Bethlehem Moment 7: H.D. and The Ceremony on Monocacy Creek’s Wunden Eiland

Bethlehem Moment 7
City Council
March 5, 2019

Ed Gallagher 49 W. Greenwich

A Bethlehem Moment: January 17, 1943

On January 17, 1943, Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), known as H.D., Bethlehem native, whose family home, in fact, was on this very spot, world-famous writer, the Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure, was living in London when the German Luftwaffe resumed bombing raids after months of inactivity. H.D. had previously endured nearly one hundred straight days of night bombing we now know as The Blitz – a sustained systematic attempt to break the fighting will of England by inflicting abject terror on its civilians. H.D. was then a middle-aged woman “shattered by fear” as the “tidal-wave of terror” swept over her again, ironically, through bombs possibly made before the war by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. You can imagine what she was thinking. What sense did this brutal war make? Why did she have to go through this bombing again? Hadn’t she endured enough? What madness had gripped her entire world? “I could not visualize civilization other than a Christmas tree that had caught fire,” she felt as the bombs dropped. In this agonized state, H.D. has a vision of a ceremony during the 1740s on Wunden Eiland, the Isle of the Wound, an island in the Monocacy Creek, now gone, down behind the Brethren’s House on Church St. A ceremony of cultural exchange in which the Moravian Anna von Pahlen is initiated into the Native American culture and the Native American Morning Star is baptized Moravian. A ceremony embracing a wisdom that could make “a united brotherhood, a Unitas Fratrum of the whole world” but which the later more conventional Moravians condemned as a scandal and erased from Moravian cultural memory. In H.D.’s vision, though, Anna’s voice is still “pure and silver and clear like a silver trumpet.” The original Moravian possibility of Unitas Fratrum is still there. And H.D.’s subsequent work is marked by the energetic urge to engage and transform world events with a vision of power and peace.

 

H.D., The Gift, New York: New Directions Press, 1982.

H.D. tries to reclaim lost Bethlehem tradition (8)

(8th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” by Lehigh University’s Mary Foltz, TOMORROW Wednesday, March 6, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Here again is the full recording of Prof. Craig Atwood’s lecture on “H.D.’s Moravian Roots in Bethlehem” a week ago.

After a general introduction, Lehigh University Seth Moglen’s introduction to Craig’s lecture begins at min. 4:25, Craig’s lecture itself begins at min. 6:27, and the Q ‘n A session begins at min. 1:05:00.

Gadfly’s been reabsorbing Craig’s lecture in handy slices. In this third and last slice (mins. 40-65), Craig connects H.D. with repressed elements of Zinzindorf’s theology (especially interesting the “Litany of the Wounds” and the feminine nature of his theology), and concludes that H.D. “understood the Moravians had repressed what was central to the founding of Bethlehem and tried to reclaim that mystical tradition in her writings” and that the “Moravians failed because they turned away from this radical theology which she hoped to reclaim in her poetry.”

It is startling to Gadfly to learn how central Bethlehem and the Moravians are to H.D.’s work. H.D. is not just an author born in Bethlehem; Bethlehem is in her.

Again, crank up the audio, and listen along!

Here are Gadfly’s “class notes” on mins. 40-65:

  • all of the repulsive imagery of the bleeding side of Christ was for H.D. the prayer that reaches Heaven because it’s the wounded Christ who restores the balance between masculine and feminine
  • “Island of Wounds” the Wunden Eiland, in the Monocacy creek, believed it was shaped like the side wound of Christ
  • Single Brothers would gather there after dark for singing and other rituals
  • in her autobiographical narrative The Gift, England, where she was living in the early 1940s during the war, becomes the Wunden Eiland
  • The Gift ends with sharing a ritual from 200 years earlier: “The Litany of the Wounds”
  • “Litany of the Wounds” is one of the most controversial parts of Moravian devotion
  • for the Bethlehem Moravians, this was one of their most important liturgical elements
  • a Savior did not conquer but suffered and ruled through love
  • The Wounds liturgy was not sifted, not repressed until the 19th century 020
  • Moravian art puts the side wound of Jesus over the heart
  • in H.D.’s time Moravians are removing all this wound language from their hymns
  • possible that her pastors told her this was pathological nonsense
  • she would have heard it as something whispered about in private
  • wounds are multi-valent religious symbol
  • the wound is a portal into the mind of God, was God opening his heart to the people
  • doorway into mystical union with God
  • security, healing, womb/birth canal, vagina in His side
  • Jesus is a man, but a man with a womb
  • H.D. picks up on all of this – Jesus as androgynous figure
  • echoes of bi-sexuality
  • Zinzendorf was interested in mysticism, union with God as sexual act
  • intercourse is re-enactment of union with God, done with spirit of reverence, that is
  • sacred sex important in Bethlehem
  • sex is good even without procreating children
  • sex not shameful, marriage consummation celebrated
  • first sexual experience a blessing
  • all of the above was what was repressed, but H.D. intuitively saw through it
  • view of Holy Spirit, degenderized
  • feminine aspect to their religion
  • was central to Zinzendorf’s theology
  • something missing that H.D. realized
  • Holy Spirit was a Mother, giver of life
  • repression of Holy Spirit as Mother begins
  • H.D. grasped essence of Zinzendorf in unity of masculine and feminine aspects of divinity and humanity
  • she understood the Moravians had repressed what was central to the founding of Bethlehem and tried to reclaim that mystical tradition in her writings
  • Moravians failed because they turned away from this radical theology which she hoped to reclaim in her poetry

The presence of a “Wunden Eiland” in the Monocacy where the Single Brothers “would gather after dark for singing and other rituals” and the stunning physicality of the “litany of the Wounds” cry out for further elaboration. So — shameless tease — look for a post on these things tomorrow.

And tomorrow night, of course, is Mary Foltz’s lecture. New dimensions to H.D. to learn.

Don’t miss!

H.D.’s “sifted” Moravians (7)

(7th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” by Lehigh University’s Mary Foltz, next Wednesday, March 6, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Here again is the full recording of Prof. Craig Atwood’s lecture on “H.D.’s Moravian Roots in Bethlehem” last Tuesday.

After a general introduction, Lehigh University Seth Moglen’s introduction to Craig’s lecture begins at min. 4:25, Craig’s lecture itself begins at min. 6:27, and the Q ‘n A session begins at min. 1:05:00.

Gadfly is revisiting Craig’s lecture in slices. In the 2nd slice (approx. mins 20 – 40), Craig reviews Moravian history and brings it up to the point of its influence on H.D.

Gadfly is a bit ashamed to say that he doesn’t know as much about the Moravians as he should. But he bets he is not alone. Some of what Craig covered in this 2nd slice of his lecture, we probably know. But for Gadfly key things are new: a radical religion, a controversial religion, the “Sifting Time” in which controversial elements are suppressed, H.D.’s attraction to those original “bad” elements, an island in the Monocacy named “Wunden Eiland,” a suppressed liturgy called “the Litany of the Wounds.”

Fire up the audio, and listen along!

Here are Gadfly’s “class notes” on mins. 20-40:

  • claims to be the oldest Protestant church — 1457
  • originally named the Brotherhood, Unitas Fratrum, destroyed by religious persecution, kept alive by some in exile
  • resurrected at the time of Zinzendorf, first Protestant church that was not an ethnic church
  • founded Herrnhutt, founded a community
  • missionary thrust
  • one of the most controversial movements of the time
  • the first Protestant missionaries to Africans and Native Americans
  • socially egalitarian, gender inclusive, multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-cultural
  • answered William Penn’s call of possibility of religious toleration
  • in Bethlehem created the Moravian ideal community: religious commune
  • members taken care of from the womb to the tomb
  • challenged many of the norms of Western society
  • Aristocrats slept alongside of commoners
  • loved art and music
  • one of the most elevated musical cultures in colonial America 017
  • elaborate worship and rituals, candles, singing (crypto-Catholic)
  • H.D. saw all of this
  • settled down into typical Protestant sect by H.D.’s time but had radical heritage
  • period in 1740s called the “Sifting Time,” period of crisis
  • become conservative evangelicals, anti-Zinzendorf
  • destroyed many of the documents of the time
  • what was sifted naturally intrigued H.D.
  • took things normal for Moravians world-wide and make then unacceptable
  • lot of founding vision is buried: Motherhood of the Holy Spirit, the feminine nature of the human souls, the bloody wounds of Christ, etc.
  • H.D. sees echoes in her current Moravian practice lost on others
  • H.D. rejected thinking of others that certain original beliefs were pathological
  • H.D. believed Moravian spirituality symbolized by the lamb was the heart of Moravianism and true religion, the pacifist Lamb who triumphs despite being killed
  • the other great Moravian symbol is the chalice, the sacred cup, a feminine image
  • H.D. felt that Moravians united masculine and feminine aspects of divinity and  humanity and when this was done war would come to an end
  • the war she knew of was toxic masculinity, and it would only be when men and women discovered their masculine and feminine natures together that war would end
  • all of the repulsive imagery of the bleeding side of Christ was for H.D. the prayer that reaches Heaven because it’s the wounded Christ who restores the balance between masculine and feminine
  • “Island of Wounds” the Wunden Eiland, in the Monocacy creek, believed it was shaped like the side wound of Christ
  • Single Brothers would gather there after dark for singing and other rituals
  • in her autobiographical narrative The Gift, England, where she was living in the early 1940s during the war, becomes the Wunden Eiland
  • The Gift ends with sharing a ritual from 200 years earlier: “The Litany of the Wounds”

Craig Atwood’s work on the Moravians and H.D.: “a gift to our city” (6)

(6th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” by Lehigh University’s Mary Foltz, Wednesday, March 6, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Here is the full recording of Prof. Craig Atwood’s lecture on “H.D.’s Moravian Roots in Bethlehem” last Tuesday. Gadfly followers know that we always go first to the primary Craig Atwoodsource, so take advantage to refresh yourself if you attended or to listen anew if you didn’t. But below as well over the next post or two, Gadfly will present pieces of Craig’s lecture with some soundbites.

After a general introduction, Lehigh University Seth Moglen’s introduction to Craig’s lecture begins at min. 4:25, Craig’s lecture itself begins at min. 6:27, and the Q ‘n A session begins at min. 1:05:00.

Seth introduced Craig as “one of the foremost scholars of the Moravian Church . . . and especially of the men and women who created this extraordinary community here in Bethlehem . . . author of [the must-read] Community of the Cross. . . . . Craig’s work really matters for this community. We as a city are extraordinarily blessed to have somebody who has devoted decades of patient, careful, precise, fastidious scholarship to the exploration of what really happened at the start of this community . . . a gift to our city.”

Craig:

“How did I first learn about H.D.? Because a classmate in grad school accosted me in the dining room one day, he was a big Ezra Pound fan . . . ‘is it true the Moravians used to worship the bloody side wound of Jesus and wanted to crawl inside the side wound?’ Well, yes. . . . [I was] translating The Litany of the Wounds, one of the more controversial Moravian liturgical pieces.”

Have you ever heard of The Litany of the Wounds? I need to know more!

“What makes [H.D.] so interesting for me is she does leave her home town but she never stops thinking about it, writing about it, and later in her career she focuses quite a bit of research on the Moravians in Bethlehem.”

“Her mother was Helen Wolle, and the Wolle family is one of the most important Moravian families in the history of Bethlehem, especially in the 19th century and especially in Bethlehem’s musical culture. So H.D. was aware of this rich Moravian heritage of music and hymnody, and some of the hymns the Moravians no longer sing, she knew. She participated actively in the rituals of the Central Moravian Church. . . . She had some of her visions and experiences in worship. . . . Her grandmother is one of the major ones communicating this Moravian heritage, which included the Moravian heritage of strong female leaders, strong female missionaries to Native Americans. . . . As far as I can tell, it was her psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud that led her to re-examine her Moravian background. She was convinced that her gift came from this Moravian heritage.”

Here’s an example of her gift in practice. H.D. has a vision of the Moravian past in one of the final paragraphs of her autobiographical work The Gift, written during and written about living in London during the great bombings of World War II – the Blitz — the first systematic, sustained bombing of civilians in world history. (Listen beginning min. 13:35)

H.D. Renatus

Craig explains:

“Paul [“in a glass darkly”] was referring to our current situation of not being able to see the ultimate reality clearly because our perspective is distorted by our earthly limits. Paul says that one day we will see God face-to-face . . . we do not fully know ourselves until we have this experience. And H.D. is turning that around and says the experience of war and death that she is seeing in London means that her generation was already facing ultimate reality.”

“[H.D.] imagines Christian Renatus [the son of Zinzendorf, who died in London and was buried not far from where she was having this vision] with other Moravian leaders and the Single Brothers in her hometown of Bethlehem on Sand Island, which was called the Isle of Wounds.”

There was an island here called the Isle of Wounds????

“Why would she have this vision of this dead person singing to the wounds of Christ in a place he never visited? Why would a poet . . . be at this time of her life looking to one of the most controversial Christian groups for inspiration? The simple answer is that H.D. became convinced that her own Gnostic religious ideas, her mystical experiences, her poetic gifts, her prophetic gifts were rooted in an esoteric spirituality of Zinzendorf and the Moravians in Bethlehem in the middle of the 18th century. She embraced some of the most controversial aspects of Zinzendorfianism, which the Church in her day had suppressed. But she could hear the echoes of it . . . and always had the feeling the Church was hiding something from her.”

Pretty damned interesting, no?!

Stay tuned for another slice of Craig’s lecture.

Remember: The next event in this year-long series is “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” by Lehigh University’s Mary Foltz, Wednesday, March 6, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Bethlehem’s H.D.: intense feminist commitment (5)

(5th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event is TOMORROW: “H.D.’s Moravian Roots in Bethlehem” by Moravian’s Craig Atwood, Tuesday, February 26, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

In this 5th slice of Prof Seth Moglen’s January 30 “How I Fell in Love with H.D.” lecture at the BAPL in the FINDING H.D. series let’s stick with the poetry.

In this brief excerpt, Seth talks about and reads H.D.’s “Helen” (1924). Yes, that would be “the” Helen, “the face that launched a thousand ships” in the Trojan War.

“Helen”

All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the lustre as of olives
where she stands,
and the white hands.

All Greece reviles
the wan face when she smiles,
hating it deeper still
when it grows wan and white,
remembering past enchantments
and past ills.

Greece sees, unmoved,
God’s daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees,
could love indeed the maid,
only if she were laid,
white ash amid funereal cypresses.

Almost all of H.D.’s corpus is animated by an intense feminist commitment to the empowerment of women and to women claiming their voices in patriarchal cultures which over centuries and millennia had silenced women. . . . H.D. was able to understand that male dominance in Western society had been hundreds or thousands of years in the making but could still be transformed. . . . [H.D.’s poetry is ] an effort to think the long history of male dominance and question what it would take to shape or challenge it. (Seth Moglen)

“Helen” takes as its subject the woman who has been the literary and mythic symbol of sexual beauty and illicit love in western culture. Much has been written about her, but H.D. 2H.D.’s poem does something new: it implicitly attacks the traditional imagery of Helen and implies that such perspectives have silenced Helen’s own voice. (Susan Stanford Friedman)

H.D. implies that the beautiful woman is always hated by the culture which pretends to adore her beauty and that the only good beauty, so far as patriarchal culture is concerned, is a dead one. . . .  the poet now announces that Helen of Troy, our culture’s archetypal woman-as-erotic object, was actually a male-generated illusion, a “phantom,” and that “the Greeks and the Trojans alike fought for an illusion.” (Alicia Suskin Ostriker)

H.D. presents the title-character in the poem “Helen” as a suffering madonna victimized by the Greeks. (Thomas Burnett Swann)

[Helen] is seen as a woman who suffers for her beauty and is forced to endure the hostile glances of those who blame her for causing the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. (William Pratt)

This is your promised reminder! The next event in the year-long series is “H.D.’s Moravian Roots in Bethlehem” by Moravian’s Craig Atwood, TOMORROW, Tuesday, February 26, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.