May 2006 Archives
This Memorial Day, however, there is one family that the government has not allowed to place its own religious symbol on their memorial for a fallen soldier. His widow has also been prohibited from speaking at a local Memorial Day ceremony.
The reason? The soldier in question--killed in Afghanistan--was a believer in the Wiccan faith. The U.S. government does not allow a pentacle (pictured left) to be placed on a veterans' memorial, a prohibition that would also appear to extend to public memorial ceremonies for the honored dead.
The government has yet to explain its longstanding failure to add the pentacle to the list of approved religious symbols. The most likely reason: a concern that Christians would view this an implicit approval of what many folks unfamiliar with pagan traditions believe to be devil worship.
Above: arguably the world's smallest item of quality gold jewelry, a 16-atom configuration newly created by scientists but not yet available in stores. As this article from the New York Times notes, 20-atom configurations of gold take a pyramidal shape, an array echoed in the golden sands of Egypt.
DA VINCI CODE EXTRA: click the pic for Ka Gold's explanation of the mystical merkaba and you'll see a rather familiar figure, pictured here in a more family friendly version!
For Communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, religion was the opiate of the people. Now that Mao is dead, however, he has for some of his more devout followers become an object of religious veneration.
Pictured here: a Mao pendant often used as a safety charm, akin to the Catholic St. Christopher's medal. For more on Mao as a pop culture icon, check out this article on Mao trinkets from today's New York Times.
Today's Women's Wear Daily has a feature story on the politics of diamonds, focusing on a subject that we've featured several times here at the BofG: conflict diamonds. Read the WWD article linked here today while it's free!
Those interested in a more in depth exploration of the issue may want to check out the seven-minute documentary on the topic posted on youtube.com. As the warning states, the film contains scenes of a violent and graphic nature, so if you're squeamish you might want to stick with newsprint.
Everyman is a classic morality play on the transitory nature of mortal existence. It is also the title of the latest novel by Philip Roth. Unlike its medieval namesake, however, Roth's novel offers no hope in the prospects of eternal life.
What does this have to do with the BofG? Glad you asked! In the new novel, Everyman's father runs a jewelry store, called, appropriately enough, Everyman's Jewelry Shop. In contrast to the stark naturalism of the book's title character, Everyman's father is a metaphorical stand-in for God and traditional notions of eternal life. Diamonds are touted for their immortal brightness, and the shop's many watches refer not only to the passage of time but the classic image of God as the divine watchmaker.
Like the original play, Roth's novel is short--180 pages. Which is good, because life is short and painful and there's so much left undone.
"Reverence" is the theme of a new exhibit at the Hudson Valley Center of Contemporary Art. The aim? To bring together art that speaks of the transcendent without using the traditional visual rhetoric of religious iconography.
Pictured on the left is "Exaltation," one of the exhibit's featured works. The artist is Damien Hirst, known for his art utilizing dead animals. Exaltation is no different--it's actually composed of butterfly wings. Here's the description from the HVCCC:
"Thousands of gorgeous and variegated butterfly wings are applied in a dense and specific pattern giving the sense of a wondrous stained glass cathedral window. Here the use of color, translucence and height, drawing the eyes and the spirit ever upward, are features inherent to reverent worship, echoing the Psalm’s: 'I lift my eyes up to the heights, from whence I draw my inspiration'. The work is ultimately a powerful metaphor for life and death and transcendence of nature and the spirit."
Saturday's New York Times has an article on the merchandising of the Da Vinci Code. Pictured below from eBay: a unique, customed designed Da Vinci Code bracelet made in part from vintage charms depicting symbols in the book.
As of when I'm writing this post (Saturday night), it's up to $49 with three days to go. Too steep or not too your taste? Click here for a guide on how to make your own charm bracelet, from the folks from Silver Enchantment, purveyor of a wide range of spiritual jewelry.
Good luck if you're bidding on the Da Vinci Code bracelet. Personally, I'm holding out for something else.
. . . is not anything like Velvet Elvis, although its name does have a Coded hidden reference. Beyond that, VdV is a sophisticated art and jewelry gallery in San Francisco. Its exhibits rival those of most major museums, and you can often find any number of items reflecting spiritual or metaphysical themes. Below is a piece from its 2005 collection, 100 Brooches:
Above: The Vinci Diamond, patented by Israeli designer Shlomo Cohen. What makes this diamond different from any other diamond is the cut. Cohen based it on the "golden ratio," also commonly referred to as the divine proportion, which not coincidentally also features prominently in The Da Vinci Code.
