The year is 1720. The place is England.

A bestiary is being compiled. Dragons, unicorns, griffins; all are there. But why not add another creature even more fantastical than a griffin?

Someone proposes the following:

"Let us imagine something akin to a beaver. But this beaver has the bill and webbed feet of a duck. What makes it dangerous, however, is its poisonous hind foot, with the sting of a scorpion."

The idea is met with amusement. "Indeed, no-one has ever reported such a creature! The very idea is as nonsensical as that of a griffin. But it is novel. It shall be included."

The bestiary is finalised. The new monster is discussed. "There is no evidence whatsoever for such a creature. It is contrary to reason that such a creature could even exist. Those who imagine otherwise have succumbed to an irrationality that merely serves to demonstrate the smallness of their intellects."

How ignorant people can be!
i call myself a "Judeo-Satanist witch".

Overall i'm a panentheist, which means that i believe that the Divine both permeates the universe (multiverse?) and also exists outside of it. i've also recently become aware of process theism, which "feels right" to me; in process theism, our actions can change the Divine itself, which stands in contrast to much traditional Western theism, in which 'God' is seen as unchanging in such a way that our actions don't change any aspect of God's nature.

i don't believe in 'magick' in the Harry-Potter-like sense of being able to create e.g. fireballs out of thin air, turning people into an physiological animal etc. To me, 'magick' - which many people spell thus in order to distinguish it from stage magic, which is the art of illusion - is about believing that we influence, and are influenced by, the world in much more subtle ways than we commonly consider; and that our psychologies, our "mind maps" of the universe, play a role in this. An example of "working magick" in this sense is sports psychology, which seeks to maximise athletes' performance by trying to reduce mental blocks that affect performance negatively.

So 'magick' can thus be performed by trying to work with psychological associations, our subconscious and/or subconscious to focus our energies on certain things, block other things etc., with the idea that this will flow through to our more subtle behaviours and interactions with the world. 'Magick' in this sense doesn't require one to be anything other than an atheist materialist - 'materialist' not in the lay sense of "being overly concerned with possessions", but in the philosophical sense:

However, i personally believe - but would make no claim at all that this is in any way scientific, just that it doesn't contradict current scientific knowledge - that there probably are energies in the universe that we currently have no direct way to access and measure. (Unlike, for example, the way we can directly access, measure and control electricity.) To me, these energies form a sort of 'field' in which certain types of energies are clustered together in greater or lesser amounts; and these clusters form the basis of various notions of 'Divinity'.

In particular, i believe there's an energy cluster associated with the idea of independent thought, resistance to the idea of automatic obedience to authority, and enjoying sensual pleasures; and this energy cluster gives us concepts like 'Pan', 'Satan', 'Lilith', 'Lucifer', and 'Baphomet', who to a first approximation i regard somewhat like my personal 'angel' (to use that word).

Which finally brings me to the 'Judeo-Satanist' aspect of my spirituality. In Judaism, 'HaSatan' - literally, "the adversary" - is not an angel who has been cast of out of heaven, and who is pure evil and the source of all evil. Instead, HaSatan is like "God's Chief Prosecutor"; someone who challenges us to look at ourselves and examine whether we're living a good life. And although i'm not technically Jewish myself - i was raised in a nominally Anglican but basically secular household - Jewish spiritual thought strongly resonates with me, and i do a lot of reading regularly of Jewish spiritual sources. (Including about Jewish Kabbalah, which is a whole 'nother topic in itself!)

One of the central tenets of Judaism is 'Shema Yisrael', from Deuteronomy 6:4; the verse can roughly be translated as "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one". For me, the "energy field" i wrote of above, together with our universe, "is one" - it has different aspects, in the form of various "energy clusters", but they're all part of the same thing.

So my Satanism isn't, of course, the Satanism of either the mass media, or of what theistic Satanist Diane Vera calls "brat brigades" ("I'm such a rebel, I'm a Satanist!"), which usually don't involve much beyond a sort of "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me!" It's about finding my own path; constantly challenging myself to confront my issues and grow from them; not simply accepting "common knowledge", "received wisdom", "what everyone knows"; and not automatically genuflecting before authority figures / celebrities / etc., instead expecting them to have to earn any respect i give them beyond the basic respect i give to all people.

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Those around me for any substantial period of time eventually get to hear me complain about the "feminine energy / masculine energy" concepts beloved of so many religious / magickal / spiritual systems. As a feminist dual-gendered transgenderqueer, i feel my lived experiences make this notion problematic at best, particularly given the more general issues around defining 'sex' and 'gender'.

It recently occurred to me, however, that maybe the problem here is one of people confusing a map with the terrain. i can easily imagine individuals who have had spiritual revelations / insights trying to convey a feeling of connection with the Divine, and reaching for a metaphor that is likely to resonate with the majority of people: sexual union between a cis woman and a cis man. But then people infer this to mean that 'female' and 'male' are the underlying, fundamental concepts involved.

In Kabbalah's Etz Chaim, "Tree of Life", the first sephirah above Malkuth, "Kingdom" - typically associated with the material universe and/or the "Schechinah", the immanent Divine - is Yesod, "Foundation". Yesod is often considered the "Sphere of Illusion", in that neophytes at the beginning of their magickal / spiritual journey can erroneously believe that the images they're discovering and working with are 'things-in-themselves', as it were, rather than simply a 'best representation' created by the human mind as it tries to interpret what it's perceiving.

So while the "feminine energy / masculine energy" metaphor might well work for most people, it's not a map that works for me. On the contrary, its attempted symbolism creates sign(post)s that don't make sense to me given the personal understandings i've developed on my life journey. But that doesn't mean the terrain isn't nevertheless there for me to explore; it just means i need to create my own guidebook as i go.


2010-07-21 23:29
Dear pagans of assorted stripes, colours and spots: Please stop repeating the claim that "Satan is a Christian concept". That this claim is incorrect can be demonstrated by, for example, the fact that Satan is referred to a number of times in the Tanakh, and particularly in the Book of Job, which predates Christianity by centuries. Of course, Christian versions of Satan are indeed, trivially, Christian concepts; but in your rush to separate yourself from the negative stereotypes about Satanists and Satanism1, you neglect to qualify your statement appropriately. i submit to you that it would be a good idea to consider the wisdom of attempting to counter inaccuracies about your own beliefs by spreading inaccuracies about others.

1. Wiccans engaging in such efforts should be sure to read Diane Vera's excellent article "Satanism and the History of Wicca".


2010-06-05 14:26
i recently came across the following excerpt from Jonathan Cainer's book Cosmic Ordering, which opens the chapter entitled "The Glory of Doubt":
Doubt, although it can be destructive, is rarely anywhere near as dark or dangerous a force as certainty. Lots of people, especially in the New Age communities around the world today, describe themselves as 'Light Workers'. They say that they are working exclusively with the forces of positivity and harmony, hope and spirituality.

I never like to be rude, but often I secretly want to tap them on the shoulder and ask them, 'How can you be so sure?' - because light, in my experience, always casts a shadow. And very few lights, in this world, cast shadows as dark as the bright beams of certainty.

Although I never judge, I do sometimes wonder whether certainty isn't one of the most evil forces on the face of the planet? It often seems as if it is where most negativity, ignorance, cruelty and insensitivity come from.
i've just written a post on [ profile] trans_jews regarding coming to acknowledge the possibility of identifying as trans (in my specific case, a trans woman), and the possibility of identifying as Jewish.

