Religious Symbolism: Psyches & Souls

The episode was laced with Catholic symbolism: the festa takes place during or near November, which the Church designates as a month devoted to intercessions for the dead; the wine may connote the sacrifice of the Last Supper (when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain, to paraphrase Father Intintola).

The Buddhist tradition also lurks in the subtext. Tony laments to Melfi that he is bored. For Buddhists boredom is a crucial aspect of the spiritual path. “Hot” boredom symbolizes the agitation of a restless mind seeking entertainment. This is the mind of the alexythymic (the Tony Soprano of season two) who like a shark has to keep swimming and feeding or else perish. “Cool” boredom, on the other hand, is characteristic of psychic muscle and suppleness; it is the ability to abide whatever arises in the mind and to let go of it. It is a sign that the mind of the meditator is beginning to settle. It is often viewed as a mark of emergent wisdom.

It is too soon to tell whether Tony’s boredom is hot or cold. He is clearly more sophisticated in therapy. His grasp of subtle psychological concepts such as projection, which he bats around with Melfi in Johnny Cakes, hints at a more elastic mind.

Still, Melfi has yet to push Tony to deal with uncle Jun and by extension his parents’ betrayal. In therapy timing is everything. Is Melfi waiting for Tony to decompensate? Will it be only then that he is ready to fathom the depths of his emptiness and longing? Melfi’s been awfully chummy with T. since the shooting. I believe she’s standing on guard waiting for his moment of reckoning, his “moment of doubt and pain.”

Tony and his crew are a haunted lot: apparitions of the Madonna and lawsuits with Buddhist monks, purgatorial incarceration with the hated Irish and dreams of Adrianna abound. David Chase’s universe is a moral one. To live with rules but without morals, as Tony used to pride himself, simply won’t cut it much longer for this angst-ridden anti-hero.


Re: Religious Symbolism: Psyches & Souls

And now for something totally useless but interesting:

The Personal Rules of St. Elzear: (quoted from internet)


Saint Elzear was a layman, who laid down the following Rule for his household:
1. Everyone in my family shall daily hear Mass, whatever business they may have. If God be well served in my house, nothing will be wanting.
2. Let no one swear, curse, or blaspheme, under pain of being severely chastised, and afterward shamefully dismissed. How can I hope that God will pour forth His heavenly blessings on my house, if it is filled with such miscreants who devote themselves to the devil? Or, can I endure stinking mouths which infect houses and poison the souls of others?
3. Let all persons honor chastity, and let no one imagine that the least impurity in word or action shall ever go unpunished in Elzear's house. It is never to be hoped for of me.
4. Let all men and women confess their sins every week; and let no one be so unhappy as not to communicate at least on all the principal festivals; namely, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and all the feasts of Our Lady.
5. Let no persons be idle in my house. In the morning, the first thing shall be, that everyone raise his heart to God with fervent prayer and oblation of himself, and of all his actions; then let all go to their business, the men abroad, the women at home. In the morning a little more time shall be allowed for meditation; but away with those who are perpetually in the church to avoid the business of their employments. This they do, not because of a love of contemplation, but because they desire to have their work done for them. The life of the pious woman, as described by the Holy Ghost, is not only to pray well, but also to be modest and obedient, to ply her work diligently, and to take good care of the household. The ladies shall pray and read in the mornings, but shall spend the afternoon at some work.
6. I will have no playing at dice, or any games of hazard. There are thousands of innocent diversions, though time passes soon enough without being idly passed away. Yet I desire not my castle to be a cloister, not my people hermits. Let them be merry, and sometimes divert themselves; but never at the expense of conscience or with danger of offending God.
7. Let peace be perpetually maintained in my family. Where peace reigns, there God dwells. Where envy, jealousy, suspicions, reports, and slanders are harbored in one family, two armies are formed, which are continually upon the watch and in ambush to surprise one another, and the master is besieged, wounded and devoured by them both. ... Slanderers, detractors, and disorderly servants tear one another to pieces.
8. If any quarrel happen, I will have the precept of the apostle inviolably observed, that the sun set not before it be appeased; but, in the instant that it falls on us, let is be squashed, and all manner of bitterness laid in the tomb of forgetfulness.
9. Every evening all my family shall assemble to a pious conference, in which they shall hear something spoken of God, the salvation of souls, and the gaining of paradise. What a shame it is, that though we are in this world save only to gain heaven, we seldom seriously think of it: and scarcely ever speak about it but only occasionally!
10. I most strictly command that no office or servant under my jurisdiction or authority injure any man in his good, honor, or reputation, or oppress any poor person, or ruin any one under the color of doing my business.
Notice that Saint Elzear is a layman. These are rules for lay people, not Religious. We are not saying everyone must adopt these particular rules, but We shall use these rules as an outline to give everyone food for spiritual thought on how they can make their life more spiritual. Remember, any home without rules will be in disorder, and disorder is of the Devil."

three episodes left.... It'll be interesting to see who is "saved"


Re: Religious Symbolism: Psyches & Souls

Very nice thoughts, Avellino, as usual. I'm especially intrigued by the points you laid out on "hot" and "cool" boredom.

