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Jottings 14: Sincerity of the snake-handlers

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — a death at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church in Middlesboro, and a glance at the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord ]
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There’s something very simple and profound about the sheer faith the snake handlers of the Holiness tradition bring to their worship. It’s not yo my aesthetic taste, and the doctrines espoused are, to my mind, literal-minded and unwise — but the faith, the trust moves me.

Pastor Jamie Coots has now died of snake-bite in the course of woship:

Like the police chief, Jeffrey Sharpe, interviewed above, in my own way and to my own degree I feel saddened by dis death.

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I find myself feeling a similar fellow-feeling for the worshippers in this church, with it’s quite similar rusticity and simple ways. And what interests me here is that the group worshipping here is one whose theology I have very little sympathy for — the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord or CSA, a Christian Identity paramilitary church whose 200-acre compound was besieged and shut down by the FBI in 1985.

The opening of this video, from the trailer for Silhouette City directed by Michael Wilson, show us the worship of the CSA — and much as I dislike their racism and proneness to murderous violence, I find there’s something affecting in what this clip shows of the simple hearts of the believers. Reading Tabernacle of Hate, the autobiography of Kerry Noble whose quest for Christ brought him in contact with the group before it became infected with racism and hate, who went on to become its second in command and eventually left in disgust at all the hatred, I have the same feeling — of a simple piety led horribly astray.

Here then is the clip — it’s the first 35 seconds I’m inviting you to watch — the movie then turns to present day, more mainstream uses of militant Christian imagery:

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I don’t want to leave you on the sour note of CSA Christianity — so let me turn back to the Holiness snake-handlers.

For a deeper glimpse into their ways, you could do worse than to watch this documentary:

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May pastor Jamie Coots rest in peace.

This, on Jamie’s son Cody Coots, from The Christian Post yesterday:

The deadly rattlesnake that delivered the fatal bite to “Snake Salvation” pastor Jamie Coots in Middlesboro, Ky., last Saturday will be back in church to help praise the Lord in another heart-pounding service this Saturday, according to his son, Cody Coots.

Cody, 21, who will be burying his serpent-handling father on Tuesday night, told TMZ that the snake will not be killed. His father’s death, he says, was “God’s way” of taking him home, and his family will embrace the deadly rattlesnake that delivered his death sentence at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church in Middlesboro again this Saturday.

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Jottings 13: on matters of porcine theology

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — with a sidelong glance at anti-Imperialist cows ]
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The pig: both trayf and halal

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The news was in an AP post headed Pig heads in boxes sent to Jewish targets in Rome:

Italian police say they are searching for the sender of pig heads to Rome’s main synagogue, the Israeli Embassy and a city museum hosting an exhibit on the Holocaust. Police headquarters said Saturday the anti-terrorism squad was handling the case. The pig heads arrived in three separate boxes, all sent by a delivery service unaware of the contents. The deliveries were made Friday, three days before an international memorial day for Holocaust victims.

Joel Richardson at Joel’s Trumpet draws our attention to a significant parallel:

One might see echoes here of the acts of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greek monarch, who in the second century B.C., sacrificed a pig on the altar in the Jewish Temple, criminalizing the very practice of Judaism.

What troubles me here is the powerful, implicitly apocalyptic emotion such a parallel draws on.

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But if Jews can be targeted with pork, so can Muslims — and I also think it is worth pondering the practice of greasing bullets with pork fat, in the hope that this will consign any Muslims killed with such bullets to hell, pork being a haram or forbidden food in Muslim theology.

Jihawg Ammo makes a sales point of this idea. As WND put it a few months back in New Ammo cancels free ticket to Paradise:

A company in northern Idaho has come up with a culturally sensitive approach. Jihawg Ammo has developed a proprietary system for infusing ballistic paint with pork. The special pork-infused paint is then applied to the bullets of loaded ammunition. The inclusion of pork in the paint makes the bullets haraam, or unclean. Under the strictest interpretations of Islamic law, anyone who comes in contact with any haraam item is then unclean and must engage in a cleansing ritual.

The objective of Jihawg Ammo is not to insult Muslims, nor even to send a terrorist to Hell. The objective is to serve as a deterrent – to place the promise of instant passage to Paradise into doubt. Without the promise of Paradise, how many Muslim literalists would be willing to lay their lives – and eternal souls – on the line to engage in acts of terrorism?

