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Yes, it's time for [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith 's monthly Poetry Fishbowl, and this month's topic is 'modern myths'. Come check it out!
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NASA will send three LEGO minifigures to Jupiter

I'll admit it, this appeals to multiple geekdoms on my part.  :)

(I SOOO want replicas of the mini-figures!)
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Fallen Angel, by Robbie Robertson (with Peter Gabriel)

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 Gift

Jul. 7th, 2008 10:39 am
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I often tell a version of this Zen story to many of my pupils.  

From: nsults.html 

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.  

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.  

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior's challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.  

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. "How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?"  

"If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it," the master replied, "to whom does the gift belong?"

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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?"

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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.


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.

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So I'm into my first proper week back at school and, I tell ya, these kids are wretched. I've been given the bottom of the bottom for three year groups and it looks like it's going to be a long, hard slog. If I finish this year, my English department is SO going to OWE me.

What really sucks is when I put a lot of work into making a fun and entertaining lesson that involves something I'm passionate about and that I know the kids would appreciate, but they don't give the damn lesson a chance.

For example, I've been putting a lot of work into a GCSE original writing project that revolves around the Hero's Journey (as put forward by reknowned folklorist Joseph Campbell) and involves looking deeply at the commonalities within many epic hero stories to create one's own. I've broken everthing down into quick, bite size pieces (my year 11s are very weak) and I'm involving all sorts of interesting clips from films such as Star Wars, The Matrix and Shrek. Today, we were supposed to look at a clip from Star Wars to get an idea of how heroes start in an "ordinary world" setting. The clip was to be shown at the beginning of class before setting into the discussions and work. Would the damn class settle down so the clip could be played? Hell no! Apparently, Star Wars is too "boring" for a number of these wretches, so they'd rather evoke my wrath and the consternation of their fellow pupils, rather than shut up for a few minutes. 

Damn ungrateful snots!

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It's been a little less than a week that I've spent in Toronto. So far I have:

1) Taken a long walk down Queen Street West

2) Taken a even longer hike down Queen Street East, from downtown Toronto to the Eastern Beaches (a little over 7 kilometers, I figure; I went to bed with my legs mildly aching from exertion for the first time in a lonnnggg while)

3) Snapped a number of photos of landmarks and architecture (I'm so glad I have a camera this time!)

4) Scored a decent burrito, some jerk chicken, and even some crispy ginger fried beef (though it wasn't as good as Lin Heung's)

5) Discovered that the teaching job scene for Canada has gotten worse since the last time I looked

6) Wrote a bunch of lesson plans and dug up material on mythological tricksters (Raven, Anansi, and Loki) for my year 7s

7) Struggled to avoid being overfed by my host's mother

8) Found out that a little snag in the work permit process has cost a bit of time and has likely marooned me here for an extra week

9) Found out that said snag was rectified by the school taking me on to the payroll (as they have to be directly employing me for work permit purposes)

10) Had a lovely lunch with a friend I haven't seen in a long while

11) Read through Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (a great novel, though not as captivating as American Gods)

12) Started rereading Frank Herbert's Dune (which, after about twenty years and the development of a strong understanding of religious, social, political, and cultural matters, reads like a brand new novel)

13) Did an amazing amount of window shopping (including a lot of kewl curio shops and even a few "naughty" stores)

14) Caught up on a lot of rest

15) Engaged in plenty of conversation with my host and the other residents of the household (including a plethora of house-pets)

16) Picked up a pressie for a dear friend back in the UK

All in all, a week reasonably spent, methinks.

The weekend holds the promise of a trip to Ward's Island, which I've been looking forward to since my return. This time, I'll have camera in hand so I can show everyone just how amazing it is.
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Courtesy o' [ profile] broken_the_bear...

Long-wang ~ The Dragon
You are Long-wang!

Mythological Background: Yes, the dragon represents
everything you think of when you think of a
dragon - fearsome and invincible. Also, it is
greatly respected just because of that fact.
The dragon has a very protective aspect to it.
Even Jupiter reminds you of intense smashing
power. The dragon is almost always surrounded
by rain-bearing clouds and fog; and the
appearance of its constellation always signals
rainfall and lightning. It's also a symbol of
authority worn by the nobility and the imperial
class. Japanese Name: Seiryuu.

Which Chinese Mythological Being Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla


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