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Archive for October, 2009

Some self history

Gus was asking about the difference between Christians. at first this was meant to be a comment, but it got too long and rambly, so I’m posting it here.

Until fairly recently I was Christian. Well, Christian highly influenced by Judaism with some Pagan beliefs thrown in there. It was hard to explain, even then. Even as a Pagan, now, my beliefs are incredibly specific that it makes for hard self definition of religious tenets. Practice is much easier to explain. I operate most like a kitchen/hedgewitch. But this post is about the past, for now. We’ll start with the problem of proselytization within Christianity.

Even during the sections of my life where I solidly attended church, I never understood why I should proselytize. Christianity is so big that there wasn’t anyone I knew, or would come across, that didn’t know about it. Their beliefs were their choice. I would certainly talk about my beliefs, but that was more in discussion with others. Conversion I thought should be a personal choice and not forced upon anyone.

This view may have actually been pretty well colored by the fact that my mom converted to reform Judaism, and taught me the Jewish root meanings of Christianized concepts. Makes for much milder stuff. And in actually reading certain books of the Bible myself, with no one interpreting it over my shoulder, I made my own conclusions. These were colored by my experiences.

When I was in high school a cousin came to live with us, and he was flamboyantly gay. To be honest, he was flamboyant in anything he chose to do. It was just the way he was. When my older sister came out of the closet, I never had a problem. (I was a tad surprised, though.) I figured if the teaching that “God is love” didn’t apply to each of their types of love, too, then it wasn’t worth anything.

As everyone knows, life changes you. I switched to the Paganism I hold now. I was always sorrowful during worship in Christianity. In Paganism, as soon as I decided to change, I was incredibly happy. I’d felt the pull of myth all my life, and I couldn’t deal with holding to the values of a religion that was increasingly not my own. The public image of Christianity is pretty horrifying, because the loudest in the “flock” are causing the most problems. I didn’t like being associated with people whose words, restrictions on others, and actions I so abhorred.

In personal relationships, though, I’ve been lucky. Several of my friends are Christian, of varying degrees. One good friend is going to college to become a Pastor. He is the most empathic person I’ve ever met, and I wish more Christians were like him. Another is the son of my former Pastor. He’s a wild child, and been through more “hell” than anyone should. They’re both very different than the image people think of when they hear “Christian,” even if I wish they were what people thought of. If more Christians were like them, interfaith dialogue would be much more amicable.

Here’s hoping.

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I know I promised

And I know this is late. I’ve decided I’m not going to do a whole expose on the serious WTFery going on in the world. The endeavor would not be good for my blood pressure. I’ve said I get “impassioned.” That is an understatement. I have a major temper. Usually I’m pretty laid back, and it takes a lot to get me going. But there are some shortcuts. If you want to turn me into a 5’2″ tornado that swears like a sailor, the murder/torture of innocent women and children is one of them. So, instead, I will wait for God’s Own Party? (in my links on the right,) to do a thorough post on it, and then I’ll just link there. Save me from an web-hosted apoplectic fit.

On to other things. It might be just me and my penchant for spelling, grammar, and general literary nitpicking, but I get a bit tired of people (even really good ones,) misquoting “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” Go double check your copy of the Inferno if you think I’m wrong and pop culture is right. I’ll even do it for you. It’s stanza 9, btw.

Also, sometimes I want to get into Law, just to protect people from these idiots. Scalia too.

Sorry that this post has become a bit of a ragefest, anyway. It happens. ‘Night, all. I will try for mellow of comedy next post.

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Jeff Buckley and Poe are the perfect pairing for an October new moon. I do promise that later you will get a substantial, and enraged, post. But I needed the peace of this poetry first.

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Gladiatorial games

I find it quite silly that society today, especially American society, has such a dim view of the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome. Consider for a moment our media. In films you find the exact same violent acts that are so detested when speaking of gladiators, some that are even worse! The only difference in film and visual media is that it is fictional. Even though the blood lust of the populace is still the driving force behind their production, just as it was in Rome.

We must also consider sports, particularly contact sports. The rabid fans, the giant stadiums, the brutality that is cheered on. The same as in Ancient Rome. Human society really hasn’t changed that much. So why do we look down our noses as the frankness of the Republic and Empire in satiating the “mob” when we do so ourselves? Maybe we are far too arrogant in thinking ourselves, our society as more evolved. In some ways, yes, I won’t deny that. But violence is still violence. It is a tool used to control and that has never changed.

We are still human, and we come with all the human failings of hate, greed, murder, marginalization of peoples, etc. We are essentially no better than our ancestors, because we could end up in the same place as they were so very easily. (And by that I do not mean no modern technology.) Just because certain situations have changed doesn’t mean humanity itself has. It will take much more than good intentions, and the hard work of the best examples of us.

Change your mind about someone. Look through the eyes of someone with a different perspective. Listen, really listen, and learn. Own up to your own mistakes.

Goodnight all.

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Work work

This morning was not a bad morning, despite little sleep and ants. We’ll get to the ants in a second.

I work as a life drawing model. This involves holding still for anywhere from 30 second gestures to 20 minute increment long poses. I get frequent compliments from artists about how still I can be. It’s not too hard to ignore a little discomfort, sore muscles, hairs tickling my face or something itching. One thing I cannot ignore, though, are bugs. That’s where the ants come in.

It rained last night, so maybe that’s why they were in the room. Taking shelter from the wet ground. Or the pheramones leading to home got washed away. There certainly wasn’t any food around for them to go after. For some reason, though, they were there, and decided that I was good for crawling on. I kept having to move, and apologize for moving, to squish the little buggers. (Pun all the way.) I don’t really like having to move, since it doesn’t give the artist a continuous pose. But I still cannot ignore the bugs.

It also seems, that while I can eat cheese again without ill effects, (I was vegan for 2 years, and am now just vegetarian,) mac and cheese from the box is not the same thing according to my stomach. So, no more of that. I’ll stick to proper cheese toast. For which I need to buy more supplies tomorrow. I’m still unsure about trying whole eggs not cooked into anything, right now.

Despite feeling the yuck from my dubious food adventure, I figured you deserved a blog today anyway. Good night, sleep well, have crazy ass dreams. Tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine, etc.

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Modern Myths

I was trying to make a list of modern myths the other day. Myth, to me, is a story that permeates a culture. It does not have to be religious in nature, merely of mythic proportions. Know that this list is only those stories that fill my life with wonder, that tell a great hero’s tale, and often tell of human failings and human success. None of these are really essential. The only essential part is the story itself. If a story grabs you by the shoulders, lifts you in the air, or floats you on a sea of emotion that is enough for myth. These are just the few that really open my eyes in awe.

The Lord of the Rings: Now, this might well count as modern myth for many of you. It was certainly written to be that for England. I admit, at times it gets a bit scholarly and goes of on a tangent, but the story overall does not suffer. And the story is inspiring. (Also, no, it is not an analogy, not for anything. Tolkien protested against that line of thinking until the end of his life. It’s greatest aspect is that it is relevant to any time period. Unfortunately that makes it look like an analogy to some people, and they ignore the author’s intentions.)

The Chronicles of Narnia: This was a staple series in my childhood, and the childhoods of many the people I know. I can’t look at a wardrobe without thinking of this series. It might not be on the same scale as the Lord of the Rings, but it was meant for children and is therefore written in a different style.

Dune: I did not read this until I was 20. I can’t imagine why no one had recommended it before then. The elements of this story are so intricate. Plots within plots! And even Paul Atreides knows he is within an epic journey, but cannot stop it from dragging him with the current. The scope of the Dune universe is such that one cannot help but feel it’s mythic power. Especially since it had a huge influence on the creation of the next modern myth on this list.

Star Wars: This is undeniably a modern myth. It has so pervaded our culture that Jedi was the stated religion of 120k people in New Zealand and Australia according to the 2002 Census there. Myth and religious practice and belief go hand in hand. Not to mention the story of Star Wars was also inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, as well as the aforementioned Dune.

Kushiel’s Legacy: This is where I might get some contention from you. Jacqueline Carey’s books haven’t been out very long, compared to the above stories. The first books was published in 2001. But the aspects of the series are built upon myths within the realm of the tale. It is much like Odysseus being stuck within his own adventure when he is just trying to get home. Phèdre is in much the same situation, though she is trying to save her country, her friend, a child. She is swept along and must survive kidnapping, imprisonment, pirates, etc. A third of the way through my first reading of the first book and I stopped, thinking “She has so far to go, and has already been through so much! What else can happen?” And that is one form of a good myth.

The Black Jewels: This, also, is fairly new for a myth. The first of the books was published in 1998. It is also different in that you have not one main hero, but four. Two brothers, their estranged father, and a girl who might be queen. If they can help her live long enough, that is. And that, dear readers, is a very good hook in story telling. The writing is fantastic as well. Beyond having common, well done, archetypes it has wit. Biting wit. Blade like humor always gets my stamp of approval, and it also shows how good the author is at her craft.

The Kingkiller Chronicles: I admit, only one of the books is out so far, but I will explain why it belongs here. In the Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss uses every ounce of his college experience in building the story. Not only does he have a MA in English, but has numerous (really numerous,) minors attached to his Bachelors. It shows in his writing. I’m not saying that it’s dry like a thesis, not at all! It is the realism that displays his knowledge. When Kvothe and his classmates speak of Chemistry vs Alchemy within the book you can tell the author intimately knows the difference. The goals of each historically as well as scientifically. The world he’s built is detailed such that even when it is not in the book itself, you know that it is fully formed, down to the size of the wheat fields surrounding Tarbean. In every rereading I find some foreshadowing, or some detail I missed the times before. It is rich like chocolate cake, and deserves the badge of modern myth absolutely.

The Crow: Yes, I’m elevating a comic to the heights of myth. James O’Barr gave life and form to sorrow, despair, and anguish. Vengeance and justice breathed life back into Eric Draven and tied him to legend. It may not be as universal as the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars in media and culture, but it sings to people just the same. Loss is part of life, and so is part of myth, too.

Harry Potter: This I add with some reservations. It has the same visibility as others on this list, the same amount of renown, but to me it is not on the same level. This is mostly due to the writing, as the other storytellers on here are masterful with their subjects. It is also in part due to the relative lack of world building, since that is what draws me the most after writing skill. I cannot deny it is a hero’s tale. There is much fulfillment of archetypes as well. Truthfully, I can’t quite put my finger on what makes me want to not have this series on the list. So, for lack of that I will let it stay.

You might ask why I did not include certain other epics or sagas. Well, this is my list. There is no reason to not make your own. And what do I mean by “modern?” A modern myth would be one created within the last century. Peter Pan is out, since a portion was first published in 1902. Alice in Wonderland is also out. Any recreation thereof are out. New stories are what I wanted. These all qualify, even if one inspired another. I chose the tales that are of mythic proportion, to me. They stand out in a crowd (and I do have a crowd of books.) You are welcome to make your case for another story in the comments. But I may have reasons for passing over anything you think I might have missed. If you suggest Twilight, though, I will laugh. Yes, I own them. The writing and story are not spectacular. It is, in fact, quite silly. I can seen why teen girls like it, though, because it is written as if it’s by one. It is certainly not the best example of vampire literature. All of which I left off this list because vampires are not modern. They are more akin to a Jungian “collective unconscious” idea.

That said, I bid you good night.

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Defining terrorism

This is a slippery subject. How does one define terrorism? The Oxford Dictionary says it is “(n) the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” I would slightly change that. Terrorism can include religious aims, as well as political aims, both, or neither. To me, terrorism is best defined as an act that is used purely to instill fear into a group of people. This is because the baseline goal of terrorism in not political or religious, it is to cause terror.

Terrorism could easily be argued to have existed for as long as humans have. If you look through history you can see evidence of this, even without the specific word itself being used. The word itself came out of the French Revolution[1], and so is comparatively young. The idea, though, is not.

Aristotle touched on State tyranny in his discourse Politics. Reading the description hits quite close to home, and not with the modern view of terrorism.

“. . . and further, it is part [of the nature of tyranny] to strive to see that all the affairs of the tyrant are secret, but that nothing is kept hidden of what any subject says or does, rather everywhere he will be spied upon . . . . Also it is part of these tyrannical measures to impoverish the nation so as to bolster the funds available for military defense, and so that the common citizens will be occupied with earning their livelihood and will have neither leisure nor opportunity to engage in conspiratorial acts . . . . Thus, the tyrant is inclined constantly to foment wars in order to preserve his own monopoly of power.”[2]

This sounds uncomfortably familiar to recent US government practice. It is far removed from the Islamic extremist we see on the news. (Not to say that they are not utilizing terror as a weapon, they just do it in a very public fashion. Tyranny comes in different flavors is all.)

Rome, too, was not unaccustomed to the bright, sharp edge of fear. Even within the reign of Octavius Augustus, who began the Pax Romana, there was no shortage of civil unrest and panic. Suetonius describes what we might call regular city life, fraught with roving groups of brigands, fraudulent guilds, and slaves and freemen being picked up and confined to workhouses.[3] The context is post civil war, we must remember, and as such there is no modern reference for the tension of the time.

One oft cited period of social and religious terrorism within the Pagan community would be what is now refered to as the “Burning Times.” Though, to be honest, the fearmongering done by the Church encompasses a huge amount of history, to which the Burning Times is only a small part. I do not think I can do it justice yet, so I will point you to a basic timeline. [4]

Moving out from ancient history we come to a favorite example of mine, Vlad Ţepes. He killed tens of thousands of people,[5] mostly by impalement as his nickname shows, and he did not restrict himself to the Ottomans with whom he was fighting against. Sometimes I wonder if the sole inspiration for Machiavelli’s The Prince was indeed Cesar Borgia. Machiavelli was born in the last decade of Vald’s rule, and may well have heard stories of his governing technique.[6]

And just after the time of the founding of America, we have the French Revolution. Let the Reign of Terror begin. Here we have the invention of the word itself, terrorism. From 1793-1794 it might seem the French populace went a bit mad. Maximillien Robespierre, a leader of the regime de la terreur espoused:

“If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible…It has been said that terror is the principle of despotic government. Does your government therefore resemble despotism? Yes, as the sword that gleams in the hands of the heroes of liberty resembles that with which the henchmen of tyranny are armed.”[7]

Since it is very late I’m going to stop here, before we get to the entanglements of modern politics. Also, you may notice I used primarily links for my citations. This is because I don’t expect you to have all the books on the subjects. That would be unrealistic, since I do not even have all the books. And I collect them. The links are mainly so you have a frame of reference, or at least know what bits and pieces of literature/history I am talking about. That’s all.

Goodnight.

1: The word ‘terrorism’ entered into European languages in the wake of the French revolution of 1789. In the early revolutionary years, it was largely by violence that governments in Paris tried to impose their radical new order on a reluctant citizenry. As a result, the first meaning of the word ‘terrorism’, as recorded by the Académie Française in 1798, was ‘system or rule of terror’. This serves as a healthy reminder that terror is often at its bloodiest when used by dictatorial governments against their own citizens. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/recent/sept_11/changing_faces_01.shtml)

2: –Aristotle, Politics bk v, xi (350 BCE)

3: Many pernicious practices militating against public security had survived as a result of the lawless habits of the civil wars, or had even arisen in time of peace. Gangs of footpads openly went about with swords by their sides, ostensibly to protect themselves, and travellers in the country, freemen and slaves alike, were seized and kept in confinement p175in the workhouses35 of the land owners; numerous leagues, too, were formed for the commission of crimes of every kind, assuming the title of some new guild.36 – P32, Suetonius, Life of Augustus (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Augustus*.html)

4: Timeline to be found here (http://mosmaiorum.org/persecution_list.htm

5: http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/vlad-dracula.htm

6: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/machiavelli/

7: Speech, “Justification of the use of Terror,” Maximillien Robespierre, 2/5/1794. (http://www.historywiz.com/primarysources/justificationterror.htm)

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