Likewise, a gun oil whose manufacturer claims his product was on the bullets used to kill bin Laden is advertised as demoralizing terrorists:

SILVER BULLET GUN OIL, is a HIGHLY EFFECTIVE Counter-Islamic terrorist force multiplier. SILVER BULLET GUN OIL was designed specifically to put Demoralizing FEAR and TERROR into SUPPOSEDLY “Fearless” Islamo-Fascist terrorists. It was created with the “TRUE BELIEVER” in mind. According to the Koran, Allah states, “Any of my followers contaminated by swine at the time of his death will be denied entry to my paradise forever, I HATE THE STENCH OF SWINE.”

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The Islamic theology is bad, however, and the pork coating ineffective…

I’ve used the USC database and searched the Quran for such a sentence without success. There are by my count six references to swine in the Quran, at 2.173, 5.3, 5.60, 6.145 and 16.115, all of them refer to the eating of swine flesh, none of them talk about death, and in each case the point is made that Allah is merciful and forgiving to those who consume pork flesh “without wilful disobedience”. It thus seems unlikely that any “TRUE BELIEVER” would be terrified of dying from a contaminated bullet, especially since the jihadist martyr is forgiven all sins and feels no pain beyond a pinprick at the moment of death…

As I posted elsewhere recently:

Gen. Pershing, as I recall, is said to have shot Muslims with pork-fat-coated bullets and / or buried them and poured pig’s entrails on their bodies in the belief that these actions would somehow make them unfit for heaven. Snopes, the usual place I turn to fact check dubious stories, has a page on this idea called Pershing the Thought, and calls the story “undetermined”.

I’d like to add that the idea itself, which has also been used recently to market fancy pork-coated bullets to US troops, has no basis in Islamic theology. You simply cannot get more authoritative theological guidance on things Muslim than the Qur’an itself, in which we find (Qur’an 2. 173):

These things only has He forbidden you: carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, what has been hallowed to other than God. Yet who so is constrained, not desiring nor transgressing, no sin shall be on him; God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.

The whole story looks to be a rumor attached to a falsehood… It wouldn’t even work!

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What cannot be doubted, however, is that evidence suggesting the US military might be coating bullets with pig-fat so as to deny paradise to mujahideen can be used, and is in fact used, as evidence for the notion that the Unites States is at war with Islam – an idea that is a powerful aid to jihadist recruitment.

It is a claim that both Presidents Bush and Obama have explicitly denied — and that bin Laden himself made in his 1998 declaration:

All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on Allah, his messenger, and Muslims.

It’s the basic AQ argument: show that Islam itself is under attack by the United States, and it follows that every able-bodied Muslim has an obligation to defend it.

And that’s not just an obligation on some Muslims — it’s an kndividual obligation, fard ayn.

Here’s Abdullah Azzam on the subject, in his Defence of the Muslim Lands: the First Obligation after Iman, Chapter 3, “Fard Ayn and Fard Kifaya:

Jihad by your person is Fard Ayn upon every Muslim in the earth. …
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Neglecting the jihad is like abandoning fasting and praying, more than that, neglecting the jihad is worse in these days. We quote from Ibn Rushd: “It is agreed that when jihad becomes Fard Ayn it takes precedence over the Fard of Hajj.”

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And beef?

Allegedly the British bullets that sparked the Sepoy Rebellion / First War of Indian Independence were coated with both pig and cow fat — in hope of offending Muslim and Hindu alike.

Me? I’m mostly vegetarian…

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Jottings 12: KSM’s “non-violence” refers to preaching, not fighting

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — not an aha! but a d’oh! moment ]
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This, from the Huffington Post last month:

The mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks now says that the use of violence to spread Islam is forbidden by the Quran, a major shift away from the more militaristic view he had put forward previously.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s thinking is detailed in a first-of-its-kind 36-page manifesto obtained by The Huffington Post. In a departure from his previous stance, which led the Guantanamo Bay prisoner to tell a military commission, “it would have been the greatest religious duty to fight you over your infidelity,” KSM, as he’s known in intelligence circles, instead seeks to convert the court to Islam through persuasion and theological reflection, going so far as to argue that “The Holy Quran forbids us to use force as a means ofconverting” and that reaching “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.”

I saw various versions of this tale — from the LA TimesKhalid Shaikh Mohammed issues ‘nonviolence’ manifesto:

The Koran, Mohammed wrote, “forbids us to use force as a means of converting” others, and “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.” Those statements clash with his earlier braggadocio in saying he plotted the Sept. 11 attacks and personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and in calling for young Muslims around the world to embrace violence.

