Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas, Mein Führer

Now here's a group of guys dreaming of a white Christmas.

We cannot accept that a German Christmas tree has anything to do with a crib in a manger in Bethlehem. It is inconceivable for us that Christmas and all its deep soulful content is the product of an oriental religion.

So said Nazi propagandist Friedrich Rehm, 1937. 

Hate to say it, but he's right.  Take the Christ out of Christmas?  Yes, put the sun back in there.  The days are growing longer.  Solmas?  Heliosmas?  Jesus ain't the reason for the season in my house, despite the manger under the tree.  It's about the solstice, the return to life we anticipate in a few months, the great food, the fellowship, the comfort in the cold, wet, dark winter.  A few lights in the window to make gay an otherwise dreary time of year.

But I don't want to wax too poetic when I find myself agreeing with Nazi propagandists!

Here's a Time photo essay at a Nazi Christmas dinner.  Photos from 1941, Munich.

A Curious juxtaposition....

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The devil you say

At the risk of being dreadfully inappropriate, I draw your attention to the following video from CNN.  This article about the memorial to Vicki Soto includes a photomontage with the following image, about 55 seconds in.

Soto was a teacher killed in the Newtown shooting and is widely being hailed as a hero after locking her students in a bathroom and standing guard outside the door.

Another version from ABC News prudently crops the photo so the offending hand doesn't appear, whether by chance or design, who can say? (about 52 seconds in).

I don't know who first saw this, or created the photo still, but I saw it on my Facebook newsfeed.

A strange photobomb indeed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

An unhappy list

The following list of US mass shootings comes from a post entitled The massacre of the children of America by Michael Hoffman.  I have to add that I don't agree with this editorial post, in which Hoffman condemns things such as usury, abortion and homosexual marriage and which one must presume are believed by Hoffman to be part of the cause of this massacre.  That said, it's a concise list of the "major" mass shootings in America since 1966; there is a stark power in seeing it laid out so dry:  date, place, number of casualties.  The tempo definitely seems to be increasing....

I'd like to see some data on mass-shootings prior to 1966.

Timeline of U.S. Massacres
Compiled by Michael Hoffman 

Compiler's note: All of the deaths listed are homicides, except in the case of a casualty statistic compiled by the media that groups a perpetrator who allegedly committed suicide, with the victims. Almost all of the deaths are by gunfire. I do not claim that this list is exhaustive. In almost all cases I have only listed as a "massacre" multiple deaths that occurred within a 24 hour period.

1966: Fifteen people are shot to death on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

1966: In Chicago, Illinois, nine nurses are massacred.

1982: Eight workers are shot by a co-worker at a Florida machine shop.

1984: Twenty-one patrons of a McDonald's restaurant are killed in California.

1986: Fourteen postal employees are killed by a co-worker in Oklahoma.

1990: Nine people are killed at a GMAC loan office in Florida by a co-worker.

1991: In Michigan five people are killed.

1991: 23 people are killed in Luby's Cafeteria in Texas.

1993: 8 people killed in the San Francisco, California financial district.

1993: Six people killed on a Long Island, New York commuter train.

1997: Three students killed by a fellow student at a high school in Kentucky

1998: Five people killed (four girls and a teacher) at an Arkansas Middle School (the killers were two children, age 13 and 10).

1999: Coumbine High School, Colorado: 13 people killed by two students.

1999: Nine people killed in the financial district in Atlanta, Georgia

1999: Seven people killed at a church in Texas.

2000: Seven people killed Dec. 26 at an Internet company in Massachusetts.

2001: 2 students killed and 13 wounded by fellow student in California

2003: Five killed at a Mississippi aircraft plant by a co-worker.

2005: Five students and two others killed by another student in Minnesota.

2006: Five Amish children killed at their Pennsylvania school by a truck driver.

2007: Five killed at a shopping mall in Utah. An off-duty policeman exchanges gunfire with the perpetrator, preventing more killings.

2007: 32 students killed at Virginia Tech by a fellow student.

2007: Dec. 5 - eight people killed at a Nebraska shopping mall.

2008: Five people killed at Northern Illinois University.

2009: Ten people killed in Alabama.

2009: Thirteen people killed in a Binghamton, New York immigration center.

2010: In Manchester, Connecticut a co-worker kills eight people.

2011: Six people killed in Tucson, Arizona; among the eleven who are wounded, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is shot in the head but survives.

2011: Eight people killed at a beauty salon in California.

2012: A former student kills seven students at Oikos University in California.

2012: 12 people killed at a "Batman" movie in Aurora, Colorado.

2012: Six people killed at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.

2012: Five people killed in Minnesota by a co-worker.

2012: Three people killed at a beauty salon in Wisconsin.

2012: Dec. 11 - two people killed at an Oregon shopping mall.

2012: Dec. 14 - 27 people killed at a Connecticut grammar school, including twenty children.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


In my post about the Clackamas Town Center shooting, I wrote:

A lot more could be constructed on the topic; I could easily search for more coincidences and construct some weird Fortean scenario. I seem to see the number 20 appearing a lot in this story.

Today, I open the NYT and am greeted by this headline: GUNMAN KILLS 20 SCHOOLCHILDREN.

This was at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Killer Adam Lanza was 20 years old.  Like in the shooters in Aurora and Clackamas, the shooter wore black military gear and a mask.

When I first saw this story breaking last night, I immediately recalled something Loren Coleman said on his blog a few days ago, or wondered rather; namely, what will happen over the next two or three days?

Sadly, he got his answer.

Coleman has an ongoing series of articles about what he terms Red Dawn scenarios. Newton is no exception and he does uncover some rather eyebrow-lifting coincidences; the Cosmic Joker is apparently one cruel fu*ker. (Here)

I don't know why the number 20 jumped out at me when I read the first two or three Clackamas articles. I didn't decide to note it until I came across the number in an article about the Biblical Jacob and even then, when I went back to the first articles, the number really wasn't so prominent. Why it jumped out at me, I don't know. But it's eerie to have noted it one day and then see it in a prominent headline the next, in a similar context.

But I can't bring myself to play the game any more today.

The Gid and I offer our condolences and sympathy for the victims, their friends and families.  As parents, we can only imagine the shock and grief of this senseless mass murder.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Merry Clackamas

Yesterday a young man killed two people before turning the gun on himself in an Oregon mall.  He was 22 and his name was Jacob Tyler Roberts.  (article)

What is Loren Coleman going to say about this one....

Two things that strike me.  It took place in Clackamas, a name which sounds like some parody of the word Christmas.  Articles on the shooting never fail to mention Christmas shopping, naturally, and of course, mall Santas.

Second is that the shooter's name is Jacob, which in Arabic is يَعْقُوب, or Yaʿqūb, sometimes said to mean...."leg-puller"!  What actually struck me first is that his middle name, Tyler, is also the title of the guardian of a Masonic Lodge.

I call it coincidence.  Others will go to town and call it "synchromysticism."  I've gone into this topic quite a bit in the past, so I won't repeat myself here.  Needless to say, one doesn't need a Masonic "link" to call it part of a conspiracy.  But it helps get the ball rolling.

Curiously, Tyler has appeared on LoS before.  John Tyler was mentioned by the Gid back in January and in 2009 we wrote about Tyler Hayes Weinman, falsely-accused of being a serial cat killer.

Clackamas is named after a local Indian tribe.  On another LoS-related note, a fallen stone called the Willamette Meteorite

was apparently venerated by the Clackamas tribe inhabiting the area where it was found. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, a confederation of Native American tribes, used the meteorite, which they call Tomanowos, in ceremonies.... 

Tomanowos, or the Sky Person, is believed to be a messenger from the sky god.  It is also considered to be a union of heaven, earth and the waters.  While some might tempted to scoff at this as a kind of dumb animism, please take a look at Journey to the Center of the Earth, where we take a look at the idea of the stone as axis mundi, or "world navel" (omphalos) which has an important place not only in Greek and Roman mythology, but in Islam (al-Hajar-ul-Aswad), Judaism (the Foundation Stone) and Christianity (St. Peter).  Of course, a messenger from God is just another way to describe a prophet or patriarch, like Jacob.  The stones we mention here are believed to be the center of the world.  The shooting was at Clackamas Town Center....

I seem to be in the process of becoming a nexus myself--Toulouse has a Grande Ronde (looking all the world in satellite photos like an enormous circumpunct, symbol of the Illuminati and an emphasis on the center).

The Clackamas tribe also operates an enormous casino called Spirit Mountain....

A lot more could be constructed on the topic; I could easily search for more coincidences and construct some weird Fortean scenario.  I seem to see the number 20 appearing a lot in this story.  The of course there's Jacob's Ladder, a 1990 film about Vietnam Vets flipping out years after having been the unknowing guinea pigs in mind control experiments involving powerful psychedelics administered by the US government....

Even weirder, though, really, is that the US continues to experience so many shootings of this nature.

Coleman will be interesting to follow on this one as an exercise in controlled paranoia.  There are apparently some similarities to the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, such as the looming presence of a Century cinema, the black military vest and mask worn by the shooter, his eerily calm demeanor, a nearby military base.  This latter, Camp Withycombe, was originally known as Clackamas Rifle Range.  The mask is being described as a hockey mask, white like Jason's in Friday the 13th.  As in the case of James Eagan Holmes, said to be imitating the Joker from the Dark Knight film, this fact may be used as grist for the mind-control-via-cinema game.

I wouldn't be surprised if Roberts had been seeing a psychiatrist, or that he had some scientific or military connection.  I wonder too if he's wearing a keffiyeh (black and white for Palestine) in that photo above, and what, if anything will be made of that.  I also wonder what people will say about his ethnicity, whose features have a distinct Asian [or native American?] appearance.  I wonder if his father will turn out to be a soldier?  What will be made of his announcement:  "I am the shooter" ?  The shooter.  As if he were turning up to say he was the pool guy.

We'll let more motivated people get busy on this story.  These are just some random observations.  If everything is connected, that's natural.  We have after all, on some level chosen what to perceive and then associate.  One more footnote in my ongoing theses that perception is by it's very nature an organizing process, of simultaneous removal and addition.  After all is constructed and written, nothing can seem random.  We are tessellating, or tiling nature.

Leave a good-looking corpse

Looks like Ke$ha, or at least the director of the video for "Die Young", has taken the bull by the horns and placed a whammy on the "pop-occulture", "Illuminati-in-pop-music" crowd by making a video so over the top it borders on parody. Yet it will still guarantee to offend.  In one scene she and her dancers burst into a what appears to me to be a church and start smashing things up, standing on the dais in front of a pentacle, engaging in sexual debauchery etc.  Triangles fade in, a flashing inverted cross appears as it fades out; Ke$ha herself flashes a ring with an eye in it.  She looks through her fingers splayed in a "V", making an eye in a triangle.  A skull and bones flashes in and out.  Etc.  **Video at the tend of this post**

Actually, this Illuminati-in-the-music business is an old (and obvious) meme and it's obvious why the media would be an obvious player in any well-constructed conspiracy theory.  Especially one involving indoctrinating the masses.  I've long read such theories regarding the music industry, media in general, really.  One actually good but disingenuous writer I refuse to link to is obsessed with the Illuminati symbolism in Lady Gaga videos.  Another (not so good a writer) sees the all-seeing eye in improbable hand configurations, including looking through the "ok" sign.  Hate to learn what he thinks of "got yer nose".  Hip-Hop is suspect (maybe for all the gesticulation) especially Jay-Z and Kanye West.  This other guy seems to have a lot of answers:

The general opinion regarding musicians and their “induction” into the Illuminati is tragically incorrect. These artists themselves aren’t actually IN the Illuminati, they are merely pawns FOR them. The deal is that they sign over particular creative rights in exchange for the publicity and access required to become a sensational star. They sign up with the Illuminati to become famous quickly, because Illuminati members have infiltrated and remain a ubiquitous force in the entertainment industry.

The author seems to think this is all a by-product of Saturn worship.  In his explanation he also manages to implicate the north and south poles, as well as the cube, in this infiltration of Saturn-worshipping Illuminists into all the higher echelons of society.  It reads as though he's grabbed a few half-digested internet conspiracy memes and sort of (barely) lashed them together in a tour de force of syllogism and unsupported statement.  Which is sadly effective, judging from the sheer number of similar websites. 

Personally, I think this video is taking a poke at these theories, all the while going for the easy and obvious provocation.  The dollar sign in Ke$ha's name seems especially apt in this context.  People are still going to take the bait, though.  It's very blatancy will be taken as an even more arrogant ratcheting up of that nebulous "revelation of the method."  She's certainly made the symbology crowd of Illuminati-watchers' work easy for 'em.  Just take the Saturn-worship guy, whose blog, erm, "Illuminati Watcher" makes that very point.    Ke$ha's going to town with the Illuminati thing; the photo stills from a performance of the song on Australia's X Factor are pretty eye-popping:  Weishaupt at Las Vegas.  More like backdrops to a Muppet Show number than ritual props in an alchymical mind-fuck.

She may even take Lady Gaga's place as Illuminati Marionette N° 1 at this rate.

Anyway, echoing Beyoncé's police state chic, this video of Ke$ha and her band of dancing Illuminists, who adore Ke$ha as if she were a saint, are all gunned down in the end by the police.  Shades of Waco.  As all those Davidians might have figgered out between the time the real police machinery launched a gas canister at their home and the fiery death that canister would lead to, we all "die young."

So here's the video.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Authentic Exposition of the "K.G.C.". "Knights of the Golden Circle."

Fascinating history of the KGC and the historical context, it is after all subtitled "A History of Secession from 1834 to 1861."  It was written by a member of the order and published in 1861.  The rituals and degree structure described in this book clearly indicate the influence of Freemasonry; whether it was founded by men who happened to be Masons is unclear, as Freemasonry is not mentioned in the text. An Authentic Exposition of the "K.G.C.". "Knights of the Golden Circle."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

First, or military degree of the Knights of the Golden Circle.

First degree of the Knights of the Golden Circle. The KGC was a Texas-based secret society.  Their objective was to create a confederation of slave-holding states in parts of Mexico and the West Indies, extending slavery; the group's plan thus mirrored the objectives of secession, a cause they actively supported during the Civil War.  Legend has it that they hid the fabled confederate gold allegedly sent off for safe keeping as the waning days of the war. Others have linked them to the KKK.  I'll follow this soon with a length exposition of the group.

Date: 1861K.G.C. First, or military degree.  


See the comments after Power, Corruption and Lies for some previous and brief discussion of Pike, Masonry, the KKK and the KGC.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A brief travelogue: Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro

The following is a lightly-edited collection of Facebook posts made from the road.  Something to tide us all over until I get into the more regular LoSian aspects of my voyage (Masonic monuments, folk saints, etc.)  Disfrutalo!

October 12

I am now unemployed for the first time in 10 years. The colleagues gave me a nice lunch feast of crazy French cheeses, one of which smelled like a dead thing, but tasted oh so good! And they gave me a nice Swiss Army knife too, which is super thoughtful, coz X---- lost mine and I was always telling the office manager how I needed to get another.

I was surprised how sad this made me about leaving, but I'm very excited about the freedom! (Cried out like William Wallace in Braveheart!)

One week: Buenos Aires, baby, like a Nazi on the lam!

October 22 

So we're safely in Buenos Aires. Talk about the teeming metropolis. A bit overwhelming, hard times but the city bustles and grows. I saw a Ferrari dealer as well as dozens of people sleeping in hovels made of trash. Lots of funny graffitti, as well as lots of anti-English stuff about the Falklands, but I don't dare use the word....It's "Las Malvinas" here. Great place, and soon off to Montevideo.

Good luck with that, sir.
October 24 

Turns out it will be cheaper to drive to Montevideo from X---'s home town of Santa Fe. We're going to do that in 10 days or so. Meanwhile we're going to relax here in SF. A lot like Florida, reminds me of Tampa in some ways. A lot more chilled out than Buenos Aires, mercifully....beautiful weather, river, swaying palms. We're going to the city center a little later. 

Our bus ride last night was pretty wild for about an hour as we had to cut through barely adequate roads crammed with buses and trucks; the "piqueteros"--mostly unemployed people, had "occupied" the freeway around Rosario, as they often do there, in protest. Of what exactly, we're not sure, but probably due to recent flooding that has left the shantytowns in shambles. But don't get the impression that all is squalor, etc. Santa Fe is orderly and seems pretty prosperous, a lot of what you'd expect to find in any relatively large American city. The contrast [between those with money and those without] is just a bit more stark. But then again, I haven't been to the states for a few years now....

Costanera, Santa Fe, Aregentina
 October 27 

So, the days are hot enough for the pool, and the humidity and mosquitoes are par for the course. Yesterday I visited the Santa Fe brewery....the free visit includes a ticket for a "liso" in the beer garden and a sack with two bottles of their flagship lagers. Santa Fe, the beer, is a light and crisp lager, far superior to Quilmes, which is like the Budweiser of the country. That said, the Santa Fe brewery also produces Budweiser! My daily routine is, get up at 8 or 9, drink a couple cups of joe, then take a walk. Today I took more than an hour to walk along the river then head in to the basilica, then back through verdant neighborhoods to my in-laws. Of course stopping for a beer along the way. Today we're gonna grill a chicken. The other day I had a two-inch steak and my knife cut thru that mofo like it was buttah. An Argentine pal once told me Argentina exports great beef and fine women. Political incorrectness aside, I can vouch for both assertions.

Santa Fe: better than Quilmes!
 October 29 

Went motor-boating yesterday and tried pitifully to do some wake-boarding, the only result is a pair of sore shoulders and a sunburn. The river was beautiful, and it was nice to get away from town and see the vast expanse of the pampa. As I watched A----- grinning on the board behind us, I was reminded of that scene in Apocalypse Now where Lance is skiing behind the PBR and wreaking havoc on the fishermen. All I needed was an M-16 in my hands to make the scene complete. Ancestral memory perhaps, with a tip of the hat to pops and Uncle D--, I miss you both dearly. Never get out of the boat.... 

Today I'll get to humiliate myself further as the family goes off for a tango lesson, of all things. Like Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock put it, "It takes two...." At least afterwards there will be an asado and some of that fabulous beer. 

Took a spin in town and saw an Argentine mall, bought some gaucho pants (bombacho de campo) elsewhere (I actually saw a young gaucho in a pair of these, on horseback with bandana and beret and was jealous--truly a handsome fellow, almost a bit like a young Che Guevara). Also got myself a small figurine of San La Muerte, Saint Death, a golden-robed skeleton praying from a Santeria shop, filled with statuettes, soaps, oils, incense. Death worshipped overtly. The flags they sell of this guy are like something from a heavy metal album cover: Grim Reaper cool as fuck, sitting on a golden throne decorated with skulls. No pussy-footing about here. Have also seen a number of shrines to Gauchito my earlier posts (here and here) for clarification on this fellow. His roadside shrines are announced by red flags. Wild stuff.

Humidity, mosquitoes, Santeria, Spanish spoken at every turn. Where am I, Florida? :)

Ole Man Rio
 November 2 

The two tango classes went well. It's very difficult, but apparently I did ok. Today I walked about 10k in the city and got listlessly drunk as I stopped for beers occasionally, mostly getting another so I could use the toilet as the last one worked its way through me. Tomorrow, finally, Montevideo!

November 7 

Finally crossed the pampa. Such a vast expanse it's almost overwhelming. The dome of the sky not so much above but around you, drooping down to the horizon in a pale blue that makes it easier to understand the color of the Argentine flag. In Uruguay, we traveled five hours and crossed only four towns, only one of which was of significant size. Just rolling hills, cows and a hot, hot sun. We took a dip in a one of the many rivers we crossed to cool down on the way back. At that point I was limp with heat and coated in sweat. Sweltering. 

Uruguay is lovely. The people, laid back and friendly. In Montevideo, you have an orderly and tranquil city of one and a half million; big enough to be a city, but still very manageable. Where I stayed, it was on a thin peninsula that allowed you to see water in two directions at the terminus of the corridor of buildings, never very long, no vanishing point, just sky or sea. This position was favorable for the constant breeze which kept the air cool and fresh. 

I did a lot of walking and will blog a bit about the Masonic symbolism I saw everywhere. One example is the monument to Artigas. His mausoleum is a large underground space and above his remains, on the plaza above, there is a truncated pyramid, the top of which is open to let a shaft of light fall upon his urn.

I also saw a lot of Gauchito Gil shrines along the route but somehow didn't photograph a single example! I will hit the road again tomorrow for this purpose, as today, after 12 hours on the road yesterday, I'm to beat to do anything but sit by the pool and drink some beers. Life is very hard for me. 

Montevideo flea market
 November 12 

If you ever get to one place in South America, you have got to come to Rio de Janeiro. This place is insanely beautiful. Truly the most remarkable city I've ever visited. I've had more sensory input in 24 hours than I get in a year at home. I sat on a terrace the first night drinking til dawn, the trees all around crashing with noise. Don't mind that, it's just the monkeys and fruit-bats and over ripe mangoes falling to the ground. 

The terrace where we're staying overlooks downtown, and somewhere down the hill that night there was a dance party and blasting up was music and karaoke....LL Cool J, C+C Music Factory. I loved it. Partying til dawn, music heard for blocks around and the cops don't come to make it stop! 

Rio's all nestled among these wild pointy mountains that make each part of the city almost like a little town unto itself. You pass through these tunnels and emerge on the other side....there's some view of mountain and sea so unbelievably picturesque that it's hard not to hoot with joy. One one side of the tunnel is 32°C and on the other side, 23°! Take your pick. Broil on the beach or chill out in a cafe.....

The beach at Ipanema, packed! Everyone has a tattoo. Not as many of those famous barely-there bikinis as one is led to believe. A constant parade of vendors selling soda, boiled corn on the cob, fried cheese and most Hell yeah. In Florida they'll write you a ticket and hassle you for enjoying a brewski by the waves. Here it's open commerce. Small explosions in the distance! Firecrackers going off. Why, who knows.

Later, at the bobo Santa Teresa neighborhood, people walking down the streets in groups playing drums while lovely women dance before them....other people grilling BBQ in the street....each bar overflowing with people--all ages, social classes, sexualities, color. This is one of the most reflexively tolerant places I've ever been too, reflecting it's wild diversity for centuries. One dude with a perm, died red, with a tattoo that said 666 La Bestia. A drunken gay guy with brilliant tattoos telling me he was sorry he couldn't speak Portuguese in a way that I would understand him more easily. An old dude in ball cap, flip-flops and soccer jersey shaking a rattle along with the band, in his own world. People in the audience pick up rattles, triangles, boxes of wood to serve as drums. Music is part of the life-fabric here. Everyone looking pretty happy, never once a dour or aggressive gesture.

Overall, the people aren't remarkably beautiful, but when they are, my jaw drops. But I think it's the beauty of the setting that clinches it all....the sea, the mountains, the trees, the smell of vegetation in the middle of a busy part of town. I'm seriously considering moving here for a year.

And yeah, I realize this is the romantic view. I've left out the three highly-armed soldiers I saw hanging about a busy street to ensure order, the favelas and their poverty lining the hills above the ritzy places, the shocking disparity of wealth, the violence, the drugs. But I haven't experienced that yet and if I sound a bit giddy with the charm of it all, it's because I am giddy and amazed. I've been a few places in my 42 years, and so far, this place tops them all!

Downtown Rio, my view
 November 17 

It's been rainy and grey the last few days, so all those days at the beach haven't panned out, the colors are less vibrant and we're disinclined to stroll about as much. We've still managed a couple of walks though, and I've blown through a couple of books already.

Those heady first days I described before were from the back of a motorcycle, which definitely gives one a different perspective then when going by foot. Walking, the smells and grottier aspects of life catch up to you. I'm still enamored or this city and am scheming to find a way to make it possible to live here a month or two each year....during the kids' school holidays. I understand more and more of what's being said to me and am starting to use the language myself. Knowing a fair bit of Spanish helps, as many words are almost identical and with a certain inflection you can turn the Spanish into the Portuguese quite easily.

Yesterday we rode on this cable car that crosses the sky above the biggest favela in the world. You're a hundred feet of the ground or more, or sometimes right above the roof tops of houses constructed entirely without permits or ownership of land. What began as a shantytown is a city unto itself. I'll have to pop up some photos. Very odd though, ostensibly the cable cars are also a means of public transportation, so it costs 50 cents or so to make the entire 20 minute journey. But each 'station' is atop a massive hill so for the favela residents it's not very practical. Hard not to avoid the conclusion that it's for some weird kind of tourism. You get great views of the city and you can peer down into this different world of poverty without actually stepping foot into it. Quite perverse. We almost walked back through the favela to the metro, my sister in law does it often, but then again, she looks as if she could be Brazilian. We decided that having two "Swiss blond" kids at our sides would attract too much attention. On the bus going to the cable car station, kids looked at us as though we were Martians. Not uncomfortable, but still. Better safe than sorry.

So, other than the favelas, we went through the colorless and shabby quarters which are certainly not charmless, but aren't the kinds of places one would want to live in. If someone plopped you into Rio near these ports and concrete wastelands you'd wonder wtf I was talking about in my earlier comments!

Also, Brazil is a police state. There are cops everywhere. Military police with machine guns, municipal guards with batons, another special "pacification unit" for the favelas. Apparently they parked a tank on a hill overlooking one of the favela neighborhoods to show some muscle. This is not a pleasant fact, the police can be corrupt and brutal. Not all are, but people do disappear, get shot in the back, beaten.

But the city is pretty safe overall. This is the other side of the coin, the not so shiny side, but it's still a damn interesting coin!

To infinity and beyond
 November 18 

Took a two-hour walk today to walk off the hangover, cuz Mr. Sun is back in action! Parts of the city were eerily quiet, others bustling. Everywhere I saw people, many were going to the beach, naturally. I was glad to get back and rest my feet after my diverse stroll, thoroughly lost by the end. Rio is rich in monuments, graffitti, strange characters and other marvels. Several urban kilometers in flip-flops is torture, though. Flip-flops, btw, are de rigeur footwear here. Wanna be recognized as a gringo, slap on some sensible shoes.  In shades, shorts, t-shirt and flippity-floppities, people take me for a carioca. I mutter one word replies and I don't even think they realize I haven't a clue. I love the anonymity of the cosmopolitan city!

 November 22 

I was pretty bummed returning to France. 2 days ago I was on the beach with a beer. Now it's cold, the sky is grey, the people are grey.....but then I had dinner, and it was all better. Nothing compares to the food in France! Thanksgiving dinner was magret de canard with red potatoes fried up in the fat, a salad of lettuce, noisette, slices of orange and chunks of jambon serrano. Then a creme à chocolate with dulce de leche. Topped of with a fruity Buzet red, 2008. Yum!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Ostrich

Since my old website was taken down I've been trying to move everything it once housed onto this here blog.  I thus present The Ostrich.

I neglected to mention when I originally posted this on YouTube that the last "fun fact" in the video was lifted (plagiarized, or as we say in the game, appropriated) directly from the 16th (eye > love capacity) of Christopher Painter's Eighteen Half Truths, appearing in Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

I looked up the other facts, though.  Which makes me something of an ostrich expert.  A giant among gnomes, as it were.

This video was inspired by Vogeler and Wilson's Fun Facts: Pigs.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I haven't updated the blog for a month now because I'm on the road, a traveling man as it were.  Currently I'm in Rio de Janeiro, but before that I was in Argentina and made a brief jaunt to Uruguay.  I've got lots to post about folk saints and Masonic monuments, but that will have to wait until I get home....which will be soon as my flight leaves in about 11 hours.

Just a brief blurb.  My pal Tim turned me on to a film called Severed Footage about the mystery of the feet washing ashore off the coast of British Columbia and Washington.  It's a found footage piece a la The Blair Witch Project, which makes the title a pretty clever pun.  The story is....

In the fall of 2007, a student had been videoing his history project on “Kanaka Pete the Axe Murderer”. In January 2012 that same video was leaked from the local authorities. You decide if this video finally exposes the "Mystery of the Severed Feet".

The Kanaka Pete link is in in the original text.  I was a bit skeptical, thinking maybe it was a clever way to fabricate evidence for the back story, but you can view a PDF version of a short history written in 1972 on the University of Hawaii library's website.

I haven't seen the film, but since we've been keeping abreast of what's afoot in Canada, it seems logical to make a short post about it.  You can see the trailer on YouTube or on the film's website.

BTW, this is the second time we've come across a a history of violence on an island in association with this Canadian mystery.  See Who stole the sole?

Saturday, October 20, 2012


A softball sized eyeball washed up on a Florida beach.

Given the recent zombie attacks in Florida, we're inclined to say, "Where else would that eyeball surface but FL?!?"

That is our optimism coming to the forefront.

There are two basic ways to confront this sort of story. Let's take another example.

There's some fellow who's gathered the resources to launch a remote-controlled blimp with cameras over the North American Northwest Wilderness to try and capture images of Sasquatch. Here, the two basic reactions are clear. We could mock this fellow and talk about how unlikely it is that a large mammal remains undetected by scientists in North America, or we could celebrate the bravado spirit that drives this mission forward with the remote hope of finding something new.

Let's take another example. A new planet was discovered that orbits our closest neighboring star.

We could pessimistically focus on how this planet is too close to its sun to support life as we know it, or we could focus on the potential that this system may have other planets in the goldilocks position -- so close to us that communication is possible.

We say, why not assume the best? Why not see this as something to pursue, potential new life to be found? Why not embrace the mystery of life?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Alpha -- Zeta

The Narco Bible
In a gunfight on Sunday, Oct. 6, Mexican marines killed Heriberto Lazcano, aka “El Verdugo,” described as the leader of the Zetas cartel.  (Perhaps "a" leader is more accurate, as other reports have it that Miguel Treviño Morales took control of the group in August....which could explain how Lazcano was located).  The day after, masked gunmen raided the funeral home holding his body and spirited it away. 

The Zetas are an especially brutal cartel, one faction in a drug war that has left over 50,000 dead in the last six years.  War is truly an apt description, but does little to evoke the almost surreal scale of violence in parts of Mexico, routinely involving beheadings, dismemberment and the public display of body parts.  In one case we've mentioned on LoS, 6 victims had their hearts cut out; in another, 5 human heads were found in ice chests.  This is only the tip of the iceberg; mass killings have involved victims numbering into the dozens....70+ in a mass grave here, 49 headless bodies by the roadside there.....

This graphic helps visualize the numbers.

LoS readers will have recognized that "death and dismemberment" is one of the blog's long-standing interests.  Beheading, de-handing, lost arms, floating Canadian feet....we've covered it.  It's a macabre field of inquiry and perhaps we sometimes laugh a little too easily, but rather than take this as a sign of cruelty, try to see it as a kind of psychic defense against the steady bombardment of our conscious and subconscious minds with violent images and information.  It's enough to make one want to stay home all day with the doors locked; a little laughter is a good dose of anti-paranoia medicine.

Dismemberment is a powerful and distressing tactic, hitting us almost physically; in all other respects being equal, I think it affects us more than a "mere" killing does.  A severed limb or head is somehow humiliating, adding insult to injury, as it were.  It's also a lot more creepy to think of either the perverse commitment it takes to actually dismember a corpse...or the killer whose flare of passion has erupted and now, back to reason, must find a way to dispose of his victim.  On some primal level, even the least superstitious among us might feel that desecration of the corpse makes it harder somehow for the dead soul to rest in peace, to pass on to the other side.  Desecration is rich in symbolic import, poetic resonance and archetypal gut-punchery.

I went over this quite a bit in a post about the theft of St. Laurence O'Toole's heart and the power of relics.  I would reiterate that in the cult of the saints, a piece of the saint's body is often regarded as the most vital sort of relic, that in this case dismemberment allows for the spiritual wealth to be shared; the part is as powerful as the whole, and a small fragment of bone is enough to get the job done.  The power of the body part is deftly illustrated.

At the time I wrote that post I was reading an anthology entitled Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America.  I had a brief correspondence with contributor Dr. Donna Guy from OSU about her article on popular saints and the Pérons in Argentina.  The whole book is highly recommended, but her essay is a very enlightening stand-out.  Rebels, outlaws, usurpers and the usurped, the ways in which the remains of the dead are used by the living form a rich and variegated historical canopy, an interesting point of entry into wider historical issues.

Without re-hashing every detail, suffice it to say that the power of the corpse should not be underestimated and in this anthology is illustrated by the post-mortem fate of several famous political figures from various Latin American countries.

The Obama administration realized this power when they made the decision to quickly dispose of the body of Osama Bin Laden after he was clubbed to death by SEALs (LoS post), ostensibly to avoid allowing his buried remains to become the focus of a pilgrimage site.  The practical benefits of this denial are inexorably bound with its symbolic and spiritual aspects.  (I'd found it odd that Lazcano was described as having been killed by the Mexican navy, but a navy team killed Bin Laden, so why not).

The same rationale was applied to the corpse of Che Guevara, whose dismembered body was scattered for the same reason Bin Laden's was dumped into the sea.  Che's remains were eventually re-patriated to Cuba and are located in an elaborate memorial there.  But in the interim before Che's re-interment, a more humble and organic shrine had developed.  At the site of his death, there is no corpse, but there is a folk cult of a saint--no longer "in the making"--but pretty much already canonized.  Locals venerate Che as a saint alongside established Catholic models, complete with relics, candles and prayer.  All the trappings of your typical saint.  Here we can juxtapose the power of the corpse both as Cuban state propaganda, like Lenin in Red Square, as well as something more spontaneous and "natural":  a saint created from popular devotion, outside the canonization process of the Church, and often at odds with it (see Héléna, the cemetery saint).

Then there is the case of Juan Perón.  The grave robbery which led to the amputation and subsequent ransom of Perón's hands (with their own Wikipedia page) was ostensibly about an 8-million dollar ransom, but it also had the potential to lead to other tangible political results.  Symbolically, it was an extremely powerful act.  More striking perhaps than a castration; both render the once mighty man in his splendid tomb somewhat ridiculous, pathetic and impotent, but the removal of hands seems much more mysterious.  The public never saw his penis, so if it disappeared....?  The public knew his hands, and the imagination can work much more easily when it can envision what once was, gone.  As Wikipedia points out, Lyman, editor of Death, Dismemberment, etc. argues that the theft was "a catalyst to destroy the symbolic cult of Perón".

Eva Perón's body also suffered indignity in death; her corpse was ignobly shuffled about before returning to Buenos Aires.  After the military coup of 1955 her body disappeared.  It was secretly put into a crypt in Milan under the name María Maggi (Mary Magdalen?).  "Evita" was exhumed and repatriated in 1971, placed in an elaborate and highly secure tomb, which has become a popular shrine, and she, revered like a saint.   What is important is that her body has remained intact.  In his essay on "Latin America" in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, John McManners "claims that Eva Perón consciously incorporated aspects of the mythology of the Virgin and of Mary Magdalene into her public persona."  In this case, the theft of the body demonstrates its importance; but at least it remained whole and undefiled. 

Talk about laws of silence:  at the time when Evita's body was being hidden, the military had outlawed even speaking the name of the Peróns in public.  The missing body was part of a wider effort to wipe them out of public memory.

This "body politics" dealy is what caught our eye upon seeing the titles of articles about the killing of Heriberto Lazcano.  The titles of the articles I've seen are telling.  The Washington Post articleZetas cartel founder killed, Mexican navy says; masked gunmen steal body.  The New York TimesMexico Kills a Drug Kingpin, but the Body Gets Away.  The fact that the body was taken is as important as the death itself.

The tangible results of his death will depend on the follow-though by the Mexican authorities and the inner organizational strength of the cartel itself.  Perhaps he was an irreplaceable strategist whose absence will seriously undermine the power of the cartel, or perhaps a capable lieutenant will step in and assume the duties.

Maybe in the resulting power struggle, violence will flare up; hopefully, the contenders will stick to killing each other as opposed to the hapless police, prosecutors, journalists and assorted bystanders gunned down and carved up in alarming numbers.

The propaganda value of Lazcano's death should have been enormous.  The Mexican government would have been able to hold it up as a success, as way to show the public that the police have scored a victory in its ongoing fight against the narco-traffickers.  But the brazen "theft" of the body mitigates the symbolic value of the victory, if not rendering it completely void.

As the cliché might have it, this cartel boss wields the power to confound the state from beyond the grave.

Mixed up with this propaganda and symbolic value is a spiritual mytheme that is all the more potent for its deep and long presence in Western thought, found among some of the earliest known mythology.  The myth of Set and Osiris seems relevant here.  Egyptian religion was a dominant Mediterranean cultural influence over a period of centuries, even millennia, and it is still today relatively well-known among the educated public, especially among students of esotericism, the occult and ritual "magick".

Plutarch tells of a conspiracy wherein Set conspired to assassinate Osiris.  Set tricked Osiris and trapped him in a box he then tossed in the Nile.  Osiris' wife Isis searched for his remains and found them embedded in a tree trunk supporting the roof of a Phoenician palace.  In some versions of the story Osiris is resurrected and impregnates Isis, dying afterwards.  Sometime later, Set discovers his body and becomes enraged, tearing the body in fourteen pieces which he scatters across Egypt in an attempt to deny him a proper passage into the afterlife and to erase him from memory.  Isis then reassembles the pieces (except his penis) to be buried anew.  The Gods then resurrect Osiris again, making him god of the underworld, often associated with the flood and retreat of the Nile.  The underworld and the Nile.  Need one say more?  The importance of these aspects of Egyptian civilization cannot be overstated, and Osiris, dismembered, becomes associated with these aspects after being re-membered, so to speak.

In another version Osiris is murdered by his brother Typhon, identified as Set.  Typhon divided the body into 26 pieces and distributed them among his co-conspirators.  After Typhon was killed by Isis and Hercules/Horus in revenge, these parts were recovered (excepting again the phallus) and buried in secret locations.  She did, however, make replicas of the parts and distributed them throughout the land, where they became shrines to Osiris.

History doesn't lack for examples of how final resting places and death sites become places of worship.  The graves of famous men and women become shrines, this is a fact.  Hence the Soviets' diligence in ensuring that the remains of Hitler were never given a grave.  Indeed, what exactly happened to them is a mystery, but they were buried and exhumed no less than 8 times, burnt, mixed with ash and thrown into the Biederetz River, if Pravda is to be believed.  It would also explain why some Egyptian Pharoahs destroyed rivals' monuments or effaced their inscriptions.

Closer to home perhaps, is the story of Jesus.  While not dismembered, the fate of his body had a decisive effect on the history of Western Civilization.  After his crucifixion, the three Marys went to his tomb to anoint the body and discovered that it had disappeared.  Unlike the disappeared body of Che and Bin Laden, the lack of a body here was proof of the resurrection and turned what had been a less-than-desirable end into the founding myth of Christianity.  For over a thousand years history was driven by the story that a body wasn't where it should have been!

In one of the earliest post on LoS, we translated a Mafia initiation ritual which involved vaguely occult practices.  One Mexican cartel based in Michoacon refer to themselves as TemplarsAnd another early LoS post speaks of Jesus Malverde, a kind of saint among the drug traffickers, so prevalent that shrines erected in his honor are regularly bulldozed by the Mexican authorities as part of its fight against them.

Thus a criminal battle extends into the spiritual realm.  Malverde is the patron of narco-traffickers, especially their hitmen.  Given the extreme level of brutal violence in the ongoing drug war, it's tempting to frame the cartels as a kind of death cult, with killings performed if not exactly for Jesus Malverde, than at least with Malverde being thanked and honored.  There's a fine line between thanking a saint for services rendered and performing actions in that saint's honor.

Malverde, however, was a Robin Hood kind of figure, and it's hard to see the Zetas, who regularly brutalize the poorest and most disenfranchised of Mexicans, honoring that legacy.  Yet, at times the cartels do in fact serve as a kind of local benefactor, spreading their largesse among those they deem worthy.  The price of disloyalty and collaborating with the forces of order are high, but there are rewards for helping the cartels, if only by remaining silent.  Malverde is referred to as the "angel of the poor" and a "generous bandit".  Clearly, the traffickers play upon this mythology; a whole sub-genre of  music, the narcoicorrido, celebrates their exploits and continue to thrive despite sporadically being banned from the radio.

The Sicilian Mafia itself began as a kind of political entity, a guerrilla force, which was probably from the get-go a kind of brigandry.  A number of political and revolutionary secret societies borrowed ritual elements from sources such as Freemasonry and over time mutated into criminal enterprise.  Tale for example, the FARC.  Are they really Marxist rebels these days, or are they drug traffickers, extortionists and kidnappers?  In method, they're not much different from a cartel, despite the vestiges of revolutionary ideology.

This brings us back to the Templar cartel, who have been described as "quasi-religious" and who apparently use initiation rituals described as "cult-like.  What these rituals consist of is anyone's guess, but police have reported finding plastic Roman centurion helmets they say were used in initiations.  Back in March,it was reported that 120 helmets had been found.  That's a lot of initiates!  Perhaps the initiations include passion plays?

Whatever the case the Templars do have a veneer of a spiritual and revolutionary mission, explicitly setting themselves up as contemporary Malverdes.

The Templars were so named in 2011 from the remains of La Familia Michoacana.  According to Wikipedia, Familia leaders Nazarion Moreno González and Méndez Vargas called their assassinations and beheadings "divine justice".  The cartel's spiritual teachings are influenced by Swedenborgian interpretations of the New Jerusalem.  Swedenborg's idea is that "the New Jerusalem described in the Bible is a symbol for a new dispensation that was to replace/restore Christianity."  Mormonism's founder Joseph Smith was heavily influenced by this interpretation, which which finds support in the writings of Karl Jung, as well as in New Thought.  La Familia's "boss and spiritual leader"  published a spiritual work mixing "evangelical-style self-help with insurgent peasant slogans" based on the work of John Eldredge, a contemporary American Christian author, lecturer and counselor.  Apparently his work is required reading for gang members and the cartel has provided funding to circulate Eldredge's writings.  The cartel promotes religion and family values, doesn't tolerate substance abuse or the ill-treatment of women and children and includes regular attendance at prayer meeting as an advancement criterium.  The cartel also distributes money to those in need and manipulates the local media into singing its praises.

"Social justice" is one of their aims and when the pope visited in 2012, they put up welcome banners and promised to refrain from violence during his visit.

Nazario Moreno was shot dead by police in December 2010 in a gunfight, but he lives on, reportedly worshipped as a saint himself!  MSNBC:

"Soldiers raiding criminal safe houses in the western state of Michoacan have recently found altars topped with three foot high statues in the image of Moreno, shown in golden medieval armor and carrying a sword. A local verse dedicated to the dead trafficker invokes him as a supernatural force.

"Give me holy protection, through Saint Nazario, Protector of the poorest, Knights of the people, Saint Nazario, give us life," goes the "Prayer to Saint Nazario".

Now calling themselves the Knights Templar, after the medieval military order that protected Christian pilgrims during the Crusades, members carry a code book decorated with pictures of cloaked knights with red crosses."

So the process of sanctifying outlaws is not merely an historical phenomenon, the process is ongoing; the "narco-saint" is a type of folk saint.

When I began this post, I set out to put the theft--or recovery--of Locanzo's body in the wider context of "death, dismemberment and memory" in Latin America.  In searching to widen to spiritual scope, I recalled the mafia initiation rituals, which bring the criminal organization closer to the secret society, of which a mafia undoubtedly is.  I went on to the idea that these mafias, or cartels, even have their own pantheon of saints; in the north, Jesus Malverde is lauded in song, and shown devotion by ruthless hitmen.  Death itself is also worshipped, making these cartels something like death cults.

In Michoacan, however, the "Templar cartel" has sanctified one of its original leaders and functions more clearly like a sect.  Recruiting among addicts, it exhorts its members to clean living and prayer.  All the while cutting heads off in the name of God and Saint Nazarion, author of their spiritual text.  Interestingly, the stated goals of the cartel include social justice, dignity and peace for the campesino.  The Robin Hood meme in full effect.

They are also ruthlessly dedicated to eradicating the Zetas, which adds an interesting element into the mix.

The Mexican drug war is certainly a war for power and narco-dollars, but could there also be an underlying spiritual battle being waged?  Is the idea of social justice a la Robin Hood and the "apotheosis" of former leaders a ploy, or a genuine belief?

And will Heriberto Lazcano become a saint?

Monday, October 8, 2012

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

The foot saga continues.

The Vancouver Sun sheds light on the recent discovery of a lower leg and foot found Friday (October 5th) by two fishermen in a place called....wait for it...False Creek at 3:30 (33?) in the afternoon.  The floating appendage was wearing a men's blue and white B.U.M. Equipment running shoe that appears to match another found back in August 2011.

But that's not the only recent development in the mystery of Canada's floating feet.  Apparently, this year back on August 30th, three children's shoes were found stuffed with bone and a "meat-like substance"...but these turned out to be a hoax.  The police were understandably pissed after closing down the beach and bringing out the dogs, questioning potential witnesses etc.

I imagine they were even more pissed a week later when two more childrens' shoes were found, bringing to total to 5 by Sept. 6th.

All this on a beach near Victoria, smack dab in the region where the other dozen or so have been found.

Befuddled?  So are we.  Follow this post's tags for earlier posts on the story.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Birthmark

OK, this is a pure me-me-me post, somewhat contrary to the prinicpal intent of LoS, but I'd like to put some photos out there to document some stuff I was up to in times past....

Back in 1999, when I was living in Jemez Springs, NM, a drunken night found me doing some improv at the then-fledgling Gas Station Theater [still around?] with my pal José.  Impressed with our vignette about a dying robot on the surface of Mars (!), the director immediately asked me to put together a play to present for Classic Spooky Stories Pt. 1, the first of a planned annual Halloween show of short plays.  Being drunk, I agreed on the spot.  I then spent the next several weeks finding both a play to perform and a cast, getting the set and the visual look together and then, rehearsals.  We took it seriously but had a blast; we were democratic, but my vote counted twice so to speak.  Something like a veto that could not be overridden.  It was community theater, let's be real, but I think we did a pretty good job and injected a bit of avant-garde into a fairly straightforward story.  Not a simple one, though.  Like many of Hawthorne's works, The Birthmark is rich in symbolism, allegory and metaphysical musing.

This story, first published in 1843, revolves around two characters, Alymer, a natural philosopher, and his wife Georgina.  Alymer's assistant Aminadab has a smaller role but is important nonetheless as both a symbol and a counterpoint to the tragically-obsessed Alymer.

The tale turned out to be rather easy to adapt and practically wrote itself.  The dialogue of the play was straight from the story, except for a few additions at the end, which would have otherwise required "heavy-handed" narration to make sense of the action.  So I invented a few lines to push it along.  With three characters and three settings, it was easy  to stage.  To avoid heavy scene changes we put all these settings onto one stage, divided by lighting and color motifs.  When one scene was being played out, we lit it up that part of the stage and darkened the rest.  The lights and sets were decorated with the primary colors.  Alymer's lab was lit in blue and his table draped in blue felt; the drawing room was likewise draped in red and Aminadab's forge was in yellow.  Each featured a votive candle of the same color.  The characters also dressed in the corresponding color, going so far as to dye their hair.

They did a great job, by the way.  They really put a lot of time and effort into it.  Easy and fun folks to work with.  Korlee, aka Georgina, was kind enough to make these photos available.

We even manged some nifty special effects:  spinning spiral dics which were activated at a dramatic moment and remained spinning until Georgina dies, under Alymer's spell to the end.  When Alymer photographs Georgina (a real photo each time), an enormous illuminated hand lit up the back of the set (an idea inspired by a set designed by Jim Morrison while at FSU).  This red hand became more brilliant as the lights faded at the end; as Georgina dies, it too fades.  We even had a flower which came to life and then died, a kind of marionette manipulated from backstage with an invisible length of fishing line.  I ran the light-board and did the narration, using a free hand to make sound effects with some chimes.  These little touches added a lot, I think; they were certainly fun to make and manipulate.  On the night of the biggest performance, the brother of the actor who portrayed Alymer played improvised music on a wheezy old piano, to great effect.  Except for a false start on the first night due to a technical malfunction with the flower's guy-wire, a brief moment of chaos which a more-experienced actor wouldn't have stopped the show for (the show must go on and the like), it went off pretty damn well.

On a personal note, I only now realize these were the earliest inklings of my interest in triangles, the story being a kind of dialectic....and dismebodied hands....

Anyway, short of going into my interpretation of the story, I'd merely like to share these photos, which I've only recently seen after all these years.  Anyone wanting to perform this play should leave a comment.  I've got the script in my archives and would be more than happy to share it, as well as any tips on set design.  Of course, anyone interested could stage it anyway they wanted.  Or use these photos as a template.

Since this play my only other experience in the theater is running the light and sound for a another show of one-acts at Ithaca's (NY) Firehouse Theatre (defunct since 2002) and watching my wife perform in an avant-garde dance-theater troupe, Pasina et Cie.  Maybe one day she'll pick it back up again.  Or maybe we can adapt The Birthmark yet again, into French....

Enjoy the photos.

Aminadab - Georgina - Alymer, cast photo

Alymer - Aminadab - Georgina, cast photo

Alymer vows to remove the hand-shaped stain (larger than life in the background)

Georgina, on the verge of death, observes the disappearing birthmark

Alymer, obsessed

Alymer soothes Georgina, who has become upset by the stain on her cheek

Aminadab needs a little convincing

Kora, Daurade, Carl

The program, cover

Credits and thanks

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Our Lady of Torrecuidad, Queen of the Angels

Erratum:  I originally stated in this post that the tomb of Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer is located at Torreciudad.  A reader pointed out that his tomb is actually in Rome (see comments).  I sincerely apologize for this embarrasing and inexcusable error. 

Opus Dei"The Work of God."  Chances are that if you've heard the name of this organization, it hasn't been uttered without some reserve.  The group has been accused of everything of being pro-fascist, excessively secretive and overly controlling of its members.  Cult-like, in other words.  They're said to be fanatics who mortify the flesh with flagellation, thorny belts and shoes one size too small.  They do have a pretty stringent religious life, including daily mass and prayer, and a quick read of a list of their daily, weekly and annual obligations does reveal a depth of devotion and commitment that is almost monk-like in its rigor.

It doesn't help their image that in Dan Drown's wildly successful best seller The Da Vinci Code, the villain was an Opus Dei assassin, a murderous albino monk guided by a sinister priest.  Tough luck for Opus Dei.  Dan Brown, who claims that his book is aboslutely all true, is basically full of shit.  For starters, there are no monks attached to Opus Dei.

As for the other charges (pro-fascist, fanatical, etc.), the facts are a lot more nuanced than reputation would have you believe.  Which doesn't mean there isn't some truth in them; it just means that like many organizations with accusations leveled at them by opponents and disgruntled ex-members, grains of salt should be acquired and used....and context needs to be widened beyond "because I said so."

I'm not here to defend or attack Opus Dei, however.  I merely want to describe their sanctuary at Torrecuidad and the Black Madonna revered there.

Torreciudad (Huesca, Spain) is a stunning place.  Making good use of brick in a region where most churches are are made of cut stone, it stands out, but not like a sore thumb.  It could only have come from the 70's, but it doesn't look dated.  Rich in subtle details but not gaudy like Gaudi, the lines are pure and spare, but not parsimonious.  To me it's another testament to the Spanish genius for architecture.

Having recently translated a vast quantity of material about contemporary fashion, I can say without reservation that the idea of something embodying both contemporary chic and tradition has become a widely-used marketing cliché, a cliché certainly found in art criticism as well.  But this sanctuary embodies the mix of modernity and tradition extremely well and if I mention that it's a cliché, it's only to demonstrate that I'm aware it can be a cliché and that in this case, it is not; the designation is merited.  It's a very "modern" design, yet all the traditional elements are present: campanile, clerestory, transept, twin towers at the narthex end of the basilica, apse behind the altar at the other.  This successful blend of modernity and tradition has a few surprises, a clerestory that isn't clear at all, for example; the main supporting walls are perforated by strong vertical lines which are in fact windows.  Where the windows would be in a clerestory, there is only solid wall.  The technical prowess of contemporary architecture makes possible which wouldn't have been possible during say, the Gothic period.  The supporting walls would have to have been heavy and buttressed, the higher parts of the wall thinner and mostly stained glass, thus far lighter.  Here the walls are high, but not a buttress is to be found.  Despite its substantial height, the basilica is thus more evocative of the Romanesque, a nod to the plentiful examplesof the style found in this mountainous region.  I should also add that saying buttress makes me chortle inside like Beavis.

This non-contradiction is also exemplified in the sanctuary's sense of scale.  It doesn't seem massive, but in fact, it is.  The campanile doesn't seem absurdly high, but when you get next to it, you realize that yeah, it it pretty damn high.  Maybe it's because the mountains and vast spaces it overlooks help reduce the scale, maybe it's due to the intimacy of the brick, maybe it's because the principal entrance is in fact quite low, maybe it's the grand congregational space before the entrance....Maybe all this helps keep it the basilica itself on a human scale.  Fact is, once inside, it's surprisingly large.  A metaphor perhaps, for the vastness of the interior life, not to be judged by what is outside?

This in fact is one of the priciple doctrines of the Opus Dei.  That is, that everyday life is holy; that saints, the monk or priest's life, are no more holy than the life of the fruit peddlar or civil servant.  Opus Dei refers to a "universal call to holiness".  Everyone can aspire to saintliness.  There is also a special emphasis on work within the Opus Dei, which is after all the "work" of God.  The Work is another way members refer to their institution and practice.  This is no mystical retreat into the desert; they preach engagement and industriousness, that one's work is a path to God.  Which is a bit Protestant-sounding to these ears.

Whatever the case, the Opus Dei pulls a lot of weight within the Vatican.  John Paul II was and current Pope Benedict is a strong supporter of the organization.  Perhaps most significant is that the group's founder, entombed here at Torreciudad, was made a saint so quickly, in a process rife with irregularities.  Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer died in 1975, was beatified in 1992 and made a saint in 2002.  That's pretty fast.  Wikipedia has an interesting summary of the controversies surrounding his canonization.  I'm not even a Catholic, so my opinion on all this is rather pointless.   I do view Escrivá and Opus Dei with suspicion, to be honest, but I also recognize that a lot of the attcks upon both may stem from doctrinal differences which make no difference to me whatsoever and that in some cases there may be even more than a hint of jealously regarding their recent success.  What's a Jesuit jockeying for influence supposed to say when this Aragonese upstart is sainted and placed in marble in the Vatican less than thirty years after his death?  Observing Vatican politics, it's a State after all, would be a great way to spend a journalistic career!

I've only met one person with any personal encounter with the group; a student of mine, a well-to-do conservative Tridentine Catholic.  Invited by friends to check out the Toulouse branch, he went out of friendship but left unimpressed.  Basically, he was shocked by their wealth and the luxury of their headquarters, as well as their aggressive recruitment pitches.  I remember his slight pride as he recounted that by contrast, his 14-year-old daughter spent many a Friday night walking around Toulouse with nuns, speaking with and offering food to the homeless.  Make of that what you will, but it would seem to contradict the  reputation of Opus Dei for austerity.  Torreciudad is not an ostentatious display; it is spare and basic, but far from spartan.

What delighted me about this place is that it is deep within the realm of the Black Virgin.  Nuestra Señora de Torreciudad herself is as black as they come and we'll come back to her in a moment, but there are also several other Black Madonnas evoked in the sanctuary.

The basilica's crypt houses chapels dedicated to the Virgen de Loreto (Loreto), Our Lady of the Pillar (Zaragoza) and Our Lady of Guadaloupe (Mexico City), all of which are both significantly dark and cited as Black Virgins.

And as Torreciudad's offical website states:

A 200 mile (350 km) route links the four Shrines of El Pilar (Saragossa), Torreciudad, Montserrat and Lourdes in a prayerful journey, combining artistic works and breathtaking scenery.

As we've said, El Pilar and Our Lady of Torreciudad are Black Virgins.  Our Lady of Montserrat is of course, La Morenita, a nickname dervied from her dark color.  Our Lady of Lourdes, though quite white, shares a lot of important characteristics of the Black Madonna genre, having been found in a grotto and associated with healing waters.  Lourdes is also the most visited Marial shrine in the world.

Devotion to Our Lady of Torreciudad dates back to the 11th century, hence another wise reason to have designed this contemporary shrine in a quasi-Romanesque manner.   I have long wondered about the link of the genre with the Reconquista, as several examples have legends involving conflict with the Moors (including La Morenita and Notre Dame de Sabart.  This is also apparently true here as well; the story goes that in 1084, the last of the Moors having been expelled from the area, the statue was housed in a chapel that still exists today, having been hidden during the period of Moorish occupation.  In 1100, Barbastos, to the south, was reconquered and Torreciudad became a fortress on the frontier between Christendom and the Muslim-controlled areas, a launching pad for further exploits in the Reconquista.

This Virgin is of the Sedes Sapientiae type ("Seat of Wisdom"), or Virgin in Majesty.  She is made of elm; hands and face are dark, severe, inscrutable; the clothing by contrast is brilliantly gilded and bejeweled.  She is unfortunately somewhat difficult to discern in her niche in the retable, a massive alabaster marvel which somewhat dwarfs her.  The pleated garb, the stiff frontal regard, the entirety of its characteristics actually, make her an unremarkably typical image Romanesque aesthetics.  That said, she is beautiful and remarkably
well-preserved, as photos reveal.

In restoration it was determined that the original was polychrome and that the gilding of the throne and robes were a later addition.  The site where I found a lot of this background information does acknowledge that she is a Black Virgin, but states her color is a resuilt of the aging process of the white lead used in the original decoration.

Se trata de una Virgen morena, semejante a la de Nuestra Señora de Montserrat, y existe la leyenda de que se apareció a unos leñadores de Bolturina declarándole su deseo de ser allí venerada.

Basically stated, she is a dark Virgin, like Our Lady of Montserrat ad as legend has it, she appeared to some woodcutters at Bolturina and told them where she wanted to be venerated; this latter element is quite common among Marial legends, Black or otherwise.  I'm not sure how this theme played out in this case; some Virgins keep returning to their favorite spot after being moved, sometimes Mary appears in a vision and sometimes the statues lift an arm and point!

Our Lady of Torrecuidad's connection with the Opus Dei stems from the life of Escrivá.  Born at Barbastos, he was brought by his parents at the age of 2 during an illness from which he was not expected to survive.  But they prayed to this Virgin and lo!  He did survive, go on to found the Opus Dei and, in 1975, died in his office located in the sanctuary, The focal point of the triangular plaza before the basilica is an altar.  It is a simple constructionof brick, open to the air but under a covered porch.  A large reproduction of Virgin of Torreciudad is mounted on the wall behind the altar and to the left.

This new sanctuary was Escrivá's brainchild, completed under his supervision and inaugurated days after he died.  Whatever else you want to say about the man and his group, they certainly got this sanctuary right.

And hey, Opus Dei is also a cool album from Slovenian avant-gardists Laibach.  I was wearing my 20+ year old Laibach t-shirt as I entered the sanctuary.  Maybe I should have reconsidered; the real Opus Dei almost brought the group to court over the use of the name on an album which featured Nazi-like imagery (actually work by anti-Nazi artist John Heartfield).  But that's another story.