Edited 2013-02-05

In case the trans_news LJ community disappears, and that post gets deleted, i reproduce it here:

Hi all,

i'm a bit nervous about posting this, as i'm not sure what sort of response i'll get . . . . i hope it's at least a thoughtful, and not flamey, one. :-)

i was born into a technically Anglican household, but one that was not at all observant. For many years i strongly identified as an atheist, but several years ago began to move in a consciously spiritual direction. (i still defend atheism against the ludicrous claims levelled against it, however, e.g. that atheists inherently lack morals or ethics.) Eventually i've settled on self-identifying as a Judeo-Satanist witch. A typical response to that is "Zuh??", so i'll explain. :-)

i identify as a 'witch' due to the fact that i practice 'magic' by working to develop "the art of changing consciousness at will". i identify as a Satanist not in the e.g. LaVeyian sense, but in the sense that i regard the Adversary as an aspect of the Divine which constantly challenges us and tests us in a way that gives us insight as to whether we're on the correct path or not (as in the story of Balaam and his ass). And i modify all that with 'Judeo' because although i'm not halachically Jewish - even in the Progressive /
Reform / Liberal senses, let alone more conservative senses - i am nevertheless finding myself increasingly immersing myself in Jewish spiritual thought, which influences my beliefs and practices. Indeed, preferentially, i would identify as Jewish.

So here's the thing that's recently occured to me: i see parallels between coming to acknowledge the possibility of identifying as trans (in my specific case, a trans woman), and the possibility of identifying as Jewish. In both cases, there is an inner sense that is difficult to explain to anyone else that "this is who i am"; in both cases, there are many who would say that i'm not really trans or Jewish because i haven't gone through some sort of 'official' conversion process (i.e. SRS or giyur); and even were i go to through the 'conversion', there would still be many who would, on various grounds, claim that i'm not really trans, a woman or Jewish enough.

i've actually considered formal conversion to Judaism - the strands of Judaism i feel closest to are, primarily, Renewal and secondarily, Reform (which has given me the impression of being slightly more progressive than our equivalent here in Australia, Progressive Judaism). i suspect, however, that i would be unable to find people willing to support my conversion, particularly given that i'm not intending to lie about the 'Satanist witch' bit, even though i do genuinely think that my beliefs are coherent and defensible within a Jewish context (to the extent that, say, Reform beliefs are coherent and defensible). And part of me feels like i shouldn't need to formally convert anyway, because - even though many would say that i'm the embodiment of chillul hashem in my approach to Judaism and the way in which i'm increasingly taking on Jewish spiritual practices - i tend to feel that in the end, HaShem will be my judge. Finally, given that i'm bigendered - i.e. identify as both female and male - i'm not sure how any putative conversion process would work, given that it's typically rather gendered. :-)

So there it is. Thoughts, comments, anyone?
Dear host of a certain entertainment venue,

i and my partners have, over the course of several years, both regularly attended your venue and recommended it to others. After the events of last Saturday night however, we will no longer be doing either, and you have only yourself to blame.

  1. You referred to a former partner of your husband's as "a Jewish bitch". Yes, she sounds like an unpleasant person. No, using Jewishness as an insult is not acceptable. Strike one.

  2. You said that poly parents and carers of young children are wrecking those children's minds and lives, using the same sort of language used when people claim that single parents or same-sex parents are bad for children. This is also not acceptable. Strike two.

  3. You proclaimed that i am not a woman whilst i still have a cock. In doing so, you provided two things: a) an example of the size of your ignorance when it comes to issues of sex, gender, hormones, in utero development and so on; and b) strike three.

  4. Bonus strike: You insisted on calling me by the name i was given at birth, rather than my chosen and legal name. Oddly enough, i find this to be incredibly disrespectful.

The fact that you were drunk whilst saying these things is no excuse. But i am glad you got drunk, because the alcohol loosened your inhibitions enough for you to show your true colours. From now on, i'll be actively avoiding, and recommending other people avoid, a business and environment run by someone who is such an ignorant bigot.
The New-Age-ification of Tantra is, i feel, a good example of the tendency of contemporary Western society to take non-European philosophies out of context, remove many or most of the aspects which might make Westerners uncomfortable, and produce a thus 'sanitised' philosophy which trades on Eurocentric perceptions of the 'exotic', annexing the name of the original philosophy as the name of the new philosophy, despite the significant differences between the two.

