Tuesday, December 25, 2007

So-Called Angels

I'm a little busy with Christmas, so here's a video.

A condensed tribute to the best Christmas special ever. The MSCL creators are now doing QUARTERLIFE online (see Links)


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

So This Is Christmas

"A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear" ~ John Lennon

"Will you please stop talking about religion? It's CHRISTMAS!" ~ Danille Chase, MY SO-CALLED LIFE

Christmas is another example of how much all peoples have in common. I'll be celebrating Yule on Friday, and the time time of year is celebrated in surprisingly similar ways in cultures as far apart as China and Iran.

The Norse, the Egyptians, the Celts, Babylon, Rome, Persia/Iran and China all celebrated the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice.

Pat Guthmann Haresch of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks sees a deep connection between ancient winter solstice celebrations and Christmas. "Much of the symbolism used in Christmas has its origin in older religious traditions. The use of greenery, holly berries, candle light, even the symbols of a mother and her child are related to older spiritual practices before the arrival of Christianity," adding "We live in such a divided world and it would be wonderful if people of different faiths could understand the underlying connections of the holiday and that all of these celebrations are based on many of the same things, one of the most important ones being that of hope."

The Christmas tree tradition springs from honoring the evergreen; its survival throughout the year symbolizes the eternal World Tree. And here's a link with more info on the origins of the Yule Elf, now known as Santa Claus, and other Christmas traditions:


It's interesting that all these festivals, steeped in myth, are rooted in the real world. The solstice is an actual event, the night when the Earth is farthest from the sun. Cold and dark are at their peak on the longest night of the year, but it also marks the return of Spring. The days grow shorter from then. It's an example of Yin/Yang, the Asian concept of the balance of opposites.

Hallowe'en and Easter (after a goddess named Eostire or Ostara before Christianity) celebrate the harvest and the bloom of Spring. The celebrations are seasoned with stories of ghosts, gods and goddesses, but they have come to symbolize so much more.

Christmas, whether we realize it or not, has long since transcended its origins as a Christian holy day to become a secular holiday that is more about the spirit of giving and the need for peace. We have our own new myths: Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty and the Grinch to name a few.

Whatever you call it, what myths and rituals and traditions you invoke, doesn't matter. At heart they are all celebrations of life and the renewal of the soul.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In The City of All Faiths

"Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice"~ Josephine Baker

"Every day, here and at home, we are warned about the enemy. But who is the enemy? Is it the alien? Well, we are all alien to one another. Is it the one who believes differently than we do? No, not at all, my friends. The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is the one who tells you that you must hate that which is different. Because, in the end, that hate will turn on you. And that same hate will destroy you." ~ Reverend Dexter, BABYLON 5

“To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

I don't like the word "tolerance." Tolerate means to put up with something, to, according to Webster, "allow" it. It implies that whatever you're tolerating is different, inferior or wrong. Selma G Hirsch, in THE FEARS MEN LIVE BY, said "Respect—not tolerance—must be our goal." This gets back to the whole Star Trek IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) thing. Even respect isn't enough - we should delight in our differences. Octavio Paz put it as, "life is plurality, death is uniformity."

And this is where myths and stories come in. A wonderful example of this is a new trend in comics by Arabic and Indian creators. The stories show that people everywhere have the same needs and wants.

AK Comics were published and sold through the Middle East. The company was founded by Ayman Kandeel in Egypt "to fill the cultural gap created over the years by providing essentially Arab role models, in our case, Arab superheroes to become a source of pride to our young generations. Editor Marwan Nashar read Spider-man but "always wondered why there weren't any Arabs leaping off buildings."

But Arabic or Islamic pride is not a main concern of AK's heroes. AK wants to promote peace through understanding - understanding that different cultures are all human at heart. And the similarities stand out in their comics more than the differences. The street scenes and day to day lives could be from any city anywhere.

The cornerstone of the AK universe is the City of All Faiths. The superheroine Jalila is its protector. In her secret identity Jalila is a nuclear scientist. Aya, Princess of Darkness, is a law student in her real life and Zein, the Last Pharoah, is a philosophy professor. "The religious backgrounds of the heroes remain undisclosed so that no religion or faith can be perceived as better than another."

Respect for different faiths and strong women characters? That's not what we'd expect to appeal to the Arabic world! At least not the stereotyped Arabic world we are told about

A new Arabic superhero series appeared in the last few months from Teshkeel Comics: the 99 (pictured above). Dr Naif Al-Mutawa, psychologist and children's book author, created the heroes, each of whom represents one of the 99 attributes of Allah. But again the stories are not about Islam. 99 gems containing ancient wisdom were lost around the world, and the people who find them are gifted with super powers. People of all kinds from all over the planet.

