four canonical gospels, if read inquisitively, make a strong case for Mary Magdalene’s special role. She was the first witness of the resurrection and the first one to announce it in public. Before Jesus died she anointed him with priceless perfume that she brought in an alabaster jar. By performing this ritual she recognized him as the Messiah (the Anointed One):
“Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
Moreover, all four gospels portray her in the role of “apostle to the apostles,” not only the first witness to the resurrection, but the first to announce it publicly. Bourgeault makes a firm claim that she was first among the apostles, as the one who fully got the message and was able to reach a spiritual realization unavailable to the other followers. She is consistently portrayed as the one who “knows”, as the one who has reached the true gnosis:
“It is not just a knowing from the head; it’s a knowing with the entire being. The Hebrew term which it translates is da’ath, which is also the word used for “lovemaking” (as in “David entered Bathsheba’s tent and ‘knew’ her”). Gnosis speaks of a complete, integral knowing uniting body, mind, and heart—and by its very largeness connecting the seen and the unseen.”
True Gnosis comes from the heart; it is as much of the body as of the mind. According to Bourgeault, the central message of Jesus, which was profoundly understood and embodied by Mary Magdalene, is a blending of “incarnational and Platonic elements,” “a profoundly incarnational, warm-hearted, and hopeful path, where the realms support and interpenetrate each other and divine fullness is accessed simply by keeping the heart in natural alignment with its invisible prototype.” Bourgeault goes on to suggest that early Christianity was not in the least bit ascetic. Most of the Apostles were married, including St Peter, the first Pope, and it just stands to reason that so was Jesus. He was certainly at ease with women, contrary to the customs and taboos of his time. In a famous passage in the Gospel of John, he speaks with a woman from Samaria drawing water from a well. He converses with to her on equal terms though he is a male Jew, which for his contemporaries offered enough reasons to ignore her. But his message was about openness and inclusiveness. Further, all that Jesus taught seems to contradict the idea of celibacy, which, as Bourgeault points out, is connected with “conserving, collecting, concentrating,” its shadow side being avarice, storing up, withholding, not sharing of one’s essence. Bourgeault concludes:
“By contrast, the path that Jesus himself seems to teach and model in his life, and particularly in his death, is not a storing up but a complete pouring out. His pranic energy is quickly depleted; on the cross, as all four gospel accounts affirm, he does not hold out even until sunset, but quickly “gives up the ghost.” Shattered and totally spent, he simply disappears into his death. The core icon of the Christian faith, the watershed moment from which it all emerges, is not enstatic but ecstatic—love completely poured out, expended, squandered.”
In his fascinating book The Quest For Mary Magdalene, the historian Michael Haag carefully analyzes all New Testament passages where she appears. He offers an illuminating analysis of her name, which means “the migdal, the tower, the beacon, the saving light in the darkness.” Jesus was fond of giving special names to his followers, and thus he called Simon Peter the rock upon which he will build his church (Greek petros – rock), and Mary Magdalene he named the tower that shines in darkness.
She was an independent, perhaps aristocratic woman of means, who chose to support Jesus and his movement. According to the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark, Mary Magdalene may have been a sister of Lazarus, at least this is the conclusion drawn by Haag in his book. Haag writes that together with her brother she may have been helping finance Jesus’s ministry and opened their home in Bethany to him and his followers. It is important to point out that nowhere in any of the gospels is she referred to as sinful or a prostitute. She was made into one by Pope Gregory I in a sermon he delivered in the 6th century. This is clarified very carefully by Haag:
“MARY MAGDALENE FIRST APPEARS in the chronology of Jesus’ life in Galilee where she is travelling with Jesus as he proclaims the kingdom of God. ‘And the twelve were with him’, writes Luke in his gospel, ‘and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities’. Among these women three are mentioned by name, and the first is Mary Magdalene, ‘out of whom went seven devils.’
There is a popular misconception, which was first promoted by the Church in the early medieval period, that Mary Magdalene’s condition had something to do with sin. But this is plainly not true. Wherever Jesus is driving out devils the gospels are clear that he is healing people of their illnesses, mental and physical.”
Was there conspiracy intended to write Mary Magdalene out of early history of Christianity? Admittedly, the new hierarchy was becoming increasingly male, and soon women were banned from being ordained as priests. It seems that old prejudices against women were not ready to go away, despite what Jesus had taught and practiced. St Paul, the apostle who never met the historical Jesus, completely ignores Mary Magdalene in all of his fourteen books included in the New Testament. He does not mention Jesus’s mother, either. According to Haag, Paul chose to ignore the historical Jesus and focused entirely on spreading the new faith with its main message of Resurrection.
But Mary Magdalene’s name lived on in legends. In the Middle Ages she was called the light-bearer,and she was especially venerated in France, where she was believed to have travelled after Jesus’s death. Vézelay in Burgundy has a Romanesque cathedral dedicated to her, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in Provence a cave where she supposedly spent years repenting her sins and performing miracles. The French chapter was made famous thanks to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, which was based on the famous book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. It claimed that Mary Magdalene’s children with Jesus intermarried with the noble French families, leading to the birth of the Merovingian dynasty.
She continued to fascinate the greatest minds of the Renaissance. Next to the famous Last Supper, which may feature her as a companion of Jesus, a portrait of Mary Magdalene has been identified as done by Leonardo da Vinci as well:
“This bare-breasted Mary Magdalene has recently been identified as a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, done in about 1515. The exposed breasts associate her with the goddess Venus and also suggest that she is preparing to consummate her marriage. She is entirely frank about her sensuality; her smile is a promise, and soon her fingers will let her robe fall away entirely. There is not an ounce of sin or repentance in this Mary Magdalene.”
For the Gnostics, Mary Magdalene, “Our Lady in Red,” played a very central role. They believed that she reached salvation through gnosis, which is, in the words of Tau Malachi, “the product of a direct spiritual or mystical experience of the Truth that illuminates and liberates the soul.” While Christ embodied the Logos, she was the Sophia. There exists a Gnostic legend in which Mary Magdalene is promised as a bride to a wealthy Babylonian merchant. On her way to Babylon she gets raped and sold to slavery and prostitution. She is trapped in Babylon. As Bourgeault summarizes:
“After a time she managed to regain her outer freedom, but inwardly she was still held hostage by hatred, rage, and darkness. At length a dream came to her telling her that she must return to the land of her birth and seek out the Anointed One, who would deliver her. She left immediately for the Holy Land, crossed the Jordan River, and found her way to the place where he was teaching.”
According to Malachi, the Gnostics believe that one of the demons that possessed her soul at those dark times was Lilith, the first wife of Adam, who refused to be submissive to him. Malachi writes:
“When the Lord banished the seven demons from Magdalene, he did not banish Lilith. Rather, receiving the Holy Bride, he redeemed Lilith and Eve, and in Lady Mary, womanhood was restored to its rightful place, for in her was the Divine fullness of the Supernal Woman. … She is the consort of God and mistress of the dragon. In her holy breath is the power of creation and destruction.”
Her feast in the Catholic church is on 22 July, which is when the Sun enters the sign of its rulership – Leo. A woman of vision, inspired directly by Jesus, she bypassed all hierarchy and still continues to shatter all dogmas. She seems to combined wisdom with the gentleness and compassion of love and the fierceness of wild passion. As Sophia (Anima Mundi – the World Soul) she stands as an intermediary between the upper world and the lower world, fueling the flames of the inner vision of the heart.
BBC Radio 4 In Our Time – Mary Magdalene http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0717j1r
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity, Kindle edition
Michael Haag, The Quest for Mary Magdalene, Kindle edition
Tau Malachi, St Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride, Kindle edition
Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels
Giulio Camillo was a sixteenth-century Italian philosopher, most notable for his idea of the “Theatre of Memory.” The following passage comes from chapter 6 of The Art of Memory by Yates Francis (the embedded quotes are by Camillo himself):
“The Theatre rises in seven grades or steps, which are divided by seven gangways representing the seven planets. The student of it is to be as it were a spectator before whom are placed the seven measures of the world ‘in spettaculo’, or in a theatre. And since in ancient theatres the most distinguished persons sat in the lowest seats, so in this Theatre the greatest and most important things will be in the lowest place. That there would be no room for an audience to sit between these enormous and lavishly decorated gangway gates does not matter. For in Camillo’s Theatre the normal function of the theatre is reversed. There is no audience sitting in the seats watching a play on the stage. The solitary ‘spectator’ of the Theatre stands where the stage would be and looks towards the auditorium, gazing at the images on the seven times seven gates on the seven rising grades.
Looking at our plan, we can see that the whole system of the Theatre rests basically upon seven pillars, the seven pillars of Solomon’s House of Wisdom. Solomon in the ninth chapter of Proverbs says that wisdom has built herself a house and has founded it on seven pillars. By these columns, signifying most stable eternity, we are to understand the seven Sephiroth of the supercelestial world, which are the seven measures of the fabric of the celestial and inferior worlds, in which are contained the Ideas of all things both in the celestial and in the inferior worlds. Camillo is speaking of the three worlds of the Cabalists, as Pico della Mirandola had expounded them; the supercelestial world of the Sephiroth or divine emanations; the middle celestial world of the stars; the subcelestial or elemental world. The same ‘measures’ run through all three worlds though their manifestations are different in each. As Sephiroth in the supercelestial world they are here equated with the Platonic ideas. Camillo is basing his memory system on first causes, on the Sephiroth, on the Ideas; these are to be the ‘eternal places’ of his memory.
…his memory building is to represent the order of eternal truth; in it the universe will be remembered through organic association of all its parts with their underlying eternal order.
Each of the six upper grades has a general symbolic meaning represented by the same image on each of its seven gates. We have shown this on the plan by giving the name of the general image for a grade at the top of all its gates, together with the characters of the planets, indicating to which planetary series each gate belongs.
…the second grade of the Theatre is really the first day of creation, imaged as the banquet given by Ocean to the gods, the emerging elements of creation, here in their simple unmixed form.
The third grade will have depicted on each of its gates a Cave, which we call the Homeric Cave to differentiate it from that which Plato describes in his Republic. In the cave of the Nymphs described in the ‘Odyssey,’ nymphs were weaving and bees were going in and out, which activities signify, says Camillo, the mixtures of the elements to form the elementata ‘and we wish that each of the seven caves may conserve the mixtures and elementata belonging to it in accordance with the nature of its planet.’ The Cave grade thus represents a further stage in creation, when the elements are mixed to form created things or elementata. …
With the fourth grade we reach the creation of man, or rather the interior man, his mind and soul. … this grade (has) as the leading image to be depicted on all its gates the Gorgon Sisters, the three sisters described by Hesiod who had only one eye between them…
On the fifth grade, the soul of man joins his body. This is signified under the image of Pasiphe and the Bull which is the leading image on the gates of this grade. ‘For she (Pasiphe) being enamoured of the Bull signifies the soul which, according to the Platonists, falls into a state of desiring the body.’ The soul in its downward journey from on high, passing through all the spheres, changes its pure igneous vehicle into an aerial vehicle through which it is enabled to become joined to the gross corporeal form. This junction is symbolised by the union of Pasiphe with the Bull.
‘The sixth grade of the Theatre has on each of the gates of the planets, the Sandals, and other ornaments, which Mercury puts on when he goes to execute the will of the gods, as the poets feign.
‘The seventh grade is assigned to all the arts, both noble and vile, and above each gate is Prometheus with a lighted torch.’ The image of Prometheus who stole the sacred fire and taught men knowledge of the gods and of all the arts and sciences thus becomes the topmost image, at the head of the gates on the highest grade of the Theatre. The Prometheus grade includes not only all the arts and sciences, but also religion, and law.
Thus Camillo’s Theatre represents the universe expanding from First Causes through the stages of creation. First is the appearance of the simple elements from the waters on the Banquet grade; then the mixture of the elements in the Cave; then the creation of man’s mens in the image of God on the grade of the Gorgon Sisters; then the union of man’s soul and body on the grade of Pasiphe and the Bull; then the whole world of man’s activities; his natural activities on the grade of the Sandals of Mercury; his arts and sciences, religion and laws on the Prometheus grade.
The Theatre is thus a vision of the world and of the nature of things seen from a height, from the stars themselves and even from the supercelestial founts of wisdom beyond them.
Though the Ficinian influence is everywhere present in Camillo’s Theatre, it is in the great central series of the Sun that it is most apparent. Most of Ficino’s ideas on the sun are set out in his De sole, though they also appear in his other works. … On the Banquet grade of the Sun series, Camillo places the image of a pyramid, representing the Trinity. … Camillo’s arrangement is completely Ficinian in spirit, in its suggestion of a hierarchy descending from the Sun as God to other forms of light and heat in lower spheres, transmitting the spiritus in his rays.
The Theatre presents a remarkable transformation of the art of memory. The rules of the art are clearly discernible in it. Here is a building divided into memory places on which are memory images. … The religious intensity associated with mediaeval memory has turned in a new and bold direction. The mind and memory of man is now ‘divine’, having powers of grasping the highest reality through a magically activated imagination. The Hermetic art of memory has become the instrument in the formation of a Magus, the imaginative means through which the divine microcosm can reflect the divine macrocosm, can grasp its meaning from above, from that divine grade to which his ‘mens’ belongs. The art of memory has become an occult art, a Hermetic secret.”
Although scholars differ in their estimation of the number of words and phrases that Shakespeare introduced into English, they all agree that he transformed the language tremendously. He referred to himself as “a man on fire for new words.” As Melvyn Bragg wrote in The Adventure of English,
“Comparisons are entertaining: the King James Bible of 1611 used about ten thousand different words. The average educated man today, more than four hundred years on from Shakespeare with the advantage of the hundreds of thousands of new words that have come in since his time, has working vocabulary of less than half that of Shakespeare.”
In the world in which the tendency is to close borders and build walls, languages know no barriers; quite the contrary, they are in flux and rather permeable, no matter the efforts of regulatory bodies. Shakespeare’s language borrowed heavily from French, Spanish and Latin, at the same time travelling freely across the social strata, using the language of the court, street slang as well as his own dialect. He would bend and break rules and, as the linguist David Crystal put it, dared to do things with language.
Naturally, there were those who opposed the influx of alien elements into the English language, but history has taught us that they lost. A beautiful poem by Wislawa Szymborska called “Psalm” comes to mind:
“How leaky are the borders of man-made states!
How many clouds float over them scot-free,
how much desert sand sifts from country to country,
how many mountain pebbles roll onto foreign turf
in provocative leaps!
Need I cite each and every bird as it flies,
or alights, as now, on the lowered gate?
Even if it be a sparrow—its tail is abroad,
thought its beak is still home. As if that weren’t enough—it keeps fidgeting!
Out of countless insects I will single out the ant,
who, between the guard’s left and right boots,
feels unobliged to answer questions of origin and destination.
If only this whole mess could be seen at once in detail
on every continent!
Isn’t that a privet on the opposite bank
smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
Who else but the squid, brazenly long-armed,
would violate the sacred territorial waters?
How can we speak of any semblance of order
when we can’t rearrange the stars
to know which one shines for whom?
Not to mention the reprehensible spreading of fog!
Or the dusting of the steppe over its entire range
as though it weren’t split in two! Or voices carried over accommodating air waves:
summoning squeals and suggestive gurgles!
Only what’s human can be truly alien.
The rest is mixed forest, undermining moles and wind.”
Translated by Joanna Trzeciak, via https://anthonywilsonpoetry.com/2013/09/28/lifesaving-poems-wislawa-szymborskas-psalm/
I. “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”
II. “All the world’s a stage.”
Perhaps theatre is the most primal of all arts. As far as we can tell, it developed alongside and through agricultural and religious ritual. The mask, its main symbol, is age old, with the first objects of this kind dating back to the Neolithic period (ca 7000 BC). In Ancient Greece, theatre was dedicated to and inextricable from the cult of Dionysus. Drama and dream are two words that come from a common root, which means that the theatre offers a way of looking behind the curtain straight into the eternal dimension. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche saw the beginning of the theatre in the ecstatic performance of hymns sung and danced in honor of Dionysus:
“In the Dionysian dithyramb man is aroused to the highest intensity of all his symbolic capabilities. Something never felt before forces itself into expression — the destruction of the veil of Maja, the sense of oneness as the presiding genius of form, of nature itself. Now the essence of nature must express itself symbolically; a new world of symbols is necessary, the entire symbolism of the body, not just the symbolism of mouth, face, and words, but the full gestures of the dance — all the limbs moving to the rhythm. And then the other symbolic powers grow, those of music, rhythm, dynamics, and harmony — all with sudden spontaneity.”
