Oct 25, 2013

Bishops Behaving Badly

Catholic bishops are making headlines again and not in a good way. This week saw the suspension the "Bishop of Bling." It's a decisive action from the new pope that shows him actually putting his money where his mouth is, so to speak. One hopes it is a harbinger of things to come and that Pope Francis will start backing up more of his lovely rhetoric with decisions that reflect it. For a pope who seems to take the vow of poverty very seriously, the German bishop is downright embarrassing.

When Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Germany traveled to India last year to minister to poor slum dwellers, he reportedly flew first class.

This year, renovations of the Roman Catholic bishop's church-owned residence in the city of Limburg ran massively over budget to cover $620,000 worth of artwork, $1.1 million in landscaping and last-minute design revisions -- $42 million in all, billed to the Vatican and German taxpayers, Hamburg's tabloid daily Bild reported.

Dubbed the "Bishop of Bling" by European media that have been avidly tracking the bespectacled clergyman's lavish lifestyle, Tebartz-van Elst was suspended from his post by Pope Francis on Wednesday in a clear sign that the new pontiff is serious about diverting resources from the "princes of the church" to the paupers in its congregations.

Because Tebartz-van Elst is a bishop in Germany, there's more to this case than the obvious hypocrisy. For Germans, donations to their church aren't voluntary. Germany does not separate church and state and German church-goers pay taxes to support their churches.

In Germany, churches are largely funded by taxes – there is no direct prohibition between mixing Church and State as there is in the United States. The origins of the so-called “church tax” can be traced back to the Middle Ages.

Here’s how the “church tax” or Kirchensteuer works: taxpayers register affiliation with a church or religious group on a Lohnsteuerkarte (kind of like a form W-2). Registration indicates where and how much tax you’ll pay: the rate is 9% for Catholic and Protestant churches in most of the country with a slightly lower rate of 8% in the heavily Catholic states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg (a similar tax, the Kultussteuer, applies to the Jewish community). If you aren’t a member of a church, you can apply to opt out of the tax – but prepare to prove that you’re actually avoiding church and not taxes. It will also cost you money if you want to leave the church: you have to register and pay a fee (depending on the location, it can run about $50). Failure to pay the tax, however, doesn’t come without consequences: if you don’t pay into the Catholic Church, you may not receive sacraments (except before death), work in a church or church-related entity (including hospitals) or serve as a godparent; it’s very nearly like excommunication though the Catholic Church really doesn’t like to use the word.

Why all of the pressure to pay into the system? The tax is a lucrative source of income for churches in the country. In 2013, the Catholic Church alone collected €5.2 billion ($7.18 billion US) in church taxes. The revenue is thought to represent nearly 70% of church funding inside Germany – though the numbers are a bit clouded due to a lack of financial transparency.

Such legally compelled tithing definitely ups the ante when a steward of the church is caught soaking in a $20,000 bathtub.

In another case of mind-melting hypocrisy, it was revealed earlier this month that a Bishop who resigned in July, over the paternity of a child, pleaded with the birth mother to have an abortion. As the Catholic Church tirelessly drives global policies on abortion and birth control that result in staggering maternal death rates all over the third world -- not to mention Ireland -- a bishop in Peru not only, violated celibacy rules and knocked a woman up, but then begged her to break that country's laws.

Ex-Bishop Guillermo Abanto has officially recognized the paternity of the two-year-old daughter he fathered with a young woman that he met though his work as a priest.

. . .

However, Alexandra Daniela de la Lama, the child’s mother, has also come forward with unflattering details about the case. De la Lama alleges that Abanto asked her to abort the pregnancy, telling television program Punto Final, “Yes, he asked me not just one, but several times. He said ‘Are you sure you want to have it, that you don’t want to have an abortion?’”

Abortion is illegal in Peru except in cases where the life of the woman is endangered by the pregnancy. Furthermore, abortion is prohibited by the doctrines of the Catholic church.

So why was a sitting bishop so willing to dispense with a central doctrine of his faith? Well, the whole thing was just so bloody inconvenient and it might have forced him to actually make changes in his own life. De la Lama explained.

"When I got pregnant, he began to mourn, he did not know what to do. I expected him to drop everything and take responsibility. But he screamed at me and said 'You're crazy! So, stop being a priest, marry you, and live with you?!' So, I decided to find another solution", Lama further disclosed.

Bitches, man. They slow a playuh down.

Meanwhile, another Peruvian bishop was removed due to sex abuse allegations.

Gabino Miranda, auxiliary bishop in Ayacucho, Peru, has been removed from his post after allegations surfaced that he sexually abused children. Little is known at this point about the nature or number of the accusations, but church officials have confirmed to the press that Miranda’s dismissal was the result of allegations of sex abuse.

Bishop Emeritus of Chimbote Luis Bambarén told RPP Noticias that the swift action by church authorities can be credited to Pope Francis strict policies on sex abuse scandals: “It’s what the pope said— zero tolerance […] Those are very serious crimes, especially when it has to do with a bishop.”

By Vatican standards, that's beyond swift. It's the rough equivalent of breaking the sound barrier. So once again I am guardedly optimistic that Pope Francis may be really serious about change. It should come as no great surprise that such a proactive response to an accused pedophile has resulted in some grumbling.

It is heartening to see that Pope Francis is holding bishops to account on some of the issues that matter to the little people -- almost as heartening as it is annoying to see that some of the Vatican's harshest punishments are still reserved for those clergy who support women's and glbt rights.

An Australian priest vocal in his support of women's ordination has become the first person excommunicated for such beliefs under the papacy of Pope Francis.

Fr. Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia, told NCR by email late Monday night his initial reaction was "shock" upon learning of his separation from the church. Australian media have reported he is the first member of the Melbourne archdiocese excommunicated and the first priest from the area laicized for reasons other than pedophilia.

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Oct 20, 2013

Stealing Malala

An excellent write-up in Salon takes on Sam Harris's disturbing crush on Malala Yousafzai.

In an era of narcissistic self-obsession, there’s something to be said for the value of self-awareness. This week, atheist philosopher Sam Harris leapt forward to claim Malala Yousafzai as another trophy in his one-man jihad against Muslims and the weak-kneed “Muslim-apologists” he perceives on the left.

That Harris has been denounced as a crude, pseudo-intellectual bigot for his various tirades about the monolithic evil of Muslims didn’t do much to deter him; but what was most interesting about his latest missive was its complete disregard for Malala’s actual words and opinions. Either he didn’t listen to her words at all before plastering her face on his website or he was too contemptuous of her to think it necessary.

According to Harris:
Given the requisite beliefs…. an entire culture will support such evil. Malala is the best thing to come out of the Muslim world in a thousand years. She is an extraordinarily brave and eloquent girl who is doing what millions of Muslim men and women are too terrified to do—stand up to the misogyny of traditional Islam
It’s worth pausing here to listen to whether Malala thinks that she is standing up to her own evil culture and the misogyny of “traditional Islam”:
“The Taliban think we are not Muslims, but we are. We believe in God more than they do, and we trust him to protect us…..I’m still following my own culture, Pashtun culture….Islam says that it is not only each child’s right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility.”
Whatever one thinks of this, given that these are Malala’s beliefs, anyone with a modicum of decency or respect for her would not go ahead and use her suffering as a tool to attack the very things she is fighting to defend. Yet Harris takes up this opportunity with great vigor. For him it doesn’t matter whether Malala believed she was defending traditional Islam, because anyone who tries to differentiate Islam from the acts of extremists are part of the “tsunami of stupidity and violence breaking simultaneously on a hundred shores … the determination that ‘moderate’ Islam not be blamed for the acts of extremists.’”

Another way of saying that is that Harris's blog post doesn't make a lick of sense. As I said when I first read it last week, if Muslims like Yousafzai are standing up to the Taliban and demanding education for girls, how is Islam the problem?

In Harris's world, no "Moderate Muslims" have ever pushed back against extremists before -- just Malala. She apparently sprung up out of nowhere to become the lone voice in the entire Muslim world to stand up for a girl's right to be educated.

Throughout its roughly twenty year history, the Taliban has targeted education for women and girls, closing schools, forcing professional women out of their jobs and into burqas, and confining all females to their homes. A logical person, even with no real knowledge of the Muslim world, would deduce from that basic and well-known set of facts, that countless Muslim women in Afghanistan and Pakistan were educated and working in a range of careers long before the Taliban came along. Sam Harris, on the other hand, somehow deduces that Islam has been oppressing women and keeping them from getting an education for at least a thousand years. Huh? What then does the Taliban keep closing down?

Harris's post, entitled "No Ordinary Violence," goes on with such fact-free, ahistorical leaps in logic for many florid paragraphs. Muslims kill because they are Muslims. Period. They're deluded by promises of paradise. Iraq, Afghanistan, drone attacks... all irrelevant. In fact, all that military action would be unnecessary but for their religion-fueled, as opposed to clinical, insanity. No. Really. He says that.

Yes, our drone strikes in Pakistan kill innocent people—and this undoubtedly creates new enemies for the West. But we wouldn’t need to drop a single bomb on Pakistan, or anywhere else, if a death cult of devout Muslims weren’t making life miserable for millions of innocent people and posing an unacceptable threat of violence to open societies.

Blithely ignoring the fact that his new-found heroine is a passionate Muslim, Harris exploits her iconic status to bash the religion she loves.

Shortly after Harris posted his paean-to-Malala/anti-Muslim-screed, it was reported that she had told President Obama that, actually, the drones? Kind of a problem.

“I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” she said in the statement. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.” 

Since then, not a peep from Harris about how his golden girl went off the script that exists only in his head and told the leader of the free world that it might just be ordinary violence after all.

Amazingly enough, this is not the worst thing Harris has ever said about Muslims. He has a long, documented history of bigotry masquerading as intellectual enlightenment. Even among New Atheists, his animus toward Muslims is extreme. And New Atheism has created a lot of slickly packaged Islamaphobia.

When criticism of religion morphs into an undue focus on Islam - particularly at the same time the western world has been engaged in a decade-long splurge of violence, aggression and human rights abuses against Muslims, justified by a sustained demonization campaign - then I find these objections to the New Atheists completely warranted. That's true of [Richard] Dawkins' proclamation that "[I] often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today." It's true of [Christopher] Hitchens' various grotesque invocations of Islam to justify violence, including advocating cluster bombs because "if they're bearing a Koran over their heart, it'll go straight through that, too". And it's true of Harris' years-long argument that Islam poses unique threats beyond what Christianity, Judaism, and the other religions of the world pose.

Not only has Harris aligned himself ideologically with European fascists who dream of turning Muslims "into soap," he opines in The End of Faith that, "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them."

I think it's safe to say that when one begins advocating genocide, one has given up the moral high ground.

The rabid anti-Muslim bias of New Atheists has come under increasing scrutiny as their fundamentalist zeal to rid the world religion has gained ground. They simply don't disparage all religions equally. Dawkins, for instance, has made numerous statements along the lines of “Religion poisons everything, but Islam is in a toxic league of its own.”

Dawkins has also refused to distance himself from Harris's many outrageous statements, saying at one point:

You mean the Koran and the Hadith don’t say what Sam claims they say? I’m delighted to hear that, but can you substantiate it? I do hope you can, then we can all sleep easier. If, on the other hand, Sam is summarising Islamic scriptures accurately, why should I be ashamed of myself for simply quoting Sam’s accurate summary?

What may be evident from that statement is something that he's also admitted publicly. He's never read the Quran.

Dawkins, in a recent rant on Twitter, admitted that he had not ever read the Quran, but was sufficiently expert in the topic to denounce Islam as the main culprit of all the world’s evil: “Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter and verse like I can for Bible. But [I] often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today.” How’s that for a scientific dose of proof that God does not exist?

A few days later, on March 25, there was this: “Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read the Qur’an. You don’t have to read “Mein Kampf” to have an opinion about Nazism.”

It’s an extraordinary feat for an Oxford scholar to admit that he hasn’t done the research to substantiate his belief, but what’s more extraordinary is that he continues to believe the unsupported claim. That backwards equation — insisting on a conclusion before even launching an initial investigation — defines the New Atheists’ approach to Islam. It’s a pompousness that only someone who believes they have proven, scientifically, the nonexistence of God can possess.

As we know from years of seeing Dawkins and Harris in action, whatever scholarly standards they may apply to work in their own fields of science go right out the window when they start talking -- and writing -- about religion. They are scientists. Therefore everything they do is scientific, even when it isn't, seems to be the reasoning. As Terry Eagleton observed, "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

That problem of ignorance masquerading as scholarly rigor can only be compounded when they start holding forth on a religion in which they were not raised. That they have a childlike grasp of Judaism and Christianity can carry them a ways in bashing both. But, notably, they've both made a great deal of apology for both of those religions as compared to the Islam of which they have zero experiential knowledge.

Now, into the thick of that fiercest of ironies, Sam Harris has dragged a devout Muslim, magically transforming her courage and faith into a testament to his lack of both. Hasn't she suffered enough?

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Oct 14, 2013

Once Upon a Time There Was a Chymical Wedding

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"Stories are medicine. I have been taken with stories since I heard my first. They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything -- we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic drive are contained in stories." ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés in Women Who Run With the Wolves

I'm a little late to this party -- two years to be exact -- but I have recently fallen in love with Once Upon a Time. Once again I tried to curl up with a little diversionary fluff and was instead abruptly pulled into the heart of the mysteries. As ever with these pop culture creations I am left to wonder if the writers are just randomly pulling these profound archetypes out of their deep subconscious, totally unaware of the implications, or if it's a carefully scripted foray into Gnosis.

The central plot is clever and entertaining. The evil queen from Snow White, she of the poison apple, takes her revenge by casting a spell that drags a myriad of fairy tale characters into a small town in Maine. There they live trapped in time and unable to remember who they really are. But the curse may be undone by the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, who was secreted out of the enchanted forest before the curse fell and predestined to return at the age of 28. Twenty-eight years later Emma Swan is living a lonely life in Boston until a young boy claiming to be the son she put up for adoption pulls her to Storybrooke. He insists she must fulfill her destiny and break the curse cast by his adoptive mother, who he is quite sure is the evil queen in his very unusual book of  fairy tales.

Each episode weaves together the complimentary narratives of the characters' lives in Storybrooke and their history as fairy tale creatures. It's skillful, if somewhat predictable, storytelling. But it's in the imagery that the creators tip their hand. They speak the language of symbols far too well for me to take the series lightly. From the first episode I was struck by the subtle but brilliant use of sacred geometry, character names, and striking tableaux. 

