Monday, November 16, 2009

Naked Eye Observation of the Planet Mercury, Part One

You don't have to be a devotee of Hermes/Mercury to get excited about observing the planet named for the God. But it helps.

Mercury is very difficult to observe with the naked eye. But another good opportunity for such observation is approaching. Mercury will be at its "Greatest Eastern Elongation" on December 18, just two days after the Dark Moon on December 16. An "elongation" of Mercury is when the little bugger is at it's maximum separation from old Sol, and this is not just the "best" time for observing Mercury - somewhere close to a significant elongation is about the only time you really have a shot. "Eastern" elongation means that Mercury is trailing the Sun - so it is observable in the evening.

On the night of the December 18, 2009, Mercury will be slightly more than 20 degrees from the Sun. Which is still not very far, but is pretty good for Mercury. Mercury will begin to be visible under (very!) optimal conditions as early as November 25th. Optimal conditions means you have an absolutely clear view of the horizon, no light pollution, and no clouds.

January of this year was the first, and so far the only, time I have seen Mercury. I hope to get one more in before the end of this year!!

I will be posting a lot more about this in the coming weeks and days.

Hindus and Pagans: "A return to the time of the Gods"

The views of four prominent Hindu authors

Nota Bene: It almost, but perhaps not quite, goes without saying that no one person or group speaks on behalf of Hinduism. Nevertheless one sometimes hears blanket statements made to the effect that Hindus, as a group, are completely hostile to any suggestion of any association, real or imagined, between Hinduism and Paganism. The following excerpts are all from articulate (and at least somewhat influential) modern Hindus who, in contrast with what one sometimes hears, all express a rather more open and welcoming attitude concerning the relationship between Hinduism and Paganism.

Ram Swarup

"A Pagan renaissance is overdue. It is necessary for Europe to heal its psyche. Under Christianity, Europe learned to reject its ancestors, its past, which cannot be good for its future also. Europe became sick because it tore apart from its own heritage, it had to deny its very roots. If Europe is to be healed spiritually, it must recover its spiritual past -- at least, it should not hold it in such dishonor.

"There is a lot for European thinkers to do. The task won't be easy, and it will require decades of fervent dedication and a lot of introspection as well .... Europe shall have to rediscover its ancient sensibilities about its people, environment, animals, nature. Earlier, the European Renaissance of the 15th century was incomplete. It was revival of Greek and Roman literature and art-forms without Greek and Roman Gods. If the Renaissance had taken its full course, it would also have become aware of its Eastern, its Hindu, links, but it was soon aborted. In fact, an opposite movement started, an anti-renaissance movement, in the shape of Protestantism, a movement of 'back to the Bible,' 'back to the Apostles.'

"I hope that the Neopagan movement will understand the importance and the immensity of the task. In certain Western milieux, Paganism has been welcomed because it was supposed to usher in sensuality and hedonism, sexual freedom. But those Pagans must understand that the ancient Pagan philosophers were great mystics and great moralists, and the European Pagan movement will have to understand Paganism in this way.

"I believe that Hinduism has a very important role in the religious self-recovery of humanity, particularly of Europe. The reason is simple. Hinduism represents the most ancient tradition which is still alive. It has preserved in its bosom the whole spiritual past of humanity. For self-recovery, these countries have to revive their old Gods. But this is a task which cannot be done mechanically. They have to recapture the consciousness which expressed itself in the language of many Gods. Here, India can help them with its tradition of yoga.

"In my book, The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods, I spoke of a new kind of pilgrimage: a return to the time of the Gods. Meanwhile, European scholars can do a lot. They should write a history of Europe from the Pagan point of view, which would show how profoundly persecuted Paganism was. They should compile a directory of Pagan temples destroyed, Pagan groves and sacred spots desecrated. European Pagans should also revive some of these sites as their places of pilgrimage."
[From an interview with Antaios magazine in 1996, reprinted in Hinduism Today magazine in July, 1999]

Sita Ram Goel

"'Paganism' was a term of contempt invented by Christianity for people in the countryside who lived close to and in harmony with Nature, and whose ways of worship were spontaneous as opposed to the contrived though-categories constructed by Christianity's city-based manipulators of human minds.

"In due course, the term was extended to cover all spiritually spontaneous culture of the world - Greek, Roman, Iranian, Indian, Chinese, native American.

'It became a respectable term for those who revolted against Christianity in the modern West. But it has yet to recover its spiritual dimension which Christianity had eclipsed. For me, Hinduism preserves ancient Paganism in all its dimensions. In that sense, I am a Pagan.

"The term "Polytheism' comes from Biblical discourse, which has the term 'theism' as its starting point. I have no use for these terms. They create confusion.

"I dwell in a different universe of discourse which starts with 'know thyself' and ends with the discovery, 'thou art that'."
[from an interview in The Observer, Feb., 2003. The entire interview is in a previous post in this blog.]

Linda Johnsen

1. "[I]t was my Indian researches that led me back to Greece. I learned that a Greek magus named Apollonius of Tyana had visited India in the first century C.E. and that a fairly detailed account of his travels had actually survived. Reading Apollonius' story was a galvanizing experience, revealing astonishing connections between the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Persian, and Indian cultures, which most modern historians neglect. My interest in Greek thinkers was piqued: how did it happen that many of their doctrines and religious practices matched the teachings of Indian sages so closely? Was Apollonius correct when he claimed that the Greeks had learned their doctrines from the Egyptians -- and the Egyptians learned them from India?

"So I returned to the Greeks, reading the portions of Plato my Jesuit professor had advised us students to skip. Sure enough, there was the juice, the living spirituality that so appall academics today but kept the greatest minds of the Western world enthralled for more than a thousand years.

"I went back to the original Greek historians, such as Herodotus, Diogenes Laertius, Diodorus Siculus, and Plutarch, in an effort to learn what the ancients said about their own tradition before modern scholars reinterpreted it form them. I was continually amazed at how similar the long-lost Greek world was to the India I travel through today, where the persepective of the ancients still lives in Bengali villages and Varanasi enclaves and the palm jungles of Kerala. The type of spiritual practices that Plotinus -- perhaps the greatest of all the Hellenistic masters -- describes in his Enneads are as much alive in Himalayan caves today, where Plotinus is unknown, as they are moribund in American and European universities that claim to teach Plotinus."
[Lost Masters: Sages of Ancient Greece, pp. 2-3]

"Hinduism is the world's largest non-biblical tradition, with nearly a billion followers world-wide. It could be called the world's largest non-organized religion as it emphasizes individual spiritual experience, the realization of the higher Self over any religious institution, book, dogma, or savior. It's also the world's largest native or pagan tradition, reflecting the ancient spiritual traditions that once existed all over the world. Like native traditions everywhere, it honors God or the sacred throughout all of nature. It has many insights in harmony with the ecological age, as it affords reverence to the Earth as a conscious and loving presence and asks us to respect our environment."
[The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, p. xvi]

3. "
Hinduism appeals on so many levels. There is respect for nature and the communion with natural forces that was pervasive in ancient pagan religions but has been lost in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Goddess, whose worship was stamped out throughout the Western world, is still a living force in Hinduism where the depth and inner mysticism of her tradition has been lovingly preserved from prehistory. There is the singing and dancing and worshipping before the images of the Divine where one's love for God and Goddess find full expression. There are the physical and mental exercises that expand one's capacity to directly experience spirit."
[The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, p. 366]

David Frawley

"This pursuit of finding one’s own dharma drew me to examine the pre-Christian traditions of Europe, notably the Celtic traditions from which my Irish ancestors derived. I don’t see any contradiction between their traditions and Hinduism. Fortunately, the core of their traditions has survived the many centuries of oppression and is flowering anew. With time and help from other native traditions, they may yet reclaim their full glory and splendor.

"Starting in 1996 I came into a contact with Celtic groups and began to discuss issues of history and religion with them. Most of them honor Hinduism and feel a kinship with it. They are looking to Hindu India as a new model of resurgent paganism in the world. They are discovering in the Hindu tradition for what has been lost in their own traditions.

"In contact with my Celtic friends and by their advice this year (1999) I reclaimed my Irish family line for the Celtic religion and its Vedic connections. While I am not specifically doing Celtic practices, I have added a Celtic slant on my Hindu practices. One can see Lord Shiva in the Celtic God Cernunos, who is also the Lord of the Animals. The Celtic Green Man shows the Purusha or Divine Spirit in nature, which in plants is the Vedic God Soma. In time I hope to incorporate a greater understanding the Celtic ways into my work and into my communion with nature.

"This revival of native religions is gaining ground worldwide and is bound to become much more significant in the future. Major conferences of pagan, native or ethnic religions are occurring to coordinate this interest. The Catholic Church in Europe now sees neo-paganism as a real threat to its survival. It has tried for two thousand years to eliminate paganism and has not succeeded. This is because the pagan traditions reflect integral aspects of our eternal spirituality that can never be eliminated, any more than we can live without breathing.

"Such neo-pagan movements exist throughout Europe and America. They are complemented by a revived interest in Native American, Native African, Hawaiian, and Australian traditions. All these groups are discovering an affinity with Hinduism. Hinduism as the best surviving of the pagan or native traditions gives a sense of their great depth and power. Hindu Dharma can be an excellent friend and ally in reclaiming and reuniting all native traditions, which still suffer much oppression and are remain under siege by missionary influences.

"May the pagans return, along with their many Gods and Goddesses, free to reintegrate the Earth once more with the Divine, without any church or dogma to prevent them!"
[From Return of the Pagans, which is a chapter in David Frawley's book How I Became a Hindu]

Three Atheists, One Agnostic, a Christian, and a Rabbi Walk Into a Bar ......

In one corner: (1) Christopher Hitchens, (2) Sam Harris and (3) Dennis Dennett.

In the other corner: (4) self described agnostic and would-be reconciler of science with monotheism, Robert Wright, (5) rabid wing-nut evangelical Christian (and rumored former lover of both Laura Ingraham AND Ann Coulter) Dinesh D’Souza, and (6) Shmuley Boteach (Orthodox Rabbi and author of Kosher Sex).

Thanks to santitafarella, whose Prometheus Unbound blog alerted me to this!