In his classic work Dionysus: Myth and Cult, Walter Otto speaks of the “shattering” appearance of the god as the one who simultaneously brings “pandemonium and silence.” The central Dionysian symbol appears to be the mask. Otto saw the mask as “the strongest symbol of presence.” In his view, it depicts a god or spirit who appears, who is encountered, but who is also a being from beyond:
“It is the symbol and the manifestation of that which is simultaneously there and not there; that which is excruciatingly near, that which is completely absent – both in one reality. … The final secrets of existence and non-existence transfix mankind with monstrous eyes.”
In this passage Otto captures the essence of the theatre: it is palpable and material, arresting and tangible, but at the same time the spectator feels that there is a division, a line that cannot be crossed because the reality presented on the stage is not of this world – it invokes the metaphysical dimension.
My first theatrical epiphany occurred while watching Peter Brook’s Mahabharata on TV when I was about twelve years old. It was a deeply transformative experience, arresting from the very first moment when I saw the orange flames that preceded the opening credits. In his captivating book about the theatre entitled The Empty Space, Brook speaks of the Holy Theatre as the one which makes the invisible visible:
“We are all aware that most of life escapes our senses: a most powerful explanation of the various arts is that they talk of patterns which we can only begin to recognize when they manifest themselves as rhythms or shapes. We observe that the behaviour of people, of crowds, of history, obeys such recurrent patterns. We hear that trumpets destroyed the walls of Jericho, we recognize that a magical thing called music can come from men in white ties and tails, blowing, waving, thumping and scraping away. Despite the absurd means that produce it, through the concrete in music we recognize the abstract, we understand that ordinary men and their clumsy instruments are transformed by an art of possession. We may make a personality cult of the conductor, but we are aware that he is not really making the music, it is making him—if he is relaxed, open and attuned, then the invisible will take possession of him; through him, it will reach us.”
The theatre has the power of awakening our imagination, through which our inner eye opens to the images that populate the invisible. On the stage, objects, gestures and words transform into universal symbols. If what we have experienced was the Holy Theatre, we feel that a profound and invisible eternal truth has made itself present in our midst. The transient moment that can never be repeated in the same way (the theatre is all about portend though fleeting moments) has been endowed with a symbolic dimension. I remember being particularly struck by a performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting of Godot, which I saw years ago on a school trip. One prop particularly caught my attention with an irresistible force: a suitcase full of sand carried by Lucky, a slave to the character Pozzo. I resonate deeply with the following passage from Brook, in which he gives homage to Beckett’s unique talent of symbolization:
“Beckett’s plays are symbols in an exact sense of the word. A false symbol is soft and vague: a true symbol is hard and clear. When we say ‘symbolic’ we often mean something drearily obscure: a true symbol is specific, it is the only form a certain truth can take. The two men waiting by a stunted tree, the man recording himself on tapes, the two men marooned in a tower, the woman buried to her waist in sand, the parents in the dustbins, the three heads in the urns: these are pure inventions, fresh images sharply defined—and they stand on the stage as objects. They are theatre machines. People smile at them, but they hold their ground: they are critic proof. We get nowhere if we expect to be told what they mean, yet each one has a relation with us we can’t deny. If we accept this, the symbol opens in us a great and wondering O.”
Symbols are eternally reborn in modern costumes. The great artists of the theatre have never had any doubts about the fluidity of all material representations of the underlying symbolic order. We have seen marvellous performances of female Hamlets, as we have seen Hamlets of all races. The Tragedy of Hamlet envisaged by Peter Brook achieved the seemingly impossible by bringing Hamlet back to life for the modern audience. As one critic wrote,
“It is a landmark production of the most hackneyed great play in history precisely because it compels us to see it with utterly fresh eyes. The fine Polish critic Jan Kott–an influence on Brook’s early work–wrote memorably about Hamlet that he’s become like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. ‘We know she is smiling even before we have seen the picture,’ Kott wrote. ‘Mona Lisa’s smile has been separated from the picture, as it were.’ … Peter Brook’s aim is to see behind the smile.”
The sublime way Adrian Lester delivers the famous monologue sounds unbelievably contemporary.
