Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Divination 101: Reflections on Harrys introduction to fortune-telling

Who wants to look at this stuff all wet and smooshy at the bottom of a cup?

Tea leaves are not easy to read. Trelawney should have started with something basic. Tea leaves are not basic. 

I can (but don't, so please, don't ask!) read pretty much anything: cards, palms, fire, moles, dreams, handwriting, wax...I used to love it, until I started worrying about my soul. Tea leaves - not so much. I think it's because they're soggy. I hate soggy things. I love tea, but staring at the sodden leaves at the bottom of my cup is completely unattractive. Soggy things are gross. So I was all in sympathy with Harry & Co. when they have to start their Divination journey reading tea leaves. Ugh. My inner-eye drowns just thinking about it.

* * * *   * * * *


Fortune telling with turkish coffee
 lukum (turkish delight) 
coffee-reading..I'd almost be willing to try!
Trelawney is a delightful fraud though. I love watching her work! I remember once coming across a book of divination almost completely focused on 'faking it' (because sometimes you're having a Hermione sort of day).. I wonder if Rowling has seen the same book. Trelawney hits every point - I can't help but be impressed with her presentation. All the same.. I can see the 'truth' in Harry's cup..he does have an enemy, he will be attacked, and if you avoid to horrifically dramatic death-omen, well..the whole 'dog' image is...[Spoiler] know..applicable. Death omens are not a good choice - unless you're not really interested in accuracy. Because death images in Divination rarely relate to actual death.  All the same..I'd love to get my hands on a book like What to do When You Know the Worst is Coming.. sensational and fear-inducing as I'm sure it is. (Thanks for bring that book up, Christie!) I kind of love that Trelawney probably knows this, but can't help going for effect over any sort of reliability or educational effectiveness. She's much more interested in putting on a show than in actually informing her students - it's the sort of teacher I'd probably be..which is fun to imagine.

Her showiness is a good reason to start with tea leaves..since most of her students are pretty much guaranteed to see nothing more that clumps of soggy leaves..but the cups and saucers give her props to wave about, the steam and hot tea aid in relaxation..and who knows what's actually in the tea!!

* * * *  * * * *

Overall, Rowling's treatment is so very affectionate. Hermione is the harshest critic of the art, and she's obviously lacking a sense of humor - due perhaps to her overloaded schedule and her obvious need to succeed at everything..poor Hermione, if she could just learn divination, maybe she'd be able to look ahead at her tests and comfort herself a  bit. She needs comforting..or at least a couple beers (oh, wait, she's 13..just one then!). It's nice to know the flakes of the world (Trelawney, Lavender, Parvati)  show up alongside the Type - A, rationalists in the wizarding world as well as the real world. And really, there's no better place to reveal them than in the Divination tower.. Flakes of all types love divination  - until you tell them the cute-guy-from-Whole-Foods won't actually be marrying them in the next few months - and Hermione or McGonagall  types loathe it..even when it's dead on. Jenna mentions that in this first class there is "a clear refutation of the idea that there's anything in the standard charlatanry primarily associated with ..fortune-telling" but reminds us that "we're not through with Divination yet." ..Not through yet...a fun thought to hold on to against the lurking Dementors and the haunting 'Grim'.

So..What do you think of Rowling's introduction to divination? Fair, fun, likely to lead teens toward the tarot-card section of Barnes & Noble?  

dementor kisses
found on pinterest & love it

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Aesthetics versus Athletics (or Don’t Hate on the Pretty Boys): A guest post from Seth

My husband was willing to write a guest post on men and's something we've talked about often. I hope you appreciate his perspective as much as I do!

There’s a mens conference coming up this month in Portland. I seriously debated going but not only is it a bit out of my price range, the discussion about “true masculinity” or “authentic manhood” or “men coming together as men” (an actual quote from the radio spot touting said conference) is beginning to bore me. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a worthwhile topic (depending on how you phrase it) but its gotten to the point where the same things are said over and over again. Blogs, radio shows, books, articles - all of them seem to have the same theory about men; we need to be challenged, we need adventure, we need permission to be real men. Sports and business-oriented analogies abound, exhortations are given to call each other on and fight the dragon and fellowship (yes, as a verb), and after a few self-gender-deprecating jokes about not being able to multi-task (like women) or fix things around the house (for women) or being a practice round for God’s masterpiece (women) we are sent off, refreshed and ready to face the world of man-haters. And I find myself appalled at the complete lack of substance. Because there’s one thing I’ve never heard mentioned in all the talks on masculinity or read about in any of the articles on manhood; and that thing is Beauty. Sure, there’s the whole “a beauty worth fighting for” concept where apparently my whole worth as a person is reduced to how well I defend someone else (not to mention what this says about her), and I seem to recall being told over and over again how lucky I should feel that such a dazzling and beautiful creature as woman should ever deign to look at the clod-hopping, troglodytic, dunce that is me. But never once have I heard someone mention the presence and importance of beauty in a man’s life apart from woman; as an aspect of his life that is not dependent on someone else but rather exists within and around him, and calls him up into itself to find God.
The whole concept that a man might not only respond to beauty and wish to create beauty but actually be beautiful is apparently uncomfortable for the average American Catholic male. Or at least the ones in a position to talk about such things from a public platform. But why should that be? How is it such a leap from saying that God created a the heavens as beautiful, created the world as beautiful, created the plants and animals as beautiful, and created woman as beautiful to saying that man must also (as a part of that creation) be beautiful? It would seem the height of egoism to state that he was created outside of all this beauty, to be the only thing in God’s mind that is both good but ugly and that everything beautiful was made so that he could enjoy it without being a part of it. God Himself is beautiful, how can man, made in His image and likeness, not be? Yes, it is true that God is also a warrior, a priest, a lion, a thief in the night (we’re going to leave the mother hen image aside for right now but trust me, I’m aware of it). But one thing He is not is compartmentalized. So while men are called to be brave, holy, fierce, and cunning we are also called to be icons, windows of His grace and beauty to the world.
And speaking of icons - how is it that the only masculine activities I hear mentioned by the experts are “active” in every sense of the word: football (soccer apparently being too cordial, rugby too European), hunting, fishing, hiking, and the ultimate, whitewater rafting. But never music, dance, art, literature, drama, or any of the more “refined” subjects. Mechanics are manly, painters are not. We’re reminded how much Blessed Pope John Paul II enjoyed skiing and celebrating Mass on mountaintops, not so advertised is his philosophy of acting or his letter to artists (which, contrary to popular man-opinion, is not the same as Mulieris dignitatum). We appreciate the magnificence and majesty of Church architecture and art but never look to the artists themselves - Bernini, Michaelangelo, Raphael, El Greco, Andrei Rublev, and hosts of other men have contributed untold riches to the world of aesthetics, it is difficult to comprehend how they could all be somehow inferior to a kick-boxing champion or NBA player just because they dedicated their lives to art instead of sports. Mozart, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Haydn, Bach, Evelyn Waugh (yes,a guy), Francis Thompson, St. Luke, St. Augustine, Giotto, Claude McKay, Baryshnikov, … it’s not that every man on this list is somehow the perfect epitome of masculinity (or virtue) but that they were all men giving their lives to the pursuit of beauty. And I think one would be hard-pressed to say that any failings in their lives were somehow linked to their endeavors and that if only they had become CEOs or wildlife rangers all would have been well.

King David sang, played the lyre, danced for God, and was described as a ruddy and handsome youth. He also slew Goliath and ruled a nation. He wrote the psalms. He massacred the Philistines. He fell and repented and prayed and was forgiven. He clearly had a sensitivity to beauty and it’s importance to our existence. And from his line came the Christ, the Savior, God-made-Man. Truly, in the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky, “beauty will save the world.”

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday Reflections: Notes from Meditations on the Tarot

The Magician 

The Anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot is not writing a book on divination. This is not a book for the reader of the cards, and the reflections are only on the major arcana. It is a book which uses the images of the cards to bring us into a deeper relationship to the world of symbol and faith. 'A journey into  Christian Hermeticism' - the author calls it, and what is Christian Hermeticism but a journey itself, an ever growing relationship.

In the first card, we're invited to meet Symbolism itself in the form of the Magician, who like symbols themselves "conceal and reveal their sense at one and the same time."

The magician is linked by the author to "the rapport of personal effort and of spiritual reality" - the card that opens the door to understanding the others. 

                          Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play;
                          make every yoke you have accepted easy and every burden that you 
                          carry light!

Seen that way, it's obvious we need a magician of some sort - we need to bend the exterior life to reflect the will, shape it, as a magician does. It is not an easy task though, each person has a burden which seems impossibly heavy; but Christ has called us to do the same, with his own magic lifting the yoke until it is easy to bear. The key our anonymous friend gives is in disinterested concentration - focusing not on the burden, but on the One who makes burden's light and there, concentrating 'without effort' on the absorbing beauty of Christ, our work becomes the serious, joyful play of the child.

I'm finding as I read these reflections, that I love the quiet of them, the abundant symbolism, and the different and completely non-divinatory view of the cards. It's a way of looking at them I'd never really explored before, and it's a blessing to have the chance now.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dementors: Harry Potter Book Club

This week we’re focusing a bit on Dementors:

"Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can't see them. Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself... soulless and evil. You'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

“That's bad enough, but it gets worse. The primary danger of the dementor is the Dementor's Kiss—in which the dementor clamps its mouth over a human's and sucks out the soul, leaving the body alive, but presumably vegetative. The soul ceases to exist.” ~ Jenna

The dementors are an amazing idea. Creepy, swooping, demonic beings of darkness and filth, they are the perfect horror element - tailored to the individual and apparently indestructible. I love their role in this book - to drive Harry into a deeper confrontation with his traumatic past. But the dementors fail in one essential and deeply troubling sense. The ‘dementor’s kiss’ steals the soul of the victim. My frustration with this all-too-powerful ability of evil is that the soul is then reduced to merely a thing - something that can be taken away through no fault of the individual..and I can’t help but be disturbed by such a view of the person. Our souls are not attachments to our person, they are a part of us, and the idea that they can be lost completely merely by being in the wrong place at the wrong time is problematic for the characters and the world overall. It is similar to the sense we get from the books and from the interviews that Voldemort is evil by nature, that he’s never had the ability or opportunity to love and grow in goodness. Evil, we seem to be being told by Rowling, is a specter in the night, waiting to absorb us into itself unless we are powerful enough to deflect it - power, talent, and learning are the keys in this case, not goodness and love. I wish Rowling had given another option, a way of deflecting the dementors that was less learned and more a part of the goodness of the person - if, for example, Neville had been less affected and more dismissive toward them because of his purity of heart and loving character, while Harry’s tendency to rage gave them an ‘in’ to his deeper fears..Or if the dementors could feed on the terrors of everyone equally, but would be unable to suck up the soul of the innocent (cough. SPOILER. Cough)

But Rowling doesn’t give this ‘out’ and while I’m grateful that she realizes and portrays some fates as being worse than death, I wish she’d considered the implications of the free and unfettered taking of a soul. As it stands, her souls seem lacking. I wish I could clarify in my mind exactly what this means for the ‘theology’ of the Series, but all of that is still sort of in flux. The creatures themselves are fantastic, but the failing is so frustratingly complete.

Now there is an explanation from Rowling herself on the subject indicating that the dementors are Depression personified, and Jenna agrees that:

the imagery of a malevolent creature that sucks feeling and hope away from you, that leaves you with a cold void space where your heart should be, that strands you in the company
of only your worst fears and memories—yeah. That. That is what it feels like.

But though the Dementors as Depression image is very good and very workable, Depression alone can’t destroy the soul. It can lead the individual to destroy his own soul, but on it’s own, no, Depression doesn’t have that power. Mental states, no matter how painful don’t have the ability to damn. So I’m not certain where exactly Rowling meant to go with that imagery and I’m hoping you all will want to discuss it ad nauseum, because I do. One thought I’m playing with, to see if I can make it work is The Noonday Demon of the desert fathers..but as of right now, I’m still searching.

So share your thoughts! Do the Dementors work? And what are the “implications beyond bearing” you see in their horrible ability to deprive the victim of his own soul?