07 April 2024

Northern European Food Curse – Salicylate Sensitivity

"Kitchen Scene" by van Rijck (17th century)
There is a well-known trope about British people having the runs after a night eating curry. One of the reasons for this, at least for some, is salicylate sensitivity – a heritable food intolerance that many people know nothing about, though it is estimated to affect perhaps around 2.5% of Europeans. An allergy specialist I saw years ago described the phenomenon as “edge of the world syndrome”, she told me that on some days every person in her waiting room with food sensitivities was red-haired, and explained that many people with northern European ancestry are today eating a diet that is utterly alien to that of their ancestors. Basically, northern Europeans adapted to eating a diet that was, for the most part, naturally low in salicylates. In so doing some of them lost the ability to efficiently metabolise the higher amounts of salicylates naturally found in the skin of most fruit, herbs and spices (as well as many vegetables) found further south on the globe – foods that are becoming increasingly common in modern Western diets. Today, many people put up with the symptoms of salicylate sensitivity because the symptoms are either mild enough to ignore or because they don’t understand the root cause of troubling health issues. 

There seems to be a cultural reluctance to point out that there are some significant genetic differences between ethnic groups. If east Asian people live longer then surely their diet is healthier for all humans? Not necessarily – because ethnic groups evolved for tens of thousands of years apart from each other and in so doing their ancestors who flourished did well on food native to their homelands. Northern Europeans prospered on a diet based on animal products, supplemented by small amounts of highly seasonal and localised nuts, fruit and vegetables. Within the last few thousand years grains and legumes (which are mostly low salicylate) were added to the mix. The overwhelming majority of fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices and long-life foods commonly eaten today were totally unavailable. Even the much praised Mediterranean diet is too exotic for people with salicylate sensitivity. By comparison, traditional northern European food tends to be naturally much lower in salicylates, eg, oatmeal with sugar and milk, yoghourt, bread and cheese, bacon and eggs, pancakes, custard, baked pear and cream, fish and chips with mushy peas, fish pie, roast lamb with carrots and parsnips, steak with mashed potato and brussel sprouts, baked potato with sour cream and chives, kasha, ham and pea soup, beef and carrot stew, etc.

15 September 2023

The Hyperboreans and Their Connection with Apollo

Apple Tree in Blossom by Larsson (before 1919)
In the 5th century BCE Herodotus wrote of the Hyperboreans, a word which literally means “over Boreas”. Boreas is the Hellenic God of the north wind, sometimes conceived of as living in Thrace, which is more or less the land we now call Bulgaria. Herodotus described the Hyperboreans thus:

“A man of Proconnesus [a Greek town in modern day NW Turkey], one Aristeas … came to the Issedones [ancient people who lived in central Asia] and, being inspired by Apollo, wrote a poem in which he declared that above the Issedones there lived a tribe of Arimaspians, being men with one eye, and, above these, the griffins [birds sacred to Apollo] that guard the gold, and, above these, the Hyperboreans, whose land reaches to the sea. All of these people, beginning with the Arimaspians and excepting only the Hyperboreans, continually make war upon their neighbours. The Issedones, say Aristeas, were thrust out of their lands by the Arimaspians, the Scythians [ancient people who lived in and around Crimea] by the Issedones, and the Cimmerians [ancient people who lived north of the Caucasus], living by the southern sea, being hard pressed by the Scythians, also left their country …

Considering the Hyperboreans, then, the Scythians have nothing to tell, nor do any of the other people who live in those parts, except, perhaps for the Issedones … But Hesiod does talk about the Hyperboreans, and so does Homer …

But far the most that is told about these people comes from the Delians [of the Greek island Delos, said to be the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis]. These say that holy offerings come wrapped in wheat straw from the Hyperboreans into Scythia, and, after the Scythians, each of their neighbours successively forwards these offerings to the point furthest west, at the Adriatic, and, as they conveyed to the south, the people of the Dodona [in NW Greece, a location sacred to Zeus and which had a famous oracle] are the first Greeks to receive them, and from there they … are carried … from city to city … to Tenos, and the Tenians carry them to Delos. That is how, they say, the offerings get to Delos. They say too that on the first journey the Hyperboreans sent, to bring the offerings, two girls, whom the Delians call Hyperoche and Laodice. With them, for safety’s sake, the Hyperboreans sent along with them five men as escort, citizens of their own, those who are now called Peripherees and have great honour in Delos. But when those whom the Hyperboreans sent did not come home again, the Hyperboreans made a great outcry that it should always be their lot to send out men who never came back; and so they have the offerings borne, wrapped in wheaten straw, to their borders and bid their neighbours convey them from their own land to the next. And so, they say, by this form of constant escort the offerings come to Delos. I myself know of something like this done with offerings; for the Thracian and Paeonian women [from north of Greece], when they sacrifice to Queen Artemis, have their offerings packed in wheat straw.

06 July 2023

Demons in Buddhism

Demon Priest by Tawanabe Kyosai (1864)
I have been a little obsessed with demons for a while now, mostly in terms of wanting to understand their fundamental nature. I strongly suspect that many of the deities we call demons are actually deities of rival pantheons, and the process of “demonisation” is designed to strengthen the legitimacy of one religion over another. It may even be that some neglected deities become wrathful and seemingly demonic (while others leave desecrated locations or just lose interest in humans). I tend towards believing in voluminous polytheism, by which I mean there are many types of deities, and some of them really are demonic, as conventionally understood.

I recently watched a horror movie called “Incantation” (original title: “Zhou”) – I didn’t enjoy it but was genuinely spun out by it afterwards and thought about it for weeks. The effectiveness of the film was that it used Buddhist themes and turned them upside down, so that instead of Buddhist practice and iconography being benevolent (which is what I have associated with Buddhism my whole life – I was raised as a Buddhist) it delved into the world of curses and demonology. When I sat before the Mandala on my shrine to do some chanting I was reminded that demons are depicted on it – in particular Mara, Hariti and the Ten Demon Daughters. The reason for this is that the Mandala represents the universe in its entirety. I have also heard it said that the Mandala I pray before (called the Gohonzon) is a mirror – and a mirror does not show you only the things you want to see, but everything in you, including the potentiality to become demonic.

The traditional Buddhist approach to the demonic
In Buddhism there are multiple realms of existence, most prominently including the realms of:
  • Devas / Gods – joy and contentment.
  • Asuras / Demons / Devils / Demi Gods – anger, animosity, arrogance and belligerence.
  • Humans – intermittent suffering, as well as calmness and self-discipline.
  • Animals – instinct (fear, sex, predatoriness, the thrill of the hunt, etc).
  • Preta / Hungry ghosts – insatiable hunger and unquenchable desire.
  • Naraka / Hell – misery, pain, rage and self-destructiveness.
When we talk of the demonic in a Buddhist context we are drawing from the ancient Indian understanding of the cosmos – including what the Vedas (1500-1200 BCE) refer to as Asuras. The Asuras are almost identical to the Greco-Roman Titans and the Germanic Jötun. It is probably more useful to consciously take on an Indo-European perspective, rather than a Christian one, when trying to comprehend them. Like Titans and Jötun, Asuras are described as being in conflict with the Gods. They are said to be dominated by anger, egotism, perversity and aggressiveness. Unlike most animals, hungry ghosts and hell creatures they are sophisticated, deceptive and powerful. They are said to encourage others to engage in shameful acts, greed and foolishness, and they have the power to curse, ie, to cause negative influences that erode our happiness.

19 May 2023

What Western Polytheists Can Learn from Muslims

"Choosing the Rose" by Portaels (1860s)
Islam is said to be the fastest growing religion in the world. Currently around a quarter of all people on earth identify as Muslim. According to Pew Research:

“If current demographic trends continue … Muslims – a comparatively youthful population with high fertility rates – are projected to increase by 73% … As a result … by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30% of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31%), possibly for the first time in history.”

Conversion to Islam also seems to be relatively common, with nearly a quarter of American Muslims being converts, so the Islamic growth factor is not only down to having more children. 

There is undeniably something dynamic about Islam, and Muslim communities appear to be getting at least some of the crucial aspects of being human very right. Most praiseworthy is the Islamic reverence, or at least strong respect, for mothers – the saying goes “heaven lies beneath the feet of mothers”. By way of example, when a young man asked Muhammad if he could join the military (because he longed to do so) though his mother objected, Muhammad is said to have replied “stay with your mother. I swear to the God Who chose me as prophet that the spiritual reward which you receive for serving her even one night and making her happy with your presence, is greater than a one-year long holy war”. A more contemporary example of the Islamic reverence for mothers took place in Morocco after the 2022 FIFA world cup, when the Moroccan team (who had just become the first ever Arab team to reach the semi-finals) was honoured by the King along with their mothers, after heart-warming videos had gone viral throughout the Islamic world of players running to embrace their mothers after winning a match.

Any spiritual tradition that venerates motherhood is operating in accord with the regenerative aspect of nature. When we look at the most prominent Gods of ancient Rome we see what aspects of nature they revered most: Venus and Mars – thus love, fertility and virility (Mars is not only a God of war but also agriculture). To get these very fundamental things right is to light the path to success, though it’s clearly a path on which many descendants of Europa have lost their way. It is not so much that we are not sexually active but that too few of us are in long term relationships.* This not ideal, as a tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses demonstrates:

21 October 2022

The Heimdall Caste System in Germanic Polytheism

"Heimdall returns Freyja's necklace" (1846) by Nils Blommer
In the Rigsthula what appears to be a Germanic caste system is described:
  • The caste of Thralls (slaves and landless workers) – they are often physically ugly (sometimes even deformed) but strong, hardworking and useful members of their community, though men and women live together they are unmarried and their sons have names like Weather-beaten, Barn-cleaner, Sluggard, Shorty, Fatty and Stinker, while their daughters have names such as Skinny-hips, Fat-calf, Gossip and Beak-nose.
  • The caste of Freemen (landholding farmers, artisans and soldiers) – they are skilled and industrious workers, eg, the men are skilled at wood carving, working the plough, and building wagons, barns and homes, while the women engage in wool-spinning and weaving; their hair is tidy and they wear nicely tailored clothes; they are married (they've “exchanged rings”) and their children are described as red-haired and keen-eyed; their sons have names like Manly, Brave, Swordsman, Soldier, Smith, Farmer and Trim-beard, while their daughters have names such as Sensible, Smart, Swan, Lady, Shy and Vivacious.
  • The caste of Nobles (aristocracy, military leaders and shamans) – their skin is pale, their fingers are long, their hair is blonde, their eyes are piercing, they are wise, understand the language of birds, know the runes, and the spells associated with them; the men are skilled at using weapons, horse-riding, hunting, swimming and war – causing them to own large estates and treasure, with which they are generous; couples love each other deeply and their children have names such as Noble, Kinsman, Heir and King.
The three castes share the same divine, paternal ancestor – being Heimdall the White, as it says in the Voluspa:

“Heed my words, all classes of men, you greater and lesser children of Heimdall [J Crawford, The Poetic Edda, 2015, Hackett].”

25 September 2022

Interpreting the Gohonzon (Buddhist Object of Veneration)

The object of veneration in Nichiren Buddhism is the Gohonzon, a sacred mandala which practitioners are encouraged to chant in front of twice a day. Nichiren Buddhism originated in Japan in the 13th century and is now practised worldwide, particularly (when outside of Japan) by members of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI). Members of the SGI receive a Gohonzon when they join the organisation. They then enshrine the Gohonzon in a Butsudan (a small cabinet for housing sacred objects) in their homes.

The images on the Gohonzon consist of beautiful Chinese-Japanese calligraphy representing many things, including important deities. Most of the Gods on the Gohonzon refer to ancient Indian Gods, thus in attempting to understand the nature of these deities I have looked to their Roman equivalents. Given that these deities have a shared Indo-European origin this approach seems suitably viable. Using the interpretatio Romana the major deities represented include Dis Pater (top left), Neptune (top right), Venus / Cupid (centre left), Aurora, Diana, Jupiter, Apollo, (middle centre), Vulcan (centre right), Juno (just below the middle), Ceres (lower left), Mars (left of the lower middle), and Mercury (lower right). 

Nichiren wrote that the Gohonzon “was revealed in the last eight years of the fifty that the Buddha preached in this world”, and states that others, such as T’ien-t’ai (a renowned 6th century Chinese Buddhist), “perceived it in their hearts, but for some reason never put it into words”. In a letter to one of his followers Nichiren wrote that the Lotus Sutra:

"A miracle saving Nichiren's life" by Keishu (early 20th century)
“... itself and the commentaries of T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo [a renowned 8th century Chinese Buddhist] explicitly state that the Gohonzon will appear after 2000 years have elapsed following the Buddha’s passing, in the first 500 years of the Latter Day of the Law … 
I was the first to reveal as the banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra this great mandala … This mandala is in no way my invention. It is the object of devotion that depicts Shakyamuni Buddha [the original Buddha from northeastern India BCE] ... seated in the treasure tower of Many Treasures Buddha [a celestial Buddha of the east] ...

Thus the five characters of the Lotus Sutra’s title are suspended in the centre, while the four heavenly kings [the Lords who serve the God Shakra / Indra, and protect the four corners of the world] are seated at the four corners of the treasure tower. Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are side by side at the top ...    

Without exception, all these Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, great sages, and, in general, all the various beings of the two worlds and the eight groups who appear in the Introduction chapter of the Lotus Sutra dwell in this Gohonzon. Illuminated by the light of the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess. This is the object of devotion.

This is what is meant when the sutra says “the true aspect of all phenomena” … Therefore, this Gohonzon shall be called the great mandala never before known; it did not appear until more than 2,220 years after the Buddha’s passing. 

A woman who makes offerings to such a Gohonzon invites happiness in this life, and in the next, the Gohonzon will be with her and protect her always. Like a lantern in the dark, like a strong guide and porter on a treacherous mountain path, the Gohonzon will guard and protect you …

Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo … 

Since Nichiren’s disciples and lay supporters believe solely in the Lotus Sutra, honestly discarding expedient means ... exactly as the Lotus Sutra teaches, they can enter the treasure tower of the Gohonzon. How reassuring! Make every possible effort for the sake of your next life. What is most important is that, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo alone, you can attain Buddhahood … [from a letter written by Nichiren called The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon]”

18 February 2022

A Brief History of Servitude in the West

Castle of the Duc de Berry by the Limbourg Bros (15th c.)
There is an idea that has emerged in recent years which holds that Western nations are increasingly dominated by billionaire elites and multinational corporations who seek to transform our nations into authoritarian, surveillance states, wherein censorship is widespread and widely tolerated, real property is so hideously expensive that large portions of the population never even try to acquire it, and so many people live in what feels like a profaned world devoid of spiritual aspiration that mental illness is commonplace. On the other hand, a smorgasbord of transitory pleasures (junk food, video games, television, porn, sex toys, prescription medication, etc) is perpetually within reach. Perhaps Tacitus’ observations about the actions of the Governor of Roman Britain in the 1st century CE are germaine:
“Agricola … described his campaign … as ‘keeping a conquered people under control’ … His intention was … [that the native Britons] become accustomed to peace and quiet by the provisions of amenities. Hence he gave … assistance to communities to build temples, market-places, and town houses. He praised those that responded promptly [to Romanisation] and censured the dilatory. As a result they began to compete with one another for his approval, instead of having to be compelled … even our style of dress came into favour and the toga was everywhere to be seen. Gradually, too, they went astray into the allurements of evil ways, colonnades and warm baths and elegant banquets. The Britons … called it ‘civilisation’, although it was a part of their enslavement [Tacitus, Agricola and Germany, Oxford World’s Classics, Ch 18-21].”
Could it be that we are at risk of succumbing to the illusion of good living while in fact being profoundly unfree? In order to explore the possible answer to this question one first needs to understand what slavery actually is, as well as some of the other forms of bondage that have evolved in the West over time.

28 November 2021

The Virus – A Pagan Sci-Fi

(A fictional short story inspired by the Australian lockdowns of 2021)
Statue of Mercury at Pavlovsk Park
Image by Aleksandrov (Wikimedia Commons)

The television turned itself on because it was time to get up. She lay in bed half-listening to journalists speaking in serious tones about various things, none of it was any more consequential than the faint sound of cars swooshing past on the busy road near her apartment until the voice of one man said sternly “what’s wrong with mandatory vaccinations?” Two men spoke to each other on the television, one was a union leader complaining about “right-wing extremists” hijacking a protest that had happened the day before – he explained that it wasn’t the case that workers were protesting against their own union for not pushing back against a government mandate that all tradies be vaccinated. What had actually happened was professional protestors had turned up and impersonated tradies … even so, the official union position was to support choice. The journalist on the State-run morning show chided the union boss for suggesting that adults should have the right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated.

22 August 2021

The Priests Are in Charge and It Feels Dystopian

"Abbot Armand-Jean le Bouthillier de Rance"
by Hyacinthe Rigaud (17th century)
Earlier this month every Australian was required to fill in the 4 year census. When it came to answering the question in relation to religion the form displays “no religion” as the first choice, because “no religion” was the single most popular answer to this question in the last census – 30.1% of Australians giving this answer in 2016 (followed by Catholic at 22.6% and Anglican at 13.3%; all other religions were at less than 4% each). In theory Australia is a fairly irreligious nation, but in practice the quasi-religion of Scientism is wildly popular. 

Science is the “the systematic study of ... the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” (Oxford Dictionary) – it is a method by which hypotheses can be either plausibly dreamt up or validated. Scientism is an “excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge” (Oxford), and there now seems to be a large body of people professing to hold such sacred knowledge. They are our “experts” (typically scientists and doctors of one kind or another) who are more than willing to present themselves as the true holders of the only kind of knowledge worth having any faith in. The worst among them are the de facto astrologers and haruspices of our time – these priests of our secular age who tell us they know how to confidently predict, via the magic of modelling, variable and unpredictable things, such as controlling the spread of a highly contagious virus.