Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Brief History of The Pagan Sphinx

It's been a year since I started The Pagan Sphinx and I've never truly discussed how I arrived at the name. So, what exactly, do Emily Dickinson and William Bouguereau have in common?

I've long thought of myself as a sort of pagan, in the sense that I tend by nature to be a person who doubts the existence of god but who does not discount it altogether. An agnostic you say? Perhaps. But that sounds sort of cold to me for some reason.

I have also long been a fan of Emily Dickinson. Not only of her poetry but of the woman herself; so much of whom is shrouded in mystery; with the exception of her poems and letters. One day, as I was doing a search on her poems and letters on the net, I came upon this article by Gary Sloan, from which I've copied the following passage:

Dickinson's enigmatic nature shrouds her evolution from Christian manqué to pagan. She had histrionic propensities that obscure the line between her true beliefs and those she feigned. Intermittently in her 1,775 poems and nearly 1,100 extant letters (many poems were incorporated into the letters), she struck poses and adopted personas. "When I state myself as the Representative of my verse," she told Higginson, "it does not mean me but a supposed person." In early professions of impiety, she had a penchant for hyperbole and self-dramatization that render her claims hard to evaluate. Later, an authentic infidel, she accommodated orthodox sensibilities. Long after she had chucked belief in a hereafter, she continued to quote promissory biblical verses to assure bereaved relatives and neighbors they would be reunited with their deceased loved ones. When she was herself bereaved, she accepted the ministrations of clergymen. She even solicited platitudes on immortality, plucking at a twig of evidence.

In essence, Emily doubted, as I do; as many of us do. And Professor Sloan: if you ever read this, I would like you to know how much I enjoyed your article and how what you wrote about Emily Dickinson has helped to enrich my appreciation of her. Because Emily Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, which is practically my backyard, I have an even more special reverence for her persona(s), her work and her life. Visiting the Dickinson museum has become an annual Spring pilgrimage for me. I eargerly await April when the tulips in Emiy's garden (or so I like to pretend it's still her garden) are in full bloom.

That's the history of the title of The Pagan Sphinx. Then there is the matter of the blog header. I think of this painting by Beaugereau on several levels. Firstly, it's a beautiful painting. It's also playful, pagan-like and the all-time favorite of a once five year old SG1, who upon her second or so visit to its home, the Clark Art Institute, begged for the refrigerator magnet of the painting and insisted on taking it to school for show and tell one week. And that event, of course, was only slightly marred by the ridicicule of the other kindergartners. My very loving and lovely daughter recently said to me: "See, Mommy, I had a thing for curvy women, even back then!".

And this painting is huge. See the photo of the room where it hangs in the museaum; taken by yours truly. It is with regret that I never took pictures of my children on all the family visits we made there. But it's not too late. I am planning such a trip this summer, when both girls are done with school. In fact, SG1 will be a college graduate and spending time with her parents and sister before she heads off to Santa Barbara with her Beloved. Lots of pictures, I promise myself!

I've thought a few times of changing the blog header but I'm not ready. Just like SG1's inevitable moving on to a new life, I'm still hanging on. One day, when the time feels right, I may change it. Meanwhile, I'm still very much attached to it.

That, my friends, is a brief history of The Pagan Sphinx and those nude ladies dragging the naughty satyr into the pond. I swear, I could make up so many stories about that painting, were it not for the permanent writer's block...


  1. Permanent writer's block? Say it isn't so!

    Thanks for the story; it is interesting to know how you came to it all. Thanks for the fist year - and I wish you many more.

  2. Good to know!

    I always loved Emily, andnow I have more reasons to.... and I realize that I should really learn more about her.

    Thank you for the link to the article, looking forward to it.

  3. This was a delight to read as it drew all the pieces into focus to make the puzzle complete.


    Because the puzzle always shifts and changes, doesn't it?

  4. I agree with Lisa, this was, indeed, a joy to read and made all the pieces fit. And each of our puzzles do indeed shift and change from day to day to year to year. Always enjoy your posts. By the way I have signed the Prop 8 protest.

  5. I'm very attached to the header too - I smile each time it opens

    Nana used to lovingly call me a pagan when I was just a child - and we both know how smart she was :)

  6. It is nice to know how it came about. And the perfect way to celebrate your blogaversary.
    I wouldn't call myself a pagan, but I have been quite sure for a long time that there is much we do not know and are not meant to know. And I like it that way. Religion is a security blanket, and we each devise our own, no matter what name we give it.

  7. how lovely to see into all these new little windows of your life! and I too love emily! and of course, it's HER garden~they wouldn't DARE change it!

    love the story of your dear little girl taking the nudes to kindergarten~teacher must have just loved that one!!

  8. i thoroughly enjoyed reading this has given me much more insight into you and your inner self. thanks.

  9. Thank you, Gina. Always good to "flesh out" a blogger---you, in particular! :-)

  10. It hardly seems like a whole year has gone by, does it? I'm glad you're here and happy we're friends.

  11. It's interesting for me to read about the ambiguities of belief in others. I began squirming free of the fundamental religion I was raised in when I was twelve and finally escaped at seventeen. But no matter how much scorn I have for organized religion, I've never doubted for a moment that God exists in some form.

    I don't believe for an instant the claims of any human who tries to explain God to me, but at the same time, I can't understand how someone can look at a sunrise or a baby and deny that God exists.

    This drawing (by Steve over at Color Sweet Tooth) pretty much nails it for me.

  12. Hi. Thanks for dropping by my blog. It's always nice to meet new bloggers :)

    Your attitude to belief pretty much mirrors mine. I rejected organised religion at an early age and as I have matured I have conceded the need for doubt to my earlier atheism. It just seems hollow to believe in nothing and yet, as you agnostic does not sum up my attitude to how I feel now.

    I like the picture in your heading very much :) Hope to 'see' you again soon!

  13. Alex: your comments are thoughtful. It makes me to know a little more about you. But you most welcome to keep commenting, of course. :-)

    Susan: I'm very happy to call you a blog friend. You've enriched my life. Truly. It's so lucky for us who love you that you share your beautiful spirit through your work, with us.

    Linda: interesting that you mention my "dear little girl". One of the things that made me feel instantly at home visiting your blog were some of the comments from your own dear daughter. So loving and supportive. I'm so glad that I get to see what you paint and how and's really a pleasure, Linda.

    More comments in a moment.

  14. I feel as if I've left a hole in my thinking about being a "sort of pagan". I feel connected to the earth, water and sky. To humanity. To things being a whole; interdependent. I believe that this awareness calls for a heart that recognizes its specialness. I try to have such a heart. I don't know what that makes me! It perhaps doesn't matter. But I still like the blog name for the reasons I explained!

    Thank you all for being patient with my ruminations. It means a lot to me.

  15. JCF: yes. and I have to lecture you on that because you need a blog to flesh yourself out with! :-)

    Dianne: I love that they're frolicking. It makes me happy too. I could get used to this! I wasn't always a happy person, ya know!

    Sylvia and Lisa: Yes. So right. We're constantly shifting. If only, for example, I had known some things that I now know; I'd of been a whole lot happier. But honestly, I don't like it when I slip and say things like that - yet, at times I do and since my fingers can fly pretty fast over a keyboard, it is a slip of sorts. Thank you so much Sylvia - you of the beatiful Washington skies. I love your pictures!

    Bobbie: I know exactly what you mean. I'm fine with not knowing everything. Some things deserve their mysteries.

    Soulbrush: I'm glad you came by for this one!

    Kay: I'm so glad we've met. I'm liking getting to know you!

    Kenju (of the miniature blog): thanks for the warm wishes. One of these days I hope blogger will inflate your blog for me. I'm still considering this a blog mystery. :-p

  16. Your header brings back such special memories - how proud we were (and are!) of our little Art Appreciators!

    Thanks for revisiting this, Gina.

    And what a wonderful year of hearing your voice, even as mine has dissipated into the mists!

    Happy Anniversary, Gurrrl. ;)

  17. Dear Pagan,

    This was a delight to read. What fun to know a little more about your blog title, header, and family. I loved best that comment of SG1 about having a thing about curvy women... I can picture your beautiful daughter-in-law participating in the satyr dunking, adding her laughter to the others.

    I have the privilege of discussing religion and hundreds of other topics with Alex, who kicks my ass at nine ball on a regular basis, while we share some dark and interesting beer.

  18. This is so cool. I love knowing more about you and how you think. And your daughter about the "curvy women"? LMFAO!

  19. CR: uh-huh. Nice memories. You were always game for art!

    Steve: If Alex is a friend of yours, then he's doubly welcome here!

    And yes, the girls are a very fun and playful couple. Their happiness is so contagious. Thanks, Steve, for lending your voice to my comments. It's always a pleasure to hear from you.

    Thorne: hey! So glad you stopped by. Isn't that just so cute about my daughter and her love for that painting as a little girl? It's just one of those things that I will never forget; always a corner in my heart for it.


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