Book Review #12

cymbalum mundi

This will be a review/discussion of a somewhat older book with the odd, Latin title of Cymbalum Mundi. First, let me just say that if, like me, you ever get a chance to read this book….DON’T!

Some time ago, I published a post about how The Church, at the beginning of the Renaissance, made torture a competitive sport, offering rewards, both secular and spiritual, for winners. Jim Wheeler made me aware of a book titled A World Lit Only By Fire, a history of the excesses and hypocrisies of the time.

I obtained it by asking for an inter-library loan. Within its pages, it mentioned another book which listed and mocked certain Church practices.  Always willing to learn more of the failures of the best of the Good Christians, when I returned ‘World’, I requested another special loan.

This book was written in 1537. The title is in Latin, because back then, all serious works were written in Latin, so that educated people in different countries could all read them.  I requested an English translation.  Two weeks later, I got a call to pick it up.  I left the wife in the car, and when I brought it out, I tossed it into her lap.  Fortunately, before I got out of the parking lot, she asked, “Do you read French?”

The author was a Frenchman named Bonaventure Des Periers. While he titled it in Latin, the original text is all French.  I might get the gist of a current French document, but not the detail this book required.  I immediately returned it, and the Library Lady told me, “You should have told us you wanted an English version.”   👿

Two weeks later, I got another call, and carefully checked it before taking delivery. The French copy came from the University of Waterloo, 5 miles north, in our twin city.  The second, English copy, also came from U of W.  I’ve personally borrowed from Wilfrid Laurier University, our neighbors’ second, smaller school, but let the librarians do the work on this one.

The Book – Cymbalum Mundi [The Noise of the World]
(The anticipated applause of his adoring readers)

The Author – Bonaventure Des Periers

The Review – I don’t know what I expected to get with this book, but I didn’t get it. It came with 4 pages of Foreword, 28 pages of Introduction, 5 pages of Notes, and 4 pages of Literary References – and none of it actually explained only 74 pages of allegory and allusion.

It consists of five small segments, beginning with a fake letter to a fake friend, explaining how he carefully translated this from the original Greek. This is followed by four small scenes from a Shakespeare-like play; only, A Midsummer’s Night Dream is lucid and crystal clear, compared to this.

Jupiter sends his son Mercury to Earth, to have an old book rebound. He falls in with three brigands who steal the book from his bag, by replacing it with a worthless book, the same size and shape, while they are drinking at an inn.

NOW:

Does Jupiter represent God?
Does Mercury, the Messenger, represent Jesus?
Is the book Mercury brings, the tattered Old Testament?
Does the new, rebound book represent the New Testament?
Are the thieves the rulers of the Church, who steal The Word, to sell to the masses and enrich themselves?
Is the fake book they substitute, the code of rules the Church uses to control the laity?
Is the hostess of the inn a stand-in for the Virgin Mary?
Is the real food and wine she serves them a denial of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation?

The problem is, he never actually says. One well-known historian, with a pile of evidence, says yes, while another, just as renowned, and with as big a pile of proof, says the exact opposite.  You can ‘make’ this book say anything you want it to.

I had hoped that it might show more of the excesses and failings of the Church. What it shows, is the tap-dancing necessary for any writer of this period to present some doubt, and cause people to think, without ending up chained to a post, tap-dancing on a large bonfire.

It was interesting, and in the end educational, but not really fulfilling.

Book Review #11

a world lit only by fire

Title: A World Lit Only By Fire

Author: William Manchester

When I published my Torture of Faith post, my well-read and well-respected visitor, Jim Wheeler, suggested the above book as background reference reading, to explain the historical era.

As too often happens, I whined and wheedled. My library didn’t have a copy that I could borrow for free.  The nearby Chapters bookstores didn’t have a copy in stock.  I could order one, but objected to actually paying for it.  Jim sensibly reminded me that I had obtained the copy of Malleus Malificarum(Wiki link) thru Inter-Library Loan; I could do the same with this one.

The book eventually arrived, not from the gigantic Toronto Library system, but from the King Township Public Library – Nobleton branch. King Township is part of what is known as the Holland Marsh, the most fertile part of Southern Ontario, north of Toronto.  Nobleton is a town of 4000 located within it.  Why this rural area would have a copy of this book, when the metropolis doesn’t, is a mystery.

