Thursday, March 26, 2020

Orion and friends are here to help

While many of us are being advised or in some cases ordered to stay at home (which I support by the way because I believe in working together and protecting the most vulnerable), if you have the opportunity to safely get some fresh air and observe the night sky without endangering yourself or others (perhaps by walking through the quiet streets after sundown or even making your way to a local park), there are some glorious views of mythologically-important constellations visible at this time of year.

Here in my part of California we have been getting some much-needed rain, which of course means cloudy skies and limited stargazing opportunities, but tonight the sky suddenly opened up to reveal some breathtaking stars, and since the moon just passed through the point of New Moon (early in the morning on March 24) the moon is following very close behind the sun and the very thin new crescent sets not long after the sun sets in the west.

Above is an image of the skies to the south, southwest, and west, from the point of view of an observer in the northern hemisphere at about latitude 35 north, at a time of about ten o'clock p.m. for March 26. Wherever you are on the planet, when it is about ten p.m. in your local time zone you will be facing the same direction in the sky, although depending on your latitude north or south of the equator, the above stars will be higher or lower relative to the horizon (I've drawn in the horizon with a purple line).

 And of course observers in the southern hemisphere will see the orientation of the constellations to be inverted from the above image (as the south celestial pole will be above their heads and thus "up," whereas here in the northern hemisphere we have the north celestial pole above our heads and thus "up").

Orion absolutely dominates the western sky as he sinks towards the western horizon. The above star-chart from shows Orion as larger than most surrounding constellations, but does not give the true impression of just how huge Orion will look if you are able to go outside and see the night sky in person at this time of the evening this time of year. The constellation is not completely vertical, but is "angling downwards" as Orion travels along its arc towards the west.

Following close behind Orion you will also easily make out the constellation of Canis Major, the Big Dog, which at this time of year appears to be oriented just the way an actual large dog would be standing (horizontal, rather than vertical the way Canis Major is often oriented in the sky, as if rising upwards out of the horizon the way we often see Canis Major). Note that all descriptions are given from point of view of an observer in the northern hemisphere, with regard to orientation of the constellations.

The brilliant star Sirius is included in the constellation Canis Major and will be unmistakable.

On the other side of Orion from Sirius and Canis Major you can see the beautiful "V" of the Hyades, which forms the "jawbone" of the Bull of Taurus. In the star-chart above, you can see the label that says "Taurus," and above that word you see the "V" of stars that forms the head of Taurus, with the bright orange star Aldebaran at the tip of the left branch of that "V" (brighter stars are shown as being larger in the star-chart above, so Aldebaran is that largest star in the outlined part of Taurus, straight above the letters "TA" in the word "Taurus" as labeled here).

Continuing to the west from the V-shaped Hyades of Taurus (towards the right, as we face the star-chart above) you can also make out the beautiful Pleiades, which are seen in the star-chart above just over a large tree on the horizon, and which you can see in the sky by continuing in a line from Orion's shoulder through the V-shaped Hyades and then onto the Pleiades about equidistant beyond the Hyades from Orion. 

You can also confirm the location of the Pleiades by looking below the twisted foot of the constellation Perseus. Perseus is a very bright constellation and distinctive in outline, and plays an important role in a great many myths (including of course the myth of Perseus, but associated with many other mythical figures in many other stories as well).

Standing straight up (not how we usually observe them) above the constellation Orion this time of year you can also see the important zodiac constellation of Gemini. Look up from Orion's upper shoulder (the shoulder indicated by the star Betelgeuse).

There are many other important constellations nearby as well, such as those marked in the chart above. The constellation Cancer is faint and can be difficult to locate, but it is well worth doing so in order to observe the dazzling Beehive cluster, which has been discussed in many previous blog posts.

Just a small sampling of previous posts discussing some of the many important aspects of these constellations in the world's ancient wisdom preserved in the myths, see for instance:
Additionally, I am convinced that many of these constellations feature prominently in myths which point us towards the recovery of our connection to our essential self, from whom we become alienated due to trauma, as explained by healers and teachers such as Dr. Gabor Mate and Dr. Peter Levine. 

Some of these myths about the recovery of the self involve the ordeals of Odysseus on his long journey home, as well as the story of Castor and Polydeuces (referenced in the above post on the Dioscuri), and even the story of Samson -- all of which ancient myths have important connections to the constellations visible in the chart above.

I hope that if you have the ability to do so you can make your way outside to a place where you can see the stars this time of year.

Below is the same star-chart as that shown above, but without inverting the colors or adding outlines and labels:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Welcome to new visitors from MythVision! (and to returning friends)

Special thank-you to Derek Lambert for having me over for a video conversation on MythVision (YouTube channel can be found here).

Welcome to any new visitors coming to this page for the first time after watching that discussion! I hope you will visit often and check out all the content available at the Star Myths of the World website.

This conversation was recorded on February 16, 2020.

