Earth-based Religions

You Sly Universal Virus, You Psychedelic Mushroom Cloud at the Center of All Our Brains

“A Prayer for Us,” by Rob Brezny

his is a perfect moment. It’s a perfect moment because I have been inspired to say a gigantic prayer. I’ve been roused to unleash a divinely greedy, apocalyptically healing prayer for each and every one of us—even those of us who don’t believe in the power of prayer.

And so I am starting to pray right now to the God of Gods . . . the God beyond all Gods . . . the Girlfriend of God . . . the Teacher of God . . . the Goddess who invented God.

DEAR GODDESS, you who always answer our very best questions, even if we ignore you:

Please be here with us right now. Come inside us with your sly slippery slaphappy mojo. Invade us with your silky succulent salty sweet haha.
Hear with our ears, Goddess. Breathe with our lungs. See through our eyes.

DEAR GODDESS, you who never kill but only change:

I pray that my exuberant, suave, and accidental words will move you to shower ferocious blessings down on everyone who reads or hears this benediction.

I pray that you will give us what we don’t even know we need—not just the boons we think we want, but everything we’ve always been afraid to even imagine or ask for.

DEAR GODDESS, you wealthy anarchist burning heaven to the ground:

Many of us don’t even know who we really are.

We’ve forgotten that our souls live forever.

We’re blind to the fact that every little move we make sends ripples through eternity. Some of us are even ignorant of how extravagant, relentless, and practical your love for us is.

Please wake us up to the shocking truths. Use your brash magic to help us see that we are completely different from we’ve been led to believe, and more exciting than we can possibly imagine.

Guide us to realize that we are all unwitting messiahs who are much too big and ancient to fit inside our personalities.

DEAR GODDESS, you sly universal virus with no fucking opinion:

Help us to be disciplined enough to go crazy in the name of creation, not destruction.

Teach us to know the distinction between oppressive self-control and liberating self-control.

Awaken in us the power to do the half-right thing when it is impossible to do the totally right thing.

And arouse the Wild Woman within us—even if we are men.

DEAR GODDESS, you who give us so much love and pain mixed together that our morality is always on the verge of collapsing:

I beg you to cast a boisterous love spell that will nullify all the dumb ideas, bad decisions, and nasty conditioning that have ever cursed all of us wise and sexy virtuosos.

Remove, banish, annihilate, and laugh into oblivion any jinx that has clung
to us, no matter how long we have suffered from it, and even if we have become accustomed or addicted to its ugly companionship.

Conjure an aura of protection around us so that we will receive an early warning if we are ever about to act in such a way as to bring another hex or plague into our lives in the future.

DEAR GODDESS, you psychedelic mushroom cloud at the center of all our brains:

I pray that you will inspire us to kick our own asses with abandon and regularity.

Give us bigger, better, more original sins and wilder, wetter, more interesting problems.
Help us learn the difference between stupid suffering and smart suffering.

Provoke us to throw away or give away everything we own that encourages us to believe we’re better than anyone else.

Brainwash us with your compassion so that we never love our own freedom more than anyone else’s freedom.

And make it illegal, immoral, irrelevant, unpatriotic, and totally tasteless for us to be in love with anyone or anything that’s no good for us.

DEAR GODDESS, you riotously tender, hauntingly reassuring, orgiastically sacred feeling that is even now running through all of our soft, warm animal bodies:

I pray that you provide us with a license to bend and even break all rules, laws, and traditions that hinder us from loving the world the way you do.

Show us how to purge the wishy-washy wishes that distract us from our daring, dramatic, divine desires.

And teach us that we can have anything we want if we will only ask for it in an unselfish way.

DEAR GODDESS, you who just pretend to be crazy so you can get away with doing what’s right:

Help us to be like you—wildly disciplined, voraciously curious, exuberantly elegant, shockingly friendly, fanatically balanced, blasphemously reverent, mysteriously truthful, teasingly healing, lyrically logical, and blissfully rowdy.

And now dear God of Gods, God beyond all Gods, Girlfriend of God, Teacher of God, Goddess who invented God, I bring this prayer to a close, trusting that in these pregnant moments you have begun to change all of us in the exact way we needed to change in order to become the gorgeous geniuses we were born to be.

Amen
Om
Hallelujah
Shalom
Namaste
More power to you

Oh, but one more thing DEAR GODDESS, you pregnant slut who scorns all mediocre longing:

Please give us donkey clown pinatas full of chirping crickets,

ceramic spice jars containing 10 million-year-old salt from the Himalayas,

gargoyle statues guaranteed to scare away the demons,

lucid dreams while we’re wide awake,

enough organic soup and ice cream to feed all the refugees,

emerald parachutes and purple velvet gloves and ladders made of melted-down guns,

a knack for avoiding other people’s personal hells,

radio-controlled, helium-filled flying rubber sharks to play with,

magic red slippers to contribute to the hopeless,

bathtubs full of holy water to wash away our greed,

secret admirers who are not psychotic stalkers,

mousse cakes baked in the shapes of giant question marks,

stories about lightning strikes that burn down towers where megalomaniacal kings live,

solar-powered sex toys that work even in the dark,

knowledge of secret underground rivers,

mirrors that the Dalai Lama has gazed into,

and red wagons carrying the treats we were deprived of in childhood.

