Friday, June 19, 2009

Immanence v. Transcendence, Part Deux

[This is the second part of a three part series. Here is Part One, and Part Three.]

The essential teaching of Hermeticism is:
As Above, So Below.
Hermes is the God of boundaries, and also, therefore, the God of crossing boundaries. This is fitting for the God who travels freely between mortal humans on earth and the Gods in the heavens. Just as it is also fitting for the God who successfully blurred the distinctions between the ancient religious traditions of the Egyptians, Hellenes and Romans, and who successfully navigated the treacherous journey from ancient to modern Paganism.

Hermes is also the God of theft and deception. He was even born in deception, for Zeus wished to keep his liaisons with Maia (from which resulted the child Hermes) a secret from the Divine Queen Hera. Maia is a Goddess herself, but by choice she lives in solitude in a deep shady cave, where Zeus visited her at night while Hera slept. It is said that Hermes was born at dawn, and by noon that day he was playing a lyre (the very first lyre, in fact, which he had made himself from a tortoise shell). The Homeric Hymn to Hermes describes him as
a son of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods.
One of Hermes' most famous acts was the theft of some of Apollo's sacred cattle, which he accomplished on the evening of the day he was born. By next morning, however, Hermes was back asleep in his own crib "as if he were a feeble babe". Only one old man, out tending his vineyard, had observed any of this, but Hermes had sworn him to secrecy:
Old man, digging about your vines with bowed shoulders, surely you shall have much wine when all these bear fruit, if you obey me and strictly remember not to have seen what you have seen, and not to have heard what you have heard, and to keep silent when nothing of your own is harmed.
However, his own Goddess mother had, in fact, noticed his coming and going, and she warned him sternly of the dire consequences of angering Apollo. Hermes replied that it was Apollo who had better look out for himself, and, besides, he had no intention of spending his life living in this "gloomy cave" far away from the other Gods.

Naturally it wasn't long before Apollo discovered what had been done and who had done it. When Hermes saw Apollo approaching in a rage, he "snuggled down in his fragrant swaddling-clothes ... like a new born child seeking sweet sleep." Apollo, not impressed by Hermes' little act, searched the cave and, finding no trace of his cattle, threatened the little thief:
Child, lying in the cradle, make haste and tell me of my cattle, or we two will soon fall out angrily. For I will take and cast you into dusty Tartarus and awful hopeless darkness, and neither your mother nor your father shall free you or bring you up again to the light, but you will wander under the earth and be the leader amongst little folk.
Hermes replied that Apollo's cattle were not among his concerns, which mostly consisted of sleeping and feeding at his mother's breasts, and, besides, he was only born yesterday, so he had no idea what a cow looked like, or even what such a thing was!

Now Apollo was impressed - by the ease and skill with which Hermes lied:
I most surely believe that you have broken into many a well- built house and stripped more than one poor wretch bare this night, gathering his goods together all over the house without noise.
Apollo is only placated once Hermes plays for him on the lyre, a sound, Apollo proclaimed "the like of which I vow that no man nor God dwelling on Olympus ever yet has known."

Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that when the worship of the old Gods was made a crime punishable by death, Hermes was nevertheless able to fool the book-burning monotheists into believing he was one of them, and that his sacred books were not only to be spared the flames, but were even deserving of honor and respect, to be preserved with care in Christian libraries alongside their "Bible".

It should, but unfortunately does not, go without saying, that any resulting (genuinely) Christian versions of Hermeticism are worse than useless, except, perhaps, to Christians themselves. I suppose even they might be able to learn something from him. And perhaps he is the perfect Pagan God for them, since they are averse to any truths outside their own narrow creed, and Hermes can only too easily oblige those who will only accept and learn from him if he is disguised as someone other than himself. But, fortunately for the rest of us, many of those Medieval "Christian" Hermeticists (and Alchemists, and Qabalists, and Rosicrucians....), like the true devotees of the son of Zeus and Maia that they were, skillfully feigned adherence to that other creed and cunningly hid the ancient teachings of Hermes Logios beneath the swaddling clothes of that other infant God.

Sadly, for far too many Pagans today, what was once well and safely hidden is now lost, and these are unable to tell the false Shepherd from the true. Despite the fact that the Shepherd in question is himself the great master of deception and disguise, one still has to wonder at such widespread confusion. As Above, So Below. Is there any hint in those words of a world-denying world view? Is it not obvious that these words refer to a vision of the Divine that is both immanent and transcendent, and that any other Divine vision is abominably hobbled? Can anyone possibly believe that the philosophy of the Emerald Tablet is a dualistic philosophy, when Hermes' own words proclaim that "all things have been & arose from one by ye mediation of one" (in Isaac Newton's translation)?

[The colorful Alchemical images in this post are from The Gallery at the Alchemy Lab website - please visit it!]

My Kind of Movie

There are SPOILERS in this - in case you mind that sort of thing.....

OK, what do you get when you mix Raymond Burr, Robert Mitchum, Jim Backus, Vincent Price, Jane Russell - and a boatload of money from Howard Hughes?? Well, if you add in some great writing and some great directing and some great cinematography, you get one of the most unique movies I've ever seen, called His Kind of Woman.

Mitchum puts in a great performance, and if you are a fan of his you'll love the movie just on that basis. But it's Vincent Price who really steals the show. He also has one of the best delivered lines I've ever heard. Price's character kills the bad guy (played by Raymond Burr - who actually speaks in what sounded to me like passable Italian!), and when Price describes shooting him, someone asks, "what did it feel like?", to which he replies, "I don't know. (pause, wait for it...) He didn't say."

The story is pretty simple. An evil gangster, played by Raymond Burr, has been deported from the US. He is desperate to get back into the states so he can properly oversee his business undertakings there. So he hires some nice folks to find someone who, very approximately, looks like him - and whom nobody will miss very much. Enter Robert Mitchum, who is about as down on his luck as it gets, but still requires some serious "convincing" to agree to .... well, it's a little complicated exactly what it is he agrees to. Basically he agrees to take a little all expenses paid trip to a very exclusive resort down in Mexico/Baja California. He isn't told why or for how long or much of anything else.

So he goes to this place, which is a VERY nice little resort and, of course, the bad guys have no intention of doing anything other than simply bumping him off and having Raymond Burr trade places with him, permanently.

Vincent Price offers frequent and highly effective comedic relief as a love-struck, incredibly vain actor. I swear to Gods the Master Thespian character that John Lovitz used to play on SNL is based on Prices' character in this movie! Of course the object of his love-struckness is Jane Russell. But when the going get tough, Price turns into a philosopher warrior who saves Robert Mitchum's ass, kills Raymond Burr, and, like a true knight errant, gallantly accepts the unrequitedness of his love.

Russell does fine - in fact she can really sing and does a couple of very nice numbers. But even though her boyfriend at the time, Howard Hughes, bankrolled this movie just for her, it's not really about her.

This is an extremely well made movie. It might not qualify as a great film, granted - but it is absolutely a great movie! Director John Farrow also made, and I am not making this up, a film in 1935 titled Last of the Pagans, based on Herman Melville's Typee which was sub-titled "A Real Romance of the South Seas"!!! You can read the whole book online at googlebooks here. Here is a very little snippet from the beginning of Chapter XXI, Strange Customs of the Islanders:
Sadly discursive as I have already been, I must still further entreat the reader's patience, as I am about to string together, without any attempt at order, a few odds and ends of things not hitherto mentioned, but which are either curious in themselves or peculiar to the Typees.
Writers Frank Fenton and Jack Leonard did an amazing job serving up lines for Mitchum and Price, and in holding this crazy story together. According to imdb Fenton also worked on the screenplay for another great Mitchum flick, Out of the Past, but was uncredited for that.

The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted

tweet n. (1) a weak chirping sound (2) a short burst of inconsequential information
Once you're already marching outside a government building even though Basij paramilitaries are shooting into the crowd, putting something on Twitter isn't really a significant additional risk.
[Mike Madden at here]
"The government has people with stones throwing them into the government buildings .... Looking at people's communications -- at this point I don't think it's a priority."
[Evgeny Morozov, blogger and Fellow at the Open Society Institute, quoted in the above Salon piece]
I am basically a luddite and a reactionary. That is to say, I don't think social networking means jack.

When Martin Luther King was thrown into jail in Birmingham Alabama in the spring of 1963, a group of local "moderate" clergymen wrote an open letter in the local newspaper, encouraging the civil rights movement to abandon their "confrontational" approach. The clergymen titled their letter "A Call For Unity", and while endorsing, in theory, opposition to social injustice, they insisted that the fight against segregation belonged in the courts, not in the streets.

The prison guards made a point of seeing to it that King got a copy of the paper when the "Call for Unity" was published. Martin Luther King wrote his reply with a broken pencil in the margins of that same newspaper - and when he ran out of space there he used scraps of toilet paper. King's words had to smuggled out surreptitiously during visits from other SCLC activists.

The mainstream media in the US and pretty much the whole world is useless and getting more so all the time. Twitter and the Huffington Post are not the answer, though. There is nothing new under the freaking sun. People need to build, from the ground up, alternative institutions for communication. These institutions will obviously make use of any and all available technology, but they will not be primarily shaped by the latest tech fads and fancies. There is no freedom of the press, except for those who own the printing presses. Communication that is technology based is at the mercy of those who control that technology.

Maybe, just maybe, there is some hope. Perhaps a new, real, independent journalism is, just barely, already coming into existence. Al Giordano has posted, for example, an analysis of the speech just given by Iran's Supreme Leader - which Giordano characterizes as a "blundering all-turban-no-cattle attempt to defuse" the mass protest movement that shows no sign of abating.

That said, the vast majority of human beings are still idiots - and, if anything, the correlation between intelligence and propensity to blog, tweet, etc, is negative. The denominator of the signal to noise ratio has probably never been higher in all of human history, and as far as I can tell the numerator is fast approaching zero.
Just don't forget that the real action -- and the real risk -- isn't happening anywhere near a computer.
[Mike Madden in Salon]

"The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live."
[Gill Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised