by Jake Block
There’s a road somewhere in your world that you’ve seen, but never traveled. The road has always seemed to invite you to see what lies over the next hill, or around that curve in the distance. You’ve thought about turning and following that road, but the time has never been right. Yet still, that road that trails off in the distance calls to you each time your day to day travels bring it into view.
One of my truths of photography is that there is something to see and learn on every road you travel. It’s not uncommon for me to load my car with equipment, pack a bag, fill the tank with gas, fix a thermos of hot coffee and take off for a three to five day adventure. The only thing that I predetermine is which direction I will initially take. I will often flip a coin three times the first toss determines north or south. The second toss determines east or west and the third determines my general direction choice between the two options. Then I am on my way, and intuition becomes my navigator.
From that point on, I turn on the music and enjoy a wide variety of music as I drive. Eventually, something in my mind will tell me to take the next turn to the right or left and, without questioning it, I comply. I trust in the process that has served me for decades. Somewhere ahead is a picture that I am meant to take, possibly after several turns, trusting to blind luck. I hear someone thinking, “What if you hit a dead end?” A dead end, to me is simply a sign that says, “Go back, Jake… you missed something.” I then backtrack, keeping my eyes and mind open until I get the next intuitive command to turn.
From where I am in Tennessee, I can be in Kentucky to the north in 30 minutes, or an hour’s travel gets me to Memphis, the Mississippi and the west beyond. A drive south can have me in Mississippi and Alabama in an hour, and to the east, the whole of the state of Tennessee beckons, with the roads leading east to Nashville, Knoxville and elsewhere west. One never knows what one can find on the highways and side roads that criss-cross the land.
I tend to think that all of life is much like that. You can follow the well planned and paved roads that have been placed there by people who want to tell you where to go. I’m sure that many people find their “directed adventure” quite entertaining and educational. They’ll see plenty of highway, dotted with planned stops and tourist destinations. You really haven’t traveled until you’ve hit one of the iconic Stuckey’s stores that still dot the highways, for a quick lunch or a world famous “nut log.” I’ve found, however, that some of the best “road eats” are found when thirst and hunger tells you to “get off HERE.” On one trip, traveling with Devora Zada Moon, through Missouri, we did a quick turn to Marceline, which was Walt Disney’s boyhood home.
Of course, we took time to tour the museum and enjoy the many exhibits and curios that can be found there and then we learned of Ma Vic’s restaurant on Main Street. We made our way there for some of the best comfort foods to be found anywhere in the middle of nowhere! But the highlight of the lunch was their famous “Dusty Miller” sundae! Let me tell you that you haven’t had an ice cream sundae until you’ve tasted one of these. It consists of two scoops of delicious vanilla ice cream, two ladles of marshmallow syrup, two squirts of chocolate syrup, two heaping teaspoons of malted milk powder and a maraschino cherry on top! Once outside, the voice in my head told me to grab my camera, and things to shoot were everywhere in this small central Missouri town. An hour later, we were back on the road again to Kansas City, well fed, wide awake and ready for more adventures further down the road.
I can’t lay claim to inventing my form of intuitive explorations. I’m sure that many others have found it as well, with or without cameras. I am sure that I could find something to take pictures of along a super highway, and in the big cities along the way, but I would be taking the same tired old shots taken by thousands of tourists before. And I would have missed the real adventure on that lazy back road. I’m reminded now of the poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I’m not a man to follow the same path that others happily take. I can’t do it in my every day life, and I can’t do it and remain creative in my thinking and in my art. I might be alone, and I might sometimes be lonely, but through it all, I am me.
by Jake Block
“I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.”
― Groucho Marx
This somewhat humorous quote was attributed to the late comedian, Groucho Marx, when he resigned from the New York Friar’s Club. His resignation came when he realized that the Friar’s Club was not what he had been led to believe it to be. While he had no problem with the the club’s social nature, which was often just drinking and dining together, he valued his time professionally and personally, and wanted more substance for the time and effort he was willing to contribute.
I can totally relate to Mr. Marx’s resignation, and the reasons for it. I also think that I would resign from a club that would accept just anyone as a member. If a club or an organization simply rubber stamps a big “OK” on applications for membership, with no consideration of an individual’s appropriateness for inclusion, it indicates that the organization has either lost its focus, or has become more interested in numbers than substance.
Few people these days know that Groucho Marx wasn’t just a comedian or a film star, but an intelligent and self educated man, a voracious reader and self described student of the world. He wrote several books and became friends with some of the era’s greatest writers, notably Booth Tarkington, T.S. Eliot and Carl Sandberg. Professionally, he was a comedian, and it sometimes irritated him that he had to deal with people who “thought they were funny,” when in actuality, they were just “inappropriate.”
One of the main reasons that Marx resigned from the Friar’s club was that he had hoped he could contribute to the group with his knowledge of the business side of comedy and he was interested in speaking to others about cultural trends, economics, and the human condition. He was able to separate his humor, which was his business, from his desire to mentor, which was his passion, but despite his stature and his passion, his inclusion in a group of already successful and professional people left him little room to excel. He bridled at the thought of just being just another “Friar.”
So, I could understand Groucho’s personal dilemma. A creative individual is most often a solitary individual, even in a group. When that group becomes a herd, rather than a cohesive force, creativity and leadership is stifled. It was important to him that whatever he did had personal meaning and satisfaction. He said, “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet, I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”
It’s hard to find those kinds of people today! The Internet has provided a smorgasbord of “clubs” for people to join, all for the cost of a click of their mouse. They don’t have to know anything about anything, they don’t have to participate, and they don’t. I’ve lost count of the number of people who make their way to The Sect of the Horned God’s “like” page, “knocking on the door.” I check the pages of each one that I see, and am no longer even the least bit surprised when I see that there is either nothing there, or they have damned little knowledge or understanding of the concept of the Left Hand Path.
Joining things seems to be another version of Pokemon cards for many people… a fad… something to do. The proof of this is in the number of people who “belong” to any number of these websites. I have seen some people who “belong” to over a hundred websites. Thousands may “join” the website, but perhaps no more than ten people are active at any given time, and of those ten, probably five do nothing but post tired old memes, as if they are meaningful commentaries. Two or three others might add some comment of sorts, and don’t care enough to at at least check their spelling or sentence structure. They don’t care if their poor writing makes their message unreadable or if, on a personal level, makes them look illiterate. If they don’t care, why should anyone care what they have to say? The point is that they “belong.” Most people will endure humiliation, disrespect, and even pity, just to belong. So, “they join” and then try to justify being that square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Their reasoning seldom works.
I couldn’t justify being a part of a herd, even if it was a means to an end, and NEVER just to say “I belong.” In the 1950’s Jackie Gleason and Art Carney starred in a TV program called “The Honeymooners,” in which they portrayed a bus driver and a sewer worker with nothing much going for them in their lives, but they joined “The Raccoon Lodge” with its silly costumes and sillier uniforms to belong with other men, like themselves. They took it seriously, because it gave them an identity in a world in which they were dispensable and therefore invisible… but they belonged. All hail the Loyal Order of Raccoons.
by Jake Block
“I suddenly realized that we were on borrowed time, that time is always borrowed, and that the lending agency exacts its premium precisely when we are least prepared to pay and need to borrow more.”
— Andre Aciman
No matter how long you live, you’ll find that life is much shorter than you need to experience and accomplish all of the things that you really want to do. So, in order to maximize our life experience, we tend to shift time around as much as we can, trying to fit things in, and still have the life that we’re comfortable in living. That works for a while, but we soon realize that shifting things around doesn’t give us more time, but just helps us manage what time we have allotted for the things we need to do. That’s all well and good until we reach a point where there is something else we would like to have in our lives, and then something has to go.
We leave things behind before their time, rationalizing it by telling ourselves that we’ll do something new now, and then come back to them later. Think about it. How many hobbies, projects and fun things in your life have you decided to put aside, meaning to do later. How many have you actually returned to? How many have you just abandoned because your life continues to become more complex and the things that you do now seem more important to pursue? If you’re like me, time happens and things change, and all you can really do is go with the flow of life. You borrowed time to pursue those new goals and interests. Now that time is filled as well.
It’s like your average real life credit crisis, but on an emotional level. You borrow a sum of money because you really want to take that cruise to Mazatlan, Mexico, for the annual Dos XX Beer and Taco Festival. Two tickets, hotel and concert tickets to see Pedro and the Puppies set you back $3200, but it was time to take your relationship with “Jenny” to another level, and this would be a memory you’d have forever! Maybe.
Turns out that the cruise ship was a nightmare, and you spent three days to Mazatlan sick in your cabin, and when you were out on the deck, you were hanging over the rail, wondering when your stomach would finally be empty. The concert was awful. The beer was warm, the venue was oversold, and your “Jenny?” Well, the last time you saw her, she was getting into a limo with the drummer for the Puppies, on their way to their next show back in the states. And to make bad matters worse, your return leg of the cruise was just as bad as the trip to Mexico, but you had to do it alone.
The kicker is that the loan you took out to experience all of this fun will take you over three years to pay off, making minimum payments. That experience you put everything else on hold for not only set you back by three years, but added significantly to your financial debt. Beyond this are the intangible expenses, not monetary, but losses still, on an emotional and satisfaction level.
While I can understand the desire to experience more and more in as compressed amount of time as we can manage, I think that we could do better in the long run by slowing it down a bit, savoring each new experience and gleaning the insights that we can from our experiences, before delving deeper into our need for more and greater adventures. In this manner, while we won’t be accruing a time deficit, neither will we be borrowing against our uncertain future.
Living in the present is key. I know that the present doesn’t seem as sexy as the future. If it was a period in time that the majority of people were getting the most out of, stories and movies about the future would not be quite so exciting to so many people. Nor would movies an books about “the good old days,” where everything was so much easier and so much less frenetic than the world we know today. However, truth be known, it’s always been that way for people, wherever they might be. The future has always been a place to rush forward to, and the past has always been a place to retreat from the cares of the day, but “today” has always been the only true metric for comparison and a reality check on our ambitions, because as much as we might truly wish to press some magical fast-forward button to get to that fantastic future, we first must find a way to invent it, in the here and now.
In 1969, Kurt Vonnegut wrote his book, Slaughterhouse Five, an anti-war novel whose subtitle was, “The Children’s Crusade: a Duty-Dance with Death.” In the novel, as a result of “shell shock” during World War II, the hero, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck in time,” and is fated to jump randomly through time, both forward and back, reliving his life or projecting to his future. The underlying theme is timeless, in that “history repeats itself.” His experiences during his time-jumps can be disturbing, and has led to the book being banned at least eighteen times, over the years. It ranks as number 29 on the American Library Association’s list of banned or challenged classics. Clearly, the “fast forward button” isn’t that popular of an option for many people.
The book was made into a movie in 1972, starring Michael Sacks, Paul Lazzaro, Eugene Roche and Valerie Perrine.
Mostly unknown to the readers of the book is the fact the the book’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is based on a real life American soldier who was held as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II. One can judge for oneself if his coping mechanism, that of “time jumping,” indeed helps him cope, or is it in actuality the mind subconsciously opting for flight, rather than fighting the painful realities and traumas one must face in one’s day to day life.
When we borrow time ourselves, in abandoning elements of our life to move on to the next best thing, individuals reveal a naivety that tells them, “the future must be better,” when in actuality, without a firm grounding in the present, the future can become as frenetic and psychologically disenfranchising as today. I would conclude that if one is not well prepared for the future by learning lessons of the past and the present, any progress one might make by jumping to newer modalities on blind faith, and abandoning current technologies might well be limited at best.
There’s no real need to rush to the future to borrow what we hope will benefit us more today. What we might gain from the bargain is seldom worth what we stand to lose in the transaction. Better to use today as a preparation for the future, so that when it arrives, we won’t squander what we gain. The sad tragedy about borrowing time is that you always have to pay it back, often at the most inopportune time, and always with interest.
by Jake Block
“You better mind yer parents, an’ yer teachers fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns’ll git you
— Little Orphan Annie (James Whitcomb Riley [1849 – 1916])
So once again, with this current crisis, it seems that the “Gobble-uns” have come to claim those who have “sinned,” and it doesn’t take long for some sanctimonious old windbag to thump whatever book they want to thump to bolster their case. If someone, somewhere doesn’t obey the law of their god of choice, (insert appropriate god/goddess name here) will come forth… or send their avenging angel of demon (insert name here) to enforce their will against the wicked. The concept is far from new, and gets brushed off and dragged out with every scary, unpleasant or gloomy, catastrophe that nature can dream up, to vex mankind.
C’mon, now, people. We keep telling ourselves that we are better than this, and that we are modern and technologically savvy people who have no need for such superstitions. We’re not the ancients who might sacrifice an unfortunate hunchback to stave off the naturally occurring eclipse of the moon, rather than simply waiting a maximum of two hours for the earth’s shadow to pass. That is, until “something” threatens us on a visceral level, or that we’re not willing to stand on our own two feet and take on “man to man.”
I don’t think that our logical minds really ever contemplate the fragility of our ultimate being on any meaningful level until there is a very real existential threat to our lives and we stand on the edge of the abyss on a metaphorical sheet of black ice. As the odds of our continued existence slip below 50:50, we begin to regress intellectually and the darkest ideas of childhood come closer to the surface in our memories and, out of desperation, we begin to grasp at straws. We remember Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ “five stages of dying” and in our mind, it’s like an express elevator of doom racing downward, and as we descend through denial, anger, and depression, we make a stop at “bargaining” to take a look around to delay our final descent to the bottom, and the dreaded “ACCEPTANCE.”
This is the realm of the primitive brain’s earliest human functioning, and once again, we are, like our earliest ancestors on the evolutionary scale, struggling desperately to understand what is happening in this strange world, where we are down to a fingertip grip, being the only thing that spares us our ultimate demise. We struggle to find any way, no matter how small, to dig in and edge, millimeter by millimeter back up and away from our final foray into the terrible depths of the abyss. It’s here where those, who can make that ultimate gut check, DO, and struggle to finally raise themselves up to carry on… or they don’t. Sometimes even the strongest and best prepared of us fail. It’s just that simple. Heroes sometimes fail.
Those who believe in gods and goddesses, angels and demons, Jesus and Satan as anthropomorphic beings that are somehow personally connected to them, spend their lives on this “bargaining level” of existence. Left or right hand path are concepts with little distinction. There simply is what “their own personal benefactor” is willing grant them, for a price, and that price is a lifetime of devotion and servitude. Any personal Will To Power is negated when one accepts the circumstantial intervention of deities.
The strangest of dichotomies is at work in this dynamic, as those who cling to personal beings of power, claiming a “Left Hand” philosophy, deny the very existence of the analogous pantheon on the right, even as the cross-referenced equities and qualities are mirrored for both. In this it’s easy to understand how theistic practitioners of the Left are often seen as simply “reverse Christians.”
“Belief” in anything “supernatural” is too much of a stretch for me to make, but for those who choose that branch of the path, if it works for them, the words of John Lennon seem appropriate.
“Whatever gets you through your life,
It’s all right, it’s all right.
Do it wrong, or do it right,
It’s all right, it’s all right.
Don’t need a watch to waste your time.”
It simply doesn’t work for me and others on the Left, nor is the idea of such anthropomorphism in reality, and anything other than metaphoric communing with deities isn’t a part of the Sect of the Horned God’s ethic nor ethos. We can all find ample references for our individual and group acceptances in literature, music, legend and lore.
Consider for a moment these lyrics from The Soft Parade by The Doors…
“When I was back there in seminary school,
There was a person there
Who put forth the proposition
That you can petition the Lord with prayer.
Petition the lord with prayer.
Petition the lord with prayer.
You cannot petition the lord with prayer!
Can you give me sanctuary?
I must find a place to hide,
A place for me to hide.
Can you find me soft asylum?
I can’t make it anymore.
The Man is at the door.”
— Soft Parade (Jim Morrison [1943 – 1971])
In my conclusion, no, you cannot petition the lord with prayer, no matter by what name he or she is known to you, because these are metaphors and not the stuff of hard reality. Most often, you’ll find that when “The Man is at the door,” or you find yourself once again standing at the abyss, calling on a metaphor to save you will be a futile effort. You’re going to have to stand alone and fight your own fight, win, lose or draw. Sometimes you’ll win your battle, but sometimes you will fail. It’s all part of the journey along the Left Hand Path which, as we all eventually learn, you have to travel on your own.
“You got to walk that lonesome valley.
You got to walk it by yourself.
No body else can walk it for you.
You got to walk it by yourself.”
— The Reverend Mr. Black (The Kingston Trio)
by Jake Block
Things were so much easier when I was just starting out as a photographer. I had one camera, and one tripod that I used for just about everything. Before I got it, I propped up the camera where I needed it to be to get the shot I wanted. Finally, I decided that it was time to buy one, because although I was able to hold my camera still and firm, there are times you want or need a longer exposure, so your chances of blurring the shot increase with every second you have the shutter open.
I bought it in Germany for $22. I still have it and use it, although mostly as a stable platform for a group of three infrared converted cameras, or some other secondary use. It’s no real problem, because I have others. Still, it’s like an old friend that I would miss, were it not here.
Some are full size, some are “table top” models, some aren’t actually “tripods” at all, like one of my three monopods, which is basically one leg of a tripod with a ball head camera attachment and adjustable height, or my adjustable “box mount,” with is folds out to allow me to angle the camera in many angles and can be placed on the ground, for low level shots or on a table… or even atop a proper tripod, if I need to. I have tripods that can be inverted so that I can shoot with the camera upside down, or I can use the “boom mode” to suspend the tripod over an object on a table and shoot down from above, or I can adjust the level with bubble guides, and one that has a laser to assist me in being perfectly level for a really close macro or technical shot. Needless to say, but the days of a good, $22 tripod are long past.
Tripods in color, some plain black, some aluminum and some in a space age polymer that are surprisingly light, but strong enough to hold my Nikons with battery grip and a long lens with no problem. Some have spikes in the footpads that can he extended to give more stability in grass or on a dirt surface. Some can be weighted down with a bottle of water or a small weight when working in the wind, and one has a blinking red light to use when you might be standing in or close to traffic so… well… yeah, they saw me coming on that one, for sure. And finally, even though I don’t use my cell phone to take pictures, I have a cell phone attachment that can be placed on most of the tripods, should I ever decide to.
People are kind of like tripods. There are many types, many colors and many sizes, but basically, they all do the same thing, although some do it better than others. Some will stand up to hard times, like a good, sturdy tripod, and some cave in under the pressure and need to be adjusted for strength or they are seldom used when you need something reliable. Some give you great value for your investment in them, while, sadly, some will never be worth a damn, no matter how much you had hopes for them. And there will always be one that you want to have with you as often as possible, because you know they will never let you down.
But in the end, there is one big difference between people and tripods, at least for me. There are some that you bring into your life with great expectations, but soon show you that your faith in them has been misplaced and, no matter how many times you give them the benefit of the doubt, they will always let you down. So, when it comes to people, yes, I have met some that I just don’t like.
by Jake Block
“Everyone is trying to leave their mark on the world. That’s why there’s graffiti and babies.”
— Kristen Schaal
There is absolutely no difference between the person going from page to page posting Jesus memes and the person going page to page posting HAIL SATAN or HAIL LUCIFER memes. Both are simply following the herd mentality of religion and its philosophy, the only difference is that one embraces it, while the other denies.
What it boils down to is an almost Orwellian dumbing down of the populace; an inability to think and express one’s thoughts and ideas beyond the simplest of modalities, i.e. cut and pasted graphics with no personal or intellectual input, just rank propagandized graphics. It’s about as well thought, well constructed and well received as the words scrawled in public toilets anywhere in the world. It appears as simple graffiti with no real substance or thought, indicating what appears to be a pervasive cultural illiteracy.
I would challenge people to be better and, if you REALLY have something important that you want to say, do it in a well written essay format, so that your audience can have a chance to actually “hear” what is really on your mind in the fullness and the complexity of thought that is part and parcel of the process of interpersonal communication. If it’s really that important for you to say, then say it with the pride and dignity that your thoughts deserve. You obviously have SOMETHING you want to say, and your computer even has tools to help you say it with spell checkers and grammar editors.
Of course, I realize that, the past being predictive of the future, we’ll see more of the same for the indefinite future, because when one is asked to step up their game and actually do something that takes a little personal effort and commitment, it’s just too damned hard. Yet, hope springs eternal that I am wrong.
by Jake Block.
“You always seem outnumbered,
You don’t dare make a stand.”
— Turn The Page (Bob Seger)
Every so often we see someone on line, identifying as a Satanist, who goes into an extended rant that “we” should go to war with Christians and defeat them. Now, I can be a badass when I need to be, and I’ve been to war and a couple of conflicts as well. One thing I learned was that a small, well trained force can defeat a moderately larger well trained force with the right tactics, the right equipment and the right men in the right place, at the right time.
I’m fairly certain that this was on the mind of George Armstrong Custer on June 25th, 1876, when he arrogantly rode into the valley of the Little Big Horn River, with his cadre of men of the 7th US Cavalry, expecting to overpower and defeat a larger, but lesser equipped band of Indians that he was certain were no match for his 210 troops. He had split his forces, and chose to be the tip of the spear himself.
It took the combined Indian Nations forces under the fearsome Sioux War Chief Sitting Bull less than an hour to kill every last man of Custer’s detachment, who were then mutilated and left in the sun to rot. Custer’s Last Stand, as it was romantically called, was more appropriately a massacre. Custer’s 210 troops had no chance against Sitting Bull’s force of between 1,200 and 1,500 warriors. It was then that Custer learned his own battle lesson, that a small, well trained force cannot defeat a massive, well trained force determined to win at any cost.
Ok. Back to our battle-hungry friends wanting to wage war on the Christians. I’ll be generous and give “The Horned Horde” a sizable force of 100,000. The number of those who have any kind of military training and battle experience is anyone’s guess, but I would guess relatively few. Then we have the women and kids, and the “wannabes” as well. Still, it’s a big group that would almost fill a couple of Major League Stadiums. Dodger Stadium holds about 56,000, and Yankee Stadium holds about 54,000. Let the games begin.
In 2010, the number of Christians around the world numbered in the billions… a PEW Research tally showed their number as 2,168,330,000. “Our team” had better be REALLY good, because each member of the 100,000 Horde is going to have to defeat 21,683 of their guys, so they had better pack a lunch. Or maybe it might be better to take on the lowest major religious team, the Jews. There are only 13,860,000 of them, still a good skirmish as the Horde takes on just 139 each. Still, they’re going to need a light snack. And logically speaking, if there was going to be a life and death Armageddon, it’s quite likely that the kissing cousins of Judaism and Christianity would form an alliance. There’s a saying that applies, “Choose the hill you want to die on.”
The brilliant Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest was once asked the key to victory in battle. He said, “Get there firstest with the mostest.” Good advice. Arrogant and counterproductive pride will get you killed in a battle. Even if the smaller force fights, using a long campaign of withering guerrilla tactics, the same tactics that were the bane of American Forces in Vietnam and elsewhere, they would still need some kind of force multiplier to prevail, and even then, with the tremendous disadvantages seen here, it’s still one hell of a long shot.
Back on the streets of East St. Louis, during the gang wars of the mid to late 1960s, a small gang might “woof” (talk shit) against a larger gang, but be very careful that they didn’t step over the line and find themselves outnumbered and surrounded. Back then, we fought with fists, sticks, bricks, bats, chains and once in a while someone would go for his blade. Guns were forbidden and considered to be chickenshit until about 1968 when a black gang known as the Warlords were rising to power. Prior to that, the worst sound you could hear walking alone or in a small group through their turf was, “Hey, white boys… you like BRICKS?” If you were smart, you dove for cover under any car close by. Primitive though, as it was, it was a training ground for urban survival.
You soon learned not to “let your ass overload your mouth,” when your group was smaller than your rival, because sooner or later you were bound to butt heads and then, you had better be able to back up the talk with some up close and personal action. I was a member of the State Street Boys and while we weren’t the biggest gang in East St. Louis, we were “known,” and when we showed up we weren’t there to talk, so we seldom had to show up.
Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States shared his philosophy of power when he said, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” His entire quote was, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you’ll go far.” In this statement he wished to convey that he believed in “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.” He was no paper tiger. He was a straight talking man who seldom bluffed in poker or in his dealings with people or nations. In war, his was a strike hard and fast philosophy, but he also believed in always giving the enemy a way to back out and save face.
One can learn a great deal about power and being powerful from Theodore Roosevelt. You carry your stick and use it when you need to, but don’t act like an asshole, or telegraph your moves. You may or may not be a legitimate badass, but if your enemy knows you are coming for him, you might as well wrap your ass in a big, red bow. Before the day is over, it’s liable to be HIS.
by Jake Block
“You left the scene
Without a trace
One hand on the ground
One hand in space” — Hello Again (The Cars)
“To die before actually dying, that is what’s important in the world, to kill your ego. That’s why we wear white robes, which symbolize what we are wearing when we die. Even our hats look like gravestones.”— Celaleddin Loras, Mevlevi Sheikh
“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”
— Sheikh Rumi
One of the things in which I have long held interest is the Sufi sect of Dervish, and more directly, the branch known as the Mevlevi Order, with its spiritual center in Konya, Turkey. While I was stationed in Turkey, from 1971 to 1974, I was able to travel through most of the country and found a group of Whirling Dervishes at a festival in Nevsehir, in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey. Although I was obviously not Turkish, nor Muslim, I was greeted warmly and offered a glass of tarçın çayı (cinnamon tea), and a few appetizers before the ceremony began.
At the beginning of each Sema ceremony, the participants (Semazens) stand with their arms crossing their chests in an “X” shape, and feet pointed inward. Young and old Mevlevis do this out of respect and to signify humility, fighting their ego through a spiritual journey inside and outside of the Dervish lodge.