According to the Book of Genesis (New American Standard Bible), “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” All other translations known to me prefer the word “hovering” instead of “moving.” I like the boldness and dynamism of this particular translation because it conceives of the act of creation as a clash of opposing forces; an expression of the energetic, potent and fructifying spirit acting upon the inert, receptive earth and waters. I thought about this while visiting an exhibition at Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland dedicated to the artist’s fascination and attempts at depicting movement in his paintings. The section of the exhibition entitled “Centrifugal forces of nature” has this as its motto:
“I place myself at a remote, originary place of creation, where I assume formulas for men, animals, plants, earth, fire, water, air and, at the same time, all the circling forces.”
Paul Klee, Diary IV
Klee believed the motion to be at the root of all growth. He described his works as Genesis. He was particularly fascinated by gravity and all kids of movements working to defy its inexorable force, namely the free centrifugal forces directed dynamically away from the centre (hence the frequent use of arrows and rolling wheels in his paintings); walking, jumping, running and dancing as other ways of overcoming gravity; finally, he juxtaposed the free movement of the spirit (mental motion) with the bodily movements hindered and limited by gravity. He called water an “in-between realm,” where “gravity, defined by the attraction of the earth, acts in the opposite direction, namely upwards.”
Perhaps the word “hovering” used in all major Bible translations can be defended if we thought of it as implying “balancing movement.” Klee’s work was very much concerned with balance found through motion. He was interested in an equilibrium of colour, line and form as an expression of a spiritual balance of being. He saw the inner paradoxical nature of balance as a simultaneous action and (static) condition. If all of nature is a precarious interplay between the static and the dynamic forces, then a balance is a temporary, fragile and rare moment, as beautifully shown here by artists from Cirque Rigolo:
I.“Thus the fire began to work upon the air and brought forth Sulphur. Then the air began to work upon the water and brought forth Mercurius. The water began to work upon the earth and brought forth Salt. But the earth, having nothing to work upon, brought forth nothing, so the product remained within it. Therefore only three principles were produced, and the earth became the nurse and matrix of the others. From these three principles were produced male and female, the male obviously from Sulphur and Mercurius, and the female from Mercurius and Salt. Together they bring forth the “incorruptible One,” the quinta essentia…”
Anonymous alchemical treatise “De sulphure” (quoted by Jung in “Mysterium Coniunctionis”)
II.“Yet the real carrier of life is the individual. He alone feels happiness, he alone has virtue and responsibility and any ethics whatever. The masses and the state have nothing of the kind. Only man as an individual human being lives; the state is just a system, a mere machine for sorting and tabulating the masses.”
C.G. Jung, “Mysterium Coniunctionis”
in the salt cellar
I once saw in the salt mines.
salt sings, the skin
of the salt mines
with a mouth smothered
by the earth.
I shivered in those
when I heard
in the desert.
In its caves
the salt moans, mountain
of buried light,
crystal of the sea, oblivion
of the waves.
And then on every table
in the world,
we see your piquant
of the ancient
holds of ships,
the high seas,
of the unknown, shifting
byways of the foam.
Dust of the sea, in you
the tongue receives a kiss
from ocean night:
taste imparts to every seasoned
dish your ocean essence;
wave from the saltcellar
reveals to us
more than domestic whiteness;
in it, we taste infinitude.”
Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Salt”
In the early sixteenth-century England the Church strictly controlled the access to God’s word by forbidding translating the Bible into English. The scholar William Tyndale defied the ban, working ceaselessly on his translations of the Holy Book right until his cruel death by execution. In his Adventure of English, Melvyn Bragg sings the praises of the “soaringly poetic” and yet “always earthed” English of Tyndale’s Gospels. Those rhythmically beautiful English words, with their “instant memorability and authority” shook the foundations of the church establishment. The famous verses from the Gospel of St Matthew still sound beautiful in Old English:
“Blessed are the povre in sprete: for theirs is the kyngdome off heven.
Blessed are they that morne: for they shal be comforted.
Blessed are the meke: for they shall inherit the erth.
Blessed are they which honger and thurst for rightewesnes: for they shal be filled
Blessed are the mercifull: for they shall obteyne mercy.
