Earth – Towards the Source of Imagination

Marzenna Jakubczak

Towards the Source of Imagination

Marzenna Jakubczak, Earth – Towards the Source of Imagination [w:] The Great Book of Aesthetics. Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Aesthetics – Japan 2001, red. Ken-ichi Sasaki i Tanehisa Otabe, Tokyo 2003.

[…] Representations of underground imply the dangerous, unpredictable power concealed deep inside the earth. This domain is the home of dismal infernal powers and of the violent, destructive force of volcanic nature. The inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia placed the other world beneath the flat disk of earth which bordered on the ocean of life-giving sweet water abzu. In Egypt, the underworld was visualized as a vast land full of gates, winding channels and dark caves with snakes lying in wait. Similarly, ancient Greeks described the underworld as a land of highly complicated topography, laced with rivers and inhabited by the gods of life and death (Hades, Hekate and Persphone) as well as by monsters and abominable frights like Chimera, the Gorgons with their heads covered with snakes, the Furies guarding the entrance to Tartar, the mischievous Harpies who kidnapping children or vengeful Erinyes who used squirming snakes to flog sinners. In accord with the ideas of the ancient world, the Old Testament states that deep under the earth’s surface there is an abyss shrouded in darkness – the land of eternal damnation and chaos – Sheol. Christianity adopted the image of hell as the dark cavern filled with despair and the all-embracing flames of unsatisfied desires, hatred, and envy (Rev 21, 8). An expressive vision of hell, saturated with chthonic symbols, was depicted by Hieronymus Bosch in one of his earliest paintings, The Seven Deadly Sins (ca. 1474-1485).Alongside the powerful and dangerous gods and the souls of the damned pushed into the infernal abyss, the inhabitants of the underground include various chthonic animals such as serpents associated with transformation of time (guarding the treasure hidden underground), dogs and jackals (guards of the Otherworld), mice (carriers of souls), frogs and toads (primitive symbols of fertility which, over the course of time and under the influence of repressive patriarchal phraseology, became synonyms with sin and moral impurity). The most famous dog in Greek mythology, Cerberus, is a counterpart of the Egyptian patron of mummification, guardian of the dead and master of graveyards, Anubis. The three-headed Cerberus, endowed with a serpent’s tail, performed the function of a guide for souls going to the Underworld. The picture Satyr Mourning over a Nymph (ca. 1495) by the Florentine painter Piero di Cosimo is a moving iconization of the chthonic facet of the dog. The dog, commonly considered as a faithful friend, is sitting at the Nymph’s feet. Obviously, the dog, together with the remnants of the archaic pack of hounds straying on the beach, is patiently awaiting the moment when the soul leaves the dead body of the Nymph and he will guide it to the underworld. A contemporary Polish painter Katarzyna Kopańska in her Egyptian Bitch refreshes the same motif of imagination. An blue female dog, apparently the counterpart of Egyptian Anubis, is sitting quietly and attentively on an orange sofa. A strong contrast between an ice cold colour of dog and hot orange furniture evokes the feeling of alienation which we experience in the moment of somebody’s death. The blue dog, so patient and calm, takes a seat on our comfortable sofa to remind us about the inevitability of death which will bring end to the rhythmically pulsating life symbolized by leaves growing out and falling down every year. However, the Egyptian Bitch, our guide in the Otherworld, should not be afraid of but rather welcomed to our home like any other guest. (Fig. 5. Katarzyna Kopańska, Egyptian Bitch, 2000)

Fig. 5. Katarzyna Kopańska, Egyptian Bitch, 2000.

The figure of a serpent, personifying the internal, earthly and feminine power of creation and regeneration is another important multicultural icon. On the one hand, it evokes associations with death. Like a snake swallowing its victim in one bite and digesting it slowly in its gut, the earth absorbs its own fruit into its body. On the other hand, both a serpent and the earth are associated with immortality, since, like a snake, the earth regularly sheds its “old skin” and comes back to life every twelve months. Later, the association is transferred to a woman who “sheds her inner skin” once a month. The cult of a serpent connected with the Earth Goddess was popular in many regions of the ancient world. Serpents accompanied Arthemis, Isis, Gaia, Demeter and many other “incarnations” of the Great Goddess. The oldest preserved traces of the serpent symbolism come from Sumer, from the third millennium B.C. Similar images might have appeared earlier, but it was from Mesopotamia that they travelled to the West to Greece and contemporary Europe as well as to the East to India and later to the distant Indonesia. In Indian Tantric tradition, the serpent power of kundalini is a symbol of a great affirmation of life and the blessing of motherhood. In the practice of Kundalini Yoga, the female vital and spiritual energy (śakti) represented as a sleeping serpent coiled up three and a half, five or eight times, hovers above the central energetic channel (sushumna-nadi) running along the spine from the lowest energetic joint to the highest one (chakra). The aim of all this practice is to harmonize the twofold psycho-somatic and organic-spiritual nature of man and to open the access to the enormous reservoir of inner energy necessary to accomplish the deep transformation of the individual’s consciousness. […]

Dr hab. Marzenna Jakubczak – filozof, profesor w Instytucie Matematyki Uniwersytetu Pedagogicznego w Krakowie.