Saturday, 28 June 2014

Prayer to Vesta

"The Vestal" by Frederic Leighton (1883)
Lately I have had a heightened sense of awareness of Vesta – so much so that I have bought a statue of her (though of the Hellenic Hestia in point of fact) for my household shrine. As I cannot keep her fire burning continually in my home, it is my hope that her statue facilitates her continual presence in some way. For Vesta is the great protecting deity; this is why ancient Romans were so concerned to keep her sacred flame alive and attended by the most important of all Roman priestesses – the Vestal Virgins.
“The Vestals were clearly set apart from the other priestly groups. Six priestesses, chosen in childhood, they lived in a special house next to the temple of Vesta. They had all kinds of privileges … they were responsible for tending the sacred fire, on the sacred hearth of their temple; they guarded their storehouse (penus) and they ritually cleaned it out and expelled the dirt … There is an obvious parallel between Vesta, the hearth of the city, and the hearths of individual families – the priestesses of the state apparently representing the women of the household …     

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Buddhist Tattoos

Thai Buddhist monk receiving a sak yant tattoo
Given the popularity of my earlier posts on tattoos and my familiarity with Buddhism I thought I would do a post on Buddhist tattoos. I note that many devout Buddhists, especially Theravada Buddhists in south and southeast Asia (who make up nearly 40% of the Buddhist population worldwide), may be offended by certain kinds of Buddhist tattoos, so it may be an idea to get one in a place that is easily covered by clothing. Tattoos depicting the Buddha himself are the most likely to offend, as are tattoos below the waist, especially those near the foot. Western tourists sporting Buddhist tattoos in Sri Lanka have even been deported and in 2011 the Thai Ministry of Culture instigated a crack down on Thai tattoo parlours so to prevent Western tourists receiving Buddhist tattoos, and thereby (in the eyes of some) trivialising Buddhist iconography, by (supposedly) reducing sacred images to mere fashion statements. While I don't doubt there are people out there who have chosen Buddhist designs for essentially frivolous reasons, I do think those who are offended by Buddhist tattoos on Westerners may be underestimating the reverence many Westerners have for Buddhism; as well as misunderstanding Western attitudes to tattoos in general. I feel sure that many Westerners who get such tattoos, even those who don't fully appreciate their provenance, are trying to tap into and comprehend the sacred, as well as Buddhist teachings more generally.