The ceremony began as the ceremonial Sheikh stood at the head of the semahane (ritual hall) in which the Dervishes would begin their circular movement, and then, one by one, they came. They wore the traditional garb of the Mevlevis, a pure white robe with pants and a full, wide skirt, covered by a black cloak (removed before the Semazen performs), shoes made for the ritual and a tan or dark brown, conical, almost Fez-like hat . As each man greeted the sheikh with a bow, his black cloak was taken by an assistant and, upon being greeted in return, he stepped onto the sacred floor. After two steps, he began to slowly rotate to the left, counter-clockwise around the floor.
The ritual costumes of the Whirling Dervishes are symbolic. The hats represent the tombstone of ego, the white robes the burial shroud of ego, and the black cloak represents their worldly tomb. The whirling dance they do symbolically takes place in the space between earth and Allah. That dance is called “Sema,” which means “the listening.” The aspiring Sufi or Dervish student receives a transmission via sincere listening, so that the intuitive and emotional, as well as the analytical faculties are activated. As they turn slowly and their skirts billow around them, their arms begin to move to create “a bridge between God and man.” They silently pray and slip into trance. Dervishes of the Mevlevi Order work toward the goal of universal peace, and believe that peace must begin in the hearts of individuals. As the Dervishes turn, they stare, mesmerized, into infinite distance, prayer is imbedded in their ritual and the ritual itself becomes a prayer.The Dervishes turn round and round as the right arm reaches to the sky, palm up, “taking from God” and the left, palm down, “gives life to the earth.” Symbolically, they receive from God and give that gift to humanity.”To the accompaniment of drums and flutes, the Dervishes twirl on, while in their trance state, muscle memory assisting in the exact placement of their feet, they spin and rotate around the floor. Ilyas Noyan Ozatik, the accompanists explains that the Dervishes “are on an inner journey to where God is. Music is a unifying force” he says, “bringing our frequencies together leading to a completion of souls.” And on and on they spin, deep in trance, but occasionally, one of the Dervishes can become too enraptured in his spinning and another Sufi, charged with keeping the twirling orderly will gently touch his arm, and the Dervish will suspend his movement and begin again.
Akin Cakmut, a Dervish who began his participation as a Dervish at the age of 13, explains. “The Sema can be broken down into four parts. In the first part of the Sema the question, “Who are you” is contemplated by the Semazen. In the second, the Semazen accepts that he is human, and he is living. In the third part of the Sema, the Semazen recognizes that there is a force flowing through him, and he gives his heart to God in his trance meditation. In the fourth part of the Sema, the Semazen’s “soul” returns to his body and he understand that he is back as a human again.
Everything turns in the Universe. The world turns, the sun turns, your blood under your skin turns, and also the Dervish turns.”
Dervishes as Sufis say, “Allah is closer than your jugular vein,” it is because these mystics realize the impulses on the nerves of all the senses and discriminating mind give rise to an objective world and a subjective self, which appear to be separate, however these impulses are the life force or emanations of the “Only Beingness.”
The Mevlevi Order is over 750 years old, and is a living tradition based upon the teachings of Mevlana Celaddin, later to be known Sheikh Jalaluddin Muhammed Balkhi Rumi (1207-1273 CE), the 13th Century Persian poet, Sufi mystic, and Islamic theologian. The Mevlevi Order has its headquarters in Konya, Turkey, the former capital of the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate.
The Mevlevis are also known as the “Whirling Dervishes,” because of their practice of whirling in their ceremonial trance meditations. Recognized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), their Sema Ceremony has been called “one of the masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”
The word Dervish can be broken down into its component parts, with Der meaning “door,” and vish meaning meditation. The Sema (the whirling ceremony) is meditation while in a trancelike state that has been described as “sitting on the threshold of the phenomenal and noumenal worlds, being in them, but not of them.”
The Sufi branch of Islam is known for its mysticism and asceticism, and can be characterized as being of inner thought, esoteric, and mystical. Mevlevi Dervishes within Sufism follow Sheikh Rumi’s virtues of unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness and charity. To become a Dervish, one took a vow of poverty, and lived similarly to Christian monks.
Training of a Semazen is a process that takes approximately one year to complete, with the student practicing every day and learning not only the process and the movement, which in and of itself can take six months, but knowing and accepting what the Sema represents. The murshid (teacher) must diligently instruct, but also instill within the trainee the concept that one must surrender ego and immerse oneself in the spirituality of the ritual. Personal fears and doubts must be overcome, so that there is no doubt that they can indeed commune with their concept of god. The steps of the Sema are few and simple to learn, but to achieve the exquisitely precise movements while rotating and turning within the circle while maintaining perfect balance when entranced is a skill that not everyone can attain. To lose oneself in the movement and become as one with it is what the Dervishes call “True Love.”
In the training of the Semazen, he learns of the popular theory that Sheikh Rumi’s self-initiation into the act of whirling, which apparently came to him while listening to the hammering of the goldsmiths in Konya’s bazaar. It’s most probably a romanticized account, as the historian Abdülbaki Golpinari noted that Rumi had been influenced by Shamsi of Tabriz (1185-1248 CE). It is thought that some sects of Sufi have been “whirling” from about 1049 CE. This may well be, but the Mevlevis, under Rumi have advanced the art to its highest degree. There is speculation that the act of whirling might he a vestige of middle eastern shamanism.
Men are mostly seen in the role of Whirling Dervishes. There are female Dervishes as well, whirling alongside their male counterparts, but their legitimacy is not recognized by the Mevlevi Order. The women claim that were he alive today, Sheikh Rumi would sanction their participation, as even in Sheikh Rumi’s time, he had several women as students. In the early days of the Order, there were female Semazens and Sheikhs as well. A woman known as Destina Khatun had been shaika of the Kora Hisar Mevlevi Lodge. “In the early days of the Mevlevi order, women and men were known to pray, share sohbet (spiritual conversation), and whirl within each other’s company, though more often as the centuries unfolded, women held their own Semas and men also whirled in zhikr (devotional services akin to prayer meetings) separate from women. However, in the time of Mevlana (Rumi), spontaneous semas would occur including both men and women.” ( Women of Sufism, A Hidden Treasure, Camille Helminski (2003)*1
Despite this, today’s Mevlani Order does not officially recognize women as Semazens. The Order is still run by the decendents of the Order’s founders. Spokesman Faruk Celebi says, “They are not Mevlevi. This is a show.” While there are no longer formal instructions to be a member of the Mevlevi Order, he believes that traditions must be respected. The Mevlani’s are at their heart religiously conservative, and while change may come, it will be slow, even by traditional Sufi Muslim standards.
In addition to obligatory Islamic worship, some of the main spiritual practices within the Mevlevi Order are as follows:
- Dhikr: invocation of the Divine Names which is believed to purify the heart
- Sema: the whirling ceremony
- Study of the Quran and Rumi’s works (especially his poetic masterpiece the Mathnavi)
- Spiritual conversation led by the shaikh (sohbet)
- Meditation, known as muraqabah, in Islam
- Adab: developing courtesy and mindfulness.
In light of the popularity of the Whirling Dervishes in Turkey and much of the rest of the world, it should be remembered that they have were banned as Sect, when in 1925, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, prohibited all Orders of Sufism under secular law #667 of the constitution on maintaining order, fear that their religious roots would lead them to revolt against the new secular government. This law was amended in the 1950s, allowing the Sema to be performed in public, probably more as a nod to boost the tourism industry than a sign of religious tolerance on the part of the prevailing secular government, however as private worship, Sufism and its Orders remain officially banned. This said, at a recent festival in the city of Konya commemorating the death of Sheikh Rumi, thousands gathered to witness the Dervishes and their spiritual dance.
While philosophically, I can’t connect with the idea of “communing with “God”, “Allah” or any supreme being, I can see the benefit of the idea of trance meditation and the intense concentration of the Sema. How one gets to that “inner communication level” can be a unique experience, and there are any number of repetitive step processes that could easily result in the self-hypnotic states to get one there. Additionally, the idea of receiving messages while in a trance state, at least to me, is akin to a particularly lucid dream I had recently, in which I asked myself serious questions that needed answers. Upon awakening, my thoughts had cleared and I could formulate a plan for moving forward.
Talking to oneself, for instance, is something that many people do routinely, independent of any religious, or even meditative processes. Most people, at times, seem to need a sounding board for their ideas and to help them make sense of stressors and complex scenarios that have an impact on their lives. Many children invent “invisible friends” that play roles in their lives and similarly help them cope with problems from loneliness to interpersonal problems with siblings. The cultural concept of employing this process to a religious experience and a communing with one’s god isn’t such a stretch that compromise should totally negate the value.
Problematic, from a Left Hand Path standpoint, would be the concept of the elimination of the ego as a component of the Sema. However, in considering oneself one’s own god, the mitigation could be seen in the inclusion of ego as a healthy part of one’s totality, rather than a negative influence on it. One’s ego can be a double edged sword, but them so too can any facet of a person’s life, or emotional health. Even love can be weaponized.
“Stop acting so small. You are the Universe in ecstatic Motion.” — Rumi
Sema, a Whirling Dervish Ceremony performed at the Mevlevihanesi, or Mevlevi Sufi Lodge at Galata in Istanbul on 18 December 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ywa6glFr6io
*1 Camille Helminski presents a letter (dated from 1991) from Celaleddin Bakir Çelebi (who was the Çelebi heading the order at that time) which grants permission for men and women to once more whirl together in mixed Mevlevi ceremonies. Women of Sufism, A Hidden Treasure, Camille Helminski (2003)
Note 1 — Fun fact! The Guinness World Record holder for “most Sufi whirls in one hour” in 2015 went to Nicole McLaren in Zurich, with 3,552 rotations. That’s 59.2 rotations per minute, or not quite 1 rotation per second!
References: — The Threshold Society. Good information on Sufism, and contains a detailed explanation of the Sema and the prayers and movements of those involved. https://sufism.org/al-fatiha
— Women in Sufism, A Hidden Treasure (Camile Helminski 2003)— The Whirling Dervishes, (Shems Friedlander 1992)
— Whirling Dervishes, (Murat Duzyol 2015)
by Jake Block
We all need a place from which we know that we are on course and steady. Sailors at sea search the night sky for that one star that is always true, and always leads them due north, and with that star in their sights, they can go anywhere in the world. Without it, they might as well be adrift and at the mercy of the tides and the winds that billow their sails.
Dry landers too, know that they must find their sense of direction, even when things look the same all around them. The Bedouin, crossing the desert needs to know which way to move, lest they be lost forever in the shifting dunes of the Sahara. Tracking their star can take them safely to the Mediterranean Sea to the north, to Mecca or Medina in the east, or to a sparse oasis with fresh water and cool grasses.
Pilots in the skies, before the days of electronic navigation, found their salvation and a safe place to land by following the stars. In the darkness, the sky and the land or sea below can all look the same, but their northern star, their blessed friend could always get them home again, as long as their plane held together at the end of its mission.
But what of us who journey the dark passages of the mind, ever left on that mostly uncharted path to enlightenment? Our solitary wanderings can sometimes leave us feeling a bit lost, and at the mercy of strangers whose path we might cross along the way. But when we remember that these strangers are, like us, finding their own way along that path, we have to question where we actually stand. Where is our safe harbor, that place we can rest and take stock of our situation before traveling on?
We, along that path, can’t find our star with a sextant, nor is it on any chart, or logged in any book of heavenly bodies. It can’t bee seen in the sky with the naked eye, nor with the most powerful telescope known to man. Our star, steady and true will only be found when we search deep in side and then we can feel it in our heart. Our star is a dark star, and while there could be millions of dark stars, only one star becomes our own, and when we follow it, we know it is true and we know it will never lead us wrong.
From my earliest days on the Left Hand Path, I found one concept that resonated as true and right, and when things seem off course, I can always return in my mind to that set point and retrace my steps to see where I feel I might have erred. Some might resonate with “Satan,” some with “Lucifer,” and still others with “Lilith,” or “Sekhmet,” “LaVey,” “Crowley,” or a thousand other points of reference. These are metaphors for what we found to be that kernel of truth in a sea of doubt, and returning to that initial point of certainty, gives us a “reality check” to see if we are still on course with our core beliefs, whatever they may be.
Maps made by others can be flawed, and the things that others might swear by can often seem off to you. Trust that keeping true to oneself and one’s dark star can see you through, when it seems that you might have lost your way. Know your dark star, and you’ll always find your way back home.
“Dark star, I see you in the morning…”
— Stephen Stills
by Jake Block
A preacher one day was ministering to his flock, and he said, “God is great! God is perfect, and God has given us this gift, this perfect earth! Look at the skies. Are they not perfect? Look at the trees. Are they not perfect? Look at the universe. Is it not perfect? Look at the…”
Just then, a misshapen and crippled hunchback raised himself from his seat in the church and painfully made his way down the aisle to confront the preacher, shouting, “PERFECT? PERFECT? Look at me, you hypocrite! God made me perfect?”
The preacher was taken aback for a moment, but then raised his Bible up in his right hand and looked adoringly to the heavens and said, “Perfect? Glory hallelujah, brother, you’re the most perfect hunchback I’ve ever seen!”
Were we to look back at the totality of any life, there will always be instances that we can bring into question. No one leads of life of perfection, and no one stands above all others as a paragon of virtue. Now, there are always people who do better than others, and probably better than most, but from Jesus to any other man or woman you’d care to name, they all have faults, and if they have faults, there will always be someone to bring them to light, especially if they have a cause or an agenda.
Now, I have active more faults than the State of California. I know it, and I would never set myself up as some kind of example of the perfect ANYTHING. So, it often irks me when I see someone, especially a “johnny-come-lately” piping up and spouting off about “what a Satanist does,” or “What a Satanist must be.” Who’s to say that his or her vision of Satanism is any more valid than Anton LaVey’s, Michael Aquino’s, Peter Gilmore’s, Thomas LeRoy’s, mine or any of a hundred others who legitimately claim the title and not only talk the talk on the internet, but walk the walk in real life? None of us are perfect, and I’m not charitable enough to just hand that crown to some smack-talking Jabroni off the street.
“What gives you the right, hey you’
To stand there and tell me what to do?
Tell me, who gave you the power
To stop me from livin’ like I do?
Remember, if you plan to stay
Those who give can take away.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
— Power Play (Steppenwolf)
It’s interesting, and a bit disturbing at the same time, when people try to twist and turn themselves inside out to become associated with a philosophy that rejects the herd, then try to twist that philosophy around even more to abandon its very nature and become just another herd. I suppose that trying to hijack a philosophy and force it to serve you might seem somewhat easier than actually developing and promoting one that you truly believe in, and letting people decide for themselves if they want to follow it. My question would be, if you are so fragile and weak minded that you would accept such people as a part of your group, why would anyone want to follow you in the first place?
“As far as I’m concerned, I would like my organization, the Church of Satan, to exist as a cabal for the mutual endowment of those already occupied with interests and activities other than organizational. I have often stated that I like to think of the Church of Satan as an organization for non-joiners. Affiliation need not negate independence. Affiliation should be based on respect, rather than desperation. Respect for a set of principles and for other men and women who share those principles, yet who are not dependent on an organization to give substance to their lives. The obvious question arises: ’Why then, would such persons need a Church of Satan?’ The answer is,’They don’t, unless it can do them some good.’ Affiliation should enhance one’s life, rather than be a substitute for it.”
— Anton LaVey
Perfection is rare in nature, and that’s why we treasure it when we see it. That perfect flower, perfect day, or perfect jewel are all a matter of perspective. When viewed from another vantage point, flaws begin to appear and become magnified, the closer one examines the object. A flower that looks perfect from a distance might be spotted with disease on close inspection, and a perfect day for your location could have tornadoes in another, and your perfect jewel could be loaded with inclusions. Leaders and wannabe leaders have blemishes as well, and you often don’t have to do that close of an inspection to find them!