Yes, More American Poetry-And Aztec Gods

Robinson Jeffers January 10, 1887 – January 20, 1962 Photo at Tor House by Nat Farbman, 1948

The old pagan burials, uninscribed rock, 
Secret-keeping mounds,
Have shed the feeble delusions that built them,
They stand inhumanly
Clean and massive; they have lost their priests.
“Delusion Of Saints”~Robinson Jeffers

Last Friday, my day wouldn’t maintain its gyre. I was supposed to grade and then blog (and then bake lasagna) but I couldn’t seem to keep my hands off this one. So I put it aside and did what needed doing. Now I can get back to what wants doing.

I meant to just write about Xochiquetzal and Xolotl (as you can see from my brief post earlier today)—but the Aztec pantheon has always made me do handsprings into some murky memories. So, inevitably, I ended up trolling an opaque lake or two in my psyche. I posted my X post and had to revisit my psychic acrobatics.

The first of these handsprings is Robinson Jeffers. I know, another American poet. However, though I’d love to tell you why Jeffers wants America to  “Be Angry at the Sun”  or how his  “Shine, Perishing Republic”  (or even “To the Stonecutters”) bleeds wretchedness for the America Whitman dared to hope for, I’m just going to tell you about the mythology in his poetry.

And about how detecting it almost ruined my life.

Almost a solid decade ago, I was finishing graduate course-work. It was my intention to  do  American poetry—I especially loved the middle generation: Jarrell, Bishop, Lowell, & Co., as Suzanne Ferguson calls them. Anne Sexton, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman. But it wasn’t until my last poetry course that I got sufficiently exposed to Robinson Jeffers.

And the whole course was so traumatic that I’m surprised I still like Jeffers. Heck, I lurve Jeffers—he’s right up there with O, Captain and Huffy Henry. But, like I said, the course was traumatic and I shifted my interest to film. (I talked about it more than I should have in  Unnecessary Roughness.  So, I’ve already said too much.)

Damn, grad school made me stop writing poetry. It’s not until this moment that I realize it made me stop reading poetry for goin’on ten years. Feck.

This is from my class notes—if you’re not into academic blahbiddy-blah, go ahead and skip it; the point will remain the same:

I chose Robinson Jeffers as the focus for my final project because I had detected something in his poetry that was unlike anything coming out of the Modern era. It seemed almost non-Western, certainly non-essentialist in that it seemed like there were some larger forces creating the cohesion between his lyrics and his narrative poems. At first glance, I contributed what I was hearing to his philosophy of  inhumanism,  the notion that androcentricity is the dividing force in American culture. As I read and re-read the narratives–and even more markedly in the lyrics—I had the feeling (as Jeffers would put it,  the certitude ) that everything was off-center from what I had come to expect from a (particularly male) Modernist. The characters are allegorical, never one dimensional or interchangeable like Hemingway’s injured men and officious women. The function of myth in Jeffers’s poetry didn’t fit the bill I expected either; Eliot’s allusions are indefatigably Western: Christian or  Classical  mythology. Jeffers’s system of allusion includes multi-layer planes of Judeo-Christian myth, Greco-Roman myth, and North American aboriginal myth, often within the same figure.

. . . .

His amalgamation of Anglo-Christian mythology with Native American and Mexican folklore creates a completeness in Jeffers’s narratives that is unparalleled in most Modernist texts that forget (or ignore) the previous cultures of this geographical location. Further, there is an advanced layer of scientific schemata; to his spiritual philosophies is added a conception of microcosmic certitude. From these manifold perspectives, Jeffers combines realism and spiritual philosophy into his idea of  inhumanism,  a unique device in his texts. 

And that’s not even the paper—it’s just  notes.  What the paper ends up doing, as you can prolly guess, is to walk the reader through the  amalgamation  of Jeffers’ use of myth. When I began a close reading (of, specifically,  The Roan Stallion  and  Tamar —but also  Shiva  and  Cassandra ) I was astounded at his use of non-Western mythology. I was further astounded to discover that, in using non-Western myth, Jeffers was able to create a non-essentialist landscape: his poetry tends to be very critical of assumed patriarchal roles.[1]

After a really horrible semester in which a junior-classmate was allowed to run roughshod all over the rest of the course, I had a hard time getting arsed up to write anything for my final. In the end, I wrote the paper from the perspective of a feminist Pagan shouting  Boo-yah!  for Jeffers. And really, there wasn’t any theory in the paper—it was simply a close reading that reveled Jeffers’ non-Western, non-patriarchal content. But my (female) professor was (is) staunchly anti-feminist and told me that I “wielded feminist theory like a blunt object”  and granted a B—an insult. The big problem was that I had asked her to lead my dissertation. A week after finals, we agreed that  perhaps my interests lie elsewhere.

I tucked the paper and her comments away and never looked at them again. I tucked all of my poetry books away and dust them occasionally. I made a complete 180 and moved on to Alfred Hitchcock. (Anthony Hopkins, squee!)

I was convinced, given this and a completely different but equally wounding experience with poetry in academia, that poetry just wasn’t for me. I knew that the professor was unnecessarily rough with me, but I retained that awful nagging that it just wasn’t good. In my mind it became a spotlight of shame, The Worst Paper Ever, and I would cringe whenever the memory would rear its head. God forbid anyone try talking about Jeffers.

And when I imagined the paper, I simply saw a twenty-six page jumble of words and half formed ideas. I expected to open the file and see crayon scrawled across my screen:  Jeffers good. Patriarchy bad. BAM! I whack you with my anti-phallus.

But that’s not what happened. I opened it last week (rather than grading) and glanced it over. It’s actually quite elegant. It’s entirely logical. And my memory of the paper is correct—there is no feminist theory in it. Sure I imbedded some feminist-flavored arguments, but there’s no mention of theory. The paper is foremostly about mythology. Now, I wonder if she even read beyond the first page. I honestly wonder. And I feel a little less stupid. It’s not the worst paper ever; it’s actually quite good. (I do feel some regret about having changed the path of my life over it, but que sera, sera.)

That bifurcates my brain in a way that only Jeffers’ narratives can do.

My first thought—and the one that is nagging at me with its immediacy—has to do with re-reading my old blogs.

I was convinced, given two equally wounding experience with pagan “friends,” that this shit just wasn’t for me. I knew that the others were unnecessarily rough with me, but I retained that awful nagging that I was just Bad. In my mind I became The Worst Witch Ever, and I would cringe whenever the memory would rear its head. God forbid anyone try talking about blogging.

After a year of being told that I had written this or that I went back to see what was what. Turns out, I’m not crazy.[2] I opened the old Files and expected to see blood spatter across my screen:  This and That.

But that’s not what happened. Over the last few weeks, I’ve realized that most of my arguments are actually quite elegant (as blogs go). Most are entirely logical (as blogs go). And my memory of previous posts is correct—there is no this or that in them. Sure I imbedded some double entendre footnotes for the two or three folks (like The Husband and The Bestie) on the in, but, despite my having told you that this blog would be a tell-all,  there’s no overt mention of this or that. The posts are foremostly about Witchcraft and ethics in general. And I feel a little less Bad. I’m not the worst Witch ever; I’m actually quite good. (And to round off that parallel paragraph—I do feel some regret about having changed the path of my life over it, but que sera, sera.)

My second thought gets more to the crux of what this post is supposed to address: Aztec mythology.[3] In the Jeffers paper, I wrote quite a lot about Tlazolteotl, with whom I have had a strong connection since the late 90s. And that’s my second handspring.

For the weekend.


[1] And, I think I told you, I gave my American Lit class an assignment to create a distinctly American mythology. I didn’t remember writing this, but I said of Jeffers:

The narrative poems are complex labyrinths. Jeffers draws from various intersecting cultural mythologies to invent a distinctive, unified, specifically American mythology. In doing so, Jeffers formulates a (nearly pantheonic) lineage within specifics of time and place, as well as revelation of the surrounding world–suggestions of war and human political developments–but the allegories have a ostensible agelessness. . . . I don’t mean to infer that Jeffers is imitating the mythologies of other cultures; my position is that Jeffers is creating a uniquely American mythology and that thematic intersections are inevitable.

[2] Have you been watching Homeland? (Spoiler alert.) I have been feeling a lot like mid-season-two Carrie Mathison: “I was right!”

Bad Witch, “Goad” Witch

I have been asked, on a number of fronts, “If you’re The Bad Witch, who’s The Good Witch?”

After explaining that “The Bad Witch” didn’t originally apply to me, but to the Bad Witches on whom I was reporting (ergo: The Bad Witch Files) and that I took on the moniker as a bit of a joke (based on a snarky t-shirt) which I ended up embracing (blah, blah, blah), I try to explain that by “Bad” I really mean “Challenging” or “Intending to be a goad.” In other words, I like to poke y’all ‘til you squirm.[1] And because I’m bored with defending myself on this front,[2] I thought I’d write one long post and be done with it for good.

The Bad Witch is a gadfly. If she bugs you it must mean that you’ve got something to bite.[3]

We are all pretty familiar with the good cop/bad cop interrogation routine, right?

Imagine: David Caruso brings you in for questioning. You’re sitting all alone in a cement-block interrogation room with a two-way mirror. Who do you prefer to see? The Good Cop or The Bad Cop? You aren’t in any trouble, really; they’re just trying to uncover the truth. Then the Heavy comes into the room. She asks you direct, pointed questions, makes you very uncomfortable, and leaves. You sweat for a minute then The Softie comes along and brings you a soda-pop and a snack, tells you soothing stories, holds your hand, listens to everything you have to say, looks into your eyes, and says “Trust me; if you tell me everything, I can make sure The Heavy doesn’t come back.”

Then she lifts your prints from the soda can and reports everything you told her.

While the good cop/bad cop routine is teamwork used to close a criminal case, the good witch/bad witch routine doesn’t really work like that. Primarily because the good witch and the bad witch are not in cahoots. Our metaphor applies to a set of non-cooperative constabularies: me and the anti-me.

Anyone who knows their Freshman year rhetoric knows about the false dilemma (either/or fallacy). Things aren’t always as dichotomous as they seem – or are they? For me, it seem that the issue between “good” magic (and witches) and “bad” magic (and witches) is caught up in a linguistic strand of signifiers that prefers bipolar morality to the difficulties inherent in ethical choices . . . and intent.

It’s slippery isn’t it?

Ethically, we do not work magic in order to hurt people; but we do work to protect people, right?

Right?

Hmmmmmm.

As an (extreme) example, consider this: Pedophile Joe has eluded the police and you are concerned about the children in the neighborhood. When you protect the children, don’t you – by default – “harm” Joe? I bet he’d see it that way.

Likewise, when you seek to bind someone to a situation (even if you perceive it as positive), you are exacting a manipulative and “controlling” influence.

The trick is – why are you doing it and what do you hope to gain?

The Bad Witch could wholeheartedly get behind throwing Pedophile Joe in the cauldron; at the same time, I would exhort you not to attempt to keep someone you love by your side – even if that’s where they want to be.[4]

In its purest form, magic is a gift given to us to bring us closer to the divine; therefore, it should be directed inward, not outward. That’s not to say that magic can’t be used to affect material situations, just that we must study ourselves very carefully before we decide if it should be used for those purposes.

My mentor always taught me that we don’t use magic because we want to make something happen, but because we want to make ourselves worthier of the gift itself. And that “bad” magic or “black” magic is that which is intended to manipulate or control others or situations.[5] Most agree that “Black” magic is the manipulating of energy planes done by the self for the self, not necessarily to the detriment of others, but to gain something (typically material) for oneself.[6]

So does that make us all Bad Witches?

Sorry, that answer is above my paygrade.

