Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Symbols and Signs

Via. Rebel News

How can we decrease the commodification of these empty signifiers? We can continue to build spaces, both virtual and material, that can be utilized by people who share common goals. We can continue to evolve as people and avoid over-identification with easy to replicate symbols of identity. Our interests and digital footprint aren’t who we are. We mustn’t let the map of our identities — personal or social — become the territory. But the border skirmishes on that map are never ending.


This is far from easy. Products themselves have become secondary, as symbols have overtaken the things they symbolized. Fight Club parodied this tendency as the “Ikea nesting impulse.” This is a challenge of modern life, but it’s hardly a singular observation. Guy Debord’sSociety of The Spectacle, now a standard text amongst neo-Marxists and counterculturists alike, deals with this matter in nearly aphoristic style,
The first phase of the domination of the economy over social life brought into the definition of all human realization the obvious degradation of being into having. The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual “having” must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it. It is allowed to appear only to the extent that it is not.
We live in a culture where appearances count for a lot more than reality, and so it is little surprise that we may have a hard time actually making this distinction. We are what we seem. When Ludwig Feuerbach wrote the introduction to the 2nd edition of his The Essence of Christianity, he was speaking to Hegel and Marx’s world, the rapidly industrializing 19th century. But he may as well have been speaking of the present,
But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence … illusion only is sacred, truth profane.
Symbols of success matters more than the things they represent. The symbol becomes the value, rather than the thing signified. The sports car, the expensive watch, the designer suit are all, from a utilitarian perspective, equally or even less valuable than items half their cost. Though luxury items such as these are said to cost more because of increased craftsmanship – which may well be true – the customer is still buying them because they are symbols of wealth and success. To have either of these on their own is not enough; the symbols are of greater value. We are performing wealth at one another. Though this seems harmless enough in itself, a common indulgence of the upper class, it is the same mis-match of value (weighing the symbol over what is represented) that characterizes the ennui of our lives. Nihilist Arby’s quite simply wouldn’t make sense as a joke if we didn’t grasp this on an implicit level.

  Read Full Article for Glorious Revolutions series.  

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Creative Relation of Whole and Part

The following article is by Philip Franses, Senior Lecturer at Schumacher College, who has for seven years been co-holding and teaching the Holistic Science Masters Programme. This piece encapsulates in a simple way the essence of what Holistic Science for him is about, not always an easy thing to articulate, and also inquires into some of its implications for the relation of science and faith.

It serves as an introduction to the book Time, Light and the Dice of Creation, which is a journey of the encounter of spirit through the stories of science. The book is coming out on October 22nd with Floris Books.

Part 1: The Dance

Creative novelty

Our starting point is a simple shift in the relation of whole to parts. Normally we imagine the whole as something already there and the parts as the logical constituents. This article follows a long tradition, where the whole comes into being through the part; and the part is representative of the whole. The whole and the part are in a dynamic interaction. There is no whole without the part, and no part without the whole. The relation of parts to the whole inhabits the novel, which is thereby given the means of expression.

Circular definition

One of the dilemmas is that of circular definition where we define the whole through the parts and the parts through the whole. Immediately there is a problem in this circular definition. Do we start with the whole and get to the parts and then go back to the whole? Or do we start with the part and through this get to the whole? We seem to find that the dynamic of whole and part is illogical. We need another approach before we can deal with this circular definition.

That which is not yet set

The approach requires an attitude of that which is not yet set. This could also be described as something emerging, or about to emerge; still undefined; not yet categorised, fixed or compartmentalised.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Satan Never Tempted Me - A brief digital history of an odd little tune

“Ol' Enoch he lived to be three-hundred and sixty-five when the Lord came down and took him up to heaven alive. .” - Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Dry Bones

There is an old song recorded by the folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1928 under the title Dry Bones (Click Here to hear the song via, I draw your attention to it due to the fact that it has rather odd lyrics for what seems to be an ordinary folk hymn. The lyrics of the last verse in this recording are odd enough that the Wikipedia entry on the song actually omits them in favor of an alternate version found on the webpage of contemporary folk singer Judy Cook.

The song begins without any controversy, yet after a few brief verses recounting the story of Enoch’s translation into heaven, Paul’s escape from prison, Moses and the burning bush, and Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones coming to life, Lunsford intones an eerie concluding verse that takes us back to the temptation in the Garden of Eden:

Adam and Eve in the Garden, under that Sycamore tree, Eve said to Adam, Satan never tempted me. I saw, I saw the light from Heaven shining all around. I saw the light come shining, I saw the light come down.”

In Cook’s version she changes Eve’s statement to the more orthodox - “Adam, Old Satan is a’tempting me.” Although Cook discovered the song via Lunsford’s recording, the version she uses changes the last verse to fit a rendering of the subject that balances with the standard Christian reading. Ironically Lunsford was known to alter and omit lines himself when he felt that they were too risqué for the educated Appalachian ‘hillbilly’ persona that he cultivated in his performances. The fact that this verse was included in his song means that they did not strike a particularly off chord with him. It's interesting to note that the description of the song on does the same alteration as the Wikipedia entry and quotes the verse that Cook uses rather than Lunsford's clear singing of "Satan never tempted me" in the recording.

On her web-page where the altered lyrics of her version are found she includes some history on Lunsford’s recording saying that ‘he first heard (the song)…from a traveling Black preacher named Romney who came through western North Carolina.’

Lunsford was a lawyer in professional life and a careful folklorist, the idea that he might have mistaken the controversial last verse seems unlikely and it proves to be much more fruitful if we return to the previous examples and examine what underlying theme connects all of these familiar Biblical stories and ties them together with this strange rethinking of the story of the Fall.  The answer is surprising considering the source – the theme is gnostic revelation, not the mixed bag of heretical doctrines that so inflamed the early Christian church, rather it is gnosis in its technical sense, that of a direct and intimate revelation of the Divine source. It’s a different sort of heresy, the kind that got Jesus nailed to a cross.

It also appears to be the kind of heresy that causes innumerable sources to innocently skew the lyrical content of a simple folk song without recognizing that they are damaging the oral transmission of a very potent spiritual teaching.  This simple little tune contains within it a key that opens up the Biblical narrative in a way that centuries of scholarly theological speculation, academic acrobatics and comparative analysis has failed to do – and it came from an itinerant evangelist passing through North Carolina in the early 20th century.

I can’t take any credit for discovering Lunsford’s recording, it was a link to the piece on and a brief note from the contemplative mystic David Chaim Smith that lead me to it. He said quite simply – “This song has a very esoteric meaning if you understand the implications.” Mercifully Smith’s book The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis, now in its second edition thanks to Inner Traditions, helps illuminate the issue:
“The serpent is called “Nachash,” which has a numerical value of 358. This number shares gematria with the word “moshiach” (messiah). This suggests that the same power that can awaken the hearts of human beings can also cause confusion and antagonism. Creative tension is such a power. If its essential nature is recognized, then gnosis can be realized. However, if conventional fixation habitually contracts the brilliance of Ain Sof, then endless grasping will continually usurp creativity to manifest endless egoic nightmare scenarios. Life is what mind produces, and its habits determine the manner in which it will manifest. Thus the power of creativity inherent in the serpent stands at the cusp of discernment between the two trees in the garden and the two paths they represent.”
Smith’s book focuses on the first three chapters of Genesis, however, as we can see from the song and his explanation of the term nachash the implications of these teachings stretch throughout the Old and New Testament. In the introduction he indicates how exceptional the mystery implied by this song truly is when he points out that “hidden within the first three chapters of Genesis rests one of the greatest jewels of Western mystical literature. Proper appreciation of this is rare. For millennia religious literalism has dominated the role of the Bible, imprisoning its subtle inner wisdom within the most coarse and superficial aspects of the narrative.” Those familiar with the writings contained in the Zohar, Sefer Yetzirah and other classic kabbalistic texts will be surprised at the ease in which Smith opens up their seemingly impenetrable mysteries and reveals the Biblical narrative as a powerful source of non-dual contemplative teachings. Those unfamiliar with kabbalah will still be astonished at how the Bible, a text that has become so commonplace and derided in our society, offers them far more insight into gnostic contemplative practice than the material being churned out for the contemporary spiritual market.

So how did a wandering evangelist in North Carolina end up with a folk song that contains a core aspect of one of the deepest contemplative mysteries of the Judeo-Christian tradition? Perhaps he simply “saw the light from Heaven shining all around.” The oral tradition has a living power to it that defies attempts at easy explanation. Suffice to say, after listening to Lunsford’s tune or reading The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis the next time you’re in a hotel room you’ll look at that Gideon’s Bible a bit differently.

Click Here to visit the Inner Traditions website for more information on The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis.

Click Here to visit David Chaim Smith's webpage for more information on his work. 

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Theater of Ultra-Violence

On last Wednesday, a man approached a couple talking on a patio, a man and a woman. It became apparent that the two were News reporters. How they spoke, the too put-together clothes and makeup all gave it away. We see the scene in the first person, as if we’re watching Half-life or Call of Duty. This sense is increased when the point of view pulls a guns and fires repeatedly into the bodies of three reporters.

So runs Bryce Williams’ video footage that was discovered on social media minutes after the shooting. Traumatic real world violence, performed for the camera both on live TV and social media. We discovered his account moments before CNN did, so I didn’t know what I would find when I clicked it.

When I saw it, for a moment, I couldn’t believe it was real. This is a common reaction even in the midst of real violence — somehow the surreal cuts in. But soon I lost myself in my job as an editor — getting the story up, seeing it’s updated, pushing to social media, reacting to the reactions…

Nevertheless, this troubling sense of cognitive dissonance grew through the day. Especially as I heard all the same narratives over and again on CNN that always follow a violent tragedy. When we talk about psychology we are always talking about the killer’s motive. Were they a loner, a disgruntled worker, a jilted lover? But we never hear a dialogue about mass psychology, or about our relationship with violent media that gets past this surface level. We never talk about how we are all a part of this theater.

So, I don’t want to talk directly about what happened yesterday. Instead, I want to explore the related, larger issues in a way that never seems to get on the news. And maybe that’s because it’s too complicated, or that it doesn’t have simple answers. Those aren’t good enough. It’s a conversation we should be having.

Let’s begin not with the violent act itself but in the fall out, and how we talk to each other about traumatizing media.

Full article

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media


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