Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sacrifices to Molech

One of the favorite games people like to play with other people's religions is to claim they engaged in regular human sacrifice. Somehow the notion that criminals and prisoners of war being ritualy slain for religion is somehow a lot more distasteful than heretics and murderers being ritualy slain in the name of religion and justice. I started out curious about this notion of sacrifice, and of human sacrefice, and along the way I have learned a few startling facts.

First of all, sacrefice, originally, had nothing to do with virgins being slain on a stone altar. It has nothing to do with giving something up, "sacrificing" for the greater good, or doing without. It has nothing to do with a wealthly environmentalist "sacrifincing" his Prius for the good of the planet (ever wonder where all that lithium for the battery is coming from?). Instead it comes from the Latin "Sacre" meaning something seperate. In this case, something seperated out from the mundane and dedicated or otherwise made untouchable. Something dangerous or "bad" could be sacre. Someone made ritually unclean could be sacre. This is, when you think about it, probably where the idea of giving something up as "Sacrifice". It is no longer available, it is seperate, it is sacre.  Someone who decides to give himself up to his god, is not sacrificed when the knife plunges into his chest, he was sacrificed, made "sacre" when he dedicated his life to his god. He then is ritually killed, feeding his god with his essence, or something along those lines.

It is important to seperate, if you will, out these two elements. First is the dedication of the item, plant, animal, space, time, being to the god, gods, or what have you. Then comes the act: the ritual smashing, burning, slaying, or killing. The sacrifice occurred when the object was set apart, seperated, and dedicated. It is now sacred.What happens next varies. An object can be thrown into a lake, well, or destroyed by burning. It can be given to a temple or utilized by the priesthood exclusively. The animal can be slain and eaten by the priests.

Now come the interesting part. Their seems to be an utter fascination by the part of moderns, to find charge other cultures with human sacrifice. Given the lurid depictions in so many "B" movies, it must feed some sort of need, or have deeper conotations than I am willing to entertain. So we have people wondering if those friendly Indians running the local casino establishment once sacrificed virgins on a buckskin altar. We have historians confident that ancient Druids conducted human sacrifice, despite their being very poor evidence (Caesar wouldn't lie, now would he? Those Romans were so honest! They keep telling us just how honest they are!) We have Spanish testimony to all the depredation those Aztecs committed, including all those lurid details about human sacrifice. We have numerous testimonies from missionaries gossiping about human sacrifice by those awful savages, heard third and fourth hand, at least they did before those earstwhile missionaries saved them from their savagery.

I was astounded when I went looking for primary sources, eyewitness accounts, they seem to evaporate quickly, like the morning mist on a summer's morning. Just like all those "historical" accounts one reads about in the bible. All those dependable accounts of pagans sacrificing, ahem, i mean, ritually killing their children to Molech or some other invisible creature. Maybe their are hard accounts of human ritual killings, eyewitness accounts of Incan priests slaying a young girl, skinning her, and then wearing her skin in a bit of sympathetic magic, witnessess that don't have some political or theological axe to grind. I have been wondering if we have a bit of academic credulity here, a display of ivory tower naivete, than mistakes a tale for a report, a poetic metaphor for a newspaper item. Even Barbara Walker, of "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets", seem to fall for the King Killing mythology as a literal tale, history wrapped up in myth.

This is the idea, that when the king can longer perform his kingly duties, or when a year has passed, he is killed, either by the priesthood, or by his successor. Now, while I can grant that people, in a bid for some powerful sympathetic and symbolic magic, might try to literally enact their own mythology, I would like some proof of this. It is quite the charge, but I am rather perplexed that intelligent people are quite willing to believe this, given the spotty and flimsy evidence. But then again, we are culturally quite prejudiced when it comes to the religious habits of the "primitives" and their ability to think logically.

In short, it seems the only people I have ever run across that have a tendency to interpret their religion literaly, rather than metaphorically, are those belonging to the tribe of the Christians.  I was astonished when I discovered that my pastor at my Bible College believed in the literal blood of Christ kept in a vessel in a literal Heaven, a literal temple, and that was what was washing our sins away. I guess we had literal sins I was not aware of. Another pastor displayed a "World News" tabloid whose headlines screamed that Russians had drilled into Hell, and a bunch of demons had flown out of the hole! This, he waved the paper, proves Hell exists! Oh my, I slunk deep into my chair.

In short, only those religious practioners who seem to follow the Abrahamic religions, and by extension, all zeus pater derivatives, ever seem to interpret their religion and mythos literally. After all, isn't it the Catholic Priesthood that teaches the Communion wafer and wine become literaly flesh and blood after it is ingested?

