Posted by: aediculaantinoi | June 23, 2011

A Miscellany of Ephemera…

The list of posts I’d like to make on this blog looms ever-large, and some of them will take considerably more effort and time than others to produce…time which I don’t necessarily have in copious amounts at present. However, doing one post a day on here of late has proven to be satisfying and useful, I think, and thus I’d like to keep that up for the next few days, at very least, and possibly through the end of the month. We shall see…

But, in the meantime, a number of thoughts and ideas and news stories have come up that I think deserve a little bit of comment here, and thus I give you the present post, with various sub-headlines appropriate to each matter discussed. Some of them are literal passing thoughts that are probably only of relevance to myself, while others may have a larger impact in the wider community. You decide which may be which, dear friends!

“Jump In The Air! What Do You Need?”

The above is a phrase I heard in a Breton story while I was in Oxford back in ’97; it was the phrase that a magical wish-granting being said each time he was summoned to grant a wish. I have chosen it for the present somewhat at random, because I think I had a bit of a wish granted in the recent dark night experiences I’ve had.

A long while back–I can’t quite remember when, but in the last six months certainly–I was discussing with Sannion about different aspects of Antinous, and mentioned that the daimon version of Antinous (as opposed to the hero or the theos/god) is something I had not previously experienced. I was reading a short book called Fallen Angels by Harold Bloom last night, and one of the things he mentioned is that, citing Apuleius, a daimon is said to have a body of air, and thus they can be heard but not seen; he also says that a daimon, as in Socrates’ case, is one’s own personal genius, in every sense. (Let’s ignore for the moment the various Greek ideas that suggested that the gods are likewise daimones and so forth…!?!)

So, perhaps the dark night experience from which I’ve recently emerged is one that highlighted the voice rather than the form of Antinous, as that had been present in a manner perhaps more strongly and to the fore than it had ever been in my previous experiences of him. And, during that process, I had to rediscover and be guided by my own genius, my own daimon, or what-have-you, to see me through the difficulties. A few good poems certainly came about during that time which were far more experimental than anything which had come before. So, perhaps that’s a bit more insight into what occurred than I had previously…While I may not have asked specifically for a more daimonic form of Antinous to emerge, that’s what ended up happening, and there we are now. ;)

The Spirit Is Willing, But The Flesh…Tends To Die Rather Easily

Many of you know that James Arthur Ray was just convicted of negligent homicide for the 2009 disaster in his retreat’s sweat lodge that left several people dead. Various pagan blogs have discussed this, including The Wild Hunt, and Lupa at Therioshamanism has an excellent discussion of the more serious matters at hand in the case.

My own observation (and possible contribution to the discussion) is the following. Far too often, both in modern paganism and in religious practices more widely, there is an underlying assumption that spiritual things are always more important than physical things, including one’s own physical well-being and one’s own physical limitations. It is always assumed that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” and that pushing past one’s reservations and boundaries is a positive thing in and of itself. Yes, I do not deny that those who engage in ordeal work and who make it a practice to push themselves further than they may have thought they could go is a good and positive thing for them; but, when one is working with others, or putting oneself into another person’s or group’s hands, the option always has to exist to “safe-word” out of it, as it were. And, that little (but very essential!) bit of etiquette or ethics was entirely lacking in this particular case.

For my own part, if my “no” is not respected in relation to any spiritual activity that is taking place in a group, then I know for a fact that the group or individual in question is abusive and not to be trusted with anything. I do have a number of physical limitations in the form of chronic illnesses, and if I am not aware of their possible impact on my activities at all times, it’s pretty certain that I’ll land in a difficult situation–and this extends even to things that aren’t overtly physical, or that wouldn’t be considered such. (I’ve had more than one major medical emergency sitting in a classroom or a library or studying in my room at home.) And, to illustrate this contrast, let me give you two brief accounts of two different rituals I took part in at different times in religious/spiritual traditions that were not entirely my own.

1) In North County Cork, Ireland, I attended a ritual in early May of 2000 at a renowned Wiccan’s property, which took place in a poorly-lit field that had been reclaimed, but was not cultivated or even very well maintained. I was required to remove my shoes and be barefoot for the part of the ritual in which I participated; there was a skyclad portion of it that was going to happen afterwards. I debated about the latter, but the thing which bothered me far more was that I was told that I would not be allowed to participate if I did not remove my shoes and socks. As someone who has had numerous foot problems, neuropathy, and a variety of other difficulties that would make walking barefoot in a field where rocks, scrap metal, and other such things could pose a very real danger to my foot health, this was a major concern for me. I asked if an exception could be made, and was ignored by the ritual convener; some of his flunkies insisted that I remove my shoes and socks and just “not cause any trouble.” Very stupidly, I sucked up my reservations and went along with it, thinking I’d be standing in one spot for the majority of the events. Nope, we had to process around and dance and so forth, and my own movement was severely hindered because of my attention to what I might be stepping on in the process. I did not find the ritual particularly appealing or useful even apart from that, and the lack of consideration for those who might have special circumstances completely turned me off to pretty much everyone and everything occurring at the time.

2) I went to the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America early one morning in September of 2008 in order to do misogi, the Shinto practice of purification in moving waters (whether ocean or river). One does this practice wearing a fundoshi (loincloth), and a kind of headband, and that’s it. I had expressed some reservation on the matter earlier to the priest of the shrine, as there is a large expanse of gravel that one would have to walk over between the main shrine building and the river, and the river itself might have unseen things on the ground, which could cause problems for someone with the foot difficulties I’ve had. So, the shrine priest said it is more important to do the practice than it is to make it impossible or dangerous for someone who has such foot difficulties, and thus he said it would be fine for me to wear water shoes in order to take part in it. I wore the water shoes, was not worried at all in the process, and was able to have an experience that was…interesting, to say the least! ;)

So, whatever else can be said about the incompetence of James Arthur Ray in running a sweat lodge, or his possible cultural appropriation, or his (and the general phenomenon of) new age hucksterism, at the very least there should have been an “opt-out” mechanism in place for the practice, given its dangerous nature. There was not, and several people died as a result. Very rightly, thus, he will serve time for negligent homicide, which is perhaps not as full justice as one would like in this situation, but it is at least something.

Hurrah for Singing Lesbians!

I’ve been watching NBC’s The Voice (yes, I have a penchant for NBC singing/talent shows, what can I say?), and have enjoyed it greatly–particularly Cee Lo Green’s team. I’m happy that Tacoma-based Vicci Martinez has come through on Cee Lo’s team, and also that Beverly McClellan has been the winner on Christina Aguilera’s team (though I do think Frenchie Davis is also awesome). Having two of the four finalists be such excellent singers who both happen to be lesbians as well is, as far as I’m concerned, stellar and something to be celebrated–not too many lesbians (to my knowledge) have done well nor featured prominently on the reality singing/talent show circuit in the past number of years, though a number of gay men have (e.g. Prince Poppycock, Adam Lambert, Clay Aiken, etc.). So, hurrah and congrats to both Vicci and Beverly, and I hope one of them wins! (Though I have to throw my hat more behind Vicci, somewhat because she’s local, I must admit!)

However, I was very sad to see another excellent singer, who also happens to be gay, get sent home in the process of all this: Nakia from Team Cee Lo. Thus, I’d like to just take a moment and pay tribute to him, and to his very supportive partner, and I hope that this will not be the last the national music scene will have seen of him. He came onto the show with both guns blazing, singing Cee Lo’s “Forget You”–but may Nakia never be forgotten!

Note to Self: Stop Liking Other Countries…

Lots of crummy things have happened in world history this year. Some of them are rough spots on the way to something better, some of them are just disasters and atrocities.

I love Ireland, and am very interested in Irish history, literature, and mythology…and now Ireland is in a disastrous financial situation.

I love Greece, its history and culture and literature and religion…and Greece is likewise in a financial meltdown.

I am interested in Shinto, which comes from Japan…and a series of earthquakes and tsunamis worse than any on record rocked the island nation earlier this year.

Egypt is the birthplace of the cultus of Antinous, and has been of interest to me since my earliest childhood…and of course, it had a revolution earlier this year, and the effects from that will be ongoing for a while.

And, I’ve expressed interest earlier this year in Septimius Severus, who was from Roman Tripolitania, and who became connected to Syria by marriage…and now both Libya and Syria are in serious civil unrest.

So, the various further cultures I’m interested in, I’m just going to shut the hell up about, lest they all get swallowed up by the earth as well in the remainder of this year.

Alan Moore: Good Magician, Bad Theologian

At the Pharyngula blog, noted skeptic/atheist P.Z. Myers recently wrote about Alan Moore’s appearance at the Cheltenham Science Festival. And, among the short snippets given to characterize Moore was the following:

Moore has an affinity for a 2nd century oracular sock puppet, but he doesn’t worship it. He believes in magic, but he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He also doesn’t like religion.

I have to correct Moore–once again!–that Glykon is not a sock puppet, nor is he a glove puppet; he was a combination real trained snake with a marionette head that eventually incorporated a speaking tube…but I guess “sock/glove puppet” is just easier to say or something. (!?!) All of the above is stuff that we’re used to hearing from Alan Moore–or, at least those of us who read an awful lot of what he says are used to it…

However, what he gets wrong over and over and over again is the matter of “belief,” and of what “religion” is (the latter he understands as an entirely institutional phenomenon, whereas if one understands “religion” as “systematized articulations of particular experiences of divine reality,” then Moore is just as religious as the Pope, if not more so!). Since when does religion or magic have anything to do with belief at all? And, while some would say that “worship” is utterly required in order to have a relationship with a deity, what it really means is to invest any idea of “worth” or “worthwhileness” into something, which Moore clearly does with Glykon. So, honestly, I don’t think he’s doing himself any favors with this particular line of presentation, if it’s essentially meant just to make himself sound more “reasonable” to a bunch of skeptics and atheists. His magic (in the form of storytelling) is still top-notch (usually…!?!), but his actual theology (which he’d probably deny having at all) is naïve at best, alas…


  1. [...] to the death in order to know that you are strong in spirit.”Patheos columnist and author P. Sufenas Virius Lupus echoes Myers in criticizing “the underlying assumption that spiritual things are always more important [...]

  2. Regarding physical limitations during rituals – I think one of the main issues here is simple lack of communication beforehand. Whenever someone is going to attend a ritual I’ve designed, I make it a point to exhaustively detail not only the spiritual element, but what we will physically be doing, in case there are any problems (an allergy to the food used, for instance, or an inability to walk the long procession). Most things, I’ve found, can be worked around while staying true to the intention of the rite. If there were a detail I felt was just too crucial to change or leave out, I might consider telling the person it wasn’t a good ritual for them to attend because of that, but that seems far better than forcing them to endanger their own health for it! And in the far majority of cases, I’d agree with the Shinto priest that it’s more important to do the practice as much as one can, while staying safe.

    • Yes, and that’s a very good point. It is the responsibility of the ritual-designer/officiant/etc. to give at least some information on what will be involved, if there is a lot of physical stuff involved. As I’ve had rituals in which there were disabled people present, I have always been very cautious and aware of what limitations might be involved. I had a woman with CP come to a ritual once, and unfortunately it was being held at the top of a house in a rented room with no elevator, but she walked all the way up (with assistance) because she wanted to be there. And, then later in the ritual, there was a walk “between fires” (two candles, really), and she wanted to do that unassisted, so she did, and all went well! (It was funny, because then she was at a Wiccan ritual a few weeks later, and said she preferred the Ekklesía one!)

      I think–with openness and a bit of imagination–that it really ought to be near impossible not to accommodate someone with physical limitations in a ritual, of almost any sort.

      • “I think–with openness and a bit of imagination–that it really ought to be near impossible not to accommodate someone with physical limitations in a ritual, of almost any sort.”

        Well….you’ve lost me there, simply because a lot of my rituals involve quite a bit of physical exertion – climbing to the top of a mountain, for instance, or bathing naked in the ocean – in situations I could see being difficult for a number of people. But that’s part of why I like doing things mostly alone – I can worry only about my own capabilities, as well as my own potential issues (e.g., if I’m feeling unwell due to my own chronic illness, I can postpone or alter without disrupting anyone else).

      • The things you’re talking about tend to be more private, individual matters, in which the point of the activity is to do something challenging, not to do something with other people. That’s a whole other matter, in my opinion.

        What I’m most concerned with is a group of people, for example, who are going to be doing a particular ritual in a particular location for a few hours, and having them get dehydrated from dancing and not allowing them water, or things like that. Or, forcing anyone to do something or “face their fears” over something if they don’t want to do so, or making doing particular activities that might be harmful or dangerous for one person in the group a requirement of participation, and then demeaning the person or excluding the person because of their inability to partake of certain activities. (Making everyone drink alcohol, when there might be some who are either medically unable to do so, or who struggle with addiction, would be another example.) Obviously, if someone can’t walk very easily, they’re not going to even think of going on a mountain climb, or even a hike; if someone can’t swim, or has medical devices that prevent contact with water, they won’t be able to do the ocean bathing; etc. (And, of course, having the ability to do these things alone rather than in a group alleviates almost all of the problem!)

        But, I also think it would be possible, for example, for a person who is wheelchair-bound to go to the beach with you when you do your bathing, and you bring them a bucket of ocean water, so that though they may not get the full experience, they can at least be there and participate to some degree, and get the ocean water on themself in a safe manner that won’t risk them getting drowned or hurt, etc. And, oftentimes, this type of accommodation and inclusion (which is so uncommon in the overculture) ends up making the experience even more intense and special for the person concerned.

        Does that make more sense, perhaps?

      • While what I referenced were certainly private rituals, I personally think we *should* be having more such elaborate, challenging types of group rituals in paganism. Certainly they did in ancient cultures. Not sure how they handled this issue, though I’m guessing some people just didn’t attend certain things, for good or ill.

        Again, I think it comes down to communication. Absolutely, no one should be forced, or even strongly goaded, into doing something they’re not comfortable with, for whatever reason (unless they’ve signed up for that as part of an ordeal) – doesn’t do anyone any good. However, neither should someone attend a ritual they *know* involves things they can’t/won’t do, and then try to impose that limitation on the rest of the group. I think it’s fine if difficult things, even dangerous things, are a requirement of participation, so long as that’s made crystal clear in advance and everyone’s an adult who has consciously signed on for that. I don’t think a ritual should necessarily be changed to accommodate one person, especially if the issue involved is critical to the whole point of the ritual – that person, being forewarned, can choose not to participate. Not everything is for everybody, after all (I for instance wouldn’t choose to participate in a desert ritual in the sun due to my strong aversion to heat, but neither would I expect the ritual to be moved indoors just for me). On the other hand, plenty of times accommodations can be made without damaging the ritual itself (like your example of the ocean bathing), and then they absolutely should be.

      • Oh no, I certainly agree with that. People who just show up to muck things up and make it about them aren’t really a good thing, no matter what the context is in which they’ve surfaced. (It sucks even worse when an able-bodied person shows up to an open ritual, but when it isn’t going the way they want, or according to what they think it should be doing, they then attempt to disrupt what’s going on, make everyone else accommodate them, and then if others protest or object, then they play the oppression card, and say these people are religiously intolerant, etc. Bleh…)

        I suspect that most people in the past who weren’t physically able to do certain things just didn’t do them, and there was probably little to no stigma attached to doing so because the rituals in question were “electives” rather than requirements. (Misogi in Shinto, for example, is by no means required for people, not even once-in-a-lifetime; it’s just something that some people do regularly, others occasionally, and some people at least try once.)

        And, there’s always ways to work around things. There was a wheelchair-bound guy who climbed Mt. Everest with a special wheelchair with treads that was operated by a hand crank. Clearly, nothing was going to stand in his way in doing what he wanted to do. If someone wants to do a challenging thing like that, despite their limitations, I’m all for them doing so. But, as you said, trying to make it so that no one does the challenging thing just because one person might not be able to, or one person in the group wouldn’t be able to, is not a good thing at all.

  3. I’m just floored that if a) one wasn’t familiar with the foot issues that are connected to diabetes, one wouldn’t b) trust a diabetic to know better than them. ?!?

    • It was all a power/authority issue, i.e. the guy running things WAS THE POWER, and anyone who questioned him was a troublemaker and a grand-stander, etc. These are TRADITIONS, after all, and must therefore be UNERRINGLY RESPECTED. (And the sarcasm button is certainly activated when I talk about it, though it was not for the person in question.)

  4. “one of the things he mentioned is that, citing Apuleius, a daimon is said to have a body of air”

    We’ve had discussions before in which this subject has come up, in regard to Robert Kirk’s descriptions of the fairy people. This would seem to indicate that a similar concept was held in certifiably pre-Christian thought.

    • Oh, and also, you might find this article may be of interest to you.

      • Thanks for that!

        It’s the usual stuff, but interesting to hear it from the other Moore rather than…well…the other other Moore, and this time with footnotes and the like! (Most of his sources are ones I’ve directly consulted myself, incidentally!)

        However, from my viewpoint, the more important matter isn’t whether Alexander was a huckster or not, or whether Lucian’s mythbusting was accurate or not, or what (if anything) this says about religion generally, or pre-Christian religions of late antiquity, etc.; the most important point, as far as I’m concerned, is that it is fully possible that Lucian was telling the truth, and that Alexander was exaggerating it, but that nonetheless the god-form of Glykon is real, and was active and effective. That’s the thing about ancient religion: people didn’t just “believe” in it, it had to work, and it did work for well over a century, and seemed to have had adherents who were quite serious about it. Who is to know if the one failed oracle Alex and Glykon gave Marcus Aurelius was one failure out of a hundred that were accurate? Some prophets end up being more concerned with profit, and that’s as true now as it has ever been; and some skeptics will never be convinced of anything other than their own rightness in “seeing through” the “deceptions” of magicians and religious people, and that’s as true now as it probably ever has been as well. But, note that Lucian never once says that Glykon the god is false, only that Alexander is a false prophet, and I think there is a difference there as well…Yes, some might say that the prophecy Alexander announced and performed was false, and that therefore the god in whose name he came and for whom he acted was false by implication, but the actual text doesn’t say “There’s no such thing as Glykon,” only that this particular cultic activity was excessive in its execution.

        The gem that honors Chnoubis-Glykon, which Moore (and, as far as I know, Moore!) does not mention, would seem to indicate that something larger was going on in the cultus with people not connected directly to it; such a syncretism, I think, would challenge Alexander’s singular authority over the matter…But, the gem exists, and though it is not datable with certainty to before or after Alexander’s life, I think it indicates that Glykon grew to be more than a full-sized snake overnight in Abunoteichos, if you take my meaning…!?! ;)

    • Yes; though, I’m not prepared to state with any certainty that the concept found in Kirk (and also in a variety of medieval Irish sources) isn’t, in fact, derived from classical pre-Christian thought via Augustine, who mentions bodies of air being associated with daimones, who become demons; and then because the Tuatha Dé are said to be a type of demon, Óengus is said to have put a body of air into the shade of Diarmaid so that he can speak with him, etc.; and then eventually, this gets translated into the quasi-demonic influences of fairies in Kirk’s account, etc. In other words, just because it is an attested pre-Christian idea in Roman/Mediterranean literature doesn’t mean that it did exist in Ireland or among Celtic peoples as a native belief, and as the line of attestation is certain through Christian texts, which have put their own interpretation on the matter, in the Irish and Scottish examples, I think we have to be judicious and call it a non-native idea, even if it was applied or interpreted over one that was native at some point.

      And, if one is doing gentlidecht, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from. ;)

  5. […] have alluded to the matters below once before, several years ago, and now, it’s becoming something which can no longer be […]

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