Few would argue against the formative role played by the fictional writings of J.R.R. Tolkien in the genre of contemporary fantasy. The success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy among Western audiences sparked a conflagration of inspired fantasy authors ever after, writing their own modest tales for decades thence, spun around seemingly-alien or once-upon-a-time worlds peopled with elves, dwarves, dark lords, wraiths, goblins, trolls, wizards, on and on, the likes of which had little part in modern literature up until Tolkien’s intervention. A few such common staples to the genre today — orcs and hobbits/halflings, for instance — were entirely the original creation of Tolkien, whereas many other tropes, while not originating in his work, often resemble his iteration more than they do anything described in their source material of folk legend (elves as wise and immortal/long-lived humanoids, or dwarves as a similar racial — rather than spiritual — species of clever, diminutive, subterranean artificers).
Life and death are inescapably intertwined. Life feeds and flourishes upon death, whether directly, as with the cunning predator who feasts upon its slain quarry, or indirectly, as the docile frugivore who consumes the fruits brought forth by the decay of the countless lifeforms that create the loam. Life in turn must eventually surrender itself to its dissolution in death, struck down by the predation of beast, disease, or time’s entropy — the vital substance is transmuted into the sustenance that nourishes new life, and so the cycle continues in perpetuity, so long as life persists in the universal schema.
One of the most interesting perspectives I garnered from an academic tome called Evil Incarnate by Dr. David Frankfurter was how one of the universal characteristics of state/civil societies is to redact and rigidly codify the “supernatural” or “magical” beliefs of its subjects. That in and of itself was an obvious phenomena to me long before I read said book — the interpretatio romana, for instance, is one of the most salient examples of such a practice, of the authorities of a conquering state appropriating the local gods of conquered/subjugated peoples and equating them to a Roman god that generally, at best, was a poor approximation, and at worst was complete error and obfuscation of the deity’s original functions. The purpose behind said-practice is primarily propaganderial, a power ploy — the gods of a particular, autonomous tribal people, and the sociopsychological and political identity and freedom of said distinct group that such gods guarantee or embody, are absorbed into or subsumed by the idols of another state. All the juicy bureaucracy built upon tithes and the shows of grovelling/worship that said idols demand in proving your submission which were formerly directed to the people’s own ruler/chieftain/holy men, if not being entirely absent (as in the case of more-egalitarian tribes or bands), are appended onto the cult and treasury of the imperial state, marking the end of a conquered people’s own independence of culture and destiny.Read More »
“Abashed the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is…” — Paradise Lost, Milton
One of the questions that unfailingly captivate the philosophical mind is that of the nature of right and wrong — good and evil. This fascination is arguably universal — that is, irrespective of culture, and irrespective of social class, this question of morality inevitably becomes a subject of intense scrutiny to the individual who regularly partakes in deep ruminations of thought. It could be argued as an emergent property of human psychology, this ageless fixation — and its ruptures increase in tandem to the increasing number of people within a society who no longer remember how to “live well.”Read More »
Stigmergy is an interesting phenomenon, and also something very informative to the
understanding of modern human society. In short, it is the appearance of intelligence or coordination based purely on instinctive or automated reaction to an external stimuli; there is not actually a conscious or cognitive decision involved on the part of the reacting organism, or so it is assumed. Ants are one of the best models of the behaviour — they are capable of achieving very impressive feats that look, to the human estimation, like they would require some intelligent decision and coordination to accomplish, be it building bridges, ladders, rafts out of their own bodies, creating complex tunnel systems within a variety of substrates, or practicing kinds of agriculture.Read More »
“I would only believe in a god who knew how to dance. And when I saw my devil, there I found him earnest, thorough, deep, and somber: it was the spirit of gravity — through him, all things fall…” —Thus Spake Zarathustra
One should not give much consideration to a “mythology” that does not provoke laughter with some regularity. Myth is — or originally, it was — the story of your blood, the blood of your people, and how it, via its most prominent avatars or champions, has made its way through the world and throughout time. So does the hero, an eponymous ancestor, struggle against and match wits with the best of the non-human powers, be they spirits or flesh-and-blood beasts, forging or negotiating a path forth for his descendants or those of his kin. So does the ancient Trickster, whether as a partly-human ancestor or a totemic creature or power closely aligned with the tribe’s genesis, go about his deeds of fooling the non-human powers in order to (or, at least incidentally) help or uplift the people who cherish his name. And thus the affectionate and filial titles some of these figures will be invoked with — “Father,” “Mother,” “Grandfather,” “Uncle,” “Old Man,” “Elder,” “Auntie,” and so on.
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It is not unfair to assert almost everything good in Christianity and its reign came from paganism. The pageantry picked up by the Church in the Middle Ages and which served as the cultural glue holding together most communities over its glory days were variously pagan or indigenous festivals, devices, and customs which persisted even after conversion, and, as those customs go, they were largely “practical,” i.e. they made sense of, and were derived from, the relevant world that is the local environment, local circumstances, local history. Thus comes the rich tapestry of various local cultures, cults, and customs throughout the Middle Ages — remnants or the legacy of those who lived by the “heath” and, as such, its biodiversity, which demands different cultures to live amongst it and utilise it. The Church merely inserted some of its cosmopolitan detritus into it all, enough to draw authority and tribute unto itself while generally not provoking the locals too much to protest the mythical redactions and the extra or redirected tier of taxation.Read More »
Much of the scientific study of human social behaviour — human behavioural ecology, sociobiology, and its various associates — owes a great deal to the study of the insect world. There is of course much to readily criticise such for; humans and insects are very diverse forms of life, much of their physiology and life history quite alien to the other. Indeed, because of a matter of scale — their size — it is not unreasonable to assert insects occupy a world apart from ours. More properly: it is a world within our own, a world that exists within the indeterminable nooks and crannies of our own place of inhabitance, teeming within the countless cracks and crevices of all the places on earth except for its deepest, darkest oceanic trenches, the bittermost cold of the polar reaches, and the intolerable, molten heats of the earth’s depths. Even so, it is a world that is far more expansive than what we know. We live on a thin surface, the edges of a heavily-folded, ecological sheet, our size, tolerances, and senses forbidding us from personally squeezing our way down in to its prohibitive folds, where only little, extraordinary things, of diverse shapes and incredible abilities, may slip into. Like the figurative sheet, once it is stretched out — dissecting and spreading open the countless secret passages through soil, wood, and skies — its true surface is revealed to be an area of unchartered vastness, an infinitude of microcosms among which the occupancy of man winds about as single thread.
This is something of intuitive speculation, given that I have limited experience, and hence knowledge, with the subject matter — though I usually find I am rarely wrong when it comes to intuition. At any rate, a very influential thinker in primitivist circles, John Zerzan, recently took a jab during his podcast (May 29, 2018): “Space: The Final Socialist Frontier?” ) at a relatively late branch of anarchist thought known as “ontological anarchy.” If you have never heard of it, you have done well for yourself and it is quite natural, given that I, and I imagine most people, never heard of it and would never have heard of it until they happened to twist their ankle in a dark little internet rabbit hole while jaunting about on the fantasyscape of social media. Read More »
What follows are some of my thoughts concerning an article I read some months ago — with the thoughts likewise having being jotted down then, only in a truncated form. The article’s assertions I found very interesting, on a number of grounds. The paper is somewhat renowned in the field of sociocultural anthropology: “Knowledge of the Body” (1983), by Michael D. Jackson, published in the journal Man, 18(2). In it, Jackson details some of the observations he made whilst studying the Kuranko, a tribal people of Sierra Leone (Africa). He especially was concerned with the supposed “symbolic” nature of the Kuranko’s rites and dances, from which he comes to a number of conclusions that I would recommend be read and digested in the original article, which would do it far greater justice that my shorthandedly summarising all of it. I will at length focus on one assertion in particular: that in “preliterate” societies, there is a greater immediacy of the mind with the body and ultimately the environment, and this immediacy results in moral character — morality itself —being regarded as intimately tied to action and the actual structure of the body instead of words, written or spoken. Read More »