Jason Silva: What is a God?

We've covered a few of Jason Silva's "Shots of Awe" here on the Grail over the past couple of years. But if you're going to do 'awe', then you've got to go big, and in this latest monologue Jason scales things up to star size, contemplating the light- and life-giving presence that is our Sun. So much awe in fact that you can begin to understand how you might form a religion based on it...

More Jason Silva monologues:

Stunning Photographs of India's Holy Men

Holy Men, photographed by Joey L.

Brooklyn-based photographer Joey L. has photographed movie stars including Robert de Niro and Jennifer Lawrence, but perhaps his most breath-taking images are of quite a different subject: Holy Men of the world.

Starting in Northern Ethiopia, Joey has traveled the world searching for wandering monks and spiritualists. The latest installment of his Holy Men series features holy men, or sadhus, living in Varanasi, India. All of the world’s faiths have their own forms of ascetics, but the ascetics of the Hindu faith are known for sometimes extreme acts of self-denial, such as keeping a single arm aloft for months or even years.

Most of the portraits focuses on aghori, a sect known for engaging in postmortem rituals such as covering themselves in human ashes, meditating on corpses or crafting jewelry from human bones. “The Aghori have a profound connection with the dead. Death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion,” says the photographer. Joey’s travel companion, filmmaker Cale Glendening, also managed to capture enough behind-the-scenes footage to turn it into a beautiful documentary film called “Beyond”. which you can see below.

(via Bored Panda)

Pulling The Cosmic Trigger - The Kazimier, Liverpool, UK, 23 February 2014

The story so far... Guided by a chain of synchronicity, much of which revolving around the number 23, Daisy Eris Campbell, daughter of Ken Campbell (who staged the 10-hour production of The Illuminatus! Trilogy in Liverpool in the 1970’s) and Prunella Gee (who played, among others, The Goddess Eris in that production - Daisy was conceived backstage) is on a mission to adapt Robert Anton Wilson’s autobiography Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret Of The Illuminati for the stage. Aided by Wilson aficionado John Higgs (of this parish) and many others, she raises the funds to secure the rights to the book, finds a gang of actors and artists ready to face the challenge, and writes the script. Now, with yet more synchronicity haunting her path, she takes her gang to Liverpool to ask an assembly of Wilson fans the Big Question - ‘shall we pull the Cosmic Trigger here, in this most symbolic of cities?’

(If you want more details, here’s John and Daisy presenting the tale as of last year in London.)

Now read on...

 

There is a bust of Carl Gustav Jung on Liverpool’s Mathew Street, just down the road from the site of the Cavern Club, where The Beatles first played. It’s there because in 1927 Jung had an exceptionally vivid dream about Liverpool, a city which at the time he had never visited - a dream which changed his life. He recounts the dream in his autobiography ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, on page 223, thus:

I was in Liverpool.

With a number of Swiss - say half a dozen - I walked through the dark streets.

The various quarters of the city were arranged radially around the square. In the centre was a round pool, and in the middle of it, a small island. While everything around was obscured by rain, fog, smoke and dimly lit darkness, the little island blazed with sunlight. On it stood a single tree, a magnolia, in a sea of reddish blossoms.

It was as though the tree stood in the sunlight and was, at the same time, the source of light...This dream represented my situation at the time. I can still see the greyish-yellow raincoats, glistening with the wetness of the rain.

Everything was extremely unpleasant, black and opaque - just as I felt then. But I had had a vision of unearthly beauty, and that was why I was able to live at all.

Liverpool is the ‘pool of life'.

The ‘liver', according to an old view, is the seat of life - that which "makes to live".

The bust was placed by the alleged site where Jung’s dream was focussed, and it has become a place of reverence for Jung aficionados. As of Sunday 23rd February 2014 of the Common Era, that bust has a pair of rainbow-coloured knickers on his head. 

 Here’s why.

The gathering at the Kazimer Club to preview and publicise Daisy Campbell’s adaptation of Cosmic Trigger was something I simply had to attend. Robert Anton Wilson’s work was more than a formative influence on me - it’s one of the main reasons I survived to adulthood and became what I am today. I’d been fortunate enough to be in the audience for the previous London-based gathering regarding the project and had been blown away: both by Daisy’s enthusiasm and commitment to not only doing this project but doing it right and, to judge by the brief scene which had previewed that night (a meeting at the Playboy offices between Wilson, Alan Watts and his wife, and William S. Burroughs), the skill and verve with which which she and her crew were pulling it off. The involvement of our very own John Higgs, whose works on Leary and the KLF are also helping the revival of Wilson’s ideas along, sealed the deal. The fact that the event would also feature exclusive video material from Alan Moore talking about his love of Wilson’s work was very tasty icing indeed.

