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Forget religion, it’s all politics!

Sunday, December 16th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Ukraine-Russia tensions reach Greece’s holy Mount Athos ]
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Holy Athos

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Forget religion, it’s all politics!

Thee title of the Guardian piece, which came to me via my admired scholar friend Michael Robinson, is Ukraine-Russia tensions reach Greece’s holy Mount Athos. Michael pointed it my way because “holy Mount Athos” — not because “Ukraine-Russia tensions”.

Nevertheless, forget religion, it’s all politics! (a popular refrain in our secular-dominant world)..

“Ukraine is an independent country and deserves its own church,” Makarios told the visiting Belarusians, who nodded dubiously. His view is not shared by all: a Ukrainian monk based at Makarios’s cell, Father Agafon, had a different opinion, calling those Ukrainians in favour of an independent church “splitters and heretics” and saying the Ukrainian church should remain under the control of Moscow.

and:

Although most of the monks on Athos are Greek, for many Russians, as well as Ukrainians and Belarusians, a pilgrimage to Mount Athos has become almost like an Orthodox version of the Islamic hajj, seen as a spiritual must for any true believer. Oligarchs and government elites particularly like the peninsula, with its difficult-to-obtain permits and air of a VIP club. In the weeks prior to the Guardian’s visit, Makarios said he had hosted a Belarusian army general, a number of Ukrainian MPs and several rich Russians at his austere cell.

Makarios’ austere breakfast, btw, is coffee and nuts — for the visiting generals, MPS and rich folk, too..

**

Forget religion, it’s all violence and strategy!

With a meeting in Kiev on Saturday set to formally proclaim the church’s independence, some are predicting violence if Kiev tries to seize church property from the Moscow patriarchy.

Subtitle of the piece:

Orthodox church’s decision to make Ukrainian branch independent of Russia causes schism and predictions of violence

and:

M:alofeev blamed the Americans for the turmoil, claiming that “Pyatt is trying to stir up the same things he did in Ukraine” in Greece. He also claimed Bartholomew’s entourage was “infiltrated with CIA agents” and said the decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian church could lead to violence in Ukraine and Athos to split with the ecumenical patriarch.

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Forget religion, it’s all money!

One Russian who has been particularly active on Athos is Konstantin Malofeev, a businessman known as the “Orthodox oligarch”, who is currently on EU and US sanctions lists for his alleged role in funding the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

and:

He insisted that most of Athos was united in its loyalty to the ecumenical patriarch, but conceded that the feeling was not unanimous. “There are some monks who just love Russian money,” he said with a sigh.

**

Forget religion, it’s quintessentially religion..

For centuries, Orthodox men have come to Mount Athos, a closed peninsula in northern Greece, to sequester themselves away from the everyday concerns of the outside world. The only entrance is by boat, and women are strictly forbidden to set foot on the territory. Male pilgrims, after receiving a special permit, can visit to confess and seek counsel from the 2,000 monks at the 20 monasteries and smaller “cells” dotted along the hilly shoreline. It is one of the holiest sites of Orthodoxy, the eastern form of Christianity that split with Catholicism in the 11th century.

Monks enter Athos “to sequester themselves away from the everyday concerns of the outside world,” okay?

Athos runs on Byzantine time, an archaic system in which the clocks are reset each day at sunset, and it uses the Julian calendar, rendering Athos 13 days behind the rest of the western world. At sunset the monasteries shut their gates and a stillness settles on the peninsula until the bells ring for morning liturgy.

“People come here to try to be saints, and leave the difficulties of the world behind,” said Father Porfirius, a 27-year-old Greek monk. “The hardest part is to kill your will. We try to destroy it, to get to the level of obedience of Jesus Christ.”

Patriarch vs Patriarch (with Putin Plus):

All is not well in Orthodoxy currently, with a split linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine causing a schism and dark talk of violence among the various Orthodox churches. Bartholomew of Constantinople, known as the ecumenical patriarch and the “first among equals” of the Orthodox patriarchs, agreed in October to give autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox church, essentially making it an independent church. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian church, which regards Ukraine as its domain, responded furiously and announced a split from the ecumenical patriarch.

and:

Kirill has banned Russians from taking holy communion in the churches of Athos, calling any priests who bless the ecumenical patriarch schismatics, leading to a dilemma for those Russians who want to visit.

Schism is about as bad as it gets within Christianity. The Pope and the Patriarch are currently trying, with some little success, to heal a schism between Catholics and Orthodox which began as a dispute over a clause in the major credal statement — the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed — which broke the two major branches of the Church, east and west, apart in 1054. That’s more than a millennium of strife between brothers whose savior prayed at the end of his life [John 17.22-23]:

And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

**

Okay, kudos to Guardian writer Shaun Walker for knowing the importance of religious reporting of issues that also have economic, strategic, political aspects!

And let’s conclude with a link to this related Orthodox prayer page:

:Concerning the Orthodox Prayers for the Union of All and the Prayer in St. John 17
Excerpts from Ecumenism: A Movement for Union or a Syncretistic Heresy?
by Bishop Angelos of Avlona

The Trojan War, revisited

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a feminist reading — The Trojan wars resemble ISIS among the Yazidi ]
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Rebecca Solnit is an acute, insightful writer, who first noted the genre of unlistening overtalk that came to be known as mansplaining — her example being men who praise and explain the brilliance of a book for fifteen or twenty minutes, based on having read a review, without pausing to find out they are addressing the author in question.

During my research for incels (for an Incels & Rajneeshis post that I still hope to complete one of these days), I ran across her Guardian post, A broken idea of sex is flourishing. Blame capitalism.

Her key expositional para, IMO, is this one:

Feminism and capitalism are at odds, if under the one women are people and under the other they are property. Despite half a century of feminist reform and revolution, sex is still often understood through the models capitalism provides. Sex is a transaction; men’s status is enhanced by racking up transactions, as though they were poker chips.

s

That struck me, besides its meaning, for its poker chip metaphor. But it was the para immediately precesing it that I wanted to bring here to ZP, since it described the Trojan War in a way I had not seen before:

The Trojan war begins when Trojan Paris kidnaps Helen and keeps her as a sex slave. During the war to get Helen back, Achilles captures Queen Briseis and keeps her as a sex slave after slaying her husband and brothers (and slaying someone’s whole family is generally pretty anti-aphrodisiac). His comrade in arms Agamemnon has some sex slaves of his own, including the prophetess Cassandra, cursed by Apollo for refusing to have sex with him. Read from the point of view of the women, the Trojan wars resemble ISIS among the Yazidi.

That really brings things classical and venerable home to us, occupied as we are with the contemporary and terrible:

The Trojan wars resemble ISIS among the Yazidi.

**

This is one of those posts where I expose my own ignorance, and pray for a lively comments section.

What say you? Is this a misreading? Truth, already widely known? Or an original and useful, perhaps provocative, insight?

ISIS, bridal and burial veils, Rilke

Monday, July 17th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — some non-Islamic (archetypal) context for a jihadist’s bride receiving a suicide belt as a wedding gift ]
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Asia Ahmed Mohamed, 26 (left), was given a suicide belt as dowry by her jihadi husband Mohammed Hamdouch – Daily Mail

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The unfortunate King Admetus, who had shown great hospitality to Apollo when the latter was banished from Olympus for nine years, was gifted by the spinners of fates with an extended lifespan — provided a substitute was found at the time death came to claim him.

Death came for Admetus, and in the great poem that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, after his father, mother and closest friend have each refused the chance to save Admetus’ life at cost of their own — Admetus’ loving wife Alcestis steps forward to offer herself..

Here Rilke describes her inner state:

No one can be his ransom: only I can.
I am his ransom. For no one else has finished
with life as I have. What is left for me
of everything I once was? Just my dying.
Didn’t she tell you when she sent you down here
that the bed waiting inside belongs to death?
For I have taken leave. No one dying
takes more than that. I left so that all this,
buried beneath the man who is now my husband,
might fade and vanish–. Come, lead me away,
already I have begun to die, for him.

**

The young, free, wild woman, the Artemis in every young bride, loses not just her father’s name but her identity, her life even, at the moment of marriage: the more sober, adult, bound woman, the wife, succeeds toi her flesh and days.

This theme, in which the (presumably white) bridal veil is seen to imply the (presumably black) burial veil, is a central strand in Greek tragedy, not just in Euripides ALcestist, from which Rilke drew his narrative, but in all three great tragedians, as Rush Rehm shows in his book, Marriage to Death: The Conflation of Marriage and Funeral Rituals in Greek Tragedy:

The link between weddings and death — as found in dramas ranging from Romeo and Juliet to Lorca’s Blood Wedding–plays a central role in the action of many Greek tragedies. Female characters such as Kassandra, Antigone, and Helen enact and refer to significant parts of wedding and funeral rites, but often in a twisted fashion. Over time the pressure of dramatic events causes the distinctions between weddings and funerals to disappear. In this book, Rush Rehm considers how and why the conflation of the two ceremonies comes to theatrical life in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes.

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Oh yes, and here’s Santa Muerte as Death Bride:

Regarding Santa Muerte, here’s R. Andrew Chesnut‘s abstract for his book, Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint:

Although condemned by mainstream churches, this folk saint’s supernatural powers appeal to millions of Latin Americans and immigrants in the U.S. Devotees believe the Bony Lady (as she is affectionately called) to be the fastest and most effective miracle worker, and as such, her statuettes and paraphernalia now outsell those of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Saint Judetwo other giants of Mexican religiosity. In particular, the book shows Santa Muerte has become the patron saint of drug traffickers, playing an important role as protector of peddlers of crystal meth and marijuana; DEA agents and Mexican police often find her altars in the safe houses of drug smugglers. Yet Saint Death plays other important roles: she is a supernatural healer, love doctor, money-maker, lawyer, and angel of death. She has become without doubt one of the most popular and powerful saints on both the Mexican and American religious landscapes.

In Santa Muerte we see the conflation of wedding and funeral alive and well in 21st century Mexico — and rippling out into the wider world.

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That’s pretty much the cross-cultural context against which I understand a Jihadist’s bride given SUICIDE BELT as wedding gift:

Asia left Spain for Syria in March 2014 where she married Hamdouch, also known as Kokito de Castillejos, ‘the decapitator of Castillejos.’

During the ceremony, the terrorist gave his wife a belt of explosives. They had a son.

Question time — eye contact?

Friday, March 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — i’d like to know more around a fly-by comment re Rex Tillerson — autism, Japanese tantrism, Medusa — any takers? ]
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The allegation is that State Department employees, some of them, were instructed not to make eye contact with new State boss Rex Tillerson. That’s from WaPo:

Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.

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Gaze is a fascinating business.

When I came back to the UK after living in the US for a couple of decades, my mother was appalled by my tendency to look her in the eye when speaking to her. She told me that you should look away from the person you are addressing, to avoid shaming them by closely observing their reactions to what you’re saying, but should then watch them while they (with eyes averted from you) responded, so as to catch the nuances of their response. Your interlocutor thus gains precious moments in which to modify the immediacy of their response to the suitable response of their choosing. This, I imagine, incoudes but may not be limited to the very rapid, easily missed facial responses knoan as microexpressions.

I by contrast like the direct gaze, and think of it as a sign of authenticity or perhaps earnestness.

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Investgations of those on the autism spectrum (somewhere, at some time, likely recently and in a specific population) reveals ASD subjects “shifted their gaze away from a speaker earlier than the control groups.”

Eye contact, or lack of it, can have enormously strong affective implications, as we see in this example taken from Sophocles‘ Antigone:

The stage ‘etiquette’ of Attic tragedy calls for actors/characters visually to acknowledge one another or the Chorus before establishing verbal contact. The title character of Sophocles’ Antigone flouts this custom to interesting effect by keeping her gaze lowered to the ground after the guard, having caught her in the forbidden act of burying her brother, leads her back into the playing space. The Chorus of Theban elders obliquely acknowledge Antigone’s presence at 376, expres sin their consternation at the sight of ‘this supernatural portent’. They address her directly as child of Oedipus at 379–80. But Antigone remains unresponsive, reacting neither to the Chorus nor to the guard’s announcement a few lines later that ‘this is the one who did the deed’ (384). Instead she keeps her gaze fixed on the ground and stands silently by for over 65 lines, while the guard explains to Creon and the Chorus how she was captured. Readers of Sophocles’ play become aware of Antigone’s earthbound gaze only retrospectively at 441, where Creon addresses her with a brusque ‘Hey you, the one bowing your head to the ground …’

The three sacred treasurs of Japan are presented to the Emperor during the Japanese equivalent of coronation — during a tantric ceremonial in which the Emperor is united with his Sun Goddess and originating ancestor, Amaterasu Omikami — see:

  • Robert S. Ellwood, The Feast of Kingship: Accession Ceremonies in Ancient Japan
  • D. C. Holtom, Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies: With an Account of the Imperial Regalia
  • And famously, Medusa must not be looked upon directly, lest one be turned into stone. It transpires that Medusa was once a beauty indeed to be gazed upon. In the words of Dryden‘s Ovid:

    Medusa once had charms; to gain her love
    A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.
    They, who have seen her, own, they ne’er did trace
    More moving features in a sweeter face.
    Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,
    In golden ringlets wav’d, and graceful shone.
    Her Neptune saw, and with such beauties fir’d,
    Resolv’d to compass, what his soul desir’d.
    In chaste Minerva’s fane, he, lustful, stay’d,
    And seiz’d, and rifled the young, blushing maid.

    Athena’s gaze at this scene, and turning away of that gaze, is the topic of Ovid’s next lines:

    The bashful Goddess turn’d her eyes away,
    Nor durst such bold impurity survey;
    But on the ravish’d virgin vengeance takes,
    Her shining hair is chang’d to hissing snakes.
    These in her Aegis Pallas joys to bear,
    The hissing snakes her foes more sure ensnare,
    Than they did lovers once, when shining hair.

    And thus Medusa becomes the famous face which cannot be directly gazed upon in peril of being turned to stone:

    That horrid head, which stiffens into stone
    Those impious men who, daring death, look on.

    so that:

    Two hundred, by Medusa’s head were ston’d.

    Medusa is killed only when Perseus observes her reflected in his polished shield:

    But as he journey’d, pensive he survey’d,
    What wasteful havock dire Medusa made.
    Here, stood still breathing statues, men before;
    There, rampant lions seem’d in stone to roar.
    Nor did he, yet affrighted, quit the field,
    But in the mirror of his polish’d shield
    Reflected saw Medusa slumbers take,
    And not one serpent by good chance awake.
    Then backward an unerring blow he sped,
    And from her body lop’d at once her head.
    The gore prolifick prov’d; with sudden force
    Sprung Pegasus, and wing’d his airy course.

    One wonders how much irony there is in that phrase, “not one serpent by good chance awake” — chance, or fate?

    **

    I don’t have direct access to the World Encyclopedia of Lowered Eyes and Direct Gazes, but there’s clearly plenty to read in social anthropology, depth psychology on the topic —

  • Scientific American, Eye Contact Can Be Overwhelming
  • Psychology Today, The Secrets of Eye Contact, Revealed
  • Jane Lydon, Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians
  • — and so forth

    So I’ve titled this post Question time, hoping Zp readers will chime in with significant readeings that explore the reasons Tillerson may have requested no eye-contact — if in fact he did.

    Because this whole post, and a flurry of activity on the web, hinges on a very short phrase in that WaPo piece:

    some [diplomats] have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact

    which presumably falls within the category RUMINT unoess otherwise corroborated by named and trustworthy sources.

    Eye contact — any suggestions?

    Thucydides Roundtable, Addendum: Steve Bannon’s interest in the Peloponnesian War

    Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — tying our colloquium on Thucydides to current White House events ]
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    **

    Well, I’ve been majorly out of it since the Thucydides roundtable started, and am only slowly getting back into the swing of things, but I’d like to bookend my initial roundtable comment with a closing observation, this one concerning Steve Bannon and his interest in the history of warfare. The quote that follows is from the Armchair General‘s column, Steve Bannon’s Long Love Affair With War, in today’s Daily Beast:

    You can also find Bannon’s affection for military and strategic ruthlessness in what he reads. According to two of Bannon’s former friends from his West Coast days, two of his favorite books are Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the hugely influential ancient Chinese text on military strategy, and the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. The latter tells the story of a holy war to establish dharma.

    Sun Tzu, check. Bhagavad Gita, double check. Dharma! Indeed!

    **

    The article continues:

    Julia Jones, Bannon’s longtime Hollywood writing partner and former close friend, recalls seeing him excitedly flipping through both books, and talking about them lovingly and often. She would frequently see various “books all over [Steve’s place] about battles and things,” among his clutter of possessions and interests. (Late last year, Jones — who identifies as a “Bernie Sanders liberal” — had a falling out with Bannon due to his work on the Trump presidential campaign, a role that she said absolutely “disgusted” her.)

    “Steve is a strong militarist, he’s in love with war — it’s almost poetry to him,” Jones told The Daily Beast in an interview last year, well before Trump won the election and Bannon landed his new job. “He’s studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome… every battle, every war… Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness… He lives in a world where it’s always high noon at the O.K. Corral.”

    Almost poetry.

    And back to dharma:

    Jones said that Bannon “used to talk a lot about dharma — he felt very strongly about dharma… one of the strongest principles throughout the Bhagavad Gita.”

    I suppose I should write a follow-up about dharma and the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where Krishna instructed Arjuna in the dharma appropriate to a warrior.

    And so to our roundtable topic — the Peloponnesian War:

    She also noted his “obsession” with the military victories and epic battles of the Roman Empire’s Marcus Aurelius and Julius Caesar. But a personal favorite of Bannon’s was the subject of the Peloponnesian War fought between Athens and Sparta.

    “He talked a lot about Sparta — how Sparta defeated Athens, he loved the story,” Jones said. “The password on his [desktop] computer at his office at American Vantage Media in Santa Monica was ‘Sparta,’ in fact.”

    This is the mindset of Trump’s top White House aide who just earned himself a seat at the table on the National Security Council.

    **

    You’d like a more direct Bannon Thucydides connection? The topic is smaller than Bannon’s role at the NSC — the “war” between Breitbart and Fox — but Thucydides is front and center. In a Breitbart piece from August 2016, Fox Faces Its Uncertain Future: The Minor Murdochs Take Command, Steve Bannon writes:

    Here at Breitbart News, we see ourselves as a small yet up-and-coming competitor to Fox. Yes, you read that right, Breitbart is on the rise, and Fox is in decline. Even the MSM has noticed the changing of the guard; here’s the Washington Post headline from January: “How Breitbart has become a dominant voice in conservative media,” reinforced by Politico just this morning. In this modern-day version of the epic Peloponnesian War, the incumbent Athenians might as well know that the Spartans are coming for them, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it; indeed, more Spartans are joining us every day. As Thucydides would warn them, if the leaders of Fox choose to pipe Mickey Mouse aboard and give him command on the bridge, well, that will only accelerate Fox’s fall.

    See also: Titus in Space (Paris Review, November 2016)


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