Thursday, 26 June 2014

Iron Age Legends, Mid-Life Crises and the New Sexual Politics

In the last two postings, we looked in depth at a South Asian legend of polyamory and a Burmese legend of traditionalism based on two wives providing a form of equilbrium that was tampered with at one's peril.

Both of these cultures are very different from those of the West, even if the Judaeo-Christian allegedly patriarchal approach to monogamy grew out of a 'two-wife' (or more) approach that is found in many nomadic cultures from the Arabian desert to Mongolia.

The South Asian legend was almost modern in its assumption of freedom and of a negotiated settlement between equals. Perhaps it is now time to look at the tension between the enforced monogamy of the new faiths that emerged across the Ancient World and the wild instincts of the lone male.

With Germanic and Celtic legend (similar but not identical) we add a different element to the pot. Here the increasing assumption is of a marital convention where wives matter. The Greek tragic tradition also introduces the monogamous family as battleground.

Prior to the chivalric re-formulations of the Middle Ages, there is no sense of love that might be multiple as in South India and even the chivalric model ensures that active sexual expression remains monogamous in a pale version of the Burmese model where the household sits to the right and an unrequited love to the left.

There is a lot of 'bad behaviour' of course (otherwise there would be no story). The tale of Arthur and Guinevere early on concerns itself with her abduction though this might be a reflection of Helen's abduction by Paris, with Arthur cast in the role of Menelaus.

However, there is a basic underlying equality in the potential for women to decide their own destinies once they are in charge of a household but only in the household. Patriarchy may be regarded as ideologically dominant before betrothal but a degree of matriarchy (in the household) to be dominant after it.

If the male ethic (the lone heroic wolf or member of a pack) dominates before marriage, he gives way to a separate but equal status after it. A woman can become de facto head of a household, with rule over men, such a servants or sons, in her own right. The matriarch with her 'boys' long precedes Ma Barker.

Assets to be deployed by fathers and carried off by heroes first, women can then be micro-economic warrior queens in their own right, nurturing sons to challenge the father and daughters to trade for power and security.

Nevertheless, the single hero-girl Atalanta and the rare Queen Medb or Boudicca (Celt) tend to raise the possibility of strong political women but little more. The strength is in the household and not in the public person. But then is that not also so with the King once barbarian struggles are over?

Brunnhilde and Kriemhild in German culture are better understood not as decision-makers but as fateful manipulators of a drama. Their passions, demand for love on their terms in the first case and passion as cause for revenge as a matter of honour in the second, set in motion the deaths of heroes.

The relative powerlessness of women in terms of brute force and warrior camaraderie here leads to a culture of psychological manipulation of the conventions that protect their status in a way that has become a trope of Western culture. But this is much more than simple 'women and slave' subversion of 'natural order'.

Even today, feminism has not fully come to terms with the strange mix of biological and cultural drivers for 'woman as necessary manipulator of others' - society and family alike. The alleged propensity to manipulation is often presented as a case of weakness or victimhood. Manipulation as alternative to strength.

However, if, as I suggest, the conventional culture of the West has shifted power from males as lone wolves to males as protectors through 'betrothal', then the male is as often a victim of the conventions (in terms of his inner aspirations) as a participant in an equality of enslavement before the social and habit.

He is 'victim' as much, in these cases, as the woman, especially given the resource constraints and wider risks and brutalities of pre-modern society. It could be argued that what we think of patriarchalism could be a late decadent form in which weak males make illicit misuse of 'Viking' conventions of shared responsibility.

It is as if the Germanic male (in the legend cycles) is fated to 'die' by the honour implicit in monogamy - a miserabilist view but an inevitable one, once a highly-sexed alpha male considers his emotional position in a stable family-based society. Negativity towards full sexual expression becomes a victory against his nature.

So, although we have Cuchulainn and the Greek 'heroes' all playing a successful 'sexual rascal' role in Indo-European legendary cultures, they are seen in the context of a Western culture in which the family has been conventionalised or otherwise within codes of vengeance and honour.

The Greek, Irish (Cuchulainn) and German tragedies are all built around vengeance, honour, loyalty and right behaviour and often have at source the expectation that a man must do something against his natural instincts because this is what is required (there is something of this in the Japanese samurai code).

The 'blonde beast' is actually a creature not of Nietzschean freedom but of obligations and duties that have simply been shifted from the household to honour. If the thesis is household and the antithesis is honour then the synthesis is the Western aristocratic cultural tradition - or at least the code of the mafioso.

An expectation is from others but also from within oneself as a social construction. God has nothing to do with it. Whatever he is, the man observing the legend is now no longer a free animal but a tribal creation even when, like Cuchulainn, his hero is presented as going beyond convention by his very nature.

But the punishment for the hero is always death. The observing male is given a stark choice in this death of a short life that requires superhuman skills to achieve fame or a conventional long one with many joys (and dull moments) but with no relation to the blood instincts that make him feel like a man.

Alhough the 'normal' male desires to be heroic in his imagination (expressed in a hundred video games), he fears his own ability to match the exemplary hero and so falls back into compliance with the given order.

The ideology of family and marriage is thus a necessary compromise that takes place when a man is faced with the fact that heroism will be denied him not by others but by his very nature as an ordinary man. He can blame no one - he chooses that the the costs of the unconventional are far too great to bear.

This is probably at the heart of the famous 'mid-life crisis' which takes place when the prime duty of convention (progeny and economic security) has apparently been achieved and the last chance of 'heroism' (or rather 'being true to one's nature') appears before the hair goes grey and the limbs bow.

Although expressed sexually in many cases, it is really, as always, about power - an attempt to return power to the self after conceding it to the demands of a convention that is seen, rightly or wrongly, as largely geared to the needs and desires of the 'mate' and the progeny.

She, of course, rarely sees it quite like that. In our modern world, even when there is no enforcing Church or tribe and men are still fit when they would have been 'old' in pre-modern times, the rebellion is usually brief. It is generally absurd, A 'not going gently into that dark night' of old age. Balloons are soon burst.

We may see a shift to another conventional relationship (serial monogamy only because that is what women will put up with in general) or a type of adjustment which is simply acceptance that the man will never be a hero or an animal again - if he ever was beyond his imaginings.

The honour system is in its degenerate phase but it is still the base for convention (as ideal) in the Western family yet it is a falsehood to call such an ideology 'patriarchal'. It is a misdirection to do so. It is a system of power relationships where all elements are equally circumscribed and equally bound.

Women were critical to the creation of an ideology whose primary purpose (under the resource-poor conditions of the time) was to protect them materially and tame the male.

Women are not victims of the ideology any more or any less than the men. They are equal victims and equal beneficiaries under appropriate conditions.

If women have found this system often to have become monstrous, it is largely because it is 'unnatural' for many men (who might prefer to be wolves or adopt the strategies of the South Asian St. Sundarar or the Burmese King) and some men, too weak to do otherwise, turn inward and monstrous because the system gets too rigid.

These men, not having the language for their unhappiness, become introvert, break the rules regardless or become nasty under the pressure. The worst become exploitative, sexually deviant in the worst of ways, molest their own kin. They communicate through acts of cruelty and domination. Others are just miserable.

Because the convention appears sanctified by God and society (more by the latter than the former nowadays), those committed to it (including men who have no instinctive hero or animal in them) moralise on its value instead of treating it as a functional ideological tool for maintaining wealth and stability. THey do not consider the possibility of adapting the structures to permit freedom.

Marriage nevertheless can encourage though does not predict love. This is why, against all Western assumptions, arranged marriages can become imbued with love. If it involves coming to terms and not resisting the given, this can result in two persons collaborating well on managing the social and the problems of the material.

New economic conditions have made this system extremely unstable. The acquisition of wealth is now a matter of equality between partners but each is engaged in a separate system of gathering outside the home. And the costs of breaking the system apart are no longer ones of shame but economic loss.

In other words, the calculations that surround love have changed. The social has not boxed people into either enforced love and respect or misery and hate but has created a volatile and insecure negotiation with no boundaries.

Male and female aspirations are now set in a cultural context where very fine calculations are being made as to the costs and benefits of 'being who one is' rather who one is socially dictated to be.

