Supposedly before C.S. Lewis’s Conversion he told his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien that he considered the Christian story to be “a fairy tale.” Tolkien’s response was to ask him if there was a fairy story he would rather was true. This supposedly stopped C.S. Lewis.
It’s become my opinion that there at least two “fairy tales” I would rather were true, although I don’t believe any of them are.
The one about a Mad Man with a Box that travels through Space and Time.
Or the one about the Last Son of a destroyed world who fights the neverending battle for Truth and Justice.
I could talk about the beauty of the Bodhisattva ideal as contrasted with the idea of Son of God, but I think in many ways the ideas of savior figures that most appeal to me end up being the man with the blue box, and the man of tomorrow.
There’s no real greater meaning to this post, just what’s on my mind.
So I am for some of my research, annotating a bibliography on “shamanism.” One of the articles I have to share my annotation with you guys.
Winkelman, Michael James. “Shamans and Other “Magico-Religious” Healers: A Cross-Cultural Study of their Origins, Nature, and Social Transformations.” Ethos 18, no. 3 (Sep., 1990): pp. 308-352.
This is a study of “magico-religious” healers of various sorts, based on ethnographic study over a very broad selection of cultures. The author concludes that shamanism is the original form of ritual specialist, which is an “ecological adaptation in hunting and gathering societies to universal, biologically based, trance-state potentials and associated abilities of healing and divination” (349) and that other forms of professionals develop from this original as a response to changes in societal structure. Common characterizes within and between the different identified groups are examined.
Strength: While it did not perhaps lead to fruitful analysis in this case, and must be engaged in with caution, detailed empirical comparative methods have a valuable place in the study of religion.
Weakness: The most glaring weakness in this article is that it takes, as proven, certain conceptions of the mind that are not well accepted within the sciences. Specifically, it assumes that extra sensory perception and psychokenisis are a well-documented phenomena. While not all the article’s conclusions rest on that point, it does make the whole piece seem more dubious. In addition, the conclusion strongly resembles early twentieth century accounts of the origin and development of religion, strongly suggesting that preconceived notions colored the analysis of the empirical data.
So yeah. Those are my opinions on this article.
So today, I thought I’d take a break from comic book or RPG geekery to talk about something way more obscure that comes up in some of my academic research.
One concern in Early Medieval China is the idea that disease and death could be caused by Sepulchral Plaint. That is by lawsuits from beyond the grave! In Chinese thought of this period the dead were involved in many of the same activities as the living. These activities included bringing legal suit against their peers. So someone’s dead Uncle would sue your dead relatives because he had been wronged by them.
How did this effect the living? Well you see the courts of the Underworld would be interested in summoning living relatives of the defendant as part of the suit, so they would grow ill and eventially die to be summoned before the court. This is not something you would want to happen, as it would be a one-way trip.
So what is someone affected by these spectral suits to do? Hire his own lawyer (In this case a Daoist priest). Such a practitioner would typicaly launch a counter suit, and use a combination of legal procedures, and if necessary call on his otherworldy soldiers to take charge of the situation. In practical terms this means the use of registers, talismans, chanting and so forth, and further in at least one case I’ve read of (In Bokenkamo’s Ancestors and Anxiety) the priest provided an appearance of the various deceased people (bandaged) who were the postmoerem figures in the story. It should be nited that in a region like China, with a long tradition of people becoming various spirits ritually, that was not an example of Scooby-Doo tactics in action.
I bring this up, because it’s one of the things in Chinese pre-Modern religion that catches my imagination. I’ve never been sure, quite why. Although surely part of me does on the basis of desiring a Chnese postmortem legal drama. That would be spectacular.
So a persistent bugaboo on RPG discussion is that people want magic that feels “magical.” When pressed on what this means they tend to clarify that they mean magic that isn’t predictable or “rational.” As someone who studies religion and the closely related category of “magic” academically this has strikes me as profoundly strange. When we look at people who actually practice “magic” of various kinds, we find that they have lots of logic and rationale. (as an aside when I talk about real magic I mean the practices and beliefs of people who believe that their magical actions have a tangible effect on the world. Acknowledging the reality of the practices is not an acceptance of the claimed results.)
Now where RPG and fictional magic does tend to fall down a little bit being like real magic is that RPG magic tends to be very impersonal affair, whereas real world magic is very often all about personalities. Spirits, gods, ghosts, and demons abound.
I suppose that highly mysterious, unpredictable magic does, sort of, fit fairy tales and certain other branches of fiction. Of course, what the people who want unpredictable magic seem to fail to comprehend is that the predictability and logic is what makes magic something worthwhile for players to use. It is okay to have games where the PCs aren’t magic users at all (Pendragon being the classic example). But I feel it’s important to point out that there’s a lot of magic in systems with lots of internal logic.
I could, and probably will in future leaps, go into much more detail about what magic is like in real-world pre-modern magical belief. But this quick note is enough for today.
Of course if when you say “Christian” you mean “Dominionist” then “Christians” are a small numerical minority, though not a persecuted one.
Given the speed at which some of these people are interested in dismissing people as “real Christians” there may e something to this.
A new Christian movement that seeks to take dominion over politics, business and culture in preparation for the end times and Jesus’s return, is becoming more of a presence in American politics. On today’s Fresh Air, Rachel Tabachnick, who researches the religious right, explains its beliefs and influences. (via nprfreshair)
I don’t have time for a long post here, but I am reading Mauss’s General Theory of Magic in addition to the theoretical readings for my Magic and the Supernatural in Asia class. It’s really interesting to see how Mauss breaks away from earlier secular scholarship of magic (read Frazer) while ending up recapitulating earlier ideas.
Mauss, as a sociologist rejects the idea that magic is this non-functional “failed science.” Magic has to be doing something for people, or they would stop doing it. Instead he ends up seeing magic as about appropriating the social “power” that religion (the inverse to magic for Mauss) makes available to the community for the magician (and client) alone.
This is not entirely dissimilar to of course older Judeo-Christian ideas of magic. While the orthodox Christian idea of magic makes the sources of Magic and the religious opposites (demons and God respectively) part of the reason this can supposedly be seen is by the selfish and hidden (occult) nature of magic and the communal nature of true religion.
So those are my brief thoughts. Another leap coming soon!
Retired Episcopal Bishop Walter C. Righter, an early defender of gay rights in the church who was accused of heresy when he ordained a gay deacon in 1990, has died. Righter died Sunday at his home in Export, a Pittsburgh suburb, after a long illness, his widow, Nancy, said Monday. He was 87.
The head of the Episcopal Church described Righter as “a faithful and prophetic servant.”
“His ministry will be remembered for his pastoral heart and his steadfast willingness to help the church move beyond old prejudices into new possibilities,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement.
A courageous man of faith died.
So one of the articles for my class on “Magic and the Supernatural” in Asia for this week argues that dharani which are phrases that usually are not intelligable in any language that are attributed great power in Buddhist texts are so important to Mahayana Buddhism, because they have no referent.
According to the argument if they had clear meaning, they would mean one thing, that could be attacked with the sort of nondualistic contrary logic so favored by the Mahayana. But by not meaning anything they can become a symbol (but not a signifier) for the radical non-conceptualized universe of Mahayana philosophy, and therefore also become associated with the ability to accomplish both Soteriological and Worldly goals.
I’m not sure I buy the argument, but it’s super neat.
This is very good, because it lays out how clearly that people out the whole Spivin, “Can the Subaltern Speak thing.” It makes it very clear that this is about race in the French context, and that the French authorities are just as eager to control women’s bodies as those they claim to be defending against. Read this.