Capriccio: The Path of the Sword (4).

‘The Coat’, ‘Smell of Burning’, ‘The Pit and the Stones’, ‘Shibboleth’, ‘The Roof’, ‘The Error’.

© Ann Skea


‘The Coat’ (C 11)

The colon which ends ‘Possession’ (C10) ends the first part of the sentence imposed by the Goddess on the man and woman of the Capriccio poems. This first part comprises the first ten poems of Capriccio and these constitute a complete journey on the Sephirothic Tree in the World of Assiah, which is our material, everyday world.

After the colon, the second part of the sentence comprises the final ten poems of Capriccio. These describe a second journey, this time on the Averse Tree which depends from Malkuth in the Upper World of Assiah into the Infernal Regions of the Underworld.

So, the colon links the two halves of Capriccio and two complete journeys. Figuratively, each journey forms a complete circle and these two circles are joined together, like a Mercurial figure eight, by the colon, which marks the cross-over between Malkuth at the bottom of the Upper Tree and Kether at the top of the Averse Tree. Journey is joined to journey just as life is joined to death, light to darkness, order to chaos, and Heaven to Hell. And, since this continuous and never-ending figure eight embodies the powers of Mercury, he is thus invoked as guide and psychopomp for the poet and the reader of this whole Capriccio sequence.

Mercury’s guiding presence is essential on the Averse Tree of the Underworld, where everything is reversed. The Sephiroth, there, are areas of dark, unbalanced, raw, Qlippothic energies. Vices, Illusions and Qlippoth prevail and those who enter this Underworld enter a place of dis-ease and nightmare. Yet, this is also a place where everything is broken down into its basic elements so that it may be purified and renewed. Mercury, as in Alchemy, is essential to this process: so, too, are the Sulphurous fires of Hell.

Ted, in choosing to write the Capriccio poems, chose to enter this place. He would have been aware of its dangers. Even if we discount any suggestion that he felt himself to be a skilful enough magician or shaman to attempt this journey, he was aware enough of the teachings of Jung and Freud to know the psychological perils of exploring, alone, the deepest parts of his own subconscious. But this is what he did. Only his mature powers of reason and discrimination could protect him from the uncontrolled forces of chaos, but by adopting the framework of Cabbala, and by feeling his way poem by poem along the ordered Paths of the Sephirothic Trees, he gained some stable form to help him through the darkness.


So, in ‘The Coat’ (C 11), the journey continues; and the sacrificed human male, who was Setanu in ‘Possession’ (C 10) and who is also Ted in the Capriccio sequence, enters the Underworld together with the Goddess’s human priestess, Assia.

‘The Coat’ occupies Kether on the Averse Tree and, together with ‘Smell of Burning’ (C 12) at Chokmah and ‘The Pit and the Stones’ (C 13) at Binah, it sits in the Triple Hell (or Grave) which represents the First Palace of Hell in the Infernal Regions. Suitably, then, corpse-stench, death and horror pervade ‘The Coat’, as does the Qlippoth of Kether, which is Futility.

In this poem, the Goddess, as in ‘Possession’, exerts her sexual powers, and her human victims are powerless against her. She remains hidden, like a stalking tiger, behind the seemingly ordinary trappings of human seduction – a smoke filled bar, an exotic coat, a haunting perfume. It is “no help” that these things are “not real tiger” and present only a shadow of her true nature: the man is mauled just as surely as if he had been forced through brambles; his limbs are “watermarked”, “imprinted” with the shocking odour of death, just as surely as if they had been licked by a hungry tiger. The marmot coat conceals the raw, devouring energies of lust; the beauty of the tiger’s coat conceals a deadly hunger; and the Goddess’s powers of enchantment hide her dark, destructive energies. “Nobody can deter” her. It was “no help” (the phrase is repeated three times) that her raw energies were concealed beneath a veneer of civilized behaviour. Such camouflage was “no good”, “it made no difference”. Her hunger for revenge, as in ‘Possession’, is “heedless as time”.

Tiger The poem begins with the words “No help”, as if right from the start these humans were the Goddess’s pawns. And it is quite clear that whatever these two people thought they were doing, however beautiful their “ferny path” of dalliance, however pure the “cool, well-ironed sheets” of their bed, whatever “contract” they carefully made between them, she was behind them all the time, her “spoor” smudging their most personal and private moments.

