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Pisces – Something fishy here?

pisces

Pisces – Peter Tittenberger via Flickr

Before the internet most newspapers had a horoscope section. It might have been a small weekly column or a full-blown page on weekends.

Every morning my family read the local paper. I always managed to get the entertainment and sports sections. And the index. You always needed the index because that’s how you found out where your horoscope was.

Sort of an extra feature, like the comics, the horoscopes were juggled around to fit any blank space in the daily edition layout.

How times have changed… Or have they?

Horoscopes are still popular. Today people read more than a newspaper blurb. Now you can get a complete online reading if, that is, you know your date and time of birth. Press the button and the machine tells your life story.

Why are horoscopes still around?

Science generally says they’re rubbish. Christian theologians don’t like astrology much either (although Hindus consult astrologers during wedding ceremonies).

It seems there’s a middle ground between science and religion that appeals to the public. Something like myth and fantasy. I guess that’s where horoscopes come in.

Anatomical Man in the Duke Berry's Très Riches...

Anatomical Man in the Duke Berry’s Très Riches Heures (Photo: Wikipedia)

Whenever updating the astrology entries at Earthpages.ca I feel like a bit of a fraud. I’ll be honest. I don’t really believe in astrology any longer. Not sure if I ever did.

I know some people do believe and I respect that. We’re all different with unique paths. But for me, the power of God and the Holy Spirit makes any kind of “cosmic force” look small. It’s not that I don’t believe in cosmic forces. I do. It’s just a question of magnitude and relevance.

Let’s for a moment concede that cosmic forces affect the psyche. But what about God, the creator of those cosmic forces? God is infinitely larger and more powerful than any influence of Jupiter or Neptune.

Some astrology believers just don’t get this. They see God as the sum of the observable cosmos, known to thinkers like me as natural pantheism.

Still don’t see what I’m saying?

Let’s try this. Instead of the cosmos acting on mind and body, how about something more immediate, like nutrition.

Most people agree that nutrition is important. The substances we ingest directly influence our minds and overall health. But that’s not the whole story. Jesus of the New Testament tells us that we don’t live on bread alone. It’s the “alone” part that matters. There’s something more. Christians call it the Holy Spirit.

Likewise with astrology. We are not influenced by creation, alone. There’s more. The Creator of creation. Simple as that.

Take another analogy. God made the wind which, although invisible, is a powerful force. I believe in the wind from seeing, hearing, feeling and sometimes smelling its perceptible effects.

However, any good sailor can tack into the wind. We don’t have to be blown around just because the wind exists.

God gave us a mind and the ability to choose.

Well, enough preamable. Rather than rewrite my existing entry on Pisces, I’ll just tweak it.

No need to perpetuate the charade. I don’t believe in astrology. Life is too complex and ambiguous to be boiled down to an arbitrary theory. I’m not saying astrology is totally false. Cosmic forces no doubt exist. And astrology has entertainment, mythic and historical value. But to invest too much in it, I think, falls somewhere between spirituality and superstition.

A juvenile distraction, fine. But for spiritual adults, one hopefully moves on.

Pisces (February 19 – March 21) is the twelfth and a winter sign of the zodiac, symbolized by the fish and associated with the planetary rulers of Neptune and Jupiter. Its element is water.

Astrologers say that from Neptune, Pisces longs for a return to the primal waters; that is, a plunge into the underworld depths of the collective unconscious.

From Jupiter, Pisces is youthful, with all the pros and cons accompanying adolescence.  Astrologers say Pisceans are gentle but with fits of rashness, even cruelty.

Sometimes passive and lazy, Pisceans apparently alternate between lethargy and spells of vigor, enthusiasm and hope.

Prominent Pisces include Johnny Cash, Billy Crystal,  Elizabeth Taylor, Rihanna, Albert Einstein and Justin Bieber.

Pisces – The book of birth of Iskandar – Wikipedia

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Psi Spies – A different kind of dark web?

