Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chewy is NOT a Mouseketeer.

According to exorcism/poltergeist/paranormal horror movies, night time is when evil wakes, right? midnight is the witching hour, 0300 is the demonic hour, etcetera etcetera...

Apparently in our house 0430 is Rodent Hour. If 0300 is the demonic hour in a sort of "demons saying fuck you to the holy trinity" way, what exactly is the mouse doing at 0430? 

Besides avoiding all the mouse bait and ripping up roach traps, I mean. 

Husband pointed out the other day...at least it's not a snakipeder (yay Siri recognizes "Snakepider" as a word). 

If only Chewy were as fierce in the house as he is outside. At one point last night I'm pretty sure he was lying by the water dish and was startled by our resilient rodent: he RAN into the bedroom and stayed there. 

Because he's a badass. Sigh. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mythic Monday: Mithras - Spell Checker is DILIGENT

"One day every soldier in the empire has to shower in the blood of your sacrificial bull. The next they don't even remember your birthday." --Neil Gaiman, American  Gods*

I have to add a disclaimer to this post. Mithraism is NOT a single mythological tale, but a full mythic cycle which was eventually adopted and adapted by the soldiers of the Roman Legions into a belief system which (from my perspective) rivaled early Christianity. And so, while I'm fascinated by Mithra and his rituals and myth, this is not an in-depth study of an entire religion. If it was, I'm pretty sure most of you would run like hell, and on top of that I eventually need to sleep. Also, I am not an archaeologist, and I KNOW I have a few friends who might be more learned on this topic than I. Please please correct me if I'm wrong: there's a lot of detail I have to leave out to keep this a under-10,000 word post. Or feel free to add in comments!

Mithra seems to have originated as a god in the Zoroastrian pantheon of ancient Persia (generally around Iran/Iraq and part of Turkey today). Again, Zoroastrianism is a full religious cycle, and deserves its own series of posts. The key concepts, however, are that where Abrahamic religions say God is the creator and sovereign of all (including evil, which God created), Zoroastrian belief allows for a good and evil rivalry. Oromasdes and Ahriman (that'd be Good and Evil, only with unpronounceable names) are both looking for souls of man. Ahriman is willing to send demons and evil spirits to tempt or force man to his side. Mankind needs some help down here, and Mithra is sent as the savior hero-god.

As a hero-god, he has two main incidents in the Persian cycle. In the first, Mithra battles the Sun and wins, becoming "Helios Mithras"...the Sun God. That's a little weird because Helios (the actual Sun) is still around and just really good friends with Mithra in many of the myths.

One of the joys and frustrations of mythology, people, is that sometimes it's just the earliest example of the telephone game.

The key here is that Mithra is now fully a God of Light, which plants him pretty firmly as "God's Savior of Many on Earth." Yes, this sounds familiar. I'm getting to that.

The other major theme in Mithraic beliefs is his slaying of the heavenly bull. Mithra is reluctant to do so, but slays the bull in a cave on command/request of another God. The body of the dying bull becomes all the wholesome plants and animals on Earth, and his soul retreats to the heavens as reward. Mithra guards this new abundant land and acts as mediator between God and Man, until it is determined he is no longer needed on Earth and he returns to Heaven as well.

Mithraic beliefs seem to have included the dualism of good and evil (of course) as well as a philosophy of abstinence (that'd be abstinence in all things not absolutely necessary, not just sexually), loyalty, duty, and discipline. Also, no women allowed** (I wonder if they had that inscribed on the temple doors).

Therefore, it's pretty easy to see why the Roman soldiers would've grabbed that cult and made it their own. After all, Rome absolutely excelled at figuring out the best parts of a different civilization and incorporating it into Roman society, and the Mithraic cycle of stories exemplified all the ideal soldier attributes. And remember, between the wars that are written of to exalt or ridicule an Emperor's reign, there were also years of peaceful trading going on along all the borders. This cult would've found an easy home with soldiers' outposts and traveled quickly through the ranks.

However it happened, from the 1st to 4th Centuries CE Mithraism was THE belief system of the Roman Army. And as they did so very well with other cultures, Rome took Mithra and made it her own. The name was Latinized to Mithras. The central mythology adjusted slightly to focus on Mithras as the Sun God in eternal battle with Evil. The Sacrifice of the Bull to create the world and cleanse man of sin became the central myth.

Roman Mithraic Mysteries included elaborate initiation rituals to seven degrees of membership. There are references to a "complete guide" account of Mithraism, but the book itself has never been found. I think that's a serious bummer: one of the initiation rituals rumored to be enacted was the sacrifice of a bull over a pit, in which the initiate was essentially showered in the bull's blood at it's death. I can't find confirmation on the accuracy of this rite, but if it did happen I suppose that explains the serious attention regarding post-initiation ritual baths. I have to say, given the number of soldiers who were active participants, that sort of rite (were it true) may have been a high-echelon member initiation only...meaning only the seventh level members. Or I'm underestimating how many bulls the Legions had available for sacrifice, which is also completely possible.

There isn't a lot of direct written evidence of the rituals themselves: after all, to some extent it was a secret cult. However, archaeologists have found a ridiculous number of artifacts all over the empire. Mithraeums (underground cave temples dedicated to Mithras) have been found pretty much wherever Legions were stationed.  Multiple bas-relief examples and sculptures detailing the central Bull sacrifice mythology can be viewed in museums today (or, Google, since that's easier and less expensive than traveling to the Louvre). From what I can tell, it seems wherever soldiers were stationed, Mithras hung out as well.

So what happened in the 4th Century to end Mithras' status?

Constantine. The century began with Constantine's rule, and over the course of a few decades Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. This spelled the beginning of the end of Mithras in Rome. Of course, nothing is overnight: it took quite a while before everyone in the Empire was converted (and even longer for those on the fringes). I did find some historians' theories that Theodosius' (379-390 CE) anti-paganism decrees were directly in response to stubborn pockets of Mithraism.

And true to Roman form, many of the most importantly held beliefs of the old religion were just incorporated into the new one. There are conspiracy theories of "heretics" worshiping Mithras in secret even today (which make for great novels, by the way).

After all, when Christianity subsumed Mithraism in Europe, where were many churches built? Over Mithraeums.

Mithras was God of Light and Savior of Mankind, the intermediary to God on behalf of Mankind...

Mithras' birthday? December 25th.

Of course I write that as a provocation, mostly because in researching Mithra/Mithras I included the Catholic Encyclopedia as one of my sources. It's an utterly fascinating read: all the similarities in feast rituals, savior iconography, and even ritual days are dismissed with total disdain by the Church as "evil copies" of good Christian traditions. There is an underlying tone of protest that's really interesting: is it possible there are pockets of Mithraic believers existing in the shadows today?

I suppose since I wander this planet with a vagina instead of a penis, I'll never know. I'm cool with that...bull-blood-bathing seems...well, it just sounds sticky and sort of gross. And who wants to clean the bathroom after THAT post-ritual-shower?

*If you haven't read this book and you like mythology even a little, READ IT NOW.

**It would be easy to say from a modern perspective that Mithraism is an anti-woman, patriarchal cult. However, it's vital to remember that monotheism is a relatively recent invention in human history: the Zoroastrian pantheon included multiple deities for multiple worshipers, including women's mysteries. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Stuff is...Something?

Apparently Facebook thinks I'm a dude with ED now, too. Which is really just Facebook's way of calling me Sir. 

I find this both amusing and annoying. My standard response at being called Sir is to look down at my rather ample boobs, look back at the "Sir-er" and just say, "really?" Works every time. 

But Facebook has no eyes...or shame. Ok that's probably not true: I bet Facebook has eyes everywhere. But the shameless part is true...and thus my smartass response is THWARTED. 

Also, I can't say I'd buy any product that doesn't know what it's selling. What IS "losme" and, since it's used as a verb, what would I never be doing again?? 

Either way, my stuff is fine, thanks. 

Friday, January 09, 2015

I am not fired, and other Friday Shenangians.

I got sent home from work today at lunchtime.

No, I didn't get fired, no my mouth didn't get me in trouble, and no I didn't hit anyone OR start anything on fire.

Thanks a lot assholes, for knowing exactly what could get me sent home assuming the worst.

I got sent home because I've been hacking up my lungs all week, thanks to airplanes/toddlers/sick relatives/cold/typhoidsomethingorother. Let's be clear. I've been sick since New Year's Day. I've been on the mend, really, all this week,and have been at work all week.

I got sent home today because my cube-neighbor has the actual fever-ishy-flu, and since she's NOT in the office and I'm still coughing like the mucinex dudes are partying down in my lungs I was politely told to get out. I am typhoid Jess by default, and that's sort of amusing.

And so I did. Spent my afternoon napping (hey, they sent me home to "get well" right? Wellness = naps, people), until I got the MOST AWESOME EMAIL EVER from someone who randomly found my blog through Nora Roberts' blog. (No, I don't know Nora Roberts...believe me, if I did I'd drop it into almost every conversation because knowing her personally would almost be as cool as Dwayne Johnson or Gerard Butler showing up at my door.) Nora Roberts wrote a piece on her public blog about shitty trolling internet trolls who harass writers/artists, and I agreed with her "bite me" approach. Anyway, it's neither here nor there.

The neat bit for me, is that said random person found my blog via that comment, read some, and went to the effort of emailing me personally to say unbelievably kind things about my writing.

And that, people, made my whole goddamned week. 

Luckily, the Universe which provides me with random pick-me-ups also ensures appropriate humility:
Um, HELLO. Get your hand off that keyboard.
Have you ever tried to type around a Falcor head? It doesn't work well.
Can't you see I MUST SING?

I'll be sure to invite you to his opera debut. 

In the meantime, I'm recycling last year's Dragon calendar by using the art as writing prompts for 12 written scenes/short stories. Because why not add to the project list? 

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Mythic Monday: The Boy Who Flew Too High

In the time before time, a desperate King searched for a way to trap the monster his wife created. An inescapable prison to hold a creature so terrifying and bloodthirsty the King couldn't keep it in his court, yet, being a canny and ruthless man, the King knew he could use his wife's monster to his advantage. 

And so, King Minos of Crete hired the most famous architect and inventor in the Athens to build his prison: his Labyrinth at Knossos, built to hold Asterion captive for his own bidding. 

Daedalus, a genius inventor famed throughout the Greek world for his ingenuity and architecture, designed and built the Labyrinth with his son, Icarus. But Daedalus was horrified and disgusted with the way Minos used his creation, demanding annual sacrifices and forcing the monster to consume human flesh, including the flesh of Daedalus' own countrymen and women. And so when Theseus arrived to destroy the Minotaur, Daedalus helps by giving Ariadne the ball of string and disclosing the secrets of escaping the center of the maze.

Unfortunately for Daedalus, King Minos was no fool. When Theseus escapes the inescapable prison, the King knew Daedalus is involved. Daedalus, however, was also no fool: he'd planned for all contingencies. He constructed wax-and-feather wings for both himself and Icarus, his son, to fly from Crete back to the mainland. Carefully, Daedalus fitted the wax wings to his son's arms and back, warning Icarus to fly neither too low, as waterlogged feathers won't fly, nor too high, as hot wax melts. 

Daedalus flew the middle path, gliding in a direct path between sea and sky exactly as he should, and arrived safely on the mainland. 

Icarus, full of both youthful exuberance, was overcome by the thrill of flight. He swooped to skim the water and soared higher and higher toward the sun...and melted the wax. His feathers lost, Icarus fell from heaven to drown in the sea.  

To this day, the place where he drowned is known as The Icarian Sea

Poor Icarus...the epitome of teenage recklessness gone wrong. 

A good number of Greek myths focus on the foolishness of ordinary humans trying to be like the Gods. For centuries (particularly in the Renaissance when all things Classical came back into fashion in Europe) Icarus was known as "the boy who flew too high." This isn't a reflection of his physical flight: the detrimental effects of hubris (defined most simply as excessive pride or defiance of the Gods) is a constant theme in Greek myth. To those who heard the story in ancient Greece, Icarus foolishly rose too high and paid the price: the fact that his father, who flew the middle path and survived, was the expected validation in a society often espousing the virtues of moderation and not tempting Fate or catching the attention of the Gods.

It's important to note that neither Daedalus nor Icarus had any God-touched qualities in any story I've found. These are not half-immortal men who gain the notice of the Gods through their blood and deeds. These are ordinary, creative, intelligent human beings (with nothing special other than Daedalus's masterwork in craftsmanship). That's key because the hubris theme is very often specific to pure humans: demi-gods (Herakles/Hercules) are EXPECTED to challenge the Gods and often suffer hardship because of it. Humans are generally punished swiftly and severely for pride and defiance. Icarus did defy his father's moderate advice, and he paid for it. 

Personally,  I think it's interesting that the focus of discussion and morality for this tale is always Icarus's youthful idiocy (seriously...do you know ANY teenagers who don't do foolish or reckless things, believing in their own immortality?). Is it possible Icarus's death was a sort of punishment for Daedalus's hubris, in creating both the Labyrinth AND the wings? I can interpret it both ways because both Icarus and Daedalus suffered, but historically the tragedy of Icarus's death is purely due to his impulse to fly as high as the Gods.