The newly opened World Trade Center memorial in Manhattan is truly a solemn place. Staring into the seemingly endless holes into which the water forever pours, one feels the emptiness of loss like a thousand graveyards. Like watching the Titanic sink from a lifeboat. In the chilly late October morning hundreds were huddled about, looking at those reflecting pools with an undefined sadness in their eyes and a sense of frustration in their souls. So much loss. And for what? The American way of life has its towering foibles as well as its nobility. The protesters of Occupy Wall Street are mere blocks away in Zuccotti Park, reminding the nation that we have forgotten the principles of human decency even while we honor the fallen dead. It seems an appropriate epitaph for All Hallows Eve—a peaceful park where hundreds died just blocks from where hundreds camp in the cold. It is not too late to stop this ship from striking the iceberg.
The symbol of peace, given to us by the Bible, is the olive branch. Actually the olive branch comes from the story of the flood; it is less a sign of peace than it is a sign that some of us have survived the wrath of God. Read into that what you will. The olive branch only comes after all but eight people pay the ultimate sacrifice. It is peace on the terms of a vengeful deity. Near the center of the memorial, one tree stands out. It is not an olive tree. After the devastating attacks of 9/11, workers found a living Calleri pear tree among the rubble. The scorched and battered plant was taken to a nursery where it recovered. It stands now in the midst of the peaceful reflecting pools, bearing not olives, but pears. The tree was saved by human effort, a symbol of peace, survival, and endurance.
A different kind of tower
I spoke with one of the protestors in Occupy Wall Street, and gave him encouragement. I suffered unemployment for long years when the weight of the flood crushed me to my own ocean floor. Loss and more loss. I was moved to tears in the World Trade Center memorial. The decision not to build again on the site where the Twin Towers stood is a symbolic statement to those who believe that evil triumphs in the end. The god of those who destroy others in the name of their faith is the god who destroys innocent and guilty alike in worldwide floods. This is a god who offers people with no knowledge tempting fruit that they are not permitted to eat. Nowhere in the Bible does it state the species of the tree of knowledge. Is there anyone left innocent enough to tell? Artists like to use an apple, an idea based on the similarity between the Latin words for evil and apple. I believe that loss of innocence was the price of maturity, and I believe the tree of knowledge might just have been a Calleri pear.
Posted in Bible, Current Events, Genesis, Holidays, Memoirs, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged 9/11, Calleri Pear, flood, Manhattan, New York City, Noah, Occupy Wall Street, World Trade Center memorial, Zuccotti Park
Although it may seem the right season for witches, the revival of serious witchcraft in the religion of Wicca is a much misunderstood and maligned phenomenon. One of the persistant myths that many religions continue to perpetuate is that they go back to the very beginning. If any religion might rightly make that claim, it would be something close to Wicca, or nature religion. The fact is, however, all religions have histories and beginnings, and radical reshaping is not at all unusual along the way. In the western hemisphere, many like to claim a privileged position for Christianity. Certianly in the political world, such a claim is justified. Christianity shaped Europe, and therefore, by extention, all previous colonies of the European powers. The Christianity that shaped Europe, however, was the political powerhouse of Roman Catholicism, and later, reformed versions of the faith. The Catholicism of the Middle Ages, as may be discerned at a mere glance, shares little in common with the ideals given in the mouth of Jesus by the Gospels.
I just finished reading the provocative Routledge title, Wicca and the Christian Heritage: Ritual, Sex and Magic, by Joanne Pearson (2007). I learned a considerable bit about the modern origins of what is recognized as a tax-free (the sign of any true religion) belief system of Wicca. As Pearson points out, this Wicca dates back to the 1950s. What really caught my attention, however, was the tortured religious history of the movement’s founders. Enamored of Anglo-Catholicism (a form of ceremonial I had been force-fed for over a decade at Nashotah House), the founders of the religion (both intentional and unintentional) craved the seal of antiquity. Many of the players invented denomination after denomination of Christianity, sometimes acquiring ordinations and consecrations by hapless Eastern Orthodox bishops who misunderstood where they were spewing their blessings, in the attempt to show it was real Christianity. You need a roadmap to keep all the blind alleys straight. In the end, Wicca derived from an unorthodox combination of orthodoxy, Masonry, and Spiritualism. It is a wonder that modern Wicca appears as sane as it does.
Pearson’s book is not a full-fledged history, but more of a background to such a history. Many Nashotah House affilates, I’m sure, would rage to see time-honored names from Anglo-Catholic history alongside those often considered charlatans and posers. But when it comes to religion, even the most orthodox are very creative. Perhaps each gesture, vestment and accessory has a pedigree. None of them go back to a dirt-poor peasant who told his followers to give all material goods away. We may be willing to accept many things in the name of religion, but let’s not go overboard here. Not even the literalists do that.
