Dan Brown – Origin – A Guided Tour

I have been a big fan of Dan Brown’s books, all the way back to Digital Fortress and Deception Point. Origin, the latest book in the Robert Langdon series, is no exception. Even though the books follow a fairly predictable structure, i.e. “middle aged professor saves the world from a shadowy foe with attractive young woman against backdrop of old buildings and paintings”, I still enjoy them.

What I enjoy most is the way that a crucial real-world question of philosophy, science or religion is woven into what appears on the surface to be a low-reader-investment thriller. With this approach, I think Dan Brown has managed to reach an audience which would otherwise never pick up a book on the ethics of genetic engineering, comparative religious studies, ancient architecture or synthetic intelligence.

I won’t go into the plot here, you should go and read the book yourself. What I did find, was that I was stopping every 10 pages to look up a painting, building or religious cult on the internet. In order to save you some time, I have created a list of links to some of the key elements of the book. Some of them I had heard of before, others were entirely new to me. There are no real spoilers in the list, hopefully it will save you some googling.

One day I hope to make it to Spain to do an Origin tour, as I was able to do in Rome and Washington D.C. focused on the content of Angels & Demons and The Lost Symbol. Let me know what you thought of the book, and if you think I have missed anything.

(this post has no association with Dan Brown or Penguin/Bantam, links are all to external sites)

Works of Art

Yves Klein

Leap into the Void:  https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1992.5112/

Monotone Silence (nudity): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkHoWUwxEFM&t=5s

Luis Boureois

Maman: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/10856

Richard Serra

The Matter of Time: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/21794

Joan Miro

Signs and Meteors (not specifically mentioned, but Joan is referenced):

https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/8519

Pablo Picasso

El Guernica: http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/collection/artwork/guernica

Antoni Gaudi

Parc Guell: https://erasmusu.com/en/erasmus-barcelona/what-to-see/parc-guell-1897

La Sopa Primordial: http://www.barcelona-metropolitan.com/features/barcelona-history-underfoot-the-city%27s-tiles/

Paul Gauguin

Where do we come from what are we doing where are we going?:

http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/where-do-we-come-from-what-are-we-where-are-we-going-32558

William Blake

Vala or the Four Zoas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vala,_or_The_Four_Zoas

The Ancient of Days: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ac/Europe_a_Prophecy_copy_K_plate_01.jpg/800px-Europe_a_Prophecy_copy_K_plate_01.jpg

Buildings/Locations

Montserrat

http://www.complexmania.com/montserrat-rack-railway/

Library – http://www.montserratvisita.com/en/culture/montserrat-library

Guggenheim – Bilbao

https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/the-building/

Dohany Synagogue in Budapest

360 internal: http://www.synagogues360.org/synagogues.php?ident=hungary_003

Local photos, plus weeping willow sculpture: https://www.budapestbylocals.com/budapest-great-synagogue.html

Catedral de la Almundena

http://www.catedraldelaalmudena.es/imagenes/

Royal Palace of Madrid

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Palace_of_Madrid

Palacio de la Zarzuela

https://www.digitalsevilla.com/2017/10/17/alerta-zarzuela/

Szechenyi Chain Bridge

https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g274887-d276821-i124534337-Szechenyi_Chain_Bridge-Budapest_Central_Hungary.html

Basilica of Palmar De Troya

(visit by former nun) http://www.mariahallwriter.com/basilica_visit/

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/El_Palmar_de_Troya.jpg

Casa Mila (by Gaudi)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Mil%C3%A0

video mentioned in book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utaTcNq2mHs&t=5s

La Basilica De La Sagrada Familia

Must be seen to be believed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lYdrhYYWpg&t=733s

Plan for completion by 2026: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJ8NcKNlZzg

El Escorial

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Escorial

Barcelona Supercomputing Center

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/barcelona-supercomputing-center

Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valle_de_los_Ca%C3%ADdos

Organisations or People

Palmarian Catholic Church:

(totally real) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmarian_Catholic_Church

Spanish Royal Guard

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Royal_Guard

Random Information

What is a Whiffenpoof?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Whiffenpoofs

Symbols of Franco

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbols_of_Francoism

D-Wave (Quantum Computer)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D-Wave_Two

Miller-Urey Experiment

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller%E2%80%93Urey_experiment

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Star Wars: The Last Misogynist

I have been watching the outrage and disappointment being voiced on social media and blogs regarding the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise and want to respond. As our family are long-time fans, since I first saw A New Hope way back in 1977, we all went to see the latest film, The Last Jedi, last week.

Warning: Spoilers there will be.

For me, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, it wasn’t too long, the cinematics were beautiful and it was so great to see Mark Hamill back on the screen with an actual speaking part, it was also bittersweet to see Carrie Fisher on the big screen for the last time. Our 8, 6 and 3 year old boys all made it through the whole film and stayed engaged. My 14 year old twins weren’t as impressed, but I put that down to hormones.

So why so much hate? This Vox article by Todd VanDerWerff provides an excellent summary and even references this petition for those hoping to remove Last Jedi from the Star Wars canon.  This Vanity Fair article by Joanna Robinson points to the notable disparity between the critic score, 93%, and the viewer score, 56%. Joanna also summarises what Todd says less clearly, that this negative viewer score is the result of ‘Make America Great Again’ white male misogynists who are angry at the films content.

In the context of the #MeToo phenomena and the spectacular recent fall from power of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Don Bourke (Australian TV), Matt Lauer (see the full list here) it feels like society is experiencing the re-awakening of female power. I can see how generations of men who have gotten away with, and even expected, their right to be in charge and treat women however they feel without consequence, might be feeling a little vulnerable.

The Last Jedi was full of recognition of the capabilities of women. From Rey as heroine, to both Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo as leaders and the addition of Rose Tico (a mechanic, Firefly anyone?). So many stereotypes toppled and paradigms shifted. I can see why this would make many men still living in a chauvinist bubble very uncomfortable.

Some specific elements include Leia and Holdo in their disapproval of young hotshot, Poe’s, aggressive approach to everything. The idea that rationality and wisdom, in the minds of women, is better at winning the day than macho action is repeated several times in the film. It is also shown that despite this tendency for rationality, women are equally capable of taking violent decisive action when the situation requires it.

In the scenes with Rose and Finn, it is Finn that is taking the path of a coward and Rose who surges ahead with confidence, integrity and dedication.

Luke has been sulking for many years over a mistake (a stereotypical male response) and it is Rey who draws him out and back into the fight. Without giving too much away about the final scenes, Luke’s means of defeating the enemy is the ultimate in passivity. Take this a little deeper and realise that throughout Luke’s island tantrum, Leia continued to fight the remnants of the Empire and the rise of the First Order.

I think that what Director, Rian Johnson, has done with Last Jedi is a beautiful addition to the Star Wars cannon, and is an excellent reading of the 2017 zeitgeist.

Slightly off the topic of rectifying the balance in the gender relations, Rian also slips in a bit of timely exposure for arms dealers. In my song Charlottesville, I tried to capture the reality that often in any fight between two parties, there is a third party profiting at no risk to themselves. I wonder who that third party is in the current gender war?

Star Wars related, but off the topic of the film, one of my 12 songs for Christmas this year has a Star Wars theme.

I can’t predict where #metoo is headed, if the views of these bizarre feminists, is anything to go by then nowhere, but I am hopeful, that it is the spark of resistance, that it will lead to balance and mutual respect. Long live the Rebel Alliance!

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The Tower

Standing silent and still,
Steel frame and wires,
Ominous.
A long-dead Christmas Tree,
Baubles of weathered fibreglass,

But your silence is a shroud,
You always speak, share, collect.
Staccato chirping, just beyond human ken.
Passing the fragments of sad existence,
Money, secret love, a family photo,
The blancmange of our lives.

Watching, listening,
Drip feeding the morphine of our stupor,
TV which long since broke with reality.
Carefully manicured data,
constructed for effect,
Twisting and torturing truth.

With a thousand friends,
you stand sentry,
like the guard towers in a
free-range prison.

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An open letter to Joan Baez

Dear Ms Baez,

I will start by confessing that in my love for the folk era of the 1960’s I have failed to pay attention to your work, not just as a singer, but as a human being who endeavors to use your skills and resources to make the world a better place.

In my focus on the earnest political (topical) songs of Phil Ochs, the obscure lyricism/mysticism of Leonard Cohen, the brain-splitting poetic scalpel of Bob Dylan, sage wisdom of Pete Seeger and the whimsy of Joni Mitchell, I foolishly passed over you as a beautiful voice alone.

I have been reading your autobiography, And a Voice to Sing With, and while I am only a third of the way through the book, I feel that I can’t hold off on writing this letter.

It is one thing to sing about the problems of the world, but an entirely different thing to put your hand to the wheel and endeavour to generate change. Not just the political style change of ideals and promises, or even the important, but inherently limited, work of treating local symptoms, but the work of seeking to change the psyche that creates inequality and suffering.

Having a tangible hand in the abolition of segregation in the American South and bringing an end to a pointless war in Vietnam are no small achievements.

When I read about your establishment of the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in 1964, now the Resource Centre for Nonviolence, I see the inspiration and foundation for the way in which the resistance against the violent and pervasive suppression of Falun Gong in China has been conducted.

I am sure that, given your status, you receive many appeals for assistance related to any number of human rights atrocities occurring around the world. Here in Australia we have our very own self-generated crisis in the treatment of refugees on Manus Island and a little further away the terrible abuse of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. Hopefully you will indulge my efforts to bring this particular situation to your attention, if it has not already been.

I have personally being involved in the effort to work peacefully towards an end to the persecution of Falun Gong since I started the practice myself in 1998, before it was banned in China. The consistent commitment to non-violence in the protest has been adhered to world-wide for 18 years now. This is despite some documented cases of external attempts at infiltration to instigate violence and even violence staged by the Chinese Communist Party.

As a singer/songwriter myself, I started writing songs to try and raise awareness about this issue back in 2003 and finally published them in 2011. Quite a few other people who practice Falun Gong have tried to do the same thing with their music, including The Good Seeds and on a more professional level with Shen Yun performing arts.

I greatly enjoyed your tribute to Donald Trump, it is so inspiring that you have been making a stand in word and deed since all the way back in 1958 when you refused the contrived nuclear fear propaganda. I am so delighted that I picked up your autobiography at the local Book Fair last month, which was, incidentally, raising money for Refugees.

Sincere thanks for your time, and your continuing contribution to our world,

Daniel Kelly

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The Auld Triangle

This post is a book review of Confessions of an Irish Rebel, an autobiography of Brendan Behan. Brendan is best known for his play The Quare Fellow, based on the time he spent in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.

In Confessions Brendan specifically refers to the prisoner that inspired the play, a man sentenced to death for homosexuality.  Brendan was serving a 14 year sentence for attempting to shoot a policeman. He was released after serving 4 years under a general amnesty for Irish Republican Army IRA prisoners.

I first heard about the connection between the song The Auld Triangle and Brendan Behan when I sang it at a small singing session here in Australia. I had assumed that the song was about a prisoner in the 1700s and mumbled something to that effect before singing it. There happened to be an Irish gentlemen in the audience who explained to me that I should probably know something about a song before singing it. Fair call.

I am writing this some ten years on, and while I did do some initial research back then, it was only reading Brendan’s book that really brought the song and its subject into focus for me.

There are some fantastic versions of this song, Luke Kelly and the Dubliner’s version being my favourite. Some other notable versions include the Doug Anthony All Stars here, and Brendan singing himself here. My own attempt here. Brendan did not write the song but attributes it to Dicky Shannon, who he mentions in the video of him singing.

You can still get a copy of Confessions on Amazon. I was fortunate enough to pick my copy up for $1 at a local charity book fair last week. The book had to be dictated, as by 1964, Brendan’s fondness for alcohol made it difficult to write or type himself. The book was published in 1965, after Brendan’s death at just 41.

The debilitating nature of Brendan’s relationship with alcohol comes across strongly in the text. Whether in Dublin, Cannes or London, there is always a stop for a pint or glass of something, even on the way to prison. This aspect of the book had me wondering whether part of the subjugation of the Irish people by the English was achieved with provision of access to cheap alcohol, just as it was achieved with the original populations of Australian, America and other colonies.

When Brendan is taken on a pub crawl by his grandmother and a Mrs Murphy, on her way to a retirement hospice, it becomes clear that the taste for a drink was not a new pastime in Dublin.

I am surprised that this book was published in the 1960s at all, with its frank discussion of homosexuality, IRA operations, prostitution, swearing and blasphemy. As the book doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page, I’m not sure whether it was banned (I did find a reference to it being banned in South Africa).

I don’t think Brendan was writing for fame or notoriety, I think this quote from an Amazon review on Borstal Boy sums it up well:

Brendan Behan may have been dead these 50 years but this book is like sitting next to him on a barstool telling this slice of his life story. As a teenager, Behan was arrested for his IRA activities and spent some time in custody at various English correctional facilities. He makes friends, he deals with prejudice, he deals with stupid rules. Really nothing happens in this book and yet it was entertaining. Wicked sense of humor and wonderful sense of the man both come through in this story of a young Republican serving his time. ARG – Amazon Reviews

I greatly enjoyed Brendan’s insertion of Gaelic throughout the text, I didn’t realise that The Quare Fellow had originally been called Casadh an tSúgáin eile, which means twisting the rope again, or twisting another rope, making reference to the hanging rope, but also the traditional song Casadh an tSúgáin (and in English). Brendan made good use of his time in prison to learn Gaelic.

The other enjoyable aspect of the book was spotting the names that so frequently come up in Irish song, probably mundane to those that live in Ireland, but of great interest to me.

It is timely that I am writing this on the day that Australian’s voted to endorse gay marriage. Of course we still have a conservative government in power and a conservative lobby engine that plans to do everything it can to avoid changing the law, despite a 61% yes vote and 79.5% participation.

This hypocrisy really irks me, all through the campaign the idea of marriage as a human right was dismissed by the religious conservatives, but now suddenly their right to be a bigot is a human right. I published my own, probably controversial, views here, but now that the people have spoken, the government should get on with making their will law as soon as possible.

Around the time that Brendan Behan was in Mountjoy and Borstal, 35 people were executed for homosexuality (between 1923 and 1954).

I highly recommend reading Confessions of an Irish Rebel, by no means high literature, but a raw and fascinating view into the events that shaped Brendan’s work.

 

For Brendan

Another drink, another glass friends,

Another song to the heros here and gone,

Let me sing the streets of Dublin, the cells of Borstal,

Drown them both in a fine dram.

 

Aughrim was lost, but Ireland fights on,

Fights with gun, and with a voice in song,

Devil take you haughty folks of pretence,

Give me a good solid girl and a bottle.

 

Though I am long from this world,

I lived full, and drew hard on the lit toitín of life,

Whether painting a lighthouse or a church,

I found the joy where it was to be found.

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Lessons from the Garden

Apart from my interest in folk music, I also love gardens. No so much the tame and manicured, but the rambling and full of life. Spring is one of the most beautiful times of year here in ‘cold-climate’ Australia, The irises are just finishing and the roses are in their first bloom. Fruit is starting to appear on the peach, plum, apple and pear trees.

I don’t pretend to be a spiritual nature guru, or a re-discoverer of ancient Druidic wisdom, but I feel that part of the answer to the question of a good human existence stems from our observation and understanding of the cycles of nature.

Two lessons in the garden this week are about judgement, patience and proximity. A stone-fruit tree of an un-known variety self-seeded by the chicken house about four years ago. Each year that it didn’t fruit my wife would suggest that it should be pulled up and replaced. I insisted that it be given another year to establish itself. Today I discovered one nectarine on the tree; enough to ensure its continued existence in the garden and confirm that some trees, and some people, just need a little longer to fruit.

Similarly, I was about the pull up the Ash sapling that I had planted two months ago because the apple trees that had been planted at the same time were already covered in leaves. Despite appearing lifeless, the leaves on the Ash just started to open last week, saving the tree from a premature and un-necessary death. I see this problem so often in parenting and in schooling, where children are compared to others in their year and judged against an irrelevant average or ‘high bar’. Each person is unique and grows at their own, different, pace. The only thing that enforced conformity achieves is false confidence in the early and false shame in the late.

Each tree interprets the signs given in the temperature of the air and soil, the rainfall, the frost and the sunlight and decides when to expend the energy required to sprout leaves. Some plants, like roses, can even have two or three attempts if the first is the victim of frost, mould or predators. As people, I don’t think we are any different. We each are suited to do things in our own way and our own time. Treatment that makes one person thrive, will make another wither.

I recently watched the film The Last Shaman, by Raz Degan, which followed the journey of a young man to South America in search of healing from depression through traditional medicine (including Ayahuasca). Whether accurate or not, the film leads viewers to the conclusion that pressure from an over-achieving father and mother was probably the cause of the situation. Bizarrely, this film, which I really enjoyed, has no Wikipedia page and has been slammed by Rotten Tomatoes. It could be the fact that the film points to the American Psychology treatment culture being largely ineffective; a very unpopular opinion in a country where billions is spent on medicating people for mental health issues. Normally this view would be dismissed as Scientologist style pseudo-science, but the parents of the subject of the film (described as a documentary) are both medical doctors and both criticize the psychiatric industry from a position of authority. If people have a mental illness and medication or electro-shock treatment has helped them live a life that they would otherwise not be able to, I think that is great. In the situation described in The Last Shaman, however, those methods hadn’t succeeded, and appear to have done more harm.

One theme in the Last Shaman that I found particularly fascinating was the way in which the traditional users of Ayahuasca (see this great JP video for an overview) say that the spirit of the plant spoke to them and told them the process for preparing it. Unfortunately, when I walk through my garden none of the plants speak to me, at least not in a way that I can understand as speech.

The second lesson from the garden is based on the reason for moving my raspberry canes away from the blackberry canes. For the past four year we have had magnificent crops of blackberries and almost nothing from the raspberries, despite both plants sharing the same spot along a wall and being almost the same species. I can’t find anything official, but the home gardener ‘vibe’ seem to be that you shouldn’t plant them together. It could be that when two similar things share a space, one has to shine and the other retreat. I think this is true about human relationships as well, we each influence those around us and it bears thinking about whether, in our ambition, we are dimming the lights of others. Similarly, if we are amongst people that are only interested in themselves, it might be time to find a new spot in the garden.

I will leave you with two favourite gardening songs, this one by Karine Polwart and my own cover of Dave Mallet’s excellent Garden Song.

 

 

 

 

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Whose Thyme is it Anyway?

I have been singing the song commonly known as ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’ or ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ or ‘Purple Heather’ for many years as it was one of my favourite songs on an Irish Music compilation that I picked up back in 2001 (The Ultimate Irish Ballads, here on ebay for $50!). When I went to make this recording for my YouTube channel, I found out some interesting and annoying things.

This song was first published as a poem by Robert Tannahill, The Braes of Balquither (also Balquidder), in Henry Longfellow’s Poems of Place in 1876. Robert’s life fitted the tragic archetype of the poet, just without all the women and drinking. He gave up his working life as a traveling weaver to care for his elderly parents while all six of his siblings departed. He burned a large portion of his work before drowning himself in 1810.

Thanks to the wonders of copyright lapses, the full text of The Poems and Songs of Robert Tannahill, published in 1874 with notes by David Semple, is available here. Including the Braes of Balquither. In the notes by the editor, it is mentioned that Robert probably grew up hearing this song sung by his nurse, Mary McIntyre, who had been born in the parish of Balquither. Balquither is around 60 miles from Paisley (yes, where the pattern comes from), near Glasgow, where Robert spent most of his life. So it isn’t really clear whether Robert just heard this song and wrote it down, or whether he developed it from what Mary had sung to him.

The discussion at Mainly Norfolk talks about the fact that when the industrial revolution started to destroy the towns, it was common for lovers to flee the cities to the cleaner air and prettier skylines of the highland heather in the Summer.

So this is a beautiful song that has been popular for over 200 years at least. Here is a rare version by the Dubliners.

Now to why I am annoyed.

Wikipedia says that Wild Mountain Thyme is “a Scottish folk song that was collected by Francis McPeake the First, who wrote the song himself for his wife”. If I was Francis’ wife I would be asking for my money back.

Some would say, “but if I take someone’s idea and put it to my own tune, then it is a new song”. I say rubbish. I couldn’t find a YouTube recording that claimed to be the original, but fortunately this book (Songs of Scotland, 1854) is available and I transcribed the tune into MuseScore to confirm the direct similarity between the original tune and the new tune claimed by the McPeakes. While it isn’t 100% the same, the McPeake’s wouldn’t be winning any lawsuits.

There is a Bob Dylan connection in all of this, as he recorded the song himself. Here are Bob and Joan Baez playing to a rowdy crowd using a melody which relates to neither song. This book, discussing the copyright of Dylan’s songs, notes the McPeake family (Francis McPeake the Third) claimed copyright under all three song names in 1996. It also suggests that there are versions as early as 1742. As the industrial revolution didn’t really kick off in Scotland until 1790, this date would question the whole basis of the song.

I have to say that this makes me very annoyed, when people three generations on are claiming money for work that their great grandfather borrowed (or if you are less generous, plagiarised) from a poet from the 1800s, who himself was probably only writing down what he had heard.

Bodleian also comes to the rescue with this broadsheet from the early 1800s with the Braes o’ Birniebouzle suggesting that at least the theme and some of the lyrics were in common circulation as a song when Robert was writing his poem.

I guess that back in the 1950’s, before the advent of the internet, instantly searchable databases of 1700-1800’s broadsheets and freely available copies of tunes, poems and songs from the 1800s were not a thing. It was much easier to find a copy of a rare old book, steal a few lines, match them up with an equally obscure tune and pass the whole lot off to your wife as your own song. Then your nephew can record it and start charging copyright royalties for the next 60 years.

To be honest, I like my recording of Tannahill’s original words much better. And don’t even get me started on people who misplace ‘tower’ for ‘bower’. Who has time to build a tower in the summer?

Errata: Thanks to Jack Campin for pointing me to this mudcat post where it is mentioned that a shorter version was published by John Hamilton in 1792. To be honest, I don’t think the Hamilton song resembles the Tannahill song enough to claim direct decent via the folk-process, but the subject matter is the same. 1876 was not the first published version of Tannahill’s song, just the one I referenced.

 

 

Posted in Ballad Analysis, Blog Post, Folk Music | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Faery Exodus in 1530

I have been reading Rudyard Kipling’s book Puck of Pook’s Hill, after being prompted to look at his poetry after hearing some of Leslie Fish’s recordings (Oak and Ash and Thorn in particular). Earlier in the book I read Sir Richard’s Song and this melody immediately sprung into my mind while reading.

I am usually sceptical by nature, but it felt like some hidden magic in Kipling’s words carried inherit music that was just waiting to be sung. I had sadly assumed that the Disney version of Jungle Book and a ‘mildly offensive in current times’ poem about Mandalay was the extent of his work.

How mistaken I was. The story of Dymchurch Flit appears at the end of the book and tells the tale of how the Faery Folk departed England for France in the 1530’s. The story largely stands on its own, but this guide from the Kipling Society provides some useful context. I had always assumed that Henry VIII’s fight was with the Catholic Church over his penchant for new wives. After seeing the ruins of the Glastonbury Abbey firsthand, it seemed clear that he was also after some of the wealth that the Monasteries had amassed. Kipling’s story implies that a big part of Henry’s purge was actually against the remnants of the Old Religion (Druidry?) in England. This article goes into some detail on the scale of the vandalism of Henry.

I have written a song to summarise the story of how the Widow Whitgift is approached by Robin (a spokesperson for the Faery Folk, Robin Goodfellow or Puck) to ask if her mute and blind sons will take the Faery Folk who have gathered in Romney Marsh across to France, where the old religion is still tolerated. As the sons are blind and mute they can either not speak of what they have seen or not see at all. The sons return safely, but the family is blessed (?) in future generations with second-sight. I have read enough fairy-tale allegory to know that pairs of sons with unusual disabilities is archetype territory, and Kipling is most likely drawing on, or implying a deeper meeting here.

The connection with bees in the story, and in the song which precedes the story, is telling. Bees have significant meaning in Occult traditions, this blog provides a good summary. This idea is far more clumsily included in the terrible Nicholas Cage remake of The Wicker Man.

So how is it that Kipling slipped this monumental revelation into his collection of stories and songs roughly framed around the history of England? I can find no other references to a Faery exodus in 1530, or any other information about Widow Whitgift. Whit or hwita is Old English for white, but that doesn’t help much.

Kipling was clearly trying to draw attention to the terrible way in which Christianity, especially the new Protestant Christianity, dealt with those who followed the old ways. The references in the story to the Canterbury Bells related to the fact that they would ring at the burning of ‘heretics’, mostly common folk or monks who had fallen foul of Henry.

Kipling was writing around 1906, the Catholic Church had only been reinstated in England in 1850, and even then it met with much hostility. I hope this story isn’t just a thinly veiled political statement about Catholics going back to France with their paganism (where they belong).

I am baffled that the pagan revival community has not picked up on this story, or sought to find its origins, or at least write about it in detail. Maybe this post will prompt some consideration. If the Faery Folk are living happily in France, I would be interested to know where.

I have included a picture by Arthur Rackham, included in the 1906 US edition of Puck, who I discovered has drawn/painted some of my favourite illustrations for stories of English mythology.

Dymchurch Flit by Arthur Rackham, 1908

Posted in Ballad Analysis, Blog Post, Folk Music, Spirituality and Philosophy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Marriage – Who wants it anyway?

Here in Australia we are in the midst of a debate over the recognition of same sex marriage in our constitution. Technically the real debate hasn’t even started because our Liberal government is running a $120m non-binding plebiscite to give the illusion of doing something which doesn’t actually bind them to do anything (nicely explained in this video). Here is Wikipedia’s view on why non-binding referendums (or plebiscite’s) are stupid.

I like to think that blogs are a place to point out gaps in the public discourse. At the risk of alienating some friends and upsetting some people, I’m writing down my thoughts on the issue.

I have two personal disclosures to make before continuing this article. Firstly, as someone whose personal spiritual path is based on fairly strict adherence to some Taoist/Buddhist precepts, I come at this from a world view which disapproves of homosexuality. But let’s be clear, this belief system also disapproves of alcohol, smoking, drugs, masturbation, premarital sex, sushi(raw) and pornography. The other key factor is that my belief system involves no compulsion to judge others or attempt to sway others to my path and it also specifically excludes having involvement in politics (I still participate in the political system of the country as a citizen, but do not seek to exert influence on the governing of the country).

The second disclosure I have to make is that despite going to a homophobic Pentecostal Christian school where the terms ‘poof’ and ‘fag’ were staple insults, I have made what I think is a healthy conversion in my views and behaviour. At university I met an openly homosexual lecturer who turned out to be a reasonable human being and nothing like the stereotypes I had been brought up with. It was probably watching Go Fish and hanging out on the #lesbian chat channel on IRC (the mother of twitter and reddit) that helped me realise that most gay people were living with a state of mind which they could no more change than their skin colour or their singing voice, and that in every other way than their sexual preference they were just as useful members of society as heterosexuals. In many ways, because of their own experience of exclusion and abuse, they tended to be more compassionate and empathetic than others.

Over the past 20 years I went on to have staff working with me and for me who were openly gay and I witnessed first-hand the struggle that they endure and the climate of harassment that exists just below the surface of Australian society. Some of my favourite musicians, Indigo Girls; actors, Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellar; writers, Oscar Wilde and politicians, Bob Brown, are openly gay. What sort of world would we have without their contributions?

Amongst the opposing sides of the discussion here in Australia in the mainstream media and on social media the calibre of the dialogue has been fairly woeful. Those who are supporting the ‘Yes’ vote argue based on human rights and equality, but unfortunately they are often arguing with a tone of condescension towards the views of others, which the ‘No’ vote supporters rise to in hysterics.

Amusingly, the Christian ‘No’ vote supporters are trying to reach for every possible reason other than ‘god hates gays’ to justify their position. They are doing their best to draw false and hurtful connections between child abuse and gay parents, slippery slope to marrying pot-plants and asserting that a ‘Yes’ vote will mean that their freedom of belief will be trampled. One Christian psychologist pointed on Facebook to the mental harm caused by the inability of gay people to marry as a possible justification for a ‘Yes’ vote, but was quickly shouted down by Bible waving zealots.

I wish the Christians would just be honest and say that ‘my religion demands that I hate homosexuality’ (Leviticus 20:13). I note that some careful apologetics are at play amongst the more liberal elements of most major religions in order to support the ‘Yes’ vote, but I think those views are quickly dismissed amongst the orthodox brands and the fundamentalists. This discussion within the Jewish faith makes for interesting reading.

So what can I add to the debate? Here is my assertion, “Marriage in Judaeo-Christian culture is just legal cover for men to trade in women for breeding, rape and domestic servitude”.

I can hear the response, “How dare you besmirch our beautiful service of flowing veils, flowers and heavenly music!”

Hear me out.

When I was young and impetuous, I spent many weeks arguing with my now wife (I’ll tell you why I hate this word in a moment) against getting married in a church, or getting married at all in the traditional sense. At the time I was reading about Wicca and the handfasting ceremony, which you might remember was slipped into the beginning of Braveheart. In this ceremony, man and woman came together as equal free agents to enter a contract of fidelity for one year, to see if they could make it work as a couple. There are vestiges of this tradition in mainstream society still with the phrase ‘tie the knot’. This type of ceremony is still used in modern day Sweden. This model made sense to me, much more than what I had seen of ‘traditional’ Christian marriage.

By the time I was 18 and had started looking back at my Christian indoctrination with some scepticism, I had also been reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon. I started to see all the Christian scripture and Church tradition around Marriage in the context of a master and slave relationship. The word husband, by definition, has a connection to husbandry, the status of a wife as property of the husband runs throughout Judaeo-Christian history. I found this absurd; women are just as intelligent, physically capable and ambitious as men, why should they be treated as property?

As early as 1869, John Stuart and Harriet Taylor Mill wrote about this in The Subjection of Women. In many modern wedding ceremonies the bride wears a veil, which is explained in the story outlined in Genesis 29. In this story, the status of women as the property of their father to be sold/exchanged to a man is clear. There are so many other aspects of the historical and current marriage ceremony that point to the underlying misogyny of Judaeo-Christian views on the relationship between men and women.

It is harrowing reading, but I suggest that this very recent story (warning, rape and domestic abuse discussed) shows the result of generations of men and women raised in this tilted ideology.

So my question to the gay community, and to all Australians is this, “why would anyone want to perpetuate this hideous custom?” Why would gay people want to participate in this at all? The paradigm of the owned and the owner cannot possibly be appropriate in a relationship of equals (unless BSDM is your thing, but that is another issue entirely).

I’m not hoping to sway anyone’s vote here. I just wanted to point out an aspect of the discussion that I think hasn’t been raised at all. And I strongly suspect that the reason no one wants to talk about it is because deep in their subconscious, heterosexual couples know there is something screwy with their construct of marriage. If anyone delves too deeply into its connotations and underlying meanings, they might not like what they find. Why else would people be getting so wound up about what other adults choose to call their relationship?

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Charlottesville

We live in an age, for better or worse, where ignorance is no longer an excuse for bigotry. Back in the 1500s, you could excuse the populous for joining a bloody fight over a few flavours of Christianity. Even though the printing press had been invented in 1436, it would take us another 600 odd years until we are at the point where almost everyone in the developed world can access enough points of view to come to a sensible conclusion. Obviously if you live in in China, Russia or under the Taliban in Afghanistan, your chances of access to conflicting points of view is severely limited, but in the affluent west, anyone with an iPhone or a local library has the world at their fingertips.

Back in the 1500s, the illiterate populous was forced to listen to the priest of whatever religion held power threaten them with terrifying tales of the evils of the other side. Whether it was science, witches or heathens, the balance of access to information and its creation and dissemination was entirely in the hands of the elite, the church and its ruling pawns (or the other way around, as the case may be).

In this environment where a monopoly is held on information it is much easier to encourage humans to take up arms against other humans and commit the most heinous atrocities. I am writing specifically about the recent events in Charlottesville. For anyone who doubts the thinking of the white-supremacists that marched there on 12 August, you can watch this interview with some of them.

The most telling point of the interview, which was a repeat of what Justin Moore had said in a voicemail to the reporter:

“I’m sorta glad that them people got hit and I’m glad that girl died,” Moore said in a voicemail to WBTV. “They were a bunch of Communists out there protesting against somebody’s freedom of speech, so it doesn’t bother me that they got hurt at all.”

 – Charlotte Observer, 15 Aug 2017

This is an example of where a person is indoctrinated with a hate-filled ideology to the point where they are happy to see another human die for no reason other than a difference of belief. To me this is the heart of any toxic ideology, whether related to race, religion, sexuality or class. If we as a society cannot identify the sources of these beliefs and respond to them effectively, we are doomed to a future of senseless violence.

Within 24 hours of the death of Heather Heyer, it was possible to read over 20 eyewitness accounts collected by different independent websites and media companies. Footage of the march and the clashes from multiple perspectives was accessible on social media and YouTube. My conclusion is that that Nazi’s had come to Charlottesville to incite a riot and the anti-Fascist people were there to protect the populace and demonstrate that a rise of violence and intimidation by far-right groups will be met with resistance. This particular set of eye-witness accounts is most telling.

It was largely expected that Trump would respond inappropriately, but his ‘both sides are to blame’ initial statement was a new low, even for him. Apologising for Nazis on American soil must have had every veteran of WWII shaking his or her cane at the TV (or Twitter feed) in their retirement home. The statement flew in the face of the mass of evidence to the contrary. Even after he seems to have been forced to address the issue with a subsequent statement (clearly prepared from him), soon after he went back to his thinly veiled pro-racist statements.

What I am witnessing amongst my sphere of Facebook friends and other Internet contacts is the deeply polarising nature of these events. Those who I suspect have a lingering racist streak (sadly not uncommon here in Australia) are quick to decry the Socialist/Communists for violence and imply that the Nazis should have been allowed to march under ‘Freedom of Speech’.

I strongly disagree. Freedom of Speech, does not and should not cover hate speech. Whatever your ideology, if you advocate the death of a race, religion or any other set of humans based on some common attribute you have no right to publicise that belief in any way. I have been encouraged by the Jewish community’s strong response against this ‘Freedom of Speech’ argument.

Billy Bragg had the gall to support the removal of statues celebrating the defenders of slavery on his Facebook page. The vehement backlash from some of those who are supposed to be his ‘followers’ suggested that this sentiment is not just an American one. A small amount of research would reveal that the statues were erected long after the events of the civil war in order to fight for the retention of racist laws during the Jim Crow era in the South. A good article on the issue here. If you want history, go and read a book. Statues serve the purpose of dominating physical space with an ideology, they are not about history.

While writing this post, I am listening to Phil Ochs. He was a crusader against the ‘alt-right’ back in the 1960’s. I Ain’t Marching Anymore is a fine example of his work. I wrote my own song about the events in Charlottesville. I like to believe that it was the songs of Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie and their contemporaries that have helped keep the ideology of the extreme Right at bay for the past 30 years.

What is the answer to this challenge facing humanity? I think that educating our children to distil their truth from a broad basket of lies and half-truths is the best thing we can do to immunise them against these hateful ideologies. We need leaders and public figures who come out strongly and un-ambiguously whenever these ideologies emerge. That is a big ask when this particular event has shown us how many of these leaders are in the pocket of extremists.

Make no mistake, I know there are ideologies on the Left which are just as violent and dangerous as what we saw the Right exhibit in Charlottesville. However, the evidence of the behaviour and the goals of the anti-Fascists in Charlottesville does not support an argument that these ideas were present or being touted in this event. It is the tool of these extremist ideologies to point out one flaw in a group and use it to tar the entire collective and all its ideas.

I have to trust in humanity; believing that any person who is supplied with enough of the truth and the tools to interpret it will eventually put down their club, or nuclear warhead, and learn to see the humanity in all others. For those who refuse to give up their hatred, I am encouraged that there are people still willing to put their own safety at risk for the interest of the society and stand in the way of hate.

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