Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Quintessential American Philosopher

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson- (May 25, 1803- April 27, 1882)

When Ralph Waldo Emerson died over one hundred and twenty years ago from this day,  the leader of the Transcendentalist Movement left behind a philosophy that continues to influence people around the world.

The poet, essayist, and philosopher was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Ruth Haskins and the Unitarian minister, Rev. William Emerson.  Although Emerson first  followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming ordained  on March 11, 1829, he became disillusioned by the church after the death of his first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker, in 1831.  His diary note, dated June 1832: “I have sometimes thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry. The profession  is antiquated. In an altered age, we worship in the dead forms of our forefathers”. 

Emerson’s quest for new spiritual enlightenment led him to tour Europe that same year,  where he met distinguished men such as: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas Carlyle.  Upon returning to the United States in 1833, he married Lydia Jackson, and settled in Concord, MA, where he became one of the most prominant citizens.

On September 8, 1836, Emerson, Frederick Henry Hedge, George Ripley, and George Putnam met in Cambridge to discuss forming a new club.  The first official meeting was held eleven days later at Ripley’s home in Boston.  Members included: Bronson Alcott,  William Henry Channing, Margaret Fuller,  Theodore Parker, Elizabeth Peabody, Sophia Ripley, among others. 

The Transcendentalist Club was born.

Members commenced to discuss their frustrations on American culture and the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and in the Unitarian Church.   They published, The Dial, run by Elizabeth Peabody, until its demise in 1844.   Their core belief was  in an ideal spiritual state that transcended the physical, and could only be realized through an individual’s intuition, rather than through established doctrines.

Emerson’s essay, Nature, ignited Transcendentalism into a major cultural movement in 1836.  In this tract, he  defined nature as  a divine entity known to humans in their innocence, rather than a component of a world ruled by a separate being.

On August 31, 1837, Emerson delivered his famous speech, “The American Scholar”,  before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge.   He urged Americans to create their own writing style, free from the influence of Europe. 

Many essays and speeches followed, but it  was 1842’s, Essays, which included,  “Self Reliance”, that cemented Emerson’s international renown.   Emerson said,  “A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. ”   He further declared,  “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude”

Emerson’s belief that all things were divine, and thus, connected to God, along with his ardent support of abolitionism, made him a controversial figure in his own time.   He is now remembered as a champion of individualism and free thought, influencing Henry Thoreau’s,”Walden; Or, Life in the Woods”, which many believe to be the most famous non-fiction American book ever written.

Emerson’s body long turned to dust- his words live on:

-“Be not the slave of your own past.  Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”

-“Don’t waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.”

-“Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could.”

-“ God enters by a private door into every individual.”
-“Insist on yourself, never imitate…Every great man is unique.”
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Short Story: Melusina and the Honor Amongst Thieves

Hey everyone,

Just wanted to let you know I have a new page:  “Melusina and the Honor Amongst Thieves”.  It’s a crime story featuring my assassin, Melusina, which was first published in Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine.

It’s obviously quite different from my novel.   Not only is it a different genre, but it takes place in a real locale (Berlin), and  it’s set in the current day.

But I figured- what the heck- I’d put it up.  So,  check it out if you wish.  🙂

Published in: on April 24, 2009 at 3:38 pm  Comments (5)  
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Novel Update: The Star (tarot)

music playing:  Maria Callas, Casta Diva

For the second time, I shut my eyes and drew a tarot card to write about in relation to my novel and the writing process itself.

I opened my eyes and looked upon The Star.  A  woman stands in a pond and scoops up the water that flows upward into her hands.   A  blue star shines above.

The Star is a card of hope and healing.   Of  help from unexpected sources. It speaks, not of today, but of tomorrow.    Rainbows form after storms. Dreams are possible- but it is up to the Querent to make them come true.   

The last three days, I had a hellish time revising Chapter Eight.  I would have teared out my hair if it weren’t for my Leonine vanity.   But I kept at it, reminding  myself how important my story is to me.  And that I could do it.

I received wonderful words of encouragement and inspiration from my writer friends.

Saturday 7 p.m. :   Chapter Eight revised. 

As The Star suggests, my novel won’t be finished today.    And there will, no doubt, be more struggles as I revise the second half.  But I am one chapter closer to the end.

Thank you to everyone for all your support.  Here are freshly baked magickal brownies:  not only are they delicious, but they also help you write!

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 1:35 pm  Comments (26)  
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Novel Update: Nine of Wands

 1:30 a.m.

A few moments ago, I shut my eyes and pulled out one card from my tarot:  The Nine of Wands.  A woman stands alone, holding two crossed wands.  Behind her, seven wands stand upright.   She appears weary- how long has she held those wands?  Yet there is no surrender in her gaze,  for the card symbolizes perseverance and stamina.

 It’s been a long time since I typed the first word of this WIP.  Whatever that first word was- it’s been long ago changed.  And changed, again.  And again.  

I’ve persevered when my characters moved  from 1880s England to 1850s New England.    I’ve endured  characters bickering over everything from who had the starring role to what their name should be.  Dark fantasy turned to Gothic horror when a ghost appeared. Winter setting turned to summer back to winter before finally deciding upon summer.  The contrast of rich meadowland, blooming trees, and wildflowers against an interior of gloominess and despair intrigued me. 

The most difficult moment was when I realized that my novel was too short.   I had the dreaded novella.   Sure, you can bring up succint masterpieces like, “The Postman Only Rings Twice”,  “The Turn of the Screw”, ” Heart of Darkness”, and “Death in Venice”- but try to sell one today as a newbie novelist.

I took a long, hard look at my work to see if I could honestly add more story to it.  (versus crappy word padding). 

Well, I could.  And I did.   (It only took a few months of tossing and turning in bed,  pacing back and forth across the living room floor at dawn, and glaring at my computer screen)

Now I have the full story intact.   And all the headaches  have been worth it, because it’s definitely a stronger work.

 Today I begin revising chapter 8 out of 20 chapters.

I’m still holding the crossed wands in my hands.   When they start to feel too heavy, I remind myself their weight is only a reminder of what I’ve conquered.

“We acquire the strength we have overcome.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Published in: on April 14, 2009 at 2:42 am  Comments (42)  
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Writing Quotes from, “The Sea Priestess”

music playing:  Swan Lake

Here are some quotes on writing  from Dion Fortune’s, “The Sea Priestess” (1938)

From the Introduction:

1.  “It was said by a reviewer of one of my previous books that it is a pity I make my characters so unlikeable.  This was a great surprise to me, for it had never occurred to me that my characters were unlikeable.  What kind of barber’s blocks are required in order that readers may love them?  In real life no one escapes the faults of their qualities, so why should they in fiction?”

2.  “Any writer will agree that narrative in the first person is a most difficult technique to handle.  The method of presentation is in actuality that of drama, though maintaining the appearance of narrative; moreover everything has to be seen not only through the eyes, but through the temperament of the person who is telling the story.  A restraint has to be observed in the emotional passages lest the blight of self-pity appear on the hero.”

3.   ” People read fiction in order to supplement the diet life provides them…It is too well known to need emphasis that readers, reading for emotional compensation, identify themselves with the hero or heroine as the case may be, and for this reason the writers who cater for this class of taste invariably make the protagonist of the opposite sex to themselves the oleographic representation of a wish-fulfilment.  The he-men who write for he-men invariably provide as heroine either a glutinous, synthetic, saccharine creature, and call the result romance, or else combine all the incompatibles in the human character and think they have achieved realism.”

4.  “Equally the lady novelist will provide her readers with such males as never stepped into a pair of trousers; on whom, in fact, trousers would be wasted.”

From Main Text:

5. “The keeping of a diary is usually reckoned a vice in one’s contemporaries  though a virtue in one’s ancestors.”

6. “We read novels as a kind of supplement to daily life.   If you look over the shoulder of the mildest man in the railway carriage, you will find he is reading the bloodiest novel.  The milder the man, the bloodier the novel- and as for maiden ladies-!  Any particular tough-looking individual, with overseas tan still on his skin, is probably reading a gardening paper.”

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 2:31 pm  Comments (25)  
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Dion Fortune’s, “The Sea Priestess”

 

“I am the soundless, boundless, bitter sea;

All things in the end shall come to me.”

 

Violet Mary Firth Evans was born on December 6, 1890 in Llandadno, Wales.  At four years -old, she reported experiencing visions of the lost city of Atlantis. These visions, and the blossoming of psychic abilities, drew her to the occult studies when she was in her twenties. After becoming a member of both The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society, she formed her own esoteric group: Society of the Inner Light.

 

 Born to a family of Christian Scientists whose motto was, “Deo, non Fortuna” (God not chance), Miss Evans chose the pseudonym, Dion Fortune, and set out to transcribe her spiritual beliefs down on paper. Since witchcraft was still illegal in Great Britain, Ms. Fortune hid her magical teachings in the guise of novels. Her most famous, The Sea Priestess, was self-published in 1938.

 

Covering the themes of Hermeticism, reincarnation, and Atlantis, – it concerns Wilfred Maxwell, a bachelor, who is bored of his life tending to the family business and to his interfering mother and sister. Upon becoming afflicted with asthma, Wilfred takes to long bouts in bed. “As I lay there, doped and exhausted and half hypnotized by the moon, I let my mind range beyond time to the beginning. I saw the vast sea of infinite space, indigo-dark in the Night of the Gods; and it seemed to me that in the darkness and silence must be the seed of all being.”  Wilfred spends his nights staring down at the moon and discerning,  “I found that the more I dwelt on her, the more I became conscious of her tides, and all my life began to move with them.”

Soon after, Wilfred meets the cold and mysterious Vivien Le Fay Morgan, who claims to be a Priestess of Isis.  “Little by little, she learnt and built, always handicapped by the fact that the moon-magic requires a partner, and partners were hard to find.“ With the warning that she can never give herself to one man, Vivien enlists Wilfred to help her develop her magical image as a sea-priestess.

Months are spent at an isolated seaside retreat, communing with the sea and the moon. Discovering the hidden works of nature. Isis Veiled and Isis Unveiled.

At one point, Vivien stands looking out over the moonlit sea. Raising her arms, she sings:

“Oh Isis, veiled on earth, but shining clear

In the high heaven now the full moon draws near,

Hear the invoking words, hear and appear-

Shaddai el Chai, and Ea, Binah, Ge.”

 

Just when Wilfred is coming out of his shell, Vivien disappears, leaving him shattered. Time passes and Wilfred begins a tentative romantic relationship with the reserved Molly. He teaches her the rituals, and she blooms, finding her personal power, not as a sea-priestess, but as one of the earth. “There was awakening in her something of the primordial woman, and it was beginning to answer to the need in me.”

 Molly discovers that “All Women are Isis”;Wilfred begins his own relationship with the Priest of the Moon.   As a couple, Wilfred and Molly play out the themes of Hermeticism, and help bring  forth each other’s magical abilities.

Through destruction and sacrifice they are reborn.