Thursday May 23, 2013
The caduceus is an ancient Greek symbol of divine heralds, most often Hermes. Today, many people think of it as a medical symbol, which is contrary to its original meaning. It has gotten confused with the rod of Asclepius, god of medicine. Both involve a rod entwined with a serpent, but the caduceus has two serpents, while the rod has only one.
The caduceus show up in a number of alchemical texts. Hermes/Mercury himself is a common symbol for alchemical ideas, so his staff is a logical symbol. The fact that two snakes symmetrically twist around the staff can be used to represent duality, of the bringing together of opposites, which is also a common alchemical concept.
Thursday May 23, 2013
Wolf Blitzer is in Oklahoma talking to, well, everyone, I imagine. But one interview sticks out. he is interviewing a young woman about how she and her baby survived this week's tornadoes, and he ends with this exchange:
"I guess you got to thank the Lord, right?" he asked.
"Yeah," she mumbled, smiling and looking down.
"Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?" he continued.
"I, I, I," the 30-year-old stay-at-home mom stammered before adding, "I'm actually an atheist."
Seriously, in this day and age we're still presuming people, much less Americans, much less young people, must be Christian? Sure, more often than not you'll be right, but there's still a measurable minority who are not. (And if you made that presumption in many European countries, you'd get yourself in trouble really fast.)
We are a country of religious diversity. Moreover, when a disaster victim seems uncomfortable about a religious topic on national television, is it really appropriate to push the issue as if she owes the country some sort of explanation?
Tuesday May 21, 2013
I love the internet. Really, I do. But everything has its downside. One of the drawbacks of the internet is that anyone can post anything, and nonsensical stories can spread like wildfire. As both a writer about religion and a historian, I deal with these issues all the time.
There's a lot of reasons why wrong stories convince so many people. Often, the wrong story suggests something that the listener would like to be true. Sometimes the story includes a bunch of real facts but connects them in a completely erroneous way. Often, a story's conclusion sounds logical...except that the facts are not actually correct.
No one can idiot-proof themselves, not even bonefide academics. Ever hear that story about "Ring Around the Rosy" coming from the time of the Black Death? No actual evidence of that. We have no source referencing that rhyme before the 19th century, while plague died out in Europe 200 years earlier. I used to teach that as truth. The professor who eventually corrected me once taught that as truth. But they she saw a compelling argument why it can't be true (i.e. how recent the rhyme actually is) and was willing to admit she had been mistaken in the matter.
But we all approach things with a critical eye and weed out the more ludicrous claims floating around the rumor mill. Here are some suggestions and examples:
Tuesday May 21, 2013
One of the interesting things about living in a culture so dominated by a single religion (Christianity) is that people tend to expect all religions are structured similarly. People think every religion have a heaven and hell, and they ask what those religions teach about salvation, when, in fact, salvation is a very Christian idea.
Christianity holds its scriptures in more reverence than just about any other religion. Many religions have some sort of scripture, but they don't argue about improper interpretation of it.
So when a religion provides "rules," "laws" or lists of "sins," it is easy to presume the believers are expected to follow these things to the letter. In many cases this isn't true. Often, many of these ideas are more suggestions than laws. This is certainly the case in LaVeyan Satanism's concepts of sins and laws. While its founder, Anton LaVey, published a list of sins, Satanists are not chastised for committing one, and there's certainly no sense that a deity has been offended. The list gives examples of general bad behavior in light of Satanic philosophy. His list of laws are a guide on how to get through life. They are generally good ideas, but each believer chooses whether they are appropriate for time and place.