Beasts of Ephesus

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7 of History’s Most Infamous Curses

Posted by jase on July 25, 2009

1. James Dean and “Little Bastard”

On September 30, 1955, James Dean was killed when the silver Porsche 550 Spyder he called “Little Bastard” was struck by an oncoming vehicle. Within a year or so of Dean’s crash, the car was involved in two more fatal accidents and caused injury to at least six other people. After the accident, the car was purchased by hot-rod designer George Barris.

While getting a tune up, Little Bastard fell on the mechanic’s legs and crushed them. Barris later sold the engine and transmission to two doctors who raced cars. While racing against each other, one driver was killed, the other seriously injured. Someone else had purchased the tires, which blew simultaneously, sending the driver to the hospital.

Little Bastard was set to appear in a car show, but a fire broke out in the building the night before the show, destroying every car except Little Bastard, which survived without so much as a smudge. The car was then loaded onto a truck to go back to Salinas, California. The driver lost control en route, was thrown from the cab, and was crushed by the car when it fell off the trailer. In 1960, after being exhibited by the California Highway Patrol, Little Bastard disappeared and hasn’t been seen since.

2. The Curse of Tutankhamen’s Tomb

In 1922, English explorer Howard Carter, leading an expedition funded by George Herbert, Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, discovered the ancient Egyptian king’s tomb and the riches inside. After opening the tomb, however, strange and unpleasant events began to take place in the lives of those involved in the expedition.

Lord Carnarvon’s story is the most bizarre. The adventurer apparently died from pneumonia and blood poisoning following complications from a mosquito bite. Allegedly, at the exact moment Carnarvon passed away in Cairo, all the lights in the
city mysteriously went out. Carnarvon’s dog dropped dead that morning, too. Some point to the foreboding inscription, “Death comes on wings to he who enters the tomb of a pharaoh” as proof that King Tut put a curse on anyone who disturbed his final resting place.

3. “The Club”

If you’re a rock star and you’re about to turn 27, you might want to consider taking a year off to avoid membership in “The Club.” Robert Johnson, an African-American musician, who Eric Clapton called “the most important blues musician who ever lived,” played the guitar so well that some said he must have made a deal with the devil. So when he died at 27, folks said it must have been time to pay up.

Since Johnson, a host of musical geniuses have gone to an early grave at age 27. Brian Jones, founding member of the Rolling Stones, died at age 27 in 1969. Then it was both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in 1970 and Jim Morrison the following year. Kurt Cobain joined “The Club” in 1994. All 27 years old. Coincidence? Or were these musical geniuses paying debts, too?

4. “Da Billy Goat” Curse

In 1945, William “Billy Goat” Sianis brought his pet goat, Murphy, to Wrigley Field to see the fourth game of the 1945 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. Sianis and his goat were later ejected from the game, and Sianis reportedly put a curse on the team that day. Ever since, the Cubs have had legendarily bad luck.

Over the years, Cubs fans have experienced agony in repeated late-season collapses when victory seemed imminent. In 1969, 1984, 1989, and 2003, the Cubs were painfully close to advancing to the World Series but couldn’t hold the lead. Even those who don’t consider themselves Cubs fans blame the hex for the weird and almost comical losses year after year. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 — no other team in the history of the game has gone as long without a championship.

5. Rasputin and the Romanovs

Rasputin, the self-proclaimed magician and cult leader, wormed his way into the palace of the Romanovs, Russia’s ruling family, around the turn of the last century. After getting a little too big for his britches, a few of the Romanovs allegedly decided to have him killed. But he was exceptionally resilient.

Reportedly it took poison, falling down a staircase, and repeated gunshots before Rasputin was finally dead. It’s said that Rasputin mumbled a curse from his deathbed, assuring Russia’s ruling monarchs that they would all be dead within a year. That did come to pass, as the Romanov family was brutally murdered in a mass execution less than a year later.

6. Tecumseh and the American Presidents

The curse of Tippecanoe, or “Tecumseh’s Curse,” is a widely held explanation of the fact that from 1840 to 1960, every U.S. president elected (or reelected) every twentieth year has died in office. Popular belief is that Tecumseh administered the curse when William Henry Harrison’s troops defeated the Native American leader and his forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Check it out:

  • William Henry Harrison was elected president in 1840. He caught a cold during his inauguration, which quickly turned into pneumonia. He died April 4, 1841, after only one month in office.
  • Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 and reelected four years later. Lincoln was assassinated and died April 15, 1865.
  • James Garfield was elected president in 1880. Charles Guiteau shot him in July 1881. Garfield died several months later, from complications following the gunshot wound.
  • William McKinley was elected president in 1896 and reelected in 1900. On September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz, who considered the president an “enemy of the people.” McKinley died eight days later.
  • Three years after Warren G. Harding was elected president in 1920, he died suddenly of either a heart attack or stroke while traveling in San Francisco.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932 and reelected in 1936, 1940, and 1944. His health wasn’t great, but he died rather suddenly in 1945, of a cerebral hemorrhage or stroke.
  • John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960 and assassinated in Dallas three years later.
  • Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, and though he was shot by an assassin in 1981, he did survive. Some say this broke the curse, which should make George W. Bush happy. At the time of this writing, Bush, who was elected in 2000, is serving his second term in office.

7. The Curse of the Kennedy Family

Okay, so maybe if this family had stayed out of politics and off airplanes, their fate might be different. Regardless, the number of Kennedy family tragedies have led some to believe there must be a curse on the whole bunch. You decide:

  • JFK’s brother Joseph, Jr., and sister Kathleen both died in separate plane crashes in 1944 and 1948, respectively.
  • JFK’s other sister, Rosemary, was institutionalized in a mental hospital for years.
  • John F. Kennedy himself, America’s 35th president, was assassinated in 1963 at age 46.
  • Robert Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother, was assassinated in 1968.
  • Senator Ted Kennedy, JFK’s youngest brother, survived a plane crash in 1964. In 1969, he was driving a car that went off a bridge, causing the death of his companion, Mary Jo Kopechne. His presidential goals were pretty much squashed after that.
  • In 1984, Robert Kennedy’s son David died of a drug overdose. Another son, Michael, died in a skiing accident in 1997.
  • In 1999, JFK, Jr., his wife, and his sister-in-law died when the small plane he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

Source: How Stuff Works

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Posted in Culture, Curses, Historic Events, Historic Figures, History, Native American, Society | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

10 Years Away From Artificial Human Brain?

Posted by jase on July 25, 2009

“It’s a new brain. The mammals needed it because they had to cope with parenthood, social interactions, complex cognitive functions. It was so successful an evolution from mouse to man it expanded about a thousand fold in terms of the numbers of units to produce this almost frightening organ. It is evolving at an enormous speed.”

Henry Markram, Director, Project Blue Brain. 

Excellent news for fans of computer technology, neuroscience, and people who think that humans telling the machines what to do is totally backwards.  Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, says we are ten years away from a functional artificial human brain. The Blue Brain project was launched in 2005 and aims to reverse engineer the mammalian brain from laboratory data.

We reported on the attempts of the Swiss Mind Brain Institute to simulate the neocortical column of the rat last year using an IBM Blue Gene machine with 10,000 processors, and they’ve announced success of the first phase of their project.

“We cannot keep on doing animal experiments forever,” Markram told the audience at the TED Global Conference at Oxford, England. “There are two billion people on the planet affected by mental disorder,” he told the audience. The project may give insights into new treatments.”

They’ve successfully simulated the neocortical column of a rat – only a fraction of a full brain, but they proved that you don’t get to do world-shattering research when you settle for second-best by choosing one of the most complicated and vital pieces of any mammalian cortex.

They also proved that even world-class scientists still have to compete for funding, following up this amazing achievement with bold claims that the same process could simulate an entire rat brain within three years, and a human brain within ten.  Obviously a team that sat down one day and said “We’re going to build a mind from scratch using better parts than nature did” is ambitious, but projecting an upgrade to human consciousness  from a 2 mm chunk of grey matter designed purely to think “eat garbage” and “carry Plague” within ten years?  That’s enough to make Alexander the Great wave his hands and say “Hang on guys, aren’t you setting your sights a little high?”

To anyone who’s worked in science the reasons for these assertions are obvious: attention and funding.  And it’s a travesty that they have to do so – they’ve achieved one of the most incredible advances in the last decade of neuroscience and the idea that they have to make that sound even cooler is insane: it’s like inventing a perpetual motion machine and having to offer it in designer colours to get people interested.  Assuming they continue to get support for this little “One of the Greatest Achievements ever to be conceived of by Man” project, it will raise a number of critical questions:

1.  Are we going to need a court order to reboot this thing?

Considering that most scientists don’t subscribe to the “magic invisible soul dust” theory of what creates human consciousness, a simulation that recreates the activity of a human brain may produce ethical concerns.  Technically a computer that recreates a rat brain would raise similar issues but, as you’re about to see, these guys don’t have any sympathy for rats.

2.  How do they plan to get a human model?

The existing rat neocortical model is based on a huge amount of data from real working rat brains – or at least, brains that were working until the scientists got a hold of them.  Where the team ran into gaps in the existing data they cracked open rat skulls, extracted the brains, sliced them into wafers while keeping them alive and recorded their responses.  It isn’t known whether they cackled maniacally while screaming “They said we were fools, but we’ll show them, we’ll show them ALL!” during this procedure, because  anybody who can slice a brain into strips while keeping it alive isn’t someone you want to annoy with questions.

Suffice to say when one third of your research staff are on the “Knifing things in the head” payroll:

a) You’re already two steps into a horror movie script
b) You aren’t just assuming there are no such thing as ghosts, you’re betting the survival of everyone in the building on the fact
c) This is NOT a method that can be scaled up to humans without a rogue agent with nothing to lose being sent to kill you in a highly ironic manner.

3.  Can we make improvements?

Those involved in the project sing its praises in work to understand the human brain, but it’s only a matter of time until somebody thinks about making improvements – minus an hour at most, actually, because that’s the first thing I thought of when I read about it. 

With the ability to simulate the effects of rewiring, drugs or external electric fields at an individual neuron level we can investigate enhancements (such as new senses, new cognitive modes or neuroelectric interfaces) without all the inconvenient “human rights violations” and “Crimes against humanity” such research normally entails.  We could improve our own minds – and since we’ll have just invented a silicon model operating at computer speeds in a bulletproof shell, we’ll have to.

Source: Daily Galaxy

Posted in Biology, Science | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Profile: Quanah Parker

Posted by jase on July 19, 2009

Quanah Parker (c. late 1840s – February 23, 1911) was a Native American Indian leader, the son of Comanche chief Peta Nocona and European American woman Cynthia Ann Parker, and the last chief of the Quahadi Comanche Indians.

Quanah Parker’s mother, Cynthia Ann Parker {b.ca 1827}, was a member of the large Parker frontier family that settled in east Texas in the 1830s. She was captured in 1836 by Comanches during the raid of Fort Parker near present-day Groesbeck, Texas. She was given the Indian name Nadua (“Someone Found”), and adopted into the Nocona band of Comanches. Cynthia Ann eventually married the Comanche warrior Noconie, (aka Tah-con-ne-ah-pe-ah) (called Peta Nocona by the whites), who was a Mexican captive. Quanah was her firstborn son. She also had another son, Pecos (“Pecan”) and a daughter, Topsana (“Prairie Flower)” In 1860, Cynthia Ann Parker was recaptured in the battle of Pease River by Texas Rangers under Lawrence Sullivan Ross. Peta Nocona, Quanah, and most of the other men were out hunting when Ross’ men attacked. Returning to find the aftermath, they found it difficult to get any information as only a few people were still alive. Meanwhile, Cynthia Ann was reunited with her white family, but years with the Comanches had made her a different person. She frequently demanded to return to her husband, but was never permitted to do so. After Topsana died of an illness in 1863, Cynthia Ann starved herself to death in 1870.

In October, 1867, Quanah was among the Comanche chiefs at Medicine Lodge. Though he did not give a speech – his place was as an observer – he did make a statement about not signing the Medicine Lodge Treaty. His band remained free while other Comanches signed.

In the early 1870s, the plains Indians were losing the battle for their land. Following the capture of the Kiowa chiefs Satank, Adoeet (Big Tree), and Satanta, the Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne tribes joined forces in several battles. Colonel Ranald Mackenzie was sent to eradicate all remaining Indians who had not settled on reservations.

In 1874, while in the Texas panhandle, a Comanche prophet named Isatai summoned the tribes to Second Battle of Adobe Walls, where several buffalo hunters were active. With Kiowa Chief Big Bow, Quanah was in charge of one group of warriors. The incident was his closest brush with death; he was shot twice.

With their food source depleted, and under constant pressure from the army, the Quahadi Comanches finally surrendered and in 1875 moved to a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma. His home in Cache, Oklahoma was called the Star House. Parker’s was the last tribe of the Staked Plains or Llano Estacado to come to the reservation. Quanah was named chief over all the Comanches on the reservation, and proved to be a forceful, resourceful and able leader. Through wise investments, he became perhaps the wealthiest American Indian of his day in the United States. Quanah embraced much of white culture, and was well respected by the whites. He went on hunting trips with President Theodore Roosevelt. Nevertheless, he rejected both monogamy and traditional Protestant Christianity in favor of the Native American Church Movement. He had five wives and twenty five children and founded the Native American Church. One of his sons, White Parker, later became a Methodist minister.

Author Bill Neeley writes:

“Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution,but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence.”

Quanah died on February 23, 1911. He is buried at the Fort Sill Cemetery, beside his mother and sister. The inscription on his tombstone reads:

Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness
Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Born 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911 Quanah Parker is credited as one of the first big leaders of the Native American Church Movement. Parker adopted the peyote religion after being gored in southern Texas by a bull. Parker was visiting his mother’s brother, John Parker, in Texas where he was attacked, giving him severe wounds. To fight an onset of blood burning fever, a Mexican curandera was summoned and she prepared a strong peyote tea from fresh peyote to heal him. It was from this incident on that Quanah Parker became involved with peyote . Peyote is reported to contain hordenine and tyramine, phenylethylamine alkaloids which act as potent natural antibiotics when taken in a combined form.

Parker taught that the sacred peyote medicine was the sacrament given to the Indian Peoples , and was to be used with water when taking communion in a traditional Native American Church medicine ceremony. Parker was a proponent of the “half-moon” style of the peyote ceremony. The “cross” ceremony later evolved in Oklahoma due to Caddo influences introduced by John Wilson, a Caddo-Delaware Indian who traveled extensively around the same time as Parker during the early days of the Native American Church movement. The Native American Church was the first truly “American” religion based on Christianity outside of the Latter Day Saints.

Parker’s most famous teaching regarding the Spirituality of the Native American Church:

The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus.

The modern reservation era in Native American History began with the universal adoption of the Native American Church and Christianity by virtually every Native American Tribe and Culture within North American and Canada as a result of Parker and Wilson’s efforts. The Peyote religion and the Native American Church, however, was never the traditional religious practice of North American Indian Cultures. This religion was driven by Parker’s leadership and was driven by influences from Mexico and other Southern Tribes who have used peyote since ancient times. Under Parker’s leadership, peyote became an important item of trade, and this, combined with his Church movement and political and financial contacts, garnered Parker enormous wealth during his lifetime.

Criticism

Although praised by many in his tribe as a preserver of their culture, Quanah had critics within the Comanche community. Many claimed that he “sold out to the white man” with his rancher persona in later life, dressing and living in a more American than Comanche style. Quanah did adopt more white ways than most other Comanche of his time, but he always wore his hair long and in braids. He also refused to follow white American marriage customs, which would have required him to cast aside four of his five wives.

Another point of controversy among the Comanche was that Quanah was never elected chief of the entire tribe by the people themselves. Traditionally, the Comanche had no single chief. The various bands of the Comanche had their own chiefs, with no single figure standing for the entire people. But that, as many other things, changed with the reservation times.

Family

Quanah’s grandfather was the Chief Iron Jacket, famous among the Comanches as a powerful chief who wore a Spanish coat of mail and was said to have the power to blow bullets away with his breath.

Quanah’s first wife was Weakeah, daughter of Comanche chief Yellow Bear. Originally, she was espoused to another warrior. Quanah and Weakeah eloped, and took several other warriors with them. It was from this small group that the large Quahadi band would form. Yellow Bear pursued the band and eventually Quanah made peace with him, and the two bands united, forming the largest force of Comanche Indians.

Over the years, Quanah accumulated four more wives. He had twenty-five children. Many north Texans and south Oklahomans claim descent from Quanah. It had been said that more Comanches are related to Quanah than any other chief. One grandson became Comanche chairman, the modern “Chief” of the tribe.

After moving to the reservation, Quanah first got in touch with his white relatives. He stayed for a few weeks with them, where he studied English and western culture, and learned white farming techniques.

In his later years, Quanah carried on a correspondence by letter with Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight. Though Goodnight was illiterate, he dictated the letters to his wife, who in turn sent them to Quanah.

Posted in Culture, Historic Figures, History, Men, Native American, Profiles | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Get to Know: Wicca

Posted by jase on July 18, 2009

Wicca (pronounced [ˈwɪkə]) is a neopagan, nature-based religion. It was popularised in 1954 by Gerald Gardner, a retired British civil servant, who at the time called it a “Witch cult” and “Witchcraft”, and its adherents “the Wica”.

Wiccans, as followers of Wicca are now commonly known, typically worship a God (traditionally the Horned God) and a Goddess (traditionally the Triple Goddess), who are sometimes represented as being a part of a greater pantheistic Godhead, and as manifesting themselves as various polytheistic deities. Other characteristics of Wicca include the ritual use of magic, a basic code of morality, and the celebration of eight seasonal-based festivals.

There is dispute as to what actually constitutes Wicca. Initially, this spelling may have referred to the lineage of one of Gardner’s rivals, Charles Cardell, although from the 1960s it referred only to lineages stemming from Gardner and operating as initiatory Mystery Priesthoods (such as Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca). These are now collectively known in North America as British Traditional Wicca. A third usage, which has grown in popularity in recent years considers Wicca to include other forms of Goddess-oriented neopagan witchcraft that are similar to but independent of that lineage, including Dianic Wicca and the 1734 Tradition; these are sometimes collectively termed Eclectic Wicca.

For most Wiccans, Wicca is a duotheistic religion worshipping both a God and a Goddess, who are seen as complementary polarities (akin to the Taoist philosophy of yin and yang), and “embodiments of a life-force manifest in nature.” The God is sometimes symbolised as the Sun, and the Goddess as the Moon.

Traditionally the God is viewed as a Horned God, associated with nature, wilderness, sexuality and hunting. The Horned God is given various names according to the tradition, and these include Cernunnos, Pan, Atho and Karnayna. At other times the God is viewed as the Green Man, a traditional figure in art and architecture of Europe, or as a Sun God (particularly at the festival of Litha, or the summer solstice). Another depiction of the God is as the Oak King and the Holly King, one who rules over Spring and Summer, the other who rules over Autumn and Winter.

The Goddess is usually portayed as a Triple Goddess with aspects of ‘Maiden’, ‘Mother’ and ‘Crone’, though she is also commonly depicted as a Moon Goddess. Some Wiccans see the Goddess as pre-eminent, since she contains and conceives all; the God is the spark of life and inspiration within her, simultaneously her lover and her child. This is reflected in the traditional structure of the coven. In some traditions, notably feminist Dianic Wicca, the Goddess is seen as complete unto herself, and the God is not worshipped at all, though this has been criticised by members of other traditions. Secondarily, the God is also sometimes viewed in a triple form (possibly in a reflective religious homage to the triple Goddess, referencing their complementary polarity) that being the aspects of ‘Son’, ‘Father’ and ‘Sage’.

According to Gerald Gardner, the gods of Wicca are prehistoric gods of the British Isles: a Horned God and a Great Mother goddess. Modern scholarship has cast doubt on this claim, however various different horned gods and mother goddesses were worshipped in the British Isles in the ancient and early mediaeval period.

Beliefs in the afterlife vary among Wiccans, although reincarnation is a traditional Wiccan teaching. Raymond Buckland said that a soul reincarnates into the same species over many lives in order to learn and advance one’s soul, but this belief is not universal. A popular saying amongst Wiccans is “once a witch, always a witch”, indicating that Wiccans are the reincarnation of earlier witches.

Typically, Wiccans who believe in reincarnation believe that prior to this, the soul rests for a while in the Otherworld or Summerland, known in Gardner’s writings as the “ecstasy of the Goddess”. Many Wiccans believe in the ability to contact the spirits of the dead who reside in the Otherworld through spirit mediums and ouija boards, particularly on the sabbat of Samhain, though some disagree with this practice, such as High Priest Alex Sanders, who stated “they are dead; leave them in peace”. This belief was likely influenced by Spiritualism, which was very popular at the time, and which Gardner had had experience with.

Despite some belief in it, Wicca does not place an emphasis on the afterlife, focusing instead on the current one; as the historian Ronald Hutton remarked, “the instinctual position of most pagan witches, therefore, seems to be that if one makes the most of the present life, in all respects, then the next life is more or less certainly going to benefit from the process, and so one may as well concentrate on the present”.

Magick

Wiccans believe in magic that can be manipulated through the form of witchcraft or sorcery. Some spell it as “magick”, a term coined by occultist Aleister Crowley, though this spelling is more commonly associated with the religion of Thelema than Wicca. Many spell it this way to distinguish it from “false magic” such as a magician’s tricks.  Wiccans cast spells during ritual practices inside a sacred circle, in an attempt to bring about real changes (which are further explained in the “Ritual practices” section). Common Wiccan spells include those used for healing, for love, for fertility, or to banish negative influences.

Many Wiccans agree with the definition of magic offered by ceremonial magicians. Aleister Crowley, for instance, declared that magic was “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will”, and MacGregor Mathers stated that it was “the science of the control of the secret forces of nature”. Wiccans believe magic to be a law of nature, as yet misunderstood by contemporary science. Other Wiccans do not claim to know how magic works, merely believing that it does because they have seen it work for them.

Many early Wiccans, such as Alex Sanders and Doreen Valiente, referred to their own magic as “white magic”, which contrasted with “black magic”, which they associated with evil and Satanism. Some modern Wiccans however have stopped using this terminology, disagreeing that the colour black should have any associations with evil.

The scholars of religion, Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge, claimed, in 1985, that Wicca had “reacted to secularization by a headlong plunge back into magic” and that it was a reactionary religion which would soon die out. This view was heavily criticised in 1999 by the historian Ronald Hutton, who claimed that the evidence displayed the very opposite, that “a large number [of Wiccans] were in jobs at the cutting edge [of scientific culture], such as computer technology.”

Morality

Wiccan morality is largely based on the Wiccan Rede, which states “an it harm none, do what ye will”. This is usually interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act, along with the necessity of taking responsibility for what follows from one’s actions and minimising harm to oneself and others. Another common element of Wiccan morality is the Law of Threefold Return which holds that whatever benevolent or malevolent actions a person performs will return to that person with triple force, similar to the eastern idea of karma.

Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate a set of eight virtues mentioned in Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess, these being mirth, reverence, honour, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion. In Valiente’s poem, they are ordered in pairs of complementary opposites, reflecting a dualism that is common throughout Wiccan philosophy. Some lineaged Wiccans also observe a set of 161 Wiccan Laws, commonly called the Craft Laws or Ardanes. Valiente, one of Gardner’s original high priestesses, argued that these rules were most likely invented by Gerald Gardner himself in mock-archaic language as the by-product of inner conflict within his Bricket Wood coven.

Although Gerald Gardner initially demonstrated an aversion to homosexuality, claiming that it brought down “the curse of the goddess”, it is now generally accepted in all traditions of Wicca.

Wiccans believe in the five classical elements, although unlike in ancient Greece, they are seen as symbolic as opposed to literal; that is, they are representations of the phases of matter. These five elements are invoked during many magical rituals, notably when consecrating a magic circle. The five elements are: Air, Fire, Water and Earth, plus Aether (or Spirit), which unites the other four.  The five elements are symbolised by the five points of the pentagram, the most prominently used symbol of Wicca.

Symbols

Various different symbols are used by Wiccans, similar to the use of the crucifix by Christians or the Star of David by Jews. The most notable of these is the pentagram, which has five points, each representing one of the five classical elements in Wicca (earth, air, fire, water and spirit) and also the idea that the human, with its five appendages, is a microcosm of the universe. Other symbols that are used include the triquetra and the triple Moon symbol of the Triple Goddess.

Scripture

In Wicca there is no set sacred text such as the Christian Bible or Islamic Qur’an, but there are various texts that were contained in Gerald Gardner’s Book of Shadows. Many of these texts he claimed to have at least partially rewritten, since the rituals of the group into which he was initiated were fragmentary. The most notable among these is the Charge of the Goddess, which contained material from Charles Godfrey Leland’s Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches (1899) and the works of 19th-20th century occultist Aleister Crowley. Other texts which are important to Wiccan beliefs and rituals include Eko Eko Azarak and the Wiccan laws.

Rituals

When practising magic and casting spells, as well as when celebrating various festivals, Wiccans use a variety of rituals. In typical rites, the coven or solitary assembles inside a ritually cast and purified magic circle. Casting the circle may involve the invocation of the “Guardians” of the cardinal points, alongside their respective classical element; Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Once the circle is cast, a seasonal ritual may be performed, prayers to the God and Goddess are said, and spells are sometimes worked.

Common tools in the Wiccan practice include a special set of magical tools. These usually include a knife called an athame, a wand, a pentacle and a chalice, but other tools include a broomstick known as a besom, a cauldron, candles, incense and a curved blade known as a boline. An altar is usually present in the circle, on which ritual tools are placed and representations of the God and the Goddess may be displayed. Before entering the circle, some traditions fast for the day, and/or ritually bathe. After a ritual has finished, the God, Goddess and Guardians are thanked and the circle is closed.

A sensationalised aspect of Wicca, particularly in Gardnerian Wicca, is the traditional practice of working in the nude, also known as skyclad. This practice seemingly derives from a line in Aradia, Charles Leland’s supposed record of Italian witchcraft. Skyclad working is mostly the province of Initiatory Wiccans, who are outnumbered by the less strictly observant Eclectics. When they work clothed, Wiccans may wear robes with cords tied around the waist, “Renaissance-faire”-type clothing or normal street clothes. Each full moon, and in some cases a new moon, is marked with a ritual called an Esbat.

Wheel of the Year

Wiccans also follow the Wheel of the Year and celebrate its eight festivals known as Sabbats. Four of these, the cross-quarter days, are Greater Sabbats, coinciding with Celtic fire festivals, and these were initially the only four sabbats. The other four are known as Lesser Sabbats, and comprise of the solstices and the equinoxes, and were only adopted in 1958 by the Bricket Wood coven. The names of these holidays are often taken from Germanic pagan and Celtic polytheistic holidays. However, the festivals are not reconstructive in nature nor do they often resemble their historical counterparts, instead exhibiting a form of universalism. Ritual observations may display cultural influence from the holidays from which they take their name as well as influence from other unrelated cultures.

The eight sabbats, beginning with Samhain, which is thought to have been the Celtic new year:

  • Samhain – Greater Sabbat of the dead
  • Yule – Lesser Sabbat, the Winter solstice
  • Imbolc – Greater Sabbat
  • Ostara – Lesser Sabbat, the Spring equinox
  • Beltane or May Eve – Greater Sabbat
  • Midsummer, or Litha – Lesser Sabbat, the Summer solstice
  • Lughnasadh, or Lammas – Greater Sabbat of the Harvest
  • Mabon – Lesser Sabbat, the Autumn equinox

Gardner made use of the English names of these holidays: “The four great Sabbats are Candlemass [sic], May Eve, Lammas, and Halloween; the equinoxes and solstices are celebrated also.”

Book of Shadows

In Wicca a private journal or core religious text known as a Book of Shadows is kept by practitioners, similar to a grimoire used by magicians. In lineaged groups, such as Gardnerian Wicca, the Book’s contents are kept secret from anyone but the members of the lineage concerned (i.e., those initiating and initiated by a particular coven). However, several proposed versions of the Book have been published. Sections of these published versions, such as the “Wiccan Rede” and the “Charge of the Goddess”, as well as other published writings about Wicca, have been adopted by non-initiates, or eclectic Wiccans. For many eclectics, they create their own personal books, whose contents are often only known by themselves.

Covens and Solitary Wiccans

Lineaged Wicca is organised into covens of initiated priests and priestesses. Covens are autonomous, and are generally headed by a High Priest and a High Priestess working in partnership, being a couple who have each been through their first, second and third degrees of initiation. Occasionally the leaders of a coven are only second-degree initiates, in which case they come under the rule of the parent coven. Initiation and training of new priesthood is most often performed within a coven environment, but this is not a necessity, and a few initiated Wiccans are unaffiliated with any coven.

A commonly quoted Wiccan tradition holds that the ideal number of members for a coven is thirteen, though this is not held as a hard-and-fast rule. Indeed, many U.S. covens are far smaller, though the membership may be augmented by unaffiliated Wiccans at “open” rituals. When covens grow beyond their ideal number of members, they often split (or “hive”) into multiple covens, yet remain connected as a group. A grouping of multiple covens is known as a grove in many traditions.

Initiation into a coven is traditionally preceded by a waiting period of at least a year and a day. A course of study may be set during this period. In some covens a “dedication” ceremony may be performed during this period, some time before the initiation proper, allowing the person to attend certain rituals on a probationary basis. Some solitary Wiccans also choose to study for a year and a day before their self-dedication to the religion.

In contrast, Eclectic Wiccans are more often than not solitary practitioners. Some of these “solitaries” do, however, attend gatherings and other community events, but reserve their spiritual practices (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magical work, etc.) for when they are alone. Eclectic Wiccans now significantly outnumber lineaged Wiccans, and their beliefs and practices tend to be much more varied.

In the United States, a number of legal decisions have improved and validated the status of Wiccans, especially Dettmer v. Landon in 1985. However, there is still hostility from some politicians and Christian organisations.

According to the history of Wicca given by Gerald Gardner, Wicca is a survival of the European witch-cult that was persecuted during the witch trials (sometimes called the Burning Times). Modern scholarly investigations have revealed, however, that these trials were substantially fewer than claimed by Gardner, and seldom at the behest of religious authorities. Theories of an organised pan-European witch-cult, as well as mass trials thereof, have been largely discredited, but it is still common for Wiccans to feel solidarity with the victims of the witch trials.

There have been assertions made that Wicca is a form of Satanism, despite important differences between these religions, such as the lack of a Satan-like figure in Wiccan theology. Due to negative connotations associated with witchcraft, many Wiccans continue the traditional practice of secrecy, concealing their faith for fear of persecution. Revealing oneself as Wiccan to family, friends or colleagues is often termed “coming out of the broom-closet”.

Some people have accused Wicca of being anti-Christian, a claim disputed by Wiccans such as Doreen Valiente, who stated that whilst she knew many Wiccans who admired Jesus, “witches have little respect for the doctrines of the churches, which they regard as a lot of man-made dogma”.

Some have asserted that Wicca is simply an off-shoot of the New Age movement, a claim which is fiercely denied by Wiccans and also by historians such as Ronald Hutton, who noted that Wicca not only predates the New Age movement but also differs in its general world view.

Posted in Europe, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Search for Traces of Ancient Supernova in Antarctica

Posted by jase on July 18, 2009

Japanese scientists journeyed to Antarctica to recover evidence of alterations to Earth’s atmosphere caused in medieval times by supernovae recorded by scholars – including obscure Irish monasteries where monks later interpreted them signs of the Antichrist . No, this isn’t the plot of the next Dan Brown novel (or a Dan Brow fanfiction written by an X-Files addict): this is real science.

Supernovae release terrific amounts of energy, as in “If one happened too close, the planet would be sterilized” truly terror-inducing terrific.  Some of this energy is fired off as gamma rays, which can travel thousands of light-years and still pack enough of a punch after to alter the atmosphere – which is exactly what happened in 1006 and again in 1054, when gamma rays blasted the upper atmosphere and created spikes in NO3 levels.  There was also quite a lot of visible light, creating a star visible even during the day which was noted by various Chinese, Egyptian and even monastic records.

To access past records of the atmosphere, a team of Japanese scientists carefully extracted 122 meters of ice core from Antarctica.  Even better, to locate events on such a stretch of frozen time you use known volcanic atmosphere-altering events as reference points – in other words, these guys use exploding mountains as a ruler. 

The team found NO3 spikes at times corresponding to 1006 and 1054, as well as a mysterious unknown third event – and we remind you that this is not a movie, even though that sounds so much like a second act reveal leading to a lost city or something, we can practically see Nicolas Cage’s shocked expression.

Unlike any movie adventurer of the unknown, who has a tendency to steal/detonate every single relic they find, the Japanese team have also made things easier for anyone who follows them.  The unprecedented detail of their observations reveals a standard 11-year cycle in ice-core records, corresponding to the sunspot cycle. This will help future ice-core observers track the time of events.

These people look at timescales so huge that the pulsing of the sun itself is just the ticking of a clock.

Posted in Antarctica, Climate, Earth, Global Warming, Historic Events, Science, Southern Hemisphere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ever Heard of: The Fermi Paradox

Posted by jase on July 12, 2009

The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.

The extreme age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that if the Earth is typical, extraterrestrial life should be common. In an informal discussion in 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi questioned why, if a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy, evidence such as spacecraft or probes are not seen. A more detailed examination of the implications of the topic began with a paper by Michael H. Hart in 1975, and it is sometimes referred to as the Fermi-Hart paradox. Another closely related question is the Great Silence—even if travel is hard, if life is common, why don’t we detect their radio transmissions?

There have been attempts to resolve the Fermi Paradox by locating evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations, along with proposals that such life could exist without human knowledge. Counterarguments suggest that intelligent extraterrestrial life does not exist or occurs so rarely that humans will never make contact with it.

Starting with Hart, a great deal of effort has gone into developing scientific theories about, and possible models of, extraterrestrial life, and the Fermi paradox has become a theoretical reference point in much of this work. The problem has spawned numerous scholarly works addressing it directly, while various questions that relate to it have been addressed in fields as diverse as astronomy, biology, ecology, and philosophy. The emerging field of astrobiology has brought an interdisciplinary approach to the Fermi paradox and the question of extraterrestrial life.

Should alien artifacts be discovered, even here on Earth, they may not be recognizable as such. The products of an alien mind and an advanced alien technology might not be perceptible or recognizable as artificial constructs. Exploratory devices in the form of bio-engineered life forms created through synthetic biology would presumably disintegrate after a point, leaving no evidence; an alien information gathering system based on molecular nanotechnology could be all around us at this very moment, completely undetected. Clarke’s third law suggests that an alien civilization well in advance of humanity’s might have means of investigation that are not yet conceivable to human beings.

Certain theoreticians accept that the apparent absence of evidence proves the absence of extraterrestrials and attempt to explain why. Others offer possible frameworks in which the silence may be explained without ruling out the possibility of such life, including assumptions about extraterrestrial behaviour and technology. Each of these hypothesized explanations is essentially an argument for decreasing the value of one or more of the terms in the Drake equation. The arguments are not, in general, mutually exclusive. For example, it could be that both life is rare, and technical civilizations tend to destroy themselves, or many other combinations of the explanations below. 

One explanation is that the human civilization is alone in the galaxy. Several theories along these lines have been proposed, explaining why intelligent life might be either very rare, or very short lived. Implications of these hypotheses are examined as The Great Filter.

Further reading:

The Fermi Paradox

Posted in Aliens, Astronomy, Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Paranormal, Science, Space, Ufology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Isn’t the Universe Crawling with Intelligent Life?

Posted by jase on July 12, 2009

In his famous lecture on Life in the Universe, Stephen Hawking asks: “What are the chances that we will encounter some alien form of life, as we explore the galaxy?”

If the argument about the time scale for the appearance of life on Earth is correct, Hawking says “there ought to be many other stars, whose planets have life on them. Some of these stellar systems could have formed 5 billion years before the Earth. So why is the galaxy not crawling with self-designing mechanical or biological life forms?” 

Why hasn’t the Earth been visited, and even colonized? Hawking asks. “I discount suggestions that UFO’s contain beings from outer space. I think any visits by aliens, would be much more obvious, and probably also, much more unpleasant.”

Hawking continues: “What is the explanation of why we have not been visited? \One possibility is that the argument, about the appearance of life on Earth, is wrong. Maybe the probability of life spontaneously appearing is so low, that Earth is the only planet in the galaxy, or in the observable universe, in which it happened. Another possibility is that there was a reasonable probability of forming self reproducing systems, like cells, but that most of these forms of life did not evolve intelligence.”

We are used to thinking of intelligent life, as an inevitable consequence of evolution, Hawking emphasized,  but it is more likely that evolution is a random process, with intelligence as only one of a large number of possible outcomes.

Intelligence, Hawking believes contrary to our human-centric existece, may not have any long-term survival value. In comparison the microbial world, will live on, even if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Hawking’s main insight is that intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution:  “It took a very long time, two and a half billion years, to go from single cells to multi-cell beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence. This is a good fraction of the total time available, before the Sun blows up. So it would be consistent with the hypothesis, that the probability for life to develop intelligence, is low. In this case, we might expect to find many other life forms in the galaxy, but we are unlikely to find intelligent life.”

Another possibility is that there is a reasonable probability for life to form, and to evolve to intelligent beings, but at some point in their technological  development “the system becomes unstable, and the intelligent life destroys itself. This would be a very pessimistic conclusion. I very much hope it isn’t true.”

Hawkling prefers another possibility: that there are other forms of intelligent life out there, but that we have been overlooked. If we should pick up signals from alien civilizations, Hawking warns,”we should have be wary of answering back, until we have evolved” a bit further. Meeting a more advanced civilization, at our present stage,’ Hawking says “might be a bit like the original inhabitants of America meeting Columbus. I don’t think they were better off for it.”

Source: Daily Galaxy

Posted in Aliens, Astronomy, Biology, Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Science, Space, Ufology | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Can Easter Island Compound Extend Life?

Posted by jase on July 12, 2009

The giant monoliths of Easter Island are worn, but they have endured for centuries. New research suggests that a compound first discovered in the soil of the South Pacific island might help us stand the test of time, too.

Wednesday, July 8, in the journal Nature, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and two collaborating centers reported that the Easter Island compound – called “rapamycin” after the island’s Polynesian name, Rapa Nui – extended the expected lifespan of middle-aged mice by 28 percent to 38 percent. In human terms, this would be greater than the predicted increase in extra years of life if cancer and heart disease were both cured and prevented.

The rapamycin was given to the mice at an age equivalent to 60 years old in humans.

The studies are part of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) Interventions Testing Program, which seeks compounds that might help people remain active and disease-free throughout their lives. The other two centers involved are the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The Texas study was led by scientists at two institutes at the UT Health Science Center: the Institute of Biotechnology (IBT) and the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies.

“I’ve been in aging research for 35 years and there have been many so-called ‘anti-aging’ interventions over those years that were never successful,” said Arlan G. Richardson, Ph.D., director of the Barshop Institute. “I never thought we would find an anti-aging pill for people in my lifetime; however, rapamycin shows a great deal of promise to do just that.”

Discovered in the 1970s, rapamycin was first noted for its anti-fungal properties and later was used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients. It also is used in stents, which are implanted in patients during angioplasty to keep coronary arteries open. It is in clinical trials for the treatment of cancer.

The new aging experiments found that adding rapamycin to the diet of older mice increased their lifespan. The results were the same in Texas, Michigan and Maine.

“We believe this is the first convincing evidence that the aging process can be slowed and lifespan can be extended by a drug therapy starting at an advanced age,” said Randy Strong, Ph.D., who directs the NIA-funded Aging Interventions Testing Center in San Antonio. He is a professor of pharmacology at the UT Health Science Center and a senior research career scientist with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.

The findings have “interesting implications for our understanding of the aging process,” said Z. Dave Sharp, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Biotechnology and professor and chairman of the Health Science Center’s Department of Molecular Medicine.

“In addition,” Dr. Sharp said, “the findings have immediate implications for preventive medicine and human health, in that rapamycin is already in clinical usage.”

Source: PhysOrg.com

Posted in Aging, Biology, Life Expectancy, Medical, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Get to Know: Zoroastrianism

Posted by jase on July 11, 2009

Zoroastrianism is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings ascribed to the prophet Zoroaster, after whom the religion is named. The term Zoroastrianism is, in general usage, essentially synonymous with Mazdaism, i.e. the worship of Ahura Mazda, exalted by Zoroaster as the supreme divine authority.

Zoroastrianism is uniquely important in the history of religion because of its possible formative links to both Western and Eastern religious traditions. In the opinion of Mary Boyce, as “the oldest of the revealed credal religions”, Zoroastrianism “probably had more influence on mankind directly or indirectly than any other faith”.

In the English language, an adherent of the faith commonly refers to him- or herself as a Zoroastrian or, less commonly, a Zarathustrian. An older, but still widespread expression is Behdin, meaning “follower of Daena“, for which “Good Religion” is one translation. In the Zoroastrian liturgy, the term Behdin is also used as a title for an individual who has been formally inducted into the religion (see navjote for details).

 

Basic beliefs

  • There is one universal and transcendental God, Ahura Mazda, the one uncreated Creator to whom all worship is ultimately directed.
  • Ahura Mazda’s creation—evident as asha, truth and order—is the antithesis of chaos, evident as druj, falsehood and disorder. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict.
  • Active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep the chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster’s concept of free will, and Zoroastrianism rejects all forms of monasticism.
  • Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail over evil Angra Mainyu / Ahriman (see below), at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end (cf: Zoroastrian eschatology). In the final renovation, all of creation—even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to “darkness”—will be reunited in Ahura Mazda returning to life in the undead form. At the end of time a savior-figure [a Saoshyant] will bring about a final renovation of the world, and in which the dead will be revived.
  • There will then be a final purgation of evil from the Earth (through a tidal wave of molten metal) and a purgation of evil from the heavens (through a cosmic battle of spiritual forces). In the end good will triumph, and each person will find himself or herself transformed into a spiritualized body and soul. Those who died as adults will be transformed into healthy adults of forty years of age, and those who died young will find themselves permanently youthful, about age fifteen. In these new spiritual bodies, humans will live without food, without hunger or thirst, and without weapons (or possibility of bodily injury). The material substance of the bodies will be so light as to cast no shadow. All humanity will speak a single language and belong to a single nation without borders. All will experience immortality (Ameretat) and will share a single purpose and goal, joining with the divine for a perpetual exaltation of God’s glory.
  • In Zoroastrian tradition the malevolent is represented by Angra Mainyu (also referred to as “Ahriman”), the “Destructive Principle”, while the benevolent is represented through Ahura Mazda’s Spenta Mainyu, the instrument or “Bounteous Principle” of the act of creation. It is through Spenta Mainyu that transcendental Ahura Mazda is immanent in humankind, and through which the Creator interacts with the world. According to Zoroastrian cosmology, in articulating the Ahuna Vairya formula Ahura Mazda made His ultimate triumph evident to Angra Mainyu.
  • As expressions and aspects of Creation, Ahura Mazda emanated the Amesha Spentas (“Bounteous Immortals”), that are each the hypostasis and representative of one aspect of that Creation. These Amesha Spenta are in turn assisted by a league of lesser principles, the Yazatas, each “Worthy of Worship” and each again a hypostasis of a moral or physical aspect of creation.

Other characteristics

  • Water and fire: In Zoroastrianism, water (apo, aban) and fire (atar, adar) are agents of ritual purity, and the associated purification ceremonies are considered the basis of ritual life. In Zoroastrian cosmogony, water and fire are respectively the second and last primordial elements to have been created, and scripture considers fire to have its origin in the waters. Both water and fire are considered life-sustaining, and both water and fire are represented within the precinct of a fire temple. Zoroastrians usually pray in the presence of some form of fire (which can be considered evident in any source of light), and the culminating rite of the principal act of worship constitutes a “strengthening of the waters” (see Ab-Zohr). Fire is considered a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom is gained, and water is considered the source of that wisdom.
  • Proselytizing and conversion: Zoroastrians do not proselytize and living Zoroastrianism has no missionaries. There may be historical reasons for this (amongst those in India proselytizing was/is a crime and the culprit faces expulsion), but in recent years, and with the exception of the Iranian priesthood, Zoroastrian communities are generally not supportive of conversion.
  • Inter-faith marriages: As in many other faiths, Zoroastrians are strongly encouraged to marry others of the same faith, but this is not a requirement of the religion itself. Rather it is a creation of those in India. Some members of the Indian Zoroastrian community (the Parsis) contend that a child must have a Parsi father to be eligible for introduction into the faith, but this assertion is considered by most to be a violation of the Zoroastrian tenets of gender equality, and may be a remnant of an old Indian legal definition (since overruled) of ‘Parsi’. This issue is a matter of great debate within the Parsi community, but with the increasingly global nature of modern society and the dwindling number of Zoroastrians, such opinions are less vociferous than they were previously.
  • Life, death and reincarnation: In Zoroastrian tradition, life is a temporary state in which a mortal is expected to actively participate in the continuing battle between truth and falsehood. Prior to being born, the soul (urvan) of an individual is still united with its fravashi, of which there are as very many, and which have existed since Mazda created the universe. During life, the fravashi acts as a guardian and protector. On the fourth day after death, the soul is reunited with its fravashi, and in which the experiences of life in the material world are collected for the continuing battle in the spiritual world. In general, Zoroastrianism does not have a notion of reincarnation, at least not until the final renovation of the world.
  • Disposal of the dead: In Zoroastrian scripture and tradition, a corpse is a host for decay, i.e. of druj. Consequently, scripture enjoins the “safe” disposal of the dead in a manner such that a corpse does not pollute the “good” creation. These injunctions are the doctrinal basis of the fast-fading traditional practice of ritual exposure, most commonly identified with the so-called “Towers of Silence” for which there is no standard technical term in either scripture or tradition. The practice of ritual exposure is only practised by Zoroastrian communities of the Indian subcontinent, where it is not illegal, but where alternative disposal methods are desperately sought after diclofenac poisoning has led to the virtual extinction of scavenger birds. Other Zoroastrian communities either cremate their dead, or bury them in graves that are cased with lime mortar.

It is believed that key concepts of Zoroastrian eschatology and demonology have had influence on the Abrahamic religions. On the other hand, Zoroastrianism itself inherited ideas from other belief systems and, like other practiced religions, accommodates some degree of syncretism

Many aspects of Zoroastrianism are present in the culture and mythologies of the peoples of the Greater Iran, not least because Zoroastrianism, was a dominant influence on the people of the cultural continent for a thousand years. Even after the rise of Islam and the loss of direct influence, Zoroastrianism remained part of the cultural heritage of the Iranian language-speaking world, in part as festivals and customs, but also because Ferdowsi incorporated a number of the figures and stories from the Avesta in his epic Shāhnāme, which in turn is pivotal to Iranian identity.

Principle Beliefs

Ahura Mazda is the beginning and the end, the creator of everything which can and cannot be seen, the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In the Gathas, the most sacred texts of Zoroastrianism thought to have been composed by Zoroaster himself, the prophet acknowledged devotion to no other divinity besides Ahura Mazda.

Daena (din in modern Persian) is the eternal Law, whose order was revealed to humanity through the Mathra-Spenta (“Holy Words”). Daena has been used to mean religion, faith, law, even as a translation for the Hindu and Buddhist term Dharma, often interpreted as “duty” but can also mean social order, right conduct, or virtue. The metaphor of the ‘path’ of Daena is represented in Zoroastrianism by the muslin undershirt Sudra, the ‘Good/Holy Path’, and the 72-thread Kushti girdle, the “Pathfinder”.

Daena should not be confused with the fundamental principle asha (Vedic rta), the equitable law of the universe, which governed the life of the ancient Indo-Iranians. For these, asha was the course of everything observable, the motion of the planets and astral bodies, the progression of the seasons, the pattern of daily nomadic herdsman life, governed by regular metronomic events such as sunrise and sunset. All physical creation (geti) was thus determined to run according to a master plan — inherent to Ahura Mazda — and violations of the order (druj) were violations against creation, and thus violations against Ahura Mazda. This concept of asha versus the druj should not be confused with the good-versus-evil battle evident in western religions, for although both forms of opposition express moral conflict, the asha versus druj concept is more systemic and less personal, representing, for instance, chaos (that opposes order); or “uncreation”, evident as natural decay (that opposes creation); or more simply “the lie” (that opposes truth, righteousness). Moreover, in his role as the one uncreated creator of all, Ahura Mazda is not the creator of druj which is “nothing”, anti-creation, and thus (likewise) uncreated. Thus, in Zoroaster’s revelation, Ahura Mazda was perceived to be the creator of only the good (Yasna 31.4), the “supreme benevolent providence” (Yasna 43.11), that will ultimately triumph (Yasna 48.1).

Further reading

Introduction to Zoroastrianism

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Visit the Origami City

Posted by jase on July 11, 2009

An origami artist from Japan, Wataru Ito, has spent four years crafting an incredible model city from paper – but now plans to burn it down.

Mr Ito, 25, started building his ‘Castle on the Ocean’ when he became bored during his university entrance exams.

Using just a knife and glue, the art student built up an entire cityscape over four years by cutting and folding hundreds of pages of craft paper.

The finished piece is now being displayed for the first time at an exhibition on the artificial island of Umihotaru, near Tokyo.

But incredibly, Wataru, a second year student at Tokyo University of the Arts, plans to set his work on fire when the show is over.

He said: “I’m very happy to display my work at a place where people who don’t have an interest in arts can come and see it.

“Looking back now I sometimes ask myself ‘did I really manage to create this?’

“I am devoted while I am working on my projects but I quickly lose interest when I complete them.

“When the exhibition is over I will burn the castle. I thought I could see it rising up from the ashes if I took a video and played it backwards.”

Wataru, who lives in Tokyo but is originally from Saitama, Japan, started working on the castle while he was studying to become an art student.

After failing a university entrance exam three times he focused on this project, which became so large he had to sleep under a table in his tiny flat.

The city’s centrepiece is a castle which is loosely based upon El Temple de la Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, Spain, .

The central tower is surrounded by a cathedral, school, theme park, factory and airport and comes complete with electrical lights and a moving train.

Incredibly, the entire piece – which measures 2.4m by 1.8m and is 1m high – has been crafted using only paper, which Wataru stuck together using craft glue, an art knife and holepuncher.

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