Frame of Reference - Index

Decimus Stele

Folklore - Superstition

1) The worship of icons, creation of stories as explanations and the rationalization of superstitions is not pagan or caused by ignorance, but simply a human need. John of Damascus (c. 675-c. 750), an accomplished and innovative musician for the Eastern Orthodox Church in his time, was a leading thinker. He defended the use of images in Christianity, arguing against the Iconoclasts and eventually the Islamic tradition that would over-power the Mediterranean region. John, who became a saint, argued that failure to use sacred images was actually denying God's Incarnation in Christ. He led the way, in a historic sense, from transforming images from idols into icons. In doing this he both acknowledged the need for folklore and superstition to support the human condition, and developed the rational, intellectual argument to give believers permission to use images as "a mirror and a figurative type, appropriate to the dullness of our body." An idol might be vested with magical powers, where an icon is a useful abstraction of the original that is intended to change the way people feel.

His intention was to aid Man to rise above the senses, to touch, as it were, the eternal world of divine essences. "The Christian image of Christ, of Mary, or of the Saints was 'a triumph, a manifestation, and a monument in commemoration of a victory.' When anyone viewed a sacred image, he participated in the victory of Christ over the demons [or the victory of whatever god image one accepts]." (Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators, 1992) This may be the affect of recounting folklore, from listening to inspiring music (one of my favorites, "Ave Maria"), as well as from touching, kissing or staring at a presumed sacred religious icon or totem. (see verse 29)

2) In Chinese mythology the dragon signifies the benign powers of nature productive of rain and lush harvests, prosperity and peace. Dragon worship is probably rare, but this cultural folk-character is still a popular participant in festivals, especially the Chinese New Year. Drums and firecrackers to drive away evil spirits usually accompany the pageant. As the extended dragon figure carried by many people winds its way through the streets, evil spirits and misfortune are expunged. An excellent excuse for a party!

3) Many native people of North America developed superstitions that became tribal traditions passed from generation to generation. None was more steeped in tradition than the Yurok of California. This people developed no economy other than hunting and gathering from the abundant surroundings, but their political system was advanced, led by a chief with hereditary authority. A Yurok did not drink strange water because of fear of poisoning [good advice today]; he did not mix meats from deer and whale at the same meal [an easy discipline to accept]; he did not eat at all while he was in a boat on the ocean [since I am prone to seasickness I do the same, and eat only sparingly in air]; after eating deer meat he washed his hands but only in a stream [I wash before and after dinner]; his bow must be made from wood cut from a certain side of a particular species of tree [I don't have a bow, unfortunately]; from the moment of waking his life was directed by prohibitions and magic [most of us just take these habits for granted]. There are many in our modern society that are prisoners of peer pressure, regimented by the demands of society, in fact those who are original in their dress and behavior are often considered rogues at best, crazy at worst.

4) Eyewitness (or earwitness) testimony about the naming of Eve is, alas, lacking. The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion (pg. 136), informs us that modern Bible scholars treat the story of Eve as a traditional fable conceived by primitive peoples to explain the origin of mankind, the reason for menstruation and labor pains, and the subordinate position of women in the world: "The rabbis did not propound a doctrine of original sin, and the taint of Eve's sin was in any case removed by the Israelites' acceptance of the Law."

5) In China most people don't consider themselves exclusively, Confucianists, Buddhists or Taoists. Preceding and underlying these three systems is a primitive folk religion. Centuries before Confucius, Chinese along the Yellow River expressed their religious feelings through worship of their departed ancestors. Along with ancestor worship there is a strong reverence for mountains, rivers and the soil. Long before Lao Tzu, every Chinese village raised a mound of earth symbolizing the fertility of the land. Each Spring the mound saw dancing and heard ceremonial songs designed to cajole the gods into granting good crops; each Autumn the mound was the scene of thanksgiving for the harvest. Today, on Formosa and wherever they can on the mainland of China, villagers still propitiate the Jade Emperor, god of earth and water, with gifts and ceremonies. There is a relationship between man and his conduct, nature and the prosperity of harvest. The belief in interdependence is seen in China by the practice of burying the revered dead beneath mounds like those that once were dedicated to the gifts of the soil. Both graves and houses must be placed with the greatest care so that they may be in harmony with the rhythm of Universe, otherwise, evil will befall their occupants.