— and from Andrew Cohen, explaining in The Atlantic why the manifesto may have been made available in the first place:

Perhaps the feds welcome Mohammed’s shifting interpretation of the Quran, which he now says prohibits violence as a means of spreading Islam.

However, I very much doubt that’s what’s going on.

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The true meaning of KSM’s writing may be a little different from the reading given to it by the press. Here’s an actual quotation from the manifesto:

It is my religious duty in dealing with any non-Muslims to invite them to embrace Islam.

The Counter Jihad gets this bit right, I think, in a post titled KSM’s Prison Communiqués Part II: Wartime Religion of Peace Propaganda:

In point of fact, Islamic law teaches that, before waging offensive jihad, Muslims must first invite nonbelievers to accept the truth of Islam. Doctrinally, this summons to Islam is a necessary precondition to waging violent jihad. There are numerous examples of bin Laden and Zawahiri (bin Laden’s deputy and now the leader of al Qaeda) issuing public statements calling on infidels to accept Islam.

It’s a one-two sequence. Before engaging in acts of war, the jihadist must first make a peaceful and indeed graciously phrased invitation to convert to Islam… in the words of the Qur’an, 16.125:

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. Q 16.125

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The result, in the case of KSM’s manifesto, is an appeal that blends Murray Gell-Mann‘s quarks…

Everything that turns in the universe, from the smallest quarks to the largest supernovas are worshipping God, just as Muslims in Mecca circulate around the Kaba, counterclockwise. If you have Mecca TV channel just look for one hour how people from all around the world travel in circles like any electron or moon or earth or sun or any star or galaxy does. Try to record the picture for 15 minutes and then fast forward the picture then repeat it again, then ask yourself who told Abraham (PBUH) and these people a thousand years ago to imitate the laws of the Universe and nature. The answer will be He Who created these trillions of galaxies and human beings and made ?xed laws for all, but granted humans free will in order to test them.

— with the fifth century AD Neoplatonism of Proclus Lycaeus:

Just as in the dialectic of love we start from sensuous beauties to rise until we encounter the unique principle of all beauty and all ideas, so the adepts of hieratic science take as their starting point the things of appearance and the sympathies they manifest among themselves and with the invisible powers. Observing that all things form a whole, they laid the foundations of hieratic science, wondering at the first realities and admiring in them the latest comers as well as the very first among beings; in heaven, terrestrial things according both to a causal and to a celestial mode and on earth heavenly things in a terrestrial state….

What other reason can we give for the fact that the heliotrope follows in its movement the movement of the sun and the selenotrope the movement of the moon, forming a procession within the limits of their power, behind the torches of the universe? For, in truth, each thing prays according to the rank it occupies in nature, and sings the praises of the leader of the divine series to which it belongs, a spiritual or rational or physical or sensuous praise; for the heliotrope moves to the extent that it is free to move, and in its rotation, if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing…

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Interestingly enough, KSM also quotes Matthew 5.44-45a:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…

— and in a letter to Rory Green, a British Christian who had written inviting him to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, he responds:

I appreciate your deep concern regarding my worldly and hereafter life … You asked me to repent from my sins. For your own information, I never stop.

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Let’s just say, it pays to peer beneath the surface.

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Jottings 11: self-immolators and suicide bombers?

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — on some aspects of religiously motivated suicide, and I’m not clear why I called this one a jotting, since it’s quite long and detailed ]
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I have been taking a couple of online courses on terrorism in recent months, and in one of them I ran across a Foreign Policy article titled Ultimate Sacrifice: What’s the difference between self-immolators and suicide bombers?

… there is another form of deadly protest that has made a resurgence in recent years. Not only did Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s fiery suicide ignite the region and inspire subsequent self-immolations in Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco, but a growing number of Tibetans have also set themselves alight to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan region

It’s an intriguing question, phrased by one of my fellow students as the question, “Can Tibetan Self-immolators be considered “terrorists”?

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I did my “due diligence” research, and came up with some articles worth reading:

  • Tenzin Tharchen, 125 Self-Immonlations: why suicide by fire protests continue in Tibet
  • Tsering Shakya, Self-Immolation, the Changing Language of Protest in Tibet
  • Martin Kovan, Buddhist Self-immolation and Mahayanist Absolute Altruism
  • while my interlocutor offered this one:

  • Jose Cabezon, On The Ethics Of The Tibetan Self-Immolations
  • But you know, the mind has indirect back-channels as well as direct information freeways, and the question seems to have been percolating while I’ve been asleep.

    **

    Sonam Wangyal, Lama Sobha, was the first Tibetan lama to self-immolate, and left a cassette tape in which he explained his motives:

    I am giving away my body as an offering of light to chase away the darkness, to free all beings from suffering, and to lead them — each of whom has been our mother in the past and yet has been led by ignorance to commit immoral acts — to the Amitabha, the Buddha of infinite light. My offering of light is for all living beings, even as insignificant as lice and nits, to dispel their pain and to guide them to the state of enlightenment. I offer this sacrifice as a token of long-life offering to our root guru His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all other spiritual teachers and lamas.

    The full text of Lama Sobha’s message can be found at the bottom of an International Campaign for Tibet page titled Harrowing images and last message from Tibet of first lama to self-immolate — the “harrowing images” themselves are linked to, but not shown.

    **

    The Chinese come close to targeting Tibetan self-immolators as terrorists, using the terms “Splittist”– so often also used of the Dalai Lama — and calling their actions “intentional homicide”. This from the “>Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Tibet:

    Nonetheless, the response by the Chinese authorities to self-immolations by Tibetans has been extremely draconian, largely because of an assumption that all protest by Tibetans must be intrinsically “splittist” (that is, secessionist). In particular, it has involved the formulation of new laws that seem to target Tibetans specifically, and the imposition of collective punishments, and the application of the crime of “intentional homicide” to all those aiding, abetting, encouraging or even photographing self-immolations.

    **

    It occurs to me that sacrificing oneself for the benefit of other beings is symbolically enacted in the Tibetan Chöd ritual, in which one symbolically feeds the parts of one’s body to the pretas or hungry demons to satiate them and put them to sleep — and also in some of the Jataka Tales of the previous rebirths of the Shakyamuni Buddha.

    I’m thinking particularly of The Bodhisattva and the Hungry Tigress, and will quote here from Edward Conze‘s telling in Buddhist Scriptures, pp 24-26. On being told that self-sacrifice is difficult, Mahasattva (the future Buddha) replies:

    It is difficult for people like us, who are so fond of our lives and bodies, and who have so little intelligence. It is not difficult at all, however, for others, who are true men, intent on benefitting their fellow-creatures, and who long to sacrifice themselves. Holy men are born of pity and compassion. Whatever the bodies they may get, in heaven or on earth, a hundred times will they undo them, joyful in their hearts, so that the lives of others may be saved.

    His prayer before offering his own body and blood to feed an ailing tigress and her cubs is:

    For the weal of the world I wish to win enlightenment, incomparably wonderful. From deep compassion I now give away my body, so hard to quit, unshaken in my mind. That enlightenment I shall now gain, in which nothing hurts and nothing harms.

    Assuming the Jataka tales made it to Tibet, this one might be a potent influence on potential self-immolators.

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    A possible Tamil “comparable” — presumably Hindu rather than Buddhist, culturally if not religiously:

    When young Murugathasan Varnakulasingham (aged 26) committed self-immolation in front of the UN headquarters in Geneva on 19 February 2009 he was protesting against international failures of intervention in the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in northern Sri Lanka, where he believed that large bodies of Tamil people faced extinction by the Sri Lankan government. “The flames over my body will be a torch to guide you through the liberation path,” he wrote in his parting letter.

    There have been a few other protest suicides by Tamils in Tamilnadu and Malaysia, but Varnakulasingham’s altruistic act probably garnered the most attention.

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    Further thoughts:

    There’s always Samson, pulling down the pillars that upheld the roof of their temple on the Philistines, once he’d regrown his hair and strength…

    Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us. And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars. And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them. Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

    — Judges 16.23-30 — not quite self-immolation, not quite suicide bombing, but certainly suicidal warfare with a religious motive.

    Okay, When Christians quote John 15.13:

    Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

    surely they include in their understanding of that verse, those who throw their bodies on top of grenades to protect their comrades — which would seem in its own way to parallel the teaching of the Jataka Tale.

    **

    Likewise, when Muslims quote the hadith from Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 53, in which the Prophet says:

    Narrated Anas bin Malik:

    The Prophet said, “Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s Cause).”

    and from Sahih Muslim, Chapter 28, Book 020, Number 4626:

    It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace upon him) said:

    [ … ] By the Being in Whose Hand is Muhammad’s life, if it were not to be too hard upon the Muslims. I would not lag behind any expedition which is going to fight in the cause of Allah. But I do not have abundant means to provide them (the Mujahids) with riding beasts, nor have they (i.e. all of them) abundant means (to provide themselves with all the means of Jihad) so that they could he left behind. By the Being in Whose Hand is Muhammad’s life, I love to fight in the way of Allah and be killed, to fight and again be killed and to fight again and be killed.

    — how close are we to Nathan Hale:

    I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country

    — and behind that, to Joseph Addison:

    What a pity it is
    That we can die but once to serve our country.

    — that’s from Addison’s now obscure play, Cato, a Tragedy, Act IV, Scene 4

    **

    Of course, the way to stop self-immolations in Tibet is simple — put up a notice:

    See also New document sheds light on China’s campaign against self-immolations in Tibet

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    On the history of the selfie

    Monday, February 3rd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — on self representation, avatars, and what we may be missing ]
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    Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalen, aka The Conversion of the Magdalen

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    Where to begin?

    The Washington Post doesn’t like selfies much, according to Galen Guengerich in the Religion, yes, the Religion section — in a post titled ‘Selfie’ culture promotes a degraded worldview he writes:

    The 2013 word of the year, according to the Oxford Dictionaries, was “selfie,” which Oxford defines as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” The first use of the term, according to Oxford, occurred when a young Australian got drunk at a friend’s 21st birthday party and fell down the stairs. He hit lip-first and his front teeth punched a hole in his bottom lip. His response was to take a photo of himself and post it online for his friends to see. “Sorry about the focus,” he wrote, “It was a selfie.”

    Okayyyyy…

    As usual, the Kierkegaard / Kardashian combo that tweets as @KimKierkegaard manages to straddle the worlds material (in the Madonna sense) and spiritual (in the sense of the Madonna):

    **

    I wanted to dig deeper — the WashPost Religion section, Kierkegaard, how could I not? I often want to dig deeper, and today I was driven to do so because today — not or the first time — I ran across a terrorism analyst and blogger named Cristina Caravaggio Giancchini, who uses a detail from her namesake Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio‘s Martha and Mary Magdalen (above) as her avatar…

    Avatars are a kind of selfie, aren’t they?

    In any case, I found myself looking for the particular Caravaggio that contains that detail, discovering it was the Martha and Mary Magdalen, which you see that the top of this post — then kept on digging via Google to learn a little more.

    **

    Here’s what I found in a blog post titled Fingers and Mirrors: Caravaggio and the Conversion of Mary Magdalene in Renaissance Rome:

    The inclusion of the mirror asks viewers to enter into a dynamic conversation about their own delight in the rich textures of the picture; alongside a powder puff and comb, it points us to Mary’s vanity, and her concern with the things of this world. Rather than showing Mary to herself, however, the mirror captures a diamond of light — a visual representation of the divine grace that inspires Mary to look beyond her earthly passions. The flower that Mary clutches to her chest is an orange blossom: symbol of purity.

    As Debora Shuger realises, in a stimulating essay on early modern mirrors, for Renaissance viewers ‘the object viewed in the mirror is almost never the self’ (22). Such mirrors are, Shuger suggests, if not totally Platonic (reflected an absolute ideal), at least ‘platonically angled, titled upwards in order to reflect paradigms rather than the perceiving eye’ (26). Renaissance mirrors, she concludes, ask us to think differently about the mental worlds and self-awareness of people living in this period: ‘they reflect a selfhood that … is beheld, and beholds itself, in relation to God’ (38).

    Pilgrims who travelled to Aachen in the fifteenth-century appear to have purchased small convex mirrors as souvenirs: as relics were carried through the thronging crowds, travellers held up the mirrors to catch a glimpse of them, and then preserved the mirrors as objects which, according to Rayna Kalas, ‘betokened that moment when the pilgrim had a vision of and was visible before the sacred relic. … Every subsequent glance at this mirror memento might serve to remind the believer of that glimpse of sacred divinity’. In Caravaggio’s painting, though, Mary looks away from the mirror which might capture her reflection (the ‘dark glass’ of Corinthians?), and towards her shadowed but persuasive sister.

    **

    We began this post with the idea that our 21st century ‘Selfie’ culture “promotes a degraded worldview” — and here by way of contrast, in the use of hand-held mirrors in 15th century Aachen, we see what we are missing…

    … a glimpse of the sacred, in which the sacred glimpses us in transcendent return.

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