Ego, Blood, and Spirit
in the work of
By Sylvia Plath
What a thrill ---
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of a hinge
Straight from the heart.
A celebration, this is.
Whose side are they on?
The stain on your
How you jump ---
The thrill is the sudden vibrational change that occurs when our ego confronts our own red blood. Our consciousness alters, the ego changes it relationship to the body and views it objectively. Some may actually lose consciousness-the perception of blood can actually drive the ego from the body.
"Who knows what a sublime symbol is blood? Precisely the repulsive aspect of its organic components allows us to conclude that there is something very sublime in them. We shudder at them as we do at ghosts, and in this strange mixture we sense with childlike terror a mysterious world that might be an old acquaintance"--Novalis(from Novalis's Teplitz Fragment found in Philosophical Writings. Translated and edited by Margaret Mahoney Stoljar.1977. State University Press of New York. Page 103.)
The "dead white" and the "red plush" suggest the Eucharistic bread and wine. The sensory visual experience of the body and the blood is a form of assimilation. The poet "eats" the body and the blood. Novalis in the source quoted above states that:"Spiritual partaking is expressed by eating". In confronting her own flesh and blood, Plath experiences the spiritual reality of the archetypal mass as her consciousness enters into her bodily processes.
With "Little pilgrim" the thumb becomes personified and the repository of Plath's interior doubles. In this state of vibrational thrill the poet's rational intellect gives way to the poetic consciousness, hence the "head wound".
The atavistic racial memories begin to well up. The iron of Mars recalls the bloody striving of humanity's conflicting folk souls . And yet the Martial blood letting recalls the Sun and Heart. Blood as part of a controled system is contrasted with blood that is spilled. Her stepping on the blood is an activation of will, like a tramplimg of the vineyards. Like the blood of Christ her blood enters the Earth -under foot, under will. (See "Daddy" where the shoe imagery implies her father's will).
"Whose side are they on?"--On the one hand Plath's body is threatened by the "redcoats", but on the other hand her spirit expands into an experience of initiation which allows Plath's spirit to flow into the rest of humanity in what is essentially an act of sacrifice.
Homunculus is the little man who personifies the projected double. Now Plath confronts the unconscious forces inside her. She meets the double and realizes its ambivalent nature. It is a source of power but linked to the atavistic folk soul tendencies. Hence the male-dominant fascist imagery-war, saboteur, Kamikaze, KKK. Plath bears these dark forces inside her, forces in opposition to ego autonomy. She's a "dirty girl" because she bears the shadow of humanity.
Her true ego, dedicated to exogamy(blood mixing) is repulsed by the endogamy(racial blood purity) of the fascist double.
"In earlier times tribes held aloof from each other, and the individual members of families intermarried. You will find this to have been the case with all races and with all peoples; and it was an important moment for humanity when this principle was broken through, when foreign blood was introduced, and when marriage between relations was replaced by marriage with strangers, when endogamy gave place to exogamy.
"Endogamy preserves the blood of the generation; it permits of the same blood flowing in the separate members as flows for generations through the entire tribe or the entire nation. Exogamy inoculates man with new blood, and this breaking-down of the tribal principle, this mixing of blood, which sooner or later takes place among all peoples, signifies the birth of the external understanding, the birth of the intellect.
The birth of logical thought, the birth of the intellect, was simultaneous with the advent of exogamy. "--Rudolf Steiner from "The Occult Significance of the Blood"
Rudolf Steiner, in his lecture "The Occult Significance of the Blood", gives three spiritual archetypes that lie behind physical blood:
1.) Blood is where the inner person contacts the outside. Blood brings the macrocosm into the human microcosm and returns parts of the microcosm back to the outside world. It is the crossing point of the lemniscate that connects the human and the cosmos. Because blood functions as a kind of gate or doorway, power over blood means power over the person. Forces that conflict with the individual's ego may enter through the circulation of the blood.
2.) Blood is a second being, a true double or doppelganger. Lower strata of human consciousness embody themselves directly around the power and flow of blood circulation. Normally impenetrable to the conscious mind, these strata reflect the outer reaches of the cosmos and the history of human evolution. In times of stress the blood double may rise into consciousness triggering atavistic blood memories of the race or tribe.
3.) As our brain forms pictures of the external world, the complex matrix of blood circulation absorbs these pictures and transforms them into constructive forces which the ego uses creatively.
Perhaps, upon the death of her father, SP absorbed the negative of the dying Germanic folk soul into her blood which began to dominate her blood circulation. The doppelganger, in order to survive, struggled constantly with the Christ like freedom her ego craved. Her desire for perfection and power in the world hampered her freedom to create, although it did provide her with the impetus to struggle on.
Unfortunately, she came to rely too heavily upon this will element. Her marital difficulties helped her to take control of her blood by her moving consciously into it. The husband became equated with the father doppelganger (see Daddy) and because the double was now attached to him she was able to finally see it in the open and exorcise it. She gained her ego freedom in the creative sphere(see Ariel), but was unable to replace the strong will to live that she lost with the daddy doppelganger. Her undeveloped will could not protect her and led to the "failed initiation" which we see as suicide.
".....for, incredible as it may seem to the materialistic ideas of the present day, there was at one time a form of consciousness by means of which men considered not only their own sense-perceptions as their own experiences, but also the experiences of their forefathers. In those times, when they said, "I have experienced such and such a thing," they alluded not only to what had happened to themselves personally, but also to the experiences of their ancestors, for they could remember these."
Rudolf Steiner, The Occult Significance of the Blood
The dry, hard blood at the poem's conclusion points to the wisdom that arises from painful experience. The lack of harmony, which is suffering, may be overcome and transmuted to wisdom.
"The joys and pleasures of life, all that life can offer me in the way of satisfaction, all these things do I receive gratefully; yet were I far more loath to part with my pain and suffering than with those pleasant gifts of life, for it is to my pain and suffering that I owe my wisdom.' ("So thinks in us Christ's suffering and death")
And so it is that in wisdom occult science has ever recognized what may be called crystallized pain--pain that has been conquered and thus changed into its opposite." -Rudolf Steiner
We may also gain wisdom by seeking to understand the suffering of another. SP's wisdom gained from these experiences lives on our own ego's striving for freedom.
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