This is not an argument for a turn back to traditionalist forms (because they are no longer truly functional) but to a greater understanding of the adjustments that the ideology of love must take if it is to meet the three primary requirements of those involved:

  • collaboration in wealth creation and maintenance or, more negatively, security against accident
  • a safe and secure environment for children and other loved ones
  • the healthy adaptation of persons from youth to old age in conformity with their inner natures

The old ideology, using the threat of Hell, shame and the law, bound people into fixed property relations, treated children as part of the asset base (because of their role in providing support in old age) and subjugated persons to compliance with collectivism. Individuals could not survive outside their community.

The new ideology (such as it may be) is an unlearning process because it suggests that persons are primary (whether adults or children) and that property value lies as much in the creative and educated potential of persons as in the house they live in.

An iron age mentality was adaptable to industrialisation but not to the new internet world. The modern Western family, tamed by Judaeo-Christianity in ways well if polemically explained by Nietzsche, still existed in these pre-modern codes of conduct.

These have added, alongside the religiosity of texts interpreted by elites, yet another Iron Age level to our modern mind-set. The central point is that families have been or are in transition from structures designed for survival and a relationship with power to associations of persons where power is diffused.

As new technologies liberate us intellectually and emotionally, the imagination and equality of aspiration in the developed world becomes a matter for more direct negotiation (as in the South Asian legend).

But it also suggests that different models for maintaining household prosperity based on 'new traditions' (as in the Burmese legend) may also emerge. This is why we are seeing the lively debates about sexual freedom and alternative lifestyles maturing into a language of responsibilities.

Although traditionalism not only remains in place but intensifies its demands under threat, super-modernity is pushing through new sexual forms and solutions to exploitation simply by abandoning Iron Age texts and ancient legends and inventing structures that actually fit what we are. This should be interesting.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Burmese Legends, Power and 'Jungian' Sexuality ...

To our last post, we can now add other types of legendary Asian arrangemenst to the polyamorous (South Indian). We have the 'licentious'-pragmatic (Chinese), the nomadic-Darwinian (Mongolian) and the imperial-Jungian from Burma to consider.

Chinese legends (at least of an early period) seem to have a pragmatic open sexuality that is thoroughly unromantic from a Western perspective. Confucianism struggled against what it called licentiousness, playing the role of Kallikkaman in last week's Sundarar tale.

Like Christ, Muhammed and the Buddha, probably for good 'developmental' reasons, Confucius' view won out so that we now have the puritanical Leninist-Confucianism of the New Chinese Empire as the eventual result. But it was not always thus ... any more than modern Hindu puritanism was the past.

In one particularly 'licentious' province (Cheng), in the spring ['when the eastern winds have melted the ice and the peach trees blossom'], the 'higher spirits were invoked' and orchids were gathered for which the foot of Mount Tu-Liang was well known.

As the local Chen and Wei flooded the land, the teenagers would go to the orchid beds and engage in sexual pleasure after which the girls were given a flower as a token. This obvious fertility legend sounds much like pre-Christian fertility rites in the West and it is truly a world we have lost.

For an example of sexual pragmatism that eventually leads to the rescue of a wife from a sex-crazed pirate, there is the legend of Ch'en Kuang-jui, the father of T'ang-seng, the floating monk - but I shall leave you to research that complicated early medieval Chinese legend yourself.

Then, there is a Buryat legend about Genghiz Khan. A tribal leader (whose attitude to love is unknown) has two wives. The younger one bore him a child but the older was barren. The older substituted the first's letter to him announcing the fact with one saying that the younger had given birth to a wild animal.

The Khan wrote back to take no action but, again, the older one substituted his letter and wrote another that told the younger to drown the child. The younger was not one to disobey the Khan and she placed the child in a sealed cradle and threw it in the lake as commanded.

Naturally, (since this is a legend), it floated back and the little lad kicked his way out. Needless to say, the lad was Genghiz Khan.

But, again, the ostensible purpose of the legend - why Genghiz Khan is named after the lark's cry (don't ask!) - masks the social tensions within 'patriarchal' warrior culture between women where the youth of the girl is less interesting than her ability to bear the lord a strong son.

A warrior lord may not last long into his middle age (the old age of the era) without strong sons. It is a practical matter. In the real history of such societies, women do not compete so much as wives but as mothers so that their children get access to power when the old man dies.

The price of failure would be the probable death of their child from their half-brother since no fit rivals can easily be allowed to flourish if the sons compete. This is not polyamory but a brutal struggle for scarce resources in a world of survival of the fittest. The slaughter amongst the Turkic Sultans was real enough.

As for Burma, we can start by saying that medieval Burma was at the hard end of patriarchy with the assumption that women were tribute. We find tales, like the Mongolian, of jealousy in the 'harem' against new and beautiful acquisitions (as in the legend of one of Nga Tinde's sisters).

But the stories around King Duttabaung (of which the Nga Tinde sister legend is a minor part) suggest that, despite all the concubines and trade in women, Jung's archetypal view that a male was most fulfilled with two partners of differing psychological meaning appears to be given some evidential base in the two successive triads in the story cycle.

Burmese legends are complex and surreal so the detail here is less important than the structure. A King's son becomes a hermit and has a magical and very beautiful (if not very bright) daughter, Bedayi. The King's Queen, presumably mother to the son, also gives birth to two blind boys.

There ensues a classic story about the Queen saving her two children from the King (details only on request).

After many adventures and the curing of their blindness, the sons meet up with Bedayi and the other older son of the King (whether half-brother or brother) and the eldest marries Bedayi, presumably a niece (though not stated as such).

The standard gangland politics of primitive societies then means that the Queen of Pyu (another Queen altogether) asks the help of the hermit.

The King's son persuades her to take the son-in-law as husband so he becomes King of Pyu with Bedayi and The Queen of Pyu as his partners. Note the father is happy to see Bedayi enter such a household. The Queen has a daughter and dies.

The King of Pyu (the older of the two once-blind brothers) dies. Bedayi marries the younger son who became King in his turn and their child was Duttabaung.

The notion of a wife marrying the next in line of brothers is not uncommon as a means of retaining property rights. After 35 years, this second King of Pyu dies.

Indra (this is a pre-Buddhist tale up to this point) installs Duttabaung, fully mature, on the throne and his two Queens are the daughter of the Pyu Queen (daughter of the other wife of his uncle) and the Nagini Besandi who shares with Bedayi, Duttabaung's mother, the characteristic of having a magical origin - she is one of the serpent-spirits or nagas.

Duttabaung's reign is the great kingly legend of Burma and this legend shifts into Buddhist piety of a kingly type quite quickly.

However, unintended impieties result in him losing his powers, with the most interesting loss arising from within a story that is hard to interpret in any way other than a story of sexual jealousy perceived in cultural terms as disloyalty.

Duttabaung was collecting tribute from India when one of the tributary queens took a 'foul garment' (unspecified in my source), turns it into a cloth and wipes the face of the unsuspecting King with it.

This is an incident filled with notions of taboo but the upshot is that the act results in the disappearance of an 'auspicious mole' (Burmese surrealism at work) and the consequent disappearance of the Nagini Besandi who is clearly his magical link to the land of Burma.

The King compounds his growing problems - he appears to have upset the Buddha in an earlier act and then his beautiful naga who may represent his vital force, represented in terms of sexual energy - by spitting into the ocean as he returns from India and so angering the nagas as a class.

The angry nagas carry him away at a great age on board ship. The legendary cycle can be read at many levels but, primarily, in conjunction with other legends, as a magical account of the history of Burma.

Its kings try to weigh up a right balance of duties to the new religion of Buddhism and to the old religion of the spirits of the land represented by the nagas (and the nats in another cycle).

This historical tension is overlaid by another story about kingship in which the waning powers of the old King (he said to be over 100 by the time of his death on the ship returning from India) seem to be attributed to his excessive wanderings far from his own land, to his consorting with foreign queens on foreign territory and to his lack of respect for tradition.

Sex, as always, is power. Placing the simple brutal business of women as tribute and as guarantee of loyalty from vassals to one side, the five women in the story fall into three broad categories.

The least positive is the trickster Hindu Queen who represents dalliances or inappropriate alliances overseas and with whom we have dealt.

The Queen of Pyu and her daughter clearly represent political and strategic alliance through sexual partnership - land, retainers and the dynastic blood line. The closeness of the royal family in its high status mating indicates a classic case of ensuring right order by keeping it in the family.

The first Queen is pure alliance fodder and her daughter partners the son of the younger brother and successor to her husband who then inherited this Queen's co-wife. (I hope I have got that right).

Both Queens are relative cyphers in the story but there is no reason to believe that they are not honoured and respected.

