The Power of Gentians

Dark, shadowy, little understood; the Hadeans, even under the most intense scrutiny, give away almost nothing of their true nature. Pluto, the best known of the Triumvirate of the Underworld, is so fundamentally dimensioned that despite countless studies and analyses, we cannot ever be sure if we have truly burrowed to his dark essence. Like the moles of his domain, we strain the blind senses to glean some of his hidden truth and esoteric meaning, but we are still never truly confident that we have understood. His magisterial shadows are too pitch. His seismic growl, too profound. This is the nature of Hades. Mysterious, fundamental, terrifying. But also rewarding.

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Rewarding because Pluto is the death of form and attachment. Unrealised Pluto is characterised by insatiability. No amount is ever enough. Hence Plutocrats never cease in their quest to amass greater and more superfluous wealth. Serial philanderers never sate their appetite for sexual conquest. For unrealised Pluto, a little control will not suffice. All of these dark appetites are insatiable, thus those in Pluto’s thrall are slaves to their appetites. They destroy their inner harmony, and that of those around them, through their compulsive quest for satisfaction, and yet they cannot be satisfied. The Plutocrat’s wealth does not soothe his restless discontent. He grasps and plots and lives in misery. The compulsively promiscuous do not bask in the warm afterglow of intimacy. They are already craning their necks to spy the next target of their cold attachment. The control-freak, having got her way, does not relax into quietude. She raises the pitch and having secured one concession demands another. None of these unhappy individuals, for all their successes and victories are ever in a state of appreciative reward. Feeding their appetite is never gratifying. It is at best a momentary relief, akin to walking around for an hour in shoes that are a size too small with the sole, illogical motivation of taking them off in order that they might experience the cessation of continual, cramping discomfort. And after a moment of blessed relief, they go back on.

Pluto transformed however, kills attachment. And therein is the true reward. The ability to ‘let go and let God’ is Pluto’s greatest and most hard-won gift. This is the Hadean reward.

Attachment, in all its forms, to the material, to outcomes, to our very lives is the Hadean arena, and to contend with attachment is to do battle with the dread Lord Hades himself.

D.H. Lawrence knew Hades:

Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto’s gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps give off light,
lead me then, lead me the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness,
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendour of torches of darkness, shedding
darkness on the lost bride and her groom.

Perhaps it is only in the realm of poetry that we can truly grapple with the Hadean element with prescience, for it is here that the indescribable can be apportioned, fleshed out, dissected. Lawrence wrote a later version of this poem which contained a decidedly steamier final stanza:

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
down the way Persephone goes, just now, in first-frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is married to dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice, as a bride
a gloom invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms of Pluto as he ravishes her once again
and pierces her once more with his passion of the utter dark
among the splendour of black-blue torches, shedding
fathomless darkness on the nuptials.

This is possibly the finest modern work of poetry on the fundamental quality of Hades that we know. The insights are not stark, nor are they cerebral. Instead, they are sensual, osmotic. What is also interesting is that Lawrence originally titled this work “Glory of Darkness”, and he wrote it knowing that he would, one day soon, die of the tuberculosis which had plagued him for much of his life [1].

The poet William Bryant understood the underlying spiritual message of gentians:

Thou waitest late and com’st alone,
When woods are bare and birds are flown,
And frost and shortening days portend,
The aged year is near his end…

…I would that thus when I shall see
The hour of death draw near to me…

So we see that there are motifs that reflect in their very being the fundamental truth of a thing. The power of Hades is too subtle, too profound, too deep to be captured in the mind. Consciousness has no intellectualising paradigm for the shadow. But the simplest device can encapsulate this strange essence, a gentian for example[2], and effortlessly portray a meaning that words and thoughts flounder around and fail.

So understanding this, we can begin to raise up a mechanism, a scrying device which will allow us to glimpse through a shadowy, enriching lens, the deepest workings of our human soul. And seeing the tumblers and levers laid bare, we are gifted the method of shamans and witches, and can at last begin to transmute the spirit within.

That is the power of gentians.

He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough – Lao Tzu.


[1] The Last Poems of D.H.Lawrence: Shaping a Late Style. Dr. Bethan Jones, Ashgate 2010 p.37

[2] The gentian violet was named for Gentius, King of Illyria, who used the flower in a tonic to battle depression.