This photo. This photo right here led me to an illuminating Sylvia Plath revelation! I was doing, um….. research on Pinterest 😉 and this photo jumped out at me, as I had never seen it before, even though I had been on a year-long Sylvian odyssey. That I chose to click on this pin rather than just pin it and go on my merry way, I will be forever grateful for because it led me to a fantastic book and its brilliant author, Julia Gordon-Bramer.
Along with withholding (or allegedly destroying) one of Plath’s journals after her death in 1963, Plath’s husband, the late English poet laureate Ted Hughes, brought out a version of her second and final book of poems, Ariel, that differed from the manuscript she left on her desk. That edition—for which Hughes dropped 12 poems, added 12 composed a few months later, shifted the poems’ ordering and included an introduction by Robert Lowell—has become a classic. The present edition restores the 12 missing poems, drops the 12 added ones, and prints the manuscript in Plath’s own order, followed by a facsimile of the typescript Plath left, along with a foreword by Plath and Hughes’s daughter Frieda Hughes…
-Publishers Weekly on Ariel: The Restored Edition
…and reveals a previously undiscovered esoteric brilliance hidden within Plath’s poems.
It has never been a secret that Sylvia Plath and her husband Ted Hughes dabbled in the occult and mysticism. Plath wrote of tarot cards, Ouija boards, astrology, crystal gazing, and much more. Hughes’ work has been widely explored in this light, yet in the fifty years since Plath’s death, no one thought to approach her work in this way.
In Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath, volume one, author Julia Gordon-Bramer aligns Plath’s great poetry collection, Ariel, with the tarot and Qabalah opening it up to entirely new—and quite obvious meanings.
This is volume one of Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath, exploring the first 22 poems in Ariel: The Restored Edition, from “Morning Song” through to “The Courage of Shutting-Up,” as they reflect the tarot deck’s major arcana cards. – Amazon.com
Beyond being a Professor and Scholar, Julia is also a Poet and a very talented reader of the Tarot. It’s as if the Universe, in its ever mysterious way, handed this revelation to Julia, rewarding her courage to embrace both the academic and the spiritual, which can be a very rare mixture. To my mind, it is the only combination that could possibly have allowed what Julia has accomplished.
Earth: What do you do to ground yourself & maintain balance?
To ground myself and maintain balance has always been a challenge for me. I’m a fire sign— hyper and prone to change direction in a second. I believe that I use this to my advantage, however: For instance, I am never bored and always have some project going to excite me. When I am writing, I’ll light a candle and sometimes do some breathing and posture work first. When I’m reading tarot for big events full of pressure and emotion, meditation can be important before or after. Also, I have become addicted to Bikram (hot) yoga over the last year; this might be the single most important thing to keep me calm, while honoring both body and spirit.
Air: How do you engage or feed your imagination/intellect?
To feed my imagination and intellect? I read, read, read. Absolutely everything, but especially classic literature, as so much of it fed Sylvia Plath’s intellect, and my scholarship work is often about understanding what she read and thought. When I am not reading, I am usually writing. In addition to my Plath work, I am also a poet and prose writer. My MFA was in both poetry and fiction. I even have a memoir (unpublished) about my years as a music journalist—I have done every kind of writing except sports, which has never held any interest for me.
Fire: What motivates you to keep going, what inspires you?
My motivations? Well, the tarot work just sort of happened on its own. I have read tarot cards since I was 16, it is a part of me. I never set out to be a professional tarot card reader. The interest just kept building, and people kept suggesting I work this party and that and offering to pay me for it. It happened simultaneously as I discovered the Plath work, and I don’t think that is an accident. I think it was always my path, so that I had a work to allow me the freedom to study, write and travel to the Plath archives, readings, and conferences, as I need to. With the Plath work, my motivation is the sheer excitement that I have unlocked a poem. That all the information is right there, tangible and clear for anyone to see, if they want to. That the poems have been misread for fifty or more years. This can be a real struggle—so many people have decided what they believe about Plath beforehand and so they don’t read my work. And who am I? A crazy tarot card reader, right? I think it had to be me because it takes new eyes to see, and everyone in Academia today has been programmed. I’m convinced the word will get out eventually. I try not to be too attached to how I think it must go. There are days I feel very beaten up about Academia and publishing, but I just reset my mind on the fact that I am doing what I love, and I build my case, and I build my case… And somehow, for some reason, she must like me, because she keeps giving me all the answers.
Water: What do you love, what engages your intuitive side?
What do I love? My family, first and foremost. My friends. Connecting with people. What did James Joyce say? “Love loves to love love.” I love my cats, and all animals, really. There is not a living creature on this planet that I can’t feel some love or kinship with. I love nature and I love physical exercise and creativity in all forms. But I also love my work, and I love the charge I get when I help someone, or when I have made a discovery, or written something good. A Course In Miracles says that in all creation, there is only Love or Fear. Nothing else exists. I like how the author Michael Mirdad phrases it: “There is Only Love, and Not Love.” There’s a lot of Not Love going around, but I try not to put my attention on that.
Spirit: What is your personal, spiritual practice. What makes you feel connected to Spirit?
My personal spiritual practice is varied, but as you can see, A Course In Miracles is a part of it. I have gotten very into Buddhism and Qabalah since the Plath work, and that has been miraculous for me on the personal level, as well as the professional one. I taught Humanities for a few years and that opened me up to reading the Tao and learning some about the Hindu and Muslim faiths. I think the most beautiful thing about that was that no matter what the doctrine or cultural preferences, God always boils down to Peace and Love, and we are all one. I have a new close friend who was a minister, and he has brought me back to exploring my Christian roots. Today I read the Bible and I see it as more of a Transcendentalist sort of scripture than I ever did growing up in the Episcopal Church.
Because this topic is especially meaningful to me on many levels, I asked Julia some additional questions:
Which Tarot card do you feel represents Sylvia, and why?
This question is easy: The High Priestess, who is Isis. Plath identified with Isis and her husband Ted Hughes even said she WAS Isis. Many times.
What would your advice be for beginning students of Tarot?
Trust your intuition. The first meaning that comes to you is the one you should go with, no matter what the books tell you. The biggest enemy of intuition is the fear of being wrong (Ego stuff).
Would you please share some of your poetry?
Do you want to be the first to publish one of my unpublished poems?
(I, of course, leapt at this offer!!!)
Buddhist in Exile
By Julia Gordon-Bramer
Emptied of destiny and the critique of my autonomy,
I am happy and dull since the ego fell
out of my holes. A lost audience once suckled
my paps of tragedy, now they move
toward darker, more interesting skies and badder lands,
milking form from all they fear
and passing blame, straining to
preserve the dark television illusion
history presses like a brittle rose
on paper pages, the small thorny
porcelain cream of baby teeth stashed
at the back of the drawer,
a soft lock of hair, or nail
clipped infant bits down the drain.
These are the first parts of the body to die.
Admit it: You like me
It is a flattering
shade against your bright white coat.
Oh, we are all self-
righteous soldiers, martyrs in the mind!
There is no discourse for reality’s madness.
Feel what it is to breathe in and know
inside or out,
above or below,
good or bad, it is all
modes of suffering, we are
brief, and deep, and utterly beautiful.
If you have any interest in Sylvia Plath, Tarot, Qabalah, or the Esoteric in any combination, I highly recommend this book. It has lifted Sylvia from her morose grave to her rightful place, seated between the mighty pillars of Solomon’s Temple.
Julia Gordon-Bramer is a scholar of Sylvia Plath, a professional tarot card reader, and a professor of Creative Writing at Lindenwood University. In 2013, The Riverfront Times voted her St. Louis’ Best Local Poet. Her book, Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath, vol. one, is out now through Stephen F. Austin State University Press and available on Amazon.com. For more information, visit: www.nighttimes.com/tarot.htm or www.fixedstarsgovernalife.com.
Thank you Julia, for your dedication to this endeavor. You have gone beyond the veil and brought back a treasure for us all.