Who Needs God Anyway?

I think most people would say that while numbers claim that many people are getting religious or converting from one religion to another, in most Western countries the trend seems to be inverted. More people seem to be leaving religions completely or being totally inactive within their specified branch. So it might surprise you to learn that 4.8billion people or roughly 70% of the world’s population belong to one of the top 3 world religions and only 16.3% are not religiously affiliated and the difference is made up of lesser religions, this according to Pew Research Center.

Additionally, I think most of us, religious or not, have questioned God, gods, or the existence of some divine creator or deity.

Either asking:

how could you not believe, or

how could this God or that God or any god allow evil to exist or bad things to happen, or

how do you know God exists,

how can you believe in God, or

where’s the proof of your God or any god.

All these questions and more have been asked by people since the beginning of any religious thought, to question is just part of life.

Sometimes we may think or it may seem like we are the only person asking these questions. We are not. Theologians, philosophers, scientists, the lost, the found, the convinced, the converted have all pondered such queries, especially when life throws a challenge or obstacle our way. I would counter with this; what is the value in life if everything is easy, pretty, and happy? If all that you have is easy, pretty, and happy with nothing hard or ugly or awful how do you know that things are easy and pretty and happy? You don’t. Easy, pretty, happy just like hard, ugly, and awful are comparative terms. You cannot have pretty without ugly. You cannot have easy without hard. You cannot have happy without awful.

Some experts and most followers of the major religions will say that everyone needs religion, religion is how you learn morals and virtues and how to lead a good and just life. However, the historic accounts of most religious beginnings are steeped in violence, from genocide to scorched earth to raiding, enslaving and thieving. Some morals. For the Abrahamic religions extreme punishment is included, for both the Old Testament and Quran seem to prefer some form of a death sentence for most infractions and some violence or maiming or other extreme punishment for lesser offenses.

Thus, if you are wondering how you can truly assess either your own religion or religion in general as a valid and necessary part of your life or something that should be history, then Timothy Chen thinks he has the answer for you in his new book The Religious Transaction. Chen was raised in a religious home and continued to practice while off attending college. However, in early adulthood, Chen faced some challenges that led to him questioning everything about his belief system, which was based on his religion.

This questioning about his own beliefs and struggles to reconcile his issues with his religious conflicts led him to author the aforementioned book probably both as therapy for himself and the genuine belief that it will help others. While Chen seems to really try to be unbiased about religion and honest about his personal issues, challenges, emotions there does seem to be an underlying passive nudge to encourage others to question to the point of abandoning their own religious paths. Whether this is an intended ploy by Chen or just a natural reaction to his personal struggles and journeys I cannot say, but regardless it is present.

His religion as a child was christian and his primary focuses on are Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, yet, he does include other religions scattered throughout the work. Personally, I have never been devout or zealous at all about religion, I believe that Organized Religion is a man made necessity in order to create a peaceful society for those in power. I also believe that while there are some truly devout and genuine believers, most religions and their sects have been usurped by individuals seeking power and glory and fortune.

The organization of the book is well thought out and flows. His approach to each aspect of religion is thoughtful and seemingly neutral. The neutrality is displayed in the pro-con discussion of each question with cited arguments supporting the pro or con respectively. And it is obvious that Chen has put thought and research into his writing. While it is difficult to research everything about a topic, I do feel like some of his research could have provided him with stronger arguments if he had dug just a little deeper. But all authors have to decide how much is too much or not enough and how much is “just right” or at least enough for the message. And I think that Chen did what he felt was just enough to support his arguments. That is not a critique if his purpose is more to get people to do their own research and questioning, but it is marginal if his purpose is to be the justification for changing religious paths.

In addition to arguments that are marginal to just enough, I believe that some of his points are more than over simplified. He admits to some over simplification, which can be excused considering the breath and depth of the topic if truly and fully investigated. One example is his argument that our similarity to some animals supports evolution over godly creations without any mention of the fact that the opposite is just as possible since religions with a “Creator God” believes that this god is responsible for the creation of the universe and EVERYTHING in it. So why wouldn’t such a god create similar living creatures, created or evolved they would both be from a collection of building blocks. He is also more willing to give benefits of doubt and early unearned credit to scientific discoveries but not to divine intelligent creation.

In short, it was an interesting read. I did hear some new arguments in the validity of religion debate, but I also felt the ball was drop and some arguments were skewed to the author’s current stances. However, he does make the effort to at least appear neutral and that effort is noteworthy.

*Copy Received For Review.

**Cover via Amazon.com

Witching Badness

Bad Witch
Only Bad Witches Are Ugly

We have given you some background about witches and witch hunting, now let’s travel into the darker spaces.
Witches are people just like you and me. Thus, witches just like any other group of people have good people and bad people and people that might be good and do a bad thing or bad people that might do a good thing.
While most modern witches will tell you that all real witches are good witches, that is not, nor has it always been the truth. The kind of witch you are is completely self-determined.
Most witches do use their knowledge and craft for good and fully believe that they are only to do good and help those in need and to never bring harm. There are, however, others that use their skills to gain revenge or self-advantage or to acquire power or fame or just sell their skill for a price without any thought to its use.

So let’s take a look at some of the real witches that have given the Dark Side the limelight!

Let’s start with some that have certainly gone down in history as being mean, vengeful, vile or downright evil;
(Remembering that we do not have 100% proof of any of the accuracies of the stories)

Rasputin
Rasputin, The Mad Monk. Wikipedia Commons

1: Let’s begin with one of the most notorious evil figures of history, albeit it a modern one, that of Rasputin, The Mad Monk. Grigori Rasputin was a self-proclaimed Holy Man and close to the wife of the last Russian Czar, Nicholas Romanov II. Rasputin gained his status with Czarina Alexandra by ‘saving her son Alexi’. Due to his closeness to the royal family and what most saw as the tyrannical and backwardness of Czar Nicholas, Rasputin had many enemies and was accused of everything from Black Magic and witchcraft, to controlling the Czar through magic and witchcraft. Some of the stories supporting the claim that he was a witch and powerful in the ways of magic and evil, regard the tales of him surviving assassination attempts, the first in 1914 and then again in 1916, though eventually he did end up dead.

The second and final attempt to murder Rasputin was organized and probably carried out by conspirators that included the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and Prince Felix Yusupov. Their original plan was to poison him with cyanide laced dink and food, supposedly enough to kill 5 grown men. When the poison failed to have any effect, the men repeatedly beat Rasputin, surviving the onslaught, he was finally shot in the back. The story then goes, that Rasputin jumped up or got up violently and was shot 3 more times including in the head. Thinking they had succeeded in their murder, Rasputin was wrapped in some sheet or rug or such and thrown into the Neva river. Ironically, when his body was pulled from the river a couple days later, it was determined that he had been still alive upon entry into the water and that he showed signs of trying to claw or break his way out of the icy water and his actual cause of death was either drowning or hypothermia.

It is believed that Rasputin told the Czar, “If I am killed by common men, you and your children will rule Russia for centuries to come; if I am killed by one of your stock, you and your family will be killed by the Russian people.

Dame Alice Kyteler By Paddy Shaw
Dame Alice Kyteler by Paddy Shaw

2: Now let’s venture to the other side of Europe, all the way to Ireland, for our next lister! Scotland and Ireland both were less hysterical about witches than the rest of Europe, probably cause they took to Christianity in a little different way. However, in 1324 Dame Alice Kyteler, became Ireland’s first charged witch. Dame Alice was a wealthy moneylender whom had the unfortunate habit of outliving her husbands, all 4 of them. When her 4th husband began to fall ill, his children insisted that something was amiss.
The Church put Dame Alice Kyteler on trail for leading a secret society of heretical sorcerers. Not only was she the first witch to be accused in Ireland, she was also the first to be accused of relations with an incubus. Due to her allies in important positions or her black magic, she stayed ahead of her tormentors, even evading her death sentence by disappearing the night before. Never to be seen again.

witch-and-her-cat3: In 1566, on July 29th, Agnus Waterhouse became the first woman executed for the crime of witchcraft, in England. Agnus was one of 3 women charged with witchcraft crimes, one of the others being her daughter Joan. It was Joan’s testimony in part that led to the conviction of the other 2 women. It is said that Agnus did confess her crimes and claimed her familiar a cat turned toad, named Satan as her means of doing harm to others.

One of the unusual aspects of Agnus’ case is that The Church was not involved in her case. The investigation and trail were a secular matter, brought on by the charge that she did through the use of Black Magic cause illness to a certain William Fynne, who died on 1 November 1565. In spite of seeming to willing and openly confess to all of her witching deeds, it is reported that she broke down upon arriving at the gallows and even begged God for forgiveness.

George_Pickingill,_Cunning_Man
George Pickingill via Wikipedia

4: Cunning folk, was another term for wise men and women and healers and other helpers of life in the village that were outside the normal polite society tea invites. They provided potions and predictions and other help for those in need. There has been and will always be debate about whether cunning folk are helpers or cons and this is definitely arguable for our next lister. George Pickingill, whom was the self-declared ‘oldest man in England’ was rumored to have been a cunning man in Essex. He was remembered as providing healing assistance to some and coercing drinks and assistance from others under threat of cursing.

It is documented that he was not as old as his claims, and it is reported that he remarked once that it was easier for older people to get parish charity, something that we know he did receive. Some of the rumors claim that George in addition to being a cunning man, was also the leader of a coven of 9 witches of the Dark Arts. There has been no proof of this, that being said, it would be logical that if he coerced others into ‘helping’ him, he may have used the threat or implication that he had witches under his control. It was his “old man” claim that got him known across England, and only later through the research of an Eric Maple into the folk lore and magical/witch stories of Essex that George came to light as a sometimes respected and other times feared cunning man of note.

Tituba-Longfellow-Corey
Tituba via Wikipedia

5: Across the pond we jump to find one of the most famous of the witches from America’s most famous Witch Trial. In Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams began acting strangely. The doctor determined that it was the Devil’s work. Upon questioning, the girls accused 3 women that were considered lesser members of the community, an old lady, a beggar, and the first accused, tried and convicted, a slave named Tituba. Tituba was the slave of Rev. Samuel Parris, father of Elizabeth, and believed to have come from the island of Barbados.

Initially, Tituba denied all charges, then she claimed only to work protection spells, after breaking, however, she confessed to having dealings with the Devil and she named other witches in the town. Her confessions and testimony was bizarre and frightening to those who heard it, and thus began the hysteria that would lead to more than 200 accusations of witchcraft and the execution of at least 19 men and women, and the deaths during jailing of even more.

However, Tituba was fortunate, while she was indeed imprisoned for over a year, she escaped execution for her accused crimes. In 1693, an unknown person paid her jail fees, which the Rev. Parris had refused to pay, thus in essence purchasing her and upon her release she disappears from history.

la voisin
La Voisin by Antoine Coypel via metmuseum.org

6: Our last witch is La Voisin or Catherine Monvisin of France. She lived in France in the mid-1600’s with her husband, a jeweler, whose business went bankrupt. Possibly, through her husband’s customers, she gained some note for her premonitions. To make ends meet after her husband’s failure, she sold love potions, healing drugs, abortion drugs and even poisons. She also practised midwifery and arranged black masses where clients could confer with the Devil. In addition she was supposedly one of the leaders of the affaire des poisons, a cult that poisoned many members of the French aristocracy.

There were many nobles among her clients, the most famous one being Madame de Montespan, the King’s mistress.
In the 1670’s fear of witchcraft reached a fever pitch in Paris and La Voisin, along with her daughter and many others were accused and arrested. In 1680, she was burned at the stake at Place de Grieve. After her execution, it became known that her daughter revealed a series of secrets at the High Court, including the plot to poison the King. It was supposedly for Madame de Montespan that La Voisin attempted to poison the King for infidelity.

While this is the end of our list we do have some Honorable Mentions, more to give you something to ponder until the next article!

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII. As Queen of England, Anne became an educated, extremely intelligent woman of power. She was believed to employ magical advisers and engaged in mystical practises. In spite of accusations of treason, adultery, incest and witchcraft, resulting in her execution by beheading, she is known as one of the most influential queens in history.

Angele de la Barthe, was a wealthy, noble woman of Toulouse, France, who lived between 1230 and 1275. She was an adept of Catharism, and thus deemed a heretic by The Church. She was accused of being a witch after the supposed disappearance of several babies in the area. After severe torture by the Inquisition, Angele confessed to sexual intercourse with the Devil, and producing a half-man, wolf-snake son, who feed on babies. She is presumed to be the first witch executed during the Medieval Witch Hunt.

Leonardtown, Maryland has a tale that some say is more lore and legend than fact, but is it?
Moll Dyer lived in the area in the late 1600’s and for whatever reasons, maybe cause she lived alone, her fellow townspeople accused her of witchcraft. As such a group of men chased her out of her own home one winter night and her body was found days later frozen to a large stone.

Theirs are just a few of the tells of the witches among us and we will be sharing more during the rest of the month.

 

Witch, Right Kind Of Wrong

White witch shared by joeyliars via We Heart It
shared by joeyliars via We Heart It

So, if The Witch is generally a misunderstood outcast or a strong, independent healer or ‘wise woman’, where did the bad wrap come from? There has always been and will always be outcasts and misfits and those that seem to live in their own reality and by their own rules. Yet, none seem to have caused as much mayhem and been so persecuted as those labeled “Witch.”

Who managed to create such an uproar as to cast a shadow across all those who were different, who thought different, who lived differently, who by their mere existence challenged the status quo?

The simple and ready answer would be; The Church.

But, that is not the complete answer, nor does it hold all the accountability required to justify the mass murder and torture of those whom their peers deemed as different and a threat.

Most of the people of the world through out recorded history have been uneducated villagers that have never traveled more than a days walk from their place of birth. For those of you that do not know, a days walk would be between 10 and 20 miles. In today’s world, it is truly hard to imagine anyone living their whole life and never venturing more than 20 miles from home. Most of us travel more than 20 miles one way for work each day. During the Dark Ages, life was about surviving and education and literacy were not valued as resources for surviving. During this time The Church gained an enormous amount of power and influence. The Church was supposed to “save the people” from all the bad things going on in the world at the time. In fact, even The Church was too ignorant to understand what was truly going on in the world during that time.

 

Plague-roman-empire
via sundayobserver.lk

The Roman Empire came to an end not just due to the political corruption and turmoil within its Grand Cities, but also due to the Roman Warm Period (BC 250 to AD 450) coming to an end and the Dark Ages Cold Period (AD 450 – 950) replacing it. During this time, the climate varied greatly from year to year. You did not know from one season to the next if you would have enough food to last. This of course decreased the health of people and livestock and thus increased the outbreak of diseases, all of which reeked havoc in the daily lives of most Europeans. Add in the decline in personal hygiene and health of the individual and thus the society was precarious at best. During Roman times, even the least members of society had access to Bath Houses, whether it be the smallest ones in the city or use of the only ones in the city on specific days or during specific times, everyone had access to bathing. As we know, today, bathing on a regular basis greatly improves one’s health and decreases the spread and duration of disease.

During this time, The Church managed, maybe with good intention or maybe not, to gain huge influence in the daily lives of the masses who were looking for answers and saving from what they could only see as displeasure of the Gods or God, be ye pagan or christian. Then things improved with the Medieval Warming Period, and as is typical of most people, they did not need The Church so much when things were like they were supposed to be. Thus, The Church’s power started to lessen. But as luck would have it, the 15th century ushered in the Little Ice Age (AD 1400 – 1850), however, here is what most do not know or understand about Ice Ages, they are not merely these periods of just ‘very cold weather’, in reality they are actually times of much greater weather extremes, so while some years winters seem to drop colder than ever and last longer than ever, so can the next summer be the hottest remembered with land so parched that nothing grows and in addition you can have furious storms on a grand scale that cause extra damage to people and their homes and livestock.

 

frost-fair-Thames-London
Frost Fair on Thames via historic-uk.com

Once again people turned to The Church, to save them, for once again, the scared and ignorant believed that it must be the work of some angered divine or that great Christian creation, The Devil, causing all the havoc. And The Church needed to deliver some scapegoat to keep the benches and coffers filled and insure their continued existence. Also, during this time The Church saw itself as its own nation, on par with Kings and Queens of real nations and had gained the privilege of granting Kings and Queens divine blessing, thus actually placing themselves above the monarchs of the day. This gave them higher authority with the masses, which would be devastating for those later to be named as “Witch.”

 

devil-telegraph-co-uk
via telegraph.co.uk

One of the very common practises of The Church, almost from its inception was its complete intolerance to anything or anyone that was different. The Church attacked everyone and everything that was different from their very narrow view of what God deemed worthy of life or sacred. A person could be deemed a heretic or possessed or evil for anything from asking a question about contradictions in The Bible, to having red hair, to being left-handed. In addition, The Church had completely misrepresented the man now known as Jesus Christ’s revolutionary ideas, which included at its root, equality for all people here on Earth, not just some promise of a better after-life in Heaven, and passed judgment based on a divine authority that it did not have. In their rush to keep people in fear and needing The Church to save them, they committed the greatest blasphemy of all, by forgetting and denying that God, as the divine creator, had created all creatures great and small, and insisted that their bogeyman, The Devil, was just as powerful as God, creating demons and demon spawn and possessing people and animals and causing disasters that The Church should have dutifully claimed were acts of God.

 

Malleus_maleficarum,_Köln_1520,_TitelseiteThe Devil, being an invented creation of The Church of course has no true historic evidence and neither is “he” a living, breathing man that can be dealt with face-to-face. This becomes an issue when small minded people need to be able to point the finger at and torture, abuse, and even murder someone out of fear, anger, despair and ignorance.

During this same period The Church was also dealing with the Reformation, which had divided the masses and split The Church. If The Church could be split, then logic dictated that The Church and her “men of God” were not as divinely blessed as they said they were, so what other lies had they been telling. In its defense The Church dug in its heels as it was losing its status and standing.  Maybe out of desperation or blind loyalty or just plain sheer malice The Church started smearing the image of those, mostly women, that were variously referred to as witch, wise woman, or cunning folk as being pawns and in league with The Devil. This campaign against witches was fueled by the publication of Malleus Maleficarum or The Hammer of Witches, basically giving Papal sanction for the hunting, torturing, and murdering of witches.

The-Temptation-And-Fall-Of-Eve-BlakeWhy, witches, you ask. Most witches had several things going against them in The Church’s eyes. First, most of them were women, most of whom were as fate would have it, single, whether it was cause they were not yet of marrying age with a beau, or they were widowed, or poor, or worst of all, they chose to live outside the norms for women of the time, not being dependent on the whims of male relatives or husbands. The Church was very much against women as equal persons and thus they were not to be independent, nor strong willed or strong minded, all things that benefited healers, midwives and wise women. The Church that owed its beginnings to strong, wealthy, independent women had turned their backs on them almost as soon as they received official religious sanction. Then proceeded to straight out attacking them, first under Pope Gregory I, who erroneously lumps 3 women together, identifying Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, then Eve was judged as being evil and committing the first sin, with that judgment all women were attached to sin and evil. Unfortunately, as The Church grew so did it disdain and literal hate for women.

In this light it is very easy to see how The Church, or at least some of her men of God would target and attack the real women in their villages and towns that had the strength, wisdom and knowledge to not fear men, men of God, or The Church, nor to bow down to them or cower in fear of their hate.

 

The (A) History Of Witches

witch on a broom clip artThe origins or history or witches is very much dependent on the researchers definition of just what a witch is. That might seem absurd, everyone knows what a witch is, most dictionaries define one as “a woman thought to have magic powers, especially evil ones, popularly depicted as wearing a black cloak and pointed hat and flying on a broomstick.” (See the clip art image on the left)

However, if you ask an individual that identifies as a witch or several, you are likely to get more definitions than you ever imagined existed. Thus, with so many modern ideas and concepts of a witch, it is easy to see how a researcher’s journey might actually wander ‘off-course’ in the search for the “fist witch” or the “origin of the witch.” Let us explore some of the journeys of academic witch-hunters.

Burning Joan of Arc
Burning Of Joan of Arc

In modern translations of The Bible, in English, Exodus mentions witches; Ch. 22:18 “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.” (KJV) There are other English versions that use the word sorceress, however, there is scholarly debate about the original word and its actual meaning during the time of the writings. Mekhashepha is the original Hebrew word used in Exodus. What does it mean? More importantly, what did it mean to the Hebrews of the day.

Modern Hebrew does define mekhashepha as witch, however, the late Merrill F. Unger, in his book “Biblical Demonology”, identifies the root of the word, kashaph, as “mutterings”, specifying that it referenced witches whom practiced magic using incantations and mutterings. A different opinion can be found with Kenneth Kitchen, of the University of Liverpool, suggesting the root means “to cut” and thus refers to herbalists.

Jewish sages in the 3rd century BCE, in their translations used the Greek word pharmakia, which is considered by some scholars to refer to herbalists and to others such as Reginal Scott, author of “The Discoverie of Witchcraft”, to mean “poisoner”. There does seem to be an original view that magic or witchcraft was practiced in all times, but the oldest bans, such as in The Code of Hammurabi,  referred to those practitioners that used their “magic” for evil or harm, declaring a death sentence for anyone who used magic to harm another, without condemning those who cause no harm.

Wise Woman Healer
A wise woman

There seems to be a general consensus that those we label as witches in history, did not get a blanket judgment of being evil and “doing the Devil’s work” until the Christian era. One thing that most people of the modern era seem to take for granted is the existence of the Devil. The Devil is not an across the board creature of all beliefs and cultures. The Devil is a Christian concept, just like Hell. The Jews do not believe in the Devil and their The Satan is not just another name for The Devil. In their beliefs The Satan (sah-tahn) is an angel or “son of God” and no, he is not a “fallen angel” or rejected son, he is in fact part of the “justice system” of Heaven or God, and his role is along the lines of prosecutor or district attorney. Thus, for our point in the story, witches came before the Devil and not with or after in the history of mankind.

Before the Church deemed all witches to be evil, historic view seems to suggest that most “witches” were actually healers and or “wise women”. There are some who claim that Lilith, the first wife of Adam was a demon and the first witch and others that liken any of the “bad” goddesses or deities of ancient times to being the original witches, such as Medusa and Isis. This search for the first witch in some preconceived demonic female is more a reflection of personal belief of the researcher than in factual historic evidence.

Last Salem Witch Executions 22SEP1692
Last Executions Salem Witch Trials

The most destructive blow to the existence of people, mostly women that were different or social outcasts, was the publication of “Malleus Maleficarum” (The Hammer of Witches), this work penned by German Dominicans in 1486 condemned the most vulnerable and the most independent to a life of fear. Worse, though, for 80,000 poor souls it led to their imprisonment, torture and death for nothing more than fear driven ignorance supported by The Church and The Pope.

For more than a century “Malleus Maleficarum” sold more copies than any other book, except The Bible and led to witch hunt mania from Europe to the American colonies. What transpired over the course of the 16th and into the 17th century was nothing short of social genocide and a supposed “moral cleansing” of the villages and towns that wanted someone to blame and punish for just dumb bad luck and plain misfortune.

 

References:

  • Haaretz — https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/thou-shalt-not-suffer-a-witch-to-live-a-murderous-mistranslation-1.5443682
  • King James Version The Holy Bible (public domain)
  • BibleHub — https://biblehub.com/exodus/22-18.htm
  • Jew in the City – Orthodox Unexpected — https://jewinthecity.com/2017/10/what-is-the-jewish-view-of-the-devil/
  • History Channel — https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/history-of-witches
  • Time — https://time.com/3398176/salem-witch-trials/

BOO!

puff of smoke le maitre usa
PC: Le Matire USA

So, yeah, I vanished without a trace…..or at least not much of one!

But, like some of the dead, I am back!

And in time for ghosts and witches and vampires and other scary characters!!

Are you ready for some frights of truth?!?!?

We are going to explore some of the real stories and legends that have given rise to some of the scariest thrills shared year after year, sure to keep you sleeping with the lights on and double checking all your doors and windows at night!

scary-desktop-backgrounds
scary desktop background

From dark forests and remote villages across Europe and into America, we are set to find out the truth about tales that haunt our nightmares and delight our desire to scare each other.

Are there more to some ghost stories than just our eyes playing tricks on us? And what made witches so scary in our past?  Do the dead really come back to ‘life’?

In addition to telling the tales with expected monsters of legend and lore, we are going to also share with you some scarier characters from the pages of history, that will make you question whom the real monsters are!

Gather your courage and pack up your wit as we set out to find the facts that scare us the most! Be scared of the shadows of the night, but be even more afraid of the ones in the day!

Consider This

Diploma Money
via AssociateDegreeOnline.com

Today’s world places great emphasis on ‘experts’. Titles are doled out to supposed deserving individuals by Academic Institutions and Associations, Professional guilds and collectives, and government agencies and councils. Letters are added to the end of names upon merit, distinction, or fame.  However, the focus has shifted from the search for knowledge to the image of dominion over a study. This shift has been a killing blow to our understanding of our history and the world around us.

Take the concept of a Renaissance Man, this is a truly inconceivable idea to most people today. Awkwardly, most think that someone that knows a little bit about a few different subjects, enough to be entertaining from an average cerebral context at cocktail or dinner parties, fits the bill. In fact, this is very far from the truth, in reality those men of greatness that provided the example of what we now consider to be the “Renaissance Man” were not just merely acquainted with a few subjects, they were master students of many very diverse and broad areas of interest. The WHOLE of life and the world inspired them and drove them to seek understanding not just in the individual details of the subject matter, but also in the connectivity of all things within the universe. DaVinci was not merely interested in the flight of birds to make his art more realistic, he was consumed with the means and mechanics of flight in order to understand the very air we breathe and all its limits and limitlessness in our universe and the use of it to harness flight of man and machine.

leonardo-da-vinci-vitruvian-man
Vitruvian Man, c.1492 via allposters.ie

These men were inspired and driven to understand how everything worked and functioned and understood that each detail was merely one tiny piece of the huge jigsaw puzzle that made up the world around them and the universe we inhabit.

What made these men different from our scholars and scientist and ‘experts’ of today? These men of old were not seeking fame and fortune, a lot of the most learned have been forgotten to history, take for example Athanasius Kircher, considered the last man to know everything, they were seeking wisdom and understanding, they truly wanted to know how and why and where and when and what about it all! Their goal was universal knowledge as destined self-fulfillment of the mind and soul, the very purpose of our being.

We have lost that drive, that childlike passion and curiosity to know everything and how it is all connected. The ‘experts’ of today (in general) have tunnel vision and work in limited intellectual vacuums like blind mice in shoebox size labyrinths thinking they encompass their entirety. They might be true, in-depth experts of their one puzzle piece, however, they lack understanding of where and how that piece fits into the puzzle and thus in reality are not as expert as they think they are, for how the piece fits or doesn’t fit can change everything about the piece and that is the difference between seeking wisdom and arrogantly thinking one is wise.

Athanasius KircherAnd it is arrogance and ego that has created this prison of ignorance. We have become a species that is divided at the most basic level. We do not depend on the group, nor foster the group. We even lack the understanding of such creatures as the big cats that roam mostly in solitude, yet, still aware of and understanding their connection and dependence on the other of their own kind for their mutual survival. Not only do we put our individual self wholly and almost singularly on our priority list we will even destroy the rest of our species not for the sake of our physical survival, but for the survival of our own ego. We remorselessly kill those we deem less than us and abuse those we can gain some benefit from. This extreme of individualism has cost us dearly.

Thus, we cannot comprehend the savant of the idiot, nor the logic of the crazy, we cannot see good deeds can be done even by evil persons. However, all these things exist and to dismiss them because they are beneath our egos is merely the display of the smallest of individuals among us, namely the ‘experts’.

Thoughts From Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime Class

I am taking a course in Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime and we were asked to discuss some points about legislation in the US with regard to restricting the transport and shipment of artifacts from Mali.

We were asked to read the submitted comments to Congress by Dr. Hardy, which can be found here. And then we were given some questions to respond to….I think this is a topic which needs to be known on some level by everyone! So I am going to post the questions and my response to the questions below.

What do you think about the situation that Dr. Hardy presents in Looting, the subsistence digging economy in Mali; and stemming the flow of looted antiquities from Mali to the USA?
I think that it is sad; however, it is not uncommon, and will not be fixed overnight. There is a much larger problem that needs to be addressed and sorted in order to have measured success in stemming the flow of stolen artifacts from any insecure area. I do like that his opinion is supported by evidence that clearly implies the realness of the issue and the contributing factors of the issue. Americans have such a desire to just fix “the problem” instantly without looking for and addressing the underlying contributing factors that lead to “the problem”, not that Europe is much better in that regard either. There are NO easy fixes and there is NO 1 idea that will fix this either.
Why might someone choose to loot an archaeological site? Why might others oppose the looting? 
Looting can be carried out for a number of reasons; however, for this discussion let’s focus on subsistence diggers. They are usually poorly educated without marketable skills in remote, unstable, poor areas. They lack access to proper education or healthcare or skill training. They are in short hopeless. Yet, they have themselves and their families to provide for somehow. What options have they been given other than to loot? Especially if you also have the added instability of conflicts and natural disasters.
I would imagine, without insult, that among the societal group that we are focusing on there will not be many that would oppose the looting. However, I would surmise that it would be those that still held out strong belief in the old ways, such as the shamans and wise men and women of the tribes; for these special individuals would be the most knowledgeable about what the group was losing and the finality of that loss to the group and the future health and existence of that group….the easiest and surest way to eliminate a group from existence is to eliminate its history from existence.
Should looters in poor countries be punished for their crimes?
Yes, but, the punishment should be one that truly resolves the probability of future illegal actions by the looters. What does this mean? It means that either instead of jailing, or while they are ‘jailed’ for their crime, that they are properly educated; whether it is becoming literate and or learning a marketable skill and or a basic education, but it should be in regard to the heart of the culture of the group that the subsistence digger belongs to. Thus, do not educate in a manner that means he has to illegally immigrate to another country to find a job, nor that he is only literate in a language that is not of his culture. By doing either of the aforementioned you are actually re-enforcing the idea that his culture does not have value or a place and that looting the history of his culture was not wrong and thus his punishment was wrong and you have instead instilled bitterness to nurture the hopelessness that will foster animosity. Also, include in the punishment a means by which with respect and dignity the individual may restitute for his injury to the group, have him help protect the sites or help with the excavations in some way, he needs value, worth.
What are some ways that the looting of archaeological sites may be prevented in poor source countries?
The basis of any attempt to protect the archaeological sites must include the local societal group as a primary and valuable asset. They need to have reasons not to turn their backs on their own history. These sites need to be the heart of a whole new life for these peoples. I do know that funding is hard, but imagination and creativity should be able to incorporate the local group into the investigations and various aspects, directly and indirectly. I know that some archaeologists do try to make lasting positive relationships with the local group and help them as much as they can, but there needs to be a broader involvement of all the peoples that will benefit from this history that ensures that the locals have some level of improvement from their support of the investigations at the sites. It should not just be the governments and the officials that reap the rewards of the discoveries of the history that belongs to all!
Looting and the illegal trade of artifacts and art are as much a crime against humanity as genocide is, for one you are erasing the culture by erasing the living members of the culture and the other you are erasing them by erasing their history and thus their identity. And both should be treated the same way, those that are used by the powerful and rich for their own sorted goals, in this case the subsistence diggers, should not be held to the same standard as those that create, finance, facilitate, and, in some cases, legalize the crime!

Grain Silos

We’ll That’s A New One

Ben Carson
Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

I am the first one to want to hear, new and interesting ideas about things. And I have said more than once that I do not believe that the Pyramids were ever tombs. However, I have had heard an interesting and plausible theory that after they fell out of disuse of their original purpose that it is possible that they were used for tombs. This may or may not be true. I would still argue that there was no grave goods or the debris of grave goods found in any of the chambers of the Great Pyramid when they were opened in the 19th century. But, one could counter that the grave robbers were the neatest and most through grave robbers in history. But, I digress. 

The new theory that I have recently heard is from a Republican candidate for US President, Dr. Ben Carson. It is Dr. Carson’s belief that the Pyramids were built by Jacob during his time as Administrator in Egypt, to store grain for the 7 years of famine after the 7 years of abundance. His opinion was voiced publicly in a commencement speech at Andrews University, in 1998. According to reports, he bases his theory on the fact that the chambers of the Pyramid were hermetically sealed. While you would need such sealed chambers to store things such as grain for long periods of time, I think that is a whole lot of structure for such small chambers. Yes, I would have to look up the measurements and do the math to figure out the volume of each of the chambers, but still why have so much ‘bulk’ in the building and not in the ‘storage chambers’.

And why did we not find any dust and dirt from such storage? Not to mention, that brings up the same question again, what was the “Queen’s Chamber” for, it is not suitable for grain storage. While this suggestion does give one things to ponder, I do not think that there is any hope of it finding any traction nor staying power!

Gnow Your Gnomes

Monster bedtime stories
via watercolorwednesdays.blogspot.com

We have grown up with tales told at bedtime that include all sorts of wonderful and scary creatures, some are warm and furry, others are ugly and mean, and still others defy imagination. Some of them are tricksters, others are mischievous, some are helpful and others are not very nice at all. We did meet some of the scary creatures of the night last month; so maybe it is nice to meet some creatures that are not so scary that we should be wary.

One of the interesting things that you find when you start looking at our wonderful ancient knowledge, left to us from the rich cultures of times past, are all the over-laps and similarities. Not only are the story-lines similar, but, also the qualities of the characters involved seem to resemble one another. Several of the creatures included in the ancient stories are very similar to us in appearance. Some of the creatures that resemble us include giants, elves, fairies, leprechauns and gnomes, just to name some.

