Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Chosen Ones

     Every person, every group wants to believe that they are 'special' and if you or your group are chosen by your 'god' then you must be very special indeed.
     Believing that your group has been 'chosen' may be beneficial in that it can consolidate bonds within your group, extending caring, help, protection to beyond your direct family. But being 'chosen' can also often draw a line, separating your group from the rest of the society in which you live.

          In Judaism, the Hebrew people had been 'chosen' to be in a covenant with God, this 'chosenness' perhaps implying privilege but also responsibilities.
     Practising Mormons receive a 'patriarchal blessing' that reveals their lineage in the House of Israel. Thus, they become part of the 'chosen'.
        Some Seventh-Day Adventists claim to be, 'chosen' by God to proclaim the 'message' of the Book of Revelation.
A Rastafarian
     Rastafarians believe that the 'black race' has been 'chosen' and that Haile Selassie (now deceased Emperor of Ethiopia) is (was?) the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

     The Unification Church of Reverend Moon teaches that Korea is the 'chosen' nation.

     The Christian Theology of  'Supersessionism' embraces the idea that the 'New Covenant with Christendom' replaces the covenant established between God and the Israelites through Moses. Christians become 'The Chosen People'.

Haile Selassie
     The number '144,000' has been 'chosen' (fun with numbers, again): Raelism (a new-age 'religion') claims that there are 144,000 chosen people to continue humanity when the 'End of the World' arrives.
     Jehovah Witnesses are taught that only 144,000 of the faithful will spend eternity with God.

     The Russian Christian Skoptsy sect believed that Jesus would return (the second coming) when the Skoptsy numbered 144,000 (see post: Stranger Than Fiction).
Unification Church

     *Religious belief: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Stranger than Fiction

     Many religions have 'wonderous' beliefs or recount stories of important figures performing acts that, if they took place today, would not be believable. Jesus walking on water and Mohammed flying to heaven on a winged horse are just two difficult-to-believe events. But some 'unbelievable' acts were indeed real. In the 11th century, Hasan bin Sabah (see post: Death Cults) declared "Nothing is forbidden. Everything is permitted" and showed his (drugged) followers the magic garden that was 'Heaven on earth'. This Muslim sect would then carry out ritual killings of political foes (while under the influence of hashish).
 Hasan bin Sabah

     Genital mutilation or castration is an act carried out by several groups in religion: The priests of the temple of Astarte in ancient Syria castrated themselves in public and threw their severed genitalia into the throng of on-lookers. Origen, one of the fathers of the early Church, castrated himself so as he could properly teach Christianity to women.
     Russian peasant sects such as the Skoptsky performed mastectomies on their female followers and castrated male followers in 2 stages: first, the testicles were burned off and, at a later date, the penis was removed with a knife or razor. Apparently, this prevented the members from desiring the 'lust and pleasures of the flesh'. The Russian 'Khlysty' recount the story of their founder, Danila Philliopova, being crucified and skinned alive by the authorities and then coming back to life.

     But there are other stranger tales/beliefs that exist among religions today. The 'Cargo Cult' of Vanuatu (and other islands of the South Pacific), relates to Europeans who seemed to avoid work and sit at desks and yet were rewarded with 'cargo' brought in by ship, plane or dropped from the sky. Followers build airstrips and wooden 'radios' in expectation of the 'coming of cargo' and return of the possible initiator of this belief, a man named John Frum.
     Today, the International Raelian Movement teaches its followers that extraterrestrials created life on earth through genetic engineering, human cloning and mind-transfer. Unarians use 'forth dimensional physics' to communicate with beings that exist on a 'higher plane'.

Scientology-Casting Out the Thetans

     The Church of Scientology teaches that thetans (humans), upon death, go to a landing station on Venus, are programmed to forget their previous lives and are then dumped into the ocean off of California.
     *Religious belief: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Sons of God

     Most in the western world are familiar with the story of Jesus: born a product of a virgin and God (immaculate conception), attempt on his life shortly after birth, performance of miracles, execution and resurrection.
     In the history of religion, there are numerous divine births (male infants born as a 'son of god'). Hertha, a Teutonic goddess was a virgin when she was impregnated by the heavenly spirit and bore a son. The Scandinavian Frigga was impregnated by all-father Odin and bore Balder, the healer and saviour of mankind.

     The idea of a god impregnating a (virgin) human female was an element in Aztec culture (Coatepec impregnated by sacred feathers, producing Huitzilopochtli, a sun-god); the Haudenosaunee of eastern North America tell the story of Deganawidah, son of a virgin.

