“The Origin of Satan” by Elaine Pagels (review)

This is a review of The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011)

Pagels is a professor of religion and history at Princeton. Based on that, you would expect scholarly language with many citations. You’d be only partially correct. While Pagels covers a lot of territory in her books and backs all of it with endnotes, she writes in an easy-to-read style. In this text, she begins with the first book of the New Testament to be written down, Mark, which was created during the war between the Jews and the Romans approximately 50 years after the death of Jesus. Building on the awareness of the social upheavals when “Mark” was transcribed, she coordinates the history with the concept of “enemy” showing the evolution of that definition over time. Although a lot happens since the book covers centuries, she focuses on Jesus, of course, and the nemesis of the title, as she explains the transition of beliefs and attitudes. As with any religious book, the reader will need an open mind in order to have the patience to let her work through the ideas. This is not simply a religious book; it is also a history of the development of an important Christian concept. Well worth reading if you have interest.

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Joni Mitchell Long Ago

In the early Seventies — maybe it was 1970 or 71 — I saw Joni Mitchell live. She was fairly new on the scene, having started touring in US about a year or so earlier. That’s probably why I went alone. Back then, I loved concerts and attended a lot of them. That day, I was looking forward to hearing a musician play without amplification or back-up (auto-tuning had not been invented). It turned out to be a very special event.

I arrived early. A bit stunned by the lack of stage or chairs, I asked if this was the right place. After the confirmation, I remember sitting on a yellow shag carpet in the bare room. Luckily, and unknowingly, I had picked the best spot. In a while, a man walked in, stopped at the front of the room, and said in a quiet voice, “Joni Mitchell’s here.” Then he walked out of the room. A young, thin, long-haired woman walked over to the only chair and sat down. Most of us were too surprised to applaud. Envisioning that day, I don’t think she talked before she began strumming.

More people entered the room quietly and sat on the floor. We’d all shift a bit to make room. After the first few minutes, the room was packed, people all around me, but not in front of me. Joni was right there, a bit to the side, but directly in front of me. She was so close I could hear her breathing.

Everyone was silent. Perhaps because of the location, no one bantered or whispered to their friends. There she sat, her chair at the front edge of the group, with no bodyguards or roadies. Nothing like that would happen today.

Quietly, she sat playing the instrument, humming, and singing until she decided the concert was over. I don’t remember how long she sang and played. In fact, most of this event is nebulous and dream-like. It was amazing! At the end, I was so caught up in the spell of the music that I don’t even remember applauding, although I must have automatically clapped along with the others.

It was an ethereal experience that was difficult to describe even immediately afterwards. What I do remember is that she was amazingly special. She was gentle, tranquil, living as the embodiment of music. So we sat on that very Seventies carpet, strangers in a room, silently enraptured by her voice and music. We sat in stillness and wonderment until it was time to walk back out into the nighttime.

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Tricky Dick and Johnny Cash

Review: Tricky Dick & the Man in Black (Remastered, Netflix, 2018)

In 1970, Richard Nixon invited popular singer Johnny Cash to the White House. That summary of the documentary does not tell you much.  I’m writing this because there are some very negative and misleading reviews online.  One reviewer even went so far as to call the documentary fake news — an ironic and insulting statement that is negated if you actually watch the film.

Ranging from FDR’s New Deal to Watergate and Haldeman’s trial, the film is much more than a simple documentary. It takes attention to see what is truly happening. The documentary provides an excellent view of the huge divisions in the US during the Seventies, a time when the country was divided by pro-war and anti-war beliefs (and much more that is not discussed in the film). The people interviewed also display that conflict-ridden outlook.

And through it all, we glimpse the complex beliefs and attitudes of the Man in Black. Cash was a man who supported soldiers while he demanded the truth from Nixon about Vietnam. The fact that the president applauded the song Cash wrote to ask about the war shows the power of Johnny Cash’s music. That is precisely why this documentary is worth watching.

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Loving: A Movie Review

Watching Loving, the movie[1] about the Supreme Court case repealing anti-miscegenation laws, is a step into an older time. Beginning with a community in a poor country region, it moves us along at a slower, subtler pace. That is, until the arrest of the couple under the racist laws of Virginia where they were accused of an illegal marriage. Mr. Loving, a quiet white man, had the temerity to fall in love with a woman of mixed African-American and Native-American ancestry. Then he married her. So begins their decade long tribulations and court cases.

The Lovings are wonderfully portrayed as a slice of typical family life. Beginning with their arrest in 1958, the year they were married, the Lovings fought to have the simple rights of any married couple: to love each other, live together, and take care of their children.  Fifty years later the arguments of the various Virginia courts are more than insulting; they are ludicrous. Yet the racism of the Fifties and early Sixties has not disappeared. That fact makes this movie more significant and relevant. Loving offers a slice of shameful history shaped inside a delightful tableau. This movie is worth watching.

——


[1] Loving, a movie released in 1996, written and directed by Richard Friedenberg

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Black Moon Lilith and Uranus in Taurus

Since Uranus is a slow-moving planet, it will stay in Taurus through the rest of 2020. In fact, it will be in Taurus for the next six years.  While Uranus lives in Taurus, True Black Moon Lilith will visit Taurus too. In fact, she’s visiting Taurus right now. She will continue to make her home in Taurus for most of the next nine months.

However, True Black Moon Lilith doesn’t stay still for long so she will flit back into Aries and then return to Taurus a few times over the next few months. Many astrologers ignore the oscillations in the orbit of Black Moon Lilith — that’s why they talk about Mean Black Moon Lilith rather than True Black Moon Lilith — but those oscillations can actually be helpful to us as humans. Those little visits retrograde into the previous sign permit us to go back to the lessons we already learned (even if they are known unconsciously) when she was positioned in Aries (which began in January 2020). This is almost a little vacation before we must move once again into the new lessons of Taurus.

Today, on October 31, 2020, we have a full blue moon with Uranus conjunct the moon. Black Moon Lilith joins the party very close to this conjunction. Black Moon Lilith and Uranus will continue to play together through the end of 2020. This will also include a powerful time during the Winter Solstice, December 20-21-22, 2020.

With Black Moon Lilith and Uranus in Taurus, this placement can bring sudden events, raging weather, and abnormal behavior.  Lilith highlights the power of that disruption. Add the surprising aspects of Uranus and the possessive quality of Taurus, and Lilith can blow up power structures, cause riots, or send people to hide in their homes overwhelmed with anxiety. There could be terrible storms — we’ve certainly seen one hurricane already. As the fear and anger inside people is pushed through the power of this full moon, we will be asked to look at our comfort levels with certain situations, both as individuals and in groups of people.  

Why does this happen? Black Moon Lilith is not satisfied with her home unless there is justice, equality, kindness, and love in that home.  In Taurus, she can enjoy that home a lot. I’ll write more about that in another blog. However, Uranus and Black Moon Lilith in Taurus will offer subtle instructions or catastrophic lessons.

This full moon, and the on-going energy that radiates out from it for the next 6 months, has the power of the elements of Mother Earth. Although the fiery element has lessened a bit since the movement of Lilith out of Aries, there is still the power of fire, earth, water, and wind. These aspects tell us that it is time to learn. We may not like the teachings of Mother Earth, but we must acknowledge them and try to find ways to live in harmony with them.

The lesson of water, wind, and earth can be found in small things or huge catastrophes. It can be a dog that saves a child from drowning or the mudslide caused by clear-cut logging that wipes out an entire town. The thing to realize is that to Lilith, and to Uranus in Taurus, the concept of home encompasses the world. Together they focus energy on the well-being of the ignored and forgotten parts of society and of Mother Earth. That means, the impoverished, starving, homeless and abused aspects of humanity as well as the abused, ignored, and damaged facets of nature that continue to be harmed by bankrupt, greedy, and short-sighted decisions.

With these positions of Black Moon Lilith and Uranus in Taurus, the wealth of those in power could shift. There could be surprises around ownership of land or even companies. They might not actually own the property they think they own. Also growing from this disconnection to property, some individuals will decide to give up their homelands to move to a new country. Yes, I mean US citizens too.    

Uranus is often called the planet of change, but the change it brings is on a larger level. Uranus shines a light on transformation that is needed in societies, large institutions, countries, and generations. Black Moon Lilith, on the other hand, demands change on the personal level. She can force you to look at what has been repressed, ignored, hated or shamed; she can also force you to acknowledge what is valued, loved, admired, and honored.  

Through the power of these aspects, you will determine how you will act. Will you be stubborn and refuse to shift? Depending on why you decide to be stubborn, that might be a positive or negative action. Will you be lazy or focus on hedonistic enjoyments? Will you allow others to manipulate you through your worries and fears about security and safety?  Will you be driven to obtain more property and more wealth whatever the cost?  Lilith tells you to take responsibility for your deeds as well as your failure to act.

Black Moon Lilith gives you the option to choose self-determination. In addition, Black Moon Lilith with Uranus gives you the opportunity to expand what you want for yourself so that it encompasses others, whether that means the protection of those you love or the desire to extend your rights and freedoms to include strangers. With Uranus and Black Moon Lilith in Taurus, the choice is yours, and the power of the universe is backing you.

Copyright 2020 Lillith ThreeFeathers

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Black Moon Lilith in Aries

Since January 2020, Black Moon Lilith has been visiting Aries.*  If your natal chart includes an Aries placement for True Black Moon Lilith or Mean Black Moon Lilith or the Asteroid Lilith, this aspect brings you lifelong lessons relating to how you see yourself and how you interact with others. For everyone else, the last 9 months has let us walk in your shoes for a bit.

Black Moon Lilith in Aries forces people to look at themselves and others in a new way. Significantly, Lilith in this sign demands action. This message might be submerged in your Shadow Self where it will express itself through dreams and unexpected emotional outbursts. Or it could be riding on your shoulder yelling in your ear. If you have done some Shadow Work and have a good relationship with those aspects of yourself, you might be lucky enough to have Black Moon Lilith telling you in a calm but intense voice exactly what things must change.

Regardless of whether that voice is conscious or unconscious, Lilith in Aries wants you to do something. Now is the time to try something new. Express yourself even if your voice is trembling from insecurity or shaking in anger.

Black Moon Lilith in Aries pushes you to look at yourself and see your strengths and weaknesses — and which of your traits is actually strength or weakness might surprise you. Those wings that always itched and bothered you because you couldn’t reach around to scratch them properly can also save you. That self-confidence could push you into a wonderful new journey or trip you into a mud puddle.  If it is the later, Black Moon Lilith in Aries tells you to go cry in the shower and then get on with the next step.

Since Lilith is often about those emotions some call negative, Lilith in Aries wants you to look at your fear and your anger.  Specifically, look at your fear in a new way.  Remember the platitude: brave people have fear, but they act in spite of that fear. Black Moon Lilith in Aries gives you the power to act even when you don’t feel brave. Sometimes it brings real courage.

Watch out because Lilith in Aries can bring outbursts of anger. If that happens, look at the causes of that anger. Just as Goddess Lilith gathers the undervalued, the misunderstood, and even the underdog to her, Black Moon Lilith in Aries can bring awareness of injustice; it focuses on those who are treated unfairly.

When your awareness shines on injustice, how you react depends on whether or not Lilith is part of your Shadow.  Will you see it as a personal attack? Will you see it as a social problem? Will the injustice confuse you? Will it teach you? Will you blame someone else for your mistakes?

More importantly, Black Moon Lilith in the sign of Aries wants action. How will you respond? How will you act?


* Black Moon Lilith was in Aries from January 27, 2020 to October 21, 2020.

Update: I’ve been asked when True Black Moon Lilith will return to Aries. Because of her irregular pathway, she will return to Aries in November 2020, the end of January 2021, and the end of February 2021. In April 2021 she settles into Taurus for a while until she enters Gemini in July 2021. More on those aspects later.

  Copyright 2020 Lillith ThreeFeathers.

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Hamilton and Voting

I voted today, grateful I could fill out the ballet from home (I’ll drive it to the post office later). As I voted, I listened to Hamilton:  An American Musical in the background. What a perfect, uplifting accompaniment to voting! It offers such hope even in the midst of poignant accounts of mistakes and sorrows. As the third time I’ve watched or listened to that musical, I was amazed that it seems fresh and exciting every time. Yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda took some liberties with the plot (what writer doesn’t?), but what he accomplished was enormously important. Today there were two gifts from listening. The show is inspiring and energizing at a time when few things are uplifting. More importantly, it offers an optimistic and encouraging assessment of US government. Going into the presidential election, we need that more than ever.

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The People Keep Getting Poorer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14% of working Americans lost their jobs from February 1 to May 31, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[1] Because of the way the Labor Bureau handles employment data, that statistic does not include workers associated with agriculture.

Commenting on the Cares Act[2], the New York Times reported: “At its peak in May, the aid kept more than 18 million people from poverty… But by September, that number had fallen to about four million.”[3] Stimulus payments and extended unemployment benefits did help for a while, but the economy has not really improved. Many small businesses, even some larger ones, and the people who work for them, are still on the threshold of disaster.

In 2016, 16 million children lived in families that did not have enough food. However, 25% of those families did not qualify for food stamps. Another fact is that in the same year, 21 million children received free or reduced cost lunches at school because of the economic status of their families even through most of the parents worked.[4] Due to Covid and its impact on the economy, more children and their families are in jeopardy.

Since people are losing their jobs, that means that businesses and families continue to struggle. In September, as reported in USA Today, 6 million US households failed to pay their mortgage or rent payments. On October 15, 2020, the New York Times reported that 8 million people have fallen into poverty since May 2020. Sadly, 6 million dropped to poverty levels in just the last three months. Last week, more than 880,000 people filed for unemployment, an increase of 10% over the previous week. [5]  

Despite that, I hear the current president claim that the economy is doing great, just great. How can he be right? Sure, a few mega-wealthy people are doing well, but not the majority of the rest of us.   

The statistics above do not count the people who never applied for unemployment or for stimulus benefits. The reasons they did not apply are as varied as not knowing they qualified or having no way to apply for benefits. This last group includes the poorest families who were eligible for the stimulus did not automatically receive the funds because they did not earn enough to submit a tax return. That means those families earned less than $12,000 in 2018.

Yet Donald Trump tells you that things are going great.

If you have read this far, you have a choice to make. Will you let the facts speak and act based on those facts? Or will you (in the famous words of Terry Goodkind) believe a lie because you want it to be true?

We have come to a point in time: you and I must face the inherent poverty of our society and act with practical and ethical behavior.

In Mark 7:27, Jesus stated “First feed the children.” 

In Proverbs, the wise teacher explained, “Whoever is generous to the poor honors his maker.”

Should children be fed, clothed, sheltered, and loved? Any civilized person should know the correct answer. Will you continue to allow 16 million US children to be hungry so very rich greedy men (yes, there are some rich greedy women but they are far fewer in numbers) can lie to you that things will be better if they stay in power?[6]

You CAN do something about this. You can think. You can listen to those who are different from you. You can be kind. If you have more than others, you can help those who have less.

And you can vote.  If you are still undecided, I’d be happy to suggest some candidates.

————-

[1]. Urban Institute: Linda Giannarelli, Laura Wheaton, and Gregory Acs. “Poverty Projections” (July 2020.)

[2]. The Cares Act, passed in March 2020, was the law that created the one-time stimulus payments and extended unemployment benefits.

[3]. DeParle, Jason.  “8 Million Have Slipped Into Poverty Since May as Federal Aid Has Dried Up” New York Times (Oct. 15, 2020).

[4]. This is conservatively based on US government statistics from 2016.

[5]. DeParle, Jason.  “8 Million Have Slipped Into Poverty Since May as Federal Aid Has Dried Up” New York Times (Oct. 15, 2020).

[6]. This is conservatively based on US government statistics from 2016.

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Yes, this is Shamanism: “The Spell of the Sensuous” (Book Review)

People often ask me about books they can read in order to understand Shamanism. One of the best books about a few of the key principals of Shamanism is a book that rarely mentions the word “Shaman.” David Abram has written a beautifully crafted book titled The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World.[1]

Although Abram rarely uses those words, this author understands the shamanic worldview. He knows how important nature is to the sanity of humankind. Moreover, he understands that health requires “regular contact with the earth and sky.”  At some point in interviews (and perhaps in the writings — although I cannot be certain), he explains that word “spell” now has two meanings, but they used to be the same definition. In other words, the act of joining together letters to form words (spelling) and then using those words to create sentences is an act of spell-work. Even in this age of bounteous books, with so many freely available in libraries, we continue to speak of getting lost in a book, of being carried away to another world, and of being under the spell of the story.

Typically those requesting a book want the immense concepts of Shamanism summarized in a few chapters. For instance, consider the Shamanic perception of animism. This is the belief that everything experiences life and has spirit or soul. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it. Yet within Shamanism that belief encompasses everything from a bit of pollen to the billions of galaxies in the universe and from a rock embedded in a cliff to the tall tree that grows out of that stone. Abram’s book carries the astonishing magic of that realization. The words flow across the written page with an appreciation of nature linked to breathtaking feelings. They open the reader’s senses to a (perhaps new, perhaps renewed) magical view of the world. The words show the need for connecting with the external non-human aspects of our planet.

There are paragraphs that will stop you as they transport you to the magic of a glimpsed enlightenment. And then, the whole page beckons you back. Whether print of audio book version, it enfolds you in the author’s perception of vertigo while looking into the immensity of stars filling a night sky or in the joy of seeing the flash of a hummingbird. It provides countless glimpses into the ontological equation that merges magic and medicine, supernatural with the ordinary, and feeling with intellect.  In short, this is a terrific book.

Sadly it is often disregarded or scorned. I used to buy this excellent book to give it away, but I had to stop. People reacted negatively to the title. Since they misunderstood the word “sensuous,” they could not see past the subsequent assumptions. They never even noticed the subtitle. Fewer opened the book to read it. When I gave the book, I would always be excited to share it. Then I would, once again, be disappointed. As the last person to receive it as a present angrily questioned why I would give him such a dirty book, I realized it was probably a waste of money and time (this was back in the days of shopping at actual bookstores). For a multitude of reasons, including my tired ego and my budget, it was time to discontinue the practice.

Yet, every time I pick up the book to read a few pages, I am once again amazed at the craftsmanship. If I were wealthy, The Spell of the Sensuous — or indeed, both of his books — would be accessible as suggested reading in every library.[2] So, I share Abram’s work  here with you. I often return to the The Spell of the Sensuous and each time it feels fresh. There is something intensely human and deeply magical in the book.  And yes, that magic is also part of Shamanism. If you truly want to understand the shamanic worldview, The Spell of the Sensuous is a good step along the way.

 

—–

[1] David Abram. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage Books, 1997).

[2] His second publication, Becoming Animal, strives to carry the reader into a state of “becoming more deeply human by acknowledging, affirming, and growing into our animality.” More recently published, it merges some psychology with the philosophy, but that does not take away from its power.

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Visiting Iceland with Mobility Issues

Iceland is an amazing country with scenery that cannot be experienced elsewhere. On the whole, I was thrilled by my trip to Iceland and would be happy to return. Since I am an older person with mobility issues, I can say that I feel that way because I traveled with an able-bodied and physically fit person who was willing to arrange things to accommodate my limitations, do the driving, advocate for me, and handle baggage. The people of Iceland were kind and considerate, but it was obvious they were still learning to cope with the tourist boom.

Iceland does a good job of handling athletic tourists and film companies. Yet walking on a trail can be challenging even for robust people who hike regularly. Trails lead across rough country or on dirt or rocky paths upwards towards the hills, and down rocky hillsides. Therefore, conditions will require special planning if the traveler is disabled with limited mobility.

First, even areas that were labeled handicapped accessible were not necessarily truly accessible.  This is less likely to be true if you stay in Reykjavik, but we wanted to experience as much of the country as possible, and so, we tested the claims.

Many museums and venues in Reykjavik do a lot to be accessible for someone in a wheelchair. For example, the Settlement Museum offered an elevator for those who need to avoid the stairs. Even so, seating was scattered and limited to one bench in the first half although the second half of the museum had seating at nice intervals. Even though it is a small museum, it would be likely that individuals with mobility or strength issues would need to bypass exhibits in order to sit down and rest before returning to where they left off.

One of most famous waterfalls, Dynjandi Fjallfoss, had handicapped parking and scattered picnic tables with benches. All of that made it possible to easily enjoy the view. Yet, the facilities failed for a person in a wheelchair: there was an inconsistent 3 to 10 inch separation between the boardwalk and the platform for the WC (that’s bathroom for my US readers). Since I walk with a cane, I was able to step over the narrowest part of the gap, but I doubt that any shenanigans would allow a person in a wheelchair to enter the building.

Unfortunately, several guesthouses that advertised themselves as accessible in reality required walking up or down entire staircases. Be aware, first floor accommodations can mean what people from the US would call walking up to the second floor (with no elevator). Other locations would be great if the visitor can climb a few stairs to enter the building — although one WC had a step up that was easily 12 inches tall.

Another caveat: investigate walking distances before you go.  A short walk could be two or three blocks or require walking on ancient stone steps with no handrail.  Many locations truly were accessible for a wheelchair yet required a bit of a walk for others.

Accommodations for disabilities were better in places that were used to dealing with tourists. Þingvellir National Park was definitely accessible by wheelchair and offered a nice overlook for those who would not be able to walk the gravel path into the rifts. Despite that, seating was limited to the small café inside the gift shop or the turf walls enclosing the outside courtyard.

I loved my time in Iceland and wholeheartedly recommend a visit.  The best thing we did was to schedule a 4WD self-driving tour.  That gave us extraordinary flexibility. Of course, to see the best parts of the country, the driver should be comfortable with four-wheel-drive vehicles and navigating on gravel roads. With a bit of planning, some patience, and a lot of research, you can enjoy your vacation in Iceland too.

 

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