It’s gruesome-beautiful, which is why I’ve placed it second — but it’s vidual immediacy speaks viscerally to us, once we know the material on which the imaged was placed..
The ouroboros is not so strong in this case, since the flayed skin on wh9ich the representation is made is of vellum, ie the skin of a lamb or young anim=mal, flayed (removed from the animal’s flesh) after the death of the animal — while the depiction of St Bartholomew shows him being flahed in flie.
The image in question is part of a quadripartite miniature, which I’ll display here by posting two images from the Morgan collection immediately above one another — in its proper context, it seems less gruesome, perhaps?
I’m not saying, mark you, that human fklesh isn’t on occasion used in the binding of books. Wikipedia has an entry under the title Anthropodermic bibliopegy, which if you untangle it from the Greek means “binding with human skin” — and offers for our view and judgment the following example from the Welcome collection of medical rarities:
That’s S. Pinaeus, De integritatis et corruptionis virginum. And while we’re on the subject of virgines (girls), there’s also this label:
This book has been bound with the skin of a woman”
— which is found in another book, this one in the Smithsonian collection.
[ by Charles Cameron — the low down, the vanishing point, and the exaltation ]
There is no Christ: he has died, he is not yet resurrected. According to the usual English translation of the most basic of the Church’s three statements of faith, the Apostles’ Creed, he descending into hell: or as Ephesians 4.9-10 has it:
Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.
This worldly world is no place into which such doctrines comfortably fit. Hell? The lower parts of the earth?
No, there is a low doorway by which we may enter such a cosmos, encounter such a Christ. We must shed, in fact, reality and self-importance, twin delusions, and embrace imagination.
Above all heavens?
The second to final section of Bach’s St John Passion deals with this intermediate state, the boirderland between life and death, in this melancholy yet resigned chorus, Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine:
The lyric addresses the now dead Christ
Rest well, you blessed limbs,
now I will no longer mourn you,
rest well and bring me also to peace!
The grave that is allotted to you
and encloses no further suffering,
opens heaven for me and closes off Hell.
The Latin of the Apostles’ Creed does not actually say that Christ descended into hell, but that he descended to those below, and this in turn is interpreted to mean that he came to those of good character who died before his coming, and were thus unable to hear the gospel he preached until this Holy Saturday — his body in the tomb, his presence preaching to them for their salvation. We are thus offered a neat answer to the otherwise tricky question — what happened to those who, through no fault of their own,never heard him.
For Christianity, this is the archetypal liminal moment, this day between crucifixion and resurrection, death and renewed life. How unimportant it seems, how humble, falling between Good Friday and Easter Day — yet there is beauty here, as the whole gospel story is beautiful.
But there is more. It is characteristic of the Passion story that Christ touches the depths of human doubt on the cross — crying My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
As I have noted before, the Lakota medicine man Archie Fire Lame Deer told his biographer, Richard Erdoes:
I am no wino or pishko, but I am no saint either. A medicine man shouldn’t be a saint. He should experience and feel all the ups and downs, the despair and joy, the magic and the reality, the courage and the fear, of his people. He should be able to sink as low as a bug, or soar as high as an eagle. Unless he can experience both, he is no good as a medicine man.
Ifb you have not suffered as deeply as those who come to you with their sufferings, you will seem shallow to them, and be unable to console them. If youhave not experienced joy as fully as those who rejoice nearby, you will seem stiff and stilted to the, and cannot join thewir dance, their song/\.
Christ on the cross, Christ in the tomb descending to those below — bith are instances of that same descent which is the natural accompaniment of sacent — just as Chrust’s birth in a stable — no room at the inn — is the descen to vulnerable humanity of Godhead impassible — beyond all suffering.
It is in the descent that the ascent is prepared.
Or as Heraclitus says:
The way upward and the way downward
is one and the same
Or St John of the Cross, greatest of Spanish mystics, writing of the Dark Night of the Soul:
Although this happy night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so only to give it light in everything; and that, although it humbles it and makes it miserable, it does so only to exalt it and to raise it up; and, although it impoverishes it and empties it of all natural affection and attachment, it does so only that it may enable it to stretch forward, divinely, and thus to have fruition and experience of all things, both above and below, yet to preserve its unrestricted liberty of spirit in them all.
And again, as TS Eliot has it, who quoted that fragment of Heraclitus as an epigraph to his Four Quartets:
And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.
I have written this post, this day, to teach myself these things, to do the necessary research, the discovery and the remembering: and I hope they will be of interest and profit to you too.
But I must post in haste — Easter Day approaches, and with it the joyful cry, Christ is risen! Christos aneste.
For your consideration — this I must listen to myself:
Like a deeper layer of Hell, 8chan is an image board for anyone who is too much of an edgelord for 4chan. Created during the Gamergate fiasco when even the brass of 4chan decided that situation was getting out of hand and became a base of operations of sorts for the GG crowd.
From today’s Twitter feed, courtesy of J Scott Shipman:
King cobra bites python. Python constricts cobra. Cobra dies of constriction. Python dies from venom. 100% holy shit.. pic.twitter.com/2PMrtZRDrk
That sadhus like to meditate in cremation grounds was already known to me — they worship Lord Shiva, who likes to meditate there himself, not infrequently covers himself in ashes, and wears a necklace of skulls..
What surprised me though, was to find Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and author of The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, Christianity Today‘s Book of the Year, recommending so similar a practice..
And if the sadhu‘s practice seems more extreme — fiercer, spiritually? — than Dr Moore‘s quieter — dare I, should I really say, more contemplative? — approach, that only reminds me of Klaus Klostermaier‘s book, Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban, and this marvelous graph:
Theology at 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade seems after all, different from theology at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Theology accompanied by tough chapattis and smoky tea seems different from theology with roast chicken and a glass of wine. Now, what is different, theos or theologian? The theologian at 70 degrees Fahrenheit is in a good position presumes God to be happy and contended, well-fed and rested, without needs of any kind. The theologian at 120 degrees Fahrenheit tries to imagine a God who is hungry and thirsty, who suffers and is sad, who sheds perspiration and knows despair.
Here’s Fr Klostermaier saying Mass in Vrindaban:
First thing in the morning I celebrate the Mass. I wonder if any person responsible for prescribing the liturgical vestments in use today ever read mass at 113 degrees Fahrenheit, in a closed room without a fan? Clouds of flies swarm around the chalice and host. They settle on the hands, on the perspiring face. They cannot be driven away, but return for the tenth time to the place from which they have been chased away. The whole body burns and itches. The clothes are damp, even the vestments. They soon dry. If a priest does not wear them all, he commits – according to existing canon law – at least a dozen or so mortal sins all at once. And it seems impossible to survive, physically or spiritually, without the Mass.
Above the highest heaven is the dwelling place of Krishna. It is a place of infinite idyllic peace, where the dark and gentle river Yamuna flows beside a flowered meadow, where cattle graze; on the river’s bank sweet-scented trees blossom and bend their branches to the earth, where peacocks dance and nightingales call softly. Here Krishna, ever-young, sits beneath the trees, the sound of his flute echoing the nightingales’ call. Sometimes he laughs and jokes and wrestles with his friends, sometimes he teases the cowherd-girls of the village, the Gopis, as they come to the river for water. And sometimes, in the dusk of days an eon long, his flute’s call summons the Gopis to his side. They leave their homes and families and husbands and honor — as it is called by men — and go to him. Their love for him is deeper than their fear of dishonor. He is the fulfillment of all desire…
[ by Charles Cameron — via Strange Fruit and Jonestown, deviously wandering, to Merton and thence O Happy Day ]
Let’s start with the exceeding dark, brilliantly brought to us by Billie Holiday:
I got there via the phrase “strange fruit” — which cropped up without any overt reference to the song in an account of the aftermath of the Jonestown mass-suicide / murder in Guyana — Gaiutra Bahadur‘s The Jonestown We Don’t Know in the NYRB.
A sapling had lifted a child’s patent leather shoe off the ground like “strange fruit that some rare and exotic plant had produced.”
