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Authentic, spiritual magic!

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — from conjuring to gospel truth — third in a series ]
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Kwakiutl winter ceremonial mask, closed and open

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Here’s magic, as in my best recollection, a Pacific Northwestern shaman explained it to an anthro friend..

It’s my recollection that [Tlingit / Kwakiutl winter ceremonials] were both entertainment for the long winter nights and “schooling” for the young, and I have a vivid recall of reading somewhere a shaman’s admission to an anthro of the exact nature of the dramatic means by which the shaman’s capacity to defeat death was demonstrated.

I read this in the early eighties, but searching on the web I’ve found something that comes close — Clellan Stearns Ford’s record of Charles James Nowell’s memories in _Smoke from their fires: the life of a Kwakiutl chief_. Around p 120, there are two stories, the first about a girl who “turned the wrong way” during a dance, the second about a girl who is put in a box and burned. In both cases, the nature of the trickery is described but in the version I read all those years ago, the two stories were one — the girl who was put in a box in the fire pit and “burned to death” escapes through a false bottom to the box along a tunnel into the adjoining room, and her voice then issues as if from her ashes, via a kelp tube that goes from the tunnel to the adjoining room where she’s now standing.

She describes her descent into the sea realm, where she is chastened and eventually granted a boon to return to the tribe. A canoe sets out to fetch her, but by the time the audience sees it set out, she’s already secured by rope to the far side of the boat, and at a suitable distance is hauled aboard and brought back to shore, alive.

A child seeing this would be mightily predisposed to believing the shaman had healing powers, and by the time the ruse was revealed, that underpinning of faith is already in place.

In the Nowell version, even the adults, who “know” the deception involved, are deceived: “The fire burned and the box burned, and she was still singing inside, and then the box go up in flames, and they can see her burning there in her blue blanket, and all her relatives just cry and cry. Although they know it is not real, it looks so real they can’t help it. It was all a trick. There was a hole under the box with a tunnel leading out of the house, and the woman went out of the box and put a seal in her place wrapped in a blue blanket, and then someone sang into the fire through a kelp tube, her song. Oh, it looked real!”

One source I found recently online:

Tom McFeat, Indians of the North Pacific Coast: Studies in Selected Topics

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I would like to suggest to you that magic, if you think of it as imagic, has to do with image, and is usefully considered as another term for or related to, imagination..

There are a couple of other categoies I’d like to bring to your attention: (i) coincidences or synchronicities, which can border on (2) the miraculous, at its finest a sacred business, (3) poetry, at its most beautiful, true and good, (4) sacraments, defined as revelations of “an inward an spiritual grace” my means of an “outward and physical sign” — and (5) the Eucatastrophe as described by JRR Tolkien in his masterful essay, On Fairy-tales..

The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels — peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, selfcontained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

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Magic: there’s more to it than advertising, but advertising may deploy it.

Con fuego — mini-essays, chyrons, metaphors, 24

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — decapitation, in this case of the british iceberg, and the Hiwatari festival fire-walking of the Japanese mountain monks ]
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Hey!

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Athletes & Elites:

ONLY THE SUCKERS GO THROUGH THE ADMISSIONS OFFICE

Outright fraud, lying, faking test results is horrible and should be severely prosecuted — that appears to be at the heart of the scandal. No tolerance for that — period. Using contacts, donating money, hiring tutors, putting your kids in the best college feeder schools, taking advantage of legacy status, arranging résumé-building internships — those are the consequences of inequality compounding and amplifying over time, from one generation to another. Does it dilute the pure concept of meritocracy, the level playing field where everyone has an equal shot? Of course.

So why go via the bribery route?

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“LIKE DECAPITATING AN ICEBERG”: BRITAIN IS SCREWED

There is no perfect analogy for Brexit, the surreal, game-theoretical political divorce that was slated to conclude on March 29 at 11 P.M. London time.

Well if “there is no perfect analogy for Brexit”, perhaps “decapitating an iceberg” doesn’t really work either?

Then there’s The Magical Thinking Around Brexit:

The lexicon of Brexit, the United Kingdom’s buffoonishly mismanaged effort to leave the European Union, includes technical terms such as “backstop” and “customs union,” as well as a fanciful but revealing one: “unicorn.” It has come to be a scornful shorthand for all that the Brexiteers promised voters in the June, 2016, referendum and cannot, now or ever, deliver.