For those interested in further information on some of the topics Derek and I touched on during this conversation, please see previous posts including:

I hope you will enjoy this conversation with Derek Lambert and the topics we covered. You can see my previous conversation with Derek and his co-host Luther G. Williams, from 2018, here.

Friday, March 20, 2020

"It is the way of the immortals": March equinox, 2020

file: Wikimedia commons (link).

The two points of equinox through which we pass each year are imbued with tremendous significance in the ancient myths of the world. 

These are the points of "crossing-over," where we experience the transition from one half of the year, in which days are shorter (or longer) than nights, to the other half of the year, in which days are once again longer (or shorter) than nights.

We are once again at that "crossing-point" of the year, the March equinox, at which (for those in the northern hemisphere) the hours of daylight -- which have been growing successively longer and longer since passing the December solstice -- cross-over and become longer than the hours of darkness. 

Usually, this takes place around the dates of March 21 or 22 each calendar year, although this year due to the "slippage" of the calendar, it falls on earlier on the calendar. This "earlier date" has nothing to do with "spring coming early this year," as some headlines are saying (which makes no sense). 

Spring equinox represents the moment when earth is "broadside" to the sun on the way from the winter solstice to the summer solstice, and the relative positions of earth and sun do not "move any faster" from winter solstice to spring equinox in this year or in any other year, no matter what calendar day we happen to label that day upon which spring equinox takes place from one year to the next. It is the calendar that is "slipping around" from one year to another, not the dance of earth and sun.

Instead of focusing upon what particular numerical date in the calendar it is on this March equinox, it is more valuable to focus upon this concept of the "crossing-points of the year." The world-wide system of celestial metaphor which forms the foundation for the ancient myths of cultures from every inhabited continent and island on our globe encodes these crossing-points of the equinoxes using a variety of myth-patterns. 

One of these patterns involves the depiction of sacrifice associated with the equinox points (such as the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father Agamemnon in ancient Greek myth, or the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham in Genesis chapter 22 -- both of which sacrifices are stopped at the last moment when a substitute is provided: a stag in the case of Iphigenia, and a ram in the case of Isaac). Both of these episodes of near-sacrifice with divinely-provided substitute can be shown to relate to constellations associated with the "crossing-points" of the equinoxes.

Another myth-pattern which can be shown to relate to the equinoxes in the myths, but which is completely different from the sacrifice pattern, is the "door through which the gods will pass." The equinoxes are the two points where the plane of the ecliptic intersects with the circle of the celestial equator. 

The circle of the celestial equator is an imaginary line in the heavens which is "ninety arc degrees down (or up)" from the two celestial poles, the north celestial pole and the south celestial pole. Due to the tilt of our earth on its axis of rotation relative to the plane of the ecliptic, the line of the ecliptic through which the sun and all the planets cross the heavens is "tilted" in relation to the celestial equator. A good way to visualize this "obliquity of the ecliptic," as it is also called, is to look at an armillary sphere, as discussed for example in this previous post. Perhaps the best way to envision the "yawning open and shut" of the "crossed rings" of the celestial equator and the ecliptic plane is to watch this video which I made back in 2017 and which illustrates the celestial mechanics from the point of view of an observer on earth, while discussing the famous "vision of Ezekiel."

Once you understand that the two equinox points are the two  points where the "tilted" ecliptic circle (or ecliptic plane) intersects with the celestial equator, then you can apprehend the reason that the ancient Star Myths of the world represent the equinox points as a "door" or "gate" through which the gods must pass. In the heavens, the journey of the sun through the sky takes place along the ecliptic circle -- and the paths of the moon and five visible planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) also travel along this general ecliptic path, although not exactly upon the same line as the ecliptic plane defined by the relationship of earth and sun.

Because the sun, the moon, and the planets Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Venus all travel along the ecliptic path through the sky, the ancient myths sometimes refer to this path as the path along which the gods travel. And that path only crosses the circle of the celestial equator at two points each year: at the point of fall equinox, and at the point of spring equinox. 

Therefore, these two points are sometimes portrayed as "gates" or "doorways" in the world's ancient myths (and specifically as gates or doorways for the gods themselves): they are the two points through which the sun, moon, and planets "pass through" the celestial equator. 

In the ancient epic of Gilgamesh, for example, when the heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu undertake the dangerous journey to the Cedar Forest to chop down the tallest tree whose top reaches to heaven, we are told by the ancient texts that they intend to use this tree to make a new gate for the gods. In the translation of Professor Andrew George of the text of Gilgamesh Tablet V ("Standard Version," at the end of Tablet V), we read this declaration of Enkidu:
"Seek out for me a lofty cedar,
whose crown is high as the heavens! 
"I will make a door of a reed-length's breadth,
let it not have a pivot, let it travel in the door-jamb.
Its side will be a cubit, a reed-length its breadth,
let no stranger draw near it, let a god have love for [it.] 
"To the house of Enlil the Euphrates shall bear it,
let the folk of Nippur rejoice over it!
Let the god Enlil delight in it!" (page 47).
The making of a new door for the gods to delight in may well refer to the ages-long machinery which causes the "precession of the equinoxes," by which the "door" of the spring equinox (as well as the other reference-points of the year, such as summer solstice, the fall equinox, and the winter solstice) transition into a new zodiac constellation every 2,160 years (approximately) -- thus creating a "new door" for the spring equinox. 

The fact that the very next tablet in the Gilgamesh cycle has to do with the slaying of the Bull of Heaven provides powerful confirmatory evidence that this interpretation of the "making of a new door for the gods" has to do with the shifting of the "gate" of spring equinox due to the motion of precession, which ages ago caused the "gate" of spring equinox to shift from the constellation Taurus to the constellation Aries.

Other myths from other cultures which have to do with the forging of a new gate, or the ending of an old one, include the fire-retrieval myth from the Indigenous First Nations of the Pacific Northwest involving the stealing of fire by the figure of Stag (who must jump through a deadly dangerous tent-door which snaps open and shut) and perhaps the passage of the ship Argo through the snapping rocks of the Symplegades in the myths of ancient Greece (both of these myths are discussed by the authors of Hamlet's Mill).

But perhaps my favorite mythical reference to the path of the gods is found in Book 13 of the Odyssey, when the long-suffering hero Odysseus is finally returned to his native island home of Ithaca by the Phaeacian sailors, but the goddess Athena causes a mist to settle around the landscape so that he is deceived and does not recognize its beloved familiar terrain.

In the (literally-translated) English translation of Theodore Alois Buckley (1825 - 1856), the scene is described in this manner:
When a very shining star arose, which especially comes announcing the light of the morning, the mother of day; at that time then the ship that passes over the sea neared the island. 
Now there is a certain haven of Phorcys, the old man of the sea, amongst the people of Ithaca; and there are two abrupt projecting shores in it, inclining towards the port, which swell from the great wave of hard-blowing winds from without; but within well-benched ships remain without a chain, when they reach the goal of the morning-station. But at the head of the port there is a large-leafed olive; and near it a delightful cave, shaded, sacred to the Nymphs, who are called Naiads. And there are stone cups and casks in it; and there then the bees stow away their honey. And in it are stone distaffs of a great length, and there the Nymphs weave their sea-purple robes, a marvel to behold.  
And in it there are perpetual flowing waters; and it has two doors: these to the North to be descended by men, but those on the other hand, to the South, are more sacred; nor do men enter at all by that way; but it is the way of the immortals. 238 - 239.
These evocative lines of the ancient poem describe the path of mortals, and the path of the immortal gods. The descriptions are celestial in nature -- the world's ancient Star Myths employing the awe-inspiring expanse of the heavens themselves as a means of illustrating for our deeper understanding truths involving the invisible realm, the infinite realm. 

We cannot see this invisible and infinite realm with our ordinary vision, but we can see the realm of the heavens and the night sky, which is in fact an infinite realm (when we gaze into the night sky, we are in a sense gazing upon an infinite realm), and the ancient myths use the heavens in order to make visible the truths about matters we otherwise might not grasp.

The important thing for us to understand is that there is a crossing-point where the pathway of the gods (visualized in the ecliptic) meets the mortal realm, where we find ourselves in this incarnate life. The gods, and the infinite realm, actually intersect with our lives -- and we can see this throughout the Odyssey, where the goddess Athena as well as the god Hermes speak to Odysseus and give him guidance and help along his journey. We see it happening in the very scene described above, which talks about the pathway of the immortals -- immediately after these lines, the goddess appears to Odysseus, although in disguise.

Indeed, as I have discussed in numerous previous posts, there is abundant evidence that the world's ancient myths depict the gods as working out their will through the actions of men and women. The gods inspire Odysseus, but they do not act for him. The gods advise Perseus and equip him with tools he will need for his mission, but they do not slay Medusa for him. The gods direct Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but they do not slay Humbaba for them, or chop down the cedar to build the new door.

There is an intersection between the realm of the gods and the place where you and I are, right at this very present moment. We actually always have access to this connection, although most of the time we do not avail ourselves of it, because we ignore it, or forget it, or do not perceive it. But the myths remind us of this powerful truth.

I believe that the "gateway points" of the equinoxes are also an excellent time to meditate on this truth, in order to remember it.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Credit is a utility and part of infrastructure, and governments can absolutely afford to keep small businesses from having to close their doors and lay off their employees

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

One very important lesson that this current crisis should teach us is that credit for productive purposes is an absolutely essential aspect of any economy (modern or ancient), and that it is as essential to the public good as are the electrical grid, the water works, and the roads.

Small businesses in particular need to have access to ready sources of credit during a crisis or else they face the prospect of having to shut their doors, break their lease, and furlough or even release their workers.

If you are running a private pre-school and all the children are ordered to stay home for an indeterminate period of time, or if you are running a restaurant and the county orders people to stop going out to eat, or if you are running a hair salon and all your clients cancel their appointments for the next month or more, or if you are running a dentist office and all of your patients with non-essential appointments such as teeth-cleaning visits have to put those off indefinitely, or any number of other similar scenarios, and you do not have access to enough ready cash to pay all your expenses and make payroll for all your employees, then you either need access to credit to get you through to the other side of that crisis, or you risk going out of business and telling all your workers that they are now unemployed.

If these kinds of things happen in every city in every state or province of a nation, it will have a devastating impact. Access to credit for productive purposes (as distinguished from access to credit for speculative purposes) is a critical part of a nation's economic infrastructure -- and as such democratic governments have an interest in ensuring that their citizens have access to credit for productive purposes such as for keeping businesses such as pre-schools, dentist offices, restaurants, hair salons, and a host of others from folding up during a crisis, particularly during a crisis in which the leadership of the country, for the public good, decides that it is necessary to order people to stay home in order to prevent the spread of disease (as in the present crisis).

For these reasons, the classical economists (who, beginning in the eighteenth century, worked to undo the deleterious effects of the vestiges of feudalism but whose project was later overturned by an effective counter-attack by the anti-classical forerunners of today's neoliberal economists) believed that democratic governments have an interest in either offering public banking services, including credit for productive purposes (as opposed to speculative purposes), or in setting the conditions such that banking and credit is made available to all socio-economic levels of society at non-exorbitant rates, just as democratic governments have an interest in ensuring that clean and adequate water is made available to all socio-economic levels of society at non-exorbitant rates, and that safe and abundant electricity is made available to all socio-economic levels of society at non-exorbitant rates.

In other words, access to credit for productive purposes is part of the national infrastructure, and it should be viewed as such -- and not just during an emergency but at all times (just as adequate clean water is part of the infrastructure and democratic governments must ensure that it is safe and available at all times, and not just in emergencies). 

One reason for having infrastructure in the public sector is that governments do not have to run them for a profit: governments can actually run them at a loss, so that water and electricity and roads and postal services and access to credit for productive purposes can be offered to the public at less than it costs to produce them, and at prices that are much lower than the prices at which a private company (which cannot run at a loss forever, unless it has some external source of capital) could offer them. Doing so in the case of essential infrastructure is actually in the public interest and benefits society, as the classical economists (who were working to undo the deleterious effects of feudalism) consistently and persuasively argued.

However, as Michael Hudson explains with brilliant clarity in this interview with Ellen Brown and Walt McRee of the Public Banking Institute, published on February 6th of this year (well before the current crisis situation in the United States), the proponents of neoliberalism have an interest in  stripping democratic governments of their role in providing infrastructure, because proponents of neoliberalism want to privatize those roles and take them out of the public sector (privatizing water and privatizing roads and privatizing telephone services and privatizing postal services and privatizing prison administration and many other aspects of public infrastructure -- all of which are extremely lucrative if private parties can wrest them out of the public sector and administer them for a profit). 

And, as Professor Hudson explains, the most lucrative of all of them is the banking function, which certain private parties are extremely interested in keeping out of the public sector.

Below is the interview with Michael Hudson, Walt McRee, and Ellen Brown, entitled "Neoliberalism's Death Knell?" which is well worth playing in its entirety:

During that interview, you will hear Walt McRee state at the 24:20 mark that access to public credit for productive purposes "is a public utility and our vision of course is to create a distributed network of local and state public banks."

You will then hear Michael Hudson explain that there was a dedicated effort in the first decades of the twentieth century to strip the banking function away from the democratic institutions of government at all levels, beginning with the federal level, in order to "take power away from the Treasury [. . .] the idea was to take decision-making away from Washington, away from democratic politics, and insulate the financial system from the democratic political system by turning control over to the corporate financial centers: Wall Street, Chicago and the other federal reserve districts [. . .]. If you let people know that this was a fight that was waged in advance, [. . .] in the decades leading up to World War I, when there was a social democratic revolution from Europe to the United States, and the whole idea was to democratize banking, and Wall Street very quickly developed a counter-strategy to this and the counter-strategy was the federal reserve."

Professor Hudson talks as though a replacement to the federal reserve is needed, but Professor Bill Mitchell (one of the leading voices in the modern monetary theory or MMT perspective) explains that central banks such as the federal reserve in the US are actually under the control of elected leaders, if the public would just wake up and demand that their elected leaders do their jobs and exercise democratic control over the banking function in order to ensure there is credit for productive purposes (as opposed to speculative purposes) at reasonable terms, and make it clear that if they don't do so they will be voted out of office just the same as they would be if they failed to ensure that there is clean water and safe electricity and adequate roads and sewer systems and other aspects of critical infrastructure. For some of Professor Mitchell's arguments on this subject, see for example here and here.

Unfortunately (indeed, tragically), the proponents of neoliberalism (who could also accurately be called "proponents of hyper-capitalism," or "proponents of austerity," or a host of other names which might be a little more imaginative, instead of the dull and rather clunky sounding term "neoliberalism") have argued incessantly, beginning in the 1930s with the Austrian economists (as Professor Hudson explains in this interview), and have convinced many men and women that taking infrastructure out of the public sphere and into the private sphere is a good idea.

The proponents of privatization have been so effective in their propaganda campaigns that many people do not even understand that they can and should (and must) demand that their elected officials provide safe, clean and abundant public water at prices lower than what the private sector could provide, and if they don't realize they should expect democratic governments to ensure access to clean water, it is even more difficult to help them perceive that they should also be able to expect democratic governments to ensure access to credit for productive purposes.

This crisis should make it abundantly clear, however.

During an emergency, such as the present crisis in which elected officials make the decision to order people to stop going to school or going to restaurants or doing virtually anything at all other than staying in their homes, then another argument can be made, that the federal government should provide actual direct assistance to pay salaries and pay rents if necessary to prevent businesses from folding and workers from being laid off as a consequence of actions that the government deems necessary based on the information that they have available about the danger.

During the above interview, Professor Hudson actually uses the situation of the Vietnam War while illustrating a point about balance-of-payment deficits. Setting aside the discussion of balance-of-payment deficits for the purposes of this discussion about the current crisis, the illustration of the Vietnam War can be helpful in understanding that the federal government would absolutely be able to provide such assistance in order to get the nation through the present outbreak.

During that war, it was decided by policymakers that it was absolutely necessary to send hundreds of thousands of young men (and also some young women) into Vietnam, on a rotating basis, to conduct combat operations for a period lasting over a decade.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Setting aside the question about whether that was the right decision (for the purposes of focusing this discussion on today's crisis), the fact remains that those hundreds of thousands of young men who were being drafted, trained, equipped, and sent over to Vietnam over the course of more than a decade were being paid, fed, clothed, and given things like rifles, helmets, grenades, rocket launchers, ammunition, insect repellent, medical treatment, and so on. There were also thousands and thousands of helicopters and other types of aircraft, tanks and armored personnel carriers, trucks and jeeps and other types of wheeled vehicles, as well as massive amounts of other types of equipment which were sent over in that war effort. It did not "run out of money" and find itself unable to pay those men and women in uniform during that period, or to clothe them or put fuel in the helicopters and tracked vehicles and trucks that they rode in, and so forth.

The nation was capable of paying all those people for all those years during that war, and it did so because policymakers made the decision that it was a national emergency and it needed to be done (setting aside the question of whether that was a correct assessment).

One reason that public banking is so important is that public banks (as opposed to private banks) can decide to waive loan payments during a severe crisis, such as the present crisis. If businesses had their mortgages with public banks (of which we only have one in the United States at this time, and only for residents of North Dakota), they might be told during a crisis, "The government, for public safety, has ordered people to stay home -- therefore we, the public bank, will not collect mortgage payments during that entire period that people are ordered to stay home, and will count those payments as though they were in fact made. Landlords who are renting to businesses will not collect rents during the period that they are not making mortgage payments." There is no so-called "moral hazard" in doing so, because this is an emergency situation that was the decision of the elected officials. In fact, such backstops might help elected officials to be able to make the right decisions for the safety of the people!

If the government today decides that it needs to order children to stop going to school, and order everyone to stay in their homes and stop visiting dentists (for nonessential treatment) and stop visiting restaurants and stop visiting hair salons and gyms and stop going anywhere else other than to grocery stores, and if it decides that this needs to go on for a few months, the federal government  absolutely has the resources to ensure that businesses don't have to fold up and lay off all their workers during that period of time, however long it may be.

That does not even need to be in the form of loans that get paid back, as during a non-emergency environment. When the government decided that it was a national emergency and it needed to send soldiers to Vietnam, it did not force families to take out loans in order to feed those soldiers and clothe those soldiers and purchase the ammunition that they were putting into their rifles and machineguns.

Of course, private banks would always love to make people take out loans rather than have the government provide direct assistance during a crisis. But in a time of an emergency such as this one, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the government providing direct relief -- even for a period of some months -- in order to keep businesses from having to close and lay off employees, just as it fed, clothed, trained, equipped, transported and otherwise provided for soldiers for a period of more than ten years during the Vietnam War.

That is, unless the people allow their elected officials to pretend that they don't have the power to provide what is absolutely in the power of a nation to provide -- unless they allow, in Professor Hudson's words, the proponents of neoliberalism and austerity to "take power away from the Treasury [. . .] to take decision-making away from Washington, away from democratic politics, and to insulate the financial system from the democratic political system by turning control over to the corporate financial centers: Wall Street, Chicago" and so on.

