Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Anya: “I love a ritual sacrifice.”

Buffy: “It’s not really... a one of those.”

Anya: “To commemorate a past event you kill and eat an animal. It’s a ritual sacrifice, with pie.”

- Anya, a demon, on Thanksgiving. “Pangs,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Harpies in Myth and Film

Harpy, derived from the Greek word harpazein which means “to snatch.”

Harpies are terrifying monsters from Greco-Roman mythology who possess the torso (head and breasts) of a woman and the body (wings, legs and tail) of a bird, typically a vulture. Natives of the islands of Strophades (or Salmydessus) in eastern Thrace the Harpies feed upon human flesh.

The most famous myth to involve these femme fatales was that of King Phineus of Thrace who possessed the gift of prophecy. So great was Phineus’ gift that he was able to divine all the plans of the gods, a fact which greatly displeased the fickle Olympian deities. As punishment Zeus struck Phineus blind and placed him on the Harpies’ island. Zeus then laid out a great banquet for Phineus; however every time the blind prophet tried to take a piece of food the Harpies would swoop down and snatch it up.

Eventually the seafaring hero Jason, who had use of Phineus’ gift, came to the island and slew the Harpies. The most famous adaptation of this myth is undoubtedly the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts directed by Don Chaffey and with special effects by Ray Harryhausen. While Jason is a brilliant film in every way, Harryhausen’s depiction of the Harpies leaves something to be desired in that they look more like archetypal bat-winged demons than bird women.

A much better example of a cinematic Harpy can be seen in the surreal 1979 Belgian short film Harpya which is itself an adaptation of the Phineus myth. Written and directed by Raoul Servais, it stars Will Spoor, Fran Waller Zeper and Sjoert Schwibethus. Harpya won the Palme d'Or for Best Short Film at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival.

Source: Giants, Monsters & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth (2000) by Carol Rose.

Special Thanks: To Riki for showing me Harpya.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

God and Golden Cows on Wall Street

It’s not often that I get to do topical blog posts…

The picture up above was taken on Wall Street on October 29th, but it’s not exactly what you might think it is. Yes, the people in the picture are praying. Yes, they are standing in front of a seemingly giant golden bull. Yes, some of them are apparently laying hands on said bull. But are they praying to the bull? The answer, they say, is “No.”

The sculpture in question is the “Charging Bull” (a.k.a. the “Wall Street Bull” or the “Bowling Green Bull”), a 7,000 pound bronze (not gold) sculpture which sits in Bowling Green Park near Wall Street in New York City. The sculpture is symbolic of “aggressive financial optimism and prosperity” or "Bull Marketing," the economic trend currently in practice on Wall Street. The sculpture was created by artist Arturo Di Modica in 1989 as a “Christmas gift” for the city of New York following the 1987 stock market crash.

The event being witnessed in the photo at top was organized by self proclaimed Christian “prophet” and author Cindy Jacobs who claims that in January of 08’ “the Lord” spoke to her saying; “Cindy, the strongman over America doesn’t live in Washington, DC – the strongman lives in New York City! Call My people to pray for the economy.”

Moved by her most recent revelation Jacobs immediately set about writing a new book, The Reformation Manifesto (pub. 3/1/08), to sell to people. This, however, apparently wasn’t good enough for God who spoke to Jacobs again telling her to rally together a group of Christian believers and have them converge on Bowling Green Park on October 29th in order to pray for the economy and to stop “Satan” from causing another “Black Tuesday.”

The reason for Bowling Green Park, Jacobs says, was the “Charging Bull” statue. “We are going to intercede at the site of the statue of the bull on Wall Street to ask God to begin a shift from the bull and bear markets to what we feel will be the 'Lion’s Market,' or God’s control over the economic systems,” stated Jacobs, “While we do not have the full revelation of all this will entail, we do know that without [divine] intercession, economies will crumble.”

On October 29th, Jacobs got her rally with a turn out of what looks like a few dozen people – I was unable to find any concrete numbers, but this is what I’m guessing based on photos and one video. The group prayed, sang ‘God Bless America,’ waved around American flags, and prayed some more.

Naturally, as soon as photos and YouTube footage got out people immediately misinterpreted what they were seeing. The vast majority of viewers took the sight of a few dozen Christians praying and worshiping in front of a statue of a bull as a sign of mass idolatry in progress. Blog and news articles with titles like “Christians are full of bull – on Wall Street,” “Where’s Charlton Heston when you need him?,” and “Jesus People Pray That False Idol Will Save God’s Economy” jumped on Jacobs’ rally and invoked imagery from Exodus 32 (as well as Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 film The Ten Commandments) in order to brand Jacobs and her group as heretics.

For those who may have forgotten Exodus 32 tells of how Moses’ brother Aaron cast a statue of a golden calf and set it up in opposition to the Hebrew god Yahweh. When Moses discovered this he smashed the original copy of the infamous Ten Commandments on the ground causing an earthquake which swallowed the idol and its misled devotees.

Now on the one hand, its nice to see that the Book of Exodus and its legend of Moses and the golden calf has not lost its place in the public consciousness after all these years. On the other hand, it’s a bit disturbing to see so many people use this kind of religious myth to attack someone based solely on misperception. As for Jacobs and her rally it is interesting to see how times of crisis drive people to religious and mythological solutions for problems which seemingly have no direct worldly answer, reminding one of the comfort as well as the distress which can be gleamed from both myth and faith.


At Top: The "Day of Prayer for the World’s Economies" on Wednesday, October 29, 2008.

Middle: The "Charging Bull" as seen in Bowling Green Park, NY.

Bottom: Cindy Jacobs, Christian "prophet", takes the bull by the horn.