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Chapter Twenty: Azazello's Cream 
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Post Chapter Twenty: Azazello's Cream
Here is the note that Margarita leaves for her husband in this chapter: “Forgive me and forget me as quickly as you can. I am leaving you forever. Don’t look for me, it will be useless. Misery and unhappiness have turned me into a witch. It is time for me to go. Farewell, Margarita.”

The poignancy of this sad letter of separation can once again be read as Bulgakov’s way of drawing attention to the intolerable misery of Soviet life. Even with all the material comforts that Moscow could offer, the absence of love in Margarita’s marriage, on top of the oppressive culture of communism, has twisted her into a dangerous mentality.

Her illicit affair with the Master led to her mind partly snapping when he vanished without trace. Such severe trauma, for both the imprisoned and their loved ones, happened to millions of innocent people under Stalin. At least for Margarita, the devil has told her that her beloved is alive, which is more than millions of relatives of those sent to the Gulag ever heard.

Azazello, Satan’s sidekick named after the evil Biblical angel Azaziel, has given Margarita a solid gold box of ointment. Once she rubs it in all over her body she turns invisible and is able to fly with a broom. This is a version of the folk story of the bewitching ointment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_ointment says “Flying ointment, also known as witches' flying ointment, green ointment, magic salve and lycanthropic ointment, is a hallucinogenic ointment said to have been used by witches in the practice of European witchcraft from at least as early as the Early Modern period, when detailed recipes for such preparations were first recorded.” The wiki mentions Margarita, in a list of eight examples of flying ointment from literature.

Bulgakov appears to be using witchcraft as a symbol of traditional Russian culture, as a way that ordinary people can find some freedom from the surveillance state, some continuity with the transgressive indigenous elements of civil society, and a way to subvert the near-complete banning of religion by the totalitarian Bolshevik regime.

The Witches' Ointment: The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic details how early modern theologians demonized psychedelic folk magic. There is a continuity between the Witch Crazes and Stalin’s purges, between the extreme intolerance of the Christendom Church and the Communist Party.


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Post Re: Chapter Twenty: Azazello's Cream
It makes some sense to me that traditional folk notions about witchcraft would offer a kind of refuge from the sterility of the life she has rejected for love of the Master. Yet it is clearly "in league with" the Devil. Certainly that is an old tradition about witchcraft in Western folktales at least.

She is still in despair, even while manically elated by the apparent release given by cream and broom. The manuscript is mostly burned, her lover has broken under the strain of oppressive party ideology, she doesn't care about any of the petty preoccupations which animate most of the people around her, and which Woland is using to manipulate them.

I think Bulgakov is raising the stakes. The Devil, which we can safely assume stands for Communism, is not just an alternate domination system, representing, say, domination by ruthless ideologues. He is engaging with something, something that I think is meant to be a more vital element of life, as perhaps symbolized by the stunned and stupefied Nikolai Ivanovich out in the yard. I am not yet sure what it is in Margarita's life that Bulgakov wants us to feel stands for higher motivations by all of us. Is it Romanticism, that downfall of so many Russians and the force they often seem to believe gives Russia its soul? Is it her restlessness itself? Is it her appreciation for literature, thus suggesting that Bulgakov is truly heartbroken by her crushing under the heel of Woland? I'm guessing not - something more like Romanticism, in the boundary-bursting tradition of the Highwayman or Robin Hood.

I haven't read ahead, but her willingness to follow Azazello's requirements seems to me strongly to hint that she will be betrayed and crushed by Woland. Or at best that some rescue of her vitality along the lines of Dr. Faustus' redemption will be a strong clue as to Bulgakov's prescription. Oh, well, fun to speculate about what's coming, but I don't want to get any more carried away than I already am.



Fri Mar 23, 2018 4:28 pm
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