The reality is that there's no homogenous philosophy called "Tantra". There are, in fact many different schools of Tantric thought, with some more connected to Buddhism and some more connected to Hinduism. Many of them have perspectives that would shock or appall those Westerners who think that 'Tantra' is basically about learning to be deeply intimate with one's partner, partly so as to have beautifully spiritual sex, er, 'lovemaking'1. Take, for example, the Niruttara Tantra, part of the Kula tradition, which, in addition to focusing on Kali and having a liberal attitude towards women's sexual freedom, also discusses sexual rituals with girls as young as 12, who are regarded as embodying the Goddess Bhairavi. Or the Prajnopaya-viniscaya Siddhi, which allows for sex between mother and son, brother and sister or father and daughter. Or the Kumari Tantra, which advocates human sacrifice. i suspect not the sort of things that would induce warm'n'fuzzies in many of the Westerners who attend "Tantric workshops".

This context- and complexity-deprived repackaging of spiritual systems such as Tantra and Kabbalah2 is hardly surprising, given that it seems that Westerners are often not particularly interested in long-term learning and development. We tend to want the quick fix, the psychological and / or spiritual equivalent of fast food. Declare Jesus Christ to be the Lord your Saviour and all your problems will be solved! Of course, this attitude is hardly limited to the area of spirituality and psychology: many people expect to become knowledgable and skilled overnight in fields like computer programming ("Teach yourself C++ in 10 days!"), resulting in surreal situations such as the one i read about a while ago where a person thought that programming simply involved starting up Notepad, writing something like "Draw something cool on the screen", and then 'running' that Notepad file. Thankfully, we still seem to have some boundaries: one of the few complex systems which people generally respect as something requiring substantial learning effort is the human body, so that we haven't - yet :-P - seen book titles such as "Teach yourself heart surgery in 10 days!"

It's nice to think that perhaps these Westernised repackagings encourage people to take some time to learn about the source spiritualities they've derived from, to give themselves at least some perspective and context in which to evaluate and make use of the repackagings in question. But although i'm pretty sure that happens some of the time, i also strongly suspect that most of the time it doesn't, and that these "temporarily filling, but lacking in nutrition" repackagings often leave people with false impressions of various spiritualities.

PostScript. The joys of synchronicity: after having posted this, i read this article on historical attitudes towards sexuality in India, which has some great quotes regarding the Western Tantra package:
According to White, by "presenting the entire history of Tantra as a unified, monolithic 'cult of ecstasy' and assuming that all that has smacked of eroticism in Indian culture is by definition Tantric," Western peddlers of New Age Tantra are guilty of distorting and appropriating the original rituals by bringing together "erotic art, techniques of massage, Ayurveda, and yoga into a single invented tradition.... New Age Tantra is to medieval Tantra what finger painting is to fine art."
This original, demon-propitiating Tantric sex clearly stands at an unimaginable distance from the cozy modern world of Western Tantra fads, with their celebration of aromatherapy and coitus reservatus, described by the French writer Michel Houellebecq as "a combination of bumping and grinding, fuzzy spirituality, and extreme egotism."

1. Although i do feel this is a lovely-sounding term, i tend not to use it and its cognates, as to me it a) has a rather euphemistic feel to it which i'm not fussed about, and b) seems to imply that i'm not 'making' love outside of the times i'm having sex.

2. Such as the repackaging of Kabbalah by the Kabbalah Centre, famed for its links to people such as Madonna, and whose vision of Kabbalah includes selling things like "Kabbalah Water". Apparently a good critique of the Kabbalah Centre can be found in Jody Myers' book Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America.

