Eastra, the doll of the season, was telling me the other day that in ancient times the beginning of spring at or about the time of the vernal equinox was celebrated with fertility rites which were meant to encourage a general fecundity among all living things animal and vegetable.
Many cultures had gods and goddesses honored in these rites; there was Artemis in Greece, Cebele in Phrygia, Diana in Ephesus and Attis the god of ever-reviving vegetation who was believed to have been born of a virgin and who died and was reborn annually.
I was trying to imagine what these rites might have been like. They probably involved a lot of fertilizing of various seeds and things and to get everyone into the mood, to get their energy up, to really get into the re-generation mind set there probably was a bit of strong drink, wild dancing and singing.
I found out Cebele the Phrygian Earth goddess was honored with a procession involving wild, high pitched flute music and drumming, scattered rose petals and clouds of incense followed by priests and priestesses scourging themselves with sharp knives.
But that was mild compared to the cult of Ishtar that may have involved child sacrifice, ritual copulation and virginal girls dancing around large male genitalia.
Whatever the rites involved the celebrants must have thought it worked. Besides the great fun had by all (excepting the sacrificial victim) animals reproduced, babies were born and crops grew. It does seem pretty magical and I guess it was hard for most people to take for granted the resurrection of the dormant (or dead) without providing some sort of penitential assistance even though we all know Mother Earth is a gigantic incubator and really doesn’t need that kind of help.
I think I’ll celebrate Mother’s magic with a nice contemplative walk in the woods.
Free-thinking Frank was telling me the other day about this group-a movement really-of skeptics dedicated to the task of debunking all things paranormal like ESP, UFO sightings, conversing with the deceased, telekinesis, and anything else they see as magical thinking. They’re a conscientious bunch, Frank says, avoiding generalization and attending to the particular, which means they pretty much take all claims seriously.
Employing the scientific method these skeptics seek out verifiable data and eye-witnesses with consistent, non-contradictory accounts but for the most part are seeking normal and natural explanations for the anomalous phenomena thought of as paranormal. Frank said these skeptics find religious claims dubious as well but aren’t inclined to consider them for analysis since they rely so heavily on non-falsifiable premises.
All in all, Frank said he thought the skeptics are on the right track attempting as they are to clear the air of the fog of magical thinking, you know, putting people on the path of verifiable truth.
As I thought about it, I wasn’t so sure; I found myself skeptical of the skeptics. It seems to me science has relinquished its claim to the ground of truth these days. The space-time continuum among other things has really messed with our intuitive sense of the cosmos. Do our processes of thought even correspond to the structure of nature?
So, for me, it’s time to re-examine the paranormal. The first thing I’m going to do is dig out my birth chart and see what the stars have in store for me.
I’ve been reading lately about the various ways different cultures and people think about after-life. Many of the various after-life conceptions identify an inner spirit or soul within each individual that is in some way immortal and will live on in a place determined by their conduct in the life they’ve just left. Some contend the deceased will be reborn taking a living form, animal or human, consistent with their previous moral, ethical existence.
Some researchers have hypothesized what the after-life might be like. One suggests that after death the soul floats into the atmosphere where it lives off of the ultra-violet rays from the sun. Another believes after death the self will find itself in a dream word of memories and mental images. Still another thinks the mind will merge into a collective consciousness the downside being it will relinquish its personality.
But, the idea about what the after-life will be like that I like best is that each person will experience a world of her own, unique to herself and consistent with her earthly existence. If my next world follows my nature then it will be filled with wonder and uncertainty and I will continue to question, to look for the ever elusive answer and to revel in the ever-present Mystery. What could be better than that?
I was speaking with ZahZah K. the other day about her contention that the only solution to the impending end to civilization as we know it (you know, as brought on by our degrading environment, sectarian violence, etc.) is the establishment of a new social paradigm, a transformation of the fundamental structure of society, the establishment of a world-wide collectivity.
What we need to realize, she said, are those universal truths that we as sentient beings all share, that define the bases of our existence; those truths which precede the value distortions precipitated by associations of race, sect, religion or economic philosophy. And, once we all grasp these truths true freedom will be realized.
It all sounded pretty good to me at first but then I got to thinking that if this universal revelation were to happen we all would be, in effect, marching to the same drummer. And, it sure seems to me there would be little room for individual idiosyncrasies-flights of fancy, imaginings of alternative worlds and ideologies-solutions that, perhaps, we might realize as we continue to evolve.
I guess it’s just another example of pragmatist versus dreamer and, although I understand the importance of interrupting or at least slowing our slide into environmental disaster, I told ZahZah that I, personally, am unwilling to relinquish my freedom to dream.
She told me that was unacceptable; that if I wasn’t part of the solution I was part of the problem even though I assured her I always buy organic.
Brother Abraham, the biblical scholar (who happens to look quite a bit like St. Jerome), was telling me the other day about the beginnings of the early church.
He said that early on there were all sorts of different beliefs about God; some thought of him as creator-in-chief, others saw him as an ever-present spirit permeating all of nature; even God’s gender was questioned by some.
People, Abraham told me, looked for different ways to get in touch with God. Some thought the church with it’s doctrines and rituals was the way to go but others thought they could meet God themselves if they tried really hard so they sought revelation through fasting and other kinds of bodily denials. Others believed secret knowledge was hidden in the words of the Bible, there to be deciphered by the truly committed.
Then, while the Christians were busy seeking an audience with God the Romans were feeding them to the lions or killing them in other really nasty ways because they felt the Christians were disrespecting the true gods which of course were the Roman ones.
But, around the year 300 or so the Emperor Constantine had a revelation of his own and declared Christianity not only lawful but THE religion of the whole Roman Empire. Then he provided lots of money to build churches which made the early church fathers very happy.
These early bishops soon took a dim view of people seeking God on their own. They encouraged them, in not always pleasant ways, to come into the fold and renounce their heretical ways since they (the bishops that is) felt that they clearly didn’t need the competition. And, besides, they (the bishops again) had Truth on their side.
Well, I went home and thought about this story for a while. I had to wonder if conflicts such as these are really about truth. It seems to me the desire to be in charge has something to do with it.
The demons are after me these days. They’re insinuating themselves into my consciousness relentlessly and in ever more devious ways. They invade my psyche with unhelpful thoughts. They seek and find my psychic weaknesses-poke at them to bring them to the surface.
They manifest themselves in the most unlikely places, turning friends into evil antagonists, pleasant situations into depressing occurrences. I must be on my toes constantly to identify their presence-separate them from normalcy. They come by so frequently lately I’m beginning to be able to identify each individually:
There’s Andros the sewer of discord, Alastor the personification of curses and the host of Hindu Rakshasas poking and pestering but perhaps the greatest distress emanates from Kali who is constantly inciting me to violent action.
I’m consolidating my energies. Soon I’ll call them together and give them each a sound thrashing. It may have to wait until spring.
The Jesus People stopped by the other day. They wanted to know if I was interested in learning the Plain Truth. When I didn’t immediately respond I was told that ever since the sins of Adam sentient beings (such as myself, I guess) have found themselves in a downward spiral away from God, and, being lost, attempted to find meaning on their own, their egotistic hubris leading them down dead end paths of misunderstanding and away from the mysteries of life and God’s purpose for all. They told me all I had to do was appeal to God to reveal himself to me and I would then be in possession of the Plain Truth; just don’t over-think it.
I responded that I was cognizant of an essence outside myself, an ineffable aspect alive within and without nature that I recognized nourished my imaginative being allowing access to infinite possibility. It provided a truly positive beauty I thought about and nurtured daily through meditation and community with nature.
Well, we found ourselves at a standstill; they clearly saw me as a lost soul heading south and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to travel their road no matter what direction it was going. They walked off hoping, I suppose, for a more favorable response from my neighbor.
But the thing is there was no animosity present in our exchange maybe because we, on some level, recognized a kindred sense of common pursuit. We’re all searching for the ineffable, just taking different paths. Hooray for pluralism.
I remember, earlier this past summer, admiring the flower garden outside my window. It was early morning; the sun low in the sky created sparks of light as it reflected off of the drops of dew. The birds were active, singing brightly as they are wont to do as the weather warms.
I called my friend to the window so she might enjoy the scene as much as I. Look, I said, isn’t nature beautiful? My friend took in the scene for some time, then remarked that nearly everything she saw she found unpleasant: pollen made her sneeze, the wetness of the dew was cold, the birds squawking was abrasive and the brightness hurt her eyes.
Well, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing; natural beauty seems so universally true; so many images by so many people verify it. It’s hard for me to believe that the truth of beauty isn’t absolute. Woody Allen famously said: ‘I love nature I just don’t want to get any of it on me.’ Maybe that’s where my friend is at; unable to separate natural beauty from nature’s physical presence. Perhaps I could get her started watching the Nature Channel, then dinner on the patio, a walk in the park, eventually a climb up Half Dome. I think she might come around in the end.
I’ve been thinking about death lately. I know, I know, but it’s winter what can I say. Anyway, I was thinking if one is healthy and death suddenly appears it really has little effect on the suddenly deceased other than the fact he/she is dead, but, minimal pain is involved; healthy life, then extinction.
But, when I think about dying, anticipate it, I face the existential dilemma of no longer being here, in this my familiar environment which may not be perfect but certainly has pleasant aspects that I will surely miss, which is the reason, I guess, that thoughts of death are generally not thought of in a positive light.
Which then leads me to wonder what’s next; the idea of a descent into nothingness is pretty hard for most of us to bear, which explains the various incredibly complex explanations and anticipations of preternatural existences man has thought up over the millennia. There’s the heavenly realm, a Zanadu-like ideal city and Valhalla, the home of the gods. And then there are the more new-agie notions of rejoining the Collective Consciousness and the ancient Hindu notion of reincarnation leading eventually, if one is lucky, to re-unity with the Atman.
I guess some would call this fantastic, even delusional, but when I think of the absurdity of maintaining a sense of our individual significance in a world of billions of people and dolls in a limitless universe I guess entertaining thoughts of an after-life isn’t so terrible.
Have you ever seen any really good art? You know, something that ignites your imagination, gives you a glimpse of timeless beauty, lifts your spirits, provides a sense of the common cultural ground you share with your fellow sentient beings and maybe even gives you an idea of how things could be, ideally, in the tomorrows ahead.
Well, I’ve seen art that moves me, maybe not in all these ways at one time, but still lifts me beyond the mundane redundancies of everyday existence. These experiences happen to me and that’s why I visit museums. And, from what I’ve read and heard, I’m not alone; others have had similar experiences.
It’s unfortunate that when they’re spoken about-the experiences I mean-they lose their impact and meaning. They’re reduced, the more they’re spoken about, to nearly meaningless drivel or pseudo-intellectual nonsense, that, for those who have never had a truly aesthetic experience, turns them off completely; even dissuades them from seeking the enlightenment some of us get from seeing really good art.
It’s really too, too bad; I wish I could convince everyone to visit a museum, find one work of art he or she likes and consider what it means to him or her personally. Reaching enlightenment can never be a bad thing.