Forgiveness and Fish: The Bad Witch in the Belly

The weather was fine. They . .  .
. . . .
halved his green hair.
They blew out his loves, his interests. ‘Underneath,’
(they called in iron voices) ‘understand,
is nothing. So there.’
. . . .
The weather fleured.
. . . .
They sandpapered his plumpest hope. (So capsize.)
They took away his crotch.
John Berryman, Dream Song 8


Deprived of his enemy, shrugged to a standstill
horrible Henry, foaming. . . .
. . . his girl comes, say,
conned in to test
if he’s still human, see,
therefore she get on the Sheriff’s mike & howl
‘Come down, come down’.
Therefore he un-budge, furious. He’d flee
but only Heaven hangs over him foul.
. . . .
. . . . Fancy the brain from hell
held out so long. Let go.
John Berryman, Dream Song 9

Most of us started out Judeo-Christian, I’m sure, so I won’t rehash the story. Too much.

And excuse me, my Jewish readers, if I get my Christocentrism all over it. Plz? I don’t mean to, but my-little-Church-of-God-(tounges-no-snakes)-raised-self can’t help it sometimes.

‘Round about the 7th-8th C BCE, there was this Israeli guy. He was pretty much a passivist – his name means “dove” after all, not exactly a fierce carnivore. Dove bar Amittai, to be exact. I like it that he was a Dove Bar. He got asked – well, told – to do this thing: “Preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” He had to tell a group of hoodlums that they had forty-days to get their shite together or else. It was a prophesy pertaining to a specific date – like “Beware the Ides of March.” (The 24th of April is 40 days out. ‘S all I’m saying.)

He didn’t wanna go and he didn’t wanna warn the riff or the raff. So he didn’t. Guess what happened?


Feck and seaweed. Feck, seaweed, and a fecking gourd. Feck, seaweed, a fecking gourd, and the fecking worm that fecking smote it.

And wind.[1]

And a night of gambling that ended up with the passivist-Dove-bar-dude in the water. Sans lifejacket.[2]

I have always felt a very real sympathy for Jonah.

A little over a month ago,[3] I said to a friend:

I’m like fricking Jonah here. I didn’t *want* to go to Nineveh. These are not *my* people! I have a summer home in Tarshish with a really nice view of the sea and a maid named Frieda (don’t ask me how she got there – exchange student, maybe). I’d rather be there. . . . But y’see, one time there was this fish . . . . And because of that, I pretty much do what I’m told.

At first, I heeded the call. But last week, I wen to metaphorical Joppa, hired a metaphorical trowler, and headed for metaphorical Tarshish. Hot damn, if it didn’t metaphorically storm. Knowing how this was going to end, I jumped ship m’self. (The others on my boat didn’t know the storm was about me; to protect them, I jumped.)

When The Bad Witch had to teach Ancient World Lit against her will last year, she learned a great deal about a great deal. Knowing all the feral, primordial deliciousness that helps us trace our humanity is, well, humanizing.[4] One of the things I learned in greater depth than I had previously learned in a passive viewing of Star Wars (followed by a passive reading of The Power of Myth[5]), is the universality of the hero’s journey [6] which has three distinct phases: The Departure, The Initiation, and The Return. The story of Jonah is such a fabulous one because it is written as a most elegant narrative, encompassing all of the attributes of the hero’s journey. Jonah is called, rejects the call, experiences supernatural intervention, crosses the first threshold (no holds barred), and ends up as the prototypical belly of the prototypical whale.

Now, I’m no hero. Beeelieeeve me. I often feel more like John Berryman’s tired and bumbling old Henry who feels that “Life, friends, is boring” on account of “Underneath/ . . . understand, /is nothing. So there.” [7] Henry jumps ship often too. But the story of Jonah is so universal that it can apply to regular old schmucks [8] like me and Henry too.

So here I am. Overboard. Waiting for a great fish to swallow me whole. And that’s not what’s happening. I’m in the wrong part of the story. I *thought* I was headed for the belly, but it turns out, I’ve already done that. I’ve done my days of reflection in the whale. I’ve traversed the initiatory “Road of Trials” – passed some tests, failed some tests. Happen to have recently had “The Meeting with the Goddess,” a not altogether easy funtime. (See my post on C Cups.)

I don’t tend to be on friendly terms with either the Greek or the Roman pantheons. I mean, as the planets go, I call Mercury “Mercury” and Jupiter “Jupiter.” But, for the most part, I’ve got a friend in The Mórrígan. So imagine my surprise when Hestia (in her irritated grandmother guise) grabbed me by the ear, pulled me behind the woodshed, and told me to cut my own switch. And she told me it was her, “So there’s no confusion.” Might as well have been wearing a t-shirt with “My Name Is . . .” emblazoned across it.

But this meet-n-greet need not be with an actual outside-force goddess, It is the hieros gamos or Hierogamy, sacred marriage. Aside from its typical ritualistic meaning, the sacred marriage is also the union of internal opposites or self-unification. Becoming a whole person is a pretty damned big deal. Especially when one has been pigeonholed as “bad” for so long.

To take this post back into the realm of my Jonah metaphor, it’s like this. I jumped overboard when the storm came. I did this because I was used to being chucked off the port-side bow every time the winds got a little brisk. (See Abraham and Isaac.) I thought I’d save everyone the trouble. Once I got in the water and started looking around for sharks, I looked up at the boat deck only to find the rest of the crew tossing me life preservers and begging me to get back in the boat. And I’m thinking, “WTF story is this?”

I’m coming to realize that it’s the right story, just the wrong chapter.

Ever read a section of a book over and over again? And because you weren’t paying attention to the text you’re like, “Wait – wha?” And then you go to read it again, only to get distracted again and on and on? I think I’ve finally paid attention to the narrative at hand – and now I can stop reading the same chapter over and over! Phew.

I think I may be in the chapter where I have made it to or past the Temptation. If so, that was too easy.

I’ve recently had easy gratification placed in my path. But I don’t want a shiny ring that makes me invisible; I don’t want to turn stones into bread; I don’t want quick and dirty revenge; I don’t want flying horses – although that would be cool; I don’t want a quick-fix-cure-all-panacea. Quite honestly, I thought this part of the story would be more momentous. But my choices were akin to “Rule the World (and you have to drown some kittens every day for the rest of your life thereby losing your soul – read the fine print)” or “Wait This One Out.”[9] The decision making process was a non-starter really. And I really wish I could go back and play that scene again.

Coz guess what?

If life is like a Joseph Campbell metaphor, the next phase is “Atonement with the Father.” Sounds nice, right? A weekend of down-home affection from mon pere,[10] maybe some chicken coop building lessons, breakfast of biscuits and gravy at Jacks, a ride on the golf-cart across the field (Papa doesn’t traverse so well a pied), a drive down to the lake, and ice cream. I have kids too old to bribe with ice cream; and still, my daddy buys me ice cream from the Frosty Inn every time I visit.

But oh, no. In the Hero’s Journey, there is no ice cream. The “father” to whom one “atones” is the “terrifying dark lord of ultimate power,” not “daddy.”

This is the part where the hero dies.


Where’s a great fish when you need one?[11]

Ah, but if I can just press through, I get to have the apotheosis: a period of respite and convalescence (which implies that I need to convalesce after the Atonement, feck) in the bower of the Elvin kings, a party hosted by Ewoks, and a weekend of peace and fulfillment before getting up and doing it again.[12] It’s the universal pattern, right? While I’m not a hero by any stretch of the imagination, I do see that archetypal patterns work in even the most mundane of lives.

And, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that where the Haftarah comes in? Christians like to talk about the Prodigal Son as the story of waywardness and reconciliation. But before that kid, there was Jonah. And Jonah is not the admirable character of Sunday School, is he? He’s the outcast of outcasts. He’s the scapegoat of scapegoats. He is chockablock with sins: he denies God, he has Shadenfreude over Nineveh’s impending destruction; and he does not particularly care if the boat goes down, except for the fact that he’s on it. But this story is one of return and forgiveness. It’s the point of “atonement” that I was talking about above. Yeah, Nineveh was a hellhole – but they were forgiven and spared. Yeah, Jonah was a DB – but he was spared and forgiven.

So, back to The Bad Witch. Having been in the belly, having realized what’s what, I will not sit on the hill and laugh myself silly as Nineveh crumbles into the sea. (Though it was my original plan, I admit, and is still very enticing.) I don’t know what I’ll do – but I won’t do that. And I’m not exactly clear about who will atone for what and to whom.

I’m suddenly feeling very shortsighted and it’s only an afterthought that I should ask a higher power. Bad Witch, indeed.

Don Henley – “The Heart of the Matter”

In the end, I think it’s about . . . forgiveness.

If you keep carrying that anger, it’ll eat you up inside:

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (

[1] Feck the wind.

[2] Now, The Bad Witch likes prepared fish as much as the next girl, but com’on!

[3] My Yahoo account tells me it was Feb 8.

[4] For this reason, I have chosen to teach American Lit before the Civil War next year. Actually had to beg a little. Am Lit 2 would have been so much easier. But who likes easy?

[5] Joseph Campbell. Doubleday, 1988. Duh.

[6] Here’s the website I give my students:

[7] Best poet eveh. Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs was the subject of TBW’s master’s thesis. I argued that Henry was a slew of Biblical characters. Now, removed from the Jesuits, I see that he was everyhero. And simultaneously everyantihero. Oh, Henry. (Yes, Bones?)

[8] Why is it that all preeminent pejoratives (dork, prick, dick, weenie, tool, ding a ling, etc.) all mean the same thing?

[9] Tea and Cake or Death?

[10] Something which I find myself craving these days. TBW loves her daddy. He’s a hard nut, but I think I have him cracked. I may be the only one who gets to see his soft middle. Likely ‘cause I’m just like him.

[11] The denouement of the trilogy is, of course the attainment of the ultimate boon, the refusal of return, the magic flight, the rescue from without, the return crossing of the threshold, the mastery of two worlds and the freedom to live.

[12] Like that damned Pink Floyd song, “Run rabbit run / dig that hole in the sun / when at last your work is done / don’t sit down it’s time to dig another one.”