Posted in Bible, Books, Popular Culture, Posts, Sects
Tagged Anglo-Catholic, Christianity, Joanne Pearson, Nashotah, Roman Catholicism, Wicca, Wicca and the Christian Heritage, witches
The origins of zombies notwithstanding, they are the autumnal monster of choice in a post-modern society. They are the symbol of secular resurrection—no faith commitment is required, no pristine, moral lifestyle. Resurrection happens to you by accident, a chemical, a disease, cosmic radiation—whatever the cause it is not divine. And the zombie is fair game for the release of violent aggression; already dead, there is no moral imperative to keep them alive and well. Each year the mass of zombie walks increases where children and adults alike become the living dead for a day. Macabre? Indeed. It seems that the very word “macabre” may have come into English from Hebrew. Hebrew words are based (mostly) on triliteral roots, words with three unchanging consonants. The Classical Hebrew word for “grave” is based on the root q-b-r. The prefixed m is often the preposition “from.” Macabre, morphed through Latin and French, could go back to the root meaning “from the grave.” Literally, the source of zombies.
Resurrection is among the most poignant of human hopes. Religions often assure us that death is not final, but we can never know that this side of the veil. Those we love go away, we hope, to a better place than this. It is no surprise that the largest zombie walk in the country is in Asbury Park. We can imagine better. Why can’t God?
According to Wade Davis, there is a powder that vodoun priests use to zombify a person. This involuntary treatment does not actually prolong life, nor does it really resurrect the dead. It is, like many religious treatments, a show of faith. In The Serpent and the Rainbow Davis describes how psychosomatic attacks span the globe. All they require is belief. If a person believes in curses or the evil eye, the results can be physical and fatal. We create our own reality. Over the weekend I watched What the Bleep Do We Know? again. I sometimes showed this movie to my classes. Here physicists and gurus together affirm that we create our own reality moment by moment.
Zombies have migrated from the realm of religion to secular society. It is hard to imagine our modern world without them. They are cut from the same cloth as All Souls Day, reminding us of our mortality and suggesting that there might be something more. It is a reality we create ourselves.
Posted in Bible, Books, Current Events, Holidays, Monsters, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged All Souls Day, Asbury Park, resurrection, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Wade Davis, What the Bleep Do We Know?, Zombie Walk, zombies
Riding on a bus with a bunch of coughing commuters may not be the best setting for reading about poisons and zombies. I am also aware that Wade Davis has come into criticism by some of his professional colleagues and that the movie based on his book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, may have led to an aneurism or two among scholars of Haiti. Nevertheless, Borders was closing down and a copy of the book remained on the shelf for an insanely low price, and October would soon be upon us. This past week I read Davis’ intriguing account of his experience with real-life zombies and the fascinating religion of vodoun. A number of issues were raised by his account, not least of which is that the feared religion of “voodoo” is a direct result of the evils of African slavery that brought indigenous gods into the realm of Christianity, and mixed them vigorously. My first “exposure” to vodoun was in the old James Bond movie, Live and Let Die. It terrified me as a child, and even with rational eyes, I’m not sure I fare much better as an adult.
No matter what one thinks of Wade Davis and his work, The Serpent and the Rainbow is a fascinating work. One of the most interesting aspects Davis raises is the continuing issue of defining death. Premature burial may sounds like the hysteria of a Poe-induced nightmare, but, as Davis shows, most methods of measuring death are susceptible to being fooled. Those who are termed “zombies,” in the vodoun sense of the word, are people declared dead by medical professionals, yet who are later found, after their burials, very much alive. Many readers will find this difficult to accept, but it is a phenomenon that goes back to Seabrook’s swashbuckling adventures of early last century and even before. If Davis is to be believed, it is thoroughly documented.
Paradigm shifts are seldom welcomed. We prefer to live within the comfort of the universe in which we grew up. Science and religion agree on this point—things are not what they seem. Zombies in the Walking Dead sense do not exist despite the fact that they are the kind most popularly known. We like them because they can’t hurt us; they lurch through the streets of our nightmares and our zombie walks, but they are not real. It could be, however, that our understanding of our world is woefully incomplete. Confronted with that which challenges our tidy universe, whether it be quantum physics or Haitian religion, we must consider the benefits of a mind kept open to the possibilities. Do vodoun priests in the hidden shadows of the Caribbean enslave the living dead? Disney answered with a resounding yes in Pirates of the Caribbean, but then, in Hollywood it is sometimes preferable to have the zombies in front of the screen.
Posted in Books, Monsters, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Science
Tagged Haiti, Live and Let Die, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Serpent and the Rainbow, vodoun, Wade Davis, Walking Dead, zombies