Archive for Martin Luther King

Symbols, Part 8: Serpents

Posted in All, Health, Humor, Psychology, Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2010 by marushiadark

“If you see a snake, just kill it – don’t appoint a committee on snakes.” ~ Ross Perot.

That sentiment may be practical advice, but it serves to illustrate how serpents get a pretty bad rep, both in ancient and modern society.

A number of stories depict snakes as villainous, conniving, and evil.  Medusa and Grendel’s Mother are classic examples.  Indiana Jones can face down Nazis Occultists but is afraid of snakes.  Interpretations of passages from Genesis and Revelation equated the serpent with Satan.  We refer to liars as “snakes” and to fake remedies as “snake oil.”  And a cursory glance on Google will reveal a number of quotes about snakes (like the one above) in which the general advice is to kill them right away.

It would seem that most people throughout the ages don’t like snakes, nor do they take the time to educate themselves about snakes.

There is practical reason to be cautious of snakes, since a number of species are, in fact, poisonous.  But by and large, they are not something to fear.  Most of the top ten deadliest snakes are located in Australia, and then others such as the boa constrictor or the anaconda do not appear commonly in most people’s lives.  Snakes, like most animals, operate based on survival instinct.  They eat when they are hungry and attack when they feel threatened.  If you leave them be, even the deadly ones, you’ve nothing to worry about.  Snakes are deserving of our adoration and respect, like every other creature.

“I’m fascinated by the concept of snake-handling.  When you read about the Pentecostal snake-handlers, what strikes you most is their commitment.” ~ Lucinda Williams

The Pentecostal tradition of snake-handling comes from an interpretation of the ending of Mark 16.  The idea of snake-handling, in a Christian perspective, is most likely because of the association of snakes with Satan, and that to wield power over snakes is to overcome the power of the devil.

An interesting idea, except that it is believed by a number of scholars that the end of Mark 16 is, in fact, a later addition to the Gospel to make it more like The Gospel of Luke.

Still, the Pentecostals are not the first group to practice snake-handling.  Many people keep snakes as pets and we are all familiar with the late Steve Irwin and his famous handling of snakes and other deadly creatures.  Such traditions of snake handling go back many thousands of years, in fact.

“Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die.’ ” ~ Genesis 3:4

Genesis 3:1 is the first appearance of the serpent in the Bible.  Here, it is depicted as “more cunning than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”  The word “cunning,” typically has a derogatory connotation associated with deceit.  However, it can also mean clever, skillful, sharp, or shrewd.  So the serpent was the most intelligent creature God had made up until that point.  Depending on which interpretation you choose to follow, this may or may not include man and angels.  Lucifer was allegedly the most intelligent being in existence next to God, but he was not a “beast of the field.”  Man also was not a “beast of the field,” but the serpent may have been smarter than man, since it convinced Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.

Either way, the serpent is very intelligent, but is it malicious?  Some people blame the serpent for costing us paradise.  Certainly the God of the Old Testament does, since he punishes the serpent by removing its limbs and making it subservient to man.

Others see the serpent as a savior, bestowing on mankind the gifts of knowledge and reason.  If anything, the Tree of Knowledge helped to enable our free will by making us more aware of our reality.  And although Adam and Eve did ultimately get cast out of Eden, it could be said that the serpent never really lied.  God said Adam and Eve would surely die if they ate the fruit.  But the fruit isn’t what killed them, and God still had a chance to change his mind if he wanted to.  So one could say it was God’s decision to cut them off from the Tree of Life that ultimately killed them.

Some people believe that the human race is either descended from, or is the creation of, serpent-like alien beings, equated with the Annunaki of Mesopotamian mythology.  Many of the Biblical stories derive from earlier Sumerian and Babylonian myths, of which the Annunaki are a part.  Certainly the “sons of god” from Genesis and the numerous references to “we” and “us” suggests a pantheon of beings, not just one alone, and the behavior of God in the Old Testament suggests he came to earth quite frequently.  Either way, if there is any truth to the serpent alien story, are they benevolent or malevolent?  Who’s to say?

In Jewish mythology, Lilith – the first wife of Adam – was created at the same time as Adam.  She is often depicted carrying a serpent or sometimes equated with the serpent of Genesis.  Lilith is viewed as different things by different people.

The two most prevalent interpretations are that she is either a woman who got a bad deal for being the first feminist, or a demonic seductress.  Quite an extreme, wouldn’t you say?

Lilith also appears in Babylonian mythology and is often equated with the owl, another creature related to wisdom.  The owl can see in the dark, meaning it has secret knowledge of things that the sun does not reveal.  The owl is also a nocturnal predator.  So again, are we to trust the creature or not?

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.”  ~ Matthew 10:16-17.

Martin Luther King was a minister before he became a civil rights leader.  In one of his sermons, he talks extensively about what Jesus meant by the above passage.  In his view, to be “wise as serpents” is a good thing and means to be tough of mind.  To think things through, to be logical, and self-determinant and to not just accept what so-called authorities tell us, but to instead think for ourselves and be our own judges, our own authorities.  Then, to be “harmless as doves,” is to be soft-hearted, compassionate, and kind.  To see our brothers as ourselves and to bring freedom to all.

The serpent ties these ideas together in another religious leader, Moses.

In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses to throw his staff on the ground.  It turns into a snake and Moses is very afraid.  But after working with God, he later uses this same power against the Egyptian priests to liberate his people from the tyrannical pharaoh.

Moses is not the only religious figure to be linked to a staff and snake, however.  In Greek mythology, Asclepius was the god of medicine and healing, and the son of Apollo (the sun god).  Asclepius is also associated with the 13th sign of the Zodiac: Ophiuchus, the symbol for which is a snake coiled around a rod.  This is the proper symbol for healing, as can be seen on the Emergency Medical Service’s Star of Life, the EMS being an organization that saves many lives.  Interestingly, the symbol chosen by medical institutions is the caduceus, which is a symbol of Hermes, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, gamblers, thieves, and liars.  That should tell you a lot, right there.

Also, I mentioned before that alternative remedies are often referred to as “snake oil.”  I wonder what would happen if it were one day discovered that snake oil actually cures cancer.  Think about that for a while.

All in all, snakes are complex creatures.  Perhaps the real truth is that snakes have two sides to them, like all of us: a dark side and a light side.  One side cold and calculating, the other bright and helpful.  One side seductive and deadly, the other side sensual and enlightening.

Who Are You Really?

Posted in All, Politics, Psychology, Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2010 by marushiadark

“You may be wondering who I am, or why I say this.  Sit down and I will tell you a tale like none you have ever heard.” ~ Prince of Persia

At this point, you may be wondering who I am.  Who the hell am I to be telling anyone anything?  What authority do I have?  Why call myself something evil-sounding like Marushia Dark?  Why name my blog something scary-sounding like “The Darkness Files”?  Why did I chose to begin my very first post with a quote by a nihilistic villain from a movie that many people dislike in comparison to its predecessor.

No doubt, you have a lot of questions about me and my intentions, but unless you know who you are first, you can never know me, let alone my intentions or behaviors.

Maybe some of you are even sitting there judging me right now for my arrogance (which is only in your mind, by the way), but how much do you actually know about me?  Next to nothing, really … unless you happen to know me in real life.  And even then, that’s probably not even the whole story.

“They look like me, but none of them are me.” ~ I, Robot

Just from what you’ve read so far, what can you really tell about me?  Am I male or female?  Am I black or am I white?  Am I Hispanic or Native American?  Am I straight or am I gay?  Could I be bisexual or asexual?  Am I even a human being?  Could I possibly be an alien or a computer program?  Could I be an angel or a demon?  Am I a good person or a bad person?  Am I wealthy or poor?  What color is my hair?  What color are my eyes?  What kind of car do I drive?  What foods do I eat? What country do I hail from?  Am I an Arab?  A Jew?  A Christian?  A Muslim?  A Buddhist?  Am I a dog-lover or a cat-lover?  What kind of clothes do I wear?

You can’t tell any of that stuff, can you?  All you see is my avatar – a symbol that represents me – be it a name or a picture or even my physical body.  But you don’t see or know the real me, do you?

For all you can tell, I could be the very sort of person that you love or the very sort of person that you hate.  Throughout this blog, you’ll continue to catch glimpses of my beliefs and my behaviors, my likes and my dislikes, but none of them are me.  They’re just things that describe me, but they don’t necessarily define me.  Only I can define me.

“I don’t see color.  People tell me I’m white and I believe them.” ~ Stephen Colbert

Do you know who you are?  I mean, do you really know?  Do you know all the ins and outs of what makes you you and not somebody else?  Did you come to conclude this yourself or is it something that someone else told you and you simply accepted it without questioning it first to see if it was really true?

You might say you are this, that, or the other thing.  You might say you’re a fireman or a nurse or a father or middle class or American, but these are all titles – things that describe you, but none of them are you.  Most of them were given to you by somebody else, including the name your parents gave you at birth.  Most people have never even stopped to ask themselves, “Am I Steve?  Am I Helen?  I don’t think that name suits me very much.  I like Jim or Denise better.  It has a better resonance with who I really am.”  Who says Jim can’t be a girl’s name or Denise a boy’s name, anyway?

It’s become almost a New Age cliche to ask the question: “Who am I?”  But it’s a very important question.  How quick we are to identify with things that merely describe us and how we forget who we really are.  Who we are and why we’re here sets the stage for everything we do in life.  Or rather, who we think we are and why we think we’re here is what actually sets that stage.  If we think of ourselves as a slave, we act in a slave-like mentality.  If we think of ourselves as a free man, then we act that way as well.  If we think of ourselves as poor, or rich, or healthy, or sickly, or whatever, then we tailor our actions and behaviors and attitudes towards that particular identity.  How we think of ourselves determines what actions we will take, what clothes we will wear (if any), what foods we will eat, what vehicle we will use, how we’ll wear our hair, who are friends will be, what beliefs we hold, and so forth.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” ~ Martin Luther King

Often times, we construct evaluations based on the titles that we use to describe ourselves.  We judge certain groups of people as good or bad based on an adjective, rather than an action, and this has caused a great many problems for our world.  How many times have you heard about one group of people killing a different group of people over some sort of generalization?

Perhaps the idea has special meaning to you.  Maybe you’re thinking of the relationship between white man and Native Americans.  Maybe you’re thinking of the Crusades or the conflict in the Middle East.  Maybe you’re thinking of modern examples of racial profiling or the division between the wealthy elite and the working poor.  Chances are, we can all think of an example.  Maybe you’re even guilty of doing it yourself?

Now stop and ask yourself, what is the real difference between these people?  Why do you hate them so much?  Is it because they did something to hurt someone else, or is it because of some title or description given to them?  Does that title reflect the full extent of who they are?  Probably not.

Consider how, in the recent history of America, it was popular to be racist against Irishmen and Germans.  Nowadays, I bet most people couldn’t even tell the difference.  They’d probably just see white guy, white guy, white guy.  And how many of us use the term “African American” for dark-skinned Puerto Ricans or black people in Europe, when the terms have nothing to do with them?  How great it would be to get to the point where we just start seeing human beings.  Or better still, to not even need to rely on physical descriptions to define who a person is.

Our society places great emphasis on diversity: we must acknowledge and call attention to the differences between us.  But I think that is a mistake.  Rather than calling attention to our differences, we should call attention to our similarities and those things that make us the same.  Appreciate and respect the differences that exist, certainly, but don’t dote on them, because life is much more than just one or two adjectives.

“Who are you really?” ~ Atreyu, to G’mork

Fortunately or unfortunately, I cannot tell you who you are.  Only you can know that.  You’ve known yourself your whole life; certainly longer, and in more detail, than I or anyone else could ever know you for.  For some of you, that may be twenty years.  For some of you, fifty.  For some, even longer than that.  If you don’t know who you are, then how can you know who anyone else is?

One way that I’ve learned to help figure out who I am is by keeping a personal journal and writing in it almost everyday.  It’s useful for solving whatever problems I may be having and I can say whatever I want in it without fear of repercussions because I’m the only one who ever has to know what I wrote.  A journal won’t judge you.  A journal won’t lie to you.  A journal is like a mirror, reflecting your true self.  If you lie to yourself, if you hide something from yourself, then your journal will reflect that right back at you.  If some part of your character is ugly, it will reflect that.  If some part of your character is beautiful, it will reflect that too.  Your journal is like your very own magic mirror gate from The Never Ending Story.  Whoever, whatever you are, if you write it down, you’ll be able to tell exactly what you really look like on the inside.

Just as with a regular mirror, if you work on yourself, your reflection will reflect that.  If you’re growing fatter or slimmer, taller or shorter, the mirror will show you what’s really going on.  In the same way, if you work on your own self-improvement, then your journal should reflect the change as well.

Another good way of figuring out who you are is through triangulating the relationships you have with other people and the ways in which they interact with you.  One or two people’s opinions might not matter, but if it comes from a lot of people that care about you and whom you trust to know you well, then chances are, it’s more accurate.  Unlike a journal, sometimes people lie or exaggerate the truth and we aren’t always so forthcoming with other people out of fear they might not understand us completely, but unlike a journal, you can establish an emotional connection with people to determine whether or not you like the sort of person that’s being reflected and how that person affects and influences those around you.

The eyes are the windows to the soul.  Just as you can’t see your own eyes without a mirror, so to do you require a mirror to see what your own soul looks like.  Like that Michael Jackson song, “Man in the Mirror,” says, we each need to take a good hard look at who we are in our own mirrors before we can begin to understand or improve ourselves and those around us.