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Phrenology – A case of science overextending itself

Self-portrait as phrenology illustration

Self-portrait as phrenology illustration by obscure allusion / Jason Priem

Phrenology is a word popularized by Johann Caspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) to describe a pseudo-scientific theory developed by Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828).

Gall hypothesized that different brain regions are responsible for specific functions. Today, the details are debated but this model is generally accepted.¹

So for Gall, a stronger trait or ability allegedly corresponded with more developed brain regions, while weaker traits or abilities coincided with less developed brain regions.

From there, he proposed that different abilities and tendencies are linked to the size and shape of the human skull.

Gall believed the skull would exhibit measurable bumps over larger, well developed brain regions, making his theory not only scientific but practical. Heads can be measured. And from those measurements, different treatments could be implemented.

This theory fell into disrepute around the 1900’s. Contemporary researchers highlight the importance of learning, stimulation, nutrition, attitudes, beliefs, as well as the density and differentiation of neural pathways in relation to brain performance and abilities.


Colour etching by W Taylor satirising the work of Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Spurzheim, proponents of phrenology, showing a doctor examining a patient’s head, whilst other patients with variously-shaped craniums await inspection.

Much like modern computer processors, bulk size doesn’t necessarily matter. Complexity does. Also, recent concepts like plasticity and epigenetics further discredit older, fully deterministic brain theories. In other words, genes matter but other factors come into play.

Perhaps because phrenology could easily be abused, it’s not well-known today. Hitler and the Nazis, for instance, used something similar to phrenology to try to separate Jews from non-Jews.²

Today, phrenology is sometimes upheld by sociologists and historians as an example of all that can go wrong when scientism (pseudoscience) masquerades as science.

“Raoul Hausmann was one of the leading members of the Berlin Dada movement… [his] most well known [work} is Spirit of Our Time. Finished in 1921.” – via Utopia/Dystopia

Wikipedia puts it well:

Phrenology is…based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. Although both of those ideas have a basis in reality, phrenology extrapolated beyond empirical knowledge in a way that departed from science.

Some writers at web sites like Mad In America zealously argue that all of contemporary psychiatry is pseudoscience and profit mongering. I think this is an extreme, polarizing view and not really helpful toward better integrating good science and good spirituality.

Quick Historical Outline

_____

Among the first to identify the brain as the major controlling center for the body were Hippocrates and his followers, inaugurating a major change in thinking from Egyptian, biblical and early Greek views, which based bodily primacy of control on the heart.

_____

This belief was supported by the Greek physician Galen, who concluded that mental activity occurred in the brain rather than the heart, contending that the brain, a cold, moist organ formed of sperm, was the seat of the animal soul—one of three “souls” found in the body, each associated with a principal organ.

_____

Phrenology came about at a time when scientific procedures and standards for acceptable evidence were still being codified. In the context of Victorian society, phrenology was a respectable scientific theory.

_____

Phrenology was mostly discredited as a scientific theory by the 1840s.

_____

In Belgium, Paul Bouts (1900–1999) began studying phrenology from a pedagogical background, using the phrenological analysis to define an individual pedagogy. Combining phrenology with typology and graphology, he coined a global approach known as psychognomy. Bouts, a Roman Catholic priest, became the main promoter of renewed 20th-century interest in phrenology and psychognomy in Belgium.

_____

During the 1930s Belgian colonial authorities in Rwanda used phrenology to explain the so-called superiority of Tutsis over Hutus.

_____

Phrenology was one of the first to bring about the idea of rehabilitation of criminals instead of vindictive punishments…

_____

In psychiatry phrenology was proposed as a viable model in order to reform the disciplinary field.

¹ Neurologists differ on how:

  • different combinations of the brain occur and affect functioning
  • much of the brain we use
  • the brain is linked to the rest of the nervous system, surrounding organs and microorganisms (e.g. bacteria).
  • sex differences affect brain functioning

² Josef Mengele, a sadistic and cruel doctor at Auschwitz, wrote a dissertation on “differing Lower Jaw formations and Racial differences.” See http://www.shoaheducation.judahsglory.com/philosophies.html.

Related » Face Reading, Social Darwinism

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 From the Bookshelves: States of Delinquency: Race and Science in the Making of California’s Juvenile Justice System by Miroslava Chávez-García (lawprofessors.typepad.com)

 The Many Ways Science Has (Wrongly) Assessed Your Personality (io9.com)

 Use your head when buying a conversation piece (observer-reporter.com)

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Phenomenology – Mystical or mystifying?

Day 302. Phenomenology. David Mulder via Flickr

Phenomenology is one of those words that crops up in undergrad sociology and philosophy courses. Whenever I heard it I felt sort of dumb, like when you hear a big word and don’t know what it means. And I think some people just used it to appear smart.

Academe games…

Edmund Husserl 1910s via Wikipedia

So early on I made a quick fix. Phenomenology is about personal experience. How a person sees it, I told myself, burning that simple definition into memory so I wouldn’t be caught off guard in seminars and the like. (Sometimes those seminars were really nasty).

When I need to force myself to remember something with a little trick, it usually means the concept doesn’t resonate with me.

I know pretty much all of Freud and especially Jung’s concepts by heart because they seem to have more relevance and richness than the simple, slightly mystifying word phenomenology.

But that’s just me. I’m sure many philosophy majors would love that word, which opens many doors for them.

Turns out the term is a bit more complicated and varied than my youthful quick fix would suggest (the top image is only one of many meanings). But that fix did get me through school okay. I never pursued the term much further because, as I say, it just didn’t personally connect.

Philosophers tend to get tangled up in their own concepts. Many seem to lack genuine insight and miss their own blind spots.

That’s how I see it. A huge generalization, it’s true. But overall, I much preferred the depth psychologists and mystics (I say preferred past tense because I’m always moving into new areas).

Edmund Husserl is usually mentioned when the word phenomenology comes up. Husserl wanted to study ‘structures’ of consciousness (whatever that means) and also phenomena that come into consciousness. At least, that’s how I understand it.

The history of the word is fairly interesting. I’ve used Highly highlighter to outline part of a Wikipedia summary. I could have rewritten this, but as I say, it’s not really my direct interest:

So looking at the above it seems that Kant believes there is a unknowable aspect to reality, whereas Hegel believes we can gradually come to know spiritual truth.

The problem with this Wikipedia comparison, as I see it, is that knowing (or not knowing) the “thing-in-itself” aspect of an object (noumena) is not the same as learning about spiritual presences (numinous).¹ The above quote doesn’t recognize the difference. But elsewhere Wikipedia does recognize it:

Numinous is an English adjective, derived in the 17th century from the Latin numen, that is (especially in ancient Roman religion) a “deity or spirit presiding over a thing or space”. Meaning “denoting or relating to a numen”, it describes the power or presence or realisation of a divinity. It is etymologically unrelated to Immanuel Kant’s noumenon, a Greek term referring to an unknowable reality underlying all things [emphasis added].²

Bottom line?

Don’t read anything uncritically. Even the venerable Wikipedia can be misleading if you don’t do a little digging.

PortalPhilosophers

PortalPhilosophers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ A similar distinction can be made, I think, between matter/energy on the one hand, and spirit, on the other hand. Some New Age writers confuse these two ideas, which to me says they don’t know what they’re talking about. Or to put it more nicely, they’re sort of like newborns who have yet to learn how to differentiate among different types of spiritual experience.

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numinous

Related » David Hume, Science


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Philia – One of many loves

Brotherly Love Series via Wikipedia

Philia is a Greek term usually translated as brotherly or friendly love.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle says there are three types of philia:

  1. Love for what is of practical use
  2. Love for what is pleasing
  3. Love for the good

Aristotle is a powerful thinker but, unlike Plato, not a mystical one. And he himself realizes that his three types of philia are not watertight categories.

Believing that good relationships are important to the development of virtue, Aristotle says we get something from our friends, and vice versa. Friends please each other and if they are excellent friends, they mutually help one other to grow toward the good.

