By Larry Fyffe
Surrealistic singer/songwriter Bob Dylan delves into Gnostic mysticism in a number of his songs. In one, Dylan seeks out a divine female messenger (Angelina) who apparently comes from the mysterious, far-off Spirit God of Goodness that lies hidden behind the Demiurge, the commander of the material Universe.
A characteristic part of the cosmology of Gnosticism is the depiction, as in the song lyric following, of the dualistic nature of light and darkness, the latter an allegorical symbol for the Evil in the material world wherein mankind is trapped – considered by some Gnostics due to sin; by others due to ignorance:
I came to a high place of darkness and light
The dividing line ran though the centre of town
(Bob Dylan: Isis)
The evolution of Christian and Hebrew Gnosticism goes back in time to the mythology of ancient Egypt – to Isis and Osiris the married offspring of Father Earth and Mother Sky; to Seth(disorder, symbolized by the hyena and by the snake), who, out of jealousy, kills his brother Osiris (order), places him in a coffin, and takes over the throne. Isis puts the pieces of Osiris back together, gets herself with child, and hides the baby in the bushes by the Nile.
According to a Bible-related Gnostic version, Cain kills brother Abel, they, the offspring of Adam and Eve, and Seth is then born to Eve as a more suitable replacemnt father for the human race.
In the Dylan’s depiction of Seth in the song lyrics below, the meaning is left open for the listener to create a reasonable interpretion on his/her own:
His eyes were two slits that would make
a snake proud
With a face that any painter would paint as
he walked through the crowd
Worshipping a god with the body of a woman
And the head of a hyena
(Bob Dylan: Angelina)
In ‘Angelina’, Dylan mixes the Egyptain mythology in with the Book Of Revelation. What this mixture of mythological and biblical medicine means (in so far as masked and mysterious God goes) is obscure:
I see pieces of men marching, trying to
take heaven by force
I can see the unknown rider, I can see the
pale white horse
In God’s truth tell me what you want, and you’ll
have it of course
Just step into the arena
(Bob Dylan: Angelina)
In terms of black humour, what could be suggested here is that a good ol’ professional wrestling match is in order; I mean, if Angelina steps into the arena with Dylan’s persona, God might be found out not to be a very manly God!
Below, the biblical allusion:
And I saw, and behold, a white horse
And he that sat on him had a bow
And a crown was given unto him
And he went forth conquering and to conquer
And so it goes. Biblical theologians argue among themselves whether the pale rider represents Jesus Christ, a messenger from Yahweh ; or the Demiurge himself, the AntiChrist – that is, the Roman Emperor of that time. Maybe, it’s Clint Eastwood, the man with no name, for all we know.
Anyway in ‘Isis’, the persona of Robert Allan Poeically could be be twisted to be interpreted as a somewhat jagged Seth-like Satanic figure who just can’t get no satisfaction:
I picked up his body and I dragged him inside
Threw him down in the hole, and I put back the cover
I said a quick prayer, and I felt satisfied
Then I went to find Isis just to tell her I love her
(Bob Dylan: Isis)
There are critics out there who feel that Bob Dylan chooses his words haphazardly, or simply because they rhyme; for this grave sin, these people are surely going to go straight to Hell -and without a last supper:
Bright are the stars that shine
Dark is the sky
I know this love of mine
Will never die
And I love her
(Beatles: And I Love Her)
What else is on the site
1: Over 490 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 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 produced 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