Wednesday, December 14, 2005

How the Witch Came to New England: Intro. to The Three Sisters, in progress, Notes from The Land of The Dead

“ . . . if you go to the mountains, the Granddaughters [the Sisters] will come visit you.” – dream of auburn and yellow hills in late October, 1994 thereabouts . . . voices of women singing.

There is none so good a description of the wood spirit known throughout Celtic, British and Gaelic lands as the Green Man as that given to Tom Bombadil, Master of the Forest and guide to Hobbits, whose “thick brown hair was crowned with autumn leaves.”

“Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless – before the Dark Lord came from Outside.”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings restores in part the northern European Original Myths: It was the Green Man evoked by the Son of Herne who would inspire Robin Hood to return to the forest, and it was he who was the primary Earth God to the Knights Templar, but his legacy precedes that. The image of the Green Man appears among sun wheels, the cross within the circle, and traces back into prehistory to the period of the Druids. Green Man faces carved into the oldest cathedrals throughout England, Scotland and France, like this one photographed by Nigel Rushbrook of a church in Kent, invariably show an intense visage covered with vines.

The archetypal spirits or deities of early Europe, not only found their way into the Christian church, but also found their way across the Atlantic Ocean with the early settlers. The carol, Jesus the Apple Tree, penned here in New Hampshire by an early settler combines the ancient archetype of the Green Man with Christ, the Son, and it is still sung today in Episcopal churches on Christmas Eve.

But the Green Man’s legacy is only that of consort to the essential deity of ancient Britain and the Celtic lands, the White Goddess, Albion, whose holy place was sovereign from Ireland to France up until the 12th century. Just in the last few years archaeologists have uncovered the most ancient of British temples at Stanford Drew which even precedes Stonehenge, and contain three archaeological circles. The three rings represent the Triple Goddess, much like the three-in-one masculine god concept adopted by the Christian church.

Sometimes, when someone dreams of six men or six women (or when six graves are presented in a folk tale, as in The Lone Ranger) it represents to the dreamer the Three with their dual faces (Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte are Dual Faces of one entity) for a totality of six. The Three Men and the Three Women with their dual faces represent the totality of human consciousness going Outward and Inward; the 12 signs of the zodiac, six female and six male.

The Triple Goddess (by Raphael Stanzio here) represents the three phases of the moon, said to be the three phases of the goddess's historical reign; first is the white phase of the new moon, the maiden goddess, well documented in Robert Graves’s The White Goddess, then the rose phase, full moon, representing the full ripeness of the moon, and finally the dark blue, the waning moon, representing death, the end of the reign of the Goddess Mother. These, incidentally are the colors of the French flag and the tricolor flown during the French Revolution, as the French devotion to the Divine Mother surpassed even that of the Irish and the British. The western European cathedrals of the mediaeval period are filled with archetypes of the Earth Mother or the White Goddess, just as they are filled with visages of the Green Man.

It could be said that the 12th century European cathedrals represent a phase of Earth Mother culture that brings the goddess to high culture status, and the rose glass of Note Dame – Our Mother – called the “greatest Mandela in the world” by Aldous Huxley – represents the rose period of Earth Mother culture, the high noon mark; the rose glass, with its three feminine portals beneath (the Triple Goddess), representing the full moon. If so, surely, the centuries later to follow after the Black Death and the trials of the 14th century so eloquently described by Barbara Tuchman in her book, The Distant Mirror, would represent the dark blue, the passing moon and the Death of the Mother. The death of nature.

Visages of the Green Man, usually carvings of a staring man’s face covered with vines can be found in Tibetan art, in Hindu lore and in other places in the East. Likewise, the Triple Goddess is timeless as well. This most fabulous of paintings at the top, from the University of Michigan’s Art collection, The Descent of the River Ganges, perfectly presents the Triple Goddess of British antiquity with her spirit elements, the curing and creative falling waters and the moon. Yet it was painted anonymously only in 1943 in India.

The demise of the Earth Mother in Europe also has correlation in the East. Just as Europe was failing in the 14th Century, the world entered the Age of Kali, the age of the Death Mother, the Destroyer, according to Hindu lore. We are still there.

As an archetype, the constellation of the Triple Goddess appears throughout western history and is prominent today in the pop culture. It is just the opposite of the Three Celestial males (this blog, January next, 2006). The Three Celestial Ones, as they are called in Taoism, invariable appear to urge a man to bring something from the Unconscious world to the conscious world, as the Three Visitors sent Abraham into the world of the ancient Hebrew to activate a new phase of tribal Semitic awakening, to bring a new public stage in the development of Judaism.

The Three Women always do the opposite. They always send the agent to the Inner Life. They appear in dreams or in folk lore, and they may appear as well in a person’s life. This Dali portrait, Portrait of Mrs. Isabel Styer-Tas, 1945, shows the dual nature of the yin archetype - to the left is the earth mound of the Earth Goddess, on the right, her everyday life manifestation, Mrs. Styler-Tas. Notice the pendant Mrs. Styler-Tas wears, of the same earth materials of the Earth Mother. The Earth Goddess contains a bit of Mrs. Styler-Tas as well, and she is composed of tradition Taoist elements of yielding earth and flowing water, like the Mona Lisa and most of the earliest portraits of the Madonna. Mrs. Styler-Tas looks left and Inward to her as Whistler's Mother looks felt of frame to crated nature in frame. As a young man, C. G. Jung, for example, traveled into the occult in séances held with his mother and two aunties. Ireland’s last distinguished mystic poet, William Butler Yeats, was accompanied on his deathbed by his three “widows,” Lady Dorothy Wellesley, Edith Shackleton Heald and Mrs. W.B. Yeats. Salvador Dali found the nature of the Three Sisters in many of his works, and in this one has them between worlds; the everyday and the Unconscious, appropriately holding the string between the two (and between the ancient world and the contemporary world).

Shakespeare’s Three Weird Sisters sit by a crystal ball, and look inward, as do the Three Crones. The Three Graces, muses to the Greeks, always send the poet inward. They are always holding a sphere of one sort or another, representing a circle, the symbol of the feminine, the Psyche, the wholeness of time in the Inner Life. The three Rhine Maidens, are a good example, they point to chunks of gold – psychic truths - which light up the Rhine river bottom, representative of the Unconscious Mind. (Beware, Siegfried – the Extraverted Warrior - cannot go there, but Loki, the Introverted Trickster, can).

In the Druid and pagan period, the circular object is a drum, as the drum is said to represent the heart beat – the mother’s heartbeat; the sound heard exclusively in the mother's womb before birth. Just as the African’s drum does today and the consistent base beat of disco did in the 1970s and 80s. (Reflecting on disco, when it was first the rage, one reveler said, “It’s just like my mother’s heart beat.”)

The crystal ball is consistently at hand with the Three Crones, and occasionally it is an eye – one eye shared by three blind sisters. In wisdom, the three inward-looking sisters are invariably ancient, as females as well as males only acquire wisdom when they lose ego, which passes with age when the sex hormones, which drives and fuels the ego, deplete.

Perhaps the most eloquent circle of the Three Sisters is the spinning wheel. (Virgin with Spinning Wheel here, 1420)

The TV series Hercules at the turn of the millennium had a nice episode where our hero’s life was hanging by a thread, which was being spun on an old spinning wheel by three females; a young girl, a mother and an old wise woman (the usual phrase crone is a canard in a power-based culture which despises wisdom). This is a classic exposition is the wheel of life and emanates from the Triple Goddess. On Olympus the most powerful of the minor gods and goddesses were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the Goddesses of Destiny; Clotho spun the thread, Lachesis measured the length of thread, and Atropos cut it at death.

So too, the rose glasses on the early cathedral windows are the spinning wheels of the Three Sisters.

The Triple Goddess made it across the Atlantic Ocean as did the Green Man, but she seemed none to happy. My town, Haverhill, New Hampshire, is typical of old New England towns. Founded in 1763, there was a stone well, a yin symbol in the center of the Town Common and the main houses were composed around it. It has since been replaced by a flag pole and an American flag, a yang symbol. The stone well, hand carved out of massive granite stones, has been moved to the side a few houses down and no longer has any bearings on the proportions of the Town Common and its yin symmetry, and instead countervails the harmonies, leaving the beautiful Federalist houses surrounding the Common out-of-synch with their organic yin center and neurotic and out-of-balance with a superimposed yang center. I find this to be the same in all the towns up here which have Town Commons. A Common, by its nature is yin, not yang.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had the artist’s gift for finding the archetype, presented the Triple Goddess as a witch mother in one of the earliest and most perceptive of New England stories, The Hollow of the Three Hills, during, “… those strange old times, when fantastic dreams and madmen’s reveries were realized among the actual circumstances of life.” That would be the 1690s thereabouts; the witch hunts.

His story is about a young woman who had a vision of an old witch or a crone, “ancient and meanly dressed, of ill-favored aspect, as so withered, shrunken and decrepit, that even the space since she began to decay must have exceeded the ordinary term of human existence.”

She appears where, “Three little hills stood near each other, and down in the midst of them sunk a hollow basin, almost mathematically circular, two or three hundred feet in breadth, and of such depth that a stately cedar might but just be visible above the sides.”

As three pyramids clearly represent three males, this is a perfect rendition of the archetype of the Triple Goddess; three earth mounds and a perfect circle drawing inward, like a crystal ball.

It should be noted that it is the Dark Mother in this story that made it across the ocean to New England (no doubt it was her witchy handwork which motivated the clergy and the juries at the famous Salem trials). Nathanial Hawthorne says it is a life force from the spirit world which has always been here. But perhaps the Puritans brought it. Those high-minded early New England settlers were big on concepts and religious fanaticism, but unable to farm enough food to keep themselves from starving to death. It is still here. We feel it here in the mountains, a shadow chi, a negative chi.

They tried to ban Christmas, the Puritans. Maybe it is that witch spirit which today prevents Boston area politicians from being able to properly route traffic, coordinate transportation or generally help you find your way around the region.

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