Shamanism, myth and metaphor – and Wolverine

From this piece on the popular funny book character as shamanic figure:

Myths, rituals and religion bind us together and can be seen metaphorically as the bones of our society. Our personal belief and value system can be seen as our soul’s set of bones. As we grow up we take on the beliefs and values of the people around us. There comes a point for some of us where we start to doubt the absolute truth of the claims of our culture. We question and question and lose all belief. We are left dismembered and torn apart.

Our symbolic bones are brittle and fragile to begin with because we see them as being literally and absolutely true. For example, when the claim that the moon is a goddess is understood literally, it is smashed to pieces when we land on the moon. Stories and symbols address psychological needs and these change over time. In order to stay relevant and useful the stories and symbols we hold dear must also change. The literal and absolute perspective can not accommodate change and so is weak and fragile.

A man with unbreakable bones has a belief system that is fluid and adaptive to his life. He chooses from the stories and symbols around him and defines himself through them. He dances to the beat of his own drum. He is protected from the manipulation of others by his conscious recognition of the power of symbol and story. The transition from a literal to metaphorical perspective requires the complete dissolution of everything that we previously held to be true. When the process is completed the core of our being is left free from doubt and insecurity.

Well said, bub.
(And don’t get me started on the shamanic arc of Hugh Jackman’s career… let’s just say, go see a double bill of The Prestige and The Fountain and see how that does ya.)

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Quote of the day

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
John Rogers

(There will be a return to actual long-form posts soon, now that the News Felch – and attendant playing with shiny new kit aspect – is set up. Some posts need to ferment more… but they are on the way.)

What the hell is a News Felch?

Well, its a way for me to throw small but interesting news items up on a daily basis. It works using Twitter and – with a little help from Tinyurl.

It was inspired by the (now possibly moribund) Newskrusher threads at Whitechapel, and my old pal Dave Devereux‘s embracing of the whole Web 2.0 thingy. The term News Felch comes from Chris Morris’s classic news parody The Day Today.

And… DO NOT click this link unless you really want to know what felching means.

Each News Felch will appear around 11pm UK time. I hope you enjoy them.

Inevitable Watchman post

Need I emphasise, here be spoilers?

I enjoyed it. And I didn’t miss the squid.

It could have be so much worse. Whatever you say about Zack Snyder not being a great director  – and frankly, he really isn’t – his sheer love for every frame of the book overcame his shortcomings.

Malin Ackerman didn’t suck anywhere as much as rumoured (after all, Juspeczyk isn’t exactly the deepest of characters in the first place). Though Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian was good, he wasn’t quite the powerhouse I’d hoped for. Jackie Earl Haley’s Rorschach was, however… truly splendid work, and if there was any justice he’d be a shoo-in for next Best Supporting Actor Oscar. (Well, maybe if he dies, he’d get it. Too soon? Tough.) Also big points for Patrick Wilson in the thankless role of Dan – subtly handled, and the transform from pudgy dude to combat machine worked for me. (One criticism that I sort of agreed with is that all the heroes seem to be super-powered – able to kick through walls, snap arms with a light punch etc – which kind of reduces the impact of Veidt’s bullet-catching act. But the fights sure were pretty.) It was also great to see old-time SF veterans like Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Rob LaBelle and (briefly) Alessandro Juliani turn up. (And Apollonia Vanova, who played Sillhouette, was the loveliest woman in the movie. Which is saying a lot.)

Some of the make-up and FX were a little slack, but overall the impression was good. Doctor Manhattan’s Big Blue Cock wasn’t that distracting (though there’s probably a paper to be written on the semiotics of him being circumcised…).

Yes, using Happy Uncle Len for the sex scene was a dumb idea. The use of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ in the background was crass – and though enjoyable, using Philip Glass as the music for building a ship made of, er, glass, lacked subtlety. And I missed hearing Elvis Costello’s ‘Comedians’ and really didn’t need All Along the Watchtower (unless of course Veidt is the Last Cylon…) The actual score (as opposed to the plundering of the music archive) was well-done.

After checking with IMDB I found my suspicion that one of Veidt’s TV screens was showing (among other favourites as Mad Max 2, Rambo 2 and Generic Lesbian Sex Scene no.5) Altered States was correct… nice touch!

Also I found after reading a couple of interviews with the screenwriters, it seems Alan Moore (described memorably as ‘the Dumbledore of comics’ by Daily Grail recently!) actually saw and (whisper it) approved of an early draft. (Just wondering – if Alan’s the Dumbledore of comics, what does that make Grant Morrison? Snape?)

Another criticism I agree with is that the overall sense of menace and sheer insanity of the Cold War mentality wasn’t really brought across. It was portrayed, but felt flat – and I’m a cold war kid, so I can’t imagine what you young whippper-snappers who were born afterwards thought. (For the record, using ’99 Luftballoon’ in the soundtrack as ironic counterpoint doesn’t fucking count, m’kay?)

That ending… worked. Let’s be honest, Moore’s not great at endings, especially in his earlier books. The solution they came up with for the resolution made sense, took much less set-up than the squid and had about the same punch. (Interesting to note the strategic use of images of the World Trade Centre throughout – especially at the end, overlooking the New York rebuild.)

Needless to say, I am looking forward to watching the Director’s Cut, with Black Freighter put in etc – partly ‘cos my son (who just read Watchman and is a bit of a purist, like many recent converts) is waiting for the long version.

God on the brain

What would otherwise have been a merely interesting article on neurotheology from Wired becomes a whole other thing when you add commentary from Bruce Sterling… Bruce’s bits in (((triple parentheses))):

“In a way, this is a very cold look at religious belief,” said National Institutes of Health cognitive scientist Jordan Grafman, co-author of a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We’re only trying to understand where in the brain religious beliefs seem to be modulated.” (((Oh. Merely that? Gosh, no problem there, Dr. Darwin.)))

Though scientific debate about God’s existence has transfixed the public, Grafman’s findings fit into a lesser known argument over why religion exists. (((“The Atheism Gland.” Hoo boy, can’t wait to see the neutraceutical biz here. “Hey fundie. Smoke this reefer. God goes away.” And then evangelists return fire with, you know, consecrated wafers brimming over with fourteen-initial deoxyhydro-entheogenic something-or-other. The Civil Cold War moves onto its final battlefield, the prefrontal cortex.)))

Some scientists think it’s just an accidental byproduct of social cognition. They say humans evolved to imagine what other people are feeling, even people who aren’t present — and from there it was a short step to positing supernatural beings. (((Cut to the chase, boys. Chimps are religious. Now go prove that.)))

(((Saint Francis said that BIRDS were religious. Go put the little scanner on their peanut parrot brains — they flock, they’re highly sociable, so maybe birds are MUCH MORE RELIGIOUS THAN PEOPLE. As noted spiritual enthusiast William Blake used to put it: “How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?”)))


Upgrades/new stuff continue.

Since there appear to be no free WordPress apps for Mac OS X (while there are three different ones for my phone – go figure), I am experimenting with the Flock browser – a Mozilla ‘social’ browsing solution thingy. So far, it’s imported all my RSS feeds, linked to my Facebook and – hopefully – posted this update with nary a qualm. It also, as the saying goes, feels snappier.
Further study is indicated.

What she said

Lupa’s latest post on her Therioshamanism blog underlines something I think is vital to remember about shamanic, magical and religious experience – that it’s subjective.

All I can really say for sure is that my subjective reality is real to me, and that it is necessarily filtered through my subjective perceptions. I would wager that a good part of the reason that other practitioners experience things so differently in a lot of ways is because their perceptions–if not their experiences in their entirety–are also subjective. I would also add that it’s very likely that as my expectations about the world, conscious and otherwise, shape my experiences, that it’s also likely that others’ experiences are shaped by their own conscious and unconscious expectations. If you expect that shamanism is like in anthropological accounts where it’s a highly violent, dangerous thing, then that raises the chances that your shamanic experiences are going to be violent and dangerous. Likewise, if you expect that journeying is safer than dreaming, then you’re more likely to have safer experiences.

I can clearly see where my own expectations about reality, and spirituality, and related concepts, resemble my experiences as a shaman. And I can see where my perceptions also shape these experiences. Therefore, at this point I’m going to maintain that while it’s not impossible that there’s an objective spiritual reality, I strongly believe that spirituality is heavily subjective regardless of the existence (or not) of objectivity.