Tag Archives: heroes

The X-Files – Issue 4 (Ishmael Pt 1): People on Pedestals

xfiles_iss4_2016

I’ve had this in my pile to read for a while, but have been busy so just got to it. It’s the first installment on a story that explores Dana Scully’s past and her relationship with her father. It’s pretty good, and the artwork is nice, and I love stories that have a connection to Melville’s great novel. But what I wanted to write about is a passage that struck a nerve for me, about putting people on pedestals.

We place people on pedestals and, sometimes, rightly so—but when they reveal themselves to be human we tend to just build a bigger pedestal… instead of allowing for everything they might be at once…

(p. 12)

Dana is expressing her feelings on what happened when she discovered a secret about her father’s past, but this taps into something more universal that I see in society today. We place people on pedestals all the time: sports stars, politicians, writers, musicians, etc. And when these people fail to live up to the expectations we set for them while on the pedestal, there is a tendency to react with anger at what is seen as a personal betrayal. Another thing I see happening is that if anyone challenges or threatens those that are placed on pedestals, people also react with anger, as if it is an attack on them.

I have learned not to place expectations on people. When I do, I am often disappointed. The important lesson here is that no one is perfect and everyone has flaws; but just because someone has flaws, that does not make that person bad or evil, it just makes them human. I think this is something that we should all keep in mind this election season, or before we react to someone’s Facebook post.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading and thinking.

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Rise of the Black Flame: Issue 1 of 5

blackflame_1

On a recent visit to my local comic store, I was surprised that the owner had added this comic to my folder. I inquired about it and was informed that it was a short five-issue offshoot of the Hellboy saga and he thought I would like it. I figured I would give it a try. I’m glad that I did.

The story begins with young girls in Burma being kidnapped and sacrificed as part of a ritualistic ceremony. While this trope may seem a little hackneyed, the strength of the story is in the subtle details within the text. These I found intriguing, even in this short first installment.

Many mystical and spiritual traditions assert that sound or vibration brought everything into existence. In fact, energy, which is the basis of all life and existence, is vibration. This concept is hinted at during an invocation early in the story.

<You are the origin of all things, and devourer of all things.> <Your perfect song can be heard in the void, but also in the hum deep within all living things in this breathing world.> <Though having form, you are formless. Though you are without beginning, so are you without end.>

Also in the short passage, we have hints of Taoism, of form and formlessness combined into one. Additionally, I see references to the ouroboros, the powerful occult symbol of wholeness and infinity.

Ourosboros

Racial and ethnic tensions seem to be running high these days, and this is hinted at in the story. There is a great panel where the British general expresses his racist views by asserting that it is one thing if Burmese children go missing, but British girls disappearing is unacceptable. This corresponds with the tendency in some places to show outrages at the death of a white person, but lack of concern over the death of a black person.

Yes, well, Burmese children might well wander away from home unattended. But two English girls missing is two too many.

Finally, in a nice twist, the strong lead character turns out to be a woman, which I love. We need more strong female characters. So while in the first part of the tale it appears that the lead characters are two men, it shifts and the main characters appear to be two women. I find this a nice balance of the masculine and feminine.

I want to close with one more quote from this issue, which resonated with me.

The world is a great deal stranger–and more dangerous–than most would credit, mon cher.

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Occult Symbolism in “Promethea: Book 2” by Alan Moore

Promethea_2

I’ve read a lot of books in my lifetime, so being completely blown away by a book has become a somewhat rare occurrence for me. This is a book that has completely blown me away. When I finished the last page, it was like a nuclear explosion of consciousness went off within my psyche. I have never seen such complex mystical ideas expressed so clearly and beautifully, both through the text and the illustrations. There is so much occult philosophy embedded in these pages, it’s impossible to do it justice in a short blog post, but I will try. I figure I will lightly touch on some of the themes and ideas that are incorporated into this work, and then elaborate on one chapter that demonstrates the complexity of this book.

Moore draws from a wealth of mythology and occult philosophy in the creation of Promethea, who is essentially the divine feminine manifestation of the Prometheus myth. This alone is a wonderful interpretation of the myth, about the bringing of enlightenment (symbolized by fire) to humankind. But like Yeats’ widening gyres, Moore expands on the myth by incorporating a plethora of allusions to occult philosophies and then ties them all together, showing the connection between the philosophies and myths throughout the millennia. Just to provide a sense of just how much is woven in, there are references to Aleister Crowley, Eliaphas Levi, the Goetia, Faust, the Vedic texts, kundalini, tantric yoga, kabbalah, tarot, alternate planes of existence, and the list goes on. The sheer amount of literary and visual symbolism on just a single page could spawn a lengthy analytical post.

