Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Since the earliest days of organized religious expression there have always been those who preferred seeking the individual mystical experience as their personal doorway to other dimensions of reality and the world beyond death. These mystics found the doctrines and dogmas of structured religion to be too inhibiting, too restrictive, and not at all conducive to the kind of personal relationship with the holy which they so desperately sought. Regardless of the religion or the culture from which they sprang, all mystics have as their goal the transcendence of the earthly self and union with the Absolute.
While the ancient mystery schools were built upon the worship of a particular god or goddess, the contemporary mystery schools have been built around the charisma and the spiritual teachings of a psychic sensitive, a medium, or a prophet. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, in Europe, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, the men and women who are most often attracted to the modern mystery schools are those who have grown dissatisfied with the teachings of Christianity and what they consider to be its restrictive religious doctrines concerning the afterlife and rebirth. Each of the contemporary mystery schools examined in this section— Anthroposophy, the Association for Research and Enlightenment, and Theosophy— accept the concept of reincarnation and blend many of the beliefs of Christianity and Judaism with traditional teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism.
In his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James (1842–1910) has this to say regarding the oneness and unity of the mystical traditions: “This overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of climate or creed. In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism… we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity…perpetually telling of the unity of man with God.”
Many scholars of the early Christian church believed strongly that the various church councils had erred in removing reincarnation from official doctrine. The Gnostics, who strongly influenced early Christian doctrine, believed in reincarnation, and when the teachings of Origen (185 C.E.–254 C.E.), who championed preexistence, was anathematized in 553, they, along with other believers in reincarnation, were condemned as heretics. In later centuries, those who held Gnostic views were forced to remain silent regarding their beliefs in reincarnation, so they very often formed their own sects and schools of thought, such as the Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, and the Albigenses.
Because many serious-minded Christians believe that there is evidence in the gospels that Jesus (c. 6 B.C.E.–30 C.E.) himself believed in reincarnation, they are comfortable with Hindu and Buddhist concepts of past lives and karma and see no conflict with their traditional belief in Christianity. Dr. Gladys McGarey is a member of the Association for Research and Enlightenment, the contemporary mystery school based on the medical and past-life readings of Edgar Cayce (1877–1945). The daughter of Christian missionaries and a medical doctor who employs the concepts of past lives in her practice, McGarey has expressed her belief that Jesus came to offer humankind the law of grace to supersede the law of karma.
“I believe sincerely that when Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law and not destroy it, he was referring to the law of karma, the law of cause and effect, which is superseded by the law of grace,” she said. “If we are functioning under the law of karma, it is as if we are walking away from the Sun and walking into our own shadow—which means we are walking into darkness. But if we turn around and walk toward the Sun, then we are walking toward the Light, and that is great. To me, the light of the Sun—whether you spell it son or sun is a symbol of moving in the law of grace. The law of grace does not take away the karmic pattern, it just makes it so I don’t have to hurt myself as I move through the karma that I have created.”
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The Great Plaza in Tikal was surrounded by grand palaces and temples. This is Temple I.
Peeling Back the Jungle
By the time the Spanish conquered Honduras in the 1520s, Copán had long been overgrown by rainforest. Several explorers visited it in the early 19th century and wrote about the barely visible ruins. In 1839, explorer and travel writer John Lloyd Stephens (1805–1852) paid a Maya guide to lead him to the site. In Stephens’s book Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, he offers this riveting account of how the jungle was stripped away to rediscover the ruins.
It is impossible to describe the interest with which I explored these ruins. The ground was entirely new; there were no guide-books or guides; the whole was virgin soil. We could not see 10 yards before us, and never knew what we should stumble upon next. At one time we stopped to cut away branches and vines which concealed the face of a monument, and then to dig around and bring to light a fragment, a sculptured corner of which protruded from the earth. I leaned over with breathless anxiety while the Indians worked, and an eye, an ear, a foot, or a hand was disentombed. When the machete rang against the chiseled stone, I pushed the Indians away, and cleared out the loose earth with my hands. The beauty of the sculpture, the solemn stillness of the woods, disturbed only by the scrambling of monkeys and chattering of parrots, the desolation of the city, and the mystery that hung over it, all created an interest higher, if possible, than I had ever felt among the ruins of the Old World.
The Maya were master pyramid builders, but their magnificent cities were buried by the jungle until the late 1800s and early 1900s. This is a pyramid in Chichén Itzá, a great Maya city of the Postclassic Era.
Palenque was one of the great cities of the Classic Era. These ruins were once the temple complex.
Volcano peaks pierce the blanket of cool mist that hangs above the forest canopy. Ghostly howler monkeys scream, unseen, as if the ruined temples were part of a scene in an unearthly horror movie. For some, the sounds create the illusion that the lost city of Copán is haunted by tortured souls wailing deep within the stone pyramids. Only the occasional rustle of a tree branch reveals that the monkeys are the true source of the screams. They scramble across a platform where priests once addressed thousands of people. The platform is now buried in vines, and moss, and jungle growth. The remains of Copán, one of the richest centers of Maya civilization, lie deep in the tropical forest of modern Honduras. Copán became wealthy because of its rich soil and the Copán River’s annual flood. Each year, the river overflowed and the water left behind a new layer of rich, fertile soil. The huge quantity of precious jade found in the tombs of Copán’s kings is evidence of how wealthy they were.
Classifying Maya history
Archaeologists divide pre-Columbian (the time before Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492 c.e. Maya history into three major time periods: Preclassic, Classic, and Postclassic. During the Preclassic Era, from about 1200 b.c.e. to 250 c.e., settled farming communities grew into complex societies. Many Maya kingdoms experienced rapid growth in this era. They built monumental structures, established long-distance trade routes, and developed governing systems. In the later part of the Preclassic Era, some kingdoms were enjoying their peak while others had already faded away.
The Classic Era was between about 250 and 900. From southeastern Mexico to upper Central America, this varied landscape supported millions of people in Classic times. During the height of Maya civilization in the eighth century, as many as 60 independent kingdoms dotted the Maya area, as well as hundreds of smaller towns and villages.
Unlike the Aztec people, their neighbors to the north, the Maya never unified into a single empire. Instead, they built commerce centers that grew into city-states (cities that function as separate kingdoms or nations) ruled by kings. These kingdoms formed alliances with one another one day, only to turn into sworn enemies the next.
Robert J. Sharer wrote in The Ancient Maya that the capitals of independent kingdoms were “interconnected by commerce, alliances, and rivalries that often led to war.” By the end of the Classic Era, the southern lowland capitals had collapsed, leaving modern scholars to wonder what catastrophe forced the Maya to abandon their cities.
The northern lowlands kingdoms rose and fell during the Postclassic Era, from 900 to 1524. Some kingdoms flowered dramatically, but probably did not reach the heights of the kingdoms from previous eras. It was in the Postclassic Era that kings lost their grip on centralized power and nobles greedily stepped in to break the kingdoms up into smaller pieces.
The Postclassic Era ended with the arrival of the Spaniards, who found that most Maya were living in medium-sized kingdoms and groups of allied cities throughout the Maya area.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
In Cuchulainn and the Morrigan we return to the supernatural theme that underpins his adventures. It is partly through his relationship to this primal Celtic goddess of death, procreation, and life, that Cuchulainn is so successful, for she is also goddess of war. Only after she withdraws her support can the Champion of Ulster be defeated.
The Celts have many myths and beliefs that center around the number three. The Morrigan, Danu, and Brigd are often seen as a single trifaced goddess, and many of the legends of Celtic heroes involve three tests, three challenges, or three possible outcomes. Thus, it is only natural that they would ascribe the number three into the physical world, as well. For the Celts, nature involves three earthly realms: the land, the sea, and the sky. Each has a connection with the spiritual realm. The spirits of nature live within the land, the dead live in a paradise beyond (or, in some legends, beneath) the sea, and the sky is the home of the noblest and most powerful of gods.
The Morrigan embodies all that is ferocious and terrifying about war. Her powers are great, and her anger is a force that even the gods fear. A dark deity, the Morrigan’s aspect is that of an ancient crone with iron teeth and a great reaping scythe. She delights in visiting battles, watching from above in the form of a great crow. She is a violent goddess, one who causes strife and war but whose powers can also end it – though only at a great price.
The Morrigan’s sister is Badb, known in Gaul as Cauth Bodva. Badb follows behind Morrigan on the battlefield, ensuring that death comes quickly after war.
The Morrigan is a goddess of battle, strife, and fertility. Her name translates as either “Great Queen” or “Phantom Queen,” and both epithets are entirely appropriate. The Morrigan frequently appears in the guise of a hooded crow, cawing stories of death and decay to all those who will listen. She was instrumental in the defeat of the Fomorians, and is known to hate them with an unrivaled passion.
Cuchulainn and the Morrigan
When Cuchulainn lay in sleep in Dun Imrid, he heard a cry sounding out of the north, a cry terrible and fearful to his ears. Out of a deep slumber he was aroused by it so suddenly, that he fell out of his bed upon the ground like a sack, in the east wing of the house.
He rushed forth without weapons, until he gained the open air, his wife following him with his armour and his garments. He perceived Laegh in his harnessed chariot coming towards him from Ferta Laig in the North. 'What brings thee here?' said Cuchulainn. 'A cry that I heard sounding across the plain,' said Laegh. 'From which direction?' said Cuchulainn. 'From the north-west,' said Laegh, 'across the great highway leading to Caill Cuan.' 'Let us follow the sound,' said Cuchulainn.
They go forward as far as Ath da Ferta. When they arrived there, they heard the rattle of a chariot from the loamy district of Culgaire. They saw before them a chariot harnessed with a chestnut horse. The horse had (but) one leg, and the pole of the chariot passed through its body, so that the peg in front met the halter passing across its forehead. Within the chariot sat a woman, her eye-brows red, and a crimson mantle round her. Her mantle fell behind her between the wheels of the chariot so that it swept along the ground. A big man went along beside the chariot. He also wore a coat of crimson, and on his back he carried a forked staff of hazelwood, while he drove a cow before him.
'The cow is not pleased to be driven on by you,' said Cuchulainn. 'She does not belong to you,' said the woman; 'the cow is not owned by any of your friends or associates.' 'The cows of Ulster belong to me,' said Cuchulainn. 'You would give a decision about the cow!' said the woman; 'you are taking too much upon yourself, O Cuchulainn!'
'Why is it the woman who accosts me?' said Cuchulainn. 'Why is it not the man?' 'It is not the man to whom you addressed yourself,' said the woman. 'Oh yes,' said Cuchulainn, 'but it is you who answer for him.' 'He is Uar-gaeth-sceo Luachair-sceo.' 'Well, to be sure, the length of the name is astonishing!' said Cuchulainn. 'Talk to me then yourself, for the man does not answer. What is your own name?' 'The woman to whom you speak,' said the man, 'is called Faebor beg-beoil cuimdiuir folt scenb-gairit sceo uath.'
'You are making a fool of me!' said Cuchulainn. And he made a leap into the chariot. He put his two feet on her two shoulders, and his spear on the parting of her hair.
'Do not play your sharp weapons on me!' she said. 'Then tell your true name,' said Cuchulainn. 'Go further off from me then,' said she. 'I am a female satirist, and he is Daire mac Fiachna of Cuailgne; I carry off this cow as a reward for a poem.' 'Let us hear your poem,' said Cuchulainn. 'Only move further off,' said the woman. 'Your shaking over my head will not influence me.' Then he moved off until he was between the two wheels of the chariot. Then she sang to him. . .
Cuchulainn prepared to spring again into the chariot; but horse, woman, chariot, man, and cow, all had disappeared.
Then he perceived that she had been transformed into a black bird on a branch close by him. 'A dangerous enchanted woman you are!' said Cuchulainn. 'Henceforth this Grellach shall bear the name of the 'enchanted place" (dolluid),' said the woman; and Grellach Dolluid was it called.
'If I had only known that it was you,' said Cuchulainn, 'we should not have parted thus.' 'Whatever you have done,' said she, 'will bring you ill-luck.' 'You cannot harm me,' said he. 'Certainly I can,' said the woman. 'I am guarding your death-bed, and I shall be guarding it henceforth. I brought this cow out of the Sidh of Cruachan so that she might breed by the bull of Daire mac Fiachna, namely the Donn of Cuailgne. So long as her calf shall be a yearling, so long shall thy life be; and it is this that shall cause the Tain Bo Cuailgne.'
'My name shall be all the more renowned in consequence of this Tain,' said the hero:
I shall strike down their warriors
I shall fight their battles
I shall survive the Tain!
'How wilt thou manage that?' said the woman; 'for, when thou art engaged in a combat with a man as strong, as victorious, as dexterous, as terrible, as untiring, as noble, as brave, as great as thyself, I will become an eel, and I will throw a noose round they feet in the ford, so that heavy odds will be against thee.'
'I swear by the God by whom the Ultonians swear,' said Cuchulainn, 'that I will bruise thee against a green stone of the ford; and thou never shalt have any remedy from me if thou leavest me not.' 'I shall also become a grey wolf for thee, and I will take from thy right hand, as far as to thy left arm.'
'I will encounter thee with my spear,' said he, 'until thy left or right eye is forced out; and thou shalt never have help from me, if thou leavest me not.'
'I will become a white red-eared cow,' said she, 'and I will go into the pond beside the ford, in which thou art in deadly combat with a man, as skilful in feats as thyself, and an hundred white red-eared cows behind me; and I and all behind me will rush into the ford, and the ' 'Faithfulness of men'' will be brought to a test that day, and thy head shall be cut off from thee.'
'I will with my sling make a cast against thee,' said he, 'so that thy right or thy left leg will be broken, and thou shalt never have help from me, if thou dost not leave me.'
Thereupon the Morrigu departed into the Sidh of Cruachan in Connacht, and Cuchulainn returned to his dwelling.
Tara E. Nummedal. Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. xvii + 260 pp. $37.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-226-60856-3.
Reviewed by Warren Alexander Dym (Huntington Library, Los Angeles)
Published on H-German (February, 2010)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
Published on H-German (February, 2010)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
Toward a Social History of Alchemy
The historiography of alchemy, following upon the groundbreaking work of Allen Debus, Walter Pagel, Francis Yates, and others, is moving into its third generation. With numerous studies now devoted to the subject, one can experience a feeling of déjà vu reading certain recent examples--the same alchemists, the same princes, the same arguments about craft knowledge. But this was not my experience with Tara Nummedal's Alchemy and Authority. Nummedal, appealing to historians of early modern science and early modernists more broadly, proposes a social history of alchemy in sixteenth-century Germany, or alchemy "from below" (p. 10). Rather than focusing on the alchemical interests of major natural philosophers like Robert Boyle or Sir Isaac Newton, who pursued a learned or otherworldly practice, this book discusses an "entrepreneurial alchemy" more closely associated with the economic interests of patrons. The names of many familiar alchemists course through these pages, to be sure--Leonhard Thurneisser, Heinrich Khunrath, Michael Maier, Andreas Libavius--but Nummedal also discovers a handful of lesser known figures who proposed projects of more immediate economic significance to their patrons.
Chapter 1 is a useful overview of the means through which an aspiring adept acquired knowledge of alchemy. This was no university or guild activity, so possibilities were limited: one scoured the texts, traveled to other experts, studied the crafts, and even sought divine illumination. Different alchemists claimed one or another route as the only true path. Chapter 2 draws on the work of Lorraine Daston and Otto Sibum, but also Pamela Smith's The Business of Alchemy (1997), to argue that the early modern alchemist had several personae, or social masks, from which to choose. Prior to the sixteenth century, he was "scholar," "artisan," or "prophet," but the satire of humanists like Sebastian Brant and Desiderius Erasmus, who presented the alchemist as a Betrüger, or fraud, put practitioners further on the defensive. The most attractive persona then became "economic advisor." Nummedal develops the idea of the entrepreneurial alchemist in chapter 3, where she argues that mining, metallurgy, and alchemy were overlapping interests to the German princes, as they sought to diversify their state's incomes. Patrons like Duke Julius of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, Elector Augustus of Saxony, Emperor Rudolph II, Landgrave Moritz of Hesse-Kassel, and Duke Friedrich of Württemberg promoted metallurgical and alchemical projects simultaneously. Contemporaries did not distinguish easily between smelting techniques (Scheidekunst) and alchemy, and the language that a famous "metallurgist" like Lazarus Ercker used to promote a new process at the Dresden court was similar to that of contemporary entrepreneurial alchemists who also vied for patronage.
The next two chapters place alchemists at court. First, Nummedal studies a series of contracts between patrons and clients that exposes the business-like nature of the exchange, and similarity to mining and metallurgical projects. The author then dispels the notion that images of alchemical labs as produced by the author and alchemist, Andreas Libavius, or painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, depicted the court-based lab accurately. Nummedal turns rather to archival sources such as inventories, supply orders, architectural details, and official reports to reconstruct the real space of alchemy. She argues that patrons and practitioners differentiated alchemical processes, and organized their labs according to the relative status of the workers--servants, Laboranten, or alchemists--and relative degree of secrecy required for each task. In the final chapter, Nummedal returns to legal cases of Betrug to prove that actors distinguished between fraud and legitimate alchemy. She has found some eleven cases of alchemical fraud between 1575 and 1606 for four German principalities.
Nummedal should be praised for expanding our conception of alchemy and suggesting a new methodological approach. In the end, the work points squarely in the right direction, though we still await the equivalent for alchemy of Wolfgang Behringer's or Manfred Wilde's studies of witchcraft. Future research might expand on Nummedal's work on fraud by considering Münzfälschung (counterfeiting) cases conducted by town councils, among other Münzsachen that are well represented in the archives. Also, the tie between mining, metallurgy, and alchemy deserves more focused attention. Did mining administrations in the Harz Mountains or Erzgebirge of Saxony, like the princes Nummedal and others discuss, patronize alchemists? Which metallurgical processes resembled entrepreneurial alchemy, and, since not all metallurgy was alchemy, how did contemporaries distinguish the two? Finally, Nummedal hints on occasion that female alchemists were more common than the historiography would suggest, though she discusses only one case--that of Anna Maria Zieglerin. How women engaged in this activity, and how common female alchemists were in premodern Europe are questions Nummedal will certainly address in a forthcoming work on alchemy and gender.
The time for a social history of alchemy is now, and Nummedal's innovative work will number among the earliest contributions.
. Lorraine Daston and Otto H. Sibum, "Introduction: Scientific Personae and Their Histories," Science in Context 16 (2003): 1-8.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
The hare, in Ireland, was believed to be a WITCH in disguise, perhaps because the animal was mythically connected to that witch-like being, the CAILLEACH. When a hare was injured, a witch in the neighborhood would sport an identical injury. The same belief is found on the Isle of Man, where a wounded hare would always get away unless shot with a silver bullet; the transformed witch would thereafter be found, either alive or dead, with an identical wound.
In Scotland it was believed that witches took the form of hares in order to steal MILK—a common target of magical theft. Disguising herself as a hare, the witch would sneak into a barn and suckle the milk from a COW’s udder. If caught, the hare would instantly turn back into human form. Hares seen in unusual places, including in regions where they were not typically found, were similarly believed to be disguised witches. If pursued, such hares would run into houses, revealing the witch’s habitation. If one found a group of hares together, it was clearly a gathering of a witches’ coven.
The fierce temperament of hares was sometimes assigned to the FAIRY Rabbit, a bold being that tried to drown people at sea; if the potential victims were carrying earth from their home, or from legendary Tory Island, they could survive even the onslaught of this malicious spirit.
Such folklore may be a late recollection of an earlier religious meaning for the hare. Caesar recorded that eating the flesh of the hare was taboo to continental Celts, which suggests that the animal was seen as sacred or ancestral; Dio Cassius mentioned a DIVINATION using hares that was employed by the Celtic warrior queen BOUDICCA before she entered battle. Such fragments of ancient lore suggest that the SHAPESHIFTING character given to hares in folklore may be a vestige of ancient religious imagery.
Sources: Campbell, John Grigorson. Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1970, pp. 8, 33; O hEochaidh, Séan. Fairy Legends from Donegal. Trans. Máire Mac Neill. Dublin: Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann, 1977, p. 247; Ó hÓgain, Dáithí. Irish Superstitions. London; Gill & Macmillan, 1995, p. 57; O’Sullivan, Patrick V. Irish Superstitions and Legends of Animals and Birds. Cork: Mercier, 1991, p. 76.
The aged Merlin waits deep in a rock for the right time to return. He carries with the secret of Nimue.
Merlin…but one version…
…Merlin thereafter became enamoured with Nimue, a young Lady of the Lake, and a beautiful maiden. Merlin became so love-struck by her that he followed her to Benwick in France, forsaking King Arthur at the Battle of Humber (In which the High King was almost killed in a night ambush, saved only by his personal bodyguards). During Merlin’s trip to Benwick, Merlin told Queen Elaine of Benwick that her son Lancelot would grow to become a great knight. He also told her she’d survive to see him revenge the Ganis clan against King Claudas.
Merlin also took the time to teach Nimue magic, and showed her many great wonders around the Logres. Nimue was glad for the instruction, but increasingly couldn’t stand Merlin’s overt lechery. She was a beautiful maiden in her teens; he was in his sixties. She was also afraid that he was a demon’s son. Because of this, she paid particular attention when Merlin showed her a great stone in Cornwall that hid a mysterious and great wonder underneath it. She let him go underneath the stone to show her more, then caused the stone to trap Merlin beneath it. No matter what Merlin tried, he could not get out from beneath it. And Nimue did not not wish to let him out either.
Nimue left Merlin trapped and all-but forgotten. She eventually fell in love with and married Sir Pelleas, and little more was said of Merlin for a long while. Yet others came across Merlin’s stone prison years later, including King Bagdemagus and Sir Gawaine. Bagdemagus found him after Tor was chosen to the Round Table instead of him. He had ridden out in search of adventure (to make him more famous and thereby a better candidate) when he encountered Merlin. He tried to lift the stone, but to no avail. Merlin told him to stop trying because only Nimue could free him. A few years later, the encounter repeated itself with Gawaine. Merlin bid Gawine carry his blessings to Arthur and Guenever, for he predicted no one would ever speak to him again. No one knows whether anyone else before or since encountered Merlin or what activities he undertook during his imprisonment. Near thirty years later, the candles at King Lot’s tomb went out as predicted, at the exact time when Galahad took the Siege Perilous.
There are some who say that Merlin did not die, but Nimue finally came back to take Merlin away, just as she did later for Arthur. If such was the case, perhaps she reunited the High King with Merlin at Avalon. Others say he was rescued from beneath the stone during the Grail Quest by Percival or perhaps Galahad himself. But since neither of these knights returned from their Quest, no one will ever know for sure until they meet these noble knights, or the great magician himself, sometime in the hereafter…