the_vulture: (awesome)
Prior to the poem being funded and fully posted, I had emailed [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith with some of my thoughts about the poem “‘Stained” from the ‘Path of the Paladins’ poetry series. The conversation, conducted through a number of emails and PMs, went something like this:

Me (near the beginning of August): You know, I could write an essay analyzing this poem. It's so rich in multiple levels of meaning and symbolism.

Her: I think you should flesh this out. We can always post it as an essay after the poem is fully sponsored. I'm scholar enough to admire your analysis, and really, there just is not enough good literary analysis of speculative poetry. More is good.

Her, again (about three weeks ago): "Stained" was fully sponsored this morning… If you're still willing to flesh out that lovely essay for public posting, that can be done at your convenience now.

How could I refuse?  :) 


I apologize for the lack of cuts, but the journal entry editor is being stupid today.

The Symbolism of "Stained"

The poem "Stained", by [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith, presents a number of interesting symbols and parallels to further enrich the meaning of character and story elements found with the serial poetry series 'The Path of Paladins'. Key among them is the characters Ari and Johan, the Bright Temple and beams of sunlight in both material and metaphorical forms, conveying a powerful message of hope. 

In this poem, Ari is proving to play a greater role than that a typical sidekick for the primary protagonist to play off of. As has been established in an earlier poem, there are some important parallels between Ari and Gailah, the goddess of the principle character, Shahana. Both Ari and Gailah have survived a brutal attack and rape by male antagonists. Both, however, also show resilience and growing strength. In taking Ari under her wing, Shahana is not only rescuing the girl, but, in educating Ari in the ways of her faith, she is also in the act of rescuing the religion of Gailah. In this poem, Ari comes to represent divine presence, stepping beyond the parallels and seeming to act in the stead of the Goddess Gailah by displaying disapproval for Johan’s actions early in the poem and later reaching out to him in forgiveness. In particular, Ari consciously attempts to speak on Gailah’s behalf, upon Johan’s departure, when she whispers “Gailah knows,” planting the seed for Johan’s possible self-forgiveness in the future.

The topic of forgiveness is explored in an interesting fashion by the actions and statements of Johan. Outwardly, he claims no interest in rejoining the path of Gailah, claiming that She is weak. He even attempts to refuse Shanana’s much needed assistance in healing his injured arm. His actions, however, tell another story.  Shahana and Ari find him in a small roadside shrine dedicated to Gailah. The statue has been brushed clean by hand and a branch of blackberries has been laid in the offering. It may seem meager service, but it must have been dedicated and difficult effort for Johan, given the state that he was found in, with one arm crushed. Furthermore, the descriptions of him silently mouthing the prayers sung by Ari, and being found curled up beside Shahana in the morning, betray a desire to return to the fold. This contrast between his spoken and unspoken behaviour reveals an inner conflict. Between Ari’s thoughts on the situation, and Johan’s own admissions, it would appear that he feels unworthy of Gailah’s forgiveness, though this seems to something difficult for this previously proud man to deal with. His path to redemption, being further explored in the poem ‘Will Not’, will be interesting to follow.

In the poem, Ari brings up the topic of the Bright Temple, which served as home for the paladins of Gailah. Shahana mentions that the Temple is always open should Johan choose to return to it, to which he replies, “The bright temple was destroyed.” From here, Shahana brings up the point that only the physical temple was destroyed. This brings up the theme of where the heart of a faith lies. The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, once wrote “One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train.” For both Ueshiba and Shahana, the most important ‘temple’ that any religion possesses, is the one built within the spirit of its practitioners. Johan may currently see Gailah’s religion as being as being in ruins as the Bright Temple, but Shahana reiterates that, so long as there are those who hold true to the faith, the religion can always rebuild. The true temple is, in essence, one’s own faith.

Rebuilding is touched on in many other ways throughout the poem. There are mentions of tangible reconstruction, such as Shahana’s statement that the Bright Temple will be rebuilt one day, and the healing of Johan’s arm. Interestingly, these are both events that would be, or are, enacted through the power of faith, be it the resolve of more numerous future worshippers or divine intervention via the faith of Shahana. However, there is more subtle discussion of rebuilding through faith that is brought forth in this poem and others in the series. In this poem, Johan begins his journey in rebuilding his spirit, a process that will require him to renew his faith in Gailah and, perhaps more importantly, himself. This is suggested in the dialogue between Ari and Shahana towards the end of the poem where Ari states that whatever Johan is holding against himself will eventually be resolved by the knowledge that Gailah knows his struggle and understands. However, both Shahana and Ari, in their discussions with Johan, point out that nothing can be rebuilt as it was, something that Johan seems to be fixated upon as one reason not to move forward. Ari’s analogy of silk being dyed to match a stain is an eloquent description of this concept.

At the end of the poem, all of these themes and ideas are tied together with a single act. As Ari states that being aware of Gailah’s understanding of Johan’s inner conflict will eventually be enough for him to forgive himself (and, thus, rebuild his spirit), she smiles in a fashion described as being as “sudden as a sunbeam through clouds.” This gives a suggestion of the Bright Temple, which is earlier described as being “like yellow fire in the morning light.” Also, given how Gailah often reveals herself through beams of sun and moonlight, as well as other natural phenomena, throughout other poems in the series, this act also shows Ari as a surrogate for Gailah with another parallel. Finally, in being described as a beam of sunlight through clouds, this act becomes symbolic of hope; though things may be currently gloomy, a brighter future is in store. 


It is this message of hope, shown through the expression of faith, forgiveness, reconstruction, and divine presence, that seems to drive this poem and lends it power. As the characters from this poetry series battle against darkness and fight ever closer to a brighter tomorrow, we can not only see our own struggles within theirs, but also that beam of golden sunlight piercing through the clouds to shine upon our own world.


the_vulture: (Default)
For the last year or so, I've been pleased to serve as a patron for the work of [info]ysabetwordsmith . I do so for a number of reasons. First, this is one of the ways that I try to keep creativity alive, especially when so many have to turn away from creative endeavours. Second, the relationship between us, as artist and patron, is one that has been fostered to provide mutual benefit and friendship. Finally, and perhaps most important, by not only giving action to my creative input (i.e., taking prompts for poetry), but also by inspiring and encouraging my own literary output, I'm allowed to taste a little of that creative magic.

