By Larry Fyffe
Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan comes in contact with the symbols of Gnostic Alchemy from the get-go. He reads ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe, and he takes part in ‘Madhouse On Castle Street’, a modernist Western TV play concerning a guy imprisoned within the walls of his own room; the social and physical envirnoment including one’s own body surrounds and constrains his spirit-seeking soul; not yet able to start over again from his basic white skeleton, the prisoner can’t take the next step in the direction from whence comes the overly bright golden light of a faceless God.
In the play, Bob Dylan sings the following song – the white swan being the alchemic symbol associated with the second stage of ‘gnosis’:
Tenderly William kissed his wife Then he opened her head with a butcher's knife And the swan on the river went glidin' by The swan on the river went glidin' by (Bob Dylan: The Gliding Swan ~ Dylan/traditional)
In the film “Renaldo and Clara”, Bob Dylan messes around with gnostic themes. The ghost-like White Lady arrives in a horse-drawn carriage, Emily Dickinson style:
Because I could not stop for Death He kindly stopped for me The carriage but just ourselves And immortality (Emily Dickinson: Because I Could Not Stop For Death)
The tiny, messy, tomb-like apartment parodies the giant pyramids of Egypt, and its ancient mythologies – Horus is the falcon-headed son of the Egyptian sun goddess Isis, and her earth-bound husband Osiris; the ostrich-feathered Osiris is her twin brother who’s killed, and then thrown to the catfish in the Nile River by their jeolous snake-like brother Seth. The left eye of Horus, representing the moon, is injured when he fights with his uncle, but his bigger right eye is an alchemy symbol that stands for the protection that his mother provides for everyone:
I was thinkin' about turquoise, I was thinkin' about gold I was thinkin' about diamonds, and the world's biggest necklace As we ride through the canyons, though the devilish cold I was thinkin' about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless (Bob Dylan: Isis ~ Dylan/Levy)
In the song lyrics below, the mythology of Isis and Osiris, and the biblical teachings of Jesus Christ are mixed together:
Oh sister, am I not a brother to you And one deserving of affection And is our purpose not the same on this earth To love and follow His direction? (Bob Dylan: Oh Sister ~ Dylan/Levy)
Brings to mind:
AndI said, "What is written, sweet sister On the door of this legended tomb?" " She replied: "Ulalume - Ulalume! 'Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!" (Edgar Allan Poe)
The followers of modernist Jamaican gnostic Rastafarianism are somewhat akin to North American Mormons, but they geographically reverse the Promised Land. To them, Jah’s chosen people are black Africans, and the Ethiopia of old that includes part of Egypt is the Promised Land. There, a princess, a worshipper of Isis, protects Egyptain-born Moses.
However, many Africans become slaves of the “Babylonians”, of Europeans and Americans who change gnostic teachings into what they call the religion of ‘Christianity’ with stories like the ‘curse of Ham’. Jesus, for many Rastafarians, is Jah who appears on earth in the form of Haile Salassie, a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Salassie be symbolized by the ‘Red Lion’; he’s considered the physical manifestation of the unified, re-masculinized Judeo-Christain God; the female goddess Isis gets short shifted, and displaced once again.
In the following lyrics, the singer/songwriter plays with the “Song of Solomon”; with “But life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy19: 21); and with “Thou canst not see my face, for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33: 20):
Been so long since a strange woman has slept in my bed Look how sweet she sleeps, how free must be her dreams In another lifetime, she must have owned the world, or been faithfully married To some righteous king who wrote psalms beside moonlight streams In creation where one's nature neither honours or forgives I and I One says to the other, "No man sees my face and lives" (Bob Dylan: I And I )