Book Cover for The Occult Sylvia Plath by Julia Gordon Bramer
Reviews

Book Review: The Occult Sylvia Plath – The Hidden Spiritual Life of the Visionary Poet by Julia Gordon-Bramer

By: Kimberly Anne

Thank you to paganpages.org, Julia Gordon-Bramer (for this wonderful book) and to the publisher Destinybooks.com! And of course, the always beloved – Sylvia Plath.

By delving into Sylvia Plath’s obscure interests and how they shaped her work, Julia Gordon-Bramer‘s “The Occult Sylvia Plath – The Hidden Spiritual Life of the Visionary Poet” uncovers previously unknown facets of the poet’s life. Gordon-Bramer explores Plath’s interest in astrology, tarot, and other mystical traditions, looking at how these ideas show up in her writing. The author looks into how Plath’s fascination with the occult influenced her perspective on life and enhanced the profundity of her creative compositions. It presents Plath as a complex character shaped by magical ideas, illuminating a side of her beyond her more widely researched themes of feminism and mental illness.

 

“I am the magician’s girl who does not flinch.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bee Meeting 

There is no one else who would be more suited to accomplish a book on this topic besides Julia Gordon-Bramer. As a scholar and former professor, the author specializes in the works of Sylvia Plath. With this background, I was certain this book would include fascinating material. An examination of Plath’s unreleased personal writings from the Plath archives at Indiana University is among the various sources listed in the book. Julia Gordon-Bramer has added information based on over fifteen years of research, which is intriguing.

In Plath’s work, numerous hidden themes would have been considered taboo and frowned upon when she was alive. Regardless of this thorough examination of esoteric topics in Sylvia Plath’s poetry, occult subjects were frequently ridiculed during her lifetime for several reasons which the author describes. 

In Western societies, particularly during the mid-20th century when Plath was writing, occult practices were often viewed as contradictory to mainstream religious beliefs (such as Christianity) and cultural norms. Practices like astrology, tarot reading, and witchcraft were often associated with superstition, heresy, and devil worship by more conservative segments of society. 

As Julia Gordon-Bramer explains, “Consider that anti-witchcraft laws–and punishment–remained on the books in England until the early 1950s.” 

Occult practices were often linked with unconventional or alternative lifestyles, challenging traditional societal values and norms. This association contributed to their marginalization and stigmatization. In academic and intellectual circles, occult studies were often dismissed as pseudoscience or unscientific pursuits. 

Sylvia Plath’s poems are often imbued with spiritual significance, drawing on various sources such as tarot cards, mythology, and dreams to explore profound existential themes. Despite the societal influence of the time, Plath managed to incorporate mysticism into many of her poems, as analyzed by Gordon-Bramer. 

According to the author, Plath incorporated tarot imagery and symbolism into her poetry, using them as metaphors for personal and universal themes. Tarot cards, with their rich symbolism and archetypal meanings, provided Plath with a framework to explore psychological and spiritual states. Mythological references have also influenced Plath’s work. Mythology provided her with narratives that she could use to explore human experience and psychological states. 

In the Chapter, “Morning in the Hospital Solarium”, we are presented with a letter Plath wrote to her mother which involves the mention of Norse Valkyries, and Valhalla. She of course was also influenced by Classic mythology as well. 

“In a March letter to Norton, Plath expressed her pain over the death of a friend., She denied any traditional God: “if it was god’s will it is a very stupid arbitrary bloodthirsty god, and I do not like him or believe in him or respect him because he is more foolish a man than we are and has no sense of proportion of what people are good for living and what people are unfit (LSPI,579)” (p. 83, Gordon-Bramer). 

“No, Sylvia Plath was not suited for a dictator God in the sky. She much preferred the Valkyries.” 

Plath’s poems are characterized by their exploration of existential questions, such as the search for identity, the fear of death, and the quest for meaning in life. Her spiritual journey, as reflected in her poetry, is marked by a profound sense of struggle and introspection. She grappled with themes of rebirth, transformation, and the interconnectedness of life and death.