As Hecate, ‘the old Sow who eats her farrow’, Queen of the Underworld, the Goddess bewitched her children, then ate them. Here in her Underworld, the couple lost their identity: their “signature” was smudged, their “faces” eaten, and they become part of history and myth. The unleashed powers of Hecate have always brought horror, death and destruction. Here, in ‘The Coat’, Ted likens her vengeance to that of the Old Testament God of the Hebrews who caused “the bed horror/ Of the Passover night1. Her judgment, like his, is merciless and severe. On the couple in this poem, she unleashed an uncontrollable, destructive force which raised “Screams that split bodies” (the phrase suggests dismemberment as well as the forcible parting of couples), left “the morning empty/ The sun itself silenced”. This curious last phrase embodies the chaos she caused: the darkness of Hell and the hollowness of the Qlippothic shells on the Averse Tree are suggested; but the paronomasia of ‘sun’ and ‘son’ also suggests that the Goddess had vanquished the male god who had usurped her throne.

Thus, at least temporarily, the old Goddess achieved her ends. But after such cataclysmic terrors the “face of aftershock” (the anthropomorphism suggests the human face as well as the (sur)face of the world) is such that “only dusty stones” – hard, barren, unfeeling, inhuman rock – “know how to wear” it.

‘Smell of Burning’ (C 12)


‘Smell of Burning’ occupies the Sephira of Chokmah (2) on the Averse Tree and is thus still in the Grave of the First Palace of Hell. Here, the Qlippoth is Ambivalence; and the male principal which rules this Sephira is, in this poem, Baal, The Thunderer, who is known as Tanicus in the German pantheon. His symbol is the swastika, “the sign of lightning” in the poem, and his element is Fire.

The woman in this poem, like Assia, is a daughter of this German god and, like her, Assia may have worn his swastika sign of lightning for protection during her Jewish/German childhood in Berlin. Hitler was in power at that time and he had adopted the swastika as a symbol of the Third Reich. Like the woman in the poem, too, Assia, as a child in a German school, may have been “storm-dancing in other words marching”.

Ambivalence is everywhere in the double meanings of this poem. The woman is un-named and, from the very first stanza she is both a child and a “tree in the Black Forest”. The Black Forest itself is a specific geographical location but also a dark, underworld forest and its dancing/marching, suggests both the movement of trees in a storm and the first dark movements of Hitler’s war preparations.

The dancing, the vicarious happiness, the Black Forest Giant, the totem idols and the proud childish song, all are appearances, sunny fairy-tale images which are banished by the thunder and burning with which the third stanza begins. Yet, for the rest of the poem, although ash and cinders and stone and desert surround her, the fire within this woman continues to burn.

Hints of Assia’s past pervade this poem: the fear and hopelessness of her Jewish father, the homesickness of her German Protestant mother, and the escape of the family from Germany to Palestine. But the focus is on the un-named woman, “you”, whose fear burns so strongly within her that it seems to leak out of her cigarette and consume her “native resins” so that she coughs “for oxygen”. The native resins are what she is or was, her essential self, and the ambivalence within her is that of a displaced person – one who suppresses her German origins, as her mother does in this poem, yet burns to return to the place where she belonged and to her childhood happiness.

As always, the energies of Chokmah, which is Sephira 2, create dualities, but the final either-or question encapsulates the woman’s dilemma and, if read in Cabbalistic terms, explains the most fundamental ambivalence of this poem. It suggests, once more, the identification of Assia with the Goddess/Shekinah. And it asks whether the ‘you’ of the poem was a female who had been displaced by history, a native accidentally burned by the fires consuming her native country: or whether she was “the victim” (the singularity of this phrase suggests her importance) – the one who was “condemned” by the unmerciful judgment of a male ‘god’ “to hang” forever on the burning tree, the essence of which was her own self.

This question is left unanswered and, although Chokmah lies on the Pillar of Mercy, there is no mercy in the Infernal Regions: so, a disturbing and unbalanced ambivalence prevails, and the woman continues to burn.

‘The Pit and the Stones’ (C 13)

This poem occupies Sephira 3, Binah, on the Averse Tree. Still in the Grave of the First Palace of Hell, this Sephira is the last Sephira above the Pit or Abyss which separates the first three Sephiroth from those of the lower part of the Tree. In the title of the poem, and in its content, the Pit is clearly present.

The poem is ruled by the Female Principle, the Mother Goddess, whose seat is Binah. It was her hands which held the man in the poem, and which “led him, tethered him” and “left him”. In her motherly form, she brought him forth, nourished him, and tethered him to life, although the Pit was, like death, always present. “What prompted those hands?”, he asks. He remains unanswered, unenlightened, but in ‘The Mythographers’ (C 3) at Binah on the Upper Tree, Ted has already answered that question: he is the Goddess’s chosen one–the one she marked with her star.

You”, the woman in ‘The Pit and the Stones’, again embodies the Goddess as Hecate, Queen of the Underworld. She is seductive, predatory and dangerous: the Goddess of death and darkness, whose creature is the tigress.

Behind this scenario, too, is the story of Ted, Sylvia and Assia. Ted, tethered in a troubled marriage to Sylvia, bleating for some release, was found by Assia, whose attractiveness to men was well known. Her “brimming power” and her exotic, dangerous beauty seduced him. But what began as an amusement for her became deadly serious and she fell into the Pit of darkness taking Ted with her.

In ‘The Pit and the Stones’, however, the unnamed man of the poem is still immersed in an inexplicable chain of events. Ted, too was re-living that turbulent time as he wrote this poem. Yet, his tone is rational and impersonal, as befits a Cabbalist who is following the Path of the Sword. He states facts, as he sees them, as clearly, honestly and unemotionally as possible. But he displays, through the man’s account of events, the Qlippoth of Binah, which is Fatalism, and he shapes his poem so that the man and the woman seem to have no choice. His bleats of protest, the man says, are natural -“a goat merely calls to a goat” and this is the way it has to be if life is to continue. Only as he looks back does Ted see that his bleats were, in fact, the loud screams of a creature lusting for another of its own kind, and that there was a death-note in them which attracted the predatory man-eating tiger – she of the “many trophies”.


At her coming his reason deserted him. He saw no sense in his tether – “made nothing” of it except as something which indicated “his own weakness”: but the ambiguity of this phrase also suggest that he negated (made nothing) its value in keeping him from the Pit. Darkness, too, was unreal: “only a sense of darkness”. And voices became just meaningless noise. In other words, he saw no danger, listened to no advice or warnings, and ignored restraints.

So you took him”. This phrase, set in a line by itself, offset from the margin, mimics the sudden pounce of the tigress; but is states, too, the man’s helplessness and the fatal inevitability of this seizure. The inevitability of the outcome, too, is conveyed in the enjambments as the sentence continues into the next two lines. So, both predator and prey fell into the darkness of the Pit: but only she was impaled on the deadly spikes. Yet, she was not dead.

The break in the poem between the phrase “you were impaled” and the next five lines mimics the gulf on the Cabbalistic Tree which this couple had crossed. And the final five lines of the poem describe the view from the darkness of the Pit. They end the poem, but there is also a particular Cabbalistic significant to this number of lines which, here, suggests the total inversion and distortion of every aspect of the Upper Tree which takes place here in the Infernal Regions.

Demons The symbol of 5 is the pentagram, the Star of Venus/Astarte, and of Aurora, the Goddess of Dawn. But the “hatch of dawning sky” which, in ‘The Pit and the Stones’ is both the mouth of the Pit and the first dawning of sunlight, is darkened by the watchers who torment the woman as she lies impaled on spikes. The number 5 is a number of sacrifice, but it is also the number of the Neophyte entering the Temple of Mysteries before the dawning of new understanding, and, as such, it is the number of “good in the making” (SSN 35). Here on the Averse Tree, however, the Temple is the dark Palace of Hell, and the “jubilation” of the watchers (‘jubilation’ is derived from ‘Jubilee’, a celebration of a 50 year (5 x 10) anniversary) is vindictive not joyous, cacophonous and not melodic.

The couple understand nothing and the eyes that watch them are “incomprehensible” to them both. They are tormented by the demons of Hell, and “Each” and every “stone” of the final line of the poem is a potential threat. In spite of all this, the dawn is not completely occluded, so some possibility of a good result remains.

Numerological Note:

This poem is the thirteenth poem of the Capriccio sequence. The first 13 lines also embody the Goddess’s number and describe a fateful, almost mythical situation. It is a personal story, but it also reflects a common human scenario, as did those other myth-like historical events mentioned in ‘Capriccios’, the very first poem of the whole sequence, where the magical power of the number thirteen was also invoked.

The next eight lines, (8 is Mercury’s number) suggest the tricky, dangerous, deceptive energies which prevail. But Mercury is only the messenger of the Goddess, the one who does her bidding according to his own methods, and the phrase, “So you took him”, begins three lines which, since 3 is her number, convey all her power.

The final five lines convey naivety and confusion but at their heart is the “dawning sky” and the possibility of rebirth.

‘Shibboleth’ (C 14)

Below the Grave and the Pit, deeper in the Infernal Regions, lie six more Palaces of Hell. The next three are situated at Chesed, Gevurah and Tiphereth on the Averse Tree and they are know respectively as Perdition, The Clay of Death and the Pit of Destruction.

Always, the energies of Chesed and Gevurah work together and must balance each other for the true integrity and harmony of Tiphereth to be achieved, but on the Averse Tree the Qlippoth, Vices and Illusions of these Sephiroth prevent this. So, the mercy of Chesed becomes sorrow, and the strength of Gevurah becomes cruelty and fear. The consequent imbalance between Mercy and Justice, which are the Pillars on which these Sephiroth lie, produces nothing but hollowness and self-sacrifice at Tiphereth, at the heart of the Tree.

All this is apparent in the poems which occupy these three Sephiroth in this second, Underworld, cycle of Capriccio. At Chesed (Sephira 4), in the Hell of Perdition, lies the poem ‘Shibboleth’ (C 14). At Gevurah (Sephira 5), fixed in the fearful Hell of the Clay of Death, is ‘The Roof’ (C 15). And at Tiphereth, in the Hell of the Pit of Destruction, is ‘The Error’ (C 16).

In ‘Shibboleth’, in the Hell of Perdition where the energies of Damnation prevail, everything has to do with judgment and condemnation. ‘Shibboleth’, in the Biblical Old Testament Book of Judges(12: 1-16), is a word which is used by those in power as a test of tribal origins and allegiances. Jephthah the Gilead, appointed by the Lord of Israel, decrees that the pronunciation of the word ‘Shibboleth’ be used by his people to distinguish those of their own tribe from the people of the tribe of Ephraim, with whom they are at war. “Four and two thousand” Ephraimites, who could not pronounce the word ‘Shibboleth correctly, were slain. There is no mercy anywhere in the Book of Judges for those who do not serve the Lord; and no mercy for the people of those tribes which challenge the power of his appointed judges.

In Ted’s poem, words and language are, as with the Biblical use of ‘shibboleth’, used as a test of tribal origins. The people who judge Assia2 are those “Berkshire County”, upper-class people whose allegiance is to the English Queen and to the royal House of Windsor, which (like Assia) is of German origin. Germany had only recently been at war with England, and people with foreign accents were often regarded with suspicion. Assia, however, had learned to speak with an upper-class English accent. She may well have learned her English from a mail-order course purchased by her mother from Fortnum and Mason, an English firm which was granted its first royal licence as ‘Grocers to the Prince of Wales’ in 18633. In the poem, however, the “royal licence" is linked to Assia’s German, rather than to Fortnum and Mason. Nevertheless, the first four lines connect “Your German”, “royal licence”, “the English” and “Fortnum and Mason” in such a way that Assia’s origins and her efforts to fit into English society are introduced as a theme beneath the surface meaning.

Assia’s Hebrew, which would betray her Jewish blood was hidden, but it “survived” on the witchy diet of “bats and spiders” and lay “under [her] tongue” in a way that suggests that it lurked as a base-note to her English. It lurked, too, in a “guerrilla priest hole”, so that Assia’s attempts to infiltrate English society resemble guerrilla warfare, or the clandestine action of an upholder of a forbidden faith4.

In spite of her efforts, it seems, at some social gathering which turns from dinner party to hunt-meeting in the course of the poem, Assia’s tongue betrayed her: the “dizzy silence”, and the flush which darkens her cheeks, mark that moment of change. Suddenly, the Berkshire County aristocrats become unfriendly, suspicious, “English hounds”. Their sneers, their “imperious noses”, their glares, become those of hunting dogs who have cornered a fox. All of which threw Assia into “panic” so that her Russian border-country roots surfaced to tangle and trip her (‘tangle’ and ‘trip’ may apply to the tongue and speech as well as to entrapment) and expose her as a foreigner.

