As John C. Calhoun, the 7th Vice President of the United States once wrote, “The interval between the decay of the old and the formation and the establishment of the new, constitutes a period of transition which must always necessarily be one of uncertainty, confusion, error, and wild and fierce fanaticism.”
Greater Feast of Harry Smith, died November 27, 1991 at New York, United States
“America is seething with anarchy on every plane, because of the constantly changing economic conditions, the conflict between creeds, casts, codes, cultures and races. Society has never had a chance to settle down. The expansion westward, the discovery of gold, coal, iron and oil, the slavery question, the secession question, the constant flux caused by the development of technical science, the religious and moral instability, the conflict between federal centralization and state sovereignty, the congestion of cities, the exploitation of the farmer by the financier, the shifting of the economic centre of gravity, these and a thousand other conditions arising from the unprecedented development of the country combine to make it impossible even to imagine stability in any plane of life. There is thus a radical distinction between Europe and her daughter. We know more or less what to expect in any set of circumstances. Heterogeneous as we are there is a common ground of thought and action. We are even able to draw reasonable conclusions about Asia and Africa. London and Tokyo are sufficiently alike in essentials to make our relations intelligible, but in spite of the community of language, customs, commercial conventions, and so on, between London and New York, the difference between us is really more radical. There are many incalculable factors in any formula which connects the United States with Europe.”
— Chapter 75 from Confessions
Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West by Patricia Nelson Limerick.
This history of the American West is a significant revisionary account, which takes as its foil the century-old thesis of Frederick Turner’s “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” Author Limerick notes the effective obsolescence of any narrative about the West structured around a frontier, and she laments this conception as one that has caused a general eclipse of interest in the West as a historical topic. She then proceeds to raise a wide range of issues with which to demonstrate continuity between the ‘frontier’ West of the 19th century and the contemporary West of the late 20th. She seeks to portray “the West as a place and not a [completed] process.” (26) The innovation of the book is in its breadth of its perspective. Limerick has drawn principally on secondary sources written in the second half of the 20th century. Historical specialists had already come to factual grips with the individual issues and concerns that she constellates into an “unbroken past.” Her synthesis thus provides a new point of departure for historians and readers seeking fresh problems.
The book is divided into two sections. The first, “The Conquerors,” undermines heroic stereotypes of settlers and frontiersmen. Limerick provides resounding evidence against the savvy and independence that Turner attributed to those living a “frontier life,” and develops a counter-narrative in which settlers and developers of the West embraced naive hopes, and often came to view themselves as victims, tied as they were into commercial, social, and environmental nets of interdependence.
The book’s second section, “The Conquerors Meet Their Match,” restores narrative agency to the allegedly conquered forces of indigenous peoples, Mexican-Americans, other racial and religious minorities, and the wilderness environment itself. Limerick’s account firmly and convincingly contradicts the “composite nationality” of inter-ethnic solidarity asserted by Turner as a feature of the West, by pointing out racial conflicts and divides as significant and persistent as those chronicled in the South.
Limerick writes, “Simplicity, alas, is the one quality that cannot be found in the actual story of the American West.” (323) But on those occasions where she suggests a keynote, it is “the contest for property and profit,” (292) “an array of efforts to wrap the concept of property around unwieldy objects.” (71)
A chief feature of The Legacy of Conquest is its consistent success in tying its topics from the 19th century West to dilemmas of the same region in the late 20th century. While aimed at the reader in history, the book would be engaging for those whose ultimate interest is the contemporary American West. Like Turner, Limerick represents the stories of the West as the most characteristically American portion of America’s history, and thus reflective of tropes and trends common to the nation as a whole, and even to the entire project of European conquest of the Americas. [via]
Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America by Louis Menand.
The Metaphysical Club of Menand’s title was a small, fairly short-lived conversation society organized by Chauncey Wright in 1872 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with members including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., William James, and Charles Pierce, among others. Menand represents this coterie as the seedbed of the American philosophical school of pragmatism, and uses it for a point of orientation in tracing the intellectual formation and accomplishments of pragmatists James, Pierce, and John Dewey. Along with Holmes, who despite his distaste for the label “pragmatism,” shared in much of the intellectual innovation of his erstwhile club colleagues, these men were “the first modern thinkers in the United States,” according to Menand’s account. (pp. xi, 432-3) This phase of American thinking germinated during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, flowered in the first decade of the twentieth, and persisted until the middle of the twentieth century—a span punctuated by the Civil War at one end and the Cold War at the other.
The Metaphysical Club offers an imposing tangle of vivid biographies, in order to repeatedly demonstrate how the “modern” perspectives of the pragmatists and their peers differed from their immediate predecessors: the “modernizing” generation of their parents and teachers. Intellectual biographies of the pragmatists’ fathers serve as points of comparison and contrast, rather than contributing causes of their sons’ careers. The Cambridge-based Saturday Club of Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Agassiz and their associates (including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.) helps to make this comparison concrete. The signal event that divided these two generations was the Civil War. And Menand suggests that a driving principle of their thought was “fear of violence,” a fear instilled by the Civil War and activated by economic and social conflict in the 1890s (p. 373).
Menand’s description of the intellectual mode of the pragmatists emphasizes their attention to liberty and tolerance, unity of thought and action, contextualism, and a refutation of natural essences. At the same time, he remarks the extent to which thinkers like Holmes and Dewey were actually quite alien to the standards usually at issue in characterizing “liberal” thought. They were hostile to individualism, scientific instrumentalism, and laissez-faire economics. Their typical tendency was to discuss complex phenomena as differentiated wholes, rather than combinations of reified elements. Menand also shows how the philosophical “pluralism” coined by William James was significantly different than its later mutation as cultural pluralism.
With his chosen cast of characters, Menand is able to explore the expression of the pragmatist viewpoint in the diverse fields of law, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, statistics, and education. At the same time, he provides an account of a key phase in the professionalization of the academy. He details the beginnings of graduate education in the US, the founding of several key universities, the establishment of AUUP and key juridical precedents for the intellectual freedom of academic professionals. [via]
The clumsy-sounding “Americans” of Moore’s title is intended to highlight the issue of like-it-or-not pluralism that pervades the book; there is no unitary America on the plane of religion. He characterizes ecumenism as a Protestant appetite, and emphasizes the recurrent usefulness of religious particularism and dissent. In many respects, he provides a historical and philosophical structure to comprehend the “supply-side” assertions of Stark and Finke’s later Churching of America, while transcending their focus on the statistically predominant Protestant institutions of American religious history. He also places himself in opposition to the expansive insider paradigm advanced in Robert Bellah’s theory of American civil religion, which Moore describes as “inexplicable” in its attractions, absent the ecumenical motive developed by Protestants and imposed by misreading onto Herberg’s Protestant, Catholic, Jew. (pp. ix, 18-19) In fact, Moore points out adroitly enough that “Civil religion…like more ordinary religions, may have split Americans into separate camps as often as it has brought them together.” (p. 202)
While apologizing for an apparent lack of narrative development or thematic unity in his relatively short book, Moore maintains throughout a consistent perspective highlighting the essential nature of the outsider position in American religion, to the point where a reader may suspect that to be genuinely religious in the US requires being an outsider of one sort or another. Reading the book provokes the question: who are “religious outsiders” in America? Moore starts with a clear-cut instance; in their origins and early history at least, Mormons were a tiny minority undoubtedly cast as deviant and progressively alienated from the national establishment. But his next two chapters, on Catholics and Jews respectively, implicitly demarcate all non-Protestant religions as “outsider.” And in his essay on “The Protestant Majority as a Lost Generation—A Look at Fundamentalism,” he depicts the numerical bulk of Protestants adopting or being cast into the position of outsiders for much of the twentieth century. Ultimately, the pluralism described and advocated by Moore is a circumstance binding on all Americans, and an ideal held by few, if any. In such a situation, a conscious embrace of “outsider” status offers both a measure of authenticity and tactical advantage. Religions can preserve their truth claims while excusing a lack of universal acknowledgement (thus Protestant fundamentalists). Even more importantly, they can reify social and cultural niches that provide their adherents with places in a nation that has never been a utopia.
Moore’s introduction is reminiscent of the introduction to Ahlstrom’s Religious History of the American People, providing a wide-angle review of the historiography of American religion, though in Moore’s case with particular and critical reference to the idea of religious diversity. He observes that histories—whether because of the providential theology of the 19th century or the denominational theories of the 20th—have typically gotten their facts wrong because they trained their attention on the “mainline” groups that embraced insider status and promoted tolerance, even while outsider and intolerant groups did as much or more to define the overall picture of American religious life. Moore later also deploys Ahlstrom’s category of harmonialism, without collapsing occultism and the general run of non-Abrahamic religion into it as Ahlstrom had done; the effect is that he situates Christian Science among Judah’s “Metaphysical Movements,” although he uses Ahlstrom’s term. (p. 116)
The book’s essays are divided into two groups, of which the first concerns itself with “ethnicity and American identity” in the context of outsider religions. In one chapter, Moore casts the development of Mormonism as the crafting of a novel ethnicity. In another, he reviews the “Americanizing” controversy within 19th-century Catholicism. He explains “non-Americanizers” as participants in a conscious strategy by which ethnicity could be used to maintain Catholic ties while adapting immigrants to American society, and presents them as antagonists of the premise that Catholicism was inherently anti-American. The chapter on Judaism describes not only the novelty of the American experience for Jews who found themselves promoted from an object of extraordinary prejudice in Europe to an “ordinary minority” in America, but also the extent to which Jews were able to turn around and become a vanguard in the representation of America to itself through both entertainment media and social justice organizing. By emphasizing ethnicity in these religious identities, Moore brings notions of difference from their peripheries to their centers.
In the second large division of the text, Moore treats “religions for average Americans” under the title “the Progressive’s Despair.” His “average Americans” include Christian Scientists, pre-millenialists, Fundamentalists, and African-Americans. In the first three cases, he soundly makes the case for their ordinariness alongside their “outsider” status, refusing to stigmatize them on the latter account. In the final case, he documents the exceptional nature of Black Christianity in both cultivating and undermining the sense of social autonomy among African-Americans.
While I understand that Moore’s thesis requires him to cultivate sympathy for the religious groups about which he writes, I think he tends to cut too much slack for Biblical inerrancy, e.g. when he characterizes it as “the notion…that the Bible means what it says.” (p. 169) The dilemmas regarding popular hermeneutics of scripture didn’t begin with higher criticism or theological modernism. No text is self-interpreting, and the Bible is less transparent than most. In fact, I think it is rather easier to defend the intellectual integrity of denying biological evolution than that of denying reading.
Another terminological quirk is Moore’s repeated invocation of the “Moral Majority,” which must have seemed like something more than a decade-long political coalition in 1986. (Falwell’s attempted resurrection of a grouping under that banner in 2003 made little progress before his 2007 demise.) Still, Moore’s analysis of Fundamentalism’s persistence after Scopes—as contrasted with the illusion of its reconstitution by Billy Graham—is a sound one, and he puts his finger on the political dilemma that confronted both Fundamentalists and their sectarian pre-millenialist cousins at the close of the 20th century. Their relationship to “Caesar” is necessarily different than the one shown in the gospels, but what should it be?
In the postscript, I was struck by the following remark: “If Americans are now more religiously tolerant than they were in the nineteenth century, it is not because they are collectively more high-minded but because they care less about religion.” (p. 205)
My disagreement with the final clause of the apodosis preoccupied me for minutes, until I realized that I rejected the protasis. And it seems that Moore may as well, if we attend to his final suspension of judgment on whether “consensus as a myth” will continue to be supportable in the future of American religions. (p. 210) I strongly concur that the “invented oppositions” (p. 46) in which our pluralism is rooted are what nourish its religious dynamism. [via]
Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America by J Stillson Judah.
Writing in the 1990s, Wouter Hanegraaff refers to this book as a “standard work” on the topic, and notes that Judah coined the term “metaphysical movements.” (See Judah, p. 7) The volume treats a set of “religious philosophies” in the United States, beginning in the 1840s, and progressing up until the date that the book was written. Although Judah provided no evidence for the claim, he asserted that these religions were growing in popularity at the time of his writing. (p. 12) He characterized these metaphysical movements by family resemblance, with a set of fifteen chief features, including: gnostic anthropology, divine monism, pragmatism, psychological interpretation, optimism, mental or spiritual healing, and preferring “principles” to creed. Even when explicitly Christian, these groups tended to view Jesus as a teacher, rather than as the unique human incarnation of God.
Judah’s first chapter is devoted to inventorying some aspects of the germinal milieu of the American metaphysical movements. Besides the transcendentalist school and its effects, which he remarks as their foremost precedent and influence, he observes the importance of American religious pluralism, revivalism, deism, Swedenborgianism, Puritan utilitarianism, and occultism (i.e. hermeticism and kabbalah). He then goes on to provide historical sketches, with representations of doctrines and practices, for each of the following metaphysical movements: Spiritualism (with its various institutions and sects), Theosophy “and its allies” (i.e. the Arcane School and the Astara Foundation), New Thought (with the precedent teachings of Quimby and Evans, and the progeny of the Divine Science Church and the Church of Religious Science), the Unity School of Christianity, and Christian Science. A closing chapter treats the effect of the metaphysical movements on Protestantism, especially through the avenue of notions of health and mental healing.
Judah repeatedly cites Frank Podmore’s history of Spiritualism, Charles J. Ryan on Theosophy, Horatio Dresser on New Thought, and several secondary sources on Christian Science. For all of the movements surveyed, he makes extensive use of their own doctrinal literature, and in several cases he has interviewed key leaders or their families. Perhaps it is significant that no secondary sources appear in different sections of the book, since Judah appears to have been the first to tie these various groups and teachings into a coherent tradition.
Judah’s theory of religion is partly formulated in his closing chapter, where he insists that all religions can be analyzed in terms of three chief components: mental/philosophical, conative (relating to aspiration and conduct), and emotional. He insists that the conative component, the religious will as such, must be powered by an emotional experience, and he suggests that the historical transformations in American religion have resulted from the waxing and waning of emphasis on emotional experience. He points to the metaphysical movements as offering an orientation to the religious experiences of the individual during periods when mainline Protestantism has become abstracted into concerns about social justice. (pp. 291-2)
A significant part of Judah’s methodology in The Metaphysical Movements might be best characterized as comparative theology, even though that term has not been in vogue since the mid-20th century. He consistently attends to comparing the theological elements in the various metaphysical movements against each other, and against an implicitly normative mainline American Protestantism. But he has no evident chip on his shoulder, and his foreword includes an accounting of his own past engagements in the study and practice of Theosophy, yoga, New Thought, Spiritualism, and other “metaphysical” systems. The frankness of this passage shows a sort of scholarly reflexivity that is admirable in the early and mid-1960’s when Judah was writing. He cautions that any seemingly negative evaluations of the religions in his book “should be considered as constructive criticism offered in the same spirit in which the writer has also criticized the Protestant churches.” (p. 9) He does in the end refrain from offering either praise or condemnation of the metaphysical movements as a whole, but he opines that there would be ample justification for different parties to view them as revolutionary, restorative, or subversive of more customary institutional religions in America. [via]
Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Middle-Class Blacks in a White Society: Prince Hall Freemasonry in America by William Alan Muraskin.
This sociological approach to Prince Hall Freemasonry contains a lot of fascinating data and some even-handed evaluations. The author faults previous studies of the American “black middle class” for actually confining their observations to the black elite. He then makes a convincing case that, for his purposes, members of the Prince Hall Masonic bodies can all be considered “middle class.” While not all middle class blacks would necessarily be Masons, by taking Prince Hall Masons as an identifiable bourgeoisie within American society, Muraskin considerably expands the middle-class black population to be considered in his study.
The historical information alone, while sometimes anecdotal in structure, is of excellent value. Particular attention is devoted to Prince Hall Masonry in California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Georgia. The author very effectively debunks academic misconceptions about Masonry as a primarily rural organization, or as an antiquated society in decline. He outlines both the virtues and ambitions common to Prince Hall Masonic bodies, as well as their special challenges and shortcomings.
As an initiate of the Order myself, I found this book to be a lucid look at the “big picture” of Prince Hall Masonry, from an objective yet sympathetic outside researcher of the subject. [via]
An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for March 12th, 2014
“An illustration from an 1877 issue of Little Wide Awake magazine.” — Craig Conley, Abecedarian
- “Ask Massively: And the money will follow” — Brianna Royce, Massively; from the two-pennies-to-rub-together dept.