Preamble (skip)

I always feel a bit apprehensive writing about paranormal phenomena (psi). Earthpages is about dialog and change. And none of that will happen if readers are alienated by fringe topics.

If I simply wanted to mirror today’s trends and forget the call to innovation, my words might be a good fit at HuffPost or some other leading site. But that’s not me nor how I envision Earthpages.

Paranormal phenomena may be fringe but for some it’s very real. I know. I’ve met people like that. Actually, there are differences among psi believers. Some, like myself, don’t have a problem with, say, going to Catholic Mass and accepting that paranormal events may occur.

I walk the line, as the song goes. I don’t want to get too close to the paranormal crowd because, frankly, some of them do seem a bit misguided and flaky.

By the same token, I question whether I’d call myself a “Catholic” or simply a “Christian.” I’m a Catholic in the eternal sense but certainly not in the cultural, card carrying sense. You won’t see me parading around with placards condemning the latest moral issues highlighted by the Vatican (funny how those visible protesters rarely get up in arms about other serious things… like corruption, for instance).

Point is, I straddle different worlds, never really belonging to but participating in many. The same with my regard for psi. I listen to Coast to Coast AM but tune out when the show gets silly. Just as I’d tune out a TV preacher the moment they start delivering that “God loves abundance” sermon with the donation number flashing on the screen.

Psi Spies (back to top)

Psi has become slightly more mainstream over the past few years. I just wrote about psi and so far the piece has 7 likes. Not astronomical but better than none.¹

Most say that psi studies don’t produce reliable results. However, law enforcement agencies still consult with psychics in search of dangerous criminals.

The US government pulled the plug on a Remote Viewing project because, so the story goes, it didn’t produce results. But some of the faithful still practice and write about RV. Researchers say they are honing a technique that will enable anyone to RV.

In this case, seeing really is believing.

Backtracking a bit, an Oxford schooled Indian mystic, Sri Aurobindo, once wrote that humanity is evolving into some kind of uberman.²

If Aurobindo and other gurus are right, a new type of battlefield might arise in the not-too-distant future. After all, information is key. And if certain, gifted individuals could “read” or “see” others at a distance, wouldn’t that be a staggering asset?

Enter psi spies.

Dystopian futurists predict psi spies perceiving the innermost secrets of VIPs. These psychic sneaks would have socially acceptable covers and go unnoticed. Your professor, the charity organizer, the brain surgeon next door.

The hostiles would work up profiles of victims along with their friends and families, using that knowledge to control markets, the government, skim off tax dollars, or some other nefarious scheme. Resistance might not be futile but it would be difficult.

Clandestine psi spies could marginalize and try to stir up conflict among those who cotton on to their creepiness. Like termites chewing away at the foundations of democracy, psi spies would be tough to eradicate. Some might even marry gullible innocents to strengthen their cover.

So it’s all linked in this dark vista—politics, crime, love and the psyche.

Another conspiracy theory best left to sci-fi?

Maybe. But Jim Marrs doesn’t think so. His book, Psi Spies: The True Story of America’s Psychic Warfare Program, notes that paranormal encounters play a principal role in most world religions, to include Native American and Biblical traditions. Marrs adds that several US administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have funded psi studies.³

It’s good to keep an open mind. But maybe not too open. After all, we wouldn’t want to be “hacked” – that is, compromised – by the wrong kind of people!

¹ A mediocre response could be more about my presentation. Working on it… 🙂

² I think Aurobindo was too self-absorbed. He says he helped the Allies in WW-II by virtue of his intense meditation. Interesting, but how could anyone confirm a claim like that?

³ Jim Marrs, Psi Spies: The True Story of America’s Psychic Warfare Program, New Page Books, 2007, p. 16.

Image credit, top – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Spy_FM_Logo.png


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Psi – Good, evil, real or fantasy?

English: Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld ex...

A subject in a psi experiment – Wikipedia

Psi (Ψ, ψ) is a Greek letter that today names frat houses and also denotes the idea of paranormal phenomena.

