Madame Sosostris and Mrs Equitone
By D Marsland
Madame Sosostris and Mrs Equitone are characters
from The Wasteland by T S Eliot (1922)
Thomas Stearns Eliot
1888 - 1965
It is known that T.S Eliot was interested in metaphysics, esoteric religious concepts and the development of higher consciousness. He is not known to have been a member of the Theosophical Society but was certainly familiar with Theosophy and the writings of H P Blavatsky. HPB is referred to by name in his poem “The Cooking Egg”
Written in the aftermath of The First World War, The Wasteland is a statement of post war depression, the futility of the war and the breakdown of traditional values.
It is said by many commentators that Madame Sosostris who appears on line 43 of the Wasteland is in fact H P Blavatsky. Madame Sosostris is giving a Tarot reading to an enquirer who is the wife of a soldier who has died in the First World War. The enquirer wants to know the fate of her husband and clearly the news is not good.
The bad cold may be a reference to HPB’s death during a well documented flu epidemic in 1891. The term “wicked pack of cards” is probably meant to convey the manner in which the mass bereavement of the First World War caused many people turn away from Christianity to areas considered evil such as Spiritualism and the Occult. Describing HPB as the “wisest woman in Europe” indicates that her philosophy has answers where other do not. Eliot believes that HPB’s time may now have come.
Mrs Equitone is a reference to Thomas Edision’s invention of the Phonograph. HPB in her article “Kosmic Mind” attacked Edison for his apparent belief that scientific theory devoid of any spiritual dimension could ultimately explain everything. HPB also never accepted the idea pursued by Edison that the Phonograph could be developed into a machine that could receive messages from the dead.
Extract from The Wasteland (lines 43 – 59)
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe, 45
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations. 50
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water. 55
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.