Knockroe Passage Tomb December 21st winter solstice observances

Knockroe Passage Tomb near Windgap in County Kilkenny was only rediscovered during the 1980s. Like Newgrange, the dawn light on the Winter solstice aligns with the structure, but unlike Newgrange so does the sunset  on the same day.

Both sunrise and sunset (and indeed all day) gatherings at Knockroe seem to have become common if this article from TheJournal.Ie is anything to go by.

Unless things have changed the site isn’t signposted from the main road, if anyone reading this is seized with an urge to visit.

 

Here is the 2015 sunset on Youtube:

Here’s a video of Knockroe set to the music of Philip Glass:

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Ember Days and nature connection

Today, Friday and Saturday are Ember Days. I had never heard of these (though “embertide” rings a faint bell) until I came across this tweet

In a way Fr Schrenk explains it well in this thread so unroll it for the full explanation, or look here or here. Essentially, Ember Days are 3 days in an “Ember Week”, which occurs four times in a calendar year and mark the commencement of seasons. The December days are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after St Lucy’s Day (13th December)

They are marked by practices such as fasting and abstinence, though specifics seem a little different depending on the online source.  One site I came across suggested “minor” fasting, ie one full meal and two light meals (which sounds closer to a healthy intake than to a fast to me) as well as marking the day with appropriate prayer.

Traditionally, clergy were ordained during Ember Weeks.

 

 

“Ember” is not a reference to fire but a corruption of the Latin Quatuor Tempora meaning “four times.” In Irish, they are Laethanta na gCeithre Thráth  – “days of the four times” – which preserves the sense of the Latin.  Ember days seem to have got a little more attention in recent times as a form of collective repentance related to recent crises in the Church. 

Separate from any theological or ecclesiastic practice, I am struck by the wisdom of observances that are tied with the cycle of the seasons and thereby of growth, death and renewal that follow the year. And I am struck by the wisdom of periods of restraint in consumption (which is what fasting is, as opposed to self-punishment) and of contemplation that relate fundamentally to the changes of the seasons. It is a cliché to bemoan the overcommercialisation of Christmas but it is salutary to recall that Advent was supposed to be a time of reflection, self-denial and preparation.

It seems a pity that the Ember Days practice has fallen into disuse in general. And again separate from any specific religious belief or affiliation, one wonders if the practice of Ember Days did help to connect people with the progress of the seasons (and if their abandonment is yet another marker of disconnection with nature) and whether for this reason observance of Ember Days is due a revival.

Tim Miller on the Bush funeral and “the sad truth of public theatre”

At his blog Truth and Silence, Tim Miller has a post on the funeral of George H W Bush and what it reveals about the media and our culture..

We have a funny view of politicians. Someone once said that politics is the only profession in which every says they would prefer an amateur to a professional (it was phrased a lot more fluently than that)

As mentioned before I have been reading quite a bit of Edwin Friedman lately. It has provoked a lot of thought for me about leadership, responsibility, and the recurrent patterns of our relationships. It struck me how much is projected onto leaders. Personally, I have always felt I would vote for someone who announced “Public administration is complex and challenging. I don’t have all the answers. Also, there are lots of things I and any government cannot possibly control. I have principles, relevant experience, and will respectfully listen to expertise and respectfully listen to concerns and  complaints – but won’t promise blind obedience to experts or that I can solve every problem.”

Would such a candidate get any, or many votes? Would a political party with a platform of “we don’t know the exact answers, but we will do our best” get anywhere? It seems too trite to load onto politicians the freight of taking the brunt of the decline in influence of organised religion – although I have a feeling they may identify with this post on clergy burnout, for similar reasons.  

Leaders tend to be the landing place of many projections. And when disappointed, the electorate are unforgiving. To give one of many examples, it is reasonably safe to say that Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern are the most despised politicians of the recent past in Britain and Ireland respectively – yet both were the most successful electoral performers of the last twenty years.  Of course, both are despised for very specific things, but some of the intensity is surely due to the rage of our own self-projections proving fallible.

Behind the scenes it does seem most politicians are hard-working strivers trying to do their best and navigate the various competing interests (which, of course, includes you and me and our own interests)

Anyhow, Tim Miller captures this better than I am. Here are some bits I especially liked:

Many of these moments—at least the ones that are now fodder for Twitter and cable news (I put Twitter first on purpose)—are clearly staged to some extent. But it’s also true that many of these kinds of meetings and friendships are genuine. Yet the cynicism of the 2016 election, and the mistrust of public figures and public spectacle that has been going on for decades, begs the question of what is going on here. How can Al Gore be talking to such an evil man as Dick Cheney, and how can Dick Cheney be talking to such liberal scum as Al Gore? Isn’t this the very kind of hypocrisy that normal people despise in politicians? And for those who aren’t talking and are just in the same room together, how can Donald Trump sit so close to Hillary Clinton without doing all he can to finally lock her up? Are these forms of public spectacle just the highest examples of the contradiction and insincerity that lies at the heart of political and social life, or are they examples of what civilization actually is, that people who disagree usually come together, and in some cases are friends?

No one in my lifetime anyway has had the ability to change how politicians and public figures are presented; at best, they are only the manipulators of the media landscape they live in. If anything, Donald Trump merely picked up what was already on the ground and used it better than anyone ever has, and it’s doubtful he would have been elected if the ways we communicate and receive the news wasn’t already so degraded.

That very degradation cannot deal with the complexity and the actual truth that these powerful people embody: that those with vastly different visions for how the world should work just might get along, and that outside of the kinds of rallies and invective the media encourages and the public seems to want, the truth is actually much quieter. So the real sadness of watching George H. W. Bush’s funeral is this: that while the politicians, supposedly the most insincere people in the world, realize the complexity of their positions, the public at large does not.

 

…Even more powerless than the politicians to change how we interact with others and the world, we regular citizens blindly accept the public theater as actual reality and have ended up despising one another, and quite literally rupturing any sense of wholeness, or a shared soul. Gore and Cheney can talk peacefully, while voters who admire one or the other are proud to hate each other. For my part, I’ve stopped believing that the right or the left can possibly be as idiotic, ignorant, childish, or brutal as the anecdotes that make it onto Twitter or Reddit or cable news claim to show. That is not who we actually are, and while I never thought I’d say such a thing, it’s taken politicians to show me this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The demands of silence

The demands of silence

On of the recurrent themes of this blog has been various writings – by others, by myself – on silence. Of course, all this verbal activity on silence carries with it a kind of hypocrisy. A lot of noise about silence! I’m aware of the irony, and the risks.

I’m aware, too, of the downside of silence – those who have been silenced, had silence forced on them. I’m aware that to be silent can be to condone injustice. A book I read some years ago which has been very helpful in this regard is The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life by Eviatar Zerubavel, full of examples of how conspiracies of silence are maintained, often without any formal “conspiracy.”

One concept Zerubavel mentions (rather in passing if memory serves) is the “conspiracy of noise” – wherein we do not find silence but the opposite, noisy activity about everything except what matters.

This concept, along with this passage from George Steiner – “Silence is not the contrary of the Word but its guardian”, have helped me in resolving this tension between silence as a positive, life-enhancing experience and silence as oppression or repression.

I’ve been gradually making my way through Maggie Ross’ “Silence: A User’s Guide. It is full of good stuff, arresting stuff, stuff that makes me question some of my own habits and practices.

I do have one caveat, which is a nagging sense that perhaps Ross’ approach may make the best the enemy of the good. Her scorn for much nonsense about “mysticism” and “spirituality” is no doubt justified. Similarly the related scorn at the commodification and institutionalisation of an experiential process.

At times, however, the tone is a little like those three step I-You-He miniatures that Craig Brown (for one) has written (I have been try to recall what they might be called) in the form of:


I experience silence in the purest form
You have a rather superficial interest in the practice
He is a middle-class dillitante whose so-called spirituality is a mere commodity fetishism

Maybe a bit unfair to Ross, and no doubt she is right to be wary of romanticisation of monasticism and such. But it all seems rather harsh. Silence is a practice open to everyone (as Ross very clearly sets out – indeed even the term “practice” is too redolent of something forced)

It struck me today that silence has its own demands, ones that compete, usually unsuccessfully, with the demands of busy-ness and of the world. This is especially true as our culture becomes more and more always on, full of alerts and notifications.

I loved the Odon von Horvath quote – “I’m actually a quite different person, I just never get around to being him” featured in the post above. Which is of us, if we died tomorrow, would feel that the digital trace of our lives would be “me”, would sum us up, would capture our essence?

Silence is somewhere we encounter our essence. This encounter can have explicitly religious elements, or not This is an encounter, increasingly, that it takes specific effort to have. Our default is becoming noise and the vigilance of alerts (of course, there is a vigilance and threat with silence – a deeper threat indeed)

We also need to remember that “silence of the heart is much more important than silence of the mouth” and that a certain humility with regard to our own efforts is crucial. Absolute silence is probably physiologically unobtainable, indeed much of the discourse on silence is really about freedom from humanly-created noise.

In this context, we need to remember that Silence has its own demands. Just as sleep is something we need to consciously facilitate against various pressures of modernity, despite its “naturalness”, we no longer just experience silence but have to be open to its demands. To take things full circle, “the silent are never at home in our culture again”

Via the everfascinating Pilgrimage in Medical Ireland blog here is a post on pilgrimage to St Declan’s Holy Well, Ardmore, Waterford featuring footage from 1910

The footage is from the IFI Archive, and was taken by the Horgan Brothers – other fascinating films by the three brothers can be viewed on the IFI Player. :

The Horgan Brothers’ films (1910- 1920) are some of the earliest moving images made in Ireland. Brothers George, James and Thomas Horgan began their careers in the late 19th century in Youghal, Co. Cork as shoemakers and photographers. They ran magic lantern shows in Youghal and in the surrounding villages and townlands. From 1900, following the success of their photographic studio and magic lantern shows, James Horgan began to use a motion picture camera to capture current events and their local community. In 1917 the brothers opened the purpose-built 600-seat cinema The Horgan Picture Theatre in Youghal, where they screened The Youghal Gazette – their local topical newsreel featuring events of local interest – along with contemporary international feature films. This practise was not uncommon among early cinema owners – who would frequently film events (such as fairs, processions etc) which were well-attended by locals thereby guaranteeing a full house of people keen to see themselves on the big screen . The Horgans experimented with photography and models and the collection includes the earliest surviving Irish animation which dates from about 1910. It features the Youghal Town Hall Clock standing on its head and pirouetting in place.

Do you delight?

You act in the system.

You act against the system.

You assert your rights.

Do you delight?

You dissect a power structure.

You reproduce a power structure.

You do not completely lack insight.

Do you delight?

You are fierce. You disrupt.

You do not compromise

As victory is in sight.

Do you delight?

Fury seeps out at will,

Like crushing the gills

Of a toadstool and milk flows, it pervades

All. All is pervaded. Light is occluded.

Do you delight?

Ricky Jay RIP

Ricky Jay, scholar of magic and mountebanks, “the greatest sleight of hand artist of his generation”, has died

Here is a 1993 New Yorker profile of this extraordinary man. It is worth noting that magicians do not seem to tend to have happy home lives. Some highlights:

Jay has an anomalous memory, extraordinarily retentive but riddled with hard-to-account-for gaps. “I’m becoming quite worried about my memory,” he said not long ago. “New information doesn’t stay. I wonder if it’s the NutraSweet.” As a child, he read avidly and could summon the title and the author of every book that had passed through his hands. Now he gets lost driving in his own neighborhood, where he has lived for several years—he has no idea how many. He once had a summer job tending bar and doing magic at a place called the Royal Palm, in Ithaca, New York. On a bet, he accepted a mnemonic challenge from a group of friendly patrons. A numbered list of a hundred arbitrary objects was drawn up: No. 3 was “paintbrush,” No. 18 was “plush ottoman,” No. 25 was “roaring lion,” and so on. “Ricky! Sixty-five!” someone would demand, and he had ten seconds to respond correctly or lose a buck. He always won, and, to this day, still would. He is capable of leaving the house wearing his suit jacket but forgetting his pants. He can recite verbatim the rapid-fire spiel he delivered a quarter of a century ago, when he was briefly employed as a carnival barker: “See the magician; the fire ‘manipulator’; the girl with the yellow e-e-elastic tissue. See Adam and Eve, boy and girl, brother and sister, all in one, one of the world’s three living ‘morphrodites.’ And the e-e-electrode lady . . .” He can quote verse after verse of nineteenth-century Cockney rhyming slang. He says he cannot remember what age he was when his family moved from Brooklyn to the New Jersey suburbs. He cannot recall the year he entered college or the year he left. “If you ask me for specific dates, we’re in trouble,” he says.

Michael Weber, a fellow-magician and close friend, has said, “Basically, Ricky remembers nothing that happened after 1900.”

Victoria Dailey, who, along with her former husband, William Dailey, deals in rare books from a shop on Melrose Avenue, in Los Angeles, likes to refer to Jay as “our worst customer.” She hastens to point out, “He could be our best customer. He wants everything but can hardly buy anything.” Both Daileys regard Jay as “a true eccentric” in the English sense—part Bloomsbury, part Fawlty Towers. More than fifteen years ago, they sold Jay the first book for which he paid more than a hundred dollars. The first time he spent more than a thousand dollars for a book, and, again, when he reached the five-thousand-dollar threshold, the Daileys were also involved. The latter item was Jean Prévost’s “La Première Partie des Subtiles et Plaisantes Inventions,” the earliest known important conjuring book, printed in Lyons in 1584.

“I bought it unhesitatingly,” recalls Jay, for whom possession of the Prévost is a bittersweet memory; uncharacteristically, he parted with it during a fiscal crisis. “I bought it and then, with remarkable rapidity, three particular jobs that I thought I had went sour. One was a Johnny Carson special on practical jokes that didn’t pan out because of one of his divorces. Another was a tour of Australia that was cancelled by a natural disaster—in other words, by an act of God. This book was so fucking rare that people in the magic world just didn’t know about it.”

It is the Daileys’ impression—a perception shared by other dealers in rare books and incunabula—that Jay spends a higher proportion of his disposable income on rare books and artifacts than anyone else they know.

Here is the David Mamet directed “Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants” show mentioned in the New Yorker Piece: