News Briefs 23-11-2015

It all makes sense now...

Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

The apocalypse is not something which is coming. The apocalypse has arrived in major portions of the planet and it's only because we live within a bubble of incredible privilege andn social insulation that we still have the luxury of anticipating the apocalypse.

Terence McKenna

News Briefs 21-11-2015

"Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to avoid it."

Quote of the Day:

“Everyone believes very easily whatever they fear or desire.”

Jean de la Fontaine

The Cult of Mary: How Supernatural Apparitions and Miracle Healings Led to Veneration of the Mother of Jesus

The Virgin Mary

The cover story for the latest edition of National Geographic. "How the Virgin Mary Became the World's Most Powerful Woman", looks at the rise of the 'cult' of the Virgin Mary, specifically through the lens of the miraculous/supernatural/Fortean apparitions of - and 'healings' by - the mother of Jesus throughout history. Award-winning journalist Maureen Orth looks at how the iconic religious figure has permeated Western culture (as well as Islamic culture to some extent as well), and how alleged miracles in her name provide sustenance to her on-going mythos:

Mary is everywhere: Marigolds are named for her. Hail Mary passes save football games. The image in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most reproduced female likenesses ever. Mary draws millions each year to shrines such as Fátima, in Portugal, and Knock, in Ireland, sustaining religious tourism estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year and providing thousands of jobs. She inspired the creation of many great works of art and architecture (Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” Notre Dame Cathedral), as well as poetry, liturgy, and music (Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Blessed Virgin). And she is the spiritual confidante of billions of people, no matter how isolated or forgotten.

Praying for the Virgin Mary's and being devoted to her are a global phenomenon. The notion of Mary as intercessor with Jesus begins with the miracle of the wine at the wedding at Cana, when, according to the Gospel of John, she tells him, “They have no wine,” thus prompting his first miracle. It was in A.D. 431, at the Third Ecumenical Council, in Ephesus, that she was officially named Theotokos, Bearer of God. Since then no other woman has been as exalted as Mary. As a universal symbol of maternal love, as well as of suffering and sacrifice, Mary is often the touchstone of our longing for meaning, a more accessible link to the supernatural than formal church teachings. Her mantle offers both security and protection. Pope Francis, when once asked what Mary meant to him, answered, “She is my mamá.”

Her reported appearances, visions experienced often by very poor children living in remote or conflict-wracked areas, have intensified her mystery and aura. And when the children can’t be shaken from their stories—especially if the accounts are accompanied by inexplicable “signs” such as spinning suns or gushing springs—her wonder grows

Apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been reported throughout post-New Testament history, but in the last 450 years alone there have been more than 2000 reported sightings (see the map below for a graphic representation - the National Geographic story has a larger version for ease of viewing).

Virgin Mary Sightings Around the World

The Catholic Church however is very careful in officially recognising such events, with only sixteen of those being sanctioned as true miracles. Their pain-staking process of investigation covers many aspects of each sighting, though "the 'authenticity' and mental stability of the seer are prime, and anyone suspected of trying to gain fame or riches from contact with the Virgin Mary is ignored or condemned". Furthermore, "the Vatican would never approve an alleged apparition whose message contradicted church teachings, and the faithful aren’t required to believe in apparitions."

The locations of apparitions and healings, such as Lourdes and Medjugorje, have become famous the world over.

Here's a video made by National Geographic to accompany their story, "Five things to know about Marian apparitions":

One aspect unfortunately not covered in the story is the Fortean interpretation - are these apparitions actually Christian/Islamic, or are they something else, simply being interpreted through that lens? Jacques Vallee covered some of these thoughts in his book Passport to Magonia, in which he discusses VM apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, and another at Knock in Ireland, and how some elements also match those found in sightings of other strange phenomena, such as UFOs and 'fairy folk', throughout history. (I also specifically covered the similarity in 'sounds' heard during these sightings in my article "Her Sweet Murmur: Exploring the aural phenomenology of border experiences".) From spinning disks to falls of 'angel hair', there are some distinctly strange aspects to a number of 'Virgin Mary' apparitions.

An interesting article nonetheless, although one can only wonder how much criticism it might receive from scientific quarters given recent concerns that Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of National Geographic, and the subsequent cuts to staff within the organisation, might lead to a less scientific approach from the iconic science magazine.

Related stories:

News Briefs 19-11-2015

Yea I read from the Book of Fort, Chapter 11, Verse 19. In the name of Keel, Redfern, and the Red Pill...

Quote of the Day:

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.

Steven Wright

News Briefs 18-11-2015

Right here with the news

  • Giant 7–8-foot skeletons uncovered in Ecuador sent for scientific testing.
  • A classic formula for pi has been discovered hidden in hydrogen atoms.
  • Could entanglement be the essence of space-time geometry?
  • Skepticism on the couch.
  • Scientists have a new way to study mystical experiences induced by psilocybin mushrooms.
  • The Lambton Worm, and the 'Wicker Man' sequel that almost was.
  • Sergeant Howie is alive and well. Scottish evangelists identify Paganism as one of the "biggest threats to Western civilisation".
  • The only doctor in the world legally allowed to use LSD to treat patients.
  • The unusual couple behind encyclopaedia of psychoactive substances, Erowid.
  • New Hieronymus Bosch drawing found in private art collection.
  • Does self-love or self-hate predict conspiracy beliefs? Narcissism, self-esteem, and the endorsement of conspiracy theories.
  • 'Pastafarian' wins right to wear colander on head in driving licence photo.
  • Ancient board game found in looted China tomb.
  • NASA sees a black hole spew a corona.
  • Cave Lion cubs emerge from the Siberian permafrost.
  • Saudi Arabia's river of hail.
  • Mysterious parasite may actually be a tiny jellyfish gone awry.
  • Thou shalt not start wildfires on the day of the Lord.

Quote of the Day:

This is Life Eternal, right here. Be fulfilled, be happy, be kind, be in love, and never do anything that you can't live with forever.

Alan Moore (his first 'tweet' via @MomentOfMoore)

Reclaiming the Goddess: Stop Using the Name ISIS to Describe a Bunch of Ignorant, Murderous F**ktards

Isis the Goddess

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I love history, and I love mythology. This is why, on August 30, 2001, my wife and I named our first-born Isis, after the high goddess of the ancient Egyptian pantheon. The goddess Isis, whose origins stretch back, at the very least, 4500 years from the present, was worshipped as the ideal of motherhood, as a deity who cared for the plight of others, as one who would watch over travelers, and who was 'Great of Magic', being able to bring life to the dead.

Her influence was such that her worship continued for more than 3000 years, not only in Egyptian culture, but also by the high civilisations of the ancient Greeks and Romans as well.

Fast forward the better part of five millennia, and it has taken just three years for a loose assortment of low-life scumbags to co-opt that name of compassion, magic and power. For whatever reasons, a group with many names - including, in Arabic, ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām; in English Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and Islamic State (IS) - has become more popularly referred to simply as 'ISIS' (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), largely through mass media repetition and then reinforcement through discussions on social media.

Perhaps it is the fact that people already know the word Isis - it is in their subconscious already, so it's easier to connect meanings to it. Unfortunately, the word Isis within your subconscious has power associated with it, both through its ancient heritage and by the nature of the goddess herself. By connecting it to these weak losers, you gift them some of that power through the name alone. So what I'd like to ask you to do, is to stop using it.

There are a lot of powerful people with the name of Isis. My daughter is one of those. But their power comes from being compassionate, intelligent, beautiful, and magical. The group that has been co-opting the name are party to none of those attributes, and it is those attributes which give true power. So stop calling them by the name Isis.

Unfortunately, women named Isis, no matter what their personal attributes, now have to put up with associations with this group - despite having had the name much longer, and doing many good things in that name. For instance, this week software engineer Isis Anchalee had her Facebook account shut down, apparently because the mega-tech corporation assumed a connection with terrorism based on her name.

Perhaps even more frustratingly, Isis also had to respond to the morons of the internet after they chimed in with what they thought was the obvious answer:

A far better answer is to stop using the word Isis in relation to the murderous group currently wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq. But what to call them, you might ask? As mentioned above, they have been referred to under several other names: Barack Obama has been referring to them as ISIL, many others (including myself) simply as Islamic State. But those names suffer from the same problem - it associates this group with statehood, in a way legitimising it, and it also associates it with Islam, and I'm sure most Muslims feel the same way about linking them with that word as I do with Isis.

So here's the solution. It's one that has already become official in many quarters: call them Daesh (or Da'ish). The word - originally coined by Syrian activists, but now in official usage in France, Australia, and by others such as John Kerry - is an acronym that accurately reflects the group's chosen name, 'ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām'. But Daesh are apparently furious about it, with reports that they have threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who uses it. Why, if it is an accurate acronym? Here's your answer, summarised well by Arabic translator Alice Guthrie:

Because they hear it, quite rightly, as a challenge to their legitimacy: a dismissal of their aspirations to define Islamic practice, to be 'a state for all Muslims’ and – crucially – as a refusal to acknowledge and address them as such. They want to be addressed as exactly what they claim to be, by people so in awe of them that they use the pompous, long and delusional name created by the group, not some funny-sounding made-up word. And here is the very simple key point that has been overlooked in all the anglophone press coverage I’ve seen: in Arabic, acronyms are not anything like as widely used as they are in English, and so arabophones are not as used to hearing them as anglophones are.

Thus, the creation and use of a title that stands out as a nonsense neologism for an organisation like this one is inherently funny, disrespectful, and ultimately threatening of the organisation’s status. Khaled al-Haj Salih, the Syrian activist who coined the term back in 2013, says that initially even many of his fellow activists, resisting Daesh alongside him, were shocked by the idea of an Arabic acronym, and he had to justify it to them by referencing the tradition of acronyms being used as names by Palestinian organisations (such as Fatah). So saturated in acronyms are we in English that we struggle to imagine this, but it’s true.

All of this means that the name lends itself well to satire, and for the arabophones trying to resist Daesh, humour and satire are essential weapons in their nightmarish struggle. But the satirical weight of the word as a weapon, in the hands of the Syrian activists who have hewn it from the rock of their nightmare reality, does not just consist of the weirdness of acronyms. As well as being an acronym, it is also only one letter different from the word 'daes داعس' , meaning someone or something that crushes or tramples. Of course that doesn’t mean, as many articles have claimed, that 'daesh' is 'another conjugation' of the verb ‘to crush or trample’, nor that that is 'a rough translation of one of the words in the acronym' – it’s simply one letter different from this other word. Imagine if the acronym of 'Islamic State in Iraq and Syria' spelt out ‘S.H.I.D’ in English: activists and critics would certainly seize the opportunity to refer to the organisation as ‘shit’ – but I think it’s safe to say that no serious foreign media outlet would claim that 'shit' was another conjugation of the verb 'shid', nor a rough translation of it.

...Some Syrians I’ve talked to rate the satirical value of the word very highly; for others, such as al-Haj Salih himself, however, the main weight of the word is not around humour, but around two very serious points he and others make. First of these is that both the shape of the word and the combination of letters in it are redolent of words from al-jahaliyya, the pre-Islamic dark ages or ‘age of ignorance’ that – as well as being a time rich in poetry and narrative heritage – has huge connotations of hideous barbarity in the popular imagination, being the realm of jinns and monsters and evil spirits and marauding freaks. This has also been overlooked in anglophone coverage, or been confused with an idea of the word having a previous set meaning in and of itself: as we know, it doesn’t. But given the connotations of this type of word, it sounds (to many an arabophone ear) very clearly like it must denote some crazed, bloodthirsty avatar belching back out from the guts of history.

As al-Haj Salih very gently and firmly expresses to me by phone when I interview him for this piece, 'If an organisation wants to call itself ‘the light’, but in fact they are ‘the darkness’, would you comply and call them ‘the light’?' The second, and equally important, point that al-Haj Salih stresses to me is another take on why a neologism is insulting: it’s an obviously fictitious name, for an obviously fictional concept. Once again, the movement’s claim to legitimacy as a state and to rule is being rejected as nonsense, reflected in a fabricated nonsense name for them.

So the insult picked up on by Daesh is not just that the name makes them sound little, silly, and powerless, but that it implies they are monsters, and that they are made-up.

Guthrie was also interviewed about this by Public Radio International:

Here's my challenge to you. Start using Daesh as the moniker for this group. Never associate them with the name Isis again, except perhaps in explaining the name Daesh to others. Hop on Facebook and ask your friends to do the same. Don't give this group power - instead do what they don't want you to do: belittle them, satirise them, make clear their true nature, which is of weakness, ignorance and non-compassion. Call them Daesh.

When you think of Isis from now on, think of the image of the goddess at the top of this post, or of the image of my own goddess Isis below, caught dancing in the sunset, as personifying the true beauty of that name.

Dancing Isis

News Briefs 17-11-2015

If you want to start a war of cultures, you might want to choose your target more carefully... (NSFW)

Quote of the Day:

Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.

Benjamin Franklin

A New Age Of Human Camouflage

Hot on the heels of Greg's celebration of Earth's native aliens, another artist imagines the next step of humanity's evolution, or engineering.

Should we wish to avoid detection, we need tons of prep work. Make up, special clothes, and maybe an invisibility cloak would be more stuff to lug around. Cephalopods have it built-in with their fancy chromatophores and photophores.

Diffusion presents Kouhei Nakama's vision of our transhumanist future where our appearance, and shape, are just as, if not more, mutable than our cousins.

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News Briefs 16-11-2015

I can't believe the news today...

Quote of the Day:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world.

Mr. Rogers

The Last Man: A Post-Apocalyptic Short Story

The Last Man is a beautifully-made independent short film by Gavin Rothery, perhaps best known until now as the visual effects supervisor on the sci-fi movie Moon (fans of that film will see similarities in design). Set in a post-apocalyptic world, The Last Man follows a soldier woken from suspended animation who discovers that he may just be the last human alive.

The fact that there is basically one actor and no dialogue for nearly the entirety of its 20 minute running time, and yet it holds your interest until the very end, says plenty about the quality of this film.