So, she was “pinioned” in “the frontier glare of customs”, phrases which encompass a forced halt at some border or frontier between two ethnic groups, the judgment of officials appointed by a governing power, and, in the word ‘customs’, a reference to socially accepted behaviours which differ between people of different group.

The final line of this first part of the poem, “Lick of the tar-brush?”, drawled by the judging “English hounds”, is a racial insult, as well as the damnation of one who had failed the test which would allow her to be recognized as one of their own kind. However, beyond its usual insulting meaning – that the accused has black African blood in their veins and is therefore not acceptable in white society – there is an even older meaning which derives from the use of a tar-brush to distinguish the sheep of one flock from those of another5. It is this meaning which is most appropriate in this poem, although the racial slur damns the accusers as well as the accused.

Rejected and surrounded by her accusers, Assia saw, prophetically, her “lonely Tartar death”. Again, the suggestion of war intrudes into the poem, along with a reference to Assia’s Russian ancestry. And again, there is a suggestion that Assia was a brave warrior trying to infiltrate an enemy group.

But the belief of the judges in the supremacy of their own kind, their arrogant assumption of their right to judge others by their own standards, and their condemnation of Assia, all demonstrate the demonic inversions which are to be found on the Averse tree. It is clear that in the Infernal Regions there is no mercy and no love freely given, only the Qlippoth of Chesed, which is ‘Ideology’, the Illusion of ‘Being Right’, and the Vice of ‘Tyranny’.

There are other inversions, too. The number of Chesed is 4, the number of the Logos, the Creative Word: but in ‘Shibboleth’, words, language and pronunciation are shown to be divisive and destructive. The number 4 also represent “the Cherubim which guard the Gates of Eden with their swords of fire” (SSN 28): but the guards of ‘Shibboleth’ are snarling dogs and their Eden is their own worldly domain.

Still, Assia was the worldly representative of the Goddess who fought to regain her throne and, thus, to mend the divisions caused by severe judgment. Assia’s double role is suggested by the bats and spiders, creatures of Hecate, which lie under her tongue; and by her “Black Sea” complexion, which links her with the dark, salty element of the Goddess and with the thrice-blooming roses (combining the 3 of the Triple Goddess with her flower) which bloom there. In ‘Shibboleth’, however, the attempts of the Goddess’s chosen woman to infiltrate the ranks of those closest to the seat of power are a signal failure.


This is made absolutely clear in the final four lines of the poem. The energies of the number 4, which should have brought change, understanding, and the dawn of enlightenment, brought to Assia only a vision of herself surrounded and “dumb like the bound/ Wolf on Tolstoy’s horse”. Significantly, the Wolf in Tolstoy’s stories is a symbol of untamed, instinctive, energies, and of the cycle of death, nurture and renewal in Nature. This is the role it plays at the end of Tolstoy’s story, Kholstomer, (the title is translated as Strider: the Story of a Horse), in which the horse (itself a creature subjugated by Man) is more rational than a wolf, and puzzles over Man’s assumption of ownership and rights over others6. In an explanatory note which Ted wrote about Tolstoy’s image, “the wolf, having willed itself to death (it was alive when they bound it on) is infinetely superior to the men who are standing around staring at it”. Assia, he wrote, “often mentioned it and, I guess identified with it” (LTH p.698). In Ted’s poem, however, Assia feels helpless, rather than superior.

So, in ‘Shibboleth’, the bound Wolf (the word is capitalized at the beginning of the final line of the poem) represents both Assia and the Goddess in her manifestation as the Great Mother, Nature. But the Wolf was bound and silenced: the Goddess’s attempt to use her human representative to help her regain her lost power, had, at that moment, failed.

‘The Roof’ (C 15)

Where power is misused, where ideology and arrogance reign, and where mercy and love are absent, as they are in ‘Shibboleth’, there can be no security. ‘The Roof’, at Gevurah on the Averse tree shows the results of such imbalance.

Fear and insecurity pervade the poem, as does Gevurah’s Vice of Cruelty and its Illusion of Invincibility. The roof, “any roof”, becomes a symbol of protection. A roof, like other material things associated with security and comfort in this poem – the silk-line curtains, the Bach fugues, the bursting wardrobe and the talismanic fob-watch–can provide a feeling of invincibility. But the illusory nature of such protection against the horrors outside is suggested by the dark “folds” of the curtains, the wandering fugitive nature of the music, the “bursting” wardrobe and “the chain” which secures the watch which, in itself, represents our illusory belief that we can trap and control time.

Set against the horrors of this poem – the individual suffering of the “twenty million” dispossessed and murdered people – a roof seems little enough to offer all those who are “out there, under the great rain” (the paronomasia of ‘rain’ and ‘reign’ suggests the plight of the dispossessed and the power of “their murderers”, and both are encompassed by “all” in line 7). But the nameless “you” in the poem feels obliged to provide it.

This person has no power, no strength (which is the energy of Gevurah), and lives “incognito”, ready at any moment to be “evicted”, “either” by the murdered or by their murderers. That even the murdered have such power over this person, suggests the psychological and emotional disorientation wrought by extreme fear and powerlessness, but their ghostly invincibility, too, is an illusion which the truly strong, at Gevurah, could banish.

Gevurah lies on the Pillar of Form, but in the Infernal Regions form and pattern are absent or distorted. The ‘you’ in the poem lives in a state of uncertainty, expecting old patterns to repeat themselves, and believing, too, that in some way she must pay for the horrors perpetrated by and experienced by others. To this end, her pattern of behaviour is that of self-sacrifice and self-negation: she remains incognito, “waiting for the knock on the door”. Significantly, Gevurah (like Chesed) lies at the Door to the Temple of Mysteries, where the awakening ‘I am’ of the Neophyte should occur, but the person in this poem has no identity, no gender either. We can only guess that it might be Assia7.

Gevurah is also the place where the Sword of Justice must be wielded against the evils of the world: passivity, here, is folly. The ‘you’ in ‘The Roof’ shows courage but not action, and her confusion is such, that she does not have the strength to claim her own identity, nor does she know who she serves or why. Her “rent” is conditionally accepted by unknown persecutors, she puts her faith in a roof and a few material things, and, bogged down in the Clay of Death in this third Palace of Hell, she suffers and waits.


‘The Error’ (C 16)

At the heart of the Sephirothic Tree, beyond and between the Pillars of Mercy and Justice and connected to both Chesed and Gevurah, lies Tiphereth. At Tiphereth, everything which has happened higher up the Tree, and especially at Chesed and Gevurah, is gathered on the Middle Pillar, where balance and wholeness may be obtained. Tiphereth is a place of transformation, purification, sacrifice and mystical rebirth; a place where the inner voice (or the Voice of the Holy Guardian Angel) is heard; a place where the fierce rays of the Tiphereth Sun either purify or totally consumes those who are exposed to its fires. The Virtue of Tiphereth is Dedication to the Great Work – the perfection of the human Soul. Its Vice is Pride, and its Qlippoth is Hollowness.

‘The Error’ lies at Tiphereth on the Averse Tree in the Fourth Palace of Hell–the Pit of Destruction. Here every aspect of Tiphereth is present, but in its most negative form.

As in ‘Shibboleth’ the “you” in ‘The Error’ is clearly Assia and the historical story of Ted’s, Sylvia’s and Assia’s linked lives lies behind the anonymity in the poem. Again, on this Path of the Sword, Ted wields his weapon as dispassionately as possible as he envisions and tries to understand what happened. He questions and analyses, still within the framework of Cabbala. And the answers he finds are part of the broader meaning which Cabbala offers.

Assia knelt, not at an altar but at a grave – Sylvia’s grave. The ‘Great Work’ to which she dedicated herself was that of self-incineration “in the shrine” of Sylvia’s death. Her sacrifice was total: her “whole life” devoured by her “nun”-like devotion to this unholy cause. And she burned with such religious fervour, was so self-absorbed, and so convinced that to “fearlessly8 incinerate herself was the right thing to do, that others, even her baby daughter and (metaphorically) “the German au-pair” were consumed by her “offered–up flames”.