I was in love with it before I even got through the introduction. It introduced me to the word ‘catenas’, which are things or occurrences that lead inevitably, like links in a chain, from one to the next.  Like the chain they describe, I linked it to two other words I already knew, ‘catenary’ which describes the shape of a free-hanging chain, (Think McDonalds Golden Arches – or the St. Louis arch.) and ‘concatenation’, which is the formation of a chain of events.  I know!  There’s only two people in the world who give a shit about this verbal trivia – and I’m both of them.

This book describes Europe from about 1500 to 1550, just at the end of the Dark Ages, and the beginning of the Renaissance. Martin Luther and Henry the Eighth both split from The Church, and it was losing control, and its collective mind.  Catholics tortured and burned Protestants at the stake.  Protestants tortured and burned Catholics.

This book should be required reading for all the blindly-believing ‘Good Christians’, especially Catholics. It describes over two hundred years of some of the most sinful, licentious behaviour of The Church, from the local priests, right up to the Archbishops and Pope.  The Church was operated for the benefit of the religious leaders.

Tithe money bought opulent palaces and jewels and extravagant clothing – and wars to conquer countries to wring more money from. While thousands starved in the fields, the Pope threw lavish, drunken parties.

Sex was a competitive sport. The Vatican supported two whorehouses, which explains people with the name Pope.  They are descendants of bastard sons.  Many convents operated as brothels, funneling money from the nobility and rich merchants into The Church.

Positions in The Church were bought and sold, so that the buyers could gain more power and income. Several Popes simply appointed friends and relatives.  One Pope made Bishops of two young nephews who had absolutely no religious training.  Indulgences were handed out like Halloween candy.  If you gave The Church enough gold, you could commit any act, and still go to Heaven.

I’ve run into most of this information piecemeal, but it was both pleasant and disturbing to see it all laid out in an all-you-can-sin buffet. The religiously-naive would be horrified to see the quiet, historical listings of all the mistakes of the ‘Infallible’ Popes, the changes in the ‘unchanging’ Catholic Church, and the gamut of sins of all the ‘Holy, Sanctified’ religious leaders.

Until this time, many rulers, both religious and nobility, were illiterate and ignorant – and proud of it. Peasants knew only what they were told. Even the elite were only vaguely aware of occurrences at any distance, and days, weeks, months after they occurred.  After Gutenberg perfected the printing press, more people learned to read, and knowledge began flowing – the beginning of the end for the Church’s control.

The Church had invented Purgatory as an extortion racket. It all came to a head when one Pope wanted money to wage yet another war.  The selling-indulgences scheme had folded faster than a Kardashian at a spelling bee, so the Pope announced that, for those who ‘donated’ enough gold, time spent in purgatory by relatives could be reduced or eliminated by his prayers.

The now widely-read Martin Luther published a tract questioning if that were true, and asking why the Pope wouldn’t do so merely for the sake of supposedly good Christian souls and their obedient kin still here on Earth, and not for the money, “like some brazen harlot”.

While it could still use some updating and improvement, the Catholic Church is a thousand times better today than it was five hundred years ago. If you’d like a look at a time when peasants were regarded as worth less than the animals they kept, and society was run to wretched excess by hypocritical, entitled rulers, both secular and religious, this would be an enlightening book.   😯

Insanity

Straitjacket

Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your children.

I was doing some research the other day, and stopped off at Bible.org.  Anything scientific, modern or technological is automatically suspect, so I wasn’t surprised when my eye spotted the headline of an article which read, Psychiatrists Have Been Torturing Insane People For 500 Years.

As a compulsive wordsmith, that caught my attention. A quick check revealed that the word, and occupation, psychiatrist, only came into existence about 125 years ago.  Previous to that, there were men known as psychiators, untrained, unlicensed and uncontrolled.

Driven by self-righteous ego, they were usually interested in power, self-aggrandizement, and enforcing what they viewed as acceptable social norms – shades of The Inquisition. They were often church men, good Christians, and it was they who tortured people who often were not insane, but merely free-thinkers, independents, and weirdoes, marching to a different flautist.

Insanity

As in my post on torture, you could be snatched off the street, or from your home, at any time, for any reason – or none. Might made right.  Cross an undrawn line, and a husky man or two would do worse than sell you into slavery.  Tell your father that you wanted to work at a newspaper, rather than learning how to make gloves; tell your mother you didn’t want the arranged marriage to the fat old farmer; ask your boss for an evening off to go courting, and just see what happened.

Have a look at the list of ‘insanities’, above. Any of these could get you involuntarily committed to an insane asylum, and resisting and insisting that you weren’t insane, was proof that you were.  The list-makers did seem to be fixated on masturbation, in all its variations.  I think they needed more psychological help than the unfortunate wretches they abused.  And I’d like to know how an 1880s nut-house got an Internet address.

Despite the implication that the bad treatment was all the fault of those evil Psychiatrists, these often-self-appointed Guardians of Conformity used many well-known methods to break the will and minds of their charges.  One was wet-sheeting, where they wrapped you tightly in cold, wet linen, and left you on a bed, unable to move, sometimes for days.

Drugs were now commonly available, and widely used. They could be included in what little poor food you got; you could be held by attendants and have it forced down your throat, or directly injected with the new hypodermic syringe.  They included diuretics, which caused you to wet yourself, emetics, which would cause you to vomit, purgatives that roiled your gut, and made you shit yourself, and opiates that suppressed intelligence and will, and blurred reality for you.

On the physical side, beyond the restraining wet-sheeting, one of the favorites was the chair.  You were strapped into a sturdy wooden chair with arms.  Four ropes were attached to the corners, and then those were attached to a single strong rope, suspended from a high ceiling.  Loaded with some of the above drugs, you were then spun round and round – and round, while also swinging back and forth.  Fifty spins in one direction, then forty in the other, then thirty the first way, then twenty, etc, etc!

When the ride came to a stop, you were Inquisitioned. “Admit that you were insane.”  “I was never insane! I am healthy and normal!”  “Wind him up again boys.”  “No, No more! I admit that I was insane.  I am better now and will behave well.”  Caning was common, as well as pitch-black sensory-deprivation solitary confinement.

One facility even built a giant wooden wheel, two feet in thickness, and twelve feet in diameter, its axle sitting on tall posts. An offender was shoved in through a small port, the door latched, and then left for up to 36 hours.  There was no light, no food, no water, and no toilet facilities.  What little air, was redolent with the reek of previous tenants’ leavings.  Like a hamster, you could walk, but that only rained feces and almost-dried vomit on you.

An open mind can always stand a closed one, if it has to – by making room for it in the general picture. But a closed mind can’t stand it near an open one without risking immediate and complete destruction in its own terms.  In a closed mind, there’s no more room.

Gordon R. Dickson, author – Tiger Green – 1965

The 1889 date above just about matches the time when Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and others, began humanely treating mental disorders, which most of these poor souls did not have. Sadly, these propaganda pits did not die out.  As late as the 1950s, white women with non-white boyfriends or husbands could be snatched and incarcerated till they ‘learned better.’

At the same time, unwed mothers could be permanently locked away in places like the Magdalene Sisters homes, where their delivered babies were quietly buried in the back yards, and the women were forced into 16 to 18 hours a day physical labor, to pay for their unwanted keep, while those darned Psychiatrists were busy torturing folks. Insanity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.    😦

Pint Sized

Pint

Always fascinated with the details of English word usage, I recently read a post titled Euphemisms. In it, a young female explained how the seemingly innocent words of many of the nursery rhymes we tell our children, had a much darker meaning when they were first composed.

She apparently had a real vendetta against royalty and religion. Her first story was about “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”, who was Queen “Bloody” Mary, trying to return now-Protestant England to the Catholic Church.  Her garden grew well, because it was fertilized with the corpses of the many that she had tortured and executed.

The writer claimed that “Three Blind Mice” were three noble men(sic) who plotted against Mary. She didn’t have them blinded, or mutilated (their ‘tails’ cut off), merely burned at the stake.  But, in reality, there were only two who plotted, and only one was a noble, the other, an Anglican Bishop.

“Goosey, Goosey, Gander” is about Catholic sympathisers hiding priests from Protestant torture and death squads. The line about grabbing them by their left leg was because priests were identified when they put their left foot forward as they genuflected.

Already cynical, she lost my belief when her mix of fact to fiction became too thin on the “Jack And Jill” story. This is word history, not political history, and something I’ve researched.

She stated that it referred to the execution of Louis XIII and Marie Antoinette. When Louis (not Jack – or even Jacques) was beheaded, he lost his ‘Crown.’  When Marie was guillotined, her head ‘came tumbling after.’  She didn’t explain why English commoners would make up rhymes about French monarchs.

This little rhyme is all about governments getting more tax income by screwing with sizes. It was something citizens were complaining about 400 years ago, and they’re still screwing us today.

A “Jack” was a leather mug, in which inns and taverns served 12 ounces of beer or cheap wine. Taxes were paid on how many ‘Jacks’ were dispensed. Suddenly, by Royal decree, the size of a Jack was reduced to 10 ounces, and taxes on beer and wine went up by 20%.

Crown

Taxes were often paid in ‘Crowns’, silver English coins. Soon both barkeeps and the drinking working man were going bankrupt (broke).  When the Jack fell down, he/it broke his ‘Crown’.

The Gill – or Jill – was a quarter of a pint, the amount of a shot of harder liquor. The Incredible Shrinking Jack trick had worked so well that the government tried it again.  A gallon had been 160 ounces, therefore a quart (quarter gallon) was 40 ounces, a pint was 20….and a quarter-pint Gill, was 5.

The gallon was reduced to 128 ounces, a quart to 32, a pint to 16. The 5 ounce Gill became 4 ounces, the tax on liquor went up 25% with the stroke of a pen, “and Jill came tumbling after.”

A later government restored the gallon/quart, etc. sizes, but the results can still be seen. The UK has ‘Imperial’, 40 ounce quarts, but the US never changed back, keeping their 32 oz. version.  The US has a Fifth (of a 128 oz. gallon = 25.6 oz.) of booze, where Canada insists that it’s a 26er.

When I was but a mere child, dairies delivered 40 oz. quart glass bottles of milk to the house. When glass yielded to cardboard cartons, the international conglomerates who now provided cow juice, did so in 32 oz. American quarts, without changing our cost.

In 1971, when Canada went metric, no-one really knew anything about metric sizes. Containers were now (34oz. approx.) liters.  Cost went up, but uncertainty kept complaints down.  40 oz. glass pop bottles became 1-liter plastic containers – at the same price.

To lull the population into happily accepting metrification, the Canadian government actually solicited poems from citizens, extolling the beauty and benefits of the Metric System. They were disappointed by the low turnout, and definitely did not publish the one that said;

When things go Metric,
Prices rise!
Surprise, surprise,
Surprise, surprise!

The Portuguese lady selling bread at the Market continues to shout, “Three bags for $5.” The old loaves of bread suitable for making trencherman farmers’ sandwiches are now so small that they’re barely big enough to make petit-fours.  The hamburger and hot-dog buns remain the same size, but the bags which used to contain a dozen buns, first slipped to 10, slid to 9, fell to 8, and, hopefully, have bottomed out at a ridiculous 7 per pack.

The only thing that I have as much left in my wallet as I used to, is lint.

The Torture Of Faith

(Not too) recently, I read of Boko Haram, or ISIS, torturing 23 young children to death. I don’t know what menace six-year-olds can be, to bullies armed with AK-47s. If you feel the kids must die, at least do it quickly and cleanly. Afford them the dignity that you lack.

On the same day, a television station reran the movie, The DaVinci Code, in which a character slams down a copy of Malleus Maleficarum (Witches’ Hammer), a handbook The Inquisition used, to torture and burn thousands of innocents, most of them women.

Malleus Maleficarum

I had to read this thing, so I contacted my library. They didn’t have a copy, but obtained one for me on inter-library loan, from Toronto. The book was originally written in 1647, and I got a 40 year old paperback version, identical to the one in the movie, if more used and worn. It was composed about the same time as the King James Bible, full of ‘thee and thou’. It was a struggle to get through it in the 3-week loan period, but I managed.

The subtitle should have been, “How To Inflict Excruciating Pain For Fun And Profit.” The Church seized all property of those found guilty. Some Inquisitors skimmed a bit off for themselves, while others merely benefited through the enrichment of their organization.

I opened it up and started reading. Immediately, the lies, hypocrisy, mistaken assumptions and unprovable claims began. On page 1, clear as crystal, it said, “Magic exists. It was created by God in the beginning with all else, but He does not wish mankind to use it. Anyone who practices magic, allies with Satan.”

On page 3, just as clearly, it said, “Magic does not exist. It is merely apparent, only believed to exist by the faithful.” On page 5, the yo-yo now claimed that, “Magic does exist, but its effects are ephemeral and transient. If ignored, soon all will return to God’s intended state.”

I don’t know who the book was intended to convince, the writer, the commoners, from whom unfortunate victims were plucked, The Church/Pope, or the secular Royalty. Presumption of innocence just didn’t exist. “Hang ‘the witch’ by her thumbs for a day.” She’s already been convicted, but the ritual must be observed, so that ‘legal’ confiscation can proceed.

“If a Dark Witch do evil by Black Magic, find a White Witch to reverse the spell – then quickly burn them both to death.” “Have the Witch’s friends to tell her that if she confesses her sins, you will be merciful. If this does not avail, tell the Witch yourself that you will be merciful – holding in mind that you will be merciful unto The Church and the King, from whom you hold obedience and loyalty.” No lie was too big, or too devious.

The Catholic Church even had the temerity to declare, “No-one convicted of heresy by The Inquisition, was later found to be innocent.” largely because any friend or relative who protested, was subjected to the same torture and execution.

“Ask the witch why she does not cry for her sins. Watch carefully to see that she does not use spittle to wet her cheeks.” She did not cry for her sins, because she committed none, and modern science knows that a body under stress cannot cry.

You might think that a person in agony might choose quick death to end the prolonged torment, but even here, The Inquisition cheated. If you confessed, you had to swear to God that your confession was true. Anyone lying to God was sent to Hell, so Inquisitors were granted more time to play their sick games. An innocent person was believed protected from pain by faith in God. That worked so well in everyday life.

For anyone who wants to play the No True Scotsman game, and claim that these were not ‘real Christians’ or ‘Good Catholics’ – during the worst of the Inquisition, a Bishop went from city to city, marking down the ingenious ways the locals had of inflicting pain. The book was copied and sent back to the various areas, so that others could benefit. When this was done, the Bishop traveled to Rome, and the Pope blessed both him and his vile book.

A Scottish sea captain delivered a cargo to Madrid. While he was on the streets, looking for another cargo, he was snatched and imprisoned. He was held for three days without food or water. He was flogged, and stretched on the rack. Joints and bones in his hands and feet were broken. He was seared with red-hot irons, and cut with knives. Pieces of skin and flesh were torn off his body, and finally he was subjected to the medieval equivalent of water-boarding.

When he managed to survive all these indignities, he was thrown, naked and broken, back out onto the street. No questions were asked. No accusations were made. No confession was extracted. These Dominican Servants of God merely wanted the practice.

A king of Sweden wished to marry a particular lady, but the court advisors were against his choice. Perhaps they felt her virtue was questionable, or maybe they knew that she would undermine their influence with the king. They claimed that she was a witch, who had ensorcelled his mind, and demanded that she be ‘Put To The Question.’ (Tortured)

This was usually enough to make someone back off, but she and the King persisted. The test was to grasp a red-hot iron bar in both hands, and walk three measured paces. It was reported that she took the three paces, stopped, took another three paces, and demanded, “Is there more you would have me do?”

Cynical me sees gold changing hands, the castle torturer being told that he might become a customer of his replacement, and the recording priest reminded that he could suffer a fatal accident. Or maybe they both just loved the king and his lady, and hated the devious courtiers. The lady became Queen Gertrude, and almost everyone lived happily ever after.

A hundred years later, Swedes were so taken by the story of the virtuous maid, protected from pain and evil by God, that it was declared a miracle, and she became Saint Gertrude. Oy! 😳

#486

Religism

Bible    Koran

Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘Religism’ as animosity, intolerance, conflict, oppression or bigotry towards religions or belief systems.

Archon’s Street-Usage Dictionary, based on keen observation of desperately insecure individuals and groups, defines it as opposing, doubting, not holding, or even merely QUESTIONING any religion or particular set of beliefs.

It is a particularly useful concept and term for the most adamantly religious, to allow them to hold and foment the most extreme acts and views.  They couch the holding of every position except theirs as an attack, to justify outrageous actions.

He who takes offence, when none is offered, is a fool! – Brigham Young

Groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS view the very existence of the peaceful, democratic freedom of Western society as an affront to their particular narrow view, and claim that it needs to be met with IEDs, torture and beheadings, to ‘defend’ the Muslim faith.

At home, it is only the rule of law which protects all segments of society, and prevents some of the more Fundamentalist Christian groups and individuals from going that far.  I feel that thugs like the Westboro Baptist Church should be weeded out, root and branch.  I grant them the right to hold their noxious opinions, but not to disrupt polite society by ‘defending’ them with graceless attacks and accusations.

I recently read a quote from the President of the Christian Screenwriters’ Guild.  The very existence of this group says, “We’re better than you, and we’re going to fight for the right to keep telling you that.”  They’re the kind who refuse to be inclusive, and view any attempt to speak of plural ‘Happy Holidays’, and add the year-end celebrations of any other Faiths, as Religism, and an attack on Christmas.

The somewhat dated quote, from Barbara Pelosi said, “I find it beyond naïve, to convince myself that the folks who are lapping up The Da Vinci Code are on a ‘search for truth.’ They’re not. They’re on a crusade to validate their own rejection of the authority of Christ and the Church.”

As an analogy, which she and many other Christians would refuse to accept: – Barack Obama is the President of the United States. Within legal limits, his word is law. He is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and his orders must be obeyed. He has the authority!

But wait. I live in Canada, a completely separate country. I don’t have to obey him, or even respect him, and the truth is, our rejection of him and ‘his authority’ doesn’t make my Prime Minister the Devil, nor do I live in Hell. People like Pelosi have convinced themselves that the ‘authority of Christ and the Church’ is universal and valid, and any rejection is an attack. They simply can’t accept that their faithfully believed “TRUTH” could be wrong, or anyone else’s, right.

If Christians go to other countries to convince ‘misguided’ natives to accept the Christian faith, they are viewed as kindly missionaries.  If the natives object to these interfering do-gooders, and they end up in prison, or dead, they achieve the exalted status of Martyrs.

If people of other faiths attempt to do the same thing to Christians, they are insultingly dismissed as ‘Heathens’, and, until a couple of hundred years ago, would have been tortured and burned at the stake as heretics, by a Church ‘defending itself from an attack on its narrow set of beliefs.’

In a recent MSN article about the 20th anniversary of the movie Pulp Fiction, the line uttered by Samuel L. Jackson’s character, just before he killed someone, was quoted.  “Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.”

As an English language purist, I questioned whether the word should have been “iniquities”, so I looked it up in ‘one of my Bibles’.  Ezekiel 25:17 does not exist!  Nor does Ezekiel 17:25.  They say that you can get people to agree with almost anything, if you tell them that, “Benjamin Franklin said it.”  Evangelical Christians just claim, “It’s in the Bible.” whether it is or not.  Pay no attention to that deluded person behind the curtain of a “Holy Book!”

 

The Skeptic’s Fate

The miraculous tale that you tell

I don’t credit.  I’m under no spell.

I don’t swallow events

when there’s no evidence.

So I guess that I’m going to Hell.

 

P.S.

English-speaking Christians have ‘The Bible.’  Sometimes it is ‘The Holy Bible’.  In selecting the picture of the Koran above, I found that English-speaking Muslims have ‘ The Koran, The Holy Koran The Noble Koran, The Glorious Koran, and a companion study volume, whose title firmly states, “There Are No Contradictions in the Koran!”  I am underwhelmed by religion.  🙄