Horns

How long can a lovely walk, some holiday spirit, a great book (which I hope to finish tomorrow or the next day- since it’s suppose to snow.  A LOT.), some Doctor Who and a fun national football game (sorry about that Ticats.  Maybe next year.  Thanks for coming out, anyway) sustain a little bit of good cheer?

This is not a rhetorical question.  I’m going to provide the answer.

About as long as it takes for the work week to begin again, it would seem.

Dilemmas.

I wrote about a comparable situation a while back, so I’ve pretty much exhausted the mythological connections that dilemmas call to mind.

There has been a definite- and unfortunate- pattern present in my posts of late.  I say ‘unfortunate’ because, while I strongly feel that such things HAVE to be said, and discussed, and generally put out there so that individually and collectively we can work to figure out something better, I reallyreally hate negativity.  With a passion.  Yet I can’t seem to completely overcome that particular frame of mind at the moment.

This is largely due to the continuing systemic violations of ethics and commonsensical good manners and proper behaviours that we should be able to expect in an educated, well-reasoned society.

I’m not even going to go into the latest antics of the town’s ‘chief magistrate’, except to note that he, once again, displayed his true colours, this time on that paragon of responsible journalism, Fox News, and even THEY didn’t seem to know what to make of him.

Oh, and Canadian media?  Can I please ask that you stop with the headlines shouting about things like the ‘return to the gravy train‘ that he has claimed has happened since his powers were stripped (a little over a week ago)?  Please?  While the articles do, in fact, go on to explain that the tax hike is required because of things like the useless extension of the Scarborough subway line (one of his personal pet projects), chances are there aren’t many remaining members of his Nation that will read more than the headline.  Might strain their beleaguered brains (I no longer have the energy to be pulling any punches with those who continue to support this madness.  If you STILL think that he is defensible as a public servant, I really have nothing left to say to you).  Thanks bunches.

And the continued denial of complicity in scandals and pay-offs/pay-backs by our federal leader?  Yeah.  The fatigue on that score has also maxed itself out for the time being.

Further to my post suggesting that we are losing the ability to sustain anything like civilized dialogue, it is gratifying to see that I’m not completely alone in my concerns about the complete lack of politesse that seems to be accepted as normative these days.  Gotta admit, I smiled a whole lot when I read this story, and the impetus behind it.  Words have the power we give them, and we seem to be imbuing profanity- for its own sake- with a whole load of power lately.  Very nice to see a Carleton University student who is willing to question the ubiquitous nature of certain words- and point out how ridiculous they sound in most contexts.

The personal stuff?  All job-related, of course.  And all about standing up for myself in the face of bullying as I attempt to retain my principles and ethical grounding in the face of increasing pressures to ‘toe the line’ in order to keep my job.  I may not be able to affect the larger society in any real way, shape or form, but I am very much unwilling to participate in actions that violate my sense of right and wrong in my own life.

Regardless of how badly I might need the paycheque.

‘Faced with two equally undesirable alternatives.’ 

Horns.  Of a dilemma.  Seemingly stuck well and good in the region of my derrière.

That picture up there ^^^ is a stock photo of the reconstructed ‘Horns of Consecration’ at Knossos, that represent the sacred bull- ubiquitous in the culture and landscape of the Minoans, centred on the island of Crete.

Those Minoans were pretty impressive people.  They were highly organized merchants- engaged in trade with surrounding nations- and their language and culture influenced their neighbours in many ways from the 27th century BCE until the volcanic eruption on neighbouring Thera (Santorini) sometime around 1500 BCE created a ripple effect that destroyed key Minoan cities and might have been a factor in leaving them open to the conquering Mycenean armies.  (The volcanic eruption on Thera is considered by many to be the source of myths of Atlantis.  LOVE myths of Atlantis… but that’s for another day…).

Minoan religion focused on female deities- and female religious officiants were the norm.  The civilization seemed to have boasted a pretty egalitarian society.  Artwork and statuary presents both men and women participating in cult activities- such as bull-leaping- and their sophisticated agricultural and governmental systems were not restricted to men.

In Greek mythology, Daedalus (the most celebrated artificer of the day- he also made a pair of wings, which his kid ended up (mis)using) designed and built a little thing called a labyrinth for King Minos at Knossos.  It was a necessary architectural feature, since the king had a problematic foster child who was half man/half bull (due to a minor indiscretion on the part of the king’s wife and a lovely-looking bull- that should have been sacrificed to Poseidon).

This Minotaur– a compound of Minos and tauros, or ‘bull of Minos’ (his name was actually Asterion, but no one really remembers that)- was first reared by the king’s wife (her name was Pasiphaë, but not many really remember that, either), but he eventually became unmanageable as his beastly and unnatural side came to the fore.

When Asterion became too much for his mother to handle, the Oracle at Delphi advised Minos to seek help from that gifted craftsman, Daedalus.  He created such an elaborate and cunning maze that even he had trouble getting back out once construction was complete.

The labyrinth became the home and prison of the Minotaur- where he was kept appeased by the sacrifice of seven youths and seven maidens (collected from amongst their arch-enemies in Athens) until he was killed by the Athenian hero Theseus (who was able to escape the maze of the labyrinth with help from Ariadne, Minos’ daughter,  and her skein of thread- which provided the clew (‘that which points the way’- the origin of our English word clue) he needed to get back out after slaying Asterion.  See how much fun word origins can be?).

The word labyrinth is derived from the word labyrs– a double-headed axe that was both a religious symbol and associated with the power of the royal house in Minoan tradition.

Still, other ancient labyrinths have been attested- and found- in places like Egypt and India.  Postulated purposes vary- they are thought to have served as traps for nasty spirits and/or as paths used as cheat sheets, of a kind, in ritual dances (ancient versions of the footprints on the floors at Arthur Murray schools of dance- how’s that for an antiquated cultural reference?!?).

By the Medieval period, Christians were including them in their places of worship- meant to represent pilgrimage paths or simply foci for meditation and/or prayer, and they came to symbolize a path to god- with one entrance and one twisting and turning path to the centre.

Metaphorically, a labyrinth can be a situation that poses some issues of extrication.

Very much aware of that particular sense of the word at the moment.

These days, there has been something of a resurgence of interest in labyrinths.  Parks and common spaces feature labyrinths as part of their landscape designs.

Toronto’s labyrinth, located right beside the Eaton Centre, the Church of the Holy Trinity, and in spitting distance (not that it’s remotely polite to spit) from both Old and New City Halls, is meant to be a place of quiet reflection in the heart of the city.

A few years ago I led walking tours (as part of the ROM Walks– at our wonderful  Royal Ontario Museum) of the area, that ended at the labyrinth.  Visitors to the city were always amazed to find such a place of quietude surrounded by the summertime hustle and bustle of the culture of consumerism and municipal politics.

This evening, intensely frustrated by the events of the day (and of yesterday, but I’m consciously forgetting that THAT day existed at all), I paid a visit to Trinity Square, hoping that its meditative properties and foundation in the history and wisdom of the ages would provide a bit of a respite from the direction and intensity of my thoughts.  Sadly, it was no match for the labyrinthine tracings of my current thoughts and anxieties.

Horns?  Still present and pissing me off.

So… in the way that everything is connected (at least in my way of looking at the world)…

Solution: Second attempt

Some Bowie, Muppets, and feel-good holiday fare (this is another film I associate with the holiday season, for some reason) all wrapped up in one package may well return me to a reasonably human state of mind.  Hopefully it will be enough to last the week…

In this song- pivotal to the action of the film, Bowie’s Goblin King, Jareth, weaves an illusion around Sarah, attempting to win her love and distracting her from the time limit that he set for her to find her baby brother, Toby.  While his promises seem attractive at first, they are soon revealed to be superficial and wrong– and Sarah realizes that she must return to her path on the labyrinth.

So, taking my guidance- and my clues, if you will- where I can find them, I’ll be heading back into the labyrinth tomorrow.  Trying to retain the hope that the Ludos and Sir Didymus’ will balance the machinations of the Jareths of this world.

PS- seems to be a glitch in the WordPress world (or my computer.  Or the universe.) this evening- I can’t seem to link past posts.  Please feel free to browse the back catalogue for those posts I referenced, but was unable to link, should you feel the urge.

‘You probably think this (song) is about you…’

So many great words come from Greek origins.

Hubris.  That’s a really good one.

We tend to associate it with pride and arrogance- with the suggestion that neither are remotely warranted.  In ancient Greece acting against the laws regulating hubris could get you brought up on serious charges.  Why?  Because such violations persecuted someone else.  They were more than the act of displaying (illegitimate) overestimations of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities in manner that is completely disconnected from reality.  Hubristic acts messed with the freedoms and honour of others.

In a society in which the concepts of honour and shame were a presiding reality, a person’s honour was tied up in all things- identity, familial connections, business transactions.  Every aspect of life was connected with the maintenance of the honour that was afforded by one’s station in life (however highfalutin or lowly that status may have been).  Likewise, shame (usually associated with the women in the family) was tied into the fabric of societal interaction.  To interfere with this balance was to create societal discord- not something that the authorities were all that enthusiastic about.

Hubris, in ancient Greece, was a crime perpetuated by humans against other humans.  The gods were not accused of hubris, and did not punish those who were guilty of the extremity of arrogance and sense of entitlement.  They left it up to us humans to figure out the penalties for that particular crime ourselves.

Whether or not one believes in any sort of divine justice or theodicy (I don’t, for the record), hubris is a transgression that must be handled by us.  And it must be done immediately in order to prevent further damage.  Although we may not live in a society in which the dynamics of honour and shame are a ruling focus, it’s past time we took steps to restore some honour to the offices of our political leaders who have shamed us all in their unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.  Or inaction, as the case may be.  We should no longer have to be ashamed of the actions of another- even if that shame is hardly the point.  There are far more serious things at play here than being the continuing source for late night talk show jokers (as apt and clever as they may be).

I’ve read a number of editorials lately that talk about Toronto and its transformation from a town in which the ‘old, white elite’ looked to maintain the status quo while sitting in their urban enclosures (our affluent downtown neighbourhoods), as they always have done, into a truly amalgamated mega-city that offers all things to all people.  This has been the perception– both at home and on the international stage.  There is tension between the city and the suburbs, for sure.

This guy was duly elected as a reactionary response to some of these things.  Even though it was the WRONG thing to do, I get that there were those who thought his claims and promises were the right thing for the city.  I also get that there is (currently) no apparatus in our system of municipal government that permits the removal- against his will- of someone who was elected to the post.

Therefore, short of higher intervention (from the provincial government- not a deity), it is up to the person in question to truly accept responsibility for his actions and words and step down.

That isn’t looking like it will happen.

He says he’s going to continue doing the job he was elected to do.  He loves his job.  Good for him.  We should all be so lucky to have a job that we love.  I don’t- yet I get up every day and go in and do the best I can to fulfill my responsibilities so the bills get paid.

In his case, what’s not to love?  Rolling into work at noon, leaving meetings to coach a football team (although he doesn’t do that any more- at the request of said team), having a grand old time at public events, travelling to exotic locales (if Chicago and Austin may be deemed as such) as the city’s representative, being able to blow off major city events (Pride for e.g.) to head to the family cottage, having a staff that seems willing to put up with never ending demands that have little (if anything) to do with his actual role as Chief Magistrate, spouting off ad nauseam on a weekly radio show (although that has also stopped), throwing expensive barbeques that allow his ‘Nation’ to feed his narcissistic personality… and all this, while pulling down something like $170K/year.

Narcissist.  There’s another great word, again, inherited from the Greeks.  Its root, the Greek word ναρκη (narke) meaning ‘sleep’ or ‘numbness’, is also the root of the word narcotic (coincidence?  I think not).  Narcissus, the mythological character who is the poster child for this particular pathology, was self-fixated to such an extent that it led his own destruction.

Is any of this sounding familiar?  I’m certainly no psychologist, but that Oracle of All Information (the Wikipedia) defines narcissistic personality disorder as ‘a personality disorder in which one is excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity.’

I’m sick of thinking about these things.  Yet I realize that fatigue of this nature is what allows people in power- especially those who are abusing that power- to remain where they are.  While one might feel as though there is no point in continuing to talk about things like vulgarity, consorting with criminals, criminal behavioursextreme lapses in judgement, bullying of employees, misuse of common funds (just pulling random examples from no particular source)… it is part of our responsibility as vigilant citizens of this world to do so.

He seems completely and pathologically unaware that the right thing to do is to step down and get the help he needs.  Or not.  Whatever personal stuff he is dealing with is absolutely within his province to either address or let fester.  But he does NOT get to force the rest of us to continue in this spiralling fall with him.  By all accounts and actions thus far demonstrated, he is incapable of understanding that this is not about HIM.  It is about what is best for this city he claims to love.  It is about the needs of all of us who call Toronto home.  Regardless of what he wants.

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration
If we don’t we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse”

Sing it, Mick.

‘You can see the stars and still not see the light’

Well that was interesting.

I was just dismissed.

Not as in ‘fired’.  But completely and utterly dismissed by my employer.

As in ‘to refuse to accept or recognize; reject.’

As in out of hand‘without thinking about or discussing it.’

Wow.

As I sat fuming stewing ruminating about the conversation that had just played out around me (since I didn’t seem to be actually involved in the discussion in any real way- I was very much being talked at rather than spoken to) my recent thoughts about atheism and secularism kept resurfacing.

Not because I feel as though I am in any way dismissive about the beliefs of others (I am more than happy to engage in dialogue about where our opinions may differ and/or correspond, provided my partner in discourse is also prepared to listen as well as speak) but because the assumption of rejection out of hand and dismissiveness about traditional beliefs is one that often drives critics in their, well, criticism of those who decide not to believe in the existence of supernatural actors in the world.

Way back in the day, Xenophanes rejected the Greek gods as human projections and recorded his musings explicitly for the posterity of future generations.  All this in the 6th century BCE.

He was a satirist (think Stephen Colbert 2500+ years ago) who took aim at the anthropomorphized pantheon of gods, the veneration of athleticism, and ‘popular’ writers like Homer and Hesiod.  He was a social and religious critic way before such became the norm at media outlets like the Huffington Post.

His skepticism was ahead of its time and based on five key points about a singular god who is NOTHING AT ALL like humanity.  Instead, Xenophanes believed in a god that:

  • is beyond human morality
  • does not resemble humanity- in physical form- in ANY way
  • cannot die or be born
  • is not part of any divine hierarchy
  • does not intervene in any way in human affairs.

Interestingly, some early Christian apologists (Clement of Alexandria for one) actually appreciated a lot of what Xenophanes had to say.  His theology went against the traditional polytheism of the Greeks (and the Romans and the Egyptians) and seemed to jibe with at least some of what the early Christians were saying about their god.

Except for the parts about not looking like people, not being able to die or be born, and the whole thing about total lack of intervention in human affairs.

(Clement was pretty good at picking and choosing among the syncretic beliefs that surrounded him in the shaping of his own theology- and, since he was a little tiny bit gnostic at times, it’s not hard to see why Xenophanes’ concept of the supreme, unknown and unknowable god was appealing to his Alexandrian sensibilities.)

Anyhoo.

Xenophanes lived a long, well-travelled life, spreading his ideas and engaging in dialectics, and influencing later philosophers and theologians.  He is generally viewed, in the Western philosophy of religion, as one of the first monotheists, although his writings speak of his concept of god as being ‘supreme among gods and men’, suggesting that he hadn’t given up on the idea of multiple deities all that completely.

My thoughts, since the end of my afternoon meeting have been circling back to this idea of dismissal vs. discourse and are reinforcing- if any more such reinforcement was the least bit required- that I am not, currently, where I should be.

I am doing all that I can to remedy this state, and while the going has been slow (to massively understate the reality) I have to hold on to the fact that I am moving in the right direction.

This song has been running loops in my brain for the last few hours.

(I realize that I keep coming back to the Eagles lately.  What can I say?  They are songwriters for all seasons/situations)

‘So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains and we never even know we have the key,’

My encounter today has reinforced the necessity of finding my particular key, and continuing to surround myself- where- and whenever possible- with those who are looking to engage in dialogue and dialectic without resorting to dismissiveness and out of hand rejection.

There remain those, like Xenophanes, who demonstrate the ability to ‘look up in the sky’ and manage to ‘see the light’ as well.

That’s a ‘victory song’ worth remembering and holding onto.

‘So I went from day to day…’

Sisyphean.

It’s an awesome word.

Comes from a Greek mythological tradition about a hubristic king who set himself against the gods.  Thought he was better than them.  Trickier than them.

In various stories he got the best of Zeus, Thanatos, Hades and Persephone. The big guy on Olympus, DEATH himself and the king and queen of the Underworld.  He cheated death, escaped from Tartarus AND suspended death for ALL humans while Thanatos (or Hades) was chained in his place.

Not too shabby for a human.

As punishment for his puckish self-interest, Sisyphus had to eternally roll a huge boulder up a steep slope, never reaching the top- since the boulder would always roll down just as he was reaching the pinnacle.

An ETERNITY of frustration.  For challenging the gods.

Working against their will and their declared order of things.

Just like Prometheus. And Azazel.

But since Sisyphus was fully human, his punishment was meant to be even more cautionary- warning against striving too hard for the things that are beyond us.  And suggesting that making the gods look silly was not likely to end well.

The myth of Sisyphus has been interpreted as being about (among other things) the futility of the struggle for knowledge, the absurdity of human life, the emptiness of the quest for power and anything that a person might love and hold onto too much.

Pythia, the infallible Delphic Oracle, notes that “in experiments that test how workers respond when the meaning of their task is diminished, the test condition is referred to as the Sisyphusian condition. The two main conclusions of the experiment are that people work harder when their work seems more meaningful, and that people underestimate the relationship between meaning and motivation.”

(okay, that really came from Wikipedia.  I never met Pythia)

The first time I listened to Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill, I was dealing with the death of a friend of mine- far too young to have been taken suddenly and randomly.

Then, the lyrics seemed to be about gracious Death (Thanatos), coming to gently claim someone and take him home where he belongs.

I soon learned, of course, that the song was about Peter’s decision to leave Genesis and strike out on his own.  He had wrestled with the repetitive ruts, the fading into the background, and purposelessness of his situation, realizing that the known, the stagnant, wasn’t actually the freedom it seemed to be.

He let the boulder roll away and was able to reach the flat top of the hill and the reassurance that his change in direction was the right one- the one that would bring meaning back into his life and work.

‘Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
“Son,” he said “Grab your things,
I’ve come to take you home.”

To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho’ my life was in a rut
‘Till I thought of what I’d say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” he said “Grab your things
I’ve come to take you home.”
(Back home.)

When illusion spin her net
I’m never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don’t need a replacement
I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” I said “You can keep my things,
They’ve come to take me home.”‘

Wisdom imparted through example and a beautiful song.

Now if I can just figure out exactly how to stop being so damn Sisyphean…

Shattering Illusions

This time of year is always one of reflection for me.  I think it has to do with the whole ‘new beginnings’ thing that comes with the start of a new school year.  This is the fourth September that I won’t be heading back to the classroom- either as a student or a professor- after manymanyMANY years of it being the norm.

But I still find that the self-analysis and evaluation happens more at this time of year (and on Christmas Eve as well- pagan that I am) than at any other.

Heavy thoughts, sometimes, as the summer winds down and the last days of warm weather and relative quiet in the neighbourhood persist.

The other night I got to thinking about illusions- those we hold dear and those that we suddenly seem to discover either have been or are in desperate need of being shattered.  Not just quietly set aside, but blown out of the water completely.

Illusions can be interesting and very personal things, and there are all kinds of meanings that the word conjures up

They can be tricks our senses may play on us- based in the way that our brain reacts to perceptions.  Sensory illusions distort reality but are a commonality that most humans experience in the same way.

Girls with puppy or scary skull?

Practitioners of stage magic are called illusionists.  Harry Houdini, arguably the greatest of them all, used this human propensity to perceive the distortion of reality to entertain and amaze audiences for years.

In addition to using illusion to fool patrons into engaging with the stunts and magic tricks he performed, Houdini spent the latter part of his career debunking ‘spiritualists’- self-described psychics and mediums.  A Scientific American committee, which included Houdini, offered cash prizes to any medium who could successfully demonstrate true supernatural abilities- money that was never claimed.

Harry Houdini used illusion- well aware of its principles and mysteries and effects on human perception- in his stage act, and then worked to shatter the illusions that putative psychics wove around themselves as a means of bilking their unsuspecting marks.

In Sanskrit and Pali literature, Maya has many meanings, but it has come to be associated with the many concepts of illusion.  In Vedic tradition, Maya is associated with Varuna- originally the god of water and the celestial ocean.  In the later Rig Vedic phase, Varuna lost some of his ascendancy and became connected with death and the ‘chief of the evil spirits’ (asuras).

These evil spirits practiced a form of black magics to tempt and harass the gods.  The concept of illusion became associated with dark magics that sat in opposition to the existing Truth.  These magics were inferior, deceptive and illusory.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the concept of illusion illustrates the ways in which people misunderstand their realities- and themselves- believing that things and people exist aside from their underlying conditions and causes.  Really, alone, they are empty- like the illusions the magician performs for our entertainment.

Mara, the devil-like figure who tempted the Buddha with visions of beautiful women, likewise distracts humanity from spiritual paths by making the mundane seem attractive.

In Sikhism Maya is connected with both snakes and money- and in some myths is the ‘grand illusion’ of materialism.  This primary illusion begets all others, but by understanding this foundational concept, a believer can begin to approach true spirituality.

I seem to be all about transitions lately.  Feeling a little trapped between things- reality and illusion, one state and another…  Thresholds.  Hammering at misconceptions and changing of realities.  That’s where my head is at.

Styx, that groovy prog-rock band of the 70’s and 80’s, took their name from river that marked the boundary between Earth and the Underworld, Hades, in Greek mythological tradition.  In later Greek and Roman sources, Charon (who I talked about a while ago- post won’t link- AAARGH!) ferried the souls of the dead between the worlds.  It was a place of liminality- like the Crossroads I talked about the other day.

In many legendary traditions, the Devil (yes, him again) is a Trickster figure prone to casting illusions upon unsuspecting humans as a means of outwitting and messing with them.  For little other purpose than because it’s what he does.

This connection (and ALL is connected) brings us back to both our Trickster figures at the Crossroads, and the vilification of the Devil as the externalized personification of evil, rather than as an exemplar that warns us to be wary of the traps of the illusory nature of the materiality and superficiality of life that get in the way as we pursue higher wisdom.

It would probably be most appropriate to end this post with the title song from The Grand Illusion, but it really is one of my least favourite Styx songs (I know- it’s kind of scary that I actually rank Styx songs).  So instead, I offer up, for your consideration and enjoyment, my very favourite Styx song, from the same album.

It’s still about illusions- and expectations- and overcoming both.  And it’s about sailing- which I love.  And angels turning out to be aliens (another illusion shattered)- which is pretty cool.

‘But we’ll try, best as we can, to carry on.’
And hope the illusions can be set aside to let some clarity shine through.

Dog Days

Sirius-ly?!?!?

(See what I did there?  It’s not a spelling error- it will be important later)

This is pretty much the gist of most conversations happening in the City today- and what we’ll be sounding like over the next few days:

We are Canadian after all.  We like to grouse complain talk about the weather.

A LOT.

I was party to a conversation the other day- the subject being the projected heat wave that we are now experiencing- that referenced the Dog Days of summer and the dog-like laziness that tends to accompany the high temps.  The speaker seemed to think that the ‘Dog Days’ were so named because of a connection with the inaction of domesticated doggies (and the humans who love them) when the weather is super-crazy-hot-and-steamy.

It’s a logical assumption.  Smart dogs (and the humans who love them) DO lie around doing not much of anything when the mercury gets up there.  Today it actually hurts to breathe since the air is so thick- and I’m not walking around in a fur coat and without sweat glands.  Can’t blame the puppies for lazing about.

Really though, the description of the hazy summer days of July and August (here in the Northern Hemisphere) is a reference to Sirius, the Dog Star, which is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major.  The Dog Days were those weeks in which Sirius rose just before sunrise.

Sirius is the hunting dog and companion of Orion- the gigantic hunter and hero of Greek mythology who was raised to the stars to became a constellation by no lesser god than the Big Guy himself, Zeus.  The rising of Sirius that heralded the beginning of the hot and dry summer was also seen as the cause of plants wilting, men weakening and women becoming, um, randy.

The star twinkled in its brightness, and these emanations were thought to be the source of the malignant happenings down here on Earth.    Anyone suffering from the effects of Sirius was said to be star-struck (two-for-one word origin stories today!) and people offered sacrifices to Sirius and Zeus asking for cooling breezes and the alleviation of the nasty influence of the Dog Star.

Romans also sacrificed dogs at the beginning of the Dogs Days (July 23rd or 24th to August 23rd or 24th) to appease the raging Sirius who was thought to cause the heat and dry conditions.

In Egypt, the star was called Sopdet, and during the period of the Middle Kingdom the calendar was based on the day that it became visible just before sunrise- which occurred around the time of the annual flooding of the Nile and the Summer Solstice.  The return of Sirius (after an absence of 70 days from the sky) marked the return of Isis from the Underworld- a key motif in Middle Kingdom mythology.

The perception that the Dog Days were all about icky happenings and lassitude and madness has persisted in the Western World into contemporary times.  The 1975 Oscar winning film Dog Day Afternoon tells the story of a disastrous bank robbery that happens on an August afternoon.  As one thing after another goes wrong, the ill will of the Dog Star can certainly be felt.

I just had a visit from my favourite Canis Minor (an hilarious pug named Cosmo who should sirius-ly have a constellation named after him) and we agreed that being outside during these here Dog Days that we have happening at the mo’ is something best avoided if possible.

Mythological word/phrase origins are fun.

Heatstroke/dehydration is not.

Stay cool, People.

Evade the wrath of Sirius and keep from being star-struck if at all possible.

Although I have no mythological basis upon which to make the assertion, I’m thinking that a coldcold beer is the best contemporary preventative measure to stave off malignant starshine.

Will give it a go anyway.

Contrary (to popular belief)

Ever have one of those days?

It seems as though EVERYone I encountered today has been all about the argument.  (Interestingly this phenomenon of contrariness is confined to the real world.  The interworld has been a kinder, gentler place today- LOVING my interworld peeps extra-specially hard today).

If I say ‘up’ it is, in all actuality, ‘down’- or so I’ve been told.  Black?  Nope.  Gotta be white.  Happy becomes miserable.  The good is really the bad.

So let’s go with that last one shall we?  If I’m to be contrary, let’s go all out.

In my continuing defence of all things Devil-ish, let’s flip that dichotomy on its head and view that contrary-ist of all contrary creatures from a slightly different mythological perspective.

If you’ve seen television shows set in NYC or holiday photos on Instagram, chances are you’re familiar with this sculpture that graces Rockefeller Centre:

Paul Manship’s gilded bronze portrayal of Prometheus giving fire to humanity is pretty recognizable as an icon of Americana and the American Spirit.

On the wall behind the fountain is a quotation from Aeschylus:

Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends.”

I spoke briefly about the Watchers of the pseudipigraphal biblical literary tradition as one of the major influences on the development of the mythology of the fallen angels/Satan/demons and their leader.  I noted then that Azazel shared common traits and actions with the Greek Titan Prometheus.

The biblical Azazel and his followers were vilified and accused of negatively influencing humanity and setting us all up for eternal damnation since we accepted the gifts of science and learning the Watchers offered us.

Bad Azazel, and bad us- for taking those things that would help us out, keep us warm and fed, and drive us to discover more and more about this here world we live in- and the universe beyond.

Yet the Greek Prometheus has long been viewed as an archetypal hero and trickster figure.  He was responsible for the creation of humanity to begin with, and, in an effort to protect his creation, he disobeys the will of the leader of the Olympian gods (Zeus) and returns/gives the gift of fire to humanity.

As Aeschylus noted, Prometheus was responsible for teaching humanity the arts, science, technology… all those things that freed us from the servitude that Zeus would have had us labour under indefinitely.  Assuming we survived without fire.

For this protection and enhancement of the human condition, Prometheus was eternally punished.

Why was Prometheus punished?  The same reason that Azazel  (as Satan/Lucifer/Mephistopheles) came to be Evil Incarnate.

They disobeyed the dude in power- Zeus or Yahweh- take your pick.  They represented human development and learning- which was threatening to those in power.  Such knowledge and violation of the social order threatened the very fabric of the society.

So: Prometheus condemned to eternal suffering.

So: Science/technology/progressiveness=evil.

Still, according to Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound (and in contrast to Hesiod’s earlier Theogony in which he is more of a trickster figure than a hero, while Zeus is the wise and just ruler of the universe), Prometheus is the benefactor of humanity helping us to stand against the tyranny of the King of the Olympians.

Like Enki in the Mesopotamian creation epic Enuma Elish, Prometheus created humanity from clay (the same stuff that Yahweh used, incidentally) and continued to look out for our well-being- even in the face of opposition from other, often more powerful, gods.

Part of this care included providing us with technology and the civilizing arts so that we could better defend ourselves against the onslaught of divine interference and inexplicable- and frequently petulant- punishment that was wont to come our way on any given godly whim.

The motif of Prometheus as patron of humanity and the symbol of our ongoing search for knowledge was a favourite of the Romantic era, appearing in literature, art and music.  To the Romantics (not the band, the movement) he was the rebel who defied the institutional and religious oppression of scientific exploration and intellectual development.

That other rebel with a cause, Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost, has much in common with Prometheus, and Shelley and Byron (to name but two) immortalized the Titan as a benefactor and champion of the human over the divine- and the divinity’s associated institutions- church, state, patriarchy…

Sure, there are warnings about the potential dangers his influence might cause.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus chillingly illustrates the risk of delving into the unknown and remains a cautionary tale that has become a descriptor for anything that eludes our current understanding and for science that has misfired through human hubris.

Seriously, who hasn’t heard of Frankenstein and his monster?  The concept is ubiquitous in popular culture (I saw Young Frankenstein on tv a couple of weeks ago.  Remains classic, and, for all its humour and silliness, retains the overarching tension between progress and the threat of going too far) and is still used by those who would criticize the advances of science and knowledge as ‘ungodly’.

Hey!  Prometheus should be the official mascot of the New Atheists!  I should suggest it to them…  But I digress.  More about those guys later.

Bumbling created monsters aside, the Titan himself remains referenced all over the place: in the recent prequel of the Alien franchise (a film about exploration and science- and the potential pitfalls of both), an episode of Supernatural (‘Remember the Titans’), and as the name for the first interstellar spacecraft on the show Stargate: SG-1 (which was created using technology stolen from a race of aliens who enslaved humanity by posing as gods…).

Prometheus:  Not just for sculpture anymore.

But getting back to the Prometheus/Devil correspondence for a second, there were gnostics (my very favourite heretics) who identified Lucifer- ‘the Light Bearer’- with the Greek Prometheus.  I’ll explore that little morsel in detail after talking more about the biblically-based Devil Dude, but it is in equations such as these that we have the origin of Jungian-based examinations of this particular archetype.

R.J. Zwi Werblowsky’s 1952 work, Lucifer and Prometheus, delves into concepts of sin (bible) vs. hubris (Greek), and the ‘attractiveness’ of Milton’s Satan.  Werblowsky points out the negative and positive attributes that are embodied in the character, and the overall ambiguity of Prometheus, Christ and Satan in the development of Christian mythology.

This duality is oh-so-very gnostic and oh-so-very out of keeping with the strict dichotomy of good and evil that is usually bandied about in discussions re. God vs. the Devil.  We like Milton’s Satan.  We are drawn to him and his other incarnations (like Alan Cumming’s characterization in God, the Devil and Bob).

Why?  Because, to paraphrase Werblowsky, Prometheus and the Devil represent both the short-comings of the world and humanity and our eternal drive to make sense of and make better (to civilize) our confusing, tragic, complicated and all too frequently un-civilized universe.

How is that EVIL and something from which we should be dissuaded by threats of hellfire, brimstone and eternal damnation?!?!?

Don’t get it.

Unless calling that impulse EVIL and vilifying all those who stand in opposition to the institutions (political and/or religious) and their ideas of GOOD is nothing more than blatant manipulation for the express purpose of maintaining power and control over the huddled masses…?

But then,who listens to me?

Apparently, I’m contrary.

*P.S. Science vs. belief showdown on the telly last night: A show I hadn’t seen before- ‘Body of Proof’- with Brad from ‘Boston Legal’, Seven of Nine and Dana Delany. 

Evidently it’s been cancelled. 

Anyway, the episode in question was about a supposed ‘demonic possession’.  That whole idea pisses me off (unless it’s ‘The Exorcist’- that film is CLASSIC).  While there are certainly more things, Horatio, and all that, this continuing perpetuation of the suggestion of externalized evil…. aaargh.   

I thought that the show did a good job dispelling the superstition as a medical (pharmaceutical, actually) source for the behaviour was found.  But then it ended with a nod- however much in passing- to the existence of the external force again.  Disappointing.  Science had won the day- and then the writers brought the supernatural back into it. 

Poor Prometheus.  Once again, his sacrifice is squandered.  Sigh.