There are very few things that make me laugh out loud, but the Myths Retold website is one of them. No doubt it's a humour that won't appeal to everyone, but for me, breaking down the absolute insane storylines of many ancient (and modern) myths and telling them 'street-style' is a combination that works beautifully. It's NSFW stuff, not just for the regular F-bombs, but because many ancient myths were pure smut, so be warned. But it's also very funny.
Anyhow, Myths Retold can now be purchased in book form, in the shape of the recently-released Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology (grab a copy from Amazon US or Amazon UK):
All our lives, we’ve been fed watered-down, PC versions of the classic myths. In reality, mythology is more screwed up than a schizophrenic shaman doing hits of unidentified…wait, it all makes sense now. In Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes, Cory O’Brien, creator of Myths RETOLD!, sets the stories straight. These are rude, crude, totally sacred texts told the way they were meant to be told: loudly, and with lots of four-letter words. Skeptical? Here are just a few gems to consider:
- Zeus once stuffed an unborn fetus inside his thigh to save its life after he exploded its mother by being too good in bed.
- The entire Egyptian universe was saved because Sekhmet just got too hammered to keep murdering everyone.
- The Hindu universe is run by a married couple who only stop murdering in order to throw sweet dance parties…on the corpses of their enemies.
- The Norse goddess Freyja once consented to a four-dwarf gangbang in exchange for one shiny necklace.
And there’s more dysfunctional goodness where that came from.
On the most recent 'Expanding Mind' podcast, the wonderful Erik Davis talks to the equally wonderful Gary Lachman about secret masters, mysterious teacups, and the origins of the New Age:
The topics discussed all come from Gary's new book, Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality
Pioneer. Visionary. Provocateur. Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky — mystic, occult writer, child of Russian aristocrats, spiritual seeker who traveled five continents, and founder (with Henry Steel Olcott) of the Theosophical Society — is still being hailed as an icon and scorned as a fraud more than 120 years after her death. But despite perennial interest in her life, writings, and philosophy, no single biography has examined the controversy and legacy of this influential thinker who helped define modern alternative spirituality—until now.
Gary Lachman, the acclaimed spiritual biographer behind volumes such as Rudolf Steiner and Jung the Mystic, brings us an in-depth look at Blavatsky, objectively exploring her unique and singular contributions toward introducing Eastern and esoteric spiritual ideas to the West during the nineteenth century, as well as the controversies that continue to color the discussions of her life and work.
(Full disclosure: Publishers Tarcher/Penguin currently have a paid banner ad here on TDG for another book by Gary, Jung the Mystic. This had no bearing on my posting of this story. Gary's a good friend of TDG - he has a featured blog here - and I'm a big fan of both his work and Erik Davis'.)
Erik Davis has a wonderful piece up at Aeon Magazine discussing the 2011 documentary Kumaré (trailer above), the 'prank' at the heart of the film, and what it might mean for spiritual seekers, placing the experience with the framework of "the theatre of transformation":
Religion (and its shadowy ally, the occult) has always managed the boundaries between things — life and death, order and chaos, self and world, novelty and tradition, the knowable and the infinite. It is absurd to imagine that the force of such preoccupations should dissipate at a time of cultural crisis and confusion such as ours. Many of those ever-fluctuating boundaries, once patrolled by religion, have erupted into border wars, just as the very notion of a border has been dissolving. It's easy to take up a simplistic position when we try to appreciate how spirituality and the secular, belief and scepticism, dance their tango, but surely it's far better to pay attention to how and when these boundaries get drawn — and what happens when they dissolve, or turn out to be not what they seem.
This is what makes Vikram Gandhi’s trickster documentary Kumaré (2011) — for all its considerable problems — one of the more thought-provoking and unexpected takes on the dynamics of modern spirituality I’ve come across in many a moon. I’m happy that the film is now available for digital download after a year or so of touring the festival circuit to rather mixed — and sometimes puzzled — reception.
Gandhi (his real name) was born in New Jersey and is an alumnus of Columbia University. But in the film he impersonates a long-haired, orange-robed, heavily accented Hindu guru called Sri Kumaré for months on end, gathering a small New Age flock that then witnesses its teacher’s shocking ‘Great Unveiling’ at the close of the film. Gandhi’s experiment is essentially a cruel sceptic’s prank, designed to expose the exotic projections and gullible fantasies animating today’s spiritual seekers. In this, it shares some creative DNA with Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comedian whose sometimes merciless hoodwinks reveal a seething political subconscious that is hard to glimpse without these sorts of ethically problematic ruses. Kumaré provides a number of easy yucks and painful gotcha moments. But in a manner that Gandhi himself did not seem to anticipate, his story winds up being more emotionally nuanced and even charming than its prankster précis implies.
Rather than setting up an atheist’s honey-pot, Gandhi actually staged something more interesting, and more ambiguous: a theatre of awakening that transforms himself as well as his students.
Head over to Aeon Magazine for the full read: "Trickster and Tricked.
Those interested in exploring the topic further might also want to check out Vikram Gandhi's TEDx Talk discussing his experience in making the film, titled "Become a Story Now" (embedded below).
There's been no shortage of press coverage in the past week regarding a news story about Scientology's construction of an 'space alien cathedral' near Roswell, New Mexico. The site - which has some resemblance to the Nazca lines with its airstrip and two 360 metre-wide symbols carved into a mountain - came to attention in the press about a new book regarding the controversial religion. But it has actually been known about for some time, and the Church of Scientology say its purpose is more mundane than the press would have us believe:
"As has been covered in the media for years, the facility is a Church of Scientology archival storage for the preservation of L. Ron Hubbard's scriptural writings and lectures," church spokeswoman Karin Pouw told NBC News in an email. "Archival sites are common among religions, such as the LDS faith's large genealogical archive in Utah and the Vatican archives."
The storage facility, popularly known as the Trementina Base, is about 200 miles north of Roswell, N.M. It's featured in "The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology," an e-book by BBC investigative journalist John Sweeney that went on sale today. In an excerpt published last week by The Sun, a British tabloid, Sweeney quotes his sources, including an ex-Scientologist, as saying the circle-and-diamond symbols carved into the mountain were designed to guide church leaders to Hubbard's works "after a nuclear Armageddon wipes out humanity."
Pouw said the remarks in The Sun and in Britain's Daily Mail were "fiction." The Sun's headline called the symbols a "giant 'hello' to E.T." — but Pouw said they had a more mundane purpose.
"Because [the facility] is in such a remote area, the most practical way to it is by air," she wrote. "The corporate logo of the church that operates the facility is carved into the ground to help pilots find the facility. This, too, is commonly done by major corporations."
While the "E.T. Hello" theory may be overblown, I'd imagine the post-apocalyptic scenario described by Sweeney is not too far from the truth. I actually mentioned this 'Trementina Base' in passing in my Darklore article about the 'survival of knowledge' aspect of the Georgia Guidestones, "Beyond the Apocalypse":
Another project to preserve knowledge is the Church of Scientology’s ‘Trementina Base’ in New Mexico. According to the Church, the purpose of the base is as an archive to preserve the writings and recordings of the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. The texts are said to have been engraved on stainless steel tablets and encased in titanium capsules, which reside in an underground bunker on the site. I shall leave it to the reader to decide whether this is knowledge we want to transmit to our post- apocalyptic descendants...
Now that the Doomsday hype is finally winding down, and in preparation to celebrate the coming of a new year which will be undoubtedly filled with both joy & suffering, I present you this: An animated version of Carl Sagan's famous text "A Pale Blue Dot". Created by Joel Somerfield of East London-based digital production house, Order.
As the challenges 2013 will bring might cause us to lose hope along the way, Sagan's wisdom remains as pertinent as ever, and his words reminds us why our tiny little world is worth saving.
(H/T Cartoon Brew)
The Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun has become famous to us in the modern age mainly as a consequence of his tomb being found intact by Howard Carter in 1922. But along with his fame has come somewhat of a mystery over the cause of his death at just 19 years of age - from assassination through to an infected broken leg. But a new theory put forward by Hutan Ashrafian, a surgeon with an interest in medical history at Imperial College London, suggests that Tut's illness was all in his head - literally - and it may just be the origin of humans worshiping just the one god (monotheism):
Tutankhamun's mysterious death as a teenager may finally have been explained. And the condition that cut short his life may also have triggered the earliest monotheistic religion, suggests a new review of his family history.
