Sunday, January 30, 2011

One hand washes the other

I suppose author Terry Melanson could be labeled a "conspiracy theorist", but that would be to lump him into a large sack containing a lot of undesirable company.

I would call Terry a "conspiracy historian."  His website (Illuminati Conspiracy Archive) is a rich and well-documented examination of conspiracies:  not lizard overlords or any of that, but solid, historically sound researches into not only Illuminism, Freemasonry and various "occult" traditions, but the equally occulted, as in hidden, machinations of the powerful elites bent of maintaining power, wealth and control.

We don't see eye to eye on a lot of stuff, but Terry's a solid guy.  He's drawn what is perhaps the inevitable conclusion from my post Try this angle and linked to it on his blog as Triangles and Cronyism.  I think the different titles are instructive.  Mine is an invitation to try on a pair of lenses and see something from a different angle; he has taken a much more polemic approach.  I'm on a fence, he's taken a side.  I'm an agnostic, he's a believer.  At least I think that is an accurate if a bit glib assessment.  Anyway, I hope we're both the richer for the difference.

So yeah, this is a plug, a thanks and a shout-out.  Anyone interested in what we examine here on LoS will find his site instructive.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The hand is the whole

In A gruesome discovery (Jan. 19) I listed a few literary appearances of the dismembered human hand.  I list them again here for quick reference:
  • The Lost Symbol; a severed hand starts the action.
  • Star Wars:  Luke Skywalker /Darth Vader....Vader is actually referenced in Symbol in what I took as a nod to the severed hand mytheme.  
  • Peter Pan:  Captain Hook.  His lost hand drives his fury and thus, the plot. 
  • The Monkey's Paw revolves around the magical power of a monkey's paw, or hand.
  • This guy has a neat collection about the Hand of Glory "and other gory tales about human hands."  The severed hand in The Lost Symbol is in fact a Hand of Glory (explained below).
  • The Bible:  Jesus, according to some translations, said:  "If your right hand offends you, cut it off...."  (Matthew 5:30; Mark 9:43).
One theme of The Lost Symbol is how archetypes span cultures and that in all religions we find common elements, signposts pointing us towards the same goal.  Dan Brown is basically cribbing Joseph Campbell, simplifying his ideas just as Campbell put the ideas of Karl Jung into a more accessible form.  Not a particularly good book, the idea is nevertheless a useful starting point, if only for the fact I'd just finished reading it when Aucamville's severed hand made headlines.  As we will see the literary appearances address some rather large spiritual concerns.

The central conflict of Peter Pan between Pan and Captain Hook is instructive.  To begin with, Hook is named for the tool that has replaced his missing hand.  As you may recall, Pan cut off Hook's hand and fed it to an alligator.  This alligator also has a clock in its belly and the mere mention of the beast haunts Hook.  Its approach is announced by the ticking of the clock, which I take as an intimation of Hook's mortality.  The missing hand is the reason behind Hook's rage and the cause of endless humiliations at the hands of the boy who refuses to grow up.

I see in this the bitterness of the old, who are replaced by the young and who envy what they once were:  carefree, virile and exuberant.  The old resent the young.  In this post-Freudian world, this will obviously be read as a kind of Oedipal conflict and the de-handing a symbolic castration.  But I see the severed hand in and of itself as a potent symbol of power and need not necessarily represent a castration.  On the other hand, the hand does historically have an association with sexual imagery.  Yeah, go ahead and laugh.  I'm not talking about Rosy Palm and her five sisters. 

In cheiromancy, or palm-reading, the hand is a microcosm of the entire human, so as a metonymy, it's not merely a phallic substitute.  It represent the whole entity.  Furthermore, according to the cheiromancers, the human is him/herself a microcosm, a mirror of the universe.  It is there unsurprising to see that the hand has a history of being used to represent certain gods and in the Western tradition, God Himself.

I see the Pan/Hook conflict repeated in the conflict between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies.  Luke/Pan, the powerful youth, is sought by the Emperor to replace his father, Vader/Hook.  (I know that Hook is not Pan's father, but he is usually linked with Wendy's father.  This is certainly true in the Disney films and in the play, the same actor ususally plays both Hook and Mr. Darling).  Unable to turn Luke to his will, Vader must destroy his son.  But he never does.  He does render him powerless, however, by cutting off his sword hand.  When Luke finally confronts his father again, his severed hand has been replaced, he is again whole and powerful.  In the ensuing physical conflict Luke cuts of his father's hand and at end of their struggle, reconverts him to the side of good.  Interestingly, we later learn in the prequels that Vader, as a youth, lost his hand in an earlier struggle that precipitated his original turn towards evil.

The hand is a liminal device; it holds keys and opens doors, in this case between a very Manichean good and evil, light and dark.  Perhaps this might also be implied in the saying of Jesus referenced above.  The hand represent sinful thought and is a point between good and evil; if it can facilitate the passage between a state of sin and a state of grace, removing it can shut the door it has opened.

The monkey's paw in W.W. Jacobs' story is also a kind of tool. It is a magical talisman with great power.  In this case, the power of life over death.  Tellingly, as the story opens, a father and son are playing chess, the same father and son conflict between light and dark we see in Star Wars.  In the story, a family is presented with the monkey's paw, which can grant three wishes.  Jokingly, the family wishes for money.  As a result, the son dies and the bereaved mother and father receive monetary compensation.  The mother then uses the paw, or hand, to wish the boy back to life.  As the wind rises up, there comes a banging at the door:  the dead son wants to re-enter the world of the living through the front door.  As the mother fumbles at the door to let the boy in (a sexual metaphor as well?) the father wisely uses the hand to wish for the revenant son to disappear.  Here the father/son conflict and a hand which are critical elements in the transition between states.  Life and death in this case, but why not grace and sin, good and evil?  "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

Might not the monkey's paw in fact be the monkey's pa?  Men being the monkey, pa being God the Father?  It's worth exploring....

The Hand of Glory was also a magical talisman, made from the severed man of a hanged man.  It's powers included the ability to paralyze, but tellingly, it was said to have the power the unlock any door.  It was thus used by thieves and figures in a number of macabre tales.

In these literary iterations of the severed hand, I have detected the theme of transition between states and raised the idea of its use as a metonymy.  It is used as the latter quite frequently in current idiom.  Consider the following examples:
  • His response was a bit heavy-handed.  
  • She rules the office with an iron fist.  
  • The man was strong-armed into signing the contract.  
  • He can't escape the long arm of the law.
It seems clear to me that the idioms involving the hand relate to a second theme of power and the exercise thereof.  This does not surprise me.  The human is an animal and, to a greater or lesser degree, his/her success or failure depends upon the capacity to exercise power, whether this be via physical prowess, mental superiority, with a gun....The human animal has survived with an element of cunning, to be sure, but back in the caves, when man was closer to the other beasts, dominance was established with brute force.  Whether by fist or by club, the hand was ultimately the instrument of the exercise of power.  The fist strikes the head and the club or knife is wielded by the hand.  Even Luke and Vader, in a world of startlingly powerful technology, wield sabers, more intimate than the distant and "clumsy" blaster.

What do the paleontologists tell us set the human a species apart?  A fortuitous combination of intelligence, binocular/color vision and opposable thumbs.  The importance of these latter two may be expressed in the myths described in the paragraphs to come, in which the hand and the eye are sometimes opposing magical elements.

When I heard about this severed hand in Aucamville, I thought immediately about the hand on Urbain Vitry's tomb.  As we have discussed in previous posts, Vitry was influenced by  Egyptian precedents.  On his tomb there is a Christian version of a most ancient symbol:  the hand.  At the center of the cross the hand is formed into the gesture of benediction, or blessing, representing the power of Christ invested in priests.

Tomb of Urbain Vitry, died 1863
The use of sacred hand gestures is not limited to Catholic or Christian practice.  Hinduism and Buddhism have a highly evolved system of powerful signs called Mudras, and organizations such as Freemasonry and Scouting use hand gestures as salutes, modes of recognition and, like the Hand of Glory, a way to gain entry into restricted spaces.


Tanit Votive Stela, Carthage, 4th c BCE; 

This Carthaginian example may have been the precursor of the hamsa, or hand of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammed.  It is so prevalent in both Arab and Berber culture that it figures in the symbolism of modern Algeria (a distant grandchild of Carthage). 

"Hamsa hands often contain an eye symbol. Depictions of the hand, the eye, or the number five in Arabic (and Berber) tradition is related to warding off the evil eye, as exemplified in the saying khamsa fi ainek ("five [fingers] in your eye")"  [The expression "a thumb in the eye" is still used in English, to refer to taunting or antagonistic action]

"Archaeological evidence indicates that a downward pointing hamsa used as a protective amulet in the region predates its use by members of the monotheistic faiths.  It is thought to have been associated with Tanit, the supreme deity of Carthage (Phoenicia) whose hand (or in some cases vulva) was used to ward off the evil eye." 

"The hamsa's path into Jewish culture, and its popularity particularly among the Sephardic Jewish community, can be traced through its use in Phoenicia. Jews sometimes call it the hand of Miriam, referencing the sister of the biblical Moses and Aaron. Five (hamesh in Hebrew) represents the five books of the Torah for Jews. It also symbolizes the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, "Heh", which represents one of God's holy names. Many Jews believe that the five fingers of the hamsa hand remind its wearer to use their five senses to praise God"

Interesting that in this example were looking back to our old friends the Phoenicians, from whom it has found its way into the Abrahamic religions.   You will also note that in the votive image above, a raised hand is ensconced between a pair of pillars, which in Egyptian and Phoenician architecture, as well as in Solomon's temple and down to Freemasonry, have been markers of sacred space.  If the pillars represent the gate, the hand would seem to represent the key.

But as we can see in the examples of the Hand of Fatima or Miriam, they also represent a power, specifically a power against the eye.  Interesting too that it is associated with a woman's hand:  Miriam, Fatima, and  Carthaginian Tanit, this latter associated with Phoenician Astarte and Egyptian Neith (incidentally, like our recently discussed Dorcas, Neith was associated with weaving--Neith meaning "weaver).  The femininity of this hand is interesting in that it serves as a popular folk talisman in decidedly male-dominated spiritual traditions--Judaism and Islam.  I find it especially striking that that Tanit's hand could ward of the evil eye....a power sometimes attributed to her vulva.  Tanit, Astarte and Neith are all fertility goddesses.

Tanit was symbolized by an ankh-like glyph with a triangular base surmounted by a bar and circle.  This in turn was surmounted by a symbol representing a crescent moon which also evokes the eye.  In the standard work on the symbol, F.O. Hvidberg-Hansen interprets this symbol as a woman raising her hands.

Bruno Barbatti, in Berber Carpets of Morocco:  The Symbols Origin and Meaning, sheds further light on the sexual symbolism hinted at in my look at The Monkey's Paw, with attention being paid to the hamsa's use as a door-knocker.  If you recall, the zombie son returns banging at the door, while his mother struggles to let him in.  The paw is then used to ward him off.

These two khamsa specimens reflect a combined symbolism:  the palm of the hand, decorated with a lozenge....together with the shortened thumb and little finger symbolize the bell-shaped vulva.  The three (!) middle long fingers on to which, corresponding to their significance, a snake and daggers have been inlaid, embody the male presence.  This is the tongue which makes the bell ring.  It is no coincidence that the hand of Fatima is often used as a door-knocker, serving the one who wishes to enter, and at the same time warding of evil.

So here the hand is not only associated with a vagina, but with phallic symbols as well, phallic symbols which in turn are associated with the tongue, the organ of speech.  We have already spoken of its use as a way to ward of the evil eye.  This conflation of the senses may explain its Jewish symbolism, that is its use as a reminder to praise God with all five senses.

I mentioned Rosy Palms earlier as a slang term for the hand which the hand/eye conflict the origin of of the myth that having a wank will cause a man to go blind?

I should also add that until reading this, I'd forgotten that in France, a disembodied hand is a traditional door-knocker.  This may have something to do with its use in the Arab world, a recollection of a pre-Christian diffusion of North African religion spread into Gaul by the Romans.  Or maybe not.  One knocks on a door with the hand, makes sense to forge a knocker in the shape of one.

If I may add a cruder thought, it occurs to me as in the paw of the monkey, the paws of any creature correspond both to feet and hands.  So if we speak of an animal's toes, we are in a sense also speaking of its fingers.  I'm thinking here of "camel toe", the slang term for a woman's labia as seen through tightly-fitting pants.  Here we have yet another conflation, "labia" are of course "lips", bringing us once again to idea of the mouth.  Hey, I'm not the first one to make this point.  Ever here of the vagina dentata, or "toothed vagina"?   This myth appears in both European and South American mythologies.

One need not look as far as Tanit, Polynesia or Paraguay, however, to find the hand as both symbol of divinity and of human speech.  The disembodied Hand of God, or Manus Dei, is a long-standing motif in both Judaic and Christian art.  It would be a task in itself to document this motif, but I'd like to note a few aspects of its use which seem most relevant here.  The Manus Dei is, above all a metonymy.  The Hand represents God Himself.

This motif has its origins in Judaism, in which depictions of God are still considered unacceptable, much like in Islam.  This even extends to writing the names of will often see "G-d" written by observant Jews in order to bypass this interdiction.  In Western Christian art, images of God both as the Father and the Son have become acceptable and the motif is most prevalent in Medieval art.

According to Wikipedia, "Gertrud Schiller distinguishes three functions of the hand in Christian art: as symbol of either God's presence or the voice of God, or signifying God's acceptance of a sacrifice."  This idea that the Hand of God is a stand-in for His voice is particularly intriguing  It seems that research has indicated that both words and gestures stimulate the same areas of the brain.  So, why not symbolize the Voice of God with His Hand

Of course, it's fairly evident that this hand relates also to the hamsa talisman found in both Islamic and Jewish contexts, and which may originate from Phoenician prototypes.

The hand motif is a varied and complex phenomenon, but I would like to here note its use as a sign of divine approval of earthly power.  Examples date back to fourth century, and apparently was most often associated with the crowning of Empresses.  Traditional French coronation regalia included a kind of scepter terminating in a hand forming the gesture of benediction and "represents the justice-dispensing power of God as being literally in the hands of the king." (emphasis added)  The King, as God's representative on earth, thus is by proxy both His hands and His voice.

Hoo-boy.  No doubt I could go on and on, and it would be useful for someone more inclined than I to look at this outside of the North African and European contexts--my passing references to Mudras notwithstanding.  Not looking into these should not be seen as an ethnocentric diss.  I'm just less versed in other cultures and more focused on Mediterranean cultures at this point in my life.  Even in this, I think I've left out a lot in what is sometimes a swift and choppy read, to be sure.

Finally, I hope for friends who read this they've gained some insight into why the severed hand found near my house has exercised such a fascination over me.  I mean, aside from the fact a person was either murdered and dismembered in the vicinity of my house or murdered elsewhere and then distributed in the woods nearby.  True Crime is powerful stuff; as much for the rational fears about violence as it is for its mythological resonance.

Cut.  That's a wrap....

Note from The Gid:

"Based on a quick glance, though, I want to ask: Have you addressed shaking hands? In regards to hands as a gateway or liminal device, it seems like hands powerfully connect us to other people. Not just the handshake, but, well, you know, touching other people ... "touching others" is a metaphor for a transcendental connection with other people (i.e., the hand as the liminal device), maybe, or I'm just drunk and being sloppy in my thought and relaying a "touching" tale. And we can see other people and talk to other people, but you can't just go around touching everyone for crying out loud. Lay your hands on another person, and you'd better be a priest, doctor, or lover."

I should quote this again from an earlier post:

Another inconclusive symbol, found in a round medallion at the center of the cross atop the tomb, is a human hand. By chance we stumbled across another entry in Mackey's Encyclopedia--Hand (p. 317)--illustrated by an engraving of the hand in a nearly identical gesture:

"In Freemasonry, the hand as a symbol holds a high place, because it is the principal seat of the sense of feeling so highly revered by Masons....Horapollo says that among the Egyptians the hand was the symbol of a builder, or one fond of building, because all labor proceeds from the hand." Mackey continues, explaining its use in Christian iconography in a gesture of benediction: "The form of this act of benediction, as adopted by the Roman Church, which seems to have been borrowed from the symbols of the Phrygian and Eleusinian priest or hierophants, who used it in their mystical processions, presents a singular analogy, which will be interesting to Mark Master Masons, who will recognize on it a symbol of their own ritual. In the benediction referred to, as given in the Latin Church, the thumb, index and middle fingers are extended, and the other two bent against the palm. The church explains this position of the extended thumb and two fingers as representing the Trinity; but the older symbol of the Pagan priests, which was precisely of the same form, must have had a different meaning. A writer in the British Magazine (vol.i., p.565) thinks that the hand, which was used in the Mithraic mysteries in this position, was symbolic of the Light emanating not from the sun, but from the Creator, directly as a special manifestation....Certainly, to the Mason, the hand is most important as the symbol of that mystical intelligence by which one Mason knows another "in the dark as well as in the light."

Given that the symbol is used as a sign of benediction, it may not be anything more than a sign of his Catholic faith. But maybe it's a Masonic reference. It's certainly an eye-popper. Given Vitry's passion for Egyptian architecture, by which his tomb was inspired, it may simply be a nod to the use described by Horapollo. It's worth recalling the notion that the Egyptian obelisk is also thought to symbolize a petrified ray of light, much akin to our anonymous British writer's theory that the hand symbol represents the light emanating from the Creator. Again, like the square and compasses, it lead to tantalizing speculation but nothing conclusive. Maybe the hand is simply a brazen variation on the Anahinthan cock's comb.

Back to the present:

Given this post, I think it less likely to be a Masonic reference....

Shotgun Willie

Long as we're going on about pies & tea and whatnot, reckon we might as well share this somewhat overlooked stoner country classic:

Thursday, January 27, 2011


January 23 was National Pie Day -- not to be confused with National Pi Day (March 14, natch) -- which gave me an opportunity to reflect on one of my favorite subjects: Pie.

And pied, too!

Some of my favorite Americans were great pie (tossing) devotes, including the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Jackie Gleason, Johnny Carson, Charlie Chaplin, Tyrone Slothrop, Bugs Bunny, Gilligan, the Beastie Boys, Lucille Ball, Dr. Strangelove....

What a strong endorsement! But what, after all, could be more American than apple pie, hotdogs, and mom? (Although we might reconsider the wieners, what with all of the hot dog eating contest controversies -- it's enough to make the Black Sox look clean!) Furthermore, what goes better together than pie and tea? And what's more American these days than considerations of tea?

You think, perhaps, that this is a joke. "Why pie," asks the regular reader of LoS? Consider, however, that the Catholic's Lord's body is baked dough, the very staff of life, as we've previously reported. Consider, too, that the Montpelier Argus and Patriot once wrote that:

Mince pie, like Masonry, arouses curiosity from the mystery attaching to it. Its popularity shall never wane until faith is lost in sight.

So let's step back a bit, peek under the crust, and dig into the pie ... er, rather, dig into the history of the pie.

As far as I can tell (using my google-fu & a bit of guess work), Egyptians are credited with inventing pie, but this accreditation appears to simply stem from their invention (again, as far as I can tell) of a flaky baked crust that they layered with honey -- more like a pastry, I expect, than a pie. The notion spread from the Egyptians to the Greeks to the Roman to Europe at large, where the pie slowly evolved into a method for preserving meats (i.e., meats were spiced, sugared, and encrusted to prevent the growth of bacteria).

I would imagine that the expansion from a pastry-like product was slow going. Consider that Greek spinach pie is--let's face it--not pie at all. It's probably, I would guess, the Romans who really created the first dishes that we might recognize as the modern pie. (Wikipedia disagrees.)

But Rome fell and the Dark Ages descended upon the pie.

Of course they say that the Dark Ages are only dark because we've failed to shine a light upon them. Did the pie survive this age of great European migrations because pie made meat portable? Did local varieties emerge and and take root when Rome fell? We lack, it appears, the historical documents (like "Ye Dark Ages Cookbook") to know.

At any rate, once kingdoms were formed, the wealth and security of nations allowed the pie to flourish. It seems, in fact, that pie creativity may have pinnacled in the 1500s. Cookbooks from the time feature (or so my google-fu tells me) meat pies of all sorts, from turtle to peacock, with bird legs often extruding the crust to form convenient handles. Fruits first entered the fillings around this time, and, incredibly, even living things were encrusted:

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

This isn't just some make believe tune. Kings had large pocket books and major entertainment needs; their chefs soon had all sorts of living things bursting forth from of pies, from song birds, to human dwarfs, to jugglers who emerged a-juggling.

But if the pie's creative zenith resulted from exorbitant wealth and kingly boredom, it declined with the emergence of democracies and the settlements of frontiers.

America, in fact, took the pie for its own. Someone once asked "Did ben franklin like pie?"; the "favorited" answer (provided by Cheese445532) was "yep, if he was normal in that regard".

But to turn to more authoritative sources, there's a great article entitled "The Real American Pie" that I hope you'll read. I've stuck a lot of links into this post, but if you read just one, this should be it. (And if you read two, well, this history of the pie is pretty damn good, too.)

In "The Real American Pie", Cliff Doerksen spins a wonderful yarn of the pie's evolution in America, which I'll try to butcher down into one or two bloody paragraphs. Pie was, for this frontier land, a return to the pie as preserved meat. Mince meat was the pie of the day -- the pie of America, in fact. It was apparently reviled on the one hand as a papist abomination that caused murder-inducing nightmares if not outright death; it was proclaimed as a Darwinian winnowing agent of weak genetic lines on the American frontier and was decried by abolitionists thanks to its alcohol level that was closer to brandy than beer.

On the other hand, it was widely popular. Doerksen seems to consider it the cheeseburger of its day.

Until, Doerksen reports, it was mysteriously supplanted by apple pie, all of sudden-like in the 40s.

Doerksen illuminates, struggles, and leaves us with this paradox of the pie, both hated and loved, popular yet vanishing; we shall, however, forge ahead into contemporary times, well aware of the irony that the past that is closest is murkiest.

Of today we can say safely, at least, that mince meat is a watered-down dish, safe for children and vegetarians, and consumed almost chiefly on Thanksgiving and Christmas (and, hopefully, National Pie Day and National Pi Day, too). It's been replaced by apple pie in popular American culture, where, since the 40s, apple pie has reigned as the American dish; today it feels only natural to declare apple pie so, for we assume it is linked straight back to Johnny Appleseed, a great American mythos, right up there with my home-state's hero, Acrefoot Johnson.

But how appropriate that, as Doerksen exposed, our national pie changed in the 40s -- for the world was a-changin' to.

Here, my friends, I am afraid that I begin to struggle as a writer, finding it difficult to present the Truth within the Narrative -- at least without bending the Truth. I suspect that if you want to challenge me on the Truth of this post, you will challenge the veracity of the next few paragraphs as I try to trace the national mood of the United States through its use of the pie.

But I will try.

Or at least I would like to try. I would like, for example, to describe the thrown pie's arc in terms of the US' transition from the patriot zeal of the World Wars, to the growing distrust of the 60s, and on to the violence of contemporary terrorism. I would like to see "American as apple pie" as a concept in motion, a symbol that evolves over time as revolutionaries grapple for control of the nation. Consider the great prank of "The Pieman" splatting NY's mayor with apple crumb because he's a crumby mayor of the Big Apple: Does this not represent the pie wrestled from its status as a symbol of stolidness and patriotism only to be flung back at the power elite?

Were the elite not brought down to earth, reduced to clowns, just as the pie itself is reduced to clownery?

And from these prankish beginnings, these counter-cultural flings, can we further describe the changing national character by showing pie tossers moving from coconut cream fillings (a tasty prank for the pied) to bitter shaving cream and on to the Al Pieda who were ready to kill ideas with pie?

And if the apple pie is America, might we then trace the trajectory of the nation in the arc described by the tossed pie?

Or may we at least pie chart the national mood?

No. I think I've stretched the truth too far to fit my yearning for a narrative. Pie tossings have, I do truly think, moved from merriment, to prank-ish protests, to acts of anger. But I have no proof that their fillings graduated from coconut cream to shaving cream for the purpose of spite; likewise, it's patronizing to imagine that the counter-cultural movements of the 60s and 70s were pranks, and it's dishonest to suggest that terrorism is something new.

But would it be too much for me to misquote Pynchon's opening line in that great American novel, Mason & Dixon, in order to suggest that the pies have flown their Arcs and starr'd our national character? Is it too much to suggest that as pie attacks and our culture have moved toward more extremes, it behooves our national leaders to duck quickly as the public's arsenal moves to ever less tasty tossings?

Ahh, well. Yesterday's pies might always be the best. In times like these, one might do well to remember the immortal words of Jonathon Swift:
Promises and pie-crusts are meant to be broken.
We admit it: We love a good prank, for we imagine that it betters society.

In the good words of Daurade:
Better to throw pies than to pull triggers.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Put a Dorcas in the Window

From the BBC: 10 Christian names you don't really hear.  Dorcas is one of the names listed on this irreverent list of odd or out of favor first names.  I actually have a vaguely-related and distant ancestor named Dorcas Bent.  I suppose it's better than Bent Dorcas.

Names can be cruel!

After first writing this post I was going to bin it, but in looking up Dorcas on Wikkelypeedia a few days later I learned a few interesting things which mesh with our interests here at LoS.  First of all, Dorcas is the Greek version of her name, in Aramaic she'd be known as Tabitha, which today sounds a lot better than the former, methinks.

Tabitha aka Dorcas was a woman from Joppa whose story is found in the Book of Acts 9:36–42.

"Tabitha/Dorcas is one of the few women whose name was remembered and preserved in New Testament writings, which makes this passage most interesting, and may indicate her importance in the early church. Another point of interest is the fact that she is clearly named as a disciple, which may indicate a broader usage of that term by the early church than is generally accepted today. It may also indicate that she was a church leader in the community of Joppa."

Dorcas was a notable seamstress, perhaps a widow who went about distributing clothes to the poor; today, Dorcas Societies still have this mission.

In Acts, Peter raises her from the dead, Lazarus style.  This could be taken literally, or metaphorically; some have speculated these "resurrections" indicate some kind of death-rebirth ritual practiced by early disciples.  A symbolic death and rebirth is a ritual element dating back to the Eleusinian Mysteries, at least.  The descent into the underworld is a mytheme ubiquitous in ancient spiritual literature, from Sumeria to Greece and the New Testament:  Jesus himself, Lazarus, Dorcas....

And yet, Dorcas Societies notwithsanding, she is relatively little known today.  But take heart, pilgrims.  You can light a candle to Dorcas in a few days; in some traditions her feast day rolls around on the January 27.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Aucamville Project 9: A gruesome discovery

A pal texted me just a short while ago to alert me that a human forearm has been discovered in a wood near Aucamville.  The police are looking for the rest of the body, if there's one to be found, in an ever-widening circle around the chapel of Notre Dame de Boisville (post from July 1, 2010).

The article can be found here, but there's not much to be learned.  Dogs found it while their master was walking them in the woods, the arm has been sent off to be CSI'd and the police are looking for more clues.

Yow.  You know we've been a bit quippy about those Canadian feet.  A lot less funny when it's a kilometer or so from your house, a place I frequently go during Summer to relax and watch the sun go down....

Still, several bad puns present themselves:  It's Armageddon!  Notre dame de Brasville ("bras" being "arm" and rhymes with "bois"), Aux Armes, Citoyens!  We should stop by and lend the police a hand, etc.  All in poor taste, I know.  Sorry.

Finally, an historical tidbit.  Just before the Revolution, scandal rocked these parts when a religious mystic who had made this chapel his home was murdered by two brothers.  In a place this old, one need not dig too deep for histories of violence....

Jan. 20

Local rag La Dépêche du Midi reports that results of the DNA analysis should be ready tomorrow and that the arm is not from the ossuary adjacent to the chapel.  Depending upon the results, a major excavation may begin towards the end of the month. 

Investigators have also dismissed rumours about a student dissection gone wrong.  I'm not sure if this in response to a rumor or if they just want to head this one off at the pass!  I'm sure it's the former, which means I'm missing out on some good speculatin' down at the café!

Jan. 21

Update from the Dépêche.  The arm belonged to an adult male.  The police are currently compiling a list of missing persons, focusing on the two départements which meet at the area, but also looking at national cases.  A large search is anticipated with sniffer dogs and manpower.  The Margestaud creek and Garonne will be explored with a kind of sounding device.  A helicopter will add eyes in the sky.  A lot of excitement for such a quiet place.

This story has got me to thinking about dismemberment in history.  A missing hand has been a recurring literary device.
  • I recently read The Lost Symbol, where it kicks off (punches off?) the "plot"
  • ....this made me think of Luke Skywalker /Darth Vader....Vader is actually referenced in the book in what I took as a reference to the shared mythological resonance of a severed hand.  
  • Captain Hook comes to mind.   
  • The Monkey's Paw revolves around the magical power of not a human but a monkey's hand....which brings me to the Hand of Glory.   
  • This guy has a neat collection about the HoG "and other gory tales about human hands."  
  • And then there's Jesus, who according to some translations said:  "If your right hand offends you, cut it off...."  (Matthew 5:30; Mark 9:43).
Any other famous dismembered hands come to mind?

Friday, January 14, 2011


This title is misleading, because it might just as well read "Woman" and be accurate. Therein lies the central problem I am working on. I don't want to be too simplistic here in reducing all these figures to manifestations of one feminine ideal: capital "W" Woman, and what she represents. But I'm tempted because the conflations and interminglings are so plentiful.

In these examples we find piety, suffering, chastity and martyrdom. But we also find strength, courage and victory. The women here are patrons, benefactresses, protectresses and mediators.

Beauty and erotic allure are also important elements for some of these women. The shapely, comely figures, young, virginal; sometimes a little older and wiser; sometimes strong and wily. Woman, in all Her allure. In these examples, there are no old women. Indeed, there are not even mothers. (Belle Paule is an exception; as a real person she lived to an astonishingly old age for her time and her children were as much reputed for their beauty as she.)

Another exception to this last rule is the Virgin Mary, whose presence hovers all over these other women like an umbrella. As a Mother, she is the supreme example. But this may be mitigated by the supernatural nature of her conception. "Immaculate" is the word, and it extends into these other feminine examples as well.

On the other hand, what we have here in this series of maidens or women are beings so pure and distant as to be unobtainable, or sexless allegorical creatures which exist in realms distant from the touch of man. To approach these women as sexual beings would seem perverse. There's a double enjeux going on, a complex interplay of approach and withdrawal which is itself is a kind of sexual engagement with a mental idea, or ideal.

The hesitancy with which I approach this subject is a structural metaphor for what I see in these depictions of women, as well as the effect of the interplay between eroticism and chastity. These women are "unapproachable" and in their remarkable chastity "irreproachable" as well. Which is a sort of paradox; perhaps it is the combination of these two factors which gives their erotic aspects a bittersweet sentiment.

I have arranged the women in chronological order, mixing substantiated dates with estimated ones. Where a legend arose without assigning a particular date to the story, I used the date of the legend. When the women correspond with another datable event, I use the date of the event.

Here I will present my first attempts to come up with some common characteristics of feminine ideals present in several figures: real, legendary and allegorical; these are initial thoughts and shouldn't be considered my definitive words on the topic. I'm hoping that eventually, should this lead me somewhere, I may turn it into a more staid and scholarly work. For now it will be typical LoS fare.

Also, after the Venus of Lloret post, many friends responded with a bemused "Why, you're becoming a feminist!" Hardly. I'm not planning to enter the Womens' Studies field just yet; many might even find my words typically masculine, slightly offensive. Who knows? Neither pandering to nor refuting a "feminist" line is my intent. I just want to document what I've come across and my reactions to it.

Simple? Good. Let's begin:

"Les puelles" (c. 257)
: legend


Two Christian women (puellae remembered as "les Puelles") piously gathered up the remains and buried them in a "deep ditch", that they might not be profaned by the pagans.


Saint Sernin is the patron of Tolouse and its first Bishop. Legend has it one day as he walked past the altars of the pagan gods and their oracles fell silent; he was asked to pay homage to the gods and he refused. He was seized and executed: tied to a bull which dragged him to his death.  The Puelles then properly buried his remains.  They are celebrated both for their chastity and their martyrdom.

LoS Posts: 

Dame Carcass (795; 12th c): legend; savior; tutelary

The Emperor Charlemagne besieged the town [Carcassonne] in 795, which was held by Dame Carcass, a Saracen princess. After a five year siege, the only food left was one little pig and a bag of corn. Dame Carcass gave the bag of corn to the pig and sent it out to the ramparts. Charlemagne raised the siege, since he thought there was enough food even to feed a small pig. Before the Emperor left, Dame Carcass rang out the bells making them sound the word Carcassonne.


When I first heard this tale, Dame Carcass launched the pig over the ramparts on a catapult. Maybe that was a bit of Monty Python's Holy Grail sneaking into the picture.

This tale seems to be pure hogwash, heh heh. It would have taken place in the late 8th century but the legend doesn't seem to have appeared until the 12th. It was subsequently reworked in later centuries and is with us today, a colorful and amusing anecdote.

Interesting that the clever woman here is a Muslim woman, yet she offers up the last of the food, a pig. Whether or not she paraded it on the ramparts or flung it over the wall, it is anomalous, unless interpreted as a rejection of the foul swine. This gesture, according to the legend, saved the town.

(I have long had the creeping suspicion that the famous "Black Virgins" which are clusterd in Aveyron and the Pyrenees, may have some link with the Moorish/Christian conflict, some at least have their origins ascribed to this period. I'm not exactly sure where to go with this question.)

At some point Dame Carcass had bells rung in victory, leading someone to say "Carcass sonne" , or "Carcass is ringing the bells." Hence the name of the town. I see her as both a military savior and a tutelary figure.

This is not about Toulouse, but it relates to the theme and broadens the context. I think the rise of the legend is aligned with the rise of a cult of femininity which was at the time leading both the the troubadours notion of the idealized woman in their tales of courtly love, as well as in the rising prominence of the Virgin and her redefinition as a more earthy, emotional and at times erotic figure.

Women who operated the catapult killing Simon de Montfort (1218): legend; saviors

After maintaining the siege for nine months Simon was killed on 25 June 1218. His head was smashed by a stone from a mangonel operated by the women of Toulouse - "donas e tozas e mulhers" (noblewomen, little girls and men's wives). He was initially buried in the Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire at Carcassonne but his body was soon removed to his home in France.

Today, the spot where Simon de Montfort met his end is marked by a plaque set into a wall of pink Toulouse brick (see left). It reads: "Old Montoulieu Gardens - During the siege of Toulouse in the course of the Albigensian Crusade Simon de Montfort was killed here in 1218". The last two lines are a quotation from the Song of the Cathar Wars, laisse 205, cited above: both read "now a stone hit just where it was needed" first in French then in the original Occitan.


Again, women save the day. A catapult is involved. These women are the representatives of all women in Toulouse: noblewomen, little girls and men's wives. All pitching in. I assume that this is analgous to the "We Can Do It" propaganda of WW2. Everyone pitches in to save the homeland when the men are off to war.

Simon is still hated in Toulouse to this day. We may one day look more closely at the guided, falling stone that killed Montfort (Mount Strong, or Strong Mountain) with a blow to the head. 

In Wolfram Von Eschenbach's version of the Grail legend, the Templars are the Grail guardians, which is a stone called "lapsit exillis" or the "stone that fell from heaven."  And head wounds have a variety of esoteric sources, from the murdered Hiram Abiff of Freemasonry to the mysterious "Head wound man" in Tim Wilson's films Water:Pillow and Mamu Rising.

We see of course that strong women are part Toulouse's historical symbolic landscape as well as in the rest of France. Jeanne d'Arc, our next figure, is also a savior, but there is also great suffering and piety in her story. She is at times a Holy Fool, and object of pity and amusement before becoming something of wonder and fear, before reverence.

Jeanne d'Arc (c. 1412-1433): savior; suffering little girl; saint


Jeanne d'Arc is not a woman of Toulouse, and she is our first historically verifiable woman. A few remarks can be made here, but nothing that can truly add to the vast scholarship on her life and her meaning. Toulouse has a Place Jeanne d'Arc and there one finds a gilded (daurade) equestrian statue of her. In every church in the south, you will find an icon of her, often right next to the altar, St. Michael slaying the dragon on the other side. In these, she, feminine principle, combines with another armored spiritual entity, Michael. She shares in his victory over Satan. He shares her victory, spiritually, which ultimately lead to French liberation. I suppose the Arc cult picked up steam during WW2.  The French Nationalist party Front National uses her as their symbol.

Jeanne d'Arc, associated with Michael, also assumes a role of the Virgin as ass-kicker of the serpent. In the south at least, Mary is often portrayed treading upon a serpent's head, vanquishing sin. (See Aucamville Project 6 and Jesus was in shape).

She was full of beans that kid!

Clémence Isaure (late 15th c): legend; patroness

LoS Post:
A Legend born from a scam

Floral games named after Flora, (Greek Chloris), the first a goddess the second a nymph associated with flowers and vegetation, rebirth and Spring. Both were married to Gods of the West Wind, heralds of Spring. Ovis states that when she spoke, she exhaled roses. These roses as well as her fertility role, evoke the Virgin Mary. Indeed the Floral Games (Jeux floral) founded in Toulouse by the Consistoire du Gai Savoir (later Compagnie des Jeux floraux) were named after Flora and were held in honor of the Virgin Mary.

Belle Paule (1518-1610): patroness; beauty

Of all the women in this list, only Paule grew old, living to 88. She must have seemed immortal. Ironically, it is her in which beauty and erotic allure reach their zenith. According to the legend, she was obliged to go about averting her gaze so as not to cause disorder; she was likewise obliged to appear at her window once or twice a week in order to appease the adoring crowds below. A book was written about the intimate details of her perfect anatomy. Yet another writer found an anagram in her name for "pure virtue guides." Her chastity was equal to her erotic allure. Buff, and rebuff.

In our introduction we recalled that she had a number of children, each as beautiful as she. It was with this in mind that Toulouse chose to name a new children's hospital after her: the Hôpital Paule de Viguier. This hospital is interesting in that it combined pediatric care with care for mothers and to a lesser extent couples. This name was chosen in 2002. According to their website:

Le conseil d’administration du CHU a décidé de donner au nouvel hôpital de la Mère le nom d’une femme du XVIème siècle qui avait, avec la mythique Clémence Isaure, passionné les toulousains de la Renaissance.

The site recounts her history and legend. What is interesting here is how Paule de Viguier is evoked side by side with Clémence Isaure, a legend. The two are often confused and to some extent, conflated.

All the other girls on this list, on the other hand, were fixed in their youth by early deaths. They are pious and saintly, but damaged, suffering, sometimes deformed. Maybe mentally ill. In any even, disease laid them low very young....

LoS Post:
Belle Paule of Viguier

Dame Tholose (1544): tutelary; allegory

When entering the Marly courtyard, visitors can see Dame Tholose (ill. 1 ; cat. 3), a figure which used to be on top of the Dupuy column in Toulouse which has very wisely been put on deposit at the Musée des Augustins. This allegory is by Jean Rancy whom we mentioned above and who, like Pierre Biard’s Fame from the Louvre (ill. 5 ; cat. 36) displayed nearby, is inspired directly by Italian Mannerist models, particularly Mercury by Jean de Bologne.


La statue de Dame Tholose est revenue dorée. Elle a été installée en janvier 2007 sur la colonne qui domine la place Dupuy. L’été précédent, Dame Tholose alias la Renommée perchée en haut de la colonne Dupuy, avait été emmenée pour être copiée et restaurée. En 1830, Urbain Vitry, architecte de la ville de Toulouse, eut l’idée d’utiliser pour le monument à la gloire du général Dupuy et de la 32ebrigade qui s’étaient illustrés pendant la campagne d’Egypte, une statue des collections municipales «Dame Tholose». En 1832, la girouette et l’écusson furent remplacés par des couronnes de laurier et la statue fut placée en haut de la colonne Dupuy. C’est ainsi qu’elle fût rebaptisée La Renommée.


As a allegorical or tutelary figure, Dame Tholose is not particularly unique and is in fact not really known by Toulousains. Clémence Isaure and Belle Paule are more well-known names but 99 out of a hundred Toulousains couldn't tell you much about them, depite the artistic iterations to be found on Place Capitole and the Mairie's Salle des Illustres. Dame Tholose, however, brings to mind once again Marianne, the feminine symbol of Republican France. Marianne herself is one of a long list of female tuelaries: Columbia in the US (Lady Liberty, is a more famous manifestation); Britannia in England, Mother Russia. I am curious as to why Russians refer to a Motherland and Germans a Fatherland. I thought it had to do something with Protestantism and the rejection of Mary as such an important figure, but I don't think this theory holds much water upon closer examination. Germany has quite a large Catholic population whereas other Protestant Countries do have women as national personifications. Interesting though that of all the women national personifications of Europe, many are clearly the same figure with similar iconography; I suspect thay all owe a great debt to Athena.

Dame Tholose was the first non-Biblical sculpture erected in Toulouse since Classical Antiquity.  Bare-breasted, she recalls images of Liberty, as in Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830).  The Revolution, radical as it was, failed to eliminate the woman as savior from the collective consciousness.  Liberty gave way to the Marianne, which forms the basis of the Republic's "logo" and is still evoked in its campaigns.  A pregnant Marianne was used in 2010 to publicize a government development program, amid much scandal and feminist anger.  Interesting that for the future health of the nation, a pregnant allegorical figure.  The white cap and garment has other connotations, namely, the ancien régime and....virginity.  She stands against a blue background, traditional color of the Virgin.  Is an immaculate conception being evoked here?  Apparently, the circle of gold stars on a blue field which makes up the European flag.  Oddly, the flag's designer admits to being inspired by the twelve-starred Vigin Mary described in the Book of Revelation and the date it was adopted adopted, 8 December (1955) is on the same day Catholic Feast of the Immaculat Conception of the Virgin Mary.

St. Germaine (1579-1601): suffering little girl; saint

From her birth she seemed marked out for suffering; she came into the world with a deformed hand and the disease of scrofula, and, while yet an infant, lost her mother.

Saint Germaine of Pibrac is know as the "saint of the country" or "regional saint" of Toulouse. Many Saints have trucked through these parts, Benedict, St Vincent de Paul, Aquinas' bones rest here, for example....but it is St. Germaine who is honored. There is not a church in the area without a plaster icon of her (likewise Jeanne d'Arc, St. Thérèse and St. Bernadette).  She is depicted barefoot, perhaps a small lamb at her side, her apron held in her hand and spilling roses to the the ground.

In Pibrac, a large stately basilica stands in her honor. It is much more recent and cut in stone, hence the cleanness of its lines, so unlike the crumbly brick aethestic of the majority of area architecture....

In Launac, near Toulouse, the church is filled with icons of Mary, and one, crowned, was once evidently the subject of great devotion: the crown being our first indication, a few votive plaques another. In the altar to Saint Germaine, Jeanne d'Arc guards the entrance. The cloth hanging from her armor is blue and decorated with fleur de lys. Saint Germain's red skirt, identically draped is red and likewise decorated. Strange monarchic watermark on two-thirds of the tricolor!

Germaine was said to have died just when men were beginning to find her beautiful, which seems a striking detail of her legend.  Years later, her body was found to be incorrupt. She was canonized in 1867.


St. Bernadette (1844-1879): suffering little girl; saint

As Bernadette later reported to her family and to church and civil investigators, at the ninth visitation the lady told Bernadette to drink from the spring that flowed under the rock, and eat the plants that grew freely there. Although there was no known spring, and the ground was muddy, Bernadette saw the lady pointing with her finger to the spot, and said later she assumed the lady meant that the spring was underground. She did as she was told by first digging a muddy patch with her bare hands and then attempting to drink the brackish drops. She tried three times, failing each time. On the fourth try, the droplets were clearer and she drank them. She then ate some of the plants. When finally she turned to the crowd, her face was smeared with mud and no spring had been revealed. Understandably, this caused much skepticism among onlookers who shouted, "She's a fraud!" or "She's insane!" while embarrassed relatives wiped the adolescent's face clean with a handkerchief. In the next few days, however, a spring began to flow from the muddy patch first dug by Bernadette. Some devout people followed her example by drinking and washing in the water, which was soon reported to have healing properties.

Like Saint Germaine, her body was exhumed some 40 years later and found to be incorrupt.  She was canonized in 1933.


St. Helena (d. 1885): folk saint

LoS Post:
A Saint in the Terre Cabade

A saint particular to Toulouse.  I've translated an article about her I'll post one day.  She is one of the Virgin's intermediaries and another example of a holy virgin in a region already spoken for.  I see this as a part of a continual need for a more intimate and personal saintly interlocutor; other saints have too many prayers to attend to, as it were.

St. Thérèse (1873-1897): suffering little girl; saint

Monday April 9, 1888 was the Feast of the Annunciation. That morning, Thérèse took one last look at her childhood home and left for Carmel.

Her basilica is the second-largest pilgrimage destination in France, after Lourdes. Even her parents are beatified. She is known as "the little flower". Incidentally, after moving from the Daurade I lived on Rue Belle Paule, just across from a church dedicated the Saint Thérèse.

These last four saints are of the suffering little girl variety and although Germaine lived in the 16th century, her cult was a 19th century phenomenon.  They become objects of affection; there is nothing erotic in them due to their age and pituful circumstances.  I wonder if this is linked to the "invention of childhood" which took place at this time.  When technology, post-Revolutionary ideology and a more affluent working class made it less necessary for children to go straight to work in the fields and mines and to go to school instead.  Question mark.


The Virgin Mary

Um, where to begin? One thing I didn't know: "Mary, mother of Jesus, is mentioned more in the Qur'an than in the entire New Testament." (Wikipidia) I am most interested in Black Virgins (or Black Madonnas, Vierges Noires in French), which I have yet to delve into on LoS in great depth. She has been dancing around a number of posts but alas, far too many people much more informed and intelligent than I have written a great deal on the topic and I'm not sure what I can add to the dialogue.

I am working from the assumption that she is some kind of Christian-era über mother and as such assumes many of the roles of all women; or, conversely, that other saintly women become intermediaries, local girls on the inside to catch the ear of the queen.

Mary also assumes many aspects of Pagan Goddesses. Isis certainly springs to mind. The Black Virgins are said to have any number of Pagan antecedents: the Magna Mater, Artemis, Aphrodite. Mary is often assocted with healing springs and grottos. The Black Virgins are often found buried or among vegetation. Their presence is often signaled by the strange comportment of animals, especially bovines.

Isis seems to have absorbed many local goddesses as her cult spread.  Certain Hellenic images are virtually indistingishable from images of Mary and Jesus.  We're not speaking of the original Egyptian Isis but her much later Hellenized and Romanized Mystery Religion versions.  So it's hard to say which iconography influenced which; some Marial-looking depictions of Isis may have been based on Christian models.  Of course, Mary is rarely pictured actually nursing, as with Isis Lactans, but Honoré Daumier pictured the Marianne, who we have linked to the Virgin, doing just that in Marianne Généreuse (1848).

What's next?

Theres definitely a lot more to go into.  This is just a catalogue, a brief survey of things I've been thinking about and looking into.  A lot could be said about the ideal woman of the Troubadours, the historical situation of women in Languedoc as opposed to France and other depictions in art but that might be better left for another post.  This one's gotten long eough already!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Try this angle

I think I'd partially written this twice and done two recorded versions (I use my mobile as a dictaphone) before embarking on this here post.  In other words, I've been chewing on this one for a while.  Not that it shows.  I'm still not sure what the point of all this is and it's not a particularly revelatory post.  In fact, I broached much of the same material in a post called The Law of Tangents back in December, 2009.  If I were to define my objectives for this piece, it would be to provide a context for the excitement I felt when I began to see triangles everywhere in logos relating to real estate and construction, as well as the encounters which punctuated this period and fed my curiosity.

Like I said, I'm not sure what it all means, but give it a read, knowing of my hesitancy to release it and take a gander at the slideshow afterwards.

First Encounter

One of my first French friends once told me that Freemasons (this would be the Grand Orient) were deeply involved in the real estate and construction industry in Toulouse.  I still do not know if this is true.

I later attended the first Salon du Livre et de la culture maçonniques de Toulouse where I saw the following book about the Masonic Delta:

It occurred to me then that I had seen several real estate agencies and construction-related businesses using the triangle as a symbol.

Of course, this is natural as it is a symbol which is both stable and dynamic, could easily represent the roof of a house and, at least before CAD, is one of the fundamental tools of the architect (as are the square and compasses, natch).  There is even an American fraternity called Triangle for engineers, architects and scientists, showing that the symbol crosses cultures and perhaps undercuts the idea of a Masonic connection.

Second Encounter

One of the perks of my job is that I get to meet people from circles I normally would not cross paths with in a lifetime of walking paths:  the well-to-do and well-connected.  I have a student, an ex-banker, now an executive in a consulting firm in Toulouse.  I asked him about Freemasons here.  He became quite serious and told that as a rising young banker he had been approached to join.  Unlike Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry, which in theory does not recruit, the Grand Orient actively seeks new members.  (I can verify this, a long-time friend of the Gid and I has a small company in Toulouse and was invited by a Toulouse Lodge to a kind of lecture/soirée; my contacts verified this was in fact a common recruitment method).

Anyway, the consultant told me a dark tale of a friend, a doctor, who had joined and became so changed that he divorced his wife and left his family and ultimately, the two had a falling out.  Another tale was that of a distant relative who built hotels and large buildings and had become a Freemason for the contacts.  He became beholden to them yet refused to return some favors when the time came.  He found himself ruined.  The consultant said they can destroy a man as quickly as build him up.

Now, this man is also a devout Catholic, which in Europe, means a lot with regards to Freemasonry.  Unlike in America, where the Craft is very ecumenical, the Grand Orient is actively anti-clerical and a strict defender of secularism (atheists are permitted to join, unlike in the US).  So, this must be taken into account.  I have no reason to doubt the integrity of my student, I'm sure he believes he is telling the truth, but he may be inclined by his religious persuasion to attribute to Freemasonry what is possibly, even probably, due to entirely separate causes. 

He also mentioned the Opus Dei, which also actively recruited him.  He visited their Toulouse headquarters only to be shocked and disgusted with their opulence.  His aversion to secret(ive) societies was clear, so his aversion to Freemasonry is not only a politico-religious difference.  Intriguingly, he told me that in Toulouse the Grand Orient and Opus Dei were engaged in "a kind of war."

Third Encounter

This second guy is a bit like the first:  Catholic, a highly-placed executive, well-connected (he was schoolmates with ex-Health Minister Douste-Blazy and was once a senatorial electeur, kind of like a member of the Electoral College, for you US readers).

So I put the same question forward.  He got uncharacteristically serious and told me a similar tale.  He avoided any involvement, he hinted that one sacrificed too much, that the benefits could be tangible but came at a price.  He told me they were very influential in business circles....this last word being something of a code.  One could tell the Masonically-owned businesses because of their he said this, he was drawing a triangle on a piece of paper..."like this" he said as he showed me.  They also formed clubs or associations with "circle" in their name.  For example, the most influential business association in Toulouse is also among the newest, the "Cercle d'Oc."  All the founders of this group, he claims, are Freemasons.

You expect closure?

People believe Freemasons are powerful factors behind politics and business in France.  Searching "franc-maçonnerie immobilier" on Google, one fins an interview (October 2001) with the following question:

On prête parfois au Grand Orient un «empire immobilier». Qu'en est-il? 

At time we hear about a "real estate empire" of the Grand Orient.  What is it?

Nous disposons d'un patrimoine immobilier considérable et très ancien pour des raisons historiques: nous sommes propriétaires, soit directement soit par nos loges, d'environ 500 temples maçonniques dans les villes de France. Depuis le XVIIIe siècle, nous avons acquis et aménagé ces locaux souvent délabrés, qui vont de la simple pièce à l'immeuble entier.

We have considerable and very old real estate holdings for historical reasons: we are owners, either directly or by our lodges, of about 500 Masonic temples throughout French cities.  Since the 18th century we have acquired and refurbished the locales, often dilapidated, ranging from simple rooms to an entire building.

So, this interview tells us that the belief in Masonic real estate power extends to beyond my first friend.  It doesn't necessarily prove or disprove the veracity of this belief.

I honestly don't know.  I can say that the belief in Masonic influence and power is widespread in France and indeed, the Grand Orient is more political than its Anglo-Saxon counterparts.  One must also remind anyone seeking a monolithic Masonry that the Grand Orient Masonry of Europe and Latin America (Red Masonry) is not on particularly warm terms with Blue Masonry--that is to say the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and the Lodges it recognizes; basically, the Lodges of the English-speaking world.

There is definitely business among Masons, as outlined in this city-by-city survey on the French business website, part Prisma Presse, the second-largest publishing group in France.

I suppose the natural question would be why?  Why use a triangle or other Masonic image in a logo?  I don't think this is too weird.  It could be a mark of pride.  Maybe a way to send a signal to other Masons and win business.  As a propaganda tool, it would be a sign of wealth, power and influence.  This could either attract recruits or be a way of saying "Don't fuck with us".  I'm not advocating any of these reasons.  I'm sure there are other possibilities.

Also, I've mentioned this before in comments and say it again here:  I'm not an anti-Mason nor a conspiracy theorist, despite my interest in both of these things.  I'm mapping an interest in order to contextualize the photos which follow.  Hey, I'm interested in triangles.  So sue me if they always ring the bells in my esoteric belfry.  Helps clear out the bats.