In Habentibus Symbolum Facilior Est Transitus

by Nesrin Eruysal


During the London Blitz, H.D. found herself in a city which corresponded to the chaotic world described by Hans Jonas in his book about Gnostic religion, a "world of darkness, utterly full of evil,...full of devouring fire ... a world of darkness without light ... a world of death without eternal life and a world in which the good things perish and plans come to naught." (57) In her books, H.D. borrowed images from a variety of heretical discourses with roots in ancient Gnostic teachings. She melted these images in the alchemical vessel in which base metals are transformed into gold. She aimed at transforming herself mentally and her labor Sophiae – "an alchemical encounter with the unconscious" as Jung put it in Alchemical Studies" (171) – was an attempt to resuscitate the alchemical axiom: "Transform yourselves from dead stones into living philosophical stones!" In order to make the transition possible, the poet required images in which inner meanings could be deciphered via transformation.

In his lecture on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Jung talked about how he discovered a passage in the 16th century Hermetic text in which the philosopher makes an interesting statement: "For those who have the symbol, the passing from one side to the other, the transmutation is easier. (In habentibus symbolum facilior est transitus)" (1248). Jung went on to speculate on this statement and reached the conclusion that "This is the condition by which any man in any time can make a transition: with the symbol he can transmute himself ... It's the system or the symbolic formula to apply when the soul is in danger" (1249). In wartime London H.D. felt that the soul was in jeopardy and she sought to revivify it by delving deep into her personal unconscious laden with images and ultimately returning with a Jungian "union of opposites," or, in other words the final reunion of anima and animus as a pair of opposite archetypes. As a syncretist, she borrowed her images from ancient religions in which she discovered a central theme: the exile of the goddess from the realm of God and her final reunion with Him. Albert Gelpi, in his introduction to H.D.'s "Notes on Thought and Vision," wrote that H.D. and Jung could have reached a better understanding. I also think H.D. and Jung had a similar perspective.

Echoing H.D.'s announcement in "Notes on Thought and Vision" that "today there are many wand bearers but few inspired," Jung, in Symbols of Transformation, claimed that only the poet could understand the origin of words which have a healing power. As he put it: "It's as if the poet could still sense, beneath the words of contemporary speech and in the images that crowd in upon his imagination, the ghostly presence of bygone spiritual worlds, and possessed the capacity to make them come alive again" (30). In "Notes on Thought and Vision," H.D. emphasized this mission of the poet and stated that "the minds of men differ but the overminds are alike" (12). In other words, the personal unconscious differs but the collective unconscious is shared by all of us and the poet has the power to excavate these buried images. H.D. found these images in three heretical discourses: Gnosticism, Kabbalah and Alchemy.

In Gnosticism, she found Sophia, the feminine counterpart of God who is sent into exile, since he cannot bear his own feminine side. Only Christ can liberate Sophia after fusing the masculine and feminine aspects of his self. In the Kabbalah, the most striking idea is the dualism in the godhead which comprises both masculine and feminine aspects. The Shekhinah is a feminine dimension of God which he disowns. Therefore, the Gnostic symbol of Wisdom, Sophia, and the Shekhinah have certain features in common. Both of them are anima figures, companions of a God animus who sends them into diaspora. The human psyche is God's bride. Adam's violation of the unity between God and His bride makes the Shekhinah fall. When God and the Shekhinah unite, all dualities will disappear. One of the symbols which the alchemists used at different stages of the alchemical operations is Luna (The Moon is also the Shekhinah) whose spiritual marriage to Sol is intended to help cease the masculine and feminine duality. They are also, alternatively, personified as King and Queen, Rex and Regina, Sulphur and Mercury. Their union is a symbol for the transformation of man into a higher being or a living stone. These are the figures that H.D used in order to constitute the central theme of her poetry: the separation and the final reunion of masculine and feminine forces in one's nature.

In the opening lines of "The Walls Do Not Fall," the first part of Trilogy, one can feel the dissolution of profane time. Mircea Eliade describes this process as a projection into "mythical time in illo tempore when the foundation of the world occurred. Thus the reality and the enduringness of a construction are assured not only by the transformation of profane space into a transcendent space (the center), but also by the transformation of concrete time into mythical time" (20). This transformation dominates the whole poem. The image of the temple stands for the discontinuance of concrete time. In the opening lines, the shrine lies open to the sky and is transformed into what Eliade calls an "axis mundi." The ruin and the tomb are images that appear in the Rosarium Pictures, twenty woodcut illustrations depicting the alchemical process. The rain, or alchemical aqua permanens (water of life), falls upon the shrine and the poet finds herself on the verge of a religious transformation or an individuation process (in Jungian terms). Like the Gnostic alien, the poet or the soul ascends, transcending the barriers erected by the archons, the rulers of the world. The road is full of dangers, but the poet is strong as she can decipher the meaning of archetypes and the hidden patterns of her own unconscious, as well as the collective unconscious of her age. The sliced wall represents the gate opening unto the unconscious where there are otherwise no walls, no doors. Seeking to discover the "inner hall or cellar to Mary" H.D. passes on to another sliced wall "where poor utensils show / like rare objects in a museum"(510). In the Old Testament, the Fourth Book of Moses Commonly Called Numbers (4:7), I came across a similar description of the Presence and the utensils. The Presence advises Aaron and Moses to take away the ashes and lay a purple cover on the altar and asks them to put on it all the utensils. The words of the Lord and H.D.'s description of the utensils also resurrect the Gnostic "Hymn of the Pearl," Moses, Aaron and the Prince in quest for the pearl accompany H.D. "in a dream parallel." H.D.'s dream "merges the distant future with most distant antiquity" (526).

Like the Wisdom Sophia of the Shekhinah, the poet wants to go back home which is a beautiful place where the grasshopper says "Amen." In the Kabbalistic philosophy the grasshopper is a symbol of God worship. Besides the grasshopper, the fish appears as a symbol for the Lapis-Christos parallel. In alchemistic literature, the two fishes in the sea are Soul and Spirit. Soul is the inward individual spirit; Spirit is the universal soul in all men. Their endeavor to come together will end in a wedding ceremony or the mysterium coniunctionis of alchemy. H.D. defines this marriage as a clash of opposites and uses Osiris and Isis as archetypal figures whose marriage stands for the clash between the masculine and feminine forces in nature. The answer to H.D.'s question at the end of "The Walls Do Not Fall" is nothing less than the union of opposites: "O sire,/ is this union / at last?" (542).

"Tribute to the Angels" opens with the declaration of Hermes Trismegistus as the patron of alchemists. The angels Azrael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel are gathered in the domain of poetry and in the imagination of the poet. The line "the levelled wall is purple as with purple spread upon an altar" (551) takes us back to the beginning of "The Walls Do Not Fall," when the emergence of the Presence brings to mind a scene in the Old Testament where Aaron and Moses lay a purple cover on the altar. The color signifies an important stage in the process of reaching the magnum opus, the Great Work of the alchemists. Although the Lord has declared that they shall not look upon the holy things, the poet does enter the divine realm and she wonders "how is it that we dare / approach the high-altar?"(558). She melts the words and reaches Mary, the mother of the philosopher's stone. H.D. asks: "what is this mother-father / to tear at our entrails ? / what is this unsatisfied duality / which you cannot satisfy?" (522).

At the end of the alchemical operation, the jewel is attained; the poet passes through fire and enters a shrine where she finds the eternal image of the female awaiting her. She asks herself: "was it the may-tree or apple" (558). Gershom Scholem interprets the apple tree as a Zoharic symbol which stands for the Shekhinah. After the King and Queen are united, a tree appears and the united eternal body is resurrected. This is the final stage of the reintegration process called Tikkun in Kabbalistic symbolism. It is this resurrection which H.D witnesses: "This is the flowering of the rod / This is the flowering of the wood"(561). The Lady or the apple-tree appears while the poet is waiting for Gabriel or The Moon regent. The Lady/ Shekhinah / Wisdom Sophia / Regina comes because she is the Moon in the process of Chymical Marriage, yet she looks different. She is as white as snow denoting the final stage of the alchemical process. She is God's widow, called Malcuth. The book she is carrying is white like the white pages of the authentic Torah. Scholem writes of this Torah: "In the time of the Messiah the letters of this ‘white Torah’ will be revealed" (174).

"The Flowering of the Rod" represents the last stage of reintegration of the dual forces in one's nature. The poet and Hermes leave cities behind and "mount higher to love-resurrection" (578). The poet leaves the earth and sets out on a return journey like the geese of the arctic circle. Her destination is the region of love, that is, Eros. The poet declares that she is not responsible for the barrenness of the earth. She cries: "pitiless, pitiless, let us leave / The place of a skull / to those who have fashioned it" (579). H.D. is drawing on a very familiar story in these lines, that is the crucifixion, yet she changes the story radically and relates the story so that Mary Magdalene and Christ are trying to escape from the cemetery. In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung interprets this escape as follows: "The word ‘escape’ presupposes a state of imprisonment which is brought to an end by the union of opposites" (65).

In the poem, there is a flashback to the encounter between Mary Magdalene and Kaspar who has something that he cannot sell. He says this thing is for a double ceremony, both funeral and coronation. I interpret his words from an alchemical perspective and see that the double ceremony is exactly the mysterium coniunctionis which emerges in the form of two images: the tomb and the coronation which appear in the final picture of the Rosarium Pictures. There, Mary identifies herself with the Anatolian goddess Kybele and the mother of Attis and anoints Christ's head. In his book Bloodline of the Holy Grail: The Hidden Lineage of Jesus Revealed, Lawrence Gardner claims that the anointing ceremony is a wedding ritual. The bride is Mary Magdalene and the bridegroom is Christ. Kaspar reveals this suppressed fact and frees his own feminine side (Jungian anima) after he rediscovers the Eternal Feminine. In the final lines of the poem Kaspar is accompanied by Balthasar and Melchior. His gift is symbolic and the Eternal Feminine speaks: "he did not know whether she knew / the fragrance came from the bundle of myrrh / she held in her arms" (612).

In The Gospel of the Gnostics by Duncan Greenlees, I've come across a scene in a Gnostic hymn called "Wisdom’s Wedding Song," which bears a striking resemblance to the emergence of the Eternal Feminine. A shrine is described where a bride is about to meet her bridegroom" "Her bridechamber is brightly lit / breathing an odour of balsam and spice / And giving out sweet scent of myrrh and foliage / while myrtle branches are spread within" (262). The self-chosen exile of the Shekhinah / Sophia comes to end at this point.

After creating several different manifestations of the Eternal Feminine in Trilogy, H.D. wrote Helen in Egypt, where she revived the legendary figure of Helen. The composite figure Helen / Hell / Hel or Hilda, the Germanic Goddess of the Underworld knows underworld images and lets H.D. discover the image of the mother in the course of her own individuation process. H.D. recreates this image in the form of the legendary figure of Helen. Jung describes this process of moulding as follows: "The unconscious yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious which is best-fitted to compensate the inadequacy and onesidedness of the present. The artist seizes on the image, and in raising from deepest unconscious he brings it into relation with conscious values, thereby transforming it until it can be accepted by the minds of his contemporaries according to their powers" (83). Helen (Selene/ Moon) is an image of the fallen soul like Sophia and the Shekhinah and has a lunar origin. Helen's words echo Sophia Prunikos' lamentations when she admits: "I'm a woman of pleasure" (12). Helen and Achilles ( Sophia and God / the Shekhinah and God / Regina and Rex) undergo a process of reconciliation of opposites in the self. Achilles is wounded and needs Helen to complete his being which suffers from anima-possession and Helen needs his cooperation in order to cut off the bonds repressing Eros. Troy is the place of the skull like Golgotha. Helen and Achilles try to escape. Their escape brings to mind Mary and Christ's escape from the place of skulls. After their marriage and the birth of their child, Helen witnesses the flowering of the pomegranate and she remembers that she has to return to the underworld, yet the apple trees (the Shekhinah) also bloom. Leuke is as white as the moon and Helen feels that "the wheel is still." The birth of the child / lapis philosophorum (the philosopher's stone) finishes the cycle of transformation reintegrating the opposing forces in Helen's / Hilda's self. Thus H.D. unites the opposites in her self and reaches Matrepater, a union of Mother and Father as they exist together in Moravian hymns.



Works Cited

Doolittle, Hilda. Collected Poems (1912-1944). New York: New Directions, 1983.

––-. Helen in Egypt. New York: New Directions, 1974.

––-. Notes on Thought and Vision and the Wise Sappho. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1982.

Eliade, Mircea. The Mystery of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History. London: Arkana, 1983.

Greenlees, Duncan. The Gospel of the Gnostics The World Gospel Series. Adyar Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1958.

Jonas, Hans. The Gnostic Religion. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991.

Jung, Carl Gustav. Symbols of Transformation. New York: Pantheon Books, 1956.

––-. The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. New York: Pantheon Books, 1959.

––-. Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of the Psychic Opposites. New York: Pantheon Books, 1963.

––- . Alchemical Studies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967

––-. Notes for Seminar Given in 1934-39 on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Bolingen Series XCIX. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988.

Scholem, Gershom. Kabbala. New York: Dorset Press, 1974.


BIO: Nesrin Eruysal currently teaches 19th century English literature and translation at Middle East Technical University. She has also taught American poetry for three terms at Hacettepe University. Her PhD dissertation is about the poems of H.D. and Robert Duncan in the light of Jungian psychology. Her research interests include Gnosticism, Kabbala, Alchemy (from a Jungian perspective) and the correspondences between these ancient religious discourses and literature.


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