Devil CardAin path

The Path of The Devil – A’Ain

Tarot card 15. Tree Path 16.

Joining Sephiroth 6 (Tiphereth) and 8 (Hod).

‘A Pink Wool Knitted Dress’, ‘The 59th Bear’, ‘Dream Life’, ‘The Prism’.

© Ann Skea

On the lower Paths of the Tree, below the Sephira of Tiphereth (6), lie the Paths of the unconscious, primordial energies. Samekh, the Path of Temperance, was dominated by the life-force of the Great Goddess who, in Alchemy, is represented by the female half of the Alchemical Hermaphrodite. Now, on the Path of The Devil – the Path of A’Ain, the Hebrew letter for ‘Eye’ – the Cabbalistic traveller encounters the life-force of the God who is the essential other half of that generative whole.

His energies, like those which we attribute to the Goddess, are a-moral, genderless1 and supremely powerful. He represents the expansive, driving force of life: She, the conservative, nurturing force. But, like Yin and Yang, these forces are both present in fluctuating measure in each and every living thing. They are the source of our most basic instincts, drives and emotions. They are the so-called ‘animal energies’ which, in human society, are frequently regarded as dangerous, unacceptable, sinful even, and are, therefore, subject to proscription and rules.

For Cabbalists and Hermeticists, however, these energies are the spark of the Divine within us which, if we can learn to understand and control it, will give us the power to change both ourselves and our world.

The Cabbalistic journey is just one way of learning to understand these energies. And for those who have chosen this way and who embark on the Path of The Devil, the lessons of earlier Paths must have been well mastered. Only then, will they be able to face the ‘Lord of the Gates of Matter’, whose energies dominate this Path, in safety, and control his powers within themselves with understanding, strength, love and temperance.

On the Traditional Tarot card, this ‘Lord of the Gates of Matter’ is shown as Pan Pangenitor, the All-Father, a horned, goat-legged, bat-winged figure similar to that which appears in Christian iconography as the Devil. Loosely tethered to the altar on which Pan stands are two similar but smaller and wingless creatures. Sometimes, in later Tarot packs, these creatures are human – one male and one female – but always they share some of Pan’s animal attributes; and always their demeanour is unconcerned, or even happy.

The symbolism of this imagery suggests that we are the offspring of this ‘Father’ – that we share some of his animal nature and that we are subject to his power. But the details of the image suggests also that either we are unknowingly enslaved by him, or we know of the bonds which bind us and choose to accept them, for the looseness of the bonds shows that we can throw them off.

Pan’s energies are lustful, vital, Mercurial energies. They are capricious (Capricorn is the astrological sign for this Path) and have no foresight or scruple. Allowed free reign, they have the power to transcend all limitations and cause chaos and destruction. But they are also the energies of the light-bearer, Lucifer. And without them we are sterile. This paradox was the source of Blake’s interpretation of the Devil in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and it is summed up in his aphorism: “The lust of the goat is the bounty of God” (MMH 8c). It is expressed, too, in one Cabbalistic meditation for this Path: ‘The Exalted Phallus’.

The sexual energies are, of course, one expression of these generative powers, but that is not the only way in which they are expressed. Because of the power of the sexual drive, however, many spiritual disciplines emphasize its importance, either by prohibition or, as in Tantric Yoga, by exploiting its believed connection with states of divine ecstasy. Cabbala, on the other hand, teaches neither abstinence nor excess (although both are valued) but the overall need for understanding and for equipoise.

Few of the gods associated with this Path, however, have had followers whose rituals demonstrated equipoise, even when those rituals celebrated Divine Mysteries. The excesses of the Bacchants who worshipped Dionysus, for example, were terrifyingly depicted by Euripides in his Bacchanals. And followers of the ancient goat-headed god, Bahomet, whose name means ‘wisdom'2, were believed by the Christians to indulge in orgiastic rituals of Devil-worship and sexual abandon. The connections between the Divine Mysteries, ritual, ecstasy, passion and excess, reflect important truths about the generative energies but they reflect, too, the human propensity for creating and enforcing dogma; for accepting its bonds; for mistaking rebellion and license for freedom; and for taking things to extremes.

The Cabbalistic journey, unlike many other spiritual disciplines, is individual and personal. Enlightenment comes through knowledge and understanding, not through the learning of dogma. But understanding of our unconscious is not obtained by conscious, rational means.

Jung wrote that “our conscious mind is far from understanding everything, but the unconscious always keeps an eye on the ‘age-old, sacred things’… and reminds us of them at a suitable opportunity” (P&A 67). He believed that this ‘suitable opportunity’ came in dreams, art, stories and poetry. And for most spiritual disciplines, these have been the time-honoured methods of presenting their teachings: their stories and poetry are full of symbols and allegory, and their sacred texts record many instances of divine enlightenment transmitted through visions and dreams. Eye picture

For the Cabbalist, too, enlightenment comes from visions, dreams, instinct, intuition, imagination and the brief ecstasy or madness of union with the Divine. The A’Ain, the Eye on this Path of the All-Father, is the Visionary eye of the Soul in our inner darkness, and it frequently appears in Cabbalistic, Hermetic and Alchemical iconography as the Eye of God above. It is both the upward-looking eye of the Divine Spark within us and the downward-looking eye of the Ain Soph.

In order to open the inner eye, the Cabbalistic journeyer on this Path must learn to use the energies of Hod, Sephira 8, which lies at one end of this Path, and which transmits all the Mercurial, infinite, tricky, magical, light-bearing energies of the number 8. Then, balanced by the energies of Tiphereth (6), the journeyer may learn to use their Visionary eye to discern the bonds which bind them and to set their own limits and boundaries. Hod, which is on the Pillar of Form, transmits energies which foster abstraction and language, through which (by the use of reason) we construct our own image of our world. The Vision of Hod is the Vision of Splendour; and the Virtue of Hod is honesty and truthfulness. Its Illusion, however, is the illusion of order; and its Qlippoth is rigidity.

The poem on this Path in the Atziluthic World is ‘A Pink Wool Knitted Dress’ (BL 34 - 5)3. As a description of the formal union of Ted and Sylvia according to the laws of church and state, this poem is as much about social conventions and boundaries as it is about love. And, since this is the Atziluthic World of Archetypes, there is an ironic suggestion of heroic bravado in many of Ted’s descriptions of his own actions and there is a gloriously happy, fairy-tale ending for Sylvia.

In the very first lines, Sylvia is “stood at the alter”, accepting her bonds as willingly and happily as the creatures on the Tradition Tarot card for the Path of the Devil. Ted, who at that time had already rebelled against many social conventions, was, he suggests in the poem, “conscripted” and “subjected” to this ceremony; but he was also “levitated” by Sylvia’s passionate, deep and child-like outpouring of joy. And, although the marriage was obviously not planned with any Cabbalistic foresight and the church of St. George-the-Martyr was dictated by circumstances not by choice, the saint to whom this church was dedicated turned out to be fortuitously apt for Ted’s poetic purposes on this particular Cabbalistic Path.

