recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : talismans   3

OCCULTURE: 52. John Michael Greer in “The Polymath” // Druidry, Storytelling & the History of the Occult
"The best beard in occultism, John Michael Greer, is in the house. We’re talking “The Occult Book”, a collection of 100 of the most important stories and anecdotes from the history of the occult in western society. We also touch on the subject of storytelling as well as some other recent material from John, including his book “The Coelbren Alphabet: The Forgotten Oracle of the Welsh Bards” and his translation of a neat little number called “Academy of the Sword”."



"What you contemplate [too much] you imitate." [Uses the example of atheists contemplating religious fundamentalists and how the atheists begin acting like them.] "People always become what they hate. That’s why it's not good idea to wallow in hate."
2017  johnmichaelgreer  druidry  craft  druids  polymaths  autodidacts  learning  occulture  occult  ryanpeverly  celts  druidrevival  history  spirituality  thedivine  nature  belief  dogma  animism  practice  life  living  myths  mythology  stories  storytelling  wisdom  writing  howwewrite  editing  writersblock  criticism  writer'sblock  self-criticism  creativity  schools  schooling  television  tv  coelbrenalphabet  1980s  ronaldreagan  sustainability  environment  us  politics  lies  margaretthatcher  oraltradition  books  reading  howweread  howwelearn  unschooling  deschooling  facetime  social  socializing  cardgames  humans  human  humanism  work  labor  boredom  economics  society  suffering  misery  trapped  progress  socialmedia  computing  smarthphones  bullshitjobs  shinto  talismans  amulets  sex  christianity  religion  atheism  scientism  mainstream  counterculture  magic  materialism  enlightenment  delusion  judgement  contemplation  imitation  fundamentalism  hate  knowledge 
february 2018 by robertogreco
My Grandmother’s Shroud - The New York Times
"When my grandmother, my mother’s mother, died in late June in Nigeria, I was in Italy, at a conference. I wasn’t with her when she slipped into a coma or, three days later, when she died. When my brother told me the news, I called my mother and other members of my family to commiserate with them. She was buried the day of her death, in keeping with Muslim custom, and I couldn’t attend her funeral. My mother, visiting friends in Houston, would also miss the funeral.

I opened my computer and began to search my folders for pictures of my grandmother. On each yearly trip to Nigeria for the past several years, I went to see her in Sagamu, a town an hour northeast of Lagos, where she was born and where she lived for most of her life. On these visits, she would say: ‘‘Sit next to me. I want to feel your hands in mine. Be close to me. I want your skin touching mine.’’ I was always happy to sit with her and to hold hands with her. Afterward, I took photos. I have photos now of her alone, in selfies with me, in the company of my mother and my aunts. In these photos, she has surprisingly smooth skin, hardly any gray hair and, in most of them, a trace of amusement. In one, especially touching photo, my wife, Karen, applies polish to her nails.

To remain close to our dead, we cherish images of them. We’ve done so for millenniums. Think of the Fayum portraits, which show us the faces of Egyptians during the Imperial Roman era with stunning immediacy. Images — paintings, sculptures, photographs — remind us how our loved ones looked in life. But in most places and at most times, portraiture was available only to society’s elites. Photography changed that. Almost everyone is now captured in photographs — and outlived by them. Photographs are there when people pass away. They serve as reservoirs of memory and as talismans for mourning.

My grandmother was born in 1928. Her given name was Abusatu, but we called her Mama. Mama’s father, Yusuf, was a stern imam in Sagamu, and Yusuf’s father, Salako, was said to have been even more severe. But Mama herself was serene and good-natured, kind and tolerant. She was deeply consoled by her religion but not doctrinaire. Of her five daughters, two (including her firstborn, my mother) married Christians and converted to Christianity. It made no difference to Mama. The family had Muslims, Christians and some, like myself, who drifted away from religion entirely. Mama loved us all. An example of her unobtrusive kindness: While I was a college student in the United States, she sent me a white hand-woven cotton blanket. I never knew why and didn’t ask. But it is to this day the most precious piece of cloth I own.

I was leaving Rome when I received the sad news of Mama’s death. She was approaching 89. The end came swiftly, and she was surrounded by family. You could say it was a good death. But why couldn’t she have lived to 99, or to 109, or forever? Death makes us protest the fact of death. It makes us wish for the impossible. I could objectively understand that it was unusual to have had a grandmother in my 40s, and that my 67-year-old mother was equally fortunate in having had a mother so long. My father was 5 when his mother died, and he has been mourning her for longer than my mother has been alive. But the grieving heart does not care for logic, and it refuses comparisons. I mourned Mama as I left Italy for New York.

I mourned her but did not, or was not able to, weep. I arrived in New York in the late afternoon, perhaps at the very moment Mama was being interred. My mother had forwarded a couple of photos taken by my cousin Adedoyin to my wife’s WhatsApp. Karen reached for her phone and showed me the pictures. They were a shock. One was of Mama, dead on her hospital bed, wearing a flowery nightdress and draped in a second flowery cloth, the oxygen tube still taped to her nostrils. Her right arm was limp at her side, and she was not quite like someone asleep but rather like someone passed out, open and vulnerable. The other photograph, which seemed to have been cropped, showed a figure wrapped in a shroud, tied up with white twine, set out on a bed in front of a framed portrait: a white bundle in vaguely human shape where my grandmother used to be. I burst into sudden hot tears.

What did these photographs open? Imagination can be delicate, imposing a protective decorum. A photograph insists on raw fact and confronts us with what we were perhaps avoiding. There she is, my dear Mama, helpless on the hospital bed, and I cannot help her. Days later, I would find out from my mother that in this first photograph, Mama was still in a coma and not dead yet. But looking at the second photograph, the one in which she is incontrovertibly dead, my thoughts raced through a grim logic. I thought: Why have they wrapped her face up? Then I thought: It must be stifling under that thing, she won’t be able to breathe! Then I thought: She’s dead and will never breathe again. Then my tears flowed.

Mama’s life was hard. An itinerant trader of kola nut and later the owner of a small provisions shop, she was one of my late grandfather’s five wives and by no means the best treated. She never went to school, and the only word she could write was her name, sometimes with the ‘‘s’’ reversed. But when Baba died more than 20 years ago, Mama moved out of his house and lived in the two-story house that my mother built her. She was a women’s leader, a kind of deaconess, at the local mosque. She went to parties, to market and to evening prayers. She lived in the security of her own house, in the company of her widowed second daughter, my aunt. In those later years, life became easier.

‘‘She has a single obsession,’’ my mother used to say, ‘‘and that’s her burial rites.’’ Mama insisted that she be buried the same day she died. ‘‘She’ll say, ‘And I must not be buried at the house,’ ’’ my mother said, ‘‘ ‘Because what’s rotten must be thrown out. And for seven days, food must be cooked and taken to the mosque and served to the poor.’ ’’ And most important, my mother said, Mama would reiterate that in a cupboard in the room next to the meeting room in her house was her robe, the one she must be buried in. It was of utmost importance to her to meet her maker wearing the robe with which she approached the Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam.

The hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which she undertook in 1996, when she was 68, transfigured my grandmother. Through that journey, through her accomplishment of one of the central tenets of Islam, she sloughed off her old life and took on a new one, one that put her into a precise relationship with eternity. The year of her journey, thousands of Nigerian pilgrims were turned back, because of meningitis and cholera outbreaks. My grandmother was one of a few hundred who got through. When she returned from Mecca, many of her townspeople took to calling her ‘‘Alhaja Lucky.’’ And as though to fit the name, she wore the serene mien of someone who was under special protection.

My mother, an Anglican Christian, financed the journey, knowing what it would mean to her mother to fulfill this final pillar of the faith. But possibly, she had no idea how much it would mean. She anticipated the social satisfaction Mama would get from it but had not counted on the serious existential confirmation it provided.

In the last few years, I often thought of Mama’s pilgrimage robe. I thought about how fortunate she was to have something in her possession so sacred to her, something of such surpassing worth, that she wished to have it on when she met God. And she had her wish: Beneath the plain white shroud in which she was sheathed after she died was that simple pilgrimage robe.

I look at the various photographs from Alhaja Lucky’s last years on my computer. None of them really satisfy me. Many are blurry, most are banal. I really like only the ones of her hands: They remind me of her wish to have her hands touched by mine. But the photograph I cannot stop thinking about is the one Adedoyin took, of Mama in her funeral shroud. The image reminds me of newspaper photos of funerals in troubled zones in the Middle East: an angry crowd, a shrouded body held aloft. But Mama was not a victim of violence. She died peacefully, well past the age of 88, surrounded by family.

Nevertheless, the custom is connected. It is a reminder that the word ‘‘Muslim’’ — so much a part of current American political argument, and so often meant as a slur — is not and has never been an abstraction, not for me, and certainly not for millions of Americans for whom it is a lived reality or a fact of family. A lead headline in The New York Times just a few days after Mama’s burial read: ‘‘Travel Ban Says Grandparents Don’t Count as ‘Close Family.’ ’’ The headline was about travel restrictions on visitors from six predominantly Muslim countries. Nigeria was not on the list, but the cruelty and absurdity of the policy was vivid. It felt personal.

On the night of Mama’s burial, I lay down to sleep in my apartment in Brooklyn. I couldn’t shake the image of my cousin’s photograph. I went into the closet and took out the white cotton blanket Mama sent me all those years ago. It was a hot night, high summer. I draped the blanket over my body. In the darkness, I pulled the blanket slowly past my shoulders, past my chin, over my face, until I was entirely covered by it, until I was covered by Mama."
2017  tejucole  photography  death  memory  nigeria  aging  relationships  hajj  islam  purpose  grief  mourning  grieving  customs  objects  textiles  immigration  us  policy  connection  families  tolerance  religion  acceptance  mecca  eternity  belief  spirituality  burial  life  living  change  transformation  talismans 
july 2017 by robertogreco
If a cat could talk – David Wood – Aeon
[Related: "How Humans Created Cats: Following the invention of agriculture, one thing led to another, and ta da: the world's most popular pet." http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/how-humans-created-cats/282391/ ]

"Perhaps because we selected cats for their internal contradictions — friendly to us, deadly to the snakes and rodents that threatened our homes — we shaped a creature that escapes our gaze, that doesn’t merely reflect some simple design goal. One way or another, we have licensed a being that displays its ‘otherness’ and flaunts its resistance to human interests. This is part of the common view of cats: we value their independence. From time to time they might want us, but they don’t need us. Dogs, by contrast, are said to be fawning and needy, always eager to please. Dogs confirm us; cats confound us. And in ways that delight us.

In welcoming one animal to police our domestic borders against other creatures that threatened our food or health, did we violate some boundary in our thinking? Such categories are ones we make and maintain without thinking about them as such. Even at this practical level, cats occupy a liminal space: we live with ‘pets’ that are really half-tamed predators.

From the human perspective, cats might literally patrol the home, but more profoundly they walk the line between the familiar and the strange. When we look at a cat, in some sense we do not know what we are looking at. The same can be said of many non-human creatures, but cats are exemplary. Unlike insects, fish, reptiles and birds, cats both keep their distance and actively engage with us. Books tell us that we domesticated the cat. But who is to say that cats did not colonise our rodent-infested dwellings on their own terms? One thinks of Ruduyard Kipling’s story ‘The Cat That Walked by Himself’ (1902), which explains how Man domesticated all the wild animals except for one: ‘the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.’

Michel de Montaigne, in An Apology for Raymond Sebond (1580), captured this uncertainty eloquently. ‘When I play with my cat,’ he mused, ‘how do I know that she is not playing with me rather than I with her?’ So often cats disturb us even as they enchant us. We stroke them, and they purr. We feel intimately connected to these creatures that seem to have abandoned themselves totally to the pleasures of the moment. Cats seem to have learnt enough of our ways to blend in. And yet, they never assimilate entirely. In a trice, in response to some invisible (to the human mind, at least) cue, they will leap off our lap and re-enter their own space, chasing a shadow. Lewis Carroll’s image of the smile on the face of the Cheshire cat, which remains even after the cat has vanished, nicely evokes such floating strangeness. Cats are beacons of the uncanny, shadows of something ‘other’ on the domestic scene.

Our relationship with cats is an eruption of the wild into the domestic: a reminder of the ‘far side’, by whose exclusion we define our own humanity. This is how Michel Foucault understood the construction of ‘madness’ in society — it’s no surprise then that he named his own cat Insanity. Cats, in this sense, are vehicles for our projections, misrecognition, and primitive recollection. They have always been the objects of superstition: through their associations with magic and witchcraft, feline encounters have been thought to forecast the future, including death. But cats are also talismans. They have been recognised as astral travellers, messengers from the gods. In Egypt, Burma and Thailand they have been worshipped. Druids have held some cats to be humans in a second life. They are trickster figures, like the fox, coyote and raven. The common meanings and associations that they carry in our culture permeate, albeit unconsciously, our everyday experience of them.

But if the glimpse of a cat can portend the uncanny, what should we make of the cat’s own glance at us? As Jacques Derrida wondered: ‘Say the animal responded?’ If his cat found him naked in the bathroom, staring at his private parts — as discussed in Derrida's 1997 lecture The Animal That Therefore I Am — who would be more naked: the unclothed human or the never clothed animal? To experience the animal looking back at us challenges the confidence of our own gaze — we lose our unquestioned privilege in the universe. Whatever we might think of our ability to subordinate the animal to our categories, all bets are off when we try to include the animal’s own perspective. That is not just another item to be included in our own world view. It is a distinctive point of view — a way of seeing that we have no reason to suppose we can seamlessly incorporate by some imaginative extension of our own perspective.

This goes further than Montaigne’s musings on who is playing with whom. Imaginative reversal — that is, if the cat is playing with us — would be an exercise in humility. But the dispossession of a cat ‘looking back’ is more disconcerting. It verges on the unthinkable. Perhaps when Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote (of a larger cat) in Philosophical Investigations (1953) that: ‘If a lion could talk we would not understand him,’ he meant something similar. If a lion really could possess language, he or she would have a relation to the world that would challenge our own, without there being any guarantee of translatability. Or if, as T S Eliot suggested in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), cats named themselves as well as being given names by their owners (gazed on by words, if you like), then the order of things — the human order — would be truly shaken."



"Yet the existence of the domestic cat rests on our trust in them to eliminate other creatures who threaten our food and safety. We have a great deal invested in them, if now only symbolically. Snakebites can kill, rats can carry plague: the threat of either brings terror. Cats were bred to be security guards, even as their larger cousins still set their eyes on us and salivate. We like to think we can trust cats. But if we scrutinise their behaviour, our grounds for doing so evaporate.

It is something of an accident that a cat’s lethal instincts align with our interests. They seem recklessly unwilling to manage their own boundaries. Driven as they are by an unbridled spirit of adventure (and killing), they do not themselves seem to have much appreciation of danger. Even if fortune smiles upon them — they are said to have nine lives, after all — in the end, ‘curiosity kills the cat’. Such protection as cats give us seems to be a precarious arrangement."



"Look into the eyes of a cat for a moment. Your gaze will flicker between recognising another being (without quite being able to situate it), and staring into a void. At this point, we would like to think — well, that’s because she or he is a cat. But cannot the same thing happen with our friend, or child, or lover? When we look in the mirror, are we sure we know who we are?"



"Cats, one at a time, as our intimates, our familiars, as strangers in our midst, as mirrors of our co-evolution, as objects of exemplary fascination, pose for us the question: what is it to be a cat? And what is it to be this cat? These questions are contagious. As I stroke Steely Dan, he purrs at my touch. And I begin to ask myself more questions: to whom does this appendage I call my hand belong? What is it to be human? And who, dear feline, do you think I am?"
cats  humans  pets  animals  2013  montaigne  tseliot  wittgenstein  jacquesderrida  gaze  michelfoucault  relationships  nature  consciousness  independence  codependence  rudyardkipling  domestication  davidwood  compatibility  trickster  magic  talismans  micheldemontaigne  foucault 
december 2013 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read