On religious archetype

24 02 2010

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What seems more reliable is the tendency of every “historical form” to approximate as nearly as possible to its archetype, even when it has been realised at a secondary or insignificant level: this can be verified everywhere in the religious history of humanity. Any local goddess tends to become the Great Goddess; any village anywhere is the “Centre of the World.” and any wizard whatever pretends, at the height of his ritual, to be the Universal Sovereign. It is this same tendency towards the archetype, towards the restoration of the perfect form- of which any myth or rite or divinity is only a variant, and often a rather pale one- that makes the history of religions possible… [O]nce it is realised… the religious form tends to disengage itself from its condition in time and space and to become universal, to return to the archetype. And, finally, the “imperialism” of the victorious religious forms is also explainable by this tendency of every hierophany or theophany to become everything- that is, to sum up in itself all manifestations of the holy, to incorporate all the immense morphology of the sacred.

-Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism

Prayer to Black Hawk

21 01 2010

From the book, The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans:

Black Hawk, be a watchman on the wall.
Prop me up every time I fall.
Whet their tongue, like a sword and bend their bows to shoot arrows at
their bitter words.
Teach their hands to woe.
Let the Lord shoot at them with arrows that seek evil after my soul.
Revenge me, O God, in the power of Black Hawk.
Black Hawk, be a protector from all hurt, harm, and danger.
Be my keeper and shield me and bless me when I stand in need.
Shoot out thine arrows and destroy them in Jesus’ name.

Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity:
Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words:
That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not.
They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them?
They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep.
But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded.

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Window – Roof – House – Soul

23 09 2009


Michael Carroll in his book, Veiled Threats, tells of the following:

Gian Matteo Gilberti, bishop of Verona… instructed his priests to root out superstition, and singled out in particular “the practice of uncovering the roof so that the soul [of the dead] can get out, something that suggests the soul could be held back by a roof.” In fact, Italians have long believed that the human soul has a physical substance and so can be blocked by physical barriers like a roof. This is why those present at a death leave an exit for the soul of the dead person by removing a slat from the roof or opening a window. The fact that diocesan synods throughout Italy continued to condemn these practices into the modern era… is an indication of just how rooted and widespread this view was.

“A quaint superstition”, you might think. Mircea Eliade, however, further elaborates:

the soul of the dead person departs though the chimney or the roof and especially through the part of the roof that lies above the “sacred area”. In cases of prolonged death agony, one or more boards are removed from the roof, or the roof is even broken. The meaning of the custom is patent: the soul will more easily quit the body if the other image of the body-cosmos, the house, is broken open above. Obviously all these experiences are inaccessible to nonreligious man, not only because, for him, death has become desacralized, but also because he no longer lives in a cosmos in the proper sense of the word and is no longer aware that having a body and taking up residence in a house are equivalent to assuming an existential situation in the cosmos.

The Sacred and the Profane

If we are to give any creedence to Eliade, institutional spiritual institutions are not always the best apparatus in preserving the ancient religious ethos. It is probably not to be doubted that such an Italian practice originated with paganism, but the reasoning behind it (again, if we give Eliade creedence) transcends even the tired pagan/Christian divide.

For Eliade, reality only has meaning insofar as it conforms to the symbols of the divine. Once the language of these symbols breaks down, even the spiritual gatekeepers begin to conceive of the universe in increasingly desacralized terms. That is perhaps behind the sectoralized and atomized character of religion today, “orthodox” or not. In a place where even basic religious paradigms are separated from everyday life, any sense of continuity with the past becomes boderline farcical. Quomodo sedet sola civitas

The Grotesque as Sacred

1 06 2009


More notes on religious art

What makes an image sacred? People nowadays, who often do not tie beauty in with holiness (as proven by the various monstrosities produced by the modern church) can often come up with various mechanistic solutions to the question. Many would have us think that sacred imagery has to follow very explicit rules and patterns to be holy, and this is perhaps behind the resurgence of interest in “classical” Byzantine iconography, which can be seen in many of the more “upscale” churches. For others, the rules of Christian aestheics can become as complicated as a tract of Karl Rahner or Hans Urs von Balthasar, and still for others they can be traditions that we have lost long ago that it is imperative that we recover, and so on. For most, it can be a strange free for all where anything of a remotely religious subject matter can be considered “sacred”.
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The Jewish Temple

20 05 2009


We find similar temporal symbolism as the part of the cosmological symbolism of the Temple at Jerusalem. According to Flavius Josephus, the twelve loaves of bread on the table signified the twelve months of the year and the candelabrum with the seventy branches represented the decans (the zodiacal division of the seven planets into tens). The Temple was an imago mundi; being at the Center of the World, at Jerusalem, it sanctified not only the entire cosmos but also cosmic life – that is, time.

-Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion

Home Altar

13 04 2009


The sacred is saturated with being.

-Mircea Eliade

The more time passes, the less certain I am of things. The good part about that is that I feel less need for that certainty now. No one is more certain than a twenty year old firebrand full of piss and vinegar. Having been one, I can assure you that this is the case. But life has a way of polishing the rough edges of your certainty and making you into a smooth, tolerant, and at times, indecisive person. There is too much complexity in life to jump into the fray of the chaotic street. Sometimes, you just want to sit on the porch and watch it go by, not knowing where it is all going, but knowing that you will survive all of this as you have survived it before. You also know that you not nearly as in-expendable, or nearly as important, as you sometimes think.
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Why apologetics might be bad for Catholicism (and other notes)

12 08 2008

The dialectic of the sacred permits all reversibilities; no “form” is exempt from degradation and decomposition, no “history” is final.  Not only can a community- consciously or unconsciously-  practice many religions. but the same individual can have an infinite variety of religious experiences, from the “highest” to the most undeveloped and aberrant… we frequently find the shamanic experience attempting to express itself through an ideology that is not always favorable to it.

-Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy
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