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Odin The Unknowable

English: The Norse god Odin on his horse Sleip...

The Norse god Odin on his horse Sleipnir, featured on the Tjängvide image stone in Vallhalla. It also can depict a killed warrior on his way to Vallhalla greeted by Valkyries with horn goblet in their hands. Français : Le dieu Odin représenté sur la pierre de Tjängvide. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Odin (also called Woden by Anglo-Saxon pagans) is the supreme Norse God who, according to most accounts, anticipates the German Wotan.

As head of the Nordic pantheon called the Aesir, Odin has many faces. He is the wise giver of laws, the author of mystical poetry, a fierce, even frenzied war god and the protector of heroes. He is also a shaman, magician and shapeshifter.

Like the Greek Zeus, Odin is an unfaithful husband. His wife Frigga tolerates his numerous affairs with goddesses and human women.

An 1886 depiction of the indigenous Norse God ...

An 1886 depiction of the indigenous Norse God Odin by Georg von Rosen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Odin is popularized in the Tarot deck as the god who hangs himself from the World Tree (Ydgrassil) for nine days and nights to gain the esoteric wisdom of the runes—that is, the secret of immortality. This has been compared to Christ hanging on the cross but, some think, spuriously so.

The ambient music artist Giles Reaves released a track called “Odin (The Unknowable)” in his 1986 album Wunjo.

Since this entry initially appeared, Wikipedia has blossomed. So I add the following. I could rewrite in my own words. But that seems a waste of time when it’s already clear:

Odin is a prominently mentioned god throughout the recorded history of the Germanic peoples, from the Roman occupation of regions of Germania through the tribal expansions of the Migration Period and the Viking Age. In the modern period, Odin continued to be acknowledged in the rural folklore of Germanic Europe. References to Odin appear in place names throughout regions historically inhabited by the ancient Germanic peoples, and the day of the week Wednesday bears his name in many Germanic languages, including English.¹

R. Ellis Davidson’s Gods and Myths of Northern Europe seems to give more individualized treatment to Odin, Woden and Wotan than what we see at Wikipedia. I’m not sure if this or the Wikipedia view is more accurate. Probably an issue open to debate as the actual beliefs about this figure likely differed among peoples in that time (something Davidson mentions) and also, differed from recorded accounts (from which we have to do detective work to try to figure out what really happened).

Related » Achilles, Balder, Fenris, Freya, Hero, Thor

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin


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Odo – Change is the name of the game

Image credit – Wikipedia

Odo is a character in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine played by actor René Auberjonois. He belongs to a race called “changlings.” Basically a shapeshifter, he can assume practically any form he likes.

This idea is similar to the changlings and shapeshifters found in mythologies and folklore pretty much around the world. The idea is also found in literature. Sometimes one changes shape against their will or by surprise, as in Franz Kafka‘s Metamorphosis, other times the change comes through choice or perhaps divine intervention.¹

¹ A good list here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shapeshifting#Fiction


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Odysseus and The Odyssey

The Siren by Edward Armitage via Wikipedia

The Odyssey is an epic poem traditionally ascribed to the Greek poet Homer. As a sequel to The Illiad, also ascribed to Homer, The Odyssey relates the story of Odysseus (Ulysses), an archetypal hero.

During his return to Greece after the Trojan wars, Odysseus overcomes many daunting and life-threatening challenges. Gods and goddesses, especially Athena, provide otherworldly assistance while Odysseus takes on scary and bewitching creatures like the Cyclops and the Sirens

Upon returning home, Odysseus find a pack of suitors lounging around his estate. They had presumed him dead and were trying to win over his wife Penelope’s hand in marriage.

Odysseus outwits the suitors and ends up killing each and every one with the help of his son Telemachus.

Depth psychologists and mythographers say this tale provides a classic example of the hero‘s journey, often read in myth and folklore.

A scene featuring the siren Parthenope, the my...

A scene featuring the siren Parthenope, the mythological founder of Naples. “Center of Naples, Italy”. Chadab Napoli. 2007-06-24 . . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Generally speaking, the hero cycle involves a trip to the underworld. The hero must overcome an array of harmful beings as well as gain the maturity to discern unfamiliar, strange helpers.

At the very bottom of the underworld, the hero discovers (or wins through battle with a monster) some secret key to wisdom or immortality. Upon returning to the mundane world (as opposed to the underworld), he or she has gained new insights that are shared for the greater good of society.

In the poem the Greek pantheon is depicted as residing at Mount Olympus, home of the gods.

¹ The image (orange and black) shows Odysseus strapped to the mast of his ship as he sails by the dangerous bird-women, the Sirens. Odysseus had instructed his crew to bind him tightly to the mast so he would not be enticed by the Sirens’ irresistible song. If a sailor gets too close to the sirens, there’s no return and death is assured.

Related » Hermes, Hesiod


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The Old Testament – Timeless wisdom or old, outdated operating system?

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps...

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps from Tunisia, found in Iraq: part of the Schøyen Collection. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Old Testament is a Christian name for the books of the Hebrew Bible. This is a problematic term because Jewish people could easily find it disrespectful of their holy scripture.

The designation comes from a Christian perspective with the unabashed implication that the New Testament fulfils the Old Testament, rendering the latter imperfect and somewhat lacking. This way of viewing the so-called Old Testament is found within Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Fundamentalist forms of Christianity.

In Christianity, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments seems confusing. I had one professor who argued that Christianity’s biggest mistake was to try to incorporate the Old Testament into the new religion. They should have just started afresh, he felt. I think this perspective lacks appreciation of the Jesus story. The “new” religion gains a certain depth and continuity by including the Old Testament. However, problems do arise, which theologians and preachers try to resolve in various ways.

The most notable difference between the Old and New Testaments is God’s apparent encouragement of violence and animal sacrifice in the OT but not in the NT. Sometimes, that is. The OT God doesn’t approve of all sacrifices, as we see with Cain and Abel. And sometimes he punishes doers of violence, if that particular violence is not in keeping with his Holy Agenda.¹

Also, the NT says we should live by the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law.² Living by the letter of the law “kills” it. The OT, by way of contrast, lays out strict and fairly detailed laws as to how the righteous should behave. This difference in rules and regulations also applies to what and when we eat. Somehow the Catholic Church forgot this, and started making new rules of regulations about eating. But many modern Catholics see this as unimportant.

As for adultery and sexual lust, Jesus of the NT raises the bar here. You can’t even think about it without being sinner; whereas in the OT actually doing it is the sin.²

A representation of Saint John the Evangelist in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue on July 31, 2010 in New York City.

Some Christians make no apology for calling the Old Testament the Old Testament. For them, it’s just another instance of unwarranted political correctness to pretend that all religions are of equal value. The New Testament, again for them, is better. So why, they argue, water things down by pretending otherwise? But again, their Holy Bibles contain the Old Testament. So there’s a lot of room for debate here.

¹ Both the OT and NT, however, are sexist and often simplistic—especially in the NT with regard to nutritional needs.

² These are just some of the differences that came to mind while revising this entry; this is not an exhaustive list. The NT also emphasizes forgiveness while the OT prescribes the famous, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” kind of reactive punishment for wrongdoings. Follow this link for more perspectives.

Related » Adam, Bible, Book of Isaiah, Book of Job, Burning Bush, Daniel, Dead Sea Scrolls, Divination, Elohim, Eve, God, the Father, Heaven, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Jonah, Just War, Kabbala, Koran, Lilith, Lot, Lot’s Wife, Miracles, Moses, Pollution, Torah, Yahweh


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Ophelia – Victim of a twisted parent

Mary Catherine Bolton (afterwards Lady Thurlow...

Mary Catherine Bolton (afterwards Lady Thurlow) (1790-1830) as Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1813, opposite John Kemble’s Hamlet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ophelia is a tragic Shakespearian character whose twisted father asks her to reject her lover, Hamlet. Ophelia’s father exploits her misguided loyalty to him and manipulates her into agreeing to reject Hamlet.

Ophelia’s father also had been spying on her while she was seeing Hamlet.

Tormented by conflicted loyalties, Ophelia eventually goes mad. Ophelia represents the too many women (and men) pushed into insanity by a misguided sense of loyalty to an unscrupulous parent or parents.

Mary Pipher reflects on this dynamic in her book, Reviving Ophelia (1994):

Psychologist Mary Pipher named her non-fiction book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (1994), after Shakespeare’s Ophelia. In it, Pipher examines the troubled lives of the modern American adolescent girls. Through her extensive clinical work with troubled young women, Pipher takes a closer look at the competing influences that lead adolescent girls in a negative direction. For example, Pipher attributes the competing pressure from parents, peers, and the media for girls to reach an unachievable ideal. Girls are expected to meet goals while still holding on to their sanity. These pressures are further complicated when young women undergo physical changes out of their control, like the biological developmental changes in puberty.¹

Actor Jean Simmons provides a classic performance of Ophelia in Sir Laurence Olivier’s film version of the play. Simmons’ vacant stare and melodious voice give Ophelia a mystical, ethereal quality just before her demise.

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

Related » William Shakespeare


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George Orwell – Activist, author, visionary

Category:George Orwell Category:Nineteen Eight...

George Orwell, 1984. This self-made image is based on a picture that appears in an old acreditation for the BNUJ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

George Orwell (Originally Eric Arthur Blair, 1903-50) was a British novelist, journalist and poet was born in Bengal, India. A champion of democratic socialism, he fought and was wounded in the Spanish Civil War.

Orwell’s best known works satirize the Russian revolution, Animal Farm (1945) and critique Stalinism, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

Orwell lived a fascinating life, plumbing the depths of his own psyche and health, at times existing on the margins of society in dire poverty. Not exactly a champion of Western Capitalism nor the elitism associated with powerful public figures, he nevertheless performed BBC radio broadcasts during WW-II for the Allied war effort and wrote favorably of Winston Churchill while the United Kingdom mourned his passing.

In contemporary parlance, the term “Orwellian” describes a society marked by an authoritarian lack of personal privacy and individual rights and freedoms—the core elements that arguably make life worth living. With the rise of information technologies, coupled with the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, not a few folks today are concerned that we could enter into such a nightmarish scenario. And on a more personal level, all it takes is one unhappy, socially awkward person with the right hacking software and connections, and you could be stalked in a most odious fashion.

All this, Orwell foresaw. And that makes him a kind of visionary.

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George Orwell’s son Richard unveils plaque in Canonbury Square (this time with the correct dates)


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Othello – remembering Iago, a captivating psychopath

From the Library of Congress: TITLE: Thos. W. ...

Thos. W. Keene. Othello  1884 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Othello, The Moor of Venice (1604) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The plot is quite straightforward¹ but the emotions are complex: The good but overly trusting man, Othello, is tricked into murdering his wife, Desdemona, and is eventually brought down by the devilish and scheming Iago.

I must admit that I find Iago the most memorable character in the play. I watched the BBC TV production several years ago, and can still remember being captivated by Iago’s psychopathy. Iago is so crazy that he even laughs when carried off to receive his punishment.²

LODOVICO

[To IAGO] O Spartan dog,
More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea!
Look on the tragic loading of this bed;
This is thy work: the object poisons sight;
Let it be hid. Gratiano, keep the house,
And seize upon the fortunes of the Moor,
For they succeed on you. To you, lord governor,
Remains the censure of this hellish villain;
The time, the place, the torture: O, enforce it!
Myself will straight aboard: and to the state
This heavy act with heavy heart relate.³

I’m not sure if Shakespeare added that laugh in brackets in the original script. But it was a nice touch in the BBC production. And if anyone has the cred to modify Shakespeare, it’s the BBC. In the following clip, we see how easily Iago shifts from being false-friendly to genuinely hateful.

¹ http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/othello/summary.html

² For more, see the entry Iago and interesting comments there. The power of Shakespeare, I think, it not only in his beautiful economy of expression, but also in his open-ended meaning.

³ Thanks to http://shakespeare.mit.edu/othello/full.html for making this easier to reproduce.

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