JOSEPHINE RACITI FORSBERG
An Important part of Chicago Theater History
This paper was presented by Eric Forsberg
At The Columbia College THEATER SYMPOSIUM in Chicago – May 20th, 2011
I am here to talk about, my mother, Josephine Raciti Forsberg, and her influence on Chicago Theater. Josephine has been an actress, a director, a producer of new works, and a store-front theater owner. But most importantly, Josephine has been a pioneer teacher of improvisation. From the early 1960s until the day I write this she has guided and empowered thousands of aspiring young talents, training many of them for The Second City stage.
Josephine was born “Pepina Raciti” on January 28th, 1921. On her fifth birthday she received a Shakespeare picture book and from that point on she wanted to be an actress.
Jo got her first taste of improvisation at DePaul University’s drama department where she studied with David Itkin, a student of Stanislavski. Itkin gave Josephine her very first taste of improvisation – and the idea fascinated her. After DePaul, Josephine continued her studies with Mini Gallitser at “The Actor’s Company”. There she met a leading man and aspiring director named Rolf Forsberg. They got married and went on the road together, performing in Toby Shows, Passion Plays, and the comedy hit, “Good Night Ladies” in which Josephine played a sexy lead. Jo even tried her luck in New York and was quickly cast as a dancer for a show at Carnegie Hall.
Josephine and Rolf had their first child while on the road, Linnea. She was raised in hotel rooms and train cars and put in every child-role available. Soon Josephine’s little nephew, Marty (Martin de Maat) wanted to be in the theater too, so Josephine and Rolf brought young Marty under their wing like a son. Theatre was now the family business.
When Josephine and Rolf weren’t on the road they lived at The Art Circle, touring Chicago with their compilation show called “Moods from Shakespeare” in which they played dozens of roles, sharing seventy-five costumes all made and designed by Jo.
Jo also loved to see new plays. One evening she went by herself to a performance at Playwrights, on the 2nd floor of a Chinese restaurant. Jo was bowled over. Afterwards she met Sheldon Patinkin and Paul Sills and they became friends. When Playwrights later planned to do a Shakespeare Festival they invited Jo and Rolf to join the company and asked them to bring their costumes. At Playwrights Rolf directed plays and Josephine launched a Children’s Theater. Her first show was “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with Sheldon Patinkin in the title role. Then she did one more show and turned the project over to Elaine May. Another person that Jo met at Playwrights was Viola Spolin, Paul’s mother. Josephine had always been fascinated by Stanislavski so when Viola told Jo about her theater games and how improvisation could be used to create characters they hit it off right away. Josephine acted in four of Playwrights productions in 1954 & 1955: Per Gynt directed by Paul Sills, and Shakuntala, Tempest, and “Le Ronde” directed by Rolf. Le Ronde was so risqué that the entire theater was shut down by the fire department.
Sheldon, Rolf, and Jo continued to do shows around town under the “Playwrights” banner – while one of the company’s more radical partners, David Shepherd raced to The University of Chicago to produce his “Living Newspaper”. Then in 1959, Paul Sills, Sheldon Patinkin, Bernie Sahlins, and Howard Alk, created “The Second City”.
The Second City
In 1959 Sheldon asked Jo to join The Second City but she was pregnant and said “ask me in a year”. One year later, after I was born (on December 16th 1959, the opening of Second City no less), Sheldon asked her again, to join the new theater, and this time she said “yes”.
Jo was cast as Second City’s female understudy and for this she needed to take improv classes with Viola Spolin. Viola quickly broke Jo of her need for a script and taught her how to trust herself and improvise. Jo understood the games so well and she was able to articulate their theatrical applications so clearly that Viola made Jo her assistant teacher. Jo worked day and night; learning Viola’s theater games, helping her with classes, rehearsing scenes from the show, working with Sheldon to cast an alternate mainstage company, and being the house manager and hostess in the evenings. But one element was missing – her Children’s Theater. Viola had already done a children’s show at Second City and she wasn’t interested in doing another, so Jo jumped in: It would be Classics for Kids. Sheldon played the piano for Jo’s first production; a Mexican fantasy of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
Sheldon also did the role of Caliban in Jo’s version of “Tempest”. And at the end of each performance the kids were invited up onto the stage to play theater games – birthday kids danced under the Maypole – and then everyone did “Lion Hunt”. By the time Jo helmed “Charlie’s Aunt” and “The Mikado” it was clear that her “Children’s Theatre of the Second City” was firmly entrenched: she would produce kid’s shows at Second City non-stop for more than thirty-five more years. If you were raised in Chicago (especially on the North Side), the chances are that one of your first experiences with live theater was at Jo’s Children’s show – which was iconic-ly referred to by the Second City main stage cast as “Sunday, Sunday, the little Bastard’s Fun-Day”.
watching Jo’s kid’s show at Second City on Wells St
In the mid 1960s, Viola left Chicago and Josephine took over her workshops. She began modifying many of Viola’s games and adding her own exercises. She wanted to make the work as applicable as possible to developing sketch material and doing a show. By the time that The Second City moved from Clark Street to its current location at 1616 North Wells, Jo had turned much of her attention to directing the very first Touring Company: it was a milestone for Second City and there have been touring companies ever since.
Jo as director of the first Touring Company at Second City
Then, in 1969, Jo got the very hippy notion to move to Crested Butte, Colorado to bring the mountain folk there improv and bagels. She left Linnea and Martin in Chicago to teach her classes – but me, she took with, driving there in a VW bus. However, after 6 months in the mountains eating wild game and getting altitude sickness, Jo realized that nobody in Crested Butte wanted improv or bagels – so she came back. However things had changed at Second City while she was away – other instructors had ascended, including the formidable Del Close. Class space there was getting mighty tight, so in the spirit of Jo’s hero from Little Women, she rented a space from the Buddhist Temple around the corner, built a stage in it, and decided to open her own school of improvisation, with a course log, a teaching staff, and diplomas. She organized her hundreds of exercises, some of them Viola’s, some of them Jo’s, and many of them a hybrid of the two. This became the improv course that she taught for the next thirty years: she called it “Players Workshop”.
Chicago Tribune article naming Jo “Second City’s Den Mother” – 1974
Players Workshop was incorporated in 1971 – the first school of its kind. It’s charter was to teach people how to improvise over a course of five terms, prepare them for The Second City stage, and offer them opportunities to perform. With a space of her own, Jo was now able to hold classes in the evenings when people who worked during the day could come. Suddenly a new influx of student started to enroll: working people who just wanted to have fun. Jo saw this as an opportunity to turn masses of people on to the stage. And that was her ultimate goal. Jo would often say “I want a theater on every corner”. Even though she had her own space Josephine was still an integral part of the Second City family. Joyce Sloane, Sheldon Patinkin, and Bernie Sahlins were very loyal and gracious to her over the years; and they included her, as well as Linnea, Martin, and me, in every opening night and all major Second City events. Josephine continued to teach many of her more advanced classes on the main stage there; her Players Workshop sign was hung on the Second City wall by the stairs for all to see; and her Children’s Theater was going strong every Sunday, offering original plays and musicals with audience participation and free birthday parties. But most of all, Jo’s students and graduates were being selected over and over to be in the Second City companies – because they were talented and because Jo trained them well.
