A Road and A River in Metro Manila

So, I want to write about a special river in the city through which I travel every day now. There’s one that I like, beside the place I live, that I like to just stand on the bridge and watch the river turn to rapids after a rainstorm. It’s a city river, so it’s brown and grey and I wouldn’t drink from it without thinking twice, but whenever I walk over the bridge I hear the rushing water and feel renewed. But, as well-acquainted as we are and as delightful as I find it, that’s not the river I want to blog about right now.

I was born in the Philippines, and I live there still. For most of the time in-between, though, I grew up sort of hopping to neighbouring nations. The Southeast Asian archipelago is a mix of volcanic islands and metamorphic tectonic plates. A guide I went along with for a tour of Old Manila offered the idea that there wasn’t a Philippine Empire (or pre-Spanish colonialization that collectively named the islands after a foreign king or prince or someone whose name was night unpronounceable in many tribal dialects and languages) unlike other Southeast Asian nations was because The Philippines was made of volcanic rock that was about the consistency of cake. No empire could be built on cake. More images below the cut.

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Privilege and Prestige

 

Jack Gleeson, ex-actor (ex for reasons) and scholar of philosophy and theology, reports about 19 minutes and 50 seconds in the following video that 36% of a sample number of 600 adults are afflicted with Celebrity Worship Syndrome, citing a study done by the University of Leicester.

This study recognized a spectrum between admiration for a celebrity in the entertainment and social sphere as a mild form, an intense personal attachment to a celebrity in a medial form, and pathological in the extreme. Milder forms can become extreme with stress and upheaval.

While Gleeson could have spoken extensively about his personal experience, he takes a more bird’s eye perspective when he proposes that advancing media technology proliferated the recognizability and influence of public figures, incorporating Henderson’s societal and economic theory of celebrity, and Jamie Tiranne’s evolutionary psychology theory of celebrity.

“The truest form of charisma is one which receives these powers as a gift by virtue of a natural endowment (…) they may not possess the heroic qualities of a prophet, but as highly visible role models, they have become the object of imitation. Their publicized personality and individual qualities work as a form of quasi-charisma that gains people’s attention while setting them apart on a different echelon.”

Full transcript here.

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A Situation

 

I got around to reading “Here, There, and Anywhere” by Jonathan Z. Smith, an essayist and scholar who contributed this very essay to Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World.

Smith’s essay made an interesting distinction between what he classified as Here, There, and Anywhere religions, the precedent set by the character of Sam I Am from Dr. Seuss’ children’s picture book, Green Eggs and Ham.

The Religions of Here are characterized by a sanctification of domestic space rather than a recognition of sacred space as a thing to which someone travels to as with pilgrimage, and “immediate and symmetrical reciprocities.” The family essentially becomes a religion, with mythology of generational saga, and observing rites of passage, births, funerals, and marriages. There would also be “complex codes of hospitality” such as sit-down dinners that gauge levels of initiation or expulsion.

The Religions of There are characterized by essentially being the State religion. They relate to power and hierarchy, whether that be through a deified royal whose sovereignty is associated with the land, or specialized information reserved for the clergy. The mythology would usually be characterized by a transition from one world order to another.

The Religions of Anywhere are, Smith repeatedly emphasizes, never to be named Religions of Everywhere. The “Here” Faiths meet the challenge of not having a location anymore by transforming into an Anywhere Faith. The “There” Faiths similarly adapt to their particular challenges by becoming performative, communal, cosmological categories become systems (or spherical rather than layered, whatever that means), ranks become more anarchic, and essentially the sacred space becomes less grounded and more conceptual.

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In reading about the adaptation of deities from essentially foreign cultures: How would a pagan religion that reflects an observation of temperate climates, for example, translate to members of that religion who live in a city out in a desert climate somewhere? The answer didn’t (or shouldn’t) lie in premeditated correspondents, but simply being open to the presence of the divine in the world that one knows firsthand.

