Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Fifteen


“The worst that had ever been said about Old Kyte was that, many years ago, she had led peasant dances in the woods on May Eve, which some of the Methodists and Ranters had called licentious.”


Week Fifteen (pg. 237-260 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 1&2 Part III all editions) 

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger 

While staying in my home town over the Thanksgiving holiday, I picked up my relatively old New Falcon edition of The Widow’s Son  to read over this week’s material. When I came home and picked up my Hilaritas edition I was struck by how much Bobby Campbell improved his already excellent illustrations. I’m particularly referencing the illustration that kicks off Part III and incorporates Poussin.

This Part of the novel begins with a quotation from Pound’s Cantos, one of RAW’s favorite works, specifically the section written while Pound was imprisoned for his radio broadcasts against the Allies in Italy. During this part of the poem Pound identifies with Odysseus as Oytis or “no man” (You can also spell it Outis and translate it as “no one” which is one of our cats’ names.) but by this point is beginning to feel after a state of permanence. The next line continues “fire must destroy himself ere others destroy him,” which certainly fits in with the themes of transformation that we’ve been reading about in the narrative. The Canto continues and speaks of a city, Hooo Fassa, destroyed and rebuilt four times before being built in the “mind indestructible” guarded with “the four giants at the four corners” and “a terrace the colour of stars.” From the commentaries I looked at Hooo Fassa seems to be a mixture of Mencius’ philosophy that the mind responsible for its own destruction can be responsible for its rebirth and the Ghanan myth of Wagadu, a divine spirit that inhabited the city of the same same that was destroyed four times; since Wagadu existed in the minds of the people she was able to rebuild her city a fifth time under the name Fasa. (Wagadou was the proper name of the old Ghanan Empire as well.) So self-transformation and life-death-rebirth served all around. We’ll encounter a set of the four giants soon enough.

Old Kyte is a walking caricature of the shaky beliefs in a contiguous pagan tradition continuing throughout the Christian era in Europe and late twentieth century women’s mysteries- a term Maria uses to describe what Kyte has been teaching her during the initial process of her labour. She also serves as an example of the difference between the Matrist/Patrist mindsets that RAW likes to ruminate upon. She is drawn up in Sir John’s mind as the opposite of Dr. Coali who represents rationality, science, and the “man’s way” of handling childbirth. Because RAW is obviously sympathetic for the “woman’s way” of childbirth this is an inversion of the Masonic themes found in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” where the noble, masculine Sarastro triumphs over the dark, feminine Queen of Night. These ideas are especially interesting during a time in our U.S. society where midwives and doulas seem to be making a comeback and women’s bodies are seemingly heading towards the Supreme Court in the near future.

As a reminder that none of the Christian sects are innocent, RAW introduces a dissenter priest who tried, and failed, to run Old Kyte out of Lousewartshire.

The Matrist, earthy, “primitive” sides of Mistress Kyte are further illustrated as John ruminates on how she looks medieval compared to the setting of a “modern” bedroom, and by her Shakespearean use of piss and shit instead of the Norman/higher class terms for excretion. Of course she works with herbs and a dispenses an herbal drug- what else could one expect? This fascination with the use of dangerous herbs and wise women comes up repeatedly in RAW’s work- in Sex, Drugs, and Magick he recommends that the reader check out John Dickson Carr’s The Crooked Hinge for the inclusion of old witchery as part of the plot. (I read it years ago and really enjoyed it. It’s also a perfectly bizarre story in and of itself.) She also has Maria panting before contractions which is reminiscent of the tantric practice of “the breathe of fire” which RAW’s gives instructions for in Sex, Drugs, and Magick.

Kyte also calls upon four cardinal spirits to guard the room and the childbirth. These are further variations on the four archangels like the ones used by the Carbonari in The Earth Will Shake. Unlike the spirits called upon by Sigismundo’s father, which can be traced to the factitious Aradia: or, The Witch’s Gospel, the spirits called upon by Kyte seem to have been RAW’s invention. Sir John identifies Bride as Brigit in his own thoughts after Maria asks where she gets the names from. Robin is probably Robin Goodfellow, another name for Puck, but paired with Marian immediately brings Robin Hood and Maid Marian to mind as well. Marian could also be a form of the Virgin and Orfee is most likely a representation of Orpheus who has somehow ended up being part of an ancient Celtic tradition here. Side and Sidhe are the same and both are described as different places, different times, or different dimensions. Sidhe here has a lot in common with the notion of Magonia. John’s inner commentary illustrates the further themes of syncretization as he notices similarities between Kyte’s philosophy and Platonism as well as the dual use of the term “the Craft.” We can assume that Charles Putney Drake, the Worshipful Master of John’s Lodge who believed all that could access the baraka were once in one Lodge, is an ancestor of that Nietzschean ne’er-do-well Robert Putney Drake of Illuminatus! fame.

Maria, seen through the male gaze of Sir John and the narrator, is a picture perfect representation of femininity in this chapter. She accepts and even relishes the pain of childbirth and later reminisces on how the post-birth glow is better than the other times she has had transcendent experiences. Everything about the process of birth is received by her with grace and good humor. This portrait is heightened as Sir John reflects that no man deserves a woman’s love. I admit that I like this portrait of femininity but am curious how female readers would react to such a male fantasy of what femininity “should” be.

As Sir John wanders around in his own state of bliss he meets James Moon again who has brought his “fookin rock” and blesses him in the name of God, Mary, Patrick, and Brigit, a perfectly Irish formulation of the cardinal spirits.

Kyte gets the last word, promising the child that both her parents, by virtue of their involvement with “the Craft,” will come to know Side.

The next chapter requires little commentary: Signor Duccio is as concise as possible and reiterates his Malthusian belief that population growth is the main driver of societal upheaval. This serves as a fatalistic reminder that all the events we, the readers, know are coming in the narrative’s future are unavoidable even if our characters’ efforts were to play out. Change is inevitable and the future is coming at us like a bullet train. No time to dodge, not even for one who can do miraculous feats using the baraka.

The A.’.A.’. reflects on the mysteries of the vagina before imploring the reader to burn this page.

From Eric Wagner: More Handel in honor of Maria’s baby for this week. Happy Thanksgiving.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=g-_Zm_-WM5Y

8 comments:

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I really appreciate Gregory taking the time to explain the various pagan references in our latest reading selection.

And I like the way the text relates childbirth to the universe becoming a "continuous process of initiation." Certainly rites of passage such as childbirth and marriage create vivid experiences comparable to the initiation experiences in RAW's novels.

Eric Wagner said...



"Et in Arcadia ego?" or "Leggo my Eggo"?

Alias Bogus said...

This section has the title “The Living One”. This phrase often seems to apply to Jesus, with that “dead but arisen” stuff, which I entirely don’t understand. For a literalist, I guess a descendant through the bloodline could fit that definition (although descendants do not always have the qualities or powers of their ancestors).

For a pantheist (panpsychic?) like me, “The Living One” possibly better describes the consciousness currently experiencing the planet, always alive, that consumes itself, perpetuates itself, and never dies. As we all belong to those ‘currently alive’ we have something that Aristotle, Shakespeare, Newton, Einstein, Leonardo, etc. might probably trade all their talents for? Finding themselves actually alive in this very moment.

The best way I can point to this direct awareness of The Living One, comes from Douglas Harding*. I told Bob about his book “On Having No Head” which describes the headless way (originally a pamphlet, published by The Buddhist Society in 1967, but recently expanded to “On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious”). Even before he had finished reading it, he described it to me as the best book on Zen he had read. And he also reminded me of his own “two-head” theory” (Chapter 5 of Quantum Psychology).

*By one of those strange ‘coincidences’ Douglas and Bob died within hours of each other.

Oz Fritz said...

I had a synchronicity with a comment last week wherein I quoted RAW quoting de Selby, "opens an exuberance of mirrors." (p. 148 Bluejay edition). That evening my girlfriend chose for us to watch Jodorowsky's film, The Holy Mountain. One scene clearly shows an exuberance of mirrors.

The brilliant research, once again, by Gregory reveals another synchronicity for me. He wrote: (d)uring this part of the poem Pound identifies with Odysseus as Oytis or “no man.” My primary mentor in music is Bill Laswell, more formally known as William Otis Laswell. We worked with the Australian group Yothu Yindi in the early 90's, a group led by Mandawuy Yunupingu, an indigenous Australian ( he considered the label "Aborigine" racist and derogatory). At the end of the sessions Mandawuy told us all that Bill was a "no man" that came from "no where."

Oz Fritz said...

The Pisan Cantos quote RAW chose to open Part Three:
"nor shall diamond die in the avalanche
be it torn from its setting"
reminds me of a favorite Tom Waits song I recorded twice, but that never got released - "Always Keep A Diamond In Your Mind" Versions of it got recorded for two different albums. Solomon Burke did release his performance of it, but I don't find it nearly as good. Diamond corresponds to Kether.

Part 3 Chapter 1 has many references to Binah, natural for a book with a didactic, qabalistic subtext. The first word of the chapter = Maria.
p. 164: "The Lady only knows. But remember, you are in her arms
p.165: "Gentle Mary, strong and mild, bless this mother, bless this child."
p.169: "And then Mother Ursula took her into the chapel and they knelt before a statue of Mary and prayed together, and Mary smiled at them with the same infinite love as God entering Maria to take her pain..."

Chapter Two begins with a discussion on the politics and conditions of life that affect preterites.

Chapter Two concludes with a short, explicit, qabalah lesson on the Hebrew letter daleth. The placement of this lesson coming at then end of chapter 2 resonates with the Tree of Life where daleth denotes the path connecting the sephira Chokmah-2 with Binah-3.

Oz Fritz said...

I forgot to mention that Part Three Chapter One illustrates the threefold nature of the Goddess as given in the Wiccan tradition: The Crone (Old Kyte) , The Mother (Maria), and The Maiden (Maria's new-born daughter).

The title of Part Three = THE LIVING ONE. This morning I read an inspiring reference to The Living One in Crowley's "The Vision and the Voice:"

"For the blood of my heart is like the warm bath of myrrh and ambergris; bathe thyself therein. The blood of my heart is all gathered upon my lips if I kiss thee, burns in my fingertips if I caress thee, burns in my womb when thou art caught up into my bed. Mighty are the stars; mighty is the sun; mighty is the moon; mighty is the voice of the ever-living one, and the echoes of his whisper are the thunders of the dissolution of worlds."

Alias Bogus said...

I found it interesting that Bob spends an almost equal amount of time on women’s mysteries, as the history books tend to lean towards knowing more about male rituals, etc.
Most early anthropological studies came from men, so we got a greater focus on hunting, building, ritual initiations, etc, and relatively little insight into “women’s mysteries”. Once female anthropologists began to get involved in field work, we gained deeper insight into that part of the culture managed by women, for women. Female ‘ordeals’ happen more at the physical level (menstruation, childbirth, menopause, etc) which men rarely got involved in, and their skills lean more towards health (nutrition, cooking, hygiene, etc). Asking fathers to attend a birth still seems quite a rare, and modern, innovation. Unusual in the 18th Century, I suspect.

We also talk of “hunter/gatherers”, when, more accurately, we might say “gatherer/hunters”, because a larger proportion of the food probably comes from gathering (seeds, roots, plants, insects, molluscs, etc) usually done by the women, children and old people. Although the meat protein, from the hunt, often proves important, the men will still get to eat, even if they fail at the hunt.

Ursula le Guin wrote a great piece “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”, which suggests that we might consider the first tool as a sack or bag to carry food, rather than a weapon. Any container. A bottle, a bucket, a grail, etc. Far more important.

And Maria experiences The Living One, at the end of chapter one: He was inside the most inside part of it, in her womb, in her muscles, in her blood, in her arse.

And then, in chapter two, we hear about “The gate that is not a gate…the source of the Living One…”

Alias Bogus said...

Thanks to Oz Fritz for reminding us of the Virgin/Mother/Crone aspect of the Goddess. I came across that model in (say) The White Goddess by Robert Graves, and the link to the moon cycle, etc – but it feels as if it leaves out quite a lot. It seems to come from the male perspective.

We probably need one of our readers to put a woman’s point of view. First of all, that women should not only get linked to the reproductive cycle, but maybe also woman as warrior, woman as hedonist, woman as prostitute (either for money, influence or power) should manifest here.

Then there’s the old madonna/whore dichotomy (a Freudian term, I think, indicating the ambivalence of male worship of the female, and anxiety about female sexual energies – felt particularly, I suspect, by Sir John, because of his gay tendency). Given Bob’s interest in tantric relationships, and sex magick, this image of the Sacred Priestess surely comes into the discussion (?)

I have always thought of men as peripheral, and that the endless Russian doll sequence of women have a continuity we (men) can never completely understand. If any aspect of humans deserves the label of the eternal-living-one, then I would think of that as the matrilineal line.