Read more... )
the_vulture: (Default)
I've been meaning, for a while now, to post some thoughts on an article I came across courtesy of [info]lupabitch . The article, titled "Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why," (published in Wired Magazine: 17.09), discusses how drug manufacturers are struggling to maintain the effectiveness of their drugs in tests versus the 'placebo effect', which appears to be growing in strength.

More on the placebo effect and its implications in ritual practice for healing... )
In regards to my own personal experience, whilst I've recently experienced some events that have solidified my believe in systems such at the utilization of Qi (Chi), prior to that, I've long held a belief in the power of belief itself and, as such, in the importance of ritual to assist in attaining that belief for the benefit of wellness.

Edit: I later found the article that mentions the shaman. It is "The Sorcerer and His Magic," by Claude Lévi-Strauss, which details some history of a Kwakiutl shaman by the name of Quesalid. Whilst Lévi-Strauss treats the matter rather contemptuously, it is clear, even from his account, that Quesalid comes to see the value in helping his patients believe.

the_vulture: (Default)
This topic was brought up in AVEN. It revolves around this article (content shown below), which describes a recent conference held in Baltimore with the purpose of instructing bishops and priests in how to evaluate the need for, and perform, exorcisms. The discussion in AVEN broke immediately broke down into Catholic bashing, completely evading several possible topics that could have made for fascinating discussion.

Read more... )


Catholic Bishops: More Exorcists Needed

AOL News

www.aolnews.com

NEW YORK (Nov. 12) -- Citing a shortage of priests who can perform the rite, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops are holding a conference on how to conduct exorcisms.

The two-day training, which ends Saturday in Baltimore, is to outline the scriptural basis of evil, instruct clergy on evaluating whether a person is truly possessed, and review the prayers and rituals that comprise an exorcism. Among the speakers will be Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and a priest-assistant to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

"Learning the liturgical rite is not difficult," DiNardo said in a phone interview before the conference, which is open to clergy only. "The problem is the discernment that the exorcist needs before he would ever attempt the rite."

Read more... )
the_vulture: (Default)

Recently, in another forum, my attention was brought to the following article (thank you S.!):
 
http://cauldronborn.blogspot.com/2009/06/commanding-people-to-love-revealed.html
 
An excerpt: "What a terrible pain it is to see these revealed religionists thinking that cute little phrases like "love one another" and "do unto others" and the like are so profound, when in reality, they are insults. People who thrill to these sorts of statements are like the spiritual children of this world, forever having to be told to be decent and good, when in reality, decency and goodness spring from us naturally, without a word being spoken. Tribal people around the world to this day live in loving connection with their families and with the land without a single "commandment" from their Gods being given them from some authoritative "text" or scripture."

 
This article raises some interesting points regarding the nature and origin of morality. However, I have to say, the author of this article displays an exceptional amount of arrogance and self-righteous in his criticism of 'revealed faiths'.

Certainly, morality is not dependent upon religion. With mature personalities, we make a conscious choice to abide by the rules of the faith we follow, else we wouldn't choose to follow that faith, no?

However, not all personalities are mature, are they? That's why we have crime and war. That's why we need laws, codices of acceptable behaviour to which a culture's members can be held. Without agreed upon standards of behaviour, it can become very difficult to adjudicate whether someone's behaviour is unacceptable or not, let alone then determine what to do about it.

The problem is, a complex set of specific rules and regulations can become rather cumbersome. Early Christian leaders recognized this. This is why Jesus is credited with simpler guidelines such as 'Do unto others as you would have done unto you.' It's simple, yet flexible, covering a huge range of situations, kinda like 'an ye harm none, do what ye will'.

The author of this article may frown upon the need to have such rules given out, but that, in my opinion, is naively dismissing the harsh reality that not all people are as idealistic as we'd like 'em to be.

the_vulture: (tvhead)
Recently, I followed a link, presented by [livejournal.com profile] fayanora, to a discussion titled How kids in England are smeared in the press, and what to do about it. The following is a reitteration of the thoughts I presented in response to her blog entry:

Upon reading the discsussion couldn't help but reflect on my experiences teaching in England and what I observed of the children (and their parents) there.

Two general themes seemed to run through the comments, the first being a discussion of the idea that thuggery amongst British youth is worse than most other nations because of a lack of any serious consequence for poor behaviour or even proper parenting, whilst the second revolved around the ethical ramifications of corporal punishment (spanking).

Unfortunately, these discussions tended to be really simplified and only touched superficially on some of the major issues that affect British youth. Read more... )

What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding the issues presented here?
the_vulture: (Default)
Fallen Angel, by Robbie Robertson (with Peter Gabriel)
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQZhSNHCRC4

This is a hauntingly beautiful and emotional song that has captured my attention for quite some time.

On the surface, it appears to be a conversation between the angels Gabriel and Lucifer, after the Fall. In it, both sides seem to express regret and desire to restore a lost friendship. On that level alone, it is achingly eloquent. However, it is apparent that it also speaks of those, separated on differing sides of  conflict, who desire reconciliation. I present the lyrics on the left and my thoughts on the right.


Are you out there
Can you hear me
Can you see me in the dark

I don't believe it's all for nothing
It's not just written in the sand
Sometimes i thought you felt too much
And you crossed into the shadowland

And the river was overflowing
And the sky was fiery red
You gotta play the hand that's dealt ya
That's what the old man always said

Fallen angel
Casts a shadow up against the sun
If my eyes could see
The spirit of the chosen one

In my dream the pipes were playing
In my dream i lost a friend
Come down gabriel and blow your horn
'cause some day we will meet again

Fallen angel
Casts a shadow up against the sun
If my eyes could see
The spirit of the chosen one

All the tears
All the rage
All the blues in the night
If my eyes could see
You kneeling in the silver light

Fallin', fallin', fallin' down
Fallin', fallin' down
Fallin', fallin', fallin' down
Fallin', fallin' down

Fallen angel
Casts a shadow up against the sun
If my eyes could see
The spirit of the chosen one

All the tears
All the rage
All the blues in the night
If my eyes could see
You kneeling in the silver light

If you're out there can you touch me
Can you see me i don't know
If you're out there can you reach me
Lay a flower in the snow
Lucifer seems to be calling out to Gabriel. This stanza paints a picture of loneliness.


Gabriel seems to rail against the notion that conflict is meaningless, and that the loss of Lucifer must have some greater purpose. He shows some sympathy for the fallen angel.

The horrors of conflict are illustrated here, but this is something that must be accepted as inescapable.



The chorus illustrates the contrast of a single defiant spirit against an overwhelming, oppressive force. (Compare the Chinese demonstrator vs. the tank at Tiananmen Square.)

Here, Lucifer expresses his regret over the loss of Gabriel's friendship, but introduces an element of hope with the certainty that they will be reunited.


The chorus also speaks of Lucifer as a necessary, if painful, sacrifice for the greater good. In a way, this symbolizes lives lost to preserve an ideal.


Here, the author reiterates the cost of conflict in sorrow and rage, but also shows that the only way a major conflict can end is if one side abandons pride (Lucifer) and yields (kneeling) to the other. The use of Lucifer illustrates the limited likelihood of such things occurring.

This gentle stanza actually suggests that the Fall is still happening, repeated through our own actions.



Another great example of a necessary sacrifice explored in a Biblical theme is the exploration of Judas in the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar.





The song ends as it begins, with Lucifer railing against his loneliness and abandonment. But here, he asks the other side to show a measure of compassion and reach out ot him. However, in asking for a miracle, he demonstrates the limited likelihood of a superior foe to show such. Thus the song shows criticism and sympathy for both sides of this, and every conflict.

Of course, this is just my interpretation. What are your thoughts?
the_vulture: (Default)
 Last night, I watched The Dark Knight. The hype is deserved... well deserved. I'll go through all the basics first:

* Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker is Oscar worthy - He brought a lot of things to his performance as the Clown Prince of Crime that surpassed even Jack Nicholson's portrayal of that role. Notable features include a strange philosophical sense of purpose to The Joker's typical malevolent mirth and an even stranger sensitivity that takes the role well beyond a typical comic villain. 

* Though not as visually stunning as its predecessor, the cinematography is excellent.

* The action element, too, is dynamic, though, again not quite on par with Christopher Nolan's first in the series.

* The story is VERY plot driven - action and special effects clearly take a secondary importance in this film.

* Comic fans will be pleased to note that Nolan borrows strongly from some of the best writing from the Batman series. He tells his own Batman story whilst staying very true to the feel and themes connected with the 'Dark Knight.'

* Despite all the action and effects, The Dark Knight is clearly a thinking person's film, discussing a wide variety of topics, including just how little separates The Batman from The Joker.

Now on to the more serious stuff. There are three principle characters in this film: The Batman, The Joker, and District Attorney Harvey Dent. These three are used as symbols in a deep discussion of what is a person or society willing to sacrifice in order to be secure, especially under the threat of terrorism. The Joker, obviously, acts at the face of terrorism, pursuing goals that completely diverge from worldly agendas such as wealth, power and respect. Indeed, he visibily acts in contradiction to them. Dent becomes how modern Western society would like to see such problems resolved, in a manner that is forthright, honest and just. He is a paragon of conviction and virtue. He is the Hero that everyone wants. Unfortunately, whilst he proves effective against normal criminals, whose motivations are fathomable, he is unable to deal with The Joker. Thus, The Batman becomes what is necessary to defeat The Joker, though often uncomfortably approaching becoming what he stands against. He is effective, but despised for what he feels he must do and the sacrifices he must make. He can be seen as representing the 'War on Terrorism.' How others respond to him parallels the many opinions held of the actions of certain powers against their terrorist foes. Various other aspects of this complex philosophical discusssion are presented and represented by other characters as well. 

Nolan doesn't seem to present any answers to the question, nor does he present this film as an apology for what has been done in the fight against terrorism. Indeed, The Joker makes pains to explain that he exists solely because The Batman does.  What Nolan does seem to offer, however, is possible explanations of why this question exists, a springboard for further thought and discussion.

I did mention that this was a thinking person's film...
the_vulture: (Default)
As I was finishing my run, a cover of 'Classical Gas', performed by world famous violinist Vanessa Mae, came up as a selection on my MP3 player. It isn't very often that a cover of a song appeals to me more than the original, but Mae's cover of the instrumental by Mason Williams is one noteable exception. It got me thinking about why some covers work, whilst most fail. I thought upon a cover of 'Crimson and Clover', originally by Tommy James and the Shondells, that I heard recently on the radio. It sounded as if it was being performed by a hard rock, or even heavy metal group. It was NOT a notable exception.

Why was Mae's piece better than the original? Very simply, she added something to it. This goes beyond changing the song from one musical style to another. In Mae's case, she included some very eloquent elaboration on the melodies of the song. Utilizing higher reverb with her violin, as well as a skillful band of rock instrumentalists as back up to drive the rythm, she added a richness to her cover that the original did not possess. In otherwords, she improved upon it.

Why did the cover of 'Crimson and Clover' bomb? Giving it a hard rock edge certainly made it a change and, had the band been a bit more aware of what they were doing, they might have been able to pull it off. Unfortunately, they failed to take into account two major things. First is the context of the song. I doubt there are many who would listen to the original and not think about the 60's. There's a certain mellowness that's inextricably linked to the music. Messing with that kind of association in any way, such as adding a hard rock edginess, is VERY tricky. Doing so should only be done if the artist is consciously doing so as a commentary or criticism of the original song or the context it was set in. Unfortunately, I didn't hear anything in this cover to suggest any such conscious thinking. 

The second major thing is the role of the guitar. In the original cover, the guitar, with it's distinctive 'wa-wa-ing', serves as another 'voice' singing the piece. The instrumentals were as critical as the vocals in defining this song. As such, it's easy to see how replacing the original instrumentation with dull grumbling from a heavy metal bass would seriously cripple this cover of the song.

I will, on the other hand, give the group credit; they at least made the song their own. All too often, most groups releasing a cover don't even try to do anything different with the music, relying on the mistaken belief that their talent, style, or whatever will lead to a substantial measure of success. In an industry that relies heavily on innovation, one can see where such thinking is counter productive.

There's one other thing that I'll give props to rock group for; they reminded me of a wonderful song that I'll have to dig through my music archives for and give a listen to.
the_vulture: (Default)
 As an English teacher in a secondary school, I wind up going through a LOT of Shakespeare, especially for SAT and coursework preparation. In doing so, I find all sorts of interesting little side thoughts that I just really have to express.

I'll start with Romeo from Romeo and Juliet. I know most of you realize that Shakespeare deliberately made Romeo's early feelings for Juliet questionable, in that it seems he was purely attracted by her beauty at the Capulet Ball (driving out any thought of Rosalyn, whom he believed he loved for the same reason). However, there are a few choice bits of Act 1 Scene 1 which really show Romeo to be truly shallow. Most of these show up in the conversation where Benvolio has a talk with Romeo in order to find out why the latter has shut himself away in misery. It is revealed that Romeo is pining for Rosalyn, the most beautiful woman he has seen. Romeo has this to say about his attempts at courting her:

Well, in that hit you miss. She'll not be hit
With Cupid's arrow. She hath Dian's wit.
And, in strong proof of chastity well armed
From love's weak childish bow, she lives uncharmed.
She will not stay the siege of loving terms,
Nor bide th' encounter of assailing eyes,
Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold.


Am I alone in thinking that Romeo is whining because he can't even PAY to get into Rosalyn's pants? 

When Romeo first sees Juliet at the Capulet's Ball, he becomes immediately enamored, forgetting completely about Rosalyn. His first comments about Juliet are entirely about her beauty and how it outshines any he has ever witnessed.

When they first begin to speak, things get a little interesting. Their dialogue takes the form of a sonnet. Many would argue that, as the sonnet was the ultimate romantic thing to do, that this signifies the beginning of "true love" between Romeo and Juliet, as an Elizabethan audience would recognize it as such. However, I would argue that Shakespeare used it for the opposite effect. Afterall, everyone in his audience would have known that it was the thing for a gentleman to write to show deepest admiration. In otherwords, it was a fancy pickup line. This idea is further heightened by the skill with which Romeo lays it on to win a kiss from Juliet. Ultimately, she comments "You kiss by the book," indicating that, not only is Romeo skillful with his lines, but he's a pro at kissing. In otherwords, Romeo is a Shakespearan "playah". (Sorry, I couldn't resist that pun...)

It becomes very clear that Romeo feels very strongly for Juliet as the end of the play approaches. However, is it love? If it is, what is he really in love with? Many mentions are made of Juliet's beauty, but what else? Yes, Romeo proves that he is devoted, but is he still as shallow as he was at the beginning of the play? I wager he is.

Anybody else have an opinion on this?

 PS: The title for this post appeared in my TA's notes. *chuckle*

the_vulture: (Man/Vulture)

Saturday morning, I'll be up bright and early to run off to the nearest woods and observe the rising of the Sun on the morning of the Winter Solstice, as part of my Yule celebrations. For me, Yule marks the rebirth of the Sun, the God aspect of Divinity. It is a time to celebrate and be of good cheer.

In the past, when I have celebrated Yule, I've done so in households that celebrate Christmas. Of course, in most cases, "Christmas" has been more of the  "let's get nice presents and a have great turkey dinner" variety, rather than the "Jesus is born!" variety, but I think, before anyone starts going into assorted rants about commerciality of holidays and what not, that maybe these households are not all that off the mark of the "true meaning" of Christmas.

I won't go into the history of the Christmas holiday and its origin in pagan Winter Solstice traditions; most of you either know about this already or can research it for yourselves, but, at the root of it all, is the astronomical significance of the Winter Solstice.

Let's keep in mind that, for ancient agricultural peoples of Europe, who would not have had gas heating, broadcast media and the convenience of grocery stores, winter was, at best, a dreary season filled with long hours of being stuck indoors, and, at worst, it was a prolonged and terrifying struggle for survival for those unable to prepare well. For a poor peasant family that would have to chop massive quantities of wood on a daily basis just to keep from freezing, and hoping that supply of withered roots and apples will hold till spring, SAD was taken to a whole new level. This would likely have been made all the worse as the days continued to get shorter and shorter.

However, it didn't take ancient peoples long to figure out that there is a point where the days stop getting shorter and start getting longer. While it still would have been a long time for the return of spring, seeing the beginning of the sun's "renewal" would have been an emotionally bolstering event (and still is for me and many others) and one worthy of celebration, especially given how dreary winter would otherwise be. Having something to look forward to and prepare for would certainly have eased much of the psychological burden of winter. As such, many European (and other) cultures adopted some form of midwinter celebration, usually corresponding to the winter solstice.

Today, in much of the Western world, these midwinter celebrations, be they Christmas, Yule, Hannukkah, or what-have-ye, have become the highlight of the year. Whatever the particular elements of one's religion are associated with it (or stripped from it, as many Humanists and the Japanese have done), the primal "reason for this season" is this: there is a light at the end of winter's tunnel - get together with friends and family and celebrate!

Whatever midwinter tradition you chose to celebrate, may it be filled with Light, Love and Laughter!

the_vulture: (Default)
I'll preface this entry by stating that I am not condemning nor espousing either homosexuality or Christianity. I am merely expressing my analysis of the source of a very public and bitter conflict between many members of the Christian faith and those who are homosexual in orientation. Given the number of protests, character assaults, incidences of property damage, beatings, and even murders, it seems that this is a very relevant topic to explore.  

The origin of this enmity lies deep in the Old Testament, which clearly expresses a strong imperative to be "fruitful, and multiply" (Genesis 9:7, King James Version).  This obsession with procreation becomes even more apparent in the Book of Chronicles, which painstakingly elaborates the patrilineal succession of many, many generations of Israelites. The importance of maintaining a line of descent is so important that a widow of a man who has died heirless can call upon her husband’s brother to take her as a wife and "perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her," (Deuteronomy 25:5, KJV). The first born then continues the line of her former husband. 

Any opportunity to reproduce that is wasted is considered 'defilement' as shown in Leviticus 15. This chapter contains a number of proclamations such as "...if any man's seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even [evening]," (Leviticus 15:16, KJV). This chapter also goes into depth about how women who are menstruating (and thus, not pregnant nor caring for a young child) are also unclean. In both cases, two birds must be sacrificed in atonement. (Can you imagine how rough it must've been for a young Israelite boy during puberty, with all of its nocturnal ejaculations?) 

This imperative to procreate, and the punishment for not doing so, is taken to the extreme in the woeful tale of Onan (Genesis 38:6 –10, KJV), where a father, whose eldest son is slain by God for being wicked, commands his next son, Onan, to marry his brother’s wife and impregnate her. Onan, sensing that this shouldn’t be, instead 'spills his seed' on the ground and is subsequently struck dead by God. (Keep in mind that Onan didn't actually have any qualms about sleeping with his former sister-in-law; he just didn't want to ejaculate in her.) Whilst it may be that this was done because Onan refused to 'honour his father' by obeying his commands, the mere existence of this morality story demonstrates the importance given to the continuation of one's line.  

There are many more examples emphasizing the instruction to 'multiply,' including the condoning of polygamy and refusal of entry into the sanctuary (of a Jewish tabernacle) of any man whose sexual organs are crushed or removed. And just as numerous are the often harsh consequences for refusing to properly attempt reproduction. Among the many sins punishable by death is for any man to lie with another man as he would with a woman (Leviticus 20:13). It is found amongst a description of a number of infractions that have to do with improper sex, which directly conflict with the imperative to maintain a line of heirs. It is important to note that gay sex is considered an 'abomination' punishable by being put to death (Leviticus 20:13, KJV), whilst other crimes are of a different nature, such as a man and his mother-in-law having sex being considered a 'wickedness'. This is a 'wickedness' that must be cleansed from the tribe by burning them both to death (Leviticus 20:14, KJV).   

Interestingly, whilst gay sex is considered an 'abomination,' lesbianism is not even mentioned in the Old Testament. It’s only in the New Testament where lesbianism is first mentioned where "God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another..." (Romans 1:26-27, KJV). (Wait a minute, God MADE people homosexual???) 

To understand why gay sex was considered a mortal offence by the Israelites, one must look at passages such as Deuteronomy 23:12-14, which describes how a soldier must take care to bury his excrement as it is unclean and, if God sees it, would offend God (How does one hide one's defecation from something that is supposedly omniscient?). This, coupled with the treatment of 'discharges' (Leviticus 15:2-15, KJV), shows a view that excrement was considered 'unclean.' As such, it can be easily seen how it was an 'abomination' to not only deliberatly contravene the commandment to multiply by wasting sperm having sex with another man, but also to deliberately mix it with something as unclean as excrement. As failure to show any mention of lesbianism in the Old Testament shows, it has nothing to do with love and sex but everything to do with what's done (or not done) with the semen. (Does anyone else hear the cast of Monty Python singing Every Sperm is Sacred in their heads?) 

That explains where the enmity towards homosexuality originated, but why has it continued? Surely, if it was purely a matter of Old Testament law, the Jews would have more animosity towards homosexuals than Christians. After all, they still keep laws such as those pertaining to not eating pork, resting on the Sabbath, and a host of other rules and prohibitions that Christianity has chosen to leave behind. Yet one doesn't see a lot of Jews in protest marches against gay rights. Why is this? Perhaps it is because the Jews know persecution all too well, likely more so than any other group of people on the planet. As such, they're not so willing to persecute others. 

It's clear to see how a hatred of homosexuality began in Old Testament law, as gay sex not only defies the commandments pertaining to reproduction and maintaining patrilineal descent, but can even be perceived as mocking them. However, given that reproductive concerns are not as strong amongst most modern day Christians as they were for the Israelites, why this animosity towards gays, by many segments of the Christian society, continues is not so readily determined. Rationally, though, modern Christians have little reason to select prohibitions against homosexuality as one of the few odd rules they choose to maintain. After all, many Christians choose to use birth control; would this not be as much of an offence to God for contravening his command to be "fruitful, and multiply?"

the_vulture: (Default)
In a previous post, titled "The True Face of Divinity," I spoke briefly on how I saw the various gods, demigods, etc., of all the word's cultures as being facets of just one all encompassing entity.

This is a theme that I often come back to. During my art training, I created a large image composed of a wide assortment of religious imagery. The larger image was cut into 9 squares, which where subsequently folded into origami boxes. In a piece of performance work, I came into the room in a reverrent fashion, knelt on the floor, and began slowly opening the boxes, placing the images, in ritualistic fashion together to recreate the former image.

For me, this particular artisitc performance is about opening the barriers of understanding between the difference faiths and helping others realize that all the superficial differences between them are just that, superficial.

But for all their similarities, the faces of Divinity does have rich variation. Why? Well, when one is turning to faith to help deal with personal issues, it is rather difficult to express one's innermost feelings to a huge, nameless, faceless entity. That's a little hard for our psyches to get around, emotionally speaking. We, for the most part, need something a bit more personable, a bit more "human." In short, a huge, nameless entity isn't all that "user friendly." 

Then there is the idea of appropriateness of task. Can most folk really be absolutely comfortable with communing with their entity of choice for a task such as healing, for example, and then later use the same entity to call down vengeance upon one's enemies (purely in self-defence, of course)? I think not. As such, we've created separate faces for separate tasks. 

Even many of the so-called monotheists employ this thinking to one extent or another. Look at the concept of Satan (Shaitan, etc.) as an explanation for evil in the world. The Catholics even employ a colourful array of saint figures as intermediaries to God for specific purposes (of all the monotheistic religions, I like Catholicism best).

On a personal level, whilst I can intellectually visualize and understand one faceless entity, I still talk to two faces of It, the Goddess and the God. On an emotional level, I need that duality of gender to help me relate better. Similarily, whilst I intellectually recognize that I am welcomed by the Divine in any of Its houses (though not necessarily by Its worshippers), I still prefer my altar by candlelight as the place to commune (oh, and the occasional site of natural drama).

Any other thoughts on this?

the_vulture: (Default)
I've been reading a lot of entries and posts in both blogs and forums about the nature of good and evil and their relationship to systems of rules, such as the Ten Commandments.

I've a few rambling thoughts I'd like to share about that. The first has to do about the origin of good and evil. To start, I'd like to change that to altruism and selfishness. Granted, this is not a perfect translation, as it is much easier to label murder as an act of evil, than it would an act of extreme selfishness. Still, it works for the line of reasoning I'm about to pursue.

Why does humanity, in general, have some consensus in regards to what is good? Very simply, we evolved that way. Our apelike ancestors relied on numbers for defense. As such, it simply wouldn't do for members to go around stealing each other's food all the time, as that would result in some member starving to death or the extremely greedy ape being driven from the tribe (and likely dying). As such, high levels of selfishness would not have as much of a survival value, whereas behaviours that supported the continued existence of the tribe would. 

Of course, if any measure of selfishness were completely contrary to survival, we'd all have evolved to be saints. This is, clearly, not the case. It is quite likely that, in a number of circumstance, some degree of selfishness would have a higher survival value, such as when food was scarce. So this aspect of human psychology, too, would have carried on through our gene pool.  

Still, as we evolved, we developed more elaborate methods of interaction. With this, a greater emphasis on cooperative action led would have selected for more altruistic patterns of behaviour. 

Upon becoming human enough to develop culture, many people began to take on increasingly specialized roles, making cooperation between members absolutely vital. Again, this placed greater survival value on altruistic behaviour. 

As such, in general, human beings towards altruistic behaviour, at least towards their own culture groups. 

Are there problems with this line of thinking? Oh, quite probably, but bringing them up and talking about them will be half the fun of this thread.

the_vulture: (Default)
This is one of my favourite essays I wrote for an anthropology course in comparitive religion. I didn't get a whole helluva lot of response for it in the Religion section of the forums; let's see what I get here.  

The religions of a people often mirror that culture’s social reality. In broad categories of society such as small-scale hunter-gatherer societies, horticultural chiefdoms, and agricultural/state societies, general trends can be noted in how otherworldly beings are organized, the interactions between these beings and humankind, and the status of mortals within the cosmology during and after life. This contradicts the speculations of many early modern philosophers regarding the nature of religion who often espoused a common, if ethnocentric view, that a culture would “progress” through a series of religious “stages” such as animism, polytheism, and, eventually to the “ultimate” stage, monotheism. These trends also contradict another common assertion amongst early modern philosophers, which is that each stage of religion dictated a culture’s moral and social values. Ludwig Feuerbach, a German philosopher, came closest to recognizing that religion is a reflection of society, as shown by his claims that theology is anthropology and that the history of religion is the history of man. Yet even he still believed that religion underwent a “progression” that was the source of moral and social value.

The organization of divine beings within a society is often a direct reflection of that society’s stratification and class structure. Small-scale hunter-gatherer societies are generally egalitarian and marked by a lack of hierarchy amongst their divine beings save for familial relationships. For the Inuit, political leadership was informal, at best, and usually based on personal characteristics and kinship ties. They believed all things to have a spirit or inua. Like the Inuit, these spirits had little in the way of any hierarchy of power over each other (Scupin, 2000: pp. 146-151). The Australian Aborigines commonly held a belief that all living things are created by ancestral spirits, which live in an otherworld referred to as “Dreamtime”. Again, like the Inuit, the Australian Aborigines only have an informal system of leadership, though, as is reflected in their beliefs, there is more importance placed on lineage and kinship (Scupin: pp. 160-162).

There is a marked difference in hierarchy of divine beings between those of small-scale hunter-gatherers and those of horticultural chiefdoms. A hierarchical arrangement of entities often accompanies more complex forms of leadership. Amongst the Iroquois, there existed a belief in a being responsible for the creation of all that is good in the universe. This Good or Great Spirit held command over the good gods, all of whom are his children. This leadership by lineage reflects and contrasts the matrilineal system of inheritance and influence that appointed a council of leadership that usually consisted of the sons of the elder matrons (Scupin: pp. 151-154). Amongst African chiefdoms, these differences are even more pronounced. The role of kings amongst African tribes is paralleled by the concept of a supreme being, which holds power over all other gods. The gods are also more specialized as are the roles of people. For example, the smiths have their own gods as do a number of other specialists (Carter, 2000: pp. 178-202).

With the introduction of complex bureaucracies in agricultural/state societies often comes a plethora of deities to fill various roles similar to those of human concern. Often, these pantheons include the gods of cultures assimilated after conquest. The importance of the chief deity is also usually more pronounced. The Egyptian pantheon, for example, changed continually throughout the centuries of this cultures existence, and yet has retained the deity Horus, a sky god, as the divine representation of order and kingship throughout most of its history (Quirke and Spencer, 1992: pp. 65-69). There are also more complex interactions between the deities such as factions and alliances. This is shown in the writings of the Greek poet Homer. In his account of the Trojan War, there are factions of gods acting for and against the Trojans. This reflects the importance of forming alliances in the Greek political world (Fuller and Fuller, 2000: pp. 208-213).

The interactions between the divine and humankind also reflect the social reality of a culture. In small-scale hunter-gatherer societies, this interaction is often very personal and tangible. These beings are treated with great respect and reverence. However, though there is pronounced contact between humans and spirits, they stand more-or-less as equals to be negotiated with. The shamans of the Inuit, for example, actually bargain with spirits for better success in hunting and food gathering (Scupin: pp. 146-151). For Australian Aborigines, it is vital to interact with the otherworld or “Dreaming”. The ancestral spirits serves as the all-important intermediaries between this world and that. This same level of respect is shared for the natural world and each other (Scupin: pp.160-162).

Where small-scale hunter-gather societies generally had only one religious specialist; horticultural chiefdoms often have many for specific interactions with the other realm. Amongst a number of African groups, for example, there can be as many as three different religious specialists just to perform healing: one determines the nature of the illness, another performs a diagnosis, and third performs the actual healing. This echoes inreasing levels of specialization of tasks in African society. Another important feature is the concept of rulership by divine right. An example of this is the link between the gods and the genealogy of the high chiefs, or Ali’i. This serves to legitimize rulership.

These interactions are further complicated in agricultural/state societies (Carter: pp. 178-202). The Egyptian Pharaoh was believed to be a god incarnate and ruled with divine authority. Though there were many priesthoods amongst these cultures, including some dedicated to almost every god of a pantheon, there was generally a much greater detachment between the lower ranks of society and religious life (Quirke and Spencer: pp. 65-69). In many cases, common people had to rely almost entirely on priesthoods to intercede with the gods on their behalf. This reflects a marriage between religious power and social power. As the separation between the common class and the religious sects increased, occurrences of mystery cults occurred. These were separate religions founded specifically for the participation of common people. The deities of these religions often reflected a desire for personal liberty.

The status of humans in the spirit world both during and after life tells much of their status in the social world. In small-scale hunter-gather societies, as was mentioned earlier, humans and spirits have little dominance over each other. Most Inuit believed that when something dies, its spirit remains in the world, waiting to be eventually reborn. Thus, no life had special importance over another. All things are sacred (Scupin: pp. 146-151). The Australian Aborigines would perform many rites to gain contact with the Dreaming, and, when they died, they would return to live in it perpetually. Although the spirits of the Dreaming were of great importance to them, they also did not have any political power over the people. These types of beliefs reflected a general lack of any strong central authority (Scupin: pp.160-162).

In horticultural chiefdoms, however, the gods often have a more direct hand in the affairs of humans and are superior to them. In African cultures, sacrifices of animals, food, and valuables are often required to procure and maintain the favor of the gods. For many African cultures, distinguished people continue on in the afterworld as ancestor spirits who continue to interact with the human world. Sacrifices are often made to maintain their favor as well. These kinds of beliefs mirror an increasing need to satisfy the demands of rulership to maintain its good graces. As the gods are superior to people, so, too, are the ruling authorities (Carter: pp. 178-202).

