Bob Dylan And Gnosticism
By Larry Fyffe
A major theme in Bob Dylan’s song lyrics is the employment of religion by authority figures to cover up serreptitious behaviour:
“Big time negotiators, false healers, and women haters
Masters of the bluff, and masters of the proposition
But the enemy I see
Wears a cloak of decency
All nonbelievers and men stealers talkin’ in the name of religion”
He points out how the words of the Bible have been twisted over time to transform a world under Noah’s great rainbow into one painted solely in the white and black of good and evil:
“And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them”
(Genesis 1: 26, 27)
The many male writers of the Holy Book, to sanctify masculine dominance, quickly shove this Hermaphrodite God(dess) shrouded in the white mist (see: Robert Graves) and fog into the background, and have female Eve instead carved out of the side of male Adam, and then later the male Jesus mysteriously becomes one and the same with God in some other-worldly existence – a template for how human life ought to be structured on Earth.
That religion is employed to shore up any changing of the guard, Dylan has little doubt:
“Through many a dark hour
I’ve been thinking ’bout this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll to decide
Whether Jesus Iscariot
Had God on his side”
(Bob Dylan: With God On Our Sude)
And as a questioner himself of the status quo (Judaism’s High Priests challenged by upstart Christianity), Dylan is not surprised to find the presence of an androgynous spirit still hanging on in spite of the changing of the guard.
“Well, the hobo jumped up
He came down naturally
After he stole my baby
Then he tried to steal me
But I’m pledging my time to you
Hopin’ you’ll come through too”
(Bob Dylan: Pledging My Time)
Dylan has friends thusly oriented, so it seems in lyrics that are somewhat double-edged:
“Queen Mary, she’s my friend
Yes, I believe I’ll go see her again
Nobody has to guess
That Baby can’t be blessed
Till she sees finds that she’s like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamines, and her perils”
(Bob Dylan: Just Like A Woman)
More song lyrics; this time not too fogged-up:
“Well, the sword-swallower, he comes up to you, and then he kneels
He crosses himself and then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice, he asks you how it feels
And he says, ‘Here is your throat back,
thanks for the loan’ “
(Bob Dyan: Ballad Of A Thin Man)
From such topics, Dylan does not shy:
“Tweeter was a Boy Scout ‘fore he went to Vietnam
And found out the hard way, nobody gives a damn
They knew that they found freedom just across the Jersey line
So they hopped into a stolen car, took Highway 99″
(Bob Dylan: Tweeter And The Monkey Man)
Perhaps suggesting Tweeter suffered a war injury.
Concerning women infused with the spirit of Hermaphrodite, Dylan’s appears somewhat frustrated:
“Rita May, Rita May
How’d you ever get that way?
When do you ever see the light?
Don’t you ever feel a fright?
You got me burnin’, and I’m turnin’
But I know I must be learnin’
(Bob Dylan: Rita May)
“When do you ever see the light?”: This is where the mystical Gnosticism of Swedenborg comes into play: a Godhead far from the Universe has spread out light so far that some sparks of its complete nature are able to light up within materialized individuals on Earth who are lucky enough to have this happen; there is no sin, no evil, only ignorance of the Godhead; blocked off mostly, but sometimes assisted, by the different types of fragments floating around.
Part 2 of Dylan and Gnosticism appears here:
What is on the site
1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.