Monday, May 31, 2010

The Mikado, Ghandi or Princess Leia ?

I decided that I wanted some more "glamor shots" of myself. Or, as Mark likes to say, I'm very good at entertaining myself. For all of these I used a tripod and set up the camera to take multiple exposures using a timer.

Never underestimate the power of a bedspread to help spruce up a photo. "Help me Obi-wan, you're my only hope."

I once saw a picture of Laurie Anderson taken with her eyes closed. I think that was a better shot than this one. There's something about eyes closed in sleep - Ursula K Le Guin wrote about how sleep is the ultimate turning inward away from society. Probably, this photo makes me look like I have a headache. There's probably a reason Laurie Anderson had Annie Leibovitz take her picture.

Not quite sure what's going on in this photo, but it's a fun one. It sort of looks like I'm wearing a conical hat -which is changing the usual impression of my head's shape.

Perhaps I'm participating in a Mimbari ritual ?

A few moments later. I wanted a black-and-white photo look without actually using a black-and-white filter. Our house's interior paint job, which I love, has the unfortunate effect of making photographed people look like jaundice victims or Ban De Soliel representatives.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

DREAM: Pat Kight's House

Woke up around 5 AM.

I had been dreaming. I was either finishing up or had just finished getting a masters degree of some sort, possibly at OSU. The recall's sketchy, but I had to find a place to live, and I somehow wandered into a Very Large Victorian house owned by Pat Kight (not her real house). Images that I can recall are falling asleep in a very large and poofy king sized bed, being sat upon by multiple cats (ours does not sleep with us), wandering into the kitchen where Pat and two other women were making some fabulous breakfast, and me apologizing for shedding very long John Hairs in a space of three minutes' conversation.

The house was mostly dark, with black wooden paneled halls. The room I slept in I thought was on the second floor at first, but later in the kitchen, I realized it was on a kind of glassed in mezzanine entrance (sort of like the old entrance to the Reed College Library, c 1990). The kitchen was the brightest part of the house.

When I woke up (for real) the following phrase was in my head:

Horses stumble. Houses fall.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Update on Everything

Quick update.

I'm working on a short-story -- I was hoping to have a Wordos-ready draft ready by this evening, but family matters (of a fun kind) intervened. It's a humor piece (well, at least I think it's funny).

Tons of rain lately; I'm sure it's good for the snow pack, but our strawberries are mushy and white. On the plus side, in the last half month there have been no less than four huge, double-rainbows at sunset. And double-rainbows almost automatically equal smooching at our house.

With all the clouds and rain, I haven't seen much of the moon. I was hoping Thursday that I might see the moon right under one of the Monster Rainbows, but that didn't happen.

In other news, I'm reading way too many books at once -- books on the various branches of mysticism surrounding the Kabbalah, books on the history of writing and the development of homo sapiens art, and the history of science. It's times like these I wish I could read in my sleep. All this research is sort of for the history exhibit in Second Life... except that I've been so busy with Family Art Projects, short stories, and research that I haven't had much time to play in Second Life. It's crazy, but everything starts to point back to Gilgamesh, King Hammurabi, Ishtar, Lilitu, and Babylon. Oh, and medieval and Renaissance pastiches mistaken in the 1800 and 1900's for real live ancient things.

On the topic of religion... somehow, this week, I got into a discussion of rituals of passage with Dave Raines. I mentioned that over a decade ago, one of my old friends had used the metaphor "taken by the fairies" as part of a Neo-Pagan based ritual recognizing that her daughter's medical condition had irreversibly changed her personality. Dave wondered about a Christian-based ritual... and this is what popped out:

I'm reminded of the saying, "When one door closes, another opens." Here's one suggested ritual format (keeping in mind that although I was raised Episcopal, my spiritual practice is Neo-Paganism).

Ritual Welcoming the Changing One (a ritual marking the passing of the old self and the appearance of a new self, either through Alzheimer's, menopause, injury, or other personality changing conditions)

From within the sanctuary, The minister lights a colored candle (representing the Changing One's past life) from the altar candles and says, "From God's hands we come, and to God's hands we shall return." He takes the candle from the sanctuary to the vestibule at the back of the church, where the Changing One waits, possibly holding a photograph or small token representing their past.

A curtain is set up at the gate of the sanctuary rail. The Changing One's family and friends form a corridor leading to the curtain. The minister, representing the church, leads the Changing One (still holding their candle and token) through the corridor of community to the curtain at the sanctuary rail.

The congregation sings, "To every thing there is a season..."

The Changing One is assisted through the curtain, which closes after they enter the sanctuary. The minister helps the Changing One to place their candle and token on the altar, and to light a new white candle (representing their new self or new beginnings) from the old one.

Holding the new white candle, the Changing One reappears through the curtain at the sanctuary rail. The minister offers a benediction (I'm not sure if anointing with oil is appropriate [Dave says that within his practice, anointing at this time would be similar to a prayers for healing service]), and the Changing One and is welcomed by the corridor of community back to their seat. (Perhaps logistically, their candle could be clipped to their pew or placed on a low table in the aisle for the rest of the service.)

The service transitions into regular communion.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Alien Butterfly Unicorn Dream

This morning I had a bunch of vivid dream imagery. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to write everything down, so all I have are some disjointed images. These are roughly in the order that I dreamed them. I think.

My Dad and I were walking outside somewhere and we came to a kind of hotel / sculpture. There was a long lake or a pool. In the pool or lake was a long whitish rock (granite?). Poking out of the rock was a sculptural array of steel rods, about the width of a finger and over six feet long, which held up a white tent or canopy. [Waking life comment: given that we were outside, given the tent and pool construction, this might have been a very disguised Colly Soleri Music Center]

I was in some kind of X-Files adventure. I was at a hotel convention/banquet room. I guess I was Mulder, because Scully had gone off to our room, 122. There was some sort of mix-up, because the Bad Guys needed rooms 121, 122 and 123 -- or else the Covert Entity the Bad Guys were chasing needed the room. [Waking life comment: I'd critiqued a short story with similar room numbers]. I got a phone message (I have an image of a French-style chrome, square box telephone being handed to me). A male voice told me that if I wanted to see Scully again, I'd have to come up to room 122.

Room 122. It was a long, narrow, studio apartment. Lots of large windows on I was talking with a white horse. It might have been a white unicorn. I'm not sure if I was Fox Mulder or my Dad. During the course of this conversation the white quadruped revealed that 1) we were in danger, 2) it had set up the hotel with its own agents, and 3) while it was mostly in control of things, it wasn't completely in control of the hotel's security forces, and 4) OMG! It got dark, the lights were on, and the shades were up.

The white quadruped then started turning off the lights and pulling down the shades. But it was too late. We'd somehow Broken The Rules. Paramilitary forces in green camouflage, helmet and toting rifles came running up stairs and down hallways. The white quadruped decided that it needed to help out, and transformed into a large red/brown eagle. When the leader of the security forces fired an energy rifle at Mulder (who was now either my Dad or an Andy Griffith/Dick Van Dyke amalgam) the eagle formerly known as a possibly white unicorn flew into the line of fire, yelling, "Stop!" Insert Marvel Comics style graphics here, with yellow-red energy beam, spherical energy beads building up, outspread eagle wings forming an energy shield, and anthropomorphized eagle eyes wincing in super-sacrifice mode. The attack ends with the eagle diverting the energy beam, but getting a non-fatal chunk singed out of it.

A bunch of teen and pre-teen girls comes over to the entity (alien? unicorn? horse? eagle?) and start to talk to it. I think they're outside on the white rock in the lake, but I could be wrong. I have the impression of a body of water, at least. This is bad for the entity, because the girls haven't developed souls yet; so the entity (which is now taking on a kind of Faerie aspect) doesn't have anything to push against. The entity tries to transform, but ends up looking like some sort of very small, squirming worm or embryo. Unfazed by this squirminess, the girls continue speaking with the entity.

A swarm of monarch butterflies flies through space. Below, the Earth. One by one, they spiral down over a lake. They land on the shores of the lake, slowly covering it. A face, made up of monarch butterflies, begins to form over the lake. A voice-over says how the alien intelligence merged with the land, and then took over local humans in order to make the land a nature preserve. [Waking life comment: Wow, this is a much better idea than the other alien thought-transference character I'm currently writing.]

I'm agent Scully, and the dream point-of-view is out of and a little over my head. I'm in some sort of parallel world controlled by the alien. About four of us are outside; the ruin of a concrete building surrounds us, and the rubble under us is scorched black. The alien, I'm not sure in what shape, if any, says something along the lines of "You can't leave, now." I can fly, and I try to fly out of the setting, but I can only levitate up about four feet, and I can't move forward or backward [Walking life comment: Who needs a Second Life Agent Scully avatar with dreams like this?]

There was more, but I think that's enough disjointed narrative for one posting...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Writing Through the Darkness

I'm pretty sure that February and March (OK, and maybe even April) are rough months for my writing. I've reviewed some manuscripts that I thought were hopeless, and they aren't so bad. I've also just submitted more stories in the mail to bring my submission count back up -- not quite at its pre-December level, but I'll get there.

I'm not sure what the best response to the bug-bear of final half of winter is. Probably Staring Into Really Bright Lights would help. And Mark would add "exercise." But I wonder if I should simply devote those six weeks to research and avoid the Pit of Despair wherein I re-write the same opening about ten times and then the rest of the manuscript circles around and around the meanders in my brain.

On the other hand, Grá Linnaea re-posted a link a while back to a web page extolling (in Latin) writers to "Shut Up and Write" -- with a warning that not writing kills the creative soul bit by bit until it becomes a shambling revenant shuffling through dark nights in search of other creative souls to devour. Which I think is true (insert image of writer-wanna-bes in a bar complaining about not writing).

But it's the cusp of Summer; soon I'll be writing enough (and complaining about the heat).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Neo-Pagan Cynicism

I recently read a ritual called "The Council of All Beings." It goes something like this.

In a group ritual format, people gather an mourn all the ecological problems they can think of. All of them. This is followed by a kind of group 're-birthing' interpretive dance to get in touch with either the evolution of homo sapiens or else the gestation process. Lastly, people become representatives of non-human species and processes. Someone speaks for all wolves, someone else is an eagle. Participants can even choose to channel lichen (I am not making this up). There is a pause for participants to use Stanislavski's method of acting to get into their character.

The animal (and plant and geological) representatives circle around and take turns dropping character and going to the center to be the human representative. The non-humans essentially point, and say, "Look, you've screwed up my life cycles." The human representative(s) must remain silent. Then the non-humans say, "But, hey; you obviously need a gift that only I can offer, so here it is." Insert celebratory drumming here. The End.

That's right: "The End." At no point during this event (at least the description I read) are participants encouraged to say what positive actions they'll take when they return to their normal, non-ritual lives.

What bugs me about this ritual is that 1) it reinforces the concept that humanity is an "unnatural" component of the ecosystem; 2) it strikes me as putting the curse of Original Sin into the mouths of a bunch of talking animals (and rocks); 3) it's a ritual for us to receive gifts of wisdom disguised as an event to raise ecological awareness; and 4) the ritual description seems to have taken a page from the Men's Mythopoetic Movement (insert repetitive self-flagellation here).

I wonder -- did the dinosaurs have rituals like this ? Or what about the early anaerobic bacteria that poisoned themselves in the process of making the planet's current atmosphere ? And do we really need this: it seems to me a less egocentric ritual would be formed around cleaning up one's locality, turning out lights, driving less, and raising money for clean-up efforts (and education on consuming less and researching green energy sources).

My final observation is a re-imagining of this ritual: A bunch of white people gather together and some of them choose to be (and speak for) people of color....

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Brief Summary of Kabbalah

Kabbalah (Notes primarily from Joseph Dan's "Kabbalah: A Very short Introduction".)

Kabbalah is complex, fluid subject with a written history of development spanning about 800 years. There are many forms of contemporary Kabbalah studies. Some of the worship forms used in Neo-Paganism can trace their development through Dion Fortune (aka Violet Firth) and Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 19th Century Free Masonry and Theosophy (H.P. Blavatski) to Renaissance Christian Kabbalah. Kabbalah's practice in the last two centuries (at least) is a mystical one, although its earlier Jewish roots were more scientific.

Briefly (and incompletely), Kabbalah is a cosmology, a metaphysics, and a tool used to contemplate one's relationship with Deity. Kabbalah states that the universe was created by a series of utterances or emanations, called sefirot, from deity. The structure of sefirot is called the Tree of Life. Imbalances in flow of divine power through and to the sefirot strengthen the Left-Hand, or evil powers. Restoring the proper flow aligns the restorer with cosmic or divine powers.

Within (Western European) Neo-Paganism, Kabbalah's influence is most readily seen in theories behind divination by Tarot card -- a particular card is a reflection of a specific sefirot's functioning. Kabbalah's Tree of Life paradigm can be (and has been) used as a template by Neo-Pagans and occultists as a comparative table of world religion by assigning various cultures' gods and goddesses to particular sefirot on the Tree of Life.

Christian Kabbalah's source materials can be traced back to the early 1500's; the most well-known English writer from this time would be Robert Fludd. Its Christian authors were interested in using Kabbalah as a system of magic, numerology and alchemy.

Jewish Kabbalah's written source materials probably go to the ninth century, with claims of an older oral tradition. These are the "Sefer Yezira" (The Book of Creation), probably written in the ninth century; the "Book Bahir," written around 1185; and the "Zohar," written by Rabbi Moses de Leon (d. 1305) and collected in a single printing in 1560.

It is possible to speculate (and the author wishes to point out that this is only speculation on his part) that Dion Fortune's theories of male and female polarity as two ends of a magical battery may trace their roots to "Book Bahir," which introduced gender polarity to Kabbalah by presenting the "Shekhina" as the cosmic bride / divine wisdom.

Earlier writing on Shekhina presented this as an ungendered concept for the limited human perception of Deity. Writings of Lurianic Kabbalah after 1572 also may have influenced Fortune's magical theories, as they suggested bringing the Shekhina into an eroticized union with the deity as expressed through the sixth sefirot (associated with Fortune with the Messiah in general and Christ specifically) would increase and correct the flow between the sefirot.

To the best of this author's knowledge, there is no connection between Shekhina -- a divine (and later a feminine) manifestation of deity -- and Ashera -- an 11th century BCE goddess.

What Kabbalah contributes to Neo-Paganism is: a worldview that words or utterances have a causal relationship with the cosmos; (paradoxically) a worldview that is mystical and beyond verbal expression; erotic union (i.e. The Song of Solomon) as a metaphor for divine knowledge of deity; theurgy, or the idea that humans can help and influence divinity by their actions; and that ancient sages had an esoteric toolkit for influencing the spiritual and divine that allows practitioners to regain a lost relationship with deity.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Descending into the Chariot

I'm reading a fascinating book, Joesph Dan's "Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction." It's a history of Kabbalah, which is not as straight forward as one would think. The idea that's struck me the most, and which shouldn't have been so much of a surprise, is that Kabbalah (like the Egyptian collection of spells known as "The Book of Going Forth By Day") has been changing, developing and fragmenting over centuries.

Dan's thesis is that Kabbalah has been used for many things; that Kabbalahistic writings are probably only about two thousand years old; that at various times it's been used as a kind of secular set of rules to be Jewish without being orthodox; and although it has non-mystic roots, mystics have latched onto it; and, about every three hundred years or so someone does a radical reinterpretation of it that eventually is considered "ancient wisdom."

As an amateur historian of Neo-Paganism, what I find interesting is the dualism and strands of Neo-Platonism that have worked their way into Kabbalah studies -- which, apparently, wasn't originally the case. I'm waiting to see if Dan will make mention of either Dion Fortune or some other member of the Golden Dawn (he has mentioned Robert Fludd), since they were so keen on Kabbalah, and their conceptions of ceremonial magick influence the worship format of Neo-Paganism.

As a writer, this history is interesting to me. Yes, I'm working on an alternate world, and the problem as an architect of a believable Secondary World is the nature of divinities in the world. I want to have my fantastical divinity active -- which means I have to decide things like the nature of Nature in relationship to divinity, and the nature of divinity (is it perfection, or just super-natural?) And I probably don't want to go down the road of "Is a Perfect Divinity Knowable through Human Awareness?"

Hmmm.... looks like I have to go create a boulder so big I'm unable to move it. Oh. Wait...