Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Echolalic Reverberations

To appreciate what I try to get at here, it might be best to first read

Maybe, if e=mcᵌ (light extends in 3 directions not 2) or even if not, there’s a lot of energy out there that we’ve not found ways to measure. Energy that could help explain mysterious subatomic particle activity, mysterious awarenesses, mysteries of ‘singularities’ and star formation, gravity, time and light flow, evolution and cosmic stuff that hippies trip out on. That much in our internal workings and external universe involves echolalic reverberations, resonance, vibrations, ripples and repercussions is obvious. With genetic regeneration, for a while we seem to have lost common-sense appreciation of this in favor of simplistic political/religious parallels. We all know waves from a stone thrown in a pond aren’t exactly the same, but sometimes have lost sight of it.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Cultural art sensitivity

Having spent five very active years in the ethnographic arts trade, and another decade dabbling in it part-time, I’d like to share some of the fun, here. It would have been grand to have learned more of Native Canadian and Maori carvers, Australian Aboriginal art, Sami and Siberian ornamentation, and carvings found around Altai, but I haven’t been able to. And even about things I dealt in, I’m not expert. But about the Hopi, Dogon and Tarahumara I did learn some, as I did also of Balinese art, Burmese Nats, Yao Ceremonial paintings and bits about weaving, basketry and cross-stitch. I retain a deep admiration for what I’ve seen and learned of these things. Here I’ll focus mostly on the first three. Way back in time, these tribes, ethnic groups, communities or cultures all chose to live in inaccessible places to avoid marauders. As a result they haven’t suffered nearly as much from European interference as so many other “native’ peoples. Their religious observances involve dancing (shudder), masks (horror!) and aspects they’re careful about disclosing to meddlesome outsiders. Sometimes, in response to obnoxious persistence, they’ll give false info, maybe even within an elaborate put-on. Good clean fun on a two-way street that goes both up and down but where all is not equal. Visitors aren’t likely to open up about their longings or addictions, their cravings for status symbols, reliance on overkill, poisons and euphemism or unsupportable energy and resource consumption, are they? No more do Hopis, Dogons or Tarahumara wish to expose their vulnerabilities or failings. When “exotic” cultures became the object of academic study, “artifacts” became monetarily desirable collector items, sometimes quite valuable. Soon similar items were made to supply the demand, then clever entrepreneurs delineated the real (i.e. stolen) from the fake (not so imbued with taboo magic, mystery and titillation). Grave-robbing was part of this, and alcoholic longings proved useful too. I doubt any esoteric knowledge was gained. The fashion for appropriating artifacts died after abut a century, and a few “valuable” items have been returned. Some of the craftspeople are not professional: jewelers, painters, even clothiers. Some tourists still visit and look for souvenirs. At Hopi, they aren’t allowed to take photos, record sound, or even draw what they’re observing there. Dogon folk are often friendly; Tarahumara often aren’t. What’s most significant about these people, to me, isn’t their art but their preference for a simple life where others won’t be tempted to bother taking what little they have. It’s not about being “at one with nature” (maybe some jungle folk are that, or good custodians of nature or at least not very disruptive of it, but in dry places that’s extremely difficult to similarly accomplish). It’s that they’ve been able to exist in their way a long, long time – while in about a century we’ve insured that our culture won’t last another one. Their beliefs are more tenable, effective, practical, and sustainable. Also, traditionally they don’t make a big deal out of who is the better “artist”! Some have more than others, sure, in talent, knowledge, wealth, family or whatever, sure, but the jealous frictions rending apart our society aren’t as obvious. Among the Hopi, I can attest, they DO exist, but the extremes just aren’t there. Nor the injustices, extremes of punitive folly, mean-spiritedness… well, you get the picture. I find that some of the simple artifacts, even if made for sale, can act as a valuable reminder of this. cultural art sensitivity

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Horrible Heresy

What matters most isn’t matter, but its opposite: that which animates it. Matter is evil, the prison of spirit. Light, the breath of its creator, is inseparable from time and space; spirit is not. Spirit is neither created, nor destroyed. The Wisdom of God, Sophia, a feminine creative force, wished to give birth to a creature like herself. She did so without the permission of her partner, and the fruit of her desire was imperfect. She was ashamed of it. In a spirit of revenge, it started creating the physical world, entrapping Spirit in matter. Within this world, it wears a cap of invisibility, and not only can’t be seen, but like death, is impossible to really even WANT to apprehend. It doesn’t mind being alone, and when appears, appears as an old crone, a witch with mysterious, dangerous magic (a.k.a. wisdom). Why make or defend claims, when we could be tending to the spirit, to blessedness, to beauty, serenity, gratitude and acknowledgment that we have limits like death? Life, as has been sung, could be a dream, mostly untainted by nightmare terrors, although never entirely. If we had no needs, which unfulfilled cause suffering, we’d do nothing. Our actions, our meaning, our very reality, would cease. Yet we ask why God created pain, the devil, his own undoing. But God created nothing. Love did, love arisen out of pain.
Pain, hunger, disease, exhaustion and other ways our bodies insist on this or that, make effective counter-claims against insistence that the material is but illusion. We breathe oxygen, or cease to live, and must take in and expel water. Lose and arm and a leg and you are still you, but different. Get a lobotomy and you may look the same, but become arguably even more different. The blind see (perceive) things differently. So do the intoxicated, sleep-deprived and, one supposes, those experiencing weightlessness. We live in, and are of, a material world, and cannot even prove that there is any other. But somehow, the material world remains as mysterious as does spirit, and the many feelings so hard to explain. We have life, but don’t really know what THAT is. We have dreams, and turn to look at those staring at us from behind.
So what could it mean, that only spirit is real? That only action matters, as in, deeds speak louder than words? It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion? It’s what you do with what you have, not what you have. It’s what you share, what you give, what you’re willing to relinquish to foster what’s good for others.
That’s the spirit. Faith. With good faith, all can, and will, be replenished. The truly brave possess only spirit. And that is the greatest testament of love – to gladly sacrifice all for it. No greater glory is known.

Manichaeism (from Greek hairein, the teaching of heterodox, or unorthodox, doctrine) is a philosophical construct attributed in origination to Mani (Manes, or Manichaeus), a Persian. Born is southern Babylonia in 216 BCE, and related to a Parthian royal family overthrown in 224, Mani spoke Aramaic, but traveled in India. He posited that matter was evil, while God was something mostly separate - pure spirit. His followers saw our world of matter as a creation of the enemy of the true god. They believed that an eternal war between good and evil is being waged on an invisible plane, with effects and affects here. This led to belief that the soul is divine but the body evil. Man is an alien sojourner in an evil world, needing to free his spirit, which in its original nature is good. Only by restricting temporal desire can we restore communion with God. Material desire, especially physical desire, is evil, while spiritual sharing good. Only what we use in sharing has validity in terms of what it is correct to desire.
Eventually, Papist “Catholics” with great love of idolatrous pageantry, material splendor and oppression of the downtrodden, initiated the first genocide against followers of descendant beliefs, with extreme violence in southwestern France. Albigensian Cathars, bons hommes (good men) in Lombardy, Provence and Aquitaine, and the troubadour culture, were mostly wiped out, violence peaking in 1244. Thus the High Church destroyed the luminous, exceptional Provençal civilization, and kept the European world safe for punitive hierarchy.

Moderns like to assume an ordered, rational and intelligible universe, much as did ancients. But when we probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or into far outer space, observing distant galaxies, any elegant mathematical order we expect to find, confirmed, may be but a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy. We feel need for rational order, but have strong evidence, should we wish to acknowledge it, that there is more involved. Science, subservience to material delusion, may be somewhat tautological, and little more to the end of true good than most religion.
We mostly recognize, now, but fail to sufficiently deal with, our obligations to, and need for, aboriginal, indigenous peoples, environmental and linguistic diversity, preservation of the Earth’s resources, social and personal justice, and a new kind of Enlightenment. A new set of parameters is needed, a new story-context for understanding not only the world and our responsibilities, but love, desire and longing, and a better concept of possession. We need to know that we are both individuals and not individuals, that we both have choice and no choice; that we act and interact within set patterns we can at best only slightly modify. We get to make decisions, but certainly cannot decide everything, and cannot drive the Earth &/or society like a bicycle or car. We need the satisfactions of achievement and recognition of attainment, of truly good food and rest, conversation and the give-and-take of sharing. Meanwhile, we remain limited by problematic thought-constructs (and real events) of the last few thousand years. We need to listen, and to learn to see ourselves more as vehicles for expression than as expressers, originators of expression, artists, or creators. We are not Gods – though the adage of Peter Abelard (Pierre Abélard), “Ye are as Gods,” certainly had its place. I submit, though, that that viewpoint is no longer appropriate. We can be as angels in Heaven, perhaps… even without the boredom that Dante seems to suggest resides there.

While I’d hate to disappoint the reader, I’m not going to try presenting things on this subject as an expert on them; as far as I can tell, the experts are afflicted with tunnel-vision anyway. But as a mild aficionado and once enthusiast, I’m glad of opportunity to express the allure I’ve found. So much with so little to recommend it receives extensive study and even devotion, with what result? Has society or even individual lives really benefited? Some individuals may have claimed so, but the proof would be in what they became able to do through that benefit, I think. Just to suffer exquisitely, be happier, or know what love is hardly seems enough.
There’re always gaps in knowledge – about all we can really know is that some things will hurt, that you feel hungry, are sleepy, need to defecate or clean up. Water is wet, some things will burn, reciprocated sexual arousal feels good, sugar is sweet, lemons sour, spoiled kids bitter; in all, not a whole lot. More than the nothing of Socrates of Sergeant Shultz, but hardly as much as some like to pretend. Much, sometimes it seems like too much, is murky, and subject to discussion.
After the first millennial craziness with eschatological expectations, many folk accepted the idea that things need not be the way they’d long been, that ruling precepts might indeed be wrong, and that even their own lowly selves could be part of a process of betterment. Which annoyed authorities, as this undermined their authority. But society had reached a stage where rulers enjoyed annoying, even attacking, each other, and there was just room and wealth enough for some subversion and experimentation. Who knew what might be useful for undermining the power of an enemy? Magic, undermining through infiltration or psychological warfare, distractions… rulers CAN be devious.
As some freedom expanded, along with trade, pilgrimage travel, and hopes, traveling entertainers were no longer but church propagandists, bear-baiting gypsies, physical and emotional freaks and the insuppressibly exhibitionistic. Some were troubadours, singing of love and longing, freedom and imagination, reviving folk culture and sometimes even nostalgic longings. Courts usually had jesters, clowns of sorts, jugglers and presdigitators, and allowing those entertainers to wander meant less upkeep, more variety and less sense of attachment and thus more ease of censure. The cult of the troubadour became an integral part of some local cultures, even while bringing with it new ideas that challenged local culture.

While Bernard of Clairvaux denied that the Catharists originated from Mani, it doesn’t matter. A tradition of aestheticism exists, throughout the enormous Eurasian continent and over as many millennia as we have records for.
Essenes were an apocalyptic sect that literally abandoned Jerusalem over 2000 years ago, in protest against the way the Temple was being run. They went out in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord, the Savior who’s arrival they held to be imminent, following the commands, as they saw it, of the prophet Isaiah. They abandoned the corrupt worldliness of Jerusalem the Temple, striving to become as pure as they could. They’d been around for a century by the beginning of the “Christian era” but the reign of Herod and the Roman Procurators stimulated a new phase of life of their community, with more strident protest against Roman rule and worldliness. The Essenes lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to asceticism (some groups practiced celibacy), voluntary poverty, and bodily purification (some say, including daily immersion, but that may well not have been practicable or even possible in the deserts they resorted to). Many separate but related religious groups of that era shared similar mystic, eschatological, messianic and ascetic beliefs. These groups are collectively referred to as the “Essenes”; Flavius Josephus identified the Essenes as one of the three major Jewish sects of that period. Almost all of the principal founders of what would later be called Christianity were Essenes.
Accounts by Josephus and Philo show Essenes leading a strictly communal life. Many of the groups seem to have been celibate, but Josephus wrote of an “order of Essenes” that observed the practice of being engaged for three years before becoming married. According to Josephus, they practiced collective ownership, electing a leader to attend to the interests of the group, forbore from swearing oaths or sacrificing animals, and controlled their tempers, carrying weapons only for protection against robbers. They didn’t engage in trade. One major preoccupations was to protect themselves from any contact with evil spirits, in order to preserve the purity of their souls. They knew that they would only be on earth for a short time, and they didn’t want to prostitute their eternal souls.