While Christians are protesting the theological content of the book and film, mathematicians have a beef of their own: "In an apparent blatant misunderstanding of the difference between an exact quantity and an approximation, the character Robert Langdon in the novel The Da Vinci Code incorrectly defines the golden ratio as exactly 1.618 (Brown 2003, pp. 93-95)."
Looks like poor (ha!) Dan Brown can't catch a break.
The first reviews are in, and it looks like the only real "teachable moment" of Da Vinci Code movie will be for critics to instruct us what a good film is like. Still, that "Tom Hanks was a zombie" is welcome news indeed. I like zombie movies.
What I don't like, however, are theater concession stands. Instead of washing down a 15oz pack of Good 'n' Plenty with 72oz of Coke, I'm gonna sneak in a stylish Da Vinci Code cocktail.
Haven't heard of it? The DVCC is a mix of Cointreau, Tequila, Campari and lemon, and as any expert symbologist knows it's an ancient icon of decadent pleasure. Knock back a few of 'em and pretty soon you'll forget whether you have a spouse and kids!
You can get this divine concoction at the Hotel d'Angleterre by Lake Geneva as part of their Da Vinci Code package. In addition, the hotel's house painter will paint you a portrait guaranteed to "capture your essence and immortalise your persona." The package also includes a "daily newspaper"--which is a better deal than it sounds, what with your becoming immortal.
Despite what one might think, Dan Brown didn't concoct the Da Vinci Code's account of Christian history out of thin air. Stories about an intimate connection between Christ and Mary Magdalene have been around for a while, and not only among conspiracy buffs.
Below, for example, is a devotional icon of Jesus, Mary M & their child from prizewinning artist Sofia Christine's Ambrozjin collection. This same image is available in smaller form as a pendant or pins.
The Da Vinci Code movie is upon us, and (in Manhattan, at least) everywhere you go there's DVC hype. "JoinTheQuest" placards on the subway. DVC specials on cable TV. Tom Hanks explaining his new hair line to reporters everywhere. And of course, evangelists of all stripes seizing the occasion as a "teachable moment."
Is there no refuge for those weary of the hype?
Well, no. Case in point: the hidden history of the "Armani Black Code," a high-end fragrance for men. Recently Armani hailed a new addition to the line--the "Armani Code" for women, with a marketing campaign built around such memes as secrets, symbols and solving the "code of seduction." But look carefully, believers--the name of the men's line has not so mysteriously undergone a subtle change that now renders it gender-ambiguous.
Top: an ad for Armani Code for women on the back cover of the May 2006 Vogue.
Bottom: a symbological (!) unveiling of what is now "Armani Code" for men
In Germany, Christian pastors beat Islamic Imams at a soccer (football) match. Completing the religious trifecta: Jewish linesmen.
In this article on religious vocations, a nun uses her attachment to jewelry as barometer of her spiritual condition--and notes what her earthly sisters gained from her spiritual calling:
"I had enough rings for every finger and loads of jewelry," [Carol Derynioski] said.
After learning on the Web about the Monastery of the Mother of God in West Springfield, a community of contemplative Dominicans, she contacted them. Last August she entered the monastery and in February she took the white veil of a novice and the name Sister Maria Gianna of the Divine Mercy.
With a laugh she said she made her three sisters very happy when she gave up all her jewelry. "I have found the pearl of great price," she said. "And whatever it took, I was willing to do."
On Broadway from 34th to 23rd (in New York, naturally), you'll find store after store selling cheap but oh so shiny religious jewelry. Among other things.
Above: in a display of pendants, a football player desperately tries to avoid Christ's call, only to crash into the Cross. In other words, just another day for the recruitment staff at Notre Dame.
Stones have long been a source of inspiration for spiritual creativity. Crystals, of course, have been a mainstay of modern new age practice, while priests and preachers have waxed rhapsodic about the spiritual import of stones mentioned in the Bible.
Of course, stones aren't the only hard object used in expressing a sense of higher meaning--ancient shell beads found in South Africa provide what may be the earliest evidence of symbolic thought. As noted in this article from National Geographic,
the production of art or jewelry is universally accepted as an indicator of symbolic thinking.
"Beads are tangible evidence of a concept of self," [archaelogist John] Bower said. "You're not going to decorate yourself if you have no concept of self."
Abe Kenji is a Japanese swami with a peculiar talent: he can transform silver jewelry into gold & materialize diamonds out of thin air. This article chronicles the Swami's awakening to divine alchemy and ponders what kind of otherworldly stone could be neither diamond nor glass. Whatever it is, the reporter knows it's miraculous because
I tested it with my dowsing rod and the energy was stronger than my quartz crystals.
And who can argue with the techology that the U.S. government just might be using to find Usama bin Laden?
The picture to the left isn't great, but the pendant around Jessica Simpson's neck is a redesigned version of her wedding ring, with one cross inside and cross-turned-Christian-fishtail on the left. Could this be the start of a trend--instead of selling or returning mementos of your ex, you convert them into Christian jewelry?
This might seem odd to other folks who, like the Simpsons, identify with with evangelical Christianity, given its strict interpretation of Jesus' prohibition of divorce. Yet we should remember that in context, marriage was primarily an economic arrangement. The problem with divorce was not so much with lust, sex or splits in themselves, but rather, the man's abdication of financial responsibility toward his wife and heirs.
What does this mean for the present, when men and women have relatively equal economic rights? We'll let churches decide, but if you ask Jessica's estranged husband Nick Lackey, the Christian thing for her to do would be to pay him spousal support!
From an article in today's New York Sun, entitled "Saudis Courting Tourism":
In making the announcement, HRH [His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Salman] stressed that tourists flocking into Saudi Arabia must understand they have to follow "specific instructions and rules" once they are inside the kingdom . . . .
Neither crosses nor Star of David jewelry, nor bibles, are allowed. Such paraphernalia are punishable by public lashings and jail for those living or visiting Saudi Arabia on business. No special cases can be expected for prospective tourists.
Just as with Saudis and others inside the Kingdom, the tourists' behavior will be carefully monitored by the bearded, bare-footed Saudi religious police, the Mutawaeen, who are grouped under a special branch of security known as the Society for the Propagation of Goodness and Prevention of Vice.
The following are a few recent articles illustrating how people integrate their spiritual outlook with the business of selling jewelry and other accessories:
Above: a spiritual symbol pinball machine from Maker Faire!
When I was a kid, the only pinball machines that had an even remotely spiritual significance were the "Wizard" and "Captain Fantastic" models based on the Who's messianic rock opera Tommy.
For more on the zen of pinball and its implications for interface design, check out this classic post from Slashdot. Want to look up the various symbols? The photographer herself offers an excellent reference guide.
What's a puja? The Smithsonian describes this Hindu rite here. It's in the news in India because one of the country's renowned comediennes, Manorama, performed a puja while presenting a specially-crafted platinum Ganesha to a temple.
Above: a collection of antique Islamic jewelry for sale (now sold) at Edgar Lowen's, an auction house whose site always features a plethora of antique & ancient adornment.
For something a little more modern, this story from Islam Online on Muslim women entrepreneurs describes how they leverage microfinancing to create their own businesses. Examples include jewelry, candlemaking, foodstuffs and a beauty salon. Here's a brief excerpt:
Ahmed represents a huge segment of Muslim women who are primary breadwinners. With no choice about working, they hover at the two-dollar-a-day, third-world poverty line. Though their economic roles are often influenced by the global economy, their specific strategies still retain their traditional religious or cultural business ethics.
Around the corner sits Hanan Hamed Osman, a 55-year-old divorcee who started a kiosk business selling tea biscuits and chips. She capitalized her kiosk with the sale of her jewelry nine years ago. Later, in response to customer research, Osman diversified her inventory to include sugar, oils, rice, pasta, and even lufas, with three consecutive micro finance loans. Today, she earns 110 Egyptian pounds a day ($20 US) while in the old days she would only net 10-20 pounds ($3-5 US).
Islamic values and the fear of God guide Osman’s business decisions, keeping her happy with modest returns and minimal profits. When asked about her dreams, poor as she is, her first response is “to go for Umrah, a pilgrimage.” When pushed on business growth, she says, “I dream of ten kiosks, but I am happy with what I have.”
The theme of “happy with what I have now” is also echoed by Intisar Hamed, a 31-year old, unmarried woman — a candle maker, whose loan enables her to stock raw materials and work daily instead of every other day. Soon to be married in a “love marriage of her choice,” Hamed lives modestly, with a relentlessly crowing rooster, her relatives, and her religion. Following her religious mandates, she chooses to buy top-grade raw materials because she does not want to short-change her customers.