Tag Archives: books

Thought for the Day

Paraphrased (and adapted somewhat) from a wonderful book, The Telling, by Ursula K. Le Guin:

There were no “original” human words for God, gods, or the divine. The bureaucrats who formalized spirituality into “religions” made up words for “God” and installed state or cultural theism when they learned that a concept of deity was more important in the cultures or states they took as models. They saw that religion was a useful tool for those in power. But there was no native theism or deism. The word god, to authentic, original human beings, human beings living in accord with the laws that govern all life and to which human beings are not an exception, was a word without referrent. No capital letters. No creator, only creation. No eternal father to reward and punish, justify injustice, ordain cruelty, offer salvation. Eternity was not an endpoint but a continuity. Primal division of being into material and spirutal existed only as two-as-one, or one in two aspects. There was no hierarchy of Nature and Supernatural. No binary Dark/Light, Evil/Good, or Body/Soul. No afterlife, no rebirth, no immortal disembodied or reincarnated soul. No heavens, no hells. The original human system, the one that resulted in the evolution of the human species from neanderthal to cromagnon to homo erectus to homo sapiens to homo sapiens sapiens [a process which bureaucratic religions all insist was the point at which evolution ended, being no longer necessary, contrary to the principle that in order to progress, to survive, a species must evolve or die] was a spiritual discipline with spiritual goals, but they were exactly the same goals it sought for bodily and ethical well-being. Right action was its own reward. Dharma without karma.

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Coming of Age … an ongoing diatribe … LOL

In the most recent issue of American Poet, the journal of the American Academy of Poets, there is an advertisement for a book, Coming of Age as a Poet: Milton, Keats, Eliot, Plath, written by Helen Vendler, who seems to have written a great number of books on poetry.
The blurb in the ad, which probably comes straight from the jacket sleeve (although having not read the book, I can neither confirm or deny this), starts with the following sentence, which I found most intriguing:

To find a personal style is, for a writer, to become adult; and to write one’s first “perfect” poem — a poem that wholly and successfully embodies that style — is to come of age as a poet.

To come of age, to reach maturity as a poet. Hmmmm … I wonder if that achievement is self-measured, or if its length is drawn against the yardstick of others. Which brings me to my current train of thought: as a Druid, I am more than a poet. I am a poet, musician, historian, philosopher, teacher, and priest. How does one come of age in a single discipline if one’s life path is multi-disciplinary? Does not maturity (or immaturity) in one area affect one’s level of achievement in all others? And what is the purpose of that maturity? For me, the ultimate goal of poetry is not simply to influence other poets; neither is the goal of any preacher or priest to influence only other preachers. At least, not that alone.

My audience is humanity. My goal, I suppose then would be to assist humanity in the recognition of that humanity. Or something like that.

Perhaps my self-questing is the result of having recently started rereading Plato’s Republic. Resulting in the question, what is the ultimate purpose of performing any action?

What is the reason a musician plays? A poet writes? A preacher preaches? A philosopher ponders? A teacher educates? Who is really their audience?
It boils down to a quip that I made several years ago when I contemplated writing music reviews. In order to change the way people think about music, first they must be thinking about music in the first place. So how to ensure that prerequisite dependency of thinking on a subject before launching into said dissertation? Who really cares if people who are on your wavelength are already listening? Aren’t words on their subject extraneous, like coals to Newcastle? Dr. Gene Scott, a Los Angeles based preacher, once said that there are two kinds of people in any congregation … there are saints in the making, and there are preachers. If you’re not a saint in the making, and you don’t like what the preacher in front is saying, you are obligated to form your own church. How that relates, I leave you to decide, dear readers.

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The Element Book of Mystical Verse

Covering the poetic ground, so to speak, from the Vedas through Stevie Smith, this is a book that I picked up on a discount rack at Barnes and Noble about a year ago. Recently, I dug it off the shelf, looking perhaps for something to link myself as a poet to the ages. And I discovered something — modern Poetry tends to the concrete, to examining the trivial as if it were somehow majestic and universally enlightening — which it is, of course — and treating anything that touches on greater themes, on the piercing of the veil, reaching through the “Cloud of Unknowing” as some kind of wishy-washy, meaningless search for existence outside of the existential quagmire that we have created with our technology. Most of the Poetry I read lately from modern sources seems to be like our cultural bias — absolutely materialistic, with little or no spiritual significance to the reader. Most of it deals with our fascination with cynicism, and disregard of something more elemental.

Who has the time, most would ask, to delve into the dark night of the soul? After all, the darkness has been artificially illuminated by night-lights, television sets, street lamps and glow-in-the-dark alarm clocks. We are as a culture surrounded by the white noise of our own busyness. And that, I think, is our greatest tragedy. That regardless of the spiritual path we think we are on, we seek to remedy symptoms not recognizing the cause of our sickness.

