Category: Commentary

A very informative program on PBS this evening looked into alternate forms of energy and new, promising research into these that is being done all over the earth.  Definitely a hopeful view.  However, sorry to have a weird perspective, but why do we humans need to use up so much energy?  Is it because we engage in a vast array of activities that may not do a great deal of good? Maybe we should sit still from time to time, like the flowers, and just use the energy that God has given us?

Earlier today, on CNN, one of the journalists (or perhaps a translator or a producer, I’m not sure) who had been held hostage at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli was interviewed.  A female who spoke Arabic, she described how she had made friends with one of the guards by talking with him about his family, who he missed.

The journalists were afraid they would be killed by their guards since they were perceived as being on the side of the rebel forces taking over the city.

The woman who talked with the guard also told him about the families of the journalists and how they also missed their families.  Shortly after this conversation in Arabic, the guards put down their weapons and released the journalists.

Not too surprisingly, when interviewed later, Matthew Chance, the senior CNN reporter, seemed unaware of this conversation (though it was reported on CNN) and said only that the guards seemed to come to a decision rather suddenly that morning, to let them go, as they realized that they were on the losing side. He said that there were a “couple of gunman,” and that they seemed to undergo a “remarkable transformation.”

The absence of any acknowledgement of  the role this conversation may have played is really not surprising.  After all, no one “important” was talking, only a woman who spoke Arabic.

The dismissal of simple contact with people as a means of affecting an outcome could be a primary reason why there are a lot of wars and a lot of violent endings.

Our real debt

Cows grazing in Sichuan Province, China

In the U.S. our debt is owed to the Chinese, the Japanese, the Brits, and our next-door-neighbors.  Our debt is big enough so that if we put dollar bills end to end, they could reach to the moon and back about three thousand times.

This though is not in any way the full extent our debt. As humans, we owe a debt to the planet earth for having harmed the forests, the oceans, the air, the animals, the plants, the mountains, the climate, and then so many of the peoples of the earth, indigenous peoples who are now long gone or, more or less, hanging on by a thread, who once had languages, art, histories, sacred places, and culture.

Our existence on the planet has not been a blessing to everyone else who lives here.

Over the past few months, we have watched escalating turmoil or transformation (depending on one’s perspective) afoot on the four corners of the earth, and this may end well or badly—or both – again, depending on which side of the fence we are on.

The state of our global pocket book is part of this wild ride.

Imagine for a moment that all economic activity has ground to a halt, then after a while, a short time or a long time, there will be no more rings of space debris encircling the earth, no more plastic trash clogging the oceans and the streets, no more slaughterhouses, no more research labs, no more pollution draining into streams and rivers, no more of the black rider of death who gallops across the earth doing away with all in his path.

What will there be then? No one knows. There may be great swathes of burned continents left behind in the wake of this rider of death.  But maybe there will be flowers that emerge to dance in the meadows, striped fish that play among the river rocks, or chickens that once again can spread their wings in the jungle. Maybe.

So, as we watch the stock markets of world teetering across our television screen, if we catch flashes before our eyes of our diminishing lifestyle and the prospect of standing on a street corner, tin cup in hand, there is a reason not to be overcome with fear and doom, but to be joyful.  A reason that we may not instantly welcome —a reason that we may find alarming in the night – but a reason all the same.

Because with the end of this skeletal rider will come release and freedom for the earth—for the cows, the deer, the turtles in the sea, for the eagles that would like to breathe pure air and fly through white clouds, for the dandelions that would like to peek out through the snow, for the moon that would like to shine bright in the clear night sky.  And whether all these events take place on an earth reborn and re-awakened, or whether they happen on different worlds, in other dimensions, or in the landscapes of heaven, somewhere they will happen.

There is one option left yet to try—and that is an economy based on the restoration of the earth, rather than on trampling it under foot.  And whether one wins or loses in this endeavor is not the question; as it says in the Hindu scriptures, one is not to be attached to the fruit of one’s actions.  Walking on the path that gives life, rather than death, is the way to go.

Is it possible that people may play a part in a magical new beginning, may walk by the sea listening to the waves fall on the shore without envisioning recreating Miami Beach or live again in the forests with the birds and the animals, without harming the trees and without taking over more land than is their share?

One way or another, the consciousness that has worshipped the radiance of the tumbling waters, the shining sunlight, and the beings of the heavens will do so again—on one earth or another, on one level or another.  Those who have hands will offer a drink to the thirsty fawn, and those who see the spirit world will give the gifts of peace and beauty and a link to the worlds of the stars.

In the meantime there is the debt that will be paid, the great cosmic ocean that will be churned again, the great unsettling of the world as we have known it, and the dismantling of the armies of iron riders that have plundered the earth.

Photo: Sharon St. Joan

A difference…

In some countries people burn cities, in others they stage revolutions, in some places there are civil wars, in some the government kills thousands of civilians, in others mobs loot stores.  In a world of instability, only in India does someone inspire massive protests by threatening to fast to the death.

Lascaux painting of aurochs bulls

The paintings in the Lascaux Cave in the south of France, in the department of Dordogne, are believed to date back 17, 300 years.  Inside the cave, in the Hall of the Bulls are many equines; among them paintings of aurochs, a species of cow now extinct, ancestor to the varieties of modern cows.

The painting of one of the bulls is 17 feet long and is the longest cave art animal anywhere. The paintings in the cave, because of the presence of visitors (the visitors’ breath has affected the air) have been damaged by fungi, and in 1983 a different cave was constructed for visitors with replicas of two of the cave halls.

The earliest cave paintings in Europe go back around 35,000 years.

Reverence for bulls was widespread in the ancient world – in Paleolithic times and on into Neolithic times – and up to today as well.

In the book of Exodus, in the Bible, is told the story of the Hebrews returning to the practice of worshiping the Golden Calf while Moses was up on the mountain collecting the ten commandments.  Moses wasn’t pleased to see the image of the Golden Calf when he got back, and he smashed the ten commandments in anger when he saw it.

Still, worship of the bull cropped up again and again, both before and after the time of Moses.

The Babylonian god Marduk is called the Bull of Utu.  In the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, the heroes are often referred to as “bulls”.

An Indian calf

In Mesopotamian mythology, Gugalanna was the Bull of Heaven.  The word “gu” meant bull and was of the same origin as the Sanskrit word ”go” or “gau” meaning “cow”.  “Cow” comes from these earlier words.  The bull Gugulanna was associated with the constellation Taurus (the Bull), which from 3,200 BC held the place where the Spring Equinox occurred in the northern hemisphere.

The myth tells us that the bull Gugulanna was killed by Gilgamesh (the Sumerian Noah). Gilgamesh was linked to the light of the sun, and when the streams of sunlight rose at the Spring Equinox, they overcame the starlight of the constellation of Gugulanna, which then became invisible, thus “killing” Gugulanna.

The bull, whose horns are shaped like a crescent moon, has been associated with the moon.

Bull-leaping in a Minoan fresco

When I visited the Minoan ruins in Crete in the summer of 1969, I recall looking at a stone block, one of many there with carved bulls’ horns, and noticing for the first time the unique importance of the bull to ancient cultures.  The bulls’ horns were everywhere.

The aurochs, the ancestor of today’s cattle, both western and eastern, became extinct when the last of the aurochs, a female, died in 1627, in the Jaktorow Forest in Poland. Authorities at the Paleontologisk Museum, University of Oslo, believe that the aurocks first appeared in India two million years ago, and from there spread throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

It is thought that South Asian, including Indian, cattle descended from a sub-species of aurochs who lived at the edge of the Thar Desert which lies across Rajasthan and Pakistan.  These Indian cows have a hump and have a very elegant, distinctive look.

Western cows do not have a hump and are known as taurine cattle.  Aurochs were much larger than all modern cows; the males were black, and the females reddish.

A copy of a fifteenth century painting of an aurocks

Aurochs also spread to North Africa, and the cattle of the ancient Egyptians may have descended from them.

Throughout the centuries, the bull has been both worshipped and mistreated.

One might wonder whether the human race has a propensity for killing what it worships – from the sacred bull to the life and death of Jesus.  To be fair, it may not only be humans who behave that way.  Among all mammal species, males engage in battle with each other.  And any male who seems to stand above the others becomes a target—to be feared or to be attacked in order to take his place. (Having the top place seems to be a pretty essential goal, which can supplant any inclination towards reverence or worship.) Females are not immune from an impulse towards violence, and they also attack when they are defending their young.

Throughout the ancient world the bull was worshipped as a divine being, yet today, one finds in various places extremely cruel rituals that seem designed for young men to prove their dominance over the bull.  These ritual “games” seem to have degenerated over time into greater and greater levels of barbarism.

The cruelest of these are festivals put on by the Catholic Church, on feast days of saints, held in Mexico and Spain, in which the bulls are tortured and killed.  There are also, of course, the bullfights in Spain, introduced here and there in other countries in Africa, Europe, and Asia.  In the western U.S. there are rodeos, also cruel, also exported to other countries.  There are attempts taking place now, to introduce rodeos into China.

The slaughter of bulls and cows for food happens all over the world, more in the U.S. than anywhere else, where around 33 million cattle are killed every year.  Brazil and China are fast catching up.  The pursuit of cattle for food is destroying the planet through climate change and destroying vast tracts of land, as well as native animals like the bison and the wild horse, thousands of whom are being killed by the U.S. government to make way for cattle grazing.

Worship of the bull has tended to devolve over time into torment of the bull.

In the Greek legend, the Minotaur, who is half-man, half-bull, dwells in a labyrinth, and is killed by the hero Theseus.

The Egyptian god Apis, (or Hape, which is closer to the original Egyptian word), was worshipped, and the bulls were mummified and interred in great underground complexes.  It is assumed that they were killed.

Bulls and cows are very highly revered in India.  I’ll only mention them briefly for now.  The fascinating book “Sacred Animals of India” by Dr. Nanditha Krishna, has a great deal of information about them.

Nandi at the Brihadeshwara Temple, Tamil Nadu

In India, the bull Nandi is the beloved vehicle and gatekeeper for the God Shiva.  In every Shiva temple throughout south India, there is a figure of the bull Nandi. Nandi is also the leading disciple of Shiva.

At the Brihadeswara Temple, Nandi is immense, majestic, and charming, with a very innocent, rather playful face.  The devotee pays his or her respects to Nandi before going into the temple.  Nandi is a much loved and revered figure, who would never be harmed.

In a strange contrast, however, there is also in south India, in Tamil Nadu, the cruel practice of jallikattu, in which crowds of young men torment and pursue bulls, often leading to injury to the bulls and to themselves in the process.

What begins as honor, worship, and devotion, can degenerate over the centuries into persecution and killing.  Indeed, things tend to take that route.

These observations have taken a gloomy turn, but are not meant to be gloomy.   The same fate is befalling all of nature—as we humans, who once worshipped the forests, the trees, and the divine beings who lived in them, have destroyed nearly the whole earth now to make way for ourselves.  But of course we cannot live without the earth. Going to live in a colony on Mars or the moon doesn’t really seem like the best option—not for us, and certainly not for Mars and the moon.

Enlightening our fellow human beings and encouraging kindness to animals and to the planet is absolutely well worth doing.  It may be the only thing well worth doing, and it will go a long way towards lessoning the immensity of the suffering of many people and many animals.

But as for affecting the fateful course of events and the downward-spiraling destiny of the earth, something else, an approach on a more cosmic scale, seems to be needed to turn the tide or to bring about a new tide—a tide that may go back to the beginning before the origin of cruelty.


Top photo: Prof saxx / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license / Lascaux painting

Second photo: Lea Maimone / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license / Indian calf

Third photo: Wikimedia Commons / in the Public Domain in the U.S. /

Minoan fresco from the palace of Knossos / Bull-leaping

Fourth photo: Wikimedia Commons / In the Public Domain / A copy of a painting of an aurochs, the original may have been done in the Fifteenth century.

Fifth photo: Sharon St Joan / Nandi at the Brihadeswarer Temple, Tamil Nadu

The Golden Scarab Beetle

Scarab beetle

In the book “Jung’s Map of the Soul, An Introduction”, Murray Stein recounts the story of an incident that happened with a patient of Jung’s.  The patient had a dream of a golden scarab beetle.  As they were discussing this, they became aware of a sound outside the window, and when they looked, there was a Swiss version of the same kind of beetle (Cetonia aurate) trying to get into the room.

Referred to as synchronicity, these sorts of events in which an occurrence in the outside world and an occurrence in the inner world mirror each other, have happened to many of us.  Sometimes we see them as profoundly meaningful, sometimes we dismiss them as coincidence, sometimes they go unnoticed.

Occurrences like this should come as no surprise to anyone with a knowledge of the Hindu concept that the innermost soul of every being, the atman, “the self”  (which is the opposite, generally speaking, of what we in the west consider to be the “self”) is identical to the universal Brahman—who is the great, underlying soul of the universe.  (I’m expressing this in my own terms—and there are many, varying schools of philosophy in Hinduism, but this is a primary, and widely accepted thread, that runs throughout Hindu thought.)

One may question whether there is a clear division between the inner world and the outer world.  Is there an inner and outer at all?  This question flies in the face, not only of the material, atheistic view of the physical world as a sort of stand-alone event, that props itself up with its own laws of physics and has it’s own discrete, independent, unchallengable existence, but it also is quite different from the day-to-day perception that we, to the extent that we subscribe to a modern, western headspace tend to have of the world around us.  As modern people, for us, things happen from external causes; events are required to follow the rules laid down by Newtonian physics and, for most of our lives on most days, that is that.  The thunderstorm occurs, not because the gods are angry, but because the air currents and humidity are acting in a certain physical way.

Yet even modern physics has overturned this prosaic worldview, decades ago, with quantum physics and other even more arcane theories and concepts.  Certainly, going back in time, for most of the societies that have gone before us, the inner world and the outer world are not two distinct happenings.  They are intertwined—and life is, or can be, magical, mystical, pervaded with spirits, with numinous presences, with events and atmospheres far more meaningful and profound than the prosaic constructs we have deluded ourselves into seeing as “reality”.  The “primitive”, animistic view of tribal people that knows the world as one filled with consciousness—where every stone, river, bird, or mountain is filled with life and awareness may be closer to the truth than our own sophisticated, but destitute, perception of reality.

“Reality” is far grander than anything we might imagine, and God and the gods more real than we might ever have thought possible.  The underlying mystical reality of time and eternity far more present and profound than our own carefully-trained blindness has allowed us to see.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons /  A scarab beetle, for the occasion of the marriage between Amunhotep III and his wife, Queen Tiye 

A horse in the Lascaux Caves

There is a reason that in the cave art of southern France, and in many spiritual traditions, including ancient Egypt, there are part human, part animal figures depicted—it is because they really are neither human nor animal, they are gods, archetypal beings.  They are entities that have a consciousness that belongs to a more profound level of reality—the magical level.  Though animals are innocent, unlike humans, and that sets them apart from humans, still animals are not necessarily, in and of themselves, magical beings.  They are magical beings only when they have an unbroken connection with the magical realms, on a level beyond the world, with the mystical beings that live there and belong there.  Otherwise, they are innocent beings caught in the net of the physical world.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons public domain

Quick comment: Rachel Maddow on MSNBC has done an extremely good job of reporting on the foolishness of handing out oil drilling permits, while pretending that stricter safety measures have been put into place, when in fact, nothing significant has changed at all–and the design of blowout preventers is essentially flawed–as a Norwegian company that was investigating the situation recently found.  But never mind the truth–greed is a daunting force that just runs right over the facts.

The Christmas Truce of 1914

A cross commemorating the Christmas Truce of 1914

PBS showed a program this evening about the Christmas Truce of 1914, when German and British troops held a spontaneous cease-fire on Christmas Day.

The truce started near Ypres, Belgium, when German troops began singing Christmas carols; the British answered by singing the same, familiar carols in English.

Then the Germans took steps into no-man’s-land in between the two frontlines, carrying small trees lit with candles. The British climbed out of their trenches, and soldiers from the two sides began greeting each other, shaking hands.  During the day, the truce spread along the lines until around 100,000 men from both sides were taking part.  They spent part of the day recovering the dead who they’d been unable to retrieve until then because of all the shelling—and buried them, holding joint services.  They exchanged stories and gifts of cigarettes. There were a few games of football.

In some places the truce lasted for a week until New Years Day.  In most places, it ended that Christmas day or the day after, when commanding officers on both sides threatened to charge the men with treason and have them shot if they did not immediately return behind their own lines.

There were repeated warnings that the soldiers must go back to their lines and resume fighting.

Under threat of being shot, they did resume fighting.  The war lasted another four years until 1918, resulting in an estimated fifteen million deaths.

Photo: Redvers / Public Domain photo from Wikimedia Commons / The text on the cross reads “1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.”

Petroglyphs from the Anasazi people at Canyon de Chelly

There were some things in the book “The Divine Life of Animals” by Ptolemy Tompkins that I could not completely agree with.  These were made up for though by a few really profound statements.

One of these was that the Paleolithic world was another world. He talks about “our fall out of that world.” As I understood it, this was not meant metaphorically or as a simile.  He did not mean that it was “like” another world or just that human consciousness was different then. He said, and I believe he meant, that the Paleolithic was quite simply, another world.

This seems to make absolute sense.  Consciousness creates the world.  Hindu tradition talks about four ages, the yugas.  We are in the last—the most decadent and despair-filled.  While the accepted chronology for the four ages may be quite different than what I imagine it to be, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no valid connection at all between these various concepts.

The concept of the earth having several ages or several worlds is present in many traditions—with varying chronologies—or no chronologies.

Was the first world an ethereal world—one with forms, but no matter as we know it—an earth of light and beauty?

Did the Paleolithic world come next?  Was the Paleolithic a world of magic?

The rock art all over the world depicts magical creatures, gods, spirits and spirit-beings.  There are some who may be angels or ancient astronauts (is there a difference?)—beings from other dimensions.

All things were alive and conscious—the rocks, the clouds, the sun, the moon, the rain, the storms, the rivers, the drought. Animals were killed for food, but they did not die when they were killed.  They were prayed to and their souls journeyed on.

All things then were alive and magical.  There was fear, even suffering, wonder, and awe, but there was no death.  All was filled with the life of the Great Spirit.  There was art, beauty, worship, and if there wasn’t much science, it wasn’t much missed.  There was though, in fact, highly developed mathematics, astronomy, and engineering—the evidence of which can still be seen in the alignments with the stars of the great megaliths scattered across every continent.

It was a world of magic—and, truly, an altogether other world.

Afterwards came the Fall, and the long descent.


Photo: Sharon St Joan, Canyon de Chelly