Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Faith & Glory

John William Godward, "Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder", 1912.

Absence, trusty disciples. It is like a sharp needle twisting at the inside of your substandard minds; like the icy cold seeping through your joints as if you were plunging headfirst into the East Siberian Sea or like a fiery dagger potruding your intestines.

Absence, friends and comrades. From the Latin absens, present participle of abesse, "to be away from".

Yes, I have once again been absent for a prolonged period of time from this hallowed ground of earthshaking revelation. What have I been doing? Roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it? Nothing of the sort, loyal followers! I have been battling the endless hordes of the army of Connacht. I have been drinking deep, heavy draughts from Mimir's well. I have been dancing the Rasa lila with Radha and her sakhis. I have ensnared the Sun and given it a particular pounding with my jaw-bone club to coax it into going slower on its daily route through the sky, thus bringing more light to the world. Oh, and I have finally seen Immortals.

Killer movie. Epic. Excellent. Outstanding. Phenomenal. Exceptional. Fantastic. Marvellous. I was taken aback by some of the torture that was in it, though. What can I say? I have a weak stomach and a fragile mind. But I guess that's just how things were done in those days of old. Many critics will balk at the flagrant inaccuracies that are being perpetrated to the original myths in the film, but what is a myth if not dynamic? That reminds me of something T. S. Eliot once said: "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to escape from these things."

Do you know what it means to escape from personality and emotions, faithful adherents? 

Something to mentally chew on......

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Message To The Masses

Classical bust of Empedocles (ca. 490-430 BCE)
Friends, that inhabit the great digital arena of cyberspace looking down on the yellow rock of the intra-state highway, up by the citadel, busy in goodly works, harbour of honour for the stranger, men unskilled in meanness, all hail. I go about among you an immortal god, no mortal now, honoured among all as is meet, crowned with fillets and flowery garlands. Straightaway, whenever I enter with these in train, both men and women, into the flourishing towns, is reverence done me; they go after me in countless throngs, asking of me what is the way to gain; some desiring oracles, while some, who for many a weary day have been pierced by the grievous pangs of all manner of sickness, beg to hear from me the word of healing....But why do I harp on these things, as if it were any great matter that I should surpass mortal, perishable men?

In another life, perhaps, I spoke these words as a citizen of Agrigentum under the name of Empedocles, as I speak them unto you now in the context of digital salvation and binary deliverance. Metempsychosis is thrilling, isn't it?

Have a good Sunday.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sense & Sensibility

Are you stoked, faithful disciples? Hell, I know I am. I have been tripping on this trailer for months now, and on the previous ones in the months before that. At long last I finally turned into a frenzied speedfreak, suffering the unimaginable agony of anaphylactic shock when I was removed from my computer screen and thus robbed of my daily desideratum of hyper-stylized violence, sexualized divinity and frenetic action. Violence is good, kids! It's what myths teach us! And this is just the previews.... I actually don't dare go to the cinema, for fear that I will collapse in downright astonishment before the entirety of this flick, like poor Semele being incinerated by the sight of the full glory of Zeus' godhood.

"Jupiter & Semele" by Gustave Moreau (1894/5)

However, I deeply dislike the "From the producers of 300"-tag to lure the unwitting, televized masses raised on a steady diet of hamburgers, coca-cola, Rihanna and JK Rowling to the theaters. Not you, trusty followers! Never you. But 300 this film ain't. Director Tarsem Singh really impressed me with his previous outing The Fall (2006), and with The Cell (2000) before that, though I have to admit that the latter one was a bit too disturbing for my fragile senses at times. Anyhow, check out The Fall for some stunning cinematography, and while you're at it check out Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain (2006) as well. Why? Because I said so. "But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin." (Romans 14:22-23) Like not reading this blog. Thanks Paul, buddy, for clearing that up. Now go out and sin no more.

Until the next........

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sooner Or Later

What is soon, faithful adherents? Three weeks ago I busied this term as I was just sending my latest sacrosanct brainchild into the digital aether. A lot of things have happened since then, which have kind of hampered me in my dedication to bring you all truth, all the time. Looking upon the frozen wastes of humanity's once great condition, I wept bitterly and decided to enroll myself in the university one final time to attain my teacher's degree and thus enable myself to come into a position of unadulterated power as an explicator of divine rigtheousness and absolute justice to the spongy minds of young adults and all those who choose to sit (or happen to find themselves) in front of my desk and have the blessed opportunity to look upon my monumental gaze of knowledge and grace.

As you may understand, this has increased the burden of my earthly activities considerably, and I labor like esteemed Atlas to keep on shouldering the weight of all your ignorance and stupidity. For which I expect absolutely nothing in return, devout followers! (Though more readers would be nice....) But yes, this blog has suffered somewhat, especially since the feedback also remains sparse. So speak up, loyal readers, and weigh in when you have something to say about a topic or just want to praise my glorious intellect! I will try to get back to some more sumptuous exposees about the Bible in future installments, but today is of course Halloween.

