Tag Archives: John William Waterhouse

Magic And Miracles (4)

sorceress 3
The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse

Following last week’s thread, what is the difference between praying for a miracle and casting a spell? I can only give you my impression/opinion. Let’s start with magic. One of the characteristics of magic that strikes me as different from Christianity has to do with manipulation. It seems to me that the sorcerer, sorceress, warlock, or witch sees himself or herself as mastering a skill or craft which makes possible the manipulation of people, nature, circumstances, and even supernatural entities.

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Sorceress by Frank Frazetta

To the extent that Christians try to cajole God for favors, I think they are behaving more like magicians than disciples. God is not a trained animal act, and he does not perform at our bidding. Does this mean that he should not be asked to intervene? Not necessarily. It depends on three things as I see it: what we are asking for, our motivation for doing so, and our attitudes about ourselves in relation to God.

William Blake
William Blake: Jesus giving sight to Bartimaeus

Without requiring all of my readers to believe as I do, I think it is helpful to look at how the scriptures describe (often by implication) the nature and purpose of miracles. In my own reading and contemplation I have settled (again) on three characteristics. First, miracles provide genuine help to those who need it. Second, they reveal some aspect of the character and nature of God. Third, as a result of this, they require something of us in the way of humility, commitment, and submission to a higher authority. Assuming (again, as the scriptures imply) that this authority is benevolent and has our truly best interests at heart, God should not be expected to conform to our limited and often misguided agendas. You may not believe he exists, but if you do, this has to be considered.

Grace by Rhoda Nyberg (painting from 1918 photograph of Charles Wilden taken by her father, Eric Enstrom)

Some of you may remember that in a previous post (THE GODDESS MENTALITY – PART 3 from this same Myth and Reality category) I stated that I do not respect powerful people simply for being powerful. Seeking supernatural empowerment in and of itself can be very destructive. What if we get what we want? Will we use it for good or ill? Are we even in a position to be able to tell the difference?

The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes by Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1674)

It makes sense to me that God’s gifts, however commonplace or unusual, would be granted on his terms. Finally, by asking for the wrong things or for the right things for the wrong reasons, do people simply delude themselves and thereby compromise their abilities to function in the real world? On my ABOUT page, I say something to the effect that fantasy can give us a beneficial perspective  from which to examine reality. When fantasy becomes too much of our reality, the balance shifts toward distortion and dysfunction.

Okay, enough of the heavy stuff. I promise to  lighten things up and have more fun next week. Teaser: So what does Wonder Woman look like?



Magic And Miracles (3)

I remember when a former colleague first came to our campus to interview for a position in Sociology. I had noticed in her curriculum vita (that’s academic for “resume”) that her dissertation topic was on magic and witchcraft, so I asked her about it. Her response: “I’m not a witch if you’re worried about that.” I wasn’t, and she went on to explain that she was studying it as a sociological phenomenon. All the while, I was thinking of that scene from Monty Python (those of you who have seen it know which one).

The Sorceress (2002) from the He-Man/Masters of the Universe series

In later discussions, as I remember, she explained to me that most Wiccans were women and that many of them had been physically or sexually abused. Wicca appealed to them as a means of empowerment in the face of some very unpleasant circumstances in which they felt otherwise powerless. Note that she did not say this applied to all Wiccans but that it was a prominent trend among those practicing this religion.

The Sorceress Greek by John William Waterhouse

We have a prestigious lecture on our campus which is given every two years. She was awarded this lecture by vote of our faculty and chose this area of interest as her topic. I remember that during the talk she blurred the boundaries between magic and other religious faiths, and that got me to thinking. Are those who pray for divine intervention, sometimes in the form of miracles, doing essentially the same thing as those who recite incantations or pronounce spells?

Medea by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandysk (1866-1868)

To answer this question, I narrowed it down to a comparison between belief in magic and the one religion with which I am most familiar: Christianity. So what is the difference between spells and prayer for miracles?