As I tweeted on reading this, “shades of Southern trees bear strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root” — Ms. Bahadur responded, “I also thought of this song when I read those lines” to which I replied, “I’m betting Jan Carew. was conscious of it, too.” — Jim Carew being one of Ms. Bahadur‘s sources and the grandson of the Carib chief who had observed Jonestown from its inception to its post-destruction, albeit invisible to the participants from the fringes of the forest surrounding Jim Jones‘ settlement.. “I agree, he probably was” Ms Bahadur commented in closing out our little Twitter ping-pong.
Ms. Bahadur is a vivid raconteur.
Here’s more on the Carib chief, his grandson Carew, and Jonestown from her marvelous piece and those forest fringes:
Jonestown was built in the Kaituma region, heartland of the Caribs, who had dispersed to various islands from their historical homeland in Guyana over centuries. Named after the river running through it, Kaituma means Land of the Everlasting Dreamers..
With candle flies in bottles to light the way, I walked amongst their dead. They’d died in circles, like worshippers around invisible altars
Carew reflected that if anyone understood mass suicides, it was the Caribs, whose mythology marks sites across the Caribbean islands where they jumped from cliffs to their deaths rather than accept slavery at the hands of European colonizers..
I hope you can appreciate with me the poetry to be seen in these quotes.. dark though the Jonestown tragedy indeed was..
Here’s how I was taking this: it seemed like another glimpse, from another angle, of the rich stew of religions bleeding into everything and blossoming anew where the Americas meet, that I’d mentioned in a tweet the day before — a tweet I was, let me admit, just a wee bit proud of:
For the record, far & away most fascinating, explosive area of religious studies these days is the cross-border Mexico-USian folk-syncretic part-narco-theological terrain, Santa Muerte, Templarios cartel &c, studied by Andrew Chesnut, Kate Kingsbury, Robert Bunker and David Metcalfe, with more doctorates between them than I can count.
and here’s my follow-up:
Life lives at the intersection of cultural anthropology, comparative religion & depth psychology — not studied as three separate fields, but as one breathing whole, since the drivers of human actions found at that hermetic crossroads are among the most radical, powerful for change
These have been a rich couple of days for my stumbling onto materials of this sort.
Here are some more mythico-anthro-religious quotes of keen interest — two concerning the Northern Lights:
In ancient China and Europe, the auroras were dragons and serpents, flitting around in the night. In Scandinavian folklore, they were the burning archway that allowed gods to move between heaven and Earth.
According to Sami mythology, spirits are present in everything, from rocks and trees, foxes and reindeer, and the northern lights in the sky.
Those quotes are from what’s ostensibly an Atlantic “science” article, An Ancient Tradition Unfolds in New York, subtitled “The recent light show over the city tapped into a deep vein in human culture”. The city, here, is New York. Is it always?
As to the Sami — here I’d like to drop in the cover of a paperback just issued by Hurst publishers in London, just so you know:
their camouflage is so perfectly tuned that they appear ethereal, as though made from storm clouds
Who they? Rangers? SEALs? Storm clouds themselves? the Fay? Angels? –Who knows? I’ll give you a hint — Peter Matthiessen. Beautiful, no? who or whatever they are..
And then there’sThomas Merton, Trappist monk, priest, hermit, writer, world traveler, on his final journey from Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky to visit his Buddhist monastic equivalents in Thailand…
I dreamed I was, temporarily, back at Gethsemani. I was dressed in a Buddhist monk’s habit
Merton’s, i suppose, was one of my poet transmissions, delivered by letter. I was just two days into 21 at the time., more than a half century ago.
We’re getting lighter, time to close these files and give you the final video.
Jonestown was gruesome with its strange fruit, lynchings, lynchings and lynchings likewise. It is, I surmise, the depth of our griefs and wounds that allows in us an equal height of joy — as though our griefs hollow us, and thus we can be filled with joy..
Within the profundity of Billie Holiday mourning, then, let us find the possibility Ray Charles embodies in his song, O Happy Day:
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.