Home to Ego, Blood, and Spirit
The Entwining Double
is this, this face
So murderous in its strangle of branches?"1
Elm by Sylvia Plath from her Collected Works2
Again, the fission of self. Who are the changing speakers? Recollection of the experience of sense impressions, remembering the tree, makes the many selves unravel and project outward and carry on dialogue.
The true ego, the source of all knowledge and inspiration, is veiled by a taunting double. The poet sees directly into the world of pure ideas, the non-material, but the beings and thoughts there are transformed by her dark self. Her fear of death is laid out before her. The "voice of nothing", true oblivion, greets her healthy curiosity about death.
Lovelessness reigns. Most persons could not endure this vision, but the poet has consciously chosen to cross the threshold and meet the Guardian.
At night, the darkness coiled inside her unwinds and stands before her as an objective reality. Sleep is the precursor, the prototype of death-our daily practice of dying where most of us benefit by the oblivion and rebirth. But the poet moves consciously into a sleep where terror balances the ecstatic communication with the Muses.
Her consciousness is not anchored to a fixed point. In this quasi sleep state, she does not feel like an ego wrapped in a body, but senses that all outer events constitute her self. The object-subject dichotomy does not exist in this state of being which tolerates no bystanders. The tremendous passions that flow through her are experienced as the violent wind.
Like The Moon and the Yew Tree, this terrifying and "treey" vision is married to the moon. Her nightly encounter with the "Daddy Doppelganger" entwined about her central nervous system is "capped" by the atavistic moon consciousness. Her retention of tribal blood clairvoyance is a " bad possessor" because it suppresses her higher ego powers; however, it endows here with the visionary poetic ability. Her life quest was to wrest these creative powers from the darkness and take total control over them so she could offer them to the solar light of the true self. This she achieves when she rides the solar horse of love in Ariel.
Here is the doppelganger or the Lower Guardian of the Threshold blocking access to higher knowledge, appearing as a serpent entwined in the tree of the central nervous system. The vision of the poet confirms the teaching of the mystics.
Dissected Spinal Columns
Rudolf Steiner, in his Bhagavad Gita and the Epistles of St. Paul lecture cycle, on the meaning of the inverted tree and serpent:
Speaking of Arjuna's mighty vision of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita:
"That it is which we meet with in such a grand form in the Gita, which at the end of our last lecture we allowed to work upon our souls, and which Arjuna meets as his own being seen externally; seen without beginning and without end - outspread over all space. "
"If we observe this condition more clearly we come to a place in the Gita which, if we have already been amazed at the great and mighty contents of the Gita, must infinitely extend our admiration. We come to a passage which, to the man of the present day, must certainly appear incomprehensible; wherein Krishna reveals to Arjuna the nature of the Avayata-tree, of the Fig-tree, by telling him that in this tree the roots grow upwards and the branches downwards; where Krishna further says that the single leaves of this tree are the leaves of the Veda book, which, put together, yield the Veda knowledge. That is a singular passage in the Gita."
" What does it signify, this pointing to the great tree of Life, whose roots have an upward direction, and the branches a downward direction, and whose leaves give the contents of the Veda? We must transport ourselves back into the old knowledge, and try and understand how it worked. The man of today only has, so to say, his present knowledge, communicated to him through his physical organs. The old knowledge was acquired as we have just described, in the body which was still etheric, not that the whole man was etheric, but knowledge was acquired through the part of the etheric body which was within the physical body. Through this organism, through the organisation of the etheric body, the old knowledge was acquired. Just imagine vividly that you, when in the etheric body, could perceive by means of the serpent. "
"There was something then present in the world, which to the man of the present day is no longer there. Certainly the man of today can realise much of what surrounds him when he puts himself into relation with nature; but just think of him when he is observing the world: there is one thing he does not perceive, and that is his brain. No man can see his own brain when he is observing; neither can any man see his own spine. This impossibility ceases as soon as one observes with the etheric body. A new object then appears which one does not otherwise see - one perceives one's own nervous system. Certainly it does not appear as the present-day anatomist sees it. It does not appear as it does to such a man, it appears in such a way that one feels: Yes! There thou art, in thy etheric nature. One then looks upwards 'and sees how the nerves, which go through all the organs, are collected together up there in the brain. That produces the feeling: That is a tree of which the roots go upwards, and the branches stretch down into all the members.
The tree is not felt as being of the same small size as we are inside our skin: it is felt as being a mighty cosmic tree. The roots stretch far out into the distances of space and the branches extend downwards. One feels oneself to be a serpent, and one sees one's nervous system objectified, one feels that it is like a tree which sends its roots far out into the distance of space and the branches of which go downwards.
"Remember what I have said in former lectures, that man is, in a sense, an inverted plant. All that you have learnt must be recalled and put together, in order to understand such a thing as this wonderful passage in the Bhagavad Gita. We are then astonished at the old wisdom which must today, by means of new methods, be called forth from the depths of occultism. We then experience what this tree brings to light. We experience in its leaves that which grows upon it; the Veda knowledge, which streams in on us from without. The wonderful picture of the Gita stands out clearly before us: the tree with its roots going upwards, and its branches going downwards, with its leaves full of knowledge, and man himself as the serpent round the tree. "
The Moon and the Yew Tree3
By Sylvia Plath from her Collected Works
is the light of the mind, cold and planetary
The poet steps out at night and immediately the exterior objects of the world are transformed by projections from her inner being, the trees are the black thoughts of her mind and the light is the cold light of her mind. She achieves consciously the objective visions of inner self and feels akin to a creator God.
But again, the doppelganger or the Guardian of the Threshold blocks her further entry into the spiritual worlds. Her overwhelming vision of self prevents her from seeing ".. where there is to get to." The dark tree topped by the mother moon reminds her of the great fall and absorbs all spiritual light.
The vision of the inner tree capped by moon consciousness is also a dying remnant of the old clairvoyance which contrasts with the Sun of Ariel.
In light of Steiner's description of the Avayata-tree, it is interesting to consider the following passage from the New Testament book of Matthew:
18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. 19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. 20 And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! 21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. 22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. (Matthew21:19-21)
Tree Imagery in Near-Death and Prenatal Consciousness
have suffered the atrocity of sunsets.
Scorched to the root
My red filaments burn and stand, a hand of wires.
Now I break up in pieces that fly about like clubs.
A wind of such violence
Will tolerate no bystanding: I must shriek. "--------Elm by Sylvia4
In the Journal of Near-Death Studies, Christopher M. Bache's article Expanding Grof's Concept of the Perinatal: Deepening of the Inquiry into Frightening Near-Death Experiences refers to the "transpersonal" consciousness experienced by patients of doctor Stanislav Grof. Bache describes the transpersonal as the individual expanding "beyond the individual subject" which is apparently identical to the "inside-outside" experience described by Plath in Elm. The transpersonal transcends the subject-object dichotomy and seems to unite the individual with the collective experience of all of humanity. Grof used intensive LSD therapy to study the prebirth (perinatal) trauma of individuals. The following experience was related by one of his patients5 and is worth comparing to the Plath poem:
"The experience then changed into an extremely powerful and moving experience of the Cosmic Tree. The energy became a massive tree of radiant energy suspended in space. Incredibly large, it was comprised entirely of light. The core of the tree was lost to the brilliant display, but limbs and leaves were visible around its edges. I experienced myself as one of its leaves. The lives of my family and close friends were leaves clustered around me on a small branch. All of our distinguishing characteristics, what made us the individuals we were, appeared from this perspective to be quite minor, almost arbitrary variations of this fundamental energy."
"I was taken around the tree and shown how easy it was to move from one person's experience to another, and indeed it was ridiculously easy. Different lives around the globe were simply different experiences the tree was having. Choice governed all experience. Different beings who were all part of Being Itself had simply chosen these manifold experiences."
"At this point I was the tree. Not that I was having the full range of its experience, but I knew myself to be this, encompassing Consciousness. I knew that Its identity was my true identity. Though I had taken monism to heart years before, I was now actually experiencing the seamless flow of consciousness into crystallizations of embodiment. I was experiencing how consciousness manifests itself in separate forms while remaining unified. "So that's how it works," I said to myself. Iknew that fundamentally there was only One Consciousness in the universe. From this perspective my individual identity and everyone else's appeared temporary and almost trivial. To experience my true Identity filled me with a profound sense of numinous encounter."5
Bache informs us that similiar transpersonal experiences are consisitently reported as part of NDEs (near death experiences). Plath's experience in "Elm" and much of her poetry indicates that she was able to view the world with an altered state of consciousness that allowed her to experience the threshold of Death and to permeate the cosmos in such a way that she was no longer separate from objects; but, the forces of the cosmos threw her back upon herself and she would experience even greater isolation and her disconnected ego would experience the extreme pain of separateness. Her poetry telescopes these two states. Transpersonal permeation exists simultaneously with painful ego isolation. She unites with the Cosmic Tree but still confronts her serpent double winding around the branches.
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1The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Ed by Ted Hughes. HarperPererrial.c1981.Page 192.
2The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Ed by Ted Hughes. HarperPererrial.c1981.Page 192.
3The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Ed by Ted Hughes. HarperPererrial.c1981.Page 172.
4The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath. Ed by Ted Hughes. HarperPererrial.c1981.Page 192
5Bache,Christopher M., Expanding Grof's Concept of the Perinatal: Deepening the Inquiry into Frightening Near-Death Experiences.From Journal of Near-Death Studies V.15.No.2 Winter 1996 Page115. The quoted excerpt is on page 124-125 and is from :
Grof,S., and Bennett, H.Z.(1992). The Holotropic Mind. New York,NY:HarperCollins.