Tag Archives: John Crowley

Symbols I

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been reading John Crowley’s Aegypt (now called The Solitudes). Even after many moves where piles of books had to be sold or given away, the books in this series have always stayed with me.

They are so full, you see. Full of symbols, full of twists and turns, full of arcane references. Real historical personages from the Renaissance like Hermetic philosopher and mathematician John Dee and cosmologist and occultist Giordano Bruno appear alongside William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I as well as Crowley’s fictional characters.

In this first book in the tetralogy, one important group of symbols is the signs of the zodiac, particularly in relation to Christianity and the falling away of paganism. In a conversation with the main character, Pierce, someone describes the precession of the equinoxes:

“Astronomically speaking pretty soon, a coupled hundred years or so–the sun will begin to rise in the sign of Aquarius. Thus the end of the Piscean Age, that started two-thousand-odd years ago, and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.”

Two thousand years ago, the Piscean age, the world shifts from B.C. to A.D. Jesus. And Jesus was a fish.

Oh. “Oh,” said Pierce.

“Always precedes, you see,” Earl said dreamily. “Precedes. Before Pisces was Aries the ram, and before that Taurus the bull, and so on.”

Moses had ram’s horns, who overthrew the golden bull-calf. And then comes Jesus the fish, two thousand years on, new heaven and new earth, and shepherd Pan flees from the mountainsides. And now the world watched and waited for the man with the water jug. (1)

Now, Rudolf Steiner had a lot to say about astrology, and Christianity, and the evolution of human civilization and consciousness and how they are all related. He believed that certain civilizations represent the pinnacle or exemplum of each age, and that these civilizations also represent the stages of human consciousness, both on a macro level of human evolution, and on the micro level of individual development through life (this is partly why the stories of certain cultures are included in the curricula for specific ages in Waldorf methods):

The advance of civilizations is also connected with the progression of the sun from one constellation to the other….

At the time when the sun rose in the constellation of Cancer the ancient Vedic culture of the Indians, the culture of the Rishis reached its highest point. The Rishis, those still half-divine beings, were the teachers of men….

The second cultural epoch is named the constellation of the Twins. At that time the dual nature of the world was understood, the opposing forces of the world, Ormuzd and Ahriman, Good and Evil. Thus the Persians also speak of the Twins.

The third cultural epoch is that of the Sumerians in Asia Minor and of the Egyptians. The constellation of the Bull corresponds to this epoch. This is why in Asia the Bull was venerated and in Egypt, Apis….

The fourth culture is that of the Ram, or Lamb; Christ stands in the sign of the Ram, or Lamb; hence he calls himself the Lamb of God.

As fifth culture the external materialistic civilization follows, in the constellation of the Fishes. This developed principally from the 12th century onwards and reached its climax about the year 1800.

In the constellation of the Water-Man in the future, the new Christianity will be proclaimed. ‘Water-Man’ is also the one who will bring it, he who has already been here: John the Baptist. (2)

So, what are we to do with all this? Are these merely coincidences, or artifacts of the human desire to make sense of the world? Or are these symbols representations of some deeper meaning, some illimitable truth? There are so many symbols in Christianity: the cross, the fishes, the lamb. Do we simply pick the one that fits our current system, or is the fish truly the “right” one for what Jesus represents cosmically?

And what can we make of the Age of Aquarius, the Water-bearer? Does he already appear in one of our greatest books?

Jesus sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” (3)

I think I’ll do a few more posts on symbols…gives me a chance to plunder more awesome online medieval art!

(1) John Crowley, Aegypt, Bantam Books, 1987.
(2) Rudolf Steiner, Foundations of Esotericism, Lecture 8, Berlin, October 3, 190
(3) Mark 14:12-15

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Three Wishes

One of my favorite books is Aegypt (reissued as The Solitudes), by John Crowley. The book begins:

If ever some power with three wishes to grant were to appear before Pierce Moffett, he or she or it (djinn, fairy godmother, ring curiously inscribed) would find him not entirely unprepared, but not entirely ready either.

There turned out to be so many angles to consider–his changing desires even aside–that, a grown man now, professor, historian, he still hadn’t completed his formulations.

Pierce is on a long bus ride, and mulls over these angles to pass the time. Long ago, he formulated his ideal first two wishes:

The lifelong and long-lived mental and physical health and safety of himself and those whom he loved, nothing asked for in a subsequent wish to abrogate this

An income, not burdensomely immense but sufficient, safe from the fluctuations of economic life, requiring next to no attention on his part and not distorting his natural career.

Oliver Herford illustrated the fairy godmother...

Image via Wikipedia

But what about that pesky third wish? In his childhood, Pierce had often resorted to the greedy idea of using the third to wish for three more, ad infinitum. But with growing maturity he came to see that unintended consequences could render that course fraught with danger.

He had pondered the rather safe idea of wishing the third time for oblivion: “to forget he had ever known wishes could be granted, to be returned to his (present) state of ignorance that such irruptions of power into the world, power placed at his unwise disposal, were really truly possible at all.”

What would your wishes be?

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Beyond the Fields We Know

My brain is feeling alternately empty and overly full. We’re going on a vacation to California this weekend, so I’m full of lists and plans and things to do. Which has made my brain seemingly empty of much else.

I had a post cooking in there about education based on an interesting thread on an editing discussion board. I have several drafts I could finish. I could go outside and take pictures of the beautiful flowers and plants growing madly all around and tell you all about them. Heck, I could take a couple shots of my cats and write the most boring post ever:

Eat. Drink. Poop. Scratch. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Repeat.

I’ll spare you that one.

Stained glassImage via Wikipedia

Instead, I think I’ll use one of those lurking drafts to fill the empty blog void in my brain. I’ll share some gems from one of my all-time favorite books, Little, Big by John Crowley.

Our heroine is taking her morning bath, in my ideal bathroom*:

The Gothic bathroom had filled with steam. Its sort of Gothic was really more woodland than church; the vaulting of it arched above Daily Alice’s head and interlaced like meeting branches, and everywhere carven ivy, leaves, tendrils and vines were in restless biomorphic motion. On the surface of the narrow stained-glass windows, dew formed in drops on cartoon-bright trees, and on the distant hunters and vague fields which the trees framed; and when the sun on its lazy way had lit up all twelve of these, bejewelling the fog that rose from her bath, Daily Alice lay in a pool in a medieval forest. Her great-grandfather had designed the room, but another had made the glass. His middle name was Comfort, and that’s what Daily Alice felt. She even sang.

Our heroine’s mother is cooking, experiencing something similar to what happens to me when I wash dishes:

Mother was powdered to the elbows in the process of pie-making, not a mindless task though she liked to call it that, in fact she found that at it her thoughts were often clearest, notions sharpest; she could do things when her body was busy that she could at no other time, things like assemble her worries into ranks, each rank commanded by a hope. She remembered verses sometimes cooking that she had forgotten she knew, or spoke in tongues, her husband’s or her children’s or her dead father’s or her unborn, clearly-seen grandchildren’s, three graduated girls and a lean unhappy boy.

Our hero meets our heroine for the first time:

The more he looked at her the stronger [the feeling] grew, the more she looked at him the more he felt . . . what? In a moment of silence they simply looked at each other, and understanding hummed, thundered within Smoky as he realized what had happened: not only had he fallen in love with her, and at first sight, but she at first sight had fallen in love with him, and the two circumstances had this effect: his anonymity was being cured. Not disguised, as [his friend] George Mouse had tried to do, but cured, from the inside out. That was the feeling. It was as though she stirred him with cornstarch. He had begun to thicken.

*Ideal only if I can hire someone to clean it, especially all the little nooks and crannies of all that lead came.

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