Professor Hudson has analyzed this question of credit going all the way back to ancient times, including to ancient Mesopotamia, and he has found that the credit function was understood to properly belong to the public sphere and to governments, and not the private sphere, in ancient times.

That's one reason, for example, that we find images of the gods stamped onto ancient coins (in my opinion -- I'm not sure if Professor Hudson says that anywhere).

This understanding held all the way up through the Roman Empire, he explains, when something changed. After that, feudalism and debt bondage arose. I would argue that what changed was a deliberate campaign to get rid of the knowledge of the ancient wisdom and the teaching of the gods.

As Professor Hudson explains in this important interview, neoliberalism is a form of neo-feudalism. He also calls it a form of fascism. It is obviously an attack on democracy and on democratic control over the necessary infrastructure of a nation, including access to credit for productive purposes. Professor Mitchell makes the very same point, in an important blog post here.

During the present crisis, very few people are discussing these vitally important concepts -- but these concepts are absolutely critical to the survival of democratic governance, which has already been deeply compromised to the detriment of millions by neoliberalism, austerity, and hyper-capitalism. The current outbreak should help bring these issues into greater focus.

Sending positive wishes to you and to all my readers during this difficult period.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Welcome to new visitors from the Leak Project, and to returning friends!

Sincere thank-you to Kristen Bear and Rex Bear for inviting me over to the Leak Project for an enjoyable conversation today, February 29, 2020.

Our chat was broadcast live on YouTube, and you can watch the entire replay (along with the replay of the chat comments that were running at the same time) on the Leak Project channel by following this link, or by using the embedded video above.

I hope my presentation of the subject matter was helpful to those encountering it for the first time. For those interested in reading more on some of the subjects we touched upon during our wide-ranging conversation, here are a few previous posts that focus on topics raised during today's interview:
Hope you will visit again soon!

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Descent of Inanna and the Lamentation for our Buried Authentic Self

image: Wikimedia commons (link; and see also here).

The descent of a god or goddess into the underworld is an extremely important pattern found in the ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories of cultures around the world. 

The pattern is found in the scriptures of the New Testament (so-called) in the cycle of the death of Jesus and his return. However, it is also found in the Osiris cycle of ancient Egypt, in the adventures of the divine Maui of the cultures of the Pacific, in the descent of the Hero Twins to the dreaded realm of Xibalba in the Popol Vuh of the Maya of Central America, as well as in the descent and recovery of the goddess Persephone in the myths of ancient Greece, and many other traditions found in other cultures as well.

The indispensable Alvin Boyd Kuhn argues that the myths describing the descent of the god or goddess into the underworld actually dramatize for our deeper understanding the descent of our own incarnation -- the process which occurs with the birth of every single man or woman who has ever lived, a process which brings divine spirit down into the material realm to dwell for a time in a human body. It is the descent of the divine spark into the "underworld" of matter, the "tomb" of the physical body, which is being depicted in these myths, Kuhn argues. In his 1940 magnum opus, entitled Lost Light: An Interpretation of Ancient Scriptures, Kuhn writes:
The incarnation, for the soul, was its death and burial. But it was a living death and a burial alive. It was an entombment that carried life on, but under conditions that could be poetically dramatized as "death." Our inability to comprehend any but the physical sense of the word "burial" has left us easy victims of ancient poetic fancy, and led to the foisting upon ourselves perhaps the most degraded interpretation of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of deity in mortal life ever to be held by any religious group. 158
Elsewhere, he writes: "In the esoteric doctrine which regarded the present life as death, and the living body as the soul's tomb, we have the necessary background for adequate elucidation of the matter" (178).

The mourning of the god or goddess who has descended into the underworld is a widespread pattern found in many of these myths. We find it in the case of the god Baldr in the Norse myths, and in the myth of Persephone of ancient Greece. We also find this tradition in Christianity in the season of Lent which is a period of approximately six weeks (forty-two days) of fasting, mourning and self-denial in observation of the death and descent into the underworld of Jesus.

The period of forty days upon which the fasting period of Lent is patterned is sometimes said to derive from the number of days which we are told that Jesus fasts during his period of temptation in the wilderness, described in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 4 (and particularly Matthew 4: 2). 

Alvin Boyd Kuhn provides further insight into the number forty and relates it again to the concept of the descent of the divine spark into the mortal body, envisioned in the ancient myths as a kind of "living death" in Kuhn's analysis. He writes:
Since the number forty alphabetized in symbolic script the period of gestation of soul in matter, it was chosen as the time for fasting and abasement. This fasting is but another glyph for the privation and lack of true spiritual being suffered by the god in the flesh. Forty days of lamentation and grief were set aside to commemorate the death and burial of the sun-god and the shrouding of his light in the tomb of matter. For ten thousand years BC it was part of the celebration of the cult of Iusa, the ever-coming or annually-coming solar god, to keep the forty days and nights in which the sun-hero in the underworld fought the battle with Out and his Sebau "fiends," in the desert of Amenta. Forty days was the period of seclusion after childbirth appointed for the women by Parsee and Levitical law. In the transformation of Apis, when the old bull died, its successor remained forty days shut up on an island in the Nile. The spies sent out returned after forty days. For forty days Goliath came out to fight each day (1 Samuel 17). David reigned forty years. Moses was with Jehovah in the Mount forty days and nights. Jesus was forty days on earth after his resurrection. Forty appears in the Old Testament some sixty-three times. Forty days was the length of the incubation period of grain in the mud and water before germinating in Egypt; and the human foetus gestates forty weeks. The period of forty days after the planting was a time of scarcity and fasting, which, says Massey, gave a very natural significance to the season of Lent, with its mourning for the dead Osiris, to be followed by rejoicing when the grain germinated. This was transferred to the [. . .] Gospels and became a fast of forty days during which Jesus wrestled with Satan and was hungry. 444 - 445.
It is extremely noteworthy that in the texts of ancient Sumer, the goddess Inanna (known as Ishtar to the later Akkadian cultures of the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who inherited significant aspects of Sumerian culture) goes down into the underworld of her own free will, is imprisoned there for three days and three nights, and then is rescued by her second-in-command, the Ninshubur.

The ancient text known as Inanna's Descent (English translation available here from the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature) tells us that the goddess Inanna (pictured above on an imprint from an ancient cylinder seal) was turned into a corpse and hung up on a hook during her time in the realm of the dead. This fact is significant, as I argue in my most-recent book The Ancient World-Wide System, because it is very likely that Inanna hanging on a hook is associated with the same constellation Ophiuchus which forms the celestial pattern for Jesus hanging on a cross. 

Indeed, in the ancient texts describing the cycle of Inanna's Descent, the importance of mourning and lamenting (a pattern found in so many other myths involving the descent of the god or goddess into the underworld) which is also observed during the Christian season of Lent (beginning on Ash Wednesday) features very prominently in the myth. 

Before she goes down to the underworld, Inanna leaves strict instructions with her minister Ninshubur that when Inanna arrives in the realm of the dead, everyone is to mourn for her. When Inanna is released from the underworld after hanging as a corpse on a hook for three days, she is released only on the condition that she find a substitute to send to the underworld in her place. So, when she returns to the land of the living, she comes across various men and women who are described as sitting in the dust, clothing themselves in a filthy garment, and mourning for Inanna who has gone down to the underworld. Each time, the demons from the underworld ask Inanna if they can seize this man or woman and drag him or her back to the underworld to take Inanna's place, and each time the goddess replies in the negative, because by mourning they are obeying her directions.

However, when Inanna comes to the great apple tree in the plain of Kulaba, she finds her consort Dumuzid the shepherd dressed in a magnificent garment, seated in luxury upon a throne. Inanna is furious. She looks at him with the look of death, and informs the demons that they can take Dumuzid to the underworld. Later, she mourns his departure and allows him to return to the realm of the living for half of the year, and spend the other half in the realm of the dead.

While I agree with Alvin Boyd Kuhn that the ancient myths regarding the descent of a god or goddess into the underworld dramatizes profound teachings regarding our own soul's descent into this incarnate life, I would also argue that these myths teach as one of their central themes our own loss of connection to our essential self, who is suppressed and even in fact buried by the egoic self. 

This alienation and disconnection from the essential self can be demonstrated to be a central theme running through the world's ancient myths, scriptures, and sacred stories, and some aspects of this division are discussed in previous posts such as: 
What could be the point of this heavy emphasis on mourning for the god or goddess who has descended into the underworld?

I would argue that this emphasis on mourning, found in myths literally around the globe which relate to this theme of the dying god or goddess who descends into the underworld, dramatizes for our understanding the importance of perceiving our disconnection from our essential self, our divine or higher and authentic self, and of seeking reconnection with our own essence.

The sad fact is that a great many men and women who are in fact alienated from themselves do not even know it! They do not even realize they have been disconnected from their own essence, and thus they neither mourn the fact nor seek to find their own authentic self, who has been buried by the creation of the egoic mind. They may even deny the existence of such a thing as the higher self.

In this sense, they are like Dumuzid in the myth of Inanna's Descent, acting as though nothing at all is wrong -- completely oblivious to the descent of the goddess into the underworld.

The myths teach us that the proper response to this profound disconnection is to mourn it as a catastrophic problem -- and to seek to recover the connection to our own authentic self, no matter what it takes.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Boogie Woogie and the essential self

One extremely vital and also immensely practical message central to the ancient myths is the teaching that our mind is not at all the entirety of who we are.

Our conscious mind, our egoic mind, is described in the Katha Upanishad (one of the ancient Sanskrit texts of India) as "the reins" by which the horses of the senses and emotions which pull the chariot of the body may be controlled -- or may be allowed to run away with us, depending upon the charioteer:

Obviously, if we find an ancient text telling us that the mind is like the reins in the above metaphor, then the question naturally arises "who or what is behind the mind, holding the reins, so to speak?"

In the above illustration, taken from the famous scene in the Mahabharata prior to the start of the cataclysmic battle of Kurukshetra, the answer to that question is the Lord Krishna himself, to whom the hero Arjuna is bowing with hands in the anjali mudra (a recognition and acknowledgement of divinity).

In the Katha Upanishad, the one holding the reins is the Atman, a term which refers to the aspect of each and every man or woman which can be broadly understood as related to the higher self, the divine self, the authentic and essential self, but also to the embodiment of the undifferentiated spirit of the entire creation, the Brahman, with which we are all connected and in fact more than connected but actually a part of.

However, our egoic mind -- which psychologists such as Dr. Peter Levine and healing teachers such as Dr. Gabor Mate tell us develops as a coping mechanism to insulate us from the trauma of this world -- tends to try to take over, and to suppress the essential self, causing us to believe that this conscious mind we have created is the totality of who we are.

See for example the quotation cited in this previous post, which contains a link to an entire talk by Dr. Mate well worth listening to, in which Dr. Mate states:
The other problem [. . .] is that your mind, your egoic mind, always wants to invalidate your essence. Because the egoic mind develops as a replacement for the essence. When essence shows up, the mind is threatened -- the ego is threatened. So it wants to fight back. When the psychedelic substance really reveals the mind -- what's underneath the mind -- and puts the ego onto the sidelines: as soon as the effect is gone, the mind wants to come in and reclaim its territory. And it does that by making nonsense of the experience you just had.
We can get glimpses of the truth that the conscious, egoic mind is not the totality of who we are, such as when we get an intuition which later reveals to have had more knowledge or truth than our conscious mind perceived at the time, or when we receive a message from a dream, or wake up in the morning after our conscious mind was asleep and not in control with an answer to a knotty problem that our conscious mind was trying to solve (without success) the night before.

And we sometimes get glimpses of someone who is connected to a deeper and more complete totality of who they really are when we see an athlete (for example) playing their sport in a state of such complete awareness and mastery that we say that he or she is "unconscious" or "beyond themself." We may even have experienced such a state in our own lives in one area or another.

I have embedded the video above, in which professional pianist, author and teacher Arthur Migliazza (excellent website here, with piano instruction!) is explaining to us how to go from "zero to independent" when playing (in this case, while playing a left-hand bass pattern) because it shows very clearly that the conscious mind is not at all the sum total of who we are. In the video, Mr. Migliazza takes a left-hand bass pattern which he does not already know beforehand, and demonstrates the process of getting to the point where his hand can play that pattern without his conscious mind's direction -- to the point that the hand becomes, as he says, "independent."

If you go through this process for yourself, for example with a boogie-woogie bass pattern for the left hand, you will experience at first the doubts in your conscious mind that the left hand will ever get the pattern that you are trying to make happen (particularly if it is a challenging left-hand pattern). Then, after some period of time and practice -- just as is shown in this video by the talented Mr. Migliazza -- you will experience something quite extraordinary: the hand will start to be able to do the pattern by itself, as if with a "mind of its own."

Indeed, you will find after some time that the hand will do the playing much better and more accurately (without mistakes) without the conscious guidance of the thinking mind, and that if you start thinking about what it is doing, your hand will make mistakes that it does not make when allowed to play on its own.

This example may seem simple, and labeled as "simply" muscle memory, but it illustrates that there is more going on in our total being than is under control of the conscious, egoic mind -- despite the protestations of the conscious, egoic mind, which wants us to think that it is the one driving the chariot and in charge of everything. The mind wants us to think that it is the totality of who we are, and that is simply not the case at all.

In fact, in order to achieve the highest potential of who we are, we have to transcend the egoic, conscious mind, which holds us back in many ways (particularly by denying and suppressing our essential self, as explained in the quotation from Dr. Mate cited above).

Note that in the video above, Mr. Migliazza also makes a very interesting observation that when he actually sleeps in between practicing a new bass pattern, his progress is much faster than if he simply tries to practice straight through. Note that this observation is coming from a professional pianist and master musician, one who has played at a very high level for three decades, and who has obviously had a tremendous amount of experience learning and practicing new songs and skills -- far beyond what most of us have experienced.

I would suggest that practices such as playing music in this way, as well as ancient disciplines such as meditation, martial arts, Yoga, and others, and also playing sports, and many other areas of human endeavor, can all be pathways towards relaxing the iron grip of the egoic mind which wants us to think that it is the sum totality of who we are -- and can be a pathway towards reconnecting with the higher self, the essential self, which is very often buried and suppressed by the mind and by the exigencies of this world.

And that is a path towards putting the "reins of the chariot" back in the hands of our essential and authentic self -- which is who we actually want to be steering our life, if we think about it!