It should be clear that probably the root of all this is threefold: one is that story of the Consort of the Goddess who dies (or is slain) and later resurrected are all metaphors for the practice of agriculture. The divine male child who later grows up to be the Goddess's consort is the Wheat, Barley, etc that is slain in the Summer, and Rebirthed in the Spring as the berries (which are "dead") are sown (buried) in the ground. The wild plants seeds, too, have lain, "buried", in the ground over the Winter. I suppose upon reading these stories about the killing of John BarleyCorn we are supposed to believe English killed a surrogate every late Summer. The second reason for all this nonsense, is that Christian are ready to project their own shadow onto these "savages", and thus feel morally superior, since they killed their god once, while these "primitives" have to do it every year or so. It seems lost to them that the core of their religion involves the ritual killing of their god, and every Easter they kill him again  in a thousand passion plays. This, then, is what all the fuss is about. Third, is the habit of intellectuals to think the worst of others outside their hallowed halls, and to accept conclusions that vindicate their prejudices, and not check out citations unless they are intensly jealous of the books author. It is an amazingly  irritating habit to read archaeologists speculating about a culture seperated by a thousand years with a confidence that goes way beyond hubris.

Come to think of it, there is probably a fourth cause, and its the tendency to believe anything in print. Amazing but true!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In the Hands of an Angry Gaia

I know Barbara Walker's The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets can be controversial in some circles, but I have always enjoyed her writing; at the very least she makes me think. Case in point is the entry found under Doomsday,
 The universal idea of the world's end was rooted in ancient Hindu belief in the cyclic alternation of universes, brought about by Kali.
Why is this topic coming up now? Quite simply, because of all the hoopla surrounding the year 2012, specifically, the winter solstice of 2012, thus marking the end of the Mayan Long Count calender. For those not in the know, the Mayan were accomplished daykeepers, and kept calendars for a variety of purposes. Temples were built, commissioned, and the then decommissioned based on specific calendars. Now, those in the American New Age community, looking for some fresh Disaster to focus their thoughts on, have now focused on the Winter of 2012, each promising a variety of outcomes. The novelty that is seized upon, is that the calendar ENDS! This is a terribly novel thought, since our own calendar doesn't ever really end; it simply rotates among seven different templates, with minor corrections made by astronomers every so often.

What is overlooked is that the Mayans tended to view nature and history as made of a series of cycles. What prevents Mayans from creating another Long Count was, previously, the tragic destruction of the Mayan culture by those villains of history, The Castillian Spaniards. The remnants of this ancient culture were forced underground and out of sight. For all we know, qualified daykeepers have already created a new Long Count, and they ain't telling us! Who could blame them?

It turns out though, the Mayans are not the only ones with this peculiar habit. As we read on in our entry, it becomes clear:
Each successive creation was divided into four yugas or ages: Satya, Treta, Dvapara, And Kali, the fourth and last marking the age when Mother turns Destroyer because the race of men become violent and sinful, failing to perceive deity in the feminine principle.
 So the ancient Indians had the same concept. Not just one Long Count Calendar, but four!
An age was supposed to begin when sun, moon, and planets stood in conjunction at the initial point of the ecliptic and to end when they returned to the same point. By Hindu reckoning the present yuga began in 3102 B.C. The chronology of the Central American Maya began in 3113 B.C., only 11 years later, "a discrepancy probably due to some minor miscalculation in reckoning backward from the observed movements of the heavenly bodies."
By Hindu calculations, the age of Kali has already drawn to a close. But I don't think the Universe moves quite so precisely, down to the nanoseconds of our atomic clocks. It is clear, though, the curtain is already parting, or closing, depending on your point of view. What is this act we all are participating in? Its called:
...Kali's doomsday [and when it arrives]..., the gods would slay each other. Earth would be overwhelmed by fire and flood. The Goddess would swallow up everything and un-make it, returning to her primordial state of formless Chaos, as she was before creation. All beings would enter her, because "She devours all existence." After a time that could not be counted because even Time was destroyed, Kali would give birth to a new universe.
Does this familiar? Something from the Scandinavian side of the aisle? Something called Ragnarok? Curiouser and curiouser:
Northern Europeans drew their myths of doomsday or Ragnorok from the same ancient tradition. They said the world's end would be brought about by the Mutspell (Mother's Curse) when violent gods neglected the old laws of peace and blood kinship. The angry Goddess would become Skadi the Destroyer, a great shadow devouring the world, like her Oriental counterpart Kali. The gods would enter that shadow of Gotterdammerung, literally the Going-Into-the-Shadow-of-the-Gods.
What is fascinating is how this idea gets incorporated into Christianity (via the arch-patriarchs the Persians), and therefore into Western Culture, of which North Americans--for some strange reason--seem particularly smitten by its patriarchal version:
Passing through Jewish-Essenic and Roman-Mithraic sects into Christianity, this Persian doomsday became the familiar one in the west, with numerous details borrowed from the older Aryan paganism. The last Trump played on Gabreil's horn was originally played on Rig-Heimdall's "ringing horn" (Gjallarhorn). The Great Serpent slain by Thor in the final battle became identified with Satan. Like paganism's sacred dramas, the final drama of the earth's dissolution was divided into five acts. Christians even translated the Norse "Mother's Curse" as "Judgement Day" when they found it variously rendered Mutspell, Muspell, Muspelle, Mudspeller, or Muspilli.
Come to think of it, that passage in the Bible about there being a war in heaven and Satan being cast down is now starting to make more sense.

Indeed, many things are starting to make sense. It is also amazing, to see just how twisted and convoluted patriarchy can be. I am coming to believe nothing much in Myth and Religion makes sense until we peel back those patriarchal layers.

But before we take leave of this fascinating entry, it should be mentioned why Kali finds it necessary to wreak so much devastation:
"Due to the limited intelligence and lust of men in the Kali Yuga, they will be unable to recognize women as manifestations of the Shakti." Only a few may escape spiritual degeneration: those who are devoted "to the lotus of their mothers' feet and to their own wives."
So there you have it. You now know how to escape The Wrath of Gaia.

Be well!

Monday, December 12, 2011

What do you Believe?

For some strange reason this phrase keeps grabbing my attention. I suppose it goes back to my Christian days, when the constant question was "Do you believe in Jesus?" After awhile, that question began to really bug me. If by believe, we mean, do we accept the existence of Jesus? For most Christians, that would be "yes, of course". But so what? It was never believing in Jesus that was the issue, but accepting him as your Lord and Savior, yada yada yada, and so on.

What is interesting is the play between the words "trust", "belief", "conviction", and "know" . Reading between a Webster's dictionary and an Oxfords, these are all used to define each other. In my fundamentalist days, much was made about "knowing the facts of the bible" as opposed to "believing the truth of the bible". Even after I moved on, I kept those distinctions, as if they really were separate concepts. Now I am not so sure. Can we really make a division between an intellectual acceptance of a fact, and having a heartfelt "conviction" that something is true? I suppose because much is made about faith, the people of faith, the people of THE faith. To believe in something without any evidence is supposed to carry some superior moral force with it, and make one's life so much the richer for it. That doesn't make much sense to me. It is surely a fact I don't believe in.

It seems, rather, to be all one thing bundled up together, all one idea being expressed a dozen different ways. I suppose when people ask, "do you believe in Jesus?" what is being asked is, "do you trust in Jesus", "do you have faith in Jesus", and that even if you merely accept the "facts" of Jesus, it is the same thing. Does the English tongue allow us to accept facts without trusting in them. It doesn't seem so. It seems when one believes in a fact, they also trust it. So the question should be "do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Annointed One of God, the Savior of your Soul, and so on." The usual formulation "do you believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior?" could also be stated, "do you trust in Jesus as your Lord, and Savior?"  If one accepts that as fact, they are also trusting in Jesus as their Lord, and as their Savior (from Hell, I think). To simply ask "do you believe in Jesus?" means, "do I trust Jesus?" I could possibly trust Jesus, but in a different manner, or role, other than Lord and Savior.

Belief can be a touch thing in this world of faith religions. People of faith demand you believe in something not seen, evidence lacking. How can someone trust something not seen, felt, touched, heard, acted upon, and so on? Plus there is more than one faith, all of whom they accuse their rivals of being unbelievers. That is so right. But why is that such a sin? How is one to know the unknowable, to have this wonderful faith? Is it not a gift?
Why am I scorned for not having this gift? Indeed.

What is even more curious is that after leaving Christianity, and all these religions of faith, of which I include Buddhism, I have lived even more by faith than my religious friends and family. They have a book to tell them what to do, what to think. They have a book to tell them all about their object of faith, of which their is no evidence, no direct contact by any one living. I have no book but the book of my heart, my mind, and my spirit. I have nothing but the world about me, and myself to guide me, to inform me, to nurture me. The traditions of my people erased by the conquering Romans, first by the sword, then by the book, as the christian clergy destroyed the collected traditions of the Germanic and Celtic peoples. Lacking the traditions of my priests, the rituals of my forefathers, I must enter the forest in great faith, humbleness, and patience: listening in whispered wind in branches, in the twittering of birds, the babbling of brook, in rain drops upon green leaf for the wise words of my ancestors, my people, and my gods. But I do believe in them, I trust their guidance and their intents. I have faith, but not much else.

It is a curiosity that belief is often defined as having strong conviction. The people of my christian past would often talk of having conviction. A quick check of the meaning in my Webster's reveals the latin root meaning conquest. Now that's really interesting. A Freudian slip, perhaps?

I do believe sleep in calling to me. Next time the Muse sings, I'll be here...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Tree of Life

    The Tree of Life   

    In a time in the not-too-too-distant future, when the world had exhausted most of the easily gotten oil, after the various states and countries have imploded, cities had transformed into something different, people had dispersed from their former ways of life to meet the new challenges facing them. Seeker was one of those people, creating a new life by scavenging the vast junkies of the past industrial petroleum age. There were many hazards to this way of life–not the least of which were remnants of toxic soups, radiation from forgotten stockpiles, and people who had temporarily misplaced the lessons of the past-- operating in what essentially amounted to a No Person Zone.
    The Marauders. Dressed in black, red strips of cloth tied on their left arms. Silver medallions hung about their necks. Masks of Red Devils covered their faces. Five in number, ranging in height and build, and dangerous. Armed with homemade knives and clubs, they were lethal, or at least, their reputations were lethal. Seeker had many of the confrontations in the past. Always tricky. Could be simply passing through. Could be collecting road tariffs for the local District. Could be pissed off and looking for a good fight. Seeker sighed. This was his least favorite part of his job. He pulled his hat down, lowered his head, and continued moving, his pace slow and deliberate. No fear. Ten feet away they tighten up their line. Crap. Seekers stopped. He unhooked himself from his cart. His hands dropped to his side.
    “Tax” said the one with a gold braid about his headpiece.
    “This is a free road. Has been for quite some time. Step aside.”
    “No. Tax”
    Seeker sighed. He was on the way home. He didn’t have time for this.
    “Step aside. Now”
    The men stood silently. Impasse. Great. Seeker began to breath, deep and slow. One, two, step, left heel kicks out at a thigh. A figure collapses backwards. Step to the left, left back knuckle, step right back knuckle to the face. An arm punches out, Seeker intercepts, slides an arm under the attackers arm, and pushes off. Another figure goes flying. Seeker spins, an elbow catching his attacker in the chest. A foot lands in Seeker’s back, propelling him forward. Rather than fight the energy, Seeker allowed himself to crumple, rolled forward. He rolled back up to his feet, spun around sitting on his back foot. The kick was coming in high, Seeker was now under the leg, he pushed up off his leg and caught him under his leg pushing up. The marauder was launched way up and off his feet. One left. They faced each other. The Marauder simply shrugged.
    “Maurice, you know I’m in a hurry to get home!” Seeker grabbed a bag out of his cart. He tossed it to Maurice. Maurice laughed. He removed his mask, and untied the bag. He ran his hand into the black beans, enjoying the clicking sound they made. He brought a handful to his nose. He inhaled deeply. Joy? Rapture? Seeker hooked himself back to the cart. “Next time guys. Gotta go.” Moving past the fallen warriors, Seeker set a fast pace towards his beloved mountains.
    Seeker had a secret though, one he protected at great cost. If there was one vice, or pleasure that everyone enjoyed, it was coffee. Unfortunately, when the great diesel driven cargo ships ran aground, their fuel and steel more valuable than their cargo, the coffee trade ground to a halt. Seeker though, always seemed to have a ready supply of beans. They were roasted too. They always seemed fresh. Seeker tried to be sly about it, never paying out too much, pretending to have much less than he really did. He feigned great complicated stories of how he came into the beans. Despite this, he was attracting attention. He knew this, and began to alter his paths, looking cagily about him. He would take long circuitous routes back to the village he called home. Well, not really home. He lived apart from them; he would pretend it was where he lived to throw off any trackers.
    It was several days before he arrived at the collection of hill houses. A wooden framework thatched with soil placed over the structure; they looked like a collection of hills. Hills with ventilation and light shafts. Hills with smoke vents. Hills with cleverly disguised shafts and doors. Several  were much bigger than the others. Long houses were several families lived. These ringed the clearing, the village circle. It was there that people met and congregated, did there morning exercises, and generally enjoyed each others company. The other hills were specialty huts, storage or simply houses for those who preferred to live alone.
