Psychic Synchronicity Aphrodite’s Hat
Who could possibly anticipate that Aphrodite, the term Misdemeanour, a besieged dragon and an excess of spinach would all come together in an orgy of synchronicity in the space of one day? Well, that’s my weekend so far. When such unlikely things come together in one place, it’s a sure sign that something or someone is trying to get my attention. Or is playing with me. It’s not like Aphrodite and I hang out together or anything. I mean how often – outside of Greece, at any rate – does that name come into your average day? Rarely? Never? OK, I do have a professional interest in archetypes and mythology, so characters from Greek myths are part of my general frame of reference but, even so, I’m talking about an incidence rate that goes way beyond CO-incidence. Actually, it all started with the Dragon. Again. He’s been haunting me recently, popping into my mind at odd moments and urging me to write another post on him and his extended family. When I didn’t take the mental hints he started sending me visual reminders: a toddler’s plush toy in the form of a baby dragon that popped up in a search for educational toys for my nieces; a postcard with an image of two dragons holding a golden egg between them; then last night the series Once Upon A Time came on (I always forget when it is on and was looking for The Dog Whisperer!) featuring an impressively large and ferocious dragon who supposedly swallowed a golden egg in which Rumpelstiltskin had secreted a vial of love potion long ago…Well, it’s complicated.
Psychic Synchronicity Aphrodite’s Hat
And then there is Aphrodite. I was actually looking for a well-written version of the myth of Eros and Psyche earlier in the week when Eros’s Mom showed up. Beautiful Aphrodite was having a hissy fit because her only son had fallen in love with Psyche, a mortal woman - and a gorgeous one at that. Aphrodite would brook no rivals in the beauty department and punished the lovers by having Eros disappear to the underworld for six months out of every year leaving the human world bereft of light and warmth. I must have read six or seven different versions of the myth but still hadn’t found one that I felt entirely comfortable with so I put the idea on the back burner and got on with my week. Then yesterday, I was in my local bookshop which was having a major sale, 3 books for ten bucks! No way could I resist that so in I went and quickly found two books that I really wanted to read but somehow I couldn’t seem to find a third. Other book lovers were scouring the sale tables and as I returned to the front of the shop for another look, a portrait of Aphrodite on a book cover caught my eye. I glanced at the book and did a double-take; the title was Aphrodite’s Hat and the author was one of my favourites, Salley Vickers, author of Miss Garnet’s Angel one of my favourite novels of all time! No second thoughts needed. I snatched up the book and came home with my bounty. I left Aphrodite on my bedside table and went on with the evening that included watching the surprise appearance of the impressive dragon in Once Upon A Time. As the show finished I sought out The Dog Whisperer again but found there was a programme about real crime on instead. Are you ready for this? The name of the ‘star’ of the programme is Aphrodite Jones! I kid you not. Somehow the classical name coupled with one of the two most common surnames in English sent me into peels of laughter – no offence, Ms. Jones. I didn’t linger and after flipping channels finally found Cesar the Magnificent, aka Dog Whisperer.
The third and fourth weird elements in this synchronicity occurred this morning. I was still partly asleep and having a lucid dream in which I saw a replay of a particularly grim lunch I had several years ago. I’m actually not a big fan of lunch or spinach but I’m even less of a fan of fungi, those ugly parasitic growths we call mushrooms and truffles, which were included in every dish on the menu except for the spinach and ricotta crepes that I reluctantly ordered. When the dish was served I knew I was in trouble. There was an abundance, indeed an obscenity of spinach, spilling out of the crepes and nary a sign of ricotta, the ingredient that made the spinach edible! The owner of the restaurant was apologetic, explaining that they had run out of ricotta but he would be happy to serve me crepes stuffed with mushrooms and spinach if I preferred. Actually, I preferred to fast for a few hours instead. I awoke with the memory of that ghastly lunch in my mind and laughed in relief as I realized that it was only a dream. The morning was still cold and damp so I decided to read in bed before braving the day. I picked up the Salley Vickers book and discovered it is not a novel as I had thought; it’s a collection of short stories. Since it was Aphrodite who got me to buy the book, I found the story about her hat and began to read.
A pair of lovers are having a lunchtime tryst and are strolling through The National Gallery in London. They stop in front of a painting of Aphrodite and her infant son, Eros, by the German painter Lucas Cranach the Elder. I had ‘just happened’ to read a review of an exhibition of some of his paintings recently and was – like everyone else, I’m sure – struck by the hostility in the eyes of so many of the male figures in his paintings! This guy sure seemed to have a hate on for somebody. The article shed some light on who it might be when it revealed that Cranach was a follower and supporter of Luther and painted a famous portrait of him whilst at the same time depending on the patronage and largesse of the detested Church for his survival! No wonder his saints looked grumpy, even poor old Christopher who is always shown as loveable! This Cranach fellow was distinctly odd but also fascinating. It seems he painted a number of portraits of fashionable women purely for the dosh. What makes these portraits a bit unusual is the fact that the women are wearing large and very elaborate hats of which they seem they extremely proud. But so is the necklaced and otherwise nude Aphrodite in, not one, but four of Cranach’s paintings of her! The image on the cover of my book is a bit ambiguous to say the least. Is that a hat? A symbol of some kind? A cultural reference that held meaning in 1505 but is obscure to us? The others in the Aphrodite/Venus, Eros/Cupid series are clearly hats but this one is a bit of a mystery as the female character in the story says. It could be made from tufts of wool or even dandelion fluff shaped into perfect balls that encircle her head which is tilted slightly forward as if to draw attention to it.
