Popeye as Deity by Barbara Ardinger

Barbara Ardinger

If you’ve read any of my posts here (or my books), you know that I’m not a friend of the fellow I call the standard-brand god. This is the “man upstairs” who goes by such names (in alphabetical order) as Allah, El Shaddai, Jehovah, and Yahweh. He’s the guy who’s snoopier than Santa Claus—he knows when we’re sleeping, when we’re awake, when we’ve been bad or good, and what we’re doing in any state of consciousness. At least that’s what his priests and preachers tell us. His holy books were written by men and his stories are told from the male point of view. (But how did Ruth and Esther get in the canon?) He has priests, but no priestesses that I know of, and even the named angels are male. I mean no disrespect to people who honor this god, but he’s just not my kind of deity.

But hark! There is a charming fellow. We all know him.

(First, an aside. Back in the early 1980s, when I was working as a technical writer/editor in a company that manufactured mini-computers, I was also reading books of literary criticism, esoteric topics like the Qabalah, mainstream metaphysics, and the 19th century occult enlightenment. I had also recently started a correspondence course on meditation and the Qabalah with a Famous English Author. Although the Famous Author and I soon decided, both of us at the same time, that his course of study wasn’t for me, my reading led me to write the original—much longer—version of this essay, which was published in Green Egg in 1997. Notice that I wrote this parody in a Highly Academic Tone. Yeah, I obviously had way too much time on my hands at the computer company.) So here goes.

Possibly the most endearing of all anthropomorphic manifestations of the godhead is the archetypal hero re-created as a gruff yet winsome character which sings:

I yam what I yam
And that’s all what I yam.

What this ostensibly fictitious cartoon persona, created early in the second fifth of the twentieth century, enunciates in his ditty is, of course, nothing less than a jaunty echo of the Divine Declaration:

I Am That I Am.

In accordance with the universal law of parsimony, the most profound utterance is couched in the simplest phraseology. How does the modest scholar cognize the profundity of the Popeyeic periphrasis? Obviously, it is a statement of germinal identity, the sonic boom of the Genisisistic Word which signals the projection of the uninitiable, illimitable, essential substance of the supreme Atziluthic existence. The humble English sentence I yam is a modern, mundane re-creation of the pregnant I AM, which sound reiterates the Big Bang, the overflowing of cosmic energy from Kether to Chokma, from the Supreme Non-Manifest into the Yet Unmanifest by seminal dissemination of creative puissance, from the unknown no-thing to the potentially knowable res, from the topmost Sphere of the Tree of Life to the Second Supernal.

In proclaiming and that’s all what I yam, the Divine Sailorman is renewing his confirmation of his universality, the simple yet absolute unity and identify of deity and universe, the parameterless Being. From the very beginning, before any humanly cognizable primordium, the Deity projected the universe (“In the beginning was the Word….”); it is that projection which subsumes the entirety of the galaxy, nay, of the very cosmos itself. As has been stated in another cartoonic context, That’s all, folks.

The portion of the Popeyeic Utterance is also an authentication of the individuality of the hero, a simple and evident yet somehow mysterious universal yawp signifying that he personally apprehends his eternal identity, recognizes his own essence, and is satisfied thereby to be what he is (and, possibly, dissatisfied to be less than “all what” he is). How, however, could he be less, being all? No neo- or pseudo-analytic identity crisis here. Popeye is declaring—nay, is vociferously announcing—that he has attained his full potential: that which he is, is, and that which he is, is all that he is, indeed all that he can possibly be. He has, as it were, topped the Maslovian hierarchy. He has attained succinctity in the brevity of his expression of his isness.

(Yikes! Is that highly profound, or what? Let me omit several more profound incomprehensible paragraphs here.)

There exist, however, two salient points which deserve mention herein, however truncated. (A) The Sailorman partakes of his vital aquatic activity in the sea (le mer), which is, alchemically, the Source (la mere) of all life; thus, the father becomes the supragender parent. All life arises from the sea. “Water, water, everywhere”—who can be unfamiliar with the ocean of water symbology? (B) What sea creature possesses appendages analogous to Popeye’s enlarged forearms, surely his most striking characteristic? It is the Crab, of course, that crustacean which is the totem of the astrological sign, Cancer. With the approach of the Crab, Cancer, comes the summer solstice, that time of the year when all life blooms forth and bears fruited progeny. Is it not wonderful that this is once more allusive of the universal parenthood of our cosmic Sailorman, our solar Pop, who sings and dances and battles evil on our cinema screens and who is all what he is and all that he is?

For more fun with Popeye, rent the 1980 movie directed by Robert Altman, starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall and with totally great songs by Harry Nilsson. It’s better than the critics said it was.

Robin Williams as Popeye

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic.  Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations.  When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.

Categories: Academics, General, God-talk, Literature

Tags: ,

9 replies

  1. Interesting irony regarding the day and time this blog was published.

    I think you forgot to mention the Christian God in your alphabetical list, probably because He uses the “generic” (?) name “God.” He is the one who condemned humanity to hell for original sin and then sent his son to be crucified in order to redeem us.

    Blessed be the Sea, once known as Tiamat, slain and dismembered by Marduk, yet not dead but now suffering an even greater threat of environmental degradation, and all of Her children on planet Earth. May we learn again to revere and care for the Source of Embodied Life.


    • Love it! And Carol’s comment. I agree re Allah, Jehovah, and Yahweh. But let’s talk about El Shaddai, who can be translated “Breasted One” and whose actions are nurturing. And as a further note, tying it all together, “yam” is the Hebrew word for sea.


      • Thanks, Judith. It’s so frustrating that in the RSV and most English versions of the Bible, El Shaddai is translated as God Almighty, instead of God the Mother, which would seem far more appropriate.


    • Carol, thanks for the reminder. The English word “god” comes from the German word for “good,” so I guess we have a specific good god. I think the Christian god is probably Jesus–“God the Father and God the Son.” I think Jesus was a wonderful teacher and his Sermon on the Mount is the best sermon ever preached. As for this Popeye post, well, my intention was merely humor. I didn’t even realize it was going to be posted on Easter.


  2. I don’t know if you have this much time on your hands, but I would be interested in your analysis of economic theory vis a vis Wimpy’s mantra, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”


    • Gee, I wonder if Wimpy introduced the credit card economy. We’re all paying many, many Tuesdays ahead for the hamburgers our underpaid fast-food workers cook and serve us today. But if we didn’t pay next Tuesday for today’s hamburgers–and veggies and houses and cars–we probably wouldn’t own anything. I don’t personally know anyone who pays today for today’s metaphorical hamburger.


  3. ;-)


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