Judgment at Nuremberg

2003 05 12 - 03:01

There are things that make me angry, or ill, or frustrated, or shocked, but there are very few things that can make me turn away with such abject feelings of nausea that hours later I can still feel it in the pit of my stomach and crawling up my throat like a snake.

I was watching "Judgment at Nuremberg" tonight, which in and of itself is a very interesting film regarding the war crimes trials held in regards to the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II. It's something I'd suggest everyone see at some time or other. "Schindler's List", though good, doesn't really touch on the horror of that time, and I don't guess anything would but actual footage of what was going on in the concentration camps coupled with descriptions of other committed atrocities.

And that's what makes my skin crawl, that footage... and what that footage means.

During the film they show some of the footage taken by the British when they entered the camps at the cessation of hostilities. I've seen them before, but... if you haven't seen them, there is no way I can describe them to you, no way to put into words what appears in the films.

It's more than sickening, more than shocking, more than horrific, more than inconceivable or unbelievable. There is no word nor phrase adequate. Reading details in a history book won't give you a true picture of it. It's something you have to see for yourself.

I have to turn away from it. It's a rare thing that can make me do that. A rare thing... yet things like it continue to happen everyday.


Yahweh or the Highway – Christianity’s Split from Judaism

2003 03 25 - 03:04

During the modern age, it is often easy to forget that Christianity was not always separate from Judaism, nor so defiantly different. There has also been a tendency to forget that Christianity’s centrepoint is a man who was born, lived, ministered, and died a Jew. The earliest Christians, in fact, were also Jews. It was accepted during the first years after Jesus' death that in order to be a follower of his, one had to be a Jew or become one. Despite the current disparateness of the two faiths, Christianity borrowed from - and still uses - some very important aspects of their mother faith. The Messiah, as the Christians see Jesus, is the saviour for all people and of all sins. Jesus was, in Christian terms, God incarnate. To Jewish people, whatever wonderful teacher and storyteller Jesus may have been, he was just a human, not the Son of God (except in the metaphorical sense in which all humans are children of God). In the Jewish view, Jesus cannot save souls; only God can. The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, seen as the culmination of the covenant God had made with Abraham, created a new ideology of worship, which sparked a rift that would culminate in Christianity becoming a wholly separate faith from Judaism and not remaining a Jewish cult. This transition, however, was not as simplistic as the above may imply, nor was it short, or easy to define.

One of the causes for a rift between those followers of Christianity and its Jewish roots, was a conflict in how Biblical prophecy had been interpreted. Whilst the Christians felt Jesus to be a fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, bringing about salvation and the kingdom of God, more orthodox Jews felt this not to be the case. They, as John McHugh says, "had not observed any great change in the balance of power, and could see no evidence that Jesus had established on earth the kingdom foretold by the prophets, or anything like it." The world was going on just as before, humanity was still wicked, and the Jews had no freedom within a land of their own. That was the essential difference in stress between what Christians believed and what Jews would continue to believe. The Jews believed that salvation came with earthly freedom, through a king who was a man and in no way supernatural, whilst Christianity was coming more and more to stress the kingdom of God in an afterlife. This emphasis on the kingdom of God in the afterlife rather than on earth, begs the question of whether or not the Christians actually believed this was the case, or if they were "finding" this kingdom there as an attempt to say, "Look! There is a kingdom of God! Jesus did bring it!"

To suggest that Jesus was the son of God, was repugnant to orthodox Jews. Some sections of the Book of John, and Matthew, show that the heart of the dispute between Jews and Christians <was this interpretation of Jesus and his relationship to God. On the other hand, the promise within Christianity of a second coming being so imminent, promoted a sense of cohesion within the group, that was "necessitated both by the perceived threat from Judaism and by the new communities' need for self-definition and legitimation [sic]." (Stanton, 1999, 99)

The dispute between Christianity and Judaism stemmed not only from the interpretation of Jesus and his relationship to God, but also interpretation of Jesus himself. Many Jews, people who had a distrust of magic, saw him as a demon, a sorcerer, and many of the reported miracles of Jesus were categorised under the veil of magic. With such a background, it is perhaps not surprising that Christianity adopted many beliefs from the more mystical religions and cults, which further estranged it from the strict beliefs of Judaism. However, central Judaism was to the beginnings of Christianity, it was not the only practice to attend its birth. The new church also displayed aspects of "Gnosticism, Greek and Oriental mysteries, magic, astrology, pagan polytheism, stories of divine men (theioi andres) and their miraculous deeds, and popular Hellenic philosophy." (Hengel, 1999, 2)

Christianity absorbed aspects of many pagan faiths that were very existent and included beliefs in demons, astrology, and magic, as well as some rituals. Along with the initial conflicts between the Jews and the new messianic movement, which had caused these people to be pushed aside or completely out of the Jewish community, the adoption of "outside" beliefs would aggravate a rift that could not be healed. The Jews, particularly the rabbinate, were hardly going to accept as members people who directly conflicted with their beliefs, or who took on the mantle of beliefs putting Christians of all types into the same place that the Rabbinate put other minim (heathens). &quot;The parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity only takes on an air of finality with the triumph of Rabbinism within the Palestinian Jewish community and the virtual disappearance of Jewish Christianity.&quot; (Alexander, 1999, 24) Judaism might have been Christianised up to that point, but the closer Christianity moved to more Gentile ways and people, the more alien it became to its Jewish roots. In the Gentile view, the closer Christianity got to Judaism, the more alien it would be to them, so it was beneficial for the Gentiles that the Jewish aspects of the movement became less and less obvious.

Gnosticism was also a strong influence on the emerging Christian church, prompting them into internal conflicts of faith and canonisation. Though Gnosticism appears to have grown up concurrently with Christianity, they had come from differing roots, which "could account for contacts and mutual influences and for Gnosticism' contributions, positive and negative, to the development of Christian theology." (Ferguson, 1987, 246) Ferguson goes on to mention that a principle Gnostic contribution to the Christian theological framework, was the 'redeemer myth'. However, he points out that no pre-Christian document has any record of a redeemer myth, and that there is an alternative theory stating that the influence was the other way around, that before the emergence of Christianity the Gnostics had no system of thought.

The most significant name in the early spread of Christianity is naturally Paul. Paul carried the message of the Messiah to the Gentiles. His missionary journeys and establishment of churches enabled the spreading of the message throughout the Roman Empire - made possible by his Roman citizenship. Christianity grew in acceptance; those that believed in the Messiah separated from the Jewish parent faith, and began to worship on their own.

<"So great has been his influence that Paul is often said to have been the chief creator of what we now know as Christianity, and to have altered what had been transmitted to him that it became quite different from the teachings of Jesus and transformed Jesus from the Galilean teacher and martyr into the cosmic Christ." (Latourette, 1975, 67)

One of the most significant contributions of Paul to the existence of Christianity, was his admittance of Gentiles into its midst. These Gentiles were non-Jews, people who had never kept Jewish law, and were, in the eyes of Jews, not ritually pure. Mixing with such people would therefore make them impure. The Book of Acts details, regardless of its historical veracity, a church council that culminated in the decision that Gentiles may become Christians without having to observe the Jewish practice of circumcision. The council also laid out which parts of halakhic law should be observed by Gentiles (1). There was a great deal of opposition to ideas from those wishing to remain Jewish and retain a Jewish way of life; people who wanted Gentile converts to adhere to certain aspects of Mosaic law. As church membership became increasingly Gentile "some Jews gave up the Jewish way of life and became absorbed into the larger Gentile Christianity. Other Jewish believers remained Jewish, increasingly a minority and increasingly alienated from Gentile Christianity, which came to regard them as heretical." (Ferguson, 1987, 491) Some of these Jewish Christians still living by Mosaic law accepted into their number Gentiles, but did not require of those Gentiles that they also keep the law.

Radically different to what was accepted under Mosaic law, was Jesus' acceptance of those taken to be ritually impure, those persons who did not, and had never, lived in communion with halakhah and who constantly broke Torah teachings (criminals, prostitutes, even the disabled). This may have prompted Paul's position, which appears to have stemmed from the idea that within Christ there was "neither Jew nor Greek". At its extreme, this might be taken to indicate that he felt that not only did Gentile Christians not have to keep the law, but that Jewish Christians were not required to do so either. (Alexander, 1999, 24) In regards to circumcision, specifically, he appears never to have negated its practice for Jewish Christians nor demanded it of Gentile Christians, but merely to have downplayed its importance.

Because of its Jewish roots, the Christian movement at first had some protection from Roman authorities, though the movement had to "share the approbation in which Jews were held by many in the ancient world." (Ferguson, 1987, 487) Some Gentiles resented the seeming exclusionary practices of the Jews as well as the privileges they received from the Roman rulers, and these feelings were transferred to the Christians as well. Christianity did, however, offer more appeal to Gentiles than did Judaism, not the least being its openness and acceptance of outsiders. Christianity’s beliefs in "monotheism, high ethical standards, a close-knit social community, the authority of an ancient sacred Scripture, a national worship" (Ferguson, 1987, 494) also appealed to serious-minded pagans. It also did not carry the same drawbacks as Judaism, which included its association with a single nationality, circumcision, seemingly meaningless restrictions on food and the Sabbath. After the first century, however, Christianity did not have wide appeal to members of the Jewish community.

From the Rabbinic perspective it was expected that Jewish Christians should keep the same way of life they'd always kept, observing all aspects of halakhah, but Christians were only expected to keep the more general Noachide laws (2). A seemingly reasonable compromise, but it "presupposed that the Jewish and Gentile groups could be kept segregated." (Alexander, 1999, 23-24) Even if Gentile Christians kept kashrut (3), it could not be guaranteed they were halakhically pure enough for Jewish Christians to mix with. Rabbinic Jews were, for example, forbidden to eat with Jewish Christians, and are also forbidden any commercial relations with them, and the rabbis had declared that Torah scrolls written by Jewish Christians were also suspect because of their origins. It has been theorised that the "ploy" of the Rabbinic group was "to establish Rabbinism as orthodoxy, knowing that once that happened the exclusion of the Christians from the synagogue would inevitably follow." (Alexander, 1999, 11)

The gradual emergence of Rabbinic Judaism pushed Christianity and Judaism even farther apart. Judaism, it must be remembered, also had different factions within its midst (4), in much the same way as Christianity would also develop. The groups - which included the Sadducees, the Boethusians, the Essenes, and the Zealots - were pushed to the side along with the Jewish Christians, those persons of Jewish descent and belief who also believed in Jesus and his message. This consolidation of Judaism was "a step that was more or less necessary to bring about the cessation of divisions and conflicts in Israel and therewith the religious and political restoration of the people." (Hengel, 1999, 33)

Despite all the things that contributed to pushing Judaism and Christianity apart, an interest always remained. They did, after all, share the same God (5). Jewish Christians likely still went to the synagogue as well as attending the new eschatological conventicles. (Hengel, 1999, 31) And, despite the rift that occurred, Christianity was still represented within Judaism by these Jewish Christians, even after the church started becoming mainly Gentile. This blurring of the lines, this group that existed both within and without Judaism, "retarded the final separation." As long as Jewish Christianity remained, one cannot talk of a final rupture. The efforts of the rabbinate kept this group marginalised. (Alexander, 1999, 3)

"They continued to use the temple as a place of worship and observed the Jewish law, including its ceremonies, circumcision, and the dietary regulations." (Latourette, 1975, 67) The Christians also use as part of their sacred texts, the books of what they term the Old Testament, books also still used in - and central to - the Jewish faith.

Theological conflicts outside of the Jewish one, also aided in the solidification of Christianity, something that, again, brought it further away from its Jewish roots. Between the years 70 C.E. (which witnessed the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem during a war that saw not only the destruction of any sort of centralised Jewish religions authority, but also, thereby, removed means by which problems relating to Christian status may have been resolved) and 312 C.E. (Constantine's victory and his ascendance as emperor of Rome), the Christian movement gradually solidified its internal organisation and began to formalise the structure of its beliefs. It also, increasingly, "defined itself over against the people of Israel from which it had emerged." (Attridge, 1992, 153) As the church formalised its methods of worship and its self-definition, a more distinct leadership structure began to emerge within the church. First emerging in boards of elders, bishops, too, began to manifest. A strong internal leadership evidenced not only a stronger self-definition and aided in the creation of an ethos for the church, but could also function as a unifying force during periods of crisis, especially when working in consort with bishops from other areas.

One of those theological conflicts stemmed from Marcion (6). He advocated a distinction between a "God of goodness revealed by Jesus and an inferior God of justice operative in creation and in Israel's history," (Attridge, 1992, 173) and his rejection of the Hebrew Bible contributed to what we now accept as Christian scripture. Marcion postulated two gods: "the just creator of the world and the merciful Father of Jesus Christ." (Ferguson, 1987, 490) The Christian community found it, therefore, necessary to not only refute his theology, but also to solidify its accepted canon. Another influential personage was Valentinus (7), the founder of Roman and Alexandrian schools of Gnosticism, who "advocated the evil origin of matter and the revelatory enlightenment, or gnosis, of an elite" (Davis, 2003) which would cause a challenge for 2nd and 3rd century Christians. Montanism (8), an apocalyptic movement of the 2nd century, caused friction within the church by its "attempted revival of prophecy, its ascetic morality of marriage, fasting, and martyrdom, and its eschatological speculations." (Ferguson, 1987, 490) Although it has been said that these controversies adversely affected Christianity's spread, it is those very same controversies which led to councils - such as the one held by Constantine - which finally defined systems of belief, church canons, religious services, etc., and all these combined to more solidly define Christianity’s self-definition.

In the early fourth Century, Christianity made an enormous step towards independence and legitimacy: a stable government backing which began when the emperors of Rome started to adopt Christianity as their faith. Until that time, Christianity "had no true political centre for its ambitions" (Groh, 1992, 267), the Christian emperors provided the machinery by which a Christian empire could be created. That machinery lent money and legitimacy to the faith and to those bishops who had emerged as leaders within it. The most significant of these Christian emperors was Constantine (c. 288-337).

In 313, Constantine declared all religions free from Roman persecution. This "Edict of Milan" allowed Christians to practice their faith openly. It should be noted, however, that Constantine did not become baptised as a Christian until he was on his deathbed (9). Except for the reign of Julian from 361 to 363, until the end of antiquity, Christian emperors would rule the empire. Another significant event in the rule of Constantine, one that further solidified Christianity, was the council of church leaders that he called to Nicea in 325. This council was charged with the task of defining the essence of Christianity, ostensibly for the purposes of promoting ecclesiastical unity. Two things that came out of this council were the Nicene creed (Appendix A) and the acceptance of the complete unity and oneness of God and Jesus; the charge of Arius (10) that they were not, was rejected.

Another key date in the history of Christianity, and one which, again, had very significant importance to its solidification, was the year 367. During this year Athanasius (11) wrote a letter that contained the first known list of the 27 books of the New Testament, and in the order we know them today. The canon was not, however, universally accepted until a much later time. (12) Still, though, that date gives us a point from which we can now discuss a canon of any kind for the Christian church.

By the late fourth century, with its own developing Canon, internal organisation and state sponsorship, all independent of the Jewish faith, Christianity could be considered wholly separate from Judaism, despite the beliefs shared by the two religions. This separation happened because Christianity embraced people and beliefs outside Judaism, but at the same time developed an organisation and strength that allowed it to survive where other splinter religions withered.

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When You've Seen Beyond Yourself

2003 03 19 - 02:26

In 1966, the Beatles announced that they had retired from live performance. They had become bored with touring, and wanted to create an album that would do the touring for them, and the need to perform their songs in front of an audience was also restricting their ability to make music. They retired to their Abbey Road studios and produced "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", an album that was so densely produced that it couldn't be performed live with the technology of the time. In each song, the Beatles tried to take their music, and by extension popular music itself - and its audiences - somewhere it hadn't been before; somewhere they'd begun to go previously with their albums "Revolver" and "Rubber Soul", and where the Beach Boys had begun to go earlier in that same year with the release of their album "Pet Sounds".

Sgt. Pepper was a boundary pusher of what was possible, both conceptually and actually, for popular music and its performers. It began expanding the vocabulary of popular music not only by including orchestration, more complex melodies, cultural themes and influences, sampled sounds, tape looping, etc. (many of which sounds were on the spot studio innovations from George Martin, and even equipment tampering), but also by allowing people to realise that such things were possible.

The album, in general, also began to become a work of art in its own right, created and crafted, rather than merely a recording of a performance. The evolving view of what the album could be and accomplish, helped give rise, in specific, to Sgt. Pepper earning the reputation as the first concept album (the story of the Lonely Hearts Club Band and a performance of theirs, which later also became a part of - and base for - the "Yellow Submarine" animated film musical); an ill-deserved label in the sense that it carried no cohesive theme throughout its entire song base, other than that of experimentation. The Beatles had attempted to make it a whole concept, but gave up after the first couple of songs. The rest have no discernible theme, and the bookend feel is kept alive by the reprise of the main theme at the end of the record.

Years before the band had broken new ground by writing their own music, pushing other musicians to follow suit, and Sgt. Pepper was no different. Lyrically many of the songs are deceptively simplistic, yet they are highly symbolic and metaphorical. None of the songs are straightforward, and are not about what they might on the surface express. In form as well as content did it also break new ground. It was the first album to include the lyrics on the sleeve. This calls attention to the words as a separate entity, an element of the creative work having its own merit just as valid as the other components, and showing, even, that lyrics can stand on their own as poetic works without their musical bed. The audiences become far more aware and conscious of the content of a song, and other artists become more conscious not only of the content of their own work, but also the content of the work of others. Musicians, then, are beginning to be seen as something more than mere performers of instruments; they are now creators, artists, and craftspeople.

The attitude of experimentation was not confined merely to the physical appearance of the album and its content, but spread much further. The album encouraged, and reflected, the same attitudes societally. The 60's were an era of experimentation with mind-altering and expanding drug use, free and open love, protesting against the stuffiness and rigidity of the past and the institutions created by the established authority figures of the day, protesting against military actions abroad that many felt the west had no part in, and so on. Musicians, and people in general, began to realise the vast areas of choice and freedom that were now opening up to them. People began to realise not only what changes could be made, but also that change itself was possible - radical change.

The album may have been aimed at their traditional audiences, but it wasn't to be handed to them only; it was meant to take them somewhere new. Most current popular music doesn't do this, doesn't provide any challenge - good or bad - as it’s designed for people to like it without any effort. Because of its level of newness and experimentation, it wasn't intended as a mass-market, moneymaking commodity. The wide appeal of The Beatles would ensure that anything they produced would have an audience, but would by no means ensure that release any success - financially, critically, or popularly.

It would appeal to the musicians and audiences who were ready to go beyond what popular music had been offering them, to experimenters, rebels, those looking to grow past or thwart traditional music-makers and authority figures. At the same time it would fly in the face of those who embraced a traditional view musically and culturally; those who would be offended by its free-thinking, musical experimentation, non-Western themes and sounds, and authority figures made uncomfortable by anything that shook the status quo. This album had challenged the dominant culture by espousing a spirit of experimentation and change, and encouraging those same things in others. The album, and the men who created it, challenged traditional musical styles and uses, beliefs (personal and cultural), personal habits and rights (drugs, sexuality, religion, etc.), attitudes, and morals.



2003 03 06 - 11:23

I miss train travel. Every summer my grandmother and I would take the train to Cape Breton, stopping in Montreal along the way. I used to find all the stations we stopped at huge and echoey and imposing. They seemed enormous to me, like there was no way I could ever see every inch of them. I was in the Montreal train station a couple of years ago, and how perspectives change when you're two feet taller and more than twenty years older. The stations are smaller now, easy to navigate, but still some of my favourite places to be.



2003 03 06 - 11:20

My nose is itchy. My grandmother used to say that if your nose was itchy it meant you were going to kiss a fool. When I was little that used to make me giggle, and I used to wonder what an itchy foot meant, what it meant when your elbow got itchy, or your eyebrow, or anything else. Old silly sayings are sweet, they're like verbal comfort food in a way. They always remind me of the days when I was young, before I became aware and jaded and maybe a little too cynical and bitter for my own good.


Bottled Up

2003 03 02 - 11:25

If you're like many of the rest of us, your cupboards and storage areas are full of empty jars. Whenever the original contents are gone, we clean the jars out and put them away thinking we'll find a use for them "one of these days". The jars pile up until there are more jars than uses we can think to put them to. Until now. Why not make them into gifts? Not empty, of course, unless you know someone else who wants a collection of empty glass bottles that once held pasta sauce, peanut butter, and mayonnaise. An empty jar is not a terribly interesting thing, so why not put something inside and treat a friend, loved one, coworker, or other individual, to a nice treat? But what to put inside, you ask, and how do I make this "gift in a jar"?

If you know someone who keeps a journal, or who likes to write other types of poetry and prose, then the answer of what to put inside is simple: things to write about. The idea is to fill the jar with slips of paper, each bearing one idea for something to write about. What you put on the paper could be questions, quotations, or anything else of your devising. Each day, or as often as they are inclined to, the person you gave this "journal jar" to would take one out and write something inspired by what's on the paper. The questions and quotations could be thematic. If you are giving it as a Christmas gift, for example, the questions could all be things relating to Christmas or other holidays - or they could simply be a random selection of questions covering any amount of topics you wish. What occasion you give the gift for, and what you put on those slips of paper, is completely up to you, but I shall list some ideas for you later on. First, though, let me go through some of the tools you'll need, and some ideas on preparation.

The first thing you'll need, of course, is a jar (or other suitable container). You can either purchase one new from a store (dollar stores are excellent places to find such things) or recycle one from your home. Any type of jar will work, but you might want to use one that has designs on the glass or is made from something other than plain, clear glass. Make sure the jar is thoroughly cleaned before you get started - including the lid - and that there is no evidence left of the paper label or glue that was used to apply it. An easy way to help remove the label and glue, is to soak the jar in warm water for a while, then scrape the dissolving paper and loosening glue off. You can use a brillo pad, or something else with a bit of abrasiveness, to help you with this.

You will need paper. Coloured paper is an excellent choice that can help to provide some pizzazz, or you can use white paper - it's up to you. Another idea might be to use paper that has a pattern already on it. Access to a printer (if it's a colour printer, so much the better) will make the job of decorating much easier, as you can keep the text and other decorations more uniform - and it certainly saves you from the potential of writer's cramp!

The idea here is to decorate one side of the paper and put your writing prompts on the other. You would then fold the papers in half so that the written side can't be seen until the paper is taken out of the jar, and all the person you gave the jar to can see beforehand is the decorations. If you were, for example, making a jar that contained sets of questions about family life, school, the holidays, etc., you could decorate all the holiday prompts with the same decoration and choose a different decoration for other themes. You could decorate each piece of paper differently, also. The other option is to use paper that has a peel-off sticky back, so that when the person you give the jar to takes the slip of paper out, they can affix it to the top of a page in their journal. In this case you might decorate one half of the surface the prompt is written on, and write the question on the other half.

Using a printer would allow you to make the sizes of the slips uniform. You could measure out the size of the slips on the computer using the appropriate software, then print them out in large sheets that you could cut apart yourself. Although it's not necessary, you could use pinking shears, or other scissors that have a special edge, to cut apart the slips of paper so that your prompts have a decorated edge. If you are using the "decorations on one side, writing on the other side" method, simply print out one side first, flip the paper over feeding it back into your printer, and print out the other side. Make sure the dimensions you set for the size of your slips has remained the same for both sides, or you might end up cutting something off.

You will also want to disguise the lid and perhaps decorate the outside of the jar. To do this you could use peel-off sticky paper, cloth, paint, or any combination of those and other craft items. If using paint to colour over the original lid and on the glass, you will need special paints for the process. Your best option would be to consult someone at an art supply or craft store, and ask them what is best to use to paint on metal and glass. The same applies if you're going to glue things onto the lid or the sides of the jar.

For the lid you could simply cover it with a piece of cloth, perhaps one that matches the colours of paper you used, or matches the designs you put on your prompts. You could affix it with glue, ribbon, yarn, or an appropriate elastic - like those sparkly ones you use for your hair. You could paint any sort of design on it you wished, or glue sparkles and other craft items on it. If it's a thematic journal jar you could put a design on the lid that matches the ones used on the papers inside. As for the outside of the jar, you can do whatever you wish, but it's a good idea to stay away from anything too complex, as it would obscure the contents of the jar too much. If you wanted you could do similar things to the side of the jar that you did with the lid - a little painting, perhaps something glued to the sides. One thing you might wish to do is affix a label to the side of the jar (or the lid, if you'd rather) that gives a title to the project. If it's a journal jar that's going to your friend Joe, you could decorate a sticky label and add the words "Joe's Journal Jar" to it.

The hardest part of the project is coming up with what to put on those bits of paper. As I mentioned above, it could be quotations (from books, poems, films, songs), a set of questions, or anything else you feel might help prompt the creative spark. If you're at a loss for what sorts of questions to use, I keep a collection of <a href="http://www.lonita.net/journal/journal.cgi?entry=wripo">writing prompts</a> that I've culled from various sources, or you can search out your own.

Journalling need not be the purpose of the jar, of course. You could do any of the following instead:

As you can see, the possibilities are endless, both for content ideas and how you could decorate for them. They are fun and interesting projects to create, and in the end, you might be making someone else very happy. Gifts made by the giver have a treasured specialness to them, and are very memorable and unique.

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Mystery and Messiah: Parallels between the mystery cults of the Hellenistic era and Christianity

2003 02 24 - 11:30

The Hellenistic period in the history of Greece stretched from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. to Macedonian Greece's fall to Rome in 146 B.C.E. It gave rise to the schools of Epicurus (1) and Zeno (2) in Athens, but was also the time of the suppression of the Bacchic mysteries by the Roman Senate. Despite this suppression, the time was a fertile one for mystery religions such as the Bacchics. There were hundreds of these mystery cults, and despite their variety, they held many similarities with each other, and with the newly emerging religion of Christianity.

It is important to understand what is meant by the term "mystery" when discussing the cults of the Hellenistic world. In our time the word mystery carries a (mostly negative) connotation relating to something unknown, particularly a crime that cannot be, or is not yet, solved. This was not the connotation of that term when applied to ancient religious groups. In the study of these cults or religious groups, the term "mystery" (mysterion in Greek) refers only to something that is "secret" or "closed". The word mystery itself, derived from the Greek word "myein" which meant "to close". It is believed to indicate the closing of the lips or eyes, which could indicate both the need to keep the secrets of the cult (not revealing them to outsiders) or the ignorance of the uninitiated before they are enlightened (opened) by the realities of the particular group. It could also be interpreted as an indication of the closed nature of the group at large, closed to the uninitiated, since the mysteries are rites "in which certain sacra are exhibited, which cannot be safely seen by the worshipper till he has undergone certain purifications." (Harrison) The mysteries were, at their basic level, secret religious groups composed of individuals who wished to be initiated into the realities of that group's particular deity. The origins of these cults are ancient and "hidden in the mists of prehistory." (Meyer) It is believed that the formation of some of these groups stemmed from agrarian festivals celebrating nature's fertility and the cycle of crops, and from chthonian (3) cults (from Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Anatolia, Iran, and elsewhere) that had merged with local beliefs and rituals.

Variety in number and nature did not preclude inter-cult similarities. Vows were taken that ensured the secrets of the group were kept private; salvation was provided by a deity who had died and was reborn; and rituals often included a sacred meal of food and drink (often visualised as the body and blood of the deity). It was not only with other cults that these groups shared common ground. Although it cannot be determined from which direction the borrowing began, except in regards to religious practices that existed before the dawn of Christianity, whose nature and origin can be derived from pre-Christian sources, many similarities can be drawn between the mystery religions and Christianity. Ferguson theorises that the identification of various deities may be responsible for reducing their number. The chief god of each group was thought of as the same (the Greeks even believing that the name of a god was translatable like any other word), and that, along with this cross-identification, the borrowing of ideas, concepts, and interpretations between cults, had sparked a trend towards monotheism.

One of the most common similarities between the mystery cults and Christianity, one that was almost universal despite the intent being different for each group, was the sacred meal. Within Christianity the Eucharist (4) carries a note of thanksgiving and is a meal that memorialises the death and resurrection of Jesus. The mystai of Dionysus (5) and Mithras (6) also partook of sacred feasts. The Dionysians devoured the raw flesh of a sacrificial animal and believed they were consuming the god himself. This concept, of course, echoes the idea of transubstantiation that exists in many Christian sects, where, at the time of consecration during a religious service, the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus. The Mithraics and Christians both made use of bread at their sacred feasts, yet while the Christians took wine, it seems that Mithraics made use of water instead - though it may have been a mixed drink of water and wine. It has been said of both Mithraism and Christianity that the act of faith is renewed in this common feast. The apologist Justin Martyr (7) found the similarities between the Lord's Supper of the Christian faith and the feast shared by Mithraics so embarrassing, that he claimed of the Mithraics that they ate bread and drank water in "diabolical imitation of the Christian Eucharist." (Meyer)

It is not in Christianity alone that we find evidence of the concept of resurrection, though the Christian idea of resurrection seems repugnant to many mystery faiths. This repugnance is likely because, in their eyes, the god was to be and remain divine, not return in any earthly or "manly" way, nor considered a man any longer, as Christ was. A type of resurrection, like the sacred feast, was also nearly universal to the ancient mystery cults. The deities of many cults died and were reborn; Osiris, for example, was one such resurrected deity. Osiris was only, however, ruler of the dead. Christ is, through himself and God, ruler over all things: the dead and the Kingdom of God. The idea of resurrection in the mystery cults seems heavily tied to the cycle of nature, something that was renewed each year and commemorated fertility, whereas the resurrection of Christ is a one-time historical event. The Christians also saw the resurrection of Jesus in a moral light, something that symbolised the redemption of their sins, but within the mystery cults a moral ideal did not necessarily exist. The "salvation" found within the cults was one that delivered them from fate and terrors of the afterlife, in a more immediate and physical sense. The deities of the mystery cults also did not die voluntarily, nor had Christ, though he was cognisant of his fate and resigned to it., and did not do so (nor return to the earth) to save humanity. One of Demeter's gifts, though, is "the promise of a prolonged life beyond the grave for those who have 'seen the mysteries'." (Burkert, Mystery Cults) Much like Christians are promised heaven for eternity if they lead the sort of life outlined for them in the Bible and through the teachings of Jesus.

One of the most significant rituals within the Christian community is that of baptism. From the time of Paul, baptism was seen as a death experience, and emergence from the water was taken as the beginning of a new life. This ritual was a gift of god that conferred a state of grace upon the recipient, and washed away the stain of sin. Although there are no true parallels to the Christian concept of baptism and its significance within the mysteries, ceremonies and concepts manifest in similar ways. As with the Christian baptism, water was used for purification purposes within the mysteries, but the benefit came from the act of cleansing itself not from any sense of a god's grace-gift. The Mithraic taurobolium, a ritual in which the recipient crouched in a pit while a bull was slaughtered on boards over his head, was a type of baptismal ritual. The blood falling on the recipient symbolised a rebirth, and it has been suggested that, though this ceremony had to be repeated every 20 years, a person was reborn for eternity. Water, within the mysteries, seems to have been more commonly used as a lustration (purification by means of ritual) or ablution (act of washing oneself or another) required before approaching an altar, entering a sanctuary, or taking part in other rituals or ceremonies. This could be likened to a practice within the Roman Catholic faith, where upon entering a church a person blesses himself with the sign of the cross after dipping their fingers in holy water. This water had been blessed by a priest and put in a font by the church doors. There is a similar act within Isis worship, where fonts of sacred water from the Nile were set up in the temple. More barbaric to our modern sensibilities is the suggestion that Mithraics also partook of flagellation (beating with a whip, strap, or rope) as an act of purification before approaching an altar. It was believed that an initiate must undergo trials in order to prove one's allegiance and faith in the god, and these flagellations may have been part of this. This practice was taken up by some of the more extreme adherents of the Christian faith who would whip themselves whilst chanting the words "mea culpa." These words denoted an acknowledgement of your own guilt or error in order to punish the flesh for committed sins, or to deny the power of the flesh over the more important strength of the spirit.

The concepts of sin, confession, and atonement were not exclusive to Christianity. There are a number of inscriptions of Lydian (8) and Phrygian (9) origin dating from the second and third centuries C.E. that contain confessions of ritual offences and punishments. As late as the latter part of the fifth century C.E., there is evidence of the institution of confession within the Samothracian (10) mysteries as well. Acknowledgement of guilt to the deity existed within many mysteries as well as Christianity, and in both cases worshippers were compelled to not only confess sins, but also to perform rituals of atonement and penance. Within Roman Catholicism this is usually confined to the saying of prayers, sometimes a pilgrimage, a time of seclusion, requesting forgiveness from the injured party, or repayment for something stolen. However, in the mysteries a person might be required to perform rituals of sacrifice in order to attain balance once more. Catholicism has ritualised the practice of confession in a much more strict form than it likely ever existed within the mysteries, and it is, in fact, required as part of proper participation in the church or before certain sacraments are undertaken. This may be a throwback to an aspect of Isis worship that, though seemingly confined to the physical, required confession of sins before proper healing could occur. In fact, though perhaps existing only in Christian superstition now, it was felt that deeds of the past were responsible for illness or depression. Rituals were undertaken that had the effect of relieving grief and sorrow, and conferring a "blessed" state. Conferring of this state of grace is the purpose of Catholic confession now. Catholicism also employs rituals of exorcism in order to remove evil spirits either from a person or a place, yet another similarity to Isis worship that ties in with the aforementioned "deeds of the past." These "deeds" might include hauntings by, for example, victims of murder or persons who did not receive proper burial.

Worship of Isis (who was often associated with other Mother goddesses such as Cybele, Demeter, and Magna Mater (11)), may be partially responsible for the later veneration of the Virgin Mary. There are, at least, similarities between the two: both were blessed mothers proclaimed queen of heaven, and both were often depicted with their sons (Horus with Isis, Jesus with Mary) sitting on their laps. Most mysteries, in fact, had a place for a female (deity or otherwise) who was connected with the male god (Isis - Horus, Mary - Jesus - God, Meter - Attis, Persephone - Athena - Rhea - Semele - Dionysus) either as mother, lover, sister, or any combination thereof.

Along with the similarities we can find between Isis and Mary, similarities can be drawn between Christ and various male mystery deities. As with Orphic worship, the fish is used symbolically. In Orphism the fish denotes the god himself (though within this faith men are considered to be reincarnated fish), and within Christianity as a symbol that one was a Christian. Mithras is considered the god of light and truth, concepts both applied to Christ as well. In John 14:6, in fact, Jesus is reported to have said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," the word light sometimes appearing in place of life. In addition, he describes Christians as "The light of the world." (Mat 5:14) In the case of Christ being "the way, the truth, and the life," the implication is that no one can commune with God, or attain heaven, except through Jesus himself. Whatever the precise connection, Mithras, in the Vedic literature of India, is allied with Varuna (12) the god of heaven, and with Ahura Mazda (13), the wise lord, within Zoroastrianism. The Zoroastrian Avesta (14) goes so far as to name him the champion of Ahura Mazda's truth, and a warrior against the falsehood of Ahriman (15). The connections here are obvious: Varuna, as god of heaven can be associated with the Christian God, and the idea that Mithra was champion of Ahura-Mazda's truth can be associated with Christ championing the cause of his Father who, like Ahura-Mazda, was the supreme god and creator of all things.     

Although it may be begging a connection, Mithras' name means "the middle one" in the sense of "treaty" or "promise of allegiance", which could be equated with Christ's place within the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit - or Ghost), and his purpose for existing. Christ, after all, was seen as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, which his believers felt denoted him as the Messiah and the beginning of a new covenant with God. Mithra was born from a rock or cave, as Christ had been (though the connotation is different. Christ was born in the cave, while Mithra is supposedly born of it). From the blood of the bull slain by Mithra before his ascendance to heaven, came all the plants and animals beneficial to man. It is likely because of this that shepherds offered the divine infant the first fruits of their flocks and crops, a practice that could be connected to the offering of gifts to Christ at his birth by the Magi. The Magi were, by definition at least, members of the Zoroastrian priestly caste of the Medes and Persians, and Zoroastrianism is believed to be one of the "parent" religions of Mithraism.

The worship of Attis, a god of growth and fertility in Anatolia (Asia Minor), venerated in both Greece and Rome as well, also has echoes within the Christian faith. Attis, who is said to have died under a pine tree, is venerated by the bringing of pine trees decorated with ribbons, flowers, and possibly other ornaments (including an image of the god himself), into the sanctuary. Although the purpose of the tree and decorations within Attis worship is different to that of the celebration of Christ's birth (16), their use in both can still be associated superficially. There was a Roman festival honouring the Anatolian deities that was celebrated in the spring, during which reeds were carried into the sanctuary after which the next several days were spent fasting and abstaining from certain foods (meat, wine, bread) and sexual intercourse. This festival bears some resemblance to the practices of Lent (which is celebrated at about the same time, during which the faithful customarily abstain from luxuries or other things of temptation), and Palm Sunday where palms are carried into the church, blessed, and taken home by the faithful. They are then brought back to the church on Ash Wednesday, and the ashes of the burnt palms from the previous year's celebration are then used to anoint the foreheads of mass participants. This practice of anointing on the forehead also exists in the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation (which, along with the celebration of First Communion, is also celebrated during the spring seasons normally). Although, in the case of Confirmation, it is oil that participants are anointed with. It is theorised that initiates of Mithras also were anointed on the forehead, though what was used in the act, and the nature and meaning of the act itself, are indeterminate.

Communion and Confirmation are but two of the seven sacraments (17) of the Catholic Church, and this number, seven, has special significance in Mithraic worship also. There were seven grades of initiation, the highest of which was Pater (Father), a term still used in the Catholic Church to this day; and, like the Pope, the head of the Fathers (Pater Patrum or Pater Patratus) retained his leadership until his death. Mithraic astrology also recognised seven planets (18), each of which was endowed with virtues and qualities, and the Mithraic concept of heaven was divided into seven spheres. The Catholic Church, at least, recognises seven deadly sins (19), seven heavenly virtues (20), and the seven sacraments. In addition, like Catholicism's Baptism, Confession, and Communion, the first three degrees of Mithraic initiation were open to children.

Christian researchers and converts are some of the only sources we have regarding the specifics of any particular mystery religion, as the vows of secrecy made within the mystery religions seem to have been stringently kept by each cult's followers. Christian converts, in particular, felt the mystery religions to be godless, shameless, and "devilish counterfeits of the one true religion," (Meyer), and because of this many Christian converts, who had once been mystai (21), felt no compunction toward revealing the secrets of their former religious affiliations. Early researchers interpreted one cult in terms of another, often with Christian ideals as their guide and basis of interpretation. They often conclude that the mysteries had been the "parent" of many Christian practices and beliefs; although, as previously mentioned, the origins are indeterminate. It has also been theorised by many, that the church deliberately appropriated certain Pagan practices in order to devalue their non-Christian influences, and to make the Christian faith more appealing to the uninitiated. One example of this being the Mithraic celebration of their god on the 25th of December, the same day most Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus. The church had also, according to Eisler, "travestied so many local divinities of decaying Paganism into Christian saints."

The reasons for inter-faith similarities could simply be a result of different peoples sharing a common geographic space. Peoples living near bodies of water, for example, might all worship fish - as the Orphics did - or the sea itself, even though each group might do so in a different manner. Similarities might also simply be the result of the evolution of faith that corresponds with the evolution of each group. In addition, persons converting from one faith to another might bring along certain familiar practices in order to feel "at home" in the new religion. Whatever the reasons for the similarities that we can find, be they natural evolution or appropriation, and because our information is so scarce, much of it coming from what could be deemed biased sources (converts and apologists who may have exaggerated similarities either to claim a specific origin or to highlight "demonic imitation"), we must question both the parallels we draw and the reliability of the information we can gather, in amount, depth of understanding, and representation.

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2003 01 25 - 11:36

Strength does not come with coldness, hardness, rigidity, or the unwillingness to bend. Strength comes from suppleness, adaptability, and the willingness to change. It is when one is rigid, that there is the greatest potential of breaking.



2003 01 01 - 11:39

There's this mysterious thing called a migraine, which sometimes has symptoms called "aura". Aura can range from visual problems (loss of sight, bright flashing spots, zigzag lines, etc.) to physical ones that can include tingling and numbness in the face, sometimes the extremities. You can even experience confusion, slurred speech, nausea, and a whole host of other things besides. Most often migraine aura precedes the actual pain, but there are those, and I am one, that more often get the migraine symptoms with no pain. My symptoms include the tingling and numbness in the face, sometimes my tongue, a crawling feeling on my scalp, a squeezing feeling at the back of my head, confusion, and always the nausea. I've had the visual aura where I see bright flashing purple and white spots in front of my eyes, but that's rare. The first time it happened it really fucked me up. I thought I was going blind.

My migraines can be triggered by a very long list of things that includes too little sleep, or too much, too much heat/humidity, chemical sensitivity and other odours that can include vanilla, raspberry, perfumed personal care and cleaning products, marijuana, and even body odour. The physical aura, particularly the tingling and numbness, have been likened to that experienced by someone having a stroke, as well as the slurred speech and confusion. The visual aura experienced by someone having a stroke is restricted only to vision loss, which can happen in migraine sufferers also, but stroke victims never have any other visual aura.

Anyhow, just for fun, behind the cut you'll find something that may surprise you. It's the International Headache Society's complete list of headache classification. I should note that there are two main categories of headache: primary and secondary. Secondary headaches have an underlying cause, like stroke or head trauma, and primary headaches are those where the headache itself is the problem. Migraines are primary headaches. It is important to remember, also, that migraine is not "just a really bad headache." It's far different from your garden variety head pain - but I'll explain that some other time.

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2002 12 04 - 20:13

One of these days I should count exactly how many cups of tea I drink per day. So far, all I've got is the extremely precise mathematical number of "a lot". I remember learning, as a child, that there actually are quasi-accepted numeric equivalents for terms like "a few", "many", and "some". I think "a few" is supposed to be "four or five". It's odd, when you think about it, how many words the English language has for numerics without any precise value attached to them, yet only one word for love, friend, and family - things which morph constantly.