Astrology and Religion

OK, so there’s no conflict between astrology and science. Is there one between astrology and religion?

Let’s trace it forward from the origins.

Evolutionary theory tells us that we emerged from a state of immersion into the world, as are the animals. The world was alive and meaningful, and every night we witnessed the full glory of the cosmos in the night sky. It was all one. We made sense of patterns of meaning, calling them what became known as gods. The sun was clearly the most important.

As we developed language and began to be more self aware, religions emerged based around these gods, pantheistic. Astrology was part of seeing patterns of meaning in the cosmos, and very much a part of this. I believe that the Hindu religions today are similarly pantheistic, and astrology flourishes in India.

From the so-called axial age onward, a series of monotheistic religions emerged from the austere Middle Eastern deserts, in turn Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and spread worldwide. From here on, I’ll stick to Christianity, the one I know most about.

When Christianity became a political project, in the time of Constantine, it became necessary to absorb the symbols of pantheism into that Christianity – politicians know they need to carry the people forward with them.

So you will find pantheistic and astrological symbols in most of the Christian churches – most notably in those wonderful Romanesque churches on the routes of the great European pilgrimages, such as that to Santiago de Compostella in Spain – and also notably in that great flowering of the Gothic cathedrals from the 12th century. See the stone signs of the zodiac, stained glass windows, the four elements of the fixed cross (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the wise men following the star, the green men, and so on.

amiens zodiac 2So, certainly at this time, the church was happy to incorporate aspects of pantheism and astrology into its very fabric, their great archetypes enriching the religious experience. Look for it when you next visit one of those amazing religious buildings.

Of course this is all just circumstantial evidence and not a proper analysis. I’d be interested in any evidence that contradicts the suggestion that there’s no conflict between astrology and religion.

Images show the signs of the zodiac and tasks of the year on the cathedral in Amiens.

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Anhinga

One of the delights of visiting Brazos Bend State Park, near Houston, is the frequent sighting of anhingas.

anhinga 2When perched, the anghinga is a bit like a large cormorant, with that same spreading of the wings to dry – but with more striking plumage.

It’s also called a snakebird, because of its habit of swimming with just head and neck visible above the water. We’ve not seen this.

These photos were taken during our visit early last year.

Uncle Ive

Ivor was my mother’s father’s brother. Everyone called him Ive. I remember Ive being small and thin, with a half-empty pint of beer on the table in front of him. We mostly saw him and his wife Clara on family occasions when beer was involved.

Clara was, by contrast, large and fat. She drank stout. Ive and Clara were the living image of all those fat lady/ thin man picture postcards you saw on trips to the seaside. (What was so amusing about the image of a fat lady?)

We only saw them on family occasions, but heard their names frequently. I think they were weekly members of the Saturday night out at the pub – out in the countryside at nearby Auburn, with my grandad, his second wife and the one of my parents who wasn’t babysitting.

In the 1950s there was no problem in going to the pub in the countryside, having a few pints and coming back slightly merry. This was even true when I first started driving in the 1960s. Breathalyzers were first introduced in the UK in 1967.

Featured image is of the present-day Royal Oak in Auburn.

Cause of The Renaissance?

We’ve travelled around Europe a fair amount over the years and it is clear from the evidence of art and architecture that something special happened around the 12th/13th centuries and again the 15th/16th centuries. The Romanesque and Gothic architectures, the paintings and sculptures of Tuscany, the establishment of universities, printing, the beginnings of great literature,…

What was it that led to this original Renaissance? What special combination of circumstances caused that great explosion of the human spirit? Philosopher Jean Gebser had an answer in his book The Ever Present Origin (1949), and it goes back to the basic nature of our own consciousness.

Humanity has gone through four basic ‘structures of consciousness’: the ‘archaic’, the ‘magical’, the ‘mythic’ and the ‘mental-rational’. He dates the period when the transition began from ‘mythic’ to ‘mental-rational’ at around 1225. This was the period when left brain consciousness began to assert itself against the submersion into a right-brain dominated world. For a period the two were in some sort of state of balance which led to the creative explosion of those periods of Renaissance.

Then as time progressed the dominance of left brain was gradually asserted (see The Master and His Emissary), interconnectedness was reduced and the emphasis moved to individuality and competition. Of course, this has been creative in its own way, see the explosion of science and technology, but it has been at a cost of the basic connection with life itself. Hence increasing problems of pollution, environmental degradation, global warming, species extinction, mega-wars, terrorism,…

Gebser postulated that we are on the threshold of a fifth structure of consciousness – the ‘integral’ – which would begin to redress the balance that has gone too far one way. Such a new consciousness would re-establish that creative balance between the two halves of the brain, but at a higher level – leading to a New Renaissance.

Many thinkers have since then built on Gebser’s ideas, including Ken Wilber and Iain McGilchrist.

I am indebted to Gary Lachman’s book The Secret Teachers of the Western World for inspiring this post.

Featured image of Botticelli Venus courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Excess sugar in diet

I know I recently complained about sugar in US bread, but this is just the tip of an iceberg. Are we really aware of the effects of all the sugar in Western diets on our children, let alone ourselves? Try some of these adapted quotes from AskDrSears, Huffpost or other similar websites.

  • Excess sugar depresses immunity.
  • Sugar sours behavior, attention, and learning.
  • Sugar promotes sugar highs (High adrenaline levels) or crashes with consequent mood swings, maybe even depression.
  • Some children are sugar junkies.
  • while the neurotransmitters in the brains of normally active children signal the hormones to regulate blood sugar, brains of hyperactive children do not seem to send the same signals
  • (Refined) sugar promotes obesity.
  • Sugar promotes diabetes.
  • Sugar promotes heart disease.
  • Sugar impairs memory and learning skills.
  • Sugar is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.

So now look at the shelves of sugared breakfast cereals in the supermarkets, at the shelves of bottled drinks heavy with sugar, at the shelves of sweets, cookies, chocolates, at the sweets handily stacked by the checkout… At the local Kroger it is actually quite difficult to find non-sugared breakfast cereals.

Parents really do have a big job on to resist all this stuff and get their kids eating healthy food. Not all will go to the lengths of this Swedish mum who went viral, but it does seeem to have worked!

Maybe regulators should really get a bit tougher with those commercial interests whose denial happens to coincide with self interest, profits and their political lobbying.

Featured image shows the oldest remaining business in Texas, a sugar refining complex in Sugarland – By Carol M. Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons.
There is no implication intended on this company specifically.

Beyond the Robot

beyond-the-robotBeyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson by Gary Lachman.

I remember being totally inspired when I came across Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider while at university in the early 1960s. It gave an introduction to philosophy/psychology and literature that had been much neglected in my early education. It was very readable and even had sexy bits to titillate one of such an age. And it was on a theme related to those who felt a bit outside the norms of conventional society, who were a bit different because not just preoccupied with the daily grind of the material world. It also had the intriguing backstory of Wilson’s having lived rough on Hampstead Heath for a period while researching and writing it in the British Museum, of his subsequent popularity as one of the ‘angry young men’ of the 1950s, and how he had fallen out of favour with the literary establishment.

Over the years I have dipped into quite a lot of the books of Wilson’s prolific work, both fiction and non-fiction. He seemed to move from philosophy/literature into more specific fields such as criminality and the occult, but always related to similar themes on the potential development of the individual human being. Generally what he wrote was very readable and seemed to make sense, but making it a reality in one’s own daily life was quite a different matter. So this was but one thread on my own extensive explorations of other authors and systems.

It was a delight to recently discover that Gary Lachman had written this biography of Wilson, which enables the books and their ideas to be put into context with each other and with the realities of Wilson’s life as an author earning a living through his writing. To my mind, Lachman has done a great job, and the clarity of his writing bears comparison with that of Wilson himself. He demonstrates clearly the development of Wilson’s ideas and suggests he should be regarded as a leading thinker of his time, notably playing a part in the development of a modern positive version of the existentialism that reached a negative cul-de-sac with Sartre and Camus. (After The Outsider I read Sartre’s Nausea and hated it.)

The robot of the title refers to our capacity to hand over parts of our lives to an inner ‘robot’ that handles things for us, filtering out parts of our experience of the ‘outside world’. Wilson’s aim is always to help us to move beyond the robot and reclaim meaning in our lives, but at the same time recognising the valuable functions that the robot does perform. It won’t help if I try to explain this much further in a few paragraphs. You’ll just have to read it for yourself. It will repay the effort.

This book will be a valuable reference to Wilson’s oeuvre, and will particularly give an insight into which of his books to begin with if you wish to delve further into his world.

Uncle Frank

Uncle Frank was actually my mother’s cousin, but older. His father was a brother of mother’s mother. The father was killed in WW1, and Frank grew up with my mother for a while. Despite this they were not close.

Frank had married Ivy and they lived by ‘The Ramper’**, the main A46 road between Lincoln and North Hykeham. We occasionally visited them. On one memorable occasion in the late 1940s/ early 1950s, we saw a television for the first time, in their house, after walking there across fields. It was one of those huge polished wooden boxes with a tiny 8 inch screen in the middle and a very speckly picture. It was quite impressive nonetheless. We only got our first television in 1953, in time for the coronation.

Ivy had somehow become Muriel, and seemed to have developed ‘airs and graces’, according to mother – who was not impressed by our being given tinned tomatoes on toast for tea. We did not see much of them.

**  The Newark Road was the old Roman road and was called the Ramper by my grandparents. I think this relates to this being an old Roman road, and the association of their roads with ramparts.

Featured image of an early television set, the RCA 630TS (1948) by Marcin Wichary from San Francisco, via Wikimedia Commons

The Right Man

According to Gary Lachman, the ‘Right Man’ was an idea developed by science fiction writer AE Van Vogt.

“It describes the type of person who under no circumstances can accept that he is wrong. His need for self-esteem is so great and his grasp of it is so tenuous that the slightest contradiction sends him into a rage. His belief in the absolute correctness of all his actions is so unshakeable that he treats any question of it as a personal betrayal.”

In modern parlance we might see this as an extreme form of narcissism.

Lachman reports that from Colin Wilson’s Criminal History of Mankind that it is clear that “most of history has been written by right men” quoting examples such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Nero, Caligula, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane – the great tyrants of history. Obvious modern examples will come to mind.Read More »

George HW Bush Library

George HW Bush was one of a small number of Republican US presidents since WW2 who I do not recall as being regarded with great trepidation by the rest of the world. Bush still lives in Houston with wife Barbara, and it was apparent from the recent superbowl in Houston how affectionately they are regarded locally. We made the day trip to visit the presidential library for this the 41st US president, in College Station, Texas.

This rather grand building lies in the campus of the enormous and rather drab Texas A&M University. The museum is efficiently run, and well staffed with enthusiastic volunteers, well laid out with introductory video and audio guide – the US does such museums well. The presidential library itself is not accessible to the general public.Read More »

Just before the Dawn

I was struck by this observation by Steve Taylor in his February newsletter:

“The cultural conflict taking place now is between the old values and traits associated with the human race’s old state of ‘sleep’, and the new values and traits associated with a wakeful state. The old traits are threatened, and so are trying to assert themselves more strongly. It’s almost as if, within our collective psyche, the state of sleep senses that it is being superseded, and is trying to tighten its grip. So that’s why, in spite of all the madness in the world at the moment, I still remain optimistic.”

No doubt Steve is referring to the chaos of Brexit, the Trump presidency and the resurgence of values of discrimination against minorities, racism, misogyny, nationalism, separation, beggar-thy-neighbour…

It can seem disheartening that the progress made over the 70 years since the second world war is under threat and apparently in retreat.

I do feel that it helps in this situation to see the wider context, as Steve suggests. Humanity is undergoing a great developmental change, and it is inevitable that the ‘old’ values will from time to time reassert themselves with renewed vigour. It is our job to weather the storm and forge the path forward to the new world that we would wish to bequeath to our children and grandchildren.

As the saying goes, it is always darkest just before the dawn.

Featured image One Minute Before Sunrise by Jessie Eastland, via Wikimedia Commons

Intellect and Intuition

Our education system is mostly geared to education of the intellect, the understanding of the outer of things, the material, the objective, that which is of the left brain. So we live dominated by materialistic concerns. At its culmination the intellect takes us to realms of abstract thought, science and technology and all their wonders.

But in this process we are losing touch with the inner of things,  and the interconnectedness of all things, empathy for fellow humans, animals, nature, that which is of the right brain. The media increasingly press upon us the results of this dysfunction,  an outer merely reflecting that depopulated inner.

What that inner connection can give is direct perception of the essence of things unmediated by language – people,  situations,  even past and future. This is the realm of intuition, creativity. The more we are receptive to intuition the more we become what is our true essence, rather than following taught conditioning. The more we forget the concerns of ego and act in empathy with all.

Of course this does not mean rejecting the glory of the intellect, but restoring the intuition to its rightful place.

This is the raising of consciousness that humanity needs.Read More »

Uncle Arthur

Uncle Arthur was actually my mother’s uncle. My strongest memory of him is on Lincoln High Street outside the Saracen’s Head Hotel, just near the Stonebow, the stone gateway spanning the High Street. It was the mid-to-late 1950s. Arthur was chasing after his hat. My father, brother and I were in stitches, so failed to help.Read More »

Sugar in Bread

While staying in Houston I became aware of just how sweet the average US supermarket loaf is – both the white and the nice-looking granary/wholemeal type of loaf. It’s actually a bit like French brioche, but a different texture. Some commenters compare it to cake.

Now, why would you want extra sugar in bread? It is now surely understood that too much sugar in the diet is not good for you. (Of course you need a small amount of sugar or honey in the bread baking process, but that gets used up.)

This all suggests that the average US palate has been educated to like too much sweetness in their diet, just possibly one contribution to the epidemic of obesity that is so apparent there. For confirmation, just try a Hershey ‘chocolate’ bar.

Of course, this is a well known problem, and some bread suppliers are better than others. See eg picturebritain. And the problem is not just sugar, see eg. Food Babe.

Now, where’s the breadmaker… But, will the flour have sugar or other unhealthy ingredients in it? Nightmare.

Featured image of a particularly bad set of ingredients from foodbabe.com

Monster Jam

Monster Jam is one of the purported great ‘experiences’ Houston has to offer, so I duly accompanied grandchild, friend and a couple of parents to experience it. The venue was the very arena where the superbowl was held a week ago.

First we had to be prepared and take ear plugs and ear defenders (both). The vehicles involved have very noisy engines.Read More »

Lucky vireo

Sometimes you get lucky. There was this tiny bird flitting in and out between the twigs and leaves of the dense canopy of this Houston tree. It was super fast, so very difficult to see clearly, let alone capture on camera. We needed a photograph to subsequently identify it.

Out of numerous shots of twigs, leaves and blurred birds, just one was adequately focused for identification purposes. It turned out to be a blue headed vireo. These songbirds are apparently winter visitors in the south eastern US and spend the breeding season in the Appalacheans or further north.

It appears very similar to Cassin’s vireo, which ranges smilarly up and down the western states of the US.

Naughty Microsoft Onedrive

You don’t want to know the mess I just got in with my documents on my laptop. It’s newish Windows 10 and I had thought it would be just like the previous Windows’. However, this thing called Onedrive, Microsoft’s cloud, seems to be getting in the way.

I finally got tired of its keep asking me to upgrade storage on OneDrive and tried to de-activate and remove stuff that was stored on Onedrive. Seems like I didn’t know what I was doing. Microsoft was actually keeping my documents on Onedrive, so in the end I’d actually deleted documents, and the backups I thought I was taking hadn’t covered these files. And the Microsoft restore from recycle bin didn’t seem to work, probably because I’d told it to stop putting this stuff on Onedrive.

The thing is, it seems designed to be confusing. On File Explorer I can find three folders of ‘documents’

  • one is under ‘Onedrive’, which is fair enough
  • one is under ‘my PC’, which appears to also be the Onedrive folder – this is just confusing
  • one is under ‘Libraries/documents’, which is where it used to be, and where I expected it to remain.

I can only conclude that Microsoft is being deliberately confusing. Perhaps if people get confused enough they will give up and buy extra Onedrive storage. The controls for Onedrive do not encourage any other approach.

If you get a new Windows 10 PC, do be careful.

You might find this article useful how-to-stop-windows-10-from-saving-files-to-onedrive.

The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

It’s around 35 years since I read Alan Watts’ The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. I remember it being of great significance for me at the time. On impulse, I recently reread the heavily annotated paperback (first published 1969) with its browning pages. The cover price was 45p; equivalents today would be about 20 times as much.

Alan Watts was then well known as an interpreter and populariser of Indian and Chinese philosophy, author of a number of books including The Way of ZenRead More »

Black vulture

black_vultures_2Vultures are a common sight in Houston, and indeed all over the US. We often see them gliding around looking for food. Roadkill is a great attraction. A couple of years ago we saw a gang of about 15 around what was probably a squashed squirrel, seizing the opportunities to grab a bite between the traffic.

A large group hangs around the Terrey Hershey park near the I10, and seem happy to pose for photographs.

These are black vultures, which are mostly found in the south eastern states, not to be confused with the more common turkey vulture found over much of the US.

Mostly you see the distinctive outline as they soar through the air, seeking out their staple food, carrion. The one below, which I took some time ago in southern Texas, is a turkey vulture, which you can tell by the red head.turkey_vulture_in_flight

Shy cardinal

The attractive red northern cardinal is quite common in Houston (and all of the southern US states), but seems to have an uncanny ability to know when a camera shutter is about to be clicked, always absenting itself just before the said event. They are quite happy to be viewed nearby, so long as there is a barrier of twigs between them and you, such as in the featured image. As soon as there is a clear view, they just fly off, or possibly wait until the camera is pointed.

With a source of food around, such as the garden feeder we set up a year ago, they were a bit less wary, so long as you kept your distance. These were taken with mazimum zoom on Panasonic DMC-ZS15.

This is a vocal songbird and this website gives good examples of their calls.

Superbowl 51

In a previous post a year ago, I relayed my first real experience of American Football with the 2016 Superbowl. Now we had the chance to experience this year’s in company with a group of Americans at a superbowl party. There was lots of food and drink, friendliness, and hollering at the TVs that were on in most rooms. Some supported New England Patriots and some Atlanta Falcons.

The men were all deeply into the game and the beer, some women also, but some were just there for the social event. The one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that they were all sick of politics and wanted to forget about it.Read More »