Monday, October 27, 2014

Christianity and Magic #3: Faerie

So, I’ve talked about maleficium and natural magic, but there’s a third form of ancient magic that needs to be addressed. What on earth should Christians do with fairies and fairy magic?  As strange as it sounds fairies have been a part of western culture just as long as magic has. They’re odd creatures really. They were definitely not pagan gods, they were never worshipped, but they were also something different than an animal. Belief in the fairies, the little people, the fair folk, stemmed from a radically different view of the earth and of space. We already talked last time about how the main view of the earth until the Enlightenment held that it had some form of life of its own, but there was also a belief that it held its own share of spiritual creatures.
This is a really weird view, and it’s difficult for the modern mind to grasp, but the ancients and the Medievals didn’t believe in space. Aristotle taught in his Physics that nature abhorred a vacuum, that there was always something everywhere. Now, you translate this to a European Christo-pagan setting fairies start to fill up some spaces quite nicely.  ‘Cause, see, there was also this guy named Plato (channeled through a man named Plotinus, introduced through a Christian lens mainly through St. Augustine) who held the belief in something called a Great Chain of Being. When this idea was adapted by early Christians the belief held that between God and man there are a whole bunch of other beings (or things that have being), and below man there are more things that have being. A super simplified image of this concept would look like this: 
God >> Angels >> Man >> Animals >> Plants >> Rocks. Or like this:

Things have more being the more spiritual they are, and less being the more material they are. So, you combine the two ideas, Great Chain of Being and Nature hates a vacuum, and you start to get a picture of a world where things like fairies can exist.

The example chain that I gave you would have been considered ridiculously simplistic. For example, there are actually different classes of angels, each created for a different purpose, all forming a sort of intermediary chain between man and God. The spiritual world was teeming with life, just like the material world was. So, then you have man in this Chain, filling up spiritual and physical space. We're these strange hybrid creatures in this cosmos teeming with this great diversity of being that leads all the way up to God – ultimate Being. It’s a bizarre idea, there were even theologians who asserted that there needed to be a specific number of human converts to Christianity before this world could come to an end – both to fill the perfect number of humans that God desired to fill heaven, and to replace the fallen angels. Read Anselm’s Cur Deus Hommo, it’s weird. But this doesn’t explain fairies very much yet.

Ok, so, given this kind of a world, where every inch of the spiritual and physical universe is filled with something, faerie was considered part of that something. Faerie wasn’t a creature, it was a place that existed on earth, but also not on earth, and its creatures were both otherworldly and tied to this planet. Faerie isn’t really something you can define with much accuracy, and neither are faeries, but I can make some sweeping generalizations about what all of this was believed to be. Faerie was a place where the fairies lived and it was a place that human beings were not supposed to go to. It was not a bad place, or an evil place, it was just a place that human beings did not belong. Faeries themselves were not evil creatures, they were not demons, rather they were more like sentient expressions of nature. They had their own magic, their own lives, and their own rules that they were bound by. They weren’t good either. Just like you didn’t actually want to go to faerie, you didn’t want to meet one of its inhabitants. Faeries are not sweet little things with butterfly wings like you see in all the Victorian paintings, 
This is sweet... it's also not a traditional fairy.
they were unpredictable creatures who ruined crops, stole children, made travelers lose their way, killed people and dyed their hats in the blood, and so on. Faerie magic was a magic of illusion, of trickery, of harm sometimes, but also potentially of great help. If a faerie took a liking to you it could make sure your crops grew, or your house was protected, or that you recovered from an illness. Faerie magic was a lot like natural magic. The magic of herbs resided in the herbs, and the magic of faeries resided in the creatures themselves. They too were creatures of God, they lived along side man, but had nothing to do with his spiritual destiny.
Things like this were Faeries, and they didn't like you

What should we make of these things? Honestly, I’m not sure. On the one hand some authorities in the church considered them to be folk superstitions, and believed that any alleged interactions people had with them were probably with demons. On the other hand there were authorities in the church who believed they could exist. Scientifically speaking, of course, there’s no evidence that these things exist, there’s also a lot of evidence that Aristotle was wrong. Nature does not abhor a vacuum, there are empty spaces. Faeries aren’t necessary to fill the gaps. But, I see no reason for Christians to adopt anything other than a traditional attitude toward the mention of faeries. People weren’t seeking these things out; in fact most fairy lore is teaching people how to avoid these things or how to make them leave you alone. Maybe fairies are real (while science hasn’t proven their existence, it certainly hasn’t disproven it either), or maybe they are just demons preying on the superstitious, but there certainly has never been a traditional desire to seek them out, and I see no reason to change.

However, I believe there’s a difference between Faerie as a dubious reality and humanity’s interaction with the fairy tale. In my next post I’ll argue that not only are fairy tales not spiritually dangerous, but they're actually spiritually and morally edifying! Don’t throw your Grimm Brothers and Disney films out just yet J

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Christianity and Magic #2: Natural Magic

                Last post I talked about the kind of magic that the Bible condemned - maleficium. Today I want to talk about something called 'Natural Magic'. An good grasp of natural magic is important for understanding a couple facets of western culture. First off, though, it’s best to define what natural magic is. Natural magic was a form of magic that was used with the intention of understanding, predicting, and controlling the natural world. It involved the quest to summon or tap into natural powers in the earth. It involved such disciplines as astrology, medicine, and eventually alchemy. Now, on the surface this sounds a bit like maleficium, like summoning infernal powers to do your bidding. I hope to show, however, that natural magic is a fundamentally different, and biblically unobjectionable practice.
           I think what’s most important to understand when considering natural magic is that it stemmed from a radically different way of viewing the natural world. When the ancients and the Medievals thought about nature they thought of it as an organism[1]. The earth and the heavens were alive and had a sort of intelligence. In ancient paganism these manifested themselves as different sorts of deities. When Christianity came to the west, however, the earth and the heavens retained their life and their intelligence but now as members of a created order. This wasn’t just a case of newly converted Christians retaining an older pagan system. Instead it was an instance of Christians seeking what true things the older pagans had discovered (these things were expected to be true in observation and not contradictory to the Bible). As far as early Christians were concerned the living earth was compatible with a Christian worldview. This was not pantheism, it was simply the belief that if God gave life to plants and other animals, why couldn’t the earth have a sort of life? Why couldn’t the heavens?
           This seems very strange to modern people. The main reason is that we’ve abandoned the view that nature is alive. We don’t think of it as a living organism, we think of it as a machine. There was nothing, however, unbiblical or sinister in the act of viewing nature as an organism. In fact, many verses in the bible seemed to support this view!  Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” Psalm 145:1 “All your works praise you, LORD; your faithful people extol you.” Even Christ in Luke claims that “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Early Christians took for granted that, while there was an element of poetic license in these statements (and many other statements like these), there was also an element of truth in them. Christ seems to be very serious when he claims that stones would cry out in praise of God, so it seemed fair to think that there was some sort of life inherent in nature.
          So, natural magic. Like maleficium power does not come from the user, rather it resides in the object. The important difference, however, is that in this case these are natural powers. When God created the world, the living universe, he imbued it with its own powers (like he gave humans the power of reason). So plants, herbs, stones, the stars, etc all have their own life, their own secrets, their own properties and powers. Certain herbs could affect miraculous cures for diseases, the movements and positions of the stars exerted mysterious influences over the earth, and the natural magician attempted to learn those secrets and to use them.

You may have noticed this already, but in the ancient and medieval world there was no clear distinction between science and natural magic. There was no place where you could really say magic stops here and science begins. Natural magic and science as we understand it were closely intertwined. Alchemy is, perhaps, the example of this way of thinking that is most easily accessible to contemporary people. Most people are aware that there existed at one time a group of men who conducted chemical experiments designed to discover the philosopher’s stone – a stone that could turn all materials into gold. There was a practical side to this endeavor. Alchemists would play with metals and chemicals, conducting experiments just like a modern chemist – yet they were nothing at all like chemists. They believed that the universe was alive, that some metals were more perfect than others, that the universe had spiritual as well as material properties. In the end you could not be a successful alchemist if you weren’t also a virtuous and pious man. But if you were successful you would be able to exercise a transformative control over nature – turning lead to gold, changing people’s appearance, and healing sickness. Such were the efforts of the great magicians Paracelsus, Richard Boyle, and Isaac Newton himself[2].

This seems to be very different from maleficium. It’s founded on a view of the earth that, at the time, seemed to be supported by both the Bible and the best educated men leading all the way back to antiquity. While a pagan conception of this view of nature lead to a sort of pantheism a Christian conception gave full glory and power over creation to God. As Christians it seems as though our only real objection to this sort of magic (the magic that gave us herbal medicine and clockwork figures) lies mostly in the realm of the practical. Most of this stuff simply didn’t work, because it didn’t have a sufficient understanding of natural causes. We understand the physical workings of the world better now – no one would deny this. It seems to me, however, that natural magicians, while praising our material accomplishments, would mourn the loss of their spiritual view of nature, and, quite frankly, I think Christians should mourn this too.

Thanks for reading. This is such a huge topic, and there’s so much to be said about natural magic in particular that I just don’t have the time or scope to deal with. I have some good sources though if anyone wants to learn about it from real people. A few good places to start would be the works of Francis Yates, Keith Thomas, Richard Kiekheff (his Magic in the Middle Ages is interesting), and Benjamin Lipscomb’s Magic, Science, and the Ethics of Technology.  Next week I’ll do some posts on a topic that a special place in my heart: Faerie and literary magic. I hope to culminate in a post on how I think Christians should regard the magic in Harry Potter on Halloween. It should be fun!

[1] This was affirmed by the greatest thinkers of the past: Ptolemy, Aristotle, Plato, etc.
[2] All of these men were well documented alchemists, even Newton, who was actually more interested in alchemy and theology than he was in physics (and a secret heretic!). He definitely did not have a mechanistic view of the universe, and even believed that gravity’s force was more mystical than it was material. Actually, fun fact, quantum physics is kind of backing up this view again. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Two Sentence Movie Reviews: October 2014

I thought I'd do another one of these. I haven't really been watching movies latley, but there were a few I'd seen that were well suited to this abbreviated format! :)

The Secret of the Kells:
It has Irish paganism, Celtic Christianity, and beautifully illuminated manuscripts. There is literally nothing that you shouldn’t love in this quirky animated movie. 8 invading barbarians out of 10.

Justice League War:
I never fully realized how cool Wonder Woman was until I saw this film. I still hate Superman (but he was barely in it). 7 Batmans saving the day out of 10.

Guardians of the Galaxy:
I expected this movie to be fantastic and I was not disappointed. Rocket Raccoon and Groot are literally my bae (that’s how kids use that word, right?). 9.5 awesome mix tapes out of 10.

Like, omg, this teenage rom com totally turned out to be an early 2000’s adaptation of Emma. It was not horrible, and there’s something to be said for that. 6 awkward relationships out of 10.

Wreck it Ralph:
This was not my favorite Disney movie, but it was still super cute. You kept rooting for Ralph throughout the movie, even if some of the other characters were super awkward – plus, I can now answer those questions in QuizUp! 7 product placements out of 10.

The Lego Movie:
Um, I didn’t want to watch this movie, I thought there was absolutely no way it could ever possibly work, that it was literally the worst idea ever. Somehow they made it awesome, and I’m not sure how. 9 master builders out of 10.

The Amazing Spiderman 2:
Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is cute, and I really liked the soundtrack. It was ok, but not super memorable. 7 dead girlfriends out of 10.

Rio 2:
I discovered that Buster from Arrested Development voiced Blu. After about 10 minutes, however the novelty wore off – one was enough. 5 endangered species out of 10.

The Grand Budapest Hotel:
I watched this on a plane… so I have no idea if I can really recommend this movie… but the (probably) heavily edited version I saw was really good. It was so bizarre, and not the kind of comedy that I expected it to be, but it was a good movie. 8 cakes out of 10.

The Good Shepherd:
Ug, this made it on my top three least favorite movies ever list. It was just another long, pointless, pretentious piece of ‘artistic’ crap (I’m looking at you Blade Runner, 2001 Space Odyssey). 0 CSI agents 10 (no really, it was horrid). 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Christian Perceptive: Magic Pt. 1

     DISCLAIMER: Ok, I'm finally going to do it. I will take the plunge and start a post series on what I believe a Christian view of magic should be and how we should deal with it in literature (I'm lumping books, film, and T.V under the heading of literature, because that's just how I do). Also, I think this will be fun because Halloween is just around the corner! This first post will be an exploration of what magic is, how it has been defined  historically, and what the Bible actually says about it - but in a blog form and not an intellectual paper form. What follows are my own views and opinions. I am not an authoritative expert. I did take a class last semester that touched on this topic, so I'm not completely un-educated. At the end of the day, however, I urge you to follow the dictates of your own conscience. 

I know that a lot of people in the Christian community have a lot of reservations concerning magic. Now, you wouldn’t really think that this would be a problem; this is the modern world after all. We live in an age of science and technology; we don’t need to resort to superstition in order to explain the world any more. And in some ways that sentiment is true. Science and technology have allowed us to explore the world. We have made incredible natural discoveries. However, this has led to a rather ignorant attitude about magic and the culture of spell craft that existed well into the seventeenth century (yeah, you read that right).

Now there are several reasons that Christians especially should have an accurate understanding of what magic is and what it isn’t, which I will be exploring in a post series of sorts. The first reason, and the one that most Christians are apt to point out (rightly so) is that sorcery is explicitly forbidden by the Bible. For example one can consult Isaiah 8:19-20, Deuteronomy 18: 9-12, Leviticus 19: 26, 20:6, Revelation 21:8 etc. There are bunches (that’s a good academic word, right?) more that all basically say the same thing: don’t practice sorcery or divination. That seems pretty straightforward, only it actually isn’t. Before you break out the torches and pitchforks let me say this. The reason these verses aren’t straightforward is not because they’re ambiguous, because they’re not. The reason they’re harder to understand than you’d think is because contemporary society has no idea what magic actually is. When the Bible says ‘magic is bad’ what the ancients heard when the word magic was used and what moderns hear are very, very different.

I can say with all confidence (and I will in another post) that the magic condemned in the Bible is not Harry Potter magic, or Star Wars magic, or Narnia magic, or even fairy tale magic. The Medievals had a much better word for what the Bible condemns: maleficium (lit. wrongdoing). This word, maleficium, was not a general word for bad actions, but referred to sinful acts of a peculiarly spiritual variety. It refers specifically to intentions. In this kind of magic powers are used, tapped into, whatever, for specifically sinful intentions. Curses, spells, charms, potions, etc. were all incredibly prevalent in the ancient and medieval world. There was a trade in them that had probably been around as long as humans had. You used them to protect yourself from harm and to hurt your enemies. Most of these practices, practically speaking, were probably harmless but they rested in a tradition that was spiritually dangerous. In the traditional understanding of magic you needed to know the right words, and you needed to have the right tools, but ultimately the power did not rest in the caster. The ancients and the Medievals believed that there were powers in the world that, if you knew the right things, you could tap into and use. This was the kind of magic that was expressly forbidden in the Bible because, as it turns out, there really are dark spiritual powers that are more than willing to take advantage of human beings who invoke them carelessly (or carefully).

It’s perfectly true that this idea of maleficium is condemned by the Bible, and not just the casting of spells but the calling of spirits as well (for more obvious reasons). However, the Bible’s condemnation isn’t so much against the practice of calling on greater powers (or else prayer and the performance of miracles would be suspect too) what's being objected to as the sinful intentions behind these acts. Why did people practice maleficium? There are several reasons, each as ugly as the next. Malice, greed, bitterness, lust, and pride. The fact that you’re calling on dark powers to help you realize your own evil desires is sinful because it acts as a sort of inversion of holy prayer and miracles. Instead of maintaining holy desires and relying on the power of God, human beings chose to foster sinful impulses and turn to evil supernatural forces to help them realize their goals. It’s your intentions, just as much as your actions, that matter. And on this point I agree with those who say we should have nothing to do with magic. Magic, properly understood, is without a doubt condemned by God. It is real, and it is dangerous in so much as those who play with that sort of thing open themselves to demonic influences. As such it is to be avoided and condemned.

     What I want to explore, however, is whether all magic is like what I’ve described above, or whether or not the English word magic is a sort of blanket term that refers to a sundry of different practices, and whether any of them are acceptable for Christians to engage with and in. Keeping in mind what exactly the Bible is condemning as I move forward, I will posit that, yes, there are different sorts of ‘magic’ that the Bible says absolutely nothing about, and that good Christian men and women have explored. In my next posts I’ll be looking at Natural Magic, Faerie, and Literary Magic specifically. It should be fun! :) Stay tuned!

Christianity and Magic Posts:
Natural Magic
Fairy Tales
Literary Magic
Harry Potter

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Theological Musings: The Fruit and the Bread

     My friend is in a poetry class this semester and she wrote a poem (weird... how that happened) that I thought had some really interesting ideas. It's a sort of dramatic monologue in which the Serpent tempts Eve to eat the fruit. The way she does that is interesting in and of itself, but what really caught my attention were the parallels she made between Eve's consumption of the fruit and the sacrament of communion. 

     This may sound a little strange, but I think she's stumbled across something incredibly fascinating. I'm sure many people are familiar with the idea of Typology - the idea that important doctrines and New Testament occurrences are symbolized, or pre-figured, in Old Testament stories. The big example is that Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac (and his gift of the Ram in the thicket) is a typology for Christ's sacrifice. If you're not sure what a typology is there's a lot written on it other places, like here  In Genesis I think there are a lot of 'twisted' typologies. Paul brings this up when he talks about how Christ is the Second Adam. He says:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin ...death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come... Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5). 

That's a lengthy quotation I know, but it illustrates the point I'm trying to make nicely I think. Adam was a type of Christ. It is from Adam that all humans were given physical life, and it is through Christ that all humans can receive spiritual life. But the idea of a twisted typology comes with the fall. Adam's sin resulted in spiritual and physical death for all people. whereas Christ's death resulted in the forgiveness of sin and the gift of spiritual life for those who would accept it. In Christ not only are the effects of the fall reversed, but the actions of the fall are reversed as well.   

This twisted typology extends to other aspects of the fall story and the redemption story. I'm not going out on much of a limb here, this is sort of a traditional understanding of the parallels between the fall and the redemption. Mary is often cited as a redemptive type of Eve. In Genesis God says "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed," (Genesis 3: 15). St. Anselm identifies the typology represented here quite nicely, saying, "And, as sin, the cause of our condemnation, had its origin from a woman, so ought the author of our righteousness and salvation to be born of a woman." Eve's disobedience precipitated our fall, but Mary's faith and obedience gave birth to our redemption. Another twisted typology is in the trees that are present in both stories. The devil conquered man with fruit from a tree, while he himself was conquered when Christ was raised on a tree. 

There are many types in the fall account that appear and are redeemed in the story of Christ. I think that the fruit can be rightly considered one of these twisted types. In the Genesis account Eve relates God's instructions concerning the fruit to the Serpent, saying: "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;  but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die." (Genesis 3:2-3). So here we have a command from God "Do not eat." When this command is disobeyed, when the fruit is eaten, the consequence is that human beings are spiritually separated from God. I think that, if you look at the very beginning of the redemptive work during Maundy Thursday (during Passion week) that you have the typological fulfillment of that event. During the Last Supper the consumption of the fruit is redeemed in the consumption of the bread and wine. In this instance you have God in Christ giving the command "Take and eat." When this command is obeyed it serves to restore the spiritual communion between man and God and believer with believer.* The action of the fall, the severing of the spiritual communion between man and God,  is reversed in the action of communion. 

I'll end with this quote from St. Anselm, who is my favorite: 
We do no injustice or dishonor to God, but give him thanks with all the heart, praising and proclaiming the ineffable height of his compassion. For the more astonishing a thing it is and beyond expectation, that he has restored us from so great and deserved ills in which we were, to so great and unmerited blessings which we had forfeited; by so much the more has he shown his more exceeding love and tenderness towards us. For did they but carefully consider bow fitly in this way human redemption is secured, they would not ridicule our simplicity, but would rather join with us in praising the wise beneficence of God.

*I am aware that this statement may appear to offer a false view of communion, but that's only, I think, if you view the communion office as merely symbolic, which I do not. I believe that the Eucharist is not merely meant as a commemorative event, but is actually a spiritual act of worship that restores the individual's communion with God in a deeply spiritual way. I do not believe that taking communion is in anyway tied to Salvation, merely that the Eucharistic feast is meant to connect the believer with God, but different views of communion and what I believe is a whole different blog post - or maybe several.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Beautiful People: August

Beautiful People is here again! Doing one person is boring, so I decided to do three characters. I brought back Adhara, and I'm introducing Mira (who's the protagonist of the story, so it's about time she made an appearance), and a novice healer named Ehrai. These three are really the core characters of the story so I thought it'd be fun to hold them up to one another and look at how different they all are. So... yeah...

1) What does your character regret the most in their life? 
A: #Spoilers
M: Nothing very much. She doesn’t really have a tragic story. She’s been very sheltered her entire life
E: His younger brother died before the story starts. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault (illness), but he’s still sad about it. It’s what made him want to become a healer.

2) What is your character's happiest memory? Most sorrowful memory? 
A: Geez, what’s with all of the super spoilerific questions? Um, happiest memory is being invited to study at a prestigious scholar’s guild. That’s all I’m saying
M: Her happiest memory? Geez, that’s deep. I haven’t developed my main character enough yet to know that. *hangs head in shame* where are the shallow questions? Sad memory???
E: Happiest memory: Playing with his brother when they were younger. Saddest memory: His brother dying.

3) What majorly gets on your character’s nerves? 
A: Interaction with people she feels are ridiculous.
M: People who are unkind to others.
E: When people get cuts and don’t clean them properly. I mean really. At least wash it off!

4) Do they act differently when they're around people as opposed to being alone? If so, how? 
A: Not really – which is maybe not a good thing seeing as how she is generally unpleasant.
M: Yes, most people do. She’s very polite and worried about how others are feeling and how they perceive her. When she’s alone she’s more relaxed.
E: Yes – when he’s with people he’s very outgoing and gregarious. He likes to make jokes and tease people. When he’s alone he’s usually more calm and serious (usually because he’s studying)

5) What are their beliefs and superstitions? (Examples: their religion or lack of one, conspiracy theories, throwing salt, fear of black cats.) 
A: Adhara is a follower of a complex religious system. It is monotheistic, but is littered with different spirits. These aren’t divine, but they’re believed to be closely intertwined with human life, and have a higher authority than humans. Sometimes they work with man, sometimes they’re his enemy. You live your life trying to appease the spirits, and occasionally attempt to bind or vanquish ones who get out of control. This is tied into a larger observance of the supreme deity who man and spirit worship in common, but in different ways and never together. You may pray to both God and to the spirits for help and guidance.
M: Mira is a priestess of the main human religion of the region. It’s basically an institutionalized version of what Adhara does. It places more of an emphasis on the supreme deity, and tends to view all spirits as threats (not without reason). Adherents are forbidden to ask the spirits for help or guidance, and instead follow strict rituals observing the one God they recognize.  
E: Ehrai is more superstitious than religious. He believes in both God and in spirits, but neither really affects the way he lives his life. He doesn’t really pray to either, and regards both with a certain amount of suspicion. He believes in things like ghosts and magic amulets that protect the wearer – although he never really feels enough fear to buy those sorts of things.

6) What are their catchphrases, or things they say frequently? 
A: “That’s wrong,” “tch.” “You’re an idiot,” and things like that.
M: She doesn’t really have any
E: “Let me look at that”

7) Would they be more prone to facing fears or running from them? 
A: She doesn’t just face her fears; she hunts them through dark alleyways and watches them while they sleep. She will stalk her fears until they are afraid of her and she has mastered herself once more. It offends her that things can make her feel that way.
M: She is more of the sort of person to run from her fears, mostly because she’s never really had any serious one before – not the kind you really have to face.
E: He’s the kind of person who faces his fears head on and always tries to do what he feels is right.

8) Do they have a good self image? 
A: Absolutely not, and also yes. It is possible to have both a terrible and incredibly arrogant estimation of your own self-worth at the same exact time.
M: She doesn’t have low self-esteem, but she’s also not arrogant. She’s young and unsure of herself sometimes, but she never doubts her worth and value.
E: He’s the same as Mira, although maybe a bit too sure of himself sometimes. He’s confident in his abilities as a healer, so far as they go, but he’s certainly not arrogant, not like Adhara anyways.

9) Do they turn to people when they're upset, or do they isolate themselves? 
A: She would isolate herself all the time if she could – so no, she doesn’t go to other people.
M: She likes to be alone to think things through. Then she’ll go and try and resolve whatever issue has been upsetting her.
E: He turns to his teacher for advice or to his father when he’s at home. He doesn’t do things alone very well, including thinking through his problems.

10) If they were standing next to you would it make you laugh or cry? 
A: Neither? She’d probably make me feel incredibly irritated though.
M: She’d make me smile if she were next to me. She’s just a nice, kind person – the sort of person who’s good at making you feel special and important.
E: He’d make me laugh for sure. He’s a funny guy, and he enjoys being the center of attention.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

There's No Place Like Home

This is just an update to say that I've made it back from England safely. I'll have some posts telling whoever's interested about the things I did there and soon as I get my life and pictures sorted! I had a wonderful time, but I'm incredibly happy to be home. Now to finish up those essays for the class!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Eleven More Days 'Til Oxford!


This maybe isn't as exciting as ten more days, or one more day, but I'm finding it hard to be patient. Yes my friends, I have eleven more days before I leave the country of my birth for the first time ever in my whole life! So basically I'm just super excited.

    I mean, the leaving will be exciting, guys, I have been ready to pack my bags for the past month and a half. The leading up to leaving and bag packing, however, has been the opposite of fun. Let me tell y'all, if you ever want to leave the country and have a wonderful time, maybe don't do it as a two week Summer class. Because my professor assigned nine books for us to read - nine. Ok, that's fine, I've had all summer to read them. And also we have to have several discussions questions per book before classes start - great, I don't mind. Oh, and also eight five page essays, the rough drafts of which are also due before class starts - wait what? Didn't get the prompts until halfway through last week, so I've been frantically trying to balance work, getting last minute travel things taken care of, and all of these essays. Eep! It's been a nightmare. I have three done, and four more days to knock out the rest of them.

     But, on the bright side this trip, and its fourteen hour plane ride, is an excuse for me to start a new cross stitching project! It's one of an Old World Map, you know, the kind with sea monsters and pictures of exotic native and all that (except instead of sea monsters there are dolphins and turtles, but hey, you can't have everything).  Kind of like this:
But with cross stitch. So I'm pretty excited to do that. And once we get there I'm determined to have a good time (which, I imagine, will not be very difficult). We got our official itinerary and I'm super excited. I'm especially excited to see Julius Caesar at the Globe theater. I've heard that when Shakespeare put it on, the actor who played Caesar would have a pigs bladder filled with fake blood, and when he was stabbed he would spray it on the audience. I'm pretty much counting on that still happening today. We also get to go to the British Museum, and I was looking at their website and I had no idea all of the amazing things they had there! I knew about the Elgin Marbles, so of course I'll go see those, but they also have an amazing astrolabe, Easter Island heads, and, oh yeah, the freaking Rosetta Stone! Whaaa??? Super excited. 

     We also get to go and do super British things like take high tea with English nobility (I forget who, probably the Queen). I'll get a chance to put all my hard work to use. I never used to like tea before, but as soon as I heard about this trip I made myself develop a taste for it. I have mastered the art of black English tea. Bwahahaha. Now I too can be incredibly sophisticated. And I'll get to eat English food - which I'm not actually that thrilled about, because they eat some freakish things - but I do like Shepard's pie, so there's that. 

This my friends is an English delicacy called stargazy pie. They also eat eels they fish from the Thames.

     Anyways, all that just to say, I still have more than a week until I leave, but I'm getting pretty darn impatient. I guess I'll write those miserable essays to while the time away. Three down, five more to go.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Beautiful People - July 2014

So, for this month's Beautiful People I thought I'd do one that holds a special place in my heart - Adhara. Adhara is a twenty-six year old philologist, child prodigy, and over-all unpleasant human being. I love her. She also happens to be the host on whom Marfik, from June's edition, attaches himself. She is an INTJ and a sort of cold, brash intellectual. Her Enneagram Type is 5 and she probably fluctuates between a level 6 and 7. And yeah, on to the questions!

1) What’s their favourite food? (Bonus: favourite flavor of chocolate!) 

Adhara’s favorite food is sweet buns, like they sell at festivals. They’re easy to munch on while you walk around and look at all the interesting merchant stalls and exhibitions. Plus, they taste awesome. As for chocolate, they don’t have that where she lives – but if they did I’m pretty sure she’d be a dark chocolate kind of girl.

2) What do they absolutely hate? 

She hates getting wet (She’s not one to go and play out in the rain). She also hates overly emotional people and sentimentality. And having the endings of books spoiled for her.

3) What do they enjoy learning about? 

She really, really, really loves myth and history. She doesn’t really see them as being that different and will often confuse the two, speaking authoritatively on how the real power behind the Sa’d al Bahri dynasty was a menacing water spirit, or casually mentioning the morning routines of demi-gods in academic conversations.

However, she loves learning about languages the best. She loves seeing the way words come together, and the different ways people say things allow them to think differently as well. She’s rather adept at learning languages, and prefers to master the dead one (for purely pretentious reasons). She’s currently the youngest expert in ancient tongues and curses at the relatively inexperienced age of twenty-six.

4) Who is the most influential person in their life? 

The most influential person in her life was her first tutor (Who does not have a name at this time). He was the language expert at the Scholar’s Guild where she was raised, and he taught her to love philology. He was also just generally a nice person who would put up with her arrogant attitude without encouraging it (Hey, it’s not easy being a child prodigy).

5) What is their childhood fear? 

She was (and still is to a certain, and more metaphysical extent) afraid of  the dark.

6) What is something they have always secretly dreamed of doing, but thought impossible? 

She would love to illuminate a manuscript. She (secretly) thinks that the artists who bring manuscripts to life are just the coolest people ever. She works so hard translating things she’d love to illustrate them too. Alas, she realizes that she is terrible at drawing and that she would ruin anything she tried to take a hand to. She’s not even allowed to write the manuscripts, just translate them, and someone else, with better handwriting, will write them down.

7) What is something he is impractically afraid of? 

Well, I mean, most fears are, on some level, irrational. But I would probably go with public speaking. She’s an incredibly blunt person who’s not afraid to speak her mind in academic arguments and debates, but if you put her up in front of a whole bunch of people, she just can’t do it (well, she can, but she doesn’t want to).

8) Are they a night owl or morning person? 

She’s a night owl. She stays up until ungodly hours working and sleeps well past any decent hour.

9) Do they say everything that pops into their head, or leave a lot unsaid? 

She leaves most things unsaid. She’s not a particularly kind person, but she’s also smart enough to know that people don’t respond well to her unfiltered opinions. She tends to put up a false front – her people face – when dealing with strangers and acquaintances. However, with the very (very) few people she feels comfortable with, she’ll usually speak her mind (which is probably not for the best).

10) What are their nervous habits?

She chews her thumb nail and furrows her brow and things like that. She’ll also chew the inside of her lip – so chewing things. She’ll also become even more unpleasant and snap at most people around her.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth

Happy Independence Day, Y'all!

Enjoy your freedom my friends.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Recommendation: The Book of Three

     I'm a huge fan of fantasy - I always have been. I'm also a huge fan of Disney, and there's nothing better than finding out that a Disney movie you enjoy (The Black Cauldron) is also based on a fantasy classic (Well, actually two, it's loosely based on The Book of Three and the second book in the series The Black Cauldron). So I scuttled over to the nearest library and checked out the audio book (because dang it, I'm taking a summer class and I have NINE books I'm supposed to read for that, but I'll listen to whatever I please when I'm driving to and from work). Again, my luck with audio-books holds (not counting my brief encounter with Doctor Zhivago). 

     The Book of Three is the first of a five book series by Lloyd Alexander called The Chronicles of Prydain. Please enjoy a brief summary of its contents (lifted directly from the back cover): "Taran is bored with his Assistant Pig-Keeper duties, even though his charge is none other than Hen-Wen, Prydain's only oracular pig. He's rather be doing something more heroic, like making swords and learning to use them. When Hen-Wen escapes and Taran goes after her, he finds himself farther from home than he's ever been. Soon he begins to realize that heroism is no easy task. With the dreaded Horned King of he loose and King Arawn gathering the forces of evil, Taran must look past his own dreams to warn the population of Prydain - before it's too late."

     It's a generally accepted fact that all fantasy written after 1955 must inevitably be compared to The Lord of the Rings, so let's just get that comparison out of the way. Is it as good as LOTR? No. Do some parts kind of feel like LOTR? yes. However, this books was published in '64, when Tolkien's influence wasn't quite so pervasive, so any similarities largely stem from the fact that Tolkien and Alexander were both influenced (to varying extents) by Welsh mythology. Lloyd Alexander's books stand on their own in terms of quality. The Book of Three doesn't have the sort of epic scope that Tolkien achieves, on the other hand it's not trying to. What it's trying to be is just a good High Fantasy novel, and it is.

     So, if you are a fan of fantasy, and/or good books, this is a great one to read. The characters were what really sold this story for me. The plot kind of rambles a bit, but the characters are just so well-drawn that you are perfectly content to ramble about with them. Taran is a fantastic hero. He's very young in this book (I think about thirteen or fourteen), and Lloyd Alexander manages to capture really well what it would be like for a fourteen-year old kid to suddenly find himself on an adventure of this sort. He makes mistakes, comes to realize that being a hero is a lot harder and less glamorous than it sounds, and has to wholly rely on the help of his friends. The ending does have kind of a LOTR feel to it (in more of a thematic sense than an event sense), which I really enjoyed. The cast of supporting characters were what really did it for me though. Princess Elonwy is hilarious. She's exactly what I've always wanted from a female character. She's feminine, but also really well developed. She's feisty but also kind, and has a very peculiar way of speaking that I thought was great. She's practical, but also 14 herself (I'm making that up, I have no idea how old they are exactly) and not that great at everything she tries her hand at. And also, Doli the dwarf, and Fflewddur Flam, and Gurgi are all my favorites. I would go on about them, but it would take pages, and you should just read and experience them for yourself. 

     I'm so glad I found this series, and each book is better than the last. It's been a long time since I found books that were so captivating. I actually want to drive places now so I can find out what happens next (which if you know me is a big deal). It's well written, with engaging characters, and a rich mythology of its own. On another note, I know that the book is always better than the movie, but after reading these, and going back to watch the Disney film I couldn't help but feel a little sad. I just couldn't enjoy it anymore, the book was just 8 million and ten times better. Do yourself a favor and get a hold of this seriously underrated fantasy series.

***Note*** I know some people are a bit hesitant when it comes to fantasy books because of magic. For a fantasy series I can honestly say this doesn't have much magic, and what magic it does have is the kind you would find in Arthurian legend. There's a pig who can see the future, a minor character is a sort of Merlin-esque figure. There are evil enchantresses (who never actually do any magic funnily enough), and things like that (and monsters called the cauldron born who are basically warrior zombies, but we don't like them, and they're unequivocally evil). If you're ok with King Arthur, then these books shouldn't be a problem. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Beautiful People June 2014

Beautiful People is back! For those of you who maybe haven't come across this before, it's a neat exercise for writers. Basically you're given a list of questions, you choose a character from a story you're working on, and answer them for you character. It's a fun way to get to know your character better, and to see what kinds of people other writers are creating. Beautiful People can be found here.  

1) What is their full name and is there a story behind why they got it? 
Well, I guess I'll do Marfik, because he's interesting. His name is Marfik and I named him that because it means 'elbow' and I thought it was ironic. You see, Marfik is a Salamander (of the mythological variety, which really means he's a great big flaming lizard beast). He's a sort of spirit in an animistic, shintoish sense. He attaches to the arm of another character. Hence the name 'elbow.'

(Not going to lie, Marfik is the name of a star, and I totally named all my characters after stars. If J.K. Rowling can do it why can't I?)

2) How old are they, and when were they born? 

I have no idea. Really old? It's not really relevant to my story. He's a spiritual being and, while he's not immortal, his lifespan is many times longer than a human's. He has a humanish form and while he's in that he appears to be in his late twenties/ early thirties.

3) Describe their physical appearance. (Bonus questions: 1. What is their race/nationality/ethnicity? 2. Do you have a picture of them? If so, include it!) 

As I have said before, picture a salamander... but on fire. So kind of like a Dragon, but not a dragon. He's not gigantic, and he can't breathe fire. Also his tail is more flat and sqaushy. I picture flames kind of shooting out of his joints. I don't have a picture of that, but I do have one of him in his humanish form (that I will not post because 1. It's a super sketchy class pencil doodle, and 2. because I'd have to scan it in and I'm too lazy...). He's well over six feet, and can really only manage to get the upper half of his body into a human shape. He doesn't have any hair though. Instead of head hair he has fire on his head. He has no eyebrows or eyelashes. His skin is dark tan with a really strange yellow tint and his eyes are yellow. 

He looks something like this, but with bigger claws and more teeth

4) Describe your character's personality first in one word, and then elaborate with a few sentences. 

Beastly? He is not a human, so I've decided not really to humanize him. He doesn't really speak ever and he rarely takes a human form. He is a great big lizard monster, and while he does possess reason, it's not human reason. He's very stoic, I guess. He is also a spirit in an animistic sense, so I've also been giving him a sense of ferocious dignity. He's not a pet, he's very clever, and very strong, and he could eat you... if he wanted.

5) What theme song(s) fit their personality and story arc? 

I have no idea. I don't really associate music with my characters or stories.

6) Which one of the seven deadly sins describes your character? 

I'm torn between wrath and gluttony. I think I'll go with gluttony. In my story spirits can assume the strength and power of other spirits by eating them, and that's what he does. But I'm not sold on gluttony. I could be another one...

Like this, only prettier.

7) If they were an element (fire, water, earth, air), which one would they be? 

Easy, fire. Boom!

8) What is their favorite word? 

Verbal symbols tied to objects and concepts are for humans. He may be forced into a relationship with some currently, but don't think for one second that he enjoys it.

9) Who’s one person they really miss? (It could be someone who’s passed away, or someone they’re not close to anymore, or someone who’s moved away.)

He doesn't miss anyone, but he does miss the way things used to be before he was sealed in a scroll for 400 years. He doesn't really feel like the world has a place for him anymore. 

10) What sights, sounds, and smells remind them of that person state of affairs? 

Uh, everything? There's a spiritual void in the world that he feels very deeply.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Exam Review

     Four men and four women file into a room to take the final exam that will secure one of them a position in the most prestigious company in the world. They sit at eight desks, and before them are eight pieces of paper. An Invigilator (exam proctor) and a security guard walk in. The Invigilator gives them a specific set of instruction. Before them is an exam, there is one question and one answer. They have 80 minutes to complete the exam. If they attempt to speak to him or to the security guard they will be disqualified. If they leave the room for any reason they will be disqualified. If they spoil their paper, accidentally or on purpose, they will be disqualified. Are there any questions? Begin. 

Spiritual Content:
     There isn't much overt spiritual content, but there are a whole lot of psychological and philosophical dilemmas. This movie doesn't sound like it would be very interesting, but boy is it ever. You see, (and I don't this counts as a spoiler) the exam paper has no visible question. Naturally the people taking the exam start to freak out. Is this some sort of joke? Is the question hidden somewhere? They then start to figure out the loop-holes in the Invigilators instructions, they figure out what they can and can't do to figure out the question and come up with the answer. They have a lot of freedom. The Invigilator tells them at the beginning of the exam" There are no rules in this room, except for our rules. There are no laws, except for our laws," and that certainly seems to be true. Exam asks a disturbing question - what do people become when they're placed in an isolated situation separated from the rules and laws of society. It's answer is both profound and disturbing. Human beings placed in that kind of a situation can only work together for so long before desperation and (in my opinion) their natural sinfulness cause them to make moral compromises. Humans, at bottom, are pretty horrible and this movie definitely makes that clear. The people who walked into that room were successful, intelligent, high achieving individuals - the best of us. At the end of the day, the best of us were broken. horrific caricatures of the people they pretended to be.

Other than that, for spiritual content, there was a character who wore a cross and quoted scripture some. He was not the worst person, but no one was really good all the time completely. 

     Hahahahahaha. People are horrible, and these horrible people did horrible things to each other. It was disturbing, but this movie was a psychological thriller, so what did you expect? It started out with some punches. Then, a character is bound (deservingly) to a chair and gagged. Another character is tortured in a pretty disturbing scene. She is also tied to a chair while another character interrogates her for information. He uses a piece of paper to cut her legs, and then threatens to cut her eye if she doesn't tell him what he wants to know. One character is sick and has seizures. And, finally, someone gets shot. ***SPOILER*** This character doesn't die because he's shot with a magic medicine bullet that will cure all the world's problems. ***END SPOILER*** 

I think, though, that the most disturbing thing is not what these people did to each other, but what they didn't do. I mean, there was some feeble protesting when people were being hurt, but mostly people just let things happen. I think we all know the saying 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil if for good men to do nothing,' and that is certainly true in this movie.

Sexual Content:
     Some men throw innuendos at the girls, but other than that, nothing. 

    This movie was both disturbing and really good. It built the tension up really well. These people did ridiculously horrible things, but the escalation was done really well. You were sort of like a horrified spectator. You wanted to stop the madness, but you couldn't. And then you wanted somebody else to stop the madness and they didn't, and it was infuriating. The ending was also infuriating, but it did a good job of making you understand why the company had allowed that freak show to go on. *** SPOILER*** Because the company had invented the magic cure for all diseases they needed an administrator who had both a good moral compass in a horrible situation and a good attention to detail (hence the really stupid exam). The person who won had these things, and she did her best considering that she was a girl in a room filled with psycho boys who could (and would) do horrible things to her. ***END SPOILER*** 

     Almost all of these people were varying degrees of horrible. Some were kind of ok. Others were absolute monsters, but that was the point. Most people, at bottom, are a bit ethically challenged. We know this from some kind of disturbing real-life psychological experiments we've done. If you take people out of heir normal social environment most of them will do horrible things to other people. And I appreciated that this movie talked about that. Even the character who won wasn't perfect. This movie wasn't meant to be an idealization of the human condition. It didn't say 'Yes, most people are bad, but deep down inside there's a shining spot of goodness that we can all bring out, and look at how principled our hero is in the face of adversity!' I literally had no idea who was going to win - in fact I thought that the worst one was going to win. That character didn't, and I was pleased with who won, but it was still a pretty sobering look at the human condition.

Overall Conclusion: 8/10
    I really liked this movie. It's probably not appropriate for all audiences, but it was surprisingly good. The story was suspenseful and engaging. The characters were a realistic depiction of the human condition, and the movie challenged me to think about 'what would I do.' It's always easy to believe that we could never be like that, but I think if we think about it - unless we actively practice virtue and make a continuing commitment to righteous living we would make compromises in that sort of scenario. Those people didn't wake up that day expecting themselves to do those things. Their actions were a reflection of their inner character, and the real point of the Exam was to make that abundantly clear. One of the characters says that the Exam shows you yourself, and that turns out to be true in the most heartbreaking and revolting way.