It is essentially a mystical story employing the most basic numerical code to appeal to conscious oneness.

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"Once" (one) dominates the graphic. "Upon a Time" is barely visible, reading almost like an afterthought. The O in Once is a perfect circle or monad. That basic form comes up again and again.

It appears in jewelry, like Emma's elegantly simple pendant:

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It appears in boldly outlined clocks like the one in the diner:

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It appears in mirrors and windows like the one in the diner's kitchen door:

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These perfect circles are subtle, woven seamlessly into the background, but they are ubiquitous throughout the first season as all of Storybrooke awaits the savior to wake them up from their illusory world. The inhabitants of Storybrooke have not just forgotten their fairy tale identities. Like the rest of us mere mortals, they have forgotten that they are part of the great oneness. The name Emma means "whole" or "universal." Her occult purpose is to remind them of what the Gnostics called the Pleroma or "fullness."

Emma's nemesis is the evil queen in her new guise as Storybrooke's mayor and Henry's adoptive mother. So to again put that in Gnostic terms, she is a ruler, or archon. Her function it is to keep humanity imprisoned in their false reality, asleep to the greater reality.

Queen Regina -- Regina means queen --  also wears a circular pendant. It is on prominent display when she crashes the wedding of Snow White and Prince Charming and informs them that she will be placing everyone under this dreadful curse. The pendant suggests, not just a circle, but a sphere or three dimensional circle. But it also suggests the murky, gray shroud that will envelope the bubble reality she is to create.

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Within the reality of the show, Emma is special because she is the product of the true love of Snow White and Prince Charming. But such fairy tales aren't really about romantic love, which is why they fail miserably as relationship guides. Such ideal love represents the divine union  which brings us back into wholeness. The wedding the evil queen crashes is symbolic, akin to the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. A good explanation can be found here:

A "chemical wedding" does refer to an Alchemical process, it is, in fact the "central symbol of alchemy" according to the author of another book I came across while putting this talk together, entitled, "Alchemy" by Titus Burkhardt.

Our Most Excellent Captain Cliff, loaned me this one, and since it contains some background on the central theme of our story, I will quote from a chapter entitled, "of the Chemical Marriage". "The marriage of spirit and soul, (also referred to as) sulfur and quicksilver, sun and moon, or king and queen, is the central symbol of alchemy. Alchemy is based on the view that man, as a result of the loss of his original Adamic state, is divided within himself.

He regains his integral nature only when the two powers, whose discord has rendered him impotent, are again reconciled with one another. The regaining of the integral nature of man (which alchemy expresses by the symbol of the masculine-feminine androgyne) is the prerequisite - or from another point of view, the fruit of - the union with God."

The Author of the book, "Alchemy", Titus Burkhardt, continues by explaining the connection between marriage and death, "Closely related to the symbolism of marriage is that of death. According to some representations of the "chemical marriage" the king and queen, on marriage, are killed and buried together, only to rise again, rejuvenated. That this connection between marriage and death is in the nature of things, is indicated by the fact that according to ancient experience, a marriage in a dream means a death, and a death in a dream means a marriage. This correspondence is explained by the fact that any given union presupposes an extinction of the earlier, still undifferentiated state."

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is, of course, one of those tales in which the beloved dies, only to be resurrected. In the show both Snow and Charming experience these deaths and rebirths -- symbolic forays into the transformational power of truthful awareness.

They are wedded upon a perfect monad:

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They are surrounded by coiling, DNA-like patterns on the stained glass windows:

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There's even a gratuitous circumpunct shot:

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So Emma is the embodiment of the wholeness achieved by Snow White and Prince Charming, hence the name. But then she is orphaned and forced into a cold, cruel world -- our world. There she becomes Emma Swan. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés positions "The Ugly Duckling" as the quintessential orphan/exile story. Perhaps this is what the writers are alluding to by naming her Swan. She, at once, symbolizes the wholeness, the Pleroma, and our collective exile from it.

Emma has been thrown out of the enchanted forest and into the wilderness. Kicked around the foster care system and surviving on her wits and petty crimes, the spark of divinity flickers quietly, directing her actions far more than she knows. On her 28th birthday -- 28 is right about when we start feeling the effects of our first Saturn Return -- her awakening begins in earnest. We see her in her apartment, with, funnily enough, a spell written on the outer door. The producers claim location scouts came across this door, as is, by happy coincidence.

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Emma takes a single, round cupcake with snowy white frosting from a bakery box and inserts one candle decorated with a blue star -- blue like the blue pearl, blue like Snow White's bluebird companion. She lights the candle and makes her wish.

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Her third eye has been opened. The awakening has begun and she looks like nothing so much as the Buddha Eye images found all over Nepal.

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Moments later her biological son Henry -- or home ruler -- shows up at the door and her fairy tale odyssey begins.

