Feb 03 Written by 

Sylvia Plath and the Occult: Interview with Julia Gordon-Bramer

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Julia Gordon-Bramer, poet and prose writer, just published Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath (available through Amazon.com), the first of a two-volume study of occult themes in poet Plath’s Ariel. Julia says, “At 16 I read Plath’s novel The Bell Jar,and her poem ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song,’ printed in the back of my edition. I became fascinated. Almost 30 years later in graduate school, I realized her poetry and prose was full of tarot symbolism. That sealed the deal for me as I’ve been reading tarot cards also since I was 16.”juliaatlillylibrary2014 Gordon-Bramer is pictured at right working at the Lilly Library, University of Indiana-Bloomington, where Plath's papers are archived.

What do you hope to accomplish with this book?

Show the world that Sylvia Plath was a lot more than her personal drama. Because the world has held her in this very narrow perspective, we’ve been reading her wrong for the last 50-plus years. Beyond that, I strive to show the real magic of literature, Plath’s model of a divine order.

What were your best and worst moments while writing this book?

The best are in the discovery: when it all comes together and a poem is clarified. This is usually followed by sheer overwhelm that no one has seen it to date (often, Plath had made her meanings quite obvious, but again, everyone wants to read her only as autobiography). The worst moments have been the backlash. People feel they own Plath, that they have paid their dues to know her better than me. And who am I?, they say. Just this crazy Tarot-card reader. So they expound publicly and privately about how I am wrong, without having read my book.

How will you respond to scholars who have said there is no written evidence that Plath was an occultist?

It’s just not true. If you read the memoirs, letters (published and unpublished) and interviews of her friends and of Ted Hughes, it is all there. Her high school journals and art projects are full of Hermeticism. Her mother studied Paracelsus, the famous alchemist. As an adult, Sylvia Plath was photographed with her crystal ball. She journaled about needing to learn more astrology and to get better at reading tarot cards. She practiced hypnosis and meditative techniques with Hughes. She used bibliomancy to choose her apartment in London. Her Isis poster was prominent in every one of their British residences, and her journals show she identified with Isis. I have evidence of palmistry. Hughes claims her poem, “Dialogue over a Ouija Board” is basically a transcribed Ouija session between the two of them. Plath had been seen collecting nail clippings, hair samples, and chanting over bonfires. She’d taken friends to visit the village witch. Traditional Christian symbolism pervades the Ariel poems. It goes on and on. Hughes’ work has been widely examined for occult themes, and it is amazing to me that Plath has not. She didn’t advertise any of this stuff, of course. She had a professional reputation and young children to think of.

What if your readers aren't familiar with Tarot or Qabalah?

In Fixed Stars Govern a Life, I explain what Tarot and Qabalah are, how Plath’s work fits on these structures, and how this unlocks all the meaning within her poetry.

Why did occultism not save Plath from her final despair? Do you think she knew her own fate?

Occultism is not religion, and it’s certainly not salvation. It’s a pursuit. In its best form, it's a journey of personal growth and self-actualization. Part of this journey is destruction of the ego, the old corrupt self. There is some evidence that Plath had had too much of the physical world and took this destruction literally. There is also a good deal of poetic evidence that she knew her own fate.

Why are there so many avid Plath fans?

She was a contemporary American girl. She wrote from her heart. She was wildly ambitious, pretty, artistic, and incredibly brilliant. She lived for boys, beauty, good food, and lying in the sun as much as she did for literature and truth. We can’t help but love her.

What else would you like to say?

Volume Two is about three-fourths of the way complete. My narrative introduction became its own book, The Magician’s Girl, a biography of Plath and Hughes’ mysticism, complete, and I’m seeking a publisher now. I applied my qabalistic decoding to Plath's early work, and that became another book: Plath’s Early Poems. I published an excerpt of these reinterpretations in Plath Profiles. Their editor told me it was the most exciting thing he’d read on Plath in 30 years. Early Poems is also nearly finished. I have had a very busy seven years of work. To keep up on my projects, please visit www.fixedstarsgovernalife.com. I am the most fortunate person on the planet to have been given all the keys to her kingdom. I really believe that.

9951 Last modified on Friday, 09 February 2018
Catherine Rankovic

Writer, with 30+ years' writing and publishing experience, 20+ years' teaching experience. Last book read: Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton.