Socrates, Buddha, and Joseph Campbell on Bliss

“That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible world to the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she lives in bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods.”
― Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo (translated by Benjamin Jowett)

“That land is sublime, blissful, serene and pure. Why do you not diligently practice good, reflect on the naturalness of the Way and realize that it is above all discriminations and is boundlessly pervasive? You should each make a great effort to attain it. . . . The Pure Land is easy to reach, but very few actually go there. It rejects nobody, but naturally and unfailingly attracts beings. Why do you not abandon worldly matters and strive to enter the Way? If you do, you will obtain an infinitely long life and one of limitless bliss.”
― Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha in the Infinite Life Sutra aka the Larger Pure Land Sutra (translated by Hisao Inagaki)

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”
― Joseph Campbell


A Solstice Passing . . .

Last night my beloved grandmother died.  My husband, my mother, and I were in my hometown, at her bedside, for the last few days (which is why I haven’t been posting).  She was an amazing woman, my Greek grandmother, and we’ve always had a very special bond.  She was the first person to introduce me to the Greek myths as a child, reading me the myths as I sat on her lap.  She bought me my first book of Greek mythology (which transformed my life in so many wonderful ways), she visited Greece when I was a child and brought me back many stories and pictures of the homeland, and she was one of the few people in my family (apart from my mother and my husband) who completely understood my spiritual beliefs.  Whenever we talked about the gods, the myths, and the ancient religion, it turns out that she even shared many of my beliefs about the gods and the divine.  Before I went to France last month, we spoke on the phone for about an hour . . . we talked about death, the soul, the afterlife, and the gods.  We talked about ideas from the Orphic tablets, Plato’s Phaedo, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the Buddhist Pure Land Sutras.  We talked at length about Hermes as the Guide of Souls.  She told me she was ready, that she’d been ready ever since my grandfather died a few years ago (they were married almost sixty-five years, and she honestly couldn’t endure life without him).  Every fiber of my being told me that she was close to death, and I offered to help her cross over when the time came.  We discussed specific rituals and prayers and texts.  And for the past few days (and for the next 49 or so) her transition from this world to the next has been my entire focus.  I am at peace with her passing, and know that Hermes the Guide of Souls has taken her by the hand and is leading her to the Western Lands, to the Isles of the Blessed.  But the last few days have been incredibly difficult, and I am completely tapped out, physically and emotionally and spiritually.  I will definitely write more about her when I am ready (and I will be giving the eulogy at her memorial), but right now much of what I feel can be found in a very special poem.  You see, my grandmother was named after a poem.  She continued this literary tradition by naming my mother after Cathy in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.  My mother then named me Ryan (which means “Little King” or “Little Prince”) in homage to The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  And my grandmother was named after the last poem written by Edgar Allan Poe.  Her name was Annabel Lee.  My beloved Grandma Anne – the beautiful Annabel Lee.  And while the poem is of course about a bride instead of a grandmother, everything I feel at this moment can be found here:

Annabel Lee
by Edgar Allan Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love —
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me —
Yes! — that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we —
Of many far wiser than we —
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

In Transit . . .

Sorry to have disappeared recently . . . each day of this journey to France has been an adventure of one kind or another, and I just haven’t had time to write about it all yet.  We fly back to the States tomorrow/Wednesday, following a one-day layover in Reykjavik, Iceland (which I’m very excited about, even though we’ll only be there for a few hours).  There’s so much to write about when I get home . . . encountering Dionysos among the vineyards in the south of France, honoring the poet-heroes at the Père Lachaise Cemetery (with the wonderful Valiel!), and having some powerful experiences with Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Near-Eastern deities at the Louvre.  I imagine I will be rather jet-lagged for a few days, but I will resume posting again as soon as I am able.  In the meantime, here are some images of Hermes/Mercury throughout the ages from the Atlas Database at the Louvre Museum.  These photos are not mine – all images and text below are owned by the Musée du Louvre!

© Musée du Louvre

Protector of travellers, messenger of the gods and the guide or psychopomp who conducted the souls of the dead to the underworld, Hermes was a son of Zeus and can be recognised by his caduceus, a staff entwined with two serpents symbolising swiftness and cunning and given to him by Zeus, his winged sandals and his petasus, a flat broad-brimmed felt hat He is sometimes shown bearing a ram on his shoulders (“Hermes Criophoros”).
Hermes “criophoros”
C. 500–475 BC
Provenance: Thebes
Local production
H. 18.4 cm; W. 8.6 cm


 © 1992 Photo RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Second quarter of 5th century BC
Provenance: northern Greece?
Hermes, whom we recognize by his caduceus, is dressed like one of the travellers of whom he was the patron deity. He wears a pointed hat (pilos), a short cloak (chlamys) and top boots (embades).

© 2006 Photo RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

1st–2nd century AD
Provenance: Gaul
Eyes inlaid with silver
H. 22.4 cm
Figures of Mercury naked, winged and holding a purse in the hollow of his right hand, are characteristic of Roman Gaul. His left hand held a caduceus.

© 2006 Photo RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

1st century AD
Provenance: Bordeaux, ancient Burdigala, Roman province of Aquitaine
H. 13 cm
The god wears winged sandals, a winged petasus and a laurel wreath, and holds a purse by the neck. A chlamys is draped over his left arm, which originally held a caduceus.

© Photo RMN / H. Lewandowski

1st–2nd century AD
Mercury, whom we recognize from the wings in his hair, held a caduceus in his left hand. The purse in his right hand alludes to his role as the god of commerce. The nudity and the Polycletian contrapposto are characteristic of a statue type that was particularly well-established in the Gallic and Germanic provinces of the Roman empire.


 © 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Douai, 1529 – Florence, 1608
Flying Mercury
Provenance: Duc de Brissac collection (confiscated in 1794)?
H. 1.80 m

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

Dominique LEFÈBVRE
died after 1719
H. 1.61 m; W. 0.60 m; D. 0.30 m
Made from a model by Michel Anguier. Acquired by the Bâtiments du Roi in 1698 and placed in the Bosquet du Couchant in the park at Marly from 1701 to 1707, the statue was installed in the Parc de Trianon from 1722 to 1845, then in the Parc de Saint-Cloud from 1845 to 1872. Loaned to the Musée National du Château de Fontainebleau from 1928 to 1994.

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

Lyon, 1640 – Paris, 1720
Mercury Mounted on Pegasus
Manufacture: Paris
Carrara marble
H. 3.15 m; W. 2.91 m; D. 1.28
In 1699, Antoine Coysevox received a commission for a group of two equestrian statues destined to exalt the “King’s fame”. The statues were made in Carrara marble in 1701–02 and placed to either side of the upper part of the Bassin de l’Abreuvoir at the entrance to the park at Marly. On the base, an inscription by the sculptor underlines that the completion of these two monolithic blocks in the space of two years was a tour de force. Mercury, the god of trade and the arts, forms a group with “Fame Mounted on Pegasus” sounding a trumpet.

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

Jean-Baptiste PIGALLE
Paris, 1714 – Paris, 1785
Approved by the Académie Royale in 1741
Mercury Fastening His Heel-Wings
Provenance: confiscated during the Revolution from the collections of the Académie
H. 0.58 m; W. 0.35 m; D. 0.33 m

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

Jean-Baptiste Joseph DE BAY, known as Jean-Baptiste DEBAY PÈRE
Mechelen, 1779 – Paris, 1863
Mercury Seizing his Sword to Cut Off Argus’s Head
H. 1.02 m; W. 0.60 m; D. 0.99 m
The plaster cast was presented at the Salon of 1822, and the marble statue was commissioned for the gardens in the Château de Compiègne. Argus, the giant with a hundred eyes, was charged with watching over Io; Hermes managed to cut his head off after lulling him to sleep with the sound of his pipes.

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

François RUDE
Dijon, 1784 – Paris, 1855
Mercury Fastening His Heel-Wings
Bronze (cast by Soyer and Ingé in 1834)
H. 2.50 m; W. 0.52 m; D. 0.90 m
Mercury preparing to fly back to Mount Olympus after cutting off Argus’s head.

Victor Hugo on Nature and the Cosmos

“Nothing is really small; whoever is open to the deep penetration of nature knows this. Although indeed no absolute satisfaction may be vouchsafed to philosophy, no more in circumscribing the cause than in limiting the effect, the contemplator falls into unfathomable ecstasies in view of all these decompositions of forces resulting in unity. All works for all.

Algebra applies to the clouds; the radiance of the star benefits the rose; no thinker would dare to say that the perfume of the hawthorn is useless to the constellations. Who then can calculate the path of the molecule? How do we know that the creations of worlds are not determined by the fall of grains of sand? Who then understands the reciprocal flux and reflux of the infinitely great and the infinitely small, the echoing of causes in the abysses of being, and the avalanches of creation? A flesh-worm is of account; the small is great, the great is small; all is in equilibrium in necessity; fearful vision for the mind. There are marvellous relations between beings and things; in this inexhaustible whole, from sun to grub, there is no scorn; all need each other. Light does not carry terrestrial perfumes into the azure depths without knowing what it does with them; night distributes the stellar essence to the sleeping plants. Every bird which flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw. Germination includes the hatching of a meteor and the tap of a swallow’s bill breaking the egg, and it leads forward the birth of an earth-worm and the advent of Socrates. Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view? Choose. A bit of mould is a pleiad of flowers; a nebula is an anthill of stars. The same promiscuity, and still more wonderful, between the things of the intellect and the things of matter. Elements and principles are mingled, combined, espoused, multiplied one by another, to such a degree as to bring the material world and the moral world into the same light. Phenomena are perpetually folded back upon themselves. In the vast cosmical changes, the universal life comes and goes in unknown quantities, rolling all in the invisible mystery of the emanations, losing no dream from no single sleep, sowing an animalcule here, crumbling a star there, oscillating and winding, making a force of light and an element of thought, disseminated and indivisible, dissolving all, save that geometrical point, the me; reducing everything to the soul-atom; making everything blossom into God; entangling, from the highest to the lowest, all activities in the obscurity of a dizzying mechanism, hanging the flight of an insect upon the movement of the earth, subordinating, who knows? were it only by the identity of the law, the evolutions of the comet in the firmament to the circling of the infusoria in the drop of water. A machine made of mind. Enormous gearing, whose first motor is the gnat, and whose last wheel is the zodiac.”

– Victor Hugo, from Les Misérables (Saint Denis – Book III, Chapter III)
translated by Charles E. Wilbour

Gods and Fountains

[As always, I need to clarify that I am a *terrible photographer*, so please note that I did NOT take any of these photos – they were found from all over the web.  I did, however, visit all three of these fountains in the last week.]

 Fontaine, Place de la République (Limoux, France)

The Broken Fountain
by Amy Lowell

Oblong, its jutted ends rounding into circles,
The old sunken basin lies with its flat, marble lip
An inch below the terrace tiles.
Over the stagnant water
Slide reflections:
The blue-green of coned yews;
The purple and red of trailing fuchsias
Dripping out of marble urns;
Bright squares of sky
Ribbed by the wake of a swimming beetle.
Through the blue-bronze water
Wavers the pale uncertainty of a shadow.
An arm flashes through the reflections,
A breast is outlined with leaves.
Outstretched in the quiet water
The statue of a Goddess slumbers.
But when Autumn comes
The beech leaves cover her with a golden counter-pane.

Neptune Fountain (Ville Basse, Carcassonne, France)

The Fountain
by Charles Baudelaire
(translated by Anthony Hecht)

My dear, your eyes are weary;
Rest them a little while.
Assume the languid posture
Of pleasure mixed with guile.
Outside the talkative fountain
Continues night and day
Repeating my warm passion
In whatever it has to say.

The sheer luminous gown
The fountain wears
Where Phoebe’s very own
Color appears
Falls like a summer rain
Or shawl of tears.

Thus your soul ignited
By pleasure’s lusts and needs
Sprays into heaven’s reaches
And dreams of fiery deeds.
Then it brims over, dying,
And languorous, apart,
Drains down some slope and enters
The dark well of my heart.

The sheer luminous gown
The fountain wears
Where Phoebe’s very own
Color appears
Falls like a summer rain
Or shawl of tears.

O you, whom night enhances,
How sweet here at your breasts
To hear the eternal sadness
Of water that never rests.
O moon, o singing fountain,
O leaf-thronged night above,
You are the faultless mirrors
Of my sweet, bitter love.

The sheer luminous gown
The fountain wears
Where Phoebe’s very own
Color appears
Falls like a summer rain
Or shawl of tears.


Fontaine du Titan by Jean-Antoine Injalbert (Plateau des Poètes, Béziers, France)

The Fountain
by Sara Teasdale

Oh in the deep blue night
The fountain sang alone;
It sang to the drowsy heart
Of a satyr carved in stone.

The fountain sang and sang
But the satyr never stirred–
Only the great white moon
In the empty heaven heard.

The fountain sang and sang
And on the marble rim
The milk-white peacocks slept,
Their dreams were strange and dim.

Bright dew was on the grass,
And on the ilex dew,
The dreamy milk-white birds
Were all a-glisten too.

The fountain sang and sang
The things one cannot tell,
The dreaming peacocks stirred
And the gleaming dew-drops fell.


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