I would say Tony's remark about "it's the human condition" sounded a little more like the latter than the former. The very fact that he was so deliberately analytical about why adults line up for rides at a fair, that he was largely resigned to the fact that boredom and discontent are a part of many lives, not just his own, made him seem far more sophisticated than he had seemed in season two. Less myopic and more self aware, at the same time.

<blockquote>Quote:<hr>Still, Melfi has yet to push Tony to deal with uncle Jun and by extension his parents’ betrayal. In therapy timing is everything. . . . I believe she’s standing on guard waiting for his moment of reckoning, his “moment of doubt and pain.”<hr></blockquote>

I agree. House Arrest really is a strong echo to these last two episodes. Tony's lament that he wasn't part of the hijacking of the WWII memorabilia was a reverse reminder of his thrill at stealing the wine. And the contrast of Melfi's reactions to him in House Arrest and The Ride is interesting.

When she gave the speech about the shark, clearly trying to lead Tony to examine himself, she made an obvious gesture of exasperation when he instead turned the subject to Richie. She was really being aggressive in those days, and he was being extremely evasive.

In The Ride, she was smiling, playful at first until she understood that he was "bored" and that the simple gratitude in his "every day is a gift" philosophy had diminished to the point that he was likening that gift to a pair of socks. I'm not entirely sure if her sudden and unwavering somber expression was her sensing that his "crash" is indeed imminent or just her own disappointment that his new outlook on life was so impermanent.

The House Arrest therapy scene was played as a discussion point in an interview Chase gave NPR years back. He stated, re the intent of that scene, that he'd decided Tony was a gangster and that that was enough to say at that time about his emotional growth or lack thereof. Of course by the time of that scene, he knew the show was going to go on for quite a while, so he had to be very deliberate about how to pace Tony's "growth" and change, if in fact there was to be any.

In remarks just prior to this season, Chase commented that season 6 would (among other things) be about people finally "growing up or not growing up". And I can't help but feel that what he meant in part was that this would be the season, delayed consciously since season 2, where Tony would finally "grow up". In other words, this time I don't expect Tony to keep avoiding his own self examination.


Re: On Boredom or the $64,000 Dharmic Question

Thanks, Fly.

In Buddhist psychology the cause of mental suffering is our clinging to the illusion of an immutable self, which in fact is kaleidoscopically impermanent. We will do anything to maintain the illusion of a distinctive persona. We in the human realm employ external reference points such as pleasure and pain, praise and blame, gain and loss, fame and ill-repute (the “eight worldly dharmas”) to grasp the chimera of ego, the “I-ness” of existence.

In order to prop up the self we indulge the passions, ward off our enemies, and otherwise space out. To paraphrase TS Eliot, we distract ourselves from distraction by distraction: Christopher shoots H; Tony “would f#$k a catcher’s mitt”; Carmella shops endlessly; Vito wolfs down mounds of Johnny Cakes. All of this requires a great deal of exertion, aggression, speed and heat. We will do anything to avoid the pain of impermanence, of mortality. We are cowards who refuse to let go, who refuse to stop, who cannot tolerate boredom.

You are dead on, Fly, when you suggest that Tony is leaning towards “cool” boredom. The crazy wisdom guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940–1987) describes the cool boredom of meditation this way:

"[It is like the] boredom like a mountain stream. It refreshes because we do not have to do anything or expect anything. … Simply relating with the breath is very monotonous and unadventurous—we do not discover that the third eye is opening or that chakras are unfolding. It is like a stone-carved Buddha sitting in the desert. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens."

"As we realize that nothing is happening, strangely we begin to realize that something dignified is happening. There is no room for frivolity, no room for speed. We just breathe and are there. There is something very satisfying and wholesome about it. It is as though we had eaten a good meal and were satisfied with it, in contrast to eating and trying to satisfy oneself. It is a very simpleminded approach to sanity."

Tony Soprano and his crew are constantly shucking and jiving to make something happen; constantly eating; constantly consuming; constantly being miserable. I see something happening, though. Tony, in his own words, is "different" since his brush with death. He has lost the taste for distraction. He still indulges in it (less frequently), but takes no satisfaction from it. He has heard the church bells toll; heard the wind rustling through the trees. The ride of self indulgence/self inflation is over.

If only T would realise that there is nothing to be done, nothing to be achieved, then he could savour his relationship with Carmella even more, enjoy making a toddler smile at a theme park.

Tony has changed. But enlightenment? I’m afraid that he will have to pay a terrible cost to burn off his wicked karma. Sickness and death must precede rebirth. Is he willing or able to pay the price of his massive karmic debts? That’s the $64,000 Dharmic question.

</p>Edited by: <A HREF= ... vellino</A> at: 5/9/06 2:16 pm


I loved the brief reference last season to Opus Dei, and was hoping for some sort of revival/discussion for those who are fascinated by the mystique of Catholicism, and how it plays out within this saga. The writers appear to love to toy with the duality of an all-absorbing religiosity coexisting with utter nihilism. I think that for Chase that "The Church" takes on even greater significance and (possibly) loss in that he is culturally an Italian but not a Catholic. I mean, has DC felt the pangs of exclusion vs. inclusion that being a non-Catholic within a Catholic culture may yield?

It was suggested that Ginny Sacrimoni was OD, and the mere implication that she was counseling Big Carmine along this line infuriated Little Carmine. Who remembers this?

How about Mrs. Conte shouting out her devotion for St. Elzear while only last week shrieking her potty mouth epithets to Tony back in the old neighborhood...? What a character.


Re: Catholicism...

O.E., here are some random thoughts on the Catholic symbolism of The Ride:

•Paulie awakens at 3 a.m. As we know, Christopher’s near-death Purgatorial experience occurs at 3 a.m.; and Vito, who appears to be a marked man, phones Silvio at 3 a.m. Three in the morning is the chorological inverse of Jesus’ death, 3 p.m. One may assume that 3 a.m. (half-way between the witching hour and the dawn) is the moment of reckoning for soon-to-be condemned mobsters.

• The episode occurs late in the autumn, near or in the month of November. In the Church’s liturgical calendar, November is the month dedicated to supplicating the saints, who intercede with God for the dead. The timing of The Ride is the harbinger of one doozy of a death—Meadow’s, AJ’s, Carmella’s—in my view.

• St. Elzear and his wife, the beatified Delphina are considered to be models of pious, upright Catholic family life. Tony’s blood family is less than charitable and his mob family is the antithesis of altruism. Both families are coming apart at the seams.

• When the Virgin Mary unveils herself in an apparition, she invariably warns the recipient of an impending cataclysm that can only be forestalled by penance and good deeds. Clearly, Paulie is facing imminent ruin in the form of prostate cancer; so too are the many denizens of the Bada Bing, where the Mother of God reveals herself next to a strippers’ pole. Tell me that this isn’t the most blatant instance of the virgin/whore dichotomy you’ve seen on television in a while!

• Red wine is the subject of commentary throughout the episode: it’s delicious; it’s lost its pop. During the Eucharist, the principle sacrament of the Catholic Church, wine is transformed into the blood of Christ, whose self-sacrifice is the source of salvation. “This cup,” says Jesus, “is the new covenant in My blood.” Whose blood is about to be spilled to atone for the sins of Tony Soprano?

• Finally, what of the hapless motorcycle gang, the Vipers. Vipers are everywhere in the Bible. Their poison is equated with sin and treachery. At one point, Jesus scolds the Pharisees and Sadducees with these stinging words, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Who are the vipers in Tony’s crew? Who are the vipers in New York? Someone is about to be stung.

</p>Edited by: <A HREF= ... vellino</A> at: 5/9/06 1:58 pm

Re: Catholicism...

Thank you, Avellino. This is truly a feast; I wish that I had persevered in my religious training beyond memorizing the Catechism at age six.

<blockquote>Quote:<hr>When the Virgin Mary unveils herself in an dichotomy....<hr></blockquote>

So true, Paulie is indeed the poster child, if not caricature, for this dichotomy. The Madonna-Whore complex is one of those ubiquitous hang-ups found among so many Catholic men. Paulie in particular seems to have failed in achieving any sort of normalization where women are concerned. He appears to demand idealized perfection in the female sex and splits "good" and idealized women from "bad" women (those who "lie" and may be used for sex). He, as many of his brethren, has been unable to integrate the a flesh and blood woman with a woman of decency or piety.

Nucci warned him to seek forgiveness from the Holy Mother when he embarked on his adoption rant and rave. It seems that the VM is the icon for his superego/conscience rather than the male archetypally constructed Holy Trinity.

As I mentioned upthread, I wish that we had experienced more of a glimpse into the Ginny Sac-Opus Dei arc. The Church has been horribly offended by the DaVinci Code, yet seemingly unaware to how is how it has also paradoxically revived stirrings and sentimentalities in so many lapsed RCs.

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