Archive for May, 2010

 

Mirror Mirror on the Wall – ‘A Brief History of Nakedness’ offers a Mirror to Readers and Reviewers

Monday, May 31st, 2010

A Brief History of Nakedness discusses the way nudity can act as a mirror of the soul. How we perceive ourselves, our degree of self-esteem or self-loathing, how comfortable we feel in our skin, profoundly affects the way we behave in the world. Body shame tends to produce shameful behaviour – our shame is projected outwards on to others. Ease with one’s own body shape tends to produce the reverse: tolerant, relaxed behaviour that comes from a sense of being comfortable in the world. That’s why it’s an important subject. That’s why I’ve written a book about it – because how we feel about our bodies has a profound impact on how we lead our lives and treat other bodies, and the body of the Earth herself.

The two reviews mentioned in my previous post, appearing as they did on consecutive days in the national press, and penned by two peers, provides the perfect demonstration of this. And now the Telegraph review has gone online, so it’s easy to compare them.

Take Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s review  from the Telegraph which opens like this:
Here’s an experiment to try at home. Take off your clothes and stand in front of a full-length mirror. What do you see?
If you’re someone like the sculptor Antony Gormley, you might be confronted by a nicely toned body with handsome genitals just crying out to be cast in bronze. If not – and frankly most of us aren’t that brazen – you probably look more like a lump of clay that’s been left out in the rain. Let your eyes linger on the wobbly bits, the knobbly bits, the weird bits that look as if they belong to someone else. Familiarise yourself with the historical route map of lines and scars. Notice the hair that seems to have decided to abandon your head and relocate itself in surprising new areas.

At this point, you may hear a little voice reassuring you that you’re beautiful, warts and all. Even so, you have doubts. Your body may even decide to take matters into its own hands, so to speak, unwilling to allow itself to be explained away by that chunk of grey matter between its ears. It may flinch or shudder.

Now pick up Philip Carr-Gomm’s richly illustrated history of nakedness.

Read full review

Then read how Peter Conrad begins his review for the Observer

Writers, luckily, are invisible voices: we can only be grateful that Philip Carr-Gomm is not on television. To judge from the photograph on the jacket of his book, which mercifully stops at the neck, he’s a jolly, ruddy, probably burly fellow, with a shock of greying curls. But he has the soul of a sanctimonious flasher, and is convinced that the sight of the rest of him – adipose middle-aged belly flab, jiggling genitals, a bum that has doubtless gone south – would be good for the world, helping to usher in a new age of spiritual renewal and political revolution.

Read full review

The suspicious might think that Conrad is a mate of mine and that I’ve bunged him a few quid to write something fantastically silly to create a contrast, to boost book sales (it shot up the charts on Amazon yesterday really nicely) and most importantly – to provide a graphic demonstration of one of the book’s theses: that a consideration of nakedness provides us with a powerful tool to examine issues of empowerment: religious, political and cultural. Sadly I have to report that no money has changed hands between Peter Conrad and myself.

“My hands are clean!” As the Conservative politician Juan Barranco announced on a poster of himself naked in Madrid in 2007.

‘A Brief History of Nakedness’ Delights one Oxford Don, Shocks Another – Meanwhile I’m Wrestling my Mother to the Ground

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

It is said that an author should ignore bad reviews, particularly when he’s had good reviews elsewhere, since responding to the bad one just draws undeserved attention to it. But in these days of the internet, a bad review can stick around forever – unlike the old days when it disappeared quickly to light fires and wrap fish and chips soon after publication.

So I’m not going to ignore Peter Conrad’s peculiar, but very revealing, review in The Observer today – particularly because yesterday a fellow don from the same university reviewed the book in The Telegraph, and comparing the two offers some interesting insights into human nature. Conrad is at Christ Church, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst at Magdalen. Sadly the Telegraph review has not been put online (yet) whereas Conrad’s has – another spur to responding to it.

If you haven’t read it, suffice it to say that its weirdness lies in the fact that he hardly engages with the ideas and history discussed in the book at all, but instead wastes newsprint suggesting I’m fat, that my bum is moving southward and so on. Very childish and odd really. And that’s why I’m wrestling my 87 year old mother to the ground: to stop her posting a letter she’s written  to Christ Church asking Dr Conrad why an academic has descended to personal insult. She feels he’s ‘letting Oxford down’. A University Fellow should be engaging in intelligent debate surely, not playground insults: calling people ‘Fatty’?

I find myself in the odd position of defending Conrad: ‘Oh he’s probably going through a rough patch…I’ve read an awful review of one of his books… Perhaps he suffers from body-shame, and that runs deep, and so on.’

Now my daughter has joined the fray “Oh dad you’re always defending people! He’s obviously a ****”  Well I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that there is an obvious problem with his review, and leaving aside any consideration for his mental state, it would be worth him swapping his body-shame for simply being ashamed of writing such tosh.

We can easily dispose of the obvious problem with his review: the way he is more interested in insulting me than in seriously engaging with the book. Why waste space considering the content in a book and debating its ideas when you can fill it with vitriol?  He calls me sanctimonious so let me indulge him in this belief by forgiving him. ‘May he gain Enlightenment’, as the Buddhists would say (as rapidly as possible please). A clue as to how far he has to go to achieve this lies in his remark: ‘The genitals, Carr-Gomm dozily says, are “symbols of power and vulnerability”, but how can they be both?’  In raising this Conrad reveals not only his inability to grasp paradox, but also more sadly his chauvinism. He continues dismissing my remark by saying it’s all simple really: ‘The vulva keeps its secrets; the extroverted male organ means one thing when erect and the exact opposite when it detumesces.” He doesn’t think the vulva symbolises power when through it he was born? He doesn’t think it symbolizes vulnerability when through it he can reach inside a woman’s body to touch her heart and soul (or wound her deeply)? And as if to reinforce this lack of sensitivity and the overall tone of bullying testosterone in his review he finishes with a variation on the archetypal old-world-lager-lout insult about erectile dysfunction.

Such was his need to kick someone that he over-rode any academic rigour he might possess, to suggest the book is based on ‘a few Google searches and a random scanning of the TV listings.’ He was clearly so upset by the pictures in the book he failed to reach the references section, which lists the numerous sources I consulted over the years it took me to research the book. And he’s a university lecturer?

In the end, though, Conrad’s review illustrates perfectly the point I make in the book. Nakedness in itself is no big deal, but as a subject through which to explore the heart, mind and soul it is extraordinarily powerful. It acts like a mirror for their inner workings, and the picture in Conrad’s mirror is not a pretty sight. Moving from Christ Church to Magdalen mercifully offers us relief from his fluster and venom. Douglas-Fairhurst in his Telegraph review writes: ‘In a topsy-turvy culture where wearing clothes is thought of as normal, and going without them is seen as the behaviour of exhibitionists or weirdos, an unexpected flash of flesh does for everyday experience what Shelley thought was poetry’s task: it ‘strips the veil of familiarity from the world”. Nudists, flashers and strippers are the human exclamation marks that punctuate our lives. Once you’ve finished this thought-provoking book, go back to the mirror. Slip off the bathrobe and have another look… If it weren’t anatomically impossible, you’d swear your whole body was smiling.’

Two Luminaries: Alexei Kondratiev and Isaac Bonewits

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

I have just seen a new Druid blog ‘Under the Ironwood Tree’ which I have added to the blogroll. It was here that I learnt that Celtic Reconstructionist scholar Alexei Kondratiev has just died. From the Ironwood Tree blog:

The Celtic Reconstructionist and Druid communities are in a state of shock over the news of Alexei Kondratiev’s passing.  He inspired a lot of people to approach Celtic spirituality from an academic point of view.  His book, “The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual” is well worth the read.  Travel well, Alexei.

In addition to this sad news, readers may not know that another leading light in Druid studies in the USA is at the moment struggling to regain his health. Again from the Ironwood Tree blog:

Tonight,[27 May – but any time is a good time to send healing PCG] the community is offering its energies and prayers to Isaac Bonewits. Isaac is suffering from a rare form of colon cancer which was diagnosed in October of last year.  Conditions have not improved.  The twenty-first hour (9pm) has been designated as “Rolling Thunder” when members of spiritual and religious communities will send their prayers and energies to Isaac (with his and Phaedra’s permission) in their respective time zones.

Isaac is responsible for helping hundreds, maybe even thousands of people with his writings and workshops.  I consider him a mentor and community friend as well as one of the foremost authorities on the spiritual subjects that I hold close to my heart.  My hope is for healing, recovery, and thirty more years of his presence on this earth.

Periodic updates on his status are available on Isaac and Phaedra’s Facebook page

May Alexei’s journey to the Summerlands be swift and sure. May Isaac regain his health and continue to inspire and entertain us with his razor-sharp mind and his infectious sense of humour!

Be Unreasonable!

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

“In India I did a 180-degree turn from thinking religion was something only for children and the uneducated. [I have come to] fall in love with faith. I was just tired of being reasonable. As a white empowered male it was leading me nowhere. Reason is like one of those red lights that keeps French fries warm in restaurants. At one point it kills everything. It strips away mystery, religion, even art.’

Yann Martel, author of The Life of Pi, interviewed in the Telegraph Magazine by Mick Brown

Jesus and the Druids

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

HORSHAM INTERFAITH FORUM presents

JESUS AND THE DRUIDS

A showing of the film ‘And Did Those Feet?’

Based on the book by Gordon Strachan  ‘Jesus the Master Builder’

This new film looks at the links between Palestine and Druidry in Britain at the time of Jesus and considers the story that Jesus actually visited Britain. In the absence of Gordon Strachan due to illness, the film will be introduced by Tim Firth of the Horsham Interfaith Forum and will be followed by discussion. tea and coffee. Tim Firth is a former lecturer in theology and a student of Gordon Strachan’s work

Rev Dr Gordon Strachan is a Church of Scotland minister and a former lecturer on architecture and adult education at Edinburgh University.  He has lectured on subjects including the ancient wisdoms, art, numerology and sacred geometry.  He is an artist and a well-known author.  Among his books are Christ and the Cosmos, The Bible’s Hidden Cosmology, The Return of Merlin and Chartres: Sacred Geometry and Sacred Space.

MONDAY JULY 5th 7.00 pm   at

THE CHURCH OF St.MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS,

PARTRIGE GREEN, WEST SUSSEX

Admission free

Partridge Green is five miles south of Horsham, three miles east of the A24 and two miles south of the A272. Further information from: Tim Firth on 01403 790 038 or toomsfirth@btinternet.com

Many-Sidedness and Maybe-ism

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

From Dr Atul Shah of ‘Diverse Ethics’

MANY-SIDED WISDOM – A New Politics of the Spirit by Aidan Rankin, 150pp, O Books 2010 Available on Amazon for £9.99.

In the huge cacophony of noise and pollution that is the modern media, it is rare to find a new work which is written with patience and perseverance, where the author has laboured over his thoughts and researched them for years (decades even)  before putting them to print. This new book flows like a timeless river, respects its readers very deeply, and unites a wide range of disciplines from politics to ecology, spirituality, philosophy and economics so flawlessly, that we feel we are truly being touched by wisdom which has stood the test of time.

We live in a time where luxury is being eroded – there is the threat of global warming and the reality of climate change, war is always around the corner, and the rich are also the most anxious and dis-satisfied, whilst the poor only fall ever-lower, and population rises. Science, the objective saviour, is not able to solve these problems for us. Neither is Capitalism. The word ‘holistic’ is increasingly being talked about as the way forward – where silos or barriers between thoughts or organisations need to be broken, and we need more co-operation and less competition. And the ancient Indian Jain tradition is one of the foremost exponents of the richness and depth of holistic thinking, action and science. Rankin draws on this in his book.

The book comprises six chapters, with titles ranging from ‘Letting Go of Dogma’, to ‘A Subtle Power’, ‘Karmic Ecology’ and ‘Growing Beyond Growth’. It is aimed at a  reader who is keen to discover wisdom, to unite the multiple worlds of mind, body and spirit, and willing to invest some time and effort in reading and understanding profound voices. He makes the task very easy for the reader by using prose which is effortlessly smooth and flowing, concise and poetic, focused yet liberating. I definitely felt very uplifted when I finished the book – a sense of personal growth and inner peace and understanding, which I hope will stay with my soul forever.

Rankin firmly places his book on the Jain wisdom of ‘Anekant’ or Many-Sidedness. This is a complex idea, which demonstrates that truth has multiple-facets, and depends on the position of the seeker and their assumptions and world-views, explicit or implicit. This is not the same as relativism, where there is no objective truth, but neither is it purely rational, or purely spiritual or purely emotional. The Jains allow all these perspectives to cohere, and in their philosophy of maybe-ism (Syadvada), show that truth can be tentative, but must be sincere, non-violent, and respectful of all living beings and their rights to co-exist…

More

The Way of Awen

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Kevan book coverCome and celebrate the launch of The Way of Awen: journey of a bard, the new book from Kevan Manwaring (author of The Bardic Handbook) about living creatively. Published by O Books

Friday, 25 June 2010
18:00 – 20:00
Live Arts Cafe, Chapel Arts Centre
Lower Borough Walls
Bath, United Kingdom

6pm Live music from the simply divine Saravian

Arrive early for a complimentary drink & vegetarian buffet

7pm Author talk about the journey of the book &
reading (hear a selection of The Taliesin Soliloquies)
followed by Q&A

Afterwards, a chance to hear a solo performance by the legendary Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band), who will be performing songs and stories from his awesome repertoire in the main hall from 8pm

Entrance to book launch is free (downstairs – side entrance)
Entrance to Robin Williamson concert £13 on door, but concessions available on purchase of the book.

For directions www.chapelarts.org

RSVP

PS can’t make this one? Come to the Glastonbury launch on 12th June, Cat & Cauldron, High Street, 5.30pm

Naked Gurus and The New Yorker

Friday, May 21st, 2010

One of the joys of Facebook is that one can receive messages from gurus who are on Facebook and are in far-flung places. I have recently recently received a message from Baba Rampuri in India – a wonderful guru of the naked sect of Naga Babas whose autobiography I read while researching A Brief History of Nakedness. He writes:

Dear Friends,
Inner Traditions has published a new edition of my book now called AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A SADHU: A Journey into Mystic India. which now has 32 photos (some of them quite rare), a Glossary, and an Afterword, with which I’m very pleased. For those of you who haven’t read it – please read it – it’s the foundation of my work.

Book Description:

After traveling at age 18 from his native California to India in 1969, Rampuri was drawn to the Naga Babas, an ancient and wild order of naked yogis whom he calls the “Hell’s Angels of Indian Spirituality.” Organized into a sect by Adi Shankara in the 5th century BC, the Naga Babas see themselves as the ultimate protectors of the Sanatan Dharma, or what we call the Hindu religion. Rampuri became a disciple of a Naga Baba–a master shaman sadhu–from Rajasthan and, as foretold by astrological prophecy, soon found himself the first foreigner to become an initiate of the Juna Akhara, the oldest and largest grouping of Naga Babas with more than 50,000 sadhu members.
From drinking the “Nectar of Immortality” at the source of the Ganges River to allegations of tantric murder, this autobiography is filled with true accounts of magic, miracles, ghosts, and austerities, with lessons on Hindu gods, ayurveda, mantra, and Indian culture woven throughout. Through his journey of extremes, Rampuri takes us into the mystic heart of India.

Amazon.com link Amazon.co.uk.link

It’s a great read and full of atmosphere and information and I quote from it in A Brief History of Nakedness which was recently featured in The New Yorker – a million miles it seems from the world of Naga Babas, but ‘we are all connected’ as I hope the book demonstrates. You can see the feature here.

Vietnam Reunion

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I will never forget that image of a young girl fleeing a napalm attack that appeared when I was a teenager during the Vietnam war. Recently the BBC reunited her with the ITN journalist who helped to save her:

From The BBC site:

Kim Phuc, the girl in one of the unforgettable images of the Vietnam War, has been reunited for a BBC radio programme with Christopher Wain, the ITN correspondent who helped save her life 38 years ago.

When Chris last saw Kim, she was lying on a hospital bed with third-degree burns to more than half of her body, after a South Vietnamese napalm bomb attack.

It was 8 June 1972 and Chris and his crew had been in Vietnam for seven weeks, covering the conflict for ITN…

A comment on this item reads:

Whenever I hear reference to Vietnam, it is that picture that immediately springs to mind. It is this picture that symbolises how it is always the innocent that suffer. But, thanks to Christopher Wain, and many more like him, some faith in humanity is restored.
Jill Brennan, Snodland, Kent, UK

Read More

Transpersonal History

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Order member Dr Thomas Daffern offers:

TRANSPERSONAL HISTORY: TOWARDS A MAP OF A NEW COUNTRY
FOOTNOTES TO THE PERIODIC TABLE OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIOUS AND PHILOSOPHICAL TRADITIONS

This special 2010-2011 course of lectures is being given by Dr. Thomas C Daffern, an academic specialist in interfaith research and comparative global philosophy. It is taking place in West Sussex, close to the Buddhist monastery at Chithurst, and is being given to an invited audience. The cost of admission is by donation. The talks will be taking place on Sunday afternoons, on the last Sunday of each month, from 3-5.30 starting in May 2010. They will be followed by questions and discussion of the issues raised. The course is based partly on the unique Periodic Table of the World’s Religious and Philosophical Traditions devised by Dr Daffern (www.thewisdompages.co.uk) The course is also based on Dr Daffern’s doctoral thesis, entitled Toward a Transpersonal History of the Search for Peace 1945-2001 If you wish to attend please contact iipsgp@educationaid.net for an invitation and exact travel details. More details of Dr Daffern’s work are on www.educationaid.net while his publications are available from www.lulu.com/iipsgp. The course is taking place under the auspices of the International Institute of Peace Studies and Global Philosophy. Thomas has also been awarded the Mt Haemus Scholarship from the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids for 2010, and there is considerable overlap between this course and his work in that regard. Limited places so please book your place early by applying by email or in writing to: IIPSGP, 4 Nursery Cottages, Trotton, Chithurst Lane, Near Midhurst, West Sussex,  GU31 5ET, 01730 716496.

1 May 30 – Introduction: Transpersonal history – defining a new discipline
2 June 27 – Jung, Freud and the founding of the transpersonal approach in depth psychology and psychohistory
3 July 25 – Jungians and the transpersonal: Hillman, Joseph Campbell and beyond
4 August 29 – Maslow, Assagioli, Groff, and transpersonal history
5 September 26 – Ken Wilber, Integral theory, Don Beck and transpersonal history
6 October 31 – Intellectual history and transpersonal history
7 November 28 – The periodic table of religions and philosophies and transpersonal history
8 December 19 – Genres of history – diplomatic, political, social, economic, gender, cultural, materialist,  and transpersonal history
9 Jan 30 – Psychohistories and transpersonal history: De Mause, Erikson etc
10 Feb 27 – Theosophy, Anthroposophy, esotericism and historiography and transpersonal history
11 March 27 – History of religions and spirituality – Eliade, Smart etc. Sufism, Kabbalah, Christianity, Buddhism, Druidry, Jainism, Hinduism, New Age, gnosis and transpersonal history
12 April 24 – History of sciences and transpersonal history
13 May 29 – History of global philosophies  and transpersonal history
14 June 26 – History of the Arts, inspiration and transpersonal history
15 July 31 – Peace history, conflict resolution, the Middle East, the Afghan War and transpersonal history – by way of a conclusion which is not the end…