Sylvia, although she was fiercely independent, had grown up in a conventional, church-going, society and had absorbed many of its values. Marriage, as her journals show, was a goal she had actively pursued for many years and her family expected it. Ted’s parents, too, would have expected the couple to marry, although Ted had long rejected most such conventional expectations of him, as his lack of a regular job and his unconventional appearance attested. His clothes, just as he describes them in the poem, were old and shabby, partly due to his lack of money but also, as he acknowledges by calling them “my uniform”, from choice. Amongst his friends, and in the area of London in which he was living at that time, his clothes would have marked him out as a ‘Bohemian’ artist – someone who was more concerned with the life of the mind and spirit than with appearances. And this was part of Ted’s attraction for Sylvia: she wrote to her mother of the her delight in the intensity of Ted and his poet and artist friends; and that they were not part of the “precious hushed literary circles” (SPLH 19 April 1956). Her description of Ted wearing “always the same black sweater and corduroy jacket with pockets full of poems, fresh trout, and horoscopes” (SPLH 29 April 1956) confirms Ted’s note in the poem that he owned only “the odd, spare, identical item” of clothing: but this very replication of certain items suggests the care with which Ted’s “uniform” was chosen.

To Sylvia’s mother, unused in any case to the post-war deprivations still apparent in England4, such shabbiness, especially on her daughter’s wedding day, must have been shocking. No wonder Ted describes himself as “the Swineherd” (not the Frog Prince, because he obviously had no intention of being turned into a Prince) stealing all those “pedigree dreams”, which were as much dreams for “this daughter” as they were Sylvia’s dreams for herself. And the ambiguity of these four lines (11 – 14) is telling, for those dreams were not only dreams about Sylvia continuing and/or marrying into inherited excellence – dreams which were stolen from a carefully guarded vision of the future; they were also the best and purest of Sylvia’s dreams, rescued from the guarded, spot-lit, ordered prison of social and family expectations in which they might well have remained. And Ted, the fairy-tale swineherd, the romantic poet-hero of Sylvia’s journals and letters, bravely rescued the maiden from the chains which bound her to that fate, and stole her away.

There are ironic references to mythical heroism, too, in Ted’s emphasis (by isolating it between full stops) on the word ‘Bloomsday’ in the third line of the poem. June 16th was the date of Ted’s and Sylvia’s wedding. It is a date made famous by James Joyce’s novel Ulysses: the date Joyce chose for the one day, mock-heroic journey around Dublin of his modern-day Ulysses, Leopold Bloom. Joyce chose it to commemorate the first day of his union with Nora Barnacle: and Ted and Sylvia chose it for the official start of their shared heroic journey. But in Ted’s poem, Sylvia is the bloom: “a nodding spray of wet lilac”: it is her day, and she stands beside him, “so slender and new and naked”, brimming with ocean depths of emotion and sobbing with joy. The picture Ted paints is very like Piero di Cosimo’s painting of Perseus rescuing Andromeda5: A Mercurial Perseus flies through the air, kills the dragon, and frees the naked Andromeda, who is chained to a rock beside a turbulent ocean. The chivalric Saint George, too, is reputed to have rescued a maiden from the dragon, but in his Christian form he is a Roman who was martyred for the purity of his faith, and the maiden doesn't enter the picture.

The strange line “My wedding, like Nature, wanted to hide”, seems to suggest that Ted’s instinct, like that of an animal faced with entrapment, was to keep his union with Sylvia secret. “However – ” (with this use of a dash, rather than a comma, one can almost hear Ted bravely swallowing his principles and preparing to be martyred for love), having agreed to a public ceremony, boldness and naivety (as it turned out) prompted the impulse to opt for the grandest and best: Westminster Abbey, no less! The Dean of Westminster, enforcing church rules, soon put paid to this fanciful notion and brought them down to earth. And there must have been a certain irony for Ted, at least in retrospect as he wrote this poem, in the fact that his Parish Church, in which they “finally squeezed into marriage” (as if into a straight-jacket, perhaps), turned out to be dedicated to St. George-the-Martyr6. But it is appropriate for this particular Path, too, that in Christian iconography Saint George, like Saint Michael, is frequently shown vanquishing the Devil-dragon Satan, whose monstrous form represents all the powerful animal appetites of Man.

Sylvia’s own descriptions of the wedding in her letter to her brother Warren (SPLH 18 June 1956) and, some months later in her journal (SPJ 25 Feb. 1957), convey something of the “brimming” overflow of joy which Ted describes at the end of his poem, and of her romantic vision of it all. For her, the scene became infused with the “watery yellow-grey light of rainy London”. And, in a “secret wedding7, in an “act of faith” based on “nothing but love & hope & our two selves”, she became the wife of a “poet and genius”.

The contrast between Sylvia’s view of the wedding and Ted’s (admittedly retrospective) view, is exemplified by the contrast between Sylvia’s new, pink dress which, like her joy, is unsmudged by “anything” at all, and Ted’s worn out, “used up symbol of a tie”. Ted describes his tie as a “veteran”: it had, it seems, been retired from active service, having survived Ted’s earlier conscription into the RAF for the two-year military training which the British government at that time required all young men to undergo. The echoes of conscription and entrapment attached to this tie suggest what was at that time a commonplace, stereotyped, male view of marriage; as does its colour, for black ties are more usually worn at funerals than at weddings. There are ironic, funereal associations, too, in the requisitioning of “the sexton”8 as Best Man, for a sexton would more usually be responsible for the digging of graves than for holding the rings at a stranger’s wedding.

Yet, the innocent romance, and the self-mocking, irony of the picture which Ted paints in ‘A Pink Wool Knitted Dress’, is undermined throughout the poem by imagery of imprisonment, restriction and death. And at times, elements of Ted’s description have alternative meanings which introduce some very dark tones indeed.

Both Ted and Sylvia refer to the church of St. George-the-Martyr as the Church of the Chimney Sweeps. For Sylvia, this seemed a romantic designation, and, indeed, in England a chimney sweep at a wedding was always considered to be a lucky omen9. But in Ted’s poem, in the context of this particular Path, the chimney sweep is one more symbol of society’s suppression and destruction of natural energies. Inside the Church of St. George-the-Martyr, is a nineteenth century plaque which records the donation of £1,000 by a parishioner for the provision of Christmas Dinner for London chimney sweeps. Generous as this seems, it exemplifies the sort of piety of which William Blake wrote so angrily in his poem, ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ (Songs of Experience). For Blake, the sight and the street-cry of young chimney sweeps was a sign of a sick society in which “God & his Priest & King” made a “heaven” of a child’s “misery”. In the 1800s, chimney sweeps were children, apprenticed at the age of seven or eight, to climb through the narrow, tortuous, maze-like chimney flues of London houses. Many died of suffocation. By the age of twelve, most had grown too big for this work and they were crippled, stunted and ill, often with cancer of the scrotum. So, that donated Christmas Dinner for chimney sweeps was associated with sorrow not joy; with hell not heaven.

Ted’s tone of joking irony in this poem often seems forced. And, although the suggestion that Aurelia Plath’s “brave” participation in the wedding was part of a risky “US Foreign Affairs gamble” is amusing, it is hard not to read that isolated word “magnanimity” in line 28 as an expression of anger. Ted’s own family (given a line of their own to confirm their importance to him) knew “nothing” at all about this wedding. Nor, even, did “a closest friend”, who might have been expected to act as Ted’s “squire” in this chivalric scene. And the way in which lines 25 - 39 link this exclusion of his closest family and friends to the “Twist of outrage” (that the constrained children and the caged zoo animals – “All the prison animals” – had to wait in the rain whilst the sexton fulfilled this unexpected legal requirement) reinforces the sense of wrongness.

At the end of the poem, however, all suggestions of wrongness, restriction and bondage are overthrown by Ted’s description of Sylvia’s joy. The imposed setting, the bleak echoing chancel, all the “meanwhile”, makeshift, hurried arrangements, and the doubtful groom – all are transfigured by the sheer depth and passion of Sylvia’s overflowing emotions. Ted describes her as “Brimming with God”. And it seems that Sylvia, describing her ecstasy, said that she saw a heavenly vision of riches.

As he recreated this scene in his imagination and in his poem, Ted saw again the fires which burned within Sylvia on that day and which she wrestled to control. He saw, too, in her eye pupils (which, traditionally, are the windows of the soul, and which sparkled, as in other Birthday Letters poems, like the flame-tested jewels of the Goddess’s eyes) the treasures which she was offering to him, but which, like dice, were a gamble that promised no certainty of happiness.

The poem which is on The Devil’s Path in the World of Briah, is ‘The 59th Bear’ (BL 89 – 101). The title of Ted’s poem is the same as that of Sylvia’s story in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (94 – 105) and both are based on the couple’s encounters with bears in the Yellowstone National Park in July 1959. On 29th July 1959, Sylvia wrote to her mother of a particularly frightening night when a bear broke into their car as they slept beside it in their tent; and of a woman’s terrifying account the next day about a camper who had been killed by a bear at a nearby campsite (SPLH 29 July 1959). A few weeks later, at Yaddo, Sylvia tried to re-create the events and feelings of that night in a story in which (in her own words) “a man is killed by a bear, ostensibly because his wife willed it to happen” (SPJ 16 Sept. 1959). But she was dissatisfied with this story, and described it as one of her “pretty artificial statues” which conveyed nothing of the “seethe and deep-grounded swell” of her experience.

Ted’s poem, too, describes Sylvia as having “squeezed the possible blood out of” her fiction through her “typewriter ribbon”. But Ted’s phrasing, in the few lines towards the end of his poem where he says this, is ambiguous; and the story, as he tells it, differs in many small details from that of Sylvia’s “fiction” (as he calls it) and from her letter to her mother. Perhaps, on this Path where the ‘Virtue’ of Hod is truthfulness, Ted was being careful and precise. But it is likely that he was also thinking of something more seriously connected with Sylvia’s creative efforts when he altered or corrected (we cannot know which) her version of events.

It is important to remember that Briah is the World in which abstract patterns are formed, and that the energies of Hod, on this particular Path, also foster abstract pattern making. So, for visionary artists and poets who make the Cabbalistic journey, this Path is of major importance, because it is here that their view of the world is shaped and it is this which will eventually find concrete expression in their work. It is here, too, that they must find ways of accessing and using their inner Visionary eye, so that their interpretation of the world will be true, and their work will transmit that truth.

Experiment and flexibility are a necessary and continuing part of this process. And in 1959, both Sylvia and Ted were experimenting with ways of using the powerful unconscious energies within them and around them (that “seethe and deep-grounded swell” of which Sylvia wrote of in her journal) from which they believed true inspiration might flow into their work.

Sylvia’s story describes a fictitious husband who, as a boy, had developed a method of “intense prayer”, a sort of communion with “the genius of a place”, through which he attempted to influence wild animals. In the story, this husband wills all the animals of the forest towards him and he feels guilty when an Elk appears and is pursued by camera-toting tourists. But it is the wife who believes that she has called up the lethal bear “out of the dark”; she calls this bear “my bear” and eggs her husband on to his fatal confrontation with it. Sylvia’s story, however, is fiction: and although she commonly included very personal details in her work, her description of husband and wife, here, cannot be taken as fact.

Ted, however, did use meditation techniques to tap into the net of power which animates the cosmos. He wrote to Lucas Myers: “I am convinced that the powers that matter are not to be recruited by a simple decision to write any more than religious trance is to be induced by a simple wish for divine revelation”. And he went on to say, Myers notes, that “one ought to be able to become skilled in productive trance as every commonplace Buddhist monk does10. Ekbert Faas, too, in an interview with Ted in 1977, asked about “the sources of exercises in meditation and invocation(/I)” which Ted and Sylvia had “(I)devised in 1959” (UU 210). Ted replied that they came from “the whole body of magical literature which anybody can look up”, but he declined to elaborate further. It is interesting to note, however, that in an earlier interview with Faas, in 1970, Ted talked of Tibetan “occult and magical” beliefs, the power of dreams, shamanic flight to the spirit world, and his belief in the shamanic nature of poetry (UU 206).

Bear picture

Ted, through his anthropological studies (and most probably Sylvia, too) would have been aware that for North American Indians the Bear was a shamanic animal. In Yellowstone Park, Ted and Sylvia were in “Red Indian” country, and they were reminded of this by the “robes” and “tepees” of the land itself. But amongst real Red Indian robes and tepees, the shaman was once a very important figure. In a trance induced by drums and dancing, he or she would make the spirit-flight to the Otherworld in order to bring back healing energies for the tribe. And essential to this process was the guidance and protection of an animal which embodied the same raw, powerful, dangerous energies which the shaman was likely to encounter on that journey. To gain that protection, the shaman relied on his kinship with all of nature, but using an animal’s power safely was something which had to be learned.

Ted believed that poets and artists make a similar shamanic journey when they delve into the unconscious. But in 1959 he and Sylvia were still learning to do this: still like neophyte shamans who have to learn how to communicate with the Nature-Kin and return from the Otherworld alive. And a real encounter with a wild animal such as a bear is an apt allegory for this dangerous process.

Similarly, the act of containing (or caging) such powerful, unpredictable energies – such “tonnage” – in a poem or story can result in death: what might seem like a simple, controlled process which metaphorically turns “life to paper” may turn out to bleed it of all its energy and power and, so, be lethal. In just the same way, the Yellowstone bears, which appear to be “entertaining” “Uncle Bruins” or “Mislaid Red Indian Mickey Mouse” characters, can turn into wild creatures which, with one blow, can kill, and turn a living person into a memory, an incident report, an obituary.

For the wife in Sylvia’s story, the fifty-ninth bear was a “symbol of plenitude” and luck: and five and nine are, indeed, numbers associated with completion and with foresight and magic. For Ted, in his poem, “our fifty-ninth bear” was murderous, yet it had “romped through the woods" to rob them; it was “a ghoul” whose single talon had wrenched out and shattered their car window, yet it had hidden inches from them, leaving them feeling “dazed” and ego-raked but strangely proud and “chosen”. In contrast to the “Paradise” teddybears, unreally tamed by American society into “welcoming committees” and “camera stars” this bear was real, full of vital energy, and frighteningly mercurial. It was presaged by a giant elk11, which “detached” itself from the darkness as if “from a place of omens”, and wheeled, like the horned god, Cernunnos, “right above” the bonnet of their car. And it was presaged, too, by the almost ritual “racket of clatter-pans” and the yelling of “Bears! Bears!”.

The unreality and the paper-thin flimsiness of human control over the wild energies are everywhere in Ted’s poem. He saw the ancient wilderness of Yellowstone as a place where bears were part of the “all-American family”, and eagles were “laid on” for dramatic effect, and “board cut-out bears” were dressed in overalls, and “coy nicknames” prettified the magma bubbling from the earth. “Through” that seemingly tamed surface, bubbled signs that “Prehistory was still at boiling-point”, but, nothing “translated” into reality12. Only in his memory is there a glimpse of the vast depth of the canyon, screened (as if he was not then strong enough to face a clear view of reality) by the “spread fingers” of a great eagle’ wings, and still that memory can make him dizzy.

Sylvia was more intuitive. She responded instinctively to the dangers and was nervous and edgy. But both felt naively secure in their tent, where Ted slept with his “pitifully unimaginative” hatchet under his pillow. And it was in their tent, in the darkness, whilst they were “chrysalis" in sleeping bags and closest to trusting nature (like an animal undergoing metamorphosis), that the bear came to them.

Ted’s bears, in other poems, are one with Nature. They are “creatures of light13; the “gleam” of life in the “sleeping eye of the mountain14; a “bulb in wet soil” which wakes with the whole world to unwrap like “an enormous bulging mystery package15. But, to Ted, the bear is also “the ferryman / to dead land16, a creature which has got “everything for nothing” but whose “price is everything17. So, like the Devil on this Path of A’Ain, the bear is ‘Lord of the gates of Matter’ – an all-powerful, a-moral, capricious life-force. Any attempt to “make a fiction” of its energies, whether by confining them to a National Park and making them seem like cuddly characters, or by turning them into a poem or story, is, inevitably, a “dud scenario” – something with all the life-blood squeezed out of it. And the danger in every confrontation with the life-energies is such that “a curious impulse”, a “slight flicker”, can tip that see-saw balance from unreal to real, from life to death18.

Ted saw this “well enough” in Yellowstone. But he did not see the same danger in Sylvia’s see-saw energies: did not see the instinctive and impulsive “self-salvation” which not only drove her to write, but drove her also to sacrifice others, especially those closest to her, by creatively distorting the truth and turning their lives into fiction. So, not only were all her experiences squeezed to provide material for her writing; and not only was the life-blood squeezed from her bear story; but there is also a suggestion, made clearer in the last six lines of Ted’s poem, that Sylvia instinctively avoided the premonition and fear of death, which was “hurtling too and fro” inside her own head, by sacrificing others in her work. Such sacrificial offerings included the husband in her bear story, her mother in The Bell Jar, and her father and Ted in her poems. In this way, Ted suggests that she found “somewhere” fictional where death “temporarily” (this word carries great foreboding) could “be rested”.

In the end, however, the methods by which both Ted and Sylvia were trying, at that time, to come to grips with the deepest, darkest, natural energies and use them in their work, were also a dud scenario.

In ‘Dream Life’ (BL 142), the poem on the Path of A’Ain in the lower World of Yetzirah, the dud scenario of Ted’s and Sylvia’s shared poetic rebirth has also faltered, but the element of sacrifice is still strongly present. Sylvia’s Visionary eye is now open and she has direct and frightening access to her unconscious energies. In ‘Sylvia Plath and Her Journals’, Ted wrote that “her inner crystal ball was helplessly truthful” (WP 184); and she was also acutely aware of the horrors and the madness which had resulted from the unrestrained power of primal energies in the world in general. The “blood-sticky” results of these began to materialize in images of war, mutilation and torture in her poems, and Ted saw them as a terrifying part of Sylvia’s dream life.

Bloody images pervade ‘Dream Life’ and are summed up in the final line as “preparation” for a “Feast of Atonement”. This is a summing-up which suggests many things. The Feast of Atonement (or the Fast of Atonement) is the most important day of the Hebrew year. It is a day of fasting and purification: a day of affliction of the soul in preparation for the Lord’s forgiveness and for new beginnings. It is the only day on which the High Priest may approach the Lord’s Seat of Mercy, and there, in a cloud of protective incense, he ritually sprinkles the Seat of Mercy with blood from the sacrificial sin offerings which he has made for himself and for his people. He does this so that they all may be reconciled to the Lord and brought into unity, or atonement (at-one-ment), with Him.

But the Feast of Atonement, and the ritual blood-sacrifices of bullock and goat, and the banishment of a scapegoat into the desert (all of which are prescribed in the Bible in Leviticus 16), also have pagan origins. And it is these which are most strongly felt in Ted’s poem. His evocation of a “temple-crypt” where the priestess lolls unconscious over the crevasse “inhaling the oracle”, links Sylvia with the priestesses of the Oracle at Delphi, which to the Ancient Greeks was the omphalos – the navel through which our everyday world was joined to the Underworld. It was the place where Apollo, God of the Sun and of Poetry, Music and Prophecy, slew the Earth Goddess’s serpent, Python. And in slaying this dragon-serpent, Apollo conquered the dark primal life-forces, usurped the Earth Goddess’s power, and claimed her sanctuary as his own. Thus the Earth Goddess’s “primal cave” at Delphi, the sacred place in which intoxicating fumes from the Underworld flowed through a fissure in the earth carrying her prophecies, became the temple of Apollo – a “public dome”, bounded and controlled by Apollo’s priests.

