“Lindisfarne” – A poem by Sir Walter Scott with photos from my journey there

Lindisfarne ruins seen from the graveyard

Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet. Many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Walter Scott’s poem Lindisfarne is very much like a travel description of the Northumberland area starting a few miles from Lindisfarne in Tynemouth outside Newcastle upon Tyne, believe it or not. The 6th line mentions Tynemouth’s priory and bay. From here the poem travels further along the coast up to Bamburgh. And from Bamburgh to Lindisfarne. In fact, one can see Lindisfarne from the Bamburgh Castle which is also mentioned in the poem as king Ida’s Castle.

Holy Island has a recorded history from the 6th century AD. It was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After the Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on the island in 1550.

I travelled through Newcastle, Tynemouth, Bamburgh and Holy Island in 2011. All photos by me in this post.

Scott’s poem – First lines

(From Marmion)

AND now the vessel skirts the strand
Of mountainous Northumberland;
Towns, towers, and halls successive rise,
And catch the nuns’ delighted eyes.
Monk-Wearmouth soon behind them lay, [5]
And Tynemouth’s priory and bay;
They marked, amid her trees, the hall
Of lofty Seaton-Delaval;
They saw the Blythe and Wansbeck floods
Rush to the sea through sounding woods; [10]
They passed the tower of Widdrington,
Mother of many a valiant son;
At Coquet Isle their beads they tell
To the good saint who owned the cell;
Then did the Alne attention claim, [15]
And Warkworth, proud of Percy’s name;
And next they crossed themselves to hear
The whitening breakers sound so near,
Where, boiling through the rocks, they roar
On Dunstanborough’s caverned shore; [20]
Thy tower, proud Bamborough, marked they there,
King Ida’s castle, huge and square,
From its tall rock look grimly down,
And on the swelling ocean frown;
Then from the coast they bore away, [25]
And reached the Holy Island’s bay.

Tynemouth priory


Bamburgh Castle
IN THE second section of the poem Scott describes the sorrounding nature of Lindisfarne and mentions the tide as well.

Second section of Scott’s poem

The tide did now its flood-mark gain,
And girdled in the saint’s domain:
For, with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle; [30]
Dry-shod, o’er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day, the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.
As to the port the galley flew, [35]
Higher and higher rose to view
The castle with its battled walls,
The ancient monastery’s halls,
A solemn, huge, and dark red pile,
Placed on the margin of the isle. [40]

The Holy Island is a tidal island

 
Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory
Much of the place was under renovation when I visited the place in 2011.

The Lindisfarne castle is located in what was once the very volatile border area between England and Scotland. Not only did the English and Scots fight, but the area was frequently attacked by Vikings. The castle was built in 1550, around the time that Lindisfarne Priory went out of use. The raids of the Vikings is mentioned in the third and final section of Scott’s poem.

Third section of Scott’s poem


In Saxon strength that abbey frowned,
With massive arches broad and round,
That rose alternate, row and row,
On ponderous columns, short and low,
Built ere the art was known, [45]
By pointed aisle and shafted stalk,
The arcades of an alleyed walk
To emulate in stone.
On the deep walls the heathen Dane
Had poured his impious rage in vain; [50]
And needful was such strength to these,
Exposed to the tempestuous seas,
Scourged by the winds’ eternal sway,
Open to rovers fierce as they,
Which could twelve hundred years withstand [55]
Winds, waves, and Northern pirates’ hand.
Not but that portions of the pile,
Rebuilded in a later style,
Showed where the spoiler’s hand had been;
Not but the wasting sea-breeze keen [60]
Had worn the pillar’s carving quaint,
And mouldered in his niche the saint,
And rounded, with consuming power,
The pointed angles of each tower;
Yet still entire the abbey stood, [65]
Like veteran, worn, but unsubdued.

