I remembered reading this book in my junior history seminar in undergrad, along with the Iliad and the Aeneid, but I didn't remember the book itself.I remembered reading this book in my junior history seminar in undergrad, along with the Iliad and the Aeneid, but I didn't remember the book itself. After I re-read it in February 2015 (in part to see the relation, if any, of the eponymous hero to the similarly named hero of Stephen King's Dark Tower series), the reason for not remembering it is obvious—it just isn't memorable.
As other reviewers have noted, this "epic" poem is more or less a placeholder between the larger epics that precede and follow it chronologically, in much the same way that the time period it reflects is seen as something of a placeholder between antiquity and modernity.
The plot of the story is fairly simple: one Christian noble betrays another to Muslim treachery on the borderlands between "Spain" and "France"; the one whom is betrayed, Roland, holds off calling for reinforcements until it is too late; the reinforcements, in the form of Charlemagne (conflated with William the Conqueror in the poem), arrive in time to kick Muslim/Saracen/pagan ass (setting a precedent, at least rhetorically, for the next millennium); and divine justice allows Charlemagne to hold the betrayer and his kin to account.
The poem is interesting in what it reveals about the changing sense of Christian (and national) identity in Middle Age Europe and about the hostility toward and utter lack of understanding of Islam on the part of Christendom (the hostility is somewhat understandable in light of the rapid spread of Islam in the 8th century; the ignorance was downright laughable). ...more
Interesting and stylized art, reminiscent of some of the stuff I saw in Heavy Metal growing up, in the service of a surreal and less-than-comprehensInteresting and stylized art, reminiscent of some of the stuff I saw in Heavy Metal growing up, in the service of a surreal and less-than-comprehensible narrative about political and social revolutions, fathers and sons, alien ancient Egyptian space gods, and a hot blue-haired woman who cries indigo tears. It was originally written in French, he notes, by way of explanation. (And, alas, the film version of the story, Immortal, really didn't help me making sense of things. Like the man said, it's French.)...more
With a twinkle in his jolly old Archdruid eye, JMG set out to make an easy buck off the 2012 apocalypse by writing a book on how the 2012 apocalypse iWith a twinkle in his jolly old Archdruid eye, JMG set out to make an easy buck off the 2012 apocalypse by writing a book on how the 2012 apocalypse is hooey. This book presents a breezy history of the very idea of the apocalypse, of the notion that at some point (usually quite soon) the world and history would end, once and for all.
While I didn't seriously believe Terence McKenna's TimeWave Zero prediction about the end of time in 2012, I'd known about this obscure prophecy for decades before it became a pop cultural meme. Looking forward to 2012 provided me some comfort in the wake of the Y2K and millennial nonevents and the all-too-real events of 9/11/2001. I say comfort because I was raised in a home with a father who was exploring the apocalyptic fringes of Pentacostal Christianity, and so there has always been a part of me that expects the world to end right fucking now.
This image hung in my dad's workshop. It depicts the Rapture.
This is like the Episode 1 version of the previous picture, with a new and improved Jesus and 25% more resurrected Christians in glorified bodies.
This one's kinda pretty, with a New Agey feel and a Tibetan color scheme.
This is like the Periodic Table of Rapturology.
I still remember (though he doesn't) the time my dad explained to me that the world would end in 1992 because the dates in the Bible added up thusly. I became a stoner mystic in fall 1992. Coincidence? Jesus is like, "Dude, what took you so long?"
Waking up on December 22, 2012 was slightly weird. I had expected something after all, and nothing had happened. And yet something had happened. I had finally realized that I had responsibility for my own life, in a deep, fundamental way. That's what this book is actually all about. That and history.
Greer traces the apocalypse meme back to Zoroaster and a dysfunctional, as it turns out, reinterpretation of the cyclical procession of the equinoxes. The Jews picked it up during the Babylonian Captivity, Christianity was forged in the crucible of apocalyptic expectations, and Islam inherited the same family resemblance. Chinese Buddhists and Daoists picked it from up along the Silk Road, and later from Christian missionaries.
