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Hope Springs Eternal: The Mary Wheeler Interview

Mary and Tim Wheeler, with son Christopher.  Courtesy Mary Wheeler. Prepare yourself(s) for an amazing interview with a largely u...

Friday, February 25, 2011

....an occasional column, or similar, for whatever may be occupying my mind on matters medieval and so forth....

I recently came across the blog  A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe.  Without further ado, I recommend it.  Real scholarship on the Internet!  More than I can say for LoS....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Upcoming events

Sure, this is stuff from family and friends, but all are worth checking out if yer in the areas....




Monday, February 7, 2011

Not so sunny days for the National Black Theater

I read an article the other day about the risk of foreclosure for the National Black Theater.  LoS readers won't be surprised when I did a double take upon seeing the sculpture above the entrance to the building.  A man raising his arms to the sun in front of a triangle.  The arms form a downward facing triangle of sorts, but what jumps out most is that the sun, like a halo around the mans head, radiates outwards from within the triangle like an eye in glory.



I imagine that the triangle and the sun both could refer back to ancient Egypt, an evocation of a glorious African past.  Given the mission of the NBT, I would also wager that the sun here is also a symbol of regeneration.  I think it important to add that the triangle does not figure in the NBT's logo, but only on the building itself, so I'm going to focus on the man and the sun.

I recently stumbled across the fact that the symbol of Tanit, a Carthaginian goddess with Egyptian predecessors, may represent a woman raising her arms to the sun.  The gesture is probably of a most ancient origin.  Early Christians adopted a similar stance, known as orant, for praying.  Pentecostals and charismatic churches still use this gesture quite a bit.  (In my sole visit to a pentecostal church years ago this was definitely the style, as opposed to the praying hands of my scattered youthful visits to the Episcopal church).

The sun is a natural symbol of regeneration and "waking up" in the literal and metaphorical sense.  Every day, the sun rises and so do we, the world begins to rumble.  People hit the streets and the buzz of the day begins.  When it goes down, we go inside, have dinner, watch TV then go to bed.  Likewise for the seasons.  When the Sun returns in Spring, nature comes back to life, the worms wiggle, the grass grows.  Regeneration.

It's only natural than that the Winter Solstice was/is celebrated by our pagan forebears/friends.  Whew, the sun is coming back.  We can eat again this year!  Even today, the memory of this gratitude to the sun is celebrated in our Christmas rituals:  burning the Yule log, festooning trees and houses with lights.  Why do you suppose Jesus is called "the Light of the Universe?"  To reverse the Uhura thing:  "Not the Son, but the Sun." (Star Trek episode 54).

Not into the Jesus thing?  Well, light your Menorah!  Hanukkah is, after all, the "festival of lights."  And the list goes on.

So, I would argue that the sun symbol evokes both cultural/spiritual regeneration of the African-American people as well as a symbol of enlightenment, highlighting the educational mission of the Theater.

In my researches into the meaning of the symbol I turned up nothing, but I did come across some interesting factoids.  On the third floor of the building is an octagonal-shaped room known as the Liberation Temple.  If anyone could snag a photo of this room I'd certainly be interested in seeing it!  Of course, this title piqued my curiosity.

The Cambridge Guide to American Theater supports some of my conjecture and reinforces the spiritual component of the Theater's mission:  The theater was founded in 1968 as "temple of liberation."  The Guide actually quotes that its mission is "to educate and spiritually enlighten the people it serves."  Furthermore:  "Initial performances took the form of rituals based on the black experience."  What more can I add?  It was created as a temple with a mission to spiritually enlighten people and began its work by performing not plays, but rituals.

Unfortunately, I can't find any info on Barbara Ann Teer, the Theater's founder, which indicates her involvement in anything esoteric other than her involvement in the Black Arts Movement (BAM).  That said, many "black nationalist" groups of the 20th century did in fact contain significant spiritual components and indeed are fundamentally religious movements:  Moorish Science Temple, The Nation of Islam (cited as an ideological influence on the BAP), even Rastafarianism.  This is a topic unto itself and I make just a superficial mention here.  Expressions like black power or nationalism are too reductionist to encompass the meaning of these groups, but I would propose that the idea of black liberation in America has inextricably been combined with a strong spiritual dimension since before abolition.

I should add I wrote a 50 + page paper on this topic back in '92 in order to receive my BA.  Full disclosure:  I only got a B!

Finally, I've read that Teer was especially interested in Yoruba culture and considered Nigeria to be her second home.  In researching my Senior Thesis I visited Oyotunji Village [with The Gid, as he reminded me in his comment], founded in order to "reclaim ancestral Yoruba custom and traditions."  Its founders came from various black nationalist backgrounds.  Yoruban and Fon spirituality play an important part in the life of the village.  I think it's natural that black nationalism would draw upon African spirituality as opposed to European Christianity, but I'm not sure to what extent Nigerian traditions play into this other than the examples cited.

I'd like to get back to the sun and look at precedents which, as we shall see, makes linking this sun to the triangle and eye within not so far-fetched.  But that's another post....

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Aucamville Project 9.5: A resolution of sorts

The human forearm discovered two weeks ago in a wooded area near the chapel of Notre Dame de Boisville has been matched to its owner (see A gruesome discovery).

La Dépêche du Midi reports that the methodical search by gendarmes and military personnel yesterday has turned up a body.  The badly decomposed cadaver was found 500 meters away from the arm on a slope covered with dense underbrush.  A loaded pistol was at his side and a bullet was lodged in the skull.  The arm appeared to have been carried off by a wild animal, which the reporter adds parenthetically:  was "surely a fox."  How he knows that I'm not sure.

The identity of the man hasn't been released, but he is said to have been an 85 year-old who disappeared from Toulouse on the 28th of August, 2010.  He was known to have been depressed and  suicidal.  Before his disappearance he left a note:  "You will never find my body."  The only mystery left now is how he ended up in this relatively secluded spot.  Did he know the place?  How did he get here from Toulouse, 40 kilometers away?  Good questions.

This area has been inhabited since time immemorial, so it's no surprise this macabre story is not without precedent.

As I mentioned before, a religious hermit who had taken refuge in the chapel was murdered here by two brothers.  According to a monograph on the chapel in my possession, the chapel was guarded by a recluse by the name of Frère Paul, who lived from alms.  He had already been robbed of some money and two chickens when he was found murdered a few days before Easter, 1754, his body thrown into a ditch.

But there is a more recent and similar case.  In May, 1999, a group of schoolchildren and chaperons were doing Spring cleaning on the banks of the Garonne near this chapel and found....a human leg and part of its thigh.  And they were only looking for soda cans and other detritus.

It was never matched to a body.  The police speculated it had been washed down following the annual high waters of Spring resulting from the runoff caused by melting snow in the Pyrenees.  A week later all that could be said was that the person was between 1.69 and 1.76 meters tall, between 35 and 65 years old....and wore a size 44 shoe.  The leg was wearing a black one.

But it gets weirder.  Three months later, in Moissac, a spine, three ribs and strips of flesh were discovered near the river.  "WTF?" I ask.  The Dépêche noted at the time that "Nature regularly exhumes human remains.  Last May 29th a leg was discovered at Verdun.  The only certitude is that it was a man's leg.  Other than that, the coroner isn't able to give any more clues that might help investigators."  It furthermore noted that the leg had not been identified....I don't know about the Moissac remains.

That is definitely some weird shit.  I mean, a vertebral column?

And there is another story, this time in Aucamville proper.  Just across the road from where I live there is a handsome house which has been empty since I moved in, and is falling into disrepair.  It was a tavern named the "auberge de Tail."  The full story is a bit hazy, but apparently the owner Altobella Capelleri had "hired" a homeless guy by the name of Georges Haurdin.  Now, this guy was a bit slow and was subject to the worst abuse.  He was eventually beaten to death after having been kept like a slave for an unknown period of time.  During this period he was beaten regularly and also raped and filmed by a "family friend" on several occasions.  His body, however, was never found.  As the story goes he was beaten and left for dead by Capelleri herself.  She then had her husband and son bring the body to the pigs, then afterward to a well, where it lay rotting for 6 months.  Unhappy with the progress of decomposition, they retrieved the body, burnt it in the tavern's kitchen chimney and then disposed of the ashes in various trashcans in Toulouse.  (Full story here).

No wonder the house lays falling apart.  Cursed forever.

Although Capelleri concocted an elaborate tale of an "accident", a son from her first marriage testified to her sadism, which included burning his penis with a cigarette.  What horror for this poor boy and his siblings, revisited upon a hapless vagabond years later.  The exact date of the murder is unclear, however; sometime between October, 1993 and July, 2004.

People began thinking of this when the arm was discovered, despite the years separating the events.  In any event, Capolleri was sentenced to 20 years in prison last September.

So.  A dismembered forearm, a floating leg, flesh, ribs and spine....and then this horrifying tale.  Long-time readers of LoS will see many familiar themes here, but I'll leave that for you to ponder.