A Will to Change:
By R. D. Flavin
[Note: The following is a thematic sequel to my December 2003 column, “Magic with Tears.”]
Is it just me or has nasty become the new nice? No, I'm not referring to provocative advertising (though some of the Svedka vodka ads with the Stan Winston designed “spokesbot” make me feel ...nervous), it's a perception that nasty (read: mean-spirited, bitter, unnecessarily crude) seems to be the current status quo everywhere among ...almost everyone and everything. I understand that our platitudinous approach to human nature allows for nice guys finishing last (contra Dawkins 1989), that the rules of fair play don't apply in love and war, and ...something about not getting too wasted to avoid being wanted. Yet, do we really need to publicly debate the validity of accusations about former Gov. Sarah Palin's past sex life and illegal drug usage? Maybe on NPR or The New York Times, but I find such discussions out-of-place for Doonesbury. It's as if crass insensitivity has made it to the value menu (add bacon for 99 cents). It doesn't have to be this way... A will to change is all that's required when one is no longer comfortable with nasty as a norm. In fact, it's quite easy...
We know much, though there is so much, much more for us to learn. Be that as it may (or 'is'), we conjure conjecture and hold that early humans weren't all that different from us. Beyond sporting speculation advancing the opposable thumbs and bipedalism of hominids, many now support arguments that our extended care of babies, the elderly, the sick and the disabled determined the definition of our humanness. Yup, we're the hairless simians who care ...a lot. However, yadda-yadda, with a way wicked big wup, ...Sam said (Paine 1935; p. 240), “If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.” Early humans were in awe (read: fond and/or in fear) of Nature. The nascent abilities to transform a shapeless rock into a stone tool, to subdue or create fire, and to distinguish between plants that nourish, heal, or hurt, likely elicited feelings that Nature could (maybe, sort of) be controlled ...if we could just experientially figure out a way. Yeah, ...early humans weren't all that different from us. We took and take a lot of chances and even money is on “so far, so good.” However, with demonstrable trial and error we may equivocate that we'll yet win big or lose everything. Returning, my sinus draining with a sea shell's tinnitus, many (if not most) humans have worked with decoupled cognition and exampled Schrödinger's cat (and quantum mechanics) by holding two possibles in an impossible way... We believe our caring enables us with a limited command of Nature to ...get more, do more, and be ...more. It doesn't and probably never will. There is so much, much more for us to learn. Continuing...
Earlier than 'us', that is Homo sapiens sapiens (with a shout-out to our extinct homies, Homo sapiens idaltu), archaic humans (H. heidelbergensis, H. neanderthalensis, H. rhodesiensis, etc.) likely had language (Johansson 2006), symboling (Flavin 2008), and perhaps buried their dead (Pettitt 2011; pp. 41-56). Such behaviors, if accepted, would invoke a question of 'religion' among the Archaics (contra Wunn 2000). As the hunted evolved into hunters, deception became a valued skill. One may sincerely speculate that shortly after the first proto-language communicated a 'truth', an untruth (var. fib, falsehood, lie) was made available. Or maybe it was the other way around, we'll never know for sure. At some point a long time ago, in a world without suicide-bombers, abortion-clinic protestors, and FOX NEWS, our humanness by natural selection allowed and/or encouraged the good, bad, ugly, and the most beautiful. I've always been fond of the view that we are Nature's way to appreciate itself. Anywho, religion seems to be a cultural byproduct of kinship and social interactions with all the attached good, bad, ugly, and most beautiful, however ...it shares more with untruth than it does truth. Arguably, it's all crap and only the finest of apologists could successfully defend religion as anything other than an evolutionary phenomenon. Still, it's ours and we own it.
With a nod to nog, many have long sought a solution to the mystery as to why a certain chicken crossed the road, as merely changing spatial locations seems an insufficient and impotent behavioral reason, somehow connected to the offered explanation of why a certain man climbed the mountain. At the risk of running afoul with silliness, the related mystery which demands from us that we correctly guess whether the chicken or the egg came first seems more pertinent at this point. An aside – I'm reminded of Aleister Crowley's O.T.O. couplet, “We place no reliance on virgin or pigeon; our method is science, our aim is religion.” Evolutionary biologists have the answer – clue; ...it ain't the bird. However, concerning the origins of 'religion', some have argued that they may be coeval with the beginnings of 'language', indeed some have even posited that consciousness (var. sentience) also first appeared when we became 'modern' humans. The science is weak in these approaches, Luke...
If it's true that no one stinks when everyone smells bad, then it surely follows that no one is insane when everyone is schizophrenic. Once upon a time, say, late during the American bicentennial, a book which defied disciplinary classification (Woodward 1979) was published with a thesis that before ca. 1200-1000 BCE all humans were schizophrenic zombies controlled by perceived audio hallucinations emanating from a god or gods, the King or the really big and mean guy, or a parent, relative or friend. After that time, as presented in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Jaynes 1977), independent thought emerged ...in humans. Sadly, some schizophrenic zombies still exist (significantly in Republican states). Jaynes' suggestion that The Iliad represents the actions of 'mad' (read: schizophrenic zombie-like) heroes, because the gods commanded and controlled everything, is an insult to this earliest of European literature. The first written word of The Iliad is μήνις (mínis), often translated as anger or rage. It seems that Achilles had a bad temper... With The Odyssey, Jaynes proposed that the audio hallucinations stopped (for the most part), interiority ensued, and at last humans were able to decide individual courses of action (which included the 'new' ability, snicker, ...to tell falsehoods). Now, psychology grew out of philosophy, and many psychologists have an overwhelming need to argue and aspire to be literary critics (Oy veh, what Freud did to the Greek and Roman myths!), yet they never appear to consider differences in stylistic composition, editing and redacting, errors in copying, and manuscript survival (and, sometimes, reconstruction). Such a claim cannot be tested no matter how well-thumbed a copy of Homer's works one has.
[Note: A similar untestable thesis is found in many of the works of Prof. J. David Lewis-Williams (University of the Witwatersrand, Emeritus-Cognitive Archaeology). After achieving some academic acclaim for his work on San (Bushman) rock art, he peddled faster and began to misappropriate the words, terms, concepts, and correct usage of 'shaman' and 'shamanism'. But, hey; “everyone” was doing it... At some point he enthusiastically began to apply his idea of 'shamanism' to the Ice Age painted caves in Spain and France. We've endured interpretations of trans-species cross-dressing sex-dens and the work of advanced geniuses who must have consulted with aliens, and Lewis-Williams shared with us a most uncomfortable intellectual evacuation: those gifted parietal painters in Spain and France ...were autistic. Yeah, they had severe societal and interaction issues, so they braved the dark and did some really, really great art. Drugs, deprivation, and a good infection will maybe conjure some special effects, in an 'altered' state of mind many believe their works to be superior, however, altered-in equals altered-out and most artists and craftsfolk prefer to be un-altered when they work. Autistic, even used in the non-clinical sense, is inappropriate for the creators of such wonders. Yeah, Lewis-Williams won awards and some continue to attempt to squeeze a couch into those caves, but it was just timely marketing and poor science. The Ice Age cave art feels communal, relaxed and luxurious, and maybe even a special meeting place for people who had lost a finger or three...]
Of late, another psychologist has stumbled upon the schizophrenia road by claiming that 1) schizophrenic illnesses first arose during the “speciation event” which separated modern from archaic humans, 2) the onslaught of such illnesses generally begin in males two to three years before females, and 3) the likeliest culprit is ...language (e.g. Crow 1997, 1998, 2000). Dr. Timothy J. Crow, to account for the global 1% of schizophrenics, believes brain hemispheric specialization allowed language to evolve in modern humans, but that not all humans could adapt – a situation steadfastly endemic in the species. I have no doubt there's wonky wiring in some human brains and that language difficulties are a common indicator of schizophrenia, yet I question placing the blame on 'language', per se. Not all human cultures developed a written script, as some used pictographs, and still other cultures avoided stylized symboling all together. In the non-human animal kingdom, we find that every species has its own voice or method of communicating. We sometimes guess with anthropomorphizing and interpret such communications as songs, warnings, threats, even laughter, among other social choices. I can't imagine that the Archaics who tamed fire, manufactured tools, and spread into Eurasia didn't fall asleep at night without a comforting memory of a favorite grunt or groan. Besides, 'language' didn't have a single origin (though those who endorse Proto-Nostratic are open to suggestions), may have existed among the Archaics (Johansson 2006), and while probably present in Africa after the speciation refinement of 150-100 kya, certainly developed independently after the 75-30 kya “Out of Africa” migrations to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, we can no more analyze the brains of Archaics and early modern humans for signs of mental illness than we can check their scalps for signs of premature baldness. We do have some skulls that show signs of disease, however. Perhaps future advances in neurophysiology will afford us a better understanding of schizophrenia.
Religion began as an interaction between humans and Nature (later, at least by historical times, if not before, the imaginary “supernatural” was also included). In the nineteenth century, some anthropologists suggested that early humans practiced forms of animism (< Latin animus life-force) , that is, everything on Earth has a spirit or soul, and though such belief systems as totemism and shamanism are often (incorrectly, btw) considered alongside, the animist model remains viable in discussion. For early humans it wasn't always the adrenaline rush of fight or flight and eat or be eaten, as sometimes gathering food was difficult and a hunt was needed to provide food for survival. Toward that end (meat/fish in the belly), bravery and skill were supplemented with prayer and deception. And, presto, ...magic, err, religion was born. Okay, that was clumsy, but the point I'm trying to make is that magic and religion are inseparable, if not the same thing.
So, listening to the local blues, I dance Darwinian. Well, in a punctuated way, most likely... My memory, not the sponge it once was, recalls best Joseph Campbell explaining to Bill Moyers on PBS that 'religion' is from the Latin and means to “link back.” Joe was a great one, got a few things wrong, but will always be remembered as the nice-guy Jimmy Stewart of mythology studies (and, with no scandal, he worked at an all-girls school). Magic; that's a different set of memories. At that tender age, I was informed that my Grandpa Flavin had played poker with the Great Blackstone, the Magician, which didn't mean squat to me as Houdini was the stage magician of reference. Grandpa swore that in his youth he encountered many notables in Deadwood (near Flavin's Corner, actually) and tramping the trains into Chicago. Hop-skip; my understanding of 'magic' is perhaps nearest Arthur C. Clarke's nickel-a-word 'Third Law', “Magic is indistinguishable from any sufficiently advanced science.” So, were paleolithic hunting strategies involving deception magical? Loosely, sure. Did some (or all who could) exploit with cunning extrapolation the ...result? Yup. Maybe, the founders of this hoary profession gained the comforts of an even earlier profession, but I undress. I'm guessing we should establish some boundaries, maybe a safe word, and try and agree upon a definition ...of magic. And, as the QWERTY clicks, we (here only, read: Western-hemisphere English speakers) often defer to The Oxford English Dictionary as authoritative (or at least pretty damned close).
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈmadʒɪk/ , U.S. /ˈmædʒɪk/
Etymology: < Middle French magique (c1277 in Old French: for the homographic adjective see magic adj.) < post-classical Latin magica (3rd cent.), use as noun (short for ars magica magic art) of the feminine of magicus. Compare classical Latin magicē (in Pliny), which is < Hellenistic Greek μαγική (in Philo Judaeus; short for the phrase μαγικὴ τέχνη magic art, attested in Septuagint); also classical Latin magica , neuter plural (in Pliny), and Hellenistic Greek or ancient Greek μαγικός (as the title of a work attributed to Antisthenes in the Suda, and to Aristotle in Diogenes Laertius, by ellipsis of λόγος ). Compare magie n.
The revival of the form magick , as
also for magic adj., is perhaps due to the influence
of Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), writer and occultist,
who used the spelling extensively in his writings,
including the title of his 1929 work Magick in
Theory and Practice.
Crowley makin' it into the OED; go
figure. The “Olde English” spelling style was
cheeky and antiquated by Crowley's time, and was used to
suggest a quaint formality, then and now reserved for
...really old people and devout Anglophiles.
Anywho, 'magic' jumps back from English, to French, to
Latin, and then to Greek.
† magie, n.
Etymology: < Middle French, French magie religion of the magi (1535), magic (1547) < classical Latin magīa < ancient Greek μαγεία < μάγος magus n.+ -εια -y suffix.
In the modern Romance languages the equivalent formation is the usual noun meaning ‘magic’. Compare Italian magia (14th cent.), Spanish magia (1615), Portuguese magia (17th cent.).
Nope, I'm not feelin' the love...
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈmeɪgəs/ , U.S. /ˈmeɪgəs/
Inflections: Plural magi Brit. /ˈmeɪdʒʌɪ/ , U.S. /ˈmeɪˌdʒaɪ/ , /ˈmæˌdʒaɪ/ .
Forms: ME magy (plural), ME– magus, 15 magos (plural).
Etymology: < classical Latin magus (denoting a member of the Persian priestly class, and, more broadly, priests or wise men of other nations; in sense 1 after usage in the Vulgate and in Christian writers, and in sense probably influenced by the epithet of Simon Magus, a magician in Samaria (Acts 8:9–24), regarded from Patristic times as a type of the anti-Christian exponent of magic arts) < ancient Greek μάγος < Old Persian maguš .
Occas. use of magi as singular is
noted by usage guides from later 20th century.
'Magic', in its broadest application, likely existed before the advent of agriculture and the rise of the first city-states. Yet we must, once more, drag out our Kramer and be reminded that History Begins at Sumer (Kramer 1981), as the presence of the preserved written word is the accepted divisor between prehistoric and historic times. And, no, I don't wish to discuss terminology in New World anthropology in this column, thank you. With the earliest cuneiform texts, followed immediately by the introduction of 'readable' Egyptian hieroglyphs, we discern two major topics for this new tech called 'writing', that is, government (and business) documents and monumental pronouncements, and matters that concern state-sponsored religion (which incorporated 'magic'). Mesopotamia (here, meaning Sumeria, and the subsequent ruling city-states of Akkadia, Assyria, Babylonia, Chaldea, etc.) and Egypt were both dependent on farming, required calendars for assistance, and viewed the heavens as indicators of fortunes good and bad. In this, the Egyptians may have left us the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids (and a whole bunch of mummies), but the Mesopotamians bequeathed us the beginnings of mathematics and mathematical astrology (Neugebauer 1969). Later, the Greeks would expand upon their work and bring us closer to something we can describe as 'astronomy' (Neugebauer 1975).
Of course, the Heavens were not the only magical realm. Divination (var. fortune-telling) was also practiced by interpreting animal entrails (a gory precursor to 'reading' tea-leaves). Medicine, too, was an occult art at the time and the priests (var. magicians and wizards; let's not quibble over terms) did their best, and if they were successful (read: lucky) everyone lived, and if not, ...it was time to meet the 'new' priest. Here, ...going for it, is where we distinguish (if possible) between 'magic' which produced results and 'magic' which merely consoled and/or entertained. Remember, failure and disappointment meant certain death in most cases. The survival and continuation of magic presumes success, but of what sort?
It would be safe to advance that the early Mesopotamian and Egyptian priests kept their jobs (and lives) because they could ...read and write, even after scribal professions emerged. Indeed, the last gasps of both cultures were recorded by die-hard priests (Houston et al. 2003, Sachs 1976). Competency in mathematics (complex in Mesopotamia, simple in Egypt) is a given – architecture was (duh...) extremely important at the time. Medicine likewise involved applicable familiarity... Sound advice and parlor-tricks, on the other slight-of-hand, seems more the stuff of legend than fact, still ...consideration is required. The role of the priest, magician, and wizard likely incorporated the same tricks clergy, stage magicians, hypnotists, and personal advisers use today. Misdirection, tell them what they want to hear, impress them with a surprise ( a “reveal”), take their money (var. donation), and move on. Gullibility plays a dramatic role, but so does intellectual compromise, as in the “decoupled cognition” mentioned above. Did the ancients, the God-Kings, the privileged, and the general populous, actually believe in the hocus pocus? Well, that's a yes and a no, good buddy.
As other city-states and cultures coalesced apart from Mesopotamia and Egypt, religion and magic continued to be an important component of life. With my admitted Western bias, the ancient Greeks were an extraordinary people and their accomplishments should be sung in praise for all our days. Modern Greeks? Yeah, Nikos Kazantzakis and Cat Stevens (pre-Islam) are notable, ...and maybe that woman from CSI:NY. The ancient Greeks gave Western Civilization too much for me to discuss here, though, pushing forward, a few need mentioning as germane to this column.
The Pre-Socratic philosopher and wicked cool dude, Xenophánes of Colophon (fl. 570–480 BCE), looked behind the curtain of religion and correctly made fun of such folly with his saying: “But if cattle and horses and lions had hands or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do, horses like horses and cattle like cattle also would depict the gods' shapes and make their bodies of such a sort as the form they themselves have.” However, in his time, and for several centuries afterward, the Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated to honor the myth of Demeter and Persephone by drinking a barley/rye porridge contaminated with ergot, the ...basis for the hallucinogen LSD (Wasson et al. 1978). It must have been quite the show... And, lest nay-sayers doubt the honesty of the ancient Greeks, we need only to cite ...our oldest 'novel', being The Metamorphosis of Lucius Apuleius, or The Golden Ass, which tells a ribald tale of a guy who watched a witch get naked, rub herself with an ointment, turn into a bird and fly away, only to come back and curse him for his voyeurism. Drugs and sex are topics we pretend to shy away from, yet since the second century of the Common Era, The Golden Ass has survived with its lessons intact. But, such 'magic' (and truth) are asides. We need to backtrack a bit...
The introduction of the Mesopotamian mathematical zodiac, ca. 725-250 BCE, established a paradigm of divination individuality and allowed non-priests to partake in 'magic'. Alongside such major advancements as bottled beer and Twinkie technology (it is what it is), the zodiac 'changed' the game. For newbies and the lazy, the zodiac is a grid-map designed to show the positions of planets, major stars, and constellations with (somewhat) regularity (Thompson 2011). Yeah, yeah; the Twins will show themselves at this hour, and Capricorn will rise ...sometime later. Oh, there's Venus! Actually, tracking the movement of the planets (< Grk “wanderers”) was the goal, but accurately predicting (read: defining) the movement of the elliptical constellations proved to be an instant success. The zodiac was/is a personal divination tool and diffused far and wide ...most quickly. Personal horoscopy enabled non-priests to ...work 'magic'. And, much like today's Internet, once published (read: “posted”), goofiness will survive.
As Western “Classical” civilization grew (and collapsed), other peoples, cultures, social groups, religions and cults, made and had their way(s). Nary a one did not incorporate the magic of personal horoscopy (Flavin 2007). Reading and writing remained prestige skills and in Northern Europe two alphabetic scripts were developed expressly for magic and the occult (Germanic rune-forms and Irish ogham). Of course, as Christianity received Roman support, Western pagan traditions began to cease, though some aspects faded into the shadowy realms of rumor, hearsay, and ...certain solanaceae intoxication rituals (e.g. Norse “berserkers,” those who wore “bear-shirts,” the Úlfhéðnar with their wolf-skin jackets, and the Medieval European broomstick “flying” witches). Popular history has long stressed a “Dark Ages” period after the demise of Western Classical civilization, and though there were significant losses of Greco-Roman texts, some scribal copying continued, and private collectors sought out and acquired what they could (Zetzel 1993). As Islam prospered after the seventh century of the Common Era, Muslim academics, engineers, and doctors acquired Greek and Roman texts as the need arose (Flavin 2009). Magic continued with invigoration as personal horoscopy benefited from observational astronomy and the practice of alchemy was assisted by experimental chemistry. The so-called Islamic Golden Age (ca. 750-1258 CE) is known for many interesting accomplishments (e.g. the invention of alcohol and hashish-drugged killers known as “assassins”), however, in my opinion, none is more wonderful than ...their sharing of information with the non-Muslim world.
With the Islamic Golden Age, preserved Greco-Roman and newly formulated Muslim knowledge spread from North Africa into Spain and Sicily, and also, to an extent, from the Near East into Constantinople. Even during the religious wars and battles collectively known as the Crusades, 1095-1272 CE, there were exchanges of information (and commodities) between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. As Europe turned on their lights to end the Dark Ages, that is, experienced a “Renaissance” or “re-birth” of cultural and intellectual dedication, magic too was revived in somewhat 'popular' practice. For brevity's sake, in early Medieval times, certain unconventional (read: borderline heretical) Christians aggressively pursued non-scriptural wisdom through such esoteric disciplines as astrology, alchemy, and after the mid-13th century emergence of the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah (var. Cabala, Qabalah), letter-based numerology (Heb gematria and Gk isopsephia), and cryptology. Sure, many progressives were actively pursuing near-science outside of Christianity, but pseudo-(near-)science (here only, read: magic) claims arose ...with distinction. In many ways, we (the Western Traditions) are still balancing the dichotomy of performing good works and not-so-good works.
The prestige skills of reading and writing were complimented during the European High Middle Ages by abilities to utilize Arabic, Hebrew, and, in the case of the 12th century Austrian Hermeticist, Hermann of Carinthia, combined with Norse rune-forms (Burnett 1981, 1983). The Medieval European 'magicians' began to produce and circulate grimoires (Fr. < grammaire) or occult 'text-books' in manuscript more than a century before Gutenberg's ca. 1450 introduction of printing with movable type. Among our first printed books, the incunabula and post-incunabula before 1540, are significant 'occult' works (e.g. Mirandola 1487, Ficino 1489, Reuchlin 1517, Agrippa 1533, Zambelli 2007). With the Elizabethan Age (1558-1603) and the end of the Renaissance, magic assumed a level of importance unrivaled since the Classical period. Magic was 'represented' in politics (e.g. John Dee, Edward Kelley, and Michel de Nostredame), literature (Herrington 1919), and religion (in antithesis, to wit, the Albigensian Crusade, the Spanish Inquisition, and later 'witch' hysterics). I'm reminded of the tale of the cleric who interviewed an accused witch and the woman spoke of being able to fly. The cleric asked her to demonstrate, the woman rubbed herself with a salve and fell to the floor, began to convulse, and after a while regained her composure. The woman then asked the cleric, “Did you see me fly?” The cleric, having just witnessed an intoxicated woman writhe in delirium for a couple of hours, turned to nearby soldiers and instructed them to ...burn the witch. I would guess that in some matters, intent ...matters.
Belief is related to intent, as mistakes and errors are common and self-evidential when and where humans are involved. The power and influence of the Catholic Church was diminished with the 16th century Protestant Reformation and the beginning of the Enlightenment in the 17th century. Christian sects (and cults) began to multiply as various societies pursued their own attempts at the separation of church and state. Secular humanism stoically encouraged the toleration of differences, yet racism and bigotry continued in too many cultural areas. The “dawn of reason” mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in an April 11, 1823 letter to John Adams was referring to, at best, a time of superstitious skepticism (or skeptical superstition, if one chooses). Sure, the Industrial Revolution and those “dark Satanic mills” were soon combined with the modern scientific method of Darwin and Einstein which changed (and continues to change) much of the human experience, yet magic persevered and prospered. Somewhat redefined, of course.
Prof. Harold Bloom (Yale, Humanities and English) has opined that the Mormon cult represents the “American religion” because of its New World provenance, bungled criminal origins, and current saccharine publicity-persona. I'd like to believe he's joking as a literary critic and mines irony with a sarcastic shovel. I'd group it with pioneer-period speculative Freemasonry, but with its own creepy sub-group (which includes a sweaty Father God cheating on a Mother God by doing the nasty with and impregnating the Virgin Mary). The 'magic' of the Mormon cult is carnival-based and its Americana association should rest with the origin of the expression “as phoney as a three-dollar bill.” Opportunistic others, took speculative Freemasonry and went elsewhere.
The nineteenth century French occultist and popularizer of ceremonial magic, Alphonse Louis Constant (aka Éliphas Lévi), continued the personal enhancement goals of Medieval alchemists who utilized metaphor in their laboratory experiments and ultimately sought to transmute their base or 'leaden' souls (here only, read: personalities) into higher or 'golden' forms. He introduced his interpretation of “High Magic” with:
Let us start by saying that we believe in all miracles, because we are convinced and certain, even from our own experience, of their entire possibility. ¶ There are some that we do not explain, but that we do not regard as less explicable. From the greater to the lesser and from the lesser to the greater the consequences are identically relative and the proportions progressively rigorous. ¶ But, in order to perform miracles, it is necessary to be outside the common conditions of humanity; it is necessary to be either extracted through wisdom, or exalted by madness, above all passions or outside them through ecstasy or frenzy. That is the first and most indispensable of the operator’s preparations (Lévi 1854).
Crowley, self-styled “The Great Beast” and tabloid-termed “the wickedest man in the world,” believed that Abrahadabra (var. Abracadabra and Abraxas) is valued at 418 in Hebrew Gematria and meant “The Great Work Accomplished,” that is ...the enlightenment of mankind. Toward an end, Crowley enthusiastically (and legally, after a court ruling) published some of the Golden Dawn rituals in his series, The Equinox: The Review of Scientific Illuminism. ...Think Edwardian Hermetic Wikileaks. As his involvement with the Golden Dawn waned, Crowley started his own ritual magic order, the A∴A∴, Argentium Astrum, the Order of the Silver Star, and also joined the O.T.O., Ordo Templi Orientis, the Order of the Oriental Templars. During his lifetime, Crowley served as the inspiration for the character of Oliver Haddo in W. Somerset Maugham's 1908 novel, The Magician, and shortly before his 1947 passing made various fantastic claims that he was somehow ...responsible for Hitler. After his death, “The Great Beast” would be portrayed in caricature in Charles Addams' The Addams Family as Uncle Fester, and also made it onto the cover of the 1967 Beatles' album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's likely Uncle Al (or Aunt Alice, if you must) will be remembered as an exceptional deviant with his bisexuality, drug abuse, and occasional coprophilia, however, for the purposes of this column, I'll follow the lead of the OED and stick with magic, ...err, make that “magick.”
Al/Alice defined 'magick' as the “Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will,” or simply, ...change in accordance with will. Beyond lovers and car-salesmen, such an ambiguous definition was meant to encompass any and all purposeful acts. According to Crowley, every facet and aspect of a magicians' life is magick-al with personal successes or failures determining how proficient at magick a magician is. It's a game, yet with parsimonious equality all may attempt to change the rules as appropriate. To force a paraphrase, all rules are necessary, some are meant to be broken outright, others get bent when required, some need constant modification, and then there are those we willingly follow and make our own. There's a moral and ethical limit; sometimes you get a ticket or a fine, other times you crash, yet most take comfort when they break the rules, e.g. speeding or fudging taxes. With opportunistic empowerment household chores become specialized exercises and the glass is always half full and never half empty. Pessimism is banished and positivism allows even dreary days to be endearing. Magick is laughter to life's worst jokes. Yet, stubbornly, we separate tricks from treats and demand proof. The Amazing Randi's offer of a million bucks to anyone who could perform a supernatural feat under scrutiny went uncollected and dozens of skeptic groups around the world support similar challenges (though the offers are in the $10-50,000 range). While I continue to follow the advice of The Lovin' Spoonful and “Believe in the magic of rock and roll,” I've never been a big fan of literal transubstantiation. I guess my Catholic clock is ticking.
Metaphor and allegory have been near and dear to me
since I learned how to read. Comic books and
monster movies were entertaining, lessons and messages
abound, but ...I knew they were fictive and false.
Fun? Yup! At an early age I figured out the
Santa Claus con and afterward aliens and angels, demons
and deities, and miracles and magic became a litmus test
for foolishness. Oh, at various times throughout
my life I've worked through thought experiments
regarding the impossible. All ended the same; Popeye
versus Yahwey... It is what it is and it
ain't what it ain't!
Religions claim, yet never demonstrate. I, for the purpose of this paragraph, believe in God as the finest summation of ideals human consciousness has yet devised and developed. Too cool (and cruel) for typing or data-encoding... My “God” is more akin to a Jungian collective unconsciousness than it is to comic books or sacred scriptures. Yup; Popeye versus Yahwey Part Two.
Prayer and sacrifice have been shown time and again to be ineffective. That some prayer benefits those who pray remains as much a neurological unknown as the occasional effectiveness of cancer treatments which include patients watching old videos of The Three Stooges. Alright, laughter helps... Causal pessimism regards sacrificial offerings as creepy and wrong. Human or animal sacrifice to supra or extraterrestrial entities (var. deities or gods) should be rationally rejected, as should the comedic Hindu tradition of Mahaprasad in which food-stuffs are first offered to various gods and only consumed after the gods decide they're not hungry. Such belief-based practices, even with failure, sometimes imbue religionists with a sense of accomplishment through desperation (the “Well, at least I tried” approach). Belief and non-belief are equally hoary and any such prehistory is by necessity current conjecture. It may be that non-belief emerged after the first demonstrable ineffectiveness of prayer and sacrifice. Or, extending empathy, the early senseless premature deaths of others due to violence, affliction, or accident. Questioning or denying “God's plan” has been dangerous for many millennia, though conversely, acceptance and affirmation by the innocent and righteous sufferers are attested to in ancient Sumerian and Egyptians texts, and with the sixth century BCE Hebrew prose-poem, The Book of Job, contrite complaint enters Western literature and popular morality. Aside from my occasional self-description as a “True Believer,” that is a supporter of Marvel comic books, I've long held back expressing the hilarity of the essential meaning of 'belief' as holding an idea which could be incorrect. Belief in prayer and sacrifice shares much with magick. Mostly, disappointment...
Accepting the futility of outward mental projections by religionists and related believers (occultists, spiritualists, the neotheophobes or God-fearers, etc.) will likely prove difficult for the stubborn masses. Some (here only, read: many or most) enjoy and employ swearing by taking the Name(s) of God(s) in vain. [Note: An oft used favorite is the standard “God (evocation), damn (command) you (focus object)." Best if slowly spoken with an anguished Charlton Heston voice.] Prayerful invocations and blessings are likely irreparably installed in secular governmental procedures and laws, at least for the immediately foreseeable future. Still, “Put up or shut up” will eventually out the reality challenged.
The impossibility of the existential exactitude of 'supernatural' and 'metaphysical' as other than descriptive fictive terms excludes the tentativeness of Clarke's Third Law (see above). However, just because one can't change the world through mentation, doesn't preclude one changing one's self. Willful inward projection is often difficult, but demonstrably possible despite ingrained ideas and behaviors. 'Brainwashing' remains a controversial combination of myth and dysfunctional definition (Jowett 2005), yet self-brainwashing (var. changing one's mind) affirms the strength and defines the extent of our cognitive adaptability. An easy example would be the difference between the two most popular alcohol cessation groups, Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery. AA maintains surrender to a “Higher Power” and instructs the addicted that they are powerless, in contrast to the science-based SMART Recovery program which emphasizes that the “power” resides within the individual. Truth-sicle: people can change, they just have to very much want to...
America seems to be fast approaching a psychological tipping-point. Our collective cynical approach is now regularly encouraging meanness, lying, and idiocy (support for Creationism, "Moon-Truthers," the “Birther Movement,” etc.). Sure, America's Founders were occasionally prone to nastiness (Pres. Obama has recently cited the over-the-top negative exchange between Adams and Jefferson; Crabtree 2012). In the 19th century, the renowned author and humorist, Samuel L. Clemens (writing as “Mark Twain”), took sarcasm to a brutal level of luscious intolerance, especially concerning religions and cults (Twain 1872, 1907, 1962, Schrager 1998), somewhat anticipating and coeval with the emergence of Yellow Journalism (Russell 1898). The early 20th century balanced its encouraged political bicameral antagonism with scary bipolarity and the “Roaring '20s,” an achievement of actualized decadent idealization (later, mirrored in the 1960s). Of course, conflicting commands of faster and slower contributed to the Great Depression, a “Just pull over right here” period. And then, ...and then, ...the Second World War occurred.
Many peoples and cultures, past and present, claim
previous periods of exaggerated peace, prosperity, and
morality (sometimes with immortality). Occidental
historians point to Works and Days by Hesiod
(fl. 740-670 BCE) and the usage of a “Golden Age,” to
mean the first, finest, and oldest of the 'Ages of Men'
(Most 2007). Those of “Generation Jones,” that is,
those born between 1954 and 1964/1965, were raised and
conditioned to regard the period from the end of the
Second World War (think Eisenstaedt's “V-J Day in Times
Square” 1945 photograph) to the end of the American
Camelot (think Stearn's 1963 photograph of John-John
saluting his father's casket), to be years of
unprecedented good fortune. For some, ABC's Happy
Days may have been an accurate depiction of the
era, but many would disagree. Even the current
AMC's Mad Men, scrumptiously evocative with
vices and unethical behaviors, includes the dangers of
excess and societal bigotry. Beyond such
chronological pareidolia, we are collectively moved by
shared “Where Were You When..." moments (e.g. Lennon's
assassination, the Challenger explosion, 9-11, the
execution of Osama bin Laden). It must rest with
the individual to determine their own Dickensian “It was
the best of times, it was the worst of times” events.
The 19th century French proverb/aphorism, “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose,” or “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” continues to be applicable (as is the wont of such sayings), though interpretations are multitudinous. Such sayings are routinely misrepresented and remain bound by presently consensual intents and ...the opinions of us all. That brain-chilling invocation of an idiomatic conceit declares and defines us as Americans ( ...and everyone else), though I disagree with Bowie's “one damned song.” For me, it's a tossup between The Beatles and Sinatra. Anywhat, we are ...preternaturally petty as per our pagan frivolities, the fecund vacuum of human nature obeys insecurity by demanding allegiance to the rants of Chicken Little, and the battle between light and darkness has been going on forever. Luna waxes and wanes with tidal regularity, our cos-play howls invite Dawn and a few of her friends for respite, and we lament the Preacher who has found nothing new. My allegation that “nasty is the new norm” is personally vexing. Some might suggest we've always been nasty.
I enjoyed the partial nudity of NYPD BLUE (except for the Dennis Franz scenes), and though I've long been a fan of gore, the new hyper-realistic autopsies of the CSI-type shows kind of disturbs me. Yet, with cartoons like South Park, I'm thinking most of the kids can handle it... Still, excesses abound and show no signs of slowing down.
Global warming? Well, the 'Little Ice Age' of ca. 1350-1850 was a cooling off span of time in our present Holocene interglacial period, though climate matters were subsequently agitated by the Second Industrial (or 'Technological') Revolution. Okay, we somewhat tackled fluorocarbons and have a masturbatory approach to “clean coal,” yet, with the rise of the Second and Third Worlds (var. “emerging economies”) and the race to the finish-line, even if many nations cleaned up their act, some countries will be dedicated to dumping where they shouldn't for at least the next century. However, walking through "Itchycoo Park," whether or not humans turn into greenhouse tomatoes, our next Ice Age is due in approximately 50,000 years. Apparently, the superconspiracy crowd (contra Lee 2011), hasn't gotten around to accusing Gaia thus far...
Obesity is the new gluttony doubleplusungood. We have a crisis of portion control (with many being unable to afford the supersized categories). I know, some have a genetic propensity for heftiness (the paleolithic Venus of Willendorf could have been the product of a really bad artist), but there may be something else occurring... Self-mutilation, scarification, tattooing, and related practices go back to pre-cave-people days, with circumcision being the red-haired stepchild and considered a late-comer. Body dysmorphic disorder (or BDD) might be a gateway psychosis. Dogs and cats became domesticated because they got lots of snacks and playtime; not so much with cows, sheep, goats, etc. A reoccurring dietary suggestion (Voegtlin 1975), that we cut out grains, almost all dairy, and processed sugars, may spark a renaissance in critter cuisine, though that might be supersized as well. BDD could be an attempt at self-domestication... But why? Yeah, I'm thinking that fad-diet of magick-brownies and mushroom tea might have been a mistake.
As our world becomes smaller, our problems get bigger. As a college drop-out, I mistakenly believed that (apart from wars and fires) the reason that Rome fell was because of too much lead in their cooking and eating utensils. Then, I guessed it was Christianity... Finally, I assumed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was because of some feudal “no taxation without representation” movement. Yeah, I was hoping for anti-Augustan debauchery, but upon inspection, the central theme of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Gibbon 1994) would emphasize a lack of civic virtue (Pocock 1976). Slap! I should have had a V-8 and stayed in college; but that's what night school is all about. And, as it goes, Gibbon's history concluded with the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. Ah, the so-called Holy Roman Empire? That particular political conceit would cease in 1806, a dozen years after Gibbon's passing. Stretching, feeling the burn, and returning to the perceived American decline...
To say that the conflict thesis of religion versus science has taken a mistress with the mass media versus government argument would be like discussing one's grandparents' sex life. Of course, alternative media keeps asking to swing along, but it's impolite, so we should avoid it. Except, we can't... [Note: Sorry, Grandma Condron, this has nothing to do with you... My Grandma Flavin would hit my Grandpa Flavin over the head with a bottle when needed, yet would also love him even when he didn't deserve it.] I've previously opined that there's an ongoing conflict between science and religion (Flavin 2007) and ...”mass media” has been the endearing ephemera of revolt (here only, gosh darn, read: freedom fighting) and has abetted the colonization of the New World, announced and facilitated the American and French Revolutions, and is presently draped in the protection of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. As antagonist or protagonist (with only a quick costume or copy change), mass media praises and condemns our government based upon certain arcane rules of whimsical folly (hint: coin-flipping is involved). “So let it be written, so it shall be done!” Mass media has long catered to disparate (and, sometimes, desperate) groups, but the mainstream press (print, broadcast, and, now, digital delivery) has recently, for the most part, succumbed to a generalized sleaze (e.g. The New York Post) or openly flaunts its biased agenda (e.g. FOX News). I defer to others to debate whether such is anti-government or just anti-Democrat. Damn, maybe Hillary was right about that “Vast Right Wing Conspiracy” after all! Language is best loose, and then there's dead and lost. Censorship and self-domestication?
The English author and biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall (writing as 'Stephen G. Tallentyre'; Tallentyre 1906, p. 199), is somewhat infamous for her paraphrasing of a comment by the French philosopher, Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire did write something similar (“...I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write..."), and, later, Hall admitted the paraphrase was her own expression (Burdette 1943). Regardless, the paraphrase retains currency. The American Civil Liberties Union won before the U.S. Supreme Court defending the rights of neo-Nazis to march in the village of Skokie, Illinois, then significantly populated by Holocaust survivors and their families, and the ACLU subsequently lost considerable funding for several years. Horrid and more is their pain, suffering, and societal tough-love. I regard shock-jock, Howard Stern, and shock-jerk, Rush Limbaugh, as crude and crass entertainers, but just because I find their blathers abhorrent, I wouldn't begrudge them a right to earn a living. The generalized sleaze of The New York Post is as that of an equal-opportunity rag, as their lurid content discriminates against everyone (except, purportedly, the Chinese government). It's like the National Enquirer with a sports-page! It's entertainment, not news, and just really bad entertainment.
Using the above examples of The New York Post
and FOX News is appropriate, as both are owned by Rubert
Murdoch and News Corporation. Murdoch is the
modern successor to William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951),
the newspaper and magazine publisher whose business
ethics inspired the slander, “Yellow Journalism.”
As the reigning epitome of a media-mogul, Murdoch has
asserted his hyper-conservative (var. poopy diaper)
political agenda throughout his publishing and broadcast
empire, recently being held accountable for encouraging
his employees to use illegal cell phone hacking to
generate the News Corp. style of sensationalist exposé. The cable television FOX
News Channel has been correctly criticized for being an
entertainment source rather than a journalistic
endeavor, yet their audience share has been consistently
significant for some years. I'd offer an analogy
with those who stop and gawk at automobile accidents –
“Don't look! Don't look! OMG, did you see that?”
But, it's not merely a political media version of the
it's an open attack against reasonable discourse.
News-porn, for the lack of a better term... And
doubleplusungood news-porn, at that.
Folks complain a lot, always have and likely always will, and if there's a dollar to be made someone will build that baseball diamond in a cornfield in Iowa. Yeah, yeah; Nature abhors a vacuum and Capitalism exists to allow the few to profit from the many. Many pundits and commentators have claimed that America is currently more polarized than at any time since our Civil War. Maybe, fuzzy math remains fuzzy, and it's my understanding that polls are often incorrect, as folks lie a lot. However, bypassing this challenge, our societal divisions have spread far afield from hair styles and length, musical genres, or fashion statements, and now seem fixated on the death penalty, a woman's right to abortion and birth control, and illegal Mexican and Latino immigrants.
Prof. Jonathan Haidt (New York University Stern School of Business, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership), a psychologist by training, has extensively examined the differences between the so-called Left and Right (var. liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, movement and order, etc.). His most recent work, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (Haidt 2012) is a praiseworthy study with notable conclusions, though I'm a bit disappointed by his advancement that most liberals would eat their dog for a significant sum of money and that conservatives would never eat their dog no matter how much money was offered. As stated above, folks lie a lot... Prof. Haidt has participated in studies of the hypothetical consumption of canines before (Haidt, Roller, & Dias 1993, Graham, Haidt, & Nosek 2009) and claims he was once a liberal, but after his studies he became a centrist. I have no idea if he owns a dog and possesses the necessary culinary skills, though I might be curious as to what sauce or gravy he'd recommend... Regardless, investigating morality through questionnaires has always struck me as unreliable, as folks behave dramatically different when faced with a real-life choice or an imaginary one. Would've, could've, and should've are recognized boasts. Still, the divisions Haidt discusses are present and appear to be getting worse. [Note: My 1996 sci.anthropology newsgroup posting, “Cooking With Canines or How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” had nothing to do with American political divisions, though in hindsight it should have.]
At eighteen, I cast my first vote for Jimmy Carter and then endured the end of the '70s as a frustrating political time due in a large part to the bipartisanship of Congress. The casual paranoia I experienced during the Reagan/Bush years (furthered by the junk-mailings and ravings of the shock-pastor, the Rev. Jerry Falwell), faded with the election of Pres. Clinton, though did a “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” during the Cheney/Bush years, especially after 9/11. I've been frustrated as well with Pres. Obama's term, due almost entirely to the bipolar bipartisanship of Congress. I've asked if nasty is the new norm, but haven't addressed if dumb is the new average. The expression, "He cut off his nose to be revenged of his face," comes to mind with the mindlessness of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), who spearbutted the economic mistrust responsible for two credit rating downgrades. It's not smart to hurt yourself, your country, and those you work for.
The rampant negativity of some media certainly influences public opinion and, like second-hand smoke, has an effect on unwilling participants. Sure, one can choose not to read a particular publication, or listen to shock-radio, or watch a biased television channel, or visit offensive web-sites, but there exists a growing number of elected officials who believe that media negativity accurately represents America. Such may indeed prove to be the case, as the uneven protests of “No!” generally drown out the balanced acquiescence of “Yes, please,” and folks lie ...both purposefully and through omission (var. laziness). There are only a few practical choices for remedy.
I've oft referred to the late Carl Sagan's admonishment that every newspaper carries an astrology column, but few to none publish regular features on astronomy. Negative media could be answered by dedicated positive efforts, though with National Geographic reduced to stumping for the 'fantastic', and TLC and The History Channel going full-revisionist, it appears America has chosen entertainment over education. Here, expressing only my personal views, the societal bed is made and folks can sleep in it if they want to. Me? I'm sleeping on the floor.
First, violent revolution is absurd and uber-stupid – it ain't that bad, yet, if ever. Second, working the electoral system is the proper solution. Third, accepting nasty as the 'new' nice has sufficed for untold generations of the disenfranchised. However, there is another choice.
Oh, if only magick was sufficient to correct the errors! Pragmatically, we recognize that human nature and American politics are as fickle as a bread-and-butter pickle relishing its own awesomeness. Mistakes are made and we move on. Yet, superstition and (for now) self-domestication aside, High Magick would benefit many (myself included) with an alternative to ...anger and disgust. No prayer or spell can alter reality. Miracles and luck are fanciful self-deceits. That wild-eyed person raving about this and that has the right to be an idiot. If one can't (like me) tune out, shut off, or be content with ignoring the idiots, High Magick as a self-discipline can provide the answer. Minimalist contribution: if one can't change the world (here only, read: America), change yourself.
We can't change, at least in the near future, the
propensity for many to be nasty and negative while they
seek others that share in their discomfiture. I
stopped going to hyper-diffusionist conventions because
everyone had a personally-favored agenda and the only
'common' theme was the belief that science and history
were wrong. I've used the analogy that everyone
was trying to open the door a crack, so they could sneak
their individual claims through. And, though
there's a peer-reviewed article on the horizon crediting
my skepticism (Wilson 2012), it hurts and haunts me that
some friends and family ...espouse opinions that seem
based on “Well, I read it, it must be true” and “Gee,
THEY'RE getting paid for their opinions, why should I
listen to you?” Oh, and I can't condone Heavy
Metal and Rap music, and I'd shop more at Trader Joe's,
but the other customers are way too creepy. We
can't change others, but we can change ourselves. High
Rick's Recipe for
Okay, that was a wee weird.
Getting over some things might seem impossible, but ...it can be done. Many have a personal philosophical self-reproachableness (i.e. guilt complex) which may arise from religious tradition, scripture, poignant advice, music, Hallmark greeting cards, or other influences. When I'm depressed or confused, I recall Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders singing the Ray Davies' tune, “Stop Your Sobbing,” as well as the advice of the late Robert Anton Wilson, “Think for yourself, schmuck!” Neither works with the anger and disgust I feel about America's current “decline,” though through extrapolation a directive of “GET OVER IT!” becomes a workable mantra. There have always been mean and nasty people in society, as well as kind and considerate folk, and some demand “Live Free or Die!” I trust myself, those close to me, and America (and, hopefully, the rest of the planet), to not sweat too much over the idiots.
Snap! Don't feed the nasty and remember to do your best. Reason will prevail!
Heinrich Cornelius. 1533. De
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