Friday, February 24, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Let Us Compare Mythologies

Confused? I'm following-up on this post, which was generated by this one, which is probably where you should start.

Then let us compare mythologies
I have learned my elaborate lie . . . 
Leonard Cohen

I think I'm like most people -- give me a good story peppered with flashy spectacle, and I will be your willing captive.

So here we've got an androgynous figure flying in to sing some songs and do a little dance . . . turns out she's a lovely young Lady! . . . she does her thing whilst two towers burn and a bunch of fallen angels jig around her -- well brother, I am there! In fact, give me more fallen angels (please)!

Angels: check. 1000 pts-o-light: check. Football helmet ... football helmet??

Does the possibility that this might just be a celebration of Lucifer's triumphant rebellion over Jehovah's benevolent, orderly reign bother you? I'm not gonna lie -- it bothers me, just a bit.

But you've got to admit: that is one great story.

And if you're the sort that's called out Gaga, Bey and Katy on this business, and it makes you seethe to see them carry on so, cogitate on this: the fact that you've revealed the narrative bones to the rest of us rubes doesn't alter its intrinsic appeal in the slightest. You can urge us to turn away, you can tell your kid she won't be listening to any more Gaga or Bey in this house! but you have done nothing to check the influence of this story -- quite the opposite.

If you want to defeat this story, there's only one way to do it: come up with a better one.

But you can't.


Because the Reformation.

"'Better story'? Um, 'kay ... Satan loses?"

Five hundred years of Protestant "Reformation" and what've we got? Pilgrim's Progress and Narnia. Maybe Blake, but that's different (he's closer to Gaga, for one thing).

"Angels, lights ... where's my football helmet?"

Yep: Bunyan and Lewis. One millimeter to the left or right of these titans and you've settled squarely into kitsch -- which we've got a shit-tonne of, lemme tell you. When it comes to cultural content Anabaptists and the rest of our Reformational ilk are still chimps puzzling over the bone-pile.

Sola scriptura, baby -- that's where prideful thinking lands you.

Five hundred years of majoring in the minors.

Next: correction.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: What Is The What?

Wait! Don't start here -- start here!

These days it is a rare Super Bowl halftime performance that doesn't get called out as an evident Satanic ritual -- Ms. Lady Gaga is just the latest.

Um ... Snopes?
I think the tendency is to read these exposés with an ironic smirk -- aren't we above all this by now?

I'm as guilty of this snobbery as anyone. Still, I advocate these efforts be taken seriously -- and more, that they even be emulated.

Why? Three reasons:
  1. Whatever you may glean from Gaga's lyrics, her visual cues in concert and in video "borrow" heavily from Kenneth Anger -- ergo: Crowley, Lucifer Rising, etc (Wiki).
  2. Madonna, Katy Perry, Beyoncé are all borrowers as well. In fact, just about anyone who's a big deal in the music industry seems to have the same visual inclinations when it's time to put together a video or a massive stage production for a televised awards show. Not only that, but . . . 
  3. . . . it's getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a snippet from these extravaganzas and, say, an ad for a can full of sugared water.
Is it too much to suggest America's most popular performers are secretly gathering with soft-drink execs at anonymous-looking pizza parlours to perform even more elaborate and insidious Satanic rituals?

Eschewing snark for frank disclosure: I think it's possible that Gaga -- a super-sharp observer, adopter and adapter -- might be unaware of the degree to which her shtick relies on visual grammar established by Anger. It's taken nearly 50 years, but the media is utterly saturated with and indeed dictated to by this particular grammar.

Which leads to my larger concern: spotting and awkwardly taking a stab at "calling out" the ephemera becomes, more often than not, a critical distraction (we do recall "Satanic Panic," yes?) to the more crucial concern -- namely, what are we being conditioned to accept without reservation?

Douglas Rushkoff argues we are being massaged into reflexive, deeply self-destructive modes of thinking and living. Whether digital or cartoon, when given consideration his esoteric perambulations reveal that any reader's particular magisterium is surprisingly vulnerable to unanticipated influence.

"Honey? Where'd you put my Rushkoff?"

Rushkoff may be the latest, and most voluble (understatement) prophetic voice of the digital era, but he's hardly the first to frantically ring the steeple bell -- Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, even Marshall McLuhan expressed profound dis-ease with the forming shape of the West's collective consciousness at the close of the 20th century.

Say, those last three were all Catholic, weren't they? Hm . . .

Next: keeping score.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Aleister & Adolf

Mm -- if you're new to this thread you might want to start at the beginning.

I've been dragging my heels on this post, even though its subject -- a comic bookAleister & Adolf, story by Douglas Rushkoff, art by Michael Avon Oeming -- is essentially what launched me on this series of riffs and reckonings.

Rushkoff's story is a skein of noirish intrigue, exploring the ties that bound Adolf Hitler to Aleister Crowley, who, in Rushkoff's words, "was the quintessential English adventurer and mage -- an occultist deeply involved in ceremonial magic, mysticism, tarot, astrology, secret societies, and sigils. He wrote poetry, took drugs, engaged in sex rituals, and travelled through alternate realities. He was the very center of the occult scene of the twentieth century."

Scary stuff, then -- though a superficial reading of the work probably won't raise the hair on the back of most readers' necks.

Rushkoff introduces a fictional narrator sent by the military to entice Crowley to help with the Allied cause. Mission accomplished, although who has enticed whom is a matter of constantly shifting perspective as the narrative winds on.

The story is buttressed with some nifty/freaky factoids, including Crowley's assigning -- through Ian Fleming(!) -- Churchill's "V for Victory" sign as a counter-sigil to Hitler's swastika.

Oeming illustrates it all with a cartoon brio reminiscent of Mike Mignola: the entire caper plays, on a superficial level, much the way Mignola's more successful Hellboy narratives do. Magic (or "Magick") is afoot in this world, entrapping the unwary.

Unlike Mignola, however, Rushkoff's world is our world. Whatever one makes of Crowleyean claims (and Rushkoff portrays him as a canny suggester non pareil who lets others make claims on his behalf which he then dodges with dramatic, and cryptic, counter-assertions) it is indeed unnerving to see just how embedded his invested symbolism has become in the commercial environment that strives to captivate and "inform" our every waking moment.

If taken seriously -- and on some level, this story should be taken seriously; but more on that in a bit -- Rushkoff and Oeming are likely to nudge the reader toward paranoia.

A potentially dangerous book, in other words -- reader, beware.

Rushkoff and Dark Horse play up the peril in the promo-copy, giving it a sensationalist patina that fits the precis. But if one listens to Rushkoff's interviews he is evidently sincere in his warnings.

So why read it at all?

Well . . .

Friday, February 17, 2017

Waldensian Digression

New visitor? There's more -- much more. Start here.

While pondering my naaktlooper ancestors, I caught up a bit with the Waldensians. Thanks to the troubled existence of this early Christian sect, the Holy Roman Church spent some 300 years honing methods of persuasion they then leveled against Anabaptists and other troublemakers practicing the theologickal arts.

One of the HRC's gentler techniques.
The surviving Waldensian expression of faith appears to be largely subsumed into a Calvinist variety of Methodism. The degree to which it resembles the expression of its originator, Peter Waldo, is debatable -- once Waldo thumbed his nose at the Third Lateren Council, the HRC effort to quash the movement was immediate, brutal and unrelenting. Waldensians were constantly on the run, a state that does not usually lead to a stabilized orthodoxy. After 800 mostly-tumultuous years, that any Waldensian expression survives at all is, you might say, a miracle.

HRC propaganda branded the Waldensians as the original Satanists -- a notion that successfully captured the public imagination. Waldensian women were among the first to be felled in the initial sweep of witch hunts.

Waldensian men and children fared no better. Because they were commonly held to be in collusion with the Devil himself, it was perpetually open season on this hapless bunch. Reading this thumbnail account of the Piedmont Easter of 1655 I am reminded, somewhat, of events currently taking place in a geography just to the southeast of France.

Ever after, when prosecuting Anabaptists and other Reformational types, the HRC would hike a thumb at the fabled Waldensian Satanists and accuse the current lot on the dock of being similarly committed to Deviltry.

The Waldensian symbol ("Lux lucet in tenebris" -- "Light glows in the darkness") caught my eye, and will serve as segue into the "Sigils" portion of these riffs.

Next: Aleister & Adolf.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Reading The Washington Offal

Sure, this post stands on its own two feet -- but the better informed readers began here.

I've got further thoughts regarding my expressive-in-the-extreme ancestry which I hope to return to. In the meantime, here are some links that add a little texture to the art of offal-reading, in which we are all so desperately engaged.

I've appreciated Fenster, over at Uncouth Reflections. He's given the so-called "Alt-Right" a hard look, and taken a stab at dispassionate analysis regarding where they leave the rest of us. He's followed that up with similarly cool-headed thoughts on what Steve Bannon reads.

No reaction from me, just yet -- except gratitude toward anyone who keeps the spirit of Walt Kelly tapping at the walls of these digital hallways.
Next: Waldensians?!?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: You Can Dance, If You Want To

The fun starts here!
But only if you're naked.
My father emails to remind me that on this day in 1535 a number of our religious, and quite possibly genetic, forebears removed and burned their clothing then ran through the streets of Amsterdam, until they were arrested.

Google turns up varying accounts of this event -- the most reliable is likely here, on page 27. It's a distillation of Albert F. Mellinck's account in Documenta Anabaptistica Neerdlandica 5: Amsterdam 1531-1536.
"A small group of eleven Anabaptists, including four women, were inspired by their leader-prophet Heynrick Heynricxz to remove and burn their clothes in an upper room and then run out onto the streets of the city, crying 'woe, woe over the world and the godless,' proclaiming the 'naked truth.' Heynricxz claimed that he had seen and spoken to God and to have visited heaven and hell, assertions identical to those claimed of earlier shamanistic Waldensian masters."
Regular readers keeping track of dates will note this is a prelude to the infamous (to put it mildly) Münster Rebellion. Thus begins my tribe's colourful and thorny relationship with convictions of the heart, political protest, and slippery notions of revealed truth.

Next: reading the Washington offal.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Join The Gang!

This post isn't the beginning of the thread -- not quite.

I have a (Roman) Catholic friend who, when he seeks to wound me, will stretch and yawn and drawl, "Well, yeah -- Mennonites. I mean, I understand the impulse toward 'perfect community,' I truly do. But honestly, your 'orthodoxy,' such as it is, combined with the almost complete absence of tradition . . . etc, etc"

I have another who says his exposure to Protestant worship leaves him with the impression we're just making things up as we go along. He's mostly amused, a posture that nettles me more than his contempt does. In the latter attitude, his is particularly acute for the Presbyterians and Anglicans, etc., who, because they've carried over liturgies and the like, fall not into the improvisational category but into that of pale imitation.

A Jewish friend (Orthodox) keen to keep up ecumenical dialogue is under the unshakable impression that all Christianity is improvisational -- some of which she appreciates (gay marriage, surprisingly), and a great deal more which merely elicits the dreaded Jewish Shrug.

Man, I won't go to the mat over anyone's orthodoxy -- though I might, depending, occasionally recommend Chesterton's, despite never having finished the slender book.

This business of community, however -- pondering that for any length of time raises a host of troubling questions.

An example: Leaving Westboro -- I'd heard this story before, via a CBC interview with Megan Phelps-Roper and her sister Grace. The CBC angle, as with NPR and The New Yorker's Adrian Chen, is to explore the triumph of dramatic conversion as a result of extraordinarily patient and dogged dialogue (another less overt but certainly present element of persuasion: deep sexual attraction). One leaves these conversations tempted to think that had we but world enough and time, the entire nation could turn from and possibly counter the brute appeal of 45's monologue-via-Twitter.

I was left with other thoughts, however, and the big stumbling point for my buy-in to this rosy "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" scenario was this: post-Westboro life will have, by necessity, stretches of unimaginable loneliness.

What's the big deal? We're all lonely, right?

No argument from me -- that is indeed the day-to-day reality for most of us. But if you've ever experienced not-lonely -- if you've ever experienced the assurance of deep community -- the later experience of genuine lonely is truly Hell.

Again, no sweeping "This is what MUST be done!" conclusion from Yours Truly -- only an admission that one significant reason why I still throw-in with my fellow "Dwarfs" is to fend off genuine lonely, a reason only the materially swaddled could find contemptible.

Also, a link re-posted for further pondering:
"I'd forgotten that social life could be so easy. I'd forgotten that things most Americans do alone, ordinary things like watching television or listening to music or sweeping a floor, could also be done in numbers, pleasantly."   Ex-Mormon Walter Kirn confesses.
"Dick, dick, dick, dick, dick!"
Next: You can dance, if you want to.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Preface

"But the Dwarfs jeered back at Eustace. 'That was a surprise for you, little boy, eh? Thought we were on your side, did you? No fear. We don't want any Talking Horses. We don't want you to win any more than the other gang. You can't take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.'" 
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
It's only two weeks into 45's Administration, and if you haven't "picked a side" you are an extremist in your own right. So this passage comes to mind, from The Last Battle — surely Lewis's most vexatious work in a very large oeuvre that manages to vex every reader, sooner or later. Neo-Platonist, Anti-Feminist, Orientalist, Christo-centric Universalist — there are plenty of other "trigger warnings" that apply to this work, I'm just too lazy to dredge them up. But it's his apocalyptic book, and Lewis sorts out multiple antagonists and shibboleths as he is wont to do. Echoing the spirit of these times I say if Lewis, with a single book, can piss off that many readers — pretty much all of them, by my reckoning — he must be doing something right.

Whether or not we are enduring The Apocalypse — and whether or not that term has any eschatological significance in your personal lexicon — we are certainly enduring an apocalypse, or "uncovering." So Lewis comes to mind, because for all his readiness to push every hot-button within reach, his take on what an "uncovering" finally entails is surprisingly gentle.

I might get back to Lewis, I might not — I honestly have no idea where any of this is going. But mebbe I'm just a Dwarf — for the Dwarfs, and all others can go hang.

Dwarf party — less fun than it looks.
Next: Join The Gang!

Friday, February 03, 2017

Promissory Notice

Wow, Friday already.
With my wife abroad (pun intended? Sure, why not. Take what flashes of humour you can find, I say) the day-to-day duties are larger in both number and concern. And of course I am no different from anyone else -- distracted and susceptible to the temptation to take a crack at reading the Washington offal being flung in our collective faces. I doubt I'm any more adept at the art than the registered Haruspex of your choice, but I've got one or two stray thoughts I'll try to cobble together in the next few days.