Aristotle by F. Hayez via Wikipedia

So Aristotle’s view of philia could mean that by helping and enjoying others, we help ourselves. Superior friendships maximize the good, contributing to a win-win situation. And this, one could argue, approximates the idea of agape.

Again, Aristotle was not a mystic and some believe that mystical experience is essential to learning about love.

Although upheld as one of the great thinkers in the Western tradition, Aristotle doesn’t appreciate how some saints, Christian and otherwise, have no need for human friendship.¹ Saints of the highest order say they are completely fulfilled by God, making other people mere distractions or burdens to intercede for.

Sweet Solitude by E. B. Leighton via Wikipedia

This is exceptional but there are first hand accounts. These narratives are often overlooked or trivialized by materialists yet they are worth considering. So much emphasis today is placed on being “social.” If someone prefers solitude over society they’re usually regarded with suspicion, or worse. Emily Dickinson, who lived a life of solitude, put it this way:

MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
‘T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,-you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.²

Emily Dickinson – Sharon Brogan via Flickr

The term philia is sometimes interpreted by Christian theologians to mean a superficial, transitory and contingent kind of love (I have also heard a priest in homily extol the virtues of brotherly love as found in the New Testament).

Likewise, Catholics give secondary status to eros, or romantic love, especially when taking place outside of marriage.

Similar to Aristotle’s merging of different types of philia, however, Christian theologians also believe the Holy Spirit strengthens married couples so as to properly align their physical and emotional desires (eros) with agape.

For most Christians, the sacrificial love of agape stands above all as the permanent, noblest and highest type of love. Perhaps some of us only discover agape after journeying through many relationships filled with the pleasures of philia and drama of eros.

Jim Forest via Flickr

Surprising enough, or maybe not surprisingly, the popular Catholic monk Thomas Merton, whom some see as a great mystic, had a romantic relationship with a student nurse whom he met while in the hospital, away from his monastery.³ Ultimately Merton came to reject the relationship, seeing it as a temptation that obscured his higher purpose and fulfillment.

That is, Merton let go of philia and eros in favor of agape. For most of us, however, it’s a mix. And to pretend otherwise when one isn’t really “there” is, I think, unwise.

¹ Some Christians might say, well yeah… Aristotle lived before Christ. But Catholics claim that Christ exists through all time, making it conceivable that some knew him intimately before his earthly appearance.

² Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Part 1: Life (XI), Boston: Little, Brown, 1924; Bartleby.com, 2000.

³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Merton I don’t think Merton was a great mystic but I do see him as a sincere seeker. See http://wp.me/p5W8j-7Yq

 Obasanjo says Jesus is coming, end of the world near (vanguardngr.com)

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Peter, Paul and Women – Another look at the Early Church

Among Christians, St. Peter is often compared to St. Paul.

Peter is seen as the rule man. Paul, the innovator. Together, they are usually cited as the two most important early Christians after Jesus Christ, himself.

Peter and Paul by El Greco via Wikipedia

Women in Early Christianity

Feminists say the primacy of Peter and Paul is a male take on early Christianity. A male take in a male world—in New Testament times and, to some degree, now.

Women, in fact, performed essential work among the early Christians. Food preparation, laundry and other domestic chores were not accomplished through miracles. And there’s no New Testament record of manna falling from heaven. No, women usually took up these necessary duties.

Scholars also realize that women played key inspirational, pastoral and organizational roles within the early Church.¹

Who was Peter?

In the New Testament St. Peter was a 1st century fisherman living in the village of Capernaum. He went by the name of Simeon, Shimon or Simon bar Jonah.

This simple fisherman was chosen or, depending on your perspective, asked by Jesus Christ to follow him and ultimately to become one of the twelve Apostles.

Jesus … told Simon, “Row the boat out into the deep water and let your nets down to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon answered, “we have worked hard all night long and have not caught a thing. But if you tell me to, I will let the nets down.” They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart. Then they signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. The men came, and together they filled the two boats so full that they both began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t come near me! I am a sinner.” Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught. His partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were surprised too.

Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you will bring in people instead of fish.” The men pulled their boats up on the shore. Then they left everything and went with Jesus.²

Peter and Paul Fresco Mary Evraida Church via Wikipedia

Simon was renamed Cephas. In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, Cephas means “rock.” In Greek, the language of the New Testament, Petros also translates to “rock.” Hence the modern term, petroglyphs.

Peter (from Petros) went on to do great things, but it wasn’t always a smooth ride. All four canonical gospels tell how Jesus accurately predicted Peter betraying him three times before the cock crowed.

After Christ’s resurrection, Peter is the first to enter the empty tomb but not to see the risen Christ. Women and an unknown “beloved disciple” had that honor.

Catholics

Always mentioned in the gospels as the first of the Twelve Apostles, Early Church tradition – not the Bible – says Peter was the founder of the Church in Rome, along with Paul. There he was the first bishop, wrote two epistles, and was martyred along with Paul.

For Roman Catholics, Peter is the first Pope. Catholics support their beliefs about Peter with two essential scriptural passages:

Feed my lambs… feed my lambs… feed my sheep. (John 21:15–17)

and

I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19)

However, “Pope” is something of a retroactive title. In his lifetime Peter was never called “Pope” or “Vicar of Christ.” But Catholics believe their tradition and scripture are equally valid. So if Catholic authorities can retroactively discern that a marriage never existed (annulment), they also believe they understand how God saw things before mankind came to that realization.

Catholic Tradition also maintains that Peter was crucified upside down on the same day Paul was beheaded, just outside of Rome.

St Peter’s Anglican Church via Wikipedia

Protestants

Not everyone agrees with the Catholic legitimization of the Papacy. Protestants tend see the office as an example of arrogant self-aggrandizement. For Protestants, Peter did crucial missionary work in Rome and for the Eastern Orthodox Church, he holds a “primacy of honor.” But he is not Pope as understood by Catholics.

Neither Eastern Orthodox nor Protestant Christians formally recognize any Pope. Although Catholic-Protestant relations seem to be warming among some denominations. What motivates this is hard to say.

In popular culture St. Peter guards the “pearly gates” of heaven, allowing good souls to enter while rejecting evil doers. This allusion no doubt premised on Matthew 16:19.

Muslims

Shia Muslims draw a parallel between Peter and the “Ali” of Muhammad’s time. Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Ali was the fourth caliph (656-661 CE) and first Imam of the Shia (632-661 CE).³

Peter and Paul

The contrast between Peter and Paul often crops up in Catholic homilies. Paul’s Letter to the Romans breaks new ground by claiming that salvation through Christ is not just for a select few but for all—Gentiles, Jews and anyone who lives in Christ. For Paul, living by the spirit of the Mosaic law trumps outwardly following the letter of the law.

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)

So Paul is portrayed as the living, dynamic breath of God within humanity. Peter, on the other hand, represents Catholic Church rules, regulations and its hierarchical structure.

For me, both are important. It’s a kind of balancing act among trying to do God’s will, being respectful and yet tailoring my understanding and experience of the rules to my God-given individuality. Also, Catholic rules and regulations have morphed over the centuries. So one must keep an eye to the future and not get too fixated on current conventions.

I remember a long time ago when converting to the Catholic faith. Back then, a monsignor whom I respected once spoke in homily, “God gave us intelligence. We have to use it.”

St. Peter’s Basilica via Wikipedia

¹ See http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-17/neglected-history-of-women-in-early-church.html Volunteer work by contemporary Catholic women seems largely unrecognized. I have never heard a word of thanks in homilies.

² https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+5%3A1-11&version=CEV 

³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali

Related » Bible, Gospel of Mark, Joachim of Fiore, Rome, Thiering (Barbara)


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Persona – Age old concept with a whole new twist

Roots of Persona

The idea of the persona has been around for ages, with roots stemming back to ancient Greek and Estruscan civilizations. Over the centuries the use of the term has shifted, evolved and, in response to new technologies, taken on new meanings.

The most common contemporary meaning of the persona is a role played by an actor. This developed from the original Latin meaning of “theatrical mask.”

In ancient Greece the persona (prósōpon) was a mask put on by stage actors, signifying either a character or a social role.¹ The masking effect was created by rubbing clay or dyes on the face or by wearing masks made of bark or similar natural elements.

Persona in Literature

The New Latin term dramatas personae refers to characters listed at the top of a play.

In literary theory the persona is the alter ego or alternate “I” who speaks in a poem or novel, often when some kind of issue is worked out through the narrative. This also happens in movies a lot, which of course, are based on a written script.

Persona in Religion and Society

David and Goliath (1919) via Wikipedia

Persona later referred to “person,” as in persona non grata (Latin: “person not appreciated”). This diplomatic usage means persons not wanted in a country. That is, bad apples.

This kind of persona is arguably semantically related to the New Testament phrase, “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). That is, bad persons.

Theologians maintain that God wishes us to cooperate with the divine will. So striking out on our own, based on a personality fragment, whim or selfish desire, is not necessarily in line with God’s will.

“Person” in this theological sense means those whose thoughts, feelings and actions are based on self-centered personality traits instead arising from a living relationship with God.

The many psychological, sociological and spiritual applications of the term persona are often nuanced to fit various theories and agendas. Related ideas like Bad Faith, False Consciousness and The Divided Self run through the humanities and social sciences, with endless discussion and elaborations by different schools and their offshoots (e.g. existentialism, humanism, Marxism, neo-Marxism, postmodernism).

Persona and Carl Jung

For the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung, the persona is a necessary social identity. Jung says the persona is a convenient or appropriate face we display to the outer world. The Jungian persona is not the true self nor the ego but it serves a crucial role in facilitating social interaction.

Jung and Jungians also say there is a danger in identifying with the persona after a social performance is over. This not only happens with ordinary people but sometimes with actual actors. Recall the tragedy of Heath Ledger (1979–2008), who apparently was haunted by the demonic Joker after completing the The Dark Night film.

The Jungian Shadow by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

Aside from this, Jung makes a general distinction between the healthy and unhealthy persona. The healthy persona is connected with deeper aspects of the self and acts as a conduit for archetypal energy. The unhealthy persona is constricted or cut off from the self.

On this point Jung arguably doesn’t appreciate that a tight-fitting persona may be temporarily necessary for some religious people who normally enjoy the more expansive worldview that comes through a relationship with God.

Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good or reap outwardly visible rewards, as Jung’s model seems to advocate. Jung’s outlook is probably based on his own experience, which sometimes seems like that of a kindergarten mystic. He’s had some basic interior experience but nothing profound nor advanced.

Jung’s theory advocates a “doctrine of [psychological] integration,” as I’ve put it elsewhere, so Jung seems to devalue – or not fully understand² – anything that favors the afterlife over this world.

For Jung and many Jungians, being spiritual is tantamount to having a meaningful, productive and creative life. A worldly life informed by the archetypes. These folks may paint, dance, sculpt or even talk about ESP in dreams. But they tend to be somewhat indifferent to the idea of prayerful or contemplative intercession. Intercession involves upward mobility, as it were; whereas Jung’s theory is stuck on the ground.

Jungians would probably see personas displayed and sacrifices made for the attainment of heaven – instead of for visible, worldly achievements – as skewed, fake, or even pathological.³ That’s partly why I don’t spend much time with Jungians. It is also why not a few religious persons tend to view Jung’s work with suspicion.

Persona and Proselytizing 

Image via Wikipedia

Some uphold the persona to convey a particular belief system held dear. Missionary Christians, for instance, apply personas not just for social convenience, but to try to “fish” for souls—that is, to lead others to a spiritual relationship with Christ.

As a tool for facilitating religious conversion, the persona becomes a kind of well-intentioned lure. After all, the New Testament Christ says his disciples will become “fishers of persons” (Matthew 4:19).

Persona in Music

In music, performers weave entire identities and motifs into songs or albums. This is common in pop and seems to be creeping into classical performances, where performer and performed are a cohesive package. Nigel Kennedy comes to mind. Charlotte Church. And more subtly, Joshua Bell and Angela Hewitt, whose sublimated sensuality pervades their performances.

Some cynically say that pop and classical personas are just glib attempts to boost sales. But I think they are part of parcel of the entire message. Would Ziggy Stardust have been a hit if David Bowie did not dress in costume during live performance? And going back even further, would Sgt. Pepper’s have been a landmark if the Beatles hadn’t dressed up and played the roles on the album cover?

In pop music the persona is also a device where lyrics are spoken or rapped over music.

Frank Zappa, Ekeberghallen, Oslo, Norway

Frank Zappa, Ekeberghallen, Oslo, Norway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Examples are in Robbie Robertson’s song “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” and Frank Zappa’s “Camirillo Brillo”:

Is that a Mexican poncho or is that a Sears poncho?

Hiphop, rap and acid jazz stars like Galliano, Guru, Kanye West and Drake make almost continuous use of this kind of persona.

Drake especially seems to effortlessly blend song and talk, so it’s hard to tell where the talking ends and the singing starts.

in Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 Guru raps in “Living in this World”:

What’s happening… check it out
It’s critical the situation is pitiful
Bear in mind you gotta find somethin spiritual
We never gain cause we blame it on the system
You oughta listen whether Muslim or Christian
or any other type religion or creed

Persona and Social Media

Social media gives us a whole new context for the persona. Also known as the avatar, gravatar, or buddy icon, the internet persona allows users to post with some degree of anonymity and creativity.5

This can be used for good or ill, depending on the user and arguably as legally construed by a host country. Spend some time in another country and you’ll soon find out that what is okay in one place is not necessarily okay in another—hopefully before you go to jail.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persona

² Jung says that Origen castrated himself to immerse himself in his gnostic spirituality. But I find this odd. Most mystics assert that the retention – not the elimination – of seed (a poetic way of saying semen and sperm) is vital to spiritual functioning and wellness. Sperm is manufactured in the testes.

³ I’ve encountered some Christians who are pretty clumsy at this. One guy on a bus bent my ear for over an hour, trying to convert me without realizing that I had already chosen Christ.  He was a non-denominational or Protestant Christian – I can’t remember – but I’ve witnessed the same kind of clunky and irritating “fishing” among Catholics playing a self-aggrandized role of do-gooder or holy person instead of focusing on their own self-knowledge and ethical behavior.

A good discussion about the persona, personality and labels: https://upsidedownchronicles.com/2013/07/04/who-am-i-personality-vs-persona/ 

5 Because users have an identifiable IP address, they are not fully anonymous.

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Persephone – What can we learn for her plight?

Leighton depicts Hermes helping Persephone to ...

Leighton depicts Hermes helping Persephone to return to her mother Demeter after Zeus forced Hades to return Persepone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Persephone [Greek Persephone: maiden] is a Greek fertility and underworld goddess, born of Zeus and Demeter.

She is also called Kore [Greek: the girl or maiden]. In Roman myth her equivalent is often cited as Proserpina, with her mother Demeter is Ceres.

Brief Sketch

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter Persephone is out gathering flowers from a field in Sicily. Suddenly she’s abducted by Hades, the King of the underworld.

Accompanied by a litter of pigs to Hades’ gloomy abode, she is tricked by the dark King into eating pomegranate seeds. Even though she is tricked, Persephone is also punished. She must stay in the land of the dead for, depending on the account, three to eight months each year.

Persephone is not only raped by but also marries Hades. This makes her Queen of the underworld. Homer writes that she mediates between two worlds, the land of the living and the land of the dead. One of her primary duties is to deliver curses to the dead from the living.¹

persephone rising

Persephone Rising by Eddie van W. via Flickr

This kind of story and the notion of an eating/food taboo is so widespread that it arguably supports Jung’s idea of archetypes and the collective unconscious.

S. G. F. Brandon, in his Dictionary of Comparative Religion, says Persephone is linked to the Eleusinian Mysteries and figures in Orphism.² And some contemporary writers believe her myth exemplifies the ethos of the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries.

Psychological Interpretation

The mythographer Joseph Campbell  elaborates on Persephone’s link with the ancient mystery cults. In a somewhat Jungian style, Campbell believes we can gain esoteric knowledge by risking madness within the depths of the collective unconscious. Some do not survive the experience, and like an ocean diver who dives too deep, they do not make it back to the surface.

It seems that some people do, in fact, become gripped by so-called archetypal forces of the unconscious.

The Extramural Sanctuary of Demeter and Persep...

The Extramural Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone at Cyrene, Libya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again following Jung, one unfortunate outcome occurs when the ego identifies with a psycho-spiritual presence (numinosity) it has discovered and begins to assume the role of the “holy teacher.” Or perhaps in a more Darth Vader kind of scenario, the “holy ruler.”³

We can usually discern false or immature “teachers,” “leaders” and “rulers” when they do not admit to their mistakes and, perhaps, go to any lengths to cover them up. To be human is to err. And whenever someone cannot admit or tries to hide their human imperfection, it should raise a red flag to any sane, sober observer.

Agricultural Interpretation

A more down-to-earth view sees Persephone’s yearly rise and fall as coinciding with the ancient grain crops that thrived in the growing season and yet died when stored underground for the off-season. But considering Persephone is also linked to mystery cults, this view only accounts for half the story.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persephone

² Dictionary of Comparative Religion (New York: Scribner’s and Sons, 1970, p. 493).

³ I once had a professor who came to Canada from a communist land who was a bit like the latter. Although his abilities seemed impressive at first, in retrospect he doesn’t look so great. More like a backward, third-rate scholar who tries to control others through fear and intimidation.

Related » Death and Resurrection

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Pericles – A king without a crown

Pericles

Pericles: CameliaTWU via Flickr

Pericles (ca. 495-429 BCE) was an Athenian general and statesman born in the wealthy and powerful Alcmaeonid family during Athens‘ so-called Golden Age.

He had an unusually large head and legend has it that before his birth, his mother dreamed she bore a lion. It’s hard to know if this is just an embellishment, the lion being a well known symbol for royalty.¹

Also, Pericles’ large head was the object of much satire in his day, so perhaps the story was a retroactive flourish based on his physicality.

Aside from the jokes and legends, Pericles was a great orator who reached the masses without stooping to their vulgar idioms, as one historian put it.

He was calm, self-controlled and yet charismatic when he wanted to be. Possessing the ruling power of a king (443-429 BCE), he was never crowned as such. His influence to the Greeks at Athens was such that the historian Thucydides (circa 460 BCE – 395 BCE) called him “the first citizen of Athens.”

Pericles advocated legal reforms that culminated in an Athenian democracy (462-461 BCE).² He became the head of the democratic party in 461 BCE, while his wealthy and influential opponent Cimon was exiled.

Educated in music and philosophy by the best teachers of his day,³ he was active in the literary, philosophical and artistic community of Athens, and the driving force behind the erection of the Parthenon (begun 447 BCE) and several other impressive structures.

Anaxagoras, one of Pericles’ leading teachers via ECO SOCIAL…OJO CRÍTICO CCL

During the Thirty Years Peace he remained antagonistic to Sparta, this fueling the onset of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE).

While the Peloponnesian War raged, Athens was hit by a plague that claimed his life.

The Greek historian and philosopher Plutarch (c.46-c.120 CE ) wrote a biography of Pericles. He’s also mentioned by Herodotus (484– circa 425 BCE).  Shakespeare read Plutarch’s biography and wrote the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c.46-c.120 CE ) with his usual wit:

So, this is Tyre, and this the court. Here must I kill King Pericles; and if I do it not, I am sure to be hanged at home: ’tis dangerous. Well, I perceive he was a wise fellow, and had good discretion, that, being bid to ask what he would of the king, desired he might know none of his secrets: now do I see he had some reason for’t; for if a king bid a man be a villain, he’s bound by the indenture of his oath to be one!4

¹ Legend has it that Alexander The Great’s father had a similar dream just before the birth of his illustrious son.

² http://www.stoa.org/projects/demos/article_democracy_development?page=6

³ Most notably, Anaxagoras.

4 https://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=pericles&Act=1&Scene=3&Scope=scene