Capriccio: The Path of the Sword (3).

‘Fanaticism’, ‘Snow’, ‘Rules of the Game’, ‘Possession’.

© Ann Skea


‘Fanaticism’ (C 7)

‘Fanaticism’ occupies Sephira 7, Netzach, on the Sephirothic Tree, and everything about this poem fits the Cabbalistic and numerical powers of this particular Sephira. Netzach (Victory) belongs to the Sphere of Venus and, so, is associated with the Goddess of Love. And, since the element of Netzach is water, Ted represents her in ‘Fanaticism’ as the Ancient Greeks’ Sea-Goddess, Aphrodite1.

Aphrodite, however, had a lineage far older than her Greek name suggests. She was a Star goddess and a Moon goddess, and she appears in Mesopotamian mythology as a sister of Inana and of Astarte. Like them, she was both Goddess of Fertility and Goddess of War; and even in Ancient Greece, her dark and her light face were recognized: she was known as Aphrodite Urania, Goddess of pure and ideal love; Aphrodite Genetrix, Goddess of Marriage; Aphrodite Pandemos, Goddess of venal love, lust and war; and Aphrodite the Warrior. She was the essence of feminine beauty, seductive, voluptuous, and she was able to renew her virginity by bathing in her native element, the sea. She was also dangerous.

That the woman (or Assia), in ‘Fanaticism’, should have adopted the mask of Aphrodite, is entirely consistent with the direct link between human and Divine which is represented by Netzach’s number, 7. In Cabbalistic numerology, 7 represents 4 (“the quaternary of Form”, and the cross made by the intersection of divine and human creative energies on the material plane) plus. 3 (“the trinity of spirit”; the number of the Great Goddess and the number of the Supernal Triangle of Heavenly powers on the Sephirothic Tree). Suitably, Ted structured this poem to represent the powers of 7, as 4 plus 3, by creating it in four stanzas, each of three lines. The total number of lines, 12, also reduces in numerology to 3, thus giving the Goddess controlling power over the whole poem.

The energies of Netzach, like those of the Moon goddesses, govern moods, wants, desires and emotions. They foster empathy, but their qlippothic powers are those of ‘Illusion’ and ‘Projection’. The Divine Will may be projected through a human agent: but a human may also project their own wants and needs onto a Divine being, act as they believe that god or goddess intends, and adopt this role as their persona or mask.

Just such a role was adopted by the woman in ‘Fanaticism’ when she exchanged her “face for the mask of Aphrodite”. Suitably, since the ‘Vision’ of Netzach is ‘a beautiful naked woman’, she came naked (as was the ancient custom) laying everything she had “Before the door of Aphrodite’s temple”. She played her role with such fanaticism that she offered every material thing which represented her past life, just as “the drowned leave their clothes”, including her marriage and the “plain security” of her “life-line” (a phrase which suggests both her destiny, as shown in the lines on her hand, and anything which might have saved her from disaster). All was offered for what she believed would be “holy years” dedicated to the service of the Goddess.

Yet, even if the woman had truly been channelling Aphrodite’s most loving and creative powers, her unquestioning sacrifice and her adoption of the mask of Aphrodite as her own persona, was irrational, unbalanced and misguided. She projected an illusory Self. And, as the role became routine and habitual, she expressed all the qlippothic energies of Netzach.

Illusion was also present in her unreasoned and careless faith in Aphrodite. She “lightly” offered up her “future” and “laughed” as she determined an end-point to her service of the Goddess. Her words, “After forty I’ll end it”, ambiguously suggest her “serious” intention of ending her own life, but there was also an element of the Moon’s magical prophetic powers in this statement, since Assia did end her life in her early forties.

Forty” may well be a realistic age-limit to the role of a seductive goddess of fertility and love but the number also has a specific Cabbalistic meaning. As 10 x 4, it signifies the fourfold completion of a Cabbalistic cycle (governed by 10) in which all four primary elemental forces are refined within “the sevenfold vehicle of man”. This particular time of completion is described as “putting off the carnal and putting on the celestial” (SSN 29): it is a time of actual death or of metaphorical death and spiritual rebirth.

In ‘Fanaticism’, the Moon-Goddess’s powers, as expressed in the “heave and spill” of fluctuating ocean tides, in reproduction, and in all the cyclical patterns of Nature which are governed by Earth’s Moon, pervade the imagery. And the dark face of the Goddess is apparent in the “blood-clepsydra”, which in Ted’s poem turns an ancient water-clock which can work in darkness (unlike a sundial) into the continuous drip, drip, drip of blood measuring out this woman’s life. The danger of this, the terrible waste of her sacrifice, and especially the emptiness of the persona she adopted, is summed up in the final line of the poem, where the repetition of the phrase, “empty clothes”, bridges the gap between her original, unrealistic offering of her future to Aphrodite, and the abrupt end to that future with the stark reality of death. It is as if no-one had filled those clothes in the years between: as if her true Self had not existed.

This is a bleak, rational, unemotional summing-up of this woman’s life. And the final sharp stab of the Cabbalist’s Sword to the heart, is powerfully conveyed in the bleak, ordinary, but painful reality of the fate of this woman’s empty clothes, “which Oxfam took”.


‘Snow’ (C 8)

‘Snow’ is one of the most beautiful, sad and loving poems in Capriccio. It is full of the soft, cold glow of Mercury’s light; the slow, ghostly drift of mood as the world fractures and cools; and the inexorable movement down through time and space into the earth as “the thick, loose flocculence / Of a life” burns out “in the air”.

This beauty at Hod (Splendour) which is Sephira 8 on the Pillar of Form of the Sephirothic Tree, balances the steely harshness of Netzach, which lies opposite Hod on the Pillar of Force. But these two Sephiroth always work together and the power to connect gods and Man at this level of the Tree belongs to both.

Hod is in the Sphere of Mercury, whose number is 8. His energies are cosmic and, like the snow in this poem, he moves between Heaven and Earth. But his energies are polarized: all or nothing, “the casket or the rainbow”, “personal limitation or spiritual freedom” (SSN 71). As in Alchemy, Mercury nurtures or destroys.

Mercury is the light-bringer who embodies a germ of the Sun, but his light is cold, like that of the Moon which crowns his symbol Astronomical symbol of Mercury. He is the messenger of the gods, and the guide of the Soul in the Underworld. His caduceus, which is the emblem of his magical powers, bears a helix of entwined snakes which symbolize the cyclical, regenerative powers of Nature which link Heaven and Earth. The helix also incorporates the endless, linked spheres of the figure 8 which,when laid on its side represents infinity.

8 holds the secret of balance, but in ‘Snow’, because Hod gathers and gives expression to the pattern established in all the Sephiroth above it on the Tree, the balance tilts only one way, and all movement is downwards towards the earth and the “oven of empty fire” which is both the earth and the grave. It is important to note, here, that in Ted’s lines it is the fire, not the oven, which is empty, for it is in Mercury’s power either to nurture the spiritual fire within us and bring it to union with the Divine, or to bury a spirit which is empty of soul-fire.

Throughout this poem, Ted melts together images located in a fixed earthly, time-dominated location and images of cosmic timelessness and fluid, unending motion. The figure he pictures in the poem is both real and ghostly. The downhill walk which was a finite, factual event, becomes, in this poem, Ted’s prophetic vision of Assia’s death which at the time of the event he had not recognized as such, because he was “thinking of something else”. But the vision remained in his memory, and so, Assia’s walk became “unending” and, for as long as Ted’s memory and his mental powers remained intact, it “could never end”. In order to magically ensure this, Ted stated its endlessness three times in his poem.

Hints of Assia’s Russian ancestry also move between the real and the unreal in this poem. The real, vivid beauty of the “soft chandeliers” of snowflakes on her “sparkly black fur hat” melts into the “ghostly wreckage / Of the Moscow Opera”. The “heather”, the “Pennine sheep”, the “cobbled hill”, and the “char-black buildings” converted to “closed cafes” and “Bronte gift shops”, all describe the real, Yorkshire village of Haworth: but the falling Heavens and the “constellations falling through Judean thorns” are the product of memory, intuition, feelings and imagination, linking Assia’s Jewish and Palestinian past with Biblical and pre-Biblical stories of death and rebirth, destruction and creation, on a spiritual and cosmic level.

In ‘Snow’, the gentle, protective, nourishing spirit of Mercury (described by Alchemists as the ‘maternal blood’ which nourishes the germ of Soul) is present in the “ghostly”, cloaking softness of the blanketing snow. It is there in words and phrases of the poem: in the feathery reflections of “[d]own on down”; the “fleeces” of the Pennine sheep; and the “flocculence” of life itself. But snow, in Ted’s poem, also exhibits Mercury’s Trickster nature and his cold and deadly powers: in the brief time taken for Assia’s “schoolfriends” to drink a cup of coffee on the battlefield, it immobilized their armoured tank and then “deepened over” their dead faces2.

Assia “escaped” the fate of her schoolfriends, but she went “deeper” into the “falling flakes” which Cabbalistically suggest the qlippothic shells of the Lurianic failed creation. Realistically again, Ted offers us an image of the snow clinging to the “charcoal crimped black pony skin / coat” she was wearing, but her adoption of a mask in the companion Netzach poem, ‘Fanaticism’ suggests that this coat, like the “fish-skin mock-up waterproof” in ‘Descent’, is another metaphor for the dark mask she is constantly seen to wear in Capriccio in order to conceal her fears and insecurities. That the coat is described as “charcoal crimped”, with no comma between these two words, suggests not only its colour but also a skin crimped by hot charcoal, thus adding to the poem’s fire imagery and also suggesting that it protects the coat’s wearer from the “falling / Heavens” and the “falling constellations” which, in this poem, describe both snow and life.

Words, which belong to Mercury as the communicator between gods and Man, “seemed warm”: but in the subtle flow of Ted’s lines they also exhibited Mercury’s destructive power by melting away “Whatever was trying to cling”. And the snow’s ability to melt, flocculate, blanket, freeze and bury everything in the poem reflects Mercury’s alchemical power to ‘dissolve and coagulate’. Like snow, life itself in this poem is “burning out in air”: and air is the Element of both Mercury and Hod. Despite the snow’s splendour (and ‘Splendour’ is the meaning of ‘Hod’), Ted sees it “leaning” inexorably on Assia, folding her “under its cloak” and ushering her away, until every trace of her has vanished into air. And the anthropomorphic nature of the words which Ted chose, here, suggests the guiding spirit of Mercury, rather than inanimate snow.

In his final line, Ted carefully and magically enfolded Assia, together with Mercury, in air. It is air and nothingness into which she vanishes; and that she has gone “Back to where [she] came from”, cryptically suggests the Cabbalistic belief that she, like everything in our world, has returned to the nothingness which preceded the original Creation and which is continually re-created by the Divine contraction (tsimtsum) prior to each new creative exhalation.

Yet, Cabbalistically and Magically, there is also something more to this final line of ‘Snow’. In the structure of the poem, which has 32 lines, Ted ensured Mercury’s presence. Aleister Crowley wrote that 32 is “a Mercurial number, as if the solidity of matter was in truth eternal change3. And, since 32 is 4 x 8, it symbolizes one complete earthly cycle of the interaction between a god (in this case, Mercury) and Man. In Cabbalistic numerology, 32 also reduces to 5, which represents “the spirit resurrected from the tomb of matter” (SSN 35): again Spirit (which is Mercury) and matter (Man)) are combined. So, it appears that Ted structured this poem in such a way as to ensured that it was governed by Mercury: but he also set a limit to Mercury’s presence by “Closing the air” behind the vanishing figures in the final line of the poem. Thus, he clearly and deliberately returned Mercury to his own element, but he did not banish him: rather, he ensured that the infinite, linked circles of his energies, symbolized by the number 8, remained unbroken.

‘Rules of the Game’ (C 9)


The ebb and flow of tides, governed by the Moon is clearly present in this poem, which occupies Sephira 9, Yesod (Foundation), on the Sephirothic Tree.

Yesod’s Sphere is the Moon, and its element the Aether4. It is the most magical of the Sephiroth, and its energies are those of the emotions, the imagination, the senses and the subconscious. It is the ‘foundation’ of instincts, beliefs, attitudes (valid and fanciful) which shape our nature and are expressed in our behaviour and our personality. Yesod represents the Lower Self, the self-realization which we achieve through the two-way interaction of Yesod with emanations from both Malkuth, Sephira 10 (the World), and from the Sephiroth of the Upper Tree. It is an interface, a channel for this two-way flow of energies, a mirror which reflects either the Upper Tree or the World. And, because Yesod is governed by the Moon, it may also act as a magic mirror which reflects dream images, fantasies, intuitions and extra-sensory perceptions.

‘The Rules of the Game’ concerns the deep instinct-driven perceptions which drive the behaviour of two individuals. Neither is named, so the game and its rules may be universal, but it is clear that Assia and Sylvia were once players and that Ted’s poem is based on their version of the game.

So, what is this game? And what are the rules?

The game, it seems, is based on human insecurity, atavism, jealousy and a false sense of justice. It is based on one person’s belief that someone else is “lucky”, has “too much”, and that they themselves, by comparison, have “absolutely nothing”. It is based, too, on the human practice of justifying ones actions by resorting to common platitudes. So, the player who claims that “nature abhors a vacuum”, is able to feel justified, “for nature’s sake”, in doing whatever is necessary to fill their own vacuum and “redress the balance”.

Although the ‘rules’ of this game are based on common human psychology, and perceptions about the “luck” of another and self-justification such as is demonstrated in Ted’s poem are very common, the value-system and sense of justice on which they are based are false. And at Yesod, the lunar energies sway the emotions and act like a mirror to reflect an image of Self and Other which is unreal and distorted.

In Ted’s poem, the little that the thieving player took to begin the game, seemed to make no difference at all to the balance of luck between the two players. The other person still had too much, and still went on with life as before, just as if the theft had not happened and the thief did not exist. The guilty thief, selfishly consumed by feelings of emptiness and desires which seemed like urgent needs, saw this as a demonstration the other’s deliberate scorn: it was as if she herself was unimportant and the other, consumed by “ambition”, had arrogantly and actively screwed her up (as it were)“like a crossed-out page, tossed into a basket”.

This subjective interpretation of the other’s behaviour allowed the thief to feel angry and to justified more predation. She saw the seeming pride of the other as “hubris” which deserved retribution, so, “on behalf of the gods”, she determined to “correct” it. Feeling “a little touch of hatred”, too, was (as is often the case) enough to steady “the nerves” for more theft, until nothing of value remained.

The tide, to begin with, flowed all one way. But the other player, too, was self-absorbed: too busy with her own personal ambitions to care about other people or to stop the theft before everything of real value was lost. This player’s pursuit of her own desires and her own apparent needs, and her perception of herself, was also false.

In both players, there was instability and illusion, but eventually, at Yesod, the tide will always turn, the natural energies will flow in the other direction, and the balance will change. Even death will not stop this, because Yesod responds to the flow of energies from Malkuth and death is part of the natural cycle of energies of the World. Only an influx of energy from the upper Tree could have changed the imbalance evident in Ted’s poem, but for this to happen the players would have had to change themselves. In order to do this, they would have had to enlarge their perspective enough to appreciate the wants and needs of others; to have seen and examined everything in a more realistic, truthful way; to have examined themselves and their own values; and to have changed their behaviour accordingly.These are the rules of the game at Yesod.

In Sylvia’s and Assia’s case such changes did not happen, and the structure of Ted’s poem reflects the imbalance which persisted and which was fatal to them both. There are 29 lines to this poem, which reduces numerologically to 11, the Master number which embraces the opposites and governs equilibrium and change. For 22 lines, comprising one Cabbalistic journey and the expanded powers of 11, the flow is all one way and the taking continues until the original balance is completely reversed and the other has “Nothing”. This first magical exchange of Self for Other in the Yesodic mirror is now complete, and in the next four lines (4 brings everything down to earth) there is a pause, but the change of direction is inevitable and inexorable. So, at this point, when the thief realized, “Too late”, that now that she had everything she had “too much”, the change had already begun. In the final three lines of the poem, linked to the rest of the poem by “Only you”, she is left alone to face the ghostly smile of her rival as the tide begins to flow the other way.

Ted’s approach in this poem, as befitted that of a Cabbalist on Path of the Sword, was allegorical, rational, impersonal and objective. At a Sephira where the Moon holds sway over emotions, dreams and imagination, this was both necessary and wise.

‘Possession’ (C 10)


‘Possession’, as the tenth poem in Capriccio, occupies Sephira 10, Malkuth (The World). Malkuth is known as ‘The Gate of the Shadow of Death’ and ‘The Gate of Justice’. It occupies the Sphere of Matter and its Element is Earth: so, it is the place of life and death; the place from which all life began and to which all life returns. On the Sephirothic Tree, Malkuth is furthest from the Divine Source and, through Yesod, it collects the emanations from the upper Sephiroth. Most importantly, Malkuth lies on the threshold of the Underworld and of the Averse Tree of qlippothic fragments and demonic energies. Only at Malkuth can a Cabbalist or magician invoke and control energies from the ‘other side’ with ease and in comparative safety, for only at Malkuth can these energies from the ‘other side’ be safely ‘earthed’.

In ‘Possession’, demons from the ‘other side’ are named and their human Priestesses evoked. It is a poem full of spirits, mediumship, shamanic trance, prophetic speaking-in – voices, magic and mesmerism. But to balance this, there are demon-slayers, such as the Biblical Josiah, and spirit-channellers and exorcists, such as the medium Estelle Roberts5 and the prophetic woman in the shamanic trance.

The Virtue of Malkuth is Discrimination, especially the ability to discriminate between the real and the unreal. But in ‘Possession’ it is clear from the first lines of the poem that this virtue is what the woman in the poem lacks. In particular, she cannot discriminate Self from the “demons” which seem to possess her.

At Malkuth, all the emanations from the Upper Tree are gathered via Yesod, where the Moon holds sway. So, ‘Possession’ gathers together all those dark-faced Goddesses and demonic energies which have been present in the earlier Capriccio poems. But this poem is also full of stern judgment and harsh justice wielded by Biblical and historical figures, as well, finally, as by the Priestess of the Goddess, Bastet, who is yet one more form of the dark face of the exiled Shekinah whose presence as ‘Lower Mother’ and ‘Bride’ is Cabbalistically most important at Malkuth.

‘Possession’, like Malkuth, also holds the energies from the earliest times of human evolution: the natural, social, spiritual and psychological history which forms “the subterranean river system” which is our common inheritance. This was the “provenance” of all the demons, gods, Biblical and historical figures named in this poem, all of whom were created and recorded by our ancestors, whose common and individual genetic inheritance we each carry in the lines on the palms of our hands. ‘Possession’, therefore, is a poem which is as much about human nature in general as it is about a particular individual.

Yet, the woman in the poem has a specific history and personality through which these “ancestors” are expressed. Her “dresses”, the “incense” of her perfume, her “oiled smile”, the “snarling” behaviour of her “schoolfriends' mothers” and her “hysterical”, “spinning” state which Ted “saw plain”, all identify her, “Maybe”, with Assia. Throughout the poem, however, often within the space of a single line, her identity shifts and she becomes the “Princess of Thammuz”, “the Babylonian / Mystery”, a “hysteric”, “Tabubu / Mesmerist Priestess of Bastet”. All these, as is appropriate to Malkuth, are human and worldly representatives of the Goddess.

Demonic possession, as Ted noted at the beginning of the poem, may be possible. “African / Exorcists” do, indeed, “take it for granted”. And Estelle Roberts did, indeed, deal “face-to-face, with some hard cases”. “Maybe” the strange, exotic allure which masked Assia’s essential fragility and insecurity was a form of possession. Maybe it was something which was “never credited”, only “suffered”. But, as Ted asks in this poem, “who” were these demons? And “where from?”. In particular, although Ted does not spell out this question, the Cabbalist, for whom nothing happens by chance, would seek the deeper, spiritual meaning for their presence and ask “What was their purpose?”.

Ted tells us the answer to the first two questions, but the answer to the third can only be found (intuited perhaps, since this poem is a channel for Malkuth’s magical energies) in the Cabbalistic nature of Capriccio, and in the poem’s position in this particular journey. The answer to the question is also closely tied up with all the most ancient Mysteries, all of which have their roots in Malkuth.

From the Cabbalistic point of view, Malkuth is the Sephira with which we are all most familiar, since it contains all the fragmented energies of our own world. But it is also the most mysterious Sephira, since its energies are responsible for the marriage between the world-dwelling, exiled Shekinah (the feminine potencies in God “which attain their fullest expression” in Malkuth6 as ‘Lower Mother’ and ‘Bride’) and her Bridegroom (‘The King’; the God manifest in Nature, whose god-name at Malkuth is Adonai / Adonis / Lord).

Only through this marriage and its consummation at Yesod (which is the phallic male potency and the ‘Foundation’ of all life7) can the Shekinah be redeemed from exile, the tikkun or ‘harmonious correction’ be achieved, and the female and male potencies in God be reunited.

In our world, the re-enactment of this sacred marriage was at the heart of the ancient Mysteries; and the magical / religious purpose of such ritual re-enactments has always been the basis of the belief in the mystical or holy nature of sexual union between a man and a woman within the limits of sacred rites and, in most religions, within marriage.

All of this is relevant to the Cabbalistic meaning of ‘Possession’. But Cabbalistic ritual performed at Malkuth has three more purposes which are equally relevant to this poem and to Ted’s whole Capriccio journey. To borrow from a list provided by Gershom Scholem in his informed discussion of Cabbalistic ritual8, these are:

1. “Redemption of the Shekinah”, not only from exile in our world but also “from the ‘other side’”;
2. “Harmony between the rigid powers of judgment and the flowing powers of mercy”;
3. “Defense against, or mastery over, the powers of the ‘other side’”, which, as has already been discussed, is the whole purpose of the Path of the Sword.

According to Scholem, only a perfect Zaddik (a ‘righteous individual’ or a person of integrity who is able to channel the Divine energies and who, in Ted’s terms, is the equivalent of a shaman) can accomplish the meditation whereby he is able to “leap into the abyss of the other side” and “bring up the spirits of holiness” or light from amongst the qlippothic fragments which have fallen there9. Essentially, the Zaddik’s journey is the same as that of a shaman. It is also the same as that of a shamanic poet practicing similar healing rituals in his poetry. But every such journey to the ‘other side’ for healing energies requires sacrifice: and the ritual sacrifice of Self, at the human level, parallels the mythic wounding and death of those Nature gods whose rebirth was part of the ancient Mysteries and brought renewed fertility to our world.

Sacrifice, the sexual rites and Mysteries of the sacred marriage, justice and mercy, and the confrontation and control of demons, all are part of the underlying theme of ‘Possession’. To see this, one needs to look beneath the surface level of the poem, because in Cabbala, as the Zohar puts it, truth "is clothed in garments, which are the stories of this world".

In the case of ‘Possession’, the stories of the world to which Ted turned were the two fundamental stories which he identified in Shakespeare’s work: the story of “the Great Goddess and her consort, the sacrificed god, the myth of one of the most widespread and profoundly rooted religions of the archaic world”, and the story of “the Great Goddess and the Goddess-destroying god” (SGCB 2-3). Ted’s own familiarity with these stories, and his awareness of their persistence from the earliest Sumerian versions right up to those of the present day, is evident in the summary of their history which he provides in the long ‘Introduction’ to Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (SGCB 1-43).

The first of these mythological figures mentioned in ‘Possession’ is Thammuz, who was the Babylonian god of fertility, consort of Inanna / Ishtar / Astarte. His annual death was the reason for the sterility of winter, and his rebirth brought with it the renewed fertility of spring. Yet, in the earliest Sumerian myths, Inanna’s own death and rebirth and her own return from the Underworld were responsible for the changing seasons. And it was her severe judgment of Thammuz’s behaviour in her absence (he rejoiced) which caused her to choose him as the substitute required by her sister, Erek-ki-gala, as a condition of her release from the Underworld. Thammuz, therefore, became the sacrificed god, and each year Inanna returned to the Underworld to search for him and revive him. Over time, however, Thammuz came to replace the Great Goddess as the most important figure in the fertility myths, and it was at his temples that priestesses presided over rites of sacrifice and prophecy, and the sexual rituals associated with the sacred marriage and fertility.

At the same time, in Babylonian myth, another male god, Marduk, son of the Earth Goddess, Ea, stole from Inanna the Tablets of Destiny by which she held sway over all human affairs on Earth, and he became the enforcer of law in the Babylonian pantheon.

Later, in Sumeria and Palestine, the god Baal, consort of Astarte / Anat, fulfilled the roles of both Thammuz and Marduk. And it was the temples of Baal (as Milton describe in thrilling detail in the middle of Book 1 of Paradise Lost10) that the Biblical Josiah, pious king of Jerusalem and worshipper of Jehovah, destroyed because “the book of law” (another form of the Tablets of Destiny) had been ignored, and idolatrous worship “unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven” had taken place, as well as sodomy and other “abominations”( II Kings: 5).

In particular, the Bible describes Josiah’s destruction of the temple on Mount Zion which was built on the site of King Solomon’s temple on the hill of Moriah. And Ted’s specific reference to the “temple of Zion” and “that cave” in ‘Possession’ seems to be a cryptic reference to both the Book of Law and to another sacrificed and resurrected God, Jesus Christ11. His later reference to the “crown of thorns” also suggests this, although the Judean thorn and (in Europe) thorny holly crowns were also associated with pagan myths and mysteries.

From the Biblical account of Josiah’s actions it is not possible to know the true nature of the mysteries and magic associated with the worship of Baal, since Josiah’s severe judgment, in the name of his own god, demonized all other gods, desecrated their places of worship and slew their priests. It is apparent, however, that again the followers of a male god had usurped the power which had once belonged to the Great Goddess, and that yet another male god, Jehovah, had come to rule in her place. No wonder her anger was extreme. No wonder “The Babylonian / Mystery” demonstrated that anger by grinding “the crown of thorns” between her thighs. And by using her thighs in this way she also implied the sexual power which she yet retained. In the Goddess’s behaviour, however, and in that of her priestesses and of the usurping male gods and their priests, it is severe judgment, rather than mercy or any more balanced approach, which is apparent.

Again, in ‘Possession’, the Goddess’s anger and the dark power which she embodies are present in the spinning, spirit-possessed “hysteric” who, “Brainwashed by the Aurora Borealis” uttered “The cries of Mongolian birds” before she spoke with a prophetic voice “Which split the threshold granite / and the future”. The Moon and Star Goddesses of many countries have been associated with the strange, electrical displays of lights of the Aurora Borealis in Northern skies. In Orkney, North of Scotland, it is said that the Arctic Girl is dancing12; and the peoples of far North of America have similar stories. In Mongolia, as Ted clearly knew, there is a Slavic Moon Goddess, Zorya (Aurora)13, who is threshold guardian of the Sun God’s palace and also guards the Doomsday Hound which is chained the star constellation, Ursa Minor. At dawn, Zorya opens the gates of the palace for her husband, the Sun God, to emerge, and a dusk she closes them again. Like Inanna, Astarte and other Moon and Star Goddesses, she is associated with fertility and magic, and she is also a Goddess of War whose protection is sought by warriors with the incantation: “Unsheath, O virgin, the sacred sword of thy father…14.

The war-like power and anger of the Goddess is demonstrated in ‘Possession’ by the “arrival” of a prophetic, granite-splitting voice which issues from the mouth of the woman “spinning in the dust and smoke”. And because of Malkuth’s position on the threshold of the Underworld, it is the exiled, demonized dark-faced Goddess who is heard. Linked to her, in the same line, is “Tabubu”, the “Mesmerist Priestess” of another ancient Moon Goddess, Bastet15, who also acts as a vehicle for the Goddess’s darkest and most dangerous energies.

Tabubu’s punishment of Setnau Kha-Em-Uast, who was son of an Egyptian Pharaoh, High Priest of Ptah at Memphis, a learned man and a skilful magician, was just as Ted describes it in ‘Possession’. And the reason for her seduction and humiliation of Setnau, as told by Egyptologist, Wallis Budge16, was because of his theft and use (or misuse in the Goddess’s terms) of the Book of Thoth, which he took from the tomb of Ptah-Nefer-Ka and his wife / sister Ahura. The God, Thoth, who was brother and ‘voice’ of the Egyptian Sun God, Ra, was the measurer and enumerator of Earth and the recorder and judge of the human soul. He wore the Goddess’s moon (crescent and full) on his head; and his ‘Book’ was equivalent to the Tablets of Destiny which, in Mesopotamian myths, had first belonged to Inanna.

Once again, in the story of Tabubu and Setnau, the theft and misuse of power and authority which had originally belonged to the Goddess provoked her wrath; so, through her priestess, she extracted her revenge by using her sexual magic17.

In the earlier mythologies referred to in ‘Possession’, it had been male gods who usurped the Goddess’s authority over human affairs. Setnau was human, but the result was the same. Each time, the Goddess’s anger and jealousy resulted in the male’s sacrifice, a wounding or a death and rebirth intimately connected with fertility. Each time, she used the sexual, magical and regenerative energies which always remained hers to punish the offender and to teach him a lesson. But Ted’s use of these stories in ‘Possession’ leaves us with the question of what sort of lesson it was that Setnau had to learn, and, given the biographical nature of the Capriccio sequence, how all this related to both to Ted’s relationship with Assia and to his overall purpose on the Path of the Sword.

What did Setnau learn? He learned that the mesmerizing power of the Goddess, channelled through a beautiful and seductive woman, could arouse such sexual desire in him that he was completely overwhelmed by it. He learned that under her spell, he would blindly agree to any request she made, even to the sacrifice of his wife and children. And he learned, when the spell was lifted, that he had been unable to distinguish the real from the unreal, to discriminate truth from illusion. He learned, too, not to ignore prophecies and warnings about the extreme danger of seeking to own and use knowledge which rightly belonged to the Goddess: and that whatever magic he might arrogantly think he had mastered, her magic was always stronger.

Ted, looking back at his relationship with Assia as he wrote these poems, may well have seen all these lessons as applicable to himself. In retrospect, as other poems in the complete Birthday Letters, Howls & Whispers and Capriccio cycle show, he was able to see his own blindness and naivety, his own enthrallment, his own lack of attention to the jealous Goddess’s warnings. As in ‘Snow’, he was “thinking of something else”, and so, with the deaths of Sylvia, Assia and Shura, he was condemned and entered the period of darkness and creative sterility which was equivalent to Thammuz’s incarceration in the Underworld, and to Setnau’s complete abasement.

Writing to Keith Sagar on the 18th of June, 1998, just a few months before his own death, Ted said that after Sylvia’s death he had suffered “three years of impasse” before beginning to write poetry again with Crow. He went on to say the in 1969, Assia’s and Shura’s deaths, and that of his mother, had “knocked Crow off his perch”. By 1971, when he began his collaboration with Peter Brook, his own writing was “totally suspended”, except for Prometheus on his Crag, which he described in an earlier letter to Sagar as “an expression of limbo – limbo in Persia, but limbo18. Only in 1972, with the purchase of Moortown Farm and his necessary closeness to nature whilst farming there, did Ted’s poetic rebirth seem to begin, as if, like his own Adam in Adam and the Sacred Nine, he had found renewed creative energy “Through the sole of a foot” pressed to the Goddess’s earth.

