Saturday, December 31, 2022

The mirror, the snake-bird, and the man who raped a cloud


My last post, "Tezcatlipoca and John Dee," cited "The Voynich Manuscript," the 12th chapter in Terence McKenna's book The Archaic Revival. The next chapter, called "Wasson's Literary Precursors," quotes Food for Centaurs, a Robert Graves book I had never read, so I looked it up. Also relevant here is my October 13 post "Parrhesia, Nephele, and the Sumerian Sphinx," in which the synchronicity fairies brought to my attention the story of how Ixion, intending to rape Hera, instead raped a cloud:

Today, in the concluding chapter of Histoire de la magie, I encountered a passing reference to Ixion and how he attempted to rape Hera but was tricked by Zeus into assaulting a fake Hera made from a cloud. Having only the vaguest recollection of this particular myth, I looked it up to get the details. The Hera-shaped cloud apparently became in some way a real woman who went on to bear children to both Ixion and Athamas, and this cloud-woman's name was Nephele (from nephos, "cloud").

I found this in Food for Centaurs:

The Wassons reproduce in their book the illustration I discovered for them in the late Professor A. B. Cook's Zeus: an Etruscan mirror-back dating from 500 B.C., which shows the Greek hero Ixion tied to a wheel. No one had previously noticed the mushroom growing at Ixion's feet . . . . In punishment for Ixion's attempt to rape the Goddess Hera, her husband the Almighty God Zeus soon sent him spinning through space, spread-eagled to a fiery wheel. Yet meanwhile Ixion had, in his delirium, mistaken a cloud for Hera, and begotten on it a son named Centaurus; which same Centaurus (an aberrant, rather than a delinquent) is said to have later fathered the Hippo-Centaurs -- half men and half stallions -- be debauching a herd of Magnesian mares.

Note that illustration of Ixion and the mushroom (understood by both Graves and McKenna to be a psychedelic species) is from a mirror-back -- and my previous post dealt with Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god whose name means Smoking Mirror, and the obsidian Aztec mirror used by John Dee. In my posts about Tezcatlipoca, I have always discussed him together with his brother Quetzalcoatl -- typically glossed as "Feathered Serpent," but also "quetzal-serpent," the quetzal being a type of bird.

This is from the very next paragraph in Food for Centaurs:

Ixion is wearing a pair of wings, and the mirror's circular border is decorated with a length of ivy. The wings plainly refer to the famous erotic charm mentioned by Theocritus, which made a member of the opposite sex fall madly in love with whoever tied a live wryneck to a fire-wheel -- the fire-wheel being an instrument for kindling fire by friction -- and sent it whizzing giddily around. . . . The wryneck (a peculiar bird, which hisses like a serpent) was sacred to the erotic God Dionysus, and gave him the surname 'Iynges' ('of the wryneck').

The wryneck is identified as "a peculiar bird, which hisses like a serpent." I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if it was at all closely related to the quetzal; it isn't, but the article notes the following:

These birds get their English name from their ability to turn their heads almost 180°. When disturbed at the nest, they use this snake-like head twisting and hissing as a threat display. It has occasionally been called "snake-bird" for that reason. . . . Its sound is described as a repetition of the sounds que, que, que, many times in succession, rapid at first, but gradually slowing and in a continually falling key.

"Snake-bird" is pretty close to being a calque of Quetzalcoatl --  and its call apparently resembles the first syllable of that god's name. This also ties in with recent owl syncs; the ability to turn its head an improbable number of degrees is a classic owl trait, and que is a Spanish word cognate with English who. Several posts here have linked the Latin qui, "who," with the call of the owl.

Tezcatlipoca and John Dee


A few days ago, on December 27, I posted "Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca," noting a synchronicity in which I encountered those two ancient Mexican deities -- the Feathered Serpent and the Smoking Mirror -- in a Whitley Strieber novel and then, shortly thereafter, on 4chan.

Yesterday, December 30, I was tutoring a young girl in English. Her textbook had a unit about chocolate and its history, which of course goes back to the xocolatl drunk by the kings and warriors of ancient Mexico. The text mentioned how Moctezuma II used to drink 50 cups of the stuff a day, and how the Spanish first encountered it after they invaded the Aztec capital. My student had lots of questions about this, wanting to know the name of the capital (Tenochtitlan) and the conqueror (Hernán Cortés) and how he had managed to conquer such a famously bloodthirsty people. I said historians generally attributed the Spanish victory to their use of guns, steel armor, and horses; but that it was probably not so much this technology in itself as the Aztec's awed reaction to it. They quickly lost hope and the will to fight, just as we might do faced with invading extraterrestrials wielding incomprehensibly powerful technology. I also mentioned that Moctezuma suspected Cortés might be one of the Mexican gods, and of course she wanted to know the god's name as well: Quetzalcoatl.

Later that evening, I read a bit of The Archaic Revival by Terence McKenna, the chapter on the Voynich manuscript. (The name has some resonance with me personally. Back when I was working for UPS, my coworkers called me "the Senator" because they thought my surname sounded similar to that of George Voinovich, who was one of the senators from Ohio at the time.) I was surprised to run into our old friend John Dee and his shew-stone.

The next important event in [Dee's] life with regard to the Voynich Manuscript, and one of the most puzzling events in the whole history of science, took place on an afternoon in July 1582. While in his study at Mortlake, John Dee was distracted by a brilliant light outside his window and stepped outside to receive from a creature he described as the Angel Gabriel a polished lens of New World obsidian, which he described in his diary thenceforward as "the Shew Stone." He was able, by meditating on this stone, to induce visions and dialogues with spirits, but this ability seemed to fade in the months after he received the stone . . . . (The Shew Stone is in the British Museum, where one can see it today.)

I had read an account of this event before, in Dwellers on the Threshold by Henry Davenport Adams, and had commented on it in my post "John Dee vs. Joseph Smith." Some of the details are different -- Adams says the angel was Uriel and that he appeared in November 1582 -- but it is obviously the same event they are describing. Adams describes the shew-stone as "a convex piece of crystal"; McKenna's more specific characterization of it as "New World obsidian" is highly relevant, since the obsidian mirror is the primary symbol of the New World deity Tezcatlipoca.

That Dee's shew-stone was in the British Museum was also news to me. I looked it up on the British Museum website (here), expecting something roughly similar to the seer-stones of Joseph Smith, but found that it is literally an Aztec obsidian mirror! McKenna is apparently confused in identifying it with the angelic shew-stone, since the mirror is flat and neither "a polished lens" nor "a convex piece of crystal."


The notes on the British Museum website say that the mirror is obsidian and of Aztec origin. It says that the mirror's leather case has the following inscription on it, taken from Samuel Butler's Hudibras and believed to have been written on the case by Horace Walpole:

Kelly did all his feats upon
The Devil's Looking Glass, a stone;
Where playing with him at Bo-peep,
He solv'd all problems ne'er so deep."

(Debbie will be interested in "Bo-peep," with its Heaven's Gate resonance.)

The BM website also notes:

Michael E. Smith who specialises in Aztec archaeology (The Aztecs - Blackwell Publishing) has an essay in progress on obsidian mirrors in museum collections for an edited volume of essays on Tezcatlipoca to be published by Univ of Colorado Press.

and:

This obsidian mirror featured in the British Museum exhibition 'Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler' (24 September 2009 - 24 January 2010).

So the connection with Tezcatlipoca and Moctezuma is undeniable.

In the image I have reproduced above, also from the BM website, Dee's obsidian mirror is shown together with three "magical discs"; the BM page for these objects notes that they "bear a striking similarity to the 'seals' for which the angel Uriel was said to give instructions to John Dee on Saturday 10 March 1582 as recorded by Dee in Ms Sloane 1388, fol.1or, British Library."

One also notes its general similarity to the famous Aztec Calendar Stone.


Speaking of calendars, I had an extremely complex and information-dense dream last night about three different calendars that were successively used by the ancient peoples of the Near East. These were shown to me visually, and explained verbally, in exhaustive detail -- but, maddeningly, I can remember only the vaguest outlines. The first calendar was called the Calendar of Life and was based on the planets rather than on the Sun and Moon. This was succeeded by a Calendar of Death, also called the Old Hebrew calendar, which I think was primarily solar and somehow emphasized by its nature and structure "the inevitability of entropy." These two were later integrated into the third calendar in the series, which is the Hebrew calendar as we know it today.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Divinatory bull's-eye: It's 2019 all over again in China

Over at The Magician's Table, I discuss how at least one of the predictions in my 2022 reading seems to have come true.

"Roaring silence" resurfaces

In my December 2020 post "Here come the twenties," I proposed as a theme song for the whole decade a track from the Manfred Mann's Earth Band album The Roaring Silence.


Did you know that the oxymoronic idea of a "roaring silence" is actually biblical? I didn't until my recent engagement with the Penitential Psalms: "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long" (Ps. 32:3).

Recently the sync fairies have been drawing my attention to the old They Might Be Giants song "Everything Right Is Wrong Again" -- the first track from their first album (1986).


The bridge contains these lines:

You know everything that I know, 
so I know you've heard the voice 
that makes the silent noise

They don't actually use the word roar, but the concept is similar -- and the silent roar syncs with another TMBG theme: a lion in space:

In the spaceship, the silver spaceship,
The lion takes control


In a lion were in space, his roaring would naturally be silent, as They remind us in another song:

I heard they had a space program
When they sing you can't hear, there's no air
Sometimes I think I kind of like that and
Other times I think I'm already there


On a whim, I ran a search for can't hear the roar, and it turned up a Science Daily article about how the paralyzing power of a tiger's roar may come from the part we can't hear. The article is dated December 29, 2000. I found it today, December 29, 2022 -- the same date, only in the Year of the Tiger.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Ah, the famous geishas of Panama!


One runs into some pretty strange branding around these parts. Panama Geisha coffee from Taichung, Taiwan.

If you asked a Panamanian, "¿Has oído hablar de los palíndromos ingleses?" he might reply:

"¡Ah, sí! e.g., A man, a plan, a canal -- Panama geisha."

Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca

On Boxing Day I began reading Omega Point, a Whitley Strieber novel I’d never read before. It’s set in the then-future 2020, when the Earth has entered the atmosphere of a supernova, the extinction of humanity is imminent, and the protagonists must invent time travel in time to save the species.

You think you know what to expect from a sci-fi setup of that kind — but then, in an utterly Strieberian twist, it quickly becomes apparent that each of the major characters, none of whom is Mexican, “is” in some sense the incarnation of a different ancient Mexican god. Dr. David Ford, the main protagonist is, naturally, Quetzalcoatl; and a baddie called Mack the Cat is Tezcatlipoca.

In Mexico City, in the embassy's garden, he had watched the gods dancing in the night sky, watched Tezcatlipoca shift from man to jaguar to serpent, taunting and raging at his brother Quetzalcoatl. In Egypt, Quetzalcoatl was Osiris, the god of resurrection, and Tezcatlipoca was his brother Set, who cut him into small pieces. The Bible called them Cain and Abel. In Judea, the light and dark brothers had been Jesus and Judas.

He identified with Tezcatlipoca, El Gato, the night cat roaming and changing, the shadow cat. That's where his nickname came from. Doing his work, he moved like a cat.

I’m only a third of the way through the book, and I’m not sure where the author is going with this, but it’s certainly unusual. (I note in passing that Quetzalcoatl being Jesus is a common Mormon folk belief, and that I myself have proposed that Abel was Osiris.)

Just after reading the passage quoted above, I put down the book and did a bit of browsing on 4chan. Someone had posted an /x/ thread called “ So Lucifer is Quetzalcoatl.” One of the replies was:

Once again, ol lucy does not have the copyright on scaly cylindrical bodies. Tezcatlipoca is what you are looking for.

Another character in the novel is named Caroline Light (as in Lucifer, “light-bearer”), and she, too, is secretly a member of the Mexican pantheon.

She was Citilalinique, the Lady of the Starry Skirt, and her work was to bring the light of understanding to an ignorant age. Light the bringer of light. Nominative determinism.

This led me to check the Wikipedia article on nominative determinism. In the background section, it explains how surnames originated and gives as an example that “John from Acton became John Acton.” The story in Omega Point takes place at the Acton Clinic, a high-end psychiatric institution founded by Herbert Acton.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas

William Blake, The Descent of Peace (c. 1815)

Friends, readers, commenters, God rest you merry.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Church Formerly Known As Mormon says it's not okay to be white

This is not news -- it's a press release from 2017, in response to whatever "racist" thing the media was outraged about at the time -- but it was recently brought to my attention in connection with my post "Racism is a fake sin." Strident condemnation of this fake sin is of course only to be expected from modern churches, but note how much further the Formerly Mormon Church has gone:

It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities who assert that the Church is neutral toward or in support of their views. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the New Testament, Jesus said: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:37–39). The Book of Mormon teaches "all are alike unto God" (2 Nephi 26:33).

White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a "white culture" or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.

White supremacy is defined by Cambridge Dictionary as the quasi-mythical "belief that people with pale skin are better than people with darker skin," and it is pretty universally agreed that that would be a foolish and perhaps (depending on what exactly is meant by "better") morally objectionable thing to believe.

Note the phrases I have bolded, though. The Church is not only condemning "white supremacy" but also anyone who is pro-white -- which simply means "supporting or approving of white people." The Church makes no secret of its "shared vision" with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but they strongly denounce the idea that they could even be so much as neutral when it comes to anything pro-white. They are pretty unambiguously staking out the position that it is morally wrong to support or approve of white people. And -- weirdly, given that the vast majority of Church leaders are themselves white and live in white communities -- they cite "love thy neighbor" in support of this stance!

They go on to say that those "who promote or pursue a 'white culture'" -- that would be any and all cultures with European roots -- "are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church." No other culture is similarly condemned, so we take it that the cultures of the various white peoples (historically roughly coterminous with Christendom) are uniquely wicked.

Etymologically, the opposite of suprême is infime, so I think we could call the Church's stated position here white infimacy -- as Cambridge might define it, "the belief that people with pale skin are worse than people with darker skin." Since Mormonism is itself a product of white people living in a white culture, I think this leads to something very like the Cretan Liar Paradox.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

People who went by L. + a nickname

J. R. "Bob," not J. Bob

Why is it always L.?
  • L. Frank Baum (1856-1919), author of The Wizard of Oz
  • L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), founder of Scientology
  • L. Tom Perry (1922-2015), Mormon apostle
Using a first initial and a middle name is very formal, and it sounds weird with a nickname. I know L. Frank and L. Tom were named Frank and Tom, not Francis and Thomas, but it still sounds weird -- and Lafayette Ronald Hubbard didn't have that excuse.

The question is, why is it always L.? I can't think of any name in this format with a different first initial. (Truman doesn't count because he was Harry S., not S. Harry.)

Saturday, December 17, 2022

The Seven Penitential Psalms, in Latin, with stress marks

I couldn't find a suitable text for these on the Internet (the only one I found that had stress marks was also full of typos), so I had to make my own. I mostly follow La Sainte Bible Polyglotte of F. Vigouroux, with the spelling standardized (j for i when consonantal; ae and oe without ligatures; medieval "Greek" spellings like coelus and lacryma corrected).


I'm not excatly imumne to typos myself, so please leave a comment if you catch one.

Friday, December 16, 2022

The bricklayer's son goes dit-da-doo

This is a song we used to sing in my school days, meaning 1985-89, in Derry, New Hampshire and/or Harford County, Maryland (I think it was in New Hampshire). It's sung more or less to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bugs Go Round and Round," and the lyrics are rather straightforward:

The bricklayer's son goes dit-da-doo
The bricklayer's son goes dit-da-doo
The bricklayer's son goes dit-da-doo
The bricklayer's son goes dit-da-doo

Occasionally additional verses were added in which the bricklayer's son "went" various other nonsense syllables such as "raw-de-raw," but usually it was just "dit-da-doo." There was also a variant that replaced the fourth line with "All day tomorrow," but that was considered uncool and was only sung by girls.

The thing is, it seems as if the song must have been around for a while, since referring to anyone as "the bricklayer's son" isn't the sort of thing that would come naturally to American children in the late eighties, but I can find no reference to it anywhere on the Internet. So I'm remedying that by posting it here, in the vague hope that years down the line someone else will google the line, end up here, and leave a comment saying, "You remember that, too? I thought I was the only one!"

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Women dey angrier, by a margin of six percentage points

Did you know that BBC News Pidgin is a thing?

It’s an amazing combination of, uh, BBC News and Pidgin, producing wording like this:

According to one BBC analysis of 10 years of data from di Gallup World Poll, women dey get angrier.

and this:

Wen e come to anger and stress however, di gap wit men dey get wider. For 2012 both genders report anger and stress at similar levels. Nine years later women dey angrier - by a margin of six percentage points - and more stressed too. And e get one particular divergence around di time of di pandemic.

As a linguist, I refuse to believe that this corresponds to the language used by any real person. There are people who prefer to get the news in Pidgin, and there are people who understand BBCese, and there can’t be much overlap between the two sets. Anyone who understands “particular divergence” and “margin of six percentage points” is also going to understand if you just go ahead and write “the” instead of “di.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Racism is a fake sin

I'm sure most of my readers already know this, but it seems necessary to make an explicit statement.

Noticing racial differences and the actions of racial interest groups is smart. Acting in accordance with that information -- "discrimination" -- is rational and good. Stereotypes and generalizations are useful, necessary, and unavoidable. Preferring the company of one's own people is natural. Love and loyalty for one's own people is praiseworthy. Agree? Congratulations, you're a racist! Welcome to the club.

There is a limited (but rapidly growing!) market for evil as such. Therefore, mass evil movements will typically embrace, or pretend to embrace, something good and use it to justify the evil. It is the evil that is to be condemned, not the good principle that is used as an excuse. Those who condemn colonialism, slavery, and genocide because they are "racist" are at the same intellectual level as the Nu-Atheist neckbeard smugly condemning "religion" as the cause of everything from witch-hunts to Muslim terrorism. As well might one criticize the hippies by inveighing against peace and love, or the Communists by condemning compassion for the poor. As well might anti-war protesters chant, "Stop the patriotism!"

Cruelty is bad. Injustice is bad. Exploitation is bad. Resentment is bad. Dishonesty and bad faith are bad. All of these things can and should be condemned on their own terms, without treating them as instances of "racism" or any of the other fake sins of modernity.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Very specific synchronicity: Counting occurrences of Elohim in Genesis 1

Yesterday I read the following in Tomberg’s Lazarus, Come Forth!

The name ELOHIM is the name of God as the One who completed the work of the creation of the world in six days. In the first chapter of Genesis it appears thirty-two times, while the name YAHVEH ELOHIM is mentioned for the first time in the second chapter of Genesis (Gen. 2:4).

And, a bit later:

For this reason the Cabbala speaks of thirty-two paths of wisdom, which is grounded in the fact that the name ELOHIM appears thirty-two times in the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis.

My reaction on reading this was that “the first chapter” is an arbitrary and unnatural division, and that the seventh day of creation, in Chapter 2 but still part of the first (Elohim) creation story, includes two or three more instances of Elohim (three, it turns out, now that I’ve looked it up).

Several hours later, I did a bit of random browsing on /pol/ and followed a link to this old post from April, about the symbolism used by the occult elite. It had a link to a page about the meaning of the numbers 33 and 34 in the Bible, which I followed out of curiosity because I have two correspondents each of whom is synchronistically interested in one of those two numbers. However, the link redirected to this page, which is about 33 only. Included on the page was this claim:

The divine name of God, Elohim (Strong's Concordance #H430), is initially mentioned in the first verse of Genesis 1. Elohim appears 33 times in Genesis' story of creation.

This contradicts Tomberg; if there are 32 instances of Elohim in Chapter 1, there must be 35 in the whole first Creation story (and of course many more if all the instances of Yahweh Elohim in the second Creation story are included). My guess was that the discrepancy was due to the fact that the Septuagint probably adds an extra Elohim when it has God say that the firmament is good, which he does not say in the Masoretic text. But aren’t both the Vulgate used by Tomberg and the modern translations presumably used by some random Bible study website based on the Masoretic text?

I’ve just checked, and the Masoretic text has Elohim 32 times in Chapter 1 and 35 times in the whole first Creation story. (The God count in the KJV is the same.) The Vulgate omits many of these, with Deus only 26 times in Chapter 1 and 28 times in the whole story. The Septuagint has Theos 33 times in Chapter 1 and 36 times in the whole story. But the Bible study website specifically says Elohim (Hebrew) and cites Strong’s Hebrew Concordance. How could they have gotten 33?

Anyway, I don’t really care enough to probe this any further. I just wanted to note the extraordinary coincidence of running into this very specific idea — counting how many times Elohim is used in Genesis 1 — twice in one day.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Possible implications of the suspension of the Holy Ghost during Jesus’ ministry

It appears that the Holy Ghost was not available during Jesus’ mortal ministry. John says this explicitly, Luke-Acts strongly implies it, and nothing in the other two Gospels contradicts it.

Is that why there was a veritable epidemic of demon-possession during Jesus’ ministry, unlike anything seen before or since?

Is it why the disciples so often seem impossibly obtuse in the Gospels, but not in the Acts? Is it why we so often read that they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but that after he was glorified, they did?

Is it why Jesus’ ministry was so short — perhaps as short as possible while still accomplishing his mission?

Living water, the Holy Ghost, and Jesus as Elisha (Notes on John 7:37-39)

Over at Fourth Gospel First, I write a lot more than I had planned to about three short verses. It's a highly speculative, unfinished train of thought, and I invite input from readers.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Bread for the prince

I dreamed that I got completely lost trying to find the church my family used to attend in Perry, Ohio, and I ended up in a very small Ohio town that only had one church -- which, weirdly, was Russian Orthodox, although the people there seemed very American. I went inside to ask for directions, and everyone was talking about some program for people to donate bread to give to "the prince." One woman was proudly saying, "Well the program is about donating bread, but in my opinion a more appropriate donation would be rib-eye steak!" She wasn't herself donating a rib-eye steak, but it was obvious that she thought very highly of herself just for having the thought that one could donate something even "higher quality" than what the church was asking for.

"And who is this 'prince'?" I asked, vaguely imagining some sort of tsar or patriarch.

"Oh, no, nothing like that," said the rib-eye steak woman. "This is all for the prime minister of Sweden!"

Thursday, December 8, 2022

"In the pantheon of evils, among the worst is Holocaust denial."

I hate to be so topical, but sometimes -- well, you know the feeling.

In this case, "someone" is Jewish American political commentator Dennis Prager and his recent article "If Holocaust Deniers Don't Go to Hell, There Is No God," which I recommend reading in full simply because it must be seen to be believed.

But first, lest I run afoul of the hate police, let me state very clearly at the outset that this post is not about "whether the Holocaust really happened" -- that is, about the extent to which the various mandatory beliefs about the Holocaust are historically true. It is about whether dissent from those beliefs is morally evil. Obviously, no meaningful discussion of the historical facts of the matter is possible so long as that position is maintained.

Mr. Prager throws down the gauntlet right at the start. Questioning the Holocaust isn't just "morally wrong" the way, say, cheating on your taxes is morally wrong; it's  evil, like Jeffrey Dahmer level evil. In fact, denying the Holocaust may even be more evil than carrying out the Holocaust.

It is a central tenet of moral theology that there are gradations of sin. To argue that God views stealing a towel from a hotel and raping a child as moral equivalents renders God a moral fool. . . . In the pantheon of evils, among the worst is Holocaust denial.

The clear implication is that questioning the Holocaust is roughly as bad as forcibly sodomizing a child, and probably worst. Deniers don't just go to hell, they go to the tenth circle.

That's a very bold thesis! Now let's see how he backs it up.

Given the murder of 6 million Jews and the unspeakable amount of suffering they and Jewish survivors underwent at the hands of the Nazis, it takes a particularly vile individual to say this never happened. Think of how we would regard anyone who denied thousands of Americans were murdered on 9/11.

We would regard these hypothetical people who deny 9/11 as delusional, because the concrete evidence that it did happen is so obvious and overwhelming. I mean, what are these imaginary "9/11 deniers" going to say? That the Twin Towers are still standing? That they never existed at all? That they were empty when they came down? I guess they could in theory deny "thousands of Americans were murdered" by disputing the specific death toll -- saying, for example, that there were only a few hundred people in the building at the time. (People who say significantly fewer that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust are considered to be "deniers," after all.) Okay, that would be an eccentric view, and one that I would want to see evidence for, but I wouldn't consider it to be a moral outrage. I would never cross my mind to say that anyone proposing such a revisionist view was the moral equivalent of Joseph Rosenbaum.

I don't think this little thought experiment leads us where Mr. Prager wants it to.

Mr. Prager goes on for a few paragraphs about how the Holocaust very definitely happened, calling it possibly the most documented event in all history (!), but this is not relevant to our present purpose, which is not to assess the evidence for various historical claims, but to address the claim that to dispute those claims is wicked. He eventually circles back to this point:

Yet, some people, including an American named Nick Fuentes, aggressively deny the Holocaust, asserting that a few hundred thousand Jews, not millions, were killed. It is important to understand why this is evil.

Yes, this is what we want to know: Why is it evil? Mr. Prager gives three reasons.

First, it is a Big Lie. Big Lies inevitably lead to violence and can even destroy civilizations.

If the Holocaust never happened, why would Germany maintain that it did?

That's all he has to say about the first point, and the second paragraph (another argument that the Holocaust did in fact happen) is irrelevant, so it's not entirely clear what he's getting at. Lying is morally wrong, obviously, but the expression of an incorrect belief is not a lie. It is only a lie if you assert something which you know or believe to be untrue, and it is not at all clear that this is the case with Holocaust deniers. Do all or most of them secretly believe the official version of events but lie and say they disbelieve them? Given the enormous social stigma -- and, in some countries, political persecution -- Holocaust denial brings upon the denier, it is hard to see what could motivate anyone to pretend to doubt the Holocaust.

In capitalizing Big Lie, Mr. Prager is presumably alluding to Mein Kampf, where Hitler accused the Jews and Marxists of taking advantage of the fact that the masses

more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Hitler's point is that a "big lie" -- a gross inversion of the truth -- is effective because it lies outside people's normal experience and is thus difficult for them to process. Even after it has been proven false, people are left with a lingering feeling that, where there had been so much smoke, there must after all have been some fire. Thats it -- it's just a particularly effective lying technique. I'm not sure where Mr. Prager gets the idea that big lies "inevitably lead to violence," and it is hard to think offhand of any civilization that was destroyed by such a lie -- the lie that the conquistadors were the returning gods of the natives, perhaps?

Anyway, this argument -- "Your position is false. Therefore you're lying. Therefore you're evil." -- could be applied to any disagreement, and people have disagreed about much "bigger" things than the details of 20th-century European history.

Moving on to the second reason:

Second, Holocaust denial is not only a Big Lie; it is pure Jew-hatred, i.e., antisemitism. The proof that it emanates from antisemitism is that no other 20th-century genocide is denied (with the exception of the Turkish government's denial of the Turks' mass murder of Armenians during World War I). No one denies Stalin's mass murder of tens of millions of Soviet citizens in the Gulag Archipelago or his deliberate starvation of about five million Ukrainians (the Holodomor); or the Cambodian communists' murder of about one in every four Cambodians; or Mao's killing of about 60 million Chinese. The only genocide-denial is the genocide of the Jews.

Why is it antisemitism? What's the logical connection between "Far fewer that six million Jews died under the Nazis" and "I hate Jews"?

Mr. Prager's "proof" is that people only deny the genocide of the Jews (and Armenians), not those of other ethnic groups in the same time period. I think this is probably factually false, since Wikipedia has a whole article on "Holodomor denial," and the last of Gregory Stanton's ten stages of genocide -- a very mainstream model supposed to be of general applicability -- is "denial." If we branch out beyond the 20th century, the ongoing persecution of the Uyghurs (strenuously denied by China) and the Israelite destruction of various Canaanite peoples (Wikipedia: "The prevailing scholarly view is that Joshua is not a factual account of historical events") come to mind.

But in order better to understand Mr. Prager's argument, let us grant for the sake of argument that the Holocaust is uniquely controversial among genocides in terms of how many people died, how they died, etc. The question then is why. What is different about the Nazi Holocaust that (ex hypothesi) makes so many people dispute it even though they don't dispute any other historical genocide? Prager's answer is that it is different because the victims were Jews, and some people hate Jews, whereas apparently no one hates any of the other groups that have been victims of genocide. Since only Jews are hated, and only the Jewish genocide is denied, it is reasonable to conclude that genocide denial is motivated by hatred for the genocide's purported victims.

It should be obvious that I find this reasoning unconvincing. But even if it were convincing, it would prove that Holocaust deniers are guilty of -- antipathy toward a particular ethnic group. This is a moral failing I suppose, but an extremely common one, surely closer to hotel-towel-stealing end of the scale of evil than to the child-raping end. "But it's antisemitic" just isn't a strong enough reason for the extreme moral condemnation on which Mr. Prager insists. The title of his essay, remember, is "If Holocaust Deniers Don't Go to Hell, There Is No God."

The third reason:

Third, the denial of this Nazi evil is a slap in the face of all the Americans who died fighting the Nazis. . . . If the Holocaust is a fabrication, Americans died fighting against nothing particularly evil.

Yes, this is the argument he's making, really! (The ellipsis is just an Eisenhower quote about how the Nazis were bad.) I feel embarrassed just reading it.

None of the Americans who died fighting the Nazis died fighting to stop or avenge the Holocaust -- for the simple reason that reports of a Holocaust didn't come out until the end of the war. Whatever motivated the Allied forces to fight, it wasn't that. Here's the Eisenhower quote I omitted: "We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against" -- now meaning April of 1945, when the horrific conditions in the concentration camps were discovered. They didn't know about it before. It's not why they were fighting. It's no slap in the face to say that.

Also, it should scarcely be necessary to point out that it's quite a leap from "the Nazis didn't actually gas six million Jews to death" to "the Nazis did nothing particularly evil" -- as if the official version of the Holocaust were the only crime serious enough to justify war! Almost all wars in the history of the world have been fought against enemies considerably less evil than the "Hitler" of popular imagination. Is it a slap in the face of all soldiers to say so?

And again, even if we grant everything Mr. Prager is saying here, is telling a war hero that his enemy wasn't actually as bad as all that the worst thing in the world? It may insensitive and ungrateful, but does it occupy a uniquely horrific place "in the pantheon of evils"? The hippies who (sometimes literally) spat on soldiers returning from Vietnam -- sure, they were assholes, but would anyone say that if they do not burn in hell there is no God?

Mr. Prager closes with this anecdote:

As a college student, I dated a woman whose parents were Holocaust survivors. She told me on a number of occasions how often she would hear her father scream in the middle of the night as he dreamed about watching his family be murdered. Unable to live with these memories, one night, her father hanged himself.

That man is one of millions of reasons Fuentes -- and those who ally themselves with him -- will go to hell. If there is a just God.

What did Mr. Fuentes ever do to these poor people? I guess Mr. Prager wants us to imagine him laughing at this devastated father and saying something like, "Come on, your family wasn't really murdered. The Holocaust is fake!" -- but recall what was said earlier in the essay:

Yet, some people, including an American named Nick Fuentes, aggressively deny the Holocaust, asserting that a few hundred thousand Jews, not millions, were killed.

So it seems the "denier" position in no way contradicts the fact that this man's family were among the hundreds of thousands of Jewish victims of the Nazis. "No!" comes the outraged reply. "Among the six million victims! Many of whom died in gas chambers!" But how is that relevant in the present context? How do questions about how many other people died, and how, disrespect this family or invalidate their pain?

If any of my readers happen to agree with Mr. Prager and have any better arguments to present, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

More weird student telepathy/coincidences

The solfeggio scale has been in the sync stream recently, and I have written a few posts about it. Today one of my young students ran up to the stairs to the classroom, shouting, "Do re me fa sol la ti do!" as he did so. (I suppose this highlights one of the metaphorical meanings of the scale: step-by-step ascent. Likewise, the descending scale which begins "Joy to the World" is an appropriate symbol of the descent of the Lord to earth.)

When I myself entered the classroom, I found someone had doodled this on the board:


This was just a quick freehand sketch, obviously, but it demonstrates some of the geometric properties of the pentagram (five-pointed star), and of stars whose points touch the points of other stars.

Sometimes, as a way of focusing my mind, I like to do some traditional geometric construction work with a compass and straightedge. Just this morning, I had done this:


After finishing this, I noticed that, as a by-product of the process of constructing the pentacle, I had drawn a circle below it, with four of the six vertices of a hexagon already marked. I intended to use these to construct a hexagram (six-pointed star), two of the tips of which would touch two of the tips of the pentagram. Unfortunately, I had to go to work and didn't have time to finish this last step. Then later in the day I found an extremely similar geometric concept illustrated on my whiteboard!

Update: This is what I had intended to draw, and did finish drawing after the class.


Update 2: In the 1990s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed their logo so that the name "JESUS CHRIST" was much, much larger than everything else -- presumably under the misapprehension that this would put an end to the whole "Mormons aren't Christians" thing. Yesterday, after posting this, I wanted to look up when exactly this happened, and in the course of researching the history of the Mormon logo, I ended up perusing a post by architect Brandon Ro called "Sacred Geometry in new Church Symbol." Mr. Ro writes:

About six years ago I had a memorable lunch conversation with a couple of friends who were in the process of working on a new symbol/logo for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They told me that the symbol needed to emphasize the importance and centrality of Jesus Christ within the Church. It also needed to speak a universal language applicable to people around the world through iconography and symbolism. From a cross, star of David (6-pointed star), squared circle, pentagram (5-pointed star), and seal of Melchizedek (8-pointed star) just about everything was considered. I provided them with a few resources on sacred geometry and symbols.

Besides being another synchronicity, isn't that just weird? How could they possibly have considered the star of David (universally recognized as a symbol of Judaism) or the pentagram (associated in the popular mind with Satanism) as potential symbols of Mormonism? (The symbol they finally ended up with looks an awful lot like the Catholic "Mary on the Half Shell.")

Of course I have to comment on the eight-pointed star, too. (Hi, Debbie!) I'm not exactly a stranger to sacred geometry, but this was the first I'd ever heard of the "seal of Melchizedek." It turns out this is a fairly recent bit of Mormon folklore, derived from a illustrator's caption in one of Hugh Nibley's books. Pre-Nibley, there's no tradition of associating the eight-pointed star with Melchizedek (A separate bit of Mormon folklore postulates that Melchizedek was the same person as Shem, son of Noah, one of the "eight souls saved by water," so there's that.)


It's a striking symbol, and an easy one to draw in MSPaint, but I think the Church was right not to go with it. It looks either Islamic or New-Agey and would reinforce the unwanted association between Mormonism and such "cults" as Scientology and Raelism.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Was Jesus acting as King of the Jews during the Feast of Tabernacles?

Over at Fourth Gospel First, I investigate the possibility that Jesus was taking on the kingly role of reading from Deuteronomy in the Temple during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

And Saint Joan again

In both of my recent do-re-mi sync posts -- "Doremi, Dori me" and "What does 'do-re-mi' mean?" -- I mention the similarity of those three syllables to Domrémy, the birthplace of Joan the Maid (a link first noticed by S. K. Orr).

The musical scale begins with Domrémy and ends -- until the 19th century, and still in most non-Anglophone countries -- with an acronym for Sancte Iohannes, "Saint John." It did not escape my notice that it could just as easily be an acronym for Sancta Iohanna, "Saint Joan."

Last night, having started Terence McKenna's The Archaic Revival and found that the first chapter was just a republished magazine interview, I wondered if the whole book was like that, so I flipped forward to check, opening to a random page. As the synchronicity fairies would have it, that page was p. 27, from which a familiar name stared up at me:

There are certain parallels that are quite obvious, and one of them that comes to mind is Saint Joan hearing voices and gaining direction. Granted, she was a farm girl, and perhaps she was growing mushrooms in the backyard. . . .

I consider this a fairly specific sync. My having been thinking about my patron saint is nothing new, of course, but I typically call her "Joan of Arc" or "the Maid." In this case I was specifically thinking of the title Sancta Iohanna, "Saint Joan," the same title used by McKenna's interlocutor (yes, this was another interview). It is really a rather unusual way of referring -- especially in passing, in a secular context -- to the personage for whom the most common name by a very large margin is Joan of Arc.

Google Ngram Viewer

I'm sure if we could somehow filter out references to Shaw's play, and instances where Saint Joan is followed by of Arc, the difference in frequency would be even starker.

As for the suggestion that Joan may have been "growing mushrooms in the backyard," my first reaction is of course to roll my eyes, but I suppose I should be less dismissive. In the context of McKenna's belief that "entheogens" allow us to make contact with the divine, this proposal does not amount to calling Joan's visions pathological, and it is well established that God sometimes uses altered states (e.g. dreaming, fasting, meditation, the prophetic trances of the Old Testament) as vehicles for revelation. Nor does the mushroom hypothesis "explain away" what made Joan exceptional. After all, most people who take mushrooms become New Age doofuses, not saints.

Sync: Archaic Revival and the serpents and birds of paradise

I'm normally reading several books at once. I'm still in the middle of Valentin Tomberg's Lazarus, Come Forth! but last night I randomly decided to start reading a book I'd picked up some time ago but never opened: Terence McKenna's The Archaic Revival (1992). I only read a few pages. Between the table of contents and the foreword was this full-page illustration by the German collage artist Wilfried Sätty.


A naked couple in a jungle with a huge snake -- a pretty obvious Garden of Eden reference, presumably chosen by McKenna because of the forbidden fruit's character as a "mind-altering plant." There are also a lot of birds in the picture -- vultures or cormorants or something, but also, by virtue of the setting in which they appear, "birds of paradise."

I didn't really think much about it until today, when I picked up Lazarus, Come Forth! again and read this:

The madness in which Nietzsche's great adventure ended was not personally deserved; nor was it brought about by addiction to a personal lust for power, position, and greatness. Nietzshce was a sacrifice to the superhuman force of the collective all-human subconscious, which came to a kind of volcanic eruption in him. And what broke through there was the archaic evolutionary drive itself, belonging to the most archaic layer of humanity's subconscious. Here lies the most general and most hidden drive working in the subconscious of man: this is the impulse and promise given by the serpent in Paradise.

Here again the word archaic and the idea of revival (one of the main themes of the book, as indicated by its title) are paired with the serpent in Paradise.

My decision to start reading a book by a drug guru was probably inspired in part by the experience recounted in my recent post "Nutmeg is a drug." In that post, I mentioned that nutmeg belongs to the same class of drugs as datura, and I told how I had tried in vain to track down a novel I had read as a child in which a bird became intoxicated by eating nutmegs. I had reached the tentative conclusion that it must be one of the many English versions of The Swiss Family Robinson, but Kevin McCall has discovered that it was actually 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. (Oddly, in the post I had mentioned dreams of the sort "where you wake up feeling as if you've been underwater.") Check out the context:

Some inoffensive serpents glided away from us. The birds of paradise fled at our approach, and truly I despaired of getting near one, when Conseil, who was walking in front, suddenly bent down, uttered a triumphant cry, and came back to me bringing a magnificent specimen.

"Ah! bravo, Conseil!"

"Master is very good."

"No, my boy; you have made an excellent stroke. Take one of these living birds, and carry it in your hand."

"If master will examine it, he will see that I have not deserved great merit."

"Why, Conseil?"

"Because this bird is as drunk as a quail."

"Drunk!"

"Yes, sir; drunk with the nutmegs that it devoured under the nutmeg-tree under which I found it. See, friend Ned, see the monstrous effects of intemperance!"

Another book I am reading at the moment is Divination in Ancient Israel by Frederick H. Cryer, a lot of which is devoted to preliminaries. (Not until p. 229 does the actual discussion of ancient Israel begin.) In a passage I read a few days ago, Cryer is commenting on the book Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande by E. E. Evans-Pritchard and cites, of all the things to cite in this rather pedantic book, The Teachings of Don Juan.

[Evans-Pritchard's] distinction between "empirical reality" and "Zande explanations" of the same cannot ultimately be maintained. Just how meaningless the distinction in question can be may be illustrated by an event in the course of Carlos Castaneda's initiation at the hands of a Yaqui "man of power", Don Juan. Having been taught how to prepare the datura plant for a psychic excursion, Castaneda has an experience of being transformed into a bird and soaring above and away from his mentor. . . .

I've posted about this business of transforming into a bird before -- and no prizes for guessing what specific kind of bird! See my 2020 post "Whitley Strieber and the thing that turned into a bird of paradise."

I also note in passing that the Spanish don derives from Latin dominus, while Juan is the Spanish form of Iohannes. Both Latin words featured prominently in my recent post "What does 'do-re-mi' mean?" as they are the reason the scale begins with do and ends with si.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Nutmeg is a drug

I guess I've known that in theory since I read The Swiss Family Robinson as a child (on which more below), but I'd always assumed it was only psychoactive in very large doses. When I was a teenager, one of my favorite beverages was buttermilk with a pinch or two of nutmeg, and I never noticed any psychotropic effects. About a week ago I decided to try that drink again after decades of not drinking it, and I guess this time I put in a little more nutmeg than was good for me. It wasn't much -- two cups, each with a bit more than half a teaspoon, I would guess -- but it was enough!


No, I didn't see a styracosaurus or anything, but I was in a trance state for the better part of two and a half days. It was a fairly light trance, and I was able to function more-or-less normally. In many ways it was comparable to the light trances I sometimes used to put myself in when reading or preaching, the chief perceptual symptom of which was what I used (incorrectly) to call "tunnel vision." Tunnel vision properly refers to the loss of peripheral vision, but in my childhood I used it as a name for the feeling (in certain trance states) that everything around me was immensely distant, as if it were at the other end of a long tunnel I was looking through. (This was usually induced by intense concentration, so I suppose it did have some connection to "tunnel vision" in the colloquial sense.) Another way to express it would be that it feels as if you are looking through binoculars at everything -- everything is as large and clear as it would be if it were close to you, but you know that it is not in fact close to you.

Aside from this, there was a strange idea -- an idea more than a sensation -- that there was something unusual about the surface of my body, that I was "prickly" or "covered with moss" or "bristling with triangles" (some of the phrases that came to mind at the time). I experienced no hallucinations in the strict sense, but I did have unusually vivid mental imagery, somewhat reminiscent of the abstract art of Stanslaw Kors. I was quite sleepy throughout the trance period, and when I slept I had "deep" dreams -- that kind where you wake up feeling as if you've been underwater -- of which I remember very little. I remember that the dreams were entirely in Latin, often with a disembodied "running commentary" in that language, and that at one point I had a conversation with a mantis shrimp, which also spoke Latin. (I had never dreamed in Latin before, nor have I since.)

After the effects of the nutmeg had worn off, I tried to find out more about it. Apparently nutmeg is classified as a "deliriant," alongside such drugs as datura, hensbane, deadly nightshade, and -- quelle coïncidence! -- mandrake.

My experience was not at all pleasant or mind-expanding, and I do not recommend it to anyone.


I remember that as a child I read a lot of different books -- all oldish, 19th century or so -- about people surviving on desert islands. I understand that many such books were written after Robinson Crusoe -- a whole genre called the robinsonade -- but I can't name any of them. There was Robinson Crusoe itself, The Swiss Family Robinson, and -- what else? I remember I read a lot of them. Searching the Internet for lists of robinsonades, I only turn up such works as Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies, which are not at all the sort of thing I have in mind. Anyway, in one of those books I read, the protagonists encountered a bird behaving strangely, as if intoxicated, and then discovered that it had been eating nutmegs. This was my first exposure to the idea that nutmeg could be intoxicating. Before reading that book, I had read something -- it may have been Tau Zero by Poul Anderson -- that mentioned people getting drunk on eggnog, and I had inferred from that that some forms of eggnog were alcoholic. (As a Mormon, I knew only the non-alcoholic version.) After reading the robinsonade, though, I decided it must have been the nutmeg that made them drunk. Only much later, I think not until my early teens, did I learn that I had been right the first time and that eggnog is typically an alcoholic drink.

After my own experience of nutmeg intoxication, I wanted to track down the robinsonade episode, so I tried to remember as many other details about the book as possible. All I could get was that there were agoutis and bustards, and that the plural forms nutmegs and lichens -- slightly odd in modern English -- were used. Searching for agouti bustard nutmegs island turned up only one book: The Swiss Family Robinson. This surprised me a bit -- I had remembered that it was not Swiss Family but one of the other nameless similar books. Searching the Gutenberg version for nutmegs, I found this:

In a short time nest-building commenced, and among the materials collected by the birds, I observed a long gray moss or lichen, and thought it might very possibly be the same which, in the West Indies, is gathered from the bark of old trees, where it grows, and hangs in great tuft-like beards, to be used instead of horse-hair for stuffing mattresses.

My wife no sooner heard of it than her active brain devised fifty plans for making it of use. Would we but collect enough, she would clean and sort it, and there would be no end to the bolsters, pillows, saddles, and cushions she would stuff with it.

For the discovery of nutmegs we had also to thank the pigeons, and they were carefully planted in our orchard.

In a way, this is obviously my source -- nutmegs, plural, are discovered via birds, and lichen is nearby -- but lichen is singular, and there is no indication that the birds were intoxicated by the nutmegs. But it seems highly unlikely that any other novel would borrow the very specific plot point of birds helping the protagonists discover "nutmegs," and I don't see how I could have misremembered it. The idea that nutmeg could be intoxicating was a new idea for me, learned from the book, not something I could have read into a book that does not mention it.

(Incidentally, was my nutmeg-induced idea that I was "covered with moss" somehow influenced by this passage as well?)

According to Wikipedia, "Over the years, there have been many versions of the story with episodes added, changed, or deleted," to the extent that "Wyss's original narrative has long since been obscured" -- so were all those books I read just different versions of The Swiss Family Robinson? And was the version on Gutenberg bowdlerized so as not to suggest to impressionable young readers the idea of trying to get high on household spices? Now I'm going to have to spend some time trying to track down the version I read as a child, the one with the nutmeg-intoxicated bird.

What does "do-re-mi" mean?

Most of the solfeggio syllables we use today come from the first stanza of "Ut queant laxis," a medieval hymn to John the Baptist.

Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes!

In the hymn's melody, the syllables I've bolded -- the first syllable of each half-line -- are sung on the ascending notes of the major scale: C D E F G A. This was noticed by Guido de Arezzo, the father of musical notation, in the 11th century, and he used the syllables ut re mi fa sol la to represent those six notes. There was no syllable for the leading tone, a gap which was surprisingly not filled for many centuries.

In the 17th century, Giovanni Battista Doni changed ut to do, arguing that an open syllable was more suitable for singing. (The tendency to pronounce sol as an open syllable, so, bears this out.) Do was chosen because it is the first syllable of Dominus, "Lord" (and also, perhaps not coincidentally, of Doni). Around the same time, a seventh syllable, si, was added for the leading tone. This was an acronym of Sancte Iohannes, the next line of "Ut queant laxis," even though in the hymn the first syllables of Sancte and Iohannes are sung on G and C, respectively.

In the 19th century, music educator Sarah Anna Glover wanted to be able to abbreviate each syllable as a single letter, so she changed si (which began with the same letter as sol) to ti. As far as I know, the letter t was chosen arbitrarily, and any other consonant (except the six already taken by other syllables) would have served just as well.

So, do stands for Dominus, "Lord." (Dom should therefore be an acceptable variant, which strengthens the link between do-re-mi and Domrémy.) Re stands for resonare, "to resound, to echo." Mi stands for mira, "wonderful, marvelous." Fa stands for famuli, "servants, slaves." Sol stands for solve, "loosen, free, release, dissolve." La stands for labii, "of lip(s)." Ti, uniquely, does not stand for anything, but is a modification of si (Sanctes Iohannes, "O Saint John"). If we assume that ti, too, is an acronym, and that the second (unchanged) letter still stands for John, the only Latin expression that comes to mind for it to stand for is testimonium Ioannis, "the witness of John" (see John 1:19, Vulgate).

It is appropriate that the tonic, on which the whole scale is based, is identified with the Lord, and that the leading tone, which "points to" the tonic, is identified with John and his witness. It is also interesting to note that, in the modern system of letter names for notes, Dominus has become C (as in Christus), and Sancte Iohannes has become B (as in Baptista).

As for do-re-mi itself, well Dominus resonare mira is sort of like Romanes eunt domus -- it's not even remotely grammatical Latin, but the gist is clear enough: "the wondrous echoes of the Lord" or something of that nature.

It occurred to me to wonder if any modern song would be as suitable as "Ut queant laxis" for naming the notes of the scale, and the first thing that came to mind was the Christmas carol "Joy to the World," of which the first eight notes run down the major scale. Of course it wouldn't really work because two of those syllables are the same (the), and because world, with its consonant-heavy rime, has ut's problem in spades, but it is an interesting coincidence that some of the lyrics recall Dominus resonare mira: "Repeat the sounding joy / Repeat the sounding Joy / Repeat, repeat the sounding joy."


Note added: About five hours after I posted the above, I was teaching a children's English class. Their book featured the following phonics exercise:


Although the focus here was on pronunciation, I also checked that the students understood what all the words meant. One boy didn't know what sew meant, and a girl said, "Oh, you know! You sew with a needle," miming the action as she said it. And then, apparently having been reminded of the line "So, a needle pulling thread," she began singing: "Do, a deer, a female deer! Re, a -- uh, I don't remember the rest."

I'm reasonably sure that, in my 20 years of teaching, this is the first time "do-re-mi" has ever come up in class.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Black Michael Stipe

If you had asked me an hour ago who Michael Stipe was, I wouldn't have been able to tell you. He's the frontman for R.E.M., a band of which I have never been a huge fan and about which I know relatively little. I know a handful of their songs, and I think I owned one of their albums back in the nineties -- Green, I think -- but that's about it.

I had lunch in a café today, and the background music consisted of slowed-down "smooth jazz" covers of various pop songs. I didn't pay much attention to it until the female vocalist started crooning "Fi-re . . .  fi-re . . .," and I thought I recognized it as an R.E.M. song, though I wasn't sure which one. My first thought was that it was “Pop Song 89,” and that I would soon hear the memorable lines, "Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the government?" It soon became clear, though, that it was "The One I Love." I knew the song but had never realized that the word repeated in the chorus was fire. This obviously changes the whole meaning of the song, since it implies that  "this one goes out to the one I love" refers not to the song itself but to a bullet. It's not a love song; it's a song about murder or suicide -- and turning it into a mellow "easy listening" (and therefore clearly enunciated) number actually makes that clearer!

Curious about the rest of the lyrics, I got out my phone and googled them. It was in these search results that I learned the singer's name was Michael Stipe and that my understanding of the implication of fire was correct.

Speaking to Mojo in 2016, Stipe said that he wasn't at all dismayed that so many people misinterpreted the sarcastic and spiteful lyrics as a straightforward love song. "I didn't like the song to begin with," he explained. "I felt it was too brutal. I thought the sentiment was too difficult to put out into the world. But people misunderstood it, so it was fine. Now it's a love song, so that's fine."

Then, since I had my phone out and everything, I thought I'd check a few blogs. This is a bit uncharacteristic -- I much prefer browsing on a computer -- but it's what I did, and as the sync fairies would have it, the very first post I read was one from Andrew Anglin about the appointment of Hakeen Jeffries as the leader of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Due to Mr. Jeffries' somewhat badass physiognomy, Anglin kept referring to him as "stone-cold" and making allusions to "heel" wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin -- but right at the end of the post, he compared him to someone else instead:

If I had not eaten at that café and googled that song, I would have had no idea who that was, even with a photo.

The use of the expression "Black Michael" -- after several Stone Cold Steve Austin references -- was also synchronistically interesting, given the Mormon doctrine that Michael and Adam are the same person. The other famous pro wrestler with a mineral moniker, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, recently starred as the title character in a movie called Black Adam.

"Black Michael" also reminded me of Mike Tyson's nickname "Iron Mike" -- since black can refer to iron, as in blacksmith. Ages ago I read an article that referred to "Evander Holyfield singing 'Glory to God' before going into the ring to face Iron Mike" -- and for some reason that line has stuck in my memory all these years, though I've completely forgotten whatever article it was part of.

Anglin wrote, "I would like hear him say 'and that’s the bottom line -- because Hakeem Jeffries said so'" -- alluding to a famous Steve Austin quote. Here's the context:

Hendrix: The fourth prestigious King Of The Ring, Stone Cold Steve Austin, an incredible victory!

Austin: The first thing I want to be done, is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don't just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF because I've proved son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain't got what it takes anymore! You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16. Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!

Hendrix: Come on, that's not necessary

Austin: All he's gotta do is go buy him a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and try to dig back some of that courage he had in his prime. As the King Of The Ring, I'm serving notice to every one of the WWF superstars. I don't give a damn what they are, they're all on the list, and that's Stone Cold's list, and I'm fixing to start running through all of 'em. And as far as this championship match is considered son, I don't give a damn if it's Davey Boy Smith or Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin's time is come, and when I get that shot you're looking at the next WWF Champion. And that's the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so.

Austin's ridicule of his opponent's religiosity resonates with "Evander Holyfield singing 'Glory to God' before going into the ring to face Iron Mike."

Wigner and the infinite quarter

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