Samhain (Halloween), Harvest of Souls

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. The spookiness, the costumes, and the troops of kids and families marching through the streets, shaking down the neighborhood for candy has left an indelible imprint upon my Autumnal expectations. Like most traditional Western holidays, Halloween and the rituals associated with it are descended from ancient traditions lost on most of modern society.

The name “Halloween” is actually a contraction of the phrase All Hallows Eve, but that is the later Christianized name for the holiday that stretches back into historical obscurity. The earlier and more indigenous form of the holiday is of Celtic origin and was known as Samhain (Sow-un) in Ireland.

Samhain is a three day festival that begins sunset on October 31 and ends at sunset on November 2. Traditionally, it celebrates the last harvest of the season and is often regarded as the Gaelic (Irish and Scottish Celtic) New Year. It was the highest feast day on the old calendar. Samhain translates from Gaelic for “Summer’s End,” and it represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season.

As a harvest festival Samhain is full of deep symbolism. The warm season is over. The season of light is at its close and darkness regains its dominion of the land. The last of the season’s crops have been harvested. The fields, formerly lush and bursting with life now lay stripped of their bounty. The harsh autumn sunlight cast upon the barren fields creates an eerie atmosphere and a sense of dread as winter approaches. Amongst herding communities this is the time that traditionally concluded with the fall slaughters. This is also a time amongst many communities that kicks off the traditional hunting season.


Surrounded by dead fields, bloody slaughters, the turn toward hunting as a means of subsistence, the waning of the sun’s influence, and the impending frost which will kill off what is left of the season’s greenery makes the theme of death inescapable. These are often somber days, therefore it is important that this day is celebrated with much festivity and jubilation as things will only become darker and colder as times progress toward Yule.

The last sheaf of the harvest would be traditionally cut ceremoniously and fashioned into a corn dolly. The corn dolly is named for the corn mother and placed in a special location where she can watch over the household, hall, circle, or clan. She will serve to continue to bestow the blessings of the harvest upon the community all throughout the barren winter months.

Due to the spirit of darkness and death, Samhain is a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest. This time of year brings with it the highest potential for vision seeking and prophecy. This is a time for to meditate upon the subconscious powers of the inner cauldrons and the cauldron of Annwn.

There is much folklore associated with Samhain. Fairy mounds are abundant with the jubilance of the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk and the Sidhe. The Solar hero is slain in the boar hunt and lies dead until he is reborn at Yule. The Kernunnos archetype reigns from this time forward, leading the Wild Hunt through the skies and the countryside, herding the souls of those who died during the previous year and taken on animal forms. In Germanic tradition the Wild Hunt is lead by either Odin or Thor.

Traditional celebrations for this holiday are naturally enough centered on bonfires, torches, and lanterns. As the origin of the modern Halloween; masquerade balls and parades are also appropriate ways to celebrate Samhain. Revelers would march through the town streets from house to house singing seasonal songs. Soul cakes (little square cakes with currants) were given out to the roving bands, who would offer a prayer or song for the dead of that house. This is the origin of “trick or treat” in which young, costumed children venture from house to house collecting candy.

Harvest delicacies are abundant this time of year. Fresh fruits are traditional and symbolic. In Celtic countries apples are symbolic of the season. In America, corn and pumpkins are profound harvest symbols. In my celebration, all three are important. Corn and apples are paired as symbols of the old world and new world tradition and are the appropriate sacrifices for this day. Since Mabon is a traditional brewer’s holiday, by Samhain the beer is usually well prepared and properly aged. Ales and ciders are especially traditional at this time of year.

Halloween is a great holiday. Its roots run deep and its symbols have profound spiritual and practical significance that have been watered down by a civilization whose people largely no longer live in a seasonal and agricultural society dictated by the changing seasons, but within the preserved customs of Halloween, the real meaning of Samhain can still be observed.


Mabon, Harvest of Heroes

The Festival of Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals attributed to the neo-pagan and Western spiritual revivalist’s eight-fold Wheel of the Year. It is celebrated on or near September 21 and coincides with the autumn equinox. The festival has also been adopted by Revival Druidry as Alban Elfed; one of the four High Holy days.

Mabon is an interesting festival to write about. Although the date on which Mabon falls is astronomically significant, a festival by this name did not exist historically. Notable academic and occultist Aidan Kelly named the equinox festival “Mabon” after the Welsh legendary figure and member of King Arthur’s court, Mabon ap Modron. It’s positioned right next to Michaelmas, the Catholic Church’s Feast of St. Michael the Archangel who is said to be the most like God, and whose characteristics are perhaps the most reminiscent of the solar hero, complete even in archetype as a warrior and dragon-slayer.

Mabon is significant in that as the second of three harvest festivals it lies between two other significant historical Celtic holidays, Lugnasadh and Samhain (Halloween) and contains elements of both. The autumn equinox signals the end of the mythic cycle. With the sun’s height being at Midsummer, it has now begun to wane. Together with the spring holiday Ostara, Mabon is one of two days of the year when the daylight hours are of equal length as the nighttime hours.


To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat. The hero meets his doom as either the hunter is slain by his intended prey, or as Arthur mortally wounded on the battlefield defending his kingdom against the forces of darkness and chaos. It could be a myriad of turns on this theme. The Solar Hero is dying, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in stealthily to rule the land.

Much like the other harvest festivals, this is a time to reflect on the past, especially the past year. What have your efforts yielded? What positive or negative results have you experienced as a result of your choices and behaviors? What did you do that has had positive results in your life that you could do more or again? What changes would you make for the coming year in order to have even better results? Give thanks for life and all the good fortune you have no matter how difficult the past year may have been.

Equinox time is also a traditional time to begin brewing. Consider that the season’s harvest of wheat and fruits is just now being gathered and distributed. The beers, wines, and ciders which are such a part of the Halloween and Yuletide traditions are begun at this time. Even as the summer’s project of cultivating the fields comes to a close, it’s time for the beginning of new projects.

A Critique of the Garden of Eden Story in Genesis

The “Garden of Eden” story in the Book of Genesis has always bothered me. It’s not a matter of criticizing this bit of religious legend because I disbelieve in it or the religions which claim it as their own. I’m pretty alright with most forms of the Abrahamic strains and the values they champion in society. I just find this to be poor story telling.

The Earth Always Required Tilling
In Genesis 2:5, God had created a barren Earth, with no vegetation because no rain had yet been sent and no man had yet tilled the soil. God then creates man (2:7), and then God, Himself plants a garden and causes every sort of good and edible plant to grow and then places man in that garden to “till it and tend it” (Gen 2:15).

God Knows He’s Dealing with Humans
In the middle of the garden, God placed the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9). We can only assume that there was a purpose for God to place the two trees so near each other, but the document never explains if there is any reasoning for this.

God then says; “Of every tree in the garden you are free to eat; but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat; for as soon as (in the day that) you eat of it, you shall die (Gen 2:16-17).”

Context and audience should be of utmost concern in a narrative in order to understand the intent of God’s instruction. God was talking to a man, and the following verses where God creates a woman to be his companion assure us that it was a male human He was addressing.

And humans die. It’s just what we do.

Despite the standard theological stance that Adam and Eve were created immortal, the document of Genesis never actually makes this statement.

To a human; “If you eat that, you’ll die!” would logically be understood by a human to mean that it is toxic in some way and will kill them within a day or so.

It does not however coincide harmoniously with a statement such as; “I know I put that tree right smack in the middle of your smorgasbord, but if you eat from it I’m going to kick you out of the garden, make you work like a slave, and THEN after 900 years you’ll die.” So God is not quite being fully honest about his intentions or plans involving the man who is being expected to trust Him.


The Serpent is Punished for Telling the Truth
In Chapter 3 verse 1, the shrewd (arummim) serpent shows up, and asks the woman; “Did God really tell you not to eat the fruit from the trees in this garden?” And the woman explains that it is from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that the humans are not allowed to eat or even touch because they will die.

The serpent says; “You are not going to die, but god knows that as soon as you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will become like divine beings who know good from bad.” Once again it is a human being addressed here. It is a fact that death is a natural part of the human condition and Genesis does not suggest otherwise.

So with full consideration for the participants in the dialogue of the storyline we can address the statements being made in proper context.

First of all when asked if it was true that God had forbidden them to eat the fruit of the garden, Eve answered that if they even touch it they would die. This is obviously an inaccurate statement and the serpent informs Eve of such.

The truth turns out to be precisely as the serpent states it; the fruit does not kill them, it opens their eyes to the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, modesty from immodesty. These are all traits valued by civilization.

There is no evidence for a rational accusation of deception on which to indict the serpent. On the contrary, the only information we have on him is that every statement he makes in Genesis can be substantiated within the text.

The story does not tell us whether or not the serpent knew how God would react to their eating of the fruit. This seems like a vital plot detail to be left out if this was how the author intended it to be understood.

But God does react, doesn’t He? Upon finding Adam and Eve clothed in modesty because they ate from the tree of knowledge and now were wise like gods, the man’s integrity automatically collapses as he blames his wife.

God then confronts Eve and she alleges that the snake duped her. This accusation has no merit. All of the serpent’s statements have been solid, but God does not even take a statement from the serpent. Instead God just curses him.

Still there has been no explanation as to why God put that tree in the garden in the first place if he didn’t want humans to eat from it.

There is a mighty intelligent reptile in this story, though. Perhaps the tree was there for the animals to eat and learn good from evil, but not for humans?. How else could the serpent have been so wise?

Are the Curses Really Curses?
The next thing God does is curse the woman with painful childbirth and then the ground with difficult tending. Here we see elements from an ancient fertility cult. It’s fairly common in most indigenous religions and philosophies to see a connection between agricultural cycles and female reproduction, so it is a natural connection to make between more difficult childbirth and more difficult farming.

However, this unfortunate obstacle only requires human ingenuity to develop agriculture in order to overcome it. Tilling the soil is something that the ground required anyway (Gen 2:5) and something Adam was doing already (Gen 2:15).

The discovery or invention of agriculture is the main driving force for civilization and necessarily leads to food surpluses, vocational specialization, the market, economics and an overall higher standard of living. It’s difficult to view this as a bad thing. But then it’s also difficult to see acquiring knowledge of good and evil, morality and immorality as being a bad thing.

God says; “by the sweat of your brow you shall get your bread to eat until you return to the ground from which you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return (3:19).”

This curse does not really imply that death is anything new. It sounds more like the type of thing that might come during a breakup or a domestic dispute; “You’re going to work lousy job’s your whole life! You’re nothing but dirt anyway! You came from dirt and you’re always going to be dirt!”

Certainly none of this should be taken literally. I think it was never intended to be anything more than a deeply thought-provoking story to teach community values through proto-historical metaphor and allegory. It’s just poor story telling.


The Language and Culture of Poverty and Wealth

Several years ago when I was in my early teens I heard someone explain that the main difference between people who remain poor and people who become wealthy and maintain their wealth is their view of the purpose of money. ‘The poor,’ he said ‘see money as something to be spent, while the wealthy see money as something to be invested.’

I was young and poor when I heard this so I didn’t fully understand it, but I could tell it had the ring of truth. Over the years it’s an idea I have explored more thoroughly and with great results.

Poverty is a huge concern in American society, and all over the world. Politicians, activists and social scientists spend countless hours on this topic, proposing solutions. Billions of tax and charitable dollars are spent and new laws and policies are made each year trying to rearrange society to combat it, yet millions of Americans remain poor.

Poverty and Wealth are Cultural

In 1966, the anthropologist Oscar Lewis coined the term “Culture of Poverty” and asserted that the deeply impoverished, regardless of ethnicity, history, or location on the globe all tend to share “remarkable similarity in the structure of their families, in interpersonal relations, in spending habits, in their value systems and in their orientation in time.” Like all cultures, once it has “come into existence it tends to perpetuate itself.”

Just as there is a culture of poverty however, there is also a Culture of Wealth that can be observed, a manner of living and relating to the world that produces and maintains economic stability and abundance in the lives of its participants. There are many factors, beliefs, ideals, values, and behaviors that distinguish one culture from another. Oscar Lewis identified 70 markers that contribute to the culture of poverty, and the culture of wealth is directly inverse to them. But what is the primary factor by which anthropologists categorize and separate cultures from each other?

Language Matters

The most significant factor that separates one cultural group from another is language. Similarly, subcultures within larger societies can be distinguished by their use of language, lingo, slang, jargon, vocabulary and professional terminology.

Linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf suggested that language and its use may have a significant impact on an individual’s perception, cognition and their view of reality. This is known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Numerous other linguists have suggested that features within language from vocabulary and grammar to phrases and metaphors influence if not dictate the structure of human thought. The manner in which we perceive and comprehend the world is heavily dependent on our understanding and use of language.

This is also the theoretical foundation for the discipline of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) which studies the effects language has on the subconscious mind and its influence on behavior.

The metaphors a person uses give the key to their life and the way they think. A person to whom life is an adventure is going to approach events quite differently from a person for whom life is a struggle.

Organizations use metaphors. An organization that prides itself on its team players is going to react differently from one that sees itself as a fighting force. One current metaphor for business is a ‘learning organization’, which conjures up a rather different picture.

Strangely the financial world is sprinkled with liquid metaphors. They talk of cashflow, flooding the market, liquid and frozen assets, floating a company. Money is like water, perhaps?
Metaphors are not right or wrong, but they have consequences for how people think and act. (O’Connor-McDermott, 122)

       

It’s well understood that in all fields of professionalism there is a lingo, a vocabulary, terminology that must be learned in order to function at even a novice level. If one aspires to be an engineer, a biologist, or a sailor he must learn the application of a particular vocabulary and vernacular. It should be no surprise to realize that economics, personal finance and simple successful household budgeting require a similar level of competency with its own vernacular, the language of commerce.

Robert Kiyosaki, the author of the popular Rich Dad series of financial books states;

The difference between a rich person and poor person is that person’s vocabulary. You need to learn words such as producer price index, profits and cash flow. In order for a person to become richer they need to increase their financial vocabulary. (Kiyosaki)

This makes sense. Pick up any book about finance and you will run across terminology such as: investment objective, index fund, international equity and the language of commerce, of the Culture of Wealth is revealed. If an individual never has a clear understanding of terms such as positive and negative cash flow, disposable income, financial assets and liabilities, he will never think to apply them to daily life and therefore find difficulty accruing and maintaining wealth.

       

ATTITUDE AND SPENDING PATTERNS

Without the language to conceive of basic financial principles, the Culture of Poverty carries with it many other behavioral factors that keep people stuck in the lowest economic bracket. This behavior is characterized by apathy or hostility toward wealth and finances, a belief in the virtue of poverty, as well as irresponsible and extravagant spending patterns in order to project an appearance of wealth. This equates to financial self sabotage.

Delayed gratification is a foreign concept to the culture of poverty. When the poor find a source of steady income they typically squander it through extravagant spending patterns on short term experiences and material things that quickly lose value. The financially secure however behave very differently.

Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D., author of The Millionaire Mind, a study of the lifestyle and habits of millionaires found that common behaviors of people whose net worth was $1 million or more included such habits as living below one’s means, entertaining family and friends at home rather than going to extravagant parties in the tradition of the beautiful people. Rather than spending their money on excessive consumables they chose to study and plan investments, attend religious services, and they avoided the use of credit and debt (Stanley 366).

Dr. Stanley found that most millionaires have a well balanced life style without the flashiness of rock stars and Hollywood celebrities. They lead relatively normal lives, but spend a good portion of their time on activities directly related to their financial goals.

       

Similarly, Rabbi Daniel Lapin has compiled a whole list of behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that tend to lead Jewish people into successful positions and financial outcomes.

Conclusion

In conclusion I’ll say again that poverty and wealth are cultural phenomena, and both of those cultures are in large part a result of language which determines a person’s perception of reality and therefore their behavior. Those individuals who escape the chains of poverty have learned to use and apply elements of the language of commerce while those who remain in poverty do not.

Once an individual familiarizes himself with the vernacular of finance to the point that he feels comfortable working with and applying it on a daily basis, he begins to view things from a much more financially competent perspective. Naturally, this financially competent perspective influenced by a familiarity with economic language is a significantly motivating factor to financially responsible behavior.

If more people of all ages were to become educated in this manner, though many individuals may still never become truly ‘wealthy’ those who put this education to use will come out of poverty and begin to establish executive control over many more aspects of their lives and their community.

If you really want to start learning to be financially independent, start by picking up a book on financial terms. It will change your life.



How to Learn to Play the Guitar

Learning to play a musical instrument can be one of the most rewarding pastimes a person can pursue. Among the myriad of instruments to choose from, none is more popular and accessible in Western culture than the guitar. The best method to learning to play the guitar is to secure formal lessons from a qualified and experienced instructor. The following points can be used along with such lessons or in place of them until such lessons can be obtained.

Acquire a Quality Instrument
The most vital aspect to learning to play any instrument is to have regular access to it. Fortunately guitars are very accessible and can be obtained at affordable prices from retail stores, pawn shops, and private sellers. Due to the nature of being a stringed and fretted instrument it is important to pick up a quality guitar. Learning the guitar is an experience that causes a certain amount of discomfort in the hands and fingertips for beginners. A poorly manufactured or damaged guitar can make the learning process even more discomforting and discouraging; making it more likely that beginners will give up the process before they experience any improvement. For this reason it is vital to have a quality guitar. These can be acquired brand new for as little as $100 at retail.

Acquire Educational Material
Educational material can be acquired at nearly any music store that deals in guitars, or from the internet. Many of these come in the form of books, some also contain audio disks, or DVDs. What a beginner is looking for is material that explains all the basics: the names of the different parts of the guitar, names and numbering of strings, fingers, tuning, and general care. It should naturally also contain examples of several open chords, barre chords, and at least a few progressions, and scales. If the material also contains examples of well known classic tunes, consider it a bonus.

Learn Chords
The foundation of guitar playing is rhythm, and chords are essential to playing rhythm guitar. The easiest chords to learn for a beginner are A, E, and then D. Any quality beginner material should contain these chords as well as many others. The internet is also full of many helpful sites that give this information away for free.

Learn Progressions
Progressions are a series of chords in a specific key that form the basis of songs. Many popular tunes are built upon progressions with as few as three chords. One such progression consists of the above mentioned chords, A, D, and E. This progression can then be built upon with other chords to create even more complex tunes. Understanding progressions is invaluable to learning to play or write songs.

       

Learn Scales and Theory
Music theory is vitally important to the process of actually understanding how and why music works. This includes how chords are formed, how progressions are made, and how melodies function. At the outset of learning music theory, one needs to learn scales.

Practice, Practice, Practice
“Practice” seems like an obvious bit of advice for anyone looking to increase their abilities, but one might be surprised just how many people expect to become the next Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton overnight. It’s just not going to happen like that. Practice at least one hour every day. Begin each practice session by warming up with something familiar. Once you are warmed up and in the musical state of mind, move into something new, or something you are still learning. You will certainly see improvement.

Jam with Other Players
Fortunately for new guitarists, their chosen instrument is so popular that other guitarists are typically abundant in any town. When looking to learn or improve your skills as a player, nothing can replace the experience gained by jamming with other players. It doesn’t necessarily matter if these players are more experienced than you, although that certainly helps. Even a guitarist with twenty years experience can learn something from a newbie with less than a year of playing. This is because playing music is such a personal experience that we all bring ourselves into the process, find our own licks, tricks, and techniques. We all have our own style, and even with limited experience we can actually wind up teaching our instructors, or learning from our students.

Once you’ve been playing regularly for six to twelve months with consistent practice you’ll start to become fairly proficient in the fundamentals. You should be able to play through a handful of songs, and should have some strong riffs and leads down. From here forward you’ll be progressing toward a level of proficiency that or maybe even join or start one of your own. Many great guitarists began working professionally without much more time behind them.

Happy playing!


What is the Name of God?

Naming God can be one of the most challenging ideas to the religious mind. The Spirit from which all things emanate, the creator of everything is truly an unfathomable force in the universe. It is beyond gender and similar terrestrial attributes, but everything that is male and female exists within It.

This Supreme Being is the most exalted of all things in creation. It is also the most misunderstood simply for its incomprehensibleness. Due to the limitlessness of this Being and the limitations upon human understanding, this Being cannot even truly be imagined or thought about. The limitations on human understanding and imagination make it impossible to even construct an accurate thought of this Being therefore any thought directed toward It is in fact about something else, something less. Consequently it can be said that this Being is equally impossible to worship since to worship requires the ability to conceive of the object of worship which as stated is inconceivable. And this is the problem that is faced when trying to name God.

This force within the universe is the source of all things and the container in which all things are held. According to the Hindu scholar and former President of India S. Radhakrishnan in his commentary on the Bhagavadgita “God includes the universe within Himself, projects it from and resumes it within Himself, that is, His own nature.” This is the force in the universe which has been given many names.

The Hopi Indians of North America know Him as Taiowa the Creator of the universe whom in the beginning existed in endless space. Muskogees call Him Ofvnkv, the One Above or Hesaketamese; the Breath-maker. The omnipresence of Wakan Tanka in the Oglala-Lakota tradition is a central idea to the recognition of Him as the four quarters of the world. As Joseph Epes Brown noted from his discussions with the Oglala holy man Black Elk; “The message ‘Be attentive!’ well expresses a spirit which is central to the Indian peoples; it implies that in every act, in every thing, and in every instant, the Great Spirit is present and that one should be continually and intensely “attentive” to this Divine presence.”

To the Maya, divine unity was recognized in their supreme deity Hunabku, which translates as One-State-of-Being-God. Peter Tompkins explains; The Maya believed that their supreme divinity functioned through a principle of dynamic dualism, or polarity, active and passive, positive and negative, masculine and feminine, by which, through the agency of four prime elements, air, fire, water and earth (symbolizing space, energy, time and matter) the whole material world was engendered.

This Allfather figure was credited with dispensing all form of measurement and movement and the mathematical structuring of the universe, i.e. the divine laws of creation. In the simplest terms this One Being is the source that set the universe in motion and gave humans our most basic but most vital verb “to be.”

Rabbi Arthur Green describes the name YHWY as a verb artificially rested in motion serving as a noun. “A noun that is really a verb is one you can never hold too tightly. As soon as you think that you’ve “got it,” that you understand god as some clearly defined “entity,” that noun slips away and becomes a verb again.” Rabbi Green goes on to explain that a more proper translation for this Name should be “Is-Was-Will-Be.” The implication of this translation suggests that God the Almighty, Most High Creator is in fact the very essence of existence and a truly eternal state of Being. Green continues to say; “God is Being. The four letters of the Name, taken in reverse order spell the word H-W-Y-H meaning existence.’ All that is exists within God The Name contains past, present and future.”

Rabbi Green also notes that another possible conjugation of the Name is Ehyeh or “I shall Be” and says this is the deepest name of God and to listen to the God who calls himself “I shall be” is to surrender the illusions that we are masters of our own fate. Green continues to say that “when Moses needed to give the slaves an answer that would offer them endless resources of hope and courage, God said; Tell them “Ehyeh sent you.” The Timeless God allowed the great name to be conjugated, as though to say: “Ehyeh. I am tomorrow.” Even when pressed for a description or definition of God the Father,’ the Catholic Church claims His two names are Being and Love and describe Him as; “He is who is, as he himself revealed to Moses.”

The fullness of God has been assigned many names throughout the centuries, none the less which is the title “Supreme Being.” And perhaps that is it in the end; the incomprehensible fullness of God is simply the most perfect and complete state of being which propels the universe forward through existence. God is Being, both noun and verb, the substance of the creative principle of existence.

Sources;

Radhakrishnan, S., The Bahgavadgita, Indus, New Delhi, 1994, pg 215

Brown, Joseph Epes, The Sacred Pipe, Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1989, pg 65

Tomkins, Peter, Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, Harper and Row, 1976, New York, pg 283

Green, Arthur, Ehyeh, A Kabbalah For Tomorrow, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2004, pg 2

Flannery Austied, O.P., Vatican Council II, Vol. 2 Costello, New York, 1982, pg 389


Indigenism and Native Revivalism (2018)

 

The middle of the twentieth century saw an upsurge in Native Revivalism in western countries.  Although exploration of ancient Western religious traditions had existed in Europe and America since at least the 17th century, it was mostly practiced by eccentrics in secrecy and never had the wider popular appeal we see today.

With the ‘back to nature’ trend sensationalized by the 1960’s Flower-Power generation many doors were opened in the realm of altered-native religion.  Many hippies, realizing the difficulty of being accepted within Native American communities began a quest for connections with their own roots religion, leading them into exploring occult practices which over time progressed into the modern cultural revivalist movement.

Primarily, there are three wings within this movement.  I name them as such; Paganism, Heathenism and Indigenism.  On the surface, they all share many similar qualities, but represent three very different attitudes and beliefs concerning roots religion.

Paganism

This subcategory is the most common in the West and represents some of the most freeform and New Age spiritual ideas.  In this group we have modern witchcraft, Wicca, the Faerie traditions and eclecticism.  Typically the primary political interests of Pagans in general are those concerning freedom of religion issues, gender rights and ecological concerns.

Heathenism

Heathens are more geared toward recreating or revival of older and usually extinct religions.  In this category are groups such as Asatru, Imbas and other reconstructionist organizations.  Politically, heathens are often concerned with preservation of indigenous European cultural traditions, historical sites and language.  Generally speaking it’s also very important for Heathens to distinguish themselves from the more popular Wicca-oriented Paganism.

Indigenism

Indigenists represent living indigenous traditions of the world.  These are usually people somehow connected to a traditional native or aboriginal community.  This subgroup can easily stretch a bit to include communities such as the Vodoun, true Roots Rastafarians the Basques and certain Irish and Welsh communities of Europe.  Indigenists are politically tend to be involved with Native sovereignty struggles, land claims issues, ecological activism and cooperative communities.

Many individuals in the movement for Native Revivalism somewhat begrudgingly accept being labeled as a ‘pagan,’ though inside they feel more drawn to heathenry’s reconstructionist goals.  This yearning for an authentic connection to their indigenousness coupled with the goals of building and maintaining cooperative communities based on this separates them from the vast majority of the revivalists.  But it is when all these values become strongly aligned with and guided by the concerns and struggles of indigenous people in the world that they truly become Indigenists.

Indigenism is a little known term because in North America most Indigenists are Native American or “Native Hearts.”   Few if any people that are not directly involved in indigenous rights movements have ever even heard of the term.  There are many dynamics and complexities involved in this philosophy.  Indigenism is a spiritual perspective wrapped in a socio-political movement.

             

The socio-political dynamics of Indigenism and its relationship to Aboriginal people of the world is the driving force behind the movement today.  This is perhaps the most rational and revolutionary perspective in circulation today for the manner in which it flies in the face of both global Capitalism and Marxism, confronting colonialism and imperialism from both camps in many parts of the world.

Spiritual Purpose

When we take notice of the similarities between Indigenous religions we are often prone to question from whence they came.  Was there an original religion?  The question has in many ways been a significantly motivating factor in a lot of my earlier religious pursuits.  It makes for a great approach with solid, steady footsteps.  It can also represent a sort of red herring.  The answer to the ‘real’ question here just may be more in the modern Indigenist movement rather than in a quest for the ‘original religion.’

A particular Indigenist view on the origin of religion is such; that there is in fact only one Truth, one reality.  This Truth or reality is essentially the “Sacred Mystery,” the “Great Spirit,” or the “Creator.”  The ‘Creator’s’ reality is and has always been (to the indigenous) interpreted to us through our geography, ecology and community.  In essence, the creator’s ‘words’ are interpreted to us by the Earth or regional ‘divinities’.  Through the regional variations (or nature’s dialect) concerning the manifestation of these ‘truths’ and from our communities’ organization in coping with them we established our traditions and our religions.  This accounts for the similarities as well as the differences in indigenous religion.

Example; we must have water to survive.  Water is sacred.  This is a common theme in most religions.  But there is a very different practical and therefore spiritual perspective regarding the type of emphasis placed on water by desert peoples than by tropical islanders or swamp-dwellers (in most cases) even though the basic thematic construct is the same.  Naturally, this paradigm carries over into even deeper realms of religion.

Indigenist religion is as much about physical and social action as it is about faith and philosophy.  And the truth it follows is the unobtainable truth that must be pursued continually through our lives.  The ‘Red Road’ doesn’t really have an end to it.  It is a way of life, not just a belief system.  If one gives up the pursuit, one effectively gives up the path.  You put your arrows down, leave the wild hunt, succumb to stagnation and lose all the ground you’ve gained, resorting to crude methods to deal with a sophisticated life.  This is why it is the ‘Way OF enlightenment’ not the ‘Way TO enlightenment.’

Political Purpose

Indigenism in America is heavily influenced by the work of The American Indian Movement, Russell Means, John Trudell, The Zapatistas, and to a lesser degree Che Guevara brought “back to the fire” (as Creeks say).  It is centered on ‘tribal’ communities and around Native struggles from the Americas to Africa, Scotland, Russia, Japan, Hawaii and anywhere else the Indigenous are oppressed, disenfranchised, or dispossessed.

The Indigenist perspective stresses social decolonization, and localism rather than assimilation and globalism as a means to our survival as a species.  Differences between culture and religion are to be respected because the Creator gave us different cultures and religions the same way we were given different landscapes.  Indigenism stresses more self-sufficient communities, ecologically sound commerce, and gentler kind of warfare.  These ideas also cut deeply into national boundaries, especially those of a colonial nature.

Importance of Indigenism

In the old days survival and self reliance was of the utmost importance to our ancestors.  And in a way this should still be a core concept in our religion today.  We never really know when we may be separated from the ‘tribe,’ when we may become lost in the forest, stranded on an island or a survivor of a major cataclysmic event.  If an individual’s core philosophy and ‘religion’ is based on survivalist concerns and his relationship to his environment, he’ll be more prepared to face his obstacles with the heart of a warrior rather than the ass of a couch potato.  Couple this with an indigenous commitment to your community and you have the foundations of true indigenous religion, the heart of the ‘original’ religion – ‘paganism’ at its core.

Indigenism is a practical philosophy and way of life respecting human nature and its response to the modern world.  It is not a utopian dream.  It’s not for everybody; it’s for indigenous people and those with indigenous spirits.  Colonial people and their respective governments will have conflicts with this perspective, being that there is too little emphasis on control of the individual and of the land.  But this is our way of life.  This is our faith.  And this is what motivates us to act.  We live as natural people gifted with our own freedom and ingenuity, keeping our roots as firm as our branches and remaining One.

(Originally written and published in 2005, now revised for 2018)


Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story opened this month and everyone who has seen it has an opinion about it. Here is mine.

BEWARE: Here be minor spoilers!

I’ve heard multiple detractors say no one wanted this movie, that Han Solo is not a particularly popular character. It seems these critics consider The Clone Wars cartoon series as the standard by which they measure their appreciation for the Star Wars universe.

To be clear, I saw the original Star Wars when it was just called STAR WARS (no episode IV or subtitle) in the theater when I was three years old. Han Solo is my favorite character in the entire Star Wars universe. I have always wanted a Han Solo focused back-story in a spin-off since before the prequels were released, so I was eager for this film to be produced, released and to be sitting, popcorn in hand in a dark theater hoping they didn’t screw it up. I love the Star Wars universe, but I think the Skywalker/Vader, Jedi/Sith, Rebellion/Empire storyline is kind of played out, and I’d like to see explorations into other storylines, lineages and professions. The universe has so much to offer, why get bogged down with one family? Solo, I think was a good first step in that direction.

Like many Star Wars fans, I had a lot of concerns about this movie. Reports of production problems with fired directors, harsh criticism of the cast’s acting abilities and the need for scene reshoots were so dismal that I was genuinely concerned this movie would be a total disaster. I was confident however; if Episode I, The Phantom Menace didn’t ruin the franchise we’d survive any misfortune that might befall us with Solo.

I was worried that Alden Ehrenreich couldn’t pull off the character of Han Solo. Han’s persona is so entrenched with Harrison Ford’s depiction it makes for some rather large shoes to fill. Similarly, I was concerned that Lando Calrissian couldn’t be duplicated by Donald Glover or anyone else. Billy Dee Williams IS Lando, after all. Those worries were assuaged, I’m glad to say. Both actors did great jobs depicting their roles. I didn’t have any trouble believing Ehrenreich was Solo, and Glover’s Lando was spot on.

Solo is essentially a space western, and like a good western it’s all based around a train heist. It delivers the scenes and answers to questions we’ve had for four decades such as how Han found his way into the smuggling racket. We learn Han’s origins as an orphan, forced to steal to survive in the shadowy underworld of Corellia. We see Han acquire his surname almost like a mobster’s nickname because he is a loner; none of this “House of Solo” nobility from the now (thankfully) de-canonized Legends which I always thought detracted from his roguish nature.

Criticism

The movie did have a few drawbacks. I thought the first ten minutes on Corellia were a bit cartoony, but that didn’t really diminish the story. I would have liked to see a closer friendship and working relationship between Han and Lando before Han obtained the Millennium Falcon, and I would like to have seen him win the ship in a different manner than as depicted, but alas the writers and producers didn’t call me and ask for my pre-production opinions on the matter. Similarly, the initial meeting between Han and Chewbacca didn’t go exactly as I had imagined it, but it was one of the best scenes in the movie. The Kessle Run is something I always envisioned taking place much differently and at a time well into Han’s career as a smuggler rather than at the beginning, but the way it was depicted worked just fine.

A major disappointment in the film comes when the chief of Enfys Nest who gave our protagonists such trouble during the train heist, killing two of the major supporting characters turns out to be a teenage girl leading the incubation of the Rebellion. It’s not a particularly compelling plot twist, and it’s not very believable. It’s all too much Wesley Crusher for me, and it ruins an adversary with a lot of potential. Besides, she was responsible for the deaths of two of Tobias Beckett’s (Woody Harrelson) friends and rather endearing characters, and it’s never even addressed.

The worst character in the movie is without a doubt Lando’s droid L3-37 who is a rather accurate portrayal of the bothersome and trollish sjws she was modeled after. She added a level of cringe reminiscent of, but not as severe as Jar Jar Binks. I could have done without her character altogether and was glad when she was removed from further screen time.

         

Other reviewers have complained that Ehrenreich’s Solo was not as dark or grumpy as Ford’s, and that’s true. It’s what I would expect. This is a Han Solo who is a good ten years younger than Ford’s initial introduction of the character. This Solo is just entering a life of smuggling and piracy that would without a doubt offer plenty of opportunities for the disillusioning experiences that would turn the cocky and ambitious twenty-something year old Solo into the more selfish, and cynical thirty-something year old Solo we meet at the Cantina on Tatooine in Episode IV. Time and experience, especially in crime syndicates can change a man.

Solo is a good movie. Not a great movie, but the only Star Wars movie that comes close to being great since The Empire Strikes Back was Rogue One. It’s going to continue to be hard to measure any new Star Wars flicks up next to the originals. There will never be another Star Wars at that level, but Solo was a fun ride nonetheless. It was better than the prequels and the follow-ups so far, and I think well deserving of a place in the Star Wars canon.


Lojah on the Musician’s Guild

I was recently a guest on the Musician’s Guild, a great internet show run by Richard Dunlavy and Darryl Oehmsen in Pensacola, Florida where they discuss the local music scene and promote the various players and performers in it.

In this episode 5 of the series I was honored to be a guest on the show where I played a few tunes, talked about my musical upbringing and how and why I came to use the moniker Lojah for my music.








Dr. John: Under a Hoodoo Moon, Review

The funky bluesman Mac Rebennack, otherwise known by his stage name Dr. John is a much-honored part of the cultural fabric that is 20th and 21st century New Orleans.  His autobiography Under a Hoodoo Moon chronicles Rebennack’s life from his time as a child coming of age in The Big Easy, through a young struggling musician’s career, and eventually building a legacy as one of America’s most treasured musical icons.

Under a Hoodoo Moon is written in a loose manner with a bit of Rebennack’s New Orleans vernacular, giving it a sense of authenticity and the playfulness that is characteristic of funk music in general and New Orleans music specifically.  The book for the most part follows a linear path, but it repeatedly backtracks to cover stories that Rebennack decided were more relevant at a later point in time. In some cases this seems like a less efficient method, but it does not detract from the overall presentation.

At times Rebennack’s story seems to focus more on the development of his career, business associations, projects and the politics surrounding the music industry, without any emphasis on the personal, philosophical, emotional and inspirational experiences that contributed to the making of the man.  Then he very candidly writes about his struggle with heroin addiction that plagued him for thirty years until he finally kicked it in 1989, but not before doing a stint in Louisiana “Angola” State Penitentiary.  In his writings, it seems Dr. John tended to compartmentalize his professional activities from his more illicit affairs. He introduces the reader to an assortment of characters, hustlers, and junkies along with the musicians he calls family.

In his early days, Rebennack paid the bills by gigging with racially integrated bands at a point in American history when such groups were technically outlawed, and by working as a session musician for countless popular acts. He paints a picture of a golden era of New Orleans music in the 1950s and early 60s before the musicians unions caused so many problems which drove national recording acts to take their business to other cities such as Memphis and Los Angeles.

In 1965, after Rebennack was released from prison, with the music scene dead in New Orleans he too set out for the west coast.  In California he made contact with several colleagues from back home and began working as a session musician with many of the top acts of the day.  These included The Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Sonny and Cher, the O’Jays, Frank Zappa, and Iron Butterfly just to name a few. Dr. John offers some interesting and often humorous observations about some of these acts and his experiences working with them.

During his tenure in Hollywood Rebennack created and adopted the persona of Dr. John, a New Orleans hoodoo medicine man from the 1860s and recorded his ground-breaking Gris Gris album. This is a point in the story where more strictness toward a linear narrative would have improved upon this biography.

Though Dr. John rose to fame on the popularity of Gris Gris with all its voodoo and hoodoo imagery, there is very little in the first two-thirds of the book about his experiences with those traditions.  Up until this point what is mentioned amounts to a brief reference to making goofer dust, a companion burning a black candle to curse the police during a drug score, and more humorously a brief description of a joint ritual in California with another musician who practiced Aleister Crowley styled ceremonial magic in order to curse a producer who had screwed them both in a deal.  It’s not until chapter nine, well after he covers the recording of Gris Gris that Dr. John goes into any detail about his personal connection to a Voodoo temple, and his investment in a voodoo curio shop in New Orleans which really inspired the album.

Under a Hoodoo Moon is a great read, and also provides a fair bit of ethnographic gems covering the roots of the New Orleans musical tradition. He describes his first experiences with the Black Indian Tribes, Mardi Gras Krewes that competed for marching routes during the annual Mardi Gras festivities and pioneered second-line drumming that gives New Orleans music much of its uniqueness.  He also dedicates a significant chunk near the end of the book to speaking nostalgically and reverentially about his time playing with Professor Longhair, the New Orleans pianist who had more influence upon him than anyone else.

I enjoyed reading every page.

          


Music, Art, Culture and Modern Critiques

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