flwyd: (drum circle w/ fire)
This past weekend, a man ran into an effigy burn and died, apparently as a premeditated suicide. This occurred at Element 11, a regional Burning Man event in the Utah desert. The Utah Burner community and others who attended the event are doing some serious processing and supporting this week and there's a lot of discussion happening in the broader Burning Man community. On my favorite mailing list, someone asked Do we know why people run into fire? I don't know any particulars about why this particular human ran into this particular fire, but I had a lot of thoughts about humans and our general relationship to fire.

There's a lot of symbolism and human cultural context wrapped up in fire. It's long been an element of mystery, harder to predict and control than air, earth, and water. We are often drawn to what we don't understand. Fortunately the discomfort of a fire's heat usually keeps us from playing too closely with fire, though many a young child has received a direct lesson as a result of their curiosity. Many people at Burner events cultivate a state of childlike wonder and, at times, lack of awareness of personal safety.

One of my favorite quotes about religion goes:
There are three ways of knowing a thing. Take for instance a flame. One can be told of the flame, one can see the flame with his own eyes, and finally one can reach out and be burned by it. In this way, we Sufis seek to be burned by God.
Fire and community are intertwined; it's a big part of why Burning Man works. From burn barrels to camp fires to bonfires, humans are drawn to the warmth and the light. Encircling a fire, you can see (because it's light) everyone (because it's a circle) and you see that they can also see you. We tell stories around fires. We cook food on fires. We bring fire to all our major ceremonial events. This is how community grows.

Since fire is a key ingredient in story and spectacle, death by fire is often a very public death. Burning at the stake was often a punishment for heresy, witchcraft, and other cultural crimes in which authorities wish to set a cultural expectation with the execution.

The myth of Icarus also shows an ancient warning about drawing too close to the fire and the dangers of hubris and brashness. He didn't even make it to the fiery sun, but his quest to do so killed him nonetheless.

Suicide by fire, much less common than execution, can also reach a much larger audience than many other forms of self-harm. Thích Quảng Đức brought global attention to conflicts between the South Vietnamese government and the Buddhist community in one of the most famous protests of the 20th Century. I doubt he would be remembered today had he died by hunger strike.

I don't know if or how the decedent at Element 11 planned his immolation, nor do I know what message he expected the community to take from the act. I suspect, though, he chose (perhaps subconsciously) this way to die in part because of its publicity; he knew this act would be known to the community. Had he wanted a private death he would have chosen a different method. There were surely inward reasons as well, whether it's fire's symbolism as purification, mystery, dynamism, emotion, passion, or some other way that flame spoke to him.

Fortunately, the community which was shocked by this act can also support each other in recovering. And that community has a larger, encircling community that can provide support for that network of support.

Footnote: Wikipedia's Icarus article has links to a few other cultures' myths of similar characters. Not to mention the cultural mythology of my teenage years, Pink Floyd, with this great live performance of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun with a gong on fire.

Let My Characters Go

Monday, May 27th, 2013 11:06 pm
flwyd: (escher drawing hands)
The opening scene of my dad's favorite book, At Swim-Two-Birds, features the insight The modern novel is largely a work of reference. The main character goes on to construct a story using several characters from the Irish story collective.

I find it a very strange that our culture believes that the original teller of a story can exercise control over the stories other people want to tell about the characters the first introduced. I find it sadly ironic that the poster child for character-copyright is a company whose most famous stories are based on characters and stories in the public domain.

Conflating copyright of a work and copyright of characters is like claiming ownership of all dogs fathered by your dog. It's an unnatural damming of the stream of human cultural evolution.

(elevated from a comment on a recent post by [livejournal.com profile] grenacia about Kindle Worlds)
flwyd: (Trevor baby stare)
Got some time to kill? Been through all Vi Hart's videos on YouTube? The next best thing there is almost assuredly Don't Eat the Pictures, a Sesame Street movie from 1983 full of dark myths and deep characters. I saw this on TV when I was 4. Years later, I remembered parts of it vividly, but nobody my age had any idea what I was talking about. Did I really have an imagination rich enough to come up with this? A couple folks have confirmed my memories that this producted. And now, thanks to [livejournal.com profile] scott_lynch, I know what it's called and where to find it.

Originally posted by [livejournal.com profile] scott_lynch at Against Big Bird, The Gods Themselves Contend In Vain
I was a hard-core Sesame Street viewer from about 1979 to 1984, and my memories of the show are the sort of deep nostalgic tangle you'd expect, with a great deal of idiosyncratic noise blended into the signal. So, for many years, I carried around a vague but emotionally vivid recollection of a Sesame Street episode in which Big Bird and Snuffleupagus had witnessed the the passage of a soul to the ancient Egyptian afterlife, complete with the weighing of the human heart against a feather. I shit you not.

For all those years, I just assumed that I was nuts, or that I was conflating a memory of a childhood dream with a childhood television experience. Not long ago, I was trading Sesame Street memories with that girl I like, and I determined to Google-fu my way to the truth.

In the 1983 special Don't Eat the Pictures, assorted humans and Muppets are stuck overnight in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While Oscar, Bob, Cookie Monster, Olivia, and some small children are having the sort of mild and educational adventures you'd expect, Big Bird and Snuffy meet Sahu, a 4,000-year-old Egyptian prince (!) condemned to wander eternally in spirit form (!!) unless he can answer a riddle posed by a demon (!!!) that appears to him each night at midnight. I am not fucking with you. This really happened.

There's Sahu!

ACTUAL DIALOGUE from Big Bird: "Oh no! The demon's gonna be here any second now!" And here's the appearance of that demon, played by James motherfucking Mason.

You know you want to keep going past the cut. )

Winter Solstice

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 07:24 pm
flwyd: (sun mass incandescant gas)

At 05:30 UTC this Thursday, December 22nd, the Earth's axis will be exactly in line with the sun. Seen from the northern hemisphere, the sun will be the furthest south and closest to the horizon at that instant. The winter solstice has been celebrated for millennia by cultures from the Andes to the Urals and from Ireland to Japan.

Lacking precise astronomical tools, and desiring an excuse to party during the cold and dark season, cultures around the world often extended that moment to a day, a week, or more for a festival celebrating light, rebirth, and keeping warm. Scandinavians would gather family and friends and place a large yule log on the fire, feasting and celebrating while the log burned for many days. Similarly, in China, the Dōngzhì Festival features feasting with family. Solstice often marked a key point in the calendar. Celts and Druids created large stone structures structures like Stonehenge and Newgrange, in where a position is illuminated only at the solstice.

Winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year. The cultural symbolism is thus often tied to the return or victory of a sun figure in the local mythology. Some examples:

  • Japanese myths tell of the sun goddess Ameterasu being lured back out of a cave and into the sky on winter solstice.
  • Korochun, celebrated by Slavs in Eastern Europe, marks the death of the old sun god and his resurrection as the new sun god.
  • The practice of lighting the menorah on Hanukkah may have originated as a solstice tradition.
  • Hopi and Zuni Indians celebrate Soyal, when the sun returns from a long sleep.
  • Sol Invictus, celebrated in the Roman Empire, translates literally as "Invincible Sun."
  • During the festival of Şeva Zistané, Kurds celebrate the rebirth of the sun and victory of light over darkness.

The theme birth and rebirth sometimes includes non-solar figures as well. The births of Pryderi (Welsh), Mithra (Persian), and Dievs (Latvian) are all celebrated at the winter solstice. Contemporary Wiccans and Neopagans often celebrate winter solstice as the death of the old god and birth of the young god. Locally, many Neopagans gather at Red Rocks before dawn on solstice to drum up the sun.

Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, falls on December 25th, the designated date of winter solstice in the Julian calendar. Christmas in many contemporary European communities incorporates old local solstice traditions such as the yule log. The practice of Christmas gift giving may have arisen from Saturnalia, widely celebrated in Rome when Christianity was introduced.

Kid's Meal

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 09:35 pm
flwyd: (black titan)
Cronos was just getting in touch with his inner child.
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