...Paintings and sculptures show that Smenkhkare, an enigmatic pharaoh who may have been Tutankhamun's uncle or older brother, and Akhenaten, thought to have been the boy king's father, both had feminised figures, with unusually large breasts and wide hips. Two pharaohs that came before Akhenaten - Amenhotep III and Tuthmosis IV - seem to have had similar physiques. All of these kings died young and mysteriously, says Ashrafian. "There are so many theories, but they've focused on each pharaoh individually."
Ashrafian found that each pharaoh died at a slightly younger age than his predecessor, which suggests an inherited disorder, he says. Historical accounts associated with the individuals hint at what that disorder may have been.
"It's significant that two [of the five related pharaohs] had stories of religious visions associated with them," says Ashrafian. People with a form of epilepsy in which seizures begin in the brain's temporal lobe are known to experience hallucinations and religious visions, particularly after exposure to sunlight. It's likely that the family of pharaohs had a heritable form of temporal lobe epilepsy, he says.
This diagnosis would also account for the feminine features. The temporal lobe is connected to parts of the brain involved in the release of hormones, and epileptic seizures are known to alter the levels of hormones involved in sexual development. This might explain the development of the pharaohs' large breasts. A seizure might also be to blame for Tutankhamun's fractured leg, says Ashrafian (Epilepsy & Behavior, doi.org/h8s).
Tuthmosis IV had a religious experience in the middle of a sunny day, recorded in the Dream Stele - an inscription near the Great Sphinx in Giza. But his visions were nothing compared with those experienced by Akhenaten. They encouraged Akhenaten to raise the status of a minor deity called the "sun-disk", or Aten, into a supreme god - abandoning the ancient Egyptian polytheistic traditions to start what is thought to be the earliest recorded monotheistic religion. If Ashrafian's theory is correct, Akhenaten's religious experiment and Tutankhamun's premature death may both have been a consequence of a medical condition.
"People with temporal lobe epilepsy who are exposed to sunlight get the same sort of stimulation to the mind and religious zeal," says Ashrafian.
[Photo by Steve Evans, Creative Commons Licence]
Members of New Zealand's defence force farewell fallen comrades with an emotional haka:
Haka is used throughout New Zealand by many, not only Māori, to demonstrate their collective thoughts. There is a haka for each of the Services, as well as the Defence Force. Units with the NZ Army have their own haka. This video shows the soldiers of 2/1 RNZIR Battalion performing their Unit haka, powerfully acknowledging the lives and feats of their fallen comrades as they come onto the Unit's parade ground. It is also an emotive farewell for they will leave via the waharoa (the carved entrance way) for the very last time.
Haka --sometimes termed a posture dance could also be described as a chant with actions. There are various forms of haka; some with weapons some without, some have set actions others may be 'free style.' Haka is used by Māori (indigenous people of New Zealand) for a myriad of reasons; to challenge or express defiance or contempt, to demonstrate approval or appreciation, to encourage or to discourage, to acknowledge feats and achievements, to welcome, to farewell, as an expression of pride, happiness or sorrow. There is almost no inappropriate occasion for haka; it is an outward display of inner thoughts and emotions. Within the context of an occasion it is abundantly clear which emotion is being expressed.
Having traveled throughout New Zealand (my wife grew up there), I can say that Maori culture is a thing of beauty, and its widespread integration into modern 'Western' culture in New Zealand is wonderful to see. Something other countries (including my own) could probably learn from.
For lovers of comics, spirituality and technology (which is probably all of you out there!), here's a Kickstarter project that looks like a worthwhile cause: The Silver Cord:
Since the beginning of time, the world of humans and the world of angels have run parallel but apart, connected only by a single tunnel of light.
Humans know the tunnel as the passageway that lifts their souls after death. Angels know it as the Birthing Ring: the tunnel that delivers souls into the tiny bodies of newborn babies.
But the recent discovery of quantum computing has disrupted this age-old balance. As scientists perfect this technology in tiny "Q-chips," they are inadvertently opening a second passage between the world of humans and the world of angelic species. But unlike the first passageway, this new portal is forming deep in territory controlled by dark sinister angels.
Any day now, scientists will install this new quantum-powered chip into a robot so smart, so life-like, so close to human consciousness, that just like a human baby, it too will require a soul.