At Delphi, too, the bloody rites of Isis and Osiris were celebrated. And it was the place where Dionysus (Apollo’s dark, half-brother) was ritually torn to pieces, dismembered and buried, before being resurrected and reborn as Iachos. So, rites of purification in preparation for rebirth and at-one-ment with the powers of light, harmony and order and with the powers of darkness, fecundity and chaos persisted at the Earth Goddess’s sanctuary at Delphi long after she had been dethroned.

Appropriately, one more meditation for this Path of the Devil is ‘The Secret of Generation is Death’. Sylvia’s own rites, as described by Ted in ‘Dream Life’, were specifically directed towards reunion with her father. She had come to believe that only by confronting the demons which drove her could she achieve wholeness and rebirth. So, sleep for her seemed to Ted to become a descent into her father’s grave – a “nightly service” at her father’s sacred shrine, which she furnished with the blood and the horror of his “gangrenous” dismemberment. Her father’s blue eyes – “Aryan” and “bright blue” in her poem ‘Daddy’ (SPCP 222 - 224) – drove her on, and he was the one she associated with all the horrors which she included in that poem and in other poems which she collected together in 1962 under the title ‘Daddy'19.

Sylvia, like the Hebrew High Priest, and like the sibyl priestesses at Delphi, attended the shrine of the Father alone. “Each night” (the phrase occurs three times in Ted’s poem), she visited her “private primal cave”, but she did not share her secret rites, her journey, or her visions even with Ted. Each night he “hypnotized”20 her, offering her hypnotic suggestions of “courage, understanding and calm”, but it seemed to him that her Father’s oracle “spoke only conclusions” and that her dream life made her aware only of destruction and death. So, in this poem, on this particular Path, it seems as if Sylvia was chained to the alter of a false god and that her view of the world was distorted by too intemperate and unbending an allegiance to him: that she was, in other words, the victim of the Illusion and Rigidity of Hod.

Yet, from Ted’s discussion of Ariel in ‘Sylvia Plath: Ariel’ (WP 161 – 2), and his much more detailed discussion of the sources of Sylvia’s work in ‘Sylvia Plath and Her Journals’ (WP 177 - 190), it is apparent that Sylvia had no choice. Ted noted, in the first, her “instinctive” compulsion for making patterns, the “clairvoyant precision” of her words, and her chilling, eerie, “luminous vision of Paradise” as an “unalterably spot-lit vision of death”. He noted, too, that she was “possessed” by her “genius for love”. In the second article, Ted went more deeply into the compulsions which drove Sylvia to write and “the deep and inclusive inner crisis” (WP 179) which lay behind all her work. He commented on the “magnetic inner process” which “seemed to engross all her attention” (the word ‘engross’ is interesting here for its negative meaning of ‘make gross'), and he noted, too, Sylvia’s preoccupation with death and rebirth, the “silent horrors” which went on inside her, and the “lack of inner protection” which almost, at times, seemed to invalid her.

In an interview with Drue Heinz in 199521, Ted spoke again about the compulsive pattern which lay behind all Sylvia’s work; a pattern which “would be projected from somewhere deep inside&helli…having been totally unconscious to her”. And he went on to say: “You cannot overestimate her compulsion to write like that. She had to write these things – even against her best interests”.

In ‘Dream Life’, Ted writes that Sylvia seemed afraid to remember her dreams and that she would wake saying “No dreams”. But from all Ted said elsewhere, and from Sylvia’s own journals and letters, it seems that her dream life was really a waking dream which consumed and drove her, even as she achieved a first ‘rebirth’ in her work22 and began (in Ted’s words) to confront the “demythologized ghost of her father” and “The Other – the deathly woman at the heart of everything she now closed in on” (WP 187).

Sylvia did record a number of dreams in her journal. On 25 Feb. 1959, she wrote of a dream in which “men in costume” (like the “carnival beggars” in ‘Dream Life') had their legs hacked off and “fell down like ninepins with their stumps and lower legs scattered”. About a month later23, she wrote of “dreams of deformity and death” and of “all my dreams of deformed and tortured people”, and she linked these dreams with feelings of guilt. Again, on 14 November 1959, she described “troubled” dreams and commented: “Old shames and guilts”.

So, it seems that Sylvia did sometimes think that she had committed sins for which she must make sacrifices. And, as if confirming this, Ted, in ‘Sylvia Plath and Her Journals' wrote: “If an image of hers had its source in a sleeping or waking ‘dream' [his punctuation], it was inevitably the image of some meaning she had paid for or would pay for” (WP 184). Yet, many of the images Ted cites in ‘Dream Life’ are images of “the camera’s war”: of death camps and atrocities for which Sylvia could have no responsibility but which, nevertheless, haunted and depressed her and kept her sleepless24.

These were the vision of the apocalypse about which Sylvia wrote in ‘Context’ (JPBD 92 - 3) in February 1962. These were the visions which began to fill her poems with emptiness, blood and death, and which eventually found concrete expression in poems like ‘Little Fugue' (SPCP 187 - 9), ‘Berck-Plage’ (SPCP 196 - 201), ‘Daddy’ and ‘Getting There’ (SPCP 247 - 9).Saten picture

It would not be surprising if Sylvia was afraid to remember her dreams, if her vision of apocalypse filled them, too. But the bloody horrors of that vision – images so like those in many of the oldest church frescos of the Last Judgement, in which the Devil is depicted supervising the gruesome torment and torture of sinners – these were the images which filled her waking life as she wrote them into her work. So, her “day-waking” was, as Ted says in his poem, only “a harrowed safety”. And the fear and panic which she described in her journals, which followed her “with its blood-sticky feet”, and which drove her to write, came unbidden from some unknown source.

In her story ‘Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams' (JPBD 17 - 33), Sylvia’s narrator is employed, just as Sylvia was in Boston, as a secretary typing records in the psychiatric clinic of a large hospital. She is a “dream-connoisseur” who, like Sylvia, knows all about waking dreams and panic. “I figure the world is run by this one thing”, this narrator says, “Panic… – it’s the same Johnny Panic awake or asleep”. And she expresses very much the same thoughts as Sylvia, who, in her journal on 14 Oct. 1958, commented that her work at the clinic “objectifies my view of myself”, and noted “Fear: the main god”.

Hell picture

Sylvia’s narrator has her own dream which is her “one dream”, her “dream of dreams”. It is a vision of Hell and its stinking lake of dragons and darkness is thick with the dirt of the world. It is a “Lake of Nightmare. Bog of Madness” which parallels “the sea clogged with corpses” which Ted lists in ‘Dream Life’ amongst the few dreams which Sylvia did remember. And, like all the dreams which Sylvia’s narrator “unearths”, it came from Johnny Panic, “the great Dream Maker”, whose dreams control the waking lives of his devotees just as much as their sleep.

Sylvia’s story finishes with a religious rite which ends in atonement. Her narrator is caught copying hospital records, but the sin of which she is accused is of “making time with Johnny Panic again”. For this sin, she is subjected to electric shock treatment (as Sylvia had been) which will cure her of her dreams and “unseat Johnny Panic from his own throne”. “Masked priests” officiate, she is anointed, robed in virginal white, and laid out like a sacrifice on an alter-like cot, with a crown of wire on her head and the “wafer of forgetfulness” on her tongue. But at the very moment when the electric shock “shakes her like a leaf in the teeth of glory”, Johnny Panic, the god whose “Word charges and illuminates the universe”, appears in a blue blaze of lightnings to save her.

Johnny Panic, in this story was Sylvia’s “God of Sleep”. His blue tongued lightning was in him and all around him. His religion of Fear was anatomized in the horrors recorded in his Bible of Dreams. He was the one who appeared in response to electrodes in the temples of his devotees; and his hellish dreams seeped into their waking lives to harrow them.

Ted’s poem is like an anaglyph of Sylvia’s black story. In it, Sylvia is the acolyte-priestess of the God of Sleep: the one who hears his oracle of Fear and who dreams, waking and sleeping, his deathly dreams. The dreams of dragons, filth and sacrifice which he makes for her are visions of Hell. So, his kinship is close to “that old serpent called the Devil, Satan” who was “cast out into the earth” by Michael, the angelic Dragon-slayer, as described in the Revelation of St. John, a book of the Bible which is often referred to as ‘The Apocalypse’.

Here, then, is the Devil which has to be faced on this Path of the Cabbalistic Tree. Here is the dragon-serpent of dark energies which in Cabbala must be combined with the Goddess’s creative powers so that they become like the intertwined serpents on Mercury’s caduceus. Only when this balance is restored will enlightenment and wisdom be achieved. This is the necessary passage “through grim death…into the Love fire”, the “eternal quest which is eternal fear25, which Cabbalists believe the Soul must undergo.

Sylvia wrote in ‘Context’ (JPBD 92 - 3) that her poetry was about Love and that the real issues which concerned her were not her vision of the apocalypse but “the hurt and wonder of loving” and creating, in all its forms. Balance was essential if she was to use the primal energies within her for shamanic, healing purposes but, try as she did in the poems she wrote between ‘The Stones’ and the appearance of the Ariel voice in ‘Elm’, that balance eluded her and portents of death and darkness kept creeping in. Still, the dark, subconscious, dangerous energies of Johnny Panic drove her on. His was the bloody Feast of Atonement she was driven to prepare: but, in the end, she was not strong enough to control him and she herself became a sacrificial victim.

In ‘The Prism'(BL 187), on the Path of A’Ain in the World of Assiah, Ted turns to a common Cabbalistic symbol to describe Sylvia’s Visionary eye. From the seventeenth century on, as Cabbalists learned more about the behaviour of light and lenses, the triangle by which they had always represented the extension of Divine energy into time and space (into our three-dimensional world) began to be shown in symbolic pictures as a crystal prism. So, the pure light from the eye of God was now seen passing through a prism to fill the chaos of darkness with the spectrum of colours which animates our world. In one of Kircher’s drawings in 1665, for example, telescopes, mirrors, and other optical instruments are shown directing God’s light into our world (and into the dark Platonic cave of the human body) with mathematical accuracy. The picture still includes mythological figures and astrological symbols, but above all is seen the brilliance of the Hebrew letters which represent God’s holy name.

Ted’s poem, too, mixes scientific and non-scientific imagery, and it embodies the life and death duality and the element of sacrifice which are always associated with this Path. But at its heart, is Ted’s belief in the power of memory and “magical animated imagination” (SGCB 32), such as was expressed by Plato, by Thomas Aquinus, and, especially, in the writings of Occult Neoplatonists like Marsilio Ficino and Giordano Bruno, all of whose works he knew well.

For the earliest thinkers, light was the supreme manifestation of the Divine in nature. Platonists believed that it stirred a response in the human body by animating the divine spark wherein lay the faint memory-shadow of Divine Ideas. Bruno, in Gli Eroici Furore26, described how the Divine light enters the body through the eyes and brings the fire of Divine Love to the heart, and he wrote of the essential balance between the eyes, the heart and the will. And Ficino wrote that when we regain this “memory of the true and divine beauty that the eyes perceive, we desire the former with a secret and unutterable ardour of the mind27. So, physical and spiritual vision were linked with memory and with desire for reunion with the Divine.

Cabbalists, too, believe in the importance of memory. But as scientific and mathematical knowledge advanced, some began to believe that enlightenment was connected with knowledge rather than wisdom. They came to believe that knowledge alone might give them a true understanding of the world and, through this, access to god-like powers. And their quest became increasingly bound by rationality, rules, formulae and dogma.

True Cabbalists, however, have never underestimated the mystery of Divine power. They value rational knowledge but believe that enlightenment can come only through understanding of the Divine spark within themselves. For them, crystals have a long history of magical powers, but mostly they are used as tools – aids to communication between the gods (often symbolised by the sun, the stars and the moon) and the buried Divine spark in the human unconscious. Symbolically, a crystal is the lens of the Visionary eye: a prism which, when used in the right way, can focus the inner light and guide the Cabbalistic journeyer in the quest for at-one-ment with the Source.

Sylvia’s “sea-poured crystal”, in Ted’s poem, is just such a crystal. The sun which lit her inner vision was an “ocean sun”, shaped by her earliest memories of the sea and of pure happiness. These were the earliest, purest memories she had and they fired the love in her heart which made her seek to regain that innocent “Paradise”. “I sometime think”, she wrote in ‘Ocean 1212-W’ (JPBD 117), “my vision of the sea is the clearest thing I own”; and she likened it, as Ted does in his poem, to the “lucky stones” she used to collect from the beach. She noted, too, how “in one wash of memory” the colours of that sea-vision would “deepen and gleam”.

So, Sylvia used that lucky stone of memory to bring the sounds and the images of her vision into focus. This was her general working method, but her sea-vision, in particular, is vividly recorded in ‘Ocean 1212-W’, and also much later and in a very different way in ‘Daddy’.

Nauset picture

Sylvia’s earliest memories of the sea were of Winthrop (Mass.) where the homes of her parents and her grandparents were close to the sea28. But the sea Sylvia said she loved most was that further south, off Nauset in Eastham (Mass.), where she and Ted had spent part of the summer of 1957 shortly after their arrival in America. She wrote: “Nauset is my favourite beach in the world” (SPLH 27 Aug. 1960), and she called it “my beloved Nauset” (SPLH 15 March 1957). And clearly, she associated it with the seas of her earliest memories and with her Father who, in ‘Among the Bumblebees’ (JPBD 259 - 266) is the God who swam with her, shared his strength with her and kept her safe, but finally “betrayed” her by dying. In ‘Daddy’, she wrote bitterly of his death but still linked him and her prayers to “recover” him with “the waters off beautiful Nauset” – the phrase which Ted borrows for the opening line of his poem. Her memory of Nauset, then, was her magical, Mercurial, ‘Vision of Splendour’: the vision which is the Spiritual Experience of Hod on this Path and which must be combined with the Fire and Love of Tiphereth.

Sylvia’s first nine years were her “self’s cradle” – the formative years which shaped her self image. But her memory of that time was also the driving force “behind” all her “efforts” to regain her “intact childhood” and, so, was the cradle of the self which she hoped would be reborn.

But Ted, too, had memories of carefree days at Nauset29 and in his own Visionary eye, as he wrote in ‘The Prism’, he saw the seas and sky and sand as vividly as Sylvia once did. He saw vividly, too, Sylvia’s remembered shape walking there, and this image inspired his tender, loving description of her in the poem and brought back to him, too, all she had sought to achieve – all her efforts to regain her “Paradise”. So, he imagined her “roaming away north”, which is the direction of the Pole Star, the world-axis, the mythical and biblical Mountain of God, and place of the Moon Goddess, the Devil, the Spirit, and of death.

So, Sylvia’s “seer’s vision stone” “goes with” Ted as an integral part of his own visionary memory long after Sylvia is in her grave. Throughout Birthday Letters he looked into it, as he did in ‘The Prism’, to see again their shared journey and to be inspired by its energies. And so, the phrase “I see you” recurs again and again in these poems, along with visionary images in photographs, mirrors, dreams and film.

In ‘The Prism’, Ted likens Sylvia’s Visionary eye to a “periscope lens”: something with which she could see above her earth-bound state30. Only the best periscopes use prisms to bend the light (simple ones use mirrors) and Sylvia’s was a “flawless crystal” which channelled and bent the light of the heavens so that it entered her eyes and created the vivid images which inspired her. It was indeed a treasure which lit the fires of her heart (so-to-speak) with worship and love and, so, was “behind” that “eye-brightness” which, in Birthday Letters, has always connected Sylvia with the Goddess.

This prism, however, was both lucky and unlucky. And although Ted’s choice of the word “lucid” in his description of its balance suggests its translucence, its luminous quality, and its connection with clear, sane understanding, it also suggests (through the roots of the word: ‘Lux') the tricky, unreliable nature of Lucipher / Pan / Mercury, which made that balance precarious. And, in the final six lines of the poem, Ted coveys that precarious balance well.

A prism, unlike a simple lens, bends light in just the way Ted describes. Viewed from one direction, the light of the source is transmitted in every detail: viewed from another, one sees only darkness. So, appropriately for this Path, one may see all or nothing. In Ted’s own Visionary eye, in his memory of the light which Sylvia transmitted directly from the Source, he sees every tiny detail down to the merest “flicker” of the flame which animated her “ecstasies”. Or, looking at his memories another way, he sees in his “crypt of dream” only the absolute darkness and extinguishment of death.

Ted’s choice of the word “flicker”, in these lines in ‘The Prism’, echoes the “slight flicker” which in ‘The 59th Bear’ not only drove Sylvia to turn life into fiction in her work but also turned the “beast” (as the bear is called there) into a killer. So, the capricious nature of the Beast who is Lord of the Gates of Matter on this Path, and the precarious balance which he holds over life and death, is emphasised again. Sylvia used all her courage, all her skill, every bit of the Goddess’s power that she could muster, to confront him, but ultimately his power over her was too great.

In the final line of ‘The Prism’, in the deepest darkness of the Devil’s Path in the World of Assiah, Ted, returns all that was Sylvia – body, spirit, soul, sea and air and fire, – to the womb of earth and seals them, together with his darkest memories, beneath her gravestone slab.


‘A Pink Wool Knitted Dress’ is one of three poems which Ted later inserted (as 14(b)) into the original list of 85 poems which he had sent to Christopher Reid (Poetry Editor at Faber & Faber) in 1997. ‘18 Rugby Street’, inserted as 9(b) and ‘Carlsbad Caverns’ inserted as 37(b), were the other two. Obviously, these insertions changed the position of other poems relative to the Paths on the four Cabbalistic Trees, but so close are the links between each poem and the Path which it now occupies in the published sequence it is hard to believe that the inserted poems (or some suitable alternative poem, as in the case of the substitution of ‘The Inscription’ for ‘The Laburnam') were not part of Ted’s original, poetic, Cabbalistic journey. A personal journey and a published sequence of poems are two very different things and serve two quite different purposes.

Certainly, Ted had written more than 88 poems from which to make his choice for the published sequence. In 1995, discussing his current work with me, Ted told me that he had been writing “about 100 poems about things [he] should have dealt with thirty years ago. Should have written then, but couldn't”. This, he said, had been a very personal journey made over many months (a few poems had been written years before). In 1998 he wrote to Keith Sagar that he had not thought of the poems as “parts of a whole”, and had been “intrigued” when he brought them all together by “the maze of interconnections” between them (Hughes / Sagar Correspondence. BL Dep 10003(9) 22 June 1998). And this is exactly what one would expect of a Cabbalistic journey made poem by poem, Path by Path, over a considerable period of time, with no planned overview and with no goal other than understanding, enlightenment and healing.

In 1995, Ted had selected a few of poems which eventually appeared in Birthday Letters to be published for the first time in his New Selected Poems 1957 - 1994, but even in October 1997 he was still undecided whether to publish more of them or not. Only in November that year, long after the poetic journey which they represented had been completed, did he finally decide to go ahead and, writing to Keith Sagar on 17 November 1997, he said he had written 80 - 100 poems and that the forthcoming publication would contain “88 pieces”. Birthday Letters appeared in January 1998. Howls and Whispers, published as a limited edition of 110 copies, also in 1998, contained eleven poems which were not included in Birthday Letters but which were, as Carol Hughes has noted (Letter 6.IV.03) “part of the whole”.

So it seems, from Ted’s handwritten amendments to the original typewritten, numbered list of poems which he sent to Christopher Reid, that he belatedly decided to restore the Cabbalistic pattern to the published sequence. It seems also, from a list of twenty-two numbers which Ted wrote, then scribbled out, on one copy of this document that he may also have been considering a more limited selection of these poems for a separate publication.

One final comment should be made about Ted’s responses to translators and scholars who wrote to him with questions about Birthday Letters. His answers generally provide specific information about the factual details of individual poems, but he was always evasive about his method of putting the sequence together. In a letter to Keith Sagar, written by Ted on 22 June 1998, Ted answered a question from Sagar by saying that he could not now remember how he came to “shuffle” the Birthday Letters poems “into that order”. He continued: “chronology of subject matter was the only rule – I think”. That final, vague, addition of ‘I think’, suggests to me that this is exactly the sort of practical, general answer any Cabbalist or Magician would give to a general question: not because they wish to conceal their real intent, but because an answer in terms of complex, occult knowledge would be inappropriate and might well be misunderstood. A specific and knowledgeable query about occult matters would, most likely, have prompted a quite different answer.


1. Only for convenience do we label these complementary powers ‘male’ and ‘female’.

2. The suggestion that Baphomet was a god of wisdom comes from several different sources. Using the Atbash cypher, Dr Hugh Schonfield, a Hebrew scholar and a researcher of the Dead Sea Scrolls, translated ‘Baphomet’ as the Greek word ‘Sophia’ (wisdom). Idries Shah in The Sufis ( Anchor, NY, 1971. pp. 254 - 5) discusses the name as a corruption of the Arabic word ‘Abufihamat’, which means ‘Father of Understanding’, ‘the transmuted consciousness' and ‘the complete man’. Others claim the name is made up of the Greek words ‘Baph’ and ‘Metis’, meaning ‘Baptism of Wisdom’.

3. The Endnote to this chapter contains comments on Ted’s insertion of three poems into the list of poems which he had originally sent to Faber and Faber in 1997. ‘A Pink Wool Knitted Dress’ was one of these poems.

4. During the Second World War, in 1941, the ‘Utility Mark' was patented to identify clothes and furnishings which the British government endorsed as being of reliable, controlled quality at a reasonable price. The Utility Scheme lasted until 1953, and serviceable items marked with the distinctive Utility Mark survived for many years after that.

5. A copy of this picture can be found at the Uffizi’s site on the Internet (http// There are also interpretations of this myth by many other artists.

6. Since this was Ted’s Parish Church at that time, the normal practice would have been for bans to be read at morning service on three consecutive Sundays, publicly announcing the wedding and naming the prospective bride and groom. If this is not possible, a Special License signed by the Head of the Church of England may be granted in exceptional circumstances. Presumably, time constraints related to Aurelia Plath’s visit to England were accepted as a valid reason for issuing a Special License for Ted’s and Sylvia’s wedding.

7. Sylvia explained to Warren all the reasons for this secret wedding and her plans for another, much bigger, wedding in Wellesley the following June (SPLH 18 June 1956).

8. Sylvia wrote of “the curate as a second witness” (SPLH 18 June 1956), so perhaps Ted was deliberately altering the facts in order to make this connection with death in the poem.

9.Chimney sweeps, because of their association with fire and soot, have long had a folklore association with fertility. In May Day celebrations, they were often dressed in ribbons and greenery to represent the Green Man. And Saint George, too, in many parts of Europe is associated with fire. Presumably because of his power over the fire-breathing dragon, he became the patron saint of firefighters, yet the dragon (which is also the Uroborus serpent) is an ancient symbol of fertility.

10. Myers, L. Crow Steered Bergs Appeared (p.88). Myers writes that whilst Ted and Sylvia were living in America Ted wrote a number of letters to him in which he discussed a variety of issues, ranging from “the characteristics of mind beyond the personal mind to the inner life”. These letters, written between August 1957 and September 1959, are now amongst the Hughes manuscripts held in the Woodruff Library at Emory University in Atlanta.

11. In Sylvia’s story, a stag, not an elk, appears in a silvery, moonlit radiance and flashes “white” in their headlights. They are “consoled” by the sound of its galloping hooves and almost immediately they see the lights of the camp centre, and arrive there “laughing” with relief “like giddy adolescents” (JPBD 101).

12. Ted had written to Lucas Myers of the way in which American Society “had the property of disabling your contact with the natural world”, whilst “the real world…retreated, sterilized, under cellophane” (CSBA 90).

13. ‘That Morning’ R 72; NCP 265.

14. ‘The Bear’ W 41; NCP 64.

15. ‘The Grizzly Bear’ UNS 30.

16. ‘The Bear’ W 41.

17. ‘The Grizzly Bear’ UNS 30.

18. This “see-saw” balance sums up the strong element of duality and ambivalence which pervades this Path of the Devil, the numbers of which (Tarot 15 and Cabbala 16) magnify the energies of the Path of the Hierophant (Vau) by ten. Both Paths, too, hold the element of sacrifice which is always associated with the acceptance of Divine energies.

19. ‘Daddy’ was one of Sylvia’s original titles for the collection of poems which was eventually published in 1965 as Ariel ('Collecting Sylvia Plath’ (WP 172)).

20. Ekbert Faas notes that Sylvia began to write a story called ‘The Hypnotising Husband’ some time in 1958, and Ted, in his interview with Faas in 1977, said that he often used to hypnotize Sylvia to sleep (UU 210).

21. The Paris Review, Vol. 37. No. 134. Spring 1995. pp. 55 - 94.

22. Ted identified ‘The Stones’ (SCPC 136 - 7) as the poem which marked this first ‘birth’ in late 1959. But this birth was not as complete as it seemed and much work had still to be done before the voice of Ariel became truly free (WP 186).

23. SPJ 29 March 1959.

24. Sylvia told her mother this in the letter she wrote on 7 Dec. 1961 (SPLH). There may well have been additional reasons for her depression at that time but her sensitivity to world affairs was always acute.

25. Jacob Böhme, Theosphische Wercke, Amsterdam, 1682. Trans. Thomson, and included in Robb, The Hermetic Museum, Taschen, 1997. p.245.

26. Bruno, De Gli Eroici Furore, Apresso Antonio Baio, Parigi, 1585. Part 2. Dialogues 2 - 7, Trans. Paulo Eugene Memmo Jr. 1964. (

27. Marsilio Ficino, Part 2. Dialogues 2 - 7, Trans. LSES students, Shepherd-Walwyn, London, 1978. Letter 7: ‘On Divine Frenzy’.

28. Sylvia’s parents lived quite close to Boston Harbour; her grandparents (with whom she often stayed) lived nearer to the Atlantic Coast, at Point Shirley.

29. Ted included some of these memories in ‘Flounders' (BL 65 - 66), which is one of the poems on the earlier Path of the Lovers. The “pre-Adamite” horse-shoe shell of ‘The Prism’ also appears in that poem but it is linked there with Venus-Aphrodite, rather than with the God who was her father.

30. The self-chosen, earthy shackles which bind Sylvia, just as the small figures on the Tarot card for this Path are loosely bound to the Devil’s alter, are nicely suggested by the “earthenware earrings” she wears. Ear-rings which pierce the ears (as Sylvia’s probably did not) have a long folk-lore and folk-medicine connection with good eye-sight.

Poetry and Magic text and illustrations. © Ann Skea 2003. For permission to quote any part of this document contact Dr Ann Skea at

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