Virgin Comics features writers and artists from India, and works ancient Eastern mythologies into modern superhero myths like THE SADHU, DEVI and SNAKEWOMAN, and comics that tell the Indian myths directly, their India Authenic series. Devi can be read online at http://www.virgincomics.com/devi.html

There are too many misunderstandings between Western and Middle Eastern cultures. Some are born of ignorance, some created deliberately (*cough* weaponsofmassdestruction *cough*). Take the word Jihad. Its primary meaning in the Qur’ān is the inner struggle against a person's own demons; wars to defend the faith are dismissed as the Lesser Jihad.

We fear what we don't understand. A wise little old green man once said that fear leads to hate.

Shared stories that lead to understanding can, literally, save the world. And that's supposed to the job of our superheroes in the first place!

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Summerlands and Beyond

"Behind the walls of the Pélori the Valar estab- lished their domain in that region which is called Valinor; and there were their houses, their gardens, and their towers. In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things that were saved from the ruin; and many others yet fairer they made anew, and Valinor became more beautiful even than Middle-Earth in the Spring of Arda and it was blessed, for the Deathless dwelt there, and there naught faded nor withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived; for the very stones and waters were hallowed." ~JRR Tolkien, THE SILMARILLION

"May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out." ~Galadriel

"I look forward to the day when your people join us beyond the rim. We will wait for you. ” ~ Lorien, BABYLON 5

"There is no conclusive evidence of life after death. But there is no evidence of any sort against it. Soon enough you will know. So why fret about it?" ~ Robert A Heinlein, THE NOTEBOOKS OF LAZARUS LONG

"Since life and death are each other's companions, why worry about them? All beings are one." (Chuang-Tzu)

A friend of mine passed last week. He was a young man, bright and intelligent, working for his Masters in Literature. We called him the God of Computers, because he could tell us how to solve any computer problem. During his recent hospital stay, he fixed the nurses' computers in exchange for Kit Kat bars. We used to gather to watch STARGATE on Friday nights. Since I lost my car, I wasn't able to visit him as much as I'd like to. I will miss him.

The Egyptians were about the first to have a complex afterlife system. Reaching the paradisal Fields of Aaru was quite a task: you had to be mummified, weighed against a feather of the goddess Ma'at, and pass a long journey to gates guarded by demons. The Norse had Valhalla, where warriors fight and hack each other to bits eternally, restored in time for the evening feasts. The Aztec paradise was also for warriors, and people who died of old age or disease went to dark Mictlan or the brighter Tlalocan. To the Greeks the Underworld was a land where souls lived as bodiless shades. The Celts had the Summerlands, a place of eternal peace and beauty where everyone except really bad souls lived and only certain great heroes ever returned to the Earth. Judaism named the underworld Sheol, a part of which was Gehenna, a place of fire that purified souls and destroyed evil.

Jesus talked in parables using the Jewish myth-system as a metaphor for spiritual anguish and cleansing, but he was taken literally, and Hell became an eternal torment - a horrible thing to ascribe to a loving God.

In Eastern religions there are several hells, also seen as places of atonement for bad karma. Karma is also worked off in reincarnations. Eastern beliefs, though, are more concerned with enlightment than places of rest or punishment. Samsara, the cycle of life, called in Vedanta "the state of becoming," is a path of learning that leads to moksha, "freedom from limitations."

Modern pagan systems like Wicca have melded the Celtic afterlife with reincarnation, viewing the Summerlands as a place of rest and reflection between lifetimes.

In THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Valinor is very like the Summerlands. It is reserved for the immortal Elves and can only be reached from the Grey Havens by the Straight Road. Frodo and his fellows are given special dispensation to live there after their adventures.

Most modern popular myths use traditional versions of the afterlife, but there are some new ideas.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, before Tarzan, wrote UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS. His hero John Carter basically dies on Earth and is transported bodily to Mars. Barsoom (the Martian name for their planet) was unlike anything NASA found, with dry sea bottoms under two moons, swordsmen, four-armed green warriors, airships and princesses. ERB meant it as fantasy, and he never said directly that Carter had died, but it did bring up the idea of being reborn on other worlds.

Michael Moorcock took this a quantum leap forward. His Eternal Champion exists in many dimensions of the "Multiverse." Elric of Melniboné, Dorian Hawkmoon, Corum Jhaelin Irsei, Jerry Cornelius, Erekosé and many more are all facets of one being. In such a system the death of one incarnation would not mean the end of the person.

My Christian Science chaplain once described death by saying that, while you seem dead to the rest of the world, to you nothing has changed; you just go on living. That suggests not only the Taoist belief that life and death are merely two aspects of one being, Yin and Yang, but also concepts from quantum physics like Schroedinger's Cat, where the cat is both dead and alive until observed. More on that in later blogs.

All I know is that if there is a Summerlands or a Valhalla, their computers are working now!