I then realized that I actually don’t know the world firsthand, and even live in it as little as possible. I might be haunted and hassled by experiences, but when I consciously open myself to daily life with the vague idea of seeing the divine associated with the mundane, I only sense tatters.

What I feel is missing has been articulated quite well, however, so I feel that I can better enrich those philosophical and experiential voids over the next year. This might still be a lot in my head, because I haven’t gotten even a fraction of my psyche’s symbols sorted out and they keep moving, so of course I’ll keep exploring them…but I also want to be more grounded, now that I feel like I can be.

The Animus Effect

 

So, I met Captain Foxglove on a quest that I didn’t even know was a quest, because it was more like an admirer’s romantic fantasy than a transcendental meditation or something where you sit in your meadow and find your spirit animal or whatever.

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Some time in late November, I think it was, I was taking a shower (in the corporeal world) when the Surreal pulled me into the poop cabin of Foxglove’s ship. The sun streamed in through the windows and Foxglove was loudly declaring that it was time to fight.

For a few nights after that (because waiting for sleep is usually the time that I do my quests rather than the Surreal interrupting my waking thought process while I’m in the shower) I would dream that he and I were on deck and he was training me in swordfighting, although he used a cutlass and I a broadsword and this was all imaginary which I didn’t consider entirely conducive to learning how to do anything. I’d wake up feeling slightly anxious, which, despite the relatively mild depression that I’d fallen into hadn’t factored in months.

As the lessons went on, however, my depression had cleared up enough that I was washing dishes with some regularity, which the extended family had requested I do when they first took me in. My uncle suggested to me that I not live in the past, which before then would have genuinely enraged me because by the nature of trauma and unresolved issues, the past would be the present; but under Foxglove’s unrelated imaginary lessons, somehow, my attitude had shifted closer to, “Can do.”

Psychic Chirurgery

 

Early November, 2013

My ankles are chained to an iron weight, and I wait at a low rock at high tide. The sea foam rushes up to my chin like a quilt, like I’m being tucked in for a final sleep.

How does a body rot underwater? Does the salt preserve some parts? Does the whole body grow bloated like melting waxwork? I imagine, when my chest stops aching for air at last, that starfish and crabs will welcome this body to the ocean with a silent, “May we take your coat?” like good hosts do. And a coat of scalp will hang on a claw, and a coat of toenail will hang on a tooth, and a coat of eyelid will hang on a gull’s beak, guts on a crest of wave, muscle fibers combed by shrimp, and the rest left to the sun to iron smooth. It is cold now, but I won’t miss all these coats by then. My bones will blossom into coral.

Inspired writing doesn’t always result in flowery prose. Around August of 2014, I felt moved to begin writing things out, about three hours every day at a convenience store with seats by a sunny window, on a notepad–but they were all just vague philosophical ideas about the world.

This was a different sort of inspiration. It began with an obsessive admirer’s fantasy, which I’d picked up somehow that this was A Bad Thing, so the segue into otherreal effectiveness certainly troubled the part of me that believed in mortification as the only valid path to personal development, because the Good and Right Thing Is Never Easy or Pleasant. So, the worse I feel in any aspect, the more on-track I should be to some mysteriously divine virtue, because contentment and joy are always evils in disguise. If I ever feel a light or warmth in my heart from doing something right, then I should snuff that out, because right is a duty to the world whereas something that has such a positive personal effect on myself is by nature selfish, and spoilt the good deed irreparably to feel it.

…Wow, that is a horrible worldview. That’s the part of me that was so dominant?

I don’t know how that happened, and I don’t wonder. What I can remember is how this was undone.

Basically: Captain Foxglove is overwhelmingly charismatic. My whiteboard doodles and Photoshopping don’t do him justice. He showed that desire and fantasy is a path to the numinous, not necessarily a distraction from it.

Where was I? Ah, yes. In the corporeal world, lying in a borrowed bed, waiting for sleep, fantasizing about my own death by drowning.
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Vorpal Sword 3/3

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It doesn’t matter that my weapon is a sword. At least, it doesn’t matter in the way that I thought it would matter. I thought, “Why a rapier? My short stature wouldn’t have an advantageous reach: why not a spear? I don’t like direct stabby-slashy confrontation: why not an archery set? I don’t like combat at all: why not something defensive like an invisibility cloak, or a shield? Sure, I wanted a sword, but I wanted a katana.”

My sword does have ranged attacks. I don’t “blast” out billows combatively without my hands—my sword does that. My sword also creates protective bubbles and warps, so that’s a defensive function that doesn’t suit the symbolic form. That’s archery and shielding together, and I don’t know how or why that is.

The form that it takes, if it means anything, means something else that I haven’t figured out yet.

So, I propose a notable difference between the real world and otherworlds: form doesn’t always determine function.

I noticed that there’s a certain kind of anger that arises in me, that seems to correlate to the sword’s blade lengthening. There’s another kind of anger that correlates to the sword’s color darkening. Other times, I feel like I won’t get carried away with any sort of anger, and my sword turns into something that looks like silver or ivory. (It doesn’t turn into a flower, or anything like that.) This started on New Year’s eve, 31st of December 2012.

In mid-January of 2013, my sword took on the appearance of a gold hilt with a red gemstone: definitely not my style, but there was a rightness in that form. Or so I thought. When I descended into the surreal with the red-gold sword in hand—I was wandering the most unhappy grade school I had ever attended, and not voluntarily—I encountered what appeared to be an aggressive figure. I also identified it as an acceptable target, because (I sensed) it would continue to be aggressive and do harm without any capacity for negotiation—so, I ran it through with my red-and-gold sword. It only grew bigger, and appeared jauntier, without necessarily becoming friendly.

I snapped out of Surreality, and haven’t seen the aggressive figure again, but I figured that this was yet another example of form defying function in Fairyland. To wit, when you attack a target with the intent to damage, that target shouldn’t get healthier.

It continued to bother me that this had no name. I could think up of some way to refer to it or another, but it would always feel vague or wrong.

In September 2013, I was walking around the mall with the extended family. We passed by a hardware store, and I saw a wrench. We chatted, had dinner, and I recalled that the red jewel on the gold sword sometimes pulsed like a heart.

I named it Heartwrench, and while I recognized it when it was in my hand the next time, the form had changed to one even more cumbersome. It was a broadsword, with a central fuller groove.

Sometimes it would darken, and I would feel the cursedness of the sword being its main feature, and then it would be useful for attacking. Other times it would redden, and I would fall upon the blade and come out feeling healthier.

It remains terribly ugly and not at all the weapon I would have chosen, but it’s mine–perhaps it’s even me. I don’t need to use it, I’m even loathe to use it—but I like having it. I never thought I’d be like that.

I guess Heartwrench represents the warrior ideal, which is that it’s an innately noble and harmless thing to have a warrior’s spirit. To be a warrior does not mean just being a mass-murderer with good public relations. Rather, it’s a philosophy that adds fullness to life…I’m guessing. I haven’t quite figured any of this all out yet.

Later on, I consciously recalled this “black, red, white” psychological jargon that I’d read in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves, and “nigredo, rubedo, albedo” that my own therapist had mentioned. When I finally got around to looking up alchemy, I found some version which had four color-coded stages: black, white, yellow, and red.

The symbol for psychological alchemy was more applicable to my psyche than I’d thought, then.

Vorpal Sword 2/3

 

01 December 2012

First, for Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family, Miasma didn’t say anything that renewed my trauma or even offended me, and I didn’t spontaneously hallucinate bird-winged lizard knights standing between us just so that I could stand to be near her. (That’s another story). I mention this in order to present conditions wherein I am perfectly sane and fine, in Miasma’s presence! Unlike other times, when… well, bird-winged lizard knight, because it appears that I can’t bear to be anywhere near Miasma, otherwise. Although, it was just the one. There wasn’t, like, a flock of them.

So, this was odd that less than two weeks later, the extended family then invited both of us to a casual dinner.

The invitation wasn’t the strange part.

The dinner wasn’t the strange part.

The casualness was a bit forced, but that wasn’t the strange part.

When we all sat down, I sensed–no, more than sensed, I witnessed–a dark stormcloud that rolled and billowed around Miasma, and it extended towards me, to hover above and then around me.

At this point, I also want to clarify that I have developed some mundane ways to sense and resolve conflict. I can make a note of muscle tension, and physical pains, in my own body and interpret it as the effects of cortisol. Deep breathing, or massaging myself, can alleviate this affliction. I can hear words and interpret concepts, and then talk it out with other people with a sentence constructed like so: “When you X, I feel Y because Z.” This is supposed to break down many interpersonal communication barriers. Additionally, I can interpret my dreams as a collection of symbols for my inner state in the face of waking life conflicts, and sort it out in myself rather that outside…

This wasn’t a dream. I could interpret it as such, because it was a very strange thing to witness while awake. And, there are reasons for it not to be there: Miasma isn’t an extensive practitioner, to my knowledge as Miasma’s sibling, which isn’t much or else we wouldn’t be estranged. My psychic mentor (ex-mentor now) had taught Miasma some visualizations, so that somebody else could help him prevent my going out-of-body, and neither of them told me more than that, but that was a few years back and I doubted that he would mentor Miasma much more than that. Yet, this stormcloud behaved… very… skillfully.

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Admittedly, I didn’t confront Miasma about it afterwards, because, on the social level, I very much dislike any and all interactions with that person whether so-and-so thing said was intended the way it was understood (conveniently for Miasma-on-the-offensive, it never was)—so, what more with something like this? Language actually exists. What I describe isn’t merely something that “I see that no one else sees”. If no one else sees it, then it doesn’t exist and I am at fault for being out-of-touch with reality, and I only upset myself. Those are the rules. I only play when I share my experience, so… no, I won’t, not then and there, not to that person.

Here, now, I will express this certainty: A stormcloud tried to eat me, and I believed that it came from Miasma and not from my imagination of what Miasma can throw at me, even though it very much sounds like something that I would merely imagine Miasma throwing at me, because we have issues. According to Miasma, hers are bigger than mine.

Did I mentioned that I had a sword? A sword that, when stuck in the ground, (in my mind–the sword in my mind, the ground in my mind) it grows a bubble-shield that feels far more effective than anything I ever consciously made? I could make a bubble in my mind but that never had any sort of protective effect, not until I found the sword.

Even if I wasn’t doing much more than hallucinating, then, at least I could hallucinate a solution. That would be my point, except at this point in the story, I would speak too soon. There was something about my sword-generated bubble that indicated to me that it wouldn’t hold up effectively– or wasn’t completely holding up effectively– against Miasma’s cloud. So, I visualized pulling my sword out from the ground. This diffused the shield, and I changed my strategy to something I’d read but never practiced.

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The techniques were deeply rooted in the visual, spatial, and temporal. The writer explained “psychic attacks” as a garden hose. Instead of attacking what was coming out, instead attack the extension towards you. This should turn the attack away. I tried, even though my present experience of the cloud was that it was not shaped like a garden hose. When I scanned for parts that could be considered “for extension” and not “for attack”, and attached myself to the concept of “seeking target”, and told it to “seek another” with the force of my thoughts. That simply didn’t work. The attack itself had target-seekers at its teeth.

So, I resorted to the final strategy I remembered from that tutorial—-forgetting the sword, forgetting the analysis and suggestion, and simply reaching for a billow that I felt deep in the ground beneath my feet, pulling it up—and around—and cocooning myself in it.

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Immediately, I ceased to suffer. I didn’t feel put upon by any cloud. I no longer could see any cloud, or sword, or cocoon. I still felt on edge, but that was emotional rather than intuitive. Miasma appeared to be as fine as she was on Thanksgiving. Nothing was pulling my attention to the otherworlds, and I couldn’t even see the very thing in the otherreal that seemed to be keeping me comfortably out of attunement with the otherreal (and surreal, where most of this battle took place.)

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