Therefore, let’s go back to the good cop/bad cop scenario.

The Bad Witch is direct, will call you out on poor manners, will tell you when you’ve effed up (and will, likely provide a way to make it better), will make you very uncomfortable if you are lying, and will leave when your company has become trying. However, TBW will not deceive you. What you see is what you get. It’s all on the sleeves of her scary, scary black robe. [7]

The Good Witch is the one that gives you someone else’s ruby slippers and tells you that magic can and should be used to get all the candy in the candy store. The Good Witch brings you a metaphorical soda-pop and a snack, pacifies you with anesthetizing stories, gains your trust and promises to protect you from The Bad Witch.

All while running your prints.

That, my friends, is The Good Witch.

If I am indeed The Bad Witch and my goal is to goad you into a new level of introspection (while exploring my own innards)– then what is The Good Witch doing?

If The Bad Witch is the one who tells you the truth (follow me on an uncustomary binary headtrip for a moment), The Good Witch must be full of shite.

Let me take it a little farther. Most likely, The Good Witch is all touchy-feely and lulls you with a false sense of love: initially preferred to “tough love” for its saccharine charisma. But how nourishing is saccharine?

The Good (“Fun”/“Alluring”/“ Mollifying”) Witch only offers “false love” – that psudo-psychology term for the kind of relationship that poses as love but really asks for sacrifice in return for domination and abdication of selfhood, the kind of “love” that hampers personal growth out of fear of being surpassed, outdone, or abandoned, the kind of “love” that wants us to limit contact with others by making us doubt, mistrust or be suspicious of others. What’s more, it’s the kind of “love” that makes others doubt, mistrust or be suspicious of us.

Admittedly, The Good Witch is more fun to party with, she has a nicer ass, and her cookies always have just the right amount of chocolate chips.

But will she respect you in the morning?

Or in a year.[8]

The Bad Witch (read Tough-Love Witch) will goad you into thinking for yourself. And then let you make informed choices, sometimes you will do this kicking and screaming. But she will be devoted to supporting your choices. That’s hard work – for both of you.

But where does that road lead? Not many are willing to travel alongside a Bad Witch down a tough road. (Remember: If she bugs you it must mean that you’ve got something to bite.)

The Good Witch (read False-Love Witch), on the other hand, wants to tell you what to think, who to care about, what to do/read/eat, when to jump and just how high; then she will pat you on the head like a good puppy when you comply. This is a much easier road – for both of you.

But where does that road lead? Are you willing to follow a Good Witch down a false road?

Many are.

I pray for them.

B, Q, 93,

TBW


[1] Not entirely unlike the ha-satan who observes human activity with the intention of locating folks’ sins and challenging them. Like the celestial prosecutor who brings human iniquity to trial. He got called “Devil” too.

[2] Not from you, my loyal readers; from those who have been fed a series of bull-cupcakes – and they ate them with a spoon. They lick the poop-icing off their fingers and everything. It’s kinda fun to watch. Gross, but fun.

[3] And there is no The Good Witch. There are some people who like to think of themselves as my counterpart. Some who like to believe they embody “The Good Witch.” However, after we study this designation, I don’t think anyone is going to strive for that sobriquet.

[4] I always ask my Momma not to “pray” for me for these reasons. It’s bad enough that I seem to be stuck living in Alabama, I don’t need to move to North Alabama.

[5] I’m using scare quotes to indicate my understanding that the values “bad” and “black” are arbitrary.

[6] Yes, yes, there is a such thing as “grey” magic – a balance or “middle path” that helps you without harming anyone else. But, to be honest, most folks find “balance” too difficult to maintain because they find it easier to rationalize their desires and disguise cravings under a veil of altruism. This extends beyond the scope of my argument, so I’ll save it for another day.

[7] Because, after all, I am very menacing. Grrrrrr. Argh. And boogadaboogada!

[8] In my experience, I’ve seen that people like this tend to have rotating relationships that vacillate between devoted to discarded.