Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

It was interesting to watch the movie Where the Wild Things Are ... just as news were flashing about a boy whom, they thought, had been taken away in a balloon by accident. The whole story was so outlandish! But it was the timing that I thought was interesting.

Joseph Campbell, the mentor of George Lucas and a lifelong mythology enthusiast, used to see linkages between random events and how they affected the collective psyche of humanity. He was heavily influenced by Carl Jung and his school of analytical psychology.

Joseph Campbell, being a mythographer, was naturally a great storyteller and it was very easy for him to weave meaning into things. One of the main Joseph Campbell stories that I remember was his story about the Earthrise pictures, that is, the pictures that were taken from the moon by the Apollo missions as they saw the Earth rising in the lunar sky.

He explained that this was an epiphany because throughout all of history humans have imagined their Gods as celestial objects. Astrology and mythology were linked intricately in the human psyche. The planets have the names of deities. Now the Earth, we confirmed, was a Goddess also. She was a majestuous heavenly object.

At around the same time as this picture started circulating, the Catholic Church announced that the dogma of the Assumption of Mary into heaven had been declared official doctrine of the Catholic Church and that Catholics had to adhere to this belief. Classical Greeks used similar imagery for their deified mortals. Campbell saw a connection between these two new feminine faces of Divinity and their new status, just as the feminist movement of the sixties and seventies was blossoming and changing human civilization forever. All of our assumptions about womanhood were about to be turned upside down.

According to the Jungian school, there is a collective psyche, and according to Joseph Campbell all of these symptoms in the culture indicated that something was stirring in the collective mind of humanity, something that was feminine, sublime, numinous and powerful, that it was awakening and that there would be no turning back.

I watched the movie Where the Wild Things Are with a friend the day it came out. To me, the movie dealt with child psychology and how children sometimes cope with stress by escaping into their imaginal realm.

But if I was to draw a link with the balloon incident (which took place, curiously, on the eve of the debut of the film) like Joseph Campbell did with the Earthrise and Assumption of Mary incidents, it seems to me like there is a new myth that is being born, an archetypal image that is being constellated in the collective psyche, of a child who was almost spirited away but returned, having gained wisdom or insight from the experience. It is a hero's journey dealing with the evolution of the puer aeternus, the eternal youth, in our culture.

The tendency of the puer aeternus is to be an idealist, to run away from responsibility and reality. I think of Peter Pan, of Michael Jackson, of men who never grew up. Now, I see that he experienced the running away but retains his groundedness. We do not have to fear losing him to the imaginal realm. He can discern the difference between imaginary and objective reality.

The writer of the book on which the movie Where the Wild Things Are is based mentions that the movie is made in such a way that it respects children. Looking at all the crazy things that are being done to children everywhere, from marriage of little girls to grown-ass men in the Muslim world, to the frequent gang-rape of girls in Sudan and South-Africa, child abuse by church and laity everywhere, and even slavery of children in sweatshops in China, India and elsewhere, I'd say that any advance in human rights for minors would be welcome.

It is the misery of the children that produces the need to escape reality, to go 'where the wild things are', and the incentive to never come back ... which ultimately produces dysfunction. If we alleviate said misery, we will find that children are better able to live happily and be wholesome and productive.

Hopefully these are all good omens.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Exodus 22:18 and the Women's Holocaust

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
- Exodus 22:18

Jesus himself said that we 'should know them for their fruits'. I have at times turned this rhetoric around on Christians in my arguments with them and studied the fruits of their own scriptures and the people who wrote them. In addition to the order to commit genocide against gays in Leviticus, I believe that Exodus 22:18 is one of the thorniest verses in the whole Bible, in terms of its fruits.

The month of october always conjures up (for me, at least) Western society's collective memories of the dark ages and the inquisition, particularly the burning of witches, which is a very unpopular subject even today, and many people like to dismiss it saying that those were remote times. I believe it's important to keep it alive in our memory. Should our descendants dismiss the Jewish holocaust when the II World War seems remote enough?

More to the point: Why do we use the word holocaust when we refer to the Jewish tragedy during the II WW, but not when we refer to the inquisition? Clearly we do not want another mass extinction of a whole people, be they Jews or Gentiles. It's no less obscene to think of what the church did to women during the feudal age, yet the rhetoric in the history books is absolutely dishonest when it comes to the genocide of women.

According to some estimates, up to 9 million people, 80% of whom were women, died during the inquisition. This may seem exagerated, but we should keep in mind that this happened over around 300 years, so many generations saw these events, many generations of children had to watch their mothers, aunts and grandmothers being burnt, and there were entire villages in France that were wiped out by the Christian church, including Trière where it is said that no one was left alive, and an adjacent village where only about two people survived, apparently due to the fact that they celebrated festivals that were considered Pagan.

The genocide of women should also be compared to the burning of the Library of Alexandria, except that their cultural treasures were intangible and oral knowledge. With those women, died an entire culture, customs died, traditional songs and fairy tales died, even kitchen recipes died, and the knowledge of how to use certain herbs and medicines. The same herbs that are today used by the pharmaceutical industry, were known by many of these women. A paranoid, murderous, neurotic clergy burnt all of this, and the momentum of thousands of years of European cultural history and infrastructure was halted when they mass murdered all those women. The cultural soul of Europe died, literally, to be replaced by something that was dictated by Christian priests.

The church was particularly worried about the midwives, who challenged their god's will when they tried to relieve the pain of giving birth, which was their god's particular curse upon the women in retaliation for Eve's transgression. They were also accused of propagating abortion and family planning practices ... some things never change.

What's worse, the burning of women was very lucrative for the church. Lawyers made money, people who worked for the legal machine of the inquisition had to be paid, and greed was often the main reason behind the accusation of witchcraft: all of the property of women who were massacred by the church became church property. This is why it so happens that many of the victims were widows: they had no one to protect them and many of them had inherited some property that the church wanted.

We're living in a post-colonial era and history should be told from a more honest perspective. October is the month when we're invaded by imagery of witches: it's plain wrong to forget the voices and the memory of the women who were categorized as witches in feudal Europe, and what those events mean. People were cooked alive due to greed, stupidity, intolerance and superstition. A huge lesson of History (or HERstory, in any case).

We shouldn't want the Jewish holocaust to be forgotten, but also we shouldn't want the holocaust of the women to be forgotten. It should be treated with the same level of solemnity as the Jewish holocaust. Hallowe'en should be reclaimed as an occassion to remember the ghosts of the female ancestors of Europe and their trials and tribulations. This should be a time to tell their story.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


The song Amalia (No Quiere Ir Ebozo) (which translates roughly into 'Amalia don't wanna go husband' in 18th century Black Caribbean Spanish), might be based on a true story of an enslaved African woman who was sold or given to marry against her will and separated from her family. Her voice and story persist today in this sad, but beautiful, wailing bomba - which is an ecstatic Afro-diasporic musical genre from the Spanish Caribbean island of Borinquen.

In addition to the compassion that it awakens and the natural, organic flow of the song, I think one reason why I love this song so much is because history was told to us from the perspective of the conquerors. The conquered, often not even knowing how to read or write, had no other resource outside of their music, and so they danced their pain away. Amalia is a song which was preserved in this way: it is memory which is reproduced in the body of the bomba dancer. It is a dramatized, danced, intangible historical document. The ancestors dance and raise their voices, long forgotten, and tell history from their viewpoint through bomba, and now with the magic of the internet the whole world can hear them!

Amalia was popularized by salsa giant Willie Colón, then by legendary performer Héctor Lavoe. The version in this video is from William Cepeda, from one of the most well known bomba families in Puerto Rico.