It’s Uayeb Again!

It’s the Shortest Month of the Year

It’s the Shortest Month of the Year

This is a slightly edited reprint from my posting of December 31, 2012. As you may recall, there was widespread fear among New Age types that the Mayan calendar was coming to an end … and we would all be doomed!

We’ve been hearing a lot about the Mayan Calendar lately, mostly in connection with The End of the World last week. Well, it didn’t end; and the Mayan Calendar goes on into a new baktun.

In the Haab’, or Mayan Solar Calendar, there are eighteen months of twenty days each. Where does that leave the other 5.25 days? To account for the difference, the Mayans created an intercalary five-day month referred to as the uayeb. Unlike other days in the Solar Calendar, the five days of the uayeb are thought to be a dangerous time.

According to Lynn Foster in Handbook to Life in the Ancient Mayan World, “During Wayeb, portals between the mortal realm and the Underworld dissolved. No boundaries prevented the ill-intending deities from causing disasters.” It was a time of fasting with abstention from sex and all celebrations. People avoided washing their hair or even leaving their huts during this time.

As we in the United States come to the end of another uayeb, I hope we are ready for what 2017 brings. Because, ready or not, here it comes….

Euripides and Moderation in Love

The Greek Playwright Euripides (480-406 BC)

The Greek Playwright Euripides (480-406 BC)

On the Laudator Temporis Acti website, I ran into two quotes from Euripides which go a long way toward explaining the genius of the ancient Greeks.

From the David Kovacs translation of Medea, lines 627-641, comes these lines:

Loves that come to us in excess bring no good name or goodness to men. If Aphrodite comes in moderation, no other goddess brings such happiness. Never, O goddess, may you smear with desire one of your ineluctable arrows and let it fly against my heart from your golden bow!

May moderation attend me, fairest gift of the gods! May dread Aphrodite never cast contentious wrath and insatiate quarreling upon me and madden my heart with love for a stranger’s bed! But may she honor marriages that are peaceful and wisely determine whom we are to wed!

I am reminded of the truth of this observation from a birthday party I attended many years ago. An acquaintance whom I will not name, in the middle of all his friends, gave his bride thirty pounds of potatoes, one for each year of her life. Their love match had clearly turned sour, and the party broke up early after his shaming of his wife.

The next lines come from Euripides’s Iphigeneia in Aulis, also translated by Kovacs:

Blessed are they who with moderation
and self-control where the goddess is concerned
share in the couch of Aphrodite,
experiencing the calm absence
of mad passion’s sting. In love
twofold are the arrows of pleasure
golden-haired Eros sets on his bowstring,
the one to give us a blessed fate,
the other to confound our life.
I forbid him, O Cypris most lovely,
to come to my bedchamber!
May my joy be moderate,
my desires godly,
may I have a share in Aphrodite
but send her away when she is excessive!

I, too, could have been in this situation had the beautiful young pediatrician I was pursuing had turned around and acceded to my passion. But she didn’t, and I found someone better—though I did go through a few rocky years in the interval.


Oh, No, Not Again!

Any Sort of Tragedy Brings These Termites Out of the Woodwork

Any Sort of Tragedy Brings These Termites Out of the Woodwork

Maybe it’s because I was raised a Catholic, but most public displays of prayer leave me cold. What is this thing about holding your arms out while emoting excessively? Is it to prove conclusively to God and to your fellow man that you do not have round-the-clock protection? And what’s all this mummery with candles and flowers and cutesy stuffed animals?

Perhaps I am disturbed by the similarity of that holding-out-one’s-arms prayer gesture to a fervent “Heil Hitler!”

Am I knocking prayer? Not at all. I believe in God, though in a somewhat heterodox manner; and I have even been known to pray. But my prayer is a private matter between the Creator and myself. I eschew all mummery, and I have no desire to prove myself holier than anyone else. (Which I certainly am not.)  Demonstrative public prayer is just … well … a form of showboating.

Whenever there is a terrorist act or a mass shooting or some horrendous accident, you will see them making some sort of pseudo-Evangelical religious demonstration. Our awful news media even likes to interview them—even though they have never had anything to say. It’s kind of like hiring an official mourner to keen for your loved ones. Can you wonder why I can’t stand to see how television reports “tragedies.”

