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‘in the lazily eye of his lapis’: A Dream and a Dish from a Stavanger Charity Shop

September 14, 2013
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‘Irise, Osirises!’ (FW 493.28)

On 3rd September I bought an unusual-looking little, shallow dish in a charity shop in Stavanger, Norway. It was obviously hand-thrown, perhaps from a local craft pottery, with an eye-catching combination of deep blues (suggestive, if not indicative, of lapis lazuli), gold, brown, splashes of red and flecks of white. These colours are combined with good effect to focus the gaze on an ovoid motif at the centre, which resembles an eye. As such, it is reminiscent of ‘the Eye of Horus’, a sacred Egyptian symbol, seen below on this depiction of the cow goddess, Hathor, in the recension of The Book of the Dead known as the Papyrus of Ani. Ani, interestingly enough, is the anonymous scribe who writes ‘the leaves of the living in the boke of the deeds’ (FW 13.30-31) of Finnegans Wake (Mark L. Troy’s Mummeries of Resurrection is the most thorough study of the Wake‘s rehearsal of the Egyptian mysteries). In the exclamation, ‘Irise, Osirises!’ (FW 493.28) both the opening of the eye (the iris) and the reawakening of the god are suggested… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Hathor_with_sacred_eye_in_papyrus

Actually, however, I picked the dish up partly because it connected with a disconcertingly strange dream I’d had a couple-or-so days before. The dream revolved around a slightly grubby, cracked saucer, the sort left over from a lost tea service, that people would use to put plant pots on on the window-sill or by the back door, with the characteristic accumulated, earthy, tide-marked encrustation of many waterings. In the dream this mundane saucer was a magical and dangerous object, much like the four treasures brought back to the grimy streets of 1960s Manchester from the otherworld of Elidor by the four children in Alan Garner’s novel of the same name. Here, a spear becomes a rusty iron railing; a sword becomes two bits of snapped lath nailed together; a goblet becomes a cracked cup, and so on… Charles Keeping’s illustration from Elidor (lifted from here) shows well the transformative spectrum of the marvellous and the mundane.

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A distinguishing  – and sinister – feature of the dream saucer, which had somehow been passed into my hands, was the fact that the concave surface of it was caked with dried blood – suggested in the red and brown pigment on the Stavanger dish. Two interpretations of this surfaced in the dream. The first, that it was the vessel of ‘the blood of the saints’, borne by the Whore of Babylon in the Book of Revelation. This figure is celebrated in the Thelemic Magick of Aleister Crowley as Babalon. In the dream, it was with mounting distress that my wife tried to stop me putting water in the saucer to ‘enliven’ the contents, as if by doing so some uncontrollable power would be awakened. As I drifted towards waking consciousness, another interpretation presented itself: that the saucer in fact contained the menstrual blood of Mary Magdalene…

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C.C. Askew’s depiction of Babalon, as retrieved from here.

So far, so freaky. The apocalyptic ambience of the Babylon/Babalon theme was doubtless influenced by news reports of the escalating spiral of war-like rhetoric surrounding the dreadful bloodbath in Syria, with the attendant threat of world war. Perhaps also there was a foreshadowing of Molly Bloom’s birthday on the 8th September (a profane reflection of the Virgin Mary’s birthday) and her eight-sentence soliloquy at the end of Ulysses, in which she muses upon her menstrual flow, amongst other mundane things, as she sits on the chamber pot. The following extended quotation from The Irish Ulysses coincides very well with the convergence of dream, myth, magic, history, life and art, described above, and – ‘in the lazily eye of his lapis’ (FW 293.11) – it is a lazy way for me to round out this post:

Molly Bloom… takes her place in the long line of Irish euhemerized goddesses. Indeed, the way Molly’s character is poised between mythic and realistic components itself recapitulates almost perfectly the presentation of most of the great female figures of early Irish literature, particularly as presented in the sources Joyce would have known. The female figures take their place fully in a historical context, yet their characters are informed by mythic patterns. The most striking and well known example of this sort is Medb of Cruachan, the queen of Connacht and leader of Ulster’s enemies in Táin Bó Cúailnge. Many aspects about Medb—from her name, which means ‘the intoxicating one’ (connecting her with the ale of sovereignty), to her wide onomastic connections, to her history in one text of having a long series of husbands —indicate that she is the euhemerized Sovereignty of Tara who has been translated to Connacht, yet she is localized in one specific temporal period and treated as a historical figure in the text of Táin Bó Cúailnge itself.

Celtic myth provides many parallels to Molly’s urination and menstruation, symbols that are central to the linked destructive and procreative powers of Celtic mother goddesses. Charles Bowen (“Great-Bladdered Medb”) has argued that menstruation and urination in early Irish literature are both centrally connected with the powers of the Celtic mother goddesses. The blood of menstruation, the literal demonstration of female fertility and the female life force, is one reason the goddesses were connected with bloody war. Bowen connects urination, by contrast, with the life-bringing powers and creative fertilization of water—rain, rivers, and amniotic fluid. Bowen sees this water symbolism as linking the territorial or Sovereignty goddesses with the Celtic river goddesses. The dual symbolism of blood and urine is found at the end of Táin Bó Cúailnge, where Medb fills three lakes with her fúal fola, literally her ‘urine of blood’ or her ‘bloody urine’ (C. O’Rahilly 133).

These elements of blood and urine are also central to the portrait of Molly in Ulysses since Molly produces a large volume of mixed menstrual flow and urine (18.1104–48), and they connect Molly with the Irish river goddesses. Frank Budgen pointed in this direction as early as 1934, when he described Molly’s monologue in terms of a river: “Marion’s monologue snakes its way through the last forty pages of Ulysses like a river winding through a plain, finding its true course by the compelling logic of its own fluidity and weight” (Making of “Ulysses” 262). It is not simply that the monologue represents “the displacement to language of her urinary and menstrual flow,” a kind of mental punning on the body, as Mark Shechner (217) would have it. Rather, Molly’s bodily flow and fluid language are both part of her mythic nature as Joyce has delineated it in Ulysses; they are counterparts and complements to the earth-goddess aspects of her portrait. The circularity of Molly’s soliloquy, which begins and ends with “Yes,” is more than a counterpart to her nature as earth goddess, a sign of her as the “huge earth ball slowly . . . spinning” (Letters 1:170); this circularity is also one facet of Molly as a river deity. Joyce matured and perfected the image of Molly as river goddess in the figure of ALP in Finnegans Wake; but as in Finnegans Wake the circularity of Molly’s speech should be related to the continuous cycle of the waters running from cloud to rain to river to sea to cloud again.

… All these considerations indicate that what appears to be a touch of naturalism in Ulysses —Molly’s chamberpot sequence, complete with the emphasis on the volume of her urine and the beginning of her period—has its place in the mythic framework of Joyce’s early Irish prototypes.

Maria Tymoczko 1997 The Irish Ulysses Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 111-112

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In its deep blue – redolent of the lapis lazuli pigment used in mediaeval iconography to depict the Virgin Mary – and earthy, red decoration, the little dish from Stavanger reflects and condenses these overlapping, simultaneously elevated and fundamental themes, as real in the realm of Morpheus – ‘The Morphios’ (FW 142.29) – the dream narrative of Finnegans Wake, as in the unbounded consciousness that integrates word and world, individual and cosmos: ‘a maryamyriameliamurphies, in the lazily eye of his lapis’ (FW 293.10-11), where ‘the world, mind, is, was and will be writing its own wrunes for ever’ (FW 19.35-36).

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