And... I had this idea.

One of Daisy’s major symbols for her own journey in and out of Chapel Perilous is a pair of rainbow knickers that she wore on her head when briefly enjoying the care of a mental health facility, a result of being pulled too fast along the stream of synchronicity begun before she was even born. Her intention was to hold a street ritual to call on those powers in the service of bringing the Cosmic Trigger project to full flower, and place those same knickers on the bust of Jung. 

I had an inkling that there was another significant power in regard to harnessing the power of synchronicity who could be called upon: a creation of Alan Moore, a son of Liverpool, a master of the Caper (a key phrase Ken Campbell used to describe his work)... John Constantine. I thought that maybe, with Daisy’s permission, a quick word with The Laughing Magician would not be out of place.

...but more on that later.

I arrived about an hour early for the gig, and decided to have a wander around the nearby streets - it’s been years since I’ve been to Liverpool and it’s always good to get a city thoroughly back under your feet after a long absence. As I wandered, this is what I saw drawn on the wall opposite the Kazimer:

(The guy's headgear even resembles Ken Campbell's habitual pork pie hat!)

Literally round the corner from there was this:

A good start!

The Kazimer event itself - a pretty full house - consisted of John and Daisy each talking about their involvement in Wilson’s work, Liverpool and what, for want of a better term, one might call The 23 Current. Both were entertaining, funny and profound (which, if you’ve seen the videos linked above of the previous event, is no shock). The three Alan Moore video excerpts had The Greatest Living Englishman in fine form, talking about his affinity with Wilson’s point of view in regards to the essential silliness of conspiracy theories as compared to the actual reality of how conspiracies happen, and a fascinating retelling of his first conscious act of magic after declaring himself a magician on his 40th birthday. In this (psilocybin-aided) act, Moore had a vision of the greatest dead mages of history - the likes of John Dee, Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare and such - as well as shadowy figures who appeared to have animal heads. In the middle of this gathering, who Moore took to be the ranks of the Illuminated, sat Robert Anton Wilson - who at the time was very much alive. This vision influenced his later work (and perspectives on time) greatly, and it was a pleasure to hear that tale from his own lips. There was also a guest appearance from The Goddess Eris Herself (played with tremendous verve by Claudia Egypt) in a scratch retelling of the story of The Apple Of Discord.

After an interval, Daisy introduced a scene from the show in its first live performance - typically of her audacity and drive, it was the most technically difficult scene in the play, and performed by a cast of whom half had been found locally specifically for the evening and who had barely a day to rehearse.

It was stunning.

The scene depicts Wilson’s first LSD trip: starting with a quiet domestic scene between Wilson (played by Oliver Senton, a veteran of Ken Campbell’s The Warp adaptation and other capers) and his wife Arlen (Kate Alderton) before Wilson drops acid, it rapidly spirals out into a brief re-enactment of the scene in Illuminatus! where Joe Malik (Senton-as-Wilson-as-Malik) is initiated by Simon Moon ('Tall' Paul Robinson) into the mysteries of the 23 Enigma, and from there into an extravaganza of symbolism, initiation and terror, featuring complex staging, two songs (music by Richard Kilgour) and the spirit of Albert Hoffman (Trev Fleming) pedalling past on first a bicycle, then a tricycle. The scene ended with Wilson being soothed from his terrors by his young-but-wise daughter Luna (Katy-Anne Bellis) - which, since I know how the story ends, had me in floods of tears. 

(Picture by John Higgs)

If this is what Daisy’s vision of Cosmic Trigger will be like, it should be just as mighty as her father’s Illuminatus!, yet something apart, something of its own times, which I can only hope can bring the optimistic, multi-model perspective Wilson embodied back to a world that sorely needs it.

At the end, Daisy asked the question - should we pull the Cosmic Trigger in Liverpool, on the Discordian Holy Day of 23 November this year? The answer was a resounding YES.

After that, inevitably, was a trip to the nearest pub. And there’s very little more fun in this world than drinking with Scousers. The gathering included some old hands from Liverpool’s underground scene - including the elder statesman Peter O'Halligan, who was responsible not only for creating The Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun on Mathew Street where Ken first staged Illuminatus!, but also the Jung bust we were about to pay homage to.

I’d had a word with Higgs, who’d had a word with Daisy... who met up with me in the pub, agreed that calling on Constantine was not just apt, but useful... and asked me to do that short ritual as the opening act before her ceremonial Placing Of The Rainbow Knickers. I agreed - with some nervousness.

(I should point out that, not unlike Alan Moore and Jamie Delano before me, I had noticed a guy who bore a striking resemblance to Constantine in the audience. Well, a bloke dressed the same, suit and shabby raincoat - he was bald, so maybe it was the variation known as Jack Carter. Never got the chance to say hi... )

The group of us who still remained - according to local reporter and friend of the 23 Current Angie Sammons, about 50 people - headed along to Mathew Street. It’s a main drag in Liverpool’s city centre and, even on a Sunday night, it was thronging with Beatles buskers and amiable groups of sozzled Scousers. Our cluster of devotees reached Jung’s bust, which had already received a rainbow scarf the month before as a prelude to the working thanks to another local powerhouse, Tommy Calderbank.

Daisy introduced me to the group, and I essayed a short ceremony, calling upon John Constantine’s synchronicity-surfing powers and his cunning (and, very specifically, not his friendship) for all assembled there, with a ceremonial offering of a shared flask of single malt and a pack of Silk Cut, Constantine’s preferred smoke. Then Daisy spoke: calling on that same current which had called Jung’s soul to the Pool Of Life to bring the Cosmic Trigger to be pulled with the fullest effect, and to manifest that same spirit of destiny which had brought her so far... but, as she put it, only “just enough!”. The knickers were placed with the assistance of a rapidly constructed human pyramid (but of course), and we all cheered.

Attracted by our revelry, a few local lads in Liverpool Football Club motley wandered over to investigate. And one of them wore this shirt...

...so the spells kicking in clearly didn’t take long.

The premiere of Daisy Campbell’s production of Cosmic Trigger will take place in Liverpool in a 3 day event, from 21st to 23rd of November 2014 of the Common Era. And, I am willing to bet, Carl Jung’s rainbow-knickered head will smile upon all there.

 

Fnord.

 

The Shape-Shifting Son of God

During the early years of Christianity, there were a lot of divergent beliefs surrounding the figure of Jesus, all semi-coexisting in harmony until emperor Constantine organized the first Council of Nicea; by then one 'canonical' story was supported by the Roman empire, while the rest were considered apocryphal & therefore heretic.

A recent translation of a 1200-year-old Coptic text, found in the ruins of the Egyptian Monastery of St. Michael, offers us a glimpse of perhaps one of the rarest beliefs shared by the ancient Coptic monks: According to the translation of Roelof Van den Broek --of Ultrecht University (Netherlands)-- Jesus had the ability to change his appearance, and even become completely invisible!

The text goes on to explain that Jesus’ ability to change his appearance necessitated identification via a kiss from Judas rather than Judas simply pointing him out to the authorities.

“Then the Jews said to Judas: How shall we arrest him [Jesus], for he does not have a single shape but his appearance changes. Sometimes he is ruddy, sometimes he is white, sometimes he is red, sometimes he is wheat colored, sometimes he is pallid like ascetics, sometimes he is a youth, sometimes an old man…”

This peculiar version of the crucifixion's tale also states how when Pilate gave Jesus a chance to flee from prison --offering his own son in his place as a way to appease the crowd-- Jesus showed him how he could easily escape anytime he wanted to, and to prove that he became incorporeal in front of the flabbergasted Roman prefect.

A shape-shifting Jesus. Wait 'til David Icke gets a hold of this!

In any case, this ancient Coptic text goes to show how Gnostic Christians were heavily influenced by the Classic Greek culture. Jesus' Mistique-like superpower is not so different of how Zeus would often turn into a swan, a bull or whatever he fancied, in order to have a little 'quality time' with some clueless mortal woman.

_______________________________________
Link: Translation of 1,200-year-old Egyptian manuscript proposes Jesus could change his appearance and shape at will

[H/T Kat]

Heart Surgeon Confirms Near-Death Experience Account That Challenges Modern Science

Near Death Experience

A few years ago I posted a video interview with renowned heart surgeon Dr. Lloyd Rudy, in which he told of an experience he had with a patient who died on the table, had an NDE, and once resuscitated was able to describe to Dr. Rudy details of the operating theatre - which he had seen during his out-of-body experience - that he should not have known based on his state at the time (general anaesthetic, eyes taped shut, and then 'dead').

I wrote about this case in my book Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife (paperback version here), along with a number of other 'veridical NDEs' - that is, those cases where the person who died was able to accurately describe scenes in the operating room, and elsewhere, when their physical state should not have allowed them to do so. So I was very interested to hear that the NDE case recounted by Dr. Lloyd Rudy (see below) - who sadly passed away himself not too long after the video interview - has been more recently been verified by his assistant during the surgery, Dr. Roberto Amadao-Cattaneo.

In January 2013 Dr. Amado-Cattaneo commented on the YouTube interview, stating that "Everything that Dr. Lloyd Rudy explained in this video is absolutely true. I was there with him doing this surgery. The patient fully recovered and what he said to us after the surgery is what he experienced". When brought to the attention of NDE researchers Titus Rivas and Rudolf Smit, they contacted him to ask for more details about the case, and they have recently shared their discussion in the latest issue of the Journal of Near-Death Studies:

This case happened some time late 1990s early 2000s... I did witness the entire case and everything that my partner Dr. Rudy explained in the video. I do not have a rational scientific explanation to explain this phenomenon. I do know that this happened. This patient had close to 20 minutes or more of no life, no physiologic life, no heart beat, no blood pressure, no respiratory function whatsoever and then he came back to life and told us what you heard on the video. He recovered fully.

...This was not a hoax, no way, this was as real as it gets. We were
absolutely shocked that he would come back after 20 or more minutes,
we had pronounced him dead on the operating room table and told the
wife that he had died.

...we thought all along his description was quite accurate regarding things he said he saw or heard. Patients’ eyes are always shut during surgery, most of the time they are taped so they do not open since this can cause injury to the corneas.

To read the full account, get a hold of the latest Journal of Near-Death Studies (copies can be purchased from that link - and be sure to sign up as a member of IANDS, International Association for Near-Death Studies, to receive future issues). The article is in JNDS 31:3, "A Near-Death Experience with Veridical Perception Described by a Famous Heart Surgeon and Confirmed by his Assistant Surgeon", by Titus Rivas, M.A., M.Sc., and Rudolf H. Smit.

For more on veridical NDEs, and other evidence that suggests consciousness might survive our physical death, grab a copy of my book Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife (paperback version here).

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Extreme Rituals - Why Do People Subject Themselves to Self-Inflicted Pain and Torture?

In many cultures around the world, individuals engage in bizarre rituals that can be painful, costly, and even dangerous. Why do they do it? In the above video, Dr. Dimitris Xygalatas, director of Masaryk University's LEVYNA Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion, explains some of the research they've conducted, and some of the surprising results that they've uncovered - such as the fact that those involved in such rituals (both participants and observers) were found to donate more money to charity. And the more intense, painful or dangerous the ritual involved, the more generous they were.

Warning: Some graphic images.

The Temple: A Short Film About Ritual, Place, and Letting Go, Filmed at Burning Man

Recently I've been contemplating the loss in modern culture of authentic sacred rituals and places, so when I came across The Temple - a short film about modern spirituality, looked at through the lens of the Burning Man temple - I was interested to see how it is used to facilitate the 'letting go' of emotional/psychiatric baggage:

Now that many in our society have moved beyond traditional religion, how do we move past tragedy? How do we mark the exciting events in our lives and how do we deal with life's inevitable trials? Some people who face these questions find the answer in the most unlikely of places, Burning Man. "The Temple" explores modern spirituality in a contemplative and personal manner touching on the ideas of self-discovery, letting go, and meaningful human connection that transcends simply a party in the desert.

A beautifully made little film which contemplates fascinating issues relating to our psyche. In our rush to dismiss 'primitive superstitions' from our advanced modern lives, have we lost some important tools?

The Origins of Santo Daime Theories of Healing

The syncretic Santo Daime religion of Brazil is a fascinating mix of Catholicism, Spiritism, African animism and indigenous South American shamanism (such as the drinking of ayahuasca). In the talk above, Matthew Meyer - an expert on the various Brazilian "ayahuasca religions" - discusses how Western esoteric notions of currents, fluids and forces came to be incorporated into Santo Daime:

Although such recognizably esoteric terms as "current," "fluid," and "force" crop up frequently in talk about ritual experience in the Santo Daime congregational practice, we still know relatively little about how such notions came to be part of Santo Daime in the first place. This paper explores the influence of Western esotericist movements on the rubber tapper culture of Acre, Brazil, out of which Santo Daime emerged. The currency of these philosophies among military leaders and their aptness to make sense of Amazonian experience — with the forest, with Indians, with ayahuasca—also made possible their use as tools of social reform among the disadvantaged. With some understanding of the roots of these concepts in hand, we can better appreciate the moral basis of Daimista healing as individual and collective reform. The paper concludes with a consideration of the concept of mental or volitional "current" in contemporary ritual practice at Alto Santo, Brazil's first "ayahuasca church."

Jewel Covered Saints

Bejeweled Saint Benedictus

No, the above isn't a DMT entity made flesh (or more accurately, bone) - it's the alleged skeleton of St. Benedictus, captured by LA-based photographer and author Paul Koudounaris, whose book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs is available now from Amazon UK, or on pre-order (October release) from Amazon US.

The jeweled skeletons were originally found in catacombs beneath Rome in 1578, and distributed as replacements under the belief they were Christian martyrs to churches that had lost their saint relics in the Reformation. However, for most, their identities were not known. The receiving churches then spent years covering the revered skeletal strangers with jewels and golden clothing, even filling their eye sockets and sometimes adorning their teeth with finery. Yet when the Enlightenment came around they became a little embarrassing for the sheer amount of money and excess they represented, and many were hidden away or disappeared. Koudounaris tracked down the dead survivors.

Totally macabre and absolutely wonderful. See more images, with descriptions, at the ever-fascinating Atlas Obscura.

The Tweets of a Dick

In 2006, if you had asked to any self-professed rationalist/atheist who was the person he or she admired the most, 2 out of 3 the name Richard Dawkins would have surfaced. That same year Wired magazine published an article titled 'The Church of the Non-Believers', in which Dawkins was listed among Sam Harris & Daniel Dennet as one of the undisputed leaders of a growing secularist movement, commonly referred nowadays as the nu-atheists.

Fast forward to 2013, and things have changed dramatically. The author of 'The God Delusion' is not only frequently accused of bigotry & sexist views by the opponents of nu-atheism, but he has even managed to become a public embarrassment to many people who share his distaste for religion. Last Thursday Dawkins wrote this on Twitter:

The 'logic' being here, I assume, that Muslims have nothing to show for themselves in the last thousand years or so after they gave us algebra, since obviously a Nobel prize is the most rigurous way to gauge contributions to society; also, that the scarcity of Muslim recipients of the prestigious award must be somehow directly correlated to the nepharious influence of Islam --never mind the myriad of different economic, social & political circumstances that might stiffle a nation's support to scientific research. Cogito Ergo BUM!

And like an ancient biblical plague, the backlash came in hard & fast: "As an atheist and a secularist who wants religion to be a private matter, I despair of Richard Dawkins being a figurehead for non-believers," wrote columnist Owen Jones on his Twitter account. He followed up at his column on The Independent:

As a non-believer, I want the atheist case to be made. I want religious belief to be scrutinised and challenged. I want Britain to be a genuinely secular nation, where religious belief is protected and defended as a private matter of conscience. But I feel prevented from doing so because atheism in public life has become so dominated by a particular breed that ends up dressing up bigotry as non-belief. It is a tragedy. And that is why it is so important that atheists distance themselves from those who undermine our position. Richard Dawkins can rant and rave about Muslims as much as he wants. But atheists: let's stop allowing him to do it in our name.

Yet Dawkins, following the usual tactics he relies on when being challenged, keeps insisting his Tweet was not fueled by bigotry but by "exasperation at hearing boasts of (a) how numerous Muslims are in the world and (b) how great is their science." And his (still many) sympathizers have gone out on his defense claiming he was 'only stating a fact' --It's another fact that Mexico has less Nobel Prize winners than Trinity College(*) as well; no doubt Dawkins would blame the Virgin of Guadalupe for that.

But is that fact(oid) the proper way to support rationalism & the defense of the separation between church & state? or is it more likely the latest example of the current Islamophobic trend sweeping  Europe, where aging white citizens are watching with dread the non-stopping influx of young immigrants, arriving every day to France, Germany & Spain from poor countries in Africa & the Middle East? Something which has prompted the re-emergence of far-right ultranationalist movements --read: Fascists-- the likes of which might be all too  happy to have someone like Dawkins on their side --they sure hate burkas as much as he does!

Whatever path the nu-atheists decide to take in order to improve their image & move away from the polarization provoked by their most vocal spokespersons, one thing is for sure: With those kind of Tweets, Dawkins will not be receiving a Nobel Peace Prize any time soon.

 

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(*) Hmmm, I wonder what that college's name stands for...