8 02 2011

In the mythology and folklore of Bolivia and northern Argentina Ekeko is a fortune bearer god that has not lost prestige. It is used to offer him banknotes and/or coins to obtain money, grains for a good harvest, and some food to ensure prosperity in general. Ekeko is also known in other zones of Argentina due to immigration and internal migrations, but there his followers, who adopted him as a superstition more than as a folkloric deity, consider him as some kind of beneficent patron.

In art he is depicted as a man, wearing traditional Bolivian clothes (especially the cap) and carrying bags and baskets with grain and food (compare with the cornucopia of some Greco-Roman deities); he is commonly found as a little statue to be put in some place of the house, preferably a comfortable one, but also as an amulet holding from key rings; modern statues of the god include a circular opening in his mouth to place there a cigarette (better if lit) for Ekeko’s pleasure.


Mami Wata

11 11 2010

The mystical pantheon of Mami Wata deities are often pictured in their most ancient primordial aspects as a mermaid, half-human or either half-fish or half-reptile. Mermaids are not a recent phenomena in African history. For example, according to the Dogon’s creation myth, they attribute the creation of the world to mermaid/mermen like creatures whom they call Nommos. They claimed to have known about the existence of these mermaid-like divinities for more than 4000 years. Also according to Dogon mythology, the ancient home of these (originally crude) reptilian (half-woman/half-men/fish) pantheon of water spirits is believed to be the obscure and celebrated star system in the belt of Orion known as Sirius (or Sopdet, Sothis), more popularly known as the “Dog Star” of Isis. When asked where their ancestors obtained these stories of mermaids and mermen, they quickly point to ancient Egypt (Griaule, 1997, Winters 1985, p. 50-64, Temple 1999, p.303-304). Mermaid/mermen “nymphs” worshiped as goddesses and gods born from the sea are numerous in ancient African cultures history and spiritual mythology. Most were honored and respected as being “bringers of divine law” and for establishing the theological, moral, social, political, economic and, cultural foundation, to regulating the overflow of the Nile, and regulating the ecology i.e., establishing days for success at sailing and fishing, hunting, planting etc., to punishment by devastating floods when laws and taboos were violated. However, just as not all serpents were revered, not all mermaids/mermen were considered “good.” In one story, the famed London, Naturalists Henry Lee (1883) recounts that “in the sea of Angola mermaids are frequently caught which resemble the human species. They are taken in nets, and killed . . . and are heard to shriek and cry like women (p. 22).”


Socrates and piety

22 09 2010

He [Socrates] was accused of making innovations in the religion of his country, and corrupting the youth. But as both these accusations must have been obviously false to an unprejudiced tribunal, the accusers relied for the success of their cause on perjured witnesses, and the envy of the judges, whose ignorance would readily yield to misrepresentation, and be influenced and guided by false eloquence and fraudulent arts. That the personal enemies indeed of Socrates, vile characters, to whom his wisdom and his virtue were equally offensive, should have accused him of making innovations in the religion of Greece, is by no means surprising; but that very many of modern times should have believed that this accusation was founded in truth, and that he endeavoured to subvert the doctrine of polytheism, is a circumstance which by the truly learned reader must be ranked among the greatest eccentricities of modern wit. For to such a one it will most clearly appear from this very Apology, that Socrates was accused of impiety for asserting that he was connected in a very transcendant degree with a presiding daemon, to whose direction he confidently submitted the conduct of his life. For the accusation of Melitus, that he introduced other novel daemoniacal natures, can admit of no other construction. Besides, in the course of this Apology he asserts, in the most unequivocal and solemn manner, his belief in polytheism; and this is indubitably confirmed in many places by Plato, the most genuine of his disciples, and the most faithful recorder of his doctrines. The testimony of Xenophon too on this point is no less weighty than decisive. “I have often wondered,” says that historian and philosopher, “by what arguments the Athenians who condemned Socrates persuaded the city that he was worthy of death. For, in the first place, how could they prove that he did not believe in the Gods in which the city believed? since it was evident that he often sacrificed at home, and often on the common altars of the city. It was also not unapparent that he employed divination. For a report was circulated, that signals were given to Socrates, according to his own assertion, by a daemoniacal power; whence they especially appear to me to have accused him of introducing new daemoniacal natures. He however introduced nothing new, nor any thing different from the opinion of those who, believing in divination, make use of auguries and oracles, symbols and sacrifices. For these do not apprehend that either birds, or things which occur, know what is advantageous to the diviners; but they are of opinion that the Gods thus signify to them what is beneficial; and he also thought the same. Again, in another place, he observes as follows: “Socrates thought that the Gods take care of men not in such a way as the multitude conceive. For they think that the Gods know some things, but do not know others. But Socrates thought that the Gods know all things, as well things said and done, as those deliberated in silence. That they are also everywhere present, and signify to men concerning all human affairs. I wonder, therefore, how the Athenians could ever be persuaded that Socrates was not of a sound mind respecting the Gods, as he never said or did any thing impious concerning them. But all his sayings and all his actions pertaining to the Gods were such as any one by saying and doing would be thought to be most pious.” And lastly, in another place he observes, “That it was evident that Socrates worshipped the Gods the most of all men.

-Thomas Taylor, from here

On superstition – pt. I

19 09 2010

After these follow the remaining kinds of divine frenzy, which Plato considers are twofold. One is centered in the mysteries, and the other, which he calls prophecy, concerns future events. The first, he says, is a powerful stirring of the soul, in perfecting what relates to the worship of the gods, religious observance, purification and sacred ceremonies. But the tendency of the mind that falsely imitates this frenzy he calls superstition. He considers the last kind of frenzy in which he includes prophecy, to be nothing other than foreknowledge inspired by the divine spirit, which we properly call divination and prophecy. If the soul is fired in the act of divination he calls it frenzy; that is, when the mind, withdrawn from the body, is moved by divine rapture. But if someone foresees future events by human ingenuity rather than by divine inspiration, he thinks that this should be named forsight or inference. From all this it is now clear that there are four kinds of divine frenzy: love, poetry; the mysteries, and prophecy. The common and complete insane love is a false copy of divine love; superficial music, of poetry; superstition, of the mysteries; and prediction, of prophecy. According to Plato, Socrates attributes the first kind of frenzy to Venus, the second to the Muses, the third to Dionysius, and the last to Apollo.

-Marsilio Ficino, found in Meditations on the Soul

Our disfigured image

9 09 2010

The reassuring myth amongst Western Christians is that our historical legacy will be continued on in Africa and other places where we once carried the white man’s burden. Even if our religion is proving to be a spectacular failure in many places on the “home front”, the fact that it is prospering elsewhere signifies that we were right all along. Though bittersweet, the increase in numbers in the Church in places like Africa seems like a vindication of those ideologies that once governed our society. Perhaps, we think, they will come again to evangelize us. In many places, it already seems to be happening.

Far be it from me to rain on other people’s parade, but in the contemporary Christian consciousness, the Church in Africa seems to be the church over there. It is the Other par excellence. It doesn’t really matter how they are really like, since their denominations carry the same names, and they are under the same ecclesiastical authority. One should just assume that they are just like us, even if a little backward. The fact is that they are a new church, and are experiencing some “growing pains”, but soon they will shake off all of those evil superstitions and become the legion of traditional conservative Christians that we could never be. Or so we hope.
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The fount of philosophy

23 08 2010

Souls cannot ascend without music.


The common intellectual history of the West, especially since the Enlightenment, has stated that philosophical thought grew out of a rejection of the old mythologies that had come before it. The Greeks were the first “Europeans”: those who truly began to question the ungodly superstitions of the Egyptians and Babylonians, as well as their own. The evident skepticism of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle is thought to be at the very least inimical to the interests of classical Greek religion. Philosophy is thus seen as the beginning of the death of myth, and the prelude to the rational world in which we inhabit today.

It is a very reassuring story, but it is not necessarily the real one. Recent scholars have begun to dig into the roots of ancient philosophy, and are finding more continuity than rupture; more sympathy with “ancient superstition” than an inveterate form of rationalist positivism. There was of course the hubbub of a couple of months back when a scholar came up with evidence that the Platonic dialogues were embedded with Pythagorean musical scales. There came forth the idea, quite foreign to modern people used to the “data in, discourse out” model of philosophizing, that the text has more in it than words and ideas. It is a sort of divine play in itself: a representation of the eternal cosmogony. On the other hand, many scholars are seeing at the root of the philosophical enterprise an ancient method of inner transformation that is quite distant from our own ideas of philosophy. Philosophy was more tied to ritual and religion than it is in contemporary practice. What philosophy was trying to do initially was not break free from the “mythology” that came before it, but radically return to its source.
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On idols

17 08 2010

In India, the metaphysical Principle is regarded as both transcendent and immanent, being simultaneously supreme and accessible. Therefore, the hieratic icons, imbued with the mysterious presence of God, are likened to the deep pools where water is always available. The god Vishnu, who manifests and incarnates himself in many different ways, instructs his devotees that he, Vishnu, can be worshiped in embodied form only. So, allegedly, this mode of worship is revealed by Vishnu himself. There is no worship without the manifest forms and icons, ‘therefore humans should construct the Imperishable One in human form and worship him with utmost devotion’.

-Algis Uzdavinys, Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity

Roman Catholicism as the last Western paganism

7 06 2010

He saw himself as a son of the Catholic Church, which he did not regard as simply one of several Christian confessions, but as the great collecting tank of all religions, as the heiress of all paganism, as the still living original religion. That the Church after Vatican II no longer corresponded to this ideal, was more painfully aware to him than to anyone. And so, that much more easily did he decide to emigrate from the present, the analysis of which, of course, helped him to formulate his fragments of an “eternal anthropology” against it.

-Martin Mosenbach, regarding Nicolás Gómez Dávila found at this site

The superficial reflection of the week on my part is that I find sedevacantists to be a very sympathetic group of folk. Sure, I would never hang around them in person since I find that they are crazy enough in print, but I know where they are coming from. They love Catholicism more as an ideal than as a reality. I don’t know how one could love the reality without having had at least a minor lobotomy. Nowadays, educated people who speak of what they like about the Catholic Church speak only of an ideal, and if that is the case, one should become like the sedevacantist and go all the way. Or be a vagante bishop saying Mass in his garage.
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The Metaphysics of Voudoun

12 04 2010

Maya Deren’s book, The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, is one of the greatest works of metaphysics of the 20th century. Unlike the works of such figures as Husserl and Heidegger, and very much like the work of Mircea Elaide, she attempts to find being in the midst of life itself, and not in pure thought. For her, Voudoun is not just some “ungodly” superstition, some manner of manipulating spirits in order to get your own way in life. The complex pantheon of deities and the rituals used to feed and invoke them are informed by a complex worldview in which all things are interconnected. The truth of being is thus not abstract, but is so concrete that it flows through the very veins of the worshippers themselves.
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Maya Deren’s Erzulie

25 03 2010

Maya Deren in her book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, gives a different perspective on the divine feminine than is seen in most cultures. The central goddess of Voudou is not a mother goddess, but a goddess similar to Aphrodite or the Muses in Greek mythology. I speak of course here of Erzulie. As is the case of all loa, she is more archetype than person, and she is the manifestation of “that which distinguishes humans from all other forms: their capacity to conceive beyond reality, to desire beyond adequacy, to create beyond need.” Far from being the divine mother giving birth in the midst of protean chaos, she is the mother of the “myth of man’s life – its meaning…that very principle by which man conceives and creates divinity.”

When she takes possession of someone in a Voudou ceremony, she is the true woman of luxury, often making irrational demands on the surrounding devotees, themselves sunk in dire poverty. She performs an elaborate toilette, using only a new soap, the best combs, the finest jewelry. She also demands the best food and flowers, and displays an elaborate formalism in every gesture. She is a veritably “out of this world” character in the midst of the squalor of her surroundings. This is needed in this system, as Deren writes that:

In her character is reflected all the élan, all the excessive pitch with which the dreams of men soar, when, momentarily, they can shake loose the flat weight, the dreary, reiterative demands of necessity; and the details with which the serviteur has surrounded her image reflect the poignant, fantastic misconceptions of luxury which a man who has only known poverty would cherish.
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