Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hindu Intimidation Campaign Stops Film Showing In New York City

The "Forum For Hindu Awakening" is claiming credit for waging a successful intimidation campaign to stop a public showing of the film "Sita Sings The Blues" in New York City. Read all about it at my WordPress blog:
Hindu Intimidation Campaign Stops Film Showing In New York City

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Charming and Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland (a la Joyce Miller)

In spite of herself, Joyce Miller (Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh) has clearly demonstrated what fans of "The Charmed Ones" already know: that there is no real difference between "Charmers" and "Witches". Read all about it over at my WordPress blog here:
Charming and Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland

Book Burning Hindus?

The so-called “Forum For Hindu Awakening” has posted a story on their website titled “Alert Hindus foil ploy of conversion by Christians on the day of Ashadhi Ekadashi“. This story brags about the fact that a bunch of thugs in Nashik (Maharashtra) physically assaulted a group of “8-10 Christians [who] were going around in two vehicles with the books and explaining importance of Jesus.”

According to the story (at the link) these “Hindu” thugs seized the Christians and their books. And then they burned the books (over one thousand copies). The Christians were turned over to the police, who released them without charges (for they had committed to crime in India, a nation with a Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion).

The twitter feed of the Hinduism Today magazine has also posted a link to the story. Since the people spreading this story are themselves Hindus, it seems, sadly, that it is probably true.
The fools at the “Forum for Hindu Awakening”, along with the world’s most hyperactively self-promoting “Hindu Statesman” Rajan Zed, were the geniuses behind the ridiculous calls last Summer for a boycott of Sacred Source, because of some items for sale at the Sacred Source website that Rajan Zed and some others found offensive. Well, perhaps the boycott wasn’t so ridiculous since it included death-threats!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Stephen Batchelor Is Completely Full Of Shit

This post is Part Three in a series concerning Stephen Batchelor, author of Buddhism Without Beliefs and Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist (here is a link to a list of Batchelor’s publications at his website). Here are links to the first two parts:
1. Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment
2. “I discover as I grow older …”

And now, here are the Top 10 Reasons Stephen Batchelor is Completely Full of Shit:

1. Herman Hesse said all of this already (almost a century ago), and said it much better.
For those poor souls who simply cannot tolerate any exposure to actual Buddhism, because anything remotely “religious” causes you to go into the spiritual equivalent of anaphylactic shock, that is still no excuse for lowering yourself to Stephen Batchelor’s homeopathically diluted version of Buddhism. Nearly a century ago, Herman Hesse blessed the world with his own beautifully written iconoclasizingly idiosyncratic redaction of the Buddhadharma: Siddhartha. (At least four new English translations have appeared since 1998, indicating that many people are already taking this advice.) Hey, just because you can’t handle the real thing that doesn’t mean you can’t still have some standards!
2. Also, Hesse was honest about the fact that what he was saying was not really what the Buddha taught.
A few years after first publication of Siddhartha, the author wrote that, far from promoting Buddhism, the novel actually represented his own “liberation from Buddhism” (Gessamelte Briefe, Vol. 2 p. 96 of the 1979 Suhrkamp Verlag edition. This is cited in Adrian Hsia’s essay “Siddhartha”, which in turn is to found in A Companion to the Works of Herman Hesse, edited by Ingo Cornils.). Hesse was perfectly well aware of, and perfectly happy with, the fact that the words he was putting into his protagonist’s mouth, and the ideas he was putting into his mind, were not the teachings of the Buddha but rather an eclectic mixture of Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Taoism, Jungianism and Buddhism, and that this mixture was of his own invention. Batchelor, on the other hand, delusionally insists that the world accept Stephen Batchelor’s personal opinions as the original, pure and true teachings of the Buddha.
3. There is nothing “agnostic” about Batchelor’s New Dispensation.
T.H. Huxley, who first coined and defined the term “agnosticism”, touched briefly on the subject of Buddhism in his 1893 essay on Evolution and Ethics. What Darwin’s Bulldog had to say on the subject was described by Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids (who would later become and remain for 20 years as the president of the Pali Text Society) in her own 1912 publication “Buddhism: A Study of the Buddhist Norm“, as the “most remarkable contribution of any lay student to the philosophy of Buddhism.” My point in bringing up Huxley is twofold. First of all, Huxley’s own brief non-expert description of basic Buddhist teachings is far superior to anything Stephen Batchelor has ever written. Secondly, in the course of his presentation of Buddhist ideas, the Agnosticator in Chief demonstrates that the same “metaphysical tour de force” (Huxley’s words) by which the Buddha obliterated the notion of “Self”  can be, and indeed must be (and indeed in Buddhist philosophy for the last 2.5 millennia has been consistently), also applied to the notion of “Matter”: “the ‘substance’ of matter is a metaphysical unknown quantity, of the existence of which there is no proof.” But what is a crude materialist like Batchelor to do without the Mammon of “physical reality” to grovel before? This is the real reason why Batchelor long ago abandoned any pretense of being an “agnostic”.
4. Why Settle For Goenka-Lite?
For several years, Stephen Batchelor lived as a Tibetan Buddhist monk and ostensibly was a student of Tibetan Buddhism. Then he changed teams and became a Zen Buddhist monk and lived in a Korean Buddhist monastery for several years while ostensibly studying Zen. In fact, however, during this whole time Batchelor was actually a practitioner, after a fashion, of “Goenka-style vipassana”. And in fact, what Batchelor “teaches” (and one can only refer to Batchelor as a “teacher” if one does so safely within the confines of ironic quotes) is nothing but his own personal interpretation of Goenka’s teaching. So, why accept some half-baked knock-off, when the real thing is readily available? An even more indelicate question is this: why has Stephen Batchelor never applied himself to a serious and systematic study of Goenka’s teachings, but has rather satisfied himself with only a minimal exposure to the teachings that he claims to hold in such high regard?

5. The Buddha actually did believe in and teach rebirth and karma.
“The slightest acquaintance with Buddhism, in virutally any of its forms,  shows that … Buddhism teaches that when people (or other beings) die, they are reborn according to their moral deserts …. In fact, Buddhism probably has the strongest idea of personal continuity found anywhere. Christians, for example,  believe in personal continuity through just one life that we live here on earth, and perhaps in a second life in a place or state of reward or punishment, a heaven 0r hell — although, since that is often considered to be ‘outside time’, it is not clear how the term ‘continuity’ can there apply. Buddhists, by contrast, believe in personal continuity over an infinite series of lives …. Though karma, ethical volition, is … only one of the elements of continuity in an individual’s life (and beyond), from the religious point of view it is the most important.” Richard Gombrich, What the Buddha Thought, pp. 11-13. Gombrich, it must be emphasized, is primarily concerned not only with the Pali Canon, but specifically with that part of the Pali Suttas that can most reliably be attributed directly to the historical Buddha.
6. Batchelor’s fundamentalism
Batchelor apparently could not be satisfied with presenting his own personal vision of what he thinks the Buddha should have taught (but did not) in an honest and straightforward way and for what it is. Nor was he interested in simply presenting his own personal interpretation of Buddha’s teachings as one valid way of looking at things. Rather, he insists, like any two-bit fundamentalist, that the vast majority of those who have called ourselves Buddhists for the last 2500 years have got it all wrong. And it just so happens that Stephen Batchelor, quite naturally, is just the guy to set us all straight. Like some Tudor-era Protestant “reformer”/psychopath, Batchelor sees evil forces lurking wherever  priests, or pomp, or idols, or rituals of any kind are to be found. But it is not enough for Batchelor to simply choose, for himself, to have nothing to do with these things of which he disapproves. Because Batchelor has convinced himself that he possesses The One Truth, and The One Truth must prevail. The priests must be exposed as frauds, the pomp splattered with mud, the idols smashed, and the rituals mocked and ridiculed and ultimately broken up by the mob.
7. What do you mean “we”, Kemosabe?
There is simply no getting around the ugly ethnocentric core at the heart of Batchelor’s New Dispensation. Batchelor’s mind works in a such a way that his own failures at Buddhist praxis must not merely be the fault of Buddhism, but the problem with Buddhism must be explained in racial and cultural terms. It is not that Batchelor was incapable of sincerely embracing and practicing Buddhism, you see. The inadequacy does not lie personally with Batchelor. No, that wouldn’t do at all. Rather it is a congenital malady afflicting all white people: “I’ve found that this denial of one’s roots, this denial of one’s cultural upbringing, is not actually possible to sustain. If one seeks to sustain it, one often ends up as a kind of mock Tibetan or pseudo-Japanese. Although I have tried to do that on occasion, dressing up in all of the appropriate regalia, more than that I feel it to be still seeking to find an identity outside that of my own culture. It’s, as Freud might say, impossible to repress these things. They simply come out in other ways.” [Deep Agnosticism, 1997]
8. There is nothing new, or interesting, or admirable, in the sad tale of an aging hippie manufacturing justifications for why he no longer feels quite so rebellious, adventurous and culturally flexible as he did in his youth.
I’m just sayin’.
9. Arrested Development.
I read Siddhartha when I was 17. It is important to read Hesse when one is still young. Along with Carlos Castaneda. If one did not manage to read these things when one was 17, then there is perhaps no harm in allowing such an indulgence at a later stage in life. But this kind of reading material must be understood for what it is: a starting point, a point of initial departure. Batchelor appeals to westerners who are still spiritual infants, a state ideally experienced in one’s late teens. Sadly, though, Batchelor’s audience is not primarily made up of teenagers, but rather of those who are, like Batchelor himself, trapped in a perpetually infantilizing and narcissizing state of arrested development. But once we have had our fill of pabulum (regardless at what age this finally happens) it is soon time to move on to solid food. Like actual Buddhism and actual Shamanism.
10. Batchelor, by his own admission, has never made a serious attempt to study and practice actual Buddhism.
According to his own account, Batchelor did not apply himself to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism during his years as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Rather, he chose to devote himself to the practice of his own personal conception of “Goenka-style vipassana”. And during his years as a Zen Buddhist monk, Batchelor cultivated an attitude of “ironic distance” from his teacher, and only put Kusan Sunim’s teachings into practice “in a way that corresponded with my own interests and needs.” [for sourcing see: Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment] And at no time during his years of supposedly studying and practicing “Goenka-style vipassana” has Batchelor ever made a serious effort to systematically learn Goenka’s teaching as it is actually taught by Goenka.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Are the 90s cool again?

Check out my new post over at Wordpress:
Are the 90s Cool Now?

American Idol: Goddess of Freedom

Sitting atop the US Capitol building is an extraordinary sculpture by Thomas Crawford: "Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace". The statue weighs in at fifteen thousand pounds, was completed in 1862, installed in 1863, taken down for restoration and repairs in May of 1993, and returned to the top of the Capitol in October of that year. More about the "Statue of Freedom" (as she is now "officially" known) can be found here.

A full-size plaster replica of the statue is also on view at the US Capitol Visitor's Center, where it is very prominent. This is a good thing, since the bronze original is almost 300 feet in the air.

Thomas Crawford was a New York City native and an Irish-American. By the age of 21, though, he had taken up residence in Rome, where he lived for the rest of his life. The "classical", that is, Pagan, influence on Crawford's work is so obvious that it almost seems silly to point it out. Other of Crawford's works draw explicitly on Pagan themes, such as Orpheus and Cerberus, and Paris Presenting the Golden Apple. Other works depict the plight of the indigenous population of the Americas, such as Dying Indian Chief, and Mexican Girl Dying.

I finally found a place that sells affordable ($36+S&H) replicas of Crawford's Goddess of Freedom, as I prefer to call her. And it is the likeliest place you could think of: The United States Capitol Historical Society. Mine arrived in the mail yesterday! One never really knows how a 9 inch "replica" of a 20 foot tall statue is going to look until one sees it up close. In this case, despite my very high hopes, I was not in the least disappointed. She is truly magnificent. In my opinion, every red-blooded American idolator should have one!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Kalachakra Resources

Hey kids! Did you take the Kalachakra Empowerment, and now you're wondering what to do with it? Check out the latest post over at my Wordpress blog for some hopefully helpful suggestions ....

Egregores has moved to Wordpress

For one reason and/or another I finally decided to move the blog to wordpress. Here is a link.

I will try to post links here to new posts over there -- at least for a while.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Little Witches (videos)

Check out the post over at my Wordpress blog with embedded videos from four different variations on the theme of "Little Witches"!

Friday, July 1, 2011

there's a patch of snow on the ground ...

OK, I decided to also add this live version, too:

The Strange Case of Emma Wilby and the Wise & Cunning Witches of Britain

In her book Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, Emma Wilby starts out Chapter Two, on Cunning Folk and Witches, by saying this:
"The common people of early modern Britain possessed a wide repertoire of spells and rituals with which they could practise magical self-help, but in those instances where more sophisticated magical knowledge was needed, they turned to a magical practitioner. In contemporary sources these practitioners were referred to under a wonderful variety of generic names: wise man or woman, cunning man or woman, witch (white or black), wizard, sorcerer, conjurer, charmer, magician, wight, nigromancer, necromancer, seer, blesser, dreamer, cantel, soothsayer, fortune-teller, girdle-measurer, enchanter, enchantrix and so on. These generic names, like those used to define categories of spirit, overlapped considerably and were often interchangeable." [p. 26]

So far, so good. But notice a subtle shift that occurs in the next two sentences:
"At any given time, the term to be used to define a magical practitioner would have depended upon the type of magic they practiced, where they lived, whether they were liked or disliked and whether the person defining them was illiterate or literate, rural or urban, Puritan or Catholic and so on. The same practitioner, for example, could be referred to as a 'wise man' by one person, a 'witch' by another and a 'conjurer' by yet another."

Wilby has gone from saying that the different terms for magical practitioners "overlap considerably" and are "often interchangeable" to saying that certain of these words do in fact refer to different types of magical practitioners, albeit in a context dependent way. Notice how different these two positions are. First there is the observation that the various terms listed do not uniquely define neatly separable categories, but then this is immediately followed by the claim that, on closer inspection, the terms "witch", "wise man", and "conjurer" can be disentangled from each other if we know who is using the terms. That is, even though the same person might be referred to by different terms, this only means (according to Wilby) that different people are using the terms differently. The important thing here is that Wilby intentionally (or so it seems impossible not to conclude) ignores the question of whether or not the same person will refer to the same other person as both a "witch" and a "wise woman" (and perhaps also as a "conjurer").

Wilby then continues as follows:
"These complexities make it difficult for a historian to settle on a working terminology. Many of these generic names have survived until the present day. 'Sorcerer', 'wizard', 'magician' and 'witch', for example, are energetic and numinous terms, but they have been so distorted and embellished by the twentieth-century imagination that, with the exception of the latter, they are now seldom employed by academic historians."

This is a very strange collection of nearly, but not quite, random statements. What is the relationship between (1) the "complexities" associated with the various terms for magical practitioners during the 16th and 17th centuries, and (2) how "energetic" and/or "numinous" some of these terms might be today? And, moreover, why are we to believe that the degree to which a term is still "energetic" and/or "numinous" is relevant to whether or not such a term is to be "employed by [21st century] academic historians", especially when the most "energetic" and "numinous" of them all, "witch", is one of the primary terms still in use???

And why does Wilby make the bizarre statement that terms for magical practitioners became "so distorted and embellished by the twentieth-century imagination"? Are we really to believe that the "eighteenth-century imagination" was dispassionate and objective about these things, so that terms such as "witch" were in use back then in a way that was undistorted and unembellished?

Wilby then proceeds to reveal the true reason for the pathetically tortuous "logic" of the presentation so far:
"Given such difficulties, we shall follow [unnamed] contemporary scholars in the field and employ the following terms. Any individual who practiced magic in a professional capacity, whether for good or ill, will come under the umbrella term of 'magical practitioner'. Those magical practitioners primarily associated with the practice of maleficient magic will, in the absence of any viable alternative, be termed 'witches'. Those primarily associated with the use of beneficient magic will be termed 'cunning folk' -- a title which, although popular in the early modern period, hanot survived into the present day and therefore is not overlaid with modern connotations."

It is astounding that Wilby asserts the "absense of any viable alternative" for the use of "witch" to refer to practitioners of harmful magic, when she herself in the opening paragraph of the chapter told us that among "the wonderful variety" of contemporary early modern terms for magical practitioners were numbered "white witch" and "black witch". Moreover, absolutely everyone (starting from today and going back to the dawn of the early modern period) has always unambiguously associated the term "black witch" with those engaged in "the practice of maleficient magic", and "white witch" with magical practitioners who heal and otherwise are of benefit to others.

The problem for Wilby, and she is perfectly aware of this, is that the terms "witch", "wise woman" and "cunning woman" (in particular) have been consistently used by speakers of the English language, from the 16th century up to today, as both generic and ambiguous terms for magical practitioners.

Later on in the same chapter, Wilby returns to the issue: "In early modern Britain the term 'witch' generally denoted an individual who was seen by others, or perceived by themselves, as being able to employ magical powers to do harm." [p. 42] That this statement is, in fact, a lie, is immediately demonstrated by Wilby herself several pages later, when Wilby once again joins the issue in a section titled "Cunning Woman or Witch?"
"In a significant minority of records, the presence of a cunning man or woman can be identified with certainty. Bessie Dunlop's case is a prime example. Bessie was not brought to court because she had performed maleficium, but because a local family had protested that she had falsely accused them of theft. She performed only good magic and her family had fairy connections. Most witch-trial records, however, are not so clear cut, and it is difficult to say with any certainty whether the individual who stood before the bench was a cunning woman or a witch. One of the reasons for this difficulty is the fact that there was a great deal of overlap between the two types of magical practitioner in the period. While historians often make a distinction between cunning folk, who performed good magic, and witches, who performed bad magic, in the early modern period this distinction was often blurred. Although some cunning folk had a reputation for being wholly good, a large proportion of them were considered ambivalent, that is, they could employ their magical powers to both help and harm. Christina Larner describes this dual nature in a Scottish context:
"The healer is a source of hope in the community. But this power is two-edged. If he should fail, demand extortionate and unecomonic returns for his services, or become hostile, then he becomes a source of menace and a focus for anxiety. The refusal of Canon Law to distinguish between black and white magic . . . regardless of whether it is intended to heal or harm, in fact reflects a peasant reality: that the healer can be dangerous." (Christina Larner, Enemies of God, 1981, pp. 138-139)
[pp. 53-54]

After quoting from Larner, Wilby goes on to cite the 1608 case of Beigis Tod of East Lothian, who was accused of witchcraft on the basis of her reputation for being able to both "on-lay" and "off-take" sickness. Wilby also recounts cases in which people known as healers were approached by those who were willing to pay them to use their powers to cause harm. Sometimes such offers were (reportedly) accepted, while other times they were (reportedly) declined. Wilby also points out that it could be "good for business" for a healer if she or he also had a reputation for being able to "perform maleficium" -- for one thing, it helped in collecting the bill! Wilby sums up the situation like this: "Given the ambivalent nature of early modern cunning folk, therefore, when we are presented with trial records describing them performing both good and bad magic, it is difficult to establish with any certainty whether the cited practitioner was a cunning woman or a witch." [p. 55]

There is a huge problem with Wilby's neat little disclaimer above: it is always (as opposed to only when "we are presented with trial records describing them performing both good and bad magic") impossible (as opposed to "difficult") to establish with any certainty whether a person on trial for witchcraft was exclusively a practitioner of beneficial or harmful magic, or of both. And it is always impossible, assuming one has some passing familiarity with and at least a modicum of respect for the truth, to claim that the word "Witch" has at any time during the last five centuries been used specifically to distinguish practitioners of harmful magic from those who practice beneficial magic.