For now, let’s take a look at those creatures found in lore and myth that are known, more commonly today, as Gnomes.

gnomes01
via Gnomes

Most of us have seen these whimsical creatures in the gardens and yards of many a green-thumb. But have you ever wondered why? According to modern folk-lorists, the gnome is a fairly recent fantasy creature. The credit for the first use of the term gnome goes to the Swiss Alchemist Paracelsus. Paracelsus uses the word in his discussion of Elementals; describing gnomes as earth spirits, whom lived underground and could walk through solid soil as easily as we walk through air. He describes them as two spans high and shy of humans. Some thought that Paracelsus used the word gnomes from the New Latin genomos meaning earth-dweller or others that he was referencing the Greek gnosis which means knowledge, considering the qualities attributed to gnomes it seems that he might have used both words knowingly.

gnome
wiccanmoonsong.blogspot.com

In hunting for these shy small creatures in the scenes of our lores and myths we come across many beings that are too similar in their appearance and features to truly be different entities. There are Germanic dwarfs, as well as, Greek chthonics. There are also Chalybes, Telchines and Dactyls whom possess characteristics in common with our gnomes. There is the belief that gnomes and dwarfs have the same origins and that goblins are an off-shoot of gnomes and dwarfs.

So what do our gnomes look like if we search the world over…..just like us. Just as people dress or have some different features from location to location so do our gnomes, but look beneath that and common features are what you find. First the creatures are always small, they are mostly males and appear old with beards. They dwell in the earth. While they are rarely seen, in most cases they are benevolent to man. It is believed that they protect treasure, either mines or things buried deep in the earth, or the treasure of good crops and healthy livestock. They are considered to have supernatural strength and speed. While they seem to be spread far and wide, they do not possess global features; though the most common include, red hats and simple clothing, possessing human intelligence and personalities, and the Sun’s rays turning them to stone. Other sources say that they spend the day as toads, instead of turning to stone. While older sources give descriptions that are uglier and more akin to today’s view of goblins. They are also, many cases that considered them to be creatures of the night, thus any or all help they provided was preformed at night. So let us travel the legends of the world and see what surprises we find!

tomte_by_Jenny_Nystrom-thumb (www.jennynystrom.se)
1881 Jenny Nystrom

The strongest beliefs in our gnomes seem to be broadest and longest lasting in Northern Europe, from the Alps to the North Pole and from Prussia to Iceland. While the name varies from the kaukis of Prussia and nisse of Denmark and Norway to the tomte of Scandinavia and the vættir of Iceland, the gnome has been part of life and lore for all memory. So honored are then in Iceland that roads are routed around areas that are believed to be the dwelling places of vættir.  The Scandinavian gnomes, seem to be more centered around farms, hence their name of tomte from tomt or farm. The tomte are believed to be the first dweller of the farm and it is believed that the tomte has their dwelling place located within the burial mound of the farm. The name tomte is credited to St. Birgitta of the 14th Century, which is tonttu in Finish. It is believed that they lived for 400 years and that the females only gave birth once and usually to twins. The Danish nisse is clean shaven wearing grey and red woolen clothes, about 1840 he became the ‘Julenisse‘ bearing Christmas gifts. The new tradition spread across the north and in 1881 Swedish painter Jenny Nystrom gave the image for the ‘Jultomte‘. The Finish ‘Joulupukki‘ identified the Joul-tonttu with his goat companion, although other sources include a horse or cat and sled. This new job for the Scandinavian gnome compliments the older practice of leaving out a gift such as a bowl of porridge on Christmas night to thank the tomte, else he leave the farm or cause mischief.

Barbegazi
via chasingthedream.wikia.com

In the Netherlands our gnome is known as kabouter. And supposedly they taught a shoemaker how to make wooden shoes and could be household spirits instead of just underground dwellers. Yet, in Germany, it is believed that the mythological German dwarfs gave rise to gnomes with the incursion of Nordic culture. Rubezal, the lord of the underworld, was sometimes said to be a mountain gnome. Therefore, it is not surprising that it was German ingenuity that gave rise to the modern popularity of the garden gnome statues, by Phillip Griebel from Grafenroda in Thuringa. Continuing south to the Alps between France and Switzerland the gnome has retreated to remote caves high above the tree-line. These, barbegazi, ancient French from ‘barbe‘ and ‘glacee‘ meaning frozenbeard, are dormant in the summer and come out to enjoy the snow in the winter. Due to their winter activities, the barbegazi are said to be covered with long white hair and have huge feet that are perfect for the snow, acting as snowshoes or skis. The gnomes, just like their northern cousins are very human shy, yet benevolent as they have been known to warn people of avalanches or to round up lost sheep and return them to their shepherds. Their warning is said to be a whistle that could be mistaken for the wind; this would support other stories that claim that gnomes have magical songs as well as having invisibility and shape-shifting abilities.

Not all the gnomes in the stories are nice, the Spanish Duende (Duwende, in the Philippines), which appears in stories from Spain and Portugal to Central and South America seems to be more goblin than their Northern European counterpart. The prime commonality is in its name, which originates from dueno meaning the real owner of the house. Duende are short, ranging from 1’3″ to 4’6″ in height, ugly, hairy with long teeth and arms wearing big hats and animal skins or red and green clothes. One of their unique features is that their feet are reversed with pointed heels. The behavior of the duende appears similar to the British hob or boggle. Living primarily in houses and causing mischief or harm to people.

If you would like to learn more about the gnome or other mythical creatures please check out the links below.