Sylvia Plath’s incorporation of dreams and dozens of other spiritual elements into her work served to enrich her exploration of existential themes. As proven in this new book, these elements provided her with language and imagery that she used to illuminate the complexities of human experience and the depths of the psyche in her poetry. 

Alchemy, with its connection to transformation, had a significant influence on Sylvia Plath’s writing. In the Chapter, “Edge”, another title paying homage to the Poetess, Gordon-Bramer shares insight into the influence of alchemy on Plath, and the mention of chemicals in her poetry. Since Plath was known for her rich and intricate use of symbols in her poetry, alchemical symbols likely provided her with a framework for exploring themes of personal transformation and growth. Julia Gordon-Bramer presents readers with an astonishing analysis of Plath’s poetry, including shamanic experiences and alchemical transformations. 

Her interest in mysticism, mythology, and the occult led her to explore themes that overlap with Paganism, such as the interconnectedness of all living things and the cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth. She also frequently employed vivid imagery of the natural world in her poetry. This connection to nature aligns with a deep respect and reverence for the Earth, which many Pagans are known to believe in as well. 

According to the author, Plath’s “way to immortality” was through the mind by writing poems and books and through the flesh by having children. Plath’s viewpoints on immortality correspond to writings she kept in her very first journals, and how nature and earth religion offered her divine feelings. She was very detailed in her connection to nature. 

Although it may not be widely publicized, “the faiths she did claim – Unitarianism, paganism, and Earth religions…” 

“I resort not to the church, but to the earth. The impersonal world of sun, rocks, sea, and sky gives me a strange courage, an inexplicable feeling that no matter how trivial my mind, my ego, my existence *which only a brief sojurn [sic] on earth, ending by death) there is a blind, unconscious force which will outlast me, and perhaps the human race” (pg. 64, Gordon-Bramer). 

This examination of Sylvia Plath’s esoteric spiritual interests is presented and researched in a very convincing manner by Julia Gordon-Bramer. By approaching the poetry and relationships of Plath and Hughes via the lens of occultism, readers will gain a tremendous amount of understanding and provide an additional valuable avenue for appreciating the creative work of both of these individuals. Gordon-Bramer serves up a spark of rebirth and timeless continuity to Plath’s work by tracing the influence of Ouija, Tarot, hypnotism, ritual, and other magical activities. This book gives insight to curious readers, but especially those interested in the modern resurrection of such practices, which is a phenomenon that has been increasingly popular in recent years. Students of Plath, Hughes, poetry, history, and the Occult who are serious, casual, or just starting out in this realm are strongly encouraged to read this book.

About the Author of The Occult Sylvia Plath – The Hidden Spiritual Life of the Visionary Poet

Julia Gordon-Bramer is an author and poet known for her works that explore a wide range of themes including the occult, mysticism, and the intersection of literature and spirituality. She has written several books and essays that delve into these topics, with a particular focus on the literary analysis of figures like Sylvia Plath.

Julia Gordon-Bramer’s impact as a writer lies in her scholarly contributions to understanding literature through the lens of mysticism and the occult, and her ability to uncover and highlight these often-overlooked aspects of literary works and their creators.

Link to Purchase the Book! Discover more about the book and author here on Inner Traditions.

 

***

About the Author

Kimberly Anne author photo

Kimberly Anne is a USA freelance writer and Administrative Secretary of Art and Music at a college near her hometown. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, she holds a bachelor’s degree with honors in Creative Writing and English Literature and is also a member of Sigma Tau Delta. She is currently working on her Masters in Library and Information Science degree. 

After devoting a decade to the personal study of global mythology and folklore, she began writing about them. She focuses primarily on Nordic, Germanic, and Slavic pre-Christian beliefs. Kimberly has worked with various clients on freelance work including Patricia Robin Woodruff, PhD. MDiv and the YouTube channel Mythology Unleashed. She is a polytheist with animist beliefs who loves to talk about it all! You can find her in the book stacks of the library, in a forest with Landvættir or at www.kimberlyanneinc.com  

                                                                                                       I leave you now with one of my favorite poems by Sylvia:

r/Poetry - [POEM] The Moon and the Yew Tree by Sylvia Plath