A New Definition for the Kilogram

It looks like after this week the accepted SI unit of mass, the last fundamental unit of measure to be defined by a physical artifact, will be redefined in terms of fundamental constants of physical theory.

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The kilogram is dead; long live the kilogram

Nearly every measurement of weight you’ve ever made, from peeking at your bathroom scale to measuring out flour for a recipe, can be traced back to just a single object: a metal kilogram made of platinum and iridium that resides under lock and key in an underground vault in Paris. It’s called the International Prototype Kilogram, or IPK, and since its creation in 1889 it has been the standard by which the world’s weights are defined. But not for much longer.

That one chunk of platinum and iridium has defined the kilogram for over a century. This is not an event that happens every day….

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Nephthys Book

I have published an anthology for Nephthys.

The ancient Egyptian goddess Nephthys is the guardian of the palace, temple, home and tomb.  She is associated with mourning, magic, healing, protection, the sun, the Nile flood and the star Sirius.  She is the Mourner of Osiris.  She is the Wife of Seth, the Mother of Anubis and the Sister of Isis.  She is associated with the leopard, the black kite, the dog, and the donkey.

In She Who Speaks Through Silence, you will find:

Essays about the Goddess
Rituals and Magic
Poetry and Oracles
Modern Adorations and Hymns
Fiction Story

Page information is here: https://fiercelybrightone.com/my-books/she-who-speaks-through-silence/

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Heaven-Scent: use of perfumes & incense

Perfumes and incense have a longstanding role in religion. Directions for which incense to use for each prayer survive along with the Orphic Hymns; the Egyptian Bast, famous for her association with cats, was also a goddess of perfume. That’s just a couple examples.

How do perfumes, incense, and other scents fit into your practice, if you use them?

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Conceptions and Misconceptions about Karma

Past live blame is another big thing that I tend to see from them, where anything that happens to you (in addition to being your own fault because of your current life thoughts…) is some kind of karmic ripple effect of something you did in your past life.  I’ve seen people say that if someone steals from you, it’s ‘obviously’ because you were a thief in a past life, and it’s just balancing out the scales.

Well, in Indian theology, it often IS because of something you did in one of your past lives. That doesn’t mean you should be blamed in your current life, or that you shouldn’t be empathized with or helped, or that the criminal shouldn’t be brought to justice. It simply means that the reason something bad happened was because something else bad happened in a different time and place.

Basically, in Indian theology, evil begets evil and good begets good. That’s why “be good” is such an important part of Hindu or Buddhist worldview. If you choose to do evil now, by stealing or killing, it will continue to ripple and multiply indefinitely throughout the rest of time.

It’s not as deterministic as you might think. Every Karmic reaction starts with a free-willed choice. You might have bad Karma from a past life, but you choose whether or not to do good works or bad ones in this life. A thief still chooses to be a thief, even if Karma dictates that someone “deserves” to be robbed; the person doing the bad thing still chooses to continue the cycle of Karmic retribution. If all the world’s thieves chose to stop stealing, and murderers to stop murdering, the cycle of Karmic retribution would come to a halt.

You must also remember that Karma, originally, existed in the context of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. It didn’t stand alone punishing people indiscriminate as a discrete system.

Rather, in the belief systems where Karma exists, there are always ways to stop the cycle, and to repay your Karmic balance. In Hinduism, religious devotion, good acts, and penance can help to clear your Karma, so that you don’t have to suffer in your later lives. There’s also the afterlife, where you can be punished for your crimes all at once, before being reborn into a new body.

Another important thing to remember is that not everything is Karmic. People have free will, and can choose to do bad things to innocent people. You should never accuse or assume a victim deserved what happened to them due to their past lives; it’s possible that an evil person chose to do evil without the victim having any bad Karma at all.

For example, a man who was good in their past life could be murdered by another man who was also good in his past life, because all people have freedom of choice. This would result in the killer getting bad Karma, and in long term retribution upon his later lives.

The point of Karma is to scare people into being good, not to blame the victims of evil for doing things to bring that evil upon them. Rather, the notion that a single murder could turn into thousands of murders, and increase it’s harm by orders of magnitude, due to Karma, serves to make people less likely to murder at all. No evil is small enough to be tolerated, because it won’t stay small.

Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists don’t celebrate Karma. It’s not a force for justice, it’s a force for vengeance, and it’s a force we seek to mitigate in the world. The Gods don’t make Karma happen, and they actually encourage avoidance of Karma.

People often find Karma distasteful because the see it as unfair and injust… but that’s the point. It IS unfair and injust, and it hurts the innocent. Karma is the enemy in eastern theology; unlike Hell and Damnation in western though, it isn’t something inflicted righteously upon evildoers by the Gods, rather it is something that simply exists, like gravity or inertia, as a rule of the universe, and which is caused by evildoers doing evil, with long term consequences.

So, to summarize:

Karma can be good or bad, but it’s not a moral process, but an automatic, unavoidable, natural one in Indian theology. It’s not just, and it’s not justice, but rather it’s unfair and cruel. The point of Dharma, fundamentally, in Indian religions, is the avoidance of Karma. The process of Karmic retribution magnifies the damage done by a single evil act by orders of magnitude. Karma is meant to discourage evildoers from thinking their evil actions have finite, limited consequences, when those consequences are really  infinite. Karma isn’t Damnation, it’s not justice or judgement, it’s a mindless force that oppresses people in the material world, which should be avoided and feared. 

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Nart Sagas: Ancient Myths and Legends of the Circassians and Abkhazians

Title: Nart Sagas: Ancient Myths and Legends of the Circassians and Abkhazians
(Fiction: Adult)
Author(s): John Colarusso
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: June 2016
ISBN: 0691169144
ISBN-13: 978-0691169149
Current Price and More Info from Amazon

Description:
The sagas of the ancient Narts are to the Caucasus what Greek mythology is to Western civilization. This book presents, for the first time in the West, a wide selection of these fascinating myths preserved among four related peoples whose ancient cultures today survive by a thread. In ninety-two straightforward tales populated by extraordinary characters and exploits, by giants who humble haughty Narts, by horses and sorceresses, Nart Sagas from the Caucasus brings these cultures to life in a powerful epos.

Special Notes:
none

Legal Notes: Some description text and item pictures in this post may come from Amazon.com and/or the book itself.


Discussion and reviews of this book are welcome in this thread. If you’ve read the book, please tell us what you think of it and why.

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Aztec Gods: Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca

Introduction:

Tezcatlipoca may have been one of the most significant gods in Mesoamerica, second in importance only to the rain god himself and the closest the Nahua pantheon gets to a supreme entity. Yet strangely, he is also one of the most ambiguous and mysterious gods about whom little is known for sure. Nevertheless, it is essential to engage with this complex entity, as Tezcatlipoca in many respects, is an emblem for the uniqueness of the Nahua pantheon. In most polytheistic religions their Trickster Gods, such as Loki and Set, are distrusted and pushed to the fringes of worship. The Nahua’s did the opposite, bringing their Trickster God to the very centre if their religious world-view, and this has quite a few implications for how they understood their relationship with the supernatural world, and even social values such as authority and morality.

Recognising the God:

Despite Tezcatlipoca’s importance, there are surprisingly few physical depictions of him. There are only a handful of potential Tezcatlipoca statues, and scholars are divided as to whether or not these statues actually represent Tezcatlipoca. Thus, the only depictions of Tezcatlipoca statues that can be confirmed come from texts. Diego Durán states that it was made from ‘shining stone, black as jet.’ This would be obsidian. Other cities used wooden idols, which were carved roughly in the shape of a man, upon which ritual garments could be mounted.

While sculptures are rare, paintings are more common and easier to recognize. The Codex Borgia contains some of the most distinctive images of Tezcatlipoca. He is identified by several distinctive features. First, he has 3 black and 2 yellow horizontal stripes across his face. One of his legs will be replaced by a snake, or an obsidian mirror. He also carries a shield with a set of darts in one of his hands.

Although Tezcatlipoca is seldom depicted, he is frequently written about, often under one of his many names. Under the name Tloqueh Nahuaqueh (Lord of the Near and Far) he is frequently mentioned in Central Mexican poetry. He is also frequently discussed in the Florentine Codex, where he is the recipient of multiple prayers. He is also associated with Tepeyollotl (Heart of the Mountain), who appears as a Jaguar, and Chalchihuihtotolin (Jewelled Bird) who is depicted as a turkey. It is unclear if they are allied deities (Nahuals) or different aspects of Tezcatlipoca himself.

Mythology:

Just like Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca has a major role in Nahua mythology. In the Legend of the Suns Tezcatlipoca was the first Sun. However, as a god of shadow, Tezcatlipoca was far too dim to be a good sun. Responding to this, Quetzalcoatl knocked Tezcatlipoca out of the sky and took his place as the second sun. In retribution Tezcatlipoca transformed into a giant jaguar and ate everybody.

Tezcatlipoca also played a very important role in the creation of the earth, when both he and Quetzalcoatl searched out the Cipactli (a giant monster). Tezcatlipoca used his own foot as bait, which Cipactli promptly bit off. Then both Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl attacked and subdued the gigantic beast. However, after they subdued it, they felt somewhat remorseful. So, they cut a deal with the monster. They would shape her into the earth’s surface and she would bring fourth fruit and vegetation for humanity to enjoy. In return she was allowed to devour the bodies of those who died on her body.

And again, like Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca plays a major role in the Fall of Tollan. Unlike with Quetzalcoatl, who is really Topiltzin, the Tezcatlipoca is explicitly a divine being. Posing as a sorcerer he tricks Quetzalcoatl/Topiltzin into getting drunk and disgracing himself with a priestess (or his sister, depending on the source). In other versions of the legend Tezcatlipoca faces off against a Toltec lord named Huemac. First, Tezcatlipoca seduced Huemac’s daughter by posing as a well-endowed Huastec chilli seller. This allows him to marry into the nobility, where he wreaks havoc on the Toltec rulers, eventually leading to the collapse of the city. He is also responsible for casting several brutal spells on the population, which had the effect of a plague, devastating the population and scattering the survivors.

History:

As befitting such an elusive and mysterious god, almost nothing about Tezcatlipoca’s origins are known. Historians have theories, but little proof. Some have postulated that he was worshipped by the Olmecs, as they frequently depicted jaguar and jaguar men in their art. However, there is little to connect these jaguars with Tezcatlipoca specifically. Teotihuacan may have worshipped Tezcatlipoca along with Quetzalcoatl, but again evidence is limited. Due to his prevalence in the Codex Borgia, it is possible that Tezcatlipoca worship originated in the Mixtec-Puebla region. However, Tezcatlipoca worship was wide spread throughout Central Mexico and must have long predated the creation of the Codex, which was only made at the very end of the Postclassic.

Could Tezcatlipoca come from another part of Mesoamerica? He is rarely depicted in Mixtec codices either. Michael Code suggested that the Classic Maya God K is a Maya Tezcatlipoca. However, God K has agricultural, serpentine, and lightening associations, which are absent from Tezcatlipoca, while lacking Tezcatlipoca’s relationship with fire and jaguars. The only alternative is that Tezcatlipoca came from outside Mesoamerica, specifically the northern frontier. There is some evidence for this. Tezcatlipoca was associated with the north cardinal point. Huitzilopochtli also came from the north, so it’s not an unprecedented event. This would also explain the lack of physical representations. And as a bonus, it would explain the fall of Tollan as a conflict between invading Tezcatlipoca worshippers and the Toltec followers of Quetzalcoatl. Tezcatlipoca won, and this explains why depictions of Tezcatlipoca only begin to appear in the Postclassic.

Yet, although this theory provides a few good explanations, it has some key weaknesses. By its very nature, this theory would leave little evidence to prove itself. There is no confirmed evidence of Tezcatlipoca worship in northern Mexico. Furthermore, it cannot explain Tezcatlipoca’s connection with ancient Mesoamerican beliefs and symbols, such as jaguars, lordship, mountains (as Tepeyollotl), and book keeping. Remember, the one place where Tezcatlipoca is frequently seen, is in ritual books. He also played a critical role in mythology and Nahua ritual books, which were fundamental to their society. Lastly, Tezcatlipoca’s multiplicity of names almost certainly points to an ancient god.

Rituals:

For Tezcatlipoca, there was one ritual that mattered: Toxcatl. The ceremony part of the ritual occurred in May, but the leadup lasted all year. A captive was chosen to be the ixiptla of the god. He played this role for an entire year. This man was always young, fit, and handsome. He was taught to dance, play the flute, and sing. He conducted ceremonies, blessed people, and even participated in government. At the beginning of the Toxcatl festival he was ceremonial married to four women who represented different goddesses. Together, they would lead processions through Tenochtitlan, dancing and playing music. Finally, at the end of the festival, Tezcatlipoca travelled to a remote temple and ascended the steps. As he went, he cast off his ritual costume and broke his flutes. At the top, he was sacrificed by five high priests. They then bore his body down the temple for cremation. Immediately afterwards, a new prisoner was chosen to be Tezcatlipoca for another year.

The death of Tezcatlipoca was followed by several more ritual acts. Like all Mexica festivals, tamales were distributed at temples and the people of the city beheaded quail as offerings. Andrés de Olmos notes that amaranth statues were made of Tezcatlipoca, to be ritually offered later in the ceremony.

According to Durán, every four years Tezcatlipoca took the form of Titlacahuan, and offered absolution to those who had transgressed against others. This occurred ten da…

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The Nart Sagas (Colarusso)

I have just received a translation of the Nart Sagas by John Colarusso. These are tales from the northern Caucasus region. The title says Circassians and Abkhazians, but the stories within are shared by other groups like the Ossetians and Nakhs. The term “Nart” actually comes from the Iranic term for “Hero.”

It’s thought that much of the lore within can be traced back to the Ossetians, who are the last remaining Iranic language speakers north of the Caucasus region. They founded a kingdom known as “Alania” that once covered much of the region where the sagas are found today. The Ossetians are a remnant of a vast Iranic language speaking continuum that once stretched throughout modern day Russia, one that we know influenced the Proto-Slavic culture. It will be interesting to see if there are any major parallels hinting at this.

Most academic interest in them currently seems to be based on comparison with Greek mythology and, bizarrely, the Arthurian romances. That last idea seems a bit shaky to me. Allegedly, the Alanic auxiliaries brought in by the Roman Empire could have spread their legends. But considering that our record of the native traditions from Western Europe are patchy, it seems unlikely that the legends of a small group of foreigners would be well-preserved there. The Greek connection makes a lot more sense to me. Anyway, I haven’t started it yet, so we’ll see what I find.

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