The Maya Cosmos

17 04 2008

The Maya conceived of the world as a quadrilateral. At each of the cardinal points a Sky-bearer god sustained his quater of the world. Each Direction was identified by its own colour- red for the east, white for the north, black for the west, and yellow for the south- and possesed its own deities of wind and rain. At each corner of the world grew a tree, of the appropriate colour, while at the center, or the Fifth Direction, rose the great green silk-cotton tree, the Tree of the World, whose branches pierced the thirteen layers of the heavens. Below the world lay nine levels of the Underworld, a chill, bleak, shadowy place, where all Maya, save for those fortunate few  whose manner of death- in war, childbirth, or sacrifice- exempted them, were doomed to wander endlessly.

-Inga Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests- Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570


9 04 2008

In one important respect Descartes was breaking new ground. By comparing the workings of the brain with that of complex hyrdraulic machines, he was regarding the most technologically advanced artefacts of his day as templates for understanding the brain. This is a tradition that persists today; when we refer to computers and computational operations as models of how the brain acquires, processes, and stores information, for example. So while Descartes was hopelessly wrong in detail, he was adopting a modern style of reasoning.

-Michael O’Shea, The Brain: A Very Short Introduction
Read the rest of this entry »

How to make an idol

3 03 2008

thoth2.jpgOr: Fr. Ficino plays with fire

For a few years now, my admiration of paganism has become almost obsessive. My exposure to the idea that Catholicism is just a veiled form of paganism dates back to my youth. Of my mother’s eight brothers and sisters, three of them became evangelical Protestants shortly after coming to this country. The youngest, my tía Ale, married some evangelical guy from Michoacán (or “Michigan” as we affectionately call it thinking that it just might fool some people), and went off with him. They got a small house outside of Hollister nestled in a walnut grove. My new tío Paco was a cool enough guy. He took us kids walking through the countryside around the banks of the San Benito River. We picked tule and pretended to fight with it, and we saw crashed cars abandoned in a creek. We once played at a local park rolling down hill, and I got really sick to my stomach and he made a tea out of yerba buena, which settled my stomach as if it never happened. Read the rest of this entry »