Related Resources:

Encyclopedia Mythica

New World Encyclopedia

The Nordic Culture Spot

Mythical Creatures List

Thelemapedia – The Free Encyclopedia of Thelema

https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Tomte.html

 

Come Forth And Do My Bidding

Calling The Undead

new-orlean-s-historic-voodoo-museum9191large
Voodoo Ritual

As we have seen, there are many creatures that are neither living nor dead. The number of such creatures lends to many beliefs. First, that their are many creatures that defy our understanding. Second that there is something after or more than this life. Third, that the natural and supernatural overlap each other.  So let us continue our venture into the land of the night and the realm of the undead…..

We will travel to the Caribbean and the Island of Hispaniola, the country of Haiti, the land of Voodoo.
Across the beautiful tropical isles of the Caribbean is a complex and intriguing mix of Christianity and the ancient religions of Africa. Voodoo is one of the major old practices of the region. Zombi, a possible origin of the word Zombie, is actually a West African deity. Another version of the origin is the use of the Kongo or Dahomey word nzambi or soul. Once mixed with Haitian Voodoo the word became zombi.

According to Voodoo, the body can die one of two ways. The first is a natural death which is just as it sounds, from illness or very old age, the second is unnaturally, murder or tragically, before their time. When that happens, the soul is stuck waiting by the grave for the gods to allow them to move on.

new-orleans-historic voodoo dolls
Historic Voodoo Dolls New Orleans

During this time the soul and the body are vulnerable. It is when this happens that a boko(r) or powerful sorcerer can literally bottle up the person’s soul and thus control both parts of the victim, body and or soul. Most Voodoo practicers do not fear zombies, they fear becoming one!

Can one really become a zombie? According to researcher, Wade Davis, the answer is YES!
Davis has written 2 books The Serpent and The Rainbow and Passage of Darkness. In his research Davis claims that he found a powder/drug that can create a zombie. This powder or drug is a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. Which could create a death like state in a victim, whom could later be ‘stolen’ from their grave and revived. Thus, creating the legend of the zombie, by creating an actual Zombie.

So beware of Boko(r)’s offering gifts of food or drink this Hallow’s Eve!!!!!

 

 

Did You See That

3goddesseslionIt seems that the night is full of things that we do not see in the light. And it is those things, that it seems, we have been taught to fear, through the ages. All those bumps and thumps, all those shadows and whispers, even the creaks and moans of the night send shivers down our spines. Why is it that we fear the creatures of the night?

Even older than the tells of vampires and ghouls are the legends of were-creatures or shape-shifters. Creatures that by choice, design or fated curse have the power and or ability to change the form of their appearance. For those that were always shape-shifters the power to change their outward appearance is something they do at will. It seems that they usually take the form of an animal, bird or even sea creature, as suits their needs, at the moment. Those shape-shifters that seem to be merciful and or helpful seem to not take forms that would scare us. Yet, it has been known that others are not so kind.

There are creatures that have been cursed, usually by an encounter with a were-creature, that sentences them to a life of torture and solitude. According to some of the lore, one becomes a were-creature by being bitten or scratched by a were-creature. This of course raises the question of where the first were-creature came from, if you must be bitten or scratched by one to become one.

werewolf-del-toro
The Wolfman via The Independent

The most famous were-creature is the werewolf or lycanthrope. There are many legends from the Fox tribe of the Americas to the Epic of Gilgamesh that contain references to wolf-man or man-wolf creatures. In addition, Ovid and the Icelandic Sagas contain the werewolf within their lines. In some stories, such as the Fox tribe lore, the ability of man to become wolf was a gift; however, in other lore, such as with Ovid, it was punishment from the gods for bad behavior.

There are many accounts of persons be tried for being a werewolf. Some of these cases we can now more intelligently reassess as serial killers, which steals Jack the Ripper’s fame as the first. And some of these cases were simply the over zealous furor of the witch hunters!

Hendrik_Goltzius_-_LycaonAnother theory, as to the origin of the werewolf, is the affliction of rabies in humans that were attacked by rabid animals. There is also the relations between the behavior of the accused and the behavior of animals. Such as in the case of cannibalism. This behavior was one of the confessed behaviors of some of the executed werewolves of the Middle Ages. It was also cannibalism that was the act that punished King Lycaon (the origin of the word Lycanthrope) who offended the gods by serving human meat to them at dinner.

We may never know the true origin of the story, but it seems that if it were merely a tale that it would have lost its appeal by now. So what is the truth that keeps this legend alive? For, I believe there must be some truth, more than just the lure of a good tale, by the fire, in the dead of night, that keeps us looking up at a full moon and peering into the darkness, searching the shadows, for those things that go bump, in the night…..

Other Undead

Some Screaming In The Night

I would like to add that there some other undead beings or creatures that roam around:

Wights. Wights are not unlike skeleton warriors; but they are fallen lords, dukes and such nobles, who have been placed in a barrow and which their battle gear and wealth was stored with them. These barrows are protected by powerful enchantments. These nobles are more powerful than skeletons and are normally found leading groups of skeletons or zombies.

Azeman. The Azeman originate from South America. They take the form of a human female during the day but at night they transform into a bat. The Azeman fed by draining the blood of their victims. Azeman are obsessed with counting, and if seeds are scattered on the floor she will stop to count them all. It is thought that some of the modern vampire lore comes from the Azeman, which are South American versions of the European vampires.

Banshee. Banshees are restless spirits of evil witches and females. Their spirits live on in the material world, because they fear to cross into the void where they will face punishment for their deeds. The Banshee’s appearance is varied, they are usually seen as a skull with hair and a flowing dress; they float above the surface of the ground. As banshees are ethereal creatures like ghosts they have the power to move through walls. Banshees are well known for their howls of despair, this howl of the banshee is meant to bring death to those who hear it.