Divisive Politics and Friendship

Even Greater Than Before

Even Greater Than Before

Alexandre Dumas Père wrote several novels starring the D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers. The original novel was The Three Musketeers (1844)—in which all the musketeers were in their youth—followed by Twenty Years After (1845) and the multiple volumes of The Vicomte de Bragelonne (1847-1850).

I am currently re-reading Twenty Years After and find that D’Artagnan and the Musketeers have not only grown older by twenty years: They have also matured in other ways. The novel takes place during the Wars of the Fronde (1648-1653) in which the nobility resists the penny-pinching Cardinal Mazarin, who with Anne of Austria (widow of Louis XIII) is acting as regent for the young Louis XIV.

As lieutenant of the King’s Musketeers, D’Artagnan is pledged to support the royal party. Mazarin discovers how the Musketeers has performed so valiantly two decades earlier and requests that D’Artagnan bring together his former companions. But time has passed. He succeeds in recruiting Porthos to his cause, especially as all he really wants is to become a Baron.

But Aramis and Athos are loyal to the Fronde. Even D’Artagnan’s old servant Planchet is of that party. What I find so interesting in this sequel is that the political disunity does not dissolve the old friendship: It is still “all for one and one for all.” I am constantly reminded of parallels to our own political situation in this grisly Presidential Election of 2016. The vagaries of national politics seem to have no effect on the friendship of these four valiant fighters.

Even though Twenty Years After is more crowded with incident than The Three Musketeers, I find it to be a better novel, if for no other reason than its insight into the nature of friendship—especially of friendships that last.

Serendipity: On Dealing With Disappointment

It’s Not Always a Bad Thing

It’s Not Always a Bad Thing

The following insight comes from Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism:

We must surrender our hopes and expectations, as well as our fears, and march directly into disappointment, work with disappointment, go into it and make it our way of life…. If we can open, then we suddenly begin to see that our expectations are irrelevant compared with the reality of the situations we are facing. This automatically brings disappointment. Disappointment is the best chariot to use on the path of the dharma. It does not confirm the existence of our ego and its dreams.

This, along with hundreds of other interesting quotes from Tibetan Buddhist teachers, can be found in Reginald A. Ray’s The Pocket Tibetan Buddhism Reader, a shirt-pocket-sized paperback from Shambala.

A Pot To Piss In

Greek Reveler Draining His Lizard

Just because they wore togas and spoke Classical Greek, that doesn’t mean that the ancient Greeks were all that high and mighty. One of the more amusing exhibits at the Getty Villa that Martine and I saw yesterday afternoon illustrated a different and more down to earth use for an amphora.

A bibulous reveler is shown urinating into the amphora (or, more technically, a chous) held up by his slave boy while continuing to declaim his sodden oration.

The closer one gets to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the more we see people very much like ourselves. The conditions of their lives were radically different, but they were recognizably human in he same way we are. Read the letters of Cicero or Pliny the Younger and you will enter a whole new world peopled with recognizable characters.


Do Not Give Up

Borges Takes On the I Ching

Borges Takes On the I Ching

My mind is still on Hexagram 52 (see yesterday’s post). It seems that Jorge Luis Borges had something to say about the ancient Chinese book of divination (and philosophy) that is germane to the discussion. It is called “For a Version of I Ching”:

The future is as immutable
As rigid yesterday. There is nothing
That is no more than a single, silent letter
In the eternal and inscrutable
Writing whose book is time. He who walks away
From home has already come back.
Our life Is a future and well-traveled track.
Nothing dismisses us. Nothing leaves us.
Do not give up. The prison is dark,
Its fabric is made of incessant iron,
But in some corner of your cell
You might discover a mistake, a cleft.
The path is fatal as an arrow
But God is in the rifts, waiting.

I love the poem’s final four lines. Here they are in Spanish:

Pero en algún recodo de tu encierro
Puede haber un descuido, una hendidura,
El camino es fatal como la flecha
Pero en las grietas está Dios, que acecha.

Happiness perhaps lies in discovering that mistake (descuido, which could also be translated as “neglect” or “omission”) or cleft (hendidura) and taking advantage of it. But then, is God waiting to entrap us anew, or to welcome us for evading His net?