“My mother always told me, ‘Do what you love, and the money will follow.’ It’s not true. I wish it were. Sorry mom. It’s a dangerous thing to tell a geeky little girl something like that when she’s trying to decide whether to be a coroner, an international diplomat, or a butterfly. I did not become any of these things. I got a degree in what I loved, but the money followed only when I got a job I didn’t love to pay for my husband to do what he loved. My landing a job with Massively (almost four years ago!) was the product of an unrelated cross-country move, a lot of luck, and an unusual combination of otherwise mundane knowledge. It was not something I planned and executed meticulously as a career plan.”
- “#AmtrakResidency” — Amtrak; from the they-who-curse-the-bum-on-the-rods dept.
“#AmtrakResidency was designed to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment. Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by a panel. Up to 24 writers will be selected for the program starting March 17, 2014 through March 31, 2015. A passion for writing and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration are the sole criteria for selection. Both emerging and established writers will be considered.
Residencies will be anywhere from 2-5 days, with exceptions for special projects.”
- “WIT researchers discover ‘lost’ Einstein model of universe” — Dick Ahlstrom, Irish Times; from the i-will-not-be-pushed-filed-stamped-indexed-briefed-debriefed-or-numbered dept.
“‘I was looking through drafts, but then slowly realised it was a draft of something very different,’ Dr [Cormac] O’Raifeartaigh said. ‘I nearly fell off my chair. It was hidden in perfect plain sight. This particular manuscript was misfiled as a draft of something else.'”
- Albert Einstein quote via “Albert Einstein, when he arrived in America, was shocked at how African Americans were treated.” — Emily, Dichotomization [also]; from the emperor’s-new-clothes dept.
“There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.”
- “On Gaia tests whether the hypothesis holds up to scientific scrutiny” — Scott K Johnson, Ars Technica; from the because-the-cosmos-is-also-within-us dept.
“In the early 1970s, Lovelock—with the help of Lynn Margulis—developed the Gaia Hypothesis, which views the Earth and its ecosystems as resembling a sort of superorganism. Lovelock was working for NASA at the time, developing instruments that would aid the Viking landers in looking for signs of life on Mars, so he was thinking about how life interacts with its environment on a planetary scale. And Margulis was famed for her ideas about symbiosis.
This intellectual background led to the idea that organisms are not just passive inhabitants riding a big rock that determined whether they lived or died. Organisms were active participants in the molding of their environment, tweaking and improving conditions as part of a massive, self-regulating system.
In On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship Between Life and Earth, University of Southampton Professor Toby Tyrrell sets out to comprehensively put the Gaia Hypothesis to the test, using everything we’ve learned about life and its history on our planet.”
- “Recreating the Cosmos in Our Druidic Ritual Order.” — Ian Corrigan, Into the Mound; from the we’re-made-of-star-stuff dept.
“In my understanding, the basic steps of our Order of Ritual (OoR) amount to a recreation of the Indo-European cosmos. As in many traditional ritual systems, our rites are set in a cosmological diagram. Since our Order is written for modern, park-and-church-basement Paganism, we assume that this cosmic model must be rebuilt and reconsecrated for each ritual. Thus our sacrifices open with rites for consecrating the space and establish it as a gathering-place for the Gods & Spirits.”
- A new “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, presented by Fox and National Geographic, guest appearance by Giordano Bruno in the premiere [also]; from the we-are-a-way-for-the-cosmos-to-know-itself dept.
- “Petra monuments oriented according to celestial events” — Past Horizons; from the summer-sunday-and-a-year dept.
“During the winter solstice, the sun is filtered into the Monastery at Petra, Jordan, illuminating the podium of a deity. Just at this moment, the silhouette of the mountain opposite draws the head of a lion, a sacred animal. These are examples from a study where researchers from Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias and CSIC (Spain) showed how celestial events influenced the orientation of the great constructions of the Nabataeans.”
- “Research Suggests We Unconsciously React to Events Up to 10 Seconds Before They Happen” — The Mind Unleashed [HT Reality Sandwich]; from the wake-me-up-before-you-go-go dept.
“Can your brain detect events before they even occur? That was the stunning conclusion of a 2012 meta-analysis of experiments from seven independent laboratories over the last 35 years, which found that the human body ‘can apparently detect randomly delivered stimuli occurring 1–10 seconds in the future’ (Mossbridge, Tressoldi, & Utts, 2012). In the studies, physiological readings were taken as participants were subjected to unpredictable events designed to activate the sympathetic nervous system (for example, showing provocative imagery) as well as ‘neutral events’ that did not activate the nervous system. These readings showed that the nervous system aligned with the nature of the event (activated/not activated) — and what’s more, the magnitude of the pre-event response corresponded with the magnitude of the post-event response.”
- “Scientists unlock mystery of out-of-body experiences (aka astral trips)” — Jordan Kushins, Sploid [HT Disinformation]; from the why-am-i-up-here-what-do-they-see-in-me dept.
“The fMRI showed a ‘strong deactivation of the visual cortex’ while ‘activating the left side of several areas associated with kinesthetic imagery,’ which includes mental imagery of bodily movement. This is the part of the brain that makes it possible for us to interact with the world. It’s what makes you feel where your body is in relation to the world.”
- Translation of Theodor Klauser at “Mithras scholar Vermaseren on the Mithras cranks” — Roger Pearse [HT rogueclassicism]; from the let-that-be-a-lesson-to-you dept.
“Anyone who really wants to promote scholarship may not content themselves with uniting uncontrolled ideas and research into a seductive synthesis, written in an attractive form, for the slightest critical touch causes such constructs to collapse. The established rules of scholarly method cannot be ignored with impunity; even the most gifted may not skip over the necessarily lengthy process.”
- Priestess Najah, via tweet.
“Queen of Conjure, sacred Marie LaVeau. Her tomb needs restoration. Donate at http://www.saveourcemeteries.org“
- “Maidens, Matrons, and Magicians: Women and Personal Ritual Power in Late Antique Egypt” by Meghan Paalz McGinnis, Masters Thesis, University of Louisville, 2012; from the sparks-fly-from-her-finger-tips dept.
“Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to a variety of material, textual, and literary evidence, the aim of this thesis is to shed light on the realities — rather than stereotypes — of an important aspect of late ancient women’s experience: the use of ritual power. Patterns of gender differentiation in late antique Egyptian magic are investigated and shown to be connected to the particular aims to which numinous powers were employed, aims which were in turn bound up with the social roles expected of each sex. The majority of this study consists of a series of case studies of different types of women’s rituals of power, which emphasize examples of significant trends in ritual iconography, praxis, and context, both those which were typical of late antique Egyptian magic as a whole, and those which were uniquely female in character. The fact that female practitioners came from a wide array of socio-economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds is also addressed.”
- “Tutankhamun’s Blood” by Jo Marchant, Matter; from the blood-feud dept.
“[Yehia] Gad isn’t the first to attempt to test Tutankhamun’s DNA, but he is the first to get this far. Previous efforts by foreigners were cancelled at the last minute. After decades of outside interference, Egypt’s politicians were reluctant to hand over the keys to the pharaohs’ origins—especially when the results, if dropped into the crucible of the Middle East, might prove explosive.”
- “Israel reveals eerie collection of Neolithic ‘spirit’ masks” — Ilan ben Zion [HT David Metcalfe]; from the starting-with-the-man-in-the-mirror dept.
“With vacant sockets and jaws agape, they stare at you like the skulls of the dead. They are 9,000-year-old masks found in the Judean Desert and Hills, and they are going on display for the first time next week at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.”
- Myrtle quoted in “Paganism in Israel: Where the Modern meets the Ancient” — Heather Greene, The Wild Hunt; from the grand-central-station dept.
“Ever since the dawn of [humanity], even stretching back to the exits from Africa, people of different cultures have passed through this tiny country. There are places of worship to the Canaanite deities, Egyptian temples to Hathor, countless shrines to the Greek and Roman Gods, Phoenician influences and more.”
- Consult the Oracle! [HT rogueclassicism]; from the ask-me-no-questions-i’ll-tell-you-no-lies dept.
“The ancient Delphic Oracle was the inspiration for a recent application created by the Department of Classical Studies at the University College of London. This application will give the user the chance to have a unique experience. The application is very tempting and attractive as one can ask whatever he wishes online.” [via]
- “Shape-Shifter” — Michael Gilleland, Laudator Temporis Acti; from the i’m-gonna-git-you-sucka dept.
“Zeus became a swan, a bull, a satyr, gold, for love of
Leda, Europa, Antiope, Danaë.”
- “Jesus Wept” — Michael Gilleland, Laudator Temporis Acti; from the dacryphilia dept.
“Some in the ancient world might have interpreted the act of weeping as evidence that Jesus was not God.”
- “Grimoire” — Michael Quinion, World Wide Words; from the cook-the-books dept.
“The shift from book of grammar to book of magic isn’t as weird as it might seem. Few among the ordinary people in those times could read or write. For superstitious minds books were troubling objects. Who knew what awful information was locked up in them? For many people grammar meant the same thing as learning, and everybody knew that learning included astrology and other occult arts.”
- “California’s drought is so bad people are turning to witchcraft” — Holly Richmond, Grist; from the liquore-strega dept.
“Did you know that witches help make Two-Buck Chuck? Sadly no one from The Craft is involved, but water witches are increasingly in demand in California as the state’s epic drought continues. John Franzia of the Bronco Wine Company, which makes Two-Buck Chuck and a slew of other wines, regularly uses diviners to find water underneath his California vineyards.”
- “Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics, by Marco Pasi” — Clive Bloom, Times Higher Education; from the piecemeal-social-engineering dept.
“Pasi’s book, which has already appeared in Italian and German, proves an admirable introduction to the complex magical and political connections of this most elusive of figures. Ironically, what the book proves is the opposite of its title, which is simply that magical practice and practical politics have never mixed, and the attempt to fit them together was a doomed and ‘childish’ project. Crowley’s ‘political’ legacy lies more properly in the politics of personal liberation that he advocated and in the counterculture he helped to create.”
- “Alchemical Interpretations of Masonic Symbols in the Rituals of Russian Rosicrucians of the 18th-19th Centuries” (in Russian) — Yury Khalturin; from the watching-the-world-wake-up-from-history dept.
“In the article symbolic mechanisms of the transmission of alchemical tradition within the Russian Rosicrucianism are analyzed. The main point of the article is the idea, that masonic symbols and their interpretations were not just a form of communicating the alchemical tradition, but also a mode of its transformation according to the principles of rosicrucian worldview. All the alchemical interpretations of masonic symbols in rosicrucian rituals could be reduced to paradigmatic and syntagmatic models. Within the ritual those symbols and interpretations realized two main functions — suggestive (creating the sacral atmosphere for getting the esoteric knowledge) and initiatic (initiation through the shift from one level of hidden sense to another), which changed social and existential status of the neophyte.”
- “Is there any super bad-ass Catholic weapon around out there?” — Benito Cereno, Burgeoning Lads of Science; from the ten-hail-marys-and-turn dept.
“Some of these might be of dubious Catholicity, but they all at least have something to do with a saint or a relic, so there you have it.”
- “Mindscapes: The first recording of hallucinated music” — Helen Thomson, NewScientist’s Mindscapes; from the stop-children-what’s-that-sound dept.
“‘It’s like having my own internal iPod,’ says Sylvia. While she goes about her daily life she hears music. It may sound to her as if a radio is playing, but it is entirely in her own head.
Sylvia calls the hallucinations a nuisance, but they can be turned off, which has allowed researchers to work out what might cause them. The discovery paves the way for new treatments and hints at the cause of more common hallucinations, such as those associated with schizophrenia.”
- “Are Stonehenge’s Boulders Actually Big Bells?” — Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic [David Raffin]; from the everybody-must-get-stoned dept.
“If you’re building a monument, why not build it out of stones that speak?
‘We don’t know of course that they moved them because they rang, but ringing rocks are a prominent part of many cultures,’ English archeologist Tim Darvill told the BBC. ‘Soundscapes of pre-history are something we’re really just beginning to explore.’
It’s true. Academics and researchers are just beginning to think about what many historic places—both geographic and architectural—sounded like.”
- “Wagner & Me“, a movie with Stephen Fry, currently on Netflix; from the is-wagner-a-human-being-at-all dept.
- Richard Wagner and his Operas, an online archive and resource.
- “Mathematicians Are Chronically Lost and Confused” — Soulskill, Slashdot; from the dazed-and-confused dept.
“[Jeremy Kun] says it’s immensely important for mathematicians to be comfortable with extended periods of ignorance when working on a new topic. ‘The truth is that mathematicians are chronically lost and confused. It’s our natural state of being, and I mean that in a good way. …”
- Roelof Nicolai quoted in “648 – Portolan Charts ‘Too Accurate’ to be Medieval” — Frank Jacobs, Big Think; from the maps-of-the-ancient-sea-kings dept.
“Perhaps we should re-evaluate what we think was the state of science in Antiquity”
- “Scientists Revive a Giant 30,000 Year Old Virus From Ice” — bmahersciwriter, Slashdot; from the andromeda-strain dept.
“It might be terrifying if we were amoebae. Instead, it’s just fascinating. The virus, found in a hunk of Siberian ice, is huge, but also loosely packaged, which is strange says evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie: ‘We thought it was a property of viruses that they pack DNA extremely tightly into the smallest particle possible, but this guy is 150 times less compacted than any bacteriophage [viruses that infect bacteria]. We don’t understand anything anymore!'”
Heading into my read of an advance review copy of John Crowley’s forthcoming Four Freedoms, I was unsure what to expect. The publisher’s blurb told me that it was a book about “a disabled man…among a crowd of women” at “the height of World War II.” It didn’t seem obvious that this scenario would be a setting suited to the artful exploration of ideas I had enjoyed in the author’s AEgypt cycle, a set of four novels that develop a complexly interwoven text about the human experience of magic and the magic of human experience. I needn’t have worried.
The Four Freedoms of the title are the ones articulated in FDR’s 1941 State of the Union speech: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. The fact that the novel is divided into four parts suggests a correspondence, but there’s no obvious one-to-one relationship between those parts and the freedoms. They seem more like the four movements of a symphony, and here is the key to the esoteric dimension of Four Freedoms: the Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinees generales (1808) of Charles Fourier. Crowley is very coy about this element of the novel—unlike his free admission of the historical and scholarly grist for his mill in AEgypt—he never even mentions Fourier by name, either in the novel or in the afterword that discusses his research sources. Still, the unavoidable fact is that Four Freedoms character Pancho Notzing’s “Bestopianism” is Fourierist though and through: a magical ur-socialism founded in “Passionate Series” generating “Harmony” through the satisfaction of dynamic and heterogeneous desires. Pancho himself is even a biographical cipher for Fourier. Where Fourier was the son of a prosperous cloth merchant and had a career as a traveling salesman, Pancho is retiring from a career as a traveling salesman of luxury cloths.
The Theory of Four Movements is Fourier’s earliest and most bewildering exposition of his system. The movements themselves are enumerated only in a footnote and some brief glossary material, where they are given as social, human, animal, and organic—in descending order. The hierarchy of the Fourierist movements perhaps accounts for the sparing but curious use of the first-person plural in the frame of Four Freedoms. The “we” narrating the novel could be the collective identity of the quasi-phalanx of the Van Damme Aero manufacturing plant, a “Temporary Harmonious Zone”—cousin maybe to Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone.
Both the little society of the Ponca City plant and the greater society of WWII America with its socialized command economy are especially worth readers’ attention at a time when the US is confronted with a need to fundamentally reorganize its material and industrial bases. The historical setting of Four Freedoms is bracingly topical while we confront a “great recession” or even “greater depression” that seems bound to displace what “postwar” generations have been taught to consider the American “way of life.” A gasoline ration of four gallons per week? That was a reality of the home front.
I cried once in the course of reading this book. If it has that effect on anyone else, I wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be at the same place: there’s a lot emotional power distributed through many personal stories over the course of the novel. As I have come to expect from Crowley, his narrative voice is sure—both efficient and beautiful—and his characters are compelling. The plot is largely subordinate to the characters, and tends to fan out from them in individual tributaries of memory, told to one another or simply recalled.
Crowley’s AEgypt (especially as read backwards from the final realizations of Endless Things) can be considered a meditation on “neurodiversity”: the idea that there are many necessarily partial and complementary ways of perceiving and understanding the world. Four Freedoms can be read as a corresponding exploration of physical diversity expressed through sex, age, disability, and race. But this is no moralizing, didactic exercise. I recently had a conversation with a literal fellow traveler on an airplane, regarding the importance of storytelling in the learning process. The stories in Four Freedoms can remind us of the kind of learning we all need to do, and that we will do whenever we remember our diverse radical passions. [via]