by Larry Fyffe
The portrayal of the Christian Messiah in the Bible shows evidence of the historical influence of the alchemists of Egypt, and the philosophy that is now known as Gnosticism (found in Jewish texts as well). The human eye is an important symbol thereof:
(Matthew 6: 20-23)
Also in the song lyrics of Bob Dylan, listeners can detect remnants of Gnostic thought with its view that mankind is trapped in a world of darkness – modern man, trapped in a material world, has his focus on science, industry, and capitalist greed:
In Gnostic texts, Jesus is portrayed as a shape-shifter; He’s capable of transforming Himself into a sharp-eyed eagle. And, in the Holy Bible, Christ possesses the alchemical ability to bring the dead back to life:
(John 11: 41 -44)
Folksingers, rather like artistic alchemists, sometimes re-arrange biblical passages into a secular ones. Below, Dylan adds his arrangement to a ballad of yore:
(Bob Dylan: Poor Lazarus -traditional)
A son of the Enlightenment, Charles Darwin counters medieval ‘biology’, its roots located in the biblical grand theory of a pre-ordained fixed design (called the ‘great chain of being’ in Shakespeare’s day), with a new empirically-based theory of ‘natural selection’ in relation to the existing environment. Poet Lord Tennyson responds with the ambiguous image of an eagle on high that falls like a thunderbolt.
Bob Dylan makes note of the resistance to any change on the part of the high authorities in control of social values – water symbolizing power. Dylan, not without humour, borrows from the traditional folk song ‘Poor Lazarus’:
Bob Dylan sides not with the dogma of the high priests of established religion. The singer/songwriter clings to the cliff with crooked claws, holding onto the alchemical portrayal of Jesus: the stone-like darkness lying at the heart of human nature can be changed if an individual metaphorically wakes up and kindles the light that glows within one’s soul; however, given the dark clouds of social injustice that haunt the world of reality, it’s not an easy thing to do.
In the song lyrics below, the temptation is to take the well-worn path that’s trodden in ‘Poor Lazarus’:
The path leading to hidden mystical wisdom of ‘gnosis’ is not a simple and straight one, but a long and winding road that’s knotted with ‘eternal recurrences’, a cosmological view that sparkles in the the rings of the ancient Egyptians.
Isis, an Egyptian goddess, is a symbol of a good wife and good mother, represented sometimes by a kite, a bird of prey. According to the Greek essayist Plutarch, Isis brings her mummified husband back to life for a short time in order to mate with him after he’s shut up in a coffin.
Bob Dylan transmutes the plot into a psychological drama in song lyrics below:
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