Book Review: Empedocles; Fragments and Commentary

Empedocles: Fragments and Commentary

Translated by Arthur Fairbanks 1864 -1944

I first came across the name Empedocles while reading The Praeger Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Civilization. Yes I am that level of history geek that I read an encyclopedia front to back A-Z. The entries were good short reads while I was on break at work. I always got a book in my locker. Anyways it is a good acquisition for any serious scholar, I got mine used for three bucks from the local pagan shop The Magical Druid a few years ago.

So back to the subject at hand Empedocles. He was a Greek Philosopher that lived 490 – 430 B.C.E. making him a contemporary of Zeno of Elea.  The thing that caught my attention about his entry was that he had written an alternative cosmic cycle myth. I was curious to see what other origin myths the Greeks had come up with apart from what Hesiod and Plato had wrote. Apparently this philosopher had written two works On Nature and Purifications. The surviving works are in fragments and partially preserved as quotes in other authors works which is the “Commentary” part of the book. Aristotle and Plato are the authors that are used specifically as the commentators in the back of this book. Which because of its age is available free on the internet here is Empedokles books if you want to read it for yourself.

My assessment on the works themselves; I think that this is a great original source read for modern pagans. It is one man struggling to explain his vision of the forces of nature and comes up with the idea that every thing comes from the polarity of Love and Strife. He describes what we now call Yin & Yang. He talks about after the influence of the polarity struggle every thing is made up from the four elements  Earth, Air, Fire Water. He teaches reincarnation and transmigration of the soul. Wiki says this is because he was influenced by the Pythagoreans.  Yin & Yang, the Four Elements and Reincarnation! Empedocles is teaching Wicca 101!

On a theological note the Deities that he references in his works are The Muses, Aphrodite, and Strife.

 

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Book Review: The Triumph of The Sea Gods

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The Triumph of The Sea Gods; The War Against The Goddess Hidden in Homer’s Tales. By Steven Sora.

This book blew my mind when I read it. I have been obsessively reading about ancient cultures for years trying to understand the how all the oddities that just don’t add up. From sacred geometry, parallel myths, complex astronomy, megaliths, lost civilizations like Atlantis, Lemuria and Mu. This book suddenly made every thing I have been reading make sense.

It is hard to compress a all the information in to a few paragraphs but I will try and perhaps it will be enough to inspire you to read this book for yourselves. Steven Sora boldly makes several arguments in this book that is not only believable it also challenges common assumptions about the origins of western culture. One of the things that he writes about is that Plato’s Atlantis, and Homer’s Troy are two variations of the same story. He then presents compelling evidence that this Trojan civilization is not in modern day Turkey but on the coast of Portugal. Some of the evidence he uses is the descriptions of weather and geography in Homer’s tales fit the Atlantic Ocean not the Mediterranean sea. He also uses archaeological data, and linguistics studies to support his case.

As for the books sub title “The War Against The Goddess Hidden in Homer’s Tales” He claims that the combined disaster of war and natural disasters of earth quake and tsunamis had a profound and demoralizing influence on peoples’ faith in the goddess centered religion(s) making the it easier for the incoming patriarchal religions  from the Indo-European cultures to take over. I am just summarizing  but it is worth it to read his detailed analyzes.

The author also spends a few chapters taking the reader through Odysseus homeward journey describing the most likely locations for his various ports of call. I don’t want to spoil it for the reader so I will not say were he ends up but when you find out I think you will be surprised.

I can honestly say stumbling upon this book at Half Price Books was meant to be. It honestly feels like I have been looking in all the wrong places for the answers to the questions burning in my mind. For I truly believe that understanding mankind’s ancient past is the key to finding out what 42 really means, well at least to me.

Am I Trading in Druid Robes for a Witch’s Hat?

Once the shopping frenzy of December is over winter seems to drag on forever. The temperatures here in Ohio have been crazy swinging from 19 degrees to 50 and then back down to 30 degrees some times in the same day. The warmer days have me yearning for spring. I have already ordered all the seeds for my vegetable garden and am planing my flower bed too.

I missed doing out on attending a public Yule ritual due to illness, and ended up missing the Druid’s Imbolc because I was still recovering from the flu. But a few days later I was well enough to attend a Imbolc celebration held by the Wiccan shop “Blessed Be”. This was my first time experiencing a Wiccan ritual. I got luck because it was a two for one ritual. The first part was for Imbolc and the second part was a full moon ritual.