*   *   *

From Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia, Revised and Expanded: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings

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Categories: Earth-based Religions, Great Quotes, Healing, Poetry Sundays, Sex and Sexuality, Spirituality | 1 Comment

Of Chaucer, Spring Cleaning, and Werewolves

his is the strange and convoluted history of a holiday some people love, a lot of people hate, and everyone seems confused about: Valentine’s Day.

Once upon a time, in ancient Greece, a secret ritual was held each May on the slopes of Wolf Mountain (Lykaion, the tallest peak in Arcadia—the region lauded during the Renaissance as an unspoiled, harmonious wilderness, and in Greek mythology, home of the god Pan). The mountain was named for the Greek myth of Lycaon, king of Arcadia, who slaughtered and dismembered one of his sons (he had fifty, so I guess one was expendable, or maybe he just really pissed him off) and fed his son to Zeus, to see if he was truly omniscient. This upset Zeus, who transformed Lycaon into a wolf (λύκος, lukos or lykos, means “wolf”), restored the slaughtered boy to life, but killed all of Lycaon’s other sons with lightning bolts.

The secret rituals of the Lykaia were essentially rites of passage for epheboi (adolescent males)  that centered on the dual threat of cannibalism and werewolf transformation. Now, I’m not sure why cannibalism featured so prominently in Greek mythology, and I’m not sure why it was a threat: most often cannibalism was practiced during periods of extreme famine, or as a mostly ritualistic means of asserting dominance over a vanquished tribe or culture. We certainly cannibalize the art and practices of nearly every culture we come in contact with (usually to that culture’s detriment), but I haven’t grasped why actual cannibalism was such a strong tendency that a ceremonial prohibition against it needed to be instituted. The epheboi were often trained to be warriors; maybe it was a way of saying, “And when you win, don’t eat the other combatants or they’ll think you’re no better than wolves!”

Now we move to ancient Italy. The month of February is named for Februa, a spring cleansing ritual held between February 13 and 15. It combined spring cleaning and washing (February is a rainy month in Italy) with the notion of ritual purification. The festival may have gotten its name from the Latin word febris, “fever,” since the sweating that often accompanies fevers were seen as purging bad substances from the body.

In Rome, the Februa festival gave way to the Lupercalia, or “Wolf Festival,” which came to be held on the same dates. This celebration was to banish evil spirits, purify the city, and bring health and fertility. The Lupercalia was named partly for Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, and partly for the god Lupercus (also called Faunus), the Roman equivalent of Pan—who was worshiped in Arcadia, where the Lykaia were held.

The rites were directed by the Luperci, “brothers of the wolf”; they were naked except for goatskin loincloths, and served in the Lupercal temple, the cave where Romulus and Remus were raised and where, at the beginning of the Lupercalia, two goats and a dog were ritually sacrificed. According to Plutarch, “[During the Lupercalia] many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs [which were called, interestingly enough februa]. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school, present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

Fast forward a few hundred years. The feast of Saint Valentine on February 14 was established in 496 CE by one pope, but deleted from the calendar of saints by another in 1969. So much for papal infallibility. No one is entirely sure which of the many Christian martyrs named Valentine were being honored; it was a popular name that derives from valens, which means worthy or strong, and there were three different Valentines who were named in various martyrologies in connection with February 14. Most think it was a Roman priest who was martyred sometime between 269 and 273 during the reign of Claudius II, a.k.a. Claudius Gothicus. Valentine was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples, which was against the law at this time, and while in prison, Claudius (shall we say) took a liking to him. Then Valentine made the tragic mistake of trying to convert Claudius to Christianity, so Claudius had him beaten with clubs and then beheaded.

The Feast of Saint Valentine was a minor festival in the ancient Church. But after 380, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire (which was a shame, because when Constantine converted to Christianity in 312, he mandated that all religions in the empire be universally tolerated), the Church systematically established Christian feasts on the same days as the more ancient pagan ones—in a future post I’ll try to gather together an exhaustive list of them. In this case, the general pagan fertility celebration on February 13–15 was so widespread and prevalent that the Church needed to bring the feast a touch of religious sobriety.

Happily, the paganish aspects of the day—people acting like goats and wolves, seducing everyone you can with the sort of abandon one might ascribe to the followers of Pan—have remained to this day, even though dear Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle did their best to make Valentine’s Day a paean to romantic love. In his love poem “Parlement of Foules” he wrote, “For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” (For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, / When every bird comes to choose his mate.) The problem, of course, is that Chaucer wrote it for the engagement of Richard II, which was on May 2—a date which celebrated a different Saint Valentine, an early bishop of Genoa.

But that didn’t stop others from piling on the Saint Valentine bandwagon. On February 14, 1400, in honor of Valentine’s Day, a “High Court of Love” was established in Paris to deal with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading, and “valentines”—then short love poems—began to be circulated.

Since then it’s been all downhill. The early 1800s saw the first valentine cards available for purchase, and by the mid-19th century they were all the rage. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that roses and chocolates and jewelry were added to the giving of cards; apparently some 190 million valentines are sent every year in the US, not counting valentine exchanges in elementary schools.

Sickly sweet sentimentalism, to my way of thinking. I say we go back to dressing in nothing but goatskin loincloths and getting in touch with our inner wolves.

Categories: Classic civilizations, Earth-based Religions, Holidays, Sex and Sexuality | 1 Comment

Cobwebs

ou would think, after so long a silence, that I would have something more profound to say. I fear I must disappoint you. There are many reasons I have not been blogging, some of them trivial, some of them more compelling, but I don’t think any of them have produced in me any new wisdom or wit.

My job has me writing a lot each week: weekly newsletters, press releases, editorials, forwards and introductions to books—that sort of thing. I’ve also been participating in a weekly short fiction writing group (500 words max, on an assigned topic, in a very short time limit); a couple of the pieces have been recorded and aired on a public radio station in Kentucky, though I feel shy about posting any of them here. I’m not entirely sure why.

However, all this writing, coupled with an over-eager participation on Facebook, means my urge to simply write found other outlets; and as I was not moved by any great need to expound at length on any subject, the blog languished. Since May of 2010, I have written only five blog posts.

The big event last year was of course the illness and death of my friend Lee, my dear friend Adam’s wife. I am not sure what to say about it just now—a few sentences couldn’t begin to express how it affected me; I doubt that a few hundred pages could do much better. What shocked me, though, was the depth of the grief I experienced. Even though I could understand and rationally explain what her death was touching in me, on an emotional and spiritual level I found myself quite unable to cope with the intensity of the pain and loss I was experiencing. And it set off a recurrence of the terrible depression that nearly took my life a decade ago; the only difference is that now it is more dangerous, since I am far less willing, or perhaps able, to tolerate it: It must stop, I told myself, and stop soon, one way or another. There is no longer any thought of living with it chronically.

In the 1920s, Carl Jung coined the word synchronicity, which he described as “meaningful coincidences” and as the “acausal connecting principle.” In rapid succession I had my spiritual worldview rocked, ran painfully into walls where I had previously experienced open vistas, discovered some remarkable Chinese herbs that work far better than any antidepressant I have ever encountered, began questioning my purpose in life, and found myself in the office of an astonishingly gifted psychotherapist pouring as much of my life’s story as I could into a fifty-minute session. Meaningful coincidences indeed! In the space of two months it feels as if much has changed in me forever.

I am eager to see what this next phase of my life brings. And I thought it might be useful to start blogging again, not only to keep you all in the loop, as it were, but also to help me clarify my ideas. As E.M. Forster put it so succinctly, “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?”

You may have noticed that the blog has a new design. From the first I’ve called it “Notes from the Dreamtime,” but I’ve never really talked about where the name came from.

The term “Dreamtime” is a translation of Altjeringa or Altcheringa (it may also be translated “the Dreaming”). Altjeringa is a word in the Arrente language spoken by aboriginal Australian tribes living in the Northern Territory, around Alice Springs. The traditions and lore of Australia’s indigenous peoples belong to what may be the oldest continuous culture on Earth—around 50,000 years.

The Altjeringa is both a sacred “once upon a time,” a time out of time when ancestral totemic spirit beings formed all of creation, and the spiritual realm itself. Anthropologist and historian W.E. H. Stanner rather saliently called it “the Everywhen,” since it is experienced as a confluence of past, present, and future. Indigenous Australians consider the Everywhen of the Dreaming to be objective, while linear time was considered a subjective construction of waking consciousness of one’s own lifetime—the precise opposite of our usual way of looking at things. The Dreaming is the sacred, timeless, creative ground of being—and the continual source of all things that are manifest in our world.

So that’s what I hope to write about. There are great cobwebs in my brain, and heart, and I hope to use these pages to help sweep them away and create room for new things to come forth. My great error has been in thinking that I needed to have Something Important to Say; the truth is, all I need is to tap into the Dreamtime, and talk about what I find there.

Categories: Depression, Dreams, Earth-based Religions, First Nations, Shamanism, Writing | 3 Comments

Wrestling with Christmas

The older I get, the more Christmas fills me with a terrible ambivalence. But please note: “ambivalent” doesn’t imply a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. It means I’m of two opposite and conflicting minds.

As a child I was torn between childish greed, a certain delight even then in the decor, music, and “specialness” of the festivities, and a very Christian desire to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I was a devout little thing. I was on our local Romper Room show with Miss Connie for a whole week, and I created something of a ruckus on Wednesday (which was always snack day on Romper Room) after the prayer over the milk and cookies. Miss Connie led us all in saying, “God is great, God is good,/ And we thank Him for our food.” In my household, the prayer didn’t stop there. It continued: “By His hands we all are fed,/ Give us, Lord, our daily bread.” So I continued. Loudly. After everyone else had stopped. And then, as the cameras rolled, I told her in the most disapproving tones that God didn’t hear her prayer because she didn’t end the prayer with “In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” I remember saying it at least three times — that God doesn’t hear any prayer that isn’t prayed in Jesus’ name — each time more stridently because I thought she was ignoring me. What she was doing was gesturing wildly to the cameraman to cut to commercial. Ah, the days of live television!

When we moved to the Virgin Islands, I experienced my first Christmas there in 90 degree heat. We put our white flocked tree with its pretty blue balls (this was the 1970s, after all) on the balcony where it would be visible both when we were in the living room and when we were on the patio below, but on Christmas morning the trade winds carried the tree over the balcony and into the swimming pool, its pretty blue balls bobbing around happily in the water. Those days, when I was in high school, Christmas became just “what we did” each year. Festive and fun, but without any deeper meaning.

When I got my first apartment after college with my friend Jim, Christmas changed again. I really did Christmas up right. An eight-foot-tall fresh white pine, painstakingly decorated. My father was ill at the time, and while I didn’t realize it at the time, this would be his last Christmas with us. I gave him stocking stuffers filled with wind-up walking toys. I still remember the tears of joy and laughter in his eyes.

In the years that followed, I shared a home in Maryland with my mother, and we took similar pains to decorate well and tastefully. Jim would always come over on Christmas eve and watch TV with us, then I would go to my church for our festive 10 p.m. Christmas Eve celebration; Jim was always asleep on the couch by the time I got home. In the morning my brother Dale would join us in opening the stockings and gifts, then I would make a nice breakfast (usually eggs Benedict).

These were happy times, at least until I started suffering from depression — the chronic, crushing kind, a despair that is independent of circumstance. Because these bouts lasted for months at a time, I never knew if I’d be over it before the holidays or not. On several Christmases I remember going through the motions, putting on my characteristic happy face, when I would actually have preferred to be curled in a fetal position in the dark, weeping.

When I moved back to Florida from Vermont, and lived once again with Mom, we started recreating our Maryland Christmases, after a fashion. Jim would make a trip down once a year, and we would do the whole gift exchange thing and have a great time. But as Mom became ill, she could no longer shop, and couldn’t wrap gifts. Christmas became a burden. She wanted the house decorated, and even though it taxed her greatly, she always added some special touches. In the end, she just felt guilty over the whole thing. She didn’t want us to give her any gifts, and she just gave us money in return, hoping we’d get ourselves something we’d love.

The first Christmas after her death, I drove up to visit Jim in Virginia. Last year he came down here. This will be the first year in nearly a decade that we haven’t spent Christmas together. The only nod to Christmas in my house is my Charlie Brown tree. And it’s all right. Because I am decidedly ambivalent over Christmas.

Adam hates Christmas. I don’t think that’s stating his feelings too strongly. He has a decided antipathy not so much toward the holiday itself — people can celebrate whatever they damn well please, and more power to them — but toward the exhaustive and relentless way our society (not to mention the media) pushes it in our faces. This year I saw Christmas decorations on the shelves next to the Halloween decorations, and our local Walgreens was playing Christmas music well before Thanksgiving. For Jews (not to mention Muslims, Hindus, pagans, atheists, and other non-Christians), having grocery store clerks wishing you a Merry Christmas at every turn, or having Christmas music blasted from every loudspeaker in every restaurant and store, or having televisions broadcast nothing but Christmas dreck and artificially sappy shows with at least a tangential Christmas theme for nearly a month, is offensive in the extreme. I resent government and municipal bodies, which should be steadfastly secular and nonpartisan, celebrating the most Christian of holidays as if everyone in the world believed the same things. We don’t.

Every year I find myself wanting to pick fights with the Salvation Army bell-ringers: “Don’t you realize,” I want to shout, “that this organization you’re volunteering for actively discriminates against gays and lesbians? In 2004, the Salvation Army threatened to close all their soup kitchens and homeless shelters in New York City instead of following an ordinance requiring city contractors to provide equal benefits to domestic partners. Discriminating against gays was more important to them than helping the poor. On top of that, they refuse to give needy children any Harry Potter toys that have been donated because they’re ‘satanic.’ Is that the kind of ‘good’ you want to do in the world?” But I don’t shout. I drop in a Kettle Voucher, nod and give a tight little smile to the bell-ringer, and go about my shopping feeling rather Grinchlike.

One of the biggest reasons I am ambivalent is because Christmas is a fake. Jesus was not born on December 25, or anywhere near it. Assuming we’re using the gospels as our source material on the birth of Jesus, Luke clearly says the birth took place when shepherds were “living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night.” This means Jesus’ birth took place in early spring, since it was only at lambing time that shepherds stood guard over their flocks in the field.

December 25, in the older Julian calendar, was the date on which the winter solstice usually fell. Romans celebrated it as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, “the birthday of the unconquered sun.” Many scholars believe the 4th century church selected the winter solstice as the celebration of Jesus’ birth to appropriate and co-opt a pagan holiday that already had a long history and huge fan base. Others, like S.E. Hijmans in his book Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome, disagree: “It is cosmic symbolism [that] inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception. While they were aware that pagans called this day the ‘birthday’ of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas.”

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Jesus is not the reason for the season. The reason for the season is the tilt of the earth’s axis relative to the ecliptic.

And the decidedly pagan winter solstice celebrations are the source for most of our hallowed Christmas traditions:

■   Gift-giving was common in the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, which took place from December 17th through the 23rd — in fact, Christmas gift-giving was banned by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages due to its suspected pagan origins. Christians point to the gifts the magi gave to the infant Jesus, but forget that the magoi were Zoroastrian astrologers. Seleucus II Callinicusis, king of Syria, offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Apollo in his temple at Miletus in 243 BCE; this was likely the precedent for the mention of these particular gifts in Matthew’s gospel.

■   The Christmas tree was first seen in northern Germany in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, but winter solstice celebrations, especially in Europe, have always included the use of evergreen boughs as a symbol of life in the season of death, and as an adaptation of pagan tree worship.

■   Santa Claus. He may have been loosely based on St. Nicholas — Nikolaos of Myra, 4th century bishop of Myra, part of modern-day Turkey — but his feast day is December 6, and he really wasn’t much like our modern Santa or even like the more ancient Father Christmas, who typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas but was neither a gift-bringer nor particularly associated with children. He has been identified with the old belief in Woden or Odin. And as we noted a few years ago, Santa was a shaman.

■   And then there’s the feasting. One reason the winter solstice was so important the world over was because communities were not certain of living through the winter — starvation was common in winter between January and April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time.

Wikipedia has a fascinating compilation of different winter solstice observances, from nearly every culture imaginable.

When someone asks me about my religious beliefs, I never have a great answer. At times I am a Christian, though certainly a theologically liberal one. But by the same token I often feel Jewish, or Buddhist, or Hindu, even though my adherence to any of those religious traditions is tangential at best. I am a postmodern shaman and most decidedly a syncretist. I am, depending on what day you ask me, an animist, a pantheist, a panentheist, and occasionally even a monotheist. And I am generally a pagan, caught somewhere between Paganism and Neopaganism, though I don’t seem to find much in common with the neopagan community at large.

As at least a nominal Christian, I must wrestle with what Christmas means. I certainly believe in the mythos behind the story of Jesus’ birth. Countless gods and salvific figures had miraculous births, and many of them were born of a virgin (though of course the word ‘alma in the Hebrew prophecy upon which the story of Mary’s virgin birth is based described not a technical virgin all but simply a young woman). All the infancy stories of Jesus are mythic: the angelic annunciation, the slaughter of the innocents, shepherds as witnesses, magi traveling to do homage. I like feeling that I’m somehow part of one of the Great Myths of humankind.

My annoyance about the date of Jesus’ birth won’t change the fact that it’s been celebrated this way for sixteen centuries. And while I don’t hide my irritation at the way our society celebrates Christmas (last night someone on television said, “Christmas is about giving! It’s about friendship!!” as if that were the perfect summation of the symbolism of the holiday), this doesn’t seem to affect my need to sing Christmas carols for a few weeks every year — the ancient, modal ones that most people don’t sing or have never heard, the ones that evoke cold winters, or the eternal struggle of light against a pervasive darkness, or joyful dancing and revelry.

I no longer have a long list of people to shop for. I won’t be alone on Christmas day, but otherwise I won’t be celebrating much. I’ll listen to my lovely, relatively unknown carols, but I’ll turn off the TV when the Christmas specials come on. And in a couple of days, on the 21st, I’ll light a candle at 6:38 p.m., the moment the winter solstice occurs where I live. Ambivalence may not be a comfortable place to live, but it’s the best I can do for the time being.

Categories: Christianity, Depression, Earth-based Religions, Family, Holidays, Judaism, Spirituality | 7 Comments

Ancient Figurine of Voluptuous Woman Is Found

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
The New York Times

No one would mistake the Stone Age ivory carving for a Venus de Milo. The voluptuous woman depicted is, to say the least, earthier, with huge, projecting breasts and sexually explicit genitalia.

Side and front views of the Venus of Hohle Fels

Side and front views of the Venus of Hohle Fels

Nicholas J. Conard, an archaeologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, who found the small carving in a cave last year, says it is at least 35,000 years old, “one of the oldest known examples of figurative art” in the world. It is about 5,000 years older than some other so-called Venus artifacts made by early populations of Homo sapiens in Europe.

Another archaeologist, Paul Mellars of the University of Cambridge in England, agrees and goes on to remark on the obvious. By modern standards, he says, the figurine’s blatant sexuality “could be seen as bordering on the pornographic.” Continue reading

Categories: Art, Earth-based Religions, Sex and Sexuality | 1 Comment

Finding Directions

I have always been fascinated by maps. Not handsome, historical maps, but ones I might actually use. These days I spend an absurd amount of time on Google Maps or finding myself frustrated by various trip routing software. I’ve just bought a cheapo GPS for my car.

Part of it is that I get lost rather easily. For a while, when Indigo Bunting lived in Maryland and her husband lived in Vermont (both because of job demands), she was flying up to see him periodically and I would pick her up from the airport, one I have been to dozens and dozens of times. And every single time, on the trip back home, I would take a wrong turn somewhere and get us lost. Twice, maybe three times, I have picked up a friend at Orlando International and have gone west toward Tampa instead of east toward home. I think I make the mistake of thinking I can talk and drive at the same time, when I can barely manage to do even one of them adequately.

The deeper pull of maps seems to be tied to two things: a sense of being lost in the world, and needing some kind of spiritual cartography program that will help me navigate life a little better; and the notion that the inner landscape of the soul can be described, at least symbolically, in an image that is found in the iconography of countless cultures.

The indigenous peoples of this continent (though I prefer the Canadian term, “First Nations”) call this image the Medicine Wheel.

Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, First Nations, Shamanism, The Medicine Wheel | 5 Comments

On the Feast of Stephen

The story of Christmas is the story of assimilation. Sorry to put it so nakedly, but it’s true. Wrapped up in this holiday, this holy day, is a whole history of cultural appropriation, identity theft, and synchretism. And there are no easy answers. It’s all so very messy.

December 25 was the date of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere according to the old Julian calendar. In the Gregorian calendar currently in use, the solstice falls on the 21st or 22nd. Most ancient cultures held their biggest annual festivals at this time of year; if you take into account all winter festivals worldwide, the list of holidays is staggering.

The Church was pretty open about appropriating the winter solstice (or, more specifically, the Roman celebration of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the festival of Sol, the invincible sun god) as Jesus’ birthday. Jesus was almost certainly born in late March or early April, but if you want an instant celebration of a new concept, you simply glom onto an existing festival and add a new face to it.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Jesus is not “the reason for the season.” The reason for the season, as a friend recently pointed out, is the tilt in the earth’s axis, and humankind’s need to celebrate light and life on the darkest day of the year. Continue reading

Categories: Christianity, Classic civilizations, Earth-based Religions, Holidays, Judaism, Social Justice | 7 Comments

An Ignominious Return

A friend who shall remain nameless has been nagging me mercilessly about how I don’t blog anymore. Well, not mercilessly. And perhaps “nagging” is too strong a word. She gives me a gentle nudge every few weeks. It’s just my guilt that has blown it into titanic proportions. Until this week I had written nothing since last December, and even then the last few posts were interesting things I had found here or there; I wasn’t actually writing anything.

I want to write about my mother, who is dying by inches. I want to talk about how her mind, or rather her Mind (to put it in a Buddhist context), is keeping her from getting better, keeping her from enjoying life, despite the counsel and clear statements of several physicians. She was always a pessimist; now she’s teaching me how one’s mindset utterly controls one’s health and well-being. I want to talk about her anhedonia, a beautiful word for a soul-sucking condition where you don’t find pleasure in anything. It’s like apathy but sadder.

But instead of writing about my mother, today I am choosing to write about my love of etymology. I have always loved words. Mostly English words, but back when I was studying Greek and Hebrew, a friend saw me with a book on the derivation of Greek words used in religious scholarly texts. He said, “Boy, I’ll bet that’s pretty dry!” I laughed; I actually used it as pleasure reading. I devoured arcane etymological discussion like popcorn.

The other night Mom and I were talking, for reasons that escape me now, about pumpernickel bread. She asked where the word “pumpernickel” comes from, so I did some research. Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, Humor, Words | 8 Comments

How to Sing Like a Planet

Scientists say the Earth is humming. Not just noise, but a deep, astonishing music. Can you hear it?

By Mark Morford
San Francisco Gate

This is the kind of thing we forget. This is the kind of thing that, given all our distractions, our celeb obsessions and happy drugs and bothersome trifles like family and bills and war and health care and sex and love and porn and breathing and death, tends to fly under the radar of your overspanked consciousness, only to be later rediscovered and brought forth and placed directly in front of your eyeballs, at least for a moment, so you can look, really look, and go, oh my God, I had no idea.

The Earth is humming. Singing. Churning out a tune without the aid of battery or string or wind-up mechanism and its song is ethereal and mystifying and very, very weird, a rather astonishing, newly discovered phenomena that’s not easily analyzed, but which, if you really let it sink into your consciousness, can change the way you look at everything.

Indeed, scientists now say the planet itself is generating a constant, deep thrum of noise. No mere cacophony, but actually a kind of music, huge, swirling loops of sound, a song so strange you can’t really fathom it, so low it can’t be heard by human ears, chthonic roars churning from the very water and wind and rock themselves, countless notes of varying vibration creating all sorts of curious tonal phrases that bounce around the mountains and spin over the oceans and penetrate the tectonic plates and gurgle in the magma and careen off the clouds and smack into trees and bounce off your ribcage and spin over the surface of the planet in strange circular loops, “like dozens of lazy hurricanes,” as one writer put it. Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, Nature, Spirituality, Worthwhile Reading | 1 Comment

The Jicara

My friend Kate lived for several years in Yuma, Arizona, and worked as an environmental lawyer on an Army base. She and her fiancé Ken made numerous trips down the Mexican coast visiting the tiny towns along the Gulf of California. One particular family befriended them, and welcomed them into their home repeatedly.

The years have been difficult. Ken died in a horrific accident, leaving Kate in great mourning. Then the Mexican family’s matriarch died, leaving behind a sad but kindly husband and two young kids. huichol_yarn_painting_by_rojelio_beuites.jpgBut though Kate moved back to the D.C. area, she makes regular visits to the family in Mexico, and always brings interesting gifts for the kids (who are growing like weeds; it makes Kate feel very old).

Every year she sends me some memento from Mexico, most of them pieces of Huichol art. She has given me two blankets woven in the most amazing colors, a decidedly hallucinogenic wooden dog, and two intriguing crucifixes (blending several different religious traditions).

Perhaps the most recognizable type of Huichol art is the nieli’ka, or yarn painting (like the one depicted here). In traditional Huichol communities, nieli’kas are important ritual artifacts. They’re usually small square or round tablets covered on one or both sides with a mixture of beeswax and pine resin into which threads of yarn are pressed. Nieli’kas are found in most Huichol sacred places such as house shrines (xiriki), temples, springs, and caves. Continue reading

Categories: Art, Dreams, Earth-based Religions, First Nations, Shamanism, The Medicine Wheel | 9 Comments

Where the Leylines Led

Ever since Alfred Watkins announced his discovery of a network of ancient alignments criss-crossing the British countryside, the history of leys has been less of an old straight track and more of a long and winding road, one that has taken detours into everything from ufology to dowsing. Veteran ley hunter Paul Devereux sets out to map this remarkable journey and to see where it has taken us today.

by Paul Devereux, for The Fortean Times

June 2007

Following Alfred Watkins’s famous vision of straight paths crossing the landscape, the concept of “leys” has evolved over several decades, but it has become increasingly obvious to research-minded ley students that there never were such features as “leys,” let alone “leylines.” At best, these were convenient labels to cover a multitude of both actual and imaginary alignments from many different eras and cultures. This was because most enthusiasts were projecting their own ideas onto the past in various ways. But the handful of research-minded ley hunters cared about actual archæology, and they followed where the mythical leys led—a journey in which they have made some unexpected findings, proving William Blake’s dictum that if the fool persists in his folly he will eventually become wise. These vary from discovering that culturally contrived altered mind-states in past societies caused markings to be left on the land to unravelling the meaning of a passage in a Shakespeare play that has revealed the vestiges of a spiritual geography in Old Europe.

Because the realisation that New World features like the Nazca lines of Peru and other pre-Columbian land markings throughout the Americas seem to be associated with entranced mind states (typically triggered by the ritual use of plant or fungal hallucinogens) has been sufficiently aired previously, we need spend little space on them here—save to note that in the late 1980s, when the present writer introduced the term “shamanic landscapes” to describe such ground markings, few people were aware of the scale of mind-altering drug usage in ancient America and so tended to dismiss the idea at the time as being over-fanciful. Subsequently, though, the role of altered mind-states in explaining certain imagery in prehistoric rock art has become more widely accepted. The land markings share a similar source to these rock art images, so features like the Nazca lines are not to be misunderstood as landing strips for extraterrestrial spacecraft but as the markings of a culture encountering inner space. The human spirit has left its signature on the planet in some surprising ways.

Less well known by academics and folklorists, let alone anyone else, is the fact that the leys led researchers to revelations regarding largely ignored features in the Old World. Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, Shamanism, The Medicine Wheel, Time and Space | Leave a comment

Mountains of Magic and More

by Tirthankar Mukherjee, The UB Post (Ulaanbatar, Mongolia)
Thursday, July 05, 2007

Kalidasa, the Indian poet-dramatist whose Meghadutam was translated into Mongolian in the 17th century (and whose name, I dare say, is totally unknown to the young in the country today), saw hills and mountains as the breasts of the Earth-woman. The Mongolian would ignore the erotic aspect of the simile, but would have no quarrel with it if female breasts are taken as sources of sustenance, for venerating mountains has been part of the Mongolian life ever since the nomads began their exploration of the country and found they were everywhere under the watchful eyes of hills.

Indeed, in Mongolian mythology, the world is ruled by Heaven and Earth in conjunction, the former male and causing things to be born, and the latter female and ensuring their nourishment and survival. This gradually led to the demarcation of some 800 sites—mountains, hills, lakes, and rivers—as worthy of veneration.

In this, something akin to the Japanese sangaku shinko (meaning “mountain creed”) can be said to have developed independently in Mongolia. Both Shamanism and the Shinto faith express reverence for mountains as sacred places. This is an integral part of a wider veneration of nature that is a feature of both, with both believing that natural features such as trees, lakes, streams, rocks and mountains are the dwelling places of spirits which hold influence over human affairs and respond to human prayer and ritual. Continue reading

Categories: Buddhism, Earth-based Religions, Environment, Nature, Shamanism | 2 Comments

An Easter for the Birds

Many homes in this part of Florida (that is to say, homes newer and more expensive than ours) have a large screened-in area that encloses an in-ground pool, a summer kitchen, and a lanai or roofed porch; on temperate days, the sliding glass doors open up to the kitchen and family room and even master bedroom, so that the indoors pours comfortably into the outdoors. Darryl and Janet, my brother and sister-in-law, have such a home, which backs onto on a small but very pretty artificial lake.

Yesterday they invited everyone over for an Easter cookout. To be fair, no one cooked, at least not yesterday afternoon. We all brought our contributions: Easter egg potato salad (some of the eggs were a little blue or green from the Easter egg dye); a Jello salad with lots of marshmallows; extremely garlicky green beans; a precooked ham, and a precooked turkey breast, and packaged rolls; that sort of thing. Mom was dreading the day, since she was feeling poorly and not having a good breathing day, but as she had made such a fabulous showing the previous weekend—spending the night at the Kissimmee home of my other brother and sister-in-law, Dale and Nilda, while I gave a workshop at a writers’ conference in New Port Richey—Mom felt obligated to show up at yesterday’s gathering as well. Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Christianity, Earth-based Religions, Holidays | 3 Comments

The Big Trip: Jesus is Lord on the Crow Reservation

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The woman who ran the campground was a coal miner. She and her husband both were. There are a lot of coal miners around Gillette. Low-sulfur, I think, is what she called the mines, since “those don’t need special scrubbers.” Because of the Clean Air Act, all coal-producing plants and most of the electrical power plants in the area that are powered by coal must use these special scrubbers, but if your coal has low enough sulfur levels, you don’t need the scrubbers. Oil is very big here, too, nearly as big as in Texas, she told me. “Though here, the egos aren’t quite as large.”

Politically they’re very conservative but somewhat cynical, as it is widely understood that you can get whatever you want politically by buying it, and many politicians won’t do anything for you without a campaign contribution. A city council member (and campaign worker for a mayoral candidate) in Gillette out-and-out told her that if she wanted something changed she should make a contribution to the candidate’s campaign—the council member said she was sure he’d be elected because she had gotten a vast number of senior citizens registered and would personally be driving them to the polls on election day.

Gillette, Buffalo, Sheridan: wonderful, wide-open Wyoming vistas, with lots of cowboys, and oil rigs, and coal mines, and hunters. The hunters, actually, have descended upon the area just this weekend, packing into the hotels and motels and campgrounds for the opening of antelope season. Motel signs are offering them special discounts; the 7-Eleven is giving them a free bag of ice with purchase. (The hunters, not the antelopes.)

I plan to go west on I-90, which swings north into Montana and continues west through Billings and on to Bozeman and Helena. To my left are little mounds that rise unexpectedly from this very gently rolling place: small, sudden, peaky hills—small breasts with nipples everywhere you look: nipple, nipple, nipple, nipple, nipple. Which of course reminds me that Grand Tetons (the mountain range south of Yellowstone here in Wyoming) is French for “Big Tits.” Really. Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, First Nations, Shamanism, The Big Trip, The Medicine Wheel | 4 Comments

The Big Trip: Custer and the Devils Tower

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Last night I swore I’d never again set foot in the Black Hills. Today I feel pulled back there, if for no reason than to see what they look like in the cold, rational light of day. mtrushmore.jpgThough I’ll happily skip Mount Rushmore this time. (If you’ve watched Kids in the Hall, you can just hear “I’m crushing your head!” when you look at the picture to the right.)

In the Black Hills National Forest, on the road leading to Custer State Park, was a sign that said, simply, “Grizzly.” I couldn’t tell if it was a warning or an advertisement.

All sorts of roads are closed up here. I don’t know what highway I’m on anymore (my, doesn’t that sound familiar?), but I’m snaking through the woods at about 15 miles per hour, going straight uphill. I’m not entirely sure my car will make it. I can’t help but wonder if I’m on the back side of Mount Rushmore; I’m at the top of Iron Mountain, apparently.

The man on the radio says he’s picking porcupine quills out of his coat from this morning’s encounter. How intriguing! Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Earth-based Religions, Nature, Spirituality, The Big Trip, Travel | 6 Comments

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