Human beings within agricultural/state societies are usually clearly subservient to the gods. This reinforces the political power held by the leaders of these cultures. These gods, and their rulers, often demand much from the common classes. Political power is also enforced by the concept of judgement. An example of this is found in the Egyptian religious system of later periods. When a person dies, part of their spirit, or ka, is brought to judgement. The “heart” is measured to determine if the person led a life of merit. If so, the person went on to lead a pleasant afterlife that was much the same as his or her former life. If not, the unfortunate person was tossed into the ravenous jaws of a chimera-like beast and destroyed (Quirke and Spencer: p. 94). This system of judgement is expanded in the Greek religion by the concept of eternal punishment. Offending souls, upon arrival in the Greek underworld would be set to punishments they would endure forever. Particularly grievous offenders would be tortured by cruel beings known as the Furies (Fuller and Fuller, 2000: pp. 208-213). The concept of judgement reflected the power over life and death that the rulers of these societies had over most others. And as social concepts of merit where often tied to obedience to the system, the concept of judgement also offered powerful rewards and punishments to maintain the status of the society.

Few cultures follow anything resembling the model of religious “progression” presented by early modern philosophers. In fact, given that these models are based on the history of Western civilization, the only cultures that seem to actually follow these “progressions” are those of Western civilization! Arguments for the “superiority” of any culture over another have been rejected by most on the grounds of ethnocentric and subjective value judgements. The examples of how a religion’s cosomology is a reflection of a culture’s social reality are as varied and numerous as cultures themselves. As such, they lend evidence to suggest that religious development does not follow the models presented by early modern philosophers and, thus, disqualifies much of their arguments regarding the nature of religion.


Bibliography:

Carter, Jeffrey African Religions, Religion and Culture: An Anthropological Focus New York: Prentice Hall, 2000

Fuller, Michael and Fuller, Neathery Classical Religions of the Old World, Religion and Culture: An Anthropological Focus New York: Prentice Hall, 2000

Quirke, Stephen and Spencer Jeffrey, editors The British Museum Book of Ancient Egypt New York: Thames and Hudson, 1992

Scupin, Raymond Aboriginal Religions, Religion and Culture: An Anthropological Focus New York: Prentice Hall, 2000

I reserve all copyrights and such. Basically, quote me if you like, but don't use this stuff in your own work without citing your source and, if you attempt to make money off of it, I want a slice of the action.

the_vulture: (Default)
Ya know, I have to admit that I rather miss watching Big Brother. There's been a lot of debate about what effect spending week after week cooped up in a house together would have on the housemates, and, indeed, they were even provided with a staff psychologist to assist them as need be.

But what about the effect on the viewer? We spend thirteen weeks really coming to know the people within, actually coming to care about them, and then it's over; we're cut off from the lives we were coming to know well. It's more than the end of a favourite TV series; it's almost like losing a friend.

At first, I was rather scornful of those who watched Big Brother, but, as I watched it along with die hard fan, [livejournal.com profile] imapunkin, I came to be fascinated by the personalities and interactions I was witnessing. I'm not sure why that is; it's not like I lead a dull life and, as such, require to live interesting ones vicariously through TV characters.

Is it perhaps because of the comedy? I have to admit, many of the housemates are very amusing to watch. But I think there is more to it than that. There's also something about the conflict involved and the drama that arises from that. It may not be the melodrama of a soap, but it's somehow more compelling, perhaps because of the perceived ingeniousness of it. So what if the housemates are placed in an artificial situation? They are still real people who are laughing and crying for real reasons, and that makes Big Brother more riveting than many program out there.

What's your thoughts on Big Brother and other "reality" TV shows?
the_vulture: (tvinflight)
A couple days ago, I was watching a documentary about a small group of people who enacted an unusual rite. Guided by a small number of modern day shamans, an assorted group of people underwent an ordeal where they fasted for three days, hiked out to a lonely meadow, dug their own graves, and were buried alive in them overnight. The basic idea was to come to grips with death. I watched this program with a bit of interest and from it came two lines of thought.

First, I realized that I should, at some point in my life, undergo a similar ordeal which would bring me to the alternate states of consciousness that these people obtained. I would like to undertake a "vision quest." Unfortunately, this comes upon me too late to take advantage of the contacts I have here to find a suitable guide for such an endeavor and I would be hard pressed to find someone I could trust in England, given how little time I would have available. Ah well! It's not like I will be away forever. I suppose I could follow the example set by a friend of mine and indulge in 'shrooms or the like, but that seems too "easy." I want this event to have profound meaning for me and popping drugs doesn't cut it.

Second, I realized that I would not want to undergo this particular type of ceremony for the same purpose these people did; I've already come to a comfortable understanding with death. Now agony and suffering, those I still have a healthy terror for, but death doesn't frighten me. It simply marks the end of all concern and desire: game over. But what of the meantime? The people in this documentary spoke of realizing that could come for them at any given moment and they should live life accordingly. How so? Contact all your loved ones and tell them you love them? Spend as much time with them as possible? Go do all things you ever wanted to do right now? I don't think so! There are reasons why we don't do this already and those revolve around emotional, physical, and financial limitations.

For me, the solution to how to approach life in the face of inevitable death is to simply live life well. No, I don't talk to my family every day, but when I do, I let them know that I love them. No, I don't spend as much time as possible with everyone I love, but I do take the time to so now and then. As for doing all the things I wish to, well, I can't to them all yet, but I can take a bit of each day to do something I enjoy. I do my best to find joy and fulfillment in each day and strive to share that with others. Simple, no? As for any regrets of things left undone when I die, well, regret is only for the living.

Speaking of things left undone, I really should get around to doing something to mark Lughnassad; in all the chaos of packing and sorting, I just missed another holiday. Yerg! (rueful grin!)
the_vulture: (Man/Vulture)
(Cross posted from a discussion in [livejournal.com profile] wyrdsisters.)

For your perusal, I present a statement of artistic intent (titled "Art and Spirit: the Nature of my Work") I wrote a number of years ago.

******************************************

Allow me to begin by saying that this is not an artist's statement. I say this because I am not an artist. If I were an artist, I would share more with the artist's world. I would be showing my work as much as possible, associating with other artists, visiting galleries, attending the lectures of artist speakers, reading on art, and other such activities. But such things do not interest me. The more I continue in my art making practices, the more detached I become from the realm of the artist. Instead, my attention has become more affixed to the realm of the spiritualist. Increasingly, I spend more time speaking with other spiritualists, attending religious ceremonies of my chosen faith, performing tasks of spiritual exercise, designing and performing rites, and other such activities. Could it be said then, that I have wasted four years of schooling in learning art practice when I should have devoted such time to spiritual study? By no means! My art practice has become a crucial element of my spiritual practice.

I believe that there are a number of important tasks in developing one's spirituality. Part of this is opening one's connection to That which is Divine. Most religions have methods of achieving this communion, such as prayer, meditation, fasting, ritual, etc. What few have, however, are sufficient methods of nurturing that element of the Divine which is in each of us. The most profound act that Divinity performs, is that of Creation. It is creative energy that forged the universe. It is creative energy that fuels the process of birth and growth. And it is this creative energy that is reflected in all that we build and make. Each artwork, each performance, and each building comes about through an act of creation. Through my artwork, I exercise the element of creative force within myself. Through this, I foster the spark of Divinity within me.

The most personally rewarding of my artworks are those in which I purposefully explore a spiritual issue in some manner. In doing this, I usually employ four modes of practice. One is to create a piece that engages the viewer in a dialog regarding spiritual or religious matters. Generally, these have been criticisms of current and common religious thought. A second is to express facets of my own spiritual existence and my connection to Divinity. These tend to be a form of self-portrait, though not always. A third is simply crafting tools and other elements for use in religious practice. By being aware of the energy of creation involved in crafting them, I give them more meaning and, thus, increase their effectiveness. The fourth is directly employing art practice as a religious rite or, conversely, employing a religious rite as an art practice. This is an approach I take in my performance pieces and religious rites. Often, I combine these modes of operation to bring about exceptionally rewarding spiritual experiences.

I have only recently become aware of the possible extent of the relationship between art and spirituality. In many ways, my journey is just beginning. What this road will bring me to has yet to be seen. I think, though, that what will be important is what I see along the way.

******************************************

Some examples of how I have explored spirituality through art have include: invoking the Goddess through chant while creating an image of the Japanese Sun Goddess Amateratsu (a powerful experience, btw), creating a number of my own tools and religious statuary (including the recent addition of a "kiln goddess" that I'm quite proud of), re-inventing myself through image (the icon I've used for this post comes from a painting along that journey), creating runic "talismans" which employ Germanic runes in a fashion vaguely resembling circuitry design, engaging in interpretive dance during ceremony to honor the Divine and indulge in my connection to It, and celebrating the spiritual art of others (two years ago I got to touch a Joseph Beuys piece!).
the_vulture: (tvhead)
One thing that I noticed upon my recent introduction to Live Journal is the use of the term "meme." It brings me back to the brief period in my life when I was avidly reading "Ad Busters." My understanding of a meme is that ideas are much like viruses, replicating themselves in the consciousness of people. Some are more competitive than others and the study of this "ideological Darwinism" was referred to as "memetics."

In Live Journal, though, I wonder if the meaning of "meme" has drifted to refer more closely to widgety doodads that people copy and paste from one journal to the next. (At this point, given that this entry follows closely on that discussing haikujaguar's "celebration of achievement" meme, I will clarify that I am not referring to her's; it is close to the original idea of "meme.") Such things include the "life's sign post meme," or the "clique calculator meme," which, while entertaining, are, to me, mislabelled according to my original understanding. If anything, they seem to be more related to modern folklore within the specific cultural context of Live Journal users.

Am I just being too picky about semantics?
the_vulture: (Default)
It would make sense that my first journal entry should touch upon why I would chose something like a vulture to represent myself. These two sites will give you a little background:

http://books.google.ca/books?id=SDqPDqKAXggC&pg=PA203&lpg=PA203&dq=ted+andrews++vulture&source=bl&ots=aaE3H-8Id7&sig=Q0kCTQ4pNQeZQBd_-n1H_nCqp9k&hl=en&ei=6T8cS93hM5Gftgf_s7HbAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=&f=false

http://sped2work.tripod.com/totem.html

Now before you make any assumptions, I do not profess a belief in actual visiting totemic spirits manifesting themselves as guides in one's life (or at least not mine). Rather, the concept of "totem," for me, is a symbolic construct serving as a powerful metaphor for aspects of one's inner world. The use of totems is like writing poetry, as opposed to prose, to describe one's spirit.

As you may guess, I am a spiritual person. In terms of religious inclination, I would best be described as "pleasantly Pagan," to coin a phrase from Richard Pini. I am nominally Wiccan, though I am one of the many heretics of that particular faith who believes that Wicca is by no means the "Old Religion," and is, in fact, a very modern synthesis of other faiths designed to enable the contemporary Westerner to reconnect to the living world.

One of the key attributes that Ted Andrews speaks about, in his article on vulture totems, is the ability of the vulture to sense the invisible. Now, while many might interpret this to mean psychic ability (which I do not claim to have), for me, this mirrors both my highly developed intuitive processes and my ability to model large scale movements of events. Both of these are functions of my ability to see things in the "big picture" (which is also linked to reports of the vulture's amazing eyesight).

(As a side note, intuition is simply the quick meta-processing of a vast amount of data to arrive at an impression or decision in a rapid amount of time. For example, at a group meeting, I can look at a proposed plan and quickly tell you that I feel it won't work, but it will take me a while before I mentally sort through all the details and give you the reasons why it will not work.)

Another aspect of the vulture that relates to me is its efficiency of energy. The vulture optimizes and so do I. It's even reflected in my favourite martial art, Aikido, which uses your opponent's energy against himself (as a note, while I have studied Aikido to some extent, I am far from good at it (grin!)).

Even on a physical level, the vulture metaphor fits well. Andrew's descriptions of "techy" digestive tracts and the need to keep legs and feet cool are quite apt for me.

But the key symbolism about vultures, for me, is the contradictions they embody. Up close, the vulture is an ugly bird. But in the heavens, there are few birds that soar as gracefully. At first glance, I look like another average couch potato. Yet I lead a beautiful life, especially in my roles as both an artist and a teacher. Vultures are often associated with solitude, yet most are actually very social, especially the turkey vulture, which is my specific totem. This reflects a long running transformation in my life from being a book worm of the most introverted nature to becoming a socially active person able to thrive in some of the most demanding social situations (ten years ago, I would not have anticipated becoming a middle school teacher! ('course, this may mean I'm simply nuts (grin!))).

There are a lot of other ways that vultures serve as a personal metaphor, but I think I've written a sufficiently large enough tome so I'll leave off for now.

(BTW: cathartes aura means "purifying wind," not "golden purifier")

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