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The magic of miniatures

Monday, May 20th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — I wasn’t intending this to be my next post in the commercials and magic series, but here it is, with miniatures and matryoshkas all in a row — and Churchill! ]
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Who knows when it started — Egyptian shabtis were small figurines inscribed with the names of the deceased and buried with them, answering for them during judgment in the Hall of Truth where, for the best afterlife, one’s heart should weigh lighter than a feather on the scales —

Myself, buried with my mini-me.

Especially if I am a pharaoh, or person of note:

(From left) Painted shabti of Ramesses IV. 20th Dynasty; decorated shabti of the Lady of the House, Sati – reportedly from Saqqara. 18th Dynasty, reign of Amenhotep III; and, a double shabti of Huy and Ipuy, a father and son pair. 18th Dynasty. Louvre Museum, Brooklyn Museum and Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy. (Photos: Heidi Kontkanen and Margaret Patterson)

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A jar fit for a giant to drink from, one of thousands in the Laotian Plain of Jars:

I was reminded of Egyptian shabtis by an article I saw today about thousand-year-old burial practices in Laos, where the vast Plain of Jars is dotted with thousands of large “jars” so called — some have thought of them as chalices from which giants would drink — used in funerary rites, and the article contained this para:

We’d love to know why these people represented the same jars in which they placed their dead, in miniature to be buried with their dead.

Miniatures!

I suppose we all play with miniatures as children — toy guns, toy sheriff’s badges, dolls and dolls houses — all parents need to ensure their children grow up prepared for adult life! — but after-life may have come first where miniatures are concerned.

In any case, there’s an enormous, likely archetypal pull associated with the large and its small analogs.

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Look at this Myself and Mini-me commercial from National:

The large and the small together are somehow more attractive than just the large alone.

And let’s take this a step further into the realm of magic, as understood by the great anthropologist Sir JG Frazer:

Sympathetic magic, anthropologically speaking, is magic in which you enact in miniature what you want the gods to perform on a larger scale. You urinate — or as Shakespeare more delicately puts it, go to look upon a bush — so the gods will pour down their rain upon you.

That kind of magical thinking — sympathetic magical thinking — is what the boy is instinctively doing in this Farmers rooftop parking commercial, while the Farmers rep thinks it’s gravity that throws a large car way up in the air..

To be honest, my money’s with magic and the boy.

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Farther yet, and we come to the Matryoshka principle, in which Russian dolls are contained (‘nested”) within dolls within dolls:

And now consider this commercial featuring vans nested within vans:

Sir Winston Churchill was playing a brilliant variant on this Matrioshka principle when during a BBC broadcast in October 1939, he said:

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.

Sunday surprise, what can happen to music

Monday, May 13th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — Aretha to rabbinic wisdom via N’Orleans — five versions of the one great song — with a Mother’s Day greeting to all Marthas and all Marys ]
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Consider this song as sung by the awesome Aretha Franklin:

Here’s the story of Mary and Martha, as John’s Gospel tells it [John 40: 38-42]:

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

You might say that Martha is the mother of service, and Mary the mother of devotion: they are equally celebrated in the church, yet Mary has the better part.

Wonderful, then, to encounter the same song as played and sung by N’Orleans’ own Theresa Andersson:

That’s the extraordinary creative re-creation I was wanting to share with you.

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The Parting of the Waters [Exodus 14: 21-29]:

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.

And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them. But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

Wait: there’s a curious — and beautiful — counterpoint to this story in rabbinic lore:

The Talmud teaches us that on the night that the Egyptian army drowned in the Red Sea, the first true moment of freedom for the Jews fleeing Egypt, God refused to hear the angels sing their prayers, and said “my creations are drowning in the sea, and you will sing songs?”

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Appendix:

We could also take — if you have time to join me — another path through that song.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers:

Mary’s there, but no Martha. That’s the earliest recording of the song that survives.

Then there’s The Swan Silvertones:

Mary don’t you weep — Martha don’t have to moan — it’s been decided that Mary of the song — who might be the sister of Moses — is, or is also, Mary the sister of Martha..

And let’s close with Take-6:

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Sources:

  • Jerry Zolten, “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”–The Swan Silvertones (1959)
  • Wikipedia, Mary Don’t You Weep
  • Art & Theology, “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep”: Death, Resurrection, and the New Exodus
  • O Mary, don’t you weep — Aretha Franklin, RIP

    Friday, August 17th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — an evening respite from Trump and co, to remember and celebrate a great voice ]
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    If you have or can make the time to listen to one Aretha Franklin song this deay in which she died, let it be this — O Mary, Mary Don’t You Weep — you can follow along with the lyrics here:

    The song tells the Gospel story of Mary, Martha, and their deceased brother Lazarus, whom Jesus calls by name back from the dead, first telling Mary “Don’t you weep” as though resurrection were the most natural thing in the world — Lazarus, returned from the dead, walked “like a natural man”. From the Torah, we find the sub-story — Pharaoh‘s army drowning in the Red Sea after it tried to pursue the fleeing Israelites. Aretha wants to stand on the rock where Moses stood, and witness the drowning.

    Now the thing is, when the Israelites saw Pharaoh’s army drowning, they sing — as Aretha also sings.

    Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

    The Israaelite’s song can be summed up by this line:

    The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name.

    Blam! Splat!

    **

    The angels, who have been watching the whole scene from a higher perspective than the Israelites, are also about to sing — they are renowned for their choirs, and in the contest between Israel and Egypt, they’re distinctly pro-Israel — when the LORD intervenes:

    How dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying?

    May I suggest that the angels are (not unlike music) like rivers passing through us, watering the souls of men, they are within us, and to the extent that we can partake of their refreshment we will be the better for it. Hopefully this metaphorical interpretation will avoid such vexed issues as mortal-like shoulder-blades supporting immortal shimmering wings and so forth —

    — now the stuff of such commonplaces as greetings cards, to be reclaimed perhaps for their beauty, but not as definitions of “how angels look” — more as referring us to a higher octave of reality to which we may aspire, gracing us as grace responds..

    Angels, not unlike music — hence the frequent references to angelic choirs.

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    The weeping Madonna of Akita, Japan

    As Wiki tells us:

    A weeping statue is a statue which has been claimed to have shed tears or to be weeping by supernatural means. Statues weeping tears which appear to be blood, oil, and scented liquids have all been reported. … These events are generally reported by some Christians, and initially attract some pilgrims, but are in most cases disallowed by the Church as proven hoaxes.

    O Mary, don’t you weep?

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    O Mary, don’t you weep!

    May Aretha flood our banks with her song.

    Greed can do it as easily as Religion — or Time Itself

    Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — the passing of time is theft is the passing of all things ]
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    Here’s a quick stop-motion movie of the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, in four powerful frames.

    The Temple was originally gloriously decorated..

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    That’s Palmyra’s divine triad: Baalshamin, with the Moon god Aglibol on his right and the Sun-god Yarhibol at left, discovered at Bir Wereb, near Palmyra, 60 cm high (Louvre, Paris) (photo: Emmanuel PIERRE, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    The Temple was, in fact, until recently, an impressive ruin..

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    That’s the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, in a photo by Bernard Gagnon, GNU license.

    But then ISIS used explosives for a sacred demolition..

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    Credit for this and the final image goes to Reuters

    …and now there’s not much remaining of the glory..

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    End of film, end of story — setup for the point I want to make.

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    Stuff gets made or born, stuff lives or exists.. stuff dies, fades, crumbles, evaporates.. sometimes stuff is reboorn, salvaged, gets a second life..

    Consider the great temple of Angkor Wat, buit by Khmer artists, partly destroyed by centuries of weather and overgrowth, pock-marked by the bullets of insurgents & army.. now given a second life as a tourist destination.. Consider Tibetan mandalas, chalked out in detail, painstakingly painted in sand, then swept away, proof of impermancence..

    Well?

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    The establishment of monotheism in Egypt was accompanied by royal command with the destruction of what we might now call religious and cultural works —

    In rebellion against the old religion and the powerful priests of Amun, Akhenaten ordered the eradication of all of Egypt’s traditional gods. He sent royal officials to chisel out and destroy every reference to Amun and the names of other deities on tombs, temple walls, and cartouches to instill in the people that the Aten was the one true god.

    — in a manner that calls to mind some of ISIS excesses, their destruction of the Temple of Bel, for a recent and striking instance.

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    Indeed, places of worship have not infrequently been torn down:

    Lord what work was here! What clattering of glasses! What beating down of walls! What tearing up of monuments! What pulling down of seats! What wresting out of irons and brass from the windows! What defacing of arms! What demolishing of curious stonework! What tooting and piping upon organ pipes! And what a hideous triumph in the market-place before all the country, when all the mangled organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had newly been sawn down from the Green-yard pulpit and the service-books and singing books that could be carried to the fire in the public market-place were heaped together.

    That’s from England — which suffered under Cranmer (Reformation) and Cromwell (Civil War), both of them politically influential Puritans.. who between them made ruins of many British abbeys — think Glastonbury, Fountains, Walsingham..

    Well, all that’s background, simply to establish that time’s river allows for the buildup by a wide variety of means and sweeping away of all manner of things animate and ootherwise, in a continual flux, a continual emergence, a continual impermanence..

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    But my point, remember?


    Photo credit: via Trib Live

    My point is that the thief of Pittsburg’s unique and valuable book antiquities deprives us of treasures of the mind in much the same way that ISIS does with its explosives in Palmyra. In the latter case: impassioned religion; in the former: simple greed.

    Appraisers discovered missing items and books that had been “cannibalized,” with entire portions removed, according to the affidavit.

    and the alleged thief:

    is charged with theft, receiving stolen property, dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, conspiracy, retail theft, theft by deception, forgery and deceptive business practices.

    Items of high value and greed, idolatry and iconoclasm — the cutting up of books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh including a copy of Newton’s Principia is nend ot in the too different from what ISIS’ Kata’ib Taswiyya batallion did to Palmyra.

    Not too different, either, from the activities of Tibetan monks.. or, I suppose, wind, rain, and a thousand years..

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    Percy Bysshe Shelley:

    I met a traveller from an antique land,
    Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal, these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    Christ born again, wishing you each & every blessing this holy tide

    Monday, December 25th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — wishing to avoid the excesses of piety and secularism, to get once more to the heart of the Christmas message, refreshed ]
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    How shall we get past the tired commerical imagery of 80% off, the pious religiosity of religious hucksters, and cleanse our image of the Christ-Mass to seee him afresh?

    One way I have found is to travel abroad:


    Mughal Madonna and child attributed to Manohar or Basawan

    Seen with fresh eyes, the ancient image of the sacred, royal child and pure mother shines anew.

    Or take this Ethiopic image of the flight into Egypt — unusual to our eyes, yet utterly appropriate for the flight to Egypt to be represented to us by a Ethiopic artist..


    Ethiopic, flight into Egypt

    And how gently, with a finger’s touch, this angel from Autun cathedral wakes the three wise men (magi), here shown as three kings:

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    Ah, music!

    Perhaps JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 can carry conviction where a statement of faith, constructed entirely in words and lacking the flourishes of trumpets, must always fail to push past our secular sensibilities into glory:

    Or a very different voice, declaring the humble birth in a stable outside an inn — yet with its own indubitable trumpets:

    Mahalia!

    **

    Hell — heaven! I personally wish all those who read this post on Zenpundit a happy / blessed Christmas..

    I’m thinking of you Jim Gant, Tim Furnish, J Scott Shipman, Mark ZP, Grurray, PR Beckman, David Ronfeldt, Howard Rheingold, Mark Osiecki, Kate Gilpin, Anne and Tom Merino, David and Emlyn Cameron, Susan Uskudarli — so many of you..


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