For me, sexuality, spirituality and politics are very much connected to each other.
 Sexuality  --------------------  Spirituality                                  
            \                  /                                                
             \                /                                                 
              \              /                                                  
               \            /                                                   
                \          /                                                    
                 \        /                                                     
                  \      /                                                      
                   \    /                                                       
                    \  /                                                        

Although, the word 'connected' to me indicates a degree of separation from each other that i don't experience within myself: 'tightly intertwined' is probably a more accurate description (albeit perhaps more difficult to depict with ASCII art :-) ).

As far as i can tell, my experience of existence in this regard is not a common one. Many people seem to experience the world in which two of the three things are intertwined, but the other one is at best not really connected to the other two, or at worst is regarded an active pest or problem. And i must say, i find such separations difficult to comprehend; which is probably why i'm particularly affected when people who at best regard A and B as intertwined accuse me of 'really' being interested in C, which is obviously something else entirely. A classic example of this is when i'm accused of being "just / really a swinger"1 by people from a variety of communities (including the pagan community, the bdsm community, the nudist community, etc.). Such claims often carry a subtext that i'm sullying the purity of the community, and essentially behaving unethically, by using the theme of the community as an 'excuse' to engage in certain sexual behaviours. In such instances, i often suspect that a certain amount of projection is involved: the claimants don't feel that sexual pleasure is a legitimate pursuit in its own right, feel guilty for nevertheless pursuing it, and thus feel uncomfortable about people such as myself who actually don't need an excuse to pursue it. At the same time, spirituality and politics are so closely intertwined for me that sexual expression inherently involves spiritual and political actions. Thus, expecting me to act as though that's not the case is for me akin to asking me to "just be straight" or "just be male".

Nevertheless, that expectation is one that i encounter all the time, in all sorts of communities. It's sad. And, i feel, yet another way in which people focus on separation and difference at the expense of recognising and experiencing connection and similarity.

1. i'm planning to critique the "X is just / really a swinger" meme, which is so unfortunately widespread in many otherwise progressive communities, in a future post.
The cover story for this week's Melbourne Times is about the growth of paganism. It's a sympathetic article overall - although at one point it claims that Samhain is on Halloween and that Beltane is on Mayday, which is only true in the Northern Hemisphere. (Side note to Northern Hemisphere pagans: If you have Southern Hemisphere pagans as readers, you might want to consider them when e.g. wishing people a Happy Beltane in May. :-) )

One particular part of the article that i wish to address, however, is the following:
One person who is proud to be an "outsider" is Satanist Drew Sinton, owner of Melbourne's Haunted Bookshop. While most witches and pagans practise nature worship, Sinton says black magic and "sex magic" are more his scene. The Church of Satan won't reveal its numbers in case of "Satanic panic", but census figures indicate there are nearly 500 Satanists in Melbourne. This figure is unlikely to be accurate, however, because some people declare a Satanic affiliation for shock value, while others are afraid to admit to [being] one.

Adelaide-born Sinton says being an "individual" is a positive thing in the Satanic bible, which makes it popular with "disaffected youth, goths and emos". He says Satanists live up to their adversarial image. "If anyone crosses me, forget about turning the other cheek. Don't cross us. We're vindictive and vengeful."

But for witches like McHugh, witchcraft and paganism are more "touchy feely", with a focus on positive thinking and having a conscience.
Some issues i have with this are:
  • The phrase "black magic" doesn't have quotes around it, but "sex magic" does, as if the former is obviously a real phenomenon where the latter is not.

  • To me, the above quote vaguely intimates that all Satanists are, or consider themselves to be, part of the Church of Satan, which is certainly not the case.

  • i feel it's misleading to refer to "the Satanic bible" when what is presumably being referred to is LaVey's Satanic Bible. Not all Satanists have a 'bible', and not all Satanists are LaVeyian.

  • Sinton's statement that "If anyone crosses me, forget about turning the other cheek. Don't cross us. We're vindictive and vengeful." Well, maybe that's true of Satanists far more often than not; but it's certainly not true of me. i've found that feeling vindictive and vengeful is often not a useful way to spend one's time and energy.

  • Finally, although to McHugh witchcraft and paganism are more "touchy feely" (presumably in comparison to at least some strands of Satanism), i regularly witness non-Satanic witches and pagans seeking to curse / hex somebody (my feelings about which i've written about previously).
Still, i can't complain too much, as it's a far more reasonable article on pagandom than we could expect from, say, Murdoch's Herald-Sun . . . .
What constitutes 'dark' magick and / or spirituality is obviously going to mean different things to different people. For me, being on a dark path primarily means:

  • Constantly questioning. Not accepting dogma (for example, about what constitutes a 'dark' spiritual path).

  • Being willing to face your inner demons, rather than attempting to project them on to others (cf. neo-Nazi pagans).

  • Regarding the human body and pleasures of the flesh as positives, as things that can have spiritual value, rather than needing to be 'transcended'.

  • Accepting that the universe / multiverse isn't always a nice place from a human perspective, and not expecting it to be otherwise for human convenience.

Further, for me, it does not inherently involve:

  • Getting what one wants regardless of the detrimental impact doing so might have on others. And related: treating other people as resources to obtain one's desires instead of as people, with their own feelings and desires. If someone wants to call being a sociopath a spiritual path, then that's their right, but i don't have to agree with them.

  • Not looking after / out for others. Firstly, i tend to agree with the Golden Rule. Secondly, i feel i would benefit from living in a world where people embrace diversity instead of trying to impose their life choices on others. Thirdly, i'd hardly be an independent-minded dark pagan if i didn't follow my own feelings on this matter, and instead followed some dogma about what constitutes a 'real' dark pagan, now, would i. :-)

Summary: My dark path is not about being an egotistical prat, but about descending into the depths of my psychology as i continually strive for understanding, wisdom, and internal balance.
One of the people claiming to have written the "Footprints" poem has been engaging in dubious behaviour on Wikipedia, editing the entry in support of her claims, despite being clearly told that doing so contravenes Wikipedia policy in a number of ways (not least of which is the obvious conflict of interest). Charming. :-/
As a result of my ongoing study of Kabbalah, i'm developing my own (perhaps highly idiosyncratic) interpretations of various Kabbalistic concepts.

An example of this is how i regard the sephirah Netzach. To me, Netzach represents life's basic tendencies, rhythms and desires. It's about survival and reproductive instincts.

People with a surplus of Netzach can be regarded as having a deficit of Hod. Hod seems to me to be a sephirah of systemisation: it represents rationality and human law, both formal (in the form of the legal system) and informal (in the form of customs). Consequently, when Netzach says "I feel like this, and I want to do this!", it's Hod that represents making assessments about the appropriateness, risks and consequences of carrying out Netzach's desires. In fact, from my perspective, developing Hod is a significant part of maturing into adulthood. As a child, we think we're the centre of the universe, that our desires must be gratified, regardless of the cost to anyone else. Maturing requires that we take a broader perspective, that we think of how our desires and actions affect others, from those closest to us to society in general. In other words, maturing is about developing our ability to place Netzach in the context of Hod.

In this light, it makes sense that Netzach-dominated people often create chaos around them, as they pursue their personal objectives without considering the possible broader impacts that their behaviour may have on both themselves and/or others. We all have our own objectives - whether we're consciously aware of some or all of them or not - and acting as though this is not the case is inevitably going to bring us into conflict with others.

(Having said that, a surplus of Hod and a deficit of Netzach can bring about a similar situation, as those with the Hod surplus, lacking enthusiasm for, or actively fearing, spontenaity, come into conflict with people who won't neatly fit their systemisations. Just because a systemisation is appropriate for one person, or even a group of people, doesn't mean it's appropriate for everyone. i myself feel i have a surplus of Hod and a deficit of Netzach - but that's an issue for another post.)

The trick, then, lies in balancing Netzach with Hod: balancing our deeply-felt desires with a recognition that it's not always the best idea to attempt to act on those desires, or to attempt to manifest the object of those desires. In doing so, we reduce the likelihood of conflict and chaos will dominate and control our lives. This, in turn, can actually increase the amount of energy we can allocate towards actually achieving our objectives. 'Balance' in this context is the wisdom to know when to make certain concessions on short-term issues in order to reach our long-term goals.

'Netzach' means 'victory'. When Netzach is in balance, we head towards Victory.


2007-12-16 14:33
i finished reading the Bahir today. As befitting a work of mysticism, i found it ranged from the clear and thought-provoking through to the obfuscated and befuddling. Its basis for future Kabbalistic thought, however, was readily apparent.

A couple of things of personal interest:

Verses 162-163 state:
They have one Attribute which causes them to leave aside every good way and choose every evil way. When they see a person directing himself along a good way, they hate him.
What is [this Attribute]? It is the Satan.
This teaches us that the Blessed Holy One has an Attribute whose name is Evil. It is to the north of the Blessed Holy One, as it is written (Jeremiah 1:14), "From the north will Evil come forth, upon all the inhabitants of the earth." Any evil that comes to all the inhabitants of the earth comes from the north.

What is this One Attribute?
It is the Form of a Hand.
It has many messengers, and the name of them all is Evil Evil. Some of them are great, and some are small, but they all bring guilt to the world.
This is because Chaos is toward the north. Chaos (Tohu) is nothing other than Evil. It confounds (Taha) the world and causes people to sin.
Verse 164 states:
The word Satan means "turning aside," since he turns all the world aside to the balance of guilt.
And verse 167 states:
He is the Prince of Chaos. It is thus written (1 Samuel 12:21), "Do not turn aside, for you will follow Chaos. It will not help or save, for it is Chaos." [It cannot help or save,] but it can do harm.
Yet in verse 150, we find:
Rabbi Rahumai said:
What is the meaning of the verse (Proverbs 6:23), "And the way of life is the rebuke of admonition"?
This teaches us that when a person accustoms himself to study the Mystery of Creation and the Mystery of the Chariot, it is impossible that he not stumble. It is therefore written (Isaiah 3:6), "Let this stumbling be under your hand." This refers to things that a person cannot understand unless they cause him to stumble.
Which, in what i imagine is a willful misreading on my part :-), seems to me to imply that 'stumbling' in one's life journey is often necessary to achieve understanding; and is not 'turning aside' a form of 'stumbling'? And if so, does that not suggest how facing such challenges can lead to understanding, and, hopefully, to wisdom?

On a lighter note, verse 198 says:
Why was she called Tamar and not any other name?
Because she was female.
Can we then say that [it was something special that] she was female?
But it is because she included both male and female. For [Tamar means a date palm, and] every date palm includes both male and female.
How is this? The frond (Lulav) is male. The fruit is male on the outside and female on the inside.
Sounds like me! ;-)1

1. Although it does go on to say And how? The seed of the date has a split like a woman. which, sadly, does not describe me. :-(
Fear-based morality is a rather bizarre concept to me. By "fear-based morality" i mean morality which is based on fear of punishment by, for example, some spiritual entity or force. And more specifically, i'm talking about those who claim moral superiority because their morality is fear-based: for example, Christians who claim that atheism inevitably leads to moral decay because 'obviously' people will do whatever the heck they want unless they are bound to Christian morality through the fear of eternal damnation. Yet, contrary to the apparent beliefs of the Pope1, history has all too thoroughly demonstrated that being Christian in no way automatically leads to moral behaviour2.

i feel that people who act morally because it's the right thing to do, regardless of whether or not they'll be punished in some form for doing otherwise, are in fact more moral than people who are only acting morally because they fear the consequences of not doing so. i simply can't comprehend how people in the latter category could possibly regard themselves as truly moral people - behaviourally moral, perhaps, but certainly not fundamentally moral.

1. In this regard, i would like to direct the Pope's attention to John 8:7. :-P

2. As lampooned in this comic, and which was not recognised by the US House of Representatives when it recently passed the bill "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith": although the bill correctly rejected "bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide", it (unsurprisingly) failed to mention bigotry and persecution of others by Christians, both in the United States and worldwide.

Something that fascinates me is the extent to which people value a message based on the messenger rather than on the message itself. Sometimes that makes sense: one can't have much respect for a politician who rails against homosexuality whilst engaging in same-sex acts himself. At other times, however, it seems surreal to me to see a message ignored when one person says it, and described with glowing praise when another person says it. So if i say "We need to learn to empathise with one another, to try to understand where other people are coming from", it's no big deal; but if the Dalai Lama says it, suddenly it becomes profundity that clearly demonstrates what a wise and caring person the Dalai Lama is. (And fwiw, the Dalai Lama and i apparently occupy similar positions on the Political Compass - i re-did the test earlier today, and scored -6.12 on the Economic Left/Right scale and -7.54 on the Social Libertarian/Authoritarian scale.)

Now it may be argued that the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of millions upon millions of people, whereas i'm barely the spiritual leader of myself. :-) But that doesn't change the message; it merely says that the message comes from a 'trusted source' in the former instance, and an 'untrusted source' in the latter. And what makes the Dalai Lama a trusted source? To my mind it's his words and actions, faith in him as a spiritual leader, or a combination of the two. If it's his words, well, again, that should mean that people should rank me as a trusted source also. If it's his actions, well, i think many of us would be able to do some impressive things if we were granted the position of power granted to the Dalai Lama - a grant based on faith (i.e. that he's the reincarnation of a particular bodhisattva etc.) And if it's based on faith, that he should be taken seriously due to his status as a reincarnated bodhisattva, whereas i'm merely a common oik, well, who's to say that i'm not 'merely' a common oik if i'm saying similar things to the Dalai Lama? (Although i suppose that it could be argued that even a broken clock is right twice a day. :-) )

But the issue here is not the Dalai Lama himself1; it's about people not really listening to a message unless it comes from a particular person. In his interview for Playboy magazine, not long before his death, John Lennon expressed frustration at people worshiping the messenger rather than actually listening to the message:
What happens is somebody comes along with a good piece of truth. Instead of the truth's being looked at, the person who brought it is looked at. The messenger is worshiped, instead of the message. So there would be Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Marxism, Maoism -- everything -- it is always about a person and never about what he says.

[ ]
And Lennon himself experienced this, with people seeming to be more interested in what John Lennon said rather than what John Lennon said.

Personally, i think this is a problem that's endemic to Western culture, and that's sad, because to me that suggests that many people are missing out on some profound insights because they're waiting for them to come from the 'right' person. There are things people on my LJ friends-list have posted which have really made me stop in my mental tracks and think "Wow . . . . very interesting!", such that my perspective has fundamentally shifted. i treasure such moments - not only because of the learning experience they afford me, but because they demonstrate to me that wisdom is not just the province of an elite few.

1. There's an old saying that goes something like "I don't have a problem with God; it's his fan club I can't stand." Similarly, although i might disagree with the Dalai Lama on certain issues - e.g. sexuality - i have less of a problem with him than with some of his supporters: i find it a bit weird when people who probably think it's entirely reasonable to critique, say, José Luis de Jesús Miranda as a spiritual leader, then go on to demand that the Dalai Lama not face any critique or criticism.


2007-08-02 11:42
It's been a while since i last posted here, because i've been rather busy of late.

Yesterday i released the latest issue of the Bi-Victoria newsletter (August / September 2007). It's now available for download from the Bi-Victoria Web site.

A couple of days ago i submitted a reworked version of the Bi-Victoria brochure to the Bi-Victoria Yahoo! group for member approval. It looks like only one sentence needs to be changed for everyone to be happy with it, which is good.

And of course, all the usual homemaker-type stuff has kept me busy and tired. :-)

Finally, a quote (found here) that really resonated with me: "[T]hat which commonly passes for religion is for people afraid of Hell, while Spirituality is for those who've been there".


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