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God’s Punishment of Man

I can certainly see that before engines and modern systems of snow-removal, people might have considered a blizzard to be punishment sent by God for some misdeed.  There is a common mindset in our world that whenever something bad happens it must be a punishment sent from whatever gods we believe exist.  Indeed, it may be that the idea that there were gods emerged to explain why nature does what it does.  The beneficent
Earth Mother when it goes along as we expect with cycles of growth and dormancy and new growth.  Indeed, when we humans were living in the tropics there were hardly any seasons at all, so dormancy was not perhaps even a part of the Mother’s generous constancy.  We transferred our infantile love and trust of our birth mother to a Great Mother, the Earth itself.

Paradise.

But then there came along the Sky Father.  If Earth was the Mother, then there was a certain logic in the sky being father because it was rain that fertilized the earth.  Oh, yes, in the river flood-plain civilizations, there were variations because in such places the river seemed to be the Great Goddess.  The Egyptians even had the sky as a goddess and the earth as a god.  I imagine that one’s view depended a good deal on whether the “cowgirl” sexual posture was in vogue.  Then it is easy to see the male force on the bottom, and the phallus as the shoot arising from the earth.  The Mother’s breasts hanging down from above become the source of nourishing rain.  You can do it  both ways.  But in the desert religions, from which our current set of three big religions arose, the Earth was barren unless fertilized by the rains, and the terrible nature of windstorms, lightning, and its unpredictable destructive power gave the Middle-Eastern Sky Father his bad-boy personality.

The punishment idea can go both ways too.  The goddess Earth may be a giver of life, but she can also withhold it.  That idea that if we incur mama’s displeasure, she might refuse to feed us, is perhaps the very first anxiety following birth.  It isn’t groundless, for after all, she did just reject us in a big way when we were pushed out of the womb so painfully.  (I’ve never heard anyone talk about this, but flexible head not withstanding, the infant must experience not only pain but fear in the process — one wonders.)

So, this idea that someone larger than us, upon whom we depend for our sustenance might punish us by withholding her love, that fairly clearly goes back to infantile fears of rejection.  Weaning, is of course, another rejection and trauma all of mammals pass through, but at least mum feeds us something else. The young deer learns to graze, the young lion to eat meat.  (Humans are like pelicans; they regurgitate adult food from their food processor to feed their young.  Probably feeding babies was why the spoon was invented.)

Now you may be saying, “Enough psychobabble already!”  But this foundation in the human imagination, the human soul, is important to understand if we are to look at why it is that humans should jump to the conclusion that a god or goddess is punishing them when a natural “disaster” happens. (Did you know that our word “disaster” comes from Latin and means literally “negative stars”?  Aster = star; dis- = negation.  You are using Latin when you say “He was dissing me.”  Dismiss, disrespect, disregard, disaster.)

The Romans said that the Celts worshiped “Dis Pater” which one supposes might have been slang for Pluto, Jupiter’s brother.  I suspect that the whole thing might be Roman propaganda to whip up support for the Gallic Wars.  Julius Caesar knew how to push the buttons of his Roman popolo.  Still, it well might have been a reference to Arawn, as he is called in the Welsh myths.  Arawn was King of Annwn, and that realm was a bit like the Roman idea of the Underworld of the dead ruled by Pluto.  Anyway, Pluto or Dis Pater, did not have any monopoly on mistreating humans.  The Sky Father’s thunderbolt really appealed to people, for some reason.  I mean, it was probably because occasionally someone did drop dead from a thunderbolt.  And whoever it was, the survivors tried to figure out why that person (or her family) was being punished.

So, Jewish ideas met Greek and Roman ideas in Christianity and seemed to corroborate each other.  It was such a powerful explanation for all those inexplicable attacks by the natural world.  Disease, accident, disasters, and even death itself might be viewed as a punishment.  Thus the doctrine of original sin.  Adam and Eve disobeyed in the Garden of Eden, and so humans became mortal and subject to disease.  Venereal disease was proof that God didn’t want us to have sex for fun.  Plagues were punishments on whole nations or cities for their collective sins.  The idea is very thoroughly worked out in the Jewish scriptures that Christianity built upon.  With all that punishment going on, it was decided that indeed everyone was a sinner.  I’m not sure if Jesus decided that or Martin Luther.  But clearly we were up shit creek, as they say.

So, we all need salvation.  Not just a political rescue of the old Jewish monarchy in a Messiah, but something much more urgent — rescue from death and punishment.  The Greeks, Egyptians, and I suppose a lot of  and other cultures got the idea that death was your time limit.  If you hadn’t received God’s forgiveness for all your many mistakes and faults, off you went to the Underworld rubbish heap, instead of to the much nicer Celestial Paradise.  The poet Dante wrote the definitive description of that idea of different worlds for people based on their behavior in life, but he got it from a long tradition going back at least to the Egyptians.  I mean it’s even there in Gilgamesh.  You can hardly blame people for taking the idea for granted and never questioning where it came from.

It is one of the biggest gifts of the Age of Science in which we live, that we are no longer taught in school that natural disasters are punishment for our sins; neither is disease, nor death itself.  But religious education based on the Bible (and I’m guessing on the Koran too) promote this idea that sin and death are linked.  So, whatever one believes today, one is still faced with this pernicious notion.  And I say it is pernicious (that is: destructive) because I think it does more harm than good.  The notion, for the priestly leaders of societies, was useful because they believed that fear of divine punishment and death would motivate sinners to do better, to obey the Ten Commandments or the Koran or whatever.  (Jesus didn’t really give commandments; he gave ironic remarks.)

The world we live in is based on this idea of Commandments from on high and punishments if you disobey.  Once that Law and Order party was created, they could justify any sort of torture or punishment by simply saying they were carrying out the Will of God, the Supreme Lawmaker and King of the Cosmos.  If you force your kids to accept the Bible or some other Holy Book as the Word of God, then they are going to grow up ruled by fear of divine punishment, and everything bad that happens to them in life will only confirm this fear and make them doubt themselves.  Priests can offer penance, absolution, or the promise of Grace through Faith — whatever.  The fear is created and then the sins are forgiven or absolved establishing a tight cycle of control.  The Messianic and “kingly” language of the Bible was great for kings too, and until the dawn of the Scientific Age, kings were pretty well-considered like priests to get their authority from God, the King of Kings.

Now, among ancient pagans, kings didn’t fare so well.  In Persia and Asia and Egypt, yes. But after the Athenians democracy rejected the idea of kingship and the Roman Republic followed in that assertion, the genie was out of the bottle.  Even though Rome’s republic fell apart and the rule of emperors was the custom for centuries afterward, those republican virtues and desires lay dormant in Western civilization until the Age of Reason came up with a good rationale against believing everything your parents tell you.

But all this is very recent stuff and the idea of God as King of Kings persists even though the worldly office of absolute monarch has been largely rejected.  There is still the idea that we are ruled by a Big Daddy with inescapable powers to punish us.  What about Mother?  Well, along the way, male priesthoods employed violence and the male monopoly on military might to wipe out her worship and even belief in such a Goddess.  They replaced all the pagan goddesses with the Virgin Mary — the idealized mother who never had sex and gave unconditional love.  Hmmmm.

The Freemasons Great Architect of the Universe is notably different, and this may be why so many priesthoods and monarchies have despised Freemasons.  The Grand Architect is a figure in charge of a hierarchy of skill and mastery.  In the legends of King Solomon’s Temple, which is so central to Freemasonry, it is not Solomon who is the exemplar, nor is he the model for God.  In fact King Solomon is shown to be helpless when his Grand Architect Hiram is killed before the completion of the temple. This story is pure Freemasonry.  That isn’t how the story goes in the Torah.  So, as a Mason, I am considering the meaning of the myth.  If it is the Grand Architect or “Grandmaster” who is to be our model and ideal, the person to whom we own everything and who we must obey to the letter, obedience becomes something very different from what it is in Christian thought.  Disobedience of the architect isn’t about breaking rules, it is about not doing our work properly.  Building a temple requires everyone  to cooperate and do their part.  There may be rewards for some of the workers, in the form of promotions within the Craft.  The stonecutters and setters may eventually become masters, but the principal reason for following the Grandmaster’s instructions are to build the temple well.

Nobody on the job site wants to be responsible for the temple collapsing because of negligence or stupidity.  The stones have to be square and plumb and the mortar must be mixed and spread exactly right.  That story makes us, as human beings, not “miserable sinners” but trained craftsmen. We have been given the tools to do good and continuously improve our behavior.  We aren’t servile subjects of a Sky King, nor at the mercy of an Earth Mother.  Instead, we are humans with imagination and the ability to learn and together improve our lot.  The building of the Temple of Solomon may have been to worship the Jewish God, but Freemasons look at it differently:  that using our skills and building something beautiful for the benefit of all is itself the worship of God.

The Grand Architect of the Universe isn’t interested in punishing his workers unless they are simply not doing their work.  There is no talk of punishment in the legend, except in the case of workers who engage in conspiracy and murder.  And even then, the conspirators who beg forgiveness and make up for their mistake are granted forgiveness.  Only violence against another human being is punishable by death.  So, within the context of Freemasonry no man is taught to fear death, for death is no punishment if he conducts himself as a conscientious craftsman and builds good things in his life.

The word in the Bible that gets translated as “sin” means “error.”  One pastor once told me it meant “to miss th mark” as in archery.  If you think of it in that way, it doesn’t seem nearly as horrible as it is usually portrayed.  When the zealot speaks of “sin” it usually involves sex and entertaining wrong religious doctrines.  Murder and theft and so forth are there in the Ten Commandments, but for some strange turn of history, sin got connected most intimately with sexual relationships outside of religiously sanctioned marriage.  It is that sanctioning that makes marriage such a big issue for the opponents of same-sex marriage.  Homosexual relations were, until the past few decades, the worst of all sins.  I don’t understand why, unless it was just that male homosexuality was seen to undermine the whole system of religious regulation that had been erected around sexuality.

It is also true that until the past century, women were considered by many religious leaders to be much more prone to sin than men, and much more prone to lead men into illicit sexual relationships.  Every woman was the Temptress Eve.  This notion — that women’s sexuality has to be tightly controlled — seems disingenuous because clearly through this whole time, men were still having illicit sex. In other words, blaming women for sin was just a feeble attempt at scapegoating.  Enforced by male violence it wasn’t really so feeble.

The association of extramarital sex with sin and the whole divine punishment notion, has really screwed up Western Man (and women too).  Freud was onto this, and his influence on our culture opened up the possibility to see this whole business as a tissue of lies.  Or, if not lies, as complete fiction.  I blame St. Augustine.  He was terribly screwed up.  In fact, it is interesting to consider how much of our religious thought was thought up by men who really needed psychotherapy.

One thing you can say for Western religions and their doctrine of sin and punishment is that it has helped to create the vast and lucrative business of psychotherapy and psychological counseling.    But don’t get me wrong.  I am not advocating extramarital sex.  There is no question that sex in or out of marriage often results in emotional trauma, anger, jealousy, and abuse.  It just would be interesting to see if this was any different in a society that did not preach that sex was sin outside of marriage.  One thinks of old Polynesia.  Or France.

Oh well.

A druidic society, one imagines would take a much more “natural” view of the matter.  It is the sort of attitude we get from psychologists today.  Yes, we have problems with sex and fidelity to a partner, but those are just two among a myriad of problems we can have.  And the object is not to feel miserable and repentant about disobeying some ideal of behavior.  The object is to solve the problem and so build the Temple.  Freemasons see this symbolic Temple as the temple of our very being.  Indeed, you could sum up life’s purpose and goal within both Freemasonry and psychology as “be content, be healthy, and take pride in your good work.”

For the modern druid there are no prophets or saviors, and no priests in the Christian sense.  There are wise men and women.  We’ve had a lot of wise men and women raising their voices in the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.  Those are the voices the modern druid listens to:  psychologists, ecologists, biologists, poets.  The Greek word “psyche” means ‘butterfly” but refers to the human soul.  Psychologists, when they know their business are our “spiritual leaders” today.  Unfortunately quite a few of them think they are mechanics.

Trees are so much easier.

 

OWL

 

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Where to Start with God

I have expended most of my energy today digging out from the blizzard we had for the past two days.  Up to my knees.  The drifts on the roof of the DeVille were like glaciers.  The two basement windows, including the one to my study are now buried in piles of snow shoveled from the driveway.

So, it should come as no surprise that I am thinking about God.

As a Freemason I think about God a good deal; as a Druid I think of the many facets of the Supreme Being.  As a Lutheran growing up, I was taught at first to think of God as a supreme Father.  He was not only the father of Jesus our Savior, but was also my divine father.  Now that I am a father, that whole idea has a different meaning for me than it had as a boy.  It’s not really the best metaphor for the Grand Architect of the Universe.  After all, in the past, fathers were given almost unlimited powers of life and death over their wives and children.  That fits the idea of a Creator God certainly, but it is a power that has been so often abused by mere mortal men that it becomes awkward.  Especially if you are talking about Yehovah in the Torah, the Lord God.  He has some real anger management problems, and more than once resorts to terrible punishments when his children are disobedient.  That’s like mortal fathers too, but it isn’t the best role model.

Even in Christianity which aims to focus on God as a Loving father, he tries to fix the disobedience of his other children by making his firstborn son a sacrafice.  That’s if we follow the theological doctrine that Jesus was the firstborn, even though his human birth came much later than that of Adam.  Anyway, Adam had no mother in the myth of Eden, except the clay of the Earth herself.  And the priestly writers of the Bible don’t acknowledge Mother Earth as a distinct entity, much less a goddess.  Anyway, the whole sacrifice thing seems creepy.  It was creepy enough with Isaac.  A Father who asks people to use their sons as a blood sacrifice and then changes his mind and says it was all just an obedience test would qualify for a padded cell in our human world.  But myths are like that.

The problem is that the believers in the Bible take it as a more or less reliable historical account.  There may be a bit of truth in some of the Jewish history.  I mean they do refer to Assyrians and Egyptians and Romans who we know independently to have been real.  Even some of the individuals mentioned seem to have been real — not just the kings but chaps like poor Pontius Pilate.  However, scholars differ widely in how much credence they give to those accounts.  They are certainly an attempt to make up a legendary history, but whether they are based on any actual historical records seems doubtful.  It would seem that they are about as historically accurate as the Arthurian legends.  Plenty of bad male role models in the Arthurian legends too.

So, I was wondering, while shoveling snow from the heavens, where one starts with God.  If you don’t just have an unquestioning faith that the Bible is some sort of history, rather than myths and legends, where do you begin?

It seems to me that one must begin as did Descartes, with oneself.  I think, therefore I am.  But there’s much more to it.  I not only think, but I feel, I aspire, I desire and crave.  Certainly, I have little trouble accepting “I exist” as an a priori starting point, but to get at God, one has to go a step further and accept the proposition “I am, therefore I am created.”  You could say “was” created, but I tend to think that is getting off on the wrong foot.  After all, we can’t actually know anything directly about our past.  We have no trouble accepting the biology of conception and birth these days.  Mom and pop felt sexual desire for each other, mated as animals do and produced offspring.  All observable phenomena in the natural world.  We don’t exactly understand how the mechanics of cell division ends up propigating “life” but we still mostly believe that the word “life” does refer to something.

But are we just the results of the seemingly random quirks of sexuality?  Yes, we are.  But one has to wonder if there isn’t just a little bit more to it.  If one grows up into a thinking and feeling person with an ounce or two of curiosity, those existentially questions are going to start nagging at your frontal cortex.  One say, “Who am I?”  and “What am I for?”  Human parents encourage and prompt those questions by talking about family genealogy and careers and “making yourself useful.”  Now, it may be that “making myself useful to others” is all that some of us need for a purpose in life, but I suspect for most of us that is not satisfying.  We want to know if we have a special purpose, beyond just conforming to society and fitting into a niche in the economy of our nation, or the class system. The question arises, when surrounded by the Middle-Eastern  religions that came to dominate Europe, the Americas, and so much of the world, the question arises I say: Do I have a purpose?

Maybe it is modern bourgeois sentimentality that teaches us that we are each individuals with the potential “to be whatever we want to be.”  I don’t know.  For my part, I think I would have done better with my life if someone had just said, “Here you go James, here is the work you are going to do with your talents and here is the girl you are going to marry, and here’s the keys to your car.”  Yes, it is a bit like Huxley’s “Brave New World” perhaps, but really, it is pretty much like the Old World too.  Children were taught to have the expectation to enter a career chosen by their father, and appropriate to their family’s class.  But as populations grew and needs changed within the economy, those continuities broke down.  We didn’t need an exponential number of tailors, cobblers, or soldiers.  It was more complicated than that.  New jobs were created by new technologies and old ones fell by the wayside.  So, then it became a good deal harder to say:  What is my Purpose in Life.

Now, if all this bit about purpose seems like a digression, let me bring the matter back to God.  If we accept the axiom that one who exists was (or is) created by a Creator, then we have a difficult time avoiding the idea that the Creator had some purpose for us.  But that is just it.  Clearly, in the West, or at any rate in  the U. S., we have created a culture that insists upon the idea that each person has a purpose and that our happiness depends in some measure on discovering what that purpose is.  Our psyche is culturally constructed to believe we have a purpose, and perhaps it is more than cultural.  I cannot make cross-cultural comparisons, but I wonder if indeed humans have developed their imaginations to such an extent that they (we) have this hope and longing imbedded in the very fabric of our  being.

There is a kind of soul-longing that some religious persons call the longing for the beloved.  It is certain that we have within us a longing to find a lover – to be loved and to love someone else.  The desire may be warped because of abuse or bad parents, but it is innate — or so I suspect.  And that longing to be loved comes at the deepest level of our minds — it is there in our infant bodies as a instinct.  As infants, humans are so completely dependent on the love of another that the desire for that eternal “mother” providing unconditional love and nourishment, that very source of our life  — that desire and longing are at the core of the human soul.  And I would suggest it is the longing for the loving embrace and breast of a mother that drives so much of our desire to believe we have some purpose.  Our creator is, in the first instance, our mother.  To the infant mind, mother is everything and without any conscious understanding that we have just emerged from her body, there is some sort of awareness, I am sure.

Freud talked about the devastating psychic effect of birth trauma, but whether it be traumatic or not, our most dramatic experience of birth may be the most startling thing that ever happens to us.  The core knowledge of having being born from our mothers, to come from the dark, warm “inside” into a cold, brightly illuminated, outside world — that shapes everything that is built upon it.  And, I would speculate, that feeling is the root of our desire for God.  Our belief that we must have been created rises from that core experience.  Our belief that we are loved by something unaccountably vast which gave birth leads us to think that we must have purpose.  We were deliberately created by another agency, other than our own and everything we understand about creation, when we ourselves become creators, suggests that creations always have some purpose.

Now, this way of extrapolating from the infant mind and experience, and from the child’s creative powers also leads one to the conclusion that our purpose in life may be merely amusement.  We, after all, do create things for our own amusement.  But we sometimes create a thing that turns around and strikes us much more deeply so that we ourselves our transformed.  For example, it might be said that somewhere along the line humans created domestic animals.  Domestic cats, for example.  And look where that took us.  Suddenly we have a living creature with a will of its own putting demands upon us and giving us affection.

Take this further.  We create relationships with each other.  At one time in the tribal past of our ancestors (or even today) we were just handed relationships in our community and family.  We didn’t need to create them because they were already created by others.  Some relationships are like that.  But we still can choose whether we will create from that basic relationship or connection a loving relationship, or one of enmity, or jealousy, or envy, etc.  Human imagination creates these moral categories, these fictions based on emotions, and those stories, as we might say, are among our most complicated creations.  Certainly, our relationships to other humans, to places, to animals, turn around and shape us, change us — indeed create us.  We might start a love affair just for the sexual amusement, but it hardly ever stays like that.  Humans are, generally speaking, too complicated to sustain a relationship only for amusement.  If the relationship continues, it evolves. Emotions accrue to it.  Shared history becomes part of it.  Interdependence grows.  We may fight that interdependence.  We may fight to impose it more strongly on the other person. We may cut them out of our life or out of our conversation.

All these evolutions are creative. We humans created marriage — it is entirely a human idea.  Oh, yes, I know, some people attribute the institutions of religion to God, or to several divine beings.  In the druid tradition, having no book handed down from God, and having only deities who are often rather naughty and short-tempered, nobody, I think, believes that gods created marriage.  Indeed, in the Celtic myths they seemed to suffer from a distinct lack of any standards regarding such a bond.  So, as a druid, I am content to see marriage as a human invention.  If the gods invented it, that amounts to the same thing because the Celtic deities, the Shining Ones are rather like us.  Quite different from the God of the Jews who presented his chosen people with Ten Commandments and then dictated the whole Bible through divine inspiration.  Druids quite understand inspiration.  It may be the central concept underlying druidry because Imbas (or Awen) is the power of the poet, the bard.

However, that understanding of the creative process of the poet, gives us druids a rather more flexible view of inspiration.  It isn’t “law” nor does it necessarily come to the bard from the One Supreme Being.  It is a mystery, the mystery at the center of Druidry.  And that inspiration is the very thing that gives us, as we become adults, the feeling that we have been “called” to some purpose.  For Freemasons, the designation “Grand Architect of the Universe” alludes to that centrality of the creative process, the genius of the creator.  That creator is not a distant “father” of a completely other species and order of being.  The Creator is each of us, every one of us individually, and all of us cooperating together.  That is the source of our feeling of purpose, destiny, or mission: the Creator, as we might say, within.

Cars, Mechanics, and Masculinity

OK, here’s the thing.  A few weeks ago, a lady pulled out in front of me and caused me to crash my car into a tree, so we’ve been car shopping for weeks now.  My lady wife selected a Subaru Outback, which is a very nice car.  Practical, but also a good-looking vehicle.  It shifts so much better than our old Mazda, and it has nice luxury features like heated seats. There was a time that I pooh-poohed heated seats, but I must have just been cranky at the time because they are very good for Minnesota winters.

As is usually the case with me and my daughter, color was the primary consideration.  Well, she, for some reason, wanted to have a wagon again.  She always did like our old teal Escort wagon.  My cunning plan when we started looking at cars was to buy two $7,000 cars instead of one &14,000 car.  The first one we looked at was a Nissan Altima.  Very nice, but $14,000.  So, I had this brainstorm.  It is so much more entertaining to find a cheaper old car that is in good condition.

However, my dear sposa overspent a bit (with my consent) on the Outback, so I was (technically) only left with about $3000 for my runabout.  That’s a tough order.  Especially when I got it into my head that the Cadillac DeVille was a cool car.  I found a few around and one in particular I liked because it was dark blue (indigo really) and had a dark blue leather interior.  I took it on a test drive (less that fun in Winter conditions) and liked it.  The DeVille lives up to its reputation for comfort and it certainly has a plethora of electronic features.  This one has a cassette player, which is quite a rare luxury these days.  I was looking forward to listening to all my old cassettes.

However, this car is $4993, almost $2000 over the original budget I planned on.  So, that’s a problem.  However, I had wife and daughter try it out and they objected to the smell of tobacco smoke.  It’s amazing how women notice different things than men do.  Now, granted, I did have a raging headcold at the time, but I did notice the smell.  Yet, it didn’t turn me off the car because it reminded me of how all our family cars smelled when I was a kid — like Dad’s pipe.  Tobacco and leather are not so repellent to a man.   The smell and a weighty indifference to the car became the main stumbling blocks, yet I thought that a thorough detailed cleaning of the interior might alleviate the smell. Everyone wants their car to smell like “new car.”

The adventured continued, as I worked out the logistics so that I could take mama to work and have the Outback for the day.  I made an appointment with a Cadillac dealership to have them inspect the DeVille.  Now, this was a mistake on a few levels — or shall I say, a learning experience.  For one thing, the Cadillac dealership is catering to Cadillac Owners, a particular class of homo sapiens the mind of which is fully open to spending thousands of dollars on genuine GM parts and mechanics who make as much per hour as lawyers.  I waited almost two hours before they could finish the inspection and write it up for me in detail.  I wanted them to tell me what some of the repairs would cost.  They did not do one of the things I requested, which was to give me a list of things they could tell had already been replaced on the car.  At 103K miles, the car ought to have had a few things done to it already.

The long and short of it was that when I took it back to the dealer from whom I was buying it, I was in a rush to go pick up the ladies and didn’t have time to have the long talk with the salesman that was needed.  Next day he was off, and the following day, when he said he would call me, we had five inches of snow.  I suspect the crew were busy scraping off cars.  It must be miserable to own a used car lot in the Winter…

So, now I am in that limbo of negotiation.  I sent the salesman an email listing five of the things the other mechanic said were wrong.  The leaks did not surprise me, but the broken rear coil spring and the broken wheel stud on one wheel, struck me as things the dealer selling the car might have been expected to fix, or at least disclose.  That discovery made me lose a good deal of trust in the salesman and the dealership.  Was it intentional deception?  Was it an egregious oversight on the part of the mechanic?  Or do dealerships normally only give a car the superficial once-over before they put it on the lot?  Perhaps the previous owner did not disclose those problems.

Well, I can quite see that one could miss them because it doesn’t effect the way the car drives, so far as I can tell.  I should think the rear coil spring would make a difference, but with my inexperience in things automotive, it escaped my notice.  My attention was mainly focussed on figuring out what all the buttons on the dashboard did and how the cruise control worked and so forth.  On the way to Morries Cadillac for the inspection, the cruise cut out a couple of times.  The mechanic at Morries said this might be due to a malfunction in the EGR valve.  Oddly, the service chap there did not explain what the EGR valve was very well.  In fact, it seemed that they had it wrong, but Igoogled it and found that EGR stands for Exhaust Gas Recirculation.  This valve is part of the emissions control system, invented to meet EPA guidelines for auto exhaust.  It recirculates some of the exhaust back through the engine, thereby removing a substantial percentage of the nitrous pollutants.  Clever.  But Blue DeVille’s wasn’t working right and whenever it did so, that sent a “check engine” signal to the car’s  capacious electronic brain, and that, in turn, shut off the cruise control, as it is programmed to do.  There must be a vast array of punch-card sorters and readers somewhere under the dash, so intricate is the car’s brain.  It is, to be sure, a very focused brain, interested only in its own autonomic systems and organs, but it is very communicative.

At the bottom of the instrument panel, as you look from the driver’s seat, there is a small version of those displays used for advertising, one which a stream of words seem to flow from right to left across the display so that you can read the message.  Rather like a tickertape machine.  This feature is called the DIC, which stands for Driver Information Center.  This is how the electronic brain communicates.  Remember “Colossus the Forbin Project”?  That’s how Colossus talked before he made the technicians build him a mechanical voicebox.  Anyway, the DeVille’s DIC says things like “Traction Engaged”  or “Cruise Engaged” or “Fuel is Low” and so on.  It apparently can give you scores of diagnostic messages to tell you if some organ is feeling a bit off.  Wish my body came with self-diagnostics like that.

Well, that’s a feature I like.  A man wants his car to have a DIC.  Gives a fellow a feeling of really knowing what’s going on.  Comforting to have your car talk to you.  A bit like “My Mother the Car.”  Only its like “My Dad the Car” because it’s like having another guy with you, one that knows a lot about cars.

The whole issue of masculinity and cars has been running through my own internal DIC.  With lag time between bouts of primal male deal negotiation — the delicate dance of expression and voice, and pressure — I had time to think about what really was motivating me to want a Cadillac.  After all, it is not a practical car.  In a family with only one real income (my earnings as a writer and wandmaker put me well below the poverty line), why buy a car that gets low gas mileage, uses premium gas, and is expensive to repair?  I knew at the outset that my interest in DeVilles was not practical.  It was a quest for male ego-reinforcement.

Most men have their own car.  I have a few friends who are in the situation I was in (am stil in): sharing the family car.  Some of my friends not only have their own car but a motorcycle on top of that.  In America it is very hard for a man to feel like a man if he doesn’t have a car.  Even if it is old and broken down, it is still an extension of his male ego.  I’m not sure when all this business started, but it must go back to the forties, when car ownership became common.  I suspect it was in the fifties and sixties of the last century that advertising created — or enhanced — the perception that masculinity and cars were linked somehow.  My generation certainly was raised with the idea that a man’s car was his castle.  This might have become more important when a man’s house ceased to be his castle during the last wave of the women’s movement.

Before that, in the sixties when I was growing up, and certainly in the fifties, women were the mistresses of the kitchen and the children; the home was kept clean and orderly for the comfort of the man of the house who came home from a hard day of wrestling with other men using his muscles and his brain to earn his wages, and desired nothing better than a quiet refuge, a pipe, and easy chair, and his newspaper.  Then there was his shop, often part of the basement or in the garage.  That was a particular male space, his domain.  Some men had a study too — it was often called “the den” in those days.  However, the garage and the car were the man’s most important domain (after the Office).  Women worked as secretaries in the office, and women worked as wives and mothers at home, but women drivers were mocked and looked upon as an abberation in the natural order, and women who could fix a car, change the oil, or even knew how an engine worked were rare indeed.

But now, decades later, women are among the main market audience for cars.  Commercials for mini-vans and SUV’s are aimed at them especially.  True, young, good-looking women are still used in car ads the way they used to be: to suggest the sexual rewards a man would get from owning and driving a particularly sporty vehicle, or one with lots of power.  But now it is all very different.  Some women know more about fixing cars than men (like me, for example), and women can buy a car independently of a man, thereby expressing their own sense of power, style, and personality.  Well, that’s all fine with me.

Here is the thing, though.  In  my life I have never had my own car when I have lived with women.  We always shared one car.  And that situation gives the car a whole new dimension of sexual and symbolic tension.  A shared car does not express a man’s personality or power.  As likely as not, it is the women who insists on getting her way when it comes to the choice of model and color.  Even if she seems to defer to her man, we all know that is seldom really what is going on.  And even if the man makes the decision, the car is still not simply his car.  Because couples operate on a more equal footing today, a shared car becomes no longer an expression of male power and prestige.  It is no longer a masculine object, no longer a part of the male’s display plumage.

Back in the fifties and sixties, cars had fins and bits sticking out all over, just like peacock feathers.  Those are the cars I personally like.  The Cadillac dealership where I was cooling my heels had a gorgeous cream-colored 1953  Eldorado “Biarritz” convertible.  OMG!  What a beautiful car!  You can just picture Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin in the driver’s seat with a voluptuous and adoring girl by his side, turning up the Beachboys on the Wunderbar radio.  Nowadays, Cadillacs look just like every other car — bigger maybe, but the same streamlined dull design sense.  Automobile aesthetics has made all cars look alike.

I was just reading a blurb about how Subaru’s designers were developing a “new language” of design that would make Subarus all recognizable as Subarus.  Hmmmm.  I suppose back in the fifties people might have thought all cars looked the same too, but the streamlining and the smooth lines, the parameters of size and so forth all have made today’s cars mostly unappealing.  The new beetle and the new Thunderbird are exceptions, but for the most part I like the looks of older cars.  The 1997 DeVille isn’t exactly a classic, but I’m not in the market for a true collector’s car.  At least it looks better than the 2010 models.  The 1970’s vintage models even look better to me.  I was researcing Lincoln Continentals and was horrified to see how few there were available used and how much they too looked just like every Japanese car on the market.  I remember in the 70’s that rounded back end where the spare tire was housed and the sleek, long black lines of the Lincoln Continentals, the Mark IV’s and the Cadillac Fleetwoods.  Mmmmm.  They were vast “boats” to be sure and nowadays people want smaller more fuel-efficient cars, less boxy.  Who really needs a trunk that could fit a small marching band?

Well, I wouldn’t know where to park a 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood, anyway.  But the ’97 DeVille Concours.  It makes me wish we had a garage to put it in.  It would take some vigillance to keep it from deteriorating in the Minnesota Winters without a garage.  But just researching the car has opened up a new vista of fascinating machinery and the potential for a thing upon which I can lavish my attention and love and which will return my care with a boost to my ego.  Now, only people who don’t know me would ever take the car to signify my social and economic status, but I am good at pretending.  My self-esteem has suffered in the past 20 years  because of lack of income and not working as an English professor.  It is hard to sustain self-confidence working as a novelist without anything published.  I’ve probably said that before….

But this seeking for ego-reinforcement through a car seems foolish.  I have always thought it part of the foolishness of the social construction of masculinity.  What I’ve found, however, is that I cannot break away from the way my masculinity was socially constructed.  I was never macho, and for some reason my Dad never managed to engage my interest in cars, even though I wanted to be an engineer as a teen.  Now that I’ve become a writer and interested in Steampunk, engines and mechanics has a new fascination for me — one that may be more practical and not merely imaginary.  Better late than never, I suppose.

Will I manage to buy the car and have the money to insure and maintain it?  Will I get an ego boost?  Will it bolster me that I can write better, enjoy life more with some freedom of mobility?  Will it give me a new hobby of mechanics, fixing and building actual machines, as well as imagining fictional ones?  Or is it a hollow aspiration?  One must, of course, learn to love oneself, not depend on the outward trappings of worldy status or the possession of riches.  The wise man casts aside riches in order to love himself better and to turn his love to others less fortunate.  “It is always better to give than to receive.”  Especially in this time of Christmas giving, it seems especially misguided to be trying to buy something for myself.

On the other hand, spending money on yoga classes and dedicating time on my own physical self-improvement is intended to make me a better man, more healthy and so more productive, and able to help others.  Could a car help that?   Perhaps it could.  For example, having my own car would allow me to volunteer at a foodshelf, a homeless shelter, or the library.  Being able to more easily travel around during the day would make it easier to get out of the house and work at a cafe.  nothing is really stopping me from doing that now, but transport being difficult gives me an excuse.  Still, perhaps that’s just rationalization and I won’t follow-through on that sort of plan, unless I make a solemn resolution to do so.

Transport during the day would also make it easier to find a job outside the house.  But will I manage to do so?  Transport is not the only thing standing in the way of that plan.  Yet, maybe it would be good to find a job for at least a few years to catch up and then maybe return to writing full time again?  Money, cars, ego-strength.  My instinct tells me that ego-strength should not depend on outward success or its material rewards.  That it must instead come from within, or be given as a grace from the Divine One.

I really do over-analyze everything.

 

The Grey School of Wizardry

I have at last passed the faculty training class for the Grey School and am working on getting a second class accepted by the Dean of the Dept. of Wizardry.  Once I have two classes up and running, they will grant me the honor of being a full member of the faculty.  I have nothing but admiration for the school and its faculty.  It is hard to see much unless you register as a student, but the website is www.greyschool.com.

Writing classes has always been interesting to me.  The research involved and the thought process of how to make it clear to young students educates me as much as it does the students.  It permits me to study the magical arts and their history and to convey what I have learned to a new generation, who will grow up taking wizardry as something perfectly normal.  Mentioning where I teach always produces an interesting reaction from people.  Usually they seem entirely accepting, though clearly the cannot know what I am talking about.

Once I have attained professorial rank in the school, I must have business cards made.  I wonder if the school has given thought to a design.  Perhaps they will adopt whatever I come up with.  Something elegant and businesslike bearing the school emblem, the pentankhaduceus  or pentankhaduce, which cleverly combines the pentagram, ankh, and caduceus.  These symbolize the Gallo-Germanic, Egyptian, and Greek magical traditions, the three main springs which have fed the river of wizardry in the West.

It is fascinating to me to see things that seemed but fantasy when I was a teen, now flowering into the sunshine, no longer “occult,” hidden, but treated like any other scholarly discipline.  Or rather like a whole college at a university with sixteen component departments.  I myself am most attracted to the departments of Wizardry and Lore, two departments that deal with how wizardry is conveyed from one generation to the next.  I am happy leaving the teaching of practical magic to the excellent professors in those departments.  It is philosophy, theory, and narrative that has always interested me most.  I would happily live in an “ivory tower” if ivory was not such a very impractical building material.  Let the elephants keep their ivory.  A tower would be nice, rather than a dungeon where I now work.  More airy.  More windows.  A deck on top to pace on and look at the stars.  Of course, I would just have to vacuum the spiral stairs…

The physical manifestation of the wizardry school remains to be built.  All it would take is the chance direction of several millions into the hands of wizards willing to buy and maintain an old castle or country home in Britain, or even in America (there are a few old county homes), or perhaps to build one from scratch with all the benefits of modern Green architecture.  I would gladly devote my lottery winnings to an endowment for such a school.  Just have to get lucky.

You would think that if anyone could manage to win the lottery on purpose it would be a wizard.  I am not sure why I am so reluctant.  Perhaps because I haven’t enough faith in myself?  Actually, I do wish I could carve out more time to do practical magic of that sort.  Enchanting wands is certainly an important and noble calling, but I have always had visions of handling large sums of money.  When I saw the photo in “The Week” of the ugly 27 story “mansion” built for a billion dollars by some mogul in Mumbai, I sighed.

Why is money wasted on the rich, who have such poor imaginations?

Alas… earwax.

Fading Gardens

It is the time of year when the trees give one great show of colored leaves.  The oaks turn a beautiful brown, grow crinkly, and then blow away in the wind.  The young oak outside my kitchen window still holds onto a few green leaves at the very tips of her branches, despite the winds.  October has been remarkable this year — dry, clear, sunny and quite comfortably warm.  The air is crisp, the sun warm, and so while I have donned my Giamos uniform — the black turtleneck — still by afternoon I am discarding layers. Corduroy jacket.  Waistcoat.

Hazel, Cherry, and Smokebush are all holding onto their leaves yet.  The smokebush, which was colorful all year, now stands out all the more behind the now-bare branches of the Rowan.  The Hawthorn, which was for a month so very beautiful with red haws and green leaves, now i entirely bare. Yet, that Hawthorn remains quite alert even in Giamos, branches always ready to knock off my hat.

My roses, new this year, are on my mind.  I need to protect them for winter.  The Lena rose has done so very well and still is full of pink blossoms.  The climing rose not as well.  It seems not to have grown and looks a bit peeked.  It may be the soil and less sun, as it is under the east wall of the house.  I shall have to see if I can keep her alive through the winter months and do better by her next year.

I get a little melancholy to face another winter.  If March would be like this October, then we all would be happy, but in the Spring in Minnesota this weather hardly returns until May.  As I recall, though, this past year’s Spring came a month early.  The weather changes and we, I fear, are receiving a fairly benign change.  At least in terms of temperature.  The consequences of warmer winters in the northland, however, include bugs and parasites being able to overwinter instead of being killed off.  It is not so good for the trees.

Our street was once lined with elms.  There are still one or two left.  The City replaced those that died of Dutch Elm disease with ash trees.  Most of them are not even very old.  There is one very large one two doors down from us.  But they are now succumbing to the Ash borer beetle and I noticed one tree had been marked by the City foresters for removal.  Alas for the Ash trees.  They are such a major part of our northern forests.

Minerva, my tabby cat, is out hunting this morning.  She loves her morning constitutional.  She would love an evening one too, if I let her out.  She goes out in the early morning light, the sun warm but feeble, so far South.  She finds a sunny spot on on of the garden chairs and hunkers down to absorb the warmth before heading out on her walk.  I do not know where she goes, but she does return, often talking with great animation, telling me all about what she has seen.  If only I spoke Miaow.

It is the waning of the year.  Samhuinn is but a week and a half away.  Parties to celebrate the new year and to brave the chills and short days of Giamos.  The reign of the Holly King comes, and he is a little gloomy and harsh at times.  Who can blame him for being crabby when his subjects spend the time of his reign dreaming of his rival brother the Oak King and his sunny fruitful and green reign in Samos.  Samhuinn, say the sages, means “the end of Samos” – the end of summerlight.

Demons and Gremlins

I have spent the past three hours trying to sync my daughter’s iPod.  The iTunes software seems to be attractive to gremlins.  These are the little imps that get into your electronics.  They can mess with mechanical machines too, but they particularly seem to thrive on electricity.  Computers must be the ultimate chocolate shop for gremlins.  As I understand it, gremlins were first identified as a species of imp by flyers in WWII.  They liked to mess with radar and other aeronautical instruments.

Many people ask me, in my capacity as an Advocatus Diaboli, what gremlins look like.  The answer is, it depends.  (That’s always the answer with demons and imps, isn’t it?)  Unlike your grand demons with noble titles, legions of spirits at their command, and huge tracts of prime real estate in Pandemonia, gremlins are humble little creatures.  They most commonly appear as a blink or flash, but can also appear as inexplicable spots of light or sparks.  Today, as so many of them have moved into our personal computers, the gremlin likes to take on the shape of the Endless Spinning Pinwheel of Doom.   Gremlins delight in making progress bars cease to move.

What, you may ask, do gremlins eat?  That is, what do they thrive upon.  Demons of the greater sort thrive on our emotions — the more out of control, the more filling and delicious.  Gremlins thrive on frustration, also an emotion, but one that is of a lower intensity than say, lust, hate, anger, or greed.  Yes, you are right, these are among the Catholic church’s Seven Deadly Sins.  Needless to say, they are accompanied by actions, and these actions are the bit that are usually against social mores.  But the church fathers will have you confessing and doing pennance for even the emotions that emerge before the act. There is  good sense in this.  Because, if you, for example, have a flare up of lust looking at a beautiful and sexy person of whatever gender or genders may appeal to your nature, that flare is food for the demons in your head. And if you yeild to the emotions and let them grow stronger, you can bet that the demon who is eating them will egg you on.  Moreover, acting on emotions brings them to a climax of power, and very often produces the added benefit of a delightful dessert of regret and pain.

Gremlins are not quite as bad as that.  They don’t want to drive you to ruin your marriage or your reputation, or get you in jail, or drive you to murder.  No, they just want you to pull your hear out and swear.  They get a kick out of confusing you too.  If you say, “What the hell is going on?”  or “Damn this machine!”  that is just what the gremlin wants.  You have invoked Hell and kindly given them a new computer.  As a matter of fact, the denizens of Pandemonia never ever have to buy a computer. There are so many of them that have been damned to Hell, that you can just pick them up off the streets.  The streets of Heaven may be paved with gold, but the streets of Pandemonia are paved with personal computers (mostly running Windows).

Indeed, it is ironic that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  is trying to spread computer access and the Internet throughout the mundane sphere of human societies.  Microsoft has already provided universal access to Pandemonia, which, is a lot larger in terms of sheer acreage than planet Earth.

But I digress.

I am not certain, but I think that PC’s seldom have more than one gremlin at a time. Unless, they have settled in a particular software application. Then you can get several, sharing the electronic space in a symbiotic relationship.  You get mad, anxious about work slowdowns or files that have vanished, and they share in the emotional bounty of your glow.  If you have ever wondered what it is that is using up all those megabytes on your hard drive, take it from me, its the gremlin nests.  In fact, one thaumatologist with whom I am in regular correspondence, Dr. Rubin L. Milani, is conducting experiments on a hypothesis that Dark Matter is really gremlins and demons.  And their nests.

So, is the gremlin in the machine or in your head?  The perennial question that frames the whole thing wrong.  You might as well say, neither, or both, or in Hell.  The gremlin’s effects exist in the energetic matrix of your electronic apparatus, but to say “in the computer” is a little misleading.  It isn’t as if you could open the case and shake out all the gremlins.  They are not insects, even if they are called “bugs.”  From the viewpoint of a programmer who can delve down into the code and troubleshoot (like in Tron), the gremlin is manifest as a conflicting bit of logic or syntax.

Precisely the same thing is true of the greater demons.  We speak of our inner demons or when we do socially unacceptable things we say “the Devil made me do it.”  But are the demons inside or outside?  If they are inside, can they make us do things against our will?  No, not worth the effort.  It is much easier to just tantalize our egos with images of our deepest desires and pull the plug on the old frontal cortex so that we forget about the consequences of our actions and instead get swept up in the sort of immediate gratification and excitement our lizard and monkey brains like.  If you look at what the Goetia says about the powers of its 72 demon kings, princes, and dukes, you will find that they very often can bestow scholarly ability in the liberal arts.  That is hardly a bad thing, surely?  But, you see it can be.  The reason that one is even more popular than making a woman fall in love with you or finding hidden treasure is that the chappies doing this sort of magick were monks, students at the University of Paris and like seats of Scholastic learning.

If you spent all your time running after skirts and drinking beer and wine, you might very well wake up one day and find that you were doing so bad in Geometry and Astronomy that the dour doctors of theology and philosophy were about to expell you from the university.  And then where would you be?  Well, you would probably be living just as you are, but without the excuse of going to the university.  And Dad might cut off the allowance.  So, desperate and frantic, you turn to one of the Goetic demons to try to help you learn your liberal arts and pass your exams.  The name of the demon most often invoked in this situation is named Cram.

However, the demon who promises learning is really one of your inner demons.  Wherever it is he calls home, he also lies within your soul as a potential.  A potential for learning — the latent power of your intellect. The demon is all of those grey cells that you have not been using.  Such fellows do not feed off of your baser emotions — lust, gluttony, greed, anger.  No, they feed off of higher emotions like passion and pride.  If you end up a learned doctor puffed up with self-importance and looking down on everyone else, that’s rich fare for the table of your demon, and you sustain him.  However, passion for knowledge, can become pridefulness and pride grows all by itself.  You might stop learning altogether and just rest on your laurels taking grant money to go on research vacations to California or Italy.  The book never quite gets written, but the scholarly activity feeds your pride, and that is food for your demon.

I am not saying that college professors draw magic circles and triangles and evoke Goetic demons to physical form to demand favors.  If only it were so externalized!  But the circle and the triangle can happen entirely inside your unconscious mind, in the depths of your soul.  Dante understood the inside of our heads quite well.  Our normal consciousness is a dark tangled forest full of fearful things.  We feel lost there and often doubtful of our pathway or what lies at the end of the path.  But that dark forest has a doorway that leads to the underworld of the Unconscious.  There we find all the demons and sinners we carry in our depths.  They are parts of us.  Or at least potentials within us.  But we can do more than repress them or be afraid of them.  We can engage them in conversation.  And the method of the Goetia teaches us how to do this without foolishly giving in to the temptations demons offer — especially the temptation to pride or doubt.

If you let demons feed on your emotions, it is the same as saying, as the Jungian psychologists do, that you are giving away your psychic energy to that power, locking it in your Unconscious where it is not available to be used by your conscious ego.  You feel self-doubt. You feel tired.  Weak.  Confused.  Because all that energy has been given to feed the demons.  That is why Dante had his poetic alter-ego descend into the Inferno before he could rise up through Purgatorio to Paradiso. You have to deal with the demons first, and reclaim your energy, your power from where they are locked up in the dark, emotions that are tortured and exiled because you don’t acknowledge them as part of you.

Embrace your demons — and your gremlins.  You are better than the are, stronger, and they will serve you not master you if you apply your reason to them rather than your emotions.

Next time, the Seven Deadly Sins.

On Mononymous and Natural Life Forms

I just learned this word.  Mononymous.  It means you go by one name instead of two or three.  Like Colette, or Voltaire, or Nemo.  Of course, all the old heroes were pretty much mononymous.  Odysseus, Hector, Rama, Galahad, Gandalf, Gumby.  But it doesn’t really count if its just your given name.  True mononymity has to be with a nom de plume, and alias.  Not, it should be noted, an alter ego.  It isn’t a name you are hiding behind.  It’s a name that you have taken upon yourself.  You have been re-named.  Often female authors used to do this because they didn’t want anyone to know they were female novelists.  Shocking!

It struck me that the taking of a druid name is similar, though for many those names are compound, not just one word. And one word is essential.  Now, granted, Colette took a name that was a first name.  It just wasn’t the one she was given by her parents.  At almost half a century old (that’s a the twentieth part of a millennium), I’ve grown accustomed to my name.  It almost makes the day begin.  (My day usually does start with lying in bed saying “Who am I again?” because just moments before I was somebody else.)

But, of course, what I realized when I learned the word was that I am mononymous.  I go by Alferian when I’m not going by Owl.  (Gemini’s can be excused for being bi-mononymous).  Granted, I also go by my three druid names together — Alferian Gwydion MacLir.  But that’s too long to say or write, really.  It’s a mouthful.  I hadn’t thought of publishing under a mononym, but now I am.  Much easier to find in the Alphabet.  “Owl” is, I fear, too common to work as a nom de plume, except here.  One in nine pagans are named Something Owl.  But Alferian is distinctive.  I’ve ever only stumbled upon one other Alferian.  Of course, there is the spell-checker problem.  Your typical spell-checker application wants it to be “Algerian.”  (If I moved to Algiers, I could be Alferian the Algerian.)

Perhaps it should have a suave accent in it:  Alférian.  It is pronounced: al – FAIRY – un.  It is neither Latin or Belgian, much less an English name.  And not, Celtic.  It is an Eranor name.  The language is called Eranor.  Since most of our languages are called after the people who speak them, it might be called and Elvish (or Elfish) language,  Elfic, Elfian, etc.  But “elf” being the Anglicization of Alf, it might more appropriately be called Alfic.  Except that in Eranor, that would be bad grammar.  Something “elvish” to the Alfar (that’s the plural of Alfë), would be called Alferion, the genetive plural of Alfë.  But there are lots of Elves (and lots of other denizens of Elsewhere who are lumped together with Elves and called “fairies”).  Different groups and tribes call themselves Sarithin, Saranci, Valorn, Eldar, Sindar, Noldor, and so forth.  Some of these tribes are more different from each other than Englishmen from Bulgarians.  Saying “Elves” is a bit like saying “Indo-Europeans.”

The Eranor language is a scholarly language, a literary language, but the variety of usage is very wide and often extremely subtle to our minds.  So, with that caveat in mind, I can state that the name “Alferian” is the singular of the compositional case of the plural noun Alfë.  That means that it means some thing like “made by the Elves” or “made out of the Elves.”  This noun case is used where we might use an adjective.  So, we could translate it simply as “Elvish” or “Elfin.”  Some thing that came from the Elves and was made by them — a poem for example, or the language Eranor.

Well, that’s the short explanation anyway.

The funny thing about being mononymous is that it is usually considered silly unless you are a famous author or entertainer.  Like Sting.  Unlike Jim Morrison.  His “Mr Mojo Risin” was just like Tom Malvolo Riddle’s “I am Lord Voldemort.”  An anagram.  It mustn’t be an anagram, nor an abbreviation.

So, let’s hope that I get famous sometime soon, to make it seem less pretentious.  And let’s also hope that I don’t get infamous so that “Alferian” takes on the spine-tingling character that has become attached to some mononyms, such as Satan, Voldemort, Sauron, or Frankenstein.

Which brings me to the news of the day.  Today the big news is that someone named Dr. Frankenstein has created an artificial cell and the commentators and reporters are bending over backwards to correct the impression that this constitutes “creating an artificial life form.”  While, at the same time, they are all whipping up ethical and moral umbrage at the idea of “scientists playing God.”

Oiy!

Why do people care about such things?  These are the same people who brought us the Gulf Oil spill, species extinction run rampant, and global climate change.  I try not to be a Luddite.  I’m as impressed by the human ability to design a steam engine or a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier as the next guy.  It’s a guy thing.  I grew up in the sixties when being in love with technology was pure and unadulterated by the Dark Side of the Force, or cyberpunk post-apocalypses.

But I got over it.  The artists got over it pretty much in the seventies.  By then we had looming smog, burning lakes, poisoned rivers, and people who were thinking began to say, “Hmmm.  Maybe Science and Industry have sold us a bill of goods.  As neat as these things are in a sci-fi novel or movie, they invariably become monsters when they are manifested in the material plane.  And all the curious Dicks who have been poking their noses under the skirts of Mother Nature for the past three centuries ought to stand up like men (even if they are women) and admit responsibility for the Industrial rEVILution and all its deadly spawn.  Enough is enough.  The game isn’t fun anymore.  Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein 200 years ago and nothing has changed for the better since.  Men passionately clamor to acquire women’s power of conceiving and nurturing life.  They desire to do it without women.  Or maybe a female lab assistant, if she’s cute.

I ride my bike around the neighborhood (I think no real evil has come from bicycles.  Except iron mines and the making of tires.  Oh well.)  Anyway, I’m on my bike and noting that it is the Cottonwood time of the year when the spring air is full of cotton.  We have one particularly old and gigantic specimen in our neighborhood and it sends forth its seeds floating in the air like snow and drifting against the curbs.  It is also the Propeller time of the year.  The maples have launched their seeds in a profusion of propellers helicoptering to earth in a short, but no doubt thrilling (for a seed) journey.  Sometimes they get a second or third chance if a little boy or girl picks them up and tosses them up in the air to watch how they spin as they fall.  Marvelous.  Really, much more pleasant that a helicopter roaring overhead.  The cottonseeds and propellers come just on the heels of the Elm Seed time of the year, when 80 billion elm seeds fly out from their mothers like tiny beige flower petals that will quickly become little elm trees if they aren’t swept up.

The true petals of the cherry and apple have gone, to be replaced by wonderfully early roses this year.  And the rowan flowers look like fuzzy cream clotting amid the eleven-fold leaves.  What’s more, the hawthorn!.  What can I say about the white flowers of the hawthorn?  Tiny five-pointed stars in little fairy bridal bouquets.  Their scent is pungent and one cannot decide if it is erotic or revolting.  It hovers there, in between, like the Fair Folk who live in the tree, for whom it is a doorway between states of being.

This is life.

This is real life.  Natural life.

Why, with this profusion of columbine and phlox, bleeding hearts, and lilacs, would anyone wish to create artificial life?

We only had one job when we were put here on Earth.  To garden.  To preserve life.  To flourish and not destroy.  Somewhere along the road of education, we listened to some very bad teachers who wanted to subdue nature, cut down forests, and build fortifications, great civilizations, stock markets.  Having apparently forgotten that we were living in God’s garden, we decided we needed to cut down the trees to build houses to him.  Though our forebears had found spirits in every well, dell, lake, and tree, in the mountains and the sea itself, we somewhere long ago decided all these spirits needed buildings — temples of stone.  And they got grander and grander and even when it was later decided that Gods, Inc. had to merge into one mega, multinational corporate God the Father, the temples still grew more and more elaborate and marvelous.  Meanwhile, our species was becoming a plague on the Earth, overrunning and destroying all its other life forms.

Time passes.  Industrial Revolution and seemingly limitless cheap energy from coal, oil, and then nuclear power.  Our teachers start thinking — hey, who needs God, Ltd.?  Let’s return to polytheism and worship the god Coke and the goddess Toyota, or even barbarous-sounding gods like General Electric and the mysteriously mononymous Amoco, Microsoft, Shell,  Chanel, and Dior.  There are gods so frightful they cannot be named.  Only their initials can be uttered:  BP, UHC, 3M, AT&T,  GM, and IBM.  There are throngs of gods and goddesses that do nothing but create new clothes, all the better to show off seductively voluptuous human bodies.  Some are so unspeakable they are only known by names like Victoria’s Secret, Wal-Mart, Mitsubishi, and ExxonMobil.  Some goddesses take conglomerate forms, such as the goddess ING, and the mysterious Samsung.

Among we later humans, there are so many gods that we have to hire other lesser deities to keep track of them on the Fortune 500 list.  The greatest group of gods are the gods of Petroleum, chthonic deities wreathed in black smoke and fire.  Only slightly less powerful are their servants the Banks.  These gods have grown so powerful in their cults that their priesthoods rule over those of all the lesser deities.

One could well wonder where Satan and the demons of Hell went.  There aren’t any.  Some of the deities fall from grace, occasionally, but there are none who are regarded as evil.  Every last one does only good.  But when they fall, flaming to earth, those who dare to watch the horrifying spectacle have noticed that these gods, like the legendary wickermen of the ancient Celts, are hollow and full of thousands of tiny, helpless human beings.

Where have the gardeners gone?  Swallowed up by the Juggernauts.  Except a few of us, who sit, smoking our pipes and watching the roses bloom or the grapes plumping on the vine.

Alferian /|\

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