On the other hand, the magical daughter of the hermit (the possible neice to her two future husbands), Bedayi, and Nagini Besandi are of a very different order.

They are more active participants in the drama and are variously presented not so much as regal cyphers carrying the blood-line like the Queens so much as either rather beautiful but dim (Bedayi in the story of a gourd that we won't go into here) or beautiful but moody (Nagini Besandi walking off in a huff over a desecration).

Although the legend is more about interpreting history, religious struggle, politics and the expression of right order in society than psychology or spirit, we cannot ignore this psychological undercurrent deep within the tale.

Regardless of the ready sex available from innunerable concubines, the King's high status relationships represent a different sort of balance that reflects Jung's opinion (probably based on his own experience) that a man needs two women in his life.

This Jungian observation underpins the very common Western phenomenon of the wife and the mistress. As such, this is definitely not a tale of polyamory like our South Indian tale. Indeed, it might even be that the threat of the Indian Queen is the threat of polyamory to a stable and ritualised system but this is speculation.

What it might be (given that the pattern is repeated twice in one cycle) is an expression, in a warrior-based culture, of a situation where sex is easily available but where trust and at least a version of love are in short supply.

This we see an arrangement within traditionalism that is analogous to the French model of the wife and the tolerated mistress. One might say that the woman who wants to 'own' her man is as unbalanced as the man who insists on 'owning' (emotionally) many women.

The mistress saves a man from servitude (to the household where he may lose his competitive 'edge') and from the brothels (on which resources will be wasted). Or so may go the theory ...

If anything, the arrangement is a formalisation of a 'natural' psychological triad. Although property is at stake, the man is caught between the need to run a household (whether feudal or bourgeois) and the need to be loved or to exist in a more dynamic way, a rather mysterious way that is not at all rational but is disruptive if not tamed. Perhaps it works only where the 'wife' is secure in her possession of the household.

Indeed, if one thinks about it, the disruptive nature of male sexuality and the fact that the property exists because of the male's life force (in that type of society) means that the self interest of the woman in charge of the household is not to tame the drive into non-achievement but to direct it safely into the care of a collaborator, the co-Queen or 'mistress'.

The sexual triad operating within rules of this type may stabilise the system so that the women (treated with respect as high status) manage to get control of power by the back door and both live off the unrestricted dynamic of the alpha male.

The conduct of the Nagini Besandi suggests that the King is as bound by these rules as anyone.

Although in other stories and most cultures, jealousy is a component of all types of arrangements involving multiple partners, what is interesting is that the relationship between the Queens and the magical co-wives appears positive as if both understand their differing roles in maintaining a particular system of power.

This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that there is strong emotion in the story - the hermit is highly protective to his daughter, the first King's Queen is highly protective of her two blind sons to the extent of defying her Lord, the Nagini Besandi walks out on the old King when he breaks the rules and appears to bring a third player into the game.

Perhaps the best we might say of this model is that religious traditionalism and the determination to hold on to property (comparing Catholic France) can construct models in which love is tamed (unlike the free polyamorous approach) into a triadic structure in which everyone knows the rules and no-one asks too many questions.

Above all, the purpose of the Burmese approach and the French approach is to keep property in the family and manage the costs of sexuality in terms of power and wealth more finely. In this system, Nagini Besandi was perfectly within her rights to walk away when the King started to bend accepted rules.

Perhaps also the Burmese legend (and French practice) might cause us to be less sure about a simplistic assertion that women are victims of 'patriarchy'.

The tribute concubines in the harem were certainly victims, though more of in terms of political exploitation with sexual characteristics, a system in which all vassals and peasants were victims of their lords.

However, these high status co-Queens, much like the wife and intelligent courtesan or mistress in the West, present a more complex picture to that of the patriarchalism of the nomadic Mongol type, based on resource poverty and Darwinian approaches to survival.

In this model, nomadic survivalist patriarchalism (much like that in the Bible) is replaced by a collaborative sexual model of developed traditionalism that tames the male's vital energies in the direction of most value to the women involved, given the need to sustain control of power and wealth in a competitive environment.

In fact, against the feminists, it might be said that, assuming a world of competition for resources (which is actually what we have whether we like it or not), the triadic arrangement may be the most successful in ensuring the acquisition and holding of property, the security of offspring and the maintenance of female power in the household.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Polyamory and the Indian Saint

Legends can be informative as much by what they leave out as they include. Sexual relations are usually idealised or ignored or turned into allegory.

However, an unusual legend from Southern India (and not an obscure one by any means) suggests that some 'saints' had to cope with the complexities of sexuality just like the rest of us.

For Christian saints, sex was temptation and so could be exiled to the margins of the story or presented as an evil incursion. Not so twelfth century South India. The text in question is in Tamil - the Periya Puranum written by one Sekkizhar

It contains the lives of 63 saints, all worshippers of Shiva and as likely to be historical figures as their Celtic analogues - and closer to them in time than the text since Sekkizhar was probably writing about figures who lived in late Saxon or early Norman times.

A principal figure was Saint Sundarar who (given the acceptance of reincarnation) was previously an attendant of Shiva's on the sacred Mount Kailasa.

There, he fancied two heavenly maidens and Siva promised that, if Sundarar consented to go down a notch in the cycle of existence and be re-born on earth but sing his praises there, he could marry both. Clearly Lord Siva, like the Christian God, found praise on earth fruitful enough to cut such a deal.

Whether they liked it or not the two 'girls' were reincarnated on earth to meet the promise to Sundarar. Choice is not a big thing in medieval Hindu story - the saint is granted a boon and others are ordered into place.

On earth, Sundarar is 'born' into an upper class family and, as was the custom, a marriage was arranged. The Saint has no memory of his destiny or his deal and so goes ahead with the wedding.

Shiva turns up but disguised as an old man. He brings documentary proof of the deal - a written contract. The wedding is stopped. Sundarar is not very happy - presumably the earthly deal was a good one.

He reacts badly at first but then recognises that he had got it wrong and that Shiva was doing him some sort of favour. And off he goes to be a saint ... travelling from temple to temple.

No doubt, in the real world, our hero just had a moment of blind panic at the altar and scuttled but this is not how it reads in the story. So where are the girls?

The heavenly Kamalini is a dancing girl called Paravaiyar. Anintitai, now Cankiliyar, is a more pious creature who has some inkling of her destiny in turning away all suitors on the basis that she would marry only her Lord.

Sundarar first meets Paravaiyar on his travels, falls for her and marries - one down. But he stays on the road. Shiva apparently appears to Cankiliyar and tells her to marry Sundarar despite his being married, an instruction she readily accepts.

This is obviously code for her passion for the man despite the rival - and a classically polyamorous situation ensues. The man loves both. Both love him. But both do not love each other. It is perhaps to his credit that Sundarar does not just dump the dancing girl for the more pious Cankiliyar.

Cankiliyar tries to pull a fast one by extracting a promise from Lord Shiva to order Sundarar to swear to be faithful only to her which is not a logically possible deal to strike given the first bargain. Shiva fiddles the result by making the oath non-binding.

Whatever this meant 'in the real world' (probably that the 'saint' would never honour emotional blackmail or allow himself to be bullied by cunning and passive-aggression), Cankiliyar is given the choice - the man shared or no man. She goes for man shared and marries him too.

Paravaiyar, back at home, is not too pleased when Sundarar delivers the news that he has also married her heavenly 'sister'. She threatens the deal by claiming to prefer to die than share - though she cannot assume that her reincarnation will be to heaven rather than lower down the social pecking order.

Perhaps, like many dancing girls, she has her feet firmly on the ground and sees the Shiva boon story, no doubt related to both girls as a consistent narrative, as a nice bit of verbal legerdemain to try to explain the simpler fact that Sundarar loves both and thinks it is his rightful condition to have both.

Remember at all times that the two girls have choices. They can accept the situation or kick him out.

It may not have been quite so simple in the social conditions of the period but we should not assume that they could not be independent, not be socially supported and not make his life hell for the rest of his earthly existence.

Sundarar has a problem so he appeals back to Shiva who spends an inordinate amount of time (considering he is a God) working on Paravaiyar. This not only works but Paravaiyar is welcoming.

Her heart speaks for acceptance. So we have two women, both giving way to the man, but both now accepting the situation. This is not to the taste of all 'saints'.

Hinduism has its curmudgeons and Saint Kalikkaman was not too pleased with the conduct of Lord Shiva who thinks he is letting Sundarar get away with far too much (Kalikkam would feel well at home in Christian Europe).

Shiva will not be brooked. Kalikkaman becomes seriously ill and Sundarar is sent to cure him. Kalikaman is right pissed off and would prefer to die than be humiliated in being cured by someone who considered the Lord Shiva in the way that he interpreted Sundarar to do.

Sundarar forces his way into his house and Kalikkaman kills himself.  The code behind this is the classic one betwen a 'gnostic' and a 'catholic' approach to deity. Sundara follows his heart and Lord Shiva is there to support him in that.

For Kalikkaman, Shiva represents the right order of society which Sundarar has treated with contempt. It is a struggle played out wherever there is religion underpinning social order but, in medieval Tamil society, the argument goes with the heart as it might today.

This is not a libertarian Shiva - the whole situation arises because of a command following a feudal boon granted but this is perhaps only an articulation derived from the culture.

In essence, the Lord Shiva is reflecting the saint's inner desires as commands and, though some might think him a rascal, there is no force and only persuasion involved in a deal that stops him from marrying against his heart and then marrying two in accord with his heart.

Against this is the initial dog in the manger attitude of two women who want exclusivity at the expense of the other (so much for sisterly solidarity) but who both make a free choice (not an arranged marriage) that accommodates the other by agreement.

The representative of order is horrified - better that two be miserable (the losing heavenly hand-maiden and, in part, the Saint) than that right order be upset and three persons negotiate deals outside the 'proper forms'.

It is a story that encapsulates the struggle between authoritarian demand and libertarian calculation. Sundarar is not without moral sense of the tragedy of Kallikkaman killing himself.

This is an unncessary death to the 'gnostic' mind and he considers suicide himself in recompense in a surge of high emotion but then, Lord Shiva (now established as the promptings of his heart) restores the other to life and the two become friends.

This last bit is the most unrealistic - alongside other tales of parting waters and retrieving dead children from the bellies of crocodiles - and it sounds like wishful thinking.

The heart that is Lord Shiva says that the authoritarian should ease up, come to life and be a good pal to the libertarian. The waters parting is more likely, given authoritarian character traits.

Most stories from the Hindu tradition that have a sexual content would be recognisable in a Christian context - in essence, the merging of the person into the divine as consort and perhaps calling for tolerance by earthly lovers for worshippers' preference for the ghost of a God over their flesh.

But this story is interesting because Sundarar is by no means a saint by any Western understanding and, clearly, conventional morality, represented by Kallikkaman would share that perspective.

But here, in medieval South India, is another view where the promptings of the heart undertaken in good faith can be read as 'good'. His sanctity is unquestioned. And no-one gets terminally harmed in this story except by their own hand.

Of the three women, two end up in a negotiated settlement in which they are effective participants and the first (arranged marriage partner) may be culturally harmed and even unintentionally humiliated but the settlement was arranged and not negotiated through the promptings of the heart.

The psychology of at least part of South India appears to be closer to that of the world of Southern France at the same time.

But, whereas in the latter, the 'arrangement' is to permit arranged marriages (in effect) alongside a desexualised love for others - the famous courtly love - a strand in Tamil culture appears to be saying, in a very modern way, that sexual love, expressed with integrity, can stand aside from institutional arrangements - whether arranged or exclusive.

In the West, this idea that a saint may be sexualised would not be countenanced. That anyone might abandon form and follow the promptings of God in his or her heart towards a sexual end would be impossible.

The cold miserabilism of Roman authority is brought into focus by this contrast especially when one realises that the Gnostic turn in the West at that time was represented by the Cathars whose attitude to sexual expression was even more drastic than the Catholic priesthood.

Of course, this was South India in one period of history and was clearly contested ideology. But it stands in the legendary record.

Today, Hindu culture is one of the most sexually puritanical in a puritanical world and, in the countryside, perhaps one of the most sexually brutal but, once, a Saint stood for polyamorous sexual love and that, in itself, is interesting.

Monday, 2 June 2014

On Magic as Techne ...

"While the black magician at the time of signing his pact with the elemental demon may be fully convinced that he is strong enough to control indefinitely the powers placed at his disposal, he is speedily undeceived. Before many years elapse he must turn all his energies to the problem of self-preservation. A world of horrors to which he has attuned himself by his own covetousness looms nearer every day, until he exists upon the edge of a seething maelstrom, expecting momentarily to to be sucked down into its turbid depths. Afraid to die -- because he will become the servant of his own demon -- the magician commits crime after crime to prolong his wretched earthly existence. Realizing that life is maintained by the aid of a mysterious universal life force which is the common property of all creatures, the black magician often becomes an occult vampire, stealing this energy from others. According to mediaeval superstition, black magicians turned themselves into werewolves and roamed the earth at night, attacking defenseless victims for the life force contained in their blood." (Quoted by Manly P. Hall, 1928)

The matter of magic (not conjuring but something more complex) requires some questions to be laid out before the sceptic (the mind that sees nothing before it but incomplete fact without possibility) and the small believer or dabbler (the mind that thinks that mastering codes, words, numbers, habits, lineages, transmissions or initiations are sufficient to be a magical scientist):-

1. Is it possible that the discoveries of physics indicate dimensions which have properties of mind, either intrinsic or in the form of 'inhabitants'?

2. Is it possible that, if such mental dimensions or inhabitants of such dimensions exist (and these are two very different concepts), human beings can make contact or use of them?

3. Is it possible, if such contact can be made, that human will can master such forces or would such forces master human will?

4. If human will can master such forces, how are such forces to be used responsibly?

In short, we are speaking, if magic exists as more than fantasy of which we are still doubtful, of the complexity of magical thought and its many barriers to safe and responsible use as technique.

To be 'real' to us, it must be known in scientific terms. Its origins must be contactable or its methods usable - either as as a relationship with alien forces or as a technology.

It must also be used or contacted on human terms if it is not to be either an expression of the death instinct in us or a mere animal acquisition of power in the short term that is destructive in the long term - that which may turn a man into a vampiric werewolf and a woman into a lamia.

Magic is just undiscovered science and, as we know, science in the wrong hands is destructive of soul, body, society and even the ability to exist as a species.

It might, therefore, be advisable to know before using ... and to know yourself before knowing anything else. But what is it that we have to guard against?
  • The use of technique to command the minds of others. The use of technique by others to command our minds.
  • The dragging up of the mores of the dead, of custom and of habit to drag down the living.
  • The sucking of the life force of one person to sustain some vampiric other.
  • The willing of power to harm others.
  • The binding of others to you. You being bound to others without choice.
  • The re-creation of yourself to suit society or another and not yourself. Complicity in the social construction of others
  • The loss of self into technique normalising or socialising demands by others.
  • Selling what people do not need or want. Having sold to oneself what one does not need or want.
Yes, these contain choices for conventional good and evil. Magic in this sense of the fantastic exertion of alien powers on our own being is real and all around us. The alien or the demon is not in another dimension but in the most alien of worlds, the social.

It is the social against which we are alienated and it is only by mastering the social, the core of the magical, of the claimed and the fantastic, that we can hope to master our alienation.

Where unknown dimensions are most likely to come into contact with us as humans (without stating finally and incontrovertibly that such dimensions cannot exist in the world independently of the social) is where our mind, embedded in matter, meets other dimensions of matter.

This is within our complex brains, dimensions that may or may not extend beyond us in space and in time, zones of the unknown that might be dark or light or dawn or twilight. Our mental representations of others, of the social, are the sources of both the angelic and the demonic.

Magical technique, extended from this unknown sub-conscious, exists wherever one mind uses the past or personality to crush the soul of another and where the social construction of reality crushes the spirit of the one person in favour of the habits and prejudices of the many or another.

Politics and ideology are always prone to magical technique. Somewhere in minds are dimensions of instinct involving power and desire, fear and hate, which are scientifically ill-understood but whose laws permit mastery by some at the expense of others and so techniques of oppression and control.

Whether sub-conscious dimensions exist as aspects of being human or of being-in-the-world or the dimensions speak as inhabiting gods, or whether these are all just our fantastic attempts to explain the phenomena, it takes a 'true will' to choose to understand them and wisdom to remain their master.

Only the greatest magicians can do this and the choice of good or evil then becomes something beyond good and evil at the moment of mastery. The choice is beyond the technique, the magic, the technique, a mere tool for the good or the evil that comes from the will behind the choice.