Archive for March, 2009

I will show you machines lashing the air with raw energy to force the very atmosphere to cry out in song

Posted in Music, Stuff I think is cool on March 31, 2009 by bradellison

The word of the day, boys and girls, is Zeusaphone.

Ghostbusters!

Zelda!

Lordi!

Johann Sebastian Mother@#$%ing Bach!

To a new age of gods and monsters!

Robert E. Howard Monday: The Shadow Kingdom

Posted in Words with tags , , , , on March 31, 2009 by bradellison

As he sat upon his throne in the Hall of Society and gazed upon the courtiers, the ladies, the lords, the statesmen, he seemed to see their faces as things of illusion, things unreal, existent only as shadows and mockeries of substance. Always he had seen their faces as masks, but before he had looked on them with contemptuous tolerance, thinking to see beneath the masks shallow, puny souls, avaricious, lustful, deceitful; now there was a grim undertone, a sinister meaning, a vague horror that lurked beneath the smooth masks. While he exchanged courtesies with some nobleman or councilor he seemed to see the smiling face fade like smoke and the frightful jaws of a serpent gaping there. How many of those he looked upon were horrid, inhuman monsters, plotting his death, beneath the smooth mesmeric illusion of a human face?

Kull, exiled barbarian warrior of Atlantis and King (by his own hand) of the unspeakably ancient and crumbling empire of Valusia, was the sword and sorcery hero who preceded Conan.  Indeed, as I’ve mentioned before, the last Kull story (“By This Axe I Rule!) was reworked into the first Conan story (“The Phoenix On the Sword”).

But Kull, unlike Conan, is a thinker.  While he is a warrior, and a barbarian, Kull prefers to ponder cosmic mysteries and converse with philosophers, whereas all the philosophy Conan needs is “I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”*

This propensity for contemplation and brooding gets him into a lot of trouble throughout the series, of course, but luckily Kull’s hetero lifemate Brule the Spear-slayer has his back.  (There are more potentially-homoerotic overtones in this story than there are in the Biblical account of David and Jonathan, and that’s saying something).  Brule, an untamed barbarian, provides a touchstone for Kull, a link back to the purity and strength of his savage upbringing, before the corrupting decadence of civilization got its hooks into him (Two-Gun Bob was not ambiguous in expressing how he felt about human civilization in general).  Brule is also a Pict, and thus Kull’s ancestral enemy (and part of the unbroken lineage that leads from the days before Atlantis rose, to the time after it fell, through the collapse of the Hyborian Age and on down through the generations until the last King Bran Mak Morn fell in battle against the Roman Legions), but that blood feud is forgotten in the face of the threat of FREAKING SERPENT MEN FROM THE AGE BEFORE TIME!

*Special bonus story: “The Queen of the Black Coast,” one of the best of the Conan yarns.

Brad Reads the Gospels: Matthew 3:13-17

Posted in Religion with tags , , on March 30, 2009 by bradellison

And now, for the first time, the man Jesus appears on the stage.

13Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

14But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

15And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

16And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

17And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

So here we see John directly establishing his subservient position to the Man Himself.  How, he asks, shall the lesser one annoint the greater?  There’s a Buddhist parable about a monkey reaching for the reflection of the Moon in a still pond.  John is the reflection, and the one standing before him asking for the baptism of water is the true celestial glory.

The answer Jesus gives is “because it is right and proper that it should be so.”  The usually-dubious Message transliteration puts it like this:

“Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”

Baptism is a symbolic gesture.  Most immediately, it is a washing, living water sweeping our impurities away.  It’s also, especially the way the Baptists do it with the deep-down dunking, a symbolic death and rebirth.  The sign of Osiris Slain, the sign of Osiris Risen*.  The death of the old self, what Saint Paul literally calls the old corpse hanging on our backs, the sinful man, and the birth of the new man dedicated to walking the Way of Light and Truth.

In short, a two-fold reminder to Christians of what happened on Skull Hill, and what happened three days later in the tomb of the Arimathean.  For the Christ Himself, it is a foreshadowing of those things.  Before He can begin His work, he must perform the ritual of cleansing and rebirth (rebirth through water, of course, is also a part of all that Hero With a Thousand Faces monomyth business, as is the passage through the underworld), and it should be done by the Baptizer.  A parallel might perhaps be drawn with the annointing of David the King at the hands of Samuel.

But what’s really interesting is what happens when the Baptism occurs.  The anointing of Jesus comes not just from the hands of John and the sacred waters of the Jordan, but from the fires of Heaven.  And here we see, for the first time, the sacred mystery of the Trinity.  Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the three facets of God, present and unified, but separate, in this one place and time.

The Anointed One having been anointed, only one obstacle remains between Him and the beginning of His work: the Wilderness, and the temptations found there.  Just like in the Hero’s Journey.

*We do not have a monopoly on the idea of the resurrected god.  Osiris, Mithras, Balder the Beautiful, the Green Man, Apollo, Ra…There are many divine figures who have passed through the underworld.  Interestingly, it was Tolkien’s pointing out the way Jesus fit into this mythical structure that really caught C.S. Lewis’ attention.  Lewis talks more on the subject in his various works, and it’s quite interesting reading.  He regarded Christianity as “the myth that was true.”  It’s a conception that dovetails with one of my favorite quotes from the worthy Doctor Inazo Nitobe’s Bushido (bolding mine):

It is with ecclesiastical methods and
with the forms which obscure the teachings of Christ, and not with the
teachings themselves, that I have little sympathy. I believe in the
religion taught by Him and handed down to us in the New Testament, as
well as in the law written in the heart. Further, I believe that God
hath made a testament which maybe called “old” with every people and
nation,–Gentile or Jew, Christian or Heathen.

And of course that’s where the Hero’s Journey bit comes in. It’s all one story, from the beginning of time. Like Roger Zelazny’s Amber, the One True Story casts an infinite number of shadows.

Nerd Testament: the shooting messengers

Posted in Religion on March 29, 2009 by bradellison

One of my favorite movies is The Prophecy, a fantasy film written and directed by Gred Widen, who wrote the original screenplay for Highlander.  It’s a movie about angels.  And in this movie, angels are not pretty androgynous entities flitting around in lacy robes and white fluffy wings teaching people important life lessons and spreading comfort.  They are not Roma Downey.  They are not Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life.  Greg Widen’s angels, for what might actually be the first time in movie history, are the bloody-handed inhuman foot soldiers of God we see in the Old Testament, back when God’s messengers had to start every conversation with the words “fear not.”  As one of the characters in the movie puts it:

Did you ever notice how in the Bible, when ever God needed to punish someone, or make an example, or whenever God needed a killing, he sent an angel? Did you ever wonder what a creature like that must be like? A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?

And one of them, the angel Gabriel, has fallen from grace.  Angered by God’s decision to give what he describes as “talking monkeys” precedence over the angels (which, as it happens, is the reason some theorists ascribe to Lucifer’s initial rebellion), he’s started a second war in Heaven.

These angels, grim-faced emotionless creatures in long coats, waging a war they don’t understand, are the direct predecessors of the angels in the TV show Supernatural.  Trenchcoats, detached demeanors, even the occasional habit of referring to humans as talking monkeys.  The angels on Supernatural have also inherited some of the themes explored in The Prophecy.  The angel Castiel is a good soldier, but he’s begun to doubt the rightness of his orders.  It seems no one, even among the Hosts of Heaven, has actually seen their Father in a very, very long time.  They’ve been stationed on this ball of dirt, far from home, fighting a war with no end in sight.  Their orders don’t always make sense.  Sometimes, they’re told to do things that seem monstrous.  The next-to-last episode had them using “enhanced interrogation” techniques on a captured demon like celestial Jack Bauers.

The parallels with certain recent events may be left as an exercise to the reader.

The point is, the show is doing something rather interesting with these angels.  The elements of Christian mythology they’ve borrowed have been rather modified and reworked, which does slightly irritate me as a student of both the Bible and occult lore in general, but the story isn’t really about angels.  It’s about us.

Castiel has begun to doubt.  In the show’s mythology, angels possess the traditional angelic lack of doubt, but not the perfect gnosis that makes doubt impossible.  Essentially, they’re fanatics.  Fundamentalists, absolutely certain that what they do is right despite a lack of evidence.  And while neither the meager data in the Bible nor the much vaster realm of extra-Biblical lore and speculation on the subject really allow for an angel experiencing this kind of character arc (not anymore, at least.  The time for them to doubt or remain loyal came once, when the Morning Star raised his rebel throne and waged war in Heaven) since they are supposed to live in the immediate presence of God himself, once more this is not really a story about angels.

Unlike them, we do live in a world where God is elusive, miracles are dubious, and where faith is slippery.  Like the Devil says in The Prophecy, “It’s hard to believe, Thomas.  So hard…”

The problem with fundamentalism is that it allows no room for doubt.  Once the facade begins to crumble, it all falls to pieces.  That happens in The Prophecy to Gabriel.  It happens in Supernatural to Castiel’s brother-in-arms Uriel, who concludes that God is a myth and Lucifer, the proud rebel, made the only decision that made any sense.  It’s the reason so many of the really, really angry and bitter atheists come from strict Christian backgrounds (of course, a lot of them don’t lose their fundamentalism so much as shift its focus).  If you’re not supposed to question, then you will break when questions force themselves upon you.

And they will force themselves upon you.  This is not a tidy world.  This is not a clean world.  This is not a safe, a kind, a merciful or a just world.  We’re called upon to try and make it those things as best we can, for behold, the Kingdom of God is within you, but for perfect mercy, and perfect justice, we have to wait until the Man comes around.  Like Christopher Walken’s Gabriel says,

I’m an angel. I kill firstborns while their mamas watch. I turn cities into salt. I even, when I feel like it, rip the souls from little girls, and from now till kingdom come, the only thing you can count on in your existence is never understanding why.

Coping with the imperfections of the world, coping with evil, is hard.

Here’s the interesting thing about what’s happening with Castiel in Supernatural.  He’s come to that same crossroads, face to face with doubt, fear, and a world that doesn’t make sense in which all traces of God seem to have vanished, and he seems to be moving in the other direction.  He’s trying to do right despite it all.

“Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Or, as the Doctor puts it in one of my favorite bits from Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia (seven minutes and forty-five seconds in):

We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.

Consider 95 Theses Friday postponed yet again

Posted in Religion with tags on March 27, 2009 by bradellison

I’ve been negative enough this week.  Next week I’ll get back on schedule with some words on the subject of pre-Millenialist eschatology, Dispensationalism, and the idolatry that reduces Scripture into a code book, and the Gospel into an Oracle for predicting when and how your enemies will be smitten by God.  But right now, I think I’ve spent enough time being angry.

Instead, since I failed to properly commemorate the feast day of my favorite saint, I simply point you to the writings of Saint Patrick, the man who brought the Word and the Light to Ireland, and did it without anyone having to suffer the red martyrdom.

For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name.

Patrick’s gift to his adopted country was the white martyrdom, witness borne through life, not death.  And he brought the Gospel peacefully,with a shamrock in his hand instead of the sword.  His passion for God burns like a living flame in his words, passed down through the centuries.

Ah, Sarah Palin is for some reason still in the news

Posted in Religion with tags , on March 27, 2009 by bradellison

Former McCain staffers angry over Palin prayer remark

Aides who traveled with the Alaska governor during the fall campaign are upset after Palin said recently she hadn’t wanted to pray with any of them.

I’d been rather enjoying the lack of Sarah Palin-related news coverage.  No more fake accent (it’s not hard to find video footage of her from before the Presidential race; the compare-and-contrast is interesting), no more winking, no more interviews where she lost track of which talking point she was on and started babbling gibberish.  It was good.  But since that article got brought to my attention, and since I was already sort of on this subject anyway:

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

I will show you some weird, wild stuff

Posted in Stuff I think is cool with tags , , on March 27, 2009 by bradellison

This is basically what I do during the middle of the week, but better and more thoroughly done.  Things you wouldn’t know if we didn’t blog incessantly.  It’s like Warren Ellis’ blog without the total insanity and mind-melting images of human beings who’ve done unspeakable things to their own bodies.  (Protip: do not seek out Warren Ellis’ blog unless you’re absolutely sure you can handle it).

Behold impossible death-defying feats of animal husbandry!

Sheep dogs are amazing.

I recommend that you read Therefore Repent! Weird, scary, funny, a sharp look at pre-trip eschatology from the outside, and a much, much better imagining of what a post-Rapture world would look like than anything I’ve ever read written by an actual Rapture believer.  Slacktivist’s Left Behind Fridays (which are absolutely essential reading, incidentally) do a good job of pointing this out (and, incidentally, he’s the one that led me to Therefore Repent!), but the authors of the Left Behind books are outright creepy in their inability to imagine a world altered by the kind of mass dissappearances that form the central pillar of their fiction and their religion.

Behold the work of the legendary Edgar Allan Poe reinterpreted in rap form!

Further bulletins to follow as events warrant, especially once I start doing some spring cleaning on my bookmarks.

The world is a strange place.  Let’s keep it that way.