On the Second City website listing the alumni members of all the main stage casts between 1965 and 1989 –
SIXTY-ONE of them are JOSEPHINE’S STUDENTS – including:
Bill Murray Harold Ramis Peter Boyle Betty Thomas Joe Flarity Dan Castellaneta
David Rasche Shelley Long Tim Kazurinsky
Bob Odenkirk Ken Campbell Bonnie Hunt George Wendt & dozens more
So if a person wanted to get on the Second City stage, they often went straight into Jo’s classes at Player’s Workshop.
Jo also had students who made great strides outside of the Second City. One person she nurtured was a young playwright that she hired to play the piano for her kid’s shows. His name was David Mamet. Her box office manager was a young man named Brandon Tartikof, who later became the head of NBC. Another student who she encouraged to “just go out and do it” was Robert Townsend, who later made his first feature film using credit cards. Jo dug deep into her student’s wants and needs, deep into their lives and dreams, taking on her student’s growth with delight. She studied psychology, Transactional Analysis, EST, and many other venues for self improvement and personal growth. She became not only a teacher, but a mentor and a friend.
Player’s Workshop flyer circ 1977
Jo also knew that her students needed more opportunities to perform so in the mid 1970s she transformed her workspace into a coffee house theatre called The Players Oe. There she produced and directed everything from scripted plays to sketch comedy revues. George Wendt did his first sketch shows there. Jo also created a touring children’s theatre company which performed her original shows like Land of the Stage and the award winning, Comedia”. Josephine also held annual “theater seminars” for a couple of weekends every summer up in Bennet Lake, Wisconsin. It was the stuff of legend.
Jo’s theatre seminars were the Woodstock of acting workshops
Then Jo came up with her brain-child: a graduation show on the Second City main stage. She would add a sixth term that would focus totally on show creation. It would be performed in the mornings on Sundays before the children’s show started. The idea was a hit with her students and they packed the house. Graduation shows had a side benefit too: hundreds of improvisers with produced comedy revues who all wanted to continue performing their shows. Jo just told them to find a stage and do it; so her graduates spread throughout the city and suburbs performing in their local bars and stages like Sylvester’s Sneak Joint Pub, Zanies, Shubas, and The Theater Building. It was a renaissance of grass roots theatre and it has contributed to Chicago’s healthy love of live performances.
In 1981 Josephine purchased a three story building at 2636 North Lincoln Avenue. She called it “The Theatre Shoppe” and it was a place to teach classes and direct shows. There was a seventy seat theater and a forty seat theater as well a classroom.
The Theatre Shoppe façade – mid 1980s
This pic of Jo’s lobby was used by WTTWs as a promo for its Chicago Improv special
In the early 1980s Jo gave up her class times at Second City keeping only Sunday for the grad shows and the Children’s Theater. Jo and her children, Linnea and Eric then founded a not for profit theater company called Performer’s Arena as a production body for experimental shows. One of the plays Performers Arena produced every year was “The Gathering”, a dramatization of the last supper that Jo developed through improv. Performer’s Arena also produced scripted works like Rhinoceros, What the Butler Saw, and Marat Sade, all directed by me; as well as classics adapted by Linnea into improvised epics like “On the Road to Canterbury” and “Hunchback of Notre Dam”. Jo’s Performer’s Arena also produced the Joseph Jefferson Award nominated, “A Tenth of an Inch Makes the Difference”, written and directed by her ex-husband, Rolf. One of the most experimental shows produced by Performer’s Arena was a poetry performance cycle, about the birth and death of a world, titled “A Dozen Idiots”. After the show each night there was an all-are-welcome late night, Keith Johnstone style team improv sports competition. It packed the house until the wee hours of the morning and was a ton of fun. If you were just breaking into the improv scene in Chicago and you wanted to get on stage, Jo’s Theatre Shoppe was the place to be: it had a great energy just like her.
One of Josephine’s unexpected contributions to the improv world happened in 1982 when Josephine brought her old friend and socialist improv guru, David Shepherd to Chicago to help him develop his idea for an event called The Improvisational Olympiad. She set up a class for him filled with eager Players Workshop students wanting to study with the legend. One of those Players Workshop students was Charna Halpern. David modeled elements of his Olympiad event after the improv competitions at The Theatre Shoppe, formed teams, and, with Charna as his producer, David’s Improvisational Olympiad was born. It had its first competitive Olympiad at The Theater Shoppe and was an instant hit. Even as David and Charna trained other teams, the Players Workshop crowd made up the bulk of the early supporters. And in the late 1980s the first city wide Improv Olympiad championships were held on The Second City main-stage, with dozens of teams competing: The winning team – Oral Majority – from Players Workshop.
Training Center & Retirement
In 1987, Players Workshop was the largest improv school in the city, and maybe the country, with around 400 students. Jo’s school not only produced children’s theater and grad shows at The Second City but also shows for Taste of Chicago, The King Richard’s Faire, The Chicago Symphony, Candlelight’s Forum, and her two stages at The Theatre Shoppe. But the writing was on the wall for all that to change. Jo was talking about retirement, the Theater Shoppe was in need of remolding, and the Improv Olympic began offering classes which made Jo have to market herself and she was never very good at that. Also, Jo’s nephew Martin deMaat who had been teaching at Players Workshop for almost twenty years was hired as the workshop director of The Second City’s new Training Center, which began as an advanced course in creating sketch shows for those who already knew how to improvise. Martin looked for students who had completed at least a year of training, preferably at Players Workshop, so the relationship actually had some huge benefits. Jo’s sign came down and she started sending all of her graduates to Martin and The Training Center – and nearly 50% of them went. It was like the early days all over again – with Jo’s students filling the seats and class spaces at The Second City itself. Soon The Training Center was clearly the best place to prepare for an audition for The Second City stage. Josephine was sorry to see her school lose its unchallenged foothold but she accepted that things change over time and she and Martin made sure that Players Workshop and the Training Center moved into the future hand in hand. Jo was brought on by Martin as a consultant for the training center and I was hired as a teacher and level five director. And this cooperation was great for both schools. As the Second City Training Center grew so did Players Workshop, reaching over 500 students in 1989. But fewer and fewer Players students were making it into the Second City companies and before long it was clear that Jo’s school had seen its day. New life was breathed into it as Linnea brought on Emerald City to help produce the Children’s show and I brought in huge casting contracts for Six Flags Fight Fest. Also, for a while, Players Workshop shifted focus to the corporate world – which opened a new student base. But the school was not as young and vital as IO or the Training Center, and Theatres like The Annoyance were shaking up the space in a way that Players Workshop was just too venerable to compete with. Jo removed the phrase “of the Second City” from her letter heads and her ads, then she sold the Theater Shoppe and moved Players Workshop first into the Athenaeum in 1993 and then to a performing arts center in 1999. For a brief time we opened a Players Workshop West in Los Angeles, run by me. But soon the Second City Training Center also opened in LA, with Martin as its artistic director, and I decided to be a founding member of that school instead, directing one of the LA Training Center’s very first shows.
By turn of the millennium, Jo was more than ready to retire. Linnea, who had been running the workshop for years, had finally accepted a position as a college professor, and I had already moved to Los Angeles to make feature films. Then, Martin deMaat died, so long before his time, and it truly felt like Josephine and her entire family had come to the end of an era. So, wisely, and reluctantly, Josephine decided to close the doors on her school and let it slip into history.
However Josephine is still an honored guest at Second City functions and not forgotten by her students or by this symposium. Andrew Alexander, Kelly Leonard, and the late Joyce Sloane, have shown her great respect over the years. Jo has also been honored by other institutions in the City that she loves. Josephine has been honored by numerous improv councils including a lifetime achievement award from the Chicago Improv festival in 2007, a honor from the Funny Lady’s Fest, and numerous awards for her children’s theater. She was also honored by Mayor Daley for her children’s theater with a plaque in 1993.
Even though Players Workshop is a thing of the past, Jo’s influence still exists in every institution in this city that she helped to empower. She contributed to the construction, to the very foundations of American improv – and she has touched, even changed, thousands of lives. Josephine is one of the oldest members of her generation of improv pioneers that is still alive. And my hope is that she and her family will always be welcome at The Second City as well as the entire Chicago Theater establishment that she loves and to which she has given so much.
But like her hero in Little Women, Jo is not through yet. Just a few years ago her former student Bill Murray flew Jo to the east coast to teach improvisation to the New York Giants. She did workshops with members of the team for three days. She was tiny in the photos compared to the team members, but with a personality as big as anyone’s.
And just a few months ago her college text book “Improvisation for speech and theater”, which she wrote with her daughter, was published by Kendal-Hunt Press. So, even though Josephine Raciti Forsberg will be 91 next January, she is still going strong – with plans for another book in the future.
And oh, by the way, the Giants won the super bowl that year.
BELOW IS A GALLERY OF OTHER PICTURES
Soon after George W. Bush became president, Chief Justice Roy Moore of Alabama placed a 5,280 lb monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state’s judicial building. Moore claimed that the Commandments were “the moral foundation” of U.S. law (FindLaw.com). The ACLU filed a lawsuit based on separation of church and state, but the ACLU failed to ask the fundamental question: is American law truly founded on the Ten Commandments. According to R.G. Price, author of “The Ten Commandments: American History and American Law”, the answer is a resounding “No”. And yet the battles to place biblical monuments on state property in order to establish a link between the laws of God and the American Judicial system continue all across the country; in some cases being overruled and other cases, as in the Austin Texas Capitol Building case, being upheld. The debate continues to get hotter when just last year, vice-presidential nominee and Tea-Party advocate, Sarah Palin echoed Moore’s views to Bill O’Rielly on Fox News when she proclaimed Judeo Christian doctrine as the foundation of America’s laws, adding that future legislation should be guided by it. “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant,” Palin advised, “that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the Ten Commandments” (huffingtonpost.com).
With so many conservative Christians recognizing the Ten Commandments as the true legal doctrine of our nation’s judicial system, let’s examine exactly what these laws state. Here is a translation of the Ten Commandments from The Thomas Nelson & Sons Revised Standard Version of the Bible: Exodus 20:
- I am the lord thy God – thou shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the Earth beneath… for I am a jealous God, visiting iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy… in it you shall not do any work, you or your son, or your daughter, your manservant or your maidservant, or your cattle or the sojourner within your gates
- Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long…
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house… your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass…
And Moses took these commandments, according to the Bible, and “With a sound of… thunder Moses went to the people and told them these orders that were given to him by God” (Exodus, 20). Thus began the American legal system according to Justice Moore.
So let’s interpret these ten commandments as modern laws.
Commandment one: Worship the one true God or be arrested. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” which insures that this commandment stays in the Bible where it belongs (usconstitution.net.)
Commandment two: It is illegal to draw pictures or carve statues of any person or other living thing. This doesn’t work well in today’s America, where artists are revered; painters, sculptors, cartoonists, animators, and game designers alike. The elimination of these artists and the “graven images” they create would be Iconoclasm, an abhorrent destruction of art. But Iconoclasm is often praised in the Bible as being righteous. In the book “Their Iconoclasm and Our Idolatry,” Crispin Sartwell says that the first Iconoclast or destroyer of icons was Moses himself. Moses smashed the golden calf and shattered the stone tablets (Exodus 32.) And the destruction of art didn’t end there. Early Christians destroyed Roman statues. Spanish Priests burned hundreds of Mayan books (Mann, pg 303). And recently the Taliban destroyed the World’s largest Buddha statues in an attempt to follow the laws of God (reported by The New Republic). Worse yet, according to the wording of the commandment itself, not only would the person who broke the law suffer punishment, but their descendants would be punished also, “to the 3rd and 4th generation”: meaning grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Is this what Judge Moore and Sarah Palin want for America? I doubt it.
Commandment three: It is against the law to swear. In 1962 comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for using profanity in his stand-up routine. According to “The Official Lenny Bruce Site” at lennybruceofficial.com, the comedian violated California Penal Code, Section 311.6: “Every person who knowingly sings or speaks an obscene song…or… words in a public place is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Bruce was acquitted and arrested over and over until the third commandment became a joke. Now, fifty years later, Lenny Bruce is considered a maverick and most stand up comedians use profanity quite generously.
Commandment four: It is against the law for anyone to work on Sundays, even the cow. This is closer to being a law today than ever before, and we should be grateful that it is. According to the “Child Labor Education Project,” indentured-child-servitude, and child slavery have existed since America began. Only after unions formed in the early twentieth century did children and women begin to see conditions improve. Social reformers and the increased political power of working people spearheaded the fight for the rights of laborers (uiowa.edu.) So in general, some adherence to the fourth commandment is a very good thing in regards to labor laws. There are however a few cultures in the world that do follow the fourth commandment to the letter of the law. “Ultra-Orthodox and Secular Israelis Clash in Jerusalem,” on about.com/Judaism, reports that thousands of Orthodox Jews gathered “to protest driving on the Sabbath and… throw stones at passing cars,” as well as “slashing tires on cars of women not dressed modestly, physically attacking women… causing damage to restaurants and stores with non-kosher food…” Luckily in America it is okay to drive on the Sabbath but it is illegal to throw stones, slash tires, and attack women. Which will Judge Moore think is more Godly?
Commandment five and Commandment seven: these are together because they are both sensible good suggestions but NOT good laws: honor thy father and mother, and do not commit adultery. In other words: It is a crime for a son or daughter to be rude to his or her parents – and it is against the law to have sex with anyone other than ones spouse. As ridiculous as it may seem for either one of these to be a crime, they once were, at least in Switzerland, under the rule of John Calvin, the 16th century founder of Calvinism, which led to the Puritans and thus to conservative Christianity in America (calvinistcorner.com.) According to Robert M. Kingdon’s, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva, Calvin was a hardliner when it came to disobedient children and adultery, and he was willing to do almost anything to enforce God’s will as stated in the fifth and seventh commandments. So in 1563, Calvin showed the world what breaking God’s law meant. Historian, Walter Babinski describes Calvin’s punishments in his work, Execution of a Child and Adulterers in Calvin’s Geneva. One young girl “who had insulted her mother” was confined, fed only bread and water, and forced to repent publicly. A peasant boy who threw a rock and swore was flogged and hung by his arms from the gallows. In 1568 a boy who had struck his father was beheaded (p. 361.) And there are equally horrible deaths that he condemned adulterers too. These two commandments; honoring one’s parents and not cheating on your spouse may both be sensible suggestions, but to make them crimes – what would America’s Founding Fathers say?
Commandment six and Commandment eight: Don’t kill anyone and don’t steal. Finally, here are two commandments that are actually laws in The United States today. The question is, did these rules originate in The Bible, or did they stem from documents and practices far far older? According to the Old Testament, Moses lived during the time of Rameses II, third Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, which puts God’s delivery of the Ten Commandments to the Hebrews around 1245 BC (eyelid.co.uk.). But by that time, Egyptian Civilization had already been around for over a thousand years; and I am sure that those pre-Moses Egyptians weren’t all killing each other in the streets, without laws, until the Ten Commandments came along. According to Mark Millmore’s Egyptology website, “Discovering Ancient Egypt”, the 1st Dynasty of the old Kingdom began in 3100 BC, with the Great Pyramid of Giza being completed in 2560 BC. At that time Egypt had no courts or judges but instead exercised their system of laws “through officials”, according to the section on “Law in Ancient Egypt” which can be viewed on digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk. Moses was raised and educated as an Egyptian prince; which means he knew military strategy, civic organization, and how to rule the masses. He would certainly have known the ancient Egyptian laws against murder and theft, and he would have enforced them, tablets or no tablets, because adhering to practical law was a necessary part of ruling. Sure he was a born-again fanatical Hebrew, but he also knew that people needed practical laws as well as spiritual ones; and he presented these laws in a way so that the rag-tag bunch of Hebrew slaves who followed him would sit up straight and pay attention. If that meant that he got them from the burning bush of God, so be it. But my guess is that these two laws were included in order to make some of the others seem more fundamental, because everybody had to know not to kill or steal already.
Commandment nine: It is illegal to bear false witness, or in essence to lie about other people. Of all the ten commandments this is the one that seems most likely to have come into modern law directly from the Bible. America’s libel and slander laws are a good example, as well as perjury. But not all lies are illegal in this country. In fact, most lies are perfectly legal. Politicians bear false witness against one another all the time. But none of them are charged with a crime. So some aspects of commandment number nine apply and some don’t. It’s a bunt, and the bases are loaded – one more commandment to go. Will it be a home run?
Commandment ten: thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, or goat. So, it is illegal to want what other people have. Not a very American sentiment seeing as we all want what other people have almost as a rule. It is the American Dream to strike it rich so we can own fancy cars, nice clothes, big houses, live sexy lifestyles, and bask in fame, fortune, and success: just like the millionaires and the movie stars that we wish we could immitate. We want it all, including thinner bodies, higher grades, and better teeth, or else we’re just a bunch of commies. American society is based on coveting. Patriotism is based on coveting the belief in our righteous place atop the world, and no one, absolutely NO ONE can even suggest that those demands may be a little greedy. Without coveting the wealth of nations, and all the power and money we can acquire, we might as well turn our backs on capitalism and embrace socialism. It is surprising that the right-wing conservatives are embracing this commandment not to covet; it goes against everything they seem to stand for.
So if our code of laws didn’t come from The Bible where did they come from, Egypt? There was a civilization far older than Egypt, the Sumerians, who began their rise to power around 5000 BC (History of the Ancient Near East/tripod.com.) The laws of Sumer were passed down into the kingdom of Babylonia, where in 1792 BC, 500 years before Moses, King Hammurabi wrote down the first true set of laws called Hammurabi’s code. According to Cyrus Gordon’s textbook from 1957, “Hammurabi’s Code”, the laws of Hammurabi, chiseled into a large black stone in cuneiform, cover everything from ‘how to handle accusers, and false accusations’, to laws regarding murder, rape, incest, theft, and pensions. Each law in the code comes with a series of corresponding punishments depending on the circumstances of the crime. One of those punishments has even made it into our modern lexicon of common phrases; “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”: all Hammurabi. And the codes are very extensive, far more extensive than any list of practical laws in the Bible. There are codes for unsolved crimes, the rights of military personnel, regulation of commerce, and liquor laws. There were protections for old soldiers, rules for divorce (both men and women had the right to demand a divorce), and controls on interest rates. The list of laws goes on and on, real laws, not about Gods and worship, but about people’s rights, protection from hucksters and scam-artists, codes covering inheritance, adoption, medical malpractice and even wet-nursing (Gordon.) According to Zechariah Sitchin’s The 12th Planet, the Sumerian and Babylonian cultures spread into the kingdoms of Crete, Persia, India, and Asia Minor, along with the laws of Hammurabi (73.); and then from there they went to Rome and so to all of the Western World, where other ancient codes of law were waiting to soak up the wisdom.
That is where our laws originated according to R.G. Price; the ancient world moving into the modern world, an evolution of law. The Bible may have giving our nation a moral backbone but it was Hammurabi, Rome, The Age of the Enlightenment, and the Democracy of Pericles that gave us our laws and government. And maybe most important of all according to Sir Frederick Pollock and Frederic William Maitlan, authors of The History of English Law, is Anglo-Saxon Law and the Magna Carta. Maybe we should build a monument to those things in front of our federal buildings and our courthouses. The Bible certainly gave the early Pilgrims the sense that they were creating a new kind of God-driven society, but even the men on the Mayflower had to write-up a mini-constitution in order to govern themselves, a document that set forth practical laws of governance. The Bible just wasn’t enough. And why would any American want the Bible to be the foundation for our laws and out behavior. This world already has countries that are ruled by Holy Scriptures and leaders that speak for God: like Iran, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban. Do we really want to mimic that type of repressive theocracy here?
About.Com, Judaism, Ultra-Orthodox and Secular Israelis Clash in Jerusalem, 2011, about.com, 16 December 2011, http://www.judaism.about.com/library/1_politics/bl_ultraorthodox_jerusalem.htm , website
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Babinski, Edward T., Execution of a Child and Adulterers in Calvin’s Geneva, Jan 27 2004, edwardbabinski.us, 16 December 2011, http://www.edwardbabinski.us/history/death_penalty.html , website
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The Ancient Egyptians lived in a world that was filled with animals. They hunted them, they domesticated them, they feared them, and they revered them. Many of the animals that thrived in Ancient Egypt worked their way into the Egyptian cosmology and fundamental culture. The physical and spiritual preoccupation with animals that many prehistoric people expressed in cave paintings can also be seen manifest in many aspects of ancient Egyptian life and art, as evidenced in their tomb paintings, their sculptures, their mummification practices, and in the representation of their deities as revealed in works like the Book of the Dead.
When Egypt first emerged as a civilization, the terrain around the Nile was teaming with wildlife. According to Irmgard Woldering’s book The Art of Egypt, the ancient Nile region had an abundance of “big game” as well as “lions, leopards, antelopes, gazelles, ibexes, jackals, giraffes, [and] ostriches” (15). Even today the Nile is filled with snakes, hippopotami, and crocodiles, as well as beetles, birds, and frogs; all of which play a significant part in Egyptian art and cosmology. Like in Europe in 25,000 BCE, most early human cave dwellers were small and nearly powerless in the face of nature. Thus the creatures of nature took on an ominous and spiritual significance, especially in the form of cave art. Those early Homo Sapien rock painters often used animal imagry, representational human stick figures, and depictions of the hunt in their artwork.
As humans emerged from the caves and began settling in river vallies like the Nile, those natural cave-shelters were replaced by man-made dwellings and the wild forces of nature that had once surrounded our ancient ancestors became somewhat under control. However the many creatures that lived side by side with the early Egyptians still inspired a certain awe, even as animals were being domesticated. Woldering’s book describes some domesticated animals like oxen, cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, and poultry. According to the British Museum’s website, the ancient Egyptians liked eating meat, with one of the most desirable cuts being ox leg, especially for banquets, and one of the most abundant being ducks (British Museum WS/Egyptian Life/Nebamun’s tomb).Below are two color plates, one of a cooked duck and the other of fish (Figure 1). Fish were eaten occasionally but often avoided because, after having devoured the god-phallus of Osiris, some fish were believed to be sacred (British Museum WS/Egyptian Life). Note how similar much of the ancient Egyptian art is that follows in this paper, to the prehistoric cave art shown above; especially in subject matter, treatment, and materials used.
Hunting scenes along the Nile as well as animals being used as beasts of burden can be seen in the colorful New Kingdom wall paintings from Nebamun’s Tomb, which was shown in Prof. Heikkinen’s PowerPoint on Egyptian Art. Below is the hunting scene with two detail plates of a wild duck and a poisonous puffer fish (Figure 2). According to Heikkinen, the size of a figure denotes status. Note how the duck, the fish, and the cat are all as large as or larger than Nebamun’s own daughter who is under his legs.
Also from the wall painting in Nebamun’s tomb are depictions of horses (upper box), which were not easy to come by in ancient Egypt and were mostly owned by the rich or by elite solders and used to pull chariots – below them is the far more common yet similar animal called the onagar (lower box), a kind of mule that was often used to haul carts and ploughs (Figure 3) (British Museum site/Egyptian Life/Nebamun’s tomb).
Another common animal considered sacred to the ancient Egyptians were domesticated cats. Aside from pets and temple dwellers, cats were often used to assist hunters by catching and retrieving birds (BritishMuseum site/Egyptian Life/Nebamun’s tomb). Many statues and drawings of cats have been discovered in tombs and other archeological sites, nearly all of them showing the feline in a sitting position, the cat’s head held high with dignity and strength (Woldering, pg 201). According to the late Harvard professor and Orientalist Annemarie Schimmel, in an abridged version of her story from the book Cairo Cats; the specialness of cats still exists in Egyptian attitudes today where “countless cats walk the streets” and people still regard the cat as “a bearer of good luck” (Saudi Amarco World, Schimmel pg1). The ancient Egyptians’ special relationship to cats can be seen in the three pictures below (Figure 4). The first shows a cat hunting a bird, taken from the wall of Nebamun’s Tomb, New Kingdom. The second picture is an image from the Papyrus of Hunifer version of the Book of the Dead showing Ra as the cat Mau overpowering Abep, a snake god. The third is a bronze cast of the goddess Bast, or Baset in a common pose, which is now in the Detroit Institute of Art.
Many other animals were sacred to the ancient Egyptians besides cats. The falcon and the hawk were sacred representatives of the God Horus. Hippopotamus statues, especially lapis colored faience ones, were used for protection in the underworld as well as for pregnant women (British Museum Online, miniatures). Hedgehogs were also rendered in faience and considered good luck (CairoMuseum website). Below are pictures of a faience hippo, a faience hedgehog, and a statue of Ramesses II as a child with Hurun, a Canaanite falcon god protecting him (Figure 5).
Some animals were so revered, or feared, that they were given similar mummification and burial rites as a human being. Below are some examples of mummified animals (Figure 6). Here we see a mummified gazelle that was once the queen’s pet and was given a lavish burial with a custom made wooden coffin; 950 BC (Nat Geo website & Egyptian Museum). Next are two mummified cats from the BritishMuseum with a full length detail of the second cat next to it. Below these is a mummified dog and a mummified baboon which were found buried together in a special tomb in the Valley of the Kings and now reside at the Egyptian Museum (Figure 7) (Nat Geo website).
It is not uncommon for people even today to bury their beloved pets or other special animals. But the ancient Egyptians buried hundreds of them from one end of Egypt to another, as can be seen on the animal burial map from the National Geographic website on Animal Mummies (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/11/animal-mummies/mummies-map). The map shows where the Egyptians mummified and entombed bulls, snakes, raptors, fish, horses, crocodiles, monkeys, lizards, and even an elephant. The ritual of mummification and the subsequent afterlife it may provide to an animal is not out of line with the ancient Egyptian spiritual beliefs. According to the Memphite creation myth in James Prichard collection of the Annets; the KA, or soul, was given not only to the gods but to man and to animals as well. This connection between animals, sacredness, the afterlife, and gods is evident in the how the ancient Egyptians co-mingled some of their most sacred creatures directly with human deities to form semi-human like god-animal hybrids, the most famous of which is the Sphinx. Below is a picture of the Great Sphinx at Giza, followed by an artist’s rendition of the creature, and finally a row of statues from the Avenue of the Sphinxes at Luxor.
The Sphinx is just the beginning of the story. Three of the most iconic Egyptian gods are also part animal. The god Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, has the head of a hawk, as does Osiris sometimes. The scribe god Thoth, one of the oldest deities of Egypt, has the head of an ibis with a long narrow beak. And then there is Anubis, god of embalming and guardian of the dead, he sports the large, black head of a jackal, presumably because jackals were often seen at gravesites (British Museum/Egypt site/Gods). Here are two pictures of Anubis with the statue of a jackal in between them (Figure 9).
Together with Osiris and Isis, the above mentioned gods helped to spearhead a pantheon of other Egyptian deities many of whom have animal heads and comingled human-beast body parts that can be unsettling to say the least. Here are a few of them with illustrations, all taken from the website of British Museum’s Egyptian Collection.
