Apr 30, 2012

Analyticial Thought Undermines Religious Belief

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"Our intuitions can be phenomenally useful, and analytic thinking isn't some oracle of the truth," says Will Gervais, co-author of a new study demonstrating how analytical thought reduces religious faith. His phrasing is inadvertently hilarious. An oracle is, by definition, intuitive, and is the conduit for divine information. And this study bolsters earlier research showing that intuition and faith are as closely linked as the analytical is to not-faith.

The University of British Columbia study not only affirms that analytical personalities are less likely to be religious, it demonstrates that taxing the left brain decreases belief amongst more intuitive personalities.

People who are intuitive thinkers are more likely to be religious, but getting them to think analytically even in subtle ways decreases the strength of their belief, according to a new study in Science.

. . .

Analytic thinking undermines belief because, as cognitive psychologists have shown, it can override intuition. And we know from past research that religious beliefs—such as the idea that objects and events don't simply exist but have a purpose—are rooted in intuition. "Analytic processing inhibits these intuitions, which in turn discourages religious belief," [Ara] Norenzayan explains.

Says Joshua Greene, who published similar findings last year, "Obviously, this study doesn't prove the nonexistence of God. But it poses a challenge to believers: If God exists, and if believing in God is perfectly rational, then why does increasing rational thinking tend to decrease belief in God?"

That kind of misses the point, really. By Greene's own admission, millions of "very smart and generally rational" people believe in God. His assessment presupposes that rational equals intelligent and that rationalism is superior to our intuitive nature. I would humbly suggest that these aspects of ourselves are complementary opposites that make up the whole of us.

Neo: The Architect told me that if I didn't return to the Source, Zion would be destroyed by midnight tonight.
Oracle: Please... You and I may not be able to see beyond our own choices, but that man can't see past any choices.
Neo: Why not?
Oracle: He doesn't understand them - he can't. To him they are variables in an equation. One at a time each variable must be solved and countered. That's his purpose: to balance the equation.
Neo: What's your purpose?
Oracle: To unbalance it.

~ The Matrix: Revolutions

Graham Hancock has repeatedly pointed out that the "alert, problem solving" mental state serves a wonderful purpose but it is not the sum of our consciousness and to stay in that state all the time is really quite limiting.

In this recently posted Karen Armstrong lecture, the former nun and "freelance monotheist" explains that the purpose of religion is to move us beyond "words and concepts" and "tip" us into transcendence. Or, to quote Joseph Campbell, we become "transparent to the transcendent." A religious experience is quite marvelously irrational.

One very rational woman discovered this when a stroke shut down much of her left brain function. I posted this wonderful lecture by Jill Bolte Taylor a while ago. I repost it here because it elucidates so brilliantly the necessity of both left and right brain function, and how it is through the non-rational, non-linear, right brain function that we can begin to transcend the ego and experience our divine unity with all things -- which is to say, "God."

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Apr 28, 2012

Robert Schoch and William Henry on the Sun

Excellent discussion this week on William Henry's Revelations about the sun cycle and just how bad it could get. Robert Schoch is the geologist who researched the weather patterning on the Sphinx and back-dated its construction to some time before recorded history. His work has been extensively cited by Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, and John Anthony West, who sought out his expertise to evaluate the claims of R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz. Schoch has since turned his attention to Gobekli Tepe, the oldest known temple which was fairly recently discovered in Turkey. (See here)

In this interview he discusses geological, archaeological, and mythological evidence of a civilization ending solar catastrophe in the ancient past. He describes an event that would have dwarfed the 1859 Carrington Event that saw northern lights as far south as Hawaii and set telegraph stations on fire. He is not alone in positing that this may be what the Mayan calendar warns. It also bears mentioning, I think, that one of the Time Monks' most consistent predictions is the meme "sun disease."

Schoch and Henry also discuss the possibility that the weird noise phenomenon, discussed here and here, may be associated with the unusual radiation coming from the the sun. Schoch explains the interrelationship between electromagnetic radiation and sound. We already know that the radiation bursts from the sun can be translated into sound -- like all energy, really -- so it's an interesting theory. There is a very metallic ring to what was recorded here. So this is one of the most substantive suggestions I've heard yet on this issue. 

Schoch is a sober researcher and a scholar so this is a very even-handed discussion. His book on the topic is here and more information can be found at RobertSchoch.com.

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Rob Kerby's Pagan Kerfuffle

Oh, the things I learn when I remember to check my stats! I was somewhat heartened to see, this morning, that the Rob Kerby article I referenced here has graduated to a genuine kerfuffle. I have been writing about the Rob Kerby problem for a while now, notably here and here. And despite having been assured by another staffer at Beliefnet that there would be changes, any change seems to have been for the worse.

In the past couple of days, there have been reactions from The Wild Hunt, About.com, Star Foster, and Beliefnet's Pagan blogger Gus diZerega. And yet, for all the brouhaha, you know what I notice? There is still not one single comment on the article in question. As I've already addressed in my previous posts, comments that conflict with Kerby's world view tend to disappear and my IP was apparently blocked so I can't even leave comments anymore. Well, why would I bother when they're just going to be deleted? But either the programming was changed or Kerby's gotten sloppy because the number of comments is still recorded. As of this morning, there were seven invisible comments, as you can see in the graphic above.

Dare I hope that now that Beliefnet's Pagan blogger has addressed this head on, there will finally be changes at Beliefnet? I'm not optimistic, considering that Beliefnet is now owned by BN Media, which has ties to a swath of Christianist organizations. Their other properties are Crossbridge and Affinity 4. This is something I noted with dismay when I first began to notice the shift in tone on my Beliefnet News feed. I see now that The Wild Hunt was on it from the start and saw the writing on the wall when the acquisition was first made.

When you do click to see what groups Affinity4 supports, it’s a who’s who of conservative Christian organizations. Focus on the Family, Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Trinity Broadcasting Network, Promise Keepers, Concerned Women for America, and Christian Broadcasting Network, to name just a sampling.

And we were all worried that Murdoch would destroy Beliefnet. Clearly he was too busy ignoring (???) all the phone hacking at his hotter media properties.

DiZerega has called on Kerby for an apology and signaled his intent to leave in the absence of one. Whether or not one is forthcoming would give some hint as to the future of that site's editorial direction. But, as I say, I'm not optimistic. My sense for some time has been that the new management at Beliefnet is giving its non-Christian communities the Milton treatment. If you're familiar with Office Space, you'll know that I mean they're letting the problem "just work itself out" while avoiding direct confrontation. So poor diZerega and the Pagan community he represents on Beliefnet's pages may be looking for their red, Swingline stapler for a very long time.

It's not just the Pagan community, either. Kerby is an equal opportunity offender. The only articles he posts about Islamic faiths are scare pieces like this one. The closest thingto respect for Muslims I've seen is his seeming admiration for Saudi Arabian persecution of sorcerers and those who consort with the djinn, in the Pagan-bashing post in question. He's a garden variety bigot, whose standard seems to be, how does this story relate to the truth that is Christianity. He lauds stories of Christian faith through adversity and their struggle against atheists, and, as discussed, expresses unabashed disgust at gay people. He's also turned the news section into a politics beat and a platform for his Christian Right, anti-liberal views.

I will say again that I would be bothered by none of this if Kerby were simply blogging as Kerby on one of the Christian sections of Beliefnet. But he's a Senior Editor, and he's taken over the operation of the News section, which makes him, in many ways, the public face of Beliefnet.

Sadly, I think Beliefnet has finally jumped the shark.

Note: An earlier version of this story left an assurance of change from a Beliefnet staffer anonymous and unsourced, but I found the tweet and linked it above.

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Apr 27, 2012

More on Weird Earth Noises

I posted something here a month ago on the strange, metallic, booming noises that are being reported around the country. As per Linda Moulton Howe in the Dreamland interview posted above, occurrences of these events is on the increase. Reports are coming in from all over the country, parts of Canada, Great Britain, and other places. And in all of these places no plausible explanation has been forthcoming.

I, personally, have not heard anything like this. From the descriptions in Howe's collection of man on the street interviews, it sounds awful. It's most often compared to train collisions... except that the trains are invisible.

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Apr 23, 2012

To Suffer a Witch

Put this in the broad category of things I really don't want to write about. But I'm afraid I have to. In a curious synchronicity I noticed the latest drivel from Rob Kerby on my start page. One of these days I will remove the Beliefnet feed, but a combination of morbid curiosity and laziness has prevented it thus far. (For the back story on the Beliefnet news feed's devolution into a reactionary, bigoted, wingnut megaphone for the Christianist Kerby, see here and here.) Kerby's latest bit of wrongheadedness is a diatribe on the dangers of witchcraft. Why is this synchronous? This may be a little hard to follow but bear with me.

Let me start by saying that Kerby's biggest mistake is in conflating certain third world, tribal fears of witchcraft with Pagan faiths. He expresses dismay at Harry Potter for trivializing the dangers of witchery and at the Cornwall schools' inclusion of Paganism in its religion curriculum. This is the first synchronicity. But even more curious is that I was watching this fascinating video last night which had me thinking about a very particular usage of the term "witchcraft." It's a documentary on shaman and "vegetalista" Don Emilio Andrade Gomez who more than once uses the term witchcraft to describe the dark practice of sorcery. A lot of this could be written off to semantic differences but the distinction is too important to leave to the Rob Kerbys of the world... because that kind of thinking gets people killed.

There are several admonitions in the Bible against various supernatural practices. It all gets very confusing because the Bible also extols those same practices in other contexts -- the Book of Daniel, chapter 5 comes to mind but there are other references. The specific use of the word witch which has caused innumerable deaths through the centuries comes from Exodus 22:18 and reads, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," in the King James version.

The word witch is a poor translation from the Hebrew word m'khashepah which is more fairly translated as "poisoner." It stems from ancient beliefs in the ability of some people to harm or even kill people through various forms of spell-casting.

When a shaman like the one in the video uses the term witchcraft, he is, somewhat ironically, closer to the actual meaning of the original term. It's clear from his comments that he is referring to malicious sorcery.

The hybridization of Christianity and indigenous shamanism is one of the most fascinating aspects of this documentary, which was made as part of Luis Eduardo Luna's field work in the Peruvian Amazon. It is also somewhat jarring, as is apparent in some of the comments posted on YouTube. It is an apparently benign religious drift. The merging of Christianity and tribal beliefs, though, isn't always harmless and has led to numerous witch persecutions in third world countries. I touched on this here in a discussion of Sarah Palin's mentor, Kenyan witch-hunter Thomas Muthee. I also posted recently about the disappearances of a number of Peruvian shamans which have been tied to fundamentalist Christian officials in the region.

What I find singularly horrifying about Kerby's post is that he seems to believe that these murderous witch hunters have something to teach us about the dangers of everything from Harry Potter (which is actually based in Western alchemy) to modern-day Wiccans, Druids, and other Pagans. He also touches on Arab persecutions of sorcerers and those who consort with the djinn. Here's a lovely example from Saudi Arabia. Yet, somehow, what Kerby seems to find disturbing is all the witchery that goes on, not the fact that innocent people are being killed for it.

The problem with some of this Christian outreach and missionary zeal is that it simultaneously feeds the fear of sorcery and disavows shamanism as a healing practice, viewing it all as "witchcraft." Don Emilio repeatedly refers to his own work as aligned with Christ and as a tool to use against sorcery. It is the distinction between the shaman as healer, or curandero, and the sorcerer. Sorcery, again, is a term that is subject to semantic variation and isn't negative in every context but to a Latin American shaman it's a very negative term. Shaman Christina Pratt draws the distinction thusly: A sorcerer is someone who uses the same tools as a shaman but for the highest bidder. (I'm paraphrasing from memory.) It's the difference between having a moral compass and not.

In a recent show, Christina waded into the sorcery issue again and dealt specifically with the subject of curses. I'll be very honest and say that this subject is way over my head. Psychic attacks and the like are just so far outside my paradigm, I don't feel able to speak to them. From my perspective, as a mystical thinker, I consider it impossible to attack someone else without tearing yourself apart in the process. Because my beliefs and practices are mystical, I don't actually think it's possible to "put a spell" on anyone but myself because I am the source of my reality. To put it another way, I can't bend the spoon without bending myself, so I couldn't damage the spoon without damaging myself. In any event, to any Pagan or shaman, dark sorcery is frowned upon. It also subjects the practitioner to painful blow-back -- the three-fold law and all that.

So, in sum, I highly recommend the video above as a small window into the world of ayahuasca using shamans. I also recommend Christina's show on curses as well as interviews she did with Steven Beyer on working with plant teachers. Both, I think, lend some context to the documentary. Beyer explains the "diet" of the initiate into plant medicine, for example.

And, I think Rob Kerby is a menace and an embarrassment to a site that still at least gives lip service to ecumenicism and support for the Pagan community.

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Apr 19, 2012

Beware of Spiritual Leaders in Orange Jumpsuits

You can put religious abusers in prison but you just can't shut them up!!!

Child molester and polygamist Warren Jeffs recently had his phone privileges restored so that he can continue to inspire his flock with "divine revelations." He had previously lost that right amid charges that he flouted rules confining his phone calls to a list of approved family members by being put on speaker phone to address his congregation directly. Despite his incarceration Jeffs seems to be finding ways to call the shots, punishing over a thousand church members by taking away their church-going privileges and even possibly taking away their wives and children.

With or without his phone privileges, Jeffs is getting his message out, having mass mailed a real barn burner to political leaders.

“Let all peoples bow the knee, confessing Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Jehovah Christ Ahman Holy Lord over all peoples. Amen,” he wrote.

The revelation, dated March 17, promised floods, winds, earthquakes, disease and other destruction if people refused to repent.

Well, that's a pretty safe bet, considering that those are things are always happening somewhere in the world. What really would have been cool is if all those world leaders had dropped to their knees at the appointed time and all disease and natural disasters had stopped. Then I might have been impressed.

Also making crazy, unprovable promises from the inside of a cell is James Arthur Ray. A tip of the hat to Connie Joy who is still receiving email pitches from the incarcerated sweat lodge killer. And it's the same old snake-oil.

Pitchman James Arthur Ray, imprisoned for the deaths of three people at a sweat-lodge ceremony, is selling a 14-CD set by email that he promises "will literally reprogram your mind for success."

I'm certainly no fan of the Think and Grow Rich canon. I don't believe in panaceas. But even if I did, I wouldn't be taking advice on how to think my way to success from someone who law of attracted himself a gruesome death scene and a homicide conviction.

Like Jeffs, Ray is constrained from preaching and pitching directly but, also like Jeffs, he still has minions to do the heavy lifting for him.

Ray could not have sent the email himself because he doesn't have Internet access, Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said.

However, there's nothing to prevent him from having associates on the outside send emails on his behalf, Lamoreaux said.

Adding to the dark hilarity of an incarcerated, broke, wealth guru hawking a success program from behind bars is his partner in crime Kevin Trudeau. Yes, that's right. The CD program Ray is selling is Trudeau's "Your Wish is Your Command." Cosmic Connie has some of the latest on Trudeau, who is no stranger to prison walls himself. As per the whirling muse, Trudeau's latest gambit is something called GIN (Global Information Network) events.

Get it? GIN, jinn, djinn, genie... "your wish is" blah, blah, blah. It's more of the "law of attraction is just like a genie" absurdity from The Secret. It's like these people are deliberately trying to drive me batshit. There oughta be a law against such flagrant abuses of metaphor. (It doesn't help that I was recently thumbing through my collection of Matt Taibbi's take-downs of Tom Friedman. See here, here, here, aaaand here.) Anyway, my deconstruction of the genie as symbol of the universe giving you everything you want thing is here.

Here is Trudeau explaining his latest wishes as horses vehicle. I didn't get far before my gorge started to rise and I had to stop. But the unintentional humor is worth a peek.

Only a few minutes into this pretend interview, Trudeau makes a joke about a certain self-help author who wrote a book on how to be rich when he was bankrupt. He made his money by writing about making money. See? it's funny. Those who can do and those who can't teach, I guess. (Unless you're Trudeau. He actually knows what he's talking about because he's made money using these incredible law of attraction techniques.) But a bankrupt guy telling people how to become millionaires... ridiculous. Yet, somehow, Trudeau misses the obvious irony of a couple of convicted felons telling people how to law of attract themselves everything they wish for. And one of them is still behind bars! If Trudeau really wanted to write from experience it would be a tutorial on how to land yourself in a federal penitentiary... and how to be successfully sued by the FTC. It's an impressive resume.

Trudeau's activities have been the subject of both criminal and civil action. He was convicted of larceny and credit card fraud in the early 1990s, and in 1998 he was sued by U.S. Federal Trade Commission for making false or misleading claims in his infomercials promoting his book,'The Weight-Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You to Know About. In 2004, he settled that action, by agreeing to pay a $500,000 fine and consenting to a lifetime ban on promoting products other than his books via infomercials. [1] On Nov. 29, 2011, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $37.6 million fine levied against him for violating that 2004 settlement. Additionally, the appellate court upheld the requirement that he post a $2 million bond before engaging in future infomercial advertising, [2][3]

Now, don't get me wrong. Being in jail doesn't make you a bad person. There are people who are convicted unfairly. (Ahem.) There are prisoners of conscience. And there are certainly people who pay their debt to society and emerge as better people. What marks people like Warren Jeffs, James Ray, and Kevin Trudeau, is that they remain totally unrepentant and continue to see themselves as victims. Everything I do wrong is someone else's fault is indicative of sociopathy. Selling people the keys to success when your own pursuit of same has gotten you locked up, is a little like saying, "Hey, you gonna believe me or your lyin' eyes." It's not teaching. It's pathology.

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Apr 18, 2012

More Skeletons Tumble Out of the Vatican Closet

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The Vatican is weighing in on the Mafia issue and has decided that the organization is immoral enough to merit their attention. They have taken their message promoting a "culture of dialogue and legality" straight to Sicily. Such tough talk marks a turning point for the Vatican which has traditionally been a little lenient when it came to organized crime.

The Catholic Church in Italy has often been accused of being too timid towards the Mafia.

Event organizer Bishop Antonino Raspanti admitted that the church "has not condemned strongly enough," the mafia in the past. But "things have changed," he said, and there is no doubt that the "Mafia is anti-human and anti-religious."

Just how timid? Well, as a curious coincidence, this initiative comes just as new questions have been raised about a well-known Mafia don who is buried on Vatican grounds alongside prominent bishops and cardinals. And it isn't just the remains of Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis that police want to dig up.

Why a known-mobster like De Pedis is buried on the grounds of a Vatican church has been the object of much speculation since 1997, when a church maid revealed the tomb’s existence to an inquisitive journalist. The Vatican was always cagey about why the mobster was buried in one of its churches, and ultimately, the church’s silence spurred countless conspiracy theories.  Now, thanks to shocking Vatican letters leaked in the Vatileaks scandal that is rocking the Holy See, the Italian police are less interested in why he’s buried there. Instead, they want to open the tomb to see if the remains of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi are interred with those of the mobster.

The kidnapping of the unfortunate, young music student has been tied to Turkish criminals seeking the release of Pope John Paul's would-be assassin and to figures associated with the Banco Ambrosiano scandal but neither theory has ever been proved, nor was the girl ever found. Statements from De Pedis's girlfriend tied her kidnapping and death directly to Archbishop Paul Marcinkus who headed the Vatican bank and a convoluted tangle over unpaid Mafia loans.

In the wake of more leaked documents, the Vatican is in the crosshairs in an expanding investigation.

Now, the focus of the investigation has turned to the Vatican itself, and, according to revelations in a letter leaked to the Italian press last week, the Vatican is taking it very seriously. A three-page letter from Lombardi to church higher-ups indicated even he suspected a cover-up.  In the letter, shown on Italian Rai Tre state television, Lombardi wrote of his concerns and asked how to address the press. “Was the non-collaboration [in the initial Orlandi investigation] normal and justifiable affirmation of Vatican sovereignty, or if in fact circumstances were withheld that might have helped clear something up.”

Italian magistrates are now wondering the same thing, and say they feel the Vatican may still be covering up vital information about Orlandi’s mysterious disappearance. They are picking up on a series of leads that stalled in 2005, starting with a tip from an anonymous caller to an Italian detective program Chi’l’ha Visto (“Who Has Seen”). The caller said Orlandi was kidnapped on the orders of the then vicar of Rome, Cardinal Ugo Poletti, and that “the secret to the mystery lies in a tomb in Sant’ Apollinare basilica.”