The Lindisfarne Castle seen from the Churchyard

The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: A review

IN this review I recommend The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible which is a result of a lot of Modern research on the ancient texts found at Qumran, Egypt. The scrolls were found in caves tucked away for centuries by pious people who lived around 200-100 AD who obviuosly cared for their preservation. Today these scrolls or pieces of fragments consists of some 981 different manuscripts. All of them were discovered by local herdsmen in caves near Qumran between 1946-1947 and in 2017 in 12 caves from a Hellenistic-Jewish Settlement at Khirbet Qumran in eastern Judean Desert (West bank) was unearthed. The caves are loctaed some two kilometres from The Dead Sea and this explains their given name today. The Qumran texts dates back to the Second Century BC and the first century AD. Bronze coins found at the place also helps us date this period. The texts has been analyzed with radiocarbon and paleographic dating.

And the contents of these scrolls? The texts tells us a lot about historical events going around in the area at that time, such as Culture and Religion of course. The Dead Sea scrolls include the second oldest known surviving manuscripts included in the Hebew Bible Canon. Considering the time and context the texts were produced they tells us a lot about second Temple Judaism. Most of the scrolls are in Hebrew with some Aramaic and a very small number in Greek, And what about the material? Most texts are derived from parchments, some are from papyrus and some texts exists on copper. Traditionally the texts thought to have been written down by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes but some scholars now think they have been written by priests from Jerusalem, the Zadokites or other unknown Jewish groups. 40% are copies of texts we can find in the Hebrew Scriptures today. Some 30% are tetxs from the Second Temple era with texts not making it into the traditional Canon. Some wellknown non-canocial works are: Enoch, Book of the Jubilees, Book of Tobit, Wisdom of Sirach, Psalms 150-155). The rest 30% are the so called sectarian manuscripts compiled by groups of people we still don’t know that much about.

The Introduction to this work is valuable and presents the basics to anyone familiar or not with Scripture and dating of Scripture. It’s good to know that the term ”Bible” today means different to different people and cultures. The term ”canon” is also briefly explained. The Jewish Bible (the correct term or Acronym is TaNaKh) contains 24 books divided into three sections: Torah (5 Books), Neviim (Prophets) and Kethuviim (Writings). The Protestant Old Testament follows a similiar pattern but in different order: 39 books alltogheter, the 5 Books of Moses, Historical Books, Poetical Books and the Prophets. The order of the Catholic Church follows a similar pattern like the Protestant Churches but includes several deutero-canonical books which are not recognized as Canon by either Jews or protestants. These books are also known as Apocrypha.

The book goes on to describe the Essenses as the main group living at Qumran around 150 BCE to 68 CE. They are considered to be a very strict group of Essenses. Together with the pharisees and Sadducees the Essenses became the dominante streams within Hellenistic Judaism some 2000 years ago. The authors continue their Introduction with a brief sketch of the most important Bible mansuscripts we have today. It’s important to know a little about them because it shows how the Bible developed into a book. These three are known as [1.] The Masoretic Text (MT); [2.] Septuaginta (LXX); [3.] Samaritan Pentateuch (SP). I recommend this book to people already familiar with Bible Criticism and people just curious. The Introduction is excellent and may prompt you to learn more!

Learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls at Biblical Archeaology Society which also has many free e-books for you to read.

My visit to The Vienna Central Cemetery: The Jewish Experience and WW2

IN THIS post I will write about my visit to one of the most well-known cemeteries in Europe and Austria. My journey was back in 2009 but I still remember my visit very well as I spent about two hours walking the older Jewish part of the cemetery. The Vienna Central cemetery (Wiener Zentralfriedhof) is also a cultural landmark receiving many tourists. It’s the final resting place of famous people like Beethoven and Mozart. As I arrived with my Nikon it was a very hot day in July it was all very quiet and I honestly can’t remember I saw that many people around. The photo below is what you can expect the old Jewish section to look like a warm beautiful summer’s day. Many stones are overgrown by vegetation reminding us this place soon 100 years ago was active and full of family members attending beloved ones final resting places. But as National Socialism arose in Germany in 1930s and Austria was ‘captured’ in 1937 all Jews were deported to Concentration Camps in Eastern Europe. You can see this for yourselves on several stones that something happened because there are no further burials or deaths noticed on the stones between 1939-1945 since their family members died in the Concentration Camps. In that point of view the Cemetery is a horrible reminder on what happened to Austrian Jews during WW2. 

Several non-Catholic denominations share the Zentralfriedhof and there’s an Evangelischer Friedhof. By far the largest non-Catholic sections, however, are the two old and new Jewish cemeteries.

A Rabbi’s gravesite

ONE of most interesting discoveries was a tomb of a rabbi and as I managed to sneak myself in with my camera I noticed people had scribbled several messages to him at the walls and the ceiling. I also noticed many of the messages dated to the late 1930’s and as early as 2004. All the messages are written in German and likely scribbled down by one-time vistors seeking the blessing of the deceased rabbi. Most of the content are somewhat desperate begging the rabbi to bless their souls and asking for help or guidance.

All photos in this post was taken by me. I saw several interesting graves with family names connected to many wellknown historical persons in Vienna history; such as Viktor Frankl and Arthur Schnitzler.

Gravesite of author Arthur Schnitzler

Arthur Schnitzler (15 May 1862 – 21 October 1931) was an Austrian author and dramatist. I was really happy upon discovering his grave since I love his novel Rhapsody – also published as Dream Story (Traumnovelle – 1925/26), later adapted as the film Eyes Wide Shut by American director Stanley Kubrick.

Notice all the small stones on Schnitzler’s grave. All of them marks an unique visit as it’s a Jewish custom to place a stone on a grave. There are many explanations why we place a stone rather than flowers which is connected to pagan worship in some Rabbinic sources. In the Torah patriarch Abraham builds an altar to God by help of stones. The Temple in Jerusalem was built by stones and The Wailing Wall surrounding the Second Temple. While flowers wither and die a stone can represent a more lasting memory. In European Jewry with a rich superstitious tradition the grave is the deceased’s new home and not make the soul go wander among the living a stone is said to keep it were it belongs until Judgement Day. You are welcome to comment on my post if you wish to share your experience on this famous cemetery. 

The impossible life of Mary Benson : Reflections on a biography

A FEW YEARS ago a biography over a Victorian Archbishop’s wife saw daylight. It got some attention in British press. Mary Benson (1841-1918) was an ordinary vicar’s wife whose husband one day became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Edward W. Benson (1829-1896) reached the highest office within the Church of England and of the world-wide Anglican communion. Author Rodney Bolt has used diaries, and novels written by the Benson’s to produce this biography. The time covers both Victorian and Edwardian England.

as-good-as-god-as-clever-as-the-devilMUCH FUSS was reported in media about Mary Benson’s believed lesbian lifestyle after the death of her husband. She set up household with the previous Archbishop of Canterbury’s wife; Lucy Tait who was allowed to sleep in the same bed as Mary and on the late Edward Benson’s side. There’s not much which can confirm these circumstances today except from letters; diaries and our own conclusions.

Mary Benson proved to be a very independent woman. The Victorian values of her time didn’t stop her to do what she wanted to. She was described by William Gladstone the British Prime Minister, as the ‘cleverest woman in Europe’. Despite all the Victorian values concerning women and the role of a woman in Mary Benson’s position she managed to keep up with a double-lifestyle as the wife of the Archbishop and a more private self. One of her children remember she was often away, seldom played with them or talked to them. As her diaries proves; this wasn’t an easy way of life. She had a lot of relations with women. She tried to reconcile these relations and feelings with faith and more devoution to her husband. Often pointing them out in the diaries she prayed a lot to be free from her “carnal affections”. At the death of her husband when she was 55 she could finally allow herself more freedom and set up household with long-time friend Lucy Tait.

A Victorian Marriage

IT WAS CREEPY to learn that Edward W. Benson befriended Mary as an eleven-year-old child and thought of her as a future bride to marry. Perhaps this wasn’t an unusual situation among the Victorians that men from the middle classes could search for future brides in a similar way. Mary Sidgwick was also his 2nd cousin and the families knew each other well. He writes about the “friendship” in his diary:

“As I have always been very fond of [Minnie] and she of me with the love of a little sister, and as I have heard of her fondness for me commented on by many persons, and have been told that I was the only person at whose departure she ever cried, as a child, and how diligent she has always been in reading books that I have mentioned to her, and in learning pieces of poetry which I have admired, it is not strange that I, who from the circumstances of my family am not likely to marry for many years to come, and who find in myself a growing distaste for forming friendships (fit to be so called) among new acquaintances and who am fond indeed (if not too fond) of little endearments, and who also know my weakness for falling suddenly in love, in the common sense of the word, and have already gone too far more than once in these things and have therefore reason to fear that I might on some sudden occasion be led [the following in cipher: into a step I might all my life repent] — it is not strange that I should have thought first of the possibility that some day dear little Minnie might become my wife.” (Bolt 2011, p.24)

WE DO HAVE the adult Mary Benson’s thoughts on these circumstances:

“I realise that he chose me deliberately, as a child who was very fond of him and whom he might educate — he even wanted to preserve himself from errant fallings-in-love... God, though gavest me a nature which desired to please — and on its natural gaiety and natural-lovingness had been planted by my Mother a strong sense of duty. . . .” (Bolt 2011, p. 25)

SADLY as noted from her diary entrance we can relate exactly to how she was brought up in her social environment – to “please” and be aware of ones “duty”. As commented on by the author she was also below the age of consent when Edward W. Benson wrote his diary entrance. The consent age for girls in the 1850s was twelve. 25 years later the age was raised to thirteen. In 1885 it was raised to sixteen years thanks to the Criminal Law Amendment Act (Bolt 2011, p. 319). BUT AS this biography will reveal things went pretty well for the young lady. She managed to develop into an independent individual which was quite unusual considering her position as a vicar’s wife.

img_0899
Young Mary Sidgwick, 19 yrs. and the Archbishop. Their son would remember Mary as a pagan and Edward as puritan. They were quite different as persons and lived different lives.
I THOUGHT the biography was quite interesting; and that its author did manage to carry out a well-researched project. WE shall be lucky considering the fact that the Victorians were excellent diary keepers and letter-writers. Communication through letters was the past times social media. Mail was delivered several times a day and on Saturdays too. It was the glory days of all postal offices. With such much material at hand I was a little disappointed the author fictionalized some parts. This is noted in the introduction and it’s no longer unusual writers of biographies today use this method.

The Children of the Bensons

Despite modern assumptions on lesbian sex at Lambeth Palace Mary Benson quickly gave birth to six children. Many of them would become great names themselves and seemed just as eccentric as their mother. Neither was the marrying type. Her daughter Maggie, Margaret Benson (1865-1916) became an Egyptologist who were among the first women in England to study at Oxford. She also took part in Archeological excavations i Egypt. Their son Arthur Benson wrote the lines for Land of Hope and Glory while Fred Benson wrote Adventure books. Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) shocked everyone and left his priesthood within the Anglican Church only to convert to Roman Catholicism. He was also a writer.

AFTER HIS CONVERSION to Catholicism Robert Hugh Benson received a lot of hate-mail! Men, women and even little school girls wrote nasty letters to the most unspeakable human being in the protestant kingdom! The defection didn’t go unnoticed in the press either. Finally, he moved. He had a long career in the Roman Catholic Church and in Rome he became a chamberlain to the Pope, 1911 and was entitled monsignor. Robert Hugh Benson was also a writer of fiction and wrote a very popular novel The Lord of the World (1907).

 

popefune
Pope is an admirer of Benson’s dystopian novel The Lord of the World.
It’s considered one of the first modern dystopian novels. It has been called ‘prophetic’ by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Themes? The Lord of the World is about the Anti-Christ and his reign on earth. And the story goes as follows – Since the Labour Party took control of the British Government in 1917, the British Empire has been a single party state. The British royal Family been deposed, the House of Lords has been abolished, Oxford and Cambridge have been closed down, and all their professors sent into exile in Ireland. Marxism, Atheism and Secular Humanism which one of the novel’s protagonists describes as the tools of Freemasonry dominate culture and politics. The world now has only three main religious forces: Catholicism, Secular Humanism, and “the Eastern religions”. His horror and ghost fiction are collected in The Light Invisible (1903) and A Mirror of Shallott (1907). Many of the Benson’s children had mental problems all their lives. We don’t know about any diagnosis, but bipolar disorder may be a rational explanation today. Maggie Benson was deeply affected and died only 50 after a mental breakdown.

 

The Benson Brothers reflect upon their parents marriage

Arthur Benson (1862-1925):

Arthur: [….] It was a case of real natural incompatibility. Mama was an instinctive pagan, hence her charm. Papa was an instinctive puritan with a rebellious love of art. Papa on the whole hated and distrusted the people he didn’t wholly approve of. Mama saw their faults and loved them. How very few friends Papa ever had. […] He disliked feeling people’s superiority. His mind was better and stronger than his heart and his heart didn’t keep his mind in check. It was a fine character, not a beautiful one. He certainly had a tendency to bully people as he believed from good motives. Mama never wanted to direct or interfere with people and I think was the most generous and disinterested character I have ever known. But her diary is very painful to me because it shows how little in common they had and how cruel he was. [Bolt 2011, p. 217]

Fred Benson (1867-1940):

Fred: Papa was a very difficult person to deal with, because he was terrifying, and remembered things, not very accurately, because he remembered the points which were in his favour and forgot the points which were not. Mama forgot everything, or is she remembered, forgot the sense of resentment. Then he wanted, as you say, obedience and enthusiasm. Mama never claimed either exactly, but got both. Then Papa cared intensely about details, and details never interested Mama; and one must remember, as you say, the other side — and Papa’s affection, when it rose to the surface, was very revealing indeed. [From correspondence between the two brothers in 1925. [Bolt 2011, p.p 217-218]

methode_times_prod_web_bin_7de9ba52-ab52-11e6-9d1d-8992545bee51
Arthur, Robert, Edward

Sources

Bolt, Rodney. As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson. London: Atlantic Books, 2011.

Wikipedia.org

Ancient Mythology in Poe’s novel ‘Ligeia’ (1838)

ligeia-clarke2Context and themes

Edgar A. Poe’s short novel Ligeia was first published in September 1838 by The American Museum in Baltimore.1 Poe, who was always short of money, was given 10 dollars for the story. It’s a mix of Gothic fiction and several other themes which are typical for the Romanticism. The major themes in the story are the death of a young woman, resurrection of a dead (young) woman and drug use since the narrator hallucinate through the entire story. Other sub-themes are memory and mourning. Playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “The story of the Lady Ligeia is not merely one of the wonders of literature: it is unparalleled and unapproached”(Sova 2007, p.96). On the whole reception of the novel was positive, despite Poe revised it a few times. There are three characters in this story – an unknown narrator in first person, Ligeia and the Lady Rowena. The narrator suffers from a psychological condition, monomania in which he constantly reflects upon the beauty and personal character of his late wife Ligeia. Despite his frail psychological condition and opium addiction the narrator has remarried a woman named Lady Rowena. She is not from the city and lives in fear of her husband. Her features doesn’t assemble the previous wife and we’re told her hair is blond. The narrator doesn’t like her: “I loathed her with a hatred belonging more to demon than to man.” His addiction to opium helps him to hallucinate and get into a deeper spiritual connection with his dead wife. He calls her name and sees her in several visions. At one time he hallucinate and sees four large drops coming from an imagined well in the room. He collects the red drops and administer them to the Lady Rowena who dies from the dose. In the eyes of the dying Rowena he sees Ligeia. The novel also contains a poem called “The Conqueror Worm”. The poem is written by Ligeia as she is dying, though it is actually recited by the narrator, her husband.2

Myths and other references in Ligeia

I wrote previously on this blog about Poe’s use of Ancient mythology in the poem called Al-Aaraaf. The name Ligeia also appears in the poem. It’s constructed out of a Greek adjective, ligys first used by Homer and is related to something which is bright, light sounding. This was pointed out by T.O Mabbott in The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1978). The narrator identifies Ligeia as Astarte. In Poe’s novel known as Ashtophet (Andriano 1978, p. 87). Just as in his Al-Aaraaf poem Poe once again touch upon the islamic myth of the houris; mentioned serveral times in the Qur’an.3 Another reference to Eastern traditions can be found in this sentence: “They were even fuller than the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad.”4

Resources

Andriano, Joseph. 1993. Our ladies of darkness: feminine daemonology in male Gothic fiction. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Sova, Dawn B. 2007. Critical companion to Edgar Allan Poe: a literary reference to his life and work. New York, NY.

Mabbott, Thomas Ollive, ed., 1978. The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Vols 2-3 Tales and Sketches), Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

NOTES


  1. The American Museum was a monthly American literary magazine published by Mathew Carey in the late-18th century. 
  2. It was first published separately in Graham’s Magazine in 1843. 
  3. ḥaurā is singular form, meaning a gazelle-eyed (woman). Read more about houris here
  4. Frances Sheridan published The History of Nourjahad in 1767. The story describes Nourjahad’s life, who is tricked by the sultan Schemzeddin to believe that he has become immortal and that his period of sleep last for several years at a time. 

On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead – Basic concepts in the Kabbalah (1991)

ARE YOU INTERESTED in learning more about Jewish mysticism? In that case I got some academic books on the subject I wish to recommend. I wrote about Daniel C. Matt’s translation and commentary on The Zoharthe most famous book (12 volumes…) within Jewish mysticism; in a previous post. In this post I want to introduce you to Prof. Gerschom Scholem’s books. Mr. Scholem was the first pioneer within in the field work concerning literature related to mysticism in Judaism. He liked to describe himself as a historian of religious ideas. Scholem was also a professor of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem until his death in the early 1980s.

On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead : Basic Concepts of the Kabbalah (1991) is one of the titles I recommend. THIS BOOK presents the core teachings within the kabbalistic tradition. I will touch briefly on reincarnation within the Kabbalah. The chapters are as follows:

  • Sch’ur Komah : The Mystical Shape of the Godhead
  • Sitra Achra : Good and Evil
  • Tsaddik : The righteous
  • Schekhinah : The feminine structures in the divine
  • Gilgul : The transmigration of souls
  • Tselem : The Concept of The Astral Body

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Modern Orthodox usually rejects the theory of gilgul (reincarnation), or transmigration (metempsychosis, is the term used by Scholem) of the soul. The concept varies a bit from the hindu theology about reincarnation, but there are similarities. There’s a strong connection between the idea of transmigration connected to punishment or reward. The soul, or various parts of the human soul transmigrates according to the Kabbalah in order to fulfill all the mitzvot (“commandments”) of the Torah.

While Ultra-orthodox, haredi Jews accept gilgul as “truth” Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism usually let the individual decide on these matters for themselves; although I must say there are little focus on these matters in theological point of view. When Conservative and Reform Judaism developed into separate movements they usually looked down on teachings associated with Kabbalah because illiterate and uneducated Jews accepted them. So, how can we trace this unusual idea within Jewish mysticism? Scholem gives several explanations on why and how it got incorporated into kabbalistic teachings. Let’s mention some of it. The medieval text Sefer ha-Bahir is the oldest book in existence dealing with the concept of gilgul within the Kabbalah. It was redacted in South of France around 1180. This geographical area was inhabited by the Catharism movement which later was becoming wiped out by the Church. They also believed in reincarnation. Not surprisingly the majority of Jewish scholars immediately rejected the doctrine. As did the majority of scholars within Christianity and Islam around the same time. They had to deal with similar religious sects holding different beliefs. Let’s see how it may have influenced Jewish mysticism. In the sixth century the Church was very much afflicted by the teachings of Origen. Ōrigénēs Adamántios; 184/185 – 253/254 was a scholar and an ascetic who believed in reincarnation. He was one of the church fathers but never reached canonization because of several heretical beliefs. His thoughts on reincarnation likely came from Gnostic Christian sects. The Gnostics became heavily persecuted and finally crushed. Their beliefs likely sprung from several Oriental traditions such as the Orphic and Platonic thoughts on the transmigration of souls. A similar process arose within Shiite Islam were the Imams supposedly reincarnated and the belief spread into  Ishmaelite Gnostics and Sufis sects; while orthodox Sunnis rejected it completely. There are also evidence some Jews believed in reincarnation from non-jewish sources. In a work on Muslim sects and schism Ibn Mansour al-Bahgdadi (died 1037) mention some Jews held this belief based on the Book of Daniel, third Chapter. In the third chapter king Nebuchadnezzar’s vision indicates he was transformed in seven different kinds of beasts, birds as to punish his wickedness. God later restored Nebuchadnezzar and sent him again to the world as a true believer in Monotheism.

STAY TUNED for more posts on Scholem’s work .

Resources

 

When Emily Dickinson was critical about organized religion. A comment on poem 236

I like to make parallels between written text and biography; today the correct term would be biographical criticism. This method of interpreting any text has become quite popular, even if it’s got some obvious traps concerning objectivity. When were left out on information we tend to make own explanations and give in to speculations. THIS becomes obvious when we deal with the life of famous authors. We may possess certain data available to us through various records from archives which can explain why an author wrote as they did.

Poem 236

Some keep the Sabbath going to the Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

 

WHILE it seems obvious the poem takes a critical stance towards organized religion, such as worshipping in churches and listening to long sermons it doesn’t reveal so much on why she’s critical. She also produce an alternative; herself in nature and surrounding herself with nature she says she doesn’t need a church and experience religion through watching the God’s work in nature is enough for her. Let’s dive into some biographical reading on this poem and see if we can find some solutions on why she feels the way she does!

img_0837Emily Dickinson and Religion : Calvinism and revival in Amherst, Massachusetts

Themes like death and immortality are extremely common in Dickinson’s poetry. Plagued by ill-health all her life it’s not totally strange to understand her mind occupied many thoughts on these matters. Her social milieu and the society was governed by religious views and to alienate oneself from the congregation was very rare and likely looked upon as something negative and suspicious. Themes like death, immortality and Religion was not uncommon among nineteenth-century poets. It’s somewhat strange Dickinson’s poems came to be criticized for being so concentrated upon death when so many other poets like Keats and Whitman were on a similar stand and often returned to this topic. Many have tried to categorize Dickinson’s about death and broken up her entire collection of poetic work into four categories on this matter:

  • Poems in which death represents extinction.
  • Poems which dramatize the possibility on the survival of the soul.
  • Poems which embraze a faith in immortality.
  • Poems about God and God’s care of humans.

In a letter to a friend (1850) Emily stated: “I am standing alone in rebellion.” She never joined the Congregational Church in Amherst. Another letter (L13) reveals her ideas on christian faith: “I feel that the world holds a predominant place in my affections. I do not feel that I could give up all for Christ, were I called to die”. I think Emily Dickinson was critical about organized religion. It’s quite clear from her poetry that she does hold some religious views but they are not bound to any traditional faith or system of beliefs.

Works consulted in this post

Emily Dickinson and the Church – Information from The Emily Dickinson Museum.

The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)