Horus (Hawk): Protector Thoth (Ibis): Scribe god Sobek (Croc): Nile god
Khepri (Beatle): Creation god Baset (Cat): Protector Khunum (Ram): Creator
There are many more gods and goddess with various animal and bird heads like Ra, Tefnut, and Sekhmet. But there were also other more horrific and bizarre co-mingling of the bodies of the gods. For instance, Seth (or Set), who murdered his brother Osiris and so became the god of Chaos. According to the Encyclopedia Mythica, Seth has the head of an undetermined animal with a long downward curved snout sometimes associated with an aardvark – he has squared off ears, a lengthy tail with a forked tip, and his body is similar to a greyhound’s at times (Seth entry) (Figure 10).
Another figure most foul and yet somehow benign is Tawaret, goddess protector of women during childbirth. Tawaret has the head of a hippo, the arms and legs of a lion, a long crocodile tail, and a big pregnant human belly, sagging milky breast and all (Figure 11 – BritishMuseum). And yet, for one of the foulest of these multi-animal mixtures we must travel into the underworld and explore what is in The Book of the Dead, by viewing the Papyrus of Ani (Figure 12).
The “Papyrus of Ani” version of the Book of the Dead, is a magical instruction manual composed of illustrations and hieroglyphs, revealing what every Egyptian must know in order for their soul to pass the god’s tests and be accepted into the afterlife. In the reproduction of the scroll at the beginning of Wallis Budge’s translation from 1895, the gods are depicted watching two new souls, Ani and his wife, enter the underworld. Some of the gods are humanoid-animal hybrids, like the gatekeeper, Anubis, who has the head of a jackal, and Osiris, with the head of a hawk, who sits in the gallery as one of the twelve great gods that watch. The soul is at the stage of the Psychostasia, or weighing of the heart against the feather of Law. Nearby is the tiny soul of Ani, who is portrayed as a human headed hawk. The image of Ani is reminiscent of another human headed creature, the human-lion hybrid, the Sphinx; a far more imposing figure than little Ani (Budge; intro plates). Waiting at the end of the test is Thoth, the ibis-headed scribe god, and behind him, the most horrendous creature-god of them all, Amemit, the Devourer (Budge; intro plates). Amemit has the head of a crocodile, the mane of a lion, the torso of a leopard, and the bottom half of a hippopotamus (Budge; intro). Amemit waits hungrily to gobble up the souls of those whose heart is heavier than Law’s feather (Figure 13).
The long road from sacred cat to the foul and frightening Amemit, a soul gobbling Frankenstein, was not a difficult leap for the ancient Egyptians. They lived in a world that was dominated by nature, floods, seasons, and animals, both in the world of the living and the spirit world of the dead. Even their Hieroglyphic writing was filled with animal symbols and references to nature. Woven into part of every written name were birds or reeds, or other pieces of nature. And the gods that ruled the Egyptians and protected them were also formed from part natural-beast, part man, as Pharaoh their king, was part man and part god. The Egyptians blended these worlds together and bound them with a KA, the soul. All living things to them came from and go to the same place, which is part of the beauty and the humanity of the Egyptian civilization and culture. This is one reason why they touch us so deeply and why their creations and concepts endure in our hearts. Theirs was the beginning of a human dominated world and the ending of an animal dominated one: and the ancient Egyptians seemed clearly to have one foot in each.
BritishMuseum; web portal to ancient Egyptian collection; 3/29/2012; website http://www.britishmuseum.org/search_results.aspx?searchText=egypt
Budge, E A Wallis; the Book of the Dead: The Hieroglyphic Transcript and English Translation of the Papyrus of Ani; Gramercy Books, New York/Avnel; Random House; 1895/1960/1995, Text
Egyptian Collection Educational Webpage; the BritishMuseum; ancientegypt.co.uk; Gods and Goddesses; 3/23/12; Website; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/menu.html
Ellis, Normand; Awakening Osiris: The Egyptian Book of the Dead; Phanes Press; 1988; Text
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Middle East Collection, March 2012, art & text
Pritchard, James B; the Ancient Near-East: An Anthology of Texts & Pictures; PrincetonUniversity Press; 2011; Text
Robins, Gay; the Art of Ancient Egypt; HarvardUniversity Press, 1997
Schimmel, Annmarie; Cairo Cats: adapted; Saudi Aramco World; Young Readers World; http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/young.readers.world/cairo.cats/default.htm
Williams, A R; Animals Everlasting: Animal Mummies; National Geographic; photos by Richard Barnes and from the British Museum and the Egyptian Museum; nationalgeographic.com; published Nov 2009; 3/29/2012; website; http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/11/animal-mummies/williams-text
Woldering, Imrgard, The Art of Egypt: The Time of the Pharaohs; Greystone Press; New York; first published Holle Verglag; 1963; Text
Figure 1: Cooked Duck and Swimming Fish; Nebamun’s Tomb wall painting; a-secco paint & plaster; New Kingdom, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC); BritishMuseum; Website gallery; Egyptian Life; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/life/explore/main.html
Figure 2: Nebamun hunting Scene on the Nile with detail plates of a Duck and a poisonous Puffer Fish; Nebamun’s Tomb wall painting; a-secco paint & plaster; New Kingdom, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC); British Museum; Website gallery; Egyptian Life; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/life/explore/main.html
Figure 3: Horses and Onagar mules; Nebamun’s Tomb wall painting; a-secco paint & plaster; New Kingdom, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC); BritishMuseum; Website gallery; Egyptian Life; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/life/explore/main.html
Figure 4: A Cat Hunting a Bird; Nebamun’s Tomb wall painting; a-secco paint & plaster; New Kingdom, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC); British Museum; Website gallery; Egyptian Life; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/life/explore/main.html
Mau defeats Abep, Papyrus of Hunefer – paint on papyrus; 19th Dynasty; British Museum; http://www.timetrips.co.uk/papyrus_of_hunefer.htm
Statue of sacred cat Bas (or Baset); cast bronze; Late Period, Dynasty 26, 7th century BC; Detroit Institute of Art; Egyptian Collection; dia.org; http://www.dia.org/object-info/d8a3ad90-27dc-4f1f-9a42-31e0cb7da2ab.aspx?position=10
Figure 5: Hippo (naience), Hedgehog (naience); Statue of Ramessis II with Huran; CairoMuseum
Figure 6: Mummies –
Figure 7: Dog and Baboon mummies – http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/11/animal-mummies/williams-text
Figure 8: Sphinxes – the Great Sphinx at Giza, an artist’s rendition of a Sphinx, and the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor (webpics)
Figure 9: Anubis – http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/gods/explore/main.html
Figure 10: Seth – http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/gods/explore/main.html
Figure 11: Tawaret – http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/gods/explore/main.html
Figure 12: The Papyrus of Ani
Figure 13: Amemit from the Papyrus of Ani and the Papyrus of Hunefer. http://heritage-key.com/egypt/papyrus-hunefer
The documentary movie, I have conquered the River shows how the flat expanse of desert that lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was once the rich and fertile kingdom of Sumer, 5500 years ago, the oldest civilization on Earth. Ancient art and architecture from Mesopotamia is shown, like the cobalt blue Ishtar Gate, the stele with Hammurabi’s code chiseled in cuneiform and Hammurabi facing Shamash, and the great Ziggurat of Ur with the foundations of the ancient city next to it and all else a desert. The film goes on to show us how Sumer forged a civilization in this hostile landscape. We next visit Al Kaluna where the rivers meet to form marshes. There, people live in reed houses as they have for thousands of years. We’re shown maps of the kingdom of Sumer where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are closer together than today, flowing right past the cities where the people built irrigation channels and canals to make farmland from the desert. Next we visit the Anatolian plateau, covered in green grasses, where wild wheat and barley was first cultivated and then brought to Sumer, turning that kingdom into a thriving wheat producing economy.
The movie shows artist’s renditions of Ur in its heyday, a rich and prosperous city where people strove to enjoy their lives. The narrator explains how the Sumerians were very different from the Egyptians, spiritually. They did not believe in an afterlife. The Epic of Gilgamesh is used to illustrate this with a quote from the goddess who told him to stop seeking immortality and to go home and enjoy the fruits of his life and his marriage. This good Sumerian life is further described through art and trade as we are shown jewelry, headdresses, and a map of the Lapis Lazuli Road from Pakistan. But all of this good life comes to an end when the wheat failed to grow in 2004 BC due to salt in the soil from over irrigation. Sumer weakened and then fell. The film ends with the image of a four thousand year old cedar tree in Lebanon and a moral from the story of Gilgamesh; that he fought back nature as a symbol so that civilization could rise.
I found the film engaging. I especially loved the moments where it transported me back to ancient times, seeing the golden lions on the Ishtar gate, Kurds cooking sheets of flatbread as the Sumerians had done, and the ancient style clay jars used in Bagdad to keep water cool through condensation. I also loved the animation of Ur at dawn with the family waking up on the rooftop and the people in the street wearing Kunaxs of sheep’s hair. The fact that scribes, or writers, were honored and prosperous was great (because I am a writer), and the relief of the two men sharing beer through a straw brought it all home. It was fascinating how the concept of living a fulfilling life packed with food and love (I remember the temple prostitutes) rings truer today in a way than, say, Medieval piety. I also enjoyed the Sumerian proverbs like “Pleasure: call it beer,” and “We are doomed to die: let us spend.” I was moved by the great old cedar tree, imagining the world when it was a sapling. And if Gilgamesh did beat back the forces of nature by chopping down the cedars so civilization could rise, then he did it as much for us as for the Sumerians. It was a good little movie.
The film Agora explores, without sentiment or melodrama, a time period and a subject that I have often overlooked; the violent and tragic end of the Pagan Classical World and the beginning of the Christian Dominated West, which also launched the Dark Ages. Watching this film I cannot help but ask myself, would we have been better off if the worshippers of Serapes and Isis had won the day.
The movie was divided into two historic parts: the sheltered pagan world of wealth and status-quo where Christianity was no more than an annoying cult; and the Christian world under Emperor Theodosius with all of its early Patriarchs and Saints. The film’s main character, Hypatia, was a sheltered, brilliant, upper class Pagan: a mathematician and philosopher living in a liberal world of free thought. Before her, all the ancient knowledge of Rome, Greece, and the Near East lay in scrolls in the Great Library of Alexandria: a treasure that only the pagans seemed to comprehend. This pagan world felt a little bit like our own, with its freedom of thought and its blind belief in the universal search for knowledge and understanding. One of my favorite things about the pagan world was that the elite Patricians and the wealthy Jews all enjoyed the theater.
The pagan world presented in the film had a dark side as well. The slaves although treated somewhat warmly still had to wear a collar and they were also whipped. Another problem was in the established pagan cult religion of Serapes and its high priest who was an ass. But aren’t so many “high priests” and people in authority asses, even today. It was a world in decline but Hypatia and the other privileged Pagans didn’t know it. She dwelt in the realm of the mind, protected by the Serapium and walls of the Great Library. Yet down below in the Agora the growing number of discontented Christians were about to rise up and smash the pagan world to bits. And that’s exactly what they did, by tearing down the statues, taking over the city, and burning all of the scrolls in the library to ash, thus casting a darkness over the mind of the world which wouldn’t lift until the Renaissance.
In the second half of the film we see Christianized Alexandria some years later. Here the freedom of the mind that was so prevalent in the beginning has been crushed. Most members of the pagan Patrician class have by now converted to Christianity whether they believed in Christ or not. Hypatia is the last holdout, huddled in her mansion working on her brilliant theory of a heliocentric universe while the world around her slips into intolerant religious darkness based on faith and scripture alone. As the Bishop held the Bible over his head proclaiming that the scriptures say that women should be seen but not heard a chill went down my spine. The Christians had traded in all books and all knowledge for that one book: the Holy Bible. And we today are still suffering under the yoke of that mindset whenever evolution is disputed or someone thumps their Bible proclaiming it to be the indefatigable word of God.
Traditionally in the Christian West, witchcraft, paganism, vampires, and the occult were all thought to be unholy extensions of the Devil himself. In Europe, people accused of witchcraft were often burned at the stake. In colonial America, an incident in Salem Massachusetts in September of 1662 led to “nineteen men and women convicted of witchcraft” to be “carted to Gallows Hill” and hung for their crimes (umkc.edu). And yet, by the early 1980s this non-Christian approach to gaining inner power had transformed into the mind-expanding spiritual science called the New Age movement. The New Age movement de-vilified the occult in the later 20th century by incorporating other ideas into it such as Eastern mysticism, female based nature worship, Native American shamanism, and psychic phenomenon; developing the New Age movement into a doctrine of self-help practices that were both psychological as well as being rich with cultus, and symbolic behavior, paving the way for “Wicca,” the New Age word for witchcraft, to suddenly appear in the common marketplace of faiths (Albanese, 362).
The earliest roots of the New Age movement and its relation to witchcraft run deep into the ancient pre-Christian practices of nature worship, divination such as Tarot Cards, Druidism, and numerous secret mystical cults like that of the Rosicrucians and Masons, all of which used ritual and non-Christian symbols to transcend the mundane world in order to attain power, knowledge, and enlightenment (ROGD.org). This process was suddenly accelerated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when less secretive experimentation in non-Christian religious practices grew. As people like Krishnamurti and the Theosophists gained popularity among liberals, intellectuals and artists, the mystical foundations of the Transcendentalists gave legitimacy to these later non-traditional movements (Albanese, 355/ & KFA.org).
A growing belief in the 19th century in astrology, mesmerism, and “magico-religious practices” mixed at the turn of the century with the scientific revelations of quantum physics to help “erode the boundary between natural and supernatural phenomenon (Albanese, 353). According to Albanese, in 19th century America, a growing number of mediums, astrologers, and “spiritualists” were being employed for the purposes of contacting the spirits of the dead, “trance talking” and “automatic writing” which was becoming not only acceptable in society but also popular (Albanese, 357). A few decades later in England, occult figures like Alistair Crowley and McGregor Mathers rose to prominence among the openly growing group of magical practitioners, publishing books like “777”, “Magick in Theory and Practice”, and the “Equinox,” not only gaining a following but also attaining international reputations as renowned “ceremonial magicians” (Hermitic.com/Crowley/AC-Homepage). Secret societies like The Golden Dawn and The Order of Thelema helped sow the seeds for a future harvest of ultra-fantastic and other-worldly mystical organizations and fringe religious sects that would by the late 20th century become far more common place among the general population (ROGD.org/Hermitic.com).
In 1947 the first official American sighting of a UFO was recorded, which led to a barrage of alien sightings in the 1950s, including the famous Area 51 incident and numerous claims of alien abduction and experimentation, all of which led to a “climate of enthusiasm for science,” especially in those people who were seeking answers beyond those found in the Bible (Albanese, 357). Carl Jung’s theories of dream symbolism and archetypes took hold among the seekers who were especially interested in the “humanistic psychology of self-actualization”, and soon afterwards the Esalen Institute in Big Sur was opened, promoting the “human potential movement,” which focused on comparative religion, mysticism, meditation, and therapeutic language to induce “consciousness expansion” (Albanese 357). Consciousness expansion was further explored in the 1960s when Timothy Leary and Baba Ram Das began using psychedelic drugs to heighten their spiritual reality. A new interest arose in peyote, traditionally used by Native Americans for the purposes of spirit quests (Kurze). Native American spiritual teachers gained public attention like the Chippewa shaman, Sun Bear and the Cherokee spiritual leader, Rolling Thunder who was best known for his “Medicine Wheel” gatherings (Albanese 359) The Native American connection gave added legitimacy to both shamanism and the psychedelic movement as was expressed in the 1972 cult film “Billy Jack” (imdb.com). LSD and Guru Philosophy hit a new high during the later 1960s with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Guru to the Beatles. Swami Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta of the Krishna Consciousness movement also came to America, often times inducting former drug users and showing them a continuing path to non-Christian spirituality through vegetarianism, communal living, meditation, ritual activity, and chanting, without the use of psychedelics (Krishna.com).
Other developments during the 1960s and that would lead to the New Age movement were a surge in popularity for health food stores, holistic medicine, chiropractors, and a belief in the power of healing through positive thought and physical message (Albanese, 358). Essential to the pagan nature of the New Age Movement was women’s liberation. Prior to the acceptance of a single male sky-god, as in Judeo-Christian and Moslem beliefs, the pagan world was based on an all-powerful feminine deity, the Earth Mother: a fertility and creation goddess that can be seen as an echo in such figures as the Virgin Mary (Paglia, pg 9). The woman’s empowerment movement blended with the holistic healing and the organic “nature” movement to usher in a renewed respect for “Mother Earth,” a highly pagan concept. The cry went up among many women’s-libbers that God might very well be a Woman and that feminine power was the power that gave life and nurtured living things (Pagila). Subsequently, numerous small press spell books became available in a growing number of occult bookstores in the late 1970s, many of them portraying the contemporary witch as regular woman rather than the traditional old crone. Other trends that aided in the rise of the New Age Movement was the surge in popularity for magical fantasy novels like “The Lord of the Rings”, and the growing interest during the 1970s in role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and the growing number of themed fantasy Renaissance Faires across the country. This helped set the stage by the early 1980s for all of the elements of New Age movement to come together in a positive, mystical, and fantastic light.
As the New Age Movement took shape in the 1980s, what began as postings on the bulletin boards of health food stores and holistic clinics soon turned into seminars, bookstores and, learning centers devoted to New Age interests (Albanese, 360). The expansive selection of interests in the New Age bookstores and learning centers suited the nature of the movement, because New Agers “appropriated what New Age beliefs they preferred from the pool… rather than believing completely in all New Age beliefs” (Albanese, 360). According to Albanese there were two types of New Age approaches; the Philosophical approach which dealt less with the spiritual aspect and more with psychological processes being explored and developed; and the Phenomenal approach, which emphasized Cultus and symbolic behavior (Albanese, 362).
The sections of interest in a typical New Age bookstore could be witnessed only a few years ago at The Bodhi Tree in West Hollywood. There were sections on most major religions with no special emphasis given to any one of them. There were also sections on after-death experiences, ghosts, ESP, the zodiac, the Egyptian pantheon of gods as well as The Book of the Dead, UFOs, Alistair Crowley and the Golden Dawn, the Tarot, isolation tanks, Native American Shamanism, Kabala, ancient magical texts like The Sacred book of Abra Melin the Mage, as well as books on hard core sorcery, voodoo, spell casting, rune stones, and of course, the book series that blends occult magic and Native American shamanism with psychedelic drugs so well, presented as an autobiographical how-to series on shamanism: “The Teachings of Don Juan” and other works by Carlos Castaneda. Castaneda epitomizes the New Age sorcerer, presenting his work as a scholar writing his dissertation on anthropology. The book describes secret rituals and powerful occult practices which the New Age Movement adopted with the ease of any practical candle magic book. Even Crowley, who claimed to have summoned demons, had his honored place on the shelves of the New Age movement’s libraries right next to swimming with dolphins.
The New Age Movement has settled into a far less prominent position among American spiritual movements, almost being completely absorbed into our present culture. Yet its liberal minded effect on certain archetypes in popular culture is clear. The art of witchcraft and black magic has been all but completely de-vilified leaving the archetypal witches of today to attend their magic classes at Hogworts and have names like Harry Potter. Likewise, Vampires have also recently been de-vilified in popular culture through books like the Twilight Series. The New Age movement has helped to make this a far different world than it was before.
Albanese, Catherine L; America: Religions and Religion; 3rd Edition; Wadsworth Publishing Company; Belmont, CA; © 1999; Text
Billy Jack; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066832/
Crowley, Alistair; Alistair Crowley’s Homepage; 5/26/12; http://www.aleistercrowley.org/
Hermitic.com; Libri of Alistair Crowley; 5/27/2012; http://hermetic.com/crowley/
KFA: Krishnamurti Foundation of America; A Brief History of Krishnamurt; kfa.org; Ojai, CA; 5/27/12; http://www.kfa.org/history-of-krishnamurti.php
Krishna.com; Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta ; 5/27/12; http://prabhupada.krishna.com/
Lambert, Frank; Religion in American Politics; Princeton University Press; Princeton/Oxford; © 2008; Text
Paglia, Camille; Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickenson; Vantage Books 1991; Yale University 1990;
Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn; ROGD.org; .http://www.rogd.org/
UMKC: Famous American Trials: Salem Witchcraft Trials; University of Missouri Kansas City; umkc.edu; Sept 2009; 5/27/12; http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/salem.htm