Helen Luke (1904-1995)
Helen Luke
on Nausicaa

By Peter Y. Chou

Old Age (1987)

This is the story of how I found a wise old woman who introduced me to the most beautiful woman in literature. The Spring 2001 issue of Parabola (Vol. 26.1) featured "The Garden: Beautiful to the senses and nourishing to the soul and body, a garden was our first home." I bought this issue at Tower Books for the many insightful articles within. But an unexpected treasure was the half-page ad (page 94) on Helen Luke's book Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On. The title is a quote from Shakespeare's The Tempest, IV.i.156-157, but I was not familiar with Helen Luke. However I valued the recommendation of Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul— "Better to spend a day meditating on a single page of Helen Luke's writing than to read a stack of books on enlightenment." I've read lots of enlightenment books, so it's refreshing reading Helen Luke.

"Helen Luke can strike one note with one finger with
such sensitivity that it resonates forever in our soul."
Marion Woodman, author of Leaving My Father's House

"Helen Luke is a unique voice that carries beautiful passion, feeling, and clarity. She is clearly one of our most precious national treasure."
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves

After reading Thomas Moore's hearty recommendation of Helen Luke's writing, I bought her autobiograhy & journal Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On on June 20, 2002. It's true— every page of her writing glows like gifts from the Golden Bough. Some of my favorite treasures from her book—

September 11, 1976— Simone Weil said that real education is the awakening and training of the faculty of attention, ultimately so that we may attend to the voice of the living God. So many words, so much and always more to be packed into each week, and the attention is fragmented so that nothing can be heard but the "consonants." Even here in our quiet life, that noisy emptiness invades— and I then affirm things with talk and with arbitrary opinions springing from the demand for prestige. Well, the truth, however humiliating, must be welcomed. (p. 126) [Simone Weil on Evil]

October 10, 1979— Breathing in the air that gives me life— I am— Breathing out all that I am as I am into the universal air— Thou art. Breathing in that which is uniquely myself— I am... The breathing in and out of the earth's atmosphere by the body is a symbol of the eternal rhythm of the Self— I and thou, in and out, up and down, forward and back, systole and diastole in their final unity. The conscious realization and incarnation of this rhythm, balance, unity, in the unique, individual pattern of one's live would lead— so I feel it— to the breathing out of one's last breath in death into that air of eternity, which is the breath of life when the body is left behind. There is only one "work" now— the finding of that rhythm, tht flowing in, flowing out, in the minute particulars of every day. (pp. 157-158) [Goethe]

August 7, 1985— Yesterday morning I dreamed that someone (unseen) was asking another (also unseen) a question about his or her work— something like "What or who are you?"— and I heard a voice reply in tones of great beauty and power, filling as it were the whole universe, "I am no-thing and no-one." It filled me with joy, and I looked out over a great expanse of very still water with dark, surrounding cliffs, rocks, trees. It was night but the sky was pale with moonlight. I awoke. (p. 230)


Helen M. Luke, Old Age: Journey Into Simplicity (1987)

Chapter 1: The Odyssey (pages 5-6)

    It is perhaps the greatest story in western literature of a man's journey in search of his feminine soul and of the dangers he must face from the rejected feeling values of the unconscious. Even after his release from Calypso it is not until he has lost his raft and endured nine days of buffeting by storm and wave that he is finally cast up naked and alone on the shore of the land of the Phaiakians. Here he is rescued and befriended at last by a truly human woman, the princess Nausicaa, who is assuredly one of the most enchanting young women in the stories of the world. Intelligent, courageous, wholly natural and spontaneous, but not at all naive, she has already the dignity of the woman who can love without demand to possess. She has a human simplicity which is total delight after the spells and magical attractions of Circe and Calypso.

    The greatness of Homer's storytelling strikes deep into the heart in the lovely passage telling of their meeting. Every detail is described with such vivid simplicity that one is transported straight into that time and place. It is not a matter of only hearing about these people and things; we live in them. It begins with the dream, sent by Athene, to Nausicaa, and the lovey description of her as she gathers the washing of the family and goes with her young maids in the mule cart to the clear pools near the beach. Then we watch her in her grace and beauty, as she plays after work, tossing a ball with her companions, and suddenly the naked Odysseus emerges from the bushes, bloated and salt-encrusted from his long hours in the sea. The maids all run away but Nausicaa meets this frightening sight with her natural compassion, with courtesy and good sense, and we know for a moment the meaning of innocence.

    In his hero's first meeting with a human woman after all those years, Homer was surely hinting at the qualities which we sense in Penelope herself at the end— qualities matured by her long suffering. It was Odysseus' ultimate faithfulness to Penelope, his human wife— and his refusal of the immortality offered by Calypso— his longing to return to his human beloved, that had brought him to this meeting with Nausicaa, without whose shrewd feminine wisdom and feeling he might have been thrust back to sea by the islanders. (It was she who told him to be sure to appeal to her mother the queen first, before approaching her father!)

    I like to think that Penelope in her youth had this same quality of lighthearted yet shrewd innocence, and that, after her long years of suffering and almost, but never quite, hopeless waiting, the laughter and innocence of maturity would be in her a source of strength to all whose lives she touched when, after Odysseus' last unrecorded journey, she would share with him the wisdom of the richly old. Robert Fitzgerald has pointed out in the Postscript to his translation that a careful reading of her words and actions, after she sees and meets Odysseus on his return disguised as a beggar, reveals her as a strategist every bit as intelligent as her husband, and even lets us glimpse her long hidden gift of laughter.

Nausicaa & Odysseus Vase (circa 450 BC), Antikensammlungen, Munich

Odysseus meets Nausicaa

I implore you, Lady: Are you a goddess
Or mortal? If you are one of heaven's divinities
I think you are most like great Zeus' daughter
Artemis. You have her looks, her stature, her form.
If you are a mortal and live on this earth,
Thrice blest is your father, your queenly mother,
Thrice blest your brothers! Their hearts must always
Be warm with happiness when they look at you,
Just blossoming as you enter the dance.
And happiest of all will be the lucky man
Who takes you home with a cartload of gifts.
I've never seen anyone like you,
Man or woman. I look upon you with awe.

Homer, The Odyssey, VI.149-161
translated by Stanley Lombardo (2000), page 89

********************************************************************************* Helen M. Luke (1904-1995) was born in England. In midlife, she studied at the Jung Institute in Zurich, then moved to the U.S. and established an analytical practice with Robert Johnson in Los Angeles. In 1962, she founded the Apple Farm Community in Three Rivers Michigan, "a center for people seeing to discover and appropriate the transforming power of symbols in their lives." In her later years, Helen Luke was the model wise woman for many people. Her final book, Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On, a memoir and excerpts from her fifty-four volumes of journals, was published posthumously. Her books include The Laughter at the Heart of Things, a collection of essays, and The Way of Woman: Awakening the Perennial Feminine. She died at Apple Farm on January 6, 1995, on the Feast of Epiphany, celebrating the Three Wise Men's arrival at the cradle in Bethlehem.

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