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A World More Numinous

A reader asked me, "How much of Patton's beliefs in Wind Raker are true?" I had posted about this on my private journal when I was working on Wind Raker, so here's my best answer -- all of his beliefs as presented in Wind Raker are as far as I know absolutely true. But this is certainly not the first time I've used them.

Here is the jumping off point -- what if everything he believed about himself and about his past lives were literally true? Not delusions, not metaphors. What if he were actually right about his own experiences?

So what did he say? Let's start with the poem he wrote in which he addresses it all most directly and take a look at a world more numinous.

He begins by simply laying it out:

Through the travail of the ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.

In the form of many people
In all panoplies of time
Have I seen the luring vision
Of the Victory Maid, sublime.

He has been here many times as a warrior, and he belongs to no one people, to no particular race or ethnicity or country or time.

I have battled for fresh mammoth,
I have warred for pastures new,
I have listed to the whispers
When the race trek instinct grew.

This began unimaginably long ago, in the shadows of the last Ice Age. That's where the story begins, where his existence begins as himself.

I have known the call to battle
In each changeless changing shape
From the high souled voice of conscience
To the beastly lust for rape.

I have sinned and I have suffered,
Played the hero and the knave;
Fought for belly, shame, or country,
And for each have found a grave.

And what has he fought for? Nearly everything. He's fought for causes good and ill. He's fought for conscience and for rape. All these are parts of himself, accepted and understood.

Is he paraphrasing W.B. Yeats in the second verse? “One should say before sleeping: I have lived many lives. I have been a slave and a prince. Many a beloved has sat upon my knee and I have sat upon the knees of many a beloved. Everything that has been shall be again.” -- W.B. Yeats

Yeats is 20 years his senior and he is certainly aware of Yeats's work. And of course Yeats is an active member of The Golden Dawn, the ultimate Lodge of the era. But returning to George:

I cannot name my battles
For the visions are not clear,
Yet, I see the twisted faces
And I feel the rending spear.

He explains that he can't put names to everything. It doesn't work that way for him. His memories are out of context.

Perhaps I stabbed our Savior
In His sacred helpless side.
Yet, I've called His name in blessing
When after times I died.

In Medieval Christian mystery traditions, Longinus is the name given to the soldier who stabbed Christ in the side on the cross, though he is never named in the gospels, nor is there any further mention of him. However, the legend says that Longinus became a convert and a saint, though this interpretation is decidedly Medieval rather than contemporary with the actual crucifixion.

It is also worth noting that the Spear of Longinus is the archetypical Sacred Lance of the Grail saga. A Roman spear point known as the Spear of Longinus made up part of the coronation regalia of the Holy Roman Empire possibly from the time of Charlemagne himself until Napoleon's dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. This spear point, along with the rest of the coronation regalia, was lost during World War II when Hitler had it removed and hidden during the last days of the war in Europe. It was found by a young art historian put on its trail by (wait for it) George Patton, and has been returned to the museum in Vienna which housed it.

In the dimness of the shadows
Where we hairy heathens warred,
I can taste in thought the lifeblood;
We used teeth before the sword.

And now we return to a more or less chronological rendering of his specific memories, the first again in the stone age.

While in later clearer vision
I can sense the coppery sweat,
Feel the pikes grow wet and slippery
When our Phalanx, Cyrus met.

Hear the rattle of the harness
Where the Persian darts bounced clear,
See their chariots wheel in panic
From the Hoplite's leveled spear.

One biographer has suggested this is supposed to be the Battle of Cannae, but that doesn't make a lick of sense. Another has said this is the Three Hundred Spartans, which makes even less sense, as there are no chariots at Thermopylae and the Persian Great King is Xerxes, not Cyrus.

I think this is very clearly Cunaxa, fought in 401 BC between two claimants for the Persian throne, Cyrus and Artaxerxes. This battle is notable for the participation of the Greek mercenary soldier Xenophon, whose accounts of the battle and its aftermath form the body of his book, the Anabasis. (He is also the author of On Horsemanship, the first cavalry manual extant, and a major source for the horsemanship in Stealing Fire.) Cunaxa is much less well known today than Cannae or Thermopylae because it was fought between two Persian factions. Is he Xenophon or one of his men? The poem does not indicate. (Readers of The Emperor's Agent will also notice that this is the wargames battle that Michel blows when he's distracted by Elza's arrival.)

See the goal grow monthly longer,
Reaching for the walls of Tyre.
Hear the crash of tons of granite,
Smell the quenchless eastern fire.

First of all, there's a problem here. Harry Semmes, the first biographer to have access to these papers and the original publisher of the poem in his 1955 panegyric Portrait of Patton, can't read his handwriting. The word appears to be "gole" which he has corrected to "goal." Now, perhaps Patton can't spell -- that's entirely possible, given that he was severely dyslexic and had learning disabilities that would today probably be diagnosed as ADHD and would certainly keep him out of West Point. But I think the word is not "goal" but "mole," which makes far more sense in context. A goal does not grow longer. A mole does, especially when it's "reaching for" walls to allow them to be besieged!

So who took Tyre by siege with a mole? Alexander the Great in 332 BC. The granite walls of Tyre were indeed brought down, along with the Temple of Marduk, which practiced human sacrifice by immolation.

Still more clearly as a Roman,
Can I see the Legion close,
As our third rank moved in forward
And the short sword found our foes.

Once again I feel the anguish
Of that blistering treeless plain
When the Parthian showered death bolts,
And our discipline was in vain.

I remember all the suffering
Of those arrows in my neck.
Yet, I stabbed a grinning savage
As I died upon my back.

Carrhae in 53 BC is possible, when a Roman army under Marcus Crassus was destroyed by the Persian general Surena. However, the end of that battle was fought at night and the legions were finally broken by cataphracts, heavy cavalry, not by horse archers.

There is of course Marcus Antonius's Parthian adventure that ended disastrously, but that involved a river and the middle of winter. There are also Trajan and Hadrian's battles with Parthia later on, as well as Septimus Severus's conquest all the way to Babylon.

Ultimately, I don't think this bit gives us enough to make a sure identification.

Once again I smell the heat sparks
When my Flemish plate gave way
And the lance ripped through my entrails
As on Crecy's field I lay.

And now we make a massive leap forward to the Hundred Years War! Crecy was fought in 1346 between the English and the French. Characteristically, he doesn't see any need to report which side he was on. It doesn't matter. He's fought for and against almost everyone.

In the windless, blinding stillness
Of the glittering tropic sea
I can see the bubbles rising
Where we set the captives free.

Midst the spume of half a tempest
I have heard the bulwarks go
When the crashing, point blank round shot
Sent destruction to our foe.

I have fought with gun and cutlass
On the red and slippery deck
With all Hell aflame within me
And a rope around my neck.

Now we are in the age of sail, of privateers and pirates, a man with a rope around his neck who expects or deserves hanging. The lines about the captives are especially interesting, given a bit he had in a different story about a pirate attack on a slave ship, the Middle Passage interrupted. Did "the captives" take their revenge on their captors? Or was this simply pirate cruelty? The gun marks this as at least the late seventeenth-early eighteenth century. There's no way you'd keep a matchlock or wheel lock alight "midst the spume of half a tempest!" This is most likely an early eighteenth century piece, especially given the context for the next section.

And still later as a General
Have I galloped with Murat
When we laughed at death and numbers
Trusting in the Emperor's Star.

Till at last our star faded,
And we shouted to our doom
Where the sunken road of Ohein
Closed us in it's quivering gloom.

We have arrived at the Age of Napoleon, and which side he's on here is obvious -- he is following the Emperor's Star. During World War II, at one point when he laid out a battle plan for a group of Allied commanders British Air Marshal Alexander complimented it, saying, "Well done, George! You'd have made a wonderful marshal for Napoleon if you'd lived in the eighteenth century." Patton smiled and replied cheerfully, "Thank you. I did."

Ohein is an eighteenth century spelling for Ohain, a tiny town in Belgium noted only because it is the destination of one of the four roads at Quatre Bras, a battle in the Waterloo campaign that may have sealed France's fate. There is only one Marshal at Quatre Bras, Michel Ney.

So but now with Tanks a'clatter
Have I waddled on the foe
Belching death at twenty paces,
By the star shell's ghastly glow.

We have reached the present, his own lifetime as a twentieth century tank commander. But that is not the end.

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o'er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.

This body will die, this lifetime end as it always does, but he will return once again fulfilling his role, unmistakably himself. He does not pretend to understand why, or what ultimate purposes he serves, but he is as he was created, a man who works in the slaughterhouse, and there is no error in it. The world is a numinous place, and it is all real.

This is what I hoped to convey in those chapters in Wind Raker. What do you think, my friends?



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 22nd, 2015 11:14 pm (UTC)
That's a wonderful tidbit. I had no idea Patton wrote poetry. Was this an isolated example, or is there more?

The style made me think, just a bit,of some of Robert E. Howard's work.

While it doesn't make for quite such a fun story, the parts that don't have a clear historical identification might just be lives in which he didn't live and die as a person of historical significance.
Sep. 23rd, 2015 11:29 am (UTC)
He wrote quite a lot of poetry from childhood on, and some prose of which the only published bit is his memoir of World War II, War as I Knew It, which was heavily edited and put together by Beatrice because of his sudden death. Some bits of poetry:

This one is an effort in his early 20s for Beatrice, a middle verse:

Perhaps by future hidden
Some greatness waits in store
If so, the hopes your praise to gain
Shall make my efforts more.

For victory, apart from you
Would be an empty gain
A laurel crown you could not share
Would be reward in vain.

His poetry changed after the first World War, becoming, like that of his whole generation, dark and full of death, though he was not as long at the front as some. And like his contemporary JRR Tolkien (they are almost precisely the same age), he turns toward old stories and old gods.

In the valley of the slaughter where the winged Valkyrie dwell
And the souls of men go naked to their God
I have seen the curtain parted, I have glimpsed the flinty trail
The final road the spirits have all trod.

By the late 20s he was picking up again, and offers this poem narrated by a mercenary of the 17th century:

I am no callow Christian
No pus-paunched prelate I.
I hope not for salvation
Nor fear the day I'll die....

I love the smell of horse dung
The sight of corpse-strewn mud,
The sound of steel on armour
The feel of clotting blood....

Priests talk of soul's salvation,
And shining lights afar,
But give me a harlot's laughter
And the battle flash of war.

I agree that the parts that aren't easily identifiable are because the person isn't known. Yes, absolutely. I think that's the case with most of them. Crecy, certainly. The pirate. The Roman vs Parthian one. I think Michel Ney is one of the few identifiable ones. But of course to Patton he's the most recent.

And there's Pelley's plot, of course. There's about the same distance between them and the Napoleonic Wars as between us and them! Finding correspondences is easy. (And still is to some extent. I have an original letter written by Ida St. Elme (Elza), the actual letter in her handwriting and her ink on her paper. I have one of Beatrice's too.) So I think in an esoteric sense it's more likely to focus on the recent and clear.

What do you think of all this? I'm very interested to know.
Sep. 25th, 2015 10:42 pm (UTC)
The bit you just quotes there reminds me even more of Howard.

"Who would trade for a bloodless heaven,
One fierce harlot's hot caress?
Virtue is one, but the sins be seven,
And sin is the only goodliness."
(from Empire: A Song for All Exiles)

With respect to more recent lives being clearer, that probably makes sense. We generally have an easier time remembering what happened last year than 20 years ago. But on the other hand, you can also argue that older ones might be stronger, drawing an analogy with the way older people with memory disorders often have perfect recall of their youth, but can't remember what they did last week. Memory is a very odd thing in our current lives, and it's probably no less odd when it gets involved in dredging up information from the past. Whatever we get, will be processed and filtered through our current consciousness, and it may be very selective.
Sep. 23rd, 2015 01:40 am (UTC)
Now I want to read Wind Raker again. :-)
Sep. 23rd, 2015 11:30 am (UTC)
You could! I'd love to hear what you think of this -- it was a fascinating and challenging portrayal.
Sep. 23rd, 2015 01:11 pm (UTC)
Your writing has challenged unthinking impressions I'd had: I had a vague idea that Patton was a nut with a huge ego, and a more definite idea that the French Revolution was a mob and a mess (more detailed that that, but what you'd imagine from just reading British POV of the time) and that Napoleon was just ego and charisma. Your Ida/Elza books have given me a whole new view of those times and the people. I'm not convinced about reincarnation, but your work has made me take the idea more seriously, and the people who believe in it more seriously. It may be odd that magic seems more real to me than reincarnation. Anyway, Beatrice comes through clearly for me in her two appearances (two books so far) and I can see the connections going back. Patton still seems a bit distant; maybe it's just harder for me to grasp his current (in the books) playboy personality who's still a military genius. But I'm very interested in whatever you share on him here and in your books.
Sep. 23rd, 2015 06:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! That makes me feel wonderful! :)

He's definitely harder to get a grasp on than she is, and I think that's because he's full of contradictions. Whether one believes in reincarnation or not, the late 19th-early 20th century is just a hideous place for someone with his temperament. Edwardian repression and the ideal of masculinity at the time are so at odds with his personality that it's very hard for him to achieve in the world without killing parts of himself. His daughter Ruth said that he, "was the kindest man that ever lived, and he spent a great deal of his life trying not to show it -- he thought it was a sign of weakness. Animals, dogs, old ladies and little children adored him. His mother-in-law had his picture on her dressing table -- I have it now on mine -- and across the back of it is written in her hand, "The bravest are the tenderest; the loving are the daring.""

And of course many things that were perfectly socially acceptable in Michel's time (whether or not they're the same person) are completely out of bounds in the early 20th century, like being non-monogamous. Which bites both ways for Beatrice/Elza, doesn't it? The price of being a wife, being a respectable person, is having to cut off parts of herself. She really, really pushes it as far as she can without killing his career when she publishes the (steamy for then) Blood of the Shark about an interracial relationship!
Sep. 23rd, 2015 02:12 pm (UTC)
Oh. Oh.

Did you know about this poem early in the Numinous World development? It fits a lot of pieces together that I'd wondered about, and I haven't even read the 20th century books yet. (I have them, I just haven't gotten around to them.)
Sep. 23rd, 2015 06:11 pm (UTC)
Yes, I've known the poem since I was eleven or twelve. Someone else commented before that the next to the last stanza paraphrases what Michel says to Elza in The General's Mistress, the lines about "and given the slaughters to which I aspire, I can only say that He delights in it." It's actually the other way around. I wrote Michel's scene to paraphrase the poem.

It does fit a lot of pieces together, doesn't it? Though the Numinous World books are following Gull, not Neas, and they're certainly not always in the same place. (or on the same side) There won't be a Numinous World book that covers Cunaxa, for example, because Gull is nowhere near it.

The 20th century books are a bit different! :) The analogy Melissa and I used is that if the Numinous World books are the Lord of the Rings as told by Eowyn and Faramir, the Order of the Air are the Lord of the Rings as told by Merry and Pippin. The characters in the Order of the Air are not oathbound Companions with long karmic ties. They're people who choose to get involved. They're regular people who have decided that they want to make the world a better place. They're more accessible, in some ways. It's not until the fourth book, Wind Raker, that they really collide with the long plot threads of the Numinous World. This scene that I put up a while ago is one of the key ones, in which Pelley (the villain) talks to Stasi.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )