Reading Jon Klimo's well-known book Channeling, I came across this interesting passage:
The clairvoyant and precognitive material of the later fifteenth-century semi-mythical English medium Mother Shipton also appears to have come true. Like a number of other prophetic mediums before and after her, she chose to record what she received in poetic form:
Carriages without horses shall go,
And accidents fill the world with woe.
Around the world thoughts shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye ...
In the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black, in green;
Iron in the water shall float,
As easily as a wooden boat.
Two things struck me about this. First, if Mother Shipton is "semi-mythical," how can we be sure of the provenance of her alleged prophecies? Second, the excerpt of the prophecy seems almost too accurate; I wondered what had been omitted.
Luckily, the Internet came to the rescue. Google easily turned up some answers. Here is the modern-day introduction to an 1881 book about Shipton by William H. Harrison, the complete text of which is online. (The intro, written in 2004, is by John Bruno Hare; links are in the original.)
Mother Shipton (1488-1561) is a traditional English character with a reputation as a prophet. Among the most startling predictions attributed to her is a short poem which predicts that
Carriages without horses shall go,
And accidents fill the world with woe.
Around the world thoughts shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye.
The world upside down shall be
And gold be found at the root of a tree.
Through hills man shall ride,
And no horse be at his side.
Under water men shall walk,
Shall ride, shall sleep, shall talk.
In the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black, in green;
Iron in the water shall float,
As easily as a wooden boat.
Gold shall be found and shown
In a land that's now not known.
Fire and water shall wonders do,
England shall at last admit a foe.
The world to an end shall come,
In eighteen hundred and eighty one.
Alas, this is a forgery written in 1862. In the 20th century an expanded version of this was circulated (revised to exclude the 1881 apocalypse, and include world wars I and II). Today, variations of this are uncritically posted at various websites, just as bogus Nostradamus prophecies circulated in the wake of the events of 9/11/2001.
This essay about Mother Shipton was written in the year 1881; it gives the text of the earliest Mother Shipton prophecies, which primarily concern events from the reign of Henry the Eighth. As it turns out, these were also spawned after the fact, penned by a notorious plagiarist. The three earliest texts mention nothing about horseless carriages, submarines, the telegraph, iron boats, let alone predict the year the world will end.
So if there is any kernel of truth to the Mother Shipton legend, it can't be determined from any verifiable documentation. Mother Shipton belongs in the same category as Robin Hood or King Arthur: a legendary figure, possibly based on a real person, whose narrative has been enhanced by time and retelling.
An online resource called the Museum of Hoaxes agrees:
Mother Shipton’s prophecies are hoaxes, because it now appears that almost all of them were written by others after the events they described had already happened. For instance, the first record of her prophecy about Cardinal Wolsey dates from 1641, long after the man had died. Her prophecies about future technology, and about the world coming to an end in 1881, first appeared in print in the 1862 edition of her sayings, and Charles Hindley, the editor of that edition, later admitted that he had composed them.
The existence of Mother Shipton herself is uncertain. Her 1684 biographer, Richard Head, apparently invented most of the details of her life. In fact, she may never have existed outside of Yorkshire legend.
This matter, trivial in itself, raises questions about the general accuracy of Klimo's book, at least in its historical section. Note especially that he did not quote the lines of prophecy stating that the world would end in 1881 - a rather significant omission!
I noticed some other doubtful accounts in the same chapter. For instance, in recounting the story of the Fox sisters, Klimo reports that the rapping spirit in their Hydesville farmhouse identified himself as Charles B. Rosma, a peddler, who was murdered in the house and buried under it. This is correct, but he goes on to say,
When digging was undertaken, human bones were found. Fifty-six years later, another excavation unearthed the peddler's tin box and other bones and belongings. Today, the Fox house, along with Rosma's remains, are displayed in nearby Lily Dale, New York, headquarters for the Spiritualist movement.
This gives the impression that the remains were positively ID'd as Rosma's. In fact, however, all attempts to verify the earthly existence of a Charles B. Rosma failed, even though the story was very widely circulated. There may never have been any such person. The bones first discovered under the house may or may not have been human. The remains found half a century after the fact may have been planted in the house in order to revive local interest in the story.
Klimo also reports the medium Nettie Colburn's meeting with President Lincoln - in which she supposedly convinced him to sign the Emancipation Proclamation - as if it were an established fact, when actually there is much doubt as to whether Lincoln gave any credence to mediums. (Doris Kearns Goodwin's bio of Lincoln acknowledges that he sat in on a few séances arranged by his wife, but says he was mainly interested in finding out how the mediums faked their effects.)
To give a final example, Klimo mentions the case of Helene Smith, who claimed to channel information from a race of beings on Mars. She was extensively studied by Theodore Flournoy, who wrote a book about her called From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia. But Klimo does not tell us the conclusion of the affair: Flournoy determined that the alleged Martian words spoken by Helene Smith were derived from French, probably unconsciously, and that her channeling was primarily a psychological phenomenon.
As one online source summarizes:
By the late 1890s, Smith was being investigated by many researchers. The most notable was Theodore Flournoy, a Swiss professor of psychology. Flournoy, using psychoanalytic techniques, spent five years sitting in on séances, researching Smith's personal history, and corroborating historical information that she provided during her séances.
Flournoy's conclusions were the Smith had a fantastic imagination, perhaps complemented with telepathy and psychokinesis. The Martian language that she produced was a childish imitation of French ...
After Flournoy published his findings in From India to Planet Mars (1900) Smith's supporters stood by her, and Flournoy was banished from her life. The expose only served to increase her popularity as she enjoyed comfortable wealth and fame.
No doubt there is much valuable information in Channeling, a book that continues to enjoy a positive reputation in psi circles, but my advice when reading it would be to follow Ronald Reagan's dictum: "Trust, but verify."
P.S. I should note that my comments are based on reading the first edition of the book. There is now a second edition, updated and expanded. Possibly the defects I found have been remedied in the newer edition; I don't know. For those who are interested, the revised edition is sold by Amazon.
I got very worked up about the Obama-Wright controversy - probably too worked up for my own good. I apologize for overreacting to some of the comments and for persisting in the argument after I should have let it go. Honestly I remain baffled that some people can see Wright's rhetoric as anything but hate speech; any defense of his more extreme statements is simply incomprehensible to me, like saying the sky is green or fire is cold. But we all have our own mental maps of the world and those maps don't always overlap.
When I thought about why I got so angry, I realized there were two main reasons. The first is that I am a little tired - more than a little, actually - of hearing about the prevalence of white racism in America while black racism, of the sort embodied in James Cone's theology and Jeremiah Wright's diatribes, goes uncondemned. This ridiculous double standard has made it impossible to have an intelligent dialogue. It serves the interests of no one except the demagogues who insist on it.
The second reason is that Wright, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, gave a sermon arguing that America was to blame for it and that we should look to our own failings in order to understand the attacks. Here I think John Edwards was almost right when he said there are two Americas - only, the two Americas are not the rich and the poor, but those who felt personally affected by 9/11 and those who did not. This appears to be largely a question of geography. Those of us who live in the Northeast, and especially those who are fairly close to Ground Zero, simply have a different perspective from some of those who live in other parts of the country.
To people outside the Northeast, 9/11 was an event on television. It was not quite real. It inspired a certain amount of philosophical rumination and water-cooler chatter, but its impact was necessarily limited. For people close to the attacks, 9/11 was not a TV show. My most vivid memory of that day is seeing the debris cloud spreading south along the horizon of the Atlantic as I walked on the beach. I've spoken with two people (separately) who were at the World Trade Center that morning. A local couple lost their son, a firefighter, in the collapse of the towers (he was off duty but rushed to the scene to see if he could help). Another couple, who lived down the street from my parents, were on Flight 93.
And so I simply have no tolerance for any nonsense on this subject. I refuse to give any consideration to 9/11 conspiracy theories of the "Loose Change" variety. I don't take kindly to suggestions that the threat of terrorism is overblown or that we should be more worried about traffic accidents, global warming, or slipping in the shower. And I especially dislike being told that really it was all America's fault - "blowback," as Ron Paul likes to say - or chickens coming home to roost. Not only do I regard this analysis as faulty (because the jihadi movement predates most of the foreign policy moves in question and was inspired by quite different motives, as this book makes clear) but I see it as insulting - the ultimate example of blaming the victim, or I should say victims - the 3000 dead Americans whom one apologist for terrorism likened to "little Eichmanns." (And don't you think Ward Churchill and Jeremiah Wright would get along famously?)
Well, I can feel myself getting pissed off all once again. This is a subject that pushes my buttons. So I'd better stop.
Anyway, from now on I will try to stick to less controversial subjects, like ESP and life after death. At least nobody disagrees about stuff like that.
In the comments thread about my post on Trinity United Church, Bruce Siegel pointed out that Oprah Winfrey has endorsed Barack Obama. He found this significant because, he said, "Oprah, in my view, is one of the most spiritually evolved, intelligent, compassionate, people on the planet."
I responded that Winfrey "has made a lot of money, but commercial savvy does not necessarily equal spiritual mastery (to put it mildly)."
Bruce replied, "Nor does it disqualify her in the least, as you seem to be implying."
This got me thinking. Can making a huge amount of money be compatible with spiritual advancement?
I'm inclined to say no.
Now, when I say a huge amount of money, I'm not talking about earning a decent living or even doing pretty darn well for yourself. I'm talking about amassing an enormous fortune - in the hundreds of millions of dollars, or even in the billions of dollars. (Winfrey's net worth was reported as at least one billion dollars in 2007.)
Although I think capitalism (with appropriate oversight and a social safety net) is the best of the available economic systems, I still wonder if anyone can accumulate this kind of cash and remain spiritually healthy. Remember that great fortunes don't create themselves. It takes an incredible amount of work over a long period of time to build up a billion-dollar portfolio. It requires total dedication to the task of making money, relentless pursuit of profit, and ruthless determination to squeeze an extra percent or two of gain out of every transaction. One must be a stern taskmaster, a workaholic, and a driven, Type-A personality.
Are these qualities consistent with spiritual seeking?
In my own, admittedly limited exposure to movers and shakers - the type of people who earn large fortunes - I've noticed the following characteristics:
A hard-charging, perfectionistic personality, intolerant of weakness or failure in themselves or others.
Almost superhuman competitive drive, which impels them to win every contest and not just beat but crush and humiliate every rival.
Disdain for subordinates, less successful competitors, nonplayers in the business world - basically anyone who is not playing and winning at their level.
Total immersion in daily activity, which consists of an unending round of meetings, phone calls, and video conferences, with little or no quiet time (quiet time equals wasted time, in their minds).
A social Darwinist streak that rationalizes their success and the wealth gap between themselves and most other people.
Arrogance bordering on hubris - the expectation that every order will be instantly obeyed, every wish carried out; fury and indignation at any delay, disagreement, or obstacle.
A rapacious desire for more - more money, more real estate, more deals, more acquisitions - not necessarily for the sake of having these things, but in order to prove capable of getting them; their self-worth appears to be measured by their success at winning high-stakes games, and the winnings are valued mainly as proof of their supreme competence.
And finally, in the men at least, a rather odd conflation of business acumen with sexual power - the sense that as Masters of the Universe they are continually proving their virility. Sexual metaphors of the locker-room sort are commonplace, and unsuccessful competitors are dismissed as unmasculine or sexually maladroit.
Now, I'm not saying that everyone who builds up a huge personal fortune necessarily matches this description. There may be exceptions that test the rule. But as a thumbnail description of the personality of an individual who becomes mega-rich, I think the above list of features is more likely to be accurate than not.
I remember reading an account of Michael Jordan, who crafted an image as a mild-mannered, kid-friendly superstar while garnering hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsements. The journalist who wrote the piece pointed out that this image was a complete fabrication. The real Jordan was not mild-mannered or laid-back; he was a compulsive competitor who became enraged when he lost any contest, even a golf game among friends. The real Jordan, the journalist wrote, was not the father figure who traded quips with Bugs Bunny, but the guy who won a championship game with a deciding basket at the last second and then made a circuit of the arena, his face twisted in a fierce, snarling rictus of angry triumph.
I'm not saying this to put down Jordan, a classy player of supreme talent. I just think we sometimes overlook what it takes to be a super-achiever. I suspect that almost anyone could become a multimillionaire, given a reasonably open economy and a fanatical, all-consuming will to succeed. Most people lack the will and are content with ordinary achievements (which is by no means a bad thing - in fact, I think it is rather admirable). A few people, however, cannot stand being relegated to the ranks of the ordinary, the common, and so they push themselves and everyone around them, they crack the whip, they work impossible hours, they drive their staffs to exhaustion, they alienate friends and family members, they refuse to accept defeat under any circumstances, and they succeed.
But having done all this, can they still have time to listen to the still, small voice that guides us to higher spiritual understanding? I very much doubt it. That voice was probably drowned out long ago by the incessant chirp of their cell phone, the buzz of their pager, the assistant reminding them about the next appointment and the next, and the never-ending mental calculations devoted to preserving status and maximizing gain, not to mention the entourage of yes-men and hangers-on who attach themselves to the successful.
In short, to attain a certain exalted level of success, one must become a predator - hungry, impatient, restless, ravenous. And predators, it seems to me, are not the most promising candidates for spiritual growth.
I could be wrong. But my guess is that Jesus had some idea of what he was talking about when he said what he said about the rich man and the eye of the needle.
I've started reading R. Craig Hogan's Your Eternal Self, and I'm finding it very interesting. It's basically a compendium of evidence for the proposition that philosophical materialism is wrong - that the mind is something apart from the brain, and therefore likely to survive the death of the brain. In a way, it's like a much less academic, much more popularized version of Irreducible Mind - though much briefer and also, thankfully, not nearly as pricey.
Much of the material is familiar to me, but not all of it, and even the more familiar stuff is still worth having in an easily accessible format, rather than scattered across dozens of blog posts and Web articles.
One story I don't think I'd encountered before concerns Jay Greenberg, a twelve-year-old musical prodigy enrolled in Juilliard.
Greenberg says that music just fills his head and he has to write it down to get it out. He doesn't know where it comes from, but it comes fully written, playing like an orchestra within his head: "It's as if the unconscious mind is giving orders at the speed of light," he reports. "You know, I mean, so I just hear it as if it were a smooth performance of a work that is already written, when it isn't." ...
In fact, at around age two, Greenberg started drawing instruments. Before he knew what a cello was, he had drawn a picture of one and had written the name ... At age three, he was drawing the notes for a cello performance. He had not been taught how to draw notes, and certainly not how to create a cello performance, yet they came to him.
In 2007, [his mother] reported that "... he told us he often hears more than one new composition at a time. Multiple channels is what it's been termed." Says Jay, "... my brain is able to control two or three different musics at the same time - along with the channel of my everyday life." He doesn't revise his compositions. They usually come out right the first time. [p. 43, Your Eternal Self]
In any book that covers so much ground, there will be room for nitpicking. The weaknesses in certain cases are not always mentioned. For instance, in a discussion of Charles Tart's experiments with a clairvoyant, there is no mention of the fact that a (very dim) reflection in the room could conceivably have allowed the subject to see the target object - a flaw that Tart himself has acknowledged. Hogan often points to the credentials of scientists who support psi, but this is a slippery slope, since there are many other scientists with equally good credentials who oppose it. And some of the authorities he cites are not the ones I would choose.
But as I said, this is nitpicking. Your Eternal Self is an important contribution to the debate over psi and life after death. It presents a wealth of specific cases, many of them quite recent, to lend credence to the idea that "you are not your brain." And it's got its own Web site, which includes additional cases like these.
R. Craig Hogan, by the way, is the coauthor with Allan L. Botkin of Induced After-Death Communication, another highly interesting and important book.
By now the whole world, or at least that part of it concerned with US politics, knows that for two decades Barack Obama has been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where the Reverend Jeremiah Wright has delivered a number of stem-winding sermons on the issues of the day. Among many other things, Wright has claimed that the CIA invented the HIV virus; he has expressed satisfaction in the 9/11 attacks; and he has declared that instead of blessing our country, we ought to say, "God damn America."
Put on the defensive by these revelations, Obama has argued that Wright is like a crazy old uncle tolerated for his eccentricities. This analogy falls short for two reasons. First, we tolerate crazy relatives because we have no choice. We don't get to pick our relatives. We do, however, get to pick our pastor. Obama could have left his church at any time. If he has remained in the congregation for nearly 20 years, it's because he felt comfortable there and liked what he heard.
Second, Wright is not a crazy old eccentric. He is an important figure in a nationwide movement called black liberation theology. Trinity United Church is considered one of black liberation theology's prime clearinghouses. That's why Wright's sermons have been recorded and disseminated on videotape, and are now showing up on YouTube. He is a leader in a movement, and by the standards of that movement he is not eccentric, not an outlier, not a crazy old uncle at all.
What is black liberation theology? As best I can judge, it is a black supremacist movement brewed up in the racial cauldron of the 1960s. One of its leading lights and formative intellectuals is James Hal Cone, whom Wright has cited as an inspiration. Cone, in turn, has praised Trinity United Church as embodying his theological ideas.
Here are some of Cone's reflections on the liberation movement he helped to found:
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.
There is no use for a God who loves white oppressors the same as oppressed blacks. We have had too much of white love, the love that tells blacks to turn the other cheek and go the second mile.
Theologically, Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man "the devil."
Now, I understand that it may be unseemly for someone outside this church to criticize its theology. And I know that African-Americans have been subjected to indignities, abuses, and victimization unlike those perpetrated on any other ethnic or racial group in US history. Only black Americans were slaves, bought and sold as chattel. The lynchings and cross burnings, the Jim Crow laws and whites-only restrooms, are a shameful part of this country's past. Although things are much better today, some racist attitudes unquestionably persist and continue to hold back the progress of the black community.
All that being said, however, there are ways of dealing with this history and moving forward, and the sentiments expressed in the quotes given above are not the way.
Religion at its best encourages us to rise above the ego-driven concerns that ordinarily rule our lives. It urges us to let go of grievances instead of bearing grudges, to love rather than hate, to eschew revenge and retribution in favor of forgiveness and compassion. Where the ego says, "I will never forget and never forgive," and jealously nurses its rage, true religion says, "We are all one, I am thou, and in hating or hurting you I only injure myself."
But religion at its best is rarer than it should be. Too often, religion devolves into yet another vehicle of ego-gratification, with the resentments and grievances so precious to the ego given new and larger life in the person of an angry, vindictive, and viciously partisan God. Then we have the spectacle of religious extremists calling down death and hellfire on anyone they define as the enemy. God becomes only a projection of the narrow parochial interests and fears of a particular community, the ego writ large, a bully in the clouds, a tyrant on a heavenly throne shoveling sinners into the furnaces of hell for the amusement of the remnant who are saved.
When religion becomes just another revenge fantasy for the (individual or collective) the ego, it is religion gone bad. And I believe black liberation theology fits this bill.
Look again at the quotes from Cone. If they are indeed an accurate reflection of black liberation theology's principal tenets, then it is hard to see how that movement could be spiritually elevating. Instead of uniting, it divides; instead of forgiving, it accuses and blames; instead of subordinating the ego to higher spiritual impulses, it does the opposite -- explicitly stating that if God is not in line with the ego's agenda, then the ego will have to "kill" God.
This is an inversion of religion in its proper sense. This kind of religion does not inspire or uplift.
Obama has based his campaign on transcendent themes and a message of hope and healing. His 17-year association with a church whose message is altogether different calls into question the whole rationale for his candidacy. The damage to his prospects is, I think, irreparable.
It turns out that Obama was right. Words do matter. Including the words spoken from the pulpit of Trinity United Church.
For further reading:
"The peculiar theology of black liberation," by Spengler (Asia Times)
"The insanity of 'black liberation theology'," by Rod Dreher
'Africentric Church,' in The Christian Century
Mark Anderson's blog makes note of six new scholarly articles apparently establishling that Shakespeare's play The Tempest, long thought to have been written after 1604, was actually based on sources that considerably predate that year. As Mark says, this is important to the authorship controversy, because the leading candidate for the "real Shakespeare," Edward de Vere, died in 1604. "If any Shakespeare play could definitively be dated after 1604," Mark writes, "then de Vere is kicked to the curb as a 'Shakespeare' candidate."
The two plays most often cited as post 1604 are The Tempest and Macbeth. If The Tempest was penned before 1604, then only Macbeth remains - and only if we buy the dubious argument that a play about the assassination of a Scottish king was written to "flatter" King James, himself a Scot.
The debate continues, and the level of scholarship on the anti-Stratfordian side just keeps climbing higher.
I kinda like these newfangled Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs). They're too dim to make good reading lights, but they serve well in situations where changing a lightbulb frequently would be inconvenient or impossible - say, when you're leaving the lights on while staying away from home for an extended period.
I broke a CFL once. I was trying to screw it in, and it slipped out of my fingers and broke on the end table. Part of the bulb fell on the carpet. So I swept up the pieces and threw them away, grumbling about the loss of eight dollars. Then I ran a handheld vacuum cleaner over the table and floor. I did all this in a room with the windows closed and the AC running.
Now I learn that every single step I took in handling this household chore was a dangerous blunder. In fact, I was mistaken even to think of it as a household chore. I should have treated it as a toxic spill. CFLs, you see, contain mercury - anywhere from about one to five milligrams of it. And when they break, they release toxic dust into the air.
According to the EPA, here is how you should actually deal with a broken CFL:
How to clean up a fluorescent bulb
Before cleanup: Vent the room
Cleanup steps for hard surfaces
Cleanup steps for carpeting or rug
Disposal of cleanup materials
Future cleaning of carpeting or rug
Wow. Sounds like overkill to me. I'm reminded of news stories about some kid who breaks a thermometer (containing mercury) in a school, and the school authorities immediately evacuate the facility, bring in EPA experts wearing HazMat suits, and spend three days decontaminating the place. Yes, this really happens. (Many more examples here.)
Anyway, I doubt that a little mercury dust is going to kill anyone, just as I doubt that the dollop of mercury in a thermometer needs to be treated like The Blob. But it does seem that mass consumption of CFLs will lead to a landfill problem, as this MSNBC article points out.
The same article includes a stirring anecdote of bureaucracy in action:
Manufacturers and the EPA say broken CFLs should be handled carefully and recycled to limit dangerous vapors and the spread of mercury dust. But guidelines for how to do that can be difficult to find, as Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, discovered.
“It was just a wiggly bulb that I reached up to change,” Bridges said. “When the bulb hit the floor, it shattered.”
When Bridges began calling around to local government agencies to find out what to do, “I was shocked to see how uninformed literally everyone I spoke to was,” she said. “Even our own poison control operator didn’t know what to tell me.”
The state eventually referred her to a private cleanup firm, which quoted a $2,000 estimate to contain the mercury. After Bridges complained publicly about her predicament, state officials changed their recommendation: Simply throw it in the trash, they said.
HT: Hot Air.
I found this video both impressive and disturbing. Impressive for the way the robot manages to keep (or regain) its balance even when being kicked or sliding on ice or maneuvering up and down rough terrain. Disturbing because the thing is so oddly lifelike.
If technology has advanced this far, can giant Imperial walkers be far off?
(FYI, I filed this post under Giant Mechanical Spiders even though the robot is not a spider. But it's certainly mechanical, and I am too lazy to create a new category.)