Monday, April 19, 2021

Nothin' but mammals

Would it surprise you to know that one of the proximate inspirations for my previous post, "Satan divided against himself," was the Bloodhound Gang song "The Bad Touch"?


My wife, bless her heart, is something of a Maroon Five fan. (Like I can talk, right?) The other day she was listening to "Animals," which begins thus and continues in more or less the same vein.

Baby I'm preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals
Like animals-mals

And I thought, "You know, this is like what 'The Bad Touch' would be in an alternate universe where Jimmy Pop was -- as Bugs Bunny might have put it -- a maroon." The same basic idea, minus the wit.

So I got up YouTube and listened to "The Bad Touch." Then I listened to it again, and again, and -- oh, probably about a dozen times in two or three days. And I thought, "What am I doing? What on earth is making me want to keep listening to this vulgar, sophomoric dreck?" And then I realized that what was driving me was an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia for a more wholesome time.

Let me repeat that: This crass-to-the-max four-minute dirty joke about doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel filled me with nostalgia for a more wholesome time. How I wish I could go back and report this observation to the people of 1999! What could they possibly make of it? "The Bad Touch" must surely have seemed at the time like the nadir of music's descent into garbage.

I say "must surely" because I wasn't there, not really. I was a homeschooled Mormon kid who grew up in the country, and when we occasionally dusted off the TV it was only to watch PBS. In 1999, when "The Bad Touch" was released, I was a missionary in Utah and didn't know anything about it. So my nostalgia's not for this song specifically, as if I used to listen to it all the time in junior high or something. Pop culture nostalgia's not really a thing for me. I never even watched the Discovery Channel! It's just a feeling that the culture that produced it was a much more wholesome culture than the one in which we now live.

Trying to understand that feeling, I zeroed in on the line "You and me, baby, ain't nothin' but mammals." The message of the song, while evil, is at least organic -- the natural man, return to monke. It is like a modern song in that it makes no pretense of being about "love" (except "the kind you clean up with a mop and bucket"), but conspicuous by its absence is any hint of the robot/alien/androgyne aesthetic, any overt reference to Satanism or blood sacrifice, any winking allusions to secret societies or MK-ULTRA mind control. It's just some dudes being jackasses -- being mammals -- and having fun. When was the last time mainstream evil was fun?

"You and me," baby? Speak for yourself!

(Incidentally, remember when every pop song was about love? Didn't it seem like that was something that would always be true? Even Aldous Huxley didn't imagine a dystopia without that.)

Scrolling through the comments on YouTube for "The Bad Touch," I find that a lot of them are saying how a song like this could never be released today, that people would find it far too offensive. Someone even said the lyrics "would make Cardi B blush" -- you know, Cardi B, who sings "Wet-Ass Pussy." Keep in mind that "The Bad Touch" is much less explicitly obscene than contemporary music, and that the only word they had to bleep out in the "clean" version was "doggy." But it's still true: people would be offended if it were released today. Doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel has too much of nature in it, too much of creation. Evil has moved on. Ahriman is the flavor du jour.

Of course, it's even more obvious that "The Bad Touch" could never have been released in, say, the 1950s. It represents a particular stage in the development of evil, in the gradual unfolding of les fleurs de mal. It came, it went, and it's gone. There will be no return to monke. Sorath is the future.

"Me and you do the kind of stuff that only Prince would sing about" -- in retrospect "Party Like It's 1999" has taken on a whole new meaning.

Satan divided against himself

Disclaimer: My terms are borrowed (by way of Terry Boardman and Bruce Charlton) from Rudolf Steiner, but I cannot claim to be using them in anything like a strictly Steinerian sense. In fact I have read only a tiny fraction of Steiner's voluminous output and assimilated only a tiny fraction of that. However, his demonology has long since taken on a life of its own.

These are just some tentative notes. I neither pretend nor aspire to be an expert on evil.


Sorath

MEPHISTO:
I am the spirit that negates.
And rightly so, for all that comes to be
Deserves to perish wretchedly;
'Twere better nothing would begin.
Thus everything that your terms, sin,
Destructionevil represent—
That is my proper element.
-- Goethe's Faust (Walter Kaufmann's translation)

By Sorath I mean the principle of evil at its purest, the devil of all devils, Goethe's "spirit that negates." God is the love-motivated Creator, and Sorath is the hate-motivated anti-Creator, who opposes all creation -- who thinks it "better nothing would begin" and that all that has begun "deserves to perish wretchedly."

Sorath's ultimate goal is that nothing at all exist, including Sorath himself. Does Sorath exist, then? Perhaps not. Perhaps it is not possible that he should. It may be possible to be God, even to be Lucifer, but not to be Sorath. After all, who can fail to see the self-contradictory nature of the statement, "I am the spirit that negates"? Sorath should probably not be thought of as a person at all, but as the hypothetical limit to which evil converges. Appropriately, Sorath is not a name from folklore, not a demon people are actually said to have interacted with, but an artificial creation of Steiner's, made from the Hebrew numerals for 666.

God is, ultimately, a Person -- and, pace Yeats, there is no Deus Inversus, no equal and opposite God of Evil, no Angra Mainyu ("Ahriman" in the original Zoroastrian, non-Steiner sense of that name). Devils who are persons certainly exist, but the devil of all devils is an abstraction, a mathematical limit which none of them can quite reach. And the name we give to this limit, this outer darkness, is also mathematical: Sorath.

We may nevertheless speak, and not altogether figuratively, of "what Sorath wants" and what it means to "serve Sorath."


What Sorath is up against

Sorath is against creation and against Creator -- that is, against existence, against being as such -- so any understanding of Sorath's battle plan must begin with answering that ever-popular question, Why is there something rather than nothing? (And, yes, I intend to answer that little question en passant and then forge ahead with my demonology. This attitude is, incidentally, why there is something rather than nothing posted on this blog.)

Descartes, meet Berkeley. Berkeley, Descartes. Let's have each of you chuck your most famous Latin catchphrase into this here crucible and see what comes out, shall we? And . . . splendid: Esse est cogitari aut cogitare. "To be is to be thought, or to think." Sorath's enemies are thinkers -- God, the gods, and such humbler beings as ourselves -- and the combined harmonious thought of these thinkers, which is the creative Logos.

New thinkers think themselves into existence, oh, probably all the time -- beginning as "minor presences, riffraff of consciousness" (Iris Murdoch's phrase) and then, some of them, developing from there, some even to the threshold of Godhood itself.

But this is likely a one-way street. Thinkers don't ever think themselves out of existence -- how could they? How could you cease, by an act of will, to have an active will? To say, or think, "I will my own annihilation," you have to say I will. Existence cannot be undone.

Thinkers -- excepting perhaps those dragons and titans and hecatoncheires who came into being before there was a Logos -- have a natural tendency to think and act in harmony with the Logos. At first, at the most rudimentary levels of development, this tendency is almost wholly passive and unconscious. "For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither . . . at the command of our great and everlasting God" (Hel. 12:8) and "even the wind and the sea obey him" (Mark 4:41).

As a thinker develops, though, and becomes increasingly active and conscious, the possibility of deliberately rebelling against the Logos begins to emerge. Sorath wants to persuade as many as possible to choose that path, with the ultimate goal of undoing creation, reducing the cosmos, if not to nothing at all, at least to chaos.

The problem, though, is how to persuade anyone to join you when you have quite literally nothing to offer. The devil of all devils wants everyone "to choose captivity and death, . . . that all men might be miserable like unto himself" (2 Ne. 2:27). Uh, what's the selling point again?


Ultimately, many can and will choose just that -- will say, "Evil, be thou my good!" and walk willingly into hell -- but they must be brought to that point by a circuitous route. That's where Lucifer and Ahriman come in.


Lucifer

In The Song of the Strange Ascetic (which I discuss here), G. K. Chesterton imagines how he would have lived if he "had been a Heathen" and expresses bafflement at the choice of an actual heathen called Higgins -- a sort of Caspar Milquetoast of heathenism -- not to live that life. Heathenism, we are to infer, is as much wasted on the heathens as youth is on the young.

A heathen Chesterton would have filled his life with wine, love affairs, dancing girls, and glorious military campaigns against the Chieftains of the North. He would have served Lucifer, in other words -- pursued forbidden pleasures -- and doesn't quite get this Ahriman fellow whom the prissy bourgeois Higgins chooses to serve instead.

Lucifer is all about wine, women, and song. Those who follow Lucifer are motivated by pleasure rather than the avoidance of pain, and are willing to embrace risk, danger, adventure, even a sort of heroism, in its pursuit. They do not shy away from violence and may even revel in it. Alcibiades, Casanova, Blackbeard -- Falstaff, even. (Not Epicurus, who, despite the modern connotation of his name, was a consummate Higgins.) This is the most relatable and accessible form of evil, the sort a good man like Chesterton could easily fantasize about embracing. "Gateway drug" is the term, I believe.

Why call this aspect of evil Lucifer? Well, because Steiner did, obviously, but we can also invent an ex post facto etymology for it. Lucifer, "light-bearer," is from the Latin lux, "light," but we can imagine that it derives instead from luxus, "luxury, debauchery." Also, Lucifer was originally a name for the planet Venus -- whose other name is that of the ancient Roman goddess of sex, drugs, and rock-'n'-roll.


Ahriman

How did Satan become Satan? Joseph Smith, the Prophet, proposes a somewhat novel origin story for this supervillain: One of the angels comes before the Lord and proposes, "send me, . . . and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost." And it is for this offer of universal salvation -- because, that is, he "sought to destroy the agency of man" -- that he is cast out of heaven and becomes the devil (see Moses 4:1-4).

If Lucifer seeks pleasure, Ahriman seeks control. Note that this is not necessarily the same thing as seeking power. Those who serve Ahriman may seek to be in control themselves, but more often their goal may simply be that everything be under control. Hierarchy is of Ahriman, because even those who are far from the top have no objection to it. Even an Ahrimanist who has the ability to control things personally will generally defer these personal decisions to a system or algorithm, personal responsibility being unpleasantly risky. A near-perfect example of Ahrimanic man is the 2020s birdemicist, happy to submit to house arrest, universal surveillance and censorship, and forced medical procedures -- rather than take a chance of catching the flu. "Non serviam" is Lucifer's motto, not Ahriman's; if Ahrimanism were condensed into a two-word motto, it would be, "Safety first" -- or, if more than two words are needed, "None are safe until all are safe" ("that one soul shall not be lost").

Lucifer's motivation is positive: the pursuit of pleasure. Ahriman's is negative: the elimination of risk. Lucifer's focus is personal; Ahriman's, universal. Thus Ahriman, though less obviously "evil" than Lucifer, is actually considerably closer than Lucifer to Sorath, to the pure and universal "spirit that negates."


Evilution


Suicide has cause and stillbirth, logic; and cancer, simple as a flower, blooms.
-- Karl Shapiro

Conceptually, Sorath is primary, and I have discussed him first. Chronologically, in the evolutionary development of evil, he comes last. The natural progression is from Good to Luciferic, from Luciferic to Ahrimanic, and from Ahrimanic to Sorathic.

First, the good are tempted by forbidden pleasures, and by forbidden means of pursuing good ends, and embrace the ethos of Abbey of Thélème: Fay ce que vouldras, "Do what you want."

This Luciferic playing-with-fire leads to predictable results, people begin to feel that the world has become a chaotic and dangerous place, and they turn to Ahriman. We can see a clear example of this if we look back at the past half-century: As the flower children (those fleurs de mal) blossomed into flower fogeys, a movement that began with free speech, free love, and letting it all hang out evolved organically into the world of PC, sexual harassment prevention training, and a superstitious horror of the "inappropriate."

As Ahriman drains the world of its charm and turns everything into management and bureaucracy, as he extinguishes joy and the memory of joy, as everyone, to one degree or another, is assimilated into his soulless system, mutual respect becomes impossible, more and more people live in a state of barely suppressed rage, and the prospect of burning everything to the ground becomes increasingly attractive. Sorath has arrived.


The Blood War

When Sin claps his broad wings over the battle,
And sails rejoicing in the flood of Death;
When souls are torn to everlasting fire,
And fiends of Hell rejoice upon the slain,
O who can stand?
-- William Blake

In the Dungeons and Dragons cosmology, one of the defining features of the "Lower Planes" (hell) is the Blood War -- the interminable conflict between the chaotic-evil (Luciferic) demons and the lawful-evil (Ahrimanic) devils, with a third class of neutral-evil (Sorathic?) fiends manipulatively playing each side against the other. So -- did the D&D guys get hell more or less right? Was old Gary Gygax privy to one or two of the deep things of Satan?

If the Blood War did not exist, Sorath would have to invent it. Remember what Sorath wants -- for men to hate the good as such and to pursue evil strictly for the evulz -- and how contrary to human nature that is. How to get us humans to sail against the wind of our own deepest nature? By tacking, of course.

  • Sorath's goal: Avoid good, pursue evil
  • Human nature: Pursue good, avoid evil
  • Lucifer tack: Sacrifice the avoidance of evil in order to pursue good (e.g. to seek pleasure)
  • Ahriman tack: Sacrifice the pursuit of good in order to avoid evil (e.g. to be "safe")
Clever little devil, right? But so far this is just tacking, and no one ever said tacking was hell. War is hell. That's the next step. Notice that the Lucifer tack and the Ahriman tack are polar opposites and are both evil. With just a bit of nudging, we get this:
  • Sorathized Lucifer: Sacrifice the avoidance of evil in order to destroy Ahriman!
  • Sorathized Ahriman: Sacrifice the pursuit of good in order to crush Lucifer!
Rage against the machine! Machinate against the rage! Behead those who insult Sorath -- who, for his part, claps his broad wings above the battle and sails rejoicing in the flood of Death. O who can stand?


La fin de Satan?

And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.
-- Mark 3:23-26

Given what we have discussed thus far, what are we to make of this statement attributed to Jesus? 

Victor Hugo's unfinished poem does not really address the matter; I have pilfered the title because of its ambiguity. La fin de Satan could mean the annihilation of Satan, or it could mean Satan's objective, his telos (which is in fact the word used in Mark) -- and, wait, are those even two different things? Didn't we say that "Sorath's ultimate goal is that nothing at all exist, including Sorath himself"? La fin de Satan est la fin de Satan.

Jesus, in the passage quoted, is responding to the claim that "by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils." The implication is that devils obviously don't work that way, because if they did, the whole enterprise of devilry would have collapsed long ago, torn apart by infighting. The continued existence of Satan is proof that Satan is not in the habit of undermining himself, and thus that the whole idea of a power-of-Satan-compels-you exorcist is inherently implausible.

Everything I've written in this post thus far -- Lucifer vs. Ahriman, the Blood War, all that -- seems to be saying that the kingdom of Satan succeeds by being divided against itself, and thus that Jesus was wrong. Well, as a Christian, I obviously can't leave it at that!

The easy way out would be to point out that this quote from Jesus does not appear in the Fourth and most authoritative Gospel, that Mark consists of notes compiled by a non-witness, and that Jesus may well never have said anything like this. Honestly, though, it sounds quite Jesusy to me, and I believe he probably did say it or something like it.

Another possibility is that Jesus was speaking specifically about exorcism. Back when I still believed the mainstream idea that Mark's was the most trustworthy Gospel and was focusing my studies on it, I went so far as to read an entire book called Demonic Possession in the New Testament, by William Menzies Alexander. Alexander draws a distinction between possession by "demons" or "unclean spirits" (a condition cured by Jesus on many occasions) and possession by "Satan" (attributed only to Judas Iscariot). The latter (which also has the distinction of being the only "possession" mentioned in the Fourth Gospel) is clearly moral in nature and leads to damnation. In contrast, those troubled by "unclean spirits" are treated as victims who bear no moral responsibility for their condition. The other important point that Alexander makes is that the wave of demon-possession described in Mark was a unique phenomenon, localized in time and space. With a few ambiguous exceptions like the case of King Saul, there is scarcely a hint of demon-possession in the Old Testament, nor does demon-possession in the Marcan mold appear to happen much in the modern world. (Satan-possession, in contrast, seems to be at an all-time high.) The demoniacs of first-century Palestine, a bit like the Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard centuries later, appear to have represented a sort of spiritual outbreak or epidemic which flared up, spread through the population, and then burnt itself out -- with this last process perhaps expedited by the activity of Jesus and his disciples. If this phenomenon was the "Satan" Jesus' accusers were referring to, it would appear that its kingdom didn't stand, and it did have an end.

Something else to keep in mind is that Jesus' responses to critics or those who tried to catch him in his words generally worked on two levels. At the level of mere repartee, their purpose was to pwn and silence his opponents; at a deeper level, they were "parables" -- riddles -- conveying more substantive truth. For example, Jesus' famous statement about the unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost was also a response to accusations that he used demonic power to cast out demons. As rhetoric, its message was, "Be very careful calling something demonic which may actually be from the Holy Ghost" -- but we can hardly conclude that mistakenly thinking a particular "miracle" may be demonic is the unforgivable sin! The deeper meaning of this statement is, well, deep, and a great deal has been thought and written about it -- almost all of which, rightly, departs from the statement's original rhetorical context.

So focusing too much on the conclusion "and therefore exorcisms are never performed by demonic power" may be much too narrow a constraint when it comes to understanding the deeper meaning of "How can Satan cast out Satan?" Rhetorically, it is supposed to work as a reductio ad absurbum: Satan obviously wouldn't undermine his own power; therefore, no exorcist is a servant of Satan. But those who think it out realize at that what it reduces to isn't absurd at all: Satan cannot stand, but hath an end. I mean, what's the alternative, really? That Satan and his works will endure forever? That Satan -- ce monstre délicat -- has eternal life?


What if they gave a Blood War and nobody came?

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil.
-- Matt. 5:39

Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil, . . . durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, "The Lord rebuke thee."
-- Jude 9

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight."
-- John 18:36

But Jesus said unto him, "Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead."
-- Matt. 8:22

We are not here to fight in the Blood War. We are not here to contend against Satan and those who serve him. The example of the Messiah conspicuously not overthrowing the Empire should have made that clear enough. We are here to learn, to serve God, and to follow Jesus to eternal life. Anything else is a distraction.

Friday, April 16, 2021

What's a nice Mormon Elder like you doing in a place like this?

So the Vatican's doing this thing.

First the graphic: I'm sorry but, putting blasphemy concerns to one side, a coronaphobe version of the Creation of Adam is just a non-starter. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." How are you going to do a masked version of that?

But of course I'm here to document Mormon, not Catholic, apostasy.

The speakers include prominent and diverse names such as the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna, the former of which produces abortion pills; the Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH) Francis Collins, who advocates using fetal tissue in research projects; the head of Google Health, David Feinberg; and Dr. Anthony Fauci from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose advice to government officials played a major role in shutting down American churches last year.  

NIH director Francis Collins has a long history of anti-life policies, and has previously acclaimed the "scientific benefits" which come from fetal tissue research, claiming that such work could be conducted "with an ethical framework."

He is joined at the Vatican conference by Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, who has firmly aligned himself with the globalist, liberal elite, by banning emails from Republicans and the Trump campaign in the wake of the January 6 Capitol protests, as well as prohibiting all clients from even questioning the 2020 U.S. election. Benioff has a history of promoting LGBT issues, and is described by Time as "one of the most outspoken executives," for LGBT affairs. 

Also speaking at the conference will be United Nations representative and conservationist Jane Goodall, who supports population control; new age activist Deepak Chopra; rock guitarist Joe Perry; Mormon Elder William K. Jackson; executive chair of the British Board of Scholars and Imams, Shaykh Dr. Asim Yusuf; pro-abortion model Cindy Crawford; and disgraced ex-prefect of the Secretariat for Communication, Monsignor Dario Viganò. 

Numerous other medical professionals, representatives of U.S. federal agencies, university lecturers, high-ranking company officials, and musicians also form the number of speakers. There are only two Catholic clergy listed amongst the 114 speakers.

"Mormon Elder" William K. Jackson (sic; I'm sure he does not self-identify as a Mormon!) was promoted to the rank of General Authority Seventy in the April 2020 conference and gave his first General Conference talk in October. He spoke on diversity and equality.

But couldn't his presence at this Satanic conference be innocent? After all, even Christ mingled with publicans and sinners. Wait, there's more.

Perhaps as a sign of the Vatican’s recent declaration of financial difficulties, the conference is supported by numerous large organizations such as Sanford Health, Akkad Holdings, John Templeton Foundation, vaccine company Moderna, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

So the Church of We Don't Use the M-Word Anymore isn't just sending a delegation; it's helping to bankroll the event, presumably with the tithes of the Saints.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Condensed crossword

Across:

1. Characteristic of Greek nuptials

4. Ubiquitous feature of a certain Greek island

5. Unravished Greek bride

Down:

1. Invisible influence from Rome

2. Medium for 1 Down

3. Roman cross

Diagonal:

1. Appendage of conch-blowing Greco-Roman deity

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

We have waited long enough for a gay, illegal immigrant Supreme Court justice.

Sometimes I think it would be more fun to work for the other side.


Note added: For those who don't get the reference, I'm doing my best to parody the un-parody-able.


(A quick survey of judges on TV shows that roughly 100% of them are African-American women, so it really does make you wonder why none of them have made it to the Supreme Court!)

Monday, April 12, 2021

Calm and stars

Around the Matsu Islands -- just off the coast of China, but administered by Taiwan -- the waters are full of a sort of bioluminescent plankton, called by the locals "blue teardrops," which, when disturbed (by a crashing wave, for example), emit a blue-white light. As soon as the water is calm again, the light goes out. This is visible only when it is very dark, and cannot be photographed except with a very long exposure which distorts what it actually looks like, but it is striking. At night, you can take a canoe into an old tunnel once used for hiding warships from Red Mao, and every splash of the paddle into the water creates a momentary swirl of ghostly sparks, as if one were rowing the Styx. Splash a paddleful of water onto the wall of the tunnel, and it erupts in a ghostly fireworks display, with countless pale stars popping into existence and then winking out. The effect reminded me of the Yongsung Kim painting Calm and Stars.

Kim's painting depicts Jesus having calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee, artistic license having reduced the number of disciples in the boat to one.

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.

And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?"

And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, "Peace, be still."

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

And he said unto them, "Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?"

And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, "What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" 

(Mark 4:37-41)

I love that bit at the end: "Why are ye so fearful? . . . And they feared exceedingly" -- not despite the fact that Jesus could calm the storm but precisely because of it! What's scarier, thinking the Master won't do anything about the storm -- or realizing that he will?

The Matsu Islands are named after the sea goddess Mazu, a deified woman who is supposed to be buried there. (Convention transcribes the same sound as ts for the islands and z for the goddess.) There is a colossal statue of Mazu on one of the islands, crowned and holding a lamp and a tablet, almost like a Chinese version of the Statue of Liberty. On her tablet is written the chengyu associated with this goddess: 風調雨順 -- "the winds are tamed, and the rains obey."

The breath metaphor

In Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and many other languages the word for "spirit" and "breath" (and often "wind" as well) is the same. (We can see this in our English words spirit and respiration, from the same Latin root.) "Breath," being more concrete, was presumably the original meaning of these words, with "spirit" being a metaphorical extension of that sense.

Why that particular metaphor?

One obvious reason is that breath is one of the things that distinguishes a living person from a corpse, and that we also encounter it (as wind) in disembodied form. It is easy to imagine a person's breath -- more so than, say, his heartbeat -- living on as a disembodied being after that person's death. Perhaps the earliest imagined "spirits" in the superhuman sense -- proto-gods -- were such characters as Boreas, Zephyrus, Notus, and Eurus -- invisible, obviously real, and clearly of the same nature as human breath.

Another possible reason is that breath is the medium of speech -- which is really only modulated breath -- and it is speech that expresses our thoughts and feelings. In fact, there is a case to be made (others have made it, though I don't remember who) that speech is what originally gave rise to our self-awareness -- that we spoke to others, overheard ourselves, and thus began to know ourselves. Silent self-overhearing, like silent reading, came only later. The Bible describes thinking as a kind of internal speaking: "The fool hath said in his heart. . . ."

Most appropriately, though, breath is volitional but only potentially so. Our heartbeat is beyond out conscious control, but we can easily control our breathing if we choose to do so. Most of the time we do not, though, and it goes on automatically. I think something similar is true of our thoughts and the behavior that comes from them. We have free will but use it far less often than we imagine, and I think it is possible in principle to live out one's life without ever once exercising it, just allowing one's thoughts and actions to happen -- "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind" (Eph. 4:14). But we can live differently. The kingdom of heaven -- meaning, if we take it in a stupidly literal sense, the realm of the wind-gods -- is within you.

Nothin' but mammals

Would it surprise you to know that one of the proximate inspirations for my previous post, " Satan divided against himself ," was ...