Why did she do this?. Why did she kneel the edge of Sylvia’s grave “To be identified / Accused, incriminated”?. Why did she let others (the stone-holders who threatened her also in ‘The Pit and the Stones’) dement her? Their stony “proof” of their own “innocence” accused her and implied that she was guilty, and Ted’s answer to these questions–that she “mis-heard a sentence”–uses the ambiguity of ‘sentence’ to suggest that she accepted that accusation and that her subsequent actions were an atonement. But in the Infernal Regions everything is distorted. Whatever inner voice of conscience was guiding her (and at Tiphereth this is the voice of the Holy Guardian Angel), its sentence was garbled by the threat and accusation of the stone-holders, so that she misheard , mistranslated, and “mistook” its guidance.

She could, Ted suggests, have used her own magic (hair is traditionally believed to have strong magical powers) to fly from the grave. Even after that first incendiary sacrifice (which at Tiphereth would have been a purification), she could have doused the flames (in “a carpet”), got “to a hospital”, “Escaped” and called the whole thing “An error in translation”. Instead, she chose to compound her error by feeding herself to the tar and brimstone of Hell’s fires.

In the final lines of ‘The Error’, Ted suggests the hollowness of Assia’s belief that her patient dedication to this self-imposed martyrdom would achieve something of value. It was, he says, as if she were “feeding a child”: but there was no child. In the last four lines of the poem Ted wields his Sword with devastating, unemotional rationality, cutting to the heart of the matter. “All” Assia was doing, he states, was “being strong”, “waiting” for the fires to destroy her and for her “ashes / To be complete and cool”.

Even with the imbalance of Justice and Mercy at Chesed and Gevurah, and the chaos which consequently ensued, there was a moment of choice at Tiphereth in which things could have changed. Only Assia could make that choice, and, at the time, Ted could only “watch”. But Assia’s error combined the Illusion of Tiphereth (Identification) with its Vice (Pride). She adopted a set of behaviours (a Samurai-like belief in atonement for guilt by heroic self-sacrifice) which she mistakenly believed to be right and she did so without questioning her own judgment or considering others. Because of this error, there was no mystical rebirth, Hollowness prevailed, and no mystical child was born to fill the empty room of Tiphereth. Exposed to the Sun of Tiphereth, Assia was destroyed: only the ashes of her Self survived.


1. On the night of the Passover (as it became known) the Lord slew “all the first born of the land of Egypt, both man and beast” (Exodus 1:11-12), sparing only those obedient Jews who had smeared their doorways with the sacrificial blood of a lamb.

2. The “you” in ‘Shibboleth’ is more clearly associated with Assia than in some other Capriccio poems, but by the use of this pronoun Ted not only maintains the rational, impersonal approach suited his work on the Path of the Sword, he also confirms the loss of individual identity brought about by the Goddess in ‘The Pit and the Stones’.

3. Fortnum and Mason has held many royal licences, granted not only by English royalty but also by members of foreign royal families. It has always prided itself on its ability to ship anything anywhere in the world, but it is best know for supplying caviar and champagne picnic hampers and other ‘essential’ luxuries to the elite.

4. Priest-holes were concealed hiding-places for priests constructed in the homes of English Roman Catholic families so that they might continue to celebrate Mass during the times when Roman Catholics were persecuted by law.

5. All the sheep in one flock are said to be “tarred with the same brush”.

6. Perhaps co-incidentally, Kholstomer, too, is a story about the divisions between different groups of Nature’s creatures and about the misuse of power.

7. The bursting wardrobe, the love of Bach’s music and, especially, the reference to twenty million murdered people, which suggests the Jewish Holocaust, all hint that the ‘you’ in the poem is Assia. In the context of Cabbala, however, these roofless people may well be the exiled Jewish people and the ‘you’ in the poem the exiled daughter of Israel, the Shekinah. Her dwelling place is that of the Soul of the Jewish people. And the task of the Jewish Cabbalist is to reunite the Shekinah, who is the female aspect of God, with the male aspect of God and, thus, to end her, and Israel’s, exile and restore wholeness and harmony.

8. In Ted Hughes: Collected Poems, ‘fearlessly’ has been replaced by ‘selflessly’, thus reinforcing the folly and error of such thinking.

Poetry and Magic 3: Capriccio 4 text and illustrations. © Ann Skea 2007. For permission to quote any part of this document contact Dr Ann Skea at

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