Evil only travels in straight lines, so in China the footpath to a garden Pagoda located artistically in a pond is a sharp angular pathway. (This practice is not followed in Japan.) It is the beneficent spirits (shen) and the malevolent spirits (kuei) which govern the fortunes and misfortunes of man. No marriage or birthday should be celebrated, no building should be erected, no grave dug, without the advice of experts versed in the laws of feng-shui (literally "wind-water"). (In 1997 I traveled in Inner Mongolia and saw burial mounds still in use, whereas I have not observed these in the other areas of China where I have visited.) These teachings are very popular in the USA. On a recent visit to the largest bookstore in the world, Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, I discovered a rather large selection of feng-shui literature on display by one of the main exits.

6) The Islamic teaching that each true believer should make a 'hadj,' pilgrimage, to Mecca at least once in his lifetime has proved the great binding force of Moslems around the world. Infidels may not enter Mecca. Pilgrims from every land approach the sacred city as members of the same family, wearing identical seamless white garments, practicing sexual continence, abstaining from shaving or having their hair cut, and doing no harm to any living thing, animal or vegetable. For this great event all barriers of race and class dissolve into a common brotherhood.

The pilgrims have three main rituals to accomplish. The first is the sevenfold circumambulation of the Kaaba, starting at the Black Stone the pilgrims run around the building three times quickly and four times slowly, ideally pausing each time to kiss the meteorite, or, if the throng is too great, to touch it with hand or stick. Next comes the Lesser Pilgrimage in which the adherent must trot seven times across the valley between the low hills Safa and Marwa in commemoration of Hagar's frantic search for water for her infant son Ishmael. Finally comes the Greater Pilgrimage to the Mount of Mercy in the Plain of Arafat where from noon to sunset the pilgrims "stand before God." He who misses it has missed the hadj. A jubilant exodus en masse from the plain, a night in the open, an animal sacrifice, then three days of feasting follow. With one final trip around the Kaaba, the pilgrim's duty is fulfilled. Earth holds no greater joy.

7) -- Most sailors are religious: daily peril makes them so.--

"Pulling an oar in the Jeroboam's boat, was a man of a singular appearance, even in that wild whaling life where individual notabilities make up all totalities. He was a small, short, youngish man, sprinkled all over his face with freckles, and wearing redundant yellow hair. A long-skirted, cabalistically-cut coat [and odd style with some secret significance] of a faded walnut tinge enveloped him; the overlapping sleeves of which were rolled up on his wrists. A deep, settled, fanatic delirium was in his eyes.

"That's he! that's he! -the long-togged scaramouch..."

"He had been originally nurtured among the crazy society of Neskyeuna Shakers, [village in New York on the Hudson River near Schenectady] where he had been a great prophet; in their cracked, secret meetings having several times descended from heaven by the way of a trap-door, announcing the speedy opening of the seventh vial, which he carried in his vest-pocket; but, which, instead of containing gunpowder, was supposed to be charged with laudanum. A strange, apostolic whim having seized him, he had left Neskyeuna for Nantucket, where, with the cunning peculiar to craziness, he assumed a steady, common sense exterior, and offered himself as a greenhand candidate for the Jeroboam's whaling voyage...

"...He announced himself as the archangel Gabriel, and commanded the captain to jump overboard. He published his manifesto, whereby he set himself forth as the deliverer of the isles of the sea and vicar-general of all the Oceanica... in the minds of the ignorant crew, [he acquired] an atmosphere of sacredness. Moreover, they were afraid of him... So strongly did he work upon his disciples among the crew, that at last in a body they went to the captain and told him if Gabriel was sent from the ship, not a man of them would remain... The sailors, mostly poor devils, cringed, and some of them fawned before him; in obedience to his instructions, sometimes rendering him personal homage, as to a god. Such things may seem incredible; but however wondrous, they are true. Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking in respect to the measureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as his measureless power of deceiving and bedeviling so many others...

[Hearing of Moby Dick] "Gabriel solemnly warned the captain against attacking the White Whale, in case the monster should be seen; in his gibbering insanity, pronouncing the White Whale to be no less a being than the Shaker God incarnated..." (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or The Whale, 1851)

8) 17 Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl in the air. A loud voice came from the throne in the temple, saying, "It is done!"

18 There were flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder, and a terrible earthquake. There has never been such an earthquake since the creation of man; this was the worst earthquake of all!

19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of all countries were destroyed. God remembered great Babylon and made her drink the wine from his cup -- the wine of his furious anger. (The Bible, Revelation 16:17-19)

9) In Japan there is a belief relating to the Seven Lucky Gods (see Nonus Stele: Myths, verse 29) that during the first three days of new-year, they become sailors commanding a magic ship called the "takara-bune." This is a treasure ship which they steer into human ports every New Year's Eve. On the second evening of New Year it is customary to place a picture of the seven gods on the ship, under your pillow, to induce a lucky dream. This is a sign that the rest of the year will be fortunate for you, but you must keep it a secret or it will not be fulfilled.

10) Gehenna, the word derived from the Hebrew gehinom (hell), comes from the name of that accursed "valley of the sons of Hinnon" where child sacrifices were made to the idol Moloch. Talmudic literature is unclear about a literal location for a literal Hell to which the wicked shall be sent after death. Except for the very orthodox and pious clusters of Hasidim, Jews do not think very much about a fiery abode of unremitting torments for those who were sinners on Earth. Jews are equally ambiguous, or allegorical, about Paradise; its location, daily routines, and unimaginable bliss. (Leo Rosten, Jewish Quotations)

11) The Catholic Church has revived the practice of exorcism. As recently as September 6, 2000, Pope John Paul II, administered to a 19 year old woman who had begun screaming insults in a deep tone of voice. After she was taken aside to a secluded area, the Pontiff prayed over her, hugged her and promised to celebrate a Mass for her the next day. (Apparently this is the third recorded attempt of the pope to exorcise a demon, previously in 1978 and 1982 he performed similar rites.) For centuries every Roman Catholic priest's ordination included an induction into the Order of the Exorcist, until 1972 when the Order was disbanded. The belief is still there and Reverend James LeBar, who is no chaplain of a psychiatric hospital, became a celebrity in 1991 for performing a televised exorcism on ABC's 20/20 news magazine. In an average year, the US Catholic Church investigates 350 cases and performs 10-15 exorcisms.

The Vatican has revised the "Rite of Exorcism" declaring that the church has the power to banish Satan using God's name, holy water, the sign of the cross and readings from Scripture. (Maybe some Valium would work better.) There are some 18 delegated priests that perform these rites in the US. The celebrated movie, The Exorcist is a vivid account of an alleged possession and its consequences--a worthy subject for entertainment. It only makes sense that if one accepts the Christian god; they must also accept the anthropomorphic Satan, purveyor of Evil, since that's part and parcel of the lore.

12) The origin of many superstitions can be traced to some series of events that are taken after the fact to be linked by way of cause and effect. This also corresponds to a fallacy of logic known in Latin as: post hoc, ergo propter hoc. A good omen is assumed when a bird stops near to sing, when in the past such an event preceded the successful completion of a project. That is one of my personal favorites. There are 'subjective' factors that lead us into superstitions of the post hoc sort -- we want to find explanations for events -- so we search our memory (and limited frame of reference) for related prior circumstances and pick one that seems to be determinant. From then on we follow that guide -- the lucky rabbit foot. If we carry it long enough, some good fortune is bound to come our way.

Testing these superstitions or seemingly causal relationships is the job of critical thinking and scientific analysis. This is not the place to discuss these methods; suffice it to say that strict tests for correlation, both statistical and scientific, are well developed.

13) "Siddhartha reflected deeply as he went on his way... He realized that something had left him, like the old skin, that a snake sheds. Something was no longer in him, something that had accompanied him right through his youth and was part of him; this was the desire to have teachers and to listen to their teachings. He had [just] left the last teacher he had met, even he, the greatest and wisest teacher, the holiest, the Buddha..."

(Later) "Siddhartha stayed with the ferryman and learned how to look after the boat... But he learned more from the river... he learned from it how to listen, to listen with a still heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinions." In this way nature was his teacher, the river being symbolic of the flow and ebb of life, a barrier to the progress of travelers. The Buddha's goal was "...the salvation from suffering... not to explain the world to those who are thirsty for knowledge." The river and the ferry-boat are allegory for saving people from their suffering -- overcoming the barrier of their journey.

"...the Buddha's wisdom and secret was not teachable, that it was inexpressible and incommunicable -- that which he had once experienced in an hour of enlightenment, was just what he [Siddhartha] had now set off to experience, what he was now beginning to experience [by listening quietly and closely to nature]." (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha, 1957)

14) "During the Millennium, the resurrection will take place... What joy the resurrection will bring to our hearts!... Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and relatives, will run into one another's arms, laughing and crying for joy... Throughout the Millennium, a wonderful miracle will be taking place... Jehovah will direct his Son [Christ who reigns for a Thousand years] to apply the benefits of the ransom sacrifice to each and every faithful and obedient man and woman... all sin will be removed and mankind will be raised to perfection." [The human sacrifice of Jesus is an atonement for sin.]

"Perfection!... a return to life the way Adam and Eve enjoyed it before they sinned against Jehovah God... Perfect humans will have different personalities and talents. Each one will enjoy life as God meant it to be... Eternity will stretch out before those who love Jehovah God and dwell in the Paradise earth. We can hardly imagine their joy, and you too can share in this. Music, art, crafts -- why, perfect mankind's achievements will surpass the finest works of the greatest masters in the old world! After all, humans will be perfect and will have limitless time before them. Imagine what you will be able to do as a perfect human..." (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1995)

15) The Celts who lived in the British Isles practiced a nature religion and were attune to the cycles of life. They observed that in late October plants died, animals disappeared into hibernation or migration, days grew shorter, trees lost their leaves and nights grew longer. They attributed this death-like state to Samhain, their god of the dead. They feared that Samhain would slay the sun god, leaving the world in total darkness and releasing fearful spirits to roam the earth and create mischief.

Therefore every year from October 31 to November 1, the Celts would celebrate a feast to their god of the dead. They believed evil spirits could be pacified with edible treats or scared off with bonfires (or bone fires, kindled from the dried skeletons of sacrificed animals) set ablaze on outdoor altars. People would set out lanterns of carved turnips along with food to guide their family spirits and make them feel welcome. The head of each household would carry a burning coal from the bonfire and light a new fire in the home to further ward off evil spirits. During this journey, the person wore a mask and costume to fool the spirits.

In the ninth century, the Catholic Church officially designated November 1 as All Saints' Day, a celebration commemorating all the saints. The night before became known as All Hallows Evening (or Hallowe'en for short), a holy vigil to draw attention to the following day. Over time different cultures added to the development of Halloween. Medieval beggars knocked on doors for 'soul cakes' in exchange for prayers for the household's deceased members. Costumes became a way for people to participate in pageant form in the story of life, death, and that which may happen in the hereafter. The Irish and English immigrants brought Halloween to the new world, USA, and eventually it lost its religious significance, becoming a purely secular event.

16) The best known characters in Taoist folklore are the so-called Eight Immortals. This is a varied group of personages, some of them historical, representing all types of humanity, who attained immortality through various acts of piety, charity or heroism. On my first visit to China I acquired a set of eight figures hand carved in wood and lacquered which were said to be representative of different incarnations of Buddha. But as it turns out, these carvings represent the Eight Immortals and are among my cherished religious icons, especially now that we have become better acquainted. (Since an Atheist has no god of his own by definition, the best one can do is collect and enjoy the art in the mythical presentations of others.)

17) Each day before 'Sun rises' on the holy city of Varanasi, Hindu supplicants gather at the western bank of the Ganges River. They stand in the dark by the thousands -- sometimes by the tens of thousands -- bare-legged in the tepid water. As the eastern horizon brightens and Sun passes through the mists of the sacred river, the pilgrims shout greetings. They ring bells and beat drums. Hundreds wade waist deep, cup their hands, and offer water to Sun with outstretched arms as a modest thanks for the light of day. This offering may not be Sun-worship as such; maybe it is a discipline to reinforce personal humility or an ablution to foster spiritual growth and sensitivity in the participant. Even an Atheist could participate in such a ritual and internalize a better appreciation for the interrelationship between him- or herself and Sun and create a stronger personal bond with the other participants.

18) Many religions use bells, gongs and chimes to focus the attention of their parishioners on the immediate circumstances of their ritual. The mechanical vibration of a resonating gong can be a pleasant sound or an antagonistic reproach to quiet the audience. I have trained my geese to come for their corn at the sound of a genuine Buddhist gong. We now regard these white songsters as our private, parochial, priesthood.

In the 1960's Robert B. Leighton of California Institute of Technology measured the surface of Sun and found that it was slowly heaving, taking about five minutes to rise and fall. Subsequently this phenomenon was more accurately identified as a mechanical vibration, very much the way a musical instrument vibrates when it makes a sound. The whole Sun is shaking and quivering, or oscillating. It is ringing like a bell! The range of oscillation is from 5 to 70 minutes, a frequency much too slow to be audible. This would be a good source for a meditation topic, listen for the sound of Sun. The thin gas vacuum between Earth and Sun does not transmit such sound. Someday we might detect these waves in the motion of neutrinos, like sea waves crashing against the ocean shore, albeit at the sub-atomic level.

Earth shakes during quake events creating a faster resonance of sound believed to be audible by some animals. From my own experience of a small quake (measured about 3.6), I was awakened just prior to the quake by my female terrier who slept on our bed and began barking. There was just enough time to ask, "What's wrong?" and raise to my elbow in the dark, before I felt the slight rumble and then heard a glass chime sounding.

19) "There are two contradictory tendencies for the treatment of the human corpse. On the one hand people have preserved the body intact by mummification; and on the other extreme there is the practice of burning, annihilation completely. These are the extreme tendencies and it is impossible to regard either practice or any intermediate form as determined by accident of belief, or habit of culture. Any such custom is clearly an expression of some fundamental attitude in the mind of the surviving relatives, friend or lover. There is either a longing for all that remains of the dead person or the disgust and fear of the dreadful transformation occasioned by death.

"Among the Melanesians of New Guinea they had the practice of 'sacro-cannibalism,' a custom of partaking in piety of the flesh of the dead person. It is done with extreme repugnance and dread and usually followed by a violent vomiting fit. At the same time it is felt to be a supreme act of reverence, duty that is still performed in secret because it is severely penalized by the white Government. The smearing of the body with the fat of the dead, prevalent in Australia and Papuasia is, perhaps, but a variety of this custom... The mortuary ritual compels man to overcome the repugnance, to conquer his fears, to make piety and attachment triumphant, and with it the belief in a future life, in the survival of the spirit... Thus the belief in immortality is the result of a deep emotional revelation, standardized by religion, rather than a primitive philosophic doctrine. (Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion, 1925)

20) "The Yana [of California] enjoyed recounting dreams...they might read a predictive significance in dreams after the fact... but [this] was not systematic with them, nor did it attach to mystic belief except for those dreams in which they got power: the vision dreams. Those were something apart, and private.

"All the Yana buried their dead in a cemetery close to the home village, except the Yahi [southern band] who practiced cremation, afterwards gathering the bones and ashes into a basket which was buried under a rock cairn to mark the grave and to keep animals away. The Yana, although not approving of the occasional habit of dead souls to return to the land of the living, accepted with considerable equanimity the fact that they sometimes did so... They might take a drink from water left out at night, hence fresh water was always fetched for household use in the morning. The feeling was that the business of life was with the living. Once dead, the beloved one was started on his journey to the Land of the Dead with ceremony and mourning. That far land must henceforth be his proper home." (Theodora Kroeber, Ishi in Two Worlds, 1961)

21) "Ishi [Yahi Indian of Northern California] took no aspect of hunting lightly, nor did he ever touch his bow except with respect and ceremony. To the hunting of deer was added some further measure of formality. Ishi ate no fish and used no tobacco during the day and night preceding a deer hunt, extending the time of abstention to three days and nights if that were at all possible. In a Yahi village, there would have been added sexual abstentions, of course. On the morning of the hunt, he bathed--in his old home he would have sweated himself--washed out his mouth carefully, and went on his way without eating: he would eat only after the hunt at the end of the day. Up and down his arms and legs he would have made fresh, shallow scarifications, with a sharp chip of obsidian, to strengthen his limbs. Through all the ceremonial preparation run two strains: the practical, which seeks to reduce to a minimum the special odors attaching to man so that the game will not suspect his presence; and the magico-moral, which seeks to channel the libido totally toward the hunt." (Theodora Kroeber, Ishi in Two Worlds)

22) There are special places here and there where momentous events have occurred. The Devil's Marbles are a pair of nearly round rocks proudly and openly standing in view of the Australian countryside near Tennant Creek. These are two of many such rocks nearby described in the Aboriginal legend as eggs of the Rainbow Serpent, a "creator" responsible for the origins of humanity. The Serpent was the force that transformed the flat desert landscape into the world we see.

The creation of the world took place on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca between Peru and Bolivia. Sun emerged from a rock after a flood, and a shrine commemorates this event, located on a barren, windswept spit of land; this was the most sacred spot in the Inca Empire. The first Inca, Manco Capac, is believed to be Sun God's first-born and was, along with his wife, molded from Sun. They climbed down to the Island of Sun on a huge umbilical rope and set out to found the mighty Inca Empire.

An otherwise humble cave near Dungeshwar, India, just north of Bodhgaya, is the location where Siddartha Gautama, who later became Buddha, meditated before becoming enlightened. The Bodhi Tree, the holiest place of Buddhism is nearby in the garden, where Gautama spent forty-nine days meditating and became "Enlightened:" the Tree of Awakening. The Mahabodhi Temple was built almost two thousand years ago as a shrine for the glory of Lord Buddha.

The ancient chapel of St. Catherine's was built between the fourth and the sixth century AD at the foot of Mt. Sinai, Egypt. The Chapel of the Burning bush stands where God is believed to have spoken to Moses out of the flames. The chapel was later named for a Christian living in Alexandria who was persecuted for her beliefs and beheaded in 307 AD, St. Catherine.

The Garden Tomb where Jesus was (presumably) entombed is below the (recently named) hill of Golgotha just outside the old walls of Jerusalem in Israel. Nearby, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher also claims to mark the spot where Jesus was buried. The Garden Tomb is a quiet haven where Christians from around the world come to worship.

One of the holiest places for the Islamic faith is the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem. It is built at the summit of the ancient Mount Moriah where in the tenth century BC King Solomon is reputed to have built his temple. Prior to that, it is presumed to be the spot where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac around 2000 BC. The Dome of the Rock was completed around 691 AD over the point of departure for Mohammed's historic night journey. Mohammed ascended from Earth for a journey through the seven heavens to speak with the great prophets and commune with Allah.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt is the largest man-made structure of its kind, located just ten miles (16 km) from Cairo. Built 2613-2494 BC during the Fourth Dynasty to accommodate pharaoh Cheops. As early as the ninth century AD it was determined to be empty, possibly the pharaoh and his entourage had gone on their voyage through heaven. The Pyramid, Ta Khut "The Light," stands as a static monument to man's endless quest for the eternal.

Near Glastonbury, England, stands a tower, St. Michael's, on an oblong hill encircled by a mysterious serpentine footpath. The Tor is a place of pilgrimage for people of many faiths and the spiral path is believed to have been used by the old Great Goddess cult dating to 5000 BC. Like the other sites mentioned, Glastonbury Tor is recognized as a powerful focal point for special forces or energies from Earth's soul, as it were. Nearby is the Chalice Well Gardens and fountain believed to harbor the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper.

The Grand Shrine of Ise is found on the east coast of Japan and is the place of most sacred waters in Shinto belief. Here pilgrims drink the holy water and receive the abundance of life from the kami, deities that express themselves in the works of nature. The Jingu Sanctuary is primary among three, including Naiku built in 4 BC, and Gekuin 478 AD, each of which are dedicated to Sun Goddess, Amaterasu.

23) "Shambhala is a mythical utopia city believed to lie somewhere beyond the Himalayas, perhaps in Tibet or Mongolia. It is the lost city of our dreams, an ideal land where peace endures, a secret paradise where man lives in perfect harmony with his fellow man and his surroundings. It is the magical kingdom of childhood, often lost and yearned for in our adult years, yet rarely regained. But it is always there, just beyond the horizon.

"Virtually every culture and religion has its stories of Shambhala. But the journey to the lost city is not physical; it is a voyage of personal discovery. And because the source is ultimately within ourselves, the possibility of finding Shambhala exists for us all." (Courtney Milne, The Sacred Earth, 1991)

24) Mysticism is recognized as the metaphysical equivalent of finding god in nature or the apprehension of the transcendent -- significance greater than human. One of the most famous Mystics was Jalal ad-din Rumi (1207-1273), a refugee from the tyranny and conquest of Afghanistan by the Mongols under the direction of Genghis Khan. Rumi found sanctuary in Iconium (Konya in modern-day Turkey) and wrote his poems for all people. He found god in beauty, in Sun, in his companions and heard the divine in music. He found ecstasy in daily wonderment, in song, in vision, in wine, in dance and most importantly, in friendship. His poems are repeated in modern Iran, Turkey and Pakistan. The Sufi sect of whirling dervishes dances to his rhythm; and New Age meditations echo his songs today.

Mysticism is often the stopping ground for intellectuals who become dissatisfied with orthodox religions and make their own theologies, find their own 'inner peace.' It can be the stopping ground between religious acceptance and honest Atheism.

25) Sigmund Freud once remarked that there was no such thing as a coincidence. Carl Jung talked about the mysteries of synchronicity. There is frequent reference in literature to ironies, coincidences and synchronicities, no matter what the reference, it is certain that these are much more common than most people think. There is a tendency to underestimate the possibility of coincidence, attribute too much meaning to correspondences of all sorts and ignore the significance of concise statistical evidence.

Take birthdays for example, in a group of 23 people selected randomly, there is a 50% probability that two people will have the same birthday. If cards from two decks are arranged side by side sequentially, there is a 63% probability that at least one exact match will occur. State lotteries depend on the propensity of people to dwell on the positive outcome of events. People who try their luck and fail are generally quiet, while those few who do extremely well speak loudly about their success. This phenomenon is called filtering and occurs because people usually focus upon winners and extremes whether in sports, the arts or the sciences. Coin tosses seldom result in equal results, wins have more weight in memory and people who enjoy this slight turn of good look become known as 'winners' and gain a psychological advantage. Random events seem ordered in short sequences, but equalize during larger sampling.

26) Big is better, like huge American flags at hamburger joints or used car dealerships, and proves that such a company is more patriotic than the competition down the street. As if to prove the absurdity of size, artists and engineers in India and Britain are planning a meditation park, the Maitreya Project. The 40 acre park will feature a bronze-clad figure 500 ft. tall. (Much larger than the secular Statue of Liberty.) The huge statue will be complete in 2005 and is designed to last 1,000 years. The Buddha will sit on a 17-story building housing prayer halls, a museum, and thousands of art objects. (The moral equivalent of a new Mecca.)


Exchange of Wisdom

The trail moved along the ridge as though arranged
by a natural force which I followed sensing all around
the organic energy that softly touched and tempted
me to see beyond the valley where the next row of
hills beckoned as did this hill with its grasses and
trees full of life supporting so many animals hidden
from view but calling their stories in the same way
the short lizard ran from my advance behind the Oak
and when I searched, it moved around until, more
slowly, I caught its eye and an exchange of wisdom
passed through into my thought confirming the
ancient rites where passage is free and
unencumbered as earlier I saw the deer and startled,
it examined my stillness and sensed no threat in my
character for there was none only this desire to
move and feel where the minds of the ancients had been on
their equally peaceful traveling and they found the
same serenity I noticed when to be cooler I took off
my shirt and their spirit united with mine so we
walked together through the over-ripe flowers and
towering Pine, one shading the other, one adorning
the next, where few notice this connection because
they are concerned and occupied with grander ideas
of gold and timber and health and speed both
illusions won slowly.

(I. J. Hall, July 3, 2002)

28) A common practice in ancient societies, even more common than blessing, is making formal curses against hated enemies or adversaries. Curse tablets were created in ancient Greece, the malediction were written on tablets of lead and deposited at springs and wells, since these allegedly gave access to the underworld. The idea was to influence the actions or welfare of the intended target of the curse. These curses were anonymous and lacked details or justification. Spirits of the dead or gods of the underworld were invoked to secure the malevolent favor as early as the 6th century BC. More than 1,500 have been recovered.

The Roman practice was only slightly more genteel. The lead tablets were signed by the author, the claim for justice is rationalized by a reference to some injury and a substantial god is invoked to mete out recompense. This kind of curse is found all over the Roman empire, but especially in Britain.

Another curse is 'conditional,' written to damn unknown persons who dare to trespass against sacred or secular laws, prescriptions and treaties, and often these are of official origin from magistrates or priests. Any subsequent culprit found himself guilty of sacrilege and legal (or mystical) powers could enforce their rights even in cases where only the gods could help. Conditional curses are often part of funerary inscriptions against those who violate graves. Taboos in some cultures are enforced by designated members of the tribe who might attack a condemned person by stealth at night, giving credit for the assault to the protective spirit of the tribe. Other curses are culturally imposed, such as illnesses as a result of miss-conduct.

29) Canto 2, Ch. 1, Text 30 / Srimad-Bhagavatam


"The sphere of outer space constitutes His eyepits, and the eyeball is the sun as the power of seeing. His eyelids are both the day and night, and in the movements of His eyebrows, the Brahma and similar supreme personalities reside. His palate is the director of water, Varuna, and the juice or essence of everything is His tongue.


"To common sense the description in this verse appears to be somewhat contradictory because sometimes the sun has been described as the eyeball and sometimes as the outer space sphere. But there is no room for common sense in the injunctions of the sastras. We must accept the description of the sastras and concentrate more on the form of the viratrupa than on common sense. Common sense is always imperfect, whereas the description in the sastras is always perfect and complete. If there is any incongruity, it is due to imperfection and not sastras.' That is the method of approaching Vedic wisdom." (A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)

30) "One of my most memorable experiences as an anthropologist was visiting some of the decorated caves in southwest France in 1980... The most extensively decorated of all caves from Ice Age Europe, Lascaux has been closed to the public since 1963... The images of bulls, horses, and deer were transfixing on this occasion... The reasons for creating the bison... are lost in time. As the South African archeologist David Lewis-Williams says of prehistoric art, "Meaning is always culturally bound.' He recognizes that artistic expression may form an enigmatic thread in the intricate weave of the cultural fabric of a society. Mythology, music, and dance are also part of that fabric: each thread contributes meaning to the whole, but by themselves they are necessarily incomplete... We have only to think of the stories related in modern religions to appreciate the importance of cryptic symbols that may be meaningless outside the culture to which they belong... Mine is not a message of despair but of caution. The ancient images we have today are fragments of an ancient story, and although the urge to know what they mean is great, it is wise to accept the probable limits of our understanding. Moreover, there has been a strong, and probably inevitable, Western bias in the perception of prehistoric art... Many such drawings are sufficient to convince us that we are seeing images greatly mediated by cognitive reflection." (Richard Leakey, The Origin of Humankind, 1994)

31) Emperor Constantine V was a staunch believer that Icons and images were sacrilegious. He enforced "...his Iconoclast position with his imperial authority. The so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council of Hieria in 754, which corralled 338 bishops to do the emperor's bidding, formally anathematized John of Damascus, as it proclaimed an iconoclastic crusade. Priests were executed on mere suspicion of being image worshipers, and the Constantinople mob joined with a lynching. Constantine expelled monks and nuns and seized monastic properties, with results favorable to the army and economy." John of Damascus had insisted "...the image was not 'consubstantial' with its original. It was, rather an imitation (or mimesis) in the Platonic sense, only a shadow... Christ is venerated not in the image but with the image." (see verse 1)

This is essentially an argument to excuse and explain superstitions. This brief period of sobriety, as it might be considered, was ended with the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 AD, under the control of Irene, the mother of Constantine VI. "Some 350 Greek bishops and two representatives of the pope resoundingly affirmed the worship of images whose veneration, they said, was 'transferred to their prototypes.' The worship of images... was commanded both by tradition and by theology... the worship of icons was needed to affirm the true meaning of Christ. So the Council affirmed a new Christian epistemology in which the senses were sanctified." (Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators, 1992)

32) "As part of Jack's study of the scriptures he had decided to compare the different accounts of the life of Jesus contained in the first four books of the New Testament. Jack had purchased two small Bibles in Italian. He proceeded to cut these apart and arrange the verses according to the parallelism of the historical account. He glued the four accounts side by side in two spiral notebooks. He used a book which belonged to his companion that gave a list of all the corresponding verses in a chronological order. This project captured his imagination and energy for a few days. He intended to use it as a teaching tool for Sunday School Lessons and such.

"When he read these scriptures through initially they seemed confusing enough. With a serious comparison, the confusion increased by a factor of ten. The accounts in The Gospels are often different and occasionally contradictory. No way for a sacred scripture to be or so it seemed. But it made a good study project." (IJ, Jack and Lucky, 1967) This kind of analysis exposes the limitations of oral histories, and subsequent transcription and translation. If one is looking for precision in scripture, then one is more likely to find confusion than enlightenment. If one is looking for inspiration the inconsistencies would be irrelevant. Jack's bias (which is my own) in favor of finding fault with the folklore of the New Testament made the obvious faults even more glaring and defeated any hope of obtaining inspiration.

33) Such religious concepts of baptism must have a psychological basis in addition to the inspirational moment it offers the enthusiastic Christian. "Why is baptism, especially total-immersion baptism, widely considered a symbolic rebirth? Is holy water a metaphor for amniotic fluid? Is not the entire concept of baptism and the 'born again' experience an explicit acknowledgment of the connection between birth and mystical religiosity?

"If we study some of the thousands of religions on the planet Earth, we are impressed by their diversity. At least some of them seem stupefying harebrained. In doctrinal details, mutual agreement is rare. But many great and good men and women have stated that behind the apparent divergence's is a fundamental and important unity; beneath the doctrinal idiocies is a basic and essential truth... On the other hand, there are the stern skeptics, who find the whole business a farrago of weak-minded nonsense... If religions are fundamentally silly, why is it that so many people believe in them?" (Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain, 1974)

34) "Indeed there is what is called the science of breath, or pranayama, the object of which is to control thoughts through the respiratory system and in this way to effect, among other things, the cure of disease by mental means... A thought that is being entertained is and emits a sound in the life world. The life world, as well as the form world, passes in and through the parts of the body somewhat as the systems do... Elementals build the sound into an invisible form... The thought provides the form and desire fills out and animates it... feeling-and-desire swing with the breath in and out of the heart and the blood... There is an increased flow of blood to any part of the body in which a thought dwells... When the thought is proper the balance of constructive and destructive actions of the blood is not disturbed and the sediments of the thought are built into the normal tissues of the body...

"Diseases due to infection are precipitations of thoughts, just as are diseases which are slow in their development... Cancer may be the growth of thousands of years. It is usually caused by sexual thoughts and appears about the middle period of life and latter, seldom in youth. In later life a person ought not to entertain sexual thoughts... Another cause of this disease is selfishness, the kind that wants to eat up others for one's selfish ends. Such thought may aggravate the sex thoughts in the development of the cancer..."

"In passive thinking, thinking merely plays in the Light, but by active thinking the Light is sought to be held on the subject of thought. During this effort a thought is conceived when Light unites with desire, that is, with the subject of thought. The union is made in a point of nature-matter which has been carried by desire into the mental atmosphere. Union can occur only when Light is sufficiently focused, and this happens at the moment between the inbreathing and the outbreathing of the physical breath, at which time all the breaths are in phase." (Harold W. Percival, Thinking and Destiny, 1946) Those who have experienced a moment of awareness or a spark of creative thinking, might trace their inspiration to this moment between breaths.

On to Undecimus Stele