So now I will attempt to give a very high-level summary of Chapter 6, the final chapter in the book.

In this chapter, Promethea, having studied the occult texts provided to her by Faust, realizes she has learned all she can about magick from reading and must now move into experiential learning. So she consults the two snakes that form the Caduceus, or the staff of Hermes. The twin serpents explain the occult history of humanity and all existence through the symbols of the 22 tarot cards that comprise the Major Arcana. Now, the explanation of each card and its symbolic connection to the evolution of being also includes many references to science, genetics, mysticism, numerology, kabbalah, etc. But for simplicity’s sake, I will only provide a brief summary of each card and its occult significance according to this book.

0 – The Fool: Symbolizes the nothingness or quantum void from which time and space are formed.

I – The Magician: Symbolizes the masculine creative urge, embodied in the phallic wand, which generates the initial spark or big bang.

II – The High Priestess: Symbolizes the highest female energy, the foetal darkness where all existence gestates. From her, the cosmos is born.

III – The Empress: Symbolizes fecundity and the seeds of life, along with the four elements. We now have the building blocks for life and consciousness.

IV – The Emperor: Symbolizes the moment when divine energy achieves substantiality.

V – The Hierophant: Symbolizes evolution, the visionary force that guides the first single cells to evolve into the first human hominid.

VI – The Lovers: Symbolizes sacred alchemy and the first spark of divine consciousness in humans.

VII – The Chariot: Symbolizes the advent of early shamanism and mysticism. Through the use of nectar, ambrosia, and soma, consciousness is expanded.

VIII – Justice: Symbolizes period of adjustment, where humans implement laws and build the foundations of civilization.

IX – The Hermit: Symbolizes a phase of entering a cave, from which will emerge a more developed and complex civilization.

X – The Wheel of Fortune: Symbolizes the cyclical rise and fall of civilizations: Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc.

XI – Strength: Symbolizes lust, particularly for power, which is the impetus for conquering empires.

XII – The Hanged Man: Symbolizes man’s dark age, a necessary ordeal which marks the transition from the state of empire. The world is upside down.

XIII – Death: Symbolizes a period of transition, marking the end of dark ages before the rebirth of light.

XIV – Temperance: Symbolizes the Renaissance. Science, art, and beauty are combined alchemically.

XV – The Devil: Symbolizes the decline of the spiritual (Age of Reason). The inverted pentacle has four points (the four elements representing the earthly) while a single point (the spirit) is subjugated and trampled.

XVI – The Tower: Symbolizes Industrial Revolution, culminating in the first World War.

XVII – The Star: Symbolizes the renewed interest in mysticism and the occult following WWI. Here we have the birth of Theosophy, Golden Dawn, etc.

XVII – The Moon: Symbolizes mankind’s darkest hour before the dawn. Insanity. “Auschwitz, Hiroshima, each blight, each tyranny obscures the light.”

XIX – The Sun: Symbolizes the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Here we have new interest in Buddhism, astrology, I-Ching, and so forth.

XX – Judgment Day: Symbolizes the moment of apocalypse which will be brought about by the information age, once we reach the point where speed of technology and information causes a new form of consciousness to be born. (Note: Moore writes that this will occur in the year 2017.)

XXI – The Universe: Symbolizes the moment in which humans transcend the earthly plane of existence.

As I said earlier, there is no way I could do justice to this book in a short blog post. I strongly encourage you to read Promethea. Start with the first book and work through. There are I believe five books total. I have the third already waiting to be read. Expect to hear my thoughts on it soon.

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Jungian Symbolism in “Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters” by Mike Grell

GreenArrow_LongbowHunters

I picked this graphic novel up at last year’s Asheville Comic Expo and got it signed by writer/artist Mike Grell. I have to say that Mike was not the friendliest of the writers and artists I met that day, but whatever. Maybe he was tired or having a rough day. Anyway, it took me a while, but finally got around to reading it and overall I liked the book. I watched the “Arrow” series on TV but had never read any of the graphic novels. I must admit I was happy with this one and would certainly consider reading more in the future.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, the Green Arrow is Oliver Queen, and he is sort of like a cross between Batman and Robin Hood. I actually like that he does not possess any “superhuman” powers and relies on his physical strength and prowess.

In this novel, he is aged and reflecting back on his life. It is during this time that a mysterious female assassin appears who also uses a bow. This woman is systematically killing members of a crime organization who have a shrouded history.

What I found most interesting about the story is that the mysterious woman, known as Shado, is essentially the Jungian shadow aspect of Oliver’s psyche. She is able to kill without remorse, whereas Oliver struggles with moral issues, not wanting to take a life even though doing so is justified.

The hits on the target are only the outward proof of your mastery… like the symbol of the dragon you bear – a symbol of dishonor. Both are meaningless. You have transcended goals. You are the artless art. You are Shado.

(p. 95)

Toward the end, when Oliver faces Shado, it becomes clear that the two are different aspects of the same self, symbolic mirrors of themselves. It is symbolic of Oliver facing that part of himself that he has sought to repress.

Oliver: Why did you bring me here?

Shado: You have been hunting me. At least this way I don’t have to wonder where you are. We are alike, you and I.

Oliver: No. I’m nothing like you.

Shado: No? You want Magnor for what he did to that woman. I want him for what he did to my honor. How is your vengeance different from mine?

(pp. 130 – 131)

I’d like to close this post by talking a little bit about the artwork. It’s very good. Most writers of graphic novels seem to rely on others to create artwork to accompany the story, but Grell handle both the writing and the artwork with equal skill. I was impressed with both, and the fact that Grell did all this on his own is a testament to his artistic talent and versatility.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff!

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Doctor Who – Eleventh Doctor: Year Two – Issue 5

DoctorWho_2-05

While I’ve been following this arc since the beginning, I have not written about any installments in a while. That’s because, while entertaining, there hasn’t been anything that has jumped out at me as being worth expounding on. But this issue addresses a topic that interests me, which is fanaticism.

The problem, you see, is that mindless devotion to a cause is… well… it’s actually repulsively common. Sontarans… Cybermen… Daleks. The loss of the self, faceless efficiency, blah blah blah. Rank and file, back-and-forth, endless attrition. Potato people. That’s how wars are fought. But they’re won by madmen. Those happy to do the unthinkable in pursuit of victory—even if it means their own death.

As I read this, I could not help but think of fanatics in bellicose situations. Whether these individuals are labeled as heroes or terrorists really depends on which side of the conflict you are on. But the sad fact is the same—some people are so driven by the cause they believe in that they are willing to give their life or take the lives of others for an idea or a cause.

I’ve wondered, on occasion, whether there was a cause that I would be willing to sacrifice my life for. It’s a difficult question to answer honestly. I would like to say that for the greater good of humanity, I would sacrifice myself. But would I? I really can’t answer that, because I don’t know. Right now, there is no ideology that I feel so strongly about.

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Star Wars Annual #1

StarWarsAnnual_2015

The Disney – Marvel – Star Wars machine is in full swing. And that’s fine with me. I am enjoying this resurrection of the Force. The only challenge is trying to keep up with all the Star Wars spin-offs and releases, which is why it took me a little while to get around to reading this annual.

The issue is solid and the episode is complete, so it stands on its own quite well. It is about a rebel spy, Eneb Rey, who is undercover as a tax collector named Tharius Demo. He is sent to free some senators slated for execution, but then discovers that the Emperor is scheduled to be there. It is decided to attempt an assassination on the Emperor with the hope of finally defeating the Empire.

I found this an interesting exploration of what constitutes a hero. Is a hero someone who does something spectacular, or the quiet, unseen individual who works silently behind the scenes and whose accomplishments often never come to light? Because I see the hero as an archetype, I think it can embody both, that there are the swaggering hero types, and the shrouded and unsung heroes. And I personally relate to both on varying levels. I think that is why the hero is such a universally attractive archetype.

This tale has some interesting twists, as well as some brief passages examining how media and propaganda are employed in our modern society. As such, it is worth checking out. I found it a quick, interesting, and enjoyable read.

Cheers!

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Why It’s Important to Read “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee

GoSetWatchman

Before I started reading this book, I had heard the harsh criticism directed toward it. I decided not to let it stop me from reading the book and inquired of my Facebook friends if anyone had a copy I could borrow. My friend Amy came forth and said she had one which she had preordered and was still in the box. She said based upon what she heard, she could not bring herself to even open it. I told her I would let her know my thoughts and whether she should read it or not. After finishing, I say yes, read it. Here’s why.

First off, everyone needs to understand that this is not To Kill a Mockingbird, nor is it as good. Let’s be realistic—it would be quite a feat for any author to write two books of that caliber. But there is still an important message here that I feel is relevant to our current society.

OK, yes, Atticus Finch expresses racist ideas in this book. Now ask yourself: Why does that make you so angry and uncomfortable? While racism is repugnant and offensive, Atticus is a fictional character. So this visceral reaction that people have is something more than just a reaction to racism, and this gets to the heart of why reading this book is important. The negative response to this book, in my opinion, is because a person that we have come to idolize, albeit a fictional person, has failed to live up to our idealized expectations. This need that our culture has to expect our heroes and idols to be perfect is a real problem in our society. We place political leaders, sports stars, writers, artists, and so forth, all on pedestals and we want them to be perfect. One flaw, one aspect about them that does not agree with our image of how they should be, and we attack them viciously. It is a serious problem. With the election coming up, I hear people saying “I cannot support ________ because of his/her stance on _________.” It’s not a question of how good the candidate is, or whether that person would be the better leader; it is a question of whether that person meets ALL our expectations. If not, then they are not worthy in our eyes. Now it seems we have projected our expectations of perfection onto fictional characters as well. For me, there is something really wrong with this picture.

The irony here is that having our idols fall from grace is actually what this book is about. In the story, Jean Louise (Scout) sees her father fall from the proverbial pedestal. For many of us, our parents are our first idols, those we look up to for guidance and wisdom. It is often devastating when we are forced to confront the fact that our parents, like all our idols, have their flaws.

It happened so quickly that her stomach was still heaving. She breathed deeply to quieten it, but it would not stay still. She felt herself turning green with nausea, and she put her head down; try as she might she could not think, she only knew, and what she knew was this:

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge. “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.

(p. 113)

Dealing with the disillusion that accompanies the realization that your idols (particularly parental ones) are not what you envision can have profound consequences, as evidenced by the plethora of patients seeking counseling for family issues. This is why it’s important to read this book, and face the fact that no one that we idolize can possibly meet our expectations. The expectations we set for other people by nature are not attainable.

I will close with another quote from this book which I thought was great.

Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.

(pp. 270 – 271)

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“Promethea: Book 1” by Alan Moore

Promethea_1

This has been on my radar for a while. My friend Joshua recommended it to me a while back and I kept telling myself I would read it. Then one day I was in Comic Envy (my favorite comic store), and I decided to buy the first of the five volumes. I asked my friend Darren, the owner, what he thought about the book. He said I would love it, that it is truly mind-blowing.

This is the story about a college student named Sophie Bangs who becomes the incarnation of Promethea, a goddess heroine who reincarnates in women throughout history. The tale is steeped in symbolism, archetypes, and mythology. Promethea is reincarnated as a result of stories written about her and passed on. It is through reading these stories and connecting with the myths that one becomes open to being the latest incarnation. So essentially, this story is about the power of storytelling and the cycles of stories, archetypes, and symbols that are part of the collective consciousness and expressed through art and literature.

There is so much symbolism woven into this book, both visually in the artwork and in the text, that it is beyond the scope of a short blog post to cover it all, so I will just pull out a couple examples which stood out for me.

Some symbols always mean the same thing… and the archetype of Wisdom is eternal.

While many symbols evolve and take on different meanings, I believe that some symbols and archetypes are eternal and express something universal. Moore asserts this succinctly and perfectly in one sentence. It is why some symbols from antiquity still resonate in the modern world and why we still read Homer today.

In the tale, the Sophie incarnation of Promethea discovers she can travel into another realm of consciousness called the Immateria. This is the realm of the spiritual, of the subconscious, and of the imagination. It is the source of creativity and artistic expression and also the realm of the Platonic forms. At one point, Sophie travels there by entering into a deep meditative state and encounters Margaret, an earlier incarnation of Promethea. They discuss the duality of existence and how both realities coexist.

Margaret: I’m Margaret, by the way. You must be Sophie.

Sophie: Uh, yeah. Sophie Bangs. I guess you’re here to meet me because…

Margaret: …Because I’m who you thought about most recently. Yes. The rules are surprisingly simple, once you know them. I’m glad you came Sophie. You need counseling. You need advice.

Sophie: Yeah, that’s what Barbara said. Listen, first off, I am sitting in a hospital imagining this conversation, right?

Margaret: Well, yes. Your body is sitting in a physical location, and this is all in the imagination. Not your imagination, though. The imagination.

Sophie: “The imagination”? You make it sound like there’s only one of them.

Margaret: There is. There’s a material world, and there’s an immaterial world. Both worlds exist, but in different ways. For example, chairs exist. So does the idea of chairs.

I cannot stress how great this graphic novel is. I am fascinated by mythology, symbols, archetypes, and by the transformative power of art and literature. This has it all, beautifully written and illustrated. The artwork is just as inspiring as the text, and also includes a plethora of visual symbolism woven in to the illustrations. I highly recommend this book.

On a closing note, I also wrote a short summary of this graphic novel as a guest blogger on the Book Club Mom blog. Barbara has a great blog and I suggest you check it out. Here is a link to my guest post on her blog.

Book Club Mom

Cheers, and be sure to read something inspiring today.

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“Zealot” by Reza Aslan

Zealot

This book is an attempt to construct an historical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout the book, Aslan emphasizes the distinction between Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus who was a rebellious Jewish preacher during the time of Roman occupation, and Jesus Christ, who was essentially a construct of the founders of the Christian faith.

Early in the book, Aslan clarifies the purpose of Roman crucifixion. This was not a punishment for common criminals, but something reserved for those who rebelled against Roman authority. In fact, the thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus were labeled “lestai,” which was the Latin word for bandit.

“Bandit” was the generic term for any rebel or insurrectionist who rose up against Rome or its Jewish collaborators. To some, the word “bandit” was synonymous with “thief” or “Rabble-rouser.” But these were no common criminals. The bandits represented the first stirrings of what would become a nationalist resistance movement against the Roman occupation. This may have been a peasant revolt; the bandit gangs hailed from impoverished villages like Emmaus, Beth-horon, and Bethlehem. But it was something else, too. The bandits claimed to be agents of God’s retribution. They cloaked their leaders in the emblems of biblical kings and heroes and presented their actions as a prelude for the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth. The bandits tapped into the widespread apocalyptic expectation that had gripped the Jews of Palestine in the wake of the Roman invasion. One of the most fearsome of all the bandits, the charismatic bandit chief Hezekiah, openly declared himself to be the messiah, the promised one who would restore the Jews to glory.

(pp. 18 – 19)

Aslan asserts that the reason that much of what is written in the Bible is historically inaccurate is because people in that time did not differentiate myth from reality the way we do now. Myth expressed spiritual truths and therefore did not need to adhere to historical accuracy.

The readers of Luke’s gospel, like most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality; the two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience. That is to say, they were less interested in what actually happened than in what it meant. It would have been perfectly normal—indeed, expected—for a writer in the ancient world to tell tales of gods and heroes whose fundamental facts would have been recognized as false but whose underlying message would be seen as true.

(p. 31)

From a historical perspective, what made Jesus so much of a threat to Rome and the Jewish priests at the time was his alignment with the zealot movement. This movement sought to overthrow the current socio-political system that ruled over Palestine during that period, thereby ushering in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’s view of the sole sovereignty of God was not all that different from the view of the prophets, bandits, zealots, and messiahs who came before and after him, as evidenced by his answer to the question about paying tribute to Caesar. Actually, his view of God’s reign was not so different from that of his master, John the Baptist, from whom he picked up the phrase “Kingdom of God.” What made Jesus’s interpretation of the Kingdom of God different from John’s, however, was his agreement with the zealots that God’s reign required not just an internal transformation toward justice and righteousness, but a complete reversal of the present political, religious, and economic system.

(pp. 118 – 119)

Aslan spends a lot of time looking at why the writers of the Gospels attempted to present Rome as not responsible for the death of Jesus, laying the blame more on the Jews. Historically, Pilate was a harsh ruler who would never have argued for the life of a peasant Jew. He would have just given the execution order and moved on without a second thought. But the writers of the gospels needed to appeal to Rome in order for their religion to gain acceptance. So instead, they pinned the blame on the Jews.

Thus, a story concocted by Mark strictly for evangelical purposes to shift the blame for Jesus’s death away from Rome is stretched with the passage of time to the point of absurdity, becoming in the process the basis for two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism.

It is, of course, not inconceivable that Jesus would have received a brief audience with the Roman governor, but, again, only if the magnitude of his crime warranted special attention. Jesus was no simple troublemaker, after all. His provocative entry into Jerusalem trailed by a multitude of devotees declaring him king, his act of public disturbance at the Temple, the size of the force that marched into Gethsemane to arrest him—all of these indicate that the authorities viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a serious threat to the stability and order of Judea. Such a “criminal” would very likely have been deemed worthy of Pilate’s attention. But any trial Jesus received would have been brief and perfunctory, its sole purpose to officially record the charges for which he was being executed.

(pp. 192 – 193)

I want to conclude by saying this is a very easy book to read. Although it is history, it reads like a story. It is not just a dry presentation of facts, which makes it an enjoyable read. If you’re at all interested in learning more about the history of that period, then pick up a copy of this book.

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