Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens


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No John Trumbull: Hamilton’s Stories and the Lives we Manifest

We all live in our own stories, and it is central to magickal practice that where we put our energy helps manifest out lives.  How we see ourselves and our actions becomes a script, a thought pattern that influences our lives.  Sometimes these stories are beneficial.  They give us inspiration and a goals to achieve.  Other times, thought patterns of failure or helplessness can hold us back.  

Often, the source of these thought patterns comes from literature, film, and pop culture.  Characters from story provide something to compare our lives to.  Witness the multiple quizzes that circulate social media promising to tell us which Harry Potter, Star Wars, or Game of Thrones character we “really are.”  Users eat these quizzes up, perhaps showing some internal need to identify with someone else’s story.

Any good story can provide characters to inspire us.  They help us reflect on our lives and bring some context to our own ways of living.  New stories keep coming to bring us new insights and context.  One of the most popular stories to enthrall people recently is the hip-hop inspired Broadway musical Hamilton.  Based on the seemingly uninteresting story of the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, Hamilton delivers a beautiful panoply of fascinating characters with competing motivations, offering a large arsenal of stories for viewers and listeners to identify with.

Perhaps part of the musical’s popularity, and certainly part of what provides an extra layer of interest in its characters is that these people truly lived.  They are not fictional characters. They navigated their own lives, struggled and fought with each other, made gigantic mistakes, and yet they did something extraordinary by creating a brand new nation from scratch.  Each one has a story; each one has a motivation; each one has real, not fictional struggles, which makes their lives more real to us and can give us both inspiration for a well-lived life and warnings against the obstacles to that life.  

This may be best stated by lyrics that were removed from the final show, but sung by The Roots in the opening of the Hamilton Mixtape.  In the song “No John Trumbull,” we are confronted with the fact that our founding fathers were not the patient and virtuous Greek god types we see in Trumbull’s famous painting depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

You ever see a painting by John Trumbull?

Founding fathers in a line, looking all humble

Patiently waiting to sign a declaration and start a nation

No sign of disagreement, not one grumble

The reality is messier and richer, kids

The reality is not a pretty picture, kids

Every cabinet meeting is like a full on rumble

What you’re about to witness is no John Trumbull

John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence: Not how it went down Source: Wikimedia Commons

Not depicted in Trumbull’s serene painting are the painful conflicts among the founders, nor each person’s internal struggles.  Hamilton provides both of these in spades, and they can be inspirational for any modern viewer.  Whether or not you are familiar, you are probably familiar with some of these thought patterns.  They may be within you, or they may be in someone you know.  They may help a life, and therefore be something to be encouraged, or they may provide a hindrance to living our best lives.  So here are some thoughts about these real people, and their prevailing thought patterns according to this immensely popular musical.

 

Alexander Hamilton: “In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet.”  Hamilton shoots from obscure poverty to fame and prestige because of the hurricane that almost killed him.  His essay describing his experience inspires charity, which gets him to New York and begins his improbable journey to power.  From there, he lives his life in constant chaos, seeking conflict and goading his enemies. From age 17, his life is a hurricane destroying every obstacle.  His only peace is found in chaos, and he seems to seek it out “nonstop.”  In our social media fueled world, it seems that so many of us seek discord and drama and their lives manifest exactly that.

Aaron Burr: “Talk less, smile more.” Hamilton’s executioner is also his foil.  He seeks peace and compromise at all times, sometimes at his own expense.  Misunderstood by the more opinionated characters, Burr seems to always be on the outside of every group.  Some of us are peace-seekers and adverse to confrontation, a fact that angers our more opinionated friends.  Of course, when peace fails and confrontation finds these folks, they struggle and make mistakes, as Burr does before he finally acknowledges, “now I’m the villain in your history.”

George Washington: “History has its eyes on you.”  The great leader is always conscious that his actions have lasting consequences, even when he is attacked for considering them. This is the thought pattern of those who, like a military general, see the larger picture and contemplate the consequences of everything they do.

Marquis de Lafayette: “I’m taking this horse by the reins, making these redcoats redder with bloodstains.”  Lafayette is fearless and brilliant.  He faces danger and always comes out on top.  This pattern can be seen in people who almost seem to have a golden touch and act with courage in whatever they take on.

Hercules Mulligan: “We in the shit now, somebody’s gotta shovel it.”  The larger than life Mulligan isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.  As a spy, he knee deep in his enemies.  Especially in the world of social media, it is common for people to get stuck in the misdeeds of those they disagree with instead of living their own lives.  

John Laurence: “I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight.”  Laurence is a brave and idealistic soldier, yet he dies needlessly attacking the British after the war is basically over.  Some of us are unable to pick and choose our battles effectively and run directly even to the most futile and fruitless of fights.

Eliza Hamilton: “That would be enough.”  Eliza is her husband’s anchor and opposite.  Not ambitious, she yearns for a quiet life.  While this thought pattern can weigh us down, it can also provide a strong foundation for our ambitious loved ones.

Angelica Schuyler: “You want a revolution, I want a revelation.”  Brilliant and self-sacrificing, Eliza’s sister seeks mental stimulation to the point where intelligence in others is sexually attractive to her.  Unfortunately for her, her quest has to be balanced against her own line, “Nice going, Angelica, he was right.  You will never be satisfied.”  Many among us seek the next big thing, but find it always outside our grasp instead of being satisfied with what we have.

Charles Lee: “I’m a general, whee!”  We’re not all great leaders, and some of us are more interested in power and glory than doing the difficult work.

King George III: “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”  This thought pattern is shown by those with an exaggerated image of their own importance who are unable to see their own faults in any situation, leading them to just make that situation worse.

Thomas Jefferson: “The emperor has no clothes.”  Hamilton’s enemy portrays him as a “vacuous mass,” an unrealistic dandy,  but Jefferson is the actual overdressed and under-accomplished aristocrat in this story.  His character echoes those of us who suffer from what is commonly known as “impostor syndrome” or those who project their own faults onto others.

 

Cabinet Battle: Jefferson v. Hamilton Source: cookiesandsangria.com

James Madison: “Get in the weeds, look for the seeds of Hamilton’s misdeeds.”  Madison doesn’t do direct confrontation.  He’s more like that negative guy in your office who spreads harmful gossip about the co-workers he doesn’t like. Some people enjoy acting as poison pill, but don’t have the courage to confront those they dislike.

Philip Hamilton: “Even before we got to ten, I was aiming for the sky.”  Philip’s innocence and desire to live up to his father’s example give him too much bravado and trust in others, with tragic consequences.  In our lives, there are those whose trust in the world allow them to be walked over by those who are willing to break the rules.

Maria Reynolds: “Just give him what he wants and you can have me.”  It’s unclear if Hamilton’s mistress was a conscious part of the sex scandal that plagued him. She debases herself for either Hamilton’s attention or her husband’s financial gain.  Some of us yield our own wills to others for purposes that do not serve us.

James Reynolds: “Uh oh, you made the wrong sucker a cuckold, so time to pay the piper for the pants you unbuckled.”  Manipulative and dishonest, Reynolds is willing to sell his wife for profit.  Some of us are more interested in results than methods.

 

All of these thought patterns can live within us and cause us to live our lives in ways that manifest them.  Like us, none of these characters are truly evil nor truly good.  They simply live with their own stories that fuel the way they live their lives.  And, of course, it is as simplistic to boil each of them down to one line as it is to boil ourselves down to one line.

But our stories motivate our lives.  What is your story?  Who tells your story?  How is it fueling what manifests in your life?  None of us is perfect like a John Trumbull painting, but neither were the subjects of his artwork, yet many of them lived good, meaningful, accomplished lives.  Choosing our own stories can help us manifest excellence, even if we are no John Trumbull.

 

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Lost in Translation?

Hamilton, the Broadway musical that has become a force in itself, has also become a force for me lately. The hip-hop inspired musical about the “bastard, orphan, son of a whore” who became America’s “10 dollar founding father” has broken fertile ground on Broadway and opened it to new directions and a new future inspired by a fresh genre of music that easily translates itself into storytelling.

 

While the lyrics pay homage to musicals past, invoking both South Pacific and The Pirates of Penzance early on, the show clearly sets its own course from the beginning, with people of color portraying the stark white founding fathers of the United States.  Perhaps by design, it also confronts some difficulties in translation.  How do black actors portray slave owners?  How can rap music be sold to an upper class, mostly white population?  Can Americans accept the son of a Puerto Rican immigrant playing the first Secretary of the Treasury, even though the man himself was an immigrant from the Caribbean?

Source: New York Times

One section in particular has recently caught my eye (and ear).  Early on, the group of patriots who will ultimately help overthrow the British introduce themselves over shots at a New York City pub.  One of them, the Marquis de Lafayette (himself both an immigrant and instrumental in the patriot victory) declares in broken English:

 

“Oui oui, mon ami, je m’apelle Lafayette

The Lancelot of the revolutionary set

I came from afar just to say ‘bonsoir,’

Tell the King ‘casse toi’

Who’s the best? C’est moi

 

Which roughly translates to:

 

“Yes yes, my friend, my name is Lafayette,

The Lancelot of the revolutionary set

I came from afar just to say ‘good evening,’

Tell the King ‘fuck you.’

Who’s the best? It’s me.”

 

It’s not the same when translated, is it?

 

At the same time, one of my favorite podcasts, “Stuff you Missed in History Class,” recently reported about a pair of human figures who were found embracing just before they died.  Originally, they were assumed to be women.  Recent evidence has proven them to be men, which inspired speculation that they must of been gay.  Oddly, when they were thought to be women, no one assumed homosexuality, but once they were shown to be males, modern sexuality expectations have been thrust upon them.  The modern story says: Why would men hug each other unless they were gay?

 

The truth is we don’t know.  We translate the things we see through our modern eyes and filter past evidence through our current understanding.  And just like the translation of Hamilton’s French lyrics conveys their literal meaning devoid of heart, attempting to explain why these two men were embracing at the end of their lives can never quite complete a fully contextualized understanding of who they were or why they were so close.

 

As Pagans, we see other difficulties in translation.  Unless you are immersed in Pagan practice, it can be challenging to explain your spiritual beliefs to others.  Especially in these days of social media, that can lead us to existing within our self-made bubbles.  If we only talk to people who understand us, then it will be easier to discuss our practice.

 

And yet, if we stay within our bubbles, we erect a barrier between ourselves and the outside world, making us more isolated and more difficult to understand.  We move more toward being the misunderstood men embracing each other than any kind of useful movement or world religion.  We become only vaguely translated through the eyes of others, our true hearts obscured, like trying to translate Lafayette’s rhymes directly into English.

 

Through his interactions with the American revolutionaries in Act 1, Lafayette’s English steadily improves.  By the end of the war, he raps in a fast and furious style because he has learned to understand his host culture and it has accepted him. With exposure, we can grow and change.  Isolated, we become marginalized.  Listen to each other.  Form bonds.  Try to see from others’ points of view.  Notice your own filters and attack them.  The truth lies beneath, often lost in translation.