Ancient Wisdom — That Isn’t???

fortune-telling

For the last couple of decades, our world has been awash with Ancient Wisdom.  Everybody and his sister seems to think they’ve discovered the kickass cure for contemporary society in the texts and teachings of long, long ago.  It’s only natural.  In troubled times, people long for a simpler life and usually go looking for it in the shifting echoes of half-forgotten time.  Whether it’s a paleo diet, aura energy, herbal remedies or smelly candles, we tend to believe that this “lost” knowledge will provide signposts on the road to enlightenment.  I’m not saying it will or it won’t – honestly, I don’t know – however, we do need to remember a couple of things.  First of all, by definition, ancient wisdom comes from a time of superstition and ignorance when germs were God’s punishment, life expectancy was 35 and you could die from a broken finger.  Secondly, some of this ancient wisdom isn’t actually all that ancient.  Here are a couple of blatant examples of ancient arts that aren’t!

Tarot cards – Everybody knows that the Tarot is as old as the sands of Egypt.  It was the tool of soothsayers and astrologers who used its power to seek metaphysical guidance and, perhaps, glimpse into the future.  And today, only a select few occult scholars have the wisdom to unlock its secrets.  Nope!  The truth is, Tarot cards were developed in the early Renaissance by a bunch of northern Italian gamblers.  They used them to play games very similar to poker and gin rummy.  That went on for about three centuries until the 1780s, when a popular French magician, Jean-Baptiste Alliette (whose stage name was Etteilla) began claiming the Tarot was full of psychic energy.  On the verge of revolution, the Parisian upper classes were eager to grasp at spiritual straws, and the Tarot cards looked like a good one.  Meanwhile, at the other end of the Rue de Fake News, a semi-intellectual, Antoine Court, wrote a history (without documentation, BTW) which traced the Tarot back to the pre-pyramid Nile.  Since everyone already knew that anyway, it became (and still is) the accepted history of the Tarot.  In fact, Tarot cards are actually younger than the ordinary “according to Hoyle” playing cards we use every day!

Wicca – For millions of its followers and most of the rest of us, Wicca comes from a time before history when Mother Nature spoke to her children from the rivers, mountains and meadows of the natural world.  It is a religion of the Goddess whose power comes from the living Earth.  A spirituality of standing stones, sacred trees and healing crystals that was suppressed for centuries by the Christian church and the woeful myopia of modern science.  Guess again!  Actually, Wicca (and all its various offshoots) was invented by Gerald Gardner, a retired British civil servant, sometime in the late 1940s.  It’s basically a one-size-fits-all cauldron full of folklore, legend, superficial history and amateur anthropology — all stirred together with Aleister Crowley magic, make-believe rites and rituals, a Druid or two and nudity.  When Gardner went public with his mystic concoction in 1954, the Cold War was chilly enough to attract a good number of devotees, but, when the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile crisis put the world into a deep freeze, people all over the West started seriously looking for a reasonable alternative to nuclear holocaust.  During the late 60s and 70s, Wicca became the “religion de jour” to a host of bored students, disenchanted activists and aging hippies — each with their own interpretations, teachings and texts.  These days, the many faces of Wicca are everywhere from occult bookstores to suburban diets — colleges teach its practices and rock stars wear its symbols.  However, the painful truth is … Wicca is about the same age as Oprah Winfrey.

Everything Is About Sex

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Everything in life is about sex!  Don’t believe me?  Just take a moment, forget the warped sense of sexuality the 21st century has forced upon us (50 Shades of Grey? I’m laughing!) and remember a time before half-baked academics got hold of the word — a time when Lady Chatterley had a lover, Maurice had a happy ending and Anais Nin wrote porn by the page.  Now, are you sitting comfortably?   Then we can begin.  Take a read on the following 15 statements and decide for yourself which ones are categorically wrong.  Not kinda, not maybe, but categorically wrong.  Good luck!

1 — Conversations are like sex — If the other person hasn’t made a noise in a while, they’re not interested.

2 – Reading a menu is like sex – Something might have a fancy French name but if you don’t know what you’re going to get, you better not order it.

3 — Cars are like sex — There’s a standard model, but there are always a number of interesting options available.

4 — Picking your nose is like sex — You really don’t want to get caught doing it in an elevator.

5 — Sports are like sex — Yeah, it’s fun to watch it on TV, but it’s way better if you’re actually playing the game.

6 — Dancing is like sex – Duh!

7 — The Internet is like sex – You need to be careful when you go exploring, or you’ll end up at 1:30 in the morning with nothing to show for it but a vague sense of regret.