I can honestly say it was a fun and enlightening experience. There was about 27 participants.  We were outside in the cold, under the moon (hidden behind a cloud of coarse cause you know Ohio weather never does what you want it to) and it help me really appreciate the timeless tradition of humans huddling around a fire and encouraging each other to be strong, be creative and be nurturing and remember ‘Spring is coming’. Most importantly every social interaction felt natural. None of my normal feelings of social anxiety crept into my brain. There was no intimidating auras, no pecking order, or performers vs. audience vibe that I sometimes get at other pagan events.

It reminded me why I first fell in love with paganism in the first place, and it reminded me of my early days when I use to claimed Wiccan. A while back I had grown disenchanted with Wicca due to trends in literature and online content back in the early 2000’s. I have just claimed Greeco-Roman pagan for the longest time. I have been thinking of  joining the ADF  because I had not found any Hellenistic groups, but the past few months I have been reconsidering that. I am not sure if it is right for me. This feeling of reconnecting with Wicca the past few days has me thinking that maybe it is time for me to come full circle in my studies and revisit Wicca beyond one public ritual.

To my readers I ask, have any of you ever left Wicca for other pagan paths and then found yourself going back to it? If so I would love to hear your story.

 

Book Review: Supernatural; Meeting with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind

Supernatural; Meeting with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind by Graham Hancock

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This is the third book I have read by Graham Hancock. The previous two were Fingerprints of the Gods, and Underworld. Fingerprints of the Gods does a side by side comparison between the ancient Egyptians and ancient Central Americans cultures like the Olemecs and the Mayans that suggest a third party interacted with both ancient societies. Underworld explores global flood myths and underwater archaeological sites trying to piece together evidence of a pre-ice age global civilization. In short this author has a reputation as someone that challenges what we know about ancient history. I expected nothing less from Supernatural.

In this book Graham Hancock  reaches in to mankind’s past and tries to find the root of religion. The book is a roller-coaster ride of unlikely topics getting puzzle pieced together. He initially sets out discover why there was spontaneous changes in human behavior that lead us from primitive animals bent on just survival to cultures with religion and artistic expression. He believes this is humans stumbling in the realm of Supernatural. Early man had some sort of encounter with other that sparked the idea of gods and spirits. He believes there is more to the myths than making some shit up to explain natural events like rain and earthquakes. He believes that various early human groups around the world stumbled in to various hallucination methods that launched shamanistic practices that lead to the creation of religions. The logical thing for him to at this point was to study shamanism cultures to find similarities. His studies lead him to taking hallucinogenic drugs with shamans in the Amazon. But his search for answers takes an interesting twist. He looks at various studies conducted by universities on hallucinations and makes some startling discoveries. humans seam to see the same basic themes over and over again leaving him to ask but why?

The meat of the book compares the striking similarities between shamanic trances, studies on drug hallucinations, alien abductions, and fairy encounters. He throws out the various hypotheses as why all these people under vastly cultures, time frames and situations keep seeing the same things. My understanding of his writings is that he believes some form some intelligent design (aliens, inter-dimensional beings, Gods) programmed information in our DNA that is only accessible under certain conditions. These conditions are trigger by a chemical reaction in the brain caused by either drugs, trance states, or physical stress. Alternatively the mind / contentiousness of individuals slip in to an alternative world like a radio station turning the dial. I that I felt he ultimately left it open for the reader to decide.

I found it an entertaining read that presented some very interesting evidence and arguments. How does this book effect my personal beliefs? I find the idea of a common human condition to see the same symbols regardless of when and where they are from fascinating. I also think it gives me a new perspective on ancient art and myths. So I would say it adds to my study of symbolism.

Book Review: Arcana Mundi; Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds.

Arcana Mundi; Magic and the Occult in the Greeek and Roman Worlds – A Collection of Ancient Texts Translated, Annotated, and Introduced by Georg Luck.

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This book is contains pieces from 130 ancient text ranging from the eight century BCE to fourth century CE. Georg Luck has arranged these text in to six categories: Magic, Miracles, Daemonology, Divination, Astrology, and Alchemy. He gives introductions to each category and explaining its importance in the ancient world. The texts he uses illuminate the migration and acceptance of ideologies from outside cultures like the Egypt and Persia.  Most of these text give first or secondhand accounts of the various subjects and how the impacted everyday life in Ancient Greece and Rome.

In his selection and presentation of these text Georg Luck tries to show how peoples attitudes toward magic evolved. The epilogue takes the reader in to the lingering legacy of ancient magic in the middle ages, particularly in the church. If he had an agenda in this book it was to illustrate where these church practices originate. He does so in a rather scholarly way that I feel doesn’t  bash pagan or Christians. He includes a very interesting Appendix article titled Psychoactive Substances in Religion and Magic that hypothesis that both the Old Testament and the Early Church used incense with psychoactive substances to enhance their religious experience.  There is also a glossary of Greek and Latin words that are relevant to the subject of ancient magic.

I think this book is a great research tool for anyone wanting to delve deeper in to the subject of magic learning where traditions started and how they were practiced.  This book is also great for anyone studying early Christian history along with ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures. I enjoyed the read, personal I feel the older the source materials are the closer we are to understanding how our ancestors thought. Learning the evolution of  cultures helps us not only understand our past, it helps us see where humanity is possibly heading.

Book Review: Cicero On The Good Life

This book contains five of Marcus Tullius Cicero’s ( 106 – 43 B.C.E.) works. I have include available Wikipedia links on the works for the curious mind to explore further.

  1. Discussions at Tusculum
  2. On Duties
  3. Laelius: On Friendship
  4. On The Orator
  5. The Dream of Scripio

First off I want to say what an excellent job the the translator Michael Grant did in creating very informative introductions for each of Cicero’s works. He explains during which part of Cicero’s life each piece is written. He explains what point of history Cicero is referring to in his works. He includes information that gives details about who, what, and when Cicero is referencing other pieces of literature.

“The Discussions at Tusculum” is written as a conversation between Cicero and his friends. The Discussions are made up of five parts but this book only includes the last part. The conversation that takes place largely focused on debating what whether of a happy life is mostly derived from living virtuously or luck and favoritism of fate and the gods. They also discus the various aspects of virtues and what is “a good life”. I found it reminiscent of Plato’s characterization of Socrates.

“On Duties” to quote Michael Grant is “a manual which provided a system of applied ethics and, in the process, sought to justify Cicero’s own standards of behavior and his carer.” It is dedicated to Cicero’s son Marcus and sums up his view of how society had evolved and the direction he feels it should aim itself.

“Laelius: On Friendship” discusses the  importance of friendship, how to develop it and how it should ideally work.

“On The Orator” was my least favorite of the five works in this collection. Much like “The Discussions at Tusculum” it reads like a debate among friends about what is oration. They discuss why they feel it is a necessary skill and a noble occupation.

“The Dream of Scripio” was my favorite part of the book. It delves in to the subject of immortality and the afterlife. It is poetic in the way it describes how people are all made from the stars and connected to the universe. It also shows just how much the Romans Knew about geography and astrology. For me one of the real philosophical treats was the discussion of how the planets made music and connecting music to the sacred mystery of the universe. To be honest if I was to piece together my own bible from ancient literature “The Dream of Scripio” would be included along with Cicero’s other great work “On The Nature of The Gods”.

 

 

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Book Review: Tribes of Ancient Britain and Germany

Tribes of Ancient Britain and Germany by Publius Cornelius Tacitus (56 – 117 C.E.), Edited and Introduced by Bob Carruthers.  This book talks about the conquest of the Britain and Germany by the Romans from the Roman point of view. As such, it is a great resource for studying all three ancient cultures.

The first section of the book is only 31 pages long and is titled, “The Tribes of Ancient Britain” follows the career of  Tactitus’s father-in-law Cnaeus Julii Agricola. He served a military apprenticeship in Britain under the command of Sutonius Pallinus. The passage follows Agricola after his apprenticeship giving a brief glimpse into Roman politics. It also gives a glimpse of the world of the ancient people of Britannia. It includes the story of the British uprising lead by the warrior Queen Boudicea.  Agricola returned to Britain shortly after Boudicea’s uprising had been put down, and took up arms against the remaining British resistance.

The second section is titled “A Treatise On The Situation, Manners And Inhabitants Of Germany”. This section is 65 pages but it includes a lot of foot notes that sometimes take up most of a page by themselves. This reading would have been improved upon, if a map had been added by the editor. To me, the most interesting part of the section was towards the end, when the author is discussing the religion of the ancient Germans. This depiction is similar to the rituals of the Celts / Druids described by Julius Caesar in his book “Conquest of Gaul”, which is another great primary source if you are interested in the Romans or the Celts.  I feel this work went a little further than Caesar’s account because it compares the religious practices of several different tribes against each other. These differences include gods/goddesses, sacrifices and divination. The one common thread is the veneration of sacred groves of trees.

Overall I feel Agricola’s work a must read for anyone studying Ancient Roman, Celtic, or German culture. It is also a good read for individuals that enjoy military history.

 

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