    It was with one of these lumps that Seeker needed to visit, but first he needed to stop at his domicile.     His was much simpler, set several hundred yards away from the main village. A simple wickiup, made from large slabs of bark over a frame work of poles. It looked like a large pile of debris, and he planned it that way. No people here, no siree. He moved the woven door that plugged the entrance, crawling in on his hands and knees. In the fire pit he placed his tinder and small sticks. Deftly producing his flint and steel, he struck a few practiced blows. Showers of sparks illuminated his space briefly. Third strike and the tinder caught. He fed the fire, until a nice friendly fire warmed his wickiup, small flames licking upward. Placing small clay stones in the fire, he pull out a set of stones. A primitive mortar and pestle. Dropping a small handful of black beans in, he proceeded to pound with great enthusiasm. Presently a powder replaced his beans. From a stomach bladder canteen he poured water into a watertight basket bowl. Into another basket he poured his powder. Scooping up the clay stones, now quite hot, and dropped them into his water basket. They hissed and sputtered, and soon his water was boiling. Only three stones. He carefully poured the water into his powder, having set a small wooden cup underneath. Operation done, he placed the baskets to the side, hoisted his wooden cup, saluted the Powers That Be, and drank his first sip of that mountain grown goodness in four months. Ahhh. He drank his cup down quickly, heaving a great sigh. “Good to the last drop, my man” he sighed. “Richness worth a second cup.” Seeker threw another handful of beans into the mortar.
    Of all the people he feared would discover his Secret, it was the People in Green that he feared the most. Memories, cultural memories, memories from the old days. The Oily days of Yore his people called them. Memories culled from gossip, campfires, wandering singers, even from the nightmares that plagued the people nowadays. The People in Green would come and take your stuff away, horn in on you, crowd you, never leave you alone until they get what they want. Dirty, vile people, Seeker thought.
    He lifted a weather beaten hand to the rough hewn door. His hand was encased in a cracked leather glove of uncertain origin. A soft rhythm echoed through the door. The door itself was inserted into what seemed to be a small hill, in reality a dome house buried in dirt. Small difference, but the villagers worked hard on that distinction. A voice, quiet and muffled:             “Somewhere”.
    Seeker cleared his dusty throat, “The Bridge.”
    Various metallic clunkings answered him. The door soundlessly drifted open. A soft glow from the low ceiling threw shadows about the hollow in the hill, much stuff crammed in a small space. Clearly the shop of mechanic of some sort. “What did he call it,” thought Seeker, “thermoelectric lamp?” A small scrunched up figure was settling back into a spot at a tiny wood bench stacked with various projects here, there, and everywhere. On the curved wall a set of letters, simply: “Waste Not, Want Not”. The Credo.
    Seeker hooked a thumb into his basket strap, shrugging off his load. The tinkle of his hidden treasures shifting around. The figure at the bench hesitated slightly, listening it seemed.
    “Anything useful this time?” the voice, quiet, deliberate. Seeker untied the cord that held the top to his basket pack. He pulled out a handful of what appeared to be long rubber strips, black.      
    “Bought these from another Scav. Probably from an intact warehouse. Still pliable.”
    The figure glanced back. “Nice. In the box, please.” Seeker dug deeper. Colored, curved, round, red, yellow, most likely plastic of some sort. Seeker chuckled. “Woulda thought this stuff had disintegrated into dust long ago.” The figure shrugged. “Right conditions. Protected. Last forever, right?” Seeker dumped these into the box as well. The real treasure lay deeper. Seeker dug deep and pulled out a gleaming spool of copper wire. Electrical wire. His host fell off the bench; the bench clattered on the stone floor. Seeker smiled. “Have I your attention now, Tinker?” “Gimme!” cried Tinker. He grabbed the spool, eyes ablaze. “Oh yes you do, me matey! Must have cost a fortune!” Seeker smiled grimly. “Two bags. Each.” He reached into his bag and pulled out five more spools. “Oh my, what I can do with these! Well done! Very well done, indeed!” Tinker scampered to his bench to marvel at his treasures.
    Good enough, thought Seeker. He dumped the rest of his minor treasures into a basket by the door. “Use Wisely. I suspect it will be a long Age before we see the likes of that again.” “Ah yes yes, of course.” Tinker had become engrossed in his new found opportunity, rearranging the projects on his bench. The smile had begun to fade from Seekers lips. He pulled a stool out from under a table. Upon sitting slid a small flask from his under his cloak. He took a pull, shifting uncomfortably on the stool. “The Scavs want more. Prices are going up.” Silence. “Supplies are getting tight.” Silence “I think most of the useful stuff has been salvaged.” more rummaging at the bench. “I think we are at Peak Junk,” Seeker said, dryly. A small giggle from Tinker. “Ha, you don’t say.” Seeker took another pull. “Seeing more patrols. Districts are forming.” Seeker allowed for a slight pause.
    “I think the Crisis is past.”
    “The Net has said as much these past months.”
    Seeker glanced at the big wooden box on the floor, with wooden knobs and a wooden disk in the middle with numbers etched on the edge. A metal post ran from the box to the roof. The Net. Tinker could fiddle with the dial, and pick up voices from all over the country. Some nights, people with strange speech filled the room. Tinker would switch from his microphone to a different device, one that made a series of beeps and blips. Amazing.
    “The Council of Grandmothers has met. It has been decided that the time has come to start rebuilding. For people to come out, and contribute their skills.” Seeker sucked in a breath. Hope. It had been so long. His heart had been aching whenever he past by the ruined land, destroyed towns, junk cars everywhere, dilapidated buildings, the toxic “NO GO” zones. What hurt most were the dead forests, brown sticks by the thousands, the cleared forests destroyed by the desperate clawing of a diseased and dying civilization. Seeker shuddered at the memory. “The first priority will be to begin the Healing. The Council is calling for volunteers.” Seeker smiling broadly now. He couldn’t believe his ears. He had not thought the time had come! Seeker began making plans in his head. Collect samples, travel to meet with the local council, pots! He would need lots of pots!
    “Oh and by the way, someone is here for your beans. From up North.”
    “Ahh, what?”
    “Starback, Tarbuck, something or other.” Tinker shrugged.
    The Old Man of the village was the venerated seer of the people, the Grand Viser, High Master of Ceremonies. An eccentric figure, with his long white beard, peaked hat, long brown robe with a blue and yellow plaid mantle about his shoulders. Some believed the image of the Ancient Seer of Merlin was invoked, and not merely impious. People were allowed their opinions. While the people relied on Tinker for their technical needs, it was the Old Man who supplied their more esoteric wants.
    This was the figure that Seeker first saw when he ran pell-mell into the village circle. The Old Man was gripping his staff, gently swaying. The other villages stood around chatting ,in good spirits, having just finished their morning exercises. The whole scene, enshrouded in the morning mist, was one of calm and spirit, people at one with Nature. Into this ran Seeker, eyes bloodshot and bulging, screaming “NO NO NO!” The crowd parted like the Red Sea, with the Old Man, standing like a druidic Moses, pointing down the parting. There she was, standing next to her cargo bike, green tunic beneath her cloak. The People in Green. Evil. Must be stopped. Protect the Secret! Seeker gave a strangled cry as he flew at the Women in Green.
    “No!” he shrieked. “Evil! Corporate greed Monger! Get your filthy green apron off this mountain! No Starbackers! No Starbackers here, I tell you!”
    She was so startled she backpedaled several steps, almost falling back over her bike and trailer. Seeker was about rush in when a loud “Thwack!” blasted through his skull, his body crumpling to the ground. Old Man stood behind him with his staff still vibrating from the impact.
    “I must apologize. He hasn’t been right in his head since the regression therapy,”    Old Man shrugged. “Come, let us go to The Caves.”
    It must be said that having sense knocked into one’s head is not always a figure of speech. Upon Seekers recovery, Monika (for that was her name) explained that in the Oil Age of Yore, Starbucks was quite the Corporate Conglomerate. When the Oil and Steel became more valuable than cargo, all the great cargo ships were run aground, drained, and cut up for scrap. International Trade, for all practical purposes, ground to a halt. This included coffee beans. People tried to grow them in hot houses and whatnot, but the end was always failure. Corporate kept this information under its hat, and decided to give the employees a once-in-a-lifetime offer to buy the company. Faced with the realization of the truth, the employees made the quite so drastic decision to end the company, and reform as a cooperative. Without beans, or even tea, they focused on coffee and tea substitutes, as did everyone else who didn’t have easy access to the coffee and bean plantations. This went on for quite some time. People in time, forgot what the original flavors were like, forgot what the fuss was about over caffeine. People, in time, had other things to worry about. Then the beans showed up. At first people weren’t sure what to do with them. Books were found. Old people consulted. The people at the Starbucks heard about these beans, and realized they had the opportunity to fulfill their original mission, a  purveyor of fine coffee beans. A gift to the newly emerging Civilization.
    The Caves, which Seeker was desperate to protect, provided the perfect habitat. Moist, warm, shady. Springs opened up here and there. Numerous shafts and cracks provided light. In the main grotto was where Seeker’s Secret grew. Seeker, or his ancestor, had painstakingly hauled in dirt for the fertile beans. The bush grew, grew quite well. Cuttings had been taken, beans planted, flowers cross pollinated. Over time the bush grew into a magnificent specimen. Bright red berry clustered shimmered among the vibrant green leaves. Now it was no longer a bush, really, a tree. A mighty tree flourishing in the belly of the Earth.
    Monika and Seeker drew close, gazing rapturously at the Tree.
    “Ahh,” said The Old Man. “You can look, but you cannot eat of the fruit of this tree. For as you know, this tree is the Tree of Life”
    It was then Seeker realized why he had been named Seeker, and what he now had to look forward to. The Crisis was over. Now The Task had begun. He was going to need a lot of pots. And some help. Actually, a great deal of help.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Five Phases of Energy

It is very popular in both the East and the West to draw up a list of magical correspondences with everything under the sun, and the Five Elements has not escaped this treatment at all. Indeed it has often been at the core of most tables. While these can be useful in seeing relationships, they can become inflexible tools that instead obscure what the original philosophers had set out to illuminate.
A case in point is the concept of the Five Element theory. More properly it should be understood as the Five Phases of Energy. Why the change? Because it is obvious after some study, that Phases (or modes) is a much better describer of what is being set forth by these ancient Taoists. It should be noted that both India and Europe have their system. Europe most likely derived their categories from India. But since I am the Taoist Druid, and not the Taoist Yogi Druid, I will limit this discussion to the Five Elements of the Taoist tradition. Later I will discuss the Elements in the European tradition.

Part of the confusion lies in the fact the word "Element". Scientists have taken this word and have made it their own, chastising others who use it in a fashion not to their lacking. But alas, before the esteemed scientists got around to modifying this word, it existed in the speech of the common person. So here we go: Element as it comes to us, meant something that was foundational, a part of the whole, something essential. The scientist carries the meaning forward, but gives it a much narrower meaning: something that can't be broken down chemically into a simpler form. So while the common person says something like "water is a fish's element" or "salt is elemental to this style of cooking" they are expressing the idea of something being foundational, something very important. One could also say a certain ballplayer is elemental to the team, meaning they are a very essential part of the whole.

The scientists on the other hand, is narrowing the meaning to apply only to physical substances, with the restricted meaning that they cannot be broken down through currently know methods. So while this is a very useful concept for a scientists, isn't a bit absurd for them to critique concepts such as the Elements using their restricted definitions of common English words? Yep, and they do do it, all the time. Perhaps it makes them feel better, to show how "clear" headed they are, and how everyone else is speaking gibberish.

Instead if we understand that what is being spoken of is one thing "Energy", and not how a physicist defines it, but how everyone else defines it, as "activity", then things become more clear. In addition, we then observe that this "activity" can manifest in different forms, we are on the right track.

In this discussion, I will talk about the Five Elements in of themselves, understood that they are five parts of the whole. I am not going to worry about correspondences, what direction the Elements are, etc. I think these tables can obscure more than they illuminate.

In the Taoist tradition, the Five Phases are Fire, Water, Wood, Metal and Earth.  Now, its important to keep in mind that these names are simply metaphors, images that help us experience the different phases this Energy transforms into or can manifest as.

Fire is primarily a "sticky" energy. While many seem to think of fire's burning, destroying qualities, I believe its actually the way fire can "stick" to a stick, and not let go, is the quality to keep in mind. Light a wood match. Now try to blow it out. Start with a gentle puff of air. See how the flame "sticks" to the match, not allowing itself to be pushed off so easily. See how much force you have to exert before the flame is "pushed" off. Next time you go camping, put a rather thick stick into the campfire. After several minutes, pull it out. Now wave it hard, trying to get the flame off your stick. You will notice how hard this is.

This is the central image of Fire. This is the kind of energy that is being talked about. A sticky energy that is difficult to push off, and can stick to other objects when they come into contact. I don't really worry about what "direction" or what other correspondences go with Fire. In the T'ai Chi form, think about where the "sticky" energy manifests. What motions, what technique seem to embody Stickyness?  When practicing pushhands, try to bring the imagery of Fire into being, about how sticky it is. Become the flame "sticking' to its opponent, never allowing to be shaken off.

Water is flow. While there are many qualities to the Element Water, the primary idea being expressed is Energy that flows. Simply take a cup of water and pour it over your hand. See, and more importantly, feel how it flows over your hand. If it all possible go to a river, the larger the better, and spend the better part of the day on the banks, just losing yourself in the flow of all that water, coursing its way to the sea. Flow. While water can be channeled through rapids which alter its flow, its still flow, coursing through a conduit, channel, wearing away the edges of its container. Flow. Even better, find a slower moving part and immerse yourself in the flow. Feel the water swirling, pushing, embracing, enfolding, enveloping. Be careful not to be swept off your feet, as sudden pulses push against your body, some gentle, others forcefully ramming your body. Flow. When practicing the form, your whole form should flow like water, but in some parts, more so.What parts are these, do you think?

Wood is an expansive Energy. It comes from the imagery of the tree ever growing, ever expanding its girth. Trees have merged with other trees, with rocks, anything really, in its way. Think of the tree and its roots pushing into the soil, penetrating into the rock. Think of the tree pushing its canopy of branches into the sky, pushing the air about. Think of the trunk pushing ever outward, pushing up against obstacles. Wood Energy can expand in any direction really, otherwise if one pushes in just one direction, they can become unbalanced and topple over. Think of where in the form the Energy transforms from simply flowing into an expansive, outward flowing Energy. If one visualizes the Tree, it becomes easier to feel, and then to perform.

Metal is a curious one, because most think of the hard cutting edge of an axe. But Metal in some older traditions is Clay. The central idea is a kind of "moldable" Energy. An Energy that can be molded, but then will hold its shape. When metal ore is refined, at high temperatures metal is a liquid it can be poured into a mold, and when it cools, it will hold its shape. So now we see the relationship to Clay. Clay is moldable when wet, and can be shaped into almost anything. Upon drying, the shape is fixed. So if we think instead of Clay, we can understand this energy a little better, at least in my experience. This Energy is one that can mold to any different shapes, or intents, but then holds its shape. This is, in a way, a bit strange for T'ai Chi, which is all about the flow. In this sense, water too can be molded, can be frozen into a solid shape by cold. The reason I like the analogy of Clay better, is that clay will hold its shape, but is not brittle like ice or so hard like metal. Clay will hold its shape, but if there is enough resistance, clay will change its shape. In some sense, its just a stiffer Water. Moldable is a somewhat harder Energy to experience, but again, direct experience is helpful. Take a big block of clay and get it nice and wet (but not too wet). work it well, pushing, smooshing, squeezing. Feel how it resists your Energy, but giving enough force, will flow around your fingers, around your fists. Feel how it molds itself into one shape, now another. Now as the clay begins to dry, feel how much harder you have to work to change its shape, how much stiffer its becoming. After awhile it will no longer be able to be molded; it will be just a rock in your hand, and a rock can be moved at the right leverage points, regardless of size.

Last of all Earth. Earth is where everything collects back to, where everything flows back to the Center. Earth is a Gathering Energy. This one is simple. Take a handful of dirt. Now let it fall from your hand. Where does it go? Take another. Throw it up into the air. Where does it go, eventually? Roll a rock down the slope. Where does it end up? Where does all the rocks and dirt falling down a mountain wind up? Right, the Earth. The central image is the gentle pull of the Earth, pulling rocks down to her, apples off trees, the rain from the clouds. All things come to her, eventually. Earth is all about being Centered, Feeling your Center, not just your dynamic center as you play pushhands, but truly your Center, your Energetic Center, gathering all things in to you.

If you have been doing T'ai Chi, but have not been introduced to the Five Elements, I encourage you to try this out. Think about how Energy can manifest, and how in different ways it manifests in the long form. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Dragon Trees

    I was at a park in Southern California enjoying my lunch break sometime ago. I had just finished doing my T'ai Chi form when I decided to just lay down upon the Earth and gaze up at the twisty canopy of oak branches. I kept gazing at the at the massive oak branches and how they twisted around the air, spiralling in odd angles and paths from the mother trunck. How odd I thought. Most trees have branches that follow a rather predictable pattern. In fact, many trees can be identified some ways off by their pattern of spread. Either shooting straight up, or gently arching away from the trunck. Some will even shoot more or less straight out. These are all variations on a pattern, but within each species, they are predictable. Not so the Oak. Sometimes the branch will move in a fairly straight line, but more often than not will meander in another direction. To the left? To the right? Hmmm, hard to say.
    As I lay there contemplating all this twisting, it occurred to me that in some ways it is much like the "dragon" or serpent energy that is so much talked about. Dragons are powerful spirits, but they are kin to the serpent. When one moves through the form, all the time holding this image, this feeling of the serpent, one can feel this kind of twisty flow through the body.
    And here it is, stiff, woody, massive branches of Oak: a byword of strength and sturdiness, arching gracefully overhead, creating an interwoven canopy of Flowing Twistyness invoking the spirit of Dragon! Not too hard to imagine a serpent in these trees.