As the clever back and forth between worlds plays out on the screen, we learn how Emma's hidden history brings her, inevitably, to the destiny that awaits her in Storybrooke. And we see her endure the painful process of awakening. In one scene we see Snow making plans to transport Emma beyond Regina's reach. She stands in a tower (spine) under a single disembodied eye.

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In the next scene, having been run off the road by a wolf as she attempted to leave Storybrooke, Emma awakens to find herself in a jail cell. The camera closes in on a single eye as it slowly opens.

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As a matter of pure symbolism, the soul's memory of wholeness is awakening the true self to the awareness that it has been imprisoned in an illusory world.

Meanwhile, the evil queen is also being rocked from her complacency. She is also awakening to the very real possibility that her spell can be broken. Note the position of her hands. They form an open eye, as she clutches the book of fairy tales that could be her undoing.

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Emma's attempts to leave Storybrooke are repeatedly thwarted, as are Regina's attempts to make her go. Emma realizes that she must stay. She fears for the safety and mental health of her son, as he believes fairy tales are real is being raised by an unpleasant woman he thinks is an evil queen. Upon her decision, the broken clock in the clock tower, which represents the curse that holds them all frozen in time, begins to tick forward.

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"Time is regarded as a god by evil men who wish to hide the Essential Being...Vicious men think that Time is the cause of the world, but the wise and good think it is God." ~ C.G. Jung in Symbols of Transformation

This is the beginning of the end of Regina's curse as Emma slowly awakens to the possibility that things might just be as Henry believes and ultimately fulfills her destiny.

As the residents of Storybrooke awaken from the curse, they naturally turn on their captor Regina.

"So I'm a prisoner now," whines Regina when she's imprisoned for imprisoning everyone in a tiny village from which they can't escape.

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If you're a fan of Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner, you can't miss the joke. 

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What we begin to discover is that Regina is not the real force behind this curse of forgetfulness. She has been made a pawn through appeals to her outsized ego. In psychological terms, Regina is a wounded narcissist, hence a mirror to forever adore her. She has been separated from her beloved by her toxic, heartless -- and heart stealing -- mother Cora. (Cora means heart.) She has been thwarted in both romantic love and divine union. Her own attempts to resurrect her dead lover go horribly, horribly wrong.

Narcissists, in a deeper sense, are thoroughly alienated from the experience of unity. Their understanding of the reflective world is truncated as they become trapped by their own reflection. While the mystical thinker understands that everyone he encounters is his reflection, he also understands that from the perspective of another, it is he who is the reflection. The narcissist only has a one way mirror.

Regina, furious that she can't control everyone and everything, has dragged them all into her fantasy and forced them to play the roles she's assigned them to. Once there she becomes frustrated that she can't make the unreal love her for real. She's built a playground that turns out to be just another lonely prison.

We learn from the very first episode that Regina may be the mayor (archon) but Mr. Gold "owns" the town. The real architect of the curse is that classic trickster Rumpelstiltskin.

In fairy tale lore, Rumpelstiltskin represents the hidden nature of the true self, slipping in and out of the shadows. His true name (identity) is a carefully guarded secret. He is also an alchemist with the ability to turn base matter into gold. He is the disowned remnant of our true nature and creative force (he steals babies) which we must uncover to achieve freedom from suffering. So it is only fitting that it would be Rumpelstiltskin who would fashion a spell to hide the true names and identities of all these mythic beings and set the stage for their redemption through the memory of oneness.

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In Once Upon a Time, Rumpelstiltskin becomes the shadow that animates a multitude of fairy tale monsters and villains. He is the crocodile who stole Hook's hand. Note the jacket. He is the beast who wins Belle's heart. He embodies the darkness itself.

Rumpelstiltskin is given an origin story that explains his villainy and makes him easily the most complex and fascinating character in the series. It doesn't hurt that he's played by the brilliant and compelling Robert Carlyle. Rumpelstiltskin doesn't start out evil. Quite the contrary. He's a simple, sweet man -- a man who has so completely disowned his shadow that he's become weak and ineffectual. He is a man hobbled, literally, by his father's legacy of cowardice. After a lifetime of failure, Rumpelstiltskin's shadow finds him. He becomes the Dark One and learns to wield magic. In a broader sense, it's the path of power. Rumpelstiltskin must descend into the depths and win his power back by reclaiming the disowned shadow. Turns out it's a lot of shadow for one little man.

"The ancients devised magic to compel fate. They needed it to determine outer fate. We need it to determine inner fate and to find the way that we are unable to conceive. For a long time I considered what type of magic this would have to be. And in the end I found nothing. Whoever cannot find it within himself should become an apprentice, and so I took myself off to a far country where a great magician lived, of whose reputation I had heard." ~ Carl Jung in The Red Book

"Rumpelstiltskin" is what Estés would characterize as a "poor bargain" myth, akin to "The Handless Maiden." In that story, a father, also a miller, accidentally trades away his daughter to the devil for the promise of wealth. Writes Estés:

So, the tale begins with the unintended but acute betrayal of the young feminine, of the innocent. It can be said that the father, who symbolizes the function of the psyche that is supposed to guide us in the outer world, is, in fact, very ignorant about how the outer world and the inner world work in tandem. When the fathering function of the psyche fails to have knowing about issues of soul, we are easily betrayed. The father does not realize one of the most basic things that mediates between the world of the soul and the world of matter -- that is, that many things that present themselves to us are not as they seem upon first contact.

Where Regina represents the broken heart of motherlessness, Rumpelstiltskin represents fatherlessness. It's the failing or absent fathering that leaves the child with instincts too damaged to successfully manage material survival and manifestation. This sad legacy he also unwittingly passes on to his son.

He also represents the shadow journey the injured soul must take to restore strength and resourcefulness and bring us back into wholeness. Rumpelstiltskin, as Beast, is really very evenly matched by Belle. She also was traded away in a poor bargain by her failing father. One of the things we realize about Belle, when she is trapped in her Storybrooke guise and becomes Lacey, is that she is also wrestling with her disowned shadow. It was never as simple as Beauty seeing the underlying goodness in the accursed Beast. She was pulled first to his darkness. Like most good girls, Belle can't resist a bad boy. As Lacey, she directly expresses her darkness as a trashy barfly. When Gold tries to charm her with the goodness he thinks Belle fell in love with, Lacey is so bored she ditches him for an ordinary lout. Only when she sees the depths of his darkness does he evince interest.

None of us can return to the state of conscious oneness without reclaiming the shadow. Only through that marriage of opposites can we achieve the alchemical union, the true love, that brings us back into that perfect circle.

Just as the visual elements of the cursed Storybrooke use the geometry of the monad to recall the state of oneness, the fairy tale realm explores the architecture of matter with more complex geometries.

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In the second season, after Emma has lifted the curse, we see a growing repertoire of sacred geometry in both worlds.

In one marvelous bit of playfulness, we see a flashback to Emma's earlier incarceration in juvie. A perfectly wrought vesica piscis can be seen in the window, over the guard's shoulder.

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It foreshadows beautifully her opening eye in the Storybrooke jail cell some ten years later. But it is also artfully picked up in the very next scene, where a painting of interlocking spheres adorns a wall in Snow White's apartment, seen over Charming's shoulder.

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The use of symbolic geometries is incredibly deft. When we get a better look at the book of spells Rumpelstiltskin passes from Cora to Regina, we learn first that it is adorned with the all-important heart, surrounded by a rich tangle of Celtic knots.

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When Regina opens the book we see a beautiful use of the mystical seven -- the elusive heptagon.

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Michael Schneider explains the complexities of sevenness in A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe. It is an ethereal number, not a material one. It is not born in the normal way and does not give birth to number.

A regular heptagon cannot be constructed with the geometer's three tools and so is not born like other shapes through the vesica piscis.

. . .

The ancients referred to seven as the "virgin" number. It is untouched by other numbers in the sense that no number less than seven divides or enters into it, as two divides four, six, eight, and ten, three divides six, and nine, four divides eight, and five divides ten. Seven was also considered childless since it produces no other number (by multiplication) within the ten, as two produces four, six, and so forth.

It is the number of pure spirit, the divine mystery behind the material world.

Seven has always predominated in mythology, mysticism, magic ceremony, and superstition (both lucky and unlucky). Its appeal endures to this day in religion, nursery rhymes, and folk sayings, from the reverent "seven angels before the throne" to the colloquial "seven year itch." Our feel for sevenness is a measure of our sensitivity to the archetypal heptad.

Eight, by contrast is "promiscuous" writes Schneider. The enchanted forest is the domain of core archetypes, closer to matrixic reality than our world. It is akin to the non-ordinary reality encountered by the shaman -- the reality behind this one. It is a place of pattern formation and promiscuous eight is a number of material manifestation. Eight mediates between spirit and matter. So, in the enchanted forest, octagonal forms abound.

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The well that serves as a portal between the enchanted forest and this world is naturally octagonal.

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Eight is the number of spider who spun the great web in which the world was formed. And web images are suddenly everywhere in the second season. Emma's fascination with dreamcatchers is the most explicit. But there are also many subtler visual allusions, like the patterns in floors:

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And Lacey's shirt:

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Beyond dreamcatchers and other allusions to grandmother spider, there are many nods to shamanic cultures. The Mad Hatter, for instance, is an opener of heads. His hats, we learn, are really portals into other worlds, Wonderland being one.

There is also a lot of interplay with animal spirits. Snow White holds wild birds in her hands like pets. An otherworldly wolf makes a number of appearances, operating as a companion, guardian, and guide. He's an ethereal, silvery white with one red eye -- like Odin's remaining solar eye -- and one black eye.

Red Riding Hood, as it turns out, really does run with the wolves. She's a werewolf, or therianthrope. The red cloak, in this telling, is enchanted and prevents her lunar transformation, because when she transforms she murders the local villagers and has no memory of having done so. 

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An episode called "Child of the Moon" explores Red's back story in greater depth. In this flashback she finds the mother she thought dead and an entire clan of werewolves. She is no longer an orphan. She has found her people. From her mother she learns that if she allows rather than fights her shapeshifting transformation, she will remain conscious throughout and control her actions during her nocturnal journey. She doesn't have to be an out of control killer. She can reclaim her authentic wildness and live with the natural dignity of a wolf. But the red robe of her Grandmother had robbed her of her wildness and rendered her feral.

In "The Red Shoes" Estés explores the feral nature of the orphan who, left to her own devices in the natural setting of the forest, raises herself quite capably. It is only when she is "rescued" by an oppressive matriarch and forced to live in a civilized manner, detached from nature and her own instincts, that she becomes feral, reckless, and self-destructive.

I postulate the feral woman as one who was once in a natural psychic state -- that is, in her rightful wild mind -- then later captured by whatever turn of events, thereby becoming overly domesticated and deadened to proper instincts. When she has opportunity to return to her original wildish nature, she too easily steps into all manner of traps and poisons. Because her cycles and protective systems have been tampered with, she is at risk in what used to be her natural wild state. No longer wary and alert, she easily becomes prey.

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This is the ongoing struggle of Red Riding Hood, or Storybrooke's Ruby. She is torn between her authentic nature and the civilizing Granny who, with the best of intentions, suppresses and warps her natural instincts.

Red finds that the rift between her shafeshifting tribe and the civilized world is too great. They are effectively at war with one another. Red is forced to choose between the wild life she has found and her love for what is good and true within the civilized world. She has little choice but to kill the mother and become an orphan trapped between the worlds again. This is the turmoil that has followed her to Storybrooke where in her Ruby identity she continues to live in conflict between the oppressively civilizing Granny and her wild nature. She is, however, able to keep the lesson of her people -- that if she doesn't resist the call of the wild when it comes, she can remain conscious throughout it and navigate the night as a wolf instead of a monster. And she is able to bury and properly grieve her mother.

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In a broader sense, these stories also speak to the collective struggle between modern civilization and the indigenous peoples whose lives in harmony with nature and the spirit world have been subject to cultural -- and literal -- genocide. And it speaks to the challenges of the urban shaman in reclaiming the soul's connection to the spirit world.

Rumpelstiltskin, aka. Mr. Gold, is not a shaman but a dark sorcerer. The basic tool kit is the same. It's the intent that's warped. In the same episode, he explains to young Henry that he has wandered into a place in the spirit world that exists between life and death as an after-effect of a sleeping curse. It's a room of fire where he encounters another survivor of a sleeping curse, Sleeping Beauty. He has found a bridge between Storybrooke and the enchanted forest where Emma and Snow White have become trapped. If he could master the transit through this world, he could potentially help them. Gold explains:

When people fall under a sleeping curse, their soul travels to a netherworld where it resides until they're woken. Now this world is between life and death. And it's very real. However, even when the curse is broken, sometimes in sleep, the victims find their way back into that world -- victims like you.... Once you control the journey, fear will stop. And then you can come and go as you please.

He gives Henry an amulet filled with a potion that will allow him to remain conscious and in control during his sleep journey. The lunar symbol on it is identical to the one on the mother wolf's grave.

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This is what the shaman does. He travels in and out of the spirit world consciously and with clear intent. He navigates cleanly between the worlds. And sometimes he shifts into the shapes of power animals.

Often, the shaman uses a tree as an entry point into non-ordinary reality. Trees are one of the world's oldest religions. So it only makes sense that a tree forms the portal through which the infant Emma could escape Regina's curse. Geppetto, that clever worker of wood, turned an enchanted tree into a wardrobe to another world -- not Narnia, this world.

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The mythic significance of Emma's tree escape becomes even harder to ignore when we see the "enchanted" tree.

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Could they have found a more Yggdrasil looking tree?

Many shamanic cultures of the world divide the universe in three different planes or worlds, which are connected by a world axis (or something similar to it). In many of this cosmologies there is also a cosmic snake or dragon playing an important part. We will also find this tripartite in the nordic mythology which is passed unto us.

Mythic trees figure rather heavily into the plotting of the show. Regina's magical "honeycrisp" apple tree also weaves between the worlds, producing enchanting apples, and finding its way onto the Storybrooke seal.

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That cosmic serpent also winds through the plotting and imagery. There are multiple allusions to kundalini mythos. Young Henry chooses the name Operation Cobra for the clandestine plan to awaken Storybrooke and free it from his adoptive mother. When Henry's life is in danger, Emma descends to the depths of the earth to face a dragon and retrieve the power hidden in a golden egg. But the most explicit visual reference occurs with the murder of Snow White's father, King Leopold, as two vipers are unleashed on his sleeping form and slither up alongside him under the blankets.