Magical Thinking ? Unicorn?

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Numbers count:

the whole of New Zealand, a remote island nation of about 4.9 million people that had only thirty-five murders in all of 2017, was in a state of deep shock

That’s from It’s Time to Confront the Threat of Right-Wing Terrorism

The Christchurch mosque shooter killed 50, more than the New Zealand murder total for 2017, and wounded 50.

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Significant interests of mine:

  • Poetry: The Final Prophecy of W. S. Merwin
  • Games: The Division 2 and the Severing of Politics from Video Games
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    Just look at this:

    Religious supporters walk across the embers of a large fire at the Mount Takao Hiwatari fire-walking festival. Mount Takao is close to Tokyo, and this well-known festival attracts a large crowd of worshippers and tourists. A large pyre is built on the grounds of Yuki-ji Temple, and after it has been burned, Yamabushi (mountain monks) and practitioners of the Shugendo sect of the Buddhist religion walk over the still-smoldering embers in a purifying ritual

    The caption reads:

    Religious supporters walk across the embers of a large fire at the Mount Takao Hiwatari fire-walking festival. Mount Takao is close to Tokyo, and this well-known festival attracts a large crowd of worshippers and tourists. A large pyre is built on the grounds of Yuki-ji Temple, and after it has been burned, Yamabushi (mountain monks) and practitioners of the Shugendo sect of the Buddhist religion walk over the still-smoldering embers in a purifying ritual

    I was here myself in 1972, and the most impressive part of the ritual was the distribution to all comers of little slips of wood — the kind on which you write the name of the plants in a garden row or a pot — on which we were invited to write our sins of the past year, and which were then tossed by monks into the fire path —

    — so that the monks can tread the embers of our sins beneath their feet —

    — in robes comparable to the ceremonial robes of Catholic or Tibetan Buddhist monks:

    Physicists playing Calvinball

    Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — wishing I was fluent in music, and might as well ad mathematics, Hebrew, Arabic, classical Persian, you know the drill, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Japanese.. and their courtly modes and rituals, and could play badminton, chess, dharma combat, go, eh? ]
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    Here’s a wonderful description of a game in which the rules — in this case, mathematical languages — change from move to move:

    It happens again and again that, when there are many possible descriptions of a physical situation—all making equivalent predictions, yet all wildly different in premise—one will turn out to be preferable, because it extends to an underlying reality, seeming to account for more of the universe at once. And yet this new description might, in turn, have multiple formulations—and one of those alternatives may apply even more broadly. It’s as though physicists are playing a modified telephone game in which, with each whisper, the message is translated into a different language. The languages describe different scales or domains of the same reality but aren’t always related etymologically. In this modified game, the objective isn’t—or isn’t only—to seek a bedrock equation governing reality’s smallest bits. The existence of this branching, interconnected web of mathematical languages, each with its own associated picture of the world, is what needs to be understood.

    That’s from A Different Kind of Theory of Everything in The New Yorker, an intriguing rerad, though as a non-physicist, seeing an equivalence with Calvinball — a game in which the game in play constantly changes — is about as far as I can go.

    When I was talking with Ali Minai, I said that both music and math were languages I didn’t speak, and that cut me off from much by way of discourse with mathematicians (Ali himself) and musicians (my nephew the conductor Daniel Harding), and Ali commented that music is at least an embodied abstraction, whereas math is a pure abstraction with no embodied component. I hope I’ve understood and expressed that well enough. Anyway, it was a striking comment, and not one that had ever crossed my mind, on a topic of considerable interest and real regret.

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    Calvinball:

    Richard Feynman would have enjoyed a Calvinball reference, methinks — but for any sober-sided physicists who don’t play bongos, here’s the philsopher Alasdair MacIntyre to much the same effect:

    Not one game is being played, but several, and, if the game metaphor may be stretched further, the problem about real life is that moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net.

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    I’d hoped to have more intriguing math or game quotes to offer here, but no luck so far, so I’m gonna post anyway.