When did we, as artists, become so useless? Where are those touchstones upon which the future can be solidly constructed? I realize that EVERY religion, regardless of its temporal might, is always only one generation from extinction. But we insist that the precepts and underpinnings of those religions can be passed from generation to generation with laws, edicts and some kind of controlling mechanism that will direct the energies of youth into suitable pursuits, with the spectre of eternal ostracism as the deterrent to aberration.

There is a sobering lesson to be learned from reading such a treasury of “mystical works”. Mysticism is about absolute personal and individual interaction with something larger than yourself — however you choose to define it. Ultimately, that is freedom and liberty — and perhaps anarchy. But it is absolutely essential to the development of humankind. To their evolution into something more than parrots who regurgitate upon command the experience of someone else and pass it off as their own interpretation of reality.

What we as a culture suffer from is spiritual plagiarism. And rather than fight against it, advising the individual to seek their own truth, based on where their feet are actually on the path, so many of our so-called elders rely upon the convenience of control to shape the world to be. No wonder there is “nothing new under the sun.” It is because we instruct our young to seek within the box that we ourselves are constricted within. So few wonder what is beyond the confines of the cardboard — so that when the natural elements deteriorate the boundaries, there is great shock and concern that the actual SKY can be see through the remaining wisps of corrugation.

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A Score of Reading

Based on an entry from my friend the juice, I’ve put together a few short lists, related to my earlier post on the College Board 101 Books Your Child Should be Reading.

In no particular order …

Ten Books I Wish I’d Never Read: (the second hardest category for me – after glad not to have read; because I’ve learned something from everything I’ve read – including some things I didn’t want to learn)

Masks of the Illuminati — Robert Anton Wilson
The Satanic Bible — Anton LaVey
Just As I Am — Billy Graham
Helter Skelter — Vincent Bugliosi
The 21 Lessons of Merlin — Douglas Monroe
Juliette — Marquis de Sade
The Siege of Troy: A Modern Retelling of the Iliad — Greg Tobin
Magick in Theory and Practice — Aleister Crowley
Circle of Stones — Anna Mae Waldo
Centennial — James Michener

Ten Books I’m Ashamed to Say I’ve Never Read:

Ariel — Sylvia Plath
Finnegans Wake — James Joyce
The Federalist Papers — Alexander Hamilton et al
Das Kapital — Karl Marx
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee — Dee Brown
In His Own Write — John Lennon
The Bonfire of the Vanities — Tom Wolfe
The Executioner’s Song — Norman Mailer
The Sun Also Rises — Ernest Hemingway
Les Miserables — Victor Hugo

Ten Books I’m Glad I’ve Never Read: (and this was the hardest one, because frankly there aren’t really any books that I would refuse to attempt to read)

Mein Kampf — Adolf Hitler
The Way Things Ought to Be — Rush Limbaugh
The Confesions of Aleister Crowley — Aleister Crowley
Teen Witch — Silver Ravenwolf
Fight Club — Chuck Palahniuk
Summa Theologica — St. Thomas Aquinas
Summer of My German Soldier — Bette Green
Warlock: A Novel of Ancient Egypt — Wilbur Smith
The World of Rod McKuen — Rod McKuen
Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison — Jim Morrison

Ten Books I’ve Started But Probably Will Never Finish:

Beezlebub’s Tales to His Grandson — G.I. Gurdjieff
Prometheus Rising — Robert Anton Wilson
The Decline of the Roman Empire, Vols. 2 and 3 — Edward Gibbon
Confessions of St. Augustine — St. Augustine
Walden, or Life in the Woods — Henry David Thoreau
The Republic — Plato
Critical Path — R. Buckminister Fuller
Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh — Vincent Van Gogh
Three Books of Occult Philosophy — Cornelius Agrippa
Faust — Johann Goethe

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College Board and the Great Books

Found this link at The Rage Diaries.

Apparently the College Board (you know, the folks that gave us the SAT and ACT) has put together a list of 101 Great Books recommended to be read by those entering freshman year college. Well, it’s actually 101 novels, 19 miscellaneous (uncategorized and non-Fictional works), and various works by 15 identified poets.

On a whim, I evaluated my own performance, reading-wise:

Novels:   71 of 101 (70%)
Miscellaneous:   14 of 19 (74%)
Poetry:    11 of 15 (73%)

Now, as I recall, the 70% range is either a C or D. That’s not good. And even if any of the identified works I actually still own, 21 years out of high school, that still doesn’t put me on the College Board’s “Dean’s List”, does it?

But they have a short list (I guess, if you’re only going to read a LITTLE). On that one, I got 9 out of 10 (90%). A solid B, by my reckoning. Not much room for error on a 10 item quiz, is there?

Of course, there are many, many, MANY authors and poets not represented here that I consider essential reading. But this is the College Board, after all. You can’t expect them to be TOO avante garde, can you? Standardized reading lists and standardized tests go hand in hand. If you want to pass their tests, you have to read their books. Or pretend to have done so, or at least have slept with the Cliff Notes under your pillow.

But that brings up an important point. While a great many of these books I actually read in high school, I would not have had room to complete anywhere near the entire list considering my other reading. Who does the College Board suggest that I should have given up in order to accomplish their curricula? Allen Ginsberg? ee cummings? Krishnamurti? Julius Caesar? Ken Kesey? Rimbaud? Baudelaire? Henry Miller? And what if was more interested in reading “The Idiot” than “Crime and Punishment”? Do I get a point off for that one? It’s strange the authors they include, versus deliberately seem to exclude. Dickens is nowhere to be found. Jack London likewise. Ambrose Bierce — how would I have survived high school without the “Devil’s Dictionary” I ask you …

Fortunately, my reading requirements are not dictated by the College Board’s vision of an educated and well-read young person. But I worry about my step-daughter, who is a high school senior (almost) looking at colleges. I know for a fact that she’s not interested in reading most of this stuff. And neither are any of her friends. Sadly, reading is not one of her great pleasures. So it goes with this generation. I’m almost surprised that the College Board doesn’t require some kind of minimum television show exposure. That seems more appropriate.

Anyhow…

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Pranayama and the Celtic-Vedic Connection

After pondering Peter Beresford Ellis’ introduction to Celtic Myths and Legends, where he postulates an affinity between the Celtic and Vedic cultures, based on their shared common root language, proto-Indo-European, I pulled this earlier poem out and thought of it in a purely Celtic mythos-mindset, as opposed to its original casting as a meditation on Hindu reality.

It seems to me that it can be read as if it were a Druidic meditation without violating any Celto-religious principles. There are definite resonances in my mind, which gives me insight into why the Vedas and Upanishads have always seemed such connecting threads to me, as someone of Celtic descent. I have always been drawn to what I would call Brahma/Dagda, as well as Shiva/Kernunnos (and I think it no accident that both are associated with, and familiar with, venomous snakes). And then there is the Morrigan/Kali connection – nurturing mother up close, but destroying black maelstrom from afar. Add to that the concept of sacred rivers (the Ganges versus the Danube, or River of Danu). Well, I was struck by this notion, particularly the similarity of some of the words between the two languages. And then, this evening, as I was doing a bit of meditation, I realized that “Awen” (pronounced ah-oo-en) and “Om” (pronounced ah-oo-em) are just too similar, in both purpose for recitation and pronunciation, for coincidence.

My questions are these:

Has there been any linguistic study that explores this connection?

Given the number of Celtic-oriented writers who also have an affinity for Vedic (and Upanishadic) literature (Yeats immediately springs to mind), and the similarity of the concepts contained in both Celtic mythology and Hindu mythology (take Kali and the Morrigan, for example), has there been any attempt in the Celtic pagan community to explore the commonalities in a more formal sense?

And three, just as it is complementary to study Japanese and Korean at the same time (the basic differences being vocabulary only), is there any identified benefit in studying Sanskrit as an aid to learning Gaelic, or visa versa?

Much food for thought.

Pranayama

Where am I in all of this confusion?
If I pause and take a moment to breathe,
letting go of this veil of illusion
[that separates (like two different leaves

along two slim branches that stretch their way
in opposite directions, yet never
touch, except through the trunk from which they splay)
with a soft touch easily severing

one’s sense of unity with all living]
just listening to the low, quiet breath
of an opened flower or an old tree,

I recognize myself; my misgivings
about my life’s purpose that make me fear death
fade away. I am at peace, at last free.

Am I just motion in some great chaos?
If I release this cloud from deep inside,
letting the soft flow of air slip across
my tongue and pursed lips, it does not collide

with the not-me of the universe, but
instead melts back into a single stream
of boundless energy that we each cut
and divide into our separate dreams,

imagining that these walls we construct
are so solid, so real, unbreakable.
Yet in a single breath these veils shatter,

our isolation seems to self-destruct,
and those beliefs once so unshakeable
crumble in the still space beyond matter.

04 APR 2003

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Something new to ponder

From How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, by Michael J. Gelb (Dell Publishing, New York, NY, 1998: ISBN # 0-440-50827-4):

The Seven Da Vincian Principles (or things to incorporate to enable and nurture the genius in yourself):

CuriositĂ  — An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

Dimostrazione — A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

Sensazione — The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

Sfumato (literally “Going Up in Smoke”) — A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.

Arte/Scienza — The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. “Whole-brain” thinking.

Corporalita — The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.

Connessione — A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectness of all things and phenomena. Systems thinking.

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