In the story the woman’s lover is pre-occupied and says nothing and they move on to view a painting by Uccello of St. George and guess who? The woman in the story responds to the painting in very much the same way that I do: the poor dragon. Not that he’s a Puff or anything but dragons seem to me to be un-necessarily victimized in European legends. I much prefer the Oriental view of dragons as earth, water, and air energies whose function is to balance the yin and yang of the earthly environment. The Chinese attribute characteristics of wisdom, abundance, and longevity to these representations of the natural energies and cycles of our planet. By honouring the dragons, we can enlist their support and protection rather than alienating and persecuting them to extinction as was the European way. Something in us resonates with these mythical/mystical beasts. We must long for them because we keep images of them in prominent public places as declarations of civil strength and endurance. We even have representations of them in anthropomorphized roles as in the family grouping in the bronze sculpture in the Bulgarian resort town of Varna on the Black Sea, above.
A Play On Words…
Vickers’ story goes on to relate the thoughts of the woman with her lover at lunch in an Italian restaurant and we learn that she is a Casting Director for films and TV by profession. As her lover prepares her for some unpleasant news, the woman ruminates on the title of a film she is in the process of casting: Misdemeanour. As it happens I wrote my post yesterday on the subject of proposed government regulation of the “psychic industry” in which I argued that such legislation would be redundant since there is a body of law in every country dealing with every type and level of fraud from mis-demeanour to felony. It’s not every day that I have occasion to use the term mis-demeanour and now a day after I do so in print, it shows up as the putative title of a film script which deals with two lovers one of whom is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As she tries to steel herself for whatever it is that her lover has to tell her, she wonders what is the correct demeanour with which to react to such a diagnosis? And then her lover is telling her that it is almost certain that his wife has cancer and suddenly their weekly tryst is tinted grey like the sky she can see from the restaurant window. He admits he doesn’t know what to do and she says she can understand that and then they go on for a minute in silence before she says “Perhaps that was why she kept her hat on.” Her relationship with her lover is full of these ellipses from topic to topic; they know each other so well they can follow the other’s thought process even through eccentric twists and turns. After a moment he replies, clearly with reference to the painting of Aphrodite: “Perhaps it’s too dangerous if she’s completely naked.” Again, silence, whilst the waiter serves the fish course and “…fusses over whether they would prefer spinach or carrots. I found that, quite desperately, I wanted spinach; you’d think, in the circumstances, I wouldn’t give a damn. But when large matters are beyond your control small things take on an especially vivid importance.” How could I have dreamt of spinach of all things only to have it show up poignantly a few minutes later in a short story? Synchronicities abound.
It All Comes Back To The Hat…
In the Cranach painting, poor little Eros has stolen a honeycomb and some bees are punishing him. In distress he looks to his mother who is looking out of the painting as though connecting with an admiring stare from an onlooker and apparently unconcerned with Eros’ cries. Is Aphrodite telling us that it does no good to get in a flap when things go wrong or is she simply a narcissistic wench who cannot empathize with anyone else’s pain? Then again she’s not really one of us; she’s a Goddess and who knows who they feel? The ambiguity of her ‘demeanour’ keeps the viewer searching the painting for an answer.
The woman remembers that when she was child her “… godmother used to say “Keep your hat on!” when anyone got agitated.” Perhaps the message of Aphrodite was that serenity – or what The Dog Whisperer would call a state of “calm, assertive energy” – was the wise approach to life’s challenges. How will the woman deal with what looks like a death blow to her relationship with her lover? She cares for his wife and that adds to her pain. Even if the man’s wife dies, she is still married to her husband whom she loves, too, just in a different way from what she feels for her lover. Damn Aphrodite! She is the cause of all this. She is the Goddess of Love and her son Eros shoots his arrows into people making them fall in love. This is all Aphrodite’s fault. There she stands naked as a jay bird, vulnerable and yet somehow protected by that eerie calm. “…I knew for myself why Aphrodite wore that hat…It was a recommendation to avoid total exposure. In case you give everything to someone who can’t give it back. ‘By all means go naked,’ she seemed to say, but keep your hat on…’
To purchase a copy of Aphrodite’s Hat by Salley Vickers, click HERE.
© DeliaO’ Riordan 2012
Image credit: Paintings of Aphrodite by Lucas Cranach the Elder courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons.
Dragons of Varna courtesy of Grant Scharoff, Wikimedia Creative Commons.