Whether or not the Mafia/Vatican crypt will be opened is a a subject of ongoing dispute. But what is being revealed, once again, is that highly placed Church officials knew about crimes being committed and put the Vatican's reputation and desire for secrecy ahead of yet another child. And this one was murdered.

“There are those in the Curia who know elements of the circumstantial evidence,” Giancarlo Capaldo, assistant prosecutor in the case, said on Italian television. “There are people still alive, and still inside the Vatican, who know the truth.”

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Apr 17, 2012

Paganism Added to School Curriculum

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In the Potterverse young witches and wizards begin their magical training at Hogwarts at age 11. And now in Cornwall, 11 year olds will begin instruction in "modern paganism and its importance for many." Education in standing stones like Stonehenge will begin at age 5. All part of a new initiative to integrate the Pagan faiths that have surged in recent years into the schools' religion curriculum.

The syllabus adds that areas of study should include ‘the importance of pre-Christian sites for modern pagans’.

And an accompanying guide says that pupils should ‘understand the basic beliefs’ of paganism and suggests children could discuss the difficulties a practising pagan pupil might face in school.

. . .

Paganism encompasses numerous strands, from druids, who believe themselves to be practitioners of the ancient faith of pre-Christian Britain, to wiccans – modern witches who gather in covens – and shamans, who engage with the spirit of the land.

Despite push-back from local Christians who are dismayed that this "fringe eccentricity" will eat into the time allotted for religious instruction,
the Cornwall Council seems determined to extend its education to the small but growing population of earth-based practitioners.

No word on whether the young students will be trained to deal with those troublesome Cornish pixies.

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Apr 15, 2012

Luis Eduardo Luna on Ayahuasca

From Graham Hancock's YouTube channel, comes this brief but informative interview on ayahuasca. Luis Eduardo Luna gives an overview of the chemistry, history of use, and healing properties. As Hancock has explained at length in Supernatural and in numerous interviews, it takes a certain kind of moral courage to take ayahuasca and it is anything but a lazy approach to enlightenment. It has, in fact, been used effectively as a treatment for addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Offered as food for thought.

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Apr 5, 2012

Easter Egg Jesus

Some years ago I posted a blurb on the controversy surrounding a life-sized chocolate Jesus exhibit. The sculpture, among other things, blurred the lines between Easter baskets filled with chocolate bunnies and jelly beans and the crucifixion and resurrection we are ostensibly honoring every spring. But then, it was the early church that originally confused things by grafting the Christ myth onto ancient, Pagan fertility rituals. It's a particularly odd pairing. Even the name, Easter, owes far more to pre-Christian mythos than anything to do with Jesus. It comes from the same word root as estrus and the goddess Eostara. It's all about estrogen and ovulation.

Chocolate Jesus also pushed the limits because he was depicted in the nude, naughty bits and all. I think I've said about enough on the sexy Jesus issue, but, let's face it, struggle continues with the sensuality of even some of the most ancient images of Christ.

That controversial, crucified confection was the first thing that came to mind when my husband gave me this Jesus themed Easter egg. (I'm a sucker for the kitsch.) And Easter Egg Jesus is stuffed to the brim with tasty, little candy crosses. Mmmm... Sacrilicious!

Today I'm giving the whole thing a rethink and considering the possibility that the egg imagery which so dominates Christian Easter is a subtle nod to creation myths more generally. Perhaps it's really, consciously or not, a remembrance of the cosmic egg from which the world was born. And the egg from which gods have been born only to be killed and resurrected in various forms.

Orphic mythology employs themes of death and rebirth found in Shamanic cultures, specifically in the form of Dionysos. The Orphic cosmogony begins with Phanes -- "light" -- bursting out of the cosmic egg. The light of Phanes ultimately is passed on through Zeus to the child Dionysos, who is killed by the Titans in a scene that replicates a common shamanic journey in which the shaman is dismembered and eaten. The mysteries of Isis celebrate another god, Osiris, who is killed and dismembered. Dionysos, like Osiris, is reborn. Initiation, in many cases, involves the initiated repeating "the death of the Supernatural Being, the founder of the mystery."

Scratch the surface of any pervasive mythology and what you find over and over again is that there is nothing new under the sun.


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