Unbeknownst to the scientists, the exact moment the quantum robot is switched on, the new portal will open and allow the darkest of all angels to rush down and become the robot's missing soul. This ensouled robot will be the first of many. An unstable force of possessed robots, until…
A confused teenager discovers that she's the only one who can stop dark souls from penetrating the human realm.
With a creative team comprised of some heavy-hitters in the tech and design industries (Pixar, Industrial Light and Magic, Wired etc), this is a high quality product exploring some fascinating subjects. But there's no need to guess at the quality level - because Part 1 of the series is already complete, and available absolutely free (PDF or CBZ download) from the Silver Cord website. And if you need more information, here's the Kickstarter promotional video.
With just over two days left, the Kickstarter campaign is still about $10,000 short of its goal. So if you're interested, help fund the project, and spread word to friends before the deadline.
Reality Sandwich has posted a nice little discussion between two of my favourite authors, Erik Davis and Jeff Kripal, in which Erik interviews Jeff about his research and writing on comparitive religion, mysticism and the superhero within all of us:
ED: Sure, the paranormal is good subject matter for fictions, which is how most people who produce and consume popular culture think of it. In what way does the paranormal trace in popular culture point to something more than a good yarn?
JK: The paranormal is such a popular subject because it is real, that is, because people actually have these sorts of experiences all the time. It is not simply a good yarn, as you say. This is not to say that paranormal events are entirely objective or simply measurable. They are not. They in fact work a lot like stories. The fact is usually woven right into the fiction, and vice versa. It's a both-and, not an either-or. A paranormal event is a real yarn.
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THE FORBIDDEN BOOK
by Joscelyn Godwin, Guido Mina di Sospiro
(Disinformation Press, April 2012, ASIN: B007UPDB68)
I have to say that when I was sent my review copy of The Forbidden Book from The Daily Grail Castle, I was rather interested. As a long-time student of the alchemical sex-magic form known as The Moist Way, the idea of a conspiracy thriller based on this subject, especially one co-written by noted Western Esoteric Tradition scholar Joscelyn Godwin, was more than appealing.
My interest was piqued even more when the first couple of pages of my copy included fulsome advance praise from such notables as Graham Hancock, Mitch Horovitz and Gary Lachman. Sadly, I have not come here to join in with their praises for this book. I have come to bury it.
The best way to describe The Forbidden Book is that it reads like the overly-pretentious novelisation of a bad Italian Giallo movie. Or, a failed attempt to make a Catholic-friendly Dan Brown novel.
The set-up is this: Our Hero, Irish-Italian-American and Catholic scholar Leo Kavenaugh, is summoned to an Italian villa by his college crush to help research a mysterious tome, the Forbidden Book of the title, against the wishes of her uncle, The (obvious from the first moment) Evil Baron. His explorations of the text lead to a centuries-old conspiracy of elite noblemen misusing the hidden sexual-alchemical teachings of the work to secure and maintain their power, including the forcing of a religious near-civil war across Europe…
If that sounds interesting and exciting… well, it really isn’t.
I am a genuine admirer of the art of pulp fiction. In fact, I think there needs to be be a greater level of storytelling skill in a pulp writer in order to be able to write a fast-paced potboiler than is often evinced in the more sober literary forms. Such skills are not in evidence here.
There is not a single person in this book whose characterisation rises even to the level of two-dimensional. Our Hero, Leo (who might as well be called Neo for all his obvious nature from the first page as The Chosen One) is the closest thing to a developed character in the whole book - this characterisation pretty much consists of his constant self-punishing about an affair which led to his lover getting an abortion, which interferes with his crush on The Heroine. Oh, and he’s a member of the Catholic Third Orders - the Opus-Dei-esque Catholic laity - whose studies of the The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola apparently give him the ability to instantly grasp the depths of alchemical knowledge that usually take decades to acquire. Frankly, he might as well have had it downloaded into his brain from The Matrix.
(Yet he’s a strangely passive Monomyth hero. Other than committing two surprisingly successful amateur break-ins, he spends most of his time wringing his hands at the situation, pining for The Heroine, vomiting and going temporarily blind when he receives a new download of spiritual data… and, at one point, disappearing for days into a monastery while his beloved is missing presumed kidnapped.)
The other characters never even reach this level of depth. Besides a few background quirks, each is a mere shell. Notable is the fact that all but one of the point-of-view characters is either a member of the upper-upper class or a scholar - the sole exception, the dogged police investigator, has literally no identifying features other than being a dogged police investigator.
Another point regarding characterisation: every single woman described in the book is either gorgeous or ancient. Nothing in between. The actual writing is so atrocious at times I actually looked to see if it had been translated from another language into English. An example from early in the book:
This was no mere villa, thought Leo as they ground to a halt before a columned portico, but a minor palace. Painted in the faded yellow color of polenta, grand and genteel, it gave him a feeling of ease.
All I could think when I read this was, Where the hell do these guys get their polenta?!
The plot is both labyrinthine and risible. All of the main characters commit the unforgivable sin of ‘carrying the idiot ball’ - acting in a palpably stupid and implausible manner in order to sustain the weight of the story. For example, the plot turns on the destruction or interception of vital letters between or about the two lead characters - three times! - for spurious emotional reasons, simply to forestall their discovery of vital information before the narrative needs them to know.
The significant murder of a main character and the framing of another for the killing (the investigation of which dominates the last two-thirds of the book) is executed so poorly as to leave major forensic clues to the culprit, yet supposedly the body is disposed of so easily as to require little effort on the part of the murderer. Likewise, the hero finds it laughably easy to avoid a manhunt for him later in the book, while transporting the drugged kidnapped person he’s just rescued.
The authors' grasp of the tropes of the successful police procedural are as shaky as their understanding of the popular novel in general - although the technical and forensic details are clearly well-researched, their delivery moves neither the plot nor the reader terribly much.
This apparent indifference to the nuances of actually telling a story leads to such implausibilities as the Evil Baron being simultaneously a master of mind control and utterly unable to secure the one unexpurgated copy of the Forbidden Book from being stolen by an utterly incompetent thief.
Even the rise of Christian-versus-Muslim violence fomented by The Evil Baron’s (small, strangely badly-organised) followers across the whole of Europe is treated with an odd sense of distance and disdain. A comparison can be made here to the atrocious Left Behind Christian book series: a major calamity (in this case fast-boiling Muslim/Christian violence across Europe, in Left Behind it's the Rapture) is mostly portrayed in terms of occasional news flashes and how the events interfere with the main characters' travel logistics.
(It occurs to me that, in a book where Muslim extremism features heavily, the absence of a single Muslim point-of-view character is an odd omission. For that matter, I don’t think there’s a single POV character who isn’t, in some way, a practicing Catholic…)
There’s a palpable sense of scorn and condescension all across the actual story-telling, in my opinion - a feeling that the authors are lowering themselves to write at this level in order to bring their Brilliant Ideas to the Great Unwashed. There’s also a nasty scent of envy in their wistful descriptions of the power and privilege of the upper classes - a feeling that they would do so much better if they had the same power. This goes across to their descriptions of Leo’s exploration of the Forbidden Book, comparing their somewhat pure Good Catholic Boy to the Evil Baron; a feeling that the concept of Elite Man-Gods ruling a rigid caste system would be a perfectly fine thing as long as the right man is at the helm.
The only time there’s any real passion or interest in the book is the extracts from the Forbidden Book itself. According to the afterword, there is an actual text of that name which formed the basis of their exegesis - but as it’s only in Italian I cannot comment on its contents. The supposed excerpts from the book read agreeably and authentically like the alchemical texts of the Seventeenth Century, if (of course) considerably more explicit in their praxis.
Yet even here, there’s a lack of depth. For example, much is made of the Twelve Fruits of the Tree of Life - the occult powers the Hero/alchemist gains on this path... and they only actually name five of them! As elsewhere in the book, there's a strong sense of the authors simply being excessively pleased with themselves - an odd stance as, frankly, their entire spin on the alchemical path could be derived from a cursory read of Julius Evola (oddly not mentioned in the text or afterword, especially given his Fascist leanings) and Paschal Beverly Randolph. (The actual sex-magic scenes are, not surprisingly, neither erotic nor interesting - mere descriptions of the mechanical act combined with a spiritual gloss.)
And yet none of this even begins to convey how very bad the ending of the book is. The Hero rescues the Heroine from a Fate Worse Than Death, escaping to Antibes on a friend's yacht. The Evil Baron's plan... just stops. The police investigation… just stops. The brewing civil war in Europe... just stops. The Hero’s development of the Ultimate Alchemical Power… just stops.
If only the authors had.