Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sing a Happy Song!



Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit." Sing offkey (or "el poopo") with me!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Music for Sunday



I was listening to a lecture on 12th century mystics last night because I'm weird like that. Naturally Hildegard von Bingen came up, about whom entire volumes have been written by feminist scholars, rescuing von Bingen from the trash heap. She was an extraordinarily gifted woman who saw visions; wrote plays, medicinal texts, theological treatises, and more letters than you can count; ran a priory, and, in her spare time when she had nothing better to do, composed music. I think there's a movie about her on Netflix.

But, hands down, the thing about her that I find most interesting is that she invented her own alternative alphabet because she found herself having to make up words to describe things for which no words existed in Latin. I'm pretty sure that had she existed today, they'd try to put her on a boatload of antipsychotics and we'd have lost one of the world's most fascinating persons.

The video above features some of her music.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cahokia Mounds, the City of the Sun

Monks Mound from Afar
I recently visited the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois; and, although I'd been aware there were once mound-builders in the Americas, I had no idea how colossal these mounds really are. Cahokia was THE major city of the native Mississippian culture, which stretched all the way from Michigan down to Louisiana. There were many smaller mound communities, but Cahokia was what we might think of as the "capital city." It was the perfect place: at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their many tributaries, so there was plenty of fishing and game nearby in the woodlands, and there was lots of land available to grow corn, or maize--so much so, in fact, that they were able to store surplus grain for the winter months and for times of drought or a scanty harvest. It's estimated that at the zenith of the culture, there were as many people at Cahokia as 20,000, which may not sound like much today, but this was around 1000 CE, so Cahokia was actually larger than London, England, at the time. It was truly a City of the Sun.

But I think the thing that struck me the most, while walking the grounds, was how similar to the ancient Egyptians this culture was, at least under Pharoah Ahkenaten, who rejected all the gods of the Egyptian pantheon and worshiped only the Aten, or sun disk, not itself as a god but as the symbol of the Divine Presence. Otherwise, the various versions of the Sun God named RA were always highly esteemed. And as we know, the Egyptians built pyramids. Kings or people of high standing were buried with grave goods. And the Pharoah was seen as the son of the gods Osiris and Isis, the son named Horus. Pharoah was considered the literal incarnation of Horus. Finally, that the Egyptians understood the heavens and the solstices and equinoxes is well known. Many of the Temples were sun temples, always facing east, to the light, and Abu Simbel's Temple of Ramses the Great fabulously shows this when, twice a year, the sun, precisely on 60 days before and 60 days after the solstices, rises, its rays entering the temple and lighting up the inner sanctuary by shining directly upon the statues of the gods inhabiting that room, one of whom is Ramses II himself.

Flat-topped Mound
Well, the Cahokians didn't have stone to build pyramids in the way the Egyptians and Incas and Mayans did, so they used what was available: dirt. With dirt they built mounds of various types, but most were round (or domed), which were often burial sites; others were flat-topped, used for building temples or other administrative buildings upon, or even the house of an important person; and some were wedge shaped, the purpose of which is yet to be determined, but archaeologists and historians surmise they were boundary markers of some kind.

First flight up stairs for Monks Mound
By far the most impressive mound is the tiered flat-topped mound named Monks Mound, which originally had four levels (or platforms, much like a step pyramid), and the chief of all the Cahokians had his house on top of this earthen pyramid. You think dirt, big deal. Well, it was a big deal: it took a LOT of work to build these! They dug up the earth and the workers would carry 50-pound basketfuls of earth to the mound and pile it on. Not so bad at the beginning, but as the mound grew larger, this was back-breaking work. They also had to figure out systems of draining to prevent the mounds from collapsing (partially successful) or turning into mudslides. Consider building a ten-story pile of dirt with four different platforms, each one smaller than the other, which is what Monks Mound is, and that the base circumference of this mound is actually larger than that of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan near Mexico City. Now consider that at least 120 mounds have been found at Cahokia alone, and you can begin to appreciate the amount of work that went into constructing this city.
Second flight of stairs leading up Monks Mound


The Cahokians worshiped the Sun God as a symbol of the Divine Presence, and the chief was considered the son of, or brother to, the Sun God. This chief ruled over all: Cahokia, the nearby mound communities (St. Louis itself was built over some 29 mounds and East St. Louis over 40), and all the mound communities up and down the Mississippi and nearby--a vast territory. They traded with each other and with other Indian communities as far away as Florida, and they highly valued seashells for ornaments. From the north they traded for copper and bronze. Cahokia itself was much like a modern city today: there was the chief, and under him the various elders of clans, who also had elevated homes (but never higher than the chief's), and the hunters and gatherers and farmers and then people who specialized in various tasks, such as priests and artisans. Cahokia was a thriving center of trade.

The inner city of Cahokia contained a grand court that was surrounded by a wooden palisade that was two miles long. Within were the temples and homes of the important personages and also a court for the sport of chunkey. It involved throwing or rolling a stone "puck" and then the players would throw their spears at the ground at the place they guessed the puck would come to a stop. Apparently this was a serious sport to many, and gambling was common; and some burials have been uncovered with chunkeys buried with the body. This land of the grand court had all been completely leveled to be perfectly flat, as well.

St. Louis from top of Monks Mound. At ten stories, it's higher than you might think!


Woodhenge

The fact that the Cahokians understood the heavens and the movements of the sun can be seen in their construction of a circle of wooden poles with a center pole in what is now called "the American Woodhenge." It's like Stonehenge, only with poles of red cedar. Certain poles were marked with two stripes of white paint and one with one stripe that aligned with Monks Mound, and from the center pole the two striped poles marked the solstices and equinoxes. Hence they knew when it was time to plant and time to sow. The center pole also worked much like a sun dial, casting a shadow that indicated the time of day.

A better look at part of the circle itself

The only thing the Cahokians didn't have was writing--at least, not as far as we know. It could be that stories were just passed down through oral tradition, but as vast as it all was, surely some sort of record-keeping was done. We just haven't found it yet; or, it's staring us straight in the face and nobody has recognized it yet. But no matter how you slice it, the Cahokians were an impressive people. After Hernando de Soto arrived in Central America, conquering its peoples, and then moved on to North America, cutting a grand swath of destruction from Florida all across the Southern and Midwestern states and finally over to the Mississippi, Cahokia is where his army was stopped. Arrows and spears aren't that effective against guns and armored men on horseback, but the sheer organization and doggedness of this people was enough to defeat de Soto's army, and the army made haste to get away, building boats that sent them packing south down the Mississippi to the Gulf. The Cahokian (or Mississippian) people harassed them from the shores the entire way. And this was after the Cahokians had passed their zenith and had entered the period of decline.

No one really knows for sure why the culture ultimately failed. The Mayans, archaeologists say, eventually failed because of the massive deforestation of the lands surrounding their cities and the overcultivation of the land. There was no more food to be had. Something similar may be at play here, along with a change in the climate. In any case, Cahokia was abandoned some time between 1200-1400 CE, although some small related communities survived for a time, such as the Illini.

And then came the white settlers. Some Trappist monks who had been expelled from France settled at Cahokia, taking up residence on one of the flat-topped mounds, and they used Monks Mound for terraced farming (hence the name Monks Mound).

There is a 15-minute video HERE that gives much more detail about the site. By all means if you're in the St. Louis area, it's worth a visit as it is only about a 20-minute drive away. There's also a museum and theater and Interpretive Center with a gift shop with Indian-made items, and I picked up some of the decorative arrow points dug out of Mound 72. (That Mound, which contained burials, and some of them appear to be people who were human sacrifices, is another whole story in itself.) For sure the entire complex at Cahokia has not been excavated, for excavation is also destructive, so archaeologists are picking their sites carefully--because, of course, the entire site is sacred. Eventually the park wants to buy up the property surrounding the site (there are some houses and even a trailer park nearby) and expand the site to its original measurements. But it's already vast and takes several hours to walk through, going at a nice, slow pace to read everything on the various markers.

So if your picture of American Indians is limited to the Last of the Mohicans or to Sioux or Apache wars with cowboys and US cavalry, learning more about this civilization is eye-opening to say the least.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!


             
 A short snippet from the first draft of my book Yeshua, the Master: The Undiscovered Gospel of Joseph (his nephew):
 . . . . . . . .
Mary described it thus: “At the beginning, I did not realize it was our Master. And he bade me stay back and not touch him. He appeared in the shape of a man but also as a great light. He said to me, ‘Seek me not here, Mary, for here you will not find me.’”
            She saw no spirit. She saw no fully embodied man, of flesh.  She saw light, light shaped like a man.
            Yeshua said, “Go, tell the others I live. And tell them I will see them in Galilee.”

© Luck 2014
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Happy Easter to those who celebrate this momentous occasion.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fiat Lux!





Gorgeous.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

People of the Books!


"In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy! Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, Master of the Day of Judgment. It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path: the path of those You have blessed, those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray."

We believe in the One God, called Yahweh, or Jehovah, or Allah. We differ only regarding whom we accept as Prophets. As long as we understand there is only one One Divine Creator, can we not put asides our differences as being of no
matter and see ourselves as the brothers and sisters that we are? For all acts of the One God are acts of mercy, and God challenges us to treat all others as we ourselves would wish to be treated.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Is There a God? Why, Yes. Yes, There Is

Of course, what I call "God" is not necessarily what anybody else calls "God." God, for me, is the Eternal Divine Consciousness, an infinite creator who has nothing but Love for all things. It is not a being. God is an abstraction, a presence. I can't pin it down any better than that.

The religions differ in the outward, material articulation of God. Some see God as a genuine being or person, kind of like Santa Claus in the heavens keeping track of who is naughty or nice. If you're bad, you'll die and go to Hell. If you're good, you'll die and go to Heaven. This view I do not embrace. But most religions, if they aren't mystical by their very nature (I would put Buddhism here, for example), do have mystical traditions in which God is perceived with more complexity; so, for example, the Muslim Allah has the Sufis, the Jewish YHWH has the Kabbalists, the Christian three-personed God, Jehovah, has its assortment of mystics. Shuffle me into the latter category, because for me Jesus is the greatest of the Earth Masters. But at the end of the day, I'd say that all of us worship the same Divine Presence. Even if you don't believe in God, it doesn't matter. You're still part of the creation and God loves you and God isn't sending anybody to hell.

The only hell is the one we make for ourselves. Having free will, humanity constantly creates and recreates hell over and over. THIS is hell: living out of attunement with God.

You either followed that, or you didn't.

How did I get to this system of beliefs? You've got me there. I can't say. It's partially intuitive, it's partially reading others' words and finding them resonating with me, it's partially reading others' words or hearing sermons and finding them definitely NOT resonating with me, and then it's personal experience. When it comes to personal experience, that is between God and me. I can only tell you about it and you can decide "wow, that's cool," or "wow, you're crazy." I'm sure there are even some out there who would say "wow, Satan has ahold of you."

But just as I wouldn't even think of wanting to pass laws that restrict your right to happiness and freedom because things you do may not agree with my religious views, I sure would appreciate it if you would grant me the same respect. If no one is being hurt, then I don't think it's my business: likewise, I don't think it's yours. Our government is not a theocracy.

I will tell you about two things, both personal experience. Take it or leave it.

Remember Saul of Tarsus? The guy that was persecuting early followers of Jesus until bam! Something happened to him on the road to Damascus? This Saul (later known as Saint Paul, whom I actually think was a misguided although well-intentioned man) saw a great blinding light and heard a voice that identified itself as Jesus, and Saul converted. Well, nothing like that has happened to me, and I don't happen to believe the End of the World is imminent (like, arriving any second), so I feel no need to proselytize to save souls. And yet, I do very much believe the Divine Presence finally made itself known in my life in a way that I would see it and could not deny it.

Experience One: Six or seven years ago, I was blind drunk. No one else was home and I was sitting up in bed, drinking water, trying hard to not pass out and to sober up some before I went to sleep, because I was desperately afraid I would get sick if I did pass out, and I'd choke on my own vomit. (Yes, I was very sick.) Well, I passed out anyway. Then I heard a loud voice, clear as a bell, saying my name close to my ear: "JOYCE!" I woke up but no one was there. Trust me, I was too drunk to have been dreaming. Your mind cannot dream when you're that drunk. Something woke me up on purpose, and I stayed awake about another hour and then went on to sleep. But meh. I wrote it off as one of those weird things.

Experience Two: Almost five years ago, I was again drunk and in a total blackout. I vaguely recall speaking with a friend on the phone. About what, no clue. I think I'd been crying and miserable because that's kind of how it was towards the end of my drinking days--me sick and tired of being sick and tired and slave to a substance. In the morning I woke up with a massive hangover and not remembering a thing except for ONE thing: I'd decided to go to rehab. Apparently I'd had an entire conversation with Chelle about it when she got home from work, and she was amazed I remembered it. I didn't. All I could remember was that I'd made up my mind to go to rehab. But meh. Maybe it's just another one of those weird things.

Except that, after I got sober, miracle after miracle, or let's just call them more odd coincidences, started happening. I began meeting certain people, reading certain things, seemingly random things that wound up imbued with meaning, kept happening. I found myself stopping believing in coincidences and instead accepting Jung's synchronicity: meaningful coincidences, except that they are so abundant and connected that they really can't be coincidences. I began meditating. Let me say this: prayer is talking. Meditating is listening.

Do you know the cacophony of voices out there who are willing to talk your ear off, if only you're willing to listen? I'm speaking metaphorically; I don't hear voices. Well, not much anyway. I usually see images or see words spelled out in front of me or am guided intuitively or via emotions. Sometimes I'll get placed into a scene in which I'm allowed to live something out. Of more than this, I will not say, because frankly: any rational-minded person will say I'm just imagining things; so, to "get it," you kind of have to experience it for yourself.

The being we know as Jesus is still very much alive, and he talks to me all the time. Different beings (call them angels, call them spirit guides, whatever) come and go all the time. I have two steady ones; I guess they are protective beings of a sort. We have free will, so they can't really intervene, but they are more than willing to offer guidance if I ask. Often they'll tell me I'm asking the wrong question. And, apparently, they will shout "JOYCE!" at me if I'm on the verge of killing myself by accident. (I'm just making fun of myself.) God loves us and there is a plan for each of us, but it's up to each of us to carry out our plan. And if we don't, God loves us anyway. One thing I can say for sure: it was not God's plan for me to spend the rest of my life, or any part of my life, drinking myself into oblivion. But even if I had done so, it's all good--because I would have come back and tried again. Reincarnation? It's real. Just remember a few past lives, remember who you are and have been, and you realize why you're on the path you're on, and seriously? Even in the depths of your darkest despair, you can still be joyful and still laugh at our follies and derive great pleasure from the absurdity of human existence.  One of the most hilarious things, once you remember that you've lived as both males and females, is the nutty importance we attach to our biology. Your sex organs are not YOU. YOU are infinitely more complex than that.

SO: be like Jesus, see him as Prophet or God (whatever), fight for social justice, be compassionate to all, forgive everybody, evolve and become a better soul. And one day, quantum mechanics and string theory and other scientific discoveries will let us get a better handle on this stuff and a way to talk about it without sounding crazy.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Woot! I'm Baaaack! Oh noes!



Yes! That's right! I'm done with the first full draft of my book and am handing it off to some people to read and edit while I shop it to an agent, so this means I get to return to blogging and driving everybody crazy with my randomness.

Actually, I'm surprised at how quickly this book came out of me, but then again I've been stewing over the subject for a while, and I guess I already had a lot "mentally written" and filed somewhere in my own head. At this point, I alternate between thinking it's a plate of poo salad and a plate of pure awesome. It's probably somewhere in between the two extremes and will need a little reworking once I get some distance from it.

I'm also hoping a good agent and publishing house editor can help me put some spit and polish on it, but if I don't have any luck in that department, I can always go the self-publishing route. I'll cross that bridge if I reach it.

Well, enough about this. It's good to get a little time to recharge my batteries before returning to the classroom in the fall, and today I just started a new painting, and those on Facebook have seen that I have continued goofing around with my guitars.

It's about time for Derby Fever to hit as well. I did do a futures bet on California Chrome before his stellar performance in the San Felipe. We'll see how he does in the Santa Anita Derby. Chelle likes Constitution, but after the Florida Derby, she's thinking he may not perform well in the Kentucky Derby itself. Too many horses, and he was pretty rank at the beginning of that race. Well, we'll see. When they're this young, so many things can happen in a mere five weeks. But it would be fun to see Art and Steve Sherman at the Kentucky Derby, of all places. I mean, they co-owned O Firefly with us. (Even if she was the filly from hell. I guess she's busy being a mommy now.)

But I'm still trying to get my racing jones back. Zenyatta's retirement sort of took the air out of me. I loved that big girl so much that it's hard to get excited about any other horse. And then the NY Times continues its push to smear horse racing as a sport (are they on PETA's payroll?) For Pete's sake, why pick Steve Asmussen's barn to go "undercover" in? He gets dinged for drug violations almost as much as Dutrow. Why not pick a random trainer who is more representative of the entire sport and go undercover working for him or her? Yes, there is a nasty underside to horse racing. But for everyone who mistreats an animal, or for every owner who insists a trainer race an animal that isn't ready or is sore or hurt, there are ten more who love their horses very much and will go to the barn and feed them carrots and wouldn't think of running their horse into the ground and will see to it their horses are well cared for when they retire.

But enough about that.

Well, I'm off now to go practice the fingerpicking to the Eagle's "Seven Bridges Road." It's only a three-chord song, but there are a lot of fast runs of hammer-ons and pull-offs. Dunno if I'll be able to pull this one off by this Friday for my Facebook Serenade (Facebook howl?) or not.

It's good to be back.