Friday, December 28, 2012

Little Witches

Some fools (albeit possibly well-meaning ones) claim that "children can never be Witches", when the truth is that children are naturally fascinated by magic, and it is common for children to at least fantasize (and possibly much more than that) about exercising magical powers. Does anyone still need to have this explained to them, in the wake of Harry Potter?

Foeksia de Miniheks 

Lili – La Petite Sorcière (Hexe Lili) 

魔女の宅急便 (Kiki’s Delivery Service) 

Bibi a Bruxinha 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Witches: Good, Bad, and Otherwise

Here is a very gently annotated list of links from this blog on the nature of "Witches" and "Witchcraft". Special attention is paid to the false claim that "Good Witches" are a modern, romantic notion with no historical foundations.

Some, prominent among them being Ronald Hutton, claim that "traditionally" the word "Witch" always and unambiguously denoted practitioners of harmful magic, and, moreover, that it always and unambiguously denoted persons who were hated and feared by the communities they lived in -- indeed, that those "traditionally" denoted as Witches were viewed as "inherently evil".

I believe that the materials linked to below (both primary sources and contemporary scholarship) taken together form an overwhelming historical case proving that for as long as English speaking peoples have used the word "Witch", it has been used to refer to practitioners of beneficial magic, and, moreover, that it has denoted persons who were greatly valued and sought after by other members of the communities in which they lived.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

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

In her Devices and directions: folk healing aspects of witchcraft practice in seventeeth-century Scotland (scroll down for full citation at the bottom of this post), Joyce Miller poses the question: “Why were charmers sometimes prosecuted for witchcraft? On the other hand, why were there so few?”

Miller is in something of a quandary. She wishes to insist (in fact, she does insist) that there were “intrinsic differences between witches and charmers,” but she finds that it is utterly impossible to keep the two separated. If two phenomena have large areas of overlap, as Miller concedes is the case with Witches and Charmers, then they can hardly be said to be “intrinsically different”.

In a future post I will try to disentangle all the zigs and zags that Miller is forced into as she attempts to to toe the academic party line (that Witches and Charmers are "intrinsically different") while also trying to accurately describe Witches and Charmers in early modern Scotland. But why is this the "party line"? Because, you see, the "scholarly consensus" is that Witches and Witchcraft are "inherently evil", in the words of self-appointed-scholarly-consensus-builder-in-chief, Ronald Hutton (look here for sourcing: Ronald Hutton: Witches are "inherently evil".). Therefore, since "Charming" is quite obviously not "inherently evil", it must be "intrinsically different" from that which is "inherently evil", namely, Witchraft.

In spite of herself, Joyce Miller proves over and over again that there simply is no clear bright line separating Charming from Witchcraft. This makes Miller's testimony all that much more convincing, albeit not in the way that she intends.

With that brief preamble, I will now let Joyce Miller speak for herself:
The first question to address is: what was charming? Charming was one feature of witchcraft practice and belief, but not all charmers practiced witchcraft nor did all witches practice charming. In some cases one person’s charmer may have been another person’s witch. However, under what circumstances the questionable practice of charming could become the crime of witchcraft is difficult to establish categorically.

Witchcraft, sorcery and charming were all features of magic or preternatural power. Although magic had developed a negative meaning, this hostility increased as a result of witchcraft prosecution and theological developments, which stressed its irrationality and downplayed its cultural significance and relationship with religious belief. Since all three were aspects of magic, charming was therefore related to, and in some cases part of, witchcraft practice and belief, yet it was not entirely the same. It shared many of the same physical and verbal actions — the words and deeds — of witchcraft, but it was usually equal to, and opposite from, witchcraft. Unlike witches, who were labeled by others, charmers knew who they were and would label themselves as such. There was also a difference between the perceived source of power of the two groups and, very importantly, their intent. Witchcraft was demonic and malicious: charming was neither.

The authorities, and particularly the church, did attempt to include charming with the prosecution of witchcraft. In 1646 the General Assembly of the church attempted to extend the scope of the witchcraft act to include the charmers:

“Because our addresses to the oridinar judge for punishment of charming, it is informed to us that the Acts of Parliament ar not expresslie against that sinne, which the rude and ignorant ar much addicted unto; may it therfor please your lordships that the Act of the 9 Parliament of Queen Marie made against witches and consulters be enlarged and extended to charmers, or that such other course be taken as that offence may be restrained and punished.”

Throughout the period of witchcraft prosecutions in Scotland, individuals were investigated and interrogated for practising charming. However, at the local level, attitudes were varied. The two presbyteries that were examined closely demonstrate the variation in investigation and prosecution of witches and charmers that was seen in Scotland. The Haddington presbytery had a higher percentage of accusations of both witchcraft and charming — 83 per cent — compared to Stirling, which had only 17 per cent. Given that the estimated population of Haddington was approximately 1.75 times greater than Stirling this difference was quite remarkable. Eighty-seven per cent of those who were accused of demonic witchcraft were from the Haddington presbytery, and only 13 per cent from the Stirling presbytery. The figures for accusations of charming, however, demonstrate the complete opposite: 56 per cent of those who were accused of charming came from the Stirling area, and 44 per cent from Haddington. This illustrates that local conditions and habits appear to have influenced both the rate, and type, of accusation that was processed through the church rather than any national pattern.

The church punished the majority of charmers, but some were prosecuted for witchcraft if their charming actions were categorised as indicating demonic intervention. Local kirk sessions and presbyteries examined evidence of both accused charmers and their clients in order to ascertain whether or not the practice was demonic. But the church appeared to have great difficulty in deciding what to do with them. In October 1630 the Dalketh presbytery asked the sunod of Lothian and Tweeddale for advice about charmers, those who consulted them and also those who had been slandered with no evidence of practice. The synod replied, ‘those that are simple charmers and consulters suld be refered to their [own] repentance’. As for those who had been slandered they thought nothing of them. It would appear then that if the practiced was believed to be demonic, then civil intervention would be required, if not it could be dealt with at local level by the church and the individual’s own conscience. The whole area was clearly confusing. On some occasions the question of whether the practice was demonic or not, was decided by whether rituals had been used, and whether these involved the use of words and actions, either alone or in combination.
[pp. 91-92]
The issue of “whether rituals had been used, and whether these involved the use of words and actions, either alone or in combination” is taken up again by Miller a few pages on. The bottom line, according to Miller, is that if both ritual and words were used, then this could be taken as evidence of Witchcraft, as opposed to mere Charming:
The recurrent motifs or features in the charming treatments that were analysed in this may be categorised according to time, place and manner. The ritual could be carried out as a particular time of the day, week or year; at a particular place such as a boundary, crossroads, bridge or river; in a particular manner, perhaps in silence; or particular direction, moving sunwise, anti-sunwise or backwards. Further categorising motifs which were recorded included the use of words or spoken charms; the use of a particular type of water, or at a specific place; numbers; fire; the use of an object such as a shoe, mail, thread or belt; cutting of nails or hair; use of an animal; meally oats but occasionally wheat. Although charmers did not use the polypharmacy of orthodox medicine they still employed a wide variety of motifs.

Detailed research in local sources from the presbyteries of Haddington and Stirling between 1603 and 1688 has revealed almost 100 references to some form of charming. They have been examined for the use of ritual and words, either alone or in combination, or for the inclusion of other motifs. The use of a physical ritual was by far the most common feature, as nine out of ten treatments (92 per cent) included a reference to soem form of ritual or routine. Words were mentioned in 42 per cent of the charms. A third (38 per cent) used words and ritual together but in this sample, perhaps surprisingly, only 3 per cent used words by themselves.

Andrew Youl, who tied a live toad around neck of his sheep in 1646, told the church officials that he had not used any words along with this ritual. Nevertheless he was reprimanded by the Haddington kirk session and told that unless he stopped using the ritual he would be censured as a charmer. The Haddington presbytery decided that Adam Gillies and his wife were not witches because, although they had tied wheat and salt tot heir cows’ ears, they had not used any words and had merely been carrying out, in the words of the church authorities, an ‘ignorant superstition’. To a large extent these physical rituals appear to have been excused as having carried out through simple ignorance rather than deliberate transgressions. The use of ritual alone appears to have been regarded by the church and judicial authorities as charming not witchcraft. In this case the rituals or charming might be seen to have been superstitious practice continued through ignorance rather than outright deliberate, demonic practice.

There was some concern, however, that rituals could be used to conjure supernatural spirits or powers and were therefore still very much antithetical to Christian practice. As [Stuart] Clark [Thinking With Demons, Chapter 32] points out, the term superstition had a number of applications or definitions that were used by the church. Firstly, superstition was used to define that which was opposite to accepted religious practice. Secondly, it was used to denounce certain practices and habits as valueless, either because they were carried out excessively or in the wrong manner. In its third version, superstitions, or inappropriate worship, was associated with demonic worship. In general, its use was perceived as due to ignorance and lack of understanding rather than active rejection of the authority of the church. In 1581, parliament passed an act making it illegal to visit wells and participate in pilgrimages. In 1629 the privy council issued a similar proclamation. In the 1648 the Dunblane synod passed an ordinance which again urged the abandoning of ‘superstitious wells and chapels whereunto people resort’. It would appear, however, that the ordinary population did not respond immediately, or at all, to these proclamation. Despite the desire of the authorities to force the general populace to abandon these practices they continued to be important to many and so continued to be observed despite the threat of punishment. For those involved, an accusation of charming or ‘ignorant superstition’ was in many ways a better option than an accusation of witchcraft which might result in execution.
[pp. 97-99]
And, finally, here is how Joyce Miller wraps up her essay:
The remedies offered by charmers in the seventeenth century were as varied as the treatments prescribed by orthodox medicine, but both were founded on logical principles and experience. The treatments displayed a consistency of technique, belief and participation, which show that charmers and society had a solid cultural foundation for understanding the causes of disease and the efficacy of their healing practices.Knowledge and skill in charming was both passed on through generations and gained through empiricism, but the knowledge was neither arbitrary nor chaotic. The charms were founded on both cultural and religious or spiritual traditions; their similarity with pre-Reformation practice was certainly marked although their principles and origins are likely to have been even older. This does not imply that charming was simply an alternative religious belief system recognised by a small section of the population. On the contrary most of society practised and understood an amalgamation of beliefs. It was the organised church itself, not society, which incorporated certain beliefs and rituals for its own purposes and rejected others. The pre-Reformation church accepted pleas to saints or pilgrimages to holy sites to help relieve suffering, but the Protestant church removed these elements of worship or ritual as being too Catholic in meaning. It has been suggested that the Protestant church in Scotland caused a change in attitude towards the causes and cures of disease. The church wanted sufferers to turn to the comfort of prayer and personal contemplation and responsibility, rather than using charms or magic. The goal was to achieve an ideal godly state, but it is clear from the records that many of the ordinary members of the population were slower in abandoning a system which they had followed for generations and which provided comfort, hope and control. In the absence of access to professional healers and in the wider context of witchcraft belief, the practice of charming was mainstream, rather than alternative, medicine.

Witchcraft practice in seventeenth-century Scotland was complex and mystifying, both for the ecclesiastical and secular authorities and the population at large. Charming — or folk healing — was only one aspect of witchcraft, but was an extremely important one as it provided both spiritual and practical comfort. It provided society with a means to counter the threat of malicious witchcraft. Charming also demonstrates that contemporary definitions of witchcraft practice, in its broadest sense, were not fixed solely in demonic terms, but were at times fluid and dynamic. Indeed charming continued to be practiced long after the church and the law decided that witchcraft was no longer a threat.
[pp. 104-105]
Joyce Miller’s Devices and directions: folk healing aspects of witchcraft practice in seventeeth-century Scotland is chapter 6 in the anthology The Scottish Witch Hunt in Context edited by Julian Goodare, published by Manchester University Press, 2002.

[Note: This is a very slightly edited version of a post originally posted on my Wordpress blog back on Luly 25, 2011.]

Koenraad Elst vs. an "Eminent Historian"

Hinduism is, by far, the single most important example of a religious tradition that has successfully resisted the onslaught of monotheism in all its forms. Having withstood Islamic invasions, Christian colonialism, Communist infiltration, and even the combined alliance of Christians, Muslims, and Marxoid "Secularists", Mother India stands tall and proud as a beacon of hope to all the Pagans of the world.

And here, by "Pagan" I mean not just those who espouse the Wiccan Rede, or who endeavor to "reconstruct" the Heathen ways of pre-Christian Europe. I mean all those hundreds of millions of human beings in Africa, the Americas and throughout Asia who keep the old ways alive and who worship the Gods, Spirits, Ancestors, etc, who have been venerated since the dawn of humanity itself.

Anyhoo. Koenraad Elst has fought in these trenches as long as anyone currently drawing breath. So, if you are up for a little scholarly inside baseball, you really should read his most recent blog entry: A debate with an eminent historian.

Here are three excerpts to whet the intellectual appetite:

[I]t is not true that Aurangzeb [sixth Moghul Emperor, reigning from 1658 to 1707] was a cruel character, he was not more so than his less notorious predecessors. If he was cruel and fanatic, it was because he started taking the core doctrine of Islam to his heart. He was a pious person, more than is good for a ruler, so he became increasingly averse to the religious compromise on which his great-grandfather Akbar had built the Moghul empire. So at some point in his advancing years, not his personal predilection but his growing commitment to Islam took over. That is when he ordered all Pagan temples destroyed: when the Moghul empire became truly Islamic at last.

For lack of facts, Prof. Mukhia likes to throw names around instead. But a real historian remains unimpressed by this show of name-dropping. The fact that Prof. Mukhia has many like-minded colleagues in academe while his opponents have to remain on the outside is not the result of better competence among his friends, but of a deliberate policy in university nominations. Any young historian who lets on too early that he has pro-Hindu convictions, will see his entry into academe barred. Word will spread around that this man is “dangerous to India’s secular fabric” and he will be excluded. There have been some old historians who entered the profession before their cards were on the table and who only became forthright critics of Islam at the end of their careers, the likes of Prof. Harsh Narain and Prof. K.S. Lal, both since long deceased. Today among university historians, the school that sets the record on Islam straight is simply non-existent.

In several respects, Eaton’s count is incomplete [referring to RM Eaton's claim that only 80 Hindu temples were ever destroyed by Muslims]. Muslims destroyed Hindu temples before 1200 and after 1760 too, witness the near-absence of the once-numerous Hindu temples in Pakistan, witness the regular occurrence of temple destruction in Bangla Desh. It is also seriously false that for this period, Eaton’s count is complete. How could it be? Off-hand, Venkat could name a few cases from his own Tamil village, which was only briefly touched by the Islamic invasions but nonetheless already lost several temples, and they don’t figure in Eaton’s list. Archeologists regularly find remains of destroyed temples, often underneath mosques, which do not and cannot figure in Eaton’s list. Finally, one item on Eaton’s list doesn’t mean one temple destroyed. The thousand temples destroyed in Varanasi during Mohammed Ghori’s advances ca. 1194 form only one item on his list. What Mukhia calls “eighty” is in fact thousands of temple demolitions. So in spite of his Islam-friendly intentions, Eaton has only proven what Hindus have been saying all along: Islam has destroyed thousands of temples.   

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

The first person ever referred to as a "Heathen" was Semitic

Today we look at both Matthew 15:22 and Mark 7:26  Let us first turn to Matthew, who relates:

And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
[Matthew 15:22, KJV]

The same story, and the same woman, also appear in the Gospel of Mark:

The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
[Mark 7:26, KJV]

As noted, the above quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible. In other translations of Matthew, the woman is invariably referred to as a Canaanite, whereas in the version according to Mark there is more variety in the translations. In the first place, already in the KJV we have her referred to as both "Greek" and "Syrophenician". Other translations tend to perserve the "Syrophenician" label, but many of them replace "Greek" with "Gentile", as is the case in the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Weymouth New Testament, and the New Living Testament.

If we look at the "original" Greek text of both gospels, we find that Matthew refers to the woman as γυνὴ Χαναναία, and this appears to present little or no difficulty to translators: Χαναναία simply becomes "Canaanite". However, Mark refers to the woman as "Ἑλληνίς", that is, as a "Hellene".

Now as everyone knows, the people referred to in the English language as "Greeks" have always referred to themsleves as "Hellenes" (well, almost always: in Homer one find frequent references to Achaeans and Danaans and Argives, but  only once does he speak of "Hellenes"). Our English word "Greek" can be traced back to the Latin Graecus, which, for whatever reason, is how the Romans referred to the inhabitants of the next peninsula over, and most other European languages have taken their leads from the Romans.

But in Mark 7:26, the designation "Hellene" refers to the woman's religion, not to where she lives or where she is from or what language she speaks or what ethnicity she is. She is a polytheist, a Pagan who worships the traditional Gods (those same Gods that even the Hebrews worshipped at one time, and into whose worship they are perennially "backsliding"). That is why it is necessary to state both that she is a "Greek" and a Syrophenician, the latter referring to her, for lack of a better term, "nationality", which, at least according to Matthew, could alternatively be denoted by the label "Canaanite".

A previously discussed in my earlier post, Heathens and Hellenes, when Ulfilas translated the Christian Bible into the Gothic language, in the year  348 AD, he translated the Greek word Ἑλληνίς ("Hellene") into Gothic using the word Haiþi, that is, "Heathen".

So, Heathenry has nothing intrinsically to do with Northern Europe or with Germanic peoples. It has nothing to do with geography, or language, or culture or race. It is a religious designation referring to traditional polytheists as opposed to those who exclusively worship the One True God of the monotheists.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Did Socrates Claim To Know?

οὗτος ὑμῶν, ὦ ἄνθρωποι,
Those of you, O humans,

σοφώτατός ἐστιν, ὅστις ὥσπερ Σωκράτης
are wisest, who, like Socrates

ἔγνωκεν ὅτι οὐδενὸς ἄξιός ἐστι τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πρὸς σοφίαν
recognize that no mortal is in truth worthy with respect to wisdom.

[Plato, Apology, 23b]

In Plato's Apology, Socrates makes a crucial distinction between human and divine wisdom. Divine wisdom is, essentially, complete and certain knowledge of everything. Basically, to Socrates "divine wisdom" constitutes what we would call omniscience. Human wisdom is far more limited, and while Socrates does not give an overarching definition of it, he does provide four clear examples of what he himself claims to know with his own "human wisdom":

(1) First of all, and most famously of all, Socrates does claim to be able to recognize, with great certainty, ignorance for what it is, both in himself and in others.

(2) Second of all Socrates shows no ambiguity concerning his ethical stance. In particular Socrates is certain that we should always act in accordance with virtue and piety, without, however, claiming absolute knowledge of what virtue and piety are.

(3) Thirdly Socrates claims to have had repeated experiences of direct communication with the divine, by way of his famous "sign". Socrates shows no skepticism whatsoever concerning either the meaning of this "sign" when it is given to him, nor of it's divine origin.

(4) Finally, as a result of his "philosophical mission" Socrates also claims to have demonstrated, at least to his own satisfaction, the true meaning of the oracular pronouncenment that "of all men Socrates is most wise".

Obviously then, the position that Socrates takes in the Apology cannot be reduced to only the claim to "know that I do not know", and nothing more. Moreover, such a characterization of Socrates is highly misleading, since he definitely claims much more than that. Such an oversimplification doesn't even accurately portray the first kind of knowledge that Socrates claims (according to the list above), because he is no less insistent about his ability to recognize, and expose, the ignorance of others than he is with respect to his own ignorance.

Of all these four claims I believe the last one to be the most significant. When Socrates first heard, from his close friend Chaerophon, what the oracle at Delphi had said: that Socrates was the wisest of men, he simply could not believe it. But he did not discount it, much less ignore it. He felt an obligation to get at the truth of what the oracle was saying. Socrates appears to have taken the typical attitude of any pious Pagan: that oracular sayings are mysterious and difficult to understand, but they are genuine messages from the Divine and they are true if one understands their meaning.

In fact, Socrates does nothing less than spend the rest of his life following where the oracle has led him, and from that course he refuses to deviate even if it costs him his life, which it does.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nick Kristof makes the "Hack List" for 2012

(The excerpt below is from  Alex Pareene's Salon.Com article: Hack List No. 10: The New York Times.)

Kristof’s self-aggrandizing heroism is what’s made him a journalism superstar, and largely immune to the sort of bitching that his opinion page colleagues receive, because he is Out There Doing Stuff instead of opining from behind a desk. But while he is indeed Out There, his years of Raising Awareness have, as far as I can tell, largely succeeded in making a bunch of rich old Times readers Aware of Nick Kristof.

His writing always features morally unambiguous black-and-white heroes and villains. The heroes are frequently rescuing helpless maidens. Kristof declines to see complexity in every great crisis he tackles, and largely refuses to acknowledge that money and American “intervention” are frequently as much the cause of so many of his Causes as the potential solution. As Teju Cole put it:
His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated “disasters.” All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need.
He is also the Times Africa “expert” who rarely demonstrates any special knowledge of the history, culture or society of any of the African nations he parachutes into to save innocents.

Just the headlines and teasers of some of his columns from this summer show how quickly this style of do-gooder rich liberalism lapses into self-parody:
Big Chem, Big Harm?
Chemicals in everything from canned food to A.T.M. receipts could affect you, your children and your children’s children.
August 26, 2012, Sunday
War Wounds
This veteran wishes he had lost a limb. Instead, he has to watch himself lose his mind.
August 12, 2012, Sunday
Obama AWOL in Syria
Why is Obama passive as thousands of Syrians are dying? Top strategists want him to act now.
August 08, 2012, Wednesday
Blissfully Lost in the Woods
Here’s a little advice for the overburdened and overconnected: take a hike.
July 29, 2012, Sunday
The dateline on that last one: “ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL, Ore.” Obama should do something about Syria and also oh isn’t backpacking through Oregon delightful, everyone should do it.

Kristof’s reliance on anecdote and personal narratives above all else occasionally lead him to deeply stupid conclusions, like his column this December arguing that we should cut a meager poverty program designed for low-income children with disabilities because he heard secondhand that some people weren’t teaching their kids to read in order to qualify for it. Illiteracy isn’t actually what qualifies kids for SSI — actual doctors must submit proof of physical or mental disability in order for the children to qualify for the $600 that is making them so “dependent” — but even if you accept the truth of Kristof’s anecdote, his conclusion barely makes sense. Why would cutting SSI and using that money to pay for early childhood education make more sense than just paying for both and making sure some random parents in Kentucky aren’t committing fraud? (Kristof’s also a school reformer, natch.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Posts of Christmas Past (part one)

Toy crossbow prop featured in "A Solstice Carol"
That's right folks, it's time once again to pay homage to the 1996 "Solstice Carol" episode of Xena Warrior Princess!

This is a very slightly updated version of a post I did two years ago around this time.

(hat tip to The House of Vines)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Shit Marcus Aurelius (and Epictetus) Actually Did Say about the Gods ("Live a Good Life", Part Two)

1. We are all kinsmen because we all have "the same intelligent divine part" (not because of "blood and seed").  

Meditations, Book II, Chp. 1 (Marcus Aurelius):
"1. Say thus to thyself every morning: to day I may have to do with some intermeddler in other mens affairs, with an ungrateful man; an insolent, or a crafty, or an envious, or an unsociable selfish man. These bad qualities have befallen them through their ignorance of what things are truly good or evil. But I have fully comprehended the nature of good, as only what is beautiful and honourable; and of evil, that it is always deformed and shameful; and the nature of those persons too who mistake their aim; that they are my kinsmen, by partaking, not of the same blood or seed, but of the same intelligent divine part; and that I cannot be hurt by any of them, since none of them can involve me in any thing dishonourable or deformed. I cannot be angry at my kinsmen, or hate them. We were formed by nature for mutual assistance, as the two feet, the hands, the eye-lids, the upper and lower rows of teeth. Opposition to each other is contrary to nature: All anger and aversion is an opposition."

Discourses, Book I, Chp. 3 (Epictetus):
"IF a person could be persuaded of this principle as he ought, that we are all originally descended from Zeus, and that he is the father of men and Gods; I conceive he never would think of himself meanly or ignobly. Suppose Cæsar were to adopt you, there would be no bearing your haughty looks; and will you not feel ennobled on knowing yourself to be the son of Zeus? Yet, in fact, we are not ennobled. But having two things united in our composition, a body in common with the brutes, and reason in common with the Gods, many incline to this unhappy and mortal kindred, and only some few to that which is happy and divine. And, as of necessity every one must treat each particular thing, according to the notions he forms about it; so those few, who suppose that they are made for faith and honor, and a wise use of things, will never think meanly or ignobly concerning themselves. But with the multitude the case is contrary; 'For what am I? A poor contemptible man, with this miserable flesh of mine?' Miserable indeed. But you have likewise something better than this poor flesh. Why then, overlooking that, do you pine away in attention to this?"

2. Our place (and that of the Gods) in the cosmic order: "It is high time to understand what sort of whole you are a part of."

Meditations, Book II, Chps 3-9 (Marcus Aurelius)

"3. Whatever the Gods ordain, is full of wise providence. What we ascribe to fortune, happens not without a presiding nature, nor without a connexion and intertexture with the things ordered by providence. Thence all things flow. Consider, too, the necessity of these events; and their utility to that whole universe of which you are a part. In every regular structure, that must always be good to a part, which the nature of the whole requires, and which tends to preserve it. Now, the universe is preserved, as, by the changes of the Elements, so, by the changes of the complex forms. Let these thoughts suffise; let them be your maxims, laying aside that thirst after multitudes of books; that you may die without repining, meek, and well satisfied, and sincerely grateful to the Gods.
"4. Remember how long you have put off these things; and how often you have neglected to use the opportunities offered you by the Gods. It is high time to understand what sort of whole you are a part of; and who that President in the universe is, from whom you flowed, as a small stream from a great fountain. There is a certain time appointed for you, which, if you don’t employ in making all calm and serene within you, it will pass away, and you along with it; and never more return.
"5. Let this be your steadfast purpose to act continually, in all affairs, as becomes a Roman, and a man, with true unaffected dignity, kindness of heart, freedom, and justice; and disentangle your soul from other solicitudes. You shall thus disentangle yourself, if you perform each action as if it were your last: without temerity, or any passionate aversion to what reason approves; without hypocrisy or selfishness, or fretting at what providence appoints. You see how few these maxims are, to which, whoever adheres, may live a prosperous and divine life. If a man observe these things, the Gods require no more of him.
"6. Go on, go on, o my soul! to affront and dishonour thy self! yet a little while, and the time to honour thyself shall be gone. Each man’s life is flying away, and thine is almost gone, before thou hast paid just honour to thyself; having hitherto made thy happiness dependent on the minds and opinions of others.
"7. Let nothing which befalls thee from without distract thee; and take leisure to thy self, to learn something truly good. Wander no more to and fro; and guard also against this other wandering. For there are some too who trifle away their activity, by wearying themselves in life, without having a settled scope or mark, to which they may direct all their desires and all their projects.
"8. Seldom are any found unhappy for not observing the motions and intentions in the souls of others. But such as observe not well the motions of their own souls, or their affections, must necessarily be unhappy.
"9. Remember these things always: what the nature of the universe is: what thine own nature: and how related to the universe: What sort of part thou art, and of what sort of whole: and that no man can hinder thee to act and speak what is agreeable to that whole, of which thou art a part."

3. That "all things are mutually connected and united" and under "divine administration", and that each of us is assigned a personal daemon.

Discourses, Book I, Chp. XIV (Epictetus)

"WHEN a person asked him, how any one might be convinced that his every act is under divine supervision? Do not you think, said Epictetus, that all things are mutually connected and united?

“'I do.'

"Well; and do not you think, that things on earth feel the influence of the heavenly powers?


"Else how is it that in their season, as if by express command, the Godz bid the plants to blossom and they blossom, to bud and they bud, to bear fruit and they bear it, to ripen it and they ripen; — and when again they bids them drop their leaves, and withdrawing into themselves to rest and wait, they rest and wait? Whence again are there seen, on the increase and decrease of the moon, and the approach and departure of the sun, so great changes and transformations in earthly things? Have then the very leaves, and our own bodies, this connection and sympathy with the whole; and have not our souls much more? But our souls are thus connected and intimately joined to the Gods, as being indeed members and distinct portions of the divine essence; and must not the Gods be sensible of every movement of our souls, as belonging and connatural to them? Can even you think of the divine administration, and every other divine subject, and together with these of human affairs also; can you at once receive impressions on your senses and your understanding, from a thousand objects; at once assent to some things, deny or suspend your judgment concerning others, and preserve in your mind impressions from so many and various objects, by whose aid you can revert to ideas similar to those which first impressed you? Can you retain a variety of arts and the memorials of ten thousand things? And is not Zeus capable of surveying all things, and being present with all, and in communication with all? Is the sun capable of illuminating so great a portion of the universe, and of leaving only that small part of it unilluminated, which is covered by the shadow of the earth, — and cannot he who made and moves the sun, a small part of himself, if compared with the whole, — cannot he perceive all things?

"'But I cannot,' say you, 'attend to all things at once.'
"Who asserts that you have equal power with Zeus? Nevertheless he has assigned to each man a director, his own good daemon, and committed him to that guardianship; a director sleepless and not to be deceived. To what better and more careful guardian could he have committed each one of us? So that when you have shut your doors, and darkened your room, remember, never to say that you are alone; for you are not alone; but Zeus is within, and your daemon is within; and what need have they of light, to see what you are doing? To Zeus you likewise ought to swear such an oath as the soldiers do to Cæsar. For they, in order to receive their pay, swear to prefer before all things the safety of Cæsar; and will not you swear, who have received so many and so great favors; or, if you have sworn, will you not fulfil the oath? And what must you swear? Never to distrust, nor accuse, nor murmur at any of the things appointed by the Gods; nor to shrink from doing or enduring that which is inevitable. Is this oath like the former? In the first oath persons swear never to dishonor Cæsar; by the last, never to dishonor themselves."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Live A Good Life": About that totally bogus Marcus Aurelius quote that has been floating around

The image is a bust of Caracalla by Bartolomeo Cavaceppi.
Anyone who is familiar with the ancient Stoic philosophers knows that they were staunch defenders of traditional religion, including especially the worship of the traditional Gods and Goddesses and the dutiful enactment of rituals and other outward expressions of the ancient Pagan cults.

In particular, central to the Stoic conception of "the good life" is piety toward the Goddesses and Gods.

This pious attitude concerning the Gods is expressed very clearly and frequently in our two most important primary sources on Stoicism: the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Discourses of Epictetus, as well as in our most extensive source of information concerning Stoic views of religion: Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods (although a Platonist, Cicero is considered a very accurate source of information on Stoicism, and was especially sympathetic to Stoic views on religion).

We can also examine the works of Zeno, Cleanthes and Chrysippus, the early founders of Stoicism, thanks to the work of P.A. Meijer who has collected together, translated and commented upon the remaining fragments of their writings on religious subjects in his masterful book "Stoic Theology". Meijer makes it very clear that the earliest Stoics strongly asserted that both "veneration" (the performance of traditional worship) and "piety" (the proper attitude toward the Gods) were essential to living well.


Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, online:

Epictetus' Discourses, online:

Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods (translated by P.G. Walsh):

P.A. Meijer's Stoic Theology:

18th century bust of Caracalla by Bartolomeo Cavaceppi at the Getty Museum:

Various sightings of the bogus Marcus Aurelius quote from around teh internets (often found in people's "signature block"):
Oct 14th 2009

August 24, 2007

June 14, 2007



6 October 2003