Classic Jam Hits

Going through my computer the other day, I found the .pdfs of these classic book sets, and thought to post them here for whoever wants them: Frazer’s The Golden Bough, The Mythology of All Races, and Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Whatever their limitations now, they are still great resources. I…

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Scripture is Strange

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, the Confederate Grace Brown Elmore wrote, “I find no consolation in religion. I cannot be resigned. Hard thoughts against my God will arise, questions of His justice and mercy refuse to be silenced…. Sometimes I feel so wicked, so rebellious against God, so doubtful of his mercy.”[i]…

Uma Instructs the Gods (Kena Upanishad)

And here’s one of my favorite bits from the Hindu Upanishads, chapters three and four from the Kena Upanishad. From the translation of Swami Nikhilananda: Brahman, according to the story, obtained a victory for the gods; and by that victory of Brahman the gods became elated. They said to themselves: “Verily, this victory is ours;…

Young Krishna & the Universe in His Mouth

One of my favorite stories from Hinduism comes from the Bhagavata Purana, on the childhood of Krishna: ….One day when Rama and the other little sons of the cowherds were playing, they reported to his mother, “Krishna has eaten dirt.” Yasoda took Krishna by the hand and scolded him, for his own good, and she…

Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief

Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) This…

Notebook 6: Suffering & Justice

Notebook 6: Suffering & Justice (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) One of the largest…

Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way

Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) For insight…

Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World

Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them…

Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge

Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them…

Notebook 2: Religion & Originality

NOTEBOOK 2: RELIGION & ORIGINALITY (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) One of the ways…

Notebook 1: God’s Will & Interpreting History

NOTEBOOK 1: GOD'S WILL & INTERPRETING HISTORY (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) As an…

The Corn Mother (Penobscot)

The following is one of the most beautiful stories from myth that I know, collected American Indian Myths and Legends, edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz.(The book is part of the Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library, which is usually hit or miss, but this one remains one of the best anthologies of myth…

Egyptian Pyramid Texts

As a companion to yesterday’s excerpts from the Hindu Rig Veda, here are excerpts from religious texts even older than those: the Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt. Beginning in the late Old Kingdom (c.2375-2181 BC), pharaohs had prayers and spells to assist them in the afterlife carved onto the walls of their pyramids—and as you’ll…

Stonehenge, Castlerigg, Brodgar

Here are some favorite photos from the Neolithic stone circles of England and Orkney, visited in the last few years: Stonehenge, in Wiltshire Castlerigg Stone Circle, in Cumbria, the Lakes District The Ring of Brodgar, in Orkney As the archaeologists will tell you, these circles of standing stones were intentionally placed in an already sacred…

A Visit to the Underworld

Below are excerpts from three of my favorite Underworld journeys from mythology, which also informed my own Underground scene in To the House of the Sun: Book Six of Virgil’s Aeneid, where Aeneas comes upon the shade of his father, who is amazed to see his son, still alive, visiting the land of the dead;…

The Bhagavad Gita; Invention of the Jewish Nose

Two great new articles are up at NYRB: The first is Wendy Doniger's review of a new "biography" of the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. Something similar could no doubt be written about most scriptures, since the importance of the book, and of Doniger's review, is to show how variously the Gita has been interpreted and taken…

Zen (Favorite Passages)

Along with my excerpts from Ramakrishna and the Desert Fathers, the following favorites from Zen Buddhism constitute just about all the religious wisdom I need. In one way or another, they are all expressions of humility and empathy, and upend the usual fundamentalist (and simple-minded, arrogant, and certain) approaches to scripture, discipline, knowledge, and to diversity of practice…

The Desert Fathers (Favorite Passages)

Alongside the sayings of Ramakrishna and the monks of Zen Buddhism, the sayings of the Christian Desert Fathers are about all the wisdom I need, and below are my favorites from four separate collections. It will not appeal to everyone, but what these hermits seem to speak of more often than not is that greatest…

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (Favorite Passages)

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, written by "M", translated by Swami Nikhilananda. It is hard to overstate my love for this book. Along with being the first gift my wife gave me soon after we met, it also contains everything I adore about religion, and articulates all that I ever hope to express about the…

Cyril Edwards (Interview)

I've relied on many translators and scholars in the writing of To the House of the Sun, and over the years I've been lucky enough to correspond with a few of them. Their specialties vary widely—Greek religion, Hinduism/Indo-European studies, Egyptology, Arthurian romance, etc.—and it seems that their enthusiasm and love for language, history, and religion…

Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many, by Erik Hornung (Favorite Passages)

Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many, by Erik Hornung [p. 8:] There is no end to the question of the gods and their meaning. [p. 11:] ...one cannot deny that the problem of the gods tends toward the infinite and has no final solution.... Anyone who takes history seriously will not…

Origins of the Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem (Favorite Passages)

Origins of the Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem [p. 159-60, an excerpt from section 105 of the Bahir, commenting on the Sabbath:] [Every day] has a logos, who is its ruler, not because it was created with it, but because it accomplishes with it the effect that is within its power. When all have accomplished their effect and finished…