Bogomilism, a dualist sect of the First Bulgarian Empire, was founded by a priest named Bogomil in the 10th century. It probably arose in today’s Macedonia, in response to feudalistic social stratification, and opposition to the formal church and Bulgarian state. The Bogomils were Gnostics (‘people of knowledge’) who believed in a world within the body and a world outside the body. They didn’t use the cross icon or build churches, considering the human body to be their temple. This gave rise to many forms of practice to cleanse oneself through purging, fasting, celebrating and dancing. They wanted return to earlier spiritual teachings; they rejected ecclesiastical hierarchy and state authority. The movement spread quickly through the Balkans then through the Byzantine Empire and eventually reached Kiev, Bosnia, Serbia, Dalmatia, Italy and France. Much of their literature was destroyed by contemporary ‘Christian’ Churches.
In France Bogomilism became Catharism. Cathars clearly regarded themselves as good Christians, since that is exactly what they called themselves. But they rejected the concept of priesthood and saw Roman Catholics as mistakenly following a Satanic god rather than the beneficent god Cathars worshipped, which hardly panned out well for them. Their view that their theology was older than that of the Roman Church and that the Roman Church had corrupted its own scripture, invented new doctrine and abandoned the beliefs and practices of the Early Church, was quite opposite to the Catholic view. Dualist ideas had a long history, stretching back well into pre-Christian times. All of the essentials were known to the Greek philosophers. Human bodies were material objects made of earth and dust, but our immortal souls were not, they were sparks of the divine. The divine was characterized as light, opposed to the darkness. They believed in the ultimate salvation of all human beings.
‘Cathar’ derives from a Greek word, Katheroi, which means ‘pure ones’. The Cathars referred to themselves as ‘good Christians’ – the ‘good folk’! Cathars didn’t swear, or lie, or speak evil of others, nor kill any man or animal. Catharism extended through Languedoc society, from the peasantry to merchants in their shops and nobles in their castles. Some were just sympathizers, who saw the Cathars lead simple, holy lives in extreme contrast to the corruption and low morals exhibited by their own clergy, but did not choose to emulate their discipline. One branch of the Cathars became known as the Albigenses because they took their name from the local town Albi.
Cathar theology was essentially Gnostic: they believed that there was a malevolent God as well as a good one. The former was in charge of all visible and material things and was held responsible for all the atrocities in the Old Testament. The benevolent god was responsible for the message of Jesus. Cathar practices were often in direct contradiction to how the Catholic Church conducted business, especially with regards to the issues of poverty and the moral character of priests. Cathars believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible, translating into local language, but the Synod of Toulouse in 1229 expressly condemned such translations and even forbade lay people to own a Bible.
Much later Luther broke with the Catholic Church over some similar matters, then just a few years later, Anabaptists (Mennonites then Amish) and in the mid-17th century, “Quaker” members of the Religious Society of Friends had related problems with the Church of England (and others).

For a transition here, let’s recall the meaning of the terms fruition and fructification: fulfillment of desired results, or producing of successful results. Sometimes plants flower and produce fruit; sometimes animals beget progeny; sometimes systems give desirable results. But, as is said, what’s good for the spider may not be good for the fly; also, flowers get cut and fruit eaten – or eventually it spoils. But we do tend to like flowers and fruit, so let’s move on to a different, but I think related, flowering.
The ‘decadent’ (or not) symbolist poets of the late 19th century, especially in France, in their world-weary reaction against naturalism and realism, seem to me to have been drawing upon deep roots, including the Albigenisan troubadours, ‘fin de siecle’ (or millennial) insanity and even Gnostacism (among, perhaps, other heresies).
The first major development in French decadence would come when writers Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelair used the word proudly, to represent a rejection of what they considered banal “progress.” Baudelaire referred to himself as decadent in his 1857 edition of Les Fleurs du Mal (“The Flowers of Evil”) and exalted the Roman decline as a model for modern poets to express their passion. He would later use the term decadence to include the subversion of traditional categories in pursuit of full, sensual expression. In his lengthy introduction to Baudelaire in the front of the 1868 Les Fleurs du Mal, Gautier at first rejects the application of the term decadent, as meant by the critic, but then works his way to an admission of decadence on Baudelaire's own terms: a preference for what is beautiful and what is exotic, an ease with surrendering to fantasy, and a maturity of skill with manipulating language.
Baudelair wrote:

The Death of Artists

How often must I shake my bauble-bells and kiss your ugly brow, you sad, shabby, dismal surrogate?
To pierce the mark, that mystic heart,
how oft, my quiver, must I waste arrows in vain?
We shall wear out our souls concocting subtle schemes
and burst the bars of many a tyranny,
ere we shall glimpse the vast divinity
For whom tormenting desire makes our hearts sob and burn!
Some their idol never knew, though they prayed, and now,
flouted and branded with the mark of hell,
these doomed sculptors, notorious in their disgrace,
Hammer heavy-handed your brows and bosom,
For having but one hope, O bizarre and somber Capitol!
That Death soaring like some new sun
Shall rise and, giving warmth to their wasted glory,
Bring to bloom the flowers of their minds!

Arthur Rimbaud, according to some the original enfant terrible of western literature and undoubtedly one of the most influential poets who’s ever lived, got shot by his much older lover poet Paul Verlaine, gave up writing, went to Africa and settled into arms and coffee dealing. He didn’t die at 27, but rather at 34.
He wrote: “One evening, I sat Beauty in my lap. - And I found her bitter. - And I cursed her.” “I found I could extinguish all human hope from my soul.” “Life is the farce we are all forced to endure.” “Once, I remember well, my life was a party, a banquet where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.” “I believe I am in Hell, and so I am there.” “A while back, if I remember right, my life was one long party.” “I called for executioners so that, while dying, I could bite off the ends of their rifles.” And “You’ll always be a hyena etc. . . ," yells the devil, who’d crowned me with such pretty poppies.

Another of the poètes maudits (accursed poets), Isidore-Lucien Ducasse (4 April 1846 – 24 November 1870), a French poet born in Uruguay and elevated in the minds of some, to a Surrealist Pantheon, beside Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and also acknowledged as a direct precursor to Surrealism. André Gide regarded him as the most significant, the “gate-master of tomorrow’s literature”…
He wrote: “Throughout the centuries, man has considered himself beautiful. I rather suppose that man only believes in his own beauty out of pride; that he is not really beautiful and he suspects this himself; for why does he look on the face of his fellow-man with such scorn?” “Throughout my life, I have seen narrow-shouldered men, without a single exception, committing innumerable stupid acts, brutalizing their fellows and perverting souls by all means. They call the motive for their actions fame.” And “I do not accept evil. Man is perfect. The soul does not topple. Progress exists. Good is irreducible. Antichrists, accusing angels, eternal sufferings, religions are the product of doubt.”
Auguste de Villiers de I’Isle-Adam believed the imagination has within it much more beauty than reality itself, existing at a level in which nothing real could compare. In “Tomorrow’s Eve” he asserted, “I have come with this message: since our gods and our aspirations are no longer anything but scientific, why shouldn't our loves be so too?” Elsewhere he wrote, “Uncertainty is a quality to be cherished, therefore – if not for it, who would dare to undertake anything?” and “Dead voices, lost sounds, forgotten noises, vibrations lockstepping into the abyss and now too distant ever to be recaptured!...What sort of arrows would be able to transfix such birds?”
Yet another French poet of that era, Stephane Mallarme, wrote: “Dreams have as much influence as actions.” Also, And in a personal letter, “Yes, I know, we are merely empty forms of matter, but we are indeed sublime in having invented God and our soul. So sublime, my friend, that I want to gaze upon matter, fully conscious that it exists, and yet launching itself madly into Dream, despite its knowledge that Dream has no existence, extolling the Soul and all the divine impressions of that kind which have collected within us from the beginning of time and proclaiming, in the face of the Void which is truth, these glorious lies!”

To me, at least, these outpourings are almost as significant as The Sermon on the Mount, a great teaching, but hardly original, for which I hold nothing against it. We are here to do what we can, for others, for ourselves, for the future, for life itself. We may be in a kind of limbo-hell, or not, we don’t know, but if we are to learn anything, to share anything, to achieve anything, we must listen, and not just assert. We are most certainly NOT here to revel in some sense of superiority.

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