Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Where the Sun goes

Archaeologists have found an prehistoric earthwork in Wales they believe was the inspiration of Stonehenge.

From the article:
"It’s as if the builders of Stonehenge were translating an interest in the sunrise from a centuries-old burial tradition to a new religious tradition," said Burrow. "I think (the mound) tells us something about where the builders of Stonehenge got their inspiration. Bryn Celli Ddu is the only other monument in Britain to have a midsummer sunrise alignment."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Isle of Avalon

As a practicing Pagan with an academic background, one of my greatest laments is that there are so few good books out there on Paganism. So when I find a well-researched book on a Pagan topic, I like to tell people about it.

Nicholas R. Mann's "Isle of Avalon" [Green Magic Press] is a spiritual exploration of the area around Glastonbury Tor, one of the sites considered to be a forerunner of the mythical Avalon of Arthurian legend. Mann grounds his work in modern archeology and historical understanding, but he interprets things with an eye to the religious and spiritual practices of nature-based worship. He is careful to note when he is speculating and lets the merit of his conclusions rest in the reader.

It is quite a task to integrate the Matter of Britain, the collection of legends and history that form what Mann calls "a charter for [British] nature, unity, spirituality, sovereignty, and ultimately for their destiny." That's a big job, but as Mann shows, the Matter of Britain is up to the task. And not just for the British either, but for everyone who has read the tales of the Mabinogi and King Arthur and felt a pull to something deeper than mere tales. Through the history of Glastonbury, from its beginnings in prehistory through its Christianization, Mann integrates the huge range of time and practice showing an approach to the material that allows modern readers to use this history to move forward.

This book is well written, well researched, and exhaustive in its coverage of the history and myth of the Tor.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Monks on the rampage

Libanius was a Classical orator who lived before, during and after the reign of Emperor, the last Pagan Emperor of Late Antiquity. In his Oration XXX, For The Temples, he writes to Emperor Theodosius regarding bands of monks who coursed through the countryside “like rivers in spate.” Their destruction was not only of the physical temples and shrines that dotted the countryside, but also of the people's relationship with the land.

“…by ravaging the temples, they ravage the estates, for wherever they tear out a temple from an estate, that estate is blinded and lies murdered.”

The kinds of practices we see in peoples who have maintained their contacts with the gods of their land are sustainable. I can only imagine that the kind of terror Libanius describes was the start of the Western way of dealing with the environment.

Bonnie Rideout

I read somewhere, I think in Patricia Monoghan's beautiful book Red Haired Girl From The Bog, that Irish music expresses two feelings, grief and joy. Regardless of where I got this idea from, you should do two things, read Pat's book and know that this is true.

And if you don't believe me, check out Bonnie Rideout. She's a fiddler. In one song of hers, she will break your heart and make you dance with happiness. And all you have to do is listen.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

X-Men so sad

I used to be a buyer for a comic book store, which is why I hate comics. I love the medium, in fact, it is my favorite storytelling medium. It allows for all the unmarked story elements of prose, many of film, plus there are some really amazing thing you can do with the sequential art. It is a highly compact medium, being able to tell a complex story is a fraction of the length of prose, much less film (consider that it took a mere 4 comics to tell the story of the first X-Men movie and there are 100's of X-Men comics.)

For the most part, the X-Men movies have been an exercise for me in seeing what can and cannot be converted from comics to film. Jackman's Wolverine was a nice surprise that made the whole thing bearable. By far my favorite parts of all three films has been seeing the mutants, whose powers I am embarrassingly familiar with, in motion. Wolverine claws moving under his skin, Colossus' armor flowing over his body. This had been balanced by the ridiculous, a sequence showing first Storm and then Jean Grey using their powers indicated by their blank stares at the out of scene blue screen.

It's an understatement to say the plot of X-Men 3 meanders. If properly treated in comic book form, I estimate it would take at least 20 if not 30 issues. (At 3.50 a pop, the price they were at the last time I stepped foot in a comic book store, that's $70-105 or a handful of movie tickets.) And there is absolutely no reason given for why two of the bad guys were given different solutions at the end. No reason for much of any of it.

Except for Kitty Pryde and Juggernaut. Not really worth the price of admission, but like Nightcrawler's power aria in the second movie, seeing Kitty use her powers against the musclebound, mysteriously Australian Juggernaut was cool.

Cabell the lost

I finally found James Branch Cabell.

From Figures of Earth:

“Yes, but,” asked Manuel, slowly, “what is success?”
“In your deep mind, I think, that question is already answered.”
“Undoubtedly I have my notion, but it was about your notion I was asking.”
Horvendile looked grave, and yet whimsical too.
“Why, I have heard somewhere,” says he, “that at its uttermost
this success is but the strivings of an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at
climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of
Omnipotence in a place that is not home.”

I love it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

There's a reason for that ritual

I'm reading "Celtic Sacred Landscapes" by Nigel Pennick. Pennick is a great author for the modern Pagan. He's a scholar. He knows his sources. But where other scholars see a bunch of superstitious beastmen or wannabe Christians when they look at the fragmentary and inconclusive historical record, Pennick sees thoughtful, religious people. It's a nice change.

In chapter 1 he makes a statement about sacred landscape and the rituals that emerge from them in human consciousness: "[Rituals] ensure harmonious conformity of the visible world with the invisible."

This got me thinking about the Oracle of Delphi. Some of you may know that recent studies seem to indicate she was huffin' ethylene, a sweet smelling narcotic vapor, similar to what has been used at times in the last century for anesthesia.

At Delphi, the Pythia would go through some ritual steps before sitting over the sacred vent. This included things like fasting for a certain period of time. But at least once in recorded history, the Pythia was forced at sword point to give oracles immediately without ritual preparation. In the story, the Pythia goes into violent convulsions, freaks out, and sends the soldiers running in fear before she dies. (May she rest in the arms of the gods.) To modern scholars, this whole incident looks like ethylene overdose.

What is striking to me is how the ancient rituals of fasting and the practices around how the Pythia did her job, how far she was from the vent, how long she stayed, what time of day she inhaled, all seem to guard against ethylene overdose. This is certainly a case of ritual ensuring a harmonious conformity between the visible and the invisible.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Melora My Love

I just got a copy of "The Book of Arthur" by John Matthews. Matthews is one of the best of the popular Arthurian scholars and he has collected a group of tales relatively unknown to modern readers. Many were known by Malory, who pared down a larger collection of known tales to create his reknowned Morte D'Arthur. Matthews has gone back to that earlier collection and selected some of the tales he feels Malory would have put in Morte D'Arthur II. Matthews has also looked farther afield and found some really wonderful tales from Ireland and from the centuries after Malory. Altogether this book is a wonderful expansion to the better known literature for any Arthuriana buff.

Enough of Arthur. The tale that got me going is "The Story of Malora and Orlando." In this Celtic romance from the 17th century, we meet Malora, the daughter of King Arthur. She and Orlando fall in love, but it's Orlando who gets kidnapped and Malora who must do the rescuing. And a fine job she does of it as well. Maybe it's the name "Orlando" but I kept seeing Kiera Knightly as Malora. Anyway, I was really struck by how easily Malora was able to take on the masculine hero role in this romance from several centuries ago. It's a good read, I highly recommend it and the collection as a whole.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I love arguing

I love arguing with someone who has the stamina. Presentation of potentially contradicting points of view, analysis of the other's reasoning, feedback on one's own reasoning. Adjustment, learning, appreciation for differences, bad thought processes purged by an outside perspective, good arguments tempered into better arguments.

One of my professors in college, George Lakoff, wrote in his book "Metaphors We Live By" that our culture almost consistently uses the metaphor "argument is war". We "demolish" our "opponent's" "defenses", etc.

Then he drops da bomb that made me chose Linguistics as my major... What kind of culture would we have if we used the metaphor "argument is dance"?