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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.

Fanning the flames

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — winds blowing east from Notre Dame ground zero fans the brush-fires of fear, prejudice and concpiracy — this, and a poetic and sacred alternative ]
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It’s often said, and has no doubt been said many times since the horrific fire at Notre Dame began, that fire rages. By the same token, rage inflames. It is rage, and not truth, that brings us these horrific Twitter posts, which I can bring here courtesy of Buzzfeed:

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A great beauty DoubleQuoted:

The Loss of Notre Dame is horrific enough without pouring hatred onto the flames.

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May I refer you to Thomas Merton‘s great poem of sacred, sacrificial fire, Elegy for the Monastery Barn, and to these brief but potent lines from TS Eliot‘s Four Quartets?

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

Limina, thresholds, more on spaces-between & their importance

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — from one thing to another — and it’s the gaps — the in-betweens — the leaps — the links — the bonds between them that truly matter ]
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Blog-friend Bryan Alexander concludes his blog post Casualties of the future: college closures and queen sacrifices with a clip from Babylon 5. What exactly does that have to do with Admiral McRaven?

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A difference between bricks and bricks

That’s from near the top of Bryan‘s post.

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Bryan, lately of Vermont and now at Georgetown, is our keenest observer of the higher educational future. He coined the term peak higher education in 2013 — like peak oil, but for education, right? — and has been tracking it since then. At some point, he added the notion of queen sacrifice — “A queen sacrifice is when a college or university cuts faculty, especially full-time professors, usually as part of shrinking or ending certain academic programs” — and has made at least sixty posts in which queens are sacrificed, and one on a knight or rook sacrifice? (sports). Bryan‘s latest post is Casualties of the future. In it, he writes:

That academic phase hasn’t been clearly replaced yet. The new phase’s nature isn’t fully evident. Perhaps its outlines will become apparent after several years of change. I’ve speculated on what that next higher education phase might look like here and elsewhere. But for now, let’s consider the present as a moment in between those two phases. That’s our time, right in the midst of a switching period, a liminal space, marked by uncertainty and instability. We’re in a boundary zone.

Okay: a gentleman scholar as wise as he is bearded — and that’s a considerable double-barreled compliment — sees fit to emphasize the liminal in his latest broadside on higher education and its current obsession with cutting arts and humanities programs and various faculty members — ahem, bringing new and far broader meaning, in fact, to the concept of cutting classes. And why?

Why provide a graphic of brick wall(s) unless, somehow, the idea of breaks, gaps, thresholds, borders, leaps, in short the liminal, is of intrinsic importance?

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Picking up on What does it mean to be a Canadian citizen? where we left off in Walls. Christianity & poetry. And nations, identities & borders, with the questions:

Is citizenship a kind of subscription service, to be suspended and resumed as our needs change? Are countries competing service providers, their terms and conditions subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer preference? Edmund Burke long ago articulated an ambitious vision of society as a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Does any of that still resonate? Or is it a bygone idea of a vanished age, dissolved in a globalized world?

We can consider the cases of women from the US, UK and elsewhere who volunteered for ISIS and now wish to return home.

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Here’s a paragraph to transition us smoothly:

How easy should it be to give up your citizenship? In the era of Oswald, it could be difficult—like joining an especially selective monastic order that turns away aspirants until they kneel in the snow for a few days outside the monastery or consulate’s doors. Now a U.S. citizen can stop being American with a single visit to a consulate. (Most renounce not for ideological reasons but to avoid the complications of living as an American expatriate, subject to dual taxation and bureaucratic requirements far more onerous than for expatriates of almost any other country.)

That’s from Graeme Wood, Don’t Strip ISIS Fighters of Citizenship

See also:

  • Amarnath Amarasingam, Revoking Citizenship of ISIS Members is Not the Answer
  • Dan Byman, The wrong decision on Hoda Muthana
  • That’s a liminal issue, questions of citizenship and borders are liminal. And Bryan is talking liminality when he talks education.

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    Here’s a quick liminal zing from Abigail Tracy, in the title and subtitle of here Atlantic piece:

    I’d have been happy to include this in my chyrons and headers collection, but between the lines is too nicely liminal to miss.

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    A limen is a <threshold: it ‘s neither one thing nor the other, it’s in-between. And in-between is a time or state of transition, often tricky — think of the interregnum between the election of a President and his or her Inauguration — and often deeply human — we’re stuck with human nature, every one of us, which as Solzhenitsyn noted has a fault line in it more significant perhaps than even the fissure that separates our left and right cerebral hemispheres. Stunning us, he wrote:

    If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

    There’s liminality for you.

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    Here’s how Bryan ends his post:

    Babylon-5:

    Listen:

    There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

    The war we fight is not against powers and principalities — see my earlier post today on spiritual warfare. And The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation — the horror, the blessing of liminality.

    And Admiral McRaven:

    He too deals with the fight against chaos:

    SEAL training is the great equalizer: If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart — and that deep sense of being equalized by sand. tide, and fatigue, brings with it fine-grained humility and profound bonding with ones’ fellows.

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    Victor Turner was the anthropologist who made liminality the corner-stone of his great work, The Ritual Process — see how closely his ideas correspond with McRaven‘s SEAL training. Back in my early post on the topic here on ZP, I wrote:

    Basing his own work on van Gennep‘s account of rites of passage, Turner sees such rites as involving three phases: before, liminal, and after.

  • Before, you’re a civilian, after, you’re a Marine — but during, there’s an extraordinary moment when you’ve lost your civilian privileges, not yet earned your Marine status, and are less than nothing — as the drill sergeant constantly reminds you — and yet feel an intense solidarity with your fellows.
  • Before, you’re a novice, not yet “professed”, after, you’re a monk — but during, you lie prostrate on the paving stones of the abbey nave as you transition into lifelong vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
  • There are two things to note here. One is that liminality is a *humility* device, the other is that is creates a strong sense of bonding which Turner calls *communitas*: in one case, the Marine’s esprit de corps, in the other quite literally a monastic community. Part of what is so fascinating here is the (otherwise not necessarily obvious) insight that humility and community are closely related.

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    earlier Zenpundit posts on liminality and borders, among them:

  • Liminality II: the serious part
  • Of border crossings, and the pilgrimage to Arbaeen in Karbala
  • Violence at three borders, naturally it’s a pattern
  • Borders, limina and unity
  • Borders as metaphors and membranes
  • McCabe and Melber, bright lines and fuzzy borders
  • Walls. Christianity & poetry. And nations, identities & borders
  • But go back to that first post, Liminality II: the serious part, and read the whole thing. The story of the USS Topeka, SSN-754 alone is worth the effort..

    Don’t you mess with (2) the night sky, superb and sacred

    Saturday, January 19th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — a disgusted follow-on to Don’t you mess with my mother the moon ]
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    Disgust:

    This Chinese City Wants to Launch an ‘Artificial Moon’ to Replace Street Lights

    The streets of Chengdu in western China could soon be lit up by an artificial satellite moon in the night-time, rather than the more conventional streetlights, if an ambitious plan by a private aerospace company gets the go-ahead.

    The thinking is to save a hefty sum in electricity costs, according to Wu Chunfeng, chairman of the Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Co., who is behind the scheme.

    Rather than using up energy here on Earth, the satellite would reflect the Sun’s rays from the other side of the planet back on to Chengdu. [ .. ]

    The illumination on the ground would be about eight times what you would expect from the actual Moon, Chunfeng says.

    Have they not read Li Po, Bo, or Bai‘s great poem, The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance, given here in the translation by Ezra Pound?

    The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew,
    It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,
    And I let down the crystal curtain
    And watch the moon through the clear autumn.

    Were they not taken with the footnote?

    Jewel stairs, therefore a palace. Grievance, therefore there is something to complain of. Gauze stockings, therefore a court lady, not a servant who complains. Clear autumn, therefore he has no excuse on account of weather. Also she has come early, for the dew has not merely whitened the stairs, but has soaked her stockings. The poem is especially prized because she utters no direct reproach.

    Do they not watch the moon? Taste it?

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    Disgust:

    Russian Startup Wants to Put Ads in Low-Earth Orbit to Ruin The Sky For Everybody

    Advertising?

    Must I really quote this stuff?

    “We are ruled by brands and events,” project leader Vlad Sitnikov told Futurism.

    “The Super Bowl, Coca Cola, Brexit, the Olympics, Mercedes, FIFA, Supreme and the Mexican wall. The economy is the blood system of society. Entertainment and advertising are at its heart.

    “We will live in space, and humankind will start delivering its culture to space. The more professional and experienced pioneers will make it better for everyone.”

    Faugh! For shame!

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    Have I not whispered to another under the stars those words of William Butler Yeats:

    Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

    I am heart-hurt.

    Rape the night sky, and what are lovers to wrap themselves in? poets to raise their cups to?

    Don’t you mess with (1) my mother the moon

    Saturday, January 19th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — first a poem, perhaps my angriest — some further disgust to follow in a subsequent post ]
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    Don’t you mess with my mother the moon!
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    i

    Don’t you mess with my mother the moon!
    Pearl.
    Superb in the night sky.
    Which you treat as a junkyard.

    ii

    I am serious. I was never
    more serious. This, which you thinking
    life to be composed of things consider
    real estate, rock,
    subtly balances that other,

    portending at the eye
    that same angle — and that other, too
    you would colonize,
    strip, slash, mine, burn,
    rape had you the chance, were it not
    so magisterial a furnace.

    Gold, which figures the sun
    with silver the moon,
    you have tapped for coinage,
    despoiling hills for greed,
    valleys for your convenience:
    nor is your idiocy limited in reach
    by anything but your idiocy.

    Sun and moon are married
    in a wedding you cannot conceive,
    to which you lack invitation
    though it was offered you.
    The simple light of the night sky
    escapes you, neither glimpse
    nor sonata troubles your soul with its ripples,

    for you lack, altogether,
    reflection.

    _______________________________________________________________________________________
    I don’t much care what you do to Mars..

    Oh yes, and this poem is copyright (c) Charles Cameron 2006 onwards, until we get over copyright and have freedom of quotation, imitation and variation..


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