Yet, Ted’s own story of the Goddess’s dethronement, exile and demonization, and of her jealous, sexual and magical revenge, does not end with ‘Possession’. Nor does his account of the abasement of the human male, as represented by Setnau, complete the Capriccio sequence. Having brought us to the threshold between our world and the Underworld at Malkuth, Ted ended this poem with a colon. The sentence (literally and metaphorically) is not complete. Nor has this journey on the Path of the Sword yet ended.


1.The Goddess Venus, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, calls on Poseidon to recognize her claims for his support:
Ocean, where once I grew, should own my claim,
Since formed from foam, I bear in Greek that name

The Metamorphoses of Ovid, English version by A.E.Watts, University of California, 1954. Book 4, lines 617-9.

2. These schoolfriends were, presumably, amongst the German soldiers who died fighting the Russians on the Steppe around Stalingrad in the Winter of 1941-2.

3. Crowley, A. 777, Weiser, Boston, MA, 1977. p. 30.

4. The Aether is an invisible, unexplained, fifth element, a kind of force-field which binds our physical world together and in which all other mysterious, unexplained energies, like gravity, magnetism and light, as well as energies associated with the spirit and the soul, function.

5. Estelle Roberts (1889-1970) was a widely respected English medium who was very influential in the Spiritualist movement. She held huge and remarkable séances at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and in her autobiography, Fifty Years a Medium, she describes many public séances and ‘healings’. Occasionally she confronted spirits “face-to-face”, rather than through her spirit guide, and on one such occasion she questioned, then exorcised, a spirit which had been filling a young man with an almost irresistible urge to murder his mother.

6. Scholem, G. On Kabbalah and its Symbolism, Schoken Books, NY, 1996, p. 104.

7. Op. cit. p. 104.

8. Op. cit. p. 130. The whole of chapter 4 of Scholem’s book deals with Kabbalistic ritual and is very relevant to this discussion of ‘Possession’.

9. Op. cit. p. 133. The Zaddik’s ritual leap into the abyss of the ‘other side’ is essentially the same as the journey of the fully-fledged shaman who, in Ted’s words, “can enter a trance at will and go to the spirit world… to get… ;a cure, an answer, some sort of divine intervention in the community’s affairs”. Faas, E. The Unaccommodated Universe, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Barbara, USA, 1980. p. 206.

10. In Paradise Lost, Milton also links the various myths of sacrificed gods across the centuries. He writes of
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured
The Syrian damsels to lament his fate
In amorous ditties all the summer’s day,
While smooth Adonis from his native rock
Ran purple to the sea, supposed with blood
Of Thammuz’s yearly wound

11. There is an ancient cave on Mount Zion which holds the tombs of King David, King Solomon and other kings of the Davidic line. The Sefer Torah (the Hebrew Book of Law) is held there. It is also the reputed site of the Last Supper, which Jesus held with his disciples before his crucifixion. Ted visited the Dome of the Rock Cave when on a British Council assignment in Israel in 1971. He spoke of it in an interview as “the most sacred and important place, where rites were probably performed, a place of shamans, of visionaries”. Negev, Lover of Unreason, Robson, USA, 2007.

12. ‘Aurora’ a poem by Orkney poet, George Mackay Brown, whose work Ted knew and enjoyed, begins “The Arctic girl is out tonight / (Come to the doors) / She dances… ” Brown, Selected Poems 1954-1992, John Murray, London, 1992. P.114.

13. In some accounts, Zorya is a star goddess whose husband, Myesyats is the Moon God. Sometimes, too, she is a triple goddess. She is always associated with the night and, as the midnight star, she is responsible for the resurrection of the Sun God.

14. New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Hamlyn, 1982. p.294.

15. The form, the yellow eyes, the association with magic, witchcraft, fertility and death, and the double nature of Bastet, the Egyptian Cat-Goddess, clearly link her with all the earlier Moon Goddesses.

16. Budge, E.W. Egyptian Magic, Dover Books, NY, 1971. P. 142-6.

17. It was Thoth who originally demanded revenge for the theft of his book by Ptah-Nefer-Ka and his sister, both of whom died because of this. But it was the Goddess’s priestess who cast the spell over Setnau because, in his pride, he ignored the Goddess’s warnings.

18. Ted Hughes to Keith Sagar, 26 March 1973. Both these letters are held in the British Library manuscript archive. Dep. 10003.

Poetry and Magic 3: Capriccio 3 text and illustrations. © Ann Skea 2007. For permission to quote any part of this document contact Dr Ann Skea at

Go To Next Chapter

Return to The Ted Hughes Homepage for more options

Go to Ann Skea’s Homepage