Friday, April 23, 2010

Aucamville Project 6: From the universal to the particular

Macrocosm and microcosm is an ancient Greek Neo-Platonic schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale (macrocosm or universe-level) all the way down to the smallest scale (microcosm or sub-sub-atomic or even metaphysical-level). In the system the mid-point is Man, who summarizes the cosmos.

I think this just about sums up what I intend to do with this latest installment of the Aucamville Project. We've gone on at great length about many themes on LoS: obelisks, sacred stones, the Tree of Life, snakes etc. and there are a few things in town worth mentioning as they reflect this wider dialogue. As most of what needs to be said on the subject has already been said in other posts, I'm just going to present the local manifestations with a few bits of trivia and new observations, with a few personal comments thrown in.

The Virgin Mary and Satan: Smackdown!

In a very recent post (Jesus was in shape) we looked at the symbolism of the serpent and cross, or rod. By way of explanation we also looked at those images of the Virgin where Satan is vanquished under her foot. It's a rather common motif in the South of France. Near our village church there is a small plaza with a statue of the Virgin doing exactly this, vanquishing.

Although the discussion of Mary appears in a recent post, it comes from an article I wrote years ago about Daurade Basilica. You may have also noticed that Daurade Basilica is my namesake. This is because when I moved to Toulouse I lived in a quartier called Croix-Daurade (Golden or Gilded Cross). I then moved to the very center of town where my small quartier was simply called La Daurade, after the basilica. Although far from gilded these days, the orginal building was a Byzantine-style orthogonal church with Byzantine-style guilded frescoes; hence the name of my quartier and now, my moniker. Pretension is deflated when you realize a Daurade is also a tasty fish--the gilt-head breem.

If you check out the English Wikipedia entry on the basilica, there is a column from the original church (400 to 600 CE) with a striking vegetal motif--stone and tree become one.

Our own statue of the Virgin is missing her left arm, smashed apparently by a stone-throwing mysterious stranger (according to a friend who lives next to the plaza). Oddly, I already had (and still have) a small icon of the Virgin, missing her left arm. I'm left-handed, too.

Pole Dancing with Snakes

It occured to me that the portal of the village church is flanked by two small pillars on each side. This is not unusual but is yet another example of the use of in this case not structurally necessary pillars to demarcate the threshold of a sacred space. The capitals of these pillars are sculpted in the form of dragons, or serpents. Though not specifically wrapped around the shaft of the pillar, as in the aforementioned post, there is an evocation of said image, at least in my mind.

Just for kicks, here's a link to some sexy women with serpents.

St. Blandine Chapel: Got Milk?

This chapel was razed during the Revolution and sold off for the building materials. For some reason, pregnant women and wet nurses went to this chapel to pray for abundant milk. Incidentally, pregnant women also go to the Black Madonna at the Daurade to ensure a smooth delivery and for the well-being of their newborns.

Blandine's legend doesn't seem to have anything to do with breast milk. She is the Patron Saint of those falsely accused of cannibalism, however. Her martyrdom was particularly gruesome: roasted alive and then thrown to wild bulls, still living. None of this may be so out of place after all. Local icon Notre Dame de Boisville is still solicited for the protection of children and martyrdom by bull is a potent image in Trans-Pyrenéan culture, especially here: Patron of Toulouse Saint Sernin was martyred by an angry bull. Additionally, a rather large number of Black Virgins are reputed to have been discovered due to the strange behavior of bulls, whether they were especially averse to or attracted to where the Virgins lay hidden.

In any event, the site of the chapel is now marked by a roadside cross which when viewed casually appears to have a serpent coiled around it. In fact this is a ribbon and vines. But still it too reminds us of the rod/cross and serpent motif described in our recent post, as well as another link to the vine imagery once associated with the Daurade. Off the cuff, one could in times past rent the belt of the Black Madonna, a kind of glorified ribbon, to lay over the belly during childbirth. Given what the Virgin crushing the snake implies (again, please see Jesus was in shape), could it be that the serpent, the ribbon and the vines are all symbolically linked to one another, as a way of reminding the faithful of the origins of sin and the ways to defeat it?

Monument aux Morts

This section doesn't merit a funny title. Every town has one of these monuments, often in the form of an obelisk, a form you may recall occupied a lot of our time in 2009. Strictly speaking, in Aucamville, it isn't an obelisk. It's as if Aucamville went for the bargain model and got a 2D version. Viewed from afar it's an obelisk but close up one can see that the pyramidion atop the column only has two slopes and is flat.

You can also see that there are quite few names on it (25 WW1 dead). I'm not sure of the population at this time but in 1954 it was 756 and in 1999 was 790. One can only surmise that during the Great War there weren't many more, there may have been less. It is an indication of what an effect the war must have had on people, no one was immune. Which is why I get a little miffed when people slam the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" for the Second World War. After having 11% of your entire population killed or wounded twenty years prior might make one less enthusiastic about the prospect of doing it all over again. To put this in persective, US casualties amounted to one-third of one percent of the overall population. Not quite the same psychic shock.

Not to downplay US casualties. My great-uncle Tom Sanders was KIA during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on September 28, 1918 (my birthday). His brother John made it out alive--barely. Hospitalized and medically discharged as a result of exposure to gas, he died a young 47 years old a result of the stress to his heart.

Sadly my great-uncle and over 26,000 other men died as a result of poor leadership and being thrust into battle while too green; they fought this battle not because they were ready, but because they were near the area.

This all took place near Verdun, in the north. Incidentally, Aucamville is 7 kliks away from Verdun-sur-Garonne. Some American men came to France for adventure and found death. I came here and started a new life.

That is all.

Spelling Bee

My 5-year old asked me the other day how spell a word. "What word? I asked. He pounded his fist on the table.

We had fun thinking of other "words" that couldn't be spelled, like the sound of two hands clapping.

But without further ado, here's how to pronounce a volcano:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pleasurable Departures

Birds do it, bees do it -- no, you filthy git! -- we're thinking of death.

Here are the best ways to go that we've heard of:

* Death by dancing
* Death by laughing
* Death by "pleasure"
* Death by tickling*
* Death by eating (more and more)
* Death by video gaming
* Death by old-aged
* Not actually dead (fraud, zombies)
* Death by drowning in molasses, chocolate, fine wine, or , beer
* Death by falling meteor, turtle, or piano

What've we missed?

* Okay, that would actually suck.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jesus was in shape (Gid remix)

The Trigger

It all began with this logo of the Stade Toulousain, the storied rugby union club of Toulouse. I've seen it millions of times and it never rang synchromystic bells, except the red and the black: Stendahl, of course; accounting terminology, yes; the anarchists and reds of the Spanish Civil War. In Toulouse, this latter is not as far-fetched as it may first appear.

The logo appears banal enough, really. A shield, a show of strength, the diabolic and virile colors, aggression and warning, blood and bile, the S. the T. Stade Tolousain. Simple. But one day, my kid was drawing the logo, tracing it from the computer screen, and something struck me. It resembles a serpent and tau I saw in a local basilica; then the associations exploded: the snake on the Tree of Life; the snake vanquished under the foot of the Virgin; but especially, Moses fending off a serpent plague with a bronze snake on a tau--a scene John evokes for the crucifixion.

I'm not crazy. I don't know what the designer of this logo intended. But therein lies not the rub. We're all about the bean-pole of the empty vessel: a head, a pair of eyes, a set of memories, a keyboard. We say sumpin', and we aims to extrapolate upon the association.

Before we wander too far down this associational trail of images, let's take a moment to consider the historical context in which Stade Toulousian arose.

Sporting History

Fraternal organizations date back to the ancient past; we know of them among the Greeks and Romans, for example. During the middle ages, trade-based guilds or lay fellowships of confraternities were common. Closer to our time, the 19th century saw an explosion of groups, fraternities and clubs. In the US, an estimated 50 percent of adult males belonged to a club or fraternity at the beginning of the 20th century, leading historian Arthur M Schlesinger to refer to the US as "a nation of joiners."

Part of this was due to the emergence of a middle class with time on its hands; for the first time, leisure became more widely available and at the same time more regimented, mirroring perhaps the more regimented life of the worker in an emerging industrial capitalist economy. Leisure became sport. Baseball and American Football have their origins in the late 18th or early 19th century, but it wasn't until the second half of said century that the rules were codified and the first leagues formed. The first professional American football league dates to 1903 after evolving out of rugby, although the NFL formed in 1920. Walter Camp, who perhaps is the single most important figure in its development during the 1870's onward, was also a vigorous proponent of exercise, penning several works on the subject. The National League (1881) of Baseball joined the American League in 1901 to form MLB.

Concurrent with the increasing coherence of organized sport, the Anglo-Saxon world experienced an upsurge in so-called "Muscular Christianity." Put simply, this refers to "a movement during the Victorian era which stressed the need for energetic Christian activism in combination with an ideal of vigorous masculinity." Although originating in England, the doctrine found a strong reception in the US. The YMCA (1844), for example, was influenced by it, and the organization's version has left us with volleyball and basketball.

The link of athleticism and Christianity is not as zany as it might seem. The New Testament includes a number of athletic metaphors linking faith with racing and even boxing. According to Wikipedia, "Such metaphors also appear in the writings of contemporary philosophers, such as Epictetus and Philo, drawing on the tradition of the Olympic Games, and this may have influenced New Testament use of the imagery."

19th century religious movements also involved aspects of health and diet. The Mormons (Book of Mormon, 1830) have had bans on caffeine. The 7th Day Adventists (1863) are known for a heavy emphasis on diet and health. Kellog's corn flakes were created by an Adventist as a natural extension of the sect's practices; the Kellog company itself dates to 1906. Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science, 1866) left us Science and Health. The Oxford Group of the 1920's and 30's sviewed sin as a disease.

In Europe, the same growth of sport and athleticism was occurring. The "father of gymnastics" Friedrich Jahn may have studied theology and philology, but his gymnastics movement, the Turnverein, spread starting in 1811 and influenced a physical culture movement which came to encompass Muscular Christianity. The Czech Sokol and following Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon culture of bodybuilding and gymnastics were heavily influenced. On other fronts, the German Scout-like Wandervogel was founded in 1896. Baden-Powell founded the Scouting movement in 1907. In sport, the Football Association was formed in 1863. FIFA in 1904. Stade Toulousain, point of origin for all of this, also traces its origin to 1904. Rugby's first rules were written in 1848, that revolutionary year, and perhaps its final form was set off in 1863 when the Football Association formed. Rugby union (15 players) has been governed by the same board since 1886. 13-player rugby (league) can be dated to 1895.

The 19th century ferment of sport, athleticism and a spiritual emphasis on the benefits of being sound in body has had an enduring legacy. Muscular Christianity emphasized manliness and our instinct is that it refelects certain colonial insecurities about the fitness of young men. What but sport can arouse the full-on nationalism of the fans, the undulating flag-waving masses, the closest thing to a Nuremberg rally--witnessed every weekend. Sport was wholesome. Billy Sunday, popular evangelist in the 1920's, denounced drinkin' and card playin', but baseball was okay, even edifying. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (1954) would also seem to adhere to this mode of thinking. The Promise Keepers, though not specifically a sporting group, is centered around the idea of masculinity and reclaiming one's role as a man: fit, rugged, head of the household. Telling that the groups was founded in 1990 by the head football coach at the University of Colorado. And this guy uses the Muscular Christianity heritage flat-out, athletic/spiritual metaphors abound, time to trim the "spiritual gut", etc. His program: "In short, it's a fitness program for men based on the example of Christ... "

Okay--now that we've placed the formation of Stade Toulousian into the context of rising fraternalism and Muscular Christianity, let's start that tour of images that we've associated with the logo of Stade Toulousian.

Healing Serpents

Let's begin with the chapel of the Black Virgin at the Daurade Basilica in Toulouse, where we find several serpent images. First, near the chapel, we find a depiction of the tablets of the Ten Commandments and a staff. A snake is coiled around the staff, which has the form of a tau. This refers to a curious incident in the Old Testament book of Numbers. In Numbers 21 the Israelites have just set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea and, disheartened by their difficulties, speak reproachfully against God and Moses. So the lord sends fiery serpents among the people and many die from the bites. The people return to Moses and recognizing their sin, ask Moses to pray for a reprieve.

“And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live”.

So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Numbers 21:8-9)

According to my annotated Bible this echoes the serpent magic practiced in the ancient world, e.g. Egypt. The bronze serpent, called Nehushtan, itself became an object of worship and the Israelites burned incense before it until the reign of Hezekiah, who broke it into pieces (2 Kings 18:4).

In Exodus 7:8-13, we find the famous story of Aaron’s rod. God instructs Aaron and Moses to impress Pharaoh by throwing down the rod, which becomes a serpent. Pharaoh has his sorcerers do the same, but Aaron’s rod swallows them up. The incident is repeated in the Quran, and many traditions developed around the rod, associating it not only with the Tree of Life, but the Cross. Indeed, Jesus himself makes the connection between the incident in Numbers and his own destiny: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Its inclusion of the snake/tau image at the Daurade sanctuary thus refers not only to the healing powers of the Virgin but of redemption through Christ.

Another depiction of the serpent in the Daurade Basilica can be found in a massive oil painting of Mary as the Queen of Heaven. She has a halo of stars and stands upon an upturned crescent moon. In this image the snake is being vanquished. Mary’s right foot rests upon his head and his body seems uncomfortably pinioned underneath the moon. It is a common theme and is even in my own village of Aucamville, one can find a statue of Mary treading upon the wily Beast.

Initially I was baffled by these representations of the serpent, but an illuminating essay on Biblical typology by George P. Landow, Professor of Art History and English at Brown University, partially clears up the matter of the unusual imagery:

Certain problems arise in making representations of Genesis 3:15 since it comprises a prophetic, rather than an historic or legal, type…. One common solution is to combine two realistically depicted images in a realistic - that is, non-historical - manner. For example, mediaeval carvings of the Madonna which show her with one foot upon a serpent take Mary as the seed of the woman. These carved Madonnas offer visual images of a symbolic or spiritual act, since Mary nowhere in the Bible treads upon a snake. The artist therefore has juxtaposed two realistic images, one of Mary and one of a serpent. Whereas the pictorial representation of a legal or historical type depicts only those elements present in the type itself, this portrayal of a prophetic type conflates two times, for it includes the serpent from the Fall and Mary, mother of Jesus, in the same image. A second instance of such conflation of two times appears in those mediaeval Crucifixions that include a snake curled around the Cross. The snake rarely gives the impression of having been bruised, and only the viewer's knowledge of Genesis 3:15 explains its presence.

Genesis 3:15 then, is where God says to the serpent after Eve admits to eating of the apple: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The logic of the paintings is thus explained, but the reason for the inclusion of the prophetic type in the Daurade remains elusive until we read on to 3:16: “To the woman he said “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children…”

Thus, the iconography of the chapel serves to remind the pregnant woman precisely why she suffers, and why the intercession of Mary is necessary. For Mary conceived without sin and gave birth to the Savior who, through his Sacrifice upon the Cross, gave humanity the opportunity of washing away their sins.

At the opposite end of the transept from the Black Virgin, there is a depiction of the Cross. As the Sacrifice of the Christ offers humanity the chance for salvation from sin, Mary offers the pregnant woman salvation from the punishment incurred through Original Sin as described in Genesis 3:16. In this chapel a cross with a tetragrammaton in glory has a snake coiled around it. We speculate that this connects the role of Christ with Mary; references the actions of Moses; calls to mind the intrinsic relationship between sin and the Trees of Life and Knowledge; and among other possibilities, reminds us of Christ as Healer.

Salvation Through Health

As the examination of the iconic serpent imagery in Daurade basilica shows, the serpent is a complex symbol associated with a variety of meanings; two common tanglings are religion and health. Thus, for example, we find the previously discussed tale of Moses' bronze serpent. Originally it healed, but as time went on, it was worshiped.

Likewise, Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, was symbolized by and often depicted carrying a wand or rod around which a serpent was wrapped. It is still used in medical symbolism today.

Another ancient symbol used in medicinal symbolism is the Caduceus, typically represented as a winged staff around which two snakes are coiled.

It often used interchangeably with the Rod of Asclepius, although the latter is considered more accurate despite the common usage of the Caduceus. The Caduceus has been linked with Tamit, the Phoenician goddess of the moon, but is more usually associated with Hermes, father of alchemy and known to the Romans of Mercury. In alchemy, the crucified serpent was used to represent making the elixir of mercury, a healing potion of sorts, which was made by removing the “volatile” element. The serpent represents the poisonous mercury held in check by the “soufre d’or” of the cross.

Predating both these rods, as well as that of Moses, is the Mesopotamian god Ningishzida. He was a god of healing; unless you prefer to think Western Civ and/or the Israelites grew up in a vacuum, it's hard not to see the link; the serpent(s) and stick represent healing and thus, health in general, and it has been with us from the farthest reaches of our symbolic history. Logos redolent of these ancient images proliferate from this image as far back as 2000 BCE.

The Salvation Army; plus obligatory Masonic References

Earlier, we tried to place the formation of the Stade Toulousian in an historical context fraternalism and Muscular Christianity. Other images come to mind. Check out the Crest of the Salvation Army, an image which we obviously associated with Stade Toulousian logo:

The Salvation Army was founded in 1878--right in the same time frame as the rise of rugby and other popular team sports. The Crest features a cross and crown reminiscent of those featured prominently on the early publications of experimental sects with radical health proscriptions: Christian Science (1879) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (1869). The Salvation Army, like the YMCA (and also, Alcoholics Anonymous) promotes the health of "mind, body and spirit." This three-part mission refers to Jesus' stages of development. This idea of progressing in steps or stages, passing rapidly through thresholds echoes the idea of ranks in the military and Scouting. In the logo a five-pointed crown is decorated with five gems and surmounted by five five-pointed stars. There are seven “shots” at the bottom of the crest which represent the seven truths of the Gospel. The S in the center wrapped around the cross represents “Salvation”. It also reads as a dollar sign and a snake on the cross. Spiritual hygiene for the armies of the Lord. Blood and Fire. The red and the black.

This cross and crown is also the symbol of the Masonic Knights Templar.

In addition to the Knights Templar, the 33 rays of the sun (count 'em) might be evocative of Freemasonry, to a mind so primed....

Freemasonry is, of course, much older than the Salvation or rugby or the YMCA, or the Scouts, but it is easy to imagine that any well-established fraternal organization, like Freemasonry or the Benedictines would have had a powerful influence (both directly and indirectly) upon a era so focused on joining and forming teams and organizations of men. The aforementioned Football Association was formed at pub called The Freemason's Tavern, later destroyed to build The Freemason's Hall, headquarters of the UGLE. Some people believe a baseball diamond is the Masonic square and compasses. Random we searches reveal that this guy's interests include Freemasonry and soccer. Freemasons even seem to have been pretty important in transmitting to us the lovely game of golf.

Which brings us to money, the filthy luchre of sport!

$: There is no other god but me

When we think of religion, how not but think of money money money. Actually, I didn't think that, but I did think that the pole and snake dance reminded me of the dollar sign--which is the next symbol to explore in our associational tour: Mr. Moneybacks. Ducks bathing in seas of golden coins. Silver, more likely, one theory is that the S and I comes from der silver mines in SLP. And that's San Luis Potosi not Salt Lake Punk. There are many other theories of its origin, but for us, we like the weirdo esoteric explanations, things we've touched on in LoS. This is because we wear sausage gloves.

Some say the dollar sign derived from the symbols of Hermes, god of tricksters, bankers and thieves. We've already talked about him. Supporters of this theory point to the image of the Caduceus Hermes often carries. Others point to an alchemical provenance; it has been used to represent cinnabar since the 18th century. You will remember the serpent and cross has other alchemical meanings. It may also derive from the Spanish coat of arms. Previously discussed due to the inclusion of the Pillars of Hercules, here draped with an s-shaped ribbon, the image evokes many LoSian themes....

Bringin' it All Back Home

[Sorry, D, but I didn’t come up with a snappy conclusion for this. In your earlier draft you’d mentioned in the intro that you were going to take us through Palestine? I didn’t get that, so I wonder it maybe you had some more associational images in mind. If so—it’d be pretty easy to keep tacking on more sections like we’ve done here, each section basically focusing on one or two images that you associated with the Stade Toulouse image. You’ve good work here! Keep at it! – gid]

And that's a good enough ending for me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Son of Man Son

Mathew Roberts, lead singer of Rise of the Son, claims to be the son of Charles Manson, spawned during a LSD orgy in San Francisco. He was raised by adoptive parents in Rockford, IL, but when he grew up, he moved out west to CA, and his girlfriend convinced him to track down his birth parents.

He eventually got hold of his birth mother who said that she wasn’t sure who his dad was (remember the orgy)—until she took a look at him, and pegged Manson as papa. At some point, Roberts was suddenly hit by the realization that he was living quite close to Spahn Ranch[1] -- the Manson Family headquarters. “‘That blew my mind,’ Roberts says. ‘Here I am, right near where all that stuff took place. Here I am, playing in a band, dating strippers, conspiring to take over the world, and I’m like Oh, my God. Do I have any freewill at all? You know, I’m, like following in this guy’s footsteps completely! That really freaked me out. I was in a spot where you can’t really tell anyone because you’re gonna look like a crazy person.’” (Read the full interview here.)

It sounds like Roberts was especially freaked out by the realization that he had moved so close to the Mason family ranch. That was, after all, his first point of comparison (“Here I am, right near where all that stuff took place”)—but even beyond that, note all of his metaphorical comparisons to place: “here I am” in reference to current activities (playing in a band, etc.); “I’m … following in this guy’s footsteps” in reference to life’s pursuits; and “I was in a spot” in reference to a quandary.

This sense of geographically-induced epiphany really meshed with the LoS obsession with decoding "place"[2] -- so I’ve dwelt on this story a bit (so to speak). There are any number of ways to interpret this tale: perhaps Roberts is a lying publicity hound, or perhaps it's all true but there's a Manson-ic weirdness about it. Let's chase down a more interesting path: it's possible that Roberts is simply delusional -- and, well, as it turns out, there are handful of syndromes that are triggered by places. The French, for some reason, seem to have a better handle on describing this category of conditions (or at least it appears that way when I try to read about it on the internet); they call it syndrome du voyageur; specific syndromes include Jerusalem Syndrome, Florence Syndrome (more widely known as Stendhal Syndrome), Paris Syndrome, and Indian Syndrome.[3]

I’m going to focus here for a bit on Jerusalem Syndrome, because it feels to me like it is the most relevant to the son of Manson tale, as it is particularly wacky, particularly dangerous, and particularly malleable to my gross misinterpretation. This has been a bit of rabbit hole for me lately; jump on in and let me be your guide.

An article in the British Journal of Psychiatry (BJ of P) identifies three types of manifestations of the Jerusalem Syndrome. “Type III” Jerusalem syndrome is best suited for our purposes. It manifests itself among tourists who have no previous symptoms of psychopathology but apparently simply go crazy in Jerusalem. At first they feel anxious. Then they ask to leave their tour group, go back to their hotel room, excessively groom themselves (clipping nails, etc.), strip their clothes and don their bedsheets in the form of a robe, go outside shouting bible verses or singing hymns, and finally move on to preaching on a religiously significant site. At some point along this series of stages, they come to believe that they are a manifestation of some important religious character—perhaps John the Baptizer, or Jesus. The syndrome culminates in a psychotic rampage, as the would-be holy man injures and perhaps even kills people, sets buildings on fire, etc. Later, after a couple weeks away from walking about Jerusalem, they go back to normal and forget that the whole thing even happened.

In one notorious case in 1969, Denis Michael Rohan tried to set fire to al-Aqsa mosque and caused significant damage, leading to massive rioting and international political repercussions. The mosque is one of the holiest sites in Islam -- and it is also regarded by some to be in the way of the construction of the Third Temple, a key eschatological concern among some groups of fundamentalist Christians.

According to that BJ of P articled linked above, between 1980 and 1993, “1,200 tourists with severe, Jerusalem-themed mental problems were referred to” Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre. And apparently this full series of steps (except, perhaps, for the last one) happened 42 times over a period of 13 years -- a figure that will cause the numerologically aware to sit up and listen (although I’m not going to tell you why, bwahh-ha, ha, ha!).

There are two widely accepted theories concerning the cause of Jerusalem Syndrome -- and a third theory that is less mainstream.

The first popular theory involves the idea that people are simply overwhelmed by being immersed in what they consider to be holy places -- compounded with the various stresses of travel like culture shock, lack of sleep etc. -- and they snap. This same basic interpretation is pretty much the same explanation given to the other syndromes du voyageur. You see, people go to Florence and are dumbstruck by the beauty. Or people (more specifically, Japanese women) go to France and are dumbstruck by the crassness and the lack of cobblestoned streets. Or people go to India and go nuts because it’s crowded.

The second theory is that it’s bullshit. There are two key arguments here. First, people go crazy everywhere, so do we really see a statistically significantly increase in tourists going batshit in Jerusalem? Second, nobody has fully documented the background of the “sufferers” of Jerusalem syndrome—so how can we be sure that all these people weren’t delusion before going to Jerusalem? Bolstering this argument is idea that Jerusalem serves as a magnet for people who were already suffering from religiously-tinged psychosis.

The third theory -- the one that’s not mainstream -- is much more interesting. Suppose that Jerusalem itself actually causes people to become (or believe that they have become) holy people -- completely independently of the cultural and religious significance of the area? That doesn’t make sense until you understand where the argument is headed: Was Jesus just a man who was struck by Jerusalem Syndrome which made him believe he was a holy man -- like Paul, thunderstruck on the road and suddenly, "Pow"! He's super evangelist!

Here LoS obsessions bisect the curious case of Roberts. And we have many questions.

For starters, is there a California Syndrome (not that one) that turns you all kookoo? We're treading here, I think, on Philip K. Dick's turf -- for he believed that modern day CA was actually ancient Rome, masked by aliens to confuse us poor souls. CA has certainly long been a magnet: conquistadors drawn to the seven cities, ‘49-ers drawn to gold, dust-bowlers and immigrants drawn to a land of plenty, hippies drawn to the summer of love. Each of these dreams has a nightmarish side: the genocide of the natives, ‘49-ers piled into make-shift towns full of violence, dust-bowlers and immigrants trapped into slavery, the Manson family murders.

One of the really disturbing things about Roberts is that I get the sense that he really *wants* to be Manson’s son. It’s like we are seeing in Roberts someone drawn to the dark side of CA. This is a complete reversal: Instead of a dreamer sucked in and shattered, we have someone actually drawn to the destruction. Maybe this is why it is almost comforting to think of Roberts as a lying publicity hound. Then we can pigeon-hole him as chasing the dream, seeking to be a rock star, and we can sense a “justified” fate in his future, where his lies lead to a dark turn. But if he is drawn to the darkness of CA … does this mean that the dream has changed and we’re a society seeking destruction -- or is does it just mean that Roberts is simply nuts?

Of course it’s much more fun to imagine a CA syndrome, to imagine that CA itself casts a spell, the actual place in-and-of-itself, completely separate from the cultural icon it has become. Maybe it’s the geography: The deep dark stillness of the red wood valleys up north, or the bleak deserts in the south, or the end-of-the-earth feel to the Pacific lapping the western shores. Or maybe it’s a curse, perhaps bloody genocide or slavery or nukes have drafted our true manifest destiny: To chase dreams but catch nightmares.

Okay, okay, I know that I’m writing all hamfisted, dunce and clichéd. I slob here, and I’m sorry. So let me end by looking to a wonderful passage by someone else: Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon”:

Oops, sorry, lost my bookmark. You'll have to find it for me.


[1]Surely someone has made a XXX spoof off the Manson family called “Spawn Raunch” … or maybe that’s just entirely too tasteless…

[2]See for example, Platzangst, Sacred Waters, and Journey to the Center of the Earth" for starters.

[3]I'm aware of a handful of other "place" syndromes that are less place-specific including:
* Ruben's syndrome--which is characterized by inappropriately, publicly sexualized behavior while viewing "high" art (like masturbating in front of a Ruben's painting in the middle of an Italian museum)--and is arguably as localized in Rome as Stendhal's syndrome is in Venice.
* Airport syndrome, in which previously "normal" folk basically get all wacked out at an airport, bumping into people, temporary amnesia, etc.
* Mean World Syndrome is perhaps stretching the definition of "place" too far?

If you've heard of other geo-triggers or place-related-syndromes, let me know; I'm curious.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Three from the bin

Last week was quite an LoS week.

* Read another article about the ritual sacrifice of children in Uganda.

"I call it a problem of psychological disorientation," says the head of the Anti-Human Sacrifice Taskforce. That's one way of putting it.

* A German Bishop was attacked during Easter Mass in Muenster by a man wielding a broom handle. The Bishop gamely held him off with an incense bowl.

We wonder where the attacker intended to put the broom handle.

* Was invited to join a Facebook group about the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, an adroit little fellow who has eluded capture for over a year and has been spotted from downtown St. Pete to Temple Terrace. For those of you not from the area, that's a pretty vast spread.

Incidentally read a post on Da Black Whole which features Temple Terrace: "Might’s well have called the place Templar Ziggurat!"

I think of Temples, monkey, monkey brains, really and voila! Temple of Doom! That involved ritual sacrifice of children too. No German Bishop though.

For lack of any detailed post we give you these morsels. To quote a French translation of an article originally appearing in an Argentine daily: "Instead of erudition, we have links."

Monday, April 5, 2010

♀: Matter and Spirit, or Venus' hand mirror....

Lloret de Mar is mostly known as a kind of Cancun of the Costa Brava. A town of 40,000 whose population swells in summer with hordes of drunken 18-to-30 year olds from France, the UK, Germany, etc. Filled with hotels, bars and discothèques, cheap eats and various other diversions.

But in 1966 the town celebrated its millennium, 1000 years of existence. (Estimated, I imagine. At least a little arbitrary). You can thus find some interesting ruins and historical accounts tell of fending off attacks by pirates, the intrigues of petty nobles, the machinations of an all-too-worldly Church. Standard European fare, really.

But the town has always been oriented towards the sea and it is from there that it draws its life, now and as before. Like many of these booming coastal towns, marred by ugly hotels and vomit-stained sidewalks, they were until relatively villages. In a brochure which describes the millennial celebrations, tourism was already mentioned as a new economic sector for the town, but fifty years is a relatively small swath of time out of a thousand, so the history of fishing and sailing is deeply ingrained in its culture, despite the dominance of tourism.

Perhaps that is why the sculpture known as the Dona Marinera (in Catalan) or Mujer Marinera (Castellano) has become a symbol of this city since it was dedicated by notable visitors, including naval officers, in 1966.

The sculpture is ostensibly to honor the wives and women of the men of the sea, hence it is commonly translated as the “Fisherman’s Wife”. This would appear to be an error; if it were accurate the Castellan name would have to be “Mujer de Pescadora” or at the very least “Mujer de Marinera”. Some translators have got it right and call it the “Female Sailor”. Technically accurate but I prefer the “Lady Sailor” going back to the Catalan (Dona) which is both accurate and more evocative of a kind of nobility which I have an inkling she deserves.

The dress of the woman, as you can see, does evoke more of a peasant than a noblewoman, as do her bare feet. Her nobility does not come being a well-heeled woman of the ruling class.

Up to now, I haven’t been able to find why she might be called the Venus of Lloret, except perhaps because of her erotic allure. Something in her kindly smile, her ample and oddly angular breasts, her bare arms and legs. There is a certain appeal in her forms. Then again, you may remember we got the same feelings about Clémence Isaure way back when, so maybe there’s a Pygmalion thing going on with us!

But seriously, the erotic is not the strongest pull. It’s more the smile, the openness, the winsome gaze. She looks out over the sea, waiting for her man to return. Classic sailor’s tale. Sailor comes home to his woman he left on shore and we can imagine that after the tender embrace and the hearty meal, there is an even heartier roll in the hay. Buggery with the cabin boy can only take you so far.

Again, we jest. But this idea of Venus brings me back to famous Botticelli painting of Venus, arriving both demure and brazen, born aloft in a shell by gentle frothy waves. The shell, symbol of St. Jacques, upon whose trail pilgrims followed to expiate their sins, affixing the shell to their staves, is and has always been a symbol of the soul’s journey across time.

It may also mean, riffing along here, that the woman, erotic desire and love, born from the primordial oceans, looks back out over it, into the depths to which we all eventually return. The blood rushes in the ears, pounding like surf, as the couple climax together and foamy sea-froth is jettisoned into the womb, a net releasing the captive swimmers, going, going, gone.

Which reminds us that medieval anatomists held that blood ran through the body, not pumped by the heart, but rising and falling like the tides. As we now know and as these fishermen also knew, the tides are affected by the moon. Which of course, has always been represented by a woman. Not Venus, but then again, maybe it was. The most widespread goddess worship before the gradual incrustation of Christianity were Isis and the Magna Mater, both of whom are generally recognized to have assumed various forms and in whom other goddesses were conflated. Far be it from us to put words in the mouth of the long since dead, but it very well could be that what some may see as “mere” polytheism may in fact be akin to certain strands of Hindu thought which see all the gods and goddesses as manifestation of one godhead. Just a thought.

It is also interesting that there is a legend associated with the statue, which is that if you touch her while gazing out over the sea, your wishes will come true. Wish-fulfillment is a widespread folk belief, and it is often associated with bodies of water. The wishing well is a most obvious example. It might also be useful to remember the Chapel to St. Jean-Baptiste, where the sick went to throw coins into water in order to heal their ailments. The ocean, much vaster, could easily take care of a more diverse array of problems.

It is worth concluding with a brief look at some of the dedicatory remarks made back in 1966, where it would seem this "woman sailor" represented for the male speakers not just a fisherman’s wife, but Woman as a whole, even the Virgin Mary....

An article about the inauguration clearly presents an idealized Woman, an ideal intertwined with Lloret's rich maritime history, the “laurel victorioso conquistado con sus gestas en el mar." The monument is at once homage to the town's history, its famous ships, its Women: a “conversion of reality into symbols”.

The poet Valeriano Simón is quoted: “La mujer como simbolo, se agranda cuando lo es del marinero, es una espera cotidiana del hombre, sea hermano, padre o esposo.” That is to say: “The woman as symbol is enlarged when she is a sailor’s, waiting daily for a man, be it a brother, father or husband.”

As a symbol, it seems that for Simón she gains her meaning in the eyes of these men when waiting for other men! One wonders if they bothered to ask any real women how they felt about this. Photos at the scene show naval officers, local dignitaries, a government minister, a priest. Not a fisherman’s wife among them.

As a symbol Woman is also compared, even equated, with the ocean. Jaun Ramón Jiménez: “El mar ancho y undoso, que está siempre cerca de si mismo y a la vez solo y alejado, abierto en mil heridas, olas qui van y vienen....Así está ella, la Mujer Marinera, mirando al mar como mira una mujer dentro de su propio corazón.”

“The wide and undulant sea, which is always in touch with itself and at once alone and away, a thousand opened wounds, waves that come and go....She is thus, the Lady Sailor, looking at the sea like a woman into her own heart.”

One Señor Clúa evoked the “challenging and fecund” epoch of Lloret’s history, the conquest of the New World, here symbolized by a woman: “proud, hard-working, and always with her family.” She is “body and soul in the home, with the children and the old, to manage the house and be the light for all.” This last phrase is strangely evocative of religious imagery and indeed, he goes on to refer to “Nuestra Mujer Marinera”, or “Our Lady Sailor who will be at once mother, daughter, fiancée, wife of those that were and those we are now....” He goes on to link her again to the town’s prosperity with its link to the colonial Americas and now, tourism.

“Our Lady” cannot but evoke the Virgin, and indeed the minister, Nieto Antúnez, went on to call the statue "Un monumento que vendrá a recordar ese otro espiritual que representa para los marineros españoles la Virgen del Carmen, primera mujer marinera de Lloret de Mar y primera mujer marinera de España."

“A monument that will become a reminder for Spanish sailors of that other spiritual figure--the Virgen del Carmen--first lady sailor of Lloret de Mar and first lady sailor of Spain.”

Here Antúnez is referring to Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Stella Maris, or Star of the Sea:

According to tradition, devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has its origin in a vision experienced by the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18, 44). From the top of Mount Carmel, Elijah saw a white cloud rise from the sea. This cloud subsequently became a symbol of Mary and is one of the sources of the title “Star of the Sea”. There is a long history of devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel among Spanish seafarers. An 18th century Spanish Admiral observed

Stars guide seafarers at sea and Our Lady guides us in our lives

On 19 April 1901, Maria Cristina, Queen Regent of Spain, officially proclaimed Our Lady of Mount Carmel as patron of Spanish seafarers.

Not only is she evoked due to her role as protectress and guide, but her feast day, the 16th of July, came only two weeks after the dedication of this statue on the 1st.

Mount Carmel was recognized as a holy place since the far reaches of antiquity, perhaps even by the Egyptians, and was the site where Elijah competed with Phoenician priests to see whose god was the baddest of them all, something about calling on god to start a fire on a stone. Phoenician Baal-worshippers: 0 Elijah: 1 .

Yahweh set the stones ablaze, even after Elijah has doused it with water.

In any event, the Virgin comes in due to a vision one Simon Stock had there. Our Lady Carmen is seen by the Carmelites as “a perfect model of the interior life of prayer and contemplation to which Carmelites aspire, a model of virtue, as well as the person who was closest in life to Jesus Christ.” The idealized woman, once again.

This link to Mount Carmel is reinforced by the fact that the sculpture sits on a high promontory overlooking the sea. The elements become one. As Elijah brought fire from water and fire added to water creates steam (remember that white cloud), here the earth and sea become one. Fecund Mother Earth and Mother Ocean.

For LoS purposes, we should also point out that the Stella Maris Monastery is home to a monument to Napoleon’s soldiers. This is a small pyramid, flanked by two trees!

As a Mother Goddess, Stella Maris is also a Christian continuation of the title originally applied to Isis. It also brings us back to Aphrodite, Roman Venus, born from the sea.

The story goes like this. After Cronos castrated Ouranos and tossed his 'nads into the sea, they floated about for a while and from a white foam grew Aphrodite. (You will recall that the Erinyes, or Furies, grew from the blood). This myth of the fully mature Venus Rising from the Sea (Venus Anadyomene) brings to mind the idea of the fully-grown Athena, popping out from the head of Zeus. In the case of Aphrodite, perhaps it removes any lingering ickiness one might have in regarding her as the ultimate desirable woman. As wiki says: “Aphrodite had no childhood: in every image and each reference she is born adult, nubile, and infinitely desirable.”

Depictions of Venus Anadyomene also have her doing things with her arms: wringing her hair, strategically placed for modesty or splayed out in erotic invitation. I have thought long about the Venus of Lloret. Her arms are like the Pisces fish or a yin and yang. One is held up as if shielding the eyes, scanning the horizon, a covering, protective gesture; the other seeming to beckon a distant viewer. They both shield and invite. Modest yet alluring.

Her clothing, if it can be called that, hides nipples and public hair but only serves to accentuate her full-bodied forms: the upturned ample breasts, the thick legs, the generous belly. But this covering is indistinguishable from her body, not even a dim dividing line like that of the horizon where sea and sky meet.

Oddly, Aphrodite was often unfaithful to her husband, which isn’t necessarily out of keeping for the idea of a sailor’s wife. Perhaps not the ideal woman by a phallocentric point of view, but perhaps some of the anxieties of sailors away at sea are thus expressed. Perhaps this is also expressed in both her chastity and sexiness.

Venus--or Aphrodite--was one of those goddesses that had counterparts in several ancient cultures; Venus was essentially Romanized Aphrodite, who in turn seemed to correspond with much earlier goddesses: Inanna, Astarte, Turan. Herodotus ascribes her origins to Phoenicia. The Greeks did not seem to have any qualms about recognizing her Eastern origins and it would seems that the principles she represents belong to the earliest religious practices.

During Greece’s classical period, Aphrodite was seen as having two principal aspects, sometimes even as two separate goddesses: Aphrodite Ourania, born from the sea-foam and Aphrodite Pandemos, of the “common people”. For the Neo-Platonists Aphrodite Ourania figures as a celestial goddess and represents higher forms of love. As Pandemos she represents mere physical love. In any event it would seem that despite needing two differentiate between kinds of love, between physical and spiritual attraction, the force of attraction was more or less embodied in one divine feminine principle.

There are many myths associated with her, but let’s take for example the story of Pygmalion, evoked before, prior to learning of its connection to Aphrodite. Pygmalion was a sculpture who never found a woman to love. Inspired by a dream of Aphrodite, he set out to make a woman in her image. He fell in love with the statue, which Aphrodite brought to life as a rewrd for his falttering endeavours.

In another version of the tale, women in Pyg’s village got angry that he would not marry one of them, so they prayed to Aphrodite and asked her to help; she went to the man and asked him to pick a wife. Not wanting to be married, he begged for time in order to make a statue of Aphrodite before he chose. He dithered about with models, playing for time “to find the right pose” so to speak, but found that when he began the model, he wanted to finish; he was falling in love.

When he finished, Aphrodite appeared and said, ok, pick a bride. He chose the statue and asked to become one. Instead, Aphrodite brought the statue to life so that his wish could be fulfilled.

The statue is an object upon which men can throw idealized version of what a woman should be. This woman, his creation, is ultimately controlled by him and is literally born from him, like Eve from Adam’s rib, or Aphrodite herself from Ouranos’ floating nuts.

“The image of Venus Anadyomene is one of the very few images that survived in Western Europe in its classical appearance, from Antiquity into the High Middle Ages...."This extraordinary conservatism may perhaps be explained by the fact that the culture of the last pagan centuries remained alive longer in Provence than elsewhere."”

This conservatism may be due to the Troubadours’ pursuit of the idealized woman, like Clémence Isaure born from images of the Virgin Mary. An ideal unobtainable woman, here secularized in order to eroticize her without complex.

Here in this simple statue, a minor work from a minor sculptor, Ernest Maragall i Noble, we propose that all these strains of thought are present: Isis and the Virgin as Stella Maris, Aphrodite, the Ideal Woman of the Troubadours, such as Clémence Isaure and Belle Paule....and again, point out that this as all these other versions are creations of and projections of male ideals and fantasies, both spiritual and erotic.

Like Aphrodite, born from a man fully grown, without the aid of a woman.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Twilight Language: The End Times

Well, it seems that our previous downer of a post was right on target.

Surely this headline, "Chihuahua Mistaken for Sausage at Family Barbecue", is a thinly veiled heralding of the Revelations?

Click here for a unicorn chaser, STAT!

Mistaken for God

We've had a couple of recent posts and (for us) a lot of recent commentary about political figures being mistaken for gods (see Obama as Jesus and Political Saviors).

So I took note yesterday when I read about Raj Patel who is currently being (mis)taken for a god, following a recent appearance on "The Colbert Report" during which he revealed several biographical details that seemed to have been prophesied by Benjamin Creme, leader of Share International.

I immediately thought of a number of fictional "mistaken for god" situations--C3PO, Life of Brian, Capt. Kirk, Dr. Who--and realized that there must some wonderful true stories behind this meme.

A bit of digging about uncovered a few more cases.

There was Steve Cooper, who, while jobless, had the fortune of being mistaken for a Hindu goddess of fertility. He went with it, moved to India, and is worshiped as a god there to this day.

And then there was Neil Smith, a London engineer sent off to Siberia on a business trip where he was mistaken for a rock god, and wound up judging a beauty contest, appeared on the news, met Putin, and had young women faun all over him.

And lest we forget, there are the U.S. Army Rangers:

And of course Act 14:8-18 tells how Paul and Barnabus were mistaken for Roman gods after performing a miracle.

But the most amazingly pertinent story of all is the tale of Capt. Cook, who landed in Hawaii and was mistaken for a god. My god! but what a royal welcoming that fellow must've enjoyed. I believe that this was in 1776, the year that the United States declared it's independence.

And now we have, ironically, in these United States, a Hawaiian who has been heralded as a god and elected as the leader of our nation.

Capt. Cook met his poetic justice when storms crippled his departure from the Kona coast and he was forced to limp back for repairs. The locals saw through Cook's facade--and killed him. Cook's hubris, it could be argued, did him in.

I am scared of the tea baggers. I am scared of twittering idiots. I am scared of the sipsey street irregulars.

What have we become?