Dec 22, 2011

The Invincible Sun of Winter Solstice

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Wishing all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Yule, Raucous Saturnalia, and all other celebrations of the enduring of the light at Midwinter.

The Shortest Day
Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

Tomas Tranströmer translated by Robert Bly

A blue glow
Streams out from my clothes.
A clinking tambour made of ice.
I close my eyes.
Somewhere there’s a silent world
And there is an opening
Where the dead
Are smuggled over the border.

An Old Man's Winter Night
Robert Frost

All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him -- at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off; -- and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man -- one man -- can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.

Sophie Jewett

All night I dreamed of roses,
    Wild tangle by the sea,
And shadowy garden closes.
    Dream-led I met with thee.

Around thee swayed the roses,
    Beyond thee sang the sea;
The shadowy garden closes
    Were Paradise to me.

O Love, ’mid the dream-roses
    Abide to heal, to save!
The world that day discloses
    Narrows to one white grave.

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Dec 19, 2011

Michigan Christian Notices Christmas is Pagan

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Christmas lovers in a quiet Michigan neighborhood were shocked to find a note appended to their mailboxes denouncing their holiday light displays. It began:

Hi neighbor
You have a nice display of lights and this love note explains how that pagan tradition began. For thousands of years Sun worshippers have celebrated the Sungod's rebirth after solstice. Pagans honored the birth of the "invincible sun" with a "festival of lights." They used big bonfires, pigs fat tallow candle lights, and today, billions of colored christmass [sic] lights. Rome's seven-day December Saturnalia was religious revelry with decadent drunkenness outrageous adultery and giving Saturn's nativity birth gifts to the children. The Norseman's yuletide solstice carousal used sexual soliciting mistletoe, Yule-log bonfire, and decorated evergreen wreaths and tree worship. None of this honors the life of Yeshua the Christ.

But for the invective, that could have been written by a pagan. (I particularly like the way Sungod and Saturnalia are capitalized but "christmass" isn't.)  In fact, last year I offered a bit of history regarding the pre-Christian roots of bringing evergreens into the home during solstice and the Bible's condemnation of it. But light-displaying Michiganders scoff at such litmus tests of their Christianity and do not take kindly to the grievous insult of being called "pagan."

Danette Hoekman, who received the letter, said: 'I laughed because I think it’s ridiculous that people would get upset over Christmas lights.'

. . .

Miss Hoekman added: 'It's a sin to judge other people and to tell people that if they have Christmas lights they are Pagans.

'We're not Pagans, we go to church regularly, my kids go to the Christian school.'

The mash note writer isn't the only one calling Hoekman's faith into question. George Conger at Get Religion points out that Christianity and single motherhood are oxymoronic and strangely conflates the whole thing with lesbianism.

A “Miss” whose kids go to the Christian school? That would be news.

But facts and George Conger don't seem to be well acquainted. Conger also takes both the Michigan do-gooder and the Huffington Post to task for claiming that it was Christians who coopted the pagan holiday when it was the Roman Emperor Aurelian.

This bit of conventional wisdom does not stand up to scrutiny. It will disappoint the crank of Hudsonville no doubt, but he (and the Huffington Post) have it backwards. As Prof. William Tighe wrote in Touchstone magazine a few years ago:
… the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date [Dec 25] in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians.
In other words, it was the pagan Emporer Aurelian who sought to paganize the Dec 25 holiday of the Christians, not the Christians who sought to Christianize the Roman pagan holiday.

Never mind that Christianity owes ancient Rome and its emperors for most of the Christian foundations we hold dear. It was the pagan Emperor Constantine who formally legalized Christianity and organized the Council of Nicaea which was responsible for hammering out Christian doctrine and assembling the Bible that fundamentalists today consider the irrefutable word of God. Constantine was only baptized into the Christian faith on his deathbed after a living a thoroughly debauched, wife-murdering, life.

More to the point, "the crank" doesn't appear to have said anything at all about who it was who so thoroughly enmeshed Christmas with paganism. But that enmeshment cannot be reasonably disputed.

The Wild Hunt has more on the link between Saturnalia and Christmas.

So get out your statue of Saturn, or if you don’t have one, I suppose a statue of Santa will have to do, place him on your best couch, and let the merriment begin!
“According to the Augustan historian Livy, following the sacrifice the Roman senate arranged a lectisternium, a ritual of Greek origin that typically involved placing the deity’s image on a sumptuous couch, as if he were present and actively participating in the festivities. A public banquet was held (convivium publicum), and afterward the shouting of io Saturnalia began, originally only on the single day.”

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Dec 14, 2011

Harmonic Indigence

Well, we knew this was coming. James Ray's lawyers have washed their hands of the Harmonic Wealth author who hasn't been able to pay them for some time. It's funny. I was opening some of the newly posted court documents and before I even read this one, my eyes lit on Brad Brian's name at the top of the letter head and felt a rush of relief. I had this overwhelming sense that he felt done with James Ray. Then I read it. He is done with James Ray. As are his legal eagles Luis Li and Truc Do and all the other nameless, faceless attorneys and paralegals at Munger, Tolles, & Olson who have put in thousands of billable hours on this case. For all Li's grandstanding about how they're going to appeal this, that, and the other thing, his firm is handing Ray off to the public defender's office.

James Arthur Ray hopes to rely on a court-appointed attorney to further the appeal of his negligent homicide conviction, according to a request filed Monday.

. . .

If his request is granted, he will likely receive an in-house or contract attorney through the county public defender's office.

So the tax payers of Arizona will have the pay the legal bills of a man who until very recently claimed be a millionaire on his way to be being a billionaire. He'll either be represented by some overworked public defender or the state will contract it out. Could that be to Tom Kelly? Maybe. I can't help noticing that Kelly has been the one signing off on all the recent documents, such as his notice of appeal.

Meanwhile, Sheila Polk is preparing to appeal a number of the judge's rulings in the case, which could potentially negate many of the defense's arguments for appeal.

Also on Monday, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk filed a notice of cross-appeal that outlines her intention to do more than merely defend allegations in the upcoming appeal of Ray's conviction, sentence, restitution and fines.

. . .

In the cross-appeal notice, Polk lists, without elaboration at this point, several areas of legal dispute the state intends to argue when the case goes to the Arizona Court of Appeals. All stem from rulings by Judge Warren Darrow that went against the prosecution.

Her notice of appeal is here. Among the decisions she's appealing is Judge Darrow's decision to run the sentences concurrently, which apparently means she's seeking the longer, six-year sentence.

Arizona prosecutors will seek a longer prison sentence for self-help promoter James Arthur Ray.

He was given two years for causing the deaths of James Shore of Milwaukee and two others in a 2009 sweat-lodge ceremony.

I didn't know you could do that. Huh.

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Dec 2, 2011

Sean Stephenson: Diploma Mill Yoda -- UPDATED

It was probably apparent in my previous post that I really took a scunner to Sean Stephenson. Aside from finding him appallingly arrogant, he struck me as something of a phony. When I first looked at his website, I thought it was a little sketchy on the details of his education, but I didn't want to go down that particular rabbit hole. His testimony constituted a small part of a very long post. My husband, however, couldn't let it go. It probably has something to do with the fact that he holds a doctorate from a legitimate institution, but he's a little touchy when it comes to people arrogating to themselves the title of Doctor without the proper educational credentials. So he started digging and I did more digging and we found, not to any great surprise, that there are some rather serious issues when it comes to Stephenson's academic background. No wonder he was so evasive when Sheila Polk questioned him on the importance of having the proper credentials if you're going to tinker around with someone's mind.

In his bio, Stephenson lists his undergraduate degree as being from DePaul University but he doesn't say what it's in. According to a very uncritical Wikipedia entry, it's in political science. So far so good. And DePaul's a fine school. But a degree in political science doesn't qualify anyone to counsel people, something he felt called upon to do in his work as a motivational speaker. In his quest to help people with their emotional problems, he pursued higher education... in hypnosis and NLP. I have not been able to find reference to any education in psychology.

For his hypnosis and NLP training he went to Bennett/Stellar University, an alternative healing school, which claims to be accredited but does not say who it is accredited by. According to this, it's accredited by the International Coaching Society. It is not listed in the government database of accredited institutions.

But it's his doctoral degree that really looks dodgy. In his bio, he claims to have received his doctorate from Kona University, previously American Pacific University. His Wikipedia entry goes into a little more detail. He began his doctoral program in clinical hypnosis in 2004 when it was American Pacific University. It doesn't say when he completed it. As explained in a footnote, American Pacific University was unaccredited, but when it became Kona University in 2009, it gained accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. I confirmed this through the government database. It is accredited, although it does not have regional accreditation which is really the gold standard of accreditation.

DETC is a national accreditor and should not be confused with regional accreditation. The vast majority of all schools in the United States are regionally accredited from elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and higher education institutions. Some regionally accredited schools accept and recognize the accreditations of nationally accredited schools, but others do not.[4][5] Michael Lambert, Chief Executive Officer of the DETC, says that about 70% of DETC graduates are successful in transferring credits. He also asserts that the "vast majority" of employers do view DETC as being equal, since DETC institutions are accepted for the tuition reimbursement programs in most corporations today.[6]

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) offered an opinion in a November 2000 statement that, "Institutions and accreditors need to assure that transfer decisions are not made solely on the source of accreditation of a sending program or institution."[7] The Higher Education Transfer Alliance (HETA) online directory[8] was designed by DETC to help students and the public find educational institutions with transfer practices consistent with criteria articulated by CHEA in its Statement to the Community: Transfer and Public Interest.[9] According to CHEA, institutions that are members of HETA have agreed that their "transfer decisions are not made solely on the basis of the accredited status of a sending institution and that the institution has agreed at least to consider transfer requests from other institutions."[8] The HETA directory provides links to member institutions so that students and others can review a specific institution's transfer policies and practice.

While it's not entirely clear whether Stephenson received his doctorate from the accredited Kona or the unaccredited American Pacific University he started with, the distinction is meaningless for several reasons.  The first is that Kona doesn't offer a doctoral degree. It only offers a masters degree in transpersonal psychology which is not the degree Stephenson holds. The second is that the hypnotherapy program originally offered by American Pacific was terminated in 2008. (More here retrieved by the Wayback Machine.) The third, and probably most important, is that there is no such thing as a doctorate in clinical hypnotherapy in the United States.

So Stephenson studied hypnosis and NLP at an unaccredited school that claims to be accredited. He got his doctorate in something you can't legally hold a doctorate in from a university that may or may not have been accredited at the time he graduated, but was never accredited to give that fictitious degree. Note that there is no mention of his holding a masters degree which is a prerequisite to a doctoral degree.

All of this somehow qualified him for "Board Certification in Clinical Psychotherapy," despite having no discernible education in psychology. But that certification comes from the Association of Integrative Psychology. This prestigious institution has been around since all of 2005. It certifies practitioners, not of psychology, but of hypnotherapy, NLP, or some trademarked entity they call Time Empowerment® or TE®. I know that's not the sort of training and education I think of when I hear the term "psychotherapist."

It's one thing to train in holistic disciplines for which there are no governmentally recognized accrediting bodies, as long as you're transparent about the nature of that training. Here's what you don't get to do: You don't get to call yourself "Dr." In fact, it's illegal in a number of states to claim degrees from unaccredited schools.

Jurisdictions that have restricted or made illegal the use of credentials from unaccredited schools include Oregon,[80][81] Michigan,[83] Maine,[84] North Dakota,[80] New Jersey,[80] Washington,[81][85] Nevada,[81][86] Illinois,[81] Indiana,[81] and Texas.[87][88] Many other states are also considering restrictions on the use of degrees from unaccredited institutions.[89]

Hmmm... Illinois... Isn't that the home of one Sean Stephenson? Yeah. It is.


Credit where credit is due: Sean Stephenson did, indeed, amend the information on his site as promised. He has removed "Dr." from his name everywhere that I can see on his website and from his Twitter profile. He has added the following information to his bio and similar text to his private sessions page.

Sean Stephenson completed a seven year educational journey in Clinical Hypnotherapy from American Pacific University (now named Kona University). His Doctorate in Clinical Hypnotherapy, while unaccredited by the Department of Education, is one of the most elite and comprehensive educations in the field of Hypnotherapy and Neuro-Linguistics.

He also changed text describing his client services and eliminated the incorrect information from the Washington Post quotation he and I discussed in the comments.

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