Blessed are the pure in herte: for they shall se God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shal be called the chyldren of God.
Blessed are they which suffre persecucion for rightwenes sake: for theirs ys the kyngdome off heven.
Blessed are ye when men shall reuyle you and persecute you and shall falsly say all manner of yvell saynges against you ffor my sake.
Reioyce and be glad for greate is youre rewarde in heven.
For so persecuted they the prophets which were before youre dayes.
Ye are the salt of the erthe.”
Alchemists viewed salt as a paradoxical, arcane substance, which in itself had corruption and protection against it. Like the alchemical salt, the language of Tyndale corroded the establishment, while simultaneously crystallizing the newly risen power of the individual, who was now able to get acquainted with the Holy Book without the church’s mediation.
Paracelsus equated Sal (salt) with the soul, “the stable basis of life, its earth, ground, body.” Jung offered many enlightening quotes from the alchemist Vigenerus, who saw salt as “that virginal and pure earth which is contained in the centre of all composite elementals, or in the depths of the same.” Hillman calls salt “the ground of subjectivity” and “felt experience.” While the alchemical sulphur is masculine and solar, salt is feminine and lunar. It deals with life, the individual soul embodied in the concrete and the material. Thanks to salt, says Hillman,
“we descend into the experiential component of this body – its blood, sweat, tears, and urine – to find our salt. … salt is the mineral, impersonal, objective ground of personal experience making experience possible.
Salt is soluble. Weeping, bleeding, sweating, urinating bring salt out of its interior underground mines. It appears in our moistures, which are the flow of salt to the surface. “During the work the salt assumes the appearance of blood” … Moments of dissolution are not mere collapses; they release a sense of personal human value from the encrustations of habit. “I, too, am a human being worth my salt” – hence my blood, sweat, and tears.
Pain implicates us at once in body, and psychic pain in psychic body. We are always subjected to pain, so that events that hurt, like childhood traumas, abuse, and rape, force our subjectivity upon us. These events seem in memory to be more real than any others because they carry the force of subjective reality.
These traumatic events initiate in the soul a sense of its embodiment as a vulnerable experiencing subject.”
Too much salt, however, may bring about fixation on past wounds – the immobile bitterness of Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt.
The right amount of salt denotes wit (cum grano salis), emotional, erotic participation and excitement, which arouses passion and desire. Hence the Ancient Romans called a man in love “salax” (modern English still uses the word “salacious” with a similar meaning). All meanings of the alchemical salt seem to revolve around the feminine, the earthy, the body (including the emotional body), the feeling nature, the moistness of being. The ancients valued salt so much that they associated it with fecundity, and by extension with money and wealth (the word “salary” is derived from “salt”). Jones explains (quoting Schneider):
“The sea was unquestionably the fructifying, creative element. … the offspring of sea creatures are to be counted by thousands and hundreds of thousands. This was all the more easily ascribed to the salt of the sea, since other observations believed to have been made were connected with it.”
For the Egyptians, salt guaranteed rebirth. Mummies were washed and preserved with the use of a brine solution called natron, which was perceived as birth-fluid, or as Barbara Walker puts it, “the Mother’s regenerative blood.” Natron was also used by the Egyptians as a beautifying, cleansing product, as a way to get rid of toxins and cleanse the household of vermin, as well as for spiritual purification. In ancient Rome, it was the Vestal virgins who were responsible for handling salt in sacrificial religious rituals. As Hillman wrote,
“The inherent capability of salt to crystallize its own essence is what I would call the inherent virginity of salt. By virginity here I mean the self-same, self-enclosed devotion to purity.”
Alchemists were not interested in the common salt, but in what they called Sal Sapientiae (salt of wisdom). On the one hand, salt and sulphur were viewed as opposing substances, as it was believed that “Sal inflicts on Sulphur an incurable wound.” (Jung) However, salt, the feminine and lunar principle, needed the solar and masculine ardour of sulphur to avoid the risk of rigidity and puritanism. When does the soul need salt? asks Hillman:
“There is another time and place for salt: when the soul needs earthing. When dreams and events do not feel real enough, when the uses of the world taste stale, flat and unprofitable, when we feel uncomfortable in community and have lost our personal ‘me-ness’ – weak, alienated, drifting – then the soul needs salt.
We mistake our medicine at times and reach for sulfur: action, false extraversion, trying harder. However, the move toward the macrocosm may first have to go back toward the microcosm, so that the world can be experienced and not merely joined with and acted upon as an abstract field. World must become earth; and this move from world as idea to tangible presence requires salt.
This effect of salt proceeds from its own fervor, a fervor of fixity that can be distinguished from the fervor of sulfuric enthusiasm and its manic boil of action, as well as from the fervor of mercury and its effervescent volatility.
When we sit still and sweat it out, we are stabilizing and adding salt to the solution so that it becomes a genuine one. Problems seem not to go away until they have first been thoroughly received.”
James Hillman, “Salt,” chapter in Alchemical Psychology
Ernest Jones, “The symbolic significance of salt in folklore and superstition”
C.G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis
Barbara G. Walker, Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
The world’s first lighthouse, the Pharos, was erected in the ancient city of Alexandria. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it turned the insignificant port of Pharos into one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. It was most probably built out of dazzlingly white limestone and around up to 600 feet (180 metres) tall. Not only was it a beacon for sea travelers but it also served as a sort of welcome centre or a shining portal for all newcomers into the magnificent city.
It is quite easy to see why lighthouses stir our romantic core. They are a stark image – tall, austere towers which are nevertheless comforting as they are there to guide mariners to a safe harbor through treacherous waters. The symbolism of any tower is dual at its core: on the one hand it is phallic, mighty, erect, denoting power and spirit reaching from the earth to the heavens. On the other hand, it is feminine, reminiscent of an enclosed area, a walled sanctuary, and a safe haven. The Tower of Ivory was one of the names given to the Virgin Mary in her protective role of offering refuge and comfort.
The lighthouse may be seen as symbolic of individual consciousness, which kindles “a light in the darkness of mere being,” as Jung famously put it in his memoirs. He also wrote these words of warning in Psychology and Alchemy:
“The meeting between the … individual consciousness and the vast expanse of the collective unconscious is dangerous, because the unconscious has a decidedly disintegrating effect on consciousness.”
Lighthouses used to be built near the most dangerous waters, only after a plethora of horrific sea disasters had taken place in the area. As such, they brilliantly symbolize the perils of individuation – a constant danger of being swallowed by the unconscious forces beyond our control. In a fascinating article, Nathaniel Rich of The New York Review of Books, compares these “brilliant beacons” to “cenotaphs, marking deathtraps that for centuries devoured mariners along the continent’s coasts.” Granted, thousands of lives were saved thanks to lighthouses, but at the same time their keepers were in constant mortal danger, living in utter and often desperate isolation. As Jung wrote:
“By becoming conscious, the individual is threatened more and more with isolation, which is nevertheless the sine qua non of conscious differentiation.”
Lighthouse keepers often paid a high price for performing an invaluable service to the collective. Specific examples of their plight mentioned by Rich are quite eye-opening. A lot of lighthouses burnt because the whale oil used to fuel the lighthouse fire at the beginnings of the twentieth century was highly combustible. Furthermore,
“the keeper’s life was not at all quiet. During periods of low visibility, keepers had to sound fog signals, which depending on the era might involve blasting canons, shooting guns, ringing bells, or blowing horns.
Keepers not only had to maintain the light and fog signals but also clean the lens, trim the lantern wicks, and scrub the walls, floors, windows, balconies, and railings, inside and outside. The many brass fixtures and appliances had to be polished diligently, a job that of itself was enough to drive keepers to madness… Inspectors appeared without warning wearing white gloves…”
The job of the lighthouse keeper evidently required diligence, vigilance and a fair amount of drudgery. Like priestesses of Vesta tending the sacred fire, he or she had to maintain focus on purity. Harold Bayley in The Lost Language of Symbolism, claims that the words fire and sphere are derived from the same root. Both are the most ancient symbols of divinity understood as the primeval cause of the universe as well as the inner spark of the individual soul. Heraclitus wrote this on fire: “That which always was and is, and will be everlasting fire, the same for all, the cosmos, made neither by god nor man, replenishes in measure as it burns away.” Keeping the fire ablaze while living on the edge of society, bearing loneliness as a price paid for individuation, is the main task of the (symbolically understood) lighthouse keeper.