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They simultaneously strike him on either side of neck, creating a rather perfect image of the caduceus.

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The good King Leopold is in divine union, fully awakened, and joining his true beloved Snow White's mother in the afterlife. Snow and Charming are in divine union, so much so that Rumpelstiltskin steals their hair to make a most powerful of potions. It also coils like a DNA pattern in the glass.

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Rumpelstiltskin and Regina represent failed attempts at alchemical union. Rumpelstiltskin's wife leaves him. He finds true love with Cora but she chooses wealth and power instead. Belle falls in love with him but he is too attached to the power of the darkness to let her fully awaken him. Regina's true love dies and cannot be restored. But Emma's embodiment of wholeness brings hope and redemption.

Emma has also experienced an alchemical union with Neal (champion) Cassidy (clever) and this unites the very opposite Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin lines. Neal, as it turns out, is Rumpelstiltskin's long lost son Baelfire, a name I have little doubt refers to the Bale Fire of Beltane. The term traces back to the Old English bael pyr or fyr which actually means funeral fire. So we once again have the merging of blessed union and funeral of the Chymical Wedding. Their union is also symbolized by the alchemical gold of a classic yellow Volkswagon -- and that is one imperishable car. Classic bugs are durable but this one has remained in mint condition through some pretty rough years.

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And it results in the birth of the "truest believer" Henry.

Ultimately, Once Upon a Time is about waking up to the call of the soul. It kindles the wildish nature of Clarissa Pinkola Estés's vision. It presses up against the bars of the jail cell that imprisons our divine spark. And it points us toward the seat of divine union: the heart.

"Fairy tales, myths, and stories provide understandings which sharpen our sight so that we can pick out and pick up the path left by the wildish nature. The instruction found in story reassures us that the path has not run out, but still leads women deeper, and more deeply still, into their own knowing. The tracks we all are following are those of the wild and innate instinctual Self." ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés in Women Who Run With the Wolves

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Oct 10, 2013

TEDx Gets Punk'd

While some of us were focused on TED's censorious and insular nature, the many people who don't care about that were noticing something else: TED has simply jumped the shark. Snooty articles are popping up all over the place opining about the fact that the once clever packager of ideas has devolved into self parody. TED hate is the new black.

And so the stage was set for the self-important TED talk to be lampooned by an ostensibly serious TEDx speaker.

Everyone is annoyed by TED Talks these days, those vacuum-sealed idea nuggets. So comedian Sam Hyde sneaking onto an (independently organized) TEDx program at Drexel University last weekend and delivering this incomprehensible 20 minute talk on the "2070 paradigm shift" must be seen as a symbolic victory in the war on bullshit, even if it gets kind of old after minute 10. (Which is, I think, part of the joke.)

The best part: "What inspire me, is teaching African refugees how to program Javascript. What inspires me is finding out how to use MagLev trains to get resources to the moon. These are the challenges that tomorrow's going to face."

And on it went:

“Guys, pat yourselves on the back right now, okay? I’m not gonna let you stop until I see everyone do it,” he began. “That pat on the back is for saving the world.” Hyde launched into a discursive presentation that touched on the “trash economy,” described a future in which gay men will develop the ability to procreate, and recounted his experience traveling to Africa with Elon Musk to give iPads to the impoverished:

“Now, we looked at the data, and what we found surprised us. What we found was that culture is a sewer. We’ve got lewd media, nasty bedroom things on TV. And they’re sexualizing young girls and it’s getting to the point where even I have a problem with it. And it shouldn’t be that way.”

. . .

“Great ideas come in all shapes and sizes,” Hyde said in his talk on Saturday. “9/11, September 11th. We’re gonna use some reverence here and not be silly about this, but look at what they accomplished with no weapons and just 11 guys who didn’t even speak English? And that proves that sometimes great ideas are actually horrible ideas.”

Fifteen minutes of this shite, delivered by a lunatic in a sweatsuit and a gladiator breastplate that looks like it was nicked from a college theater department discard pile. It is at once insufferable and hilarious.

So how did Sam Hyde get past the door? Apparently with a pitch perfect pitch to TEDx organizers so drenched in narcissistic bullshit that they couldn't tell the difference.

One wonders if the organizers of TEDx whiffed on vetting Hyde, which wouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes of Googling. [Dhairya] Pujara was not immediately available to comment afterward, but Hyde allegedly fed them a good story. Hyde said: “I told them I had just returned from Mogadishu where I was shooting war journalism following this group of women cleaning up the neighborhood, and by picking up trash, they had lowered crime rate. So it’s like broken window theory there, or whatever the fuck. A little Malcolm Gladwell. [They] wrote back and said, ‘Wow, that’s exciting. We got some real hard hitting stuff here.’”

I can't help noticing that he titled his talk with the phrase that should have made him an easy target for TED censors: "paradigm shift." But I guess as long as he wasn't talking about non-local consciousness or the correlation between nutrition and health, he could squeak by.

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