Sorceress by Rafaella Picca

I can see now that this is going to require more explanation than I originally thought, so I will continue this discussion next week.

Mythological Beasts and Spirits: Naiad

"You are in a place of peril. Walk in hope and righteous fear. Stay your course. Be not distracted. There are winsome spirits here." From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III
“You are in a place of peril. Walk in hope and righteous fear.
Stay your course. Be not distracted. There are winsome spirits here.”
From: The Staff in the Tree by Robert Lambert Jones III

This is another spiritual being from mythology and folklore which makes my imagination run. So much has been and can be done with Naiads. In Greek mythology, they were water nymphs who were particularly associated with bodies of freshwater such as rivers and streams. Certain of them were among the various classes of nymphs and sprites who were courted or raped by some of the male gods.

A Naiad by John William Waterhouse
A Naiad by John William Waterhouse

Their behavior toward humans is described as variable in various legends. These feminine spirits could be helpful, frivolous, or jealous. They could also be dangerous. They have sometimes been shown as abducting…

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse
Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse

… or even drowning men. The pictures below take two different and compelling approaches. In The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper, we see a type of “before” picture. For me, the strength of this painting is in the combination of its title and the relaxed posture and facial expression of its subject. A subtle intensity smolders in her eyes, and the relative peace of the composition suggests her lethal capability.

The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper
The Kelpie by Herbert James Draper

This next painting is of the “during” variety. The posture of the Naiad is submissive save for the grip of her hands on a fisherman’s arms. This contrast is poignant, and the poor man is doomed while still alive.

A siren (or sprite or Naiad) is shown pulling a fisherman under in this painting by Knut Ekwall.
A siren (or sprite or Naiad) is shown pulling a fisherman under in this painting by Knut Ekwall.

A question I have asked myself is whether or not the representations of women as being helpless or dangerous might have arisen as a result of attitudes which limit their roles in society. In such cases, are those who cannot be controlled regarded as threatening? I’ve gotten on my high horse before. Now I’ll beat my dead one by saying again that I think there is tremendous room for creativity in the way that female characters of many kinds can be portrayed in the mythologies we create for our entertainment and instruction. In my own poem, I have tried to use the Naiads’ combination of perceived vulnerability and lethal capability in portraying them as something which I hope is different.

As I said near the top of this post, Naiads are usually described as being freshwater nymphs or spirits. I will end with the creative approach in the painting below by Gustave Dore in which these mysterious creatures are shown in a different setting. They almost seem to be part of the rocks in this seascape.

Naiads of the Sea by Gustave Dore
Naiads of the Sea by Gustave Dore

Mythology on Canvas (Part 2)

The first paintings I would like to feature in this series are by John William Waterhouse.

A Naiad by John William Waterhouse
A Naiad by John William Waterhouse

The first is simply titled A Naiad and was completed in 1893. It is only if one is familiar with what a Naiad is that the composition of this painting takes on its full power. Naiads were typically female water spirits that were alternately portrayed as beneficent or threatening, often jealous of their male human husbands/lovers. What I like about this particular painting (aside from its realism) is that it leaves so much to the imagination of the viewer. What is the back story? What is going to happen next? This kind of stimulation can be very healthy, and this is largely dependent on the quality of thinking in the individual (i. e. you or me) doing the interpretation. Also, the rippled surface of the water in the background provides a subtle effect to this painting.

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse
Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse

The second is Hylas and the Nymphs from 1896. The tension in this offering is derived from the background story, the body postures of the various subjects, and the expressions on the faces of the Naiads themselves. Depending on the account being considered, Hylas was the son or companion or lover of the demigod, Hercules. One account describes him as being abducted by water nymphs (Naiads). In light of this information, the picture is intriguingly painted and leaves one with the impression that whatever is about to happen does not end well. I find it ironic and sadly amusing that this is so often the case with human infatuation in general.