8 — Fast Food is like sex – Sometimes you’re looking for something quick and easy cuz you’ve got a lot of other things to do.

9 — Visiting your in-laws is like sex – You know it’s important to your partner, but sometimes you just want to get it over with.

10 — Customer service is like sex – If you don’t get the attention you think you deserve, you’re upset about it.

11 — Grocery shopping is like sex – If you can’t find the one item you went for, it feels like the whole trip was wasted, but it’s too much trouble to keep looking — so – close enough!

12 – Cleaning the house is like sex – You may have spent hours doing this amazingly thorough job on Saturday, but by Thursday, you’re kinda thinking maybe you should do it again.

13 – Having a cat is like sex – Yeah, it’s warm and cuddly and purring, but do you really know what’s going on in that feline’s mind?

14 – Playing the piano is like sex – You can practice all you want, but if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll never be any good at it.

And finally:

15 — Riding a bicycle is like sex – You never forget how, but if you haven’t done it for a while, it’s going to hurt the next day.

I rest my case!

Stranded In Paradise

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Most folks are like me — terminally ordinary.  There isn’t much more than what the world sees, and the back story is usually just about the same.  However, give any group of these “average” people a crisis, and the interesting ones will emerge from the herd like characters in an Agatha Christie novel.  Some years ago, I was privileged to observe a planeload of tourists when disaster (inconvenience?) struck.  These people are real.  I’ve left out the boring bits and glossed over the sordid parts (this is, after all, a family-friendly blog) but for the most part, this is how I remember them.

It was a trip to the South Seas.  The cunning plan was to find a shady spot, eat like Dumas, drink like Hemingway, unleash my inner Robert Louis Stevenson and write an adventure story.  Meanwhile, my beautiful and humourous companion would soak up some sun, snorkel and take award-winning photographs of everything exotic.  Good plan, great execution — and three days in, we were entirely on schedule.  I was sitting in the sun-warm morning, having my after- breakfast rum and umbrella concoction when …

“What do you think we should do?”
It was a voice from a face I kinda recognized from the airplane.
“About what?”  I asked, pulling the umbrella out of the glass.
“Canada 3000 has gone broke.  We’re stuck here.  We can’t get home.”
“Bummer.”
There was silence, so I took a drink.  More silence.  I’d missed something important.
“Well, we have to do something,” she said and walked off, hard stomps in the sand.

Over the next ten days, because we were trapped and I was a permanent fixture at a cabana close to the bar, I got to observe everybody up close and personal.  I discovered my little slice of paradise was an unsinkable lifeboat with a list of personalities worthy of Hitchcock.

There was the fat woman and her husband who showed up to The Stranded Tourist Meeting in skin-tight pink and yellow wet suits.  They looked like two gigantic Easter eggs.  Later, over frustration cocktails, they explained that they knew the scuba gear looked hideous, but, and I almost quote, “We like pink, so screw ‘em!”  It turned out their 9-to-5 job was doing English voiceover work for foreign porno films.

There was the oilman father, full of golf and Steinlager beer, his wife, mother of none and their two children, 20-something adolescents who had travelled the world on their parents’ dime.  We hung with the kids cuz they were fun.  She was beautiful, and as far as I remember, that was her career.  He was a delivery driver who lived in her spare bedroom.  One night, they danced in the moonlight surf as if they were silhouettes in a Thai shadow play.  It was weird!

There was a man and his wife who made the airline representative cry at The Stranded Tourist Meeting and were subsequently shunned by the tribe.  One night, they confessed to us that they were married — but not to each other — and were supposed to be in Dallas at a teachers’ conference.  No wonder they were stressed about getting home on time!

There were the three amigas, office worker women who had saved up all year for a two-week bikini experience – and they had a lot of bikinis.  They were broke enough to borrow money but not at all worried about it. (“We travel like this all the time.  People are always really nice to us.”)  They hitched a flight to Auckland with a German tour group and, I suppose, got home from there.

And there were the newlyweds, who discovered they shouldn’t have when the groom, in a fury of they’re-not-going-to-get-away-with-this spent his days fighting with the airline, the hotel, Visa, the Canadian government, New Zealand and a local guy named Henry – and his nights recounting the battles to anyone who would listen.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Groom wandered the resort in pretty clothes and a bottomless Singapore Sling.  After a week, she disappeared, and the rumour was she’d dumped the prince and caught a flight to Tahiti.

A week later, we followed her and from there, flew to Los Angeles — then home.  I never did write the adventure story, but for 10 years I’ve been toying with a murder mystery — except I just can’t get the characters right.

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