One of Greer's insights is that secular utopian thinking is a contemporary form of the apocalypse meme, of the notion that history can end and in fact has ended with us, here, now, in the perfect present moving into an ever more perfect future. It is a function of what Greer calls the myth of progress. And the meme, whether in religious or secular form, in apocalyptic or utopian drag, serves the same basic purpose, to assuage our own personal fears of change, of death, and of dying. And of taking responsibility to live in the face of those realities.
It's the emotional payoffs of apocalyptic faith here and now... that explain the extraordinary persistence of the meme over more than three thousand years of history. (197)
The apocalypse meme... encourages people to believe in promises of a kind that will never be fulfilled. (200)
The apocalypse meme is not really about the end of the world, or more precisely, it's not about the kind of end that the world, or humanity, or contemporary industrial civilization, or each of our lives, will actually have. At the center of the apocalypse meme is the insistence that those endings aren't for us—that, as Joseph Rutherford insisted, millions now living will never die. (207)
I have vague recollections of this series from my childhood. It was fun and brought back some interesting memories. It has inspired a new kick, one thI have vague recollections of this series from my childhood. It was fun and brought back some interesting memories. It has inspired a new kick, one that follows up on my Germanic paganism marathon, and that is to read all of the Camelot mtyhos stuff I have on hand. ...more
I've been on a Germanic paganism kick lately, having read the Poetic Edda, Colum's Norse Gods and Heroes, Ellis Davidson's Gods and Myths of NortI've been on a Germanic paganism kick lately, having read the Poetic Edda, Colum's Norse Gods and Heroes, Ellis Davidson's Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, the Saga of the Volsungs, and the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf in the last couple of months. I have also watched Joss Whedon's brilliant Avengers movie a half-dozen times in that same time period. I guess the two fascinations came together when I browsed the graphic novel shelves at the Urbana Free Library, and brought home a handful of Thor titles. I was never really into Marvel's Thor when I was a kid (until he grew a beard; he needed a beard), or the Avengers for that matter, but I wanted to give this title and character a chance. Writer Warren Ellis, whose stuff is hit-or-miss with me, did a good enough job of keeping me interested, and I appreciated the tacit admission that Marvel's Thor is as much like Superman, that is to say, an alien space god in love with the people of his adopted homeworld, as he is the mythical Norse god of thunder. ...more
Surprisingly entertaining book, recounting the family fortunes of an early Icelandic family, and focusing on the travails of one Egil Skallagrimson, aSurprisingly entertaining book, recounting the family fortunes of an early Icelandic family, and focusing on the travails of one Egil Skallagrimson, a viking, murderer, and poet. Amazing to consider that families in Iceland trace their heritage back to awesome characters like these....more
After reading Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, followed by John Gardner's response, Grendel, I pored over my bookshelves in search of moreAfter reading Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, followed by John Gardner's response, Grendel, I pored over my bookshelves in search of more Norse myth and Germanic paganism to explore. This book is a thoroughly enjoyable translation of a 13th century Icelandic prose version of still earlier mythico-historic epic poetry. (Some of this source material is covered in another book I am reading, Carolyne Larrington's translation of the Poetic Edda.) Dragons are slain, passions enflamed and thwarted, and tragic destinies fulfilled; it is no surprise that this material has been revisited by poets, storytellers, and composers over the centuries. ...more
Heaney's translation of this Anglo-Saxon epic tears the arm off of the monstrous version I had to read in high school. Ha ha. Seriously, though, HeaneHeaney's translation of this Anglo-Saxon epic tears the arm off of the monstrous version I had to read in high school. Ha ha. Seriously, though, Heaney's verses really flow and make for an engaging read, particularly for a poem. I also appreciated that the Anglo-Saxon/Old English was printed on the verso page, to accompany the English translation on the recto side. (Recto side aside, English translated into English? How wyrd.)
It was fun to read the original aloud on occasion, using my meager knowledge of Icelandic to help with pronunciation. The only change I would request in an updated edition would be more footnotes explaining the rationale behind the translation, since it is obvious, at least to me, that the compact and punchy quality of the Anglo-Saxon (check out the literal rendering on Wikipedia's Old English page to see what I mean) didn't carry over into the longer, free-flowing verses of the translation. When I briefly flirted with translating Tibetan into English, my graduate advisor suggested sticking as closely as possible to the cadence, word order, assonance, etc. of the original, while also rendering the meaning as clearly as possible in the new language. Heaney doesn't do that here, and it would be nice to see a translator make that attempt. That said, I don't plan on splitting anyone's helm over this translation, and if I had any gold torques to give to Heaney for his efforts, I most certainly would. ...more
[THOMAS:] We are forging a cosmology that embraces humanity as a species, one that does not ignore the special cultural con
**spoiler alert** 4.5 stars
[THOMAS:] We are forging a cosmology that embraces humanity as a species, one that does not ignore the special cultural contributions of each continent, but that enhances these differences. Each tradition is irreplaceable. Not one can be reduced to any other. Each is vital to the work of the future. Each will flower beyond telling in fruitful interaction with the rest in the overall embracing story of the cosmos.
During the first centuries of the modern period, such a situation was impossible. An antagonism existed between modern ways of knowing and traditional ways of life and belief. Perhaps this was necessary; the scientific enterprise needed austere isolation from both the animistic attitudes of the tribal period and the spatial cosmologies of classical civilizations. Scientific understanding was too new and too different to fit into previously existing modes of human awareness; it needed to establish its own canons, procedures, and experiments without reference to anything outside itself.
The great wonder is that this empirical, rational journey of science should have any contact at all with spiritual traditions. But in our century, the mechanistic period of science opened out to include a science of mystery: the encounter with the ultimacy of no-thing-ness that is simultaneously a real of generative potentiality; the dawning recognition that the universe and Earth can be considered as living entities; the awareness that the human person, rather than a separate unit within the world, is the culminating presence of a billion-year process; and the realization that, rather than having a universe filled with things, we are enveloped by a universe that is a single energetic event, a whole, a unified, multiform, and glorious outpouring of being. (39–40)
[THOMAS:] Drawn into existence by allurement, giving birth, then drawing others into existence—this is the fundamental dynamism of the cosmos. In this we can see the meaning of human life and human work. The star's own adventure captures the whole story. It is created out of the creations of the fireball, enters into its own intense creativity, and sends forth its works throughout the galaxy, enabling new orders of existence to emerge. It gives utterly everything to its task—after its stupendous creativity, its life as a star is over in one vast explosion. But—through the bestowal of its gifts—elephants, rivers, eagles, ice jams, root beer floats, zebras, Elizabethan dramas, and the whole living Earth, become possible. Love's dynamism is carved into the principal being of the night sky. (58)
THOMAS: To begin with, understand that humans are not unique in having to suffer. Nor are humans unique in being violent. We live in a violent universe. Violence fills the cosmos in various forms, and human violence is only one of these. Violence is a universal fact, but not the dominant fact of the universe. The great mystery is not violence, but beauty. We note the violence, all the more amazed that such stupendous graciousness and beauty should exist anywhere at all.
YOUTH: But where does violence come from?
THOMAS: Destruction has its root in the allurement permeating the universe. Allurement is the source of all activity, even destructive activity. The star, responding to allurement, destroys itself. No one comes from outside to demolish the star. The star implodes, smashing itself into a trillion parts—its journey is ended. Or imagine the violence of two stars colliding under mutual gravitational attraction. The fire would be splashed in every direction for millions of miles. Such tremendous violence, yet see the graciousness of hundreds of billions of stars swirling in the galactic dance.
The biological world knows all sorts of violence. The same urge that draws the lion to the river for water draws it on to kill the wildebeest. Insects are so intent to stretch forth and explore that world that they will devour their own parents if they cannot find other food. Fascination with living, the enchantment of being alive, the beauty of the surrounding world—all these draw creatures into violent acts and into the destruction of being, but after four billion years into life on Earth, what beauty has blossomed forth! There is danger in the natural world, a constant challenge, excitement, violence, risk, and terror, but out of this emerges the wonder of the Earth. (71–2)
[THOMAS:] We need to study the cosmic story, the Earth story, the human story, until we know it in its essential forms. A person who does not know the story of the universe is not yet living up to human destiny. But this knowing is not only cerebral; to know they story of life includes eating natural foods; to know the story of human civilizations means feeling the profound intuitions they achieved; and to know the story of the universe means to allow the great, numinous past to come alive in your present being.
YOUTH: You know, this is so different from everything I was taught. I have never once thought of studying history in this way, so that the universe could come alive in me.
THOMAS: I realize that. The switch out of an attitude where the human is the center of everything, to a biocentric and cosmocentric orientation where the universe and the Earth are the fundamental referents, is the radical transformation that we are presently involved with. It is disruptive. We are so quickly confused because we are accustomed to forgetting the Earth and cosmos to focus on the human world. But when you begin to grow into this larger way of living, you will discover new freedom, and a vast vision of being that makes the struggle worthwhile. (107)
[THOMAS:] Yes: death is terrifying. Do not belittle it. Do not try to reduce this. Do not project your puny ideas upon it. But use death's wareness as you would a fuel or lamp: as a secret guide who will lead you into the unknown and mysterious caverns of your self so that you can bring forth what you truly are. Your creativity needs your awareness of death for its energy, just as your muscles need long and painful workouts. Cherish your awareness of death as a gift to you from the universe. If you did not have this way of seeing the infinite significance of each moment, would anything have the power to get your out there to live your life?
What is especially exciting about our own time is the vision of the death of the species, and of the planet as a whole. Frightening, terrible, horrible—yes, certainly. But this is exactly what has the power to ignite the deepest riches within us. We can no longer live within the previous world-picture. We know that we have to do something, create and change in the essential dimension of things. The terrifying vision of an Earth gone black is psychic food for the human species. It brings us the energy that we need to re-invent ourselves as the mind and heart of the planet. We now take our first steps into the planetary and cosmic dimensions of being, moving out of the antropocentric modern period and into the cosmocentric, unfolding universe.
YOUTH: But what does it mean to become the mind and heart of the planet?
THOMAS: To live in an awareness that the powers that created the Earth reflect on themselves through us. That's why wee are discussing the night sky, the sea, and the land. Each of these reveals cosmic powers that we are to have and become. We are to live as alluring and remembering activity, as shimmering sensitivity. And this means the cosmic dynamic revealed by the life forms: surprise and adventure. Call it play; adventurous and surprising play. That's what life reveals; that's what life is.(118–9)
[THOMAS:] The human form of life can be considered the child of the Earth. This is especially clear when we examine the anatomies of other primates. The head of an infant chimpanzee resembles the head of an infant human in size and shape, but as the chimpanzee reaches adulthood, its head changes in significant ways. The human head remains comparatively the same infant head, only larger. In fact, the infant chimpanzee's head looks more like an adult human's head than its own future adult shape. This dynamic, in which the qualities of the young are retained into mature stages, is called neoteny. We can then begin to understand the human as an eternal child. The first human types were young primates who never "left" their youth. The shapes of their juvenile bodies were retained into adulthood, as was their juvenile behavior. The great accomplishment of the human form, then, was the creation of a mature form of childhood, a form of life that, upon reaching adulthood, could continue to devote itself to a lifetime of adventurous play. (121)
THOMAS: ... Let's just hope we can emulate some of the achievements of the prokaryotes?
YOUTH: In what ways?
THOMAS: To begin with, it would be wonderful if we could contribute something as essential to the Earth's life as oxygen. All the animals depend on the prokaryotes' creativity. Do you think Homo sapiens could match that one, or even come close to the value of our little microscopic cousins?
Secondly, we must act on our innate desires with the confidence that these are not disconnected from the Earth process as a whole. We are just now discovering a deep disgust with the industrial excesses of our consumer society. This disgust is genetically anchored, just as the cancers and other industrial diseases are genetically anchored. Our disgust and our diseases are Earth's way of making clear for us what activities are required.
Thirdly, and most importantly, we must embrace and cherish our dreams for the Earth. We are creating with our imaginations a period of rebuilding, where the intercommunion of all species will guide our life activities. We must come to understand that these dreams of ours do not originate in our brains alone. We are the space where the Earth dreams. We are the imagination of the Earth, that precious realm where visions and organizing hopes can be spoken with a discriminating awareness not otherwise present in the Earth system. We are the mind and heart of the Earth only in so far as we enable Earth to organize its activities through self-reflexive awareness. That is our larger destiny: to allow the Earth to organize itself in a new way, in a manner impossible through all the billions of years preceding humanity. Who knows what rich possibilities await a planet—and its heart and mind—that have [sic] achieved this vastly more rich and complex mode of life? <138–9)
[THOMAS:] Remember how elementary particles spontaneously erupt out of no-thing-ness, the ultimate realm of generation? Emptiness is permeated with the urgency to leap forth. The difficulty is with language: when we say emptiness, we fail to evoke any sense of awe for the truth of the matter.
We can use another word: the ground of being is generosity. The ultimate source of all that is, the support and well of being, is Ultimate Generosity. All being comes forth and shines, glimmers and glistens, because the root reality of the universe is generosity of being. That's why the ground of being is empty: every thing has been given over to the universe; all existence has been poured forth; all being has gushed forth because Ultimate Generosity retains no thing. (146)
YOUTH: I don't know whether to be excited or angry. There's so much, I'm so full of questions and plans, and I know it's going to leak away. I know I'll forget so much of this. Can you help me remember somehow?
THOMAS: We are talking about powers, and we've discussed six of them altogether: allurement, sensitivity, memory, adventurous play, unseen shaping, and celebration....We've pointed out ways in which they are presented to us. That is, we looked at the night sky and reflected on allurement. We examined the seas and talked of absorptions, assimilation, and sensitivity in general.... We say the dynamic of memory in the way the land remembers. We looked at the life forms and found there the presence of adventurous play, in exploration, free activity, and imagination.... Then we considered the flame, probing the meaning of the self, seeing in each of these the presence of unseen shaping. Finally, we considered wind and saw there the expansion of being, the dynamic of celebration. So: the night sky, sea, land, life forms, fire, wind. That's easy enough to remember. (149)
[THOMAS:] If the collision of tectonic plates gives rise to earthquakes, the emergence of the cosmic story gives rise to humanquakes. Think of it! For the first time in human history, we have in common an origin story of the universe that already captivates minds on every continent of our planet. No matter what racial, religious, cultural, or national background, humans now have a unifying language out of which we can begin to organize ourselves, for the first time, on the level of species.
All societies throughout human history have rooted themselves in fundamental stories of the cosmos. Out of their primal stories humans define what is real and what is valuable, what is beautiful, what is worthwhile, what to be avoided, what to be pursued. Modern society is no different. We too use our basic cosmology to assign power positions, making all crucial life decisions on the basis of these fundamental world views.
We are now restructuring our fundamental vision of the world. We are creating a new meaning for what we consider real, valuable, to be avoided, or pursued. The new cosmic story emerging into human awareness overwhelms all previous conceptions of the universe for the simple reason that it draws them all into its comprehensive fullness. And most amazing of all is the way in which this story, thought it comes from the empirical scientific tradition, corroborates in profound and surprising ways the ecological vision of the Earth celebrated in every traditional native spirituality of every continent. Who can learn what this means and remain calm? (161–2)
THOMAS: As you listen to this language, which is Earth's language, you become shaped by words. Your attention forms within words, your desires are shaped by words, your visions of the future are ignited by words.In all of this, the universe shapes you, shapes itself through you so that it might become more intensely present to itself through the unfurling of self-reflexive awareness.
Our primary teacher is the universe. The universe evokes our being, supplies us with creative energy, insists on a reverent attitude toward everything, and liberates us from our puny self-definition. The universe gives us fire and teaches us its use. (167)
[THOMAS:] And that's why I condense our contemporary cosmological scientific story of reality by saying that the universe is a green dragon. Green, because the whole universe is alive, an embryogenesis beginning with the cosmic egg of the primeval fireball and culminating in the present emergent reality. And a dragon, too, nothing less. Dragons are mystical, powerful, emerging out of mystery, disappearing in mystery, fierce, benign, known to teach humans the deepest reaches of wisdom. And dragons are filled with fire. Though there are no dragons, we are dragon fire. We are the creative, scintillating, searing, healing flame of the awesome and enchanting universe. (171)
In this, the follow-up and companion to Drumming at the Edge of Magic, Grateful Dead percussionist Hart and his collaborators artfully arrange excerIn this, the follow-up and companion to Drumming at the Edge of Magic, Grateful Dead percussionist Hart and his collaborators artfully arrange excerpts, extracts, and images from the previous volume's primary source material. Planet Drum draws on many of the same graphic design principles as its contemporaries in the Time-Lifen Mysteries of the Unknown series, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of this book it means that there is oftentimes too much unused space on the page. Hart's CD of the same name, released in parallel, is quite listenable, but I wish the music on the disc could have been more explicitly cued to the book. In retrospect, these were the deficiencies in the book and CD that led to their being winnowed from my library in the first place....more
The theme Greer develops here will not be unfamiliar to regular readers of his blog: peak oil, a phenomenon discussed in several of his other recent bThe theme Greer develops here will not be unfamiliar to regular readers of his blog: peak oil, a phenomenon discussed in several of his other recent books, means that the global, industrial economy is in for a sustained economic contraction, resulting in great reductions in our standards of living and the frustration of expectations that we have long-taken for granted. This sense of entitlement, however frustrated, comes with what Greer describes as the "civil religion" of Progress and means that,
industrial societies around the world behave as though a future of continued technological advance, economic expansion, and global socio-political integration is guaranteed, and projects that will only make sense if such a future were to happen...proceed apace, even in regions where by most measures decline has already begun. (42)
He uses the typology of Kübler-Ross's "five stages" to describe the ways in which we are responding—or failing to respond—to the implications of peak oil. I don't think too many readers would meet his definition of "acceptance," and I cannot completely give up my own utopian hopes and dystopian fears. You might not agree with every one of Greer's arguments, but he is a reasoned, thoughtful writer who will definitely challenge deeply held assumptions....more
This book is steeped in meaningful coincidence, which is kind of odd, considering it is a "For Dummies" book, not exactly the first place I would searThis book is steeped in meaningful coincidence, which is kind of odd, considering it is a "For Dummies" book, not exactly the first place I would search for a synchronicity or two. I purchased it at the local Gooodwill for $.75 and later that same evening received an unexpected invitation from friends to see The Hobbit. Some of the info from this book (written before the release of The Return of the King) helped set the "extraneous" material from Jackson's Hobbit into the larger context of Tolkien's mythos and confirmed my positive opinion of the latest film.
The real strangeness involves the author, Greg Harvey. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I have worked for over eight years. Stranger still, he was working on his Master's degree in the Humanities in the area of Philosophy and Religion with a concentration in Asian and Comparative Studies (PAR-ACS) at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, at the same time I was there doing doctoral coursework in the same field! (To my recollection, we never met.)
All of that made this a hard book to review "objectively." Luckily, the book is excellent on its own merits, in addition to resonating oddly with my own particular life circumstances. Harvey explores Tolkien's world-canon with a broad understanding of philosophy, religion, literature, and languages, and uncovers many insights along the way. This is a definite recommendation for the fan of TLOTR who wants to dig a little deeper, but maybe not go all the way and read The Silmarillion....more