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Frankenstorm: some rules proposed for prophecy & prediction

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — some thoughts on news reports and prophecy, since it is not unheard of for people to bolster their versions of prophecy by quoting current events ]

AP satellite image - which might as well be titled, in Shelley's words, "look on my works, ye mighty, and despair"


I want to explore the relation of prophecy and prediction to news, and my inbox in the last couple of days has provided me with a simple way to compare and contrast the two.

Here, then, are two versions of what might shortly come to pass:

The upper panel offers a snippet from the Washington Post‘s piece today — in other words, the news. The lower panel offers the headline from an overtly scripture-driven source — in other words, prophecy.

The Joel Rosenberg piece providing an interpretation of what might be just a day away, under that alarming headline, begins:

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations.” (Haggai 2:6-7) Just days before one of the most significant and momentous presidential and Congressional elections in American history, God is reminding us that America’s fate lies not in the hands of the politicians, but in His hands. Weather experts are warning Americans on the East Coast to “get ready, be prepared” for Hurricane Sandy, which they say could prove to be one of the most devastating storms in American history. Is that hype, or is it true? Tens of millions Americans are not taking any chances. They are buying water, food, gasoline and other supplies as the storm moves towards land. I can tell you that my family and I in the Washington, D.C. area are doing the same.


The interesting question from my POV is whether it is legitimate to invoke supernatural causes when natural causes could sufficiently account for what is observed to be happening.

There is indeed a major storm system in the offing, and it is indeed as yet uncertain whether it will be devastating, a comparatively minor irritant, or somewhere in between. But the Washington Post appears content to attribute the possibilities to natural forces, whereas Rosenberg prefers an explanation in terms of his views on morality.

Basically, there are two positions here:

  • If we are shaken, it is because we are sinful.
  • If we are shaken, it is because natural forces are interacting in such a way as to cause devastation on the scale of human interest.
  • I would argue for a third view:

  • If we are shaken, it is because we have messed enough with the planet’s intricate homeostases as to drive weather patterns to inhospitable extremes.
  • **

    Here are some rules that the looming Frankenstorm has prompted me to consixder:


    Don’t overstate the case: if you want a worst case scenario for warning and planning purposes, clearly mark it as such, and at least sketch the alternative scenarios and an informed guess as to their respective likelihoods.


    If you associate a presumed cause to an expected effect, and when the time comes the effect does not happen, admit that the cause as presumed was flawed within your own system of explanation. In the case of Rosenberg’s storm, should it prove to be less of a shaker than Rosenberg’s headline suggests, this would mean he would admit that God obviously didn’t intend to shake America all that much — either because America is less sinful and more pleasing to God than Rosenberg gives it credit for, or because the threat of the storm caused a sufficient moral awakening to make its actuality unnecessary, or because God is more long-suffering than Rosenberg initially imagined.


    Keep your explanation internally consistent. The storm is, even in Rosenberg’s sense, a meteorological phenomenon — which is why his post carries the AP satellite image of Hurricane Sandy that I put at the top of this post. It is a stretch — biblically permitted, but a stretch nevertheless — to assert a moral cause (such as tolerance of homosexuality) for a meteorological event, particularly if the known meteorological causes would in themselves be sufficient to account for it.


    And then there’s the most interesting part of all.

    Suppose that prophecy isn’t a matter of specific and accurate prediction, but a sketch of possible outcomes, along the lines of “if you carry on like that, you’ll drink yourself into an early grave.” When someone says something like that, they don’t mean the person concerned will find an empty grave and get so drunk as to fall into it — they mean that excessive imbibing, over the long term, puts the imbiber at risk of a variety of distressing ends, fatal car crashes and kidney failure among them.

    We have the saying, “pride comes before a fall.” Is that prophecy? It is found in scripture, in Proverbs 16.18:

    Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

    Arguably the proud and power-hungry have a tendency to overextend themselves — the Greeks would call it hubris, and see nemesis close on its heels. Is it prophecy, then, or a simple observation of human nature? It certainly seems to fit quite a number of circumstances — to be “fulfilled” on a regular basis.


    My friend and mentor the shaman Wallace Black Elk emphasized to me that in his Lakota tradition, prophecies were understood as visionary warnings of likely outcomes to be avoided — not as inevitabilities.


    What I’m getting at here is that as predictions become specific — Edgar Whisenart‘s prediction that the Rapture would occur between September 11 and 13, 1988, or Jose Arguelles proclamation that the harmonic convergence of August 17, 1987 would be the great moment of shift — or are interpreted in specific ways — I linked to a minister preaching that Oprah Winfrey was the Antichrist only yesterday — we may be mistaking a poetic reading of trends for an act of previsioning in detail a predetermined, preordained and predestined future.

    From my POV, this would mean that prophetic texts should be read as poetic foreshadowings — “put too much strain on the environment and it will bite back at you” — rather than as matrices into which the events of the day should be shoehorned — back in the days of Nero and Domitian, back in the days of Hitler and Stalin, or today, tomorrow and tomorrow…

    In this way, both prophetic and scientific traditions can be appropriately honored.

    Of the sacred, II: trees

    Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — more on magical worldviews: following hot on the heels of the curative power of saliva, a breathtakingly beautiful tale a wise man told me ]

    Wallace Black Elk

    Look, you may detest saliva, saintly or otherwise, and I’d prefer not to leave you feeling queasy — so let’s follow the saintly saliva trail just a little further, and I think you’ll find it leads to something quite beautiful.

    Susan Bayly continues:

    Tamil Sufi texts often assert that the founding pir of a particular cult shrine identified his heir and successor by bequeathing him the twig which he used for tooth-cleaning. Such an object would naturally be impregnated with the saint’s saliva and would therefore serve to pass on the pir’s endowment of power and sanctity without involving him in an act of procreation.“ Fakiruddin is portrayed as having received a tooth-brushing twig as a token of spiritual succession from his murshid or preceptor, the Trichy pir Nathar Wali. According to the texts, it is this twig which grew up into the miraculous staff of the Nandi episode. The wooden staff also becomes imbued with the miraculous transforming barakat of the pir. …

    Let’s forget saliva, let’s even forget neem-sticks, the organic Indian equivalent of the toothbrush — and consider the miraculous thorn tree that grows at Glastonbury:

    After the crucifixion of Jesus lore has it that Joseph of Arimathea (who according to the Bible donated his own tomb for Christ’s interment after the Crucifixion) came to Britain, bearing the Holy Grail — the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper and later by Joseph to catch his blood at the crucifixion.

    When Joseph landed on the island of Avalon, he set foot on Wearyall Hill — just below the Tor. Exhausted, he thrust his staff into the ground, and rested. By morning, his staff had taken root — leaving a strange oriental thorn bush – the sacred Glastonbury Thorn.

    Lore has it that the thorn would bloom once a year, at Christmas.


    But virtuous trees, like saintly saliva, can be found in more than one tradition. I had the privilege some while ago of spending a good deal of time in the company of the Lakota shaman, Wallace Black Elk, and would like to offer you one of his stories which I noted down pretty close to his own words.

    I should perhaps preface this account by telling you that Wallace once told me he had twelve grandfathers — so the words grandpa and grandma don’t imply lineal descent here as they do in common usage, but function more as a term of respect for one’s elders:

    I remember my grandfather, Black Elk. One time when I was very young, he came with my
    grandfather Eagle Man to visit my grandmas in the tipi. My mother and my aunt were both young, so they let the old people visit together. “We’re good at cooking, so you just sit down and rest, and visit. We’ll look after the cooking.” And my father went off to take care of the horses, and to haul and chop wood, and left the old people to visit with each other.

    That was the way it was. Everybody would eat a big meal, and some of those evenings my grandfathers would sit around telling ghost stories, spirit stories, and I’d listen. And while they were talking, they had a pipe. They would smoke the pipe and talk. So I was maybe seven years old, and I was sitting in the middle between grandma and grandpa, I used to sit there and listen, and watch them smoke the pipe.

    My grandpa took the pipe-stem and planted it in the ground. He took a piece of charcoal and lit the fire, sprinkled some tobacco on it, and just puffed a little of that smoke. And that pipe-stem, you know, blossomed. Branches bloomed out of it, leaves bloomed out, and there’s a big red plum there. Red.

    So my grandpa took the plum and gave it to his brother, and he ate it, and said: “Washtay, that’s really good.” And then he took the pipe and planted the pipe-stem, did the same thing, and put some tobacco over it, and that pipe-stem…that tree just bloomed, leaves just cropped out all over it, and there was a black cherry hanging there, it was a choke cherry. So my grandpa gave that choke cherry to his brother, and he ate it and blew the pit onto the ground. “Aah, very good.”

    My grandmas were watching all this, and one of my grandmas picked up her moccasin and said, “Aaah, want some cherries, do you?” as if my grandpas were doing this to show their powers, and she was telling them, don’t do that! She threw her moccasin on the ground and an owl came up. It hopped around and flew in front of them, and started hooting whu whuwhuu, whu whuu.

    My grandfathers looked at one another and said: “Hey, almost like our powers!” And they both started laughing, and that owl jumped down, and puffed itself up, and started hooting. So then my other grandma took her cane, she cried “Heeeeeee!” and threw it on the ground and it came out a rattlesnake. And it wasn’t just kind of a rattlesnake almost: boy, it really was a rattlesnake, and it coiled around the place. Boy, we bailed out.

    Then my grandma reached over and took hold of that snake, and she took that cane and grabbed a hold of that owl by the neck, and pulled it back to her, and when it flopped down, when it landed, it was her sister’s moccasin, and she gave her sister her moccasin and put away her cane.

    So that was my grandmas and grandpas. They had those powers, they knew that power was there. So I learned then there was a power in that pipe we hold, that the pipe could feed us. And he has been feeding us. There is no starvation, and we needn’t fear. That pipe represents the whole universe, and she can continue to multiply trees and plums and cherries.

    That power of the Great Spirit is there, and those creatures can come from that pipe. Grandpa Great Spirit can do these things. From out of nowhere, he can do anything. I realized that.

    A white man might think it was a bit of hocus pocus. Like a white man’s magician pulls a poor rabbit out of a hat, or a pigeon. But this is real. A tree comes up, and then it blooms, then it flowers, then it bears fruit. It’s a tree. And we are part of that tree. We absorb that fruit in our system, and we bear children, we bear fruit.

    So that is an interpretation of the vision of the Tree of Life. That way my grandpa taught me.


    Which reminds me (Exodus 7)…

    And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

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