    Romero: conservative, archbishop, radical, martyr, pop saint, Saint

    Friday, October 19th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — Pope Francis recently canonized him — this is my belated tribute ]
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  • The Economist, El Salvador’s most famous martyr, Óscar Romero, is canonised
  • The Atlantic, What Óscar Romero’s Canonization Says About Pope Francis
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    He was already a popular saint. For years the faithful have congregated every Sunday for mass by his tomb in the crypt of the cathedral in San Salvador, inspired by the man they called San Óscar or San Romero de América. Now it is official. On October 14th in Rome, Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero was canonised, almost 40 years after he fell to a gunman’s bullet while finishing a private mass at a chapel that is today a site of pilgrimage. He had recited the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

    As the archbishop read the Gospel, the assassins pulled up to the chapel. As he raised the consecrated bread and wine, the gunman fired a shot to the heart.

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    The Economist’s graphic, above, gets it wrong. It’s not the struggle, signified by the familiar raised, clenched fist that grabs the halo of sanctity, it’s the diminutive (humble) figure in clerical garb, his hands holding a cross and giving a blessing on whom the halo descends, as noted by Pope Francis.

    The theological and political twists and turns of Romero’s life are succinctly presented in my heading, with further details in the two articles.

    What I have wanted to illuminate here, however, is the sacramental nature of the arch bishop’s martyrdom, assassinated while saying Mass. Cavanaugh has an entire, brilliant book, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ demonstrating torture in S America as the inverse of sacrament, the attempt to wipe out all traces of the body of Christ present in those who receive it in the Eucharistic sacrament, and the martyrdom of Romero is a summation and eloquent proof of Cavanaugh’s thesis.

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    As I mentioed here before, in Of sacrifice and martyrdom, I have a particular interest in eucharistic martyrs, ghaving served Mass often enough, kneeling on the paving-stones of the lady chapel of Brightwell church near Wallingford, Berks — or is it now Oxon?

    There in the Lady Chapel, embedded in one of those stones, is the brass of a priest of Brightwell, who too was assassinated while saying Mass.

    The brass might as well be illustrating the holy death of Saint Oscar Romero, archbishop and martyr.

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    Oscar Romero, ora pro nobis.

    Sunday surprise — mourning, a global view

    Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — starts with an anthro DoubleQuote inspired by this morning’s readings & a Steve Martin tweet — though in sensitive times it might be best not to chuckle, let alone guffaw, at strangers’ strange ways ]
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    One: The tearless eye of a NASA camera on the occasion of the Challenger blow-up:

    One of our reporters, who happened to be at a distant nasa base at the time, tells us that afterward a television monitor for nasa’s own internal satellite service kept on its screen a view from a camera on the beach at Cape Canaveral which had been following the spacecraft’s ascent. Now that camera simply stared searchingly out over the blue-gray sea to where it met the blue-gray sky, like a sailor’s widow gazing endlessly at the horizon. Twenty-eight years into the space age, the sea is as much a symbol of eternity as the sky. Both have swallowed up the Challenger and its crew, leaving behind a double emptiness of sea and space.

    Two: The professional Ghanaian substitute for tearless eyes:

    Here’s an account in the news:

    Ami Dokli is the leader of one of the several groups of professional mourners in Ghana. In a recent interview with BBC Africa, she said that some people cannot cry at their relatives’ funerals, so they rely on her and her team to do the wailing. Dokli and the other women in her team are all widows who, after their husbands died, decided to come together to help others give their loved-ones a proper send-off to the afterlife. But crying for strangers is not the easiest thing in the world, so professional mourners charge a fee for their services, the size of which is in direct relation to the size of the funeral. If it’s a big funeral, their tears cost more.

    And here’s an American FB version of the ad Steve Martin’s tweet captured:

    Do you want to boost your funeral? Hire me….the professional mourner to come and cry at the funeral. Below are the “Summer Special” prices:
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    1. Normal crying $50,
    2. Bahamian hollering $100,
    3. Crying and rolling on the ground $150,
    4. Crying and threatening to jump into the grave $200,
    5. Crying and actually jumping in the grave $1000

    That’s my DoubleQuote for the day.

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    A clutch of videos:

    Ghanaian Professional Wailing mourners:

    Promotional — funerala with a white lady mourner, extra:

    Ghanaian troupe of Dancing Pallbarers:

    Chinese professional mourning performer:

    N’Orleans Second Line:


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