Even in the Netherlands this is becoming celebrated more and more, though my generation still went from door to door with own-made Chinese lanterns, singing songs in honour of Saint Martin of Tours on November 11th. Halloween is probably derived of the old Celtic festival of Samhain, taking place on October 31-November 1, during which the people prepared themselves for the approaching dark months of winter and the boundaries between this world and the supernatural one were supposed to be exceptionally porous. All Saint's Day (November 1-2), a day of paying respects to that wide selection of saints Christianity has available and praying for the souls of the departed to reach heaven, is also supposed to have influenced the commercial milk-cow that is Halloween these days.

So why the candy? You know that human beings' preference for sweet food is evolutionary hardwired into their brains because it is naturally rich in vitamins and fattening, which makes it handy to eat to gain some extra insulation against the cold of winter. Oh, you didn't?

Well, there you go. Saved your day once again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wamma Jamma

 Saint Paul writing one of his trademark epistles. Note that he already has a paper book, about 1400 years before this was made possible by the invention of the printing press. If that does not spell "Saint", I don't know what does......

There seems to have been a lot of dinosaurs-related news the last couple of days. But seeing as how I have not cared about dinosaurs since I wet the bed with alarming regularity, you don't either, and we can all move on to higher concerns. "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me", and all that. 1 Corinthians 13:11. Written by Saint Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, the jolly jew persecutor.

Let's talk a little bit about the Bible. The letters, or epistles for the higher educated (which by default means you, since you know how to read this consecrated digital verse), of Paul are actually the oldest writings of the New Testament, coming even before the Gospels, which kind of/sort of/definitely implies that these were not written by the actual apostles of Christ, if these even existed at all, that is. But egad! More of that another time. Your labile frontal lobes cannot handle the pressure of all this magnificent revelation, and are threatening to collapse your meager brain stems!

Are you reading this at work, by the way? Because if you happen to live in a Catholic country, I would label this post as Not Suited For Work. But stand strong, devout adherents! Pioneering is hard work! "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair." (2 Corinthians 4:8)

The dating of the Pauline epistles ranges from 53 to 64 CE, though they refer to event that happened prior. Of all13 letters, we can be certain that seven are undoubtedly Paul's handiwork (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon). Six (Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus) are disputed, and the Epistle to the Hebrews is certainly not his. In any case, Paul was somewhat of a maverick in the history of early Christianity, and he never really fitted into the environment and working of those first congregations. He also never mentions anything in his letters about the life of Jesus as we have come to know from the Gospels.

Enough! Or: too much!

Check back soon for more!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Let's Get Busy Shrooming

The book that should have revolutionized the study of early Christianity...
In 1970 John Marco Allegro thought to have rendered all the debate on the origins of Christianity superfluous when he published The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. In it he boldly claimed that the religion of our unfortunate saviour was originally a smokescreen devised by pious Jews to keep those sanguinary Romans of their backs, and that it was in essence a fertility cult (these were endemic in Imperial times; you could shower in the blood of a slaughtered bull for less trouble than it takes you to order a pizza nowadays) centered around the awe-inspiring experience of the holy provided by the Amanita Muscaria, or the fly agaric, a widely diffused mushroom with hallucinogenic properties.

With a a lot of linguistic juggling and philological hat-tricks, Allegro tries to demonstrate how most names in the Bible are in fact puns and conundrums on original Sumerian* terms and notions related to the Amanita Muscaria and its spiritually inducing properties. So, according to Allegro, Jesus' Greek** name Iesous , was derived from the Sumerian IA-U-SHU-A, meaning "semen that saves" (because mushrooms were believed to appear after heavy storms and thunders, which the ancients understood to be a process of the heavens impregnating the earth). The U within IA-U-SHU-A, was a common sacred phoneme*** denoting "god" or "seed", found at the root of such Hebrew words as Elohim and Halleluja. IA-U ("strong water of fecundity") could also be found at the base of names such as Zeus and Yahweh.

Sounds impressive, no? The only problem is that it's highly improbable that a word like IA-U-SHU-A (I actually don't know why I need to spell it in capital letters. Allegro does, so I guess there must be a good reason for it) even existed in Sumerian. You see, to support his theory Allegro actually took to constructing some hypothetical Sumerian words, oftentimes combining two short words, that might have/could have/maybe/possibly/perhaps existed. Kind of like archaeaologists 5,000 years into the future declaring that we had "PE-NIS-CHIM-NEYS" and placed them on top of our houses in order to win divine favour and increase the fertility within our households.

In any case, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross cost Allegro the last of his credibility within academic circles, though it did manage to garner a substantial following among new age spiritualists and hippie pseudo-intellectuals. Yes, it was the 70's. However, even though at times Allegro's theory manages to stray far off into the stratosphere of exuberant guesswork, he does manage to raise some valid points as regards to the use of hallucinogenic substances in order to induce profound religious experiences. Was Christianity built on an underground mushroom-cult? Probably not, but it is not impossible that psychedelics played an important role in the early rituals of the peripheral sect that would go on to semi-conquer the world as a tyrannical juggernaut of greed, injustice and questionable sexual profile. Yes, faithful acolytes, I do enjoy these acidic sleights of hand of mine. Just like you should. It's what keeps you coming back in frenzied curiosity to this hallowed playground of digital salvation after all.

One final note. This sub-field of research into the relation of psychoactive materials (let's not call them "drugs" here) to religion and myth has been gaining a stronger foothold in academia in the last decades, and although it manages to miss the mark sometimes, it is not at all stupid to examine the effects of hallucinogens on the development of religious creeds and rituals.**** One needs only to look at the antics of shamans to understand that this is a valid subject of study. Or read/watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Of course, posterity requires me to mention that in this research-capacity psychedelics are usually referred to as "entheogens" (meaning "God from within/within us") and that they are coming soon to a grocery shop near you.

There. Once again I have managed to blow up your little worlds and sweep them under the carpet in one massive strike of erudition and generosity. And all this right before the weekend.

No, you're welcome. I aim to please.

I know you'll be back.

* Sumer is probably the world's most ancient civilization, arising somewhere in the 6th millenium BCE in current day Iraq/Iran.
**You know, because the New Testament was written in Greek.
*** The smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances. I didn't get that from Wikipedia. No, honest.
**** If you trusty disciples want to know more about this fascinating stuff, just let me know!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Renegade Science

 John M. Allegro (1923-1988), with a random Arab in the background.

So these Dead Sea Scrolls were quite the find 60 years back, and it was not before long that an international team of 8 scholars was formed in 1953 to decipher and translate the ancient texts. Part of this group was the then 30-year old John Marco Allegro from Manchester University, a philologist and self-proclaimed agnostic (meaning that he believed that the truth value of any statement about the divine or supernatural was ultimately unknowable). Good for the team, you might think. The only problem was that all the other researchers were ordained Catholic priests, and trouble was thus not far coming, especially because Allegro was somewhat of a publicity hound and preferred to speak to the popular press instead of to the "sanctioned" professional journalists that probably swallowed the conservative viewpoints of Allegro's Catholic co-workers with as much enthusiam as they did their sacramental bread.

Allegro and the team immediately clashed on what he perceived as their reservation and unwillingness to make too much details on the content of the Scrolls publicly known and the snail's pace they worked at.* They for their part found Allegro's outgoing style and unorthodox theories hard to bear. Things came to a head in 1957 when Allegro independently opened the so-called "Copper Scroll" and started working on it by himself. Allegro was convinced that the document referred to a treasury where "the sect's most precious possessions could be found". Program director Roland de Vaux of the Domican Order thought otherwise, and dismissed Allegro's speculating as fiction and his subsequent hunt for the supposed treasure as a worthless effort. Meanwhile, Allegro had come to view the Essenes as forerunners of Christianity and claimed that they had also worshipped a crucified savior, which of course exasperated the god-fearing de Vaux and his priestly colleagues.

Some members of the international team, with Allegro second left.

In 1960 the rift was becoming openly visible as Allegro clandestinely published The Treasure of the Copper Scroll, which de Vaux denounced as dishonest and imprecise. Allegro however, had found his stride as an independent, anti-establishment rhetorician and attacked de Vaux and the rest of the team in the August edition of Harper's Magazine, where he accused them of deliberately withholding content of the Scrolls because of their supposed incongruity with the Christian doctrine. In 1979 The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth appeared, discussing the theory that the story of Jesus in the four gospels were narrative fictions based on the motif of the Teacher of Righteousness as found in some of the Scrolls. 

But Allegro was not the only one to rage against the secretiveness of the Dead Sea Scrolls-team. Two years earlier noted Bible-scholar Geza Vermes had spoken of a looming "academic scandal" if the tempo of publication of the Scrolls was not increased. Yet here we are almost 35 years later and no one seems to care one inch of a dead donkey's balls anymore. But now you do! Once again I have brought you enlightenment and sensational knowledge, and exposed the inadequacies of common learning for all the world to see!

But what happened to John Allegro? Well, he would go on to publish one particular book that forever changed his standing within academia......

Cliffhanger! Come back next time!

*Quite justified as it later turned out, because it was not until 1992 that a complete translation of the Scrolls would appear (The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered by Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise).