Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Your song



image: Medicine Man Yellow Plume, photographed by Roland W. Reed, 1912. Wikimedia commons (link).

The book Empire of the Summer Moon, by S. C. Gwynne (2010), is remarkable on many levels and for many reasons. It relates the unforgettable story of the Comanche people, and of Quanah Parker, in the face of forces which would inexorably destroy their traditional way of life, but in the face of which they demonstrated qualities which have many profound lessons to teach us even if we live in very different times and face a different series of forces and currents. 

The events described in the book are worthy of prolonged meditation and contemplation, but right now only one particular subject -- by no means the most important of the subjects in the book but an important subject nonetheless -- will be examined here, and one which takes up only three sentences in the entire 371 pages, and it concerns a phenomenon which was common to many other Native American tribes and cultures: the subject of singing. Here are those three sentences from Empire of the Summer Moon, quoted in context as part of a general description Gwynne presents of the Comanche warrior:
To their enemies, the Comanches were implacable buffalo-horned killers, grim apostles of darkness and devastation. Inside their own camps, however, where Rachel Parker Plummer, Cynthia Ann Parker, and the others now found themselves they were something entirely different. Here, wrote Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, one of the first Americans to observe them closely, the Comanche "is a noisy, jolly, rollicking, mischief-loving braggadoccio, brimful of practical jokes and rough fun of any kind . . . rousing the midnight echoes with song and dance, whoops and yells." He loved to gamble and would bet on anything -- absolutely anything -- but especially on horses and games of chance, and would happily wager his last deerskin. He loved to sing. He especially loved to sing his personal song, often written expressly for him by a medicine man. He often woke up singing and sang before he went to bed. He adored games of any kind, but more than anything else in the world he liked to race horses. He was vain about his hair -- often weaving his wife's shorn tresses in with his own to create extensions, as modern women do. He would roll those extensions in beaver or otter skin. He was an incurable gossip and had, according to Dodge, "a positive craving to know what is going on around him." He would dance for hours, or days. 47.
While Colonel Dodge (1827 - 1895), Gwynne's source for much of the above description, was no doubt reporting through the lens of his own nineteenth-century cultural biases (and prejudices, and his writing is occasionally very condescending but also at other points very respectful of the cultures he lived among and described), there is little reason to doubt the report regarding the importance of singing described in this passage. The description is short, but provides important observations to consider: the Comanche loved to sing, he especially loved to sing his own personal song, which was often written expressly for him by a shaman, and he often sang first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening before going to bed.

How many of us can say the same? Would it be written of us by an outside observer that we generally sing first thing in the morning and last thing before going to bed?

Richard Irving Dodge's entire book from which both of the quotations cited in the above passage were taken can be read online in facsimile form here. It was published in 1883 and entitled Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three Years' Personal Experience among the Red Men of the Great West. In it, Dodge mentions the importance of song many times, and not just among the Comanche but also among the Cheyenne, the Sioux, the Pawnee, the Arapahoe, and many others among whom Dodge traveled.

He also gives some description and even transcription of some of the songs, including an attempt to capture the musical notes of some of them for which he enlisted the services of the leader of the regimental band of the 23rd Infantry. The twenty-seventh chapter of his book, beginning on page 348 in the text linked above, is entirely devoted to a discussion of "Indian Music and Musicians -- Curious Musical Instruments -- Poetry and Songs." Dodge writes:
For music for all warlike and religious ceremonies, for gambling bouts, for dances, for all social gatherings and merry-makings, the Indian relies on his voice. Scarcely anything is done without this music, and similar and monotonous as it all appears to be to the uninstructed ear, each particular ceremony and dance has its own invariable music.
[. . .]
Many of the songs have words, but by far the greater number are "songs without words," but to which words may be adapted on special occasions. The words constantly vary, the music never.
The adaptation of words to a special song is frequently a matter of grave importance. A party of warriors returning from a successful foray, must embalm their exploits in song. They have decided on the music, but the work before them is to fit words to it which will be expressive and most highly eulogistic, not only of the performances of the party, but of each individual who distinguished himself. Night after night is spent in this grand effort. One man will propose a line; all try the effect by singing it in chorus. If satisfactory, it is adopted; if not, rejected or amended. The song must be, and is, ready by the time they get home, and on the first occasion thereafter is sung to the pride and gratification of all. 
So also in other songs. One man will adapt a set of words, whose appropriateness to some situation or personal peculiarity will make them popular for a little while, or until another set of words displaces them. Even the nursery songs of the mothers are a mere jumble, no two mothers using the same words, though singing the same song.
[. . .]
Indian songs are very curious, and though on all subjects, what may be termed the mechanism is the same in all. An isolated thought is expressed in a few words, possibly in one compoud word. This, followed by a number of meaningless sounds sufficient to fill out the music to the end of the beat, constitutes the first line or verse. The other lines are constructed in the sam manner. Whatever is intended to be said is generally expressed in four lines or verses, though some of the songs have many lines.
The constant use of sounds without meaning, to fill up gaps in the lines, makes it easy for any Indian to be his or her own poet. 350-352.
Undoubtedly, there must have been much more to the subject of singing than Colonel Dodge was able to perceive as an outsider to the cultures he is writing about, but nevertheless he has preserved some valuable observations which are worthy of careful consideration. Perhaps chief among these is the fact that their culture, and the structure of these songs, made it possible for every man or woman "to be his or her own poet" -- it was not only possible but it was encouraged, and it was clearly common practice, for everyone to do so, and great importance was attached to doing so. 

Contrast this description to the situation today in modern society, where the creation of songs is almost entirely "outsourced" to the manufacturers of popular culture -- professional songwriters, professional musicians, and (in most cases) a professional class of gatekeepers who determine what gets published and distributed and promoted. It would be difficult to argue with the observation that, for the most part, men and women today hum or sing (whether out loud or simply in their minds) songs that are created by others, and that the idea that everyone can "be his or her own poet" is far from the situation that prevails a little over a hundred years after Dodge wrote down his observations.

Clearly, he is discussing Native American cultures, in which singing -- and personal songs -- played an even more important role than in most European cultures of the same period, but it could also be noted that even in European cultures a hundred years ago, singing appears to have been much more of a pastime and an event that played a part of the rhythm of everyday life than it is today. That is to say, music was generated -- and sung -- by a much wider portion of the populace than is the case today, where a large portion of the populace can be said to consume music (and at times to sing along with music), but cannot be said to really create music or participate in its creation to the same degree that was once common.

For evidence to support this change, I can point to institutions that have existed for a hundred years or so, or which came to be in the late 1800s or early 1900s, which still have a tradition of singing, such as many rugby clubs, or the Norwegian Club of San Francisco (in which singing is a part of every meal, before during and after). You can also see evidence of the difference between the role singing once played and the role it plays today by watching certain films depicting the situation a hundred years ago, including the film Breaker Morant which was discussed in this previous post and which depicts incidents surrounding the period from August of 1901 to February of 1902. One memorable scene in the film portrays a heartfelt song after a supper, and at another point, Edward Woodward playing the lead role of Lieutenant Morant is shown in a flashback singing a remarkable rendition of a poem that was actually written by Morant himself, to the woman he hopes to one day marry.

Thus, it is clear that something has happened in the past hundred years to greatly diminish the role of singing in "western culture" as well -- most likely the rise of mass-production and mass-distribution of music due to certain technological advances, which has had the effect of "specializing" and "centralizing" the production and performance of music and diminishing its production and performance among the general public, although of course this is a broad generalization and there are certainly plenty of people who continue to make their own music and to sing and listen to one another in social gatherings. 

It is clear from the descriptions given above and from other records, however, that the role of singing among Native American cultures has a distinctly sacred, ceremonial and personal component which goes beyond even that of personal artistic expression or expression of deep feeling. As S. C. Gwynne writes in Empire of the Summer Moon, a Comanche warrior's personal song was "often written expressly for him by a medicine man." Other sources explain the importance of singing before battle (Dodge mentions this as well, in addition to describing in detail the importance attached to commemorating a successful war-party in song, in the passage quoted earlier). Dodge also explains that in many cases, an individual would sing the personal song at the time of passage into the next world, and it would be the last words spoken in this life. 

From these examples, it is clear that the singing being discussed had a personal spiritual component, closely connected to the individual's identity, but also connecting him or her to the universe. The fact that the most personal individual song was often given by a shaman, an individual who used song to travel to the realm of the stars and to the realm of the spirits, indicates that the song almost certainly connects the individual to the order of the cosmos.

This aspect of the personal song may in fact account for the descriptions Dodge records, that the songs almost always stayed within a single octave and emphasized rhythm more than melody or lyrical content: they can probably be more accurately described as a form of chant, as discussed in this previous post in which the importance of chanting is discussed, and examples of chanting that clearly have a strong spiritual component, from cultures around the globe, are given along with embedded videos of each.

Note that in each of those videos, the only instrument used is the human voice (video links here, here, here, and here). Dodge states at the beginning of the passage quoted above that the voice is usually the only instrument used, although he also notes that the tom-tom is the universal and predominant additional instrument, when another instrument is added. It is notable that the drum is one of the most characteristic and universal pieces of equipment of the shaman the world over (see this previous post), and that the authors of Hamlet's Mill provide clear evidence that the rhythm of the shaman's drum was connected to the motions of the celestial bodies, and especially the planets. 

There, much discussion and examination of the world's myths links the planet Saturn to the rhythm created by all of the planets in their orbits. Saturn was seen as "the giver of measures"  -- both measures of time and of distance -- and by having the longest orbit of the visible planets was seen as the one who "ordered the time" for all the other planets -- and for human beings on this planet as well (note that Saturn is associated in some ways with Kronos, the ancient Greek god of Time). Saturn was mythologically linked to the mysterious figure of the Smith (this connection can be seen in Greek myth, for example, where Hephaestos is a Saturnian figure, but also in many other myths of the world).

The rhythm of the smith's hammer upon the anvil was described as the origin of all musical instrumentation in some myths (see Appendix 10 of Hamlet's Mill for some discussion of this connection), and is almost certainly connected with the beating of the drum, an instrument which had clear celestial aspects as documented by the authors of Hamlet's Mill as well as by Mircea Eliade in his landmark examination of shamanism the world over. 

Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that the beating of the drum was seen to be directly connected to the motions of the cosmic cycles and to the higher realms of the planets, according to the ancient wisdom found in many cultures around the world. As such, the rhythmic nature of the songs or chants described above, the fact that if they were accompanied at all they were accompanied by a drum or tom-tom, and the fact that the most special or personal of them were often given by a shaman (who is associated with a drum and with shamanic journeys to the celestial and spiritual realm), strongly suggests that this particular category of singing clearly links the singer to the entire universe of which he or she is a part, including the spiritual realms which are strongly connected to the motions of the circling heavens.

In light of the foregoing discussion, it is worthwhile to contemplate what a powerful and positive role singing and chanting clearly played among the people of the Americas, and what an example that can be to us living today in a world which over the past several decades has seen mass-produced music replace individually-produced song to a greater and greater degree. It is evident from the four different examples of chanting linked earlier, each in different languages and each originating from a different culture dispersed widely across our planet, that the specific words or languages may be less important than the general form and rhythm of the song: and indeed, the specific testimony given by Dodge and quoted in the passages above, seems to confirm that very conclusion.

The attitude described by Colonel Dodge, that each Native American man and woman was not afraid "to be his or her own poet" is one which we might carefully consider emulating. In an age in which music is so commonly produced only by professionals, it is easy to forget that we can sing whenever we want, simply for the love of it (as described in the passage from S. C. Gwynne above) and not even for the consumption of anyone else at all! We can realize that singing is not something we need to do to impress anyone else, or with the approval of anyone else, or even loud enough for anyone else to really perceive it -- but it is also something that can connect us in very profound and real ways to the "music of the spheres" in the endless heavens above us, and even to aspects of the unseen realm which interpenetrates the visible world at all times, even when we are unaware of it.

We can find sources of such song from a variety of different places, but perhaps most importantly we can simply make it ourselves.

   

Sunday, August 17, 2014

For the love of the stars


























image: Milky Way over the San Rafael Desert, Utah (United States), Wikimedia commons (link).

The previous post linked to explanations of over fifty star myths from cultures around the world (and there are many more cultures whose star myths could also be discussed). In order to truly enjoy the study of star myths and astro-theology, however, it is best to actually get outside and observe the gorgeous stars in their natural setting, if at all possible.

Finding the various constellations of our night sky may seem intimidating at first, but it doesn't have to be. With the right guides and some practice, you will absolutely be able to do it. Of course, getting to a place that is away from the light pollution found around most large cities may be necessary in order to achieve satisfactory views of the stars and planets. You'll also want to become aware of the general cycle of the moon, since the best times to look at stars are when the moon is less dominant in the night sky -- the moon tends to drown out the stars during the days on either side of the full moon (see discussions here, here, here, here, and here for some descriptions of the monthly lunar cycle).

If you are able to schedule even a few minutes each night at about the same time (perhaps to walk the dog through the neighborhood, after the sun has set and the sky has darkened), this may be the very best way to become familiar with the constellations. Unless you have access to an observation point with good 360-degree views, taking a short walk each night may be the best way to get views of all the different directions and in doing so becoming familiar with the stars found in the different parts of the sky and the different cardinal directions and elevations. Also, observing at the same general time each evening will enable you to begin to notice the gradual changes in the sky as the earth progresses around its orbital path each year.

After a while, the stars and constellations and planets will begin to become like familiar friends. At that point, you may find that you look forward to seeing them each night and don't want to miss your appointment with them each evening!

The very fact that the ancient sacred traditions of virtually every single culture on our planet were based upon a common system of celestial metaphor in which the motions of the constellations (especially the zodiac constellations) and the planets play a central role should tell us that their motions are extraordinarily important to human existence. Becoming more familiar with their location and cycles is an important way to connect with our ancient heritage, and to connect with the universe of which we ourselves are a part.

Many previous posts have discussed individual constellations and significant stars, often with some tips on how to find them, and sometimes with a discussion of some of the star-myths in which those constellations play a role. In order to make it easier to locate all of those previous discussions of constellations, they are listed below (for the first time in one place!) in alphabetical order by constellation, asterism, or star.

One other tip (which has been repeated quite frequently in previous posts) concerns the "system" you use to "draw the lines" in your mind's eye as you look at the constellations. I believe that the system offered by well-known author H. A. Rey is far superior to any other system I have seen, and for numerous reasons. You can find his system illustrated (along with commentary on locating each constellation) in his outstanding book The Stars: A New Way to See Them (first published in 1952 and updated several times since then). He also wrote a children's version of the same book, which is also discussed and linked in the same previous post.

Before going to the list, take a look at the beautiful photograph above of the Milky Way rising up from the southern horizon in between Scorpio (on the right, to the west as we look south) and Sagittarius (on the left, to the east as we look south). If the image above isn't large enough for you, simply click the link in the previous sentence for a bigger image. You should be able to spot both Scorpio and Sagittarius as well as the beautiful arc of the Southern Crown (Corona Australis) in the photograph, which was taken in the northern hemisphere location of the San Rafael Desert in the western United States (state of Utah). If you want to make them "jump out" of the image a bit more, simply squint your eyes as you look at it, which will have the effect of filtering out some of the fainter stars, and cause the outlines of Scorpio, Sagittarius and the Southern Crown to really stand out.  

At the bottom of the list of the constellations and asterisms and stars you will find another version of the same photograph, with labels and arrows indicating Scorpio, Sagittarius, and the Southern Crown.

Here's the list of constellations, asterisms, and stars that have been featured in blog posts so far (if you are using a desktop or laptop, you should be able to "hover" your mouse over the various links and wait just a second to see the name of the post that is linked):


ALDEBARAN [see here, here, here, and here]
ALGOL [here]
ALSHAIN [here]
ALTAIR [see here, here, here, here, and here]
ANTARES [see here, here, and here]
AQUARIUS (the Water Bearer) [see here, here, here, and here]
AQUILA (the Eagle) [see herehere, herehereherehere, and here]
ARA (the Altar) [here]
ARCTURUS [see here, here, here, and here]
ARIES (the Ram) [here]
ARGO NAVIS (the Ship Argo) [see here and here]
AURIGA (the Charioteer) [see here, here, here, and here]
BEEHIVE [see here, here, and here]
BERENICE'S HAIR (Latin: Coma Berenices) [here]
BIG DIPPER (part of Ursa Major) [see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]
BOOTES (the Herdsman) [see here, here, here, here, and here]
CANCER (the Crab) [see here, here, herehere, and here]
CANIS MAJOR (the Big Dog) [see here, here, here, here, here, and here]
CANIS MINOR (the Little Dog) [see here and here]
CAPELLA [see here, here, here, and here]
CAPRICORN (the Goat) [see here, here and here]
CASSIOPEIA [see here, here, here, here, and here]
CAT'S EYES [here]
COLUMBA (the Dove) [here]
CORONA AUSTRALIS (Southern Crown) [here]
CORONA BOREALIS (Northern Crown) [see here, here, and here]
CORVUS (the Crow) [see here, here, here, and here]
CRATER (the Cup) [see here and here]
CYGNUS (the Swan) [see here, here, here, and here]
DELPHINUS (the Dolphin) [here]
DENEB [see herehere, and here]
DENEBOLA [see here, here, and here]
DRACO (the Dragon) [here]
ERIDANUS [here]
FOMALHAUT [here]
GEMINI (the Twins) [see here, here, here, here, here, here, hereherehere, and here]
GREAT SQUARE [see here, here, here, and here]
HERCULES [here]
HYADES [see here, here, here, here, here, and here]
HYDRA [see here, here, here, and here]
LEPUS (the Hare) [see here, here, and here]
LEO (the Lion) [see here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]
LIBRA (the Scales) [see here and here]
LYRA (the Lyre) [see here and here]
PEGASUS [see herehereherehere, and here]
PERSEUS [see here, here, here, here, here, and here]
PISCIS AUSTRINUS (Southern Fish) [see here and here]
PISCES (the Fishes) [see here and here]
PLEIADES [see here, herehere, herehere, here, here, here, and here]
POINTERS [see here, here, and here]
POLARIS [see here, herehere, hereherehere, and here]
PROCYON [see here, here and here]
REGULUS [see here, here, here, here, here, and here]
SAGITTA (the Arrow) [see here and here]
SAGITTARIUS (the Archer) [see here, herehere, here, here, here, here, and here]
SCORPIO (the Scorpion) [see here, herehere, herehereherehere, and here]
SIRIUS [see hereherehereherehere, and here]
SOUTHERN CROSS [see here and here]
SPICA [see here, here, here, here, here, herehere, and here]
TARAZED [here]
TAURUS (the Bull) [see hereherehere, here, here, hereherehereherehereherehere, and here]
THUBAN [see here, here, and here]
TRIANGULUM [here]
URSA MAJOR (the Big Bear) [see here, here, here, and here]
URSA MINOR (the Little Bear) [see here and here]
VEGA [see here and here]
VIRGO (the Virgin) [see here, herehere, hereherehere, here, here, here, here, and here]


And now, here's the same image from the top of the post, with a few arrows to help you see the Scorpion, the Southern Crown, and the "teapot" / "locust" portion of Sagittarius:


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hamlet, Hamlet's Mill, and Astro-Theology

























image: From Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, E. A. Wallis Budge, 1911 (link). Labels added to show correspondence to characters in the story of Hamlet. 

The previous post, entitled "Shakespeare and the Creation of Reality," examined aspects of Shakespeare's plays, and in particular Shakespeare's love of language and of playing with multiple meanings of words and phrases, relating to the concept of "reality creation" and human consciousness.

That post especially focused in upon one of the most famous scenes from Hamlet, which may well be Shakespeare's most famous play. It is particularly fitting that Shakespeare's Hamlet is so overtly concerned with the question of reality and epistemology (the subject of knowing, and the question of how we know what we know, or whether and what we can know), as well as the extent to which words and thoughts shape and even create reality, because the fundamental storyline of Hamlet is a celestial storyline, connected to the ancient sacred traditions of many cultures. 

As I endeavor to demonstrate in my latest book The Undying Stars, these ancient myths -- to which the plot of Hamlet is so closely connected -- are almost certainly deeply concerned with the exact same issues: the creation of reality, the nature of human existence, and the degree to which reality and in fact the entire cosmos is in some sense contained and even created inside the head of each individual man and woman (and thus the well-known scene of young Hamlet contemplating the skull is a beautiful dramatization of this very question).

The fact that the basic plot outline of Hamlet is a very ancient one, hearkening all the way back to the myths of ancient Egypt, is thoroughly established in the seminal 1969 study of ancient wisdom and astro-theology, Hamlet's Mill: An essay on myth and the frame of time, by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend. In that text, they demonstrate that the legend of Hamlet (or Amlethus, as he was called by Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish historian and scholar of myth and poetry who lived c. AD 1150 to c. AD 1220) in which a king-father is killed by a treacherous brother, and whose murder must be avenged by his son, corresponds directly to the outline of the myth of Osiris (murdered by his treacherous brother Set) and Horus.

The connections between these myths (and the connection to the plot of The Lion King) is discussed in this previous post, among others. 

Hamlet's Mill also demonstrates that this ancient myth -- like so many others from around the globe and across the millennia -- is based upon a common system of celestial allegory that can be perceived underneath the different costumes and cultural trappings of all the various sacred stories. 

However, as many readers of Hamlet's Mill are no doubt aware, it can be difficult to follow the argument at times, due to the book's tendency to come right up to the edge of making the connection before suddenly dancing away to take up a different angle or a myth from a different culture, always promising to come back and "close the loop" later on (the reader can be the judge of whether or not that promise is completely serious). 

This is not to say that Hamlet's Mill is not a valuable text that rewards multiple readings and careful study: it absolutely is and it absolutely does, and it has been seminal to my own understanding and to the work of many other researchers who cite it favorably and indicate its importance to their analysis. Contrary to the extremely biased entry on the text in Wikipedia (and the rambling and completely negative essay that is the only "External Links" source that Wikipedia has featured in the bottom section in their misleading and unfair Hamlet's Mill page for some years now), Hamlet's Mill has not been "debunked," and I believe that its arguments are not only sound but are supported by so much evidence from ancient myth that the conclusion is practically undeniable at this point. My reply to the arguments in that sole reference selected by Wikipedia in their "External Links" for Hamlet's Mill can be found in the previously-linked blog post here.

All that aside, due to the fact that Hamlet's Mill is a somewhat difficult work which generally requires a few complete read-throughs, it may be helpful to read some more straightforward and systematic explications of the ancient system of celestial metaphor prior to tackling Hamlet's Mill itself (although I will say again that it is absolutely worthwhile to eventually tackle it, with the idea that you may have to tackle it again once you've tackled it once!). 

One such book, focusing particularly on the Osiris-Set-Horus conflict is The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt (originally published in 1992), by Jane B. Sellers.

Another, I would respectfully submit, is The Undying Stars, in which I endeavor to explain the ancient system in a clear and thorough fashion, as well as to examine the possible purpose and meaning for the widespread presence of star-myths at the heart of virtually every sacred tradition in the cultures of our planet. The outstanding teaching videos of Santos Bonacci, available on the web in various places including his website here, are also an excellent source and were fundamental to my own analysis as well, as are some of the texts he has listed on his site

Many previous posts (probably over fifty now) have treated specific myths and traced the connections to the motions of the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars and planets). Some of these have been listed in previous posts such as this one. Here is another convenient compilation, grouping them this time by general culture or ancient civilization, for those who would like a handy index to past posts dealing with star-myths and astro-theology:

ANCIENT SUMER AND BABYLON
ANCIENT EGYPT
ANCIENT INDIA
OLD TESTAMENT
  • Sarah (here).
  • Jacob and Esau (here).
  • Moses (here). 
  • A land flowing with milk and honey (here).
  • Samson (here).
  • Noah and the Ark (here).
  • Elisha the Prophet (here).
NEW TESTAMENT
  • The Cross (here, here and here).
  • Apostle Peter (here).
  • The Scorpion and the Smoky Abyss of Revelation 9 (here).
  • Hell (here).
ANCIENT GREECE
  • Demeter and Eleusis (here).
  • Delphi and the Pythia (here).
  • Okeanos or Oceanus (here).
  • Hercules (here and here).
  • Atlas (here).
  • Prometheus (here).
  • Ares and Aphrodite (here).
  • Ares and the Brazen Cauldron (here).
  • Zeus and Aphrodite (here).
  • Hermes and Aphrodite (here).
  • Zeus-Jupiter (here).
  • Pan (here).
  • Asclepius (here).
  • Amaltheia (here).
  • Phaethon (here and here).
NORSE MYTHOLOGY
SACRED TRADITIONS AND MYTHOLOGY OF THE AMERICAS
Many more in addition to these are discussed in The Undying Stars as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Shakespeare and the Creation of Reality





























image: Sculpture of Hamlet, Wikimedia commons (link).

The previous post began with an examination of the special character found in certain of the plays of "William Shakespeare," known as the FOOL or CLOWN, and the role of this character in piercing through the artificial constructs of manufactured reality, using the instrument of language to wrench the perspective of those within the play to see the constructed world and its conventions from a different angle -- and to offer the same different perspective to us, the audience.

In fulfilling this role, the Fool or the Clown -- who may seem to be among the "lowest" or least "important" of the characters in the drama, perhaps just a figure tasked to provide some comic relief -- actually becomes the key to the entire endeavor, just as Jon Rappoport has argued that the "trickster god" is actually the most important and even the most powerful god in many ancient myth-systems, because he plays the same role of offering new and unexpected perspectives, challenging seemingly-entrenched paradigms (or "narratives" or "realities"), and revealing that the world is in some quite veritable way fabricated by our own mental and energetic creation of it, which means that the very barriers and chains which we forge to hold ourselves down can in fact be made to drop off like the cords upon the thews of the unshorn Samson, if we only heed the right message.

And, interestingly enough, the trickster-god is often the messenger god -- as he is in Greek mythology in the form of Hermes, god of thieves and divine messenger.

This fact is significant in that, as just mentioned, the trickster-god can be seen trying to convey this all-important message to us, a message which could set us free to create new realities, if only we could receive it. It is also significant in that, as the previous post explored briefly, the creation of realities is often done primarily through language.

But language is a tricky thing -- notoriously slippery, and nearly always capable of being read in at least two different ways simultaneously. Again, this connection should cause us to marvel even further at the ancient wisdom encoded and conveyed to us in myth, where the trickster-god is also the giver of writing and the carrier of language (slippery, trickery language).

This slippery aspect of language was employed with unequalled joy and verve by Shakespeare (whomever "Shakespeare" was), both to create shimmering towers of imagination and "realities" so real that we continue to talk about them today as if they were real places inhabited by real people, and to expose them as mere constructs -- and in doing so to expose the "real world" as very much composed of the same kind of constructed imaginations. After all, in one widely-known line, did Shakespeare not declare that "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players"? (Jaques, in As You Like It, II. 7. 138-139).  

A brief examination of some of the word-play in one of the most famous "fool-scenes" in all of Shakespeare, the grave-digging clown-scene in Hamlet V.1., will demonstrate Shakespeare's ability to call attention to the artificiality of the constructed reality of the play, and in doing so to call attention to the artificiality of the constructed reality of the "real world" at the same time.

The scene begins with the two Clowns entering, carrying (we are told) a spade and a pickaxe, with which (we soon learn) they are digging a grave for fair Ophelia. We meet them in the midst of a discussion of the nicer points of the law, and trying to determine whether or not under the law she is deserving of a Christian burial. After butchering the legalese and imitating the niceties of legal arguments used to find loopholes or justify certain desired outcomes (and in doing so exposing the law as completely artificial and composed of words which can be turned one way for those in one class or category, and another way for those less-well connected), the conversation proceeds -- led by the First Clown, who is clearly the more subversive and perceptive and trickster-like of the two -- to an examination of Holy Scripture (beginning, interestingly enough, in line 33 of the scene).

In that exchange, the First Clown seems to be employing a devoutly literalistic hermeneutic (a word which itself comes from the name of the trickster-god Hermes and refers to the system of finding the message in the text), and yet his arguments undermine his own apparently-literal approach, because they deliberately misuse the second meaning of common words in order to arrive confidently at his skewed conclusions:
FIRST CLOWN: [. . .] There is no ancient gentlemen but gardeners, ditchers, and gravemakers; they hold up Adam's profession. [FIRST CLOWN digs]
SECOND CLOWN: Was he a gentleman?
FIRST CLOWN: A was the first that ever bore arms.
SECOND CLOWN: Why, he had none.
FIRST CLOWN: What, art a heathen? How dost thou understand the Scripture? The Scripture says Adam digged. Could he dig without arms? [. . .] Hamlet V.1. 28-35.
After some more of this, digging all the while, the First Clown gives one final punch-line about the grave-digger being the builder stronger than the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter (because the houses he makes last till doomsday), and then says to the Second: "Go, get thee to Johan. Fetch me a stoup of liquor" (lines 55-56). Some commentators have interpreted this as an immensely comedic line which would bring a roar of laughter from the crowd, since they would have known Johan as an actual bartender in a nearby pub next to the Globe Theater itself (in London) -- and thus we have the First Clown in the play, tired out from all his digging and wishing to wet his whistle, sending the Second Clown around the corner of the theater itself to fetch him a drink!

If this interpretation is correct, it is in fact a truly humorous touch (equivalent to a character in a modern movie that you are watching on the home screen in your living room saying something like, "Isn't Jimmy's Deli right down the street from here? Morpheus -- hold on to those pills for a second, I need to go get a Coke"). It would be funny, and at the same time it would subvert the whole construct of the show, and wrench your perspective right back to the fact that you were watching a film or a play taking place on a screen or a stage, and the character you had been seeing as a character in a far-away world would suddenly be transformed into an ordinary person who just wants something to quench his thirst.

If Shakespeare was referring to a contemporary London pub or bartender there in line 55 rather than to some imaginary bartender in Hamlet's fictional Denmark, then this line is a remarkable example of the playwright calling the audience's attention to the fact that the play itself is an artificial construct -- but the Clowns have been doing that since they came on the stage about the artificial constructs (made primarily of language) which structure the world itself (and their own rather humble place within it).

The most famous aspect of the grave-digging scene, of course, comes when Hamlet himself (accompanied by the less mentally-flexible Horatio) come upon the First Clown digging away (the Second Clown having headed off to Johan to bring back a drink), and engage him in conversation -- giving the First Clown still further opportunity to show off his ability to stubbornly select the wrong meaning of key words in any communication, and thereby to subvert the intended message and demonstrate the unreliability of language, and hence the instability of anything that is upheld primarily by language, which of course includes the titles and privileges of the royalty and nobility to whom the Clown is speaking.

To reinforce the artificiality of the differences in the artificial hierarchies of the court and the state, the playwright has the Clown at this moment begin to toss up skulls out of the grave with his shovel, and the conversation turns to the way death and decay collapse most ignominiously all the worldly distinctions, and reduce them to dust.  The First Clown finally falls silent as Hamlet famously takes up the skull of "poor Yorick," and delivers a meditation upon the end of all flesh, including the lines, 
"Imperial Caesar, dead and turned to clay / Might stop a hole to keep the wind away" (V. 1. 196-197).

The image of Hamlet contemplating the skull held in his outstretched is one of the most famous in all of Shakespeare, and is certainly the defining pose of the Prince of Denmark (see for instance the statue above). Notably, we could in fact see this famous pose as ultimately emblematic of all that has been said so far in the foregoing exploration of the "construction of the world" question, for the construction of realities takes place in a very real sense within the "world" that is contained within the dome of the very object Hamlet is holding in his hand. 

If we stop and think about it, all of the outside universe is actually transmitted to the world within the sealed box of our skull by electronic impulses carried by nerves (sight by electronic impulses from the optic nerves, sound by impulses along the auditory nerves, taste and touch and smell as impulses along nerves as well) -- and once there, the the world we see around us, yes the entire universe outside, is constructed by the mind.  

Incredibly enough, Joseph P. Farrell (mentioned in these previous posts: 07/25/2011, 04/02/201304/09/2013, 02/10/2014, and 06/02/2014) as part of the wide-ranging historical investigation he conducts in his latest work Thrice-Great Hermetica and the Janus Age: Hermetic Cosmology, Finance, Politics and Culture in the Middle Ages through the Late Renaissance, has demonstrated, following the work of Frances A. Yates (1899 - 1981), that the Globe Theater itself (scene of Shakespeare's performances) was an esoteric model of the world and -- making further connections of his own based upon illustrations from the esotericist Robert Fludd (1574 - 1637) that its five stage entrances (three on the stage-level and two on either end of the upper balcony-area) might well symbolize the five senses of the human body (the very portals by which we have just seen that "reality" is "created" in the mind!)(193).

In other words, as Joseph Farrell argues, the stage depicts the Hermetic doctrine of the microcosm and macrocosm ("as above, so below") on multiple levels at once -- and he argues that this Hermetic design was very deliberately chosen as an important part of the transformative, paradigm-shifting, alchemical purpose of the Elizabethan plays themselves.

Of course, it need hardly be pointed out that the word Hermetica itself derives from the name of the trickster-god Hermes, the messenger and the transcender of boundaries and barriers, his "Thrice-Great" title a deliberate connection to the Egyptian god Thoth, giver of writing as well as the god of the Moon (among other attributes -- and note that the Moon is probably the most "shape-shifting" entity upon the entire heavenly stage).

All of this has profound import, both historically and as it pertains to our understanding of our own human condition, here in these human bodies upon this globe spinning through the cosmos.  Enough import, in fact, to fill several volumes (and thus far beyond the scope of this already over-extended post!).  But to conclude this brief examination, we can at least state that the self-conscious reality creation on display in the plays of Shakespeare (and the calling attention to that fact by the characters of the Clowns and Fools in many of his plays) was almost undoubtedly intended to awaken us to such reality creation in the world around us -- and in the world we carry around in our skulls.  

That realization is two-edged, in that it should awaken us to the danger of this reality-creation business: if "realities" are so easily created and so widely accepted, the process can be used to enslave, to bind, to restrict, and ultimately to limit human consciousness (the lack of consciousness being a common and crucial ingredient in most of the terrible downfalls depicted in Shakespeare's tragedies).

But, at the same time that the examination of reality-creation opens our eyes to its potential to keep us pinned down with imaginary chains, it invites us to consider our ability to use the reality-creating engine within our same skulls to discard false chains forged by others (and forged by ourselves) and in doing so to transcend them, to walk through the barriers between us and greater levels of consciousness, to step with Truman off the set of the Truman show (or with the Second Clown to step around the corner to grab a quick beer), and to create worlds along with the trickster gods of sacred myth (like the trickster-god Maui who creates the worlds of Hawai'i and Aotearoa when he dredges them up with his magic fish-hook).  

Ultimately (in a brilliant metaphor crafted by Jon Rappoport and described in many of his stories and articles), we can look at the stage-props and sets that others are constructing for our lives and say:
Oh! Oh -- I see: you guys are artists, right? You're artists, and you've got your own museum and your own theater, and you're making reality because you think that's what I want! You think you can sell me your infomercial about the cosmos! I get it! No thanks. Not interested.
Why? Ultimately, because I'm making up my own. Yeah, I'm making up my own. I don't need yours. [. . .] Because, come into my studio -- you see what I'm painting here? Come into my office -- you see what I'm building here? Come into my . . . whatever, my pasture, you see what I'm creating here? Come into my world -- you see what I'm creating here? This is far more interesting to me than what you're making for everybody.
-- Jon Rappoport: Mind Control, the Space Program, and the Secret Theater of Reality, June 29, 2014. Quotation begins at 1:07:38. Cited in this aforementioned post.