Coined by Bertold P. Wiesner, “psi” was appropriated in 1942 by Drs. Robert Thouless to indicate ESP

Psi later became an umbrella term for a range of alleged abilities. These include telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, apparitions and other unconventional phenomena involving subtle sensing, near and at a distance.

Around the turn of the century, psi was popularized by the TV program Psi Factor, hosted by Dan Aykroyd. The show dramatized the pros and cons of purported psi abilities. Several other popular TV shows about psi have come and gone. The idea has become more mainstream in sci-fi and fantasy, along with the notion of psychological time travel.

George Noory hosts a popular radio show, Coast to Coast AM, where fringe and more credible callers phone in to talk about psi experiences, insights and most other things paranormal.

toads-fly2

The Skeptics

Psi remains controversial. Skeptics say no reliable scientific evidence supports it. Believers argue that psi is not amenable to science as we know it. The psychologist Carl Jung claimed that some scientific studies gave significant results. But Jung’s claim is debatable.²

More recently, a new breed of thinkers are calling for a reworked science that would

  • assess spiritual and paranormal reports as potentially legitimate data for scientific study
  • develop a holistic approach that would extend our understanding of science but not lapse into scientism
birds final

The Believers

Many religious people question the ethics of psi. Psi may exist, they argue, but we need to ask if enhanced abilities are in line with God’s will. This question implies its opposite; namely, that evil may endow – or seem to endow – individuals with psi.

Psychiatry views psi in terms of mental health and illness. While not absolutely negating the possibility of psi, most psychiatrists would probably say the brain creates some kind of hallucination, giving rise to the false belief that psychic abilities exist.

Catholicism’s take on psi reveals a curious mix of traditional religion and 21st century psychiatry. Exorcism prayers may be recited over those deemed possessed or obsessed by an evil spirit. Alternately, afflicted individuals may be advised to consult a psychiatrist.

Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal

Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal – Wikipedia

Instead of resorting to a black and white scenario like satanic influence vs. mental illness, psi errors and questionable beliefs about psi could be explained by a combination of psychological, social and spiritual factors.

Effective treatments could best involve spirituality, psychiatry, along with the humanities and arts to sort through cultural prejudices – and lies – that could contribute to personal issues.

Lasting solutions to psychological unsoundness would ideally involve a multi-disciplinary approach. But this is rare in most corners of the world. Maybe we’re just not “there” as a species. I’m not sure. But it seems that many religious people, especially fundamentalists, come down heavily on psi. They are convinced psi is of the devil. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist balks if we suggest an angel, demon or dead person might influence us from the other side.

However, psi need not be contrary to religion or psychological therapy. Catholic saints, for instance, reportedly have a gift for “reading hearts”—that is, intuitively knowing what others are thinking, feeling or experiencing.

And belief in organized religious teachings is “sane” according to psychiatry (which some say is a politically charged and culturally relative outlook).

So saying that psi is always of the devil or, on the other hand, a mere psychological fantasy seems a superficial reaction to countless reports that just might be pointing toward the next step in human evolution.

¹ Thouless, R. H. (1942) cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psi_%28parapsychology%29, “Experiments on paranormal guessing”. British Journal of Psychology, 33, 15-27.

² Clark, Michael. Synchronicity and poststructuralism: C. G. Jung’s secularization of the supramundane, 1997: pp. 72, 119-122, 130, 156-157, 177-179.

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Pythagoras – A lot more than a triangle

Angels

Angels – “In this theater of man’s life, it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers-on” – Pythagoras by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr

We’ve probably all heard of Pythagoras. In junior high the Pythagorean theorem is a mainstay of math class.

For a right-angled triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the remaining two sides.

Some might not know, however, that Pythagoras is one of those characters where it really is difficult to separate the myth from the man.

He existed, no doubt. That’s not the issue. But it is uncertain just how much he really knew; what the man actually said and did.

Part of the difficulty in sorting through all the legends is that his followers did, in fact, create a story – actually stories – about him. And those stories, replete with potential errors, fibs and embellishments, were passed on through the centuries, mistakes probably magnified at every turn.

Pythagoras in Thomas Stanley History of Philosophy via Wikipedia

One could say the same about Jesus Christ or Buddha.¹ Or any aspect of the Bible and most religious scripture. That doesn’t necessary detract from the overall message but it does make us think.

Hopefully…

Having said this, most see Pythagoras as a Greek philosopher and scientist born on the island of Samos around 570–495 BCE.

He is credited with discovering how musical intervals relate to mathematical proportions, the Pythagorean theorem and a complex system of portraying the universe through numbers.

Pythagoras’ moral teachings include asceticism and a belief in the transmigration of souls–that is, reincarnation. He founded a religious school in Crotona but was forced to move to Metapontum due to prolonged persecution.

S. G. F. Brandon says this persecution probably arose because of Pythagoreanism’s similarity to Orphism

Italiano: Busto di Pitagora. Copia romana di o...

Bust of Pythagoras. Roman copy of the original Greek. Capitoline Museums, Rome – via Wikipedia

On this point social psychologists and sociologists propose an “in-group/out-group” theory of conflict. According to this view, persecution arises when a minority group shares too many qualities with the powerful, orthodox group it threatens or challenges.

Nobody cares if the two groups are entirely different. But when they share some key concepts and practices, that’s when the dust flies.

And as history reveals, the two groups’ respective clout need not be dramatically skewed for this dynamic to take place: Jews and Muslims; Christians and Jews; Christians and Muslims; Liberals and Conservatives; Democrats and Rebublicans; Communists and Capitalists.

The list goes on.

Not just a dry philosophy, Pythagoreanism was a practical guide to living a valuable life. Pythagoras is also credited with providing a threefold theory of the soul. One that combines mysticism and practicality.³

Pythagoras maintained that the soul has three vehicles: (1) the ethereal, which is luminous and celestial, in which the soul resides in a state of bliss in the stars; (2) the luminous, which suffers the punishment of sin after death; and (3) the terrestrial, which is the vehicle it occupies on this earth.4

Illustration of the Pythagorean theorem. The s...

Illustration of the Pythagorean theorem. The sum of two squares whose sides are the two legs (blue and red) is equal to the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse (purple) – Wikipedia

Muslims believed that Pythagoras was initiated into the sacred mysteries by Hermes (Egyptian Thoth). His thinking, and that of his followers, also had a profound influence on the work of the mystically inclined Plato.

Some maintain that Plato’s Republic, which outlines the ideal community, is based on a Pythagorean community established in Croton.

Pythagorean ideas resurfaced in Rome and Alexandria from the 1st century BCE onward. Many have written about Pythagoras.5 But again, this only confuses the story. Are we hearing about the man or the myth?

¹ Christians are often criticized for this; Buddhists, rarely. Christianity, after all, is the most persecuted religion in the world today.

² S. G. F. Brandon (ed.) Dictionary of Comparative Religion, New York: Scribner’s, 1970, p. 520.

³ Most mystics would dispute this distinction, arguing that mysticism is supremely practical, given the eternal or everlasting nature of existence and the prospect of a favorable or unfavorable afterlife.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras#Timeline_of_sources

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The Pyramids – Afterlife portals or symbols of worldly power?

Inside the Pyramid

Inside the Pyramid: Ricardo Liberato via Flickr

Pyramids are really just a big billboard that says “the richest guy in Egypt is buried here” – Quora

In the 1976 playoffs the Toronto Maple Leafs made it to the semi-finals against the Philadelphia Flyers. This was pretty rare back then because the Leafs had been floundering for years. The fad at the time was pyramid power. All along the Leaf bench pyramids could be seen. The club thought it was bringing them good luck. They lost anyhow.

A couple of years later the British musician Alan Parsons released an album called Pyramid. Pink Floyd had already released Dark Side of the Moon (1973) with a prism – a miniature pyramid – on the album cover.

Pyramids had taken off in pop culture. They moved from an esoteric curiosity to a commercially viable symbol.  Soon after, the 80s New Age movement put a new spin on everything weird and wacky associated with the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids. And whatever was said, there was always a price tag on it. That is, something to buy—a workshop, book or cassette tape.

Louvre – Paris

A whole new mythology about the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids was born in the 70s and 80s. It was a myth intricately linked to consumerism, as we find today.

We only have to turn on the TV or search the web to find out how ETs built the pyramids with special tech unavailable even in the 21st century. Or we might discover some elaborate theory about the End Times, allegedly predicted by the geometry and placement of the pyramids.

Fantastic scenarios aside, it is true that nobody is entirely sure how the Egyptians moved those huge stone blocks. A prevailing theory maintains that wooden sleds were hauled over wetted sand, the added water reducing friction.

What we do have is clear archaeological evidence, through graffiti, that real human work gangs with specific names – like Toronto Maple Leafs or Philadelphia Flyers – not only did the hauling but took pride in their achievement.

So much for ETs and their laser beams.

Aztec human sacrifice, art circa 16th century – Wikipedia

New Age pundits glorifying the pyramids also tend to overlook or rationalize the fact that in Mesoamerica these structures were used for human sacrifice. Moreover, pyramids in Egypt were built for the Pharaoh, not the common people. Egyptian rulers believed a pyramid would facilitate their transit to the afterword. But commoners didn’t get a pyramid of their own. Only those with money could afford such a royal link to the afterlife.

So much for the glory.

Admittedly, the pyramids are impressive. But so is the Roman Colosseum. And we know what went down there. Feeding live Christians to lions. Sickening… nay, horrifying.

The pyramids were mostly about two things: Worldly power and a selfish desire to attain personal immortality. Foreign visitors to Egypt wrote that the pyramids inspired not only awe but fear. These structures spoke clearly about who had power and what would happen if the average gal or guy stepped out of line.

Carl Jung, a Swiss depth psychologist, tends to gloss over the cultural context of historical symbols like the pyramids in favor of developing his theory of the collective unconscious. This isn’t necessary wrong but I think it is incomplete.

Jung believes the architectural similarities among the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids support his concepts of the archetypes and the collective unconscious. However, Raymond Firth questions Jung’s archetypal theory. Firth says any symbol, be it a pyramid, a totem pole or a national flag, conveys as many possible meanings as there are individuals to interpret it.¹

This debate brings to mind the philosophical problem about innate psychological structures vs. regional and individual forms of creativity. Jung had his own way of resolving this issue by differentiating the archetype proper (common, underlying structure) from the archetypal image (cultural expression of that structure). But something still seems a bit too easy with his theory.

Jung, himself, admitted that he didn’t have it all figured out.

So full marks for his honesty.

¹ An anthropologist, Firth emphasizes the immediate, sociological aspects of symbols while not negating the possibility of deeper levels of meaning. See Raymond Firth, Symbols: Public and Private, New York: Allen and Unwin, 1973. Postmoderns like Jacques Derrida would agree with Firth on multiple interpretation. Symbols connote countless meanings. Rarely is anything actually denoted. And even if it is, there is always room for connotation.

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Possession – Another spiritual idea largely ignored by consumer culture

The controversial figure, Rasputin. Depending on one’s worldview or politics, he was mad, possessed or inspired – via Wikipedia

The idea of spiritual possession is found in many different cultures. Some see it as entirely involuntary, unwanted and evil. Others take a less extreme view.

Depending on the cultural context in which it is found, possession may be considered voluntary or involuntary and may be considered to have beneficial or detrimental effects on the host. Within possession cults, the belief that one is possessed by spirits is more common among women than men.¹

In Catholic teaching possession refers to the belief that a person’s body – but not the soul – is inhabited or controlled by demons or other evil influences. Possession in this sense may be temporary or permanent.

Over the centuries diverse exorcism prayers and rituals were developed by the Catholic Church to repulse what are regarded as spiritual attacks from Satan. An example of an exorcism prayer still in use is Prayer Against Satan and the Rebellious Angels, published in 1967 by order of His Holiness Pope Leo XIII.

The Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung used the term possession to describe the unhealthy influence of an archetype on the ego. Jung’s discussion suggests that many archetypes are equivalent in character to pagan gods, which for many are perceived as lesser than a monotheistic God.

Psychiatry complicates the belief in possession. When explaining this belief, contemporary psychiatrists look to delusional systems possibly rooted in faulty brain functioning.

Hacker – Hacking – Symbol by Christoph Scholz via Flickr

However, most psychiatrists do not consider the prospect that faulty brain functioning and spiritual attack may go hand in hand.

Just as a hacker finds weak spots within a computer operating system, the devil, some maintain, exploits physiological and psychological vulnerabilities within human beings.

Could possession be permitted by God to bring about some greater good? If God permits evil, as most traditional theologians say, and if possession is another instance of evil, then it follows that God does permit the possession of souls for some unknown reason.

It’s hard for us to understand why God would permit evil when a seemingly possessed person commits an enormous sin against others. Where’s the logic in that? most cry out afterward.

For me, it is less challenging to consider the “greater Good of good and evil” when we make small mistakes, mistakes that might be at least partially explained by the notion of temporary possession.

Huh?

Let me explain.

In times of extreme stress and fatigue most of us have probably experienced or witnessed someone being “beside themselves,” as the old saying goes. People say or do things they normally wouldn’t do, like hurting another person’s feelings or sparking an argument. This dynamic fits with an idea I’ve been thinking about since the 1980s—The notion of the necessary mistake.

Philosophically speaking, the necessary mistake is nothing new. It’s another way of saying inevitable sin, a concept that has been talked about since the dawn of ethical thinking. Because we are all imperfect, we are going to make mistakes (or commit sin) in life. But some believe that God may bring about a greater Good, despite our blunders. And hopefully the timing of our mistakes fits within a larger dynamic of overall improvement. That is, we all learn together.

BK via Flickr

The difference between a healthy and unhealthy response to a necessary mistake hinges upon how we respond. Do we resolve to do better next time or simply not give a damn and carry on, repeating the same mistake over and over to the detriment of self and others?

It may seem like I’ve wandered pretty far from the idea of possession. But again, possession can be temporary and, as psychiatry suggests, at least partly brought about by factors like genetics, personality, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, drug use and stress.

Conceivably, a dark spiritual force could influence us toward making mistakes if we let our guard down. And I think psychiatry, its patients and the general public would do well to consider this possibility.

In a world becoming more techno-crazed every day, it is time to bring soul, spirit and God back into the discussion of mental health and illness.²

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

² I once had a professor who, almost like Rasputin, seemed to have enormous powers of influence over other people. I’ll call him or her “Raspy” (not the real name). In Jungian terms, Raspy seemed to be gripped (or intermittently possessed) by an archetypal power. Raspy almost had me fooled for a while, until I saw through her or him. As the New Testament puts it, you can always judge spiritual powers by their fruit (i.e. moral outcome). In Raspy’s case, the fruit seemed rotten.

Related » Mental Illness, Obsession, Occam’s Razor, Psychosis, Sibyl, Tramp Souls, Undoing, Vampires

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Pollution – Not always what you think

Girls Fashion Scooter Mask Helmet Pollution

From the 1960s and 70s onward, awareness of environmental pollution has increased steadily. In 2017 the Green movement is almost like a religion for many.

Personalities like Al Gore present themselves as objective reporters of scientific fact while promoting particular agendas on climate change. Meanwhile, the scientific and greater debate on global warming rages on.

The media tends to emphasize industrial pollution generated by so-called developed countries. But organic pollution from human and animal waste is a huge contributor to early death and preventable disease—especially in densely populated, economically underdeveloped countries.

We are all aware of pollution. People wear masks in public. Not just in China but where I live in Toronto.

Falun Gong in Toronto – Wikipedia

However, there are at least three additional types of pollution that many overlook.

Social Pollution

Social pollution is about social activities that an opposing group, usually a ruling power, says pollute the social body, as we find in China.

“The same people that are cracking down on issues like democracy and Falun Gong are concerned about things like ‘spiritual pollution,'” Economy said. “And every several years — maybe five to seven years — China is likely to have a ‘spiritual pollution’ campaign and ‘anti-spiritual pollution’ campaign which means that they don’t like what they perceive to be coming from the West: sex, the freedoms, drug use; all of these very sensationalistic television programs.”¹

Jagannath Ghat – Kolkata_2012 – Wikipedia

Ritual Pollution

In religious scripture and practice we find the idea of ritual pollution, as in the Bible‘s Old Testament.

According to Leviticus 15: 19-23, women are impure and can spread this impurity for a certain period during and after menstruation:

When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whoever touches any thing on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Whether it be on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening.

More dramatically, Eric Lafforgue says the idea of ritual pollution has deadly consequences among the Hamar in southern Ethiopia.

Twins, a child born outside of formal marriages are considered to possess mingi (abnormality, pollution, unclean) and, for this reason, they are abandoned into the bush to die.²

Title page of a Eighteenth century popular Pamphlet on the effects of masturbation on the health of the individual. This pamphlet was one of the first to warn against the dangers of onanism – Wikipedia

Spiritual Pollution

Beliefs about spiritual purity and impurity can be found that are not necessarily linked to a particular social or physiological taboo.

As evident from the works of the Indian holy men Sri Ramkrishna and Sri Aurobindo, the distinction between pure and impure is also made on the basis of an individual’s perceived spiritual development.

The Hindu guru (Skt = spiritual teacher) often keeps a safe distance from disciples to avoid being overwhelmed by their spiritual impurities. The guru allegedly intercedes for disciples to help purify them—that is, to cleanse their souls from the subtle crud accumulated from their ungodly attitudes and behavior.

From the guru’s perspective, the disciples’ spiritual discomfort is alleviated through intercessory meditation, ritual and prayer.

The poet Kálidása (c. 5th century CE) mentions a similar dynamic involving spiritual pollution and purity in his Shakuntala.

It is natural that the first sight of the King’s capital
should affect you in this manner;
my own sensations are very similar.
As one just bathed beholds the man polluted;
As one late purified, the yet impure:-
As one awake looks on the yet unawakened;
Or as the freeman gazes on the thrall,
So I regard this crowd of pleasure-seekers.³

Likewise, Jainism makes use of the symbolism of iron filings (the impurities of non-liberated souls) automatically flying to a magnet (the pure and liberated soul).

Similar ideas about subtle yet tangible pollution are found in the Christian mysticism of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Faustina Kowalska.

Image via The Chrysalis

Most spiritual perspectives differ on some of the finer points but all agree that subtle impurities may transfer from one person to another.

Buddhism speaks of karmic weights and skandhas that transfer and cluster over space and time, contributing to the apparent illusion of individuality.

In Jungian depth psychology, the notion of a subtle transfer of light and dark qualities is found in the discussion of alchemy, where Jung and his followers liken human relationships to complex chemical interactions.

Ethics and Pollution

Implicit to any discussion of spiritual pollution is the realm of ethics. The classic religion scholar Rudolf Otto says a morally evil action is “self-depreciating” and “pollutes,” leading toward imagery suggesting the need for “washing and cleansing.”4

So the next time someone tells you we have a polluted environment, you might ask what they are saying.

When we say someone is “toxic” do we simply mean they are a drag to be with or is there more to the picture? And how about “bad vibes?”

Metaphor or reality?

¹ Nikola Krastev, “China: Report Says Media Control Is Tightening,”Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Thursday, February 23, 2006.

² See commentary at flickr.com/photos/mytripsmypics/3231940994.

³ From the Shakuntala by Kálidása, circa 5th century CE, in A Treasury of Asian Literature, ed. John D. Yohannan. New York: Meridian, 1984.

4 The Idea of the Holy, second edition, trans. John W. Harvey, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973 [1923], p. 55. For more on religious and spiritual pollution see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_purification

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