     In ancient Greece, Zeus impregnated many human females producing 'gods' such as Apollo, Theseus, Dionysis, Persephone (female), Hercules, Helen (female, again) etc. Hermes and a shepherdess together produce Pan.
     Not only are there several 'virgin birth'stories but there are also many stories which are identical or nearly identical to that of the life of Jesus Christ. Many claim that the Christ story is that of Egyptian Osiris, Greek Dionysis or Adonis of Attica. 

     Inscribed about 3,500 years ago on the walls of the Temple at Luxor were images of the Annunciation, Immaculate Conception, Birth and Adoration of Horus, with Thoth announcing to the Virgin Isis that she will conceive Horus; with Kneph, the "Holy Ghost," impregnating the virgin; and with the infant being attended by three kings, or magi, bearing gifts.
     The similarities between the Christian story of Jesus and the Hindu story of Krishna are, as well, almost identical: both were miraculously conceived (human woman, Deraki, impregnated by the god Vishnu), both were said to be 'incarnations of divinity on earth', were of royal descent.
Luxor Nativity Scene

     At the time of their births, they were visited by shepherds and angels sang. When the monarch found out about their births, he tried to destroy the child who was saved by relatives/friends. The king, in turn decreed that all newborns should be put to death.

     These are stories of inspiration, meant as metaphors. Unfortunately, many sincerely believe that there may indeed be several versions of the 'son of god' story but that the story that relates to their own religion is the only one that is true.

     *Religious symbols: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Messiahs

     Messianism is the belief in messiah, a man (occasionally a woman) who will be a savior to the people. The collective need to receive ‘divine intervention’ by a certain group usually relates to the perception by that society of being exploited by an alien culture. In the Middle East about 2000 years ago, the Jewish people perceived themselves as suppressed and exploited by the Romans who had incorporated Palestine into their empire. 
Roman Palestine

     The anticipation of the coming of a messiah is usually associated with a movement to revitalize the oppressed society. The state of the world or that particular society is viewed as flawed beyond correction by humans and divine intervention, through a specially selected and supported human, is seen as the only way to correct the flaw. 

     Many religions have had and continue to have the concept of a messiah, including the Jewish Messiah, the Christian Messiah (Jesus Christ), the Muslim Mahdi and Isa (the Islamic name for Jesus), the Hindu Kalki, the Buddhist Maitreya and the Zoroastrian Saoshyant. Messianism is often associated with ‘apocalypticism’, an idea which seems to have originated in ancient Judaism. 
     The combination of apocalyptic expectations and the coming of a messiah survived three failed revolts against Roman rule (66-73 AD, 115-117 AD, 132-135 AD) and continues to play an influential role among certain Jewish groups today.
Hindu Kalki

     One characteristic seen in all human cultures is the desire for ‘hope’ – hope that the rains will allow the crops to grow, hope that the winter will not be harsh, hope that ‘our people will be free’. And that hope is often pinned on an individual who claims he has the answer and has even been sent by God. It is as if, even as adults, human beings yearn for Dad (God) to save them and that God sends big brother (the messiah) to solve the problem here on earth.

     But ‘messianism’ may also serve a more functional purpose. The man (occasionally, a woman) who is seen as the messiah can often inspire social and even political change in a group which senses itself as oppressed or not being able to live up to its own potential. Other ‘messiahs’ use their influence for self-enrichment or empowerment, even murder.

     Messianism may be defined differently by different people. One definition describes messianism as ‘faith that there will be a day in which history of life on this earth will be transformed totally and irreversibly from the condition of perpetual strife which we have all experienced to one of perfect harmony that many dream about’ (brought about by the ‘Messiah’, sent by God himself). 
     Political leaders have often appreciated the concept of a messiah which could offer a goal towards which political action could be directed (see post: Demagogues Who Usurp Religious Belief). In its extreme form, the goal could be used to justify the means - acts of destruction can be advocated in order to advance the goals of ‘purification’. 
French Revolution

     Violence has been called the ‘oldest tool of politics’. The exercise or simply the threat of physical force by one individual against another can force compliance. The idea of terror as a distinct political tool (threatening but not always carrying through with violence) dates from the French Revolution of 1789 when revolutionary terror served to make resistance unthinkable - driven by a perceived need to save the revolution from its enemies, by ideology or by the perverse psychology of revolutionary leaders.
     All these things together make for a slippery slope. The messiah who appears because of the perceived need for political change, is harnessed by the politician (or, the messiah is the politician himself). The messianic concept, often linked with basic (fundamentalist ideas) is then used as a political force. The fundamentalists themselves deny the legitimacy of separating religion from politics and present themselves as the single authority of the sacred texts. 

     Since sacred texts cannot interpret themselves, fundamentalist movements, headed typically by the ‘messiah’, depend upon that authoritative leader to play the role of final word in both religious and political decisions.
The Abrahamic Religions

     Messianism holds a prominent role in all three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).
     In Judaism, the term ‘messiah’ originally meant the
‘anointed one’, a term used in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) to describe priests and kings, who were traditionally anointed. 
     Even the King of Persia, Cyrus the Great, was referred to as ‘Gods anointed one’ (that is, the Messiah) in the Bible.        

     Current orthodox and traditional Rabbinical teaching hold that the Messiah will be an anointed one (messiah) who will gather the Jews back into the Land of Israel and bring in an era of peace. 
     Reform Judaism describes a Messianic Age when the world will be at peace, but do not agree that there will be a Messiah as the leader of this era. The concept of ‘messiah’ in Judaism became the source of the development of later, similar messianic concepts in (the originally Jewish sect) Christianity as well as Islam.
Cyrus the Great

     It is often difficult to be certain whether a person in Antiquity was indeed called a Messiah (and by whom) but the list of messianic claimants is almost endless. It is likely that ancient Judea and Galilee were crowded with Messiahs. 
     The main problem is that our most important source, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, did not like the concept of messianism and knew that the Romans shared this dislike. He refused to use the title, except for Jesus of Nazareth. Modern scholars suspect that several people mentioned by Josephus were in fact called Messiah.

     There have been many Jewish messiah claimants over the years, almost all of whom, in the early years, represented resistance to Roman occupation of Jewish territory. Simon of Peraea (4 BC) had been a former slave of Herod the Great. Simon proclaimed himself messiah, rebelled against the empire and was killed by the Romans. Athronges (at about the same time as Simon of Peraea 4-2 BC) was a shepherd turned rebel leader. He proclaimed himself messiah and, along with his four brothers led a rebellion against Rome. He and his brothers were eventually defeated.
Flavius Josephus

     In the first century, Jesus (circa 4 BC - 30 AD) travelled through Galilee and the Roman province of Judea. Jews who believed him to be the Messiah were the first Christians (also known as Jewish Christians). Muslims also regard Jesus (‘Isa’) as the Jewish messiah.
     Menahem ben Judah (about 100 AD) was a leader of the Sicarii (the 'dagger-men' – an extremist splinter group of the Jewish Zealots who attempted to expel the Romans and their partisans from Judea using their small concealed sicae (daggers)
     When the war broke with the occupying Romans, he armed his followers with weapons captured at Masada and besieged Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem, overpowering the troops of Agrippa II in Judea and forcing the Roman garrison to retreat.
     Theudas (46 AD) was a Jewish rebel of the 1st century who led his followers in a short-lived revolt and who called himself the Messiah.

Antonia Fortress

     John of Gischala was a leader of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the First Jewish-Roman War, and played a part in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. After the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 AD), messiahs were few and far between, suggesting that the Jewish ‘identity’ had been sufficiently dispersed by the Romans but less than 70 years later Simon bar Kokhba appeared on the scene.    
     Simon was heralded as Messiah-king. After stirring up a war (133-135 AD), he met his death on the walls of Bethar. Before his defeat, he had founded a short-lived Jewish state before his Messianic movement was quashed in the Second Jewish-Roman War.
The Destruction of Jerusalem

     According to an estimate in the Talmud, the Messiah was expected in 440 or 471 AD. And arrive he did (or claimed to) at about that time in Crete. The new ‘messiah’ called himself Moses, and promised to lead the people (like the Moses of biblical times), through the sea back to Palestine. 
     In about 440-470, the followers of the new Moses of Crete left their possessions and waited for the promised day. At his command, many cast themselves into the sea with the aim of returning to Israel, many drowning, others being rescued. 
     The pseudo-Messiah himself disappeared. Socrates of Constantinople stated that Moses of Crete fled, while the Chronicle of John of Nikiû (which stated that Moses’ real name was ‘Fiskus’) claimed that he perished in the sea.
There appeared many other Jewish ‘messiahs’ and ‘pseudo-messiahs’ over the course of the following centuries, almost always in response to Jewish suppression by Christian, Persian or Muslim regimes.
The Crusades

     With the beginning of the Crusades (11th century) and the concomitant increased political and social pressures on Jewish society that these military expeditions created, the number of Messiahs increased. 
     In 1087, a Jewish messiah appeared in France and was killed by the French. Another appeared in the province of Córdoba in 1117. 
     Moses al-Dar'i, was a Moroccan teacher who was convinced that the Messiah would arrive and free the Jews in the Almoravid countries at Passover 1127. 
     David Alroy (Alrui) was born in Kurdistan and, in Persia, in 1160 declared himself a Messiah. He claimed he had been sent by God to free the Jews from the Moslem yoke and to lead them back to Jerusalem. Alroy summoned the Jews of the neighbouring district of Azerbaijan and his coreligionists of Mosul and Baghdad to come armed to his aid and to assist in the capture of Amadia. 
     His movement failed, and he is said to have been assassinated, while asleep, by his own father-in-law. A heavy fine was exacted from the Jews for this uprising. After his death Alroy had many followers in Khof, Salmas, Tauris, and Maragha, and these formed a sect called the Menahemists, from the Messianic name "Menahem," assumed by their founder. Benjamin Disraeli wrote the novel Alroy based on this man's life.

Sabbatai Zevi
     Sabbatai Zevi (Shabbetai Ẓevi, Sabbatai Sevi, Sabetay Sevi in Turkish) was a Sephardic Rabbi and kabbalist who lived from 1626 to 1676 and who claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He was the founder of the Jewish Sabbatean Movement
     In 1648, at 22 years of age, Sabbatai declared to his followers in Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey) that he was the true Messianic redeemer. His claims of being the Messiah annoyed many in the Jewish community and Sabbatai was put under a ban of cherem, a type of Jewish excommunication. 
     In 1651 with his continued ‘Messianic’ claims, the rabbis banished Sabbatai and his disciples from Smyrna. In 1658, he met a preacher in Constantinople, Abraham Ha-Yakini who confirmed Sabbatai as a messiah. Ha-Yakini even forged a manuscript in archaic characters (entitled ‘The Great Wisdom of Solomon’) which ‘bore testimony’ to Sabbatai's Messiahship.
     The acceptance of Sabbatai Zevi as a messiah by Jews of the time, may be explained by the desperate state of European Jewry in the mid-1600s. 
Anti-Semitic Pogrom 1906

     Pogroms had wiped out one third of the Jewish population and destroyed many centers of Jewish learning and communal life in Europe. Sabbatai eventually returned to and almost took over the Jewish community in Smyrna. At the beginning of 1666, Sabbatai left Smyrna for Constantinople, either forced to do so by city officials or because he hoped for a ‘miracle’ in the Turkish capital (some had prophesied that Sabbatai, himself would be made sultan).      

     However, the grand vizier ordered Sabbatai's immediate arrest upon arrival and had him imprisoned. While in prison, transferred from one city to another, Sabbatai was advised to convert to Islam by the sultan’s physician, himself, a former Jew. On September 16, 1666, Sabbatia (age 40 years) was brought before the sultan, cast off his Jewish garb and put a Turkish turban on his head. Sabbatai’s wife, Sarah and a number of Sabbatai's followers also went over to Islam with a total of about 300 families converted who came to be known as the donmeh (converts). 
Mosque Built by Donmeh, Thessaloniki
     The conversion of Sabbatai devastated his followers. But Sabbatai was ambiguous about his role in Islam, at times carrying on as a pious Muslim and reviling Judaism and at other times, associating with Jews as one of their own faith. Eventually the sultan became fed up with his inconsistencies and banished him to Constantinople and from there was further banished to a small town in today’s Montenegro where he died (some say by executed by hanging) in isolation on September 17, 1676.
     By the 1680s, the Dönmeh had congregated in Salonika (modern Thessaloniki, Greece) and, by the 19th century, they had become prominent in the tobacco and textile trades. 
     With Greek independence, in the 1910s, the new Greece expelled the Muslims from its territory (including the Dönmeh). Most migrated to Turkey, where by mid-century they had become assimilated. Sabbataism is seen as one of the more important Jewish messianic movements whose influence in Jewry was widespread. After his death, Sabbatai was followed by a line of followers who declared themselves Messiahs ‘Sabbethaian pseudo-messiahs’.

     Asher Lämmlein (Asher Kay) was a German proclaiming himself a forerunner of the Messiah. Kay appeared in Istria, near Venice in 1502, and announced that if the Jews would be penitent and practice charity, the Messiah would come within half a year, and a pillar of cloud and of smoke would precede the Jews on their return to Jerusalem. In obedience to his preaching, people fasted and prayed and gave alms to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, so that the year came to be known as the ‘year of penitence’. The ‘Messiah’ either died or disappeared.
     Among the Sabbethian pseudo-messiahs were Barukhia Russo (Osman Baba), Mordecai Mokia (1650–1729), Jacob Querido (died 1690), Miguel (Abraham) Cardoso (died 1706), Lobele Prossnitz (early 18th century).
     Jacob Joseph Frank (1726-1791) was founder of the Frankist Movement and also claimed to be the messiah, teaching that he was a reincarnation of the Patriarch Joseph and King David. He accordingly called himself ‘holy lord’ and his followers claimed he performed miracles, even praying to him. 
     He was forced to leave Podolia, Poland where he had started his movement and his followers were persecuted. Frank return in 1759 and advised his followers to embrace Christianity. About 1,000 of his followers were converted and became privileged Polish gentry of Jewish origins. Frank himself was converted in November 1759. Not long after, he was accused of religious insincerity and imprisoned as a heretic.
The Shekinah Glory Enters the Tabernacle

     Eve Frank (1754–1817), was the daughter of Jacob Frank. In 1770, she declared herself to be the incarnation of the Shekinah, the female aspect of God, as well as the reincarnation of the Virgin MaryEve Frank he was the only woman to have been declared a Jewish messiah.
     Shukr ben Salim Kuhayl I (Mari (Master) Shukr Kuhayl I was a messianic claimant in Yemen in the latter half of the 19th century. He first revealed himself in the capital of the country, Sana’a in 1861 as a messenger of the Messiah at a time when Jewish messianic expectations in Yemen were high (once again) due to political turmoil.
     He soon began to claim that he was no longer the messenger of the Messiah, but rather the Messiah himself. He inscribed messianic formulas on his hands, and ‘corrected’ the Book of Isaiah, inserting his own name, writing himself into the Biblical narrative. Kuhayl was very killed by local Arabs in 1865.
     Shukr Kuhayl I was soon followed by Shukr Kuhayl II (Judah ben Shalom) who began as either a potter or a cobbler in Sana’a. He announced in 1868 that he was in fact the self-same messianic claimant known as Shukr Kuhayl I, who had been killed and decapitated by Arabs just three years before but now ‘resurrected by Elijah’.

     Jewish messianic hopefuls have persisted even into the modern day.

     Moses Guibbory (1899-1985) was born in the Ukraine, at that time, a part of Tsarist Russia. He lost both parents at a young age and eventually went to Palestine, where he found a new home in the Cave of the Sanhedrin on the north side of Jerusalem. In the mid-1920s, he announced that he was the Messiah which many started to believe after he had predicted a severe earthquake. Guibbory also called himself the Lord of the Universe, the Last Incarnation of Jehovah, the Shepherd and New Moses.

Menachem Mendel Schneerson
     Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) was believed to be the Messiah within the Lubovich Movement. Although he never directly stated that he was the Messiah, he did not contradict those who said he was and even after his death in 1994, some continue to await his return as the Messiah.

     The concept of messianism in the modern day is perhaps not as strong as it once was in Judaism but, as with all religions which utilize this concept, certain groups or sects still believe in a ‘deliverance’ by someone sent by God. 
     Today, the Jewish state of Israel is still under threat and the continued existence of Jewish groups in many parts of the world (such as Tunisia) is still uncertain. A ‘messiah’ could soon appear, in the same way messiahs have done in the past, to help those who feel they are under siege.

     *Messiahs: subject of research for the novel The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Victoria's Secrets

     Queen Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 1819 – 1901) was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. The Victorian Era, the longest reign of any British monarch and of any female monarch in history, brought in expansion of the British Empire, rapid industrialization, increased fertility rates and decreased mortality in old and young. But not all was well in this new period of history.
Queen Victoria

     The use of alcohol was rampant throughout British (and American) society, an ill that was recognized and addressed by 'temperance societies'. But narcotic use, in the form of opium, morphine or morphine mixed with alcohol (laudanum) was looked upon by many as benign and, for some, even as a necessity. Narcotic addiction was rarely discussed outside of medical circles. It was a problem, a secret that society tried to ignore.
     As a group, in Victorian times women were frequently provided with opiates to address a range of maladies, female complaints' ranging from nervousness to syphilis to menstrual cramps. It was not uncommon even for pregnant women to use opiates to calm the nerves resulting in the birth of opiate-addicted babies. Dr. Fordyce Barker, founding president of the American Gynecological Society (1876) was the first to import the hypodermic syringe into the USA (see post: A History of Heroin).

Part of the Temperance Movement

     Hypodermic medication (morphine) became instrumental in male regulation of female 'maladies' resulting in what became known as a female 'characteristic' of the time, 'hypodermic addiction'. Sir Thomas Clouston (1840-1915) was the Physician Superintendant of Royal Edinburgh Asylum and was a celebrated lecturer with an international reputation for his exposition of the psychiatric disorders of adolescence. He published extensively, with tomes such as 'Clinical Lectures on Mental Diseases' (1883), 'Unsoundness of Mind' (1911) and 'Morals and The Brain'.
The 'Men's Club'
     Clouston was a firm believer in 'masturbational insanity' and an uncompromising advocate of teetotalism. Clouston was an addiction specialist as well with a particular prejudice against women. He believed that the 'exhausting calls of menstruation, maternity, and lactation from the nervous reflux influences of ovulation, conception and parturition are ruinous if there is the slightest predisposition to derangement'. These anxieties concerning women's bodily functions was the principle reason Clouston advocated 'morphine to subdue and regulate'.

     The 'opiate eaters' in Victorian society were more often white and middle to upper class (see post: The Opium Eaters). Many were the wives of physicians or nurses with access to drugs. As early as 1782, it was common practice for women of Nantucket Island to take 'a dose of opium every morning'. English novelist, Wilkie Collins recognized that, in Victorian society, women were 'yoked under the established tyranny of the principle that all human happiness begins and ends at home', Many woman, chafing at the boredom and frustration, used morphine to drug themselves into functional passivity.
Wilkie Collins
     But opiate addiction was not limited to the wealthy. Opiates used as medicines and as recreational escapes crossed all socioeconomic classes. Women who worked in factories and farms used opiates to numb away boredom and pain. Drug use among prostitutes was noted to be particularly concerning. Prostitution became both a gateway into drug use and a means to an end for women who fed their habits by earning money any way that they could.

     By the end of the 19th century, women accounted for 50-70% of opiate addicts. Over prescription by physicians, the belief that women were more fragile than men and therefore incapable of coping with pain, and the availability of opiate containing patent medications contributed to the prevalence of opiate addiction in Victorian women. Overdose, death and addiction were overlooked due to the lack of regulation.
     A 'nervous condition' accounted for many of the common complaints, especially of women, throughout the Era and most patent medicines, no matter what their particular benefit, always claimed to cure any nervous trouble associated with the malady.

Posters for Temperance
     Many products contained no harmful substances while others were primarily narcotic-based. More often than not, the markings on the bottle did not note the contents or active ingredients. But whether the origin was physiological or psychological, Dr. Hammond's Nerve and Brain Pills were 'guaranteed' to cure what ailed you.  But first you had to know the symptoms of 'nervous troubles', which were generic enough to include almost anyone:  'This will cure you if you feel generally miserable, or suffer with a thousand and one bad feelings, both physical and mental, among them low spirits, nervousness, weariness, lifelessness, dizziness, feeling of fullness, like bloating after meals, or a sense of 'goneness' or emptiness of stomach in morning, flesh soft and lacking firmness; headache, blurring specks floating before the eyes...'.

     Whether morphine was the cause or the cure, even large firms like Sears Roebuck had just the thing to cure you one for alcoholism, another for narcotic addiction. Shown underneath the ad for the German Liquor Cure, is a potent bottle of Cure for the Opium and Morphia Habit.  At just 67 cents a bottle, it's calming effect would forever kill any cravings for other narcotics. This was 'the only one' you needed.
     But of particular concern was the administration of opiates, both prescription and over-the-counter, in children.
     The selling of narcotic concoctions and the treatment for opium addiction were becoming big business in the later 1800s. The Pulaski Citizen newspaper of Nashville, Tennessee (1875), ran advertisements by doctors listing concoctions to help calm unruly children. One of the leading causes of infant and child mortality during the 19th century was the practice of attempting to quiet children by giving them narcotics, such as opium and morphine, at times mixed with alcohol (laudanum). These 'remedies' were certainly effective in calming the agitated child.

      In the 19th century, the Pulaski Citizen carried lengthy advertisements for dozens of inexpensive opium based concoctions under a variety of names. These included: 'Godfrey's Cordial', 'Mother's Helper', 'Infant's Quietness', 'Atkinson's Preservative' and 'Soothing Syrup'.
     These tonics may have contained various ingredients but most popular of the time was 'Godfrey's Cordial' which contained high levels of laudanum. It was inexpensive, and it was completely unregulated. An aspect of this problem that went unrecognized for years was associated with the fact that opium is fat-soluble and does not dissolve easily in water and because of this will tend to settle at the bottom of the bottle. This last dose, quite often was exactly that. The 'dregs' at the bottom of the container had the potential to be fatal, especially to a small child. In addition, the 'recommended' dose was usually stated 'as needed', 'at the discretion of the parent' which allowed the parents to drug their children as often as they liked.
     For women, different versions of this same product were advertised: 'Ayer's Sarsaparilla Cures', 'Prof. Low's Liniment and Worm Syrup' and 'Wine of Carday', all aimed at the 'exhausting calls of being a woman'.
     Physicians in the Victorian era ( and even today) were known to treat their own headaches, insomnia, and anxieties with narcotics (see post: The High Doctor). Dr. Jekyll in the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' is an example of a physician who takes a 'potion' that changes his persona.
     In the 1870s, the majority of male addicts in the US were physicians, estimates being between 10 and 20 percent of the entire physician workforce being morphine addicts.
The London Stock Exchange
     In Britain, Dr. James Crombie (1848-1873) believing that the 'delicacy of the syringe' hindered the use of morphine, developed a cheap method of subcutaneous injection by coating a silk thread with morphine which he then drew under the skin, led by a needle. Crombie himself died of a narcotic overdose following surgery on his own wrist.

     The stock exchange in Victorian times and today is known as a workplace of high tension and angst. In 1871, it was reported that Wall Street brokers countered 'one sort of excitement', the gold fever, with another, a 'stimulating opiate'.
     A 25 year old New York lady who visited the exchange on a regular basis was found to be taking morphine several times a day using a syringe to take the drug rectally.

Union Soldiers in the American Civil War
     Narcotic addiction was also regarded as the 'army disease', recognition of the soldiers' exposure, appropriately (and, at times, inappropriately), to treatment with morphine. The emotional damage caused by battle (in the 20th century called 'Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder') was recognized in the 19th century.
     In the American Civil War, there were over four million troops involved with huge dead, dying and injured on both sides. Opium poppies were grown both in the north and in the south, with the opium doled out often indiscriminately.
     The number of addicted civil war survivors is impossible to estimate but by 1900 (nearly 40 years after the end of the war), when the last of the Civil War veterans were dying out, the per capita use of opium and morphine fell dramatically.
     Narcotic addiction of veterans was also seen among British forces following the Crimean War (1853-1856) as well as among Prussian militia in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.
     The Victorian Era was a period of great advances in industry, in war, in medicine and in society. But not everything went well and not everything is well remembered. Some things have been kept as 'secret'.
     * The history of narcotics use: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs - Amazon Kindle

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


     Scrying has been described as a means used by psychics to see visions, predict the future, or to tell somebody's fortune. Probably the most common image of scrying, popularized in modern culture is the gypsy man or woman staring wide-eyed into the 'looking glass'.
13 Moon Scrying Bowl

     Scrying has been a practice throughout Europe for centuries and the medium used most often (at least in movies) is the glass (crystal) ball on the the gypsy's table. Almost any reflective surface has been used in the past to see visions, including mirrors, glass, shiny stones, fire, smoke, coals of a fire, fog or mist and ponds or bowls of water. The swinging pendant (much like the watch in hypnosis) has also been used as a reflective surface or focus for scrying.

     The Cup of Jamshid was a divination bowl in ancient Persia, used by wizards and practitioners of the esoteric sciences for observing all 'the seven layers of the universe'. The cup was filled with the elixir of immortality and was the subject of stories and poems for hundreds of years: 'For years, my heart was in search of the grail (the Cup of Jamshid), What was inside me, it searched for, on the trail' - Divan of Hafez.
Scrying with a Pendant
     Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saints movement (Mormons) used the reflections from 'seer stones' for miraculous revelations. Smith even had names for these stones (which he viewed by placing them at the bottom of his hat), one of which he had found in a neighbor's well. According to Smith, he also possessed two special stones he named Urim and Thummim made into spectacles that allowed him to 'translate' the Book of Mormon from the golden plates. Smith had used 'seer stones' prior to establishing the Mormon Church, mostly to look for treasure. After Smith, seer stones continued to be used by Mormon leaders such as Hiram Page and David Whitmer.

The Cup of Jamshid

     But perhaps the most famous scryer of them all was Nostradamus. The son of a Catholisized Jew, born in 1503, he was an apothecary (druggist) which, in those days was enough to be thrown out of medical school. Apparently this did indeed happen when the dean of the faculty at the University of Montpellier medical school discovered his background. Gradually, Nostradamus moved away from pharmacy and medicine and grew closer to the 'occult', using several techniques but, most famously, scrying to make predictions about the future. Nostradamus wrote his trance-induced forecasts in quatrains, a four line verse. These prophesies have been studied and claimed by many to have predicted Hitler and WWII as well as the 'end of the world' (see post: The End of the World).
Joseph Smith Receiving
 the Golden Plates

     Jon Dee mathematician, scholar, magician and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I used a polished 'shew stone' (essentially a crystal ball), a rock composed of polished volcanic glass brought back to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors, to see visions of angels.

     What all these techniques have in common is trance, a type of self-hypnosis that many of us have experienced without the pond of water or the crystal ball. Hypnotic fixation on the roadway as we make our way home after a tiring day at work or gazing into the flickering flames of a camp fire can result in the feeling that time has flown by, the world has stood still. We may even see visual hallucinations in the red of the fire or on the black of the asphalt.

John Dee Performing an Experiment for Elizabeth I

     *Paranormal experience: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Synchronicity-Spooky at a Distance

     Synchronicity, a concept first proposed in the scientific literature by Carl Jung in the 1920s, is the 'experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance but which are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner.'

Carl Gustav Jung

     It is an idea that has been claimed by some to be superstition, by others as describing scientific connections and still by others as proof of an 'otherworldly' power in the events of our lives. Synchronicity is an idea that may be difficult to understand but, according to Jung, 'the idea of synchronicity is that the conceptual relationship of minds, defined as the relationship between ideas, is intricately structured in its own logical way and gives rise to relationships that are not causal in nature. These relationships can manifest themselves as simultaneous occurrences that are meaningfully related.

      Synchronicity, is it 'karma'? Not quite. 
     The idea of 'karma' in Hinduism is one that explains cause and effect through a system where beneficial effects are derived from past beneficial actions and harmful effects from past harmful actions, creating a system of actions and reactions throughout a soul's life (or lives) forming a cycle of rebirth. The causality is said to be applicable not only to the material world but also to our thoughts, words, actions and actions that others do under our instructions.
     To qualify as synchronistic, the two or more events involved must be temporally coincident (taking place at or about the same time) and must be mutually acausal (not related one to the other in any causative way).
Jung's Concept of Synchronicity

     Jung believed that events which we often see as coincidence, events due to a chance happening, have a causal relationship 'in the greater scheme of things'. Jung discussed this concept of synchronicity with renowned physicists such as Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli, suggesting a relationship between synchronicity and the theory of relativity as well as quantum mechanics. Jung and Pauli thought that there was a unifying 'idea' in life, an underlying unified reality from which everything emerges and returns to, the 'unus mundus'.
     In the world of quantum physics, there are indeed strange things that take place:
Albert Einstein

     'Spooky (at a distance) physics' or 'interaction at a distance' is the effect or interaction of two objects which are separated in space with no known mediator of the interaction. This goes against the ingrained human idea that objects must touch (physically or through a magnetic or gravitational field) in order to interact.
     The theory of quantum mechanics predicts that two or more particles can become 'entangled' (quantum entanglement) so that even after they are separated in space, when an action is performed on one particle, the other particle responds immediately. Scientists still don't know how the particles send these instantaneous messages to each other (instantaneously, faster than the speed of light), but somehow, once they are entwined, the two (or more) particles retain a fundamental connection.
Quantum Entanglement (Spooky at a Distance)
-Separated Ions Affect One Another

     Synchronicity is distinct from apophenia which is the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. An extreme form of apophenia is paraidolia which is the perception of a sound or 'image' as being significant. An excellent example of 'hopeful over-reading' of information was the perception of a photograph of the Martian surface taken by one of the Viking missions in 1976 showing a face staring into the cosmos.

A Face on Mars

     This was later shown to be an aberration of the light on the top of a high Martian plateau. Other more common examples of paraidolia are the perception of faces in cloud formations, coded messages on musical recordings and most popularly religious paraidolia, such as 'Jesus on toast' or 'Mary on a sandwich'. The most well-known case of religious paraidolia was the sighting of the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich found by Diana Duyser of Florida. Mrs. Duyser claimed to have kept the sandwich on her night stand for over 10 years, during which time she had excellent luck at the casinos. The fact that the sandwich had remained mold-free was considered, by some, to have been proof of the sandwich’s miraculous nature.
Virgin Mary (Jesus?) on a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

     These cases often prove, in the end, to be quite profitable. In 2004 the grilled cheese sandwich was listed for sale on Ebay, where the (partially eaten) sandwich was bought by Golden Palace Casino for $28,000.
     Is there really some 'unifying' force or influence in our world that we are unable to see? Are we so deeply immersed in our own space that we cannot 'see the forest for the trees'?
     Is the idea of synchronicity similar to fractals, the repeating patterns that are ubiquitous in nature. Fractal patterns are obvious when examined from afar but easily overlooked when viewed from up close.
The Repeating Pattern of Fractals

     Some researchers argue that synchronicity is much more common than we appreciate, that it occurs every day and everywhere and that these synchronistic events tend to become obvious to us only in the case of the most startling coincidences. Are the events in life 'cause and then effect' or is there something more? Is there an 'overseeing' rule of (quantum?) law which says that everything is related? Can there be effect and then cause?..Or is that even stranger, even more unimaginable than 'spooky at a distance'?
Alice Through the Looking glass
     Stranger things have been written and reality is often stranger than fiction (see post: Stranger Than Fiction).
     'That's the effect of living backwards. It always makes one a little giddy at first...It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards!' said the White Queen to Alice. ('Alice Through the Looking Glass' - Lewis Carroll)

     *Synchronicity: subject of research for the novel The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle