Thursday, February 26, 2009

God, Michelangelo, and Noodly Appendages

And then God created man. And he was full grown and naked.

STFU, I'm creatin' stuff

This painting combines what we see today as classical with a few things that might be a little more out there, depending on what Michelangelo meant by the painting.

Firstly, we see that everyone is a huge hulking man. Michelangelo for some reason liked to paint huge hulking men. Michelangelo himself was quite muscular (and apparently an asshole) and it seems that artists have a habit of painting themselves into their work.

I don't think that Michelangelo meant himself to be Adam or God in this painting, considering that he probably wasn't thinking about it beyond subconsciously including his physique in both Adam and God. My reasoning for this is that Michelangelo was painting a shitload of other works on the roof of the Sistine Chapel and probably put himself in a few parts of it, but not every single little work.


As we can see, with so many characters, it's hard to assume that Michelangelo conciously put himself as a person into more than a handful of these people/angels. There are repeats of characters though. God, for example, is depicted a few times.

The Jews probably shit themselves when they found out this was going on. For so long they had felt that depicting God in any image whatsoever was not only impossible, but just completely wrong to even attempt, sinful even. The Temple had no paintings or statues in it because the Jews didn't want to make the mistake of worshiping an image rather than God himself.

As an obscure history note, Caligula wanted to put a statue of himself in the Jewish Temple to make sure they were under control. He was eventually convinced that this would put an already fragile region in total chaos.

The early Christians seemed to make this mistake of worshiping the image before God a few times. Whereas the Jews didn't want any images of anything anywhere near their Temple, the Christians couldn't get enough of them. We have paintings, stain glass windows, and statues everywhere. Even the rosary has a little Jesus on it.

Another interesting thing about the painting of the creation of Adam is the shape that surrounds God. It looks like a brain. Some have postulated that Michelangelo might have been theorizing that God was created in the mind of man.


yer gonna get tentacle raped!

For those of you that haven't heard of the Flying Spaghetti monster, it is basically the incarnation of atheism. The point of FSM is that there is as much proof for God as there is for something as ridiculous as a flying spaghetti monster. The entire idea is a mockery of Christianity in particular, given that Christianity is the religion that most criticizes atheism.

Followers of the Church of FSM claim to have been 'touched by his noodly appendage', a clear mockery of being filled by the Holy Spirit. The concept points out some of the absurdities in the conscious higher power, however it doesn't really apply to the belief of the natural pantheistic subconscious god. Say what you want about the Church of FSM, but the mockery is all done in good humor. It's like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Some people find it funny.

I don't know what members of the Church of FSM would think about pantheism or other forms of the subconscious god (such as some forms of elemental paganism), but odds are that they wouldn't appreciate it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cuteness in Art

I like this video.

But I don't think that my reasons for liking it extend beyond the fact that she's perpetuating an inside joke of the internet and she's kinda hawt. So, to me it scores a 10.0 on the cuteness scale and I'm able to appreciate it.

There's a whole slew of videos like this on youtube. A lot of them don't get more than three or four views. But occasionally you find a 'cute' video that has... half a million to twelve million views. Obviously these videos have gained popularity in our society.

Why the hell is this?

Regardless of the sheer shallowness of 'cute' art, people like it. It makes people smile and pulls an emotion out of them. People like positive emotions, and for most people it doesn't take much to make them smile. So these videos get a lot of attention.

This never fails to make me laugh.

But do we consider this kind of stuff art? I don't know. I don't really have an opinion. I don't really appreciate it for the deepness and levels in its meaning... but I do enjoy it because of the reaction it gives me. That being said, I've seen several drawings that take a lot of talent to make that have the same sort of depth. But that's somehow different.

Does the popularity of this kind of art mean that our society and our generation is more shallow than those before us? I don't really think so. It may hint at that. But there's now a slew of people in our society who want to be artists and are climbing over one another to make the 'next big thing' on the internet.

As a result we see stuff that is entertaining, but not necessarily deep. These videos certainly take the effort of sitting down and making them, but sometimes not much more than that. The above video is a cool little dance number that obviously requires more talent than mouthing the numa numa song, but it gets about the same amount of attention (if not less) as the numa numa joke.

We like those little internet videos as a society. And sometimes we associate them with our personal experiences to apply another level that was never there at the video's conception. Occasionally, however, we come across a gem that really does have a shitload of levels. Sometimes literally.

This is appreciated in much the same way as the others, and has that million view count. But, it's a legitimate piece of art as well. This by comparison to the other above videos seemed to take more effort and has more meaning, but still manages to be in the midway of popularity on youtube.

Are we shallow? Probably. But I think that the internet phenomena of catchy videos says that we're just easily entertained rather than shallow. And the first does not equal the other.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's Offensive! I Swear!

In a conversation with one of my previous art professors, he mentioned that he hated modern art as well as most of the recent art regardless of style. Art, he said, has denigrated from being a show of skill and craftsmanship to a person simply proclaiming, "Look how clever I am."

While I agree with him on a number of levels, every once in a while that 'cleverness' rocks society to a point of controversy that can't be ignored.

Piss Christ by Andres Serrano

You may or may not have heard of Piss Christ. This is a photograph of Christ being crucified in a jar of the photographer's urine. Surprisingly enough, the urine gives Christ a golden aura. As expected, this piece made a lot of people very pissed (pun intended).

I actually like this piece for several reasons. Firstly, the way people reacted to it was downright hilarious. Piss and Jesus simply don't go together in most people's minds. The idea of Jesus even taking a piss (or a shit) would never cross their minds, regardless of whether or not he ever did it.

But given that Jesus came in human form (even if he was God), we have to assume that he did human things. This does, of course, extend to expelling waste from the body. We know he ate food, so he probably got rid of it as well.

But all that aside, what this piece most profoundly says about our culture is that we think that our waste products are unholy and should never be brought to the forefront of anything, especially religion. To even think about it is labeled vulgar and disturbing.

Another 'offensive' piece of the Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili
Complete with elephant dung and porn cutouts of genitalia
This piece asks similar questions about the subject of holiness

Some other cultures didn't think this way. Many 'uncivilized' cultures believe that our waste products are in fact the most holy, and in some cases used in religious rituals. They wouldn't have a problem with Piss Christ in the way that most Christians do. As a matter of fact they'd put it in a very favorable light.

Some Catholics liked the photograph because it depicted what our generation has done to Jesus. Our generation has ignored Jesus' teachings and went about our own merry way, essentially urinating on his sacrifice. This of course assumes that you believe that urine is unholy.

Couldn't find what the artist said about the work. I think he has left it up to us. A tax-payer funded organization did purchase the work for 15,000 dollars. Maybe that pisses you off, maybe it doesn't. Either way, essentially, you bought it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

David vs David

After a long hiatus, I shall return to Art.

First, a little background.

Standin' dudes

Alright. So here we see a very early version of the replication of the human image. I believe that the Sumerians made these statues for religious purposes, given that they were found near the Ziggurat of Ur. At this point, people made art for religious purposes. Early civilizations would use art to tell stories behind their mythology or to protect them from evil spirits. Art had a different purpose in these days. Art was not art as we see it now, art existed as an essential part of religion and life.

With art viewed in this light, it didn't advance very far. For generations of civilizations after this we see the same style of people just... well... standing. Changing style might change how the figurine worked. To make actual creative art influenced by religion might have been viewed as heresy. Figurines of humans would look straight ahead, supported by two legs, with their arms just dropped by their sides... no real expression on the face or the body language.

More standin' dudes
Complete with contrapposto
*sold separately

The Greeks decided to keep this aspect of art, but they added along with the mythological aspect the ability to advance in the methods. They created different mediums to tell their stories, and they created different ways to portray their stories on those mediums.

One of the added mediums is the one in the photo above: Bronze.

In the area of sculpture they added contrapposto. This made the look much more realistic. When people stand, they usually don't stand straight up on both their legs. People usually shift their weight onto one leg or the other. The Greeks noticed this and began to add the attribute to their work. Eventually, this stance became the standard.

Greek artists made the goal of art to replicate physical human nature along with the human image. However, they only went so far.

Then this guy got involved

Greek and Roman art influenced the Renaissance (obviously). But unlike the Greeks, the prevailing religion at the time of the Renaissance was Christianity. So, a flip took place between the emphasis on Greek Mythology to an emphasis on Christianity. Greek Mythology remained influential in art, but the people broadly followed Christianity.

Michelangelo created the sculpture of David to present the ultimate form of man. Many today still view this sculpture as the ultimate of human form. Michelangelo utilized contrapposto to further add a sense of reality to this form. But beyond the realistic representation, David isn't doing much. He's just kinda chillin.

It is here that I am reminded that artists
notice things in their daily lives
before they incorporate it into their art

Then Bernini came along and screwed up everyone's world. Starting at around age ten, he impressed even the Pope with his epicness (for lack of a better word) in many forms of art. He developed the ability to make marble look like actual flesh. He added indentations in the skin from a hand gripping across flesh on marble and pulled it off.

Marble sculptures of people grabbing people have appeared throughout history, but never with quite this much detail. Bernini took sculpture to a whole new level and then gave a subconscious challenge to Michelangelo when he made his very own sculpture of David.

Take that Michelangelo

Bernini took the extra step of venturing beyond contrapposto. He has David in the middle of attacking Goliath. He added an intense expression on his face as he is about to hurl a stone at a possibly over nine foot tall human being who thought he could get away insulting David's God for days after days.

His muscles are tense, his expression is not just intense but also concentrated, focused. He will achieve his goal. Bernini practically routes Michelangelo in the portrayal of David when it comes to expressing David as a person rather than form.

Bernini goes the extra mile of showing his form as well. With Michelangelo, David is the perfect form of a man. He has very little fat on him, very muscular, but relaxed at the same time. Whereas Bernini's version of David has a little weight on him, but every muscle present has purpose. Bernini's David is not about perfection, it conveys the story of David and allows us to jump into the moment just before the killing blow, when it could be argued that even David had no clue whether or not he would live or die.

I like Bernini's work because he not only shows us the story and physique of the human being, but he takes us into the moment of the story. He grips us with his image and makes us a part of the sculpture. I cannot help but jump into the situation when I see Bernini's work. With David, I am there, and I have just as much anticipation as the Jews who watched on when the story actually happened.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Youtube Ignores User Related Problems

This video was deleted and thunderf00t was given a two week ban on posting videos. Thunderf00t posted another video through someone else's channel. Here it is below.

My letter to youtube. Write your own.

There is an issue that has been floating around youtube that has garnered my concern. It seems that someone has figured out how to get votebots to spam votes/flags and spam marks on people's videos and comments.

This buries small channels and even hurts the big ones. You should let the users decide how videos get rated, not just people who have votebots.

The main thing is unjustified flagging. A number of videos have been marked unsuitable for minors but simply aren't. There needs to me a rational thinking human in the mix to review these flagged videos if a way to defeat the bots isn't found.

Tracking bots isn't impossible. Blizzard and other gaming companies have been doing it for years. If they can do it, why can't you?


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Disclaimer on the Religion Series:

For your viewing pleasure


Now that I have your attention.

Religion is a rough subject. This subject carries beliefs that some people hold very dear and close to their hearts. However, many religions are also riddled with bullshit. That being said, Christians will not hesitate to say this about Islam, Muslims will not hesitate to say this about Christianity, Atheists think that all the religious people are nuts, and the religious can't understand why the Atheists are so damn stupid.

My commentary on religion is strictly my opinion. When I start talking about history, I often deal with historical theory. I find some of these historical theories very convincing. Along this line of thinking, there are loads of theories about Alexander the Great (Carnivorous horse, did he have anything to do with his father's death, who was it that killed Alexander himself). But many people have their thoughts on how it all really went down.

Many things in history, however, simply can't be denied, such as the violent history of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. There's no doubt that these religions have inspired war, and violence inspires many of their central beliefs (God kicking Egypt ass, Muhammad's conquest). This extends to nearly all religions. Try to find a story in Greek, Norse, or Egyptian mythology that doesn't center around some act of violence. Even if you find a handful that don't, compare it to the multitude that do.

An example of ass-kicking in Assyrian Mythology


That being said, while Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have violent histories, that doesn't mean they have to continue down that road. To use Christianity as an example: Modern Christians are a completely different animal from the Christians of the past with a completely different set of pros and cons. And even more different from the Christians pre-Constantine. Most of them are decent people. But there's some modern sects of Christianity that are getting out of control and want to redefine their history.

Sorry, you simply can't do that.

To my point:

If you are a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Atheist and you're reading my site, You will come across some thought provoking posts. You can either take the invitation to think about things and discuss them, or react violently. If you react violently, I'm not going to give a rat's ass what you think. IF, however, you want to discuss something with me, go for it. I'm open to discussion and I could be wrong on some issues. But I won't know about it unless there's a rational discussion.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Material Church

There was a church that I considered myself a member of at one point called The Torch. I went to this church all of three times before I decided the whole thing was bullshit.

In this church (and so many others) there are TVs hanging from the ceiling (big ones), pool tables, a snack bar, electric drum set, several gaming consoles, and a ton of members. And this is just the youth ministry.

Now, this can be considered a miracle by a lot of Christians. Look at what God has done for this church. They are blessed. In reality, I think it's the opposite. Materialism is a plague that is further destroying Christianity from the gem that it was pre-300 CE.

I went to a revival at a tiny Church in North Georgia and it was one of the greatest religious experiences I've ever had. The conversation I had with a woman afterward was not-so-great when she asked me what church I went to... but whatever. The point is that the church was nothing but a tiny building with pews and a handful of pastors. Next door there was a kitchen and a dining room.

That's it.

That's all it needed, and that's all churches ever need. The rest is materialism.

What I look forward to when going to church

It was mentioned to me recently that someone was bragging that his church came fully equipped with a gaming station complete with PS3s and Xbox 360s so that they could play games like Halo 3 before receiving the message. This is not what the church is supposed to do. This is how cults brainwash.

During this time, I've never seen a religious question asked, I've never seen a prayer, I've never seen a lot of things going on that should be happening in a church if anyone takes themselves seriously.

It's hard to really consider any sort of Christian tenants other than the violent ones when you're shooting up your fellow church members in Halo 3. Nothing against Halo 3. I love the game. But it's not exactly Guitar Praise.

That being said, gaming can be good for fellowship among Christians. But my major point is that Churches shouldn't be spending about a thousand dollars to hang a flatscreen in a hallway (actually seen this) when there's real work to do for the community. They just let the poorer but harder working churches take up the slack.

Churches are on the front lines of the poverty war. They do a lot of things that no other organizations will do, so it frustrates me when I see a church that no only doesn't do these things when they have the capacity to, but spend their gobs of money on their members.

I'm not saying that you won't find good Christians at these 'material' churches. Occasionally you'll find a handful. But they're being fooled. While I was at the Torch, I met some people who were genuinely searching for God, but they subdued themselves into taking half-baked sermons at face-value without doing their own soul searching.

Whenever I find myself in one of these churches, I don't give to the offering. No matter what. I don't think that my 10 bucks for the poor should go to another Xbox controller because Timmy threw it into the flatscreen when Ronald spawnkilled him three times in a row for the ultimate pwnage.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Theism or Atheism?

I just found out a few days ago that by some definitions, I'm technically an atheist.

I have defined myself as theist for some time now, but I'm also on a mental quest to define what 'God' is. I decided a long time ago that God is not a 'man in the sky' as evidenced by my Thin Places post. I believe in the most accurate definition of God that I can find which is the Taoist concept of the Tao.

Now, Taoists do not believe in God as a sentient figurehead that gives out rewards and punishments as religions like Christianity and Islam do. They believe in the Tao, which is something indefinable. You really just have to understand it over time to even get the concept in the first place.

Apparently, in order to be a 'theist', you must first believe in a 'higher power' of some sort. Then you can define yourself in the subsects of polytheism or monotheism, meaning multiple higher powers or just one. I think Christianity is Polytheistic on a number of levels, but that's another topic for another day.

The term 'higher power' insinuates that you believe in something that is sentient, or in control. I don't believe that. I believe in the concept of the subconscious god, or a god that doesn't have a higher consciousness because he simply doesn't need it. This god doesn't speak to people in a language because he doesn't work that way, hence why I don't believe that the Bible is the word of God.

So, since the term 'higher power' doesn't apply to me, I'm not considered a 'theist'. So what does that make me?

I must be someone who doesn't believe in God, more commonly known as an atheist.

It doesn't feel right saying I'm an atheist while looking at this

So here's the dilemma. The general definition of atheist means that there is not just 'no God' or 'no higher power' but it further makes the assertion that there is 'nothing' so to speak.

I find this concept to be bullshit as well.

I tend to make the 'mistake' of calling what I believe in "God". So when someone asks me if I believe in God, I say yes, truthfully, while at the same time I lie. God to me is the subconscious being that I made reference to earlier. 'He' is the life force, the energy of the universe. I believe that one person that I meet should be just as important to me as myself because that other person is a part of me, and a part of the whole that makes up 'God'.

So, I'm not a theist, I'm not an atheist. But I'm something in between. I'm neither, but I'm both. To ask me if I'm one or the other is really an unanswerable question because I fit into both buckets but not entirely in either.

I'm close to agreement with these guys

I do not think that life could exist without the force of life. The force of life itself is a miracle of epic proportions, scientifically explained or not. If science discovers the formula of life, then I say that they have entered the science of God, not disproved God. God will not strike them down for entering his domain, because he doesn't have the kind of emotions that would care.

But, this 'God' is still worthy enough of recognition, and is still a part of the supernatural. It is both spiritual and religious to believe in this kind of God, so it's hard to say that it's an atheistic belief, even though it's not belief in the so-called 'higher power'.

There's a lot of other things that make up my beliefs on God. And they're very different from the norm. And while I appreciate the fact that I'm unique on this subject, it's frustrating at the same time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Violent Religions and Jesus

With my previous post in mind, Jesus is probably one of the few peaceful religious figureheads. He sits up there with people like Buddha, except Jesus was less sheltered as a child.

Jesus did a lot of things that frustrated people who followed the Old Testament religiously. He really was guilty of a lot of heresy but refused to give in, and proved himself logically correct according to the spirit of the Law more than once.

The only thing about Jesus that can really be considered violent is his death, which as we know was not a violent act of Jesus. It might be considered violent when he overturned all the gambling tables in the Temple. But, in my opinion, that was completely justified.


Jesus did a lot of things that were progressive for his time. He stopped the stoning of a woman. He dined with prostitutes, validating them as people. He called the priests of the Temple hypocrites to their very faces.

However, Jesus is associated with a very violent religion: Christianity. Throughout history, Christianity has picked fights with just about everyone (even the Jews). The Old Testament has a lot of things that go directly against Jesus. There's a lot of things that make 'an eye for an eye' philosophy a good idea (see: Jericho).

It's not really Jesus' fault either. He's not the one who made the Bible and decided what would be in it. It's more the fault of Constantine, who delegated just that. Jesus has been used as a figurehead and an excuse for conquest and hatred on more than one occasion.

Christianity encompasses both the teachings of Jesus as well as the violent history and law of the Jews. If Christianity had become just the teachings of Jesus, it might have become an actually peaceful religion.

Today, however, it is not.

Peaceful...? Religion...? Really?

Watch this video, then read. This post is really just a long comment on this video.

No clue what religion the guy in the middle is (Bradley Whitford: Actor), but it's pretty clear that the woman on the right (Sandy Rios: Fox News Contributor) is pretty much a run of the mill Christian of a relatively high ignorance level, while the guy on the left (Reza Aslan: Author of God but No God) is a relatively less ignorant but still ignorant Muslim.

Bottom line, while I was watching this video, I found my self growing tired of people just spouting bullshit. All four of them know a fair amount about religion, but I have to run a fact check on a few things that have been said.

Firstly, when Whitford says that the Christians have pretty much kicked the Muslim's ass, he only might be right. I'm sure that he's thinking about the Crusades where the battle was fought to a stalemate, but the Christians did the brunt of the killing through a lot of it. And probably the Inquisition as well. (I love that the fact that he's an actor gives him credibility).

However, he's forgetting about the dawn of the Muslim religion. Over the course of a couple hundred years Islam went from controlling one city to all of northern Africa, most of Eurasia, Spain, and were invading southern France.

Also, he's forgetting that modern numbers are much higher (when coming to the concept of "a lot of people") than the numbers of the medieval ages. It'd take some research, but I think the number of people who have died fighting on either side might be much closer than he thinks, especially if we only count when both sides consider the battle a Holy War.

Rios responded that it wasn't Christian teaching to kill. Well... maybe not to her interpretation of the Bible (in which she'd have to ignore some stuff), but it was the interpretation of the church in the middle ages which defined what Christian teaching was.

Not sure on the validity of this picture,
but it certainly reflects a lot of people's view

Secondly, Aslan states that no religion really teaches any sort of hate. He calls it bullshit. Quite frankly, that's bullshit.

Islam is not a peaceful religion, and Christianity is not a peaceful religion. Any religion that has God coming down to kick people's asses is by definition 'not peaceful'. So don't try to color it any other way. Christianity is a warrior's religion, and Islam is also a warrior's religion. Islam has the Lesser Jihad (and was even founded by a warrior), and Christianity has Revelation, Moses, Jacob, David, and the Ark of the Covenant.

I'd say that both religions have violent tenants. Denying that there's violence in Christianity or Islam is willful ignorance. In order to make Christianity or Islam peaceful, you'd have to rip out half their holy books.

Beyond that, I didn't have a lot of problems with what they said (Beyond that I disagreed with a lot of opinions expressed) but I did have a problem with the ignorance that comes with the worldview behind believing in a sentient god. Another blog post will be coming up on this soon.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Source of the Angel's Wings

A couple people have taken issue with me on the angels having wings due to the Babylonians. So I've come to defend myself.

Assyria and ancient Babylonia (not the Babylonia of Nebuchadnezzar) had many of the same Gods. The religion is labeled the Assyro-Babylonian religion. This is where the legend of the sea monster Tiamat (a name often given to dragons) comes from.

The religion resulting from these nations were the first to have gods with wings. Assyria popped up roughly the same time as Sumeria about 4000 years ago. Babylonia popped up with Hammurabi developing the first real written law about 1700 BC. The religion that these two nations shared become THE religion of the time.

I can fly and kick your ass, bitch

For some reason (I'm still looking into this) the Babylonians and Assyrians saw fit to put wings on their gods. It certainly made them more threatening and given that both civilizations were of warrior tradition, a god with wings would certainly be a good fighter.

With the amount of influence that these nations had at the time, it's not surprising that the Jews would give wings to God's army of drones, the angels. At the time it was not uncommon for people to believe that their god(s) was/were doing battle with the mythology of other nations when they went to war. The Assyrians and Babylonians flying gods would certainly be foreboding to the imagination.

He's big, mean, and coming to kick your god's ass

As a side-note, the above god is Nisroch.

Nowadays, we can hold the concept in our minds that a person without wings can fly (see Superman) but at this period of time, it didn't make as much sense.

Now the idea of angels sprouting wings from the Babylonians is a theory. But, it's very apparent that the Babylonians and Assyrians did it first. That being said, I repeat what I said earlier about stories of angels simply being tall humanoids with no wings.

People will believe what they want, and the evidence in this case is circumstantial as far as I know. But it is very interesting.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Angels and Art vs. Me

I've loved angels for years. I have a little image in my head of what an angel looks like. But unfortunately, my vision of the angel is difficult to find in any works of art. I've seen several depictions of angels, from little orbs of light to people with wings. I tend to lean more toward the people with wings side of things, although I like the orb of light idea.

Just about right

While I like the above picture, I have some problems with it.

The main thing that I like about the above picture is the size of the wings. Too often (in film especially) angels, demons, and other 'flying people' have wings that are simply too small. This one has the wings about right. One of the few problems I have with her is her body is almost completely solid. While I have no qualms with that, I like seeing angels that look a little more spirit-y.

Also, I take issues with halos. The little floating disc thing doesn't make much sense to me. I understand that it is a representation of holiness and radiance, but I think that the symbolism is better when applied in an aura encompassing the entire body.

Check out their little bodies

These little bastards still have halos, but check out their bodies. Some of them are more complete than others, but some are completely missing their legs. Why would an angel need legs when it doesn't need to walk? Or, perhaps an angel only has legs when it feels the need to have them. Same with wings.

There's several accounts of personal engagements with angels. They're almost exclusively really tall people dressed in white without wings. Perhaps angels (should they exist) don't have wings, and just appear and disappear whenever and wherever they feel like it. Angels didn't even have wings according to the Christian and Jewish mythology until they interacted with the Babylonians next door, who worshiped gods with wings.

Since then the angel has been depicted with wings, and they've kinda stuck. Personally, even if existing angels don't have anything even related to wings, I like their symbolic value if nothing else.

I would love to draw/paint angels. However, my drawing/painting abilities are that of a stink bug. I do what I can artistically with the skills that I have. But as far as making a realistic representation of anything, stick figures is about as far as I can go while still being satisfied with the result.

That being said, my vision of the angel might not ever make it onto paper, but I think I'm going to do a few more blog posts about angels to expand upon these thoughts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thin Places

I believe there are certain places in the world where the line between the physical world and the spiritual world is very thin. I am not the first to think this way. The Celtic monastic orders were famous for doing the same thing in places like Innish Moore and Glendaloch. They, however, forgot to bring women. So they all died out. Oops.

Considered a Thin Place by
the monastic order of St. Kevin.

The idea of so called 'Thin Places' is a concept that has arisen throughout Celtic history in both the pagan and the Christian religions up to and shortly past the fourth century. Several places in Ireland in particular are considered 'Thin Places'. Glendaloch, The Hill of Tara, and Innish Moore are some of the more obvious examples. But I've found some interesting places that I consider 'thin' within my own back yard.

I fail for not having pictures of this place, but I will later. There's a place at my dad's cabin in the mountains that I feel most at home. There's a rock staircase that goes down to a creek with a small beach. A dam made of stones that my brother, father, and myself put together still creates a little lake in the area. The sound of rushing water can be heard and there's greenery everywhere, including a tree whose roots do battle with erosion to hold up a six foot wall of dirt.

This place is far enough away from any structures that it is completely peaceful, and it's in it's own little canyon, so I can enjoy the stillness of life there. I remarked upon my feelings there in my copy of the Tao Te Ching.

Some of my notes
in my copy of the Tao Te Ching

Later in life, wherever I have lived, I've tried to find a sacred space that I can go to think. The creek at my Dad's cabin was my sacred space for some time. But I was often not there, and when I went to college, I had to find another one. During my year and a half at Piedmont, I would use the Baseball field at night, and a bridge that went out over a lake (at night as well) as my places to think and meditate. Since coming to UNCSA, however, I have not been able to find such a place.

Since becoming a much more international and worldly person, I've picked out a few sacred spaces in other countries. I have a few in Ireland, even though I've only been there twice. The Celts influence my way of thinking so much, that it's hard not to find beauty in the simplest of places there.

The first one is the Hill of Tara. I took a pilgrimage to this place some time ago. I took a series of buses from Dublin and made my way up the hill itself on foot. The place is fairly simple. A small Catholic church sits on top of the hill, converting what was a pagan fortress to Christian holy land. The hill is now simply a hill with a burial ground and a few man-made humps here and there, but they are arranged in a set of rings and trenches that make up what was an impenetrable palisade fortress.

The view.
Good luck invading without being noticed.
You can see 3/4th of Ireland from up here.

Call me crazy, but I stayed around this place for more than a couple hours, just soaking it in. I even took a nap under the ever gray sky of Ireland. I met a Bulgarian who was doing the same thing I was. He sat and I sat on top of the burial ground while he played a tune on his guitar-like instrument.

At Glendaloch, the Monastic Order of St. Kevin made their way into the wilderness and started a small all-male civilization in an incredibly secluded part of Ireland. The order only lasted a generation, as people lived their lives and died with no offspring, but according to legend, the people there gained control over nature. St. Kevin was known for hanging out waist deep in the lake with outstretched arms and a bird would come to perch on his arm.

Just being in this place is mysterious. Mountains surround an elevated lake with strange natural structures that make some of the most beautiful sights in nature I've ever seen. St. Kevin made this place a church, but he considered not only the buildings that were made, but the land itself as the house of God.

No shoes allowed

St. Kevin's monasteries are spread out among the area. One of them in particular the members of my class that I went with my first time to Ireland took off our shoes to walk inside. The simple act of being that much closer to nature was powerful. Our guide (a Catholic Priest who barely believed in Catholicism) noted on his tour/sermon:

If we picture God as a little man in the sky, we're chasing an illusion, I think.

-Father Michael

The lesson to be learned in this is that God is not a figurehead of a church, or some 'bean counter on cloud 9' as a friend of mine put it. God is everything and everywhere. He is the force of life and death, and he is inherent in his creation (regardless of whether or not it was created consciously or by some instinctive force).

St. Kevin's churches embody this as the ruins become more and more one with nature themselves. As you can see they are slowly wearing away into the past themselves, creating an ultimate piece of natural art. The roof is gone, bringing the person within the monastery closer to the sky. The stones have become weathered, and the weak ones have fallen away, making the monastery seem as if nature had built it herself.

A lot of the same weathered effects have happened to the monastery-fortress on top of the Hill of Slane, another of my personal Irish 'Thin Places'.

St. Patrick's Monastery-Fortress.
I broke some rules to get this.

The Hill of Slane is the second highest point in Ireland, and from it you can see all the places that you can't see from the Hill of Tara. In St. Patrick's battle with the non-Christian Druids, control of both these hills was key. He held Slane with this monastery-fortress. The tower would be used to signal the Hill of Tara if an army was attempting to come at them by hiding in one of the Hill's few blind spots.

Even though there's not really a huge religious significance to the Hill of Slane, there wound up being a huge personal significance for me. The aged effect here was similar to the effect on St. Kevin's Monastery. I can't quite explain the spiritual feeling that was here, I only felt like I had lived here before. This was probably the only real place that has made me seriously consider reincarnation.

This felt very much like home.

I spent more than a little time here. I nearly missed the last bus back home without realizing it. The above picture was taken inside the fortress portion of the Hill of Slane (not shown in the other picture, I actually took that picture from the top of the fortress).

I can't really explain a lot of what happened here. I felt both at home and I had a strange feeling of dejavu while I was there. Now that I'm gone from these places, I want to go back really badly. I was home.