Of otherworldly realms and the humans who imagine them

Living with Gods at the British Museum and Imagining the Divine at the Ashmolean Musem.

– reflections on a visit.

Recently I visited two interesting exhibitions dealing with the more material dimensions of religion, or maybe faith, which together made for an educational venture into a realm of the human condition which is both, fascinating as well as hard to grasp, especially as it is not always easily separated from the follies (and worse things) that humans often commit in its name. And yet there is a lot there to offer even to the nonbeliever: art, stories, philosophy, community… even, I believe, insights into what makes us human.
I should probably mention at this point that I am not a very religious person myself. (More elaborations on that maybe in a future post!) So you won’t be reading an exhaustive testimonial to faith, or ongoing praise for a single deity in what follows.
I do, however, find religions a rather interesting subject matter, because some form of supernatural thinking, ideas, stories or symbolisms that we consider as religious, as magical or as myth has been a part of our species, our cultures for a – historical, if not evolutionary – long period of time. And it has, without doubt, immensely influenced the cultural, political, social, etc., development of humankind.

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Introducing: ZenThirteen

Why ZenThirteen, you may ask. And rightfully so. For what’s in a name? What story does it tell? And, as the name of a blog, what expectations does it create? Who might it speak to?
– In other words – what is it? And what is it not?

 

The name came to me on a rainy (aren’t they always) November day while waiting for the southbound Piccadilly Line at Turnpike Lane station. It is, as a matter of fact, a play on my date of birth. Not sure why that popped into my head at that point, but one has to go with the inspirational flow whenever and wherever it hits. For what it’s worth, October wasn’t long gone… So it all made sense: Switch a T for a Z and there you have something a bit more zesty. Something I hope will catch some attention in the vast, yet certainly not empty, online sphere.
The birthday reference also fits, because it is a personal blog. It will be a platform to share my observations and, to use a fancy (ca. 1670) French term: Pensées.
Whether the world needs those or not, we shall leave to posterity to decide. In the meantime I promise to try to keep things entertaining…

 

Lets have a closer look at the elements that make up the name. Starting with the Zen bit. Admittedly the “Z” word has become a bit of a buzzword recently. It is, besides buzz, also something I am involved with as a practitioner of Soto Zen. However, while this will, I’m sure, influence what pops up on this blog, it is not a blog about Zen per se. There are already brilliant ones out there. Some of them might get mentioned as we get underway. I’m also into Stoicism. And into Philosophy, olde and modern, in general. Into anthropology and humanism, history and stories, arts, music and all that “culture”. And, mentioning culture: “high” culture, “low” culture which some may refer to as camp or trash. And subcultures. Technology, proven and emerging. Science and SciFi. Thus ZenThirteen is an eclectic blog dealing with the many things that, somewhat filtered through my taste and interest, pop up on my radar. (Although you most likely won’t find too much politics and not much of sports here… Just saying, so we made sure to also deal with the “what is it not?” bit)
In short, ZenThirteen is a blog about many things, thus nothing. So the Zen tag fits. Form and emptiness.

 

Then there is the 13. As long as I can remember I’ve been fond of the fact that I was born on the 13th. An ominous number, one that is considered unlucky enough for it to cause the existence of a hard-to-pronounce, multi-syllable greek word denoting the fear of the number: Triskaidekaphobia (coined in 1911!). And so we find, reportedly, buildings that lack a 13th floor. Or don’t find a row 13 on aeroplanes, even though anybody with basic counting skills should be able to deduce that, if they are sitting on 14C, they are actually on 13C, but well… At least it ought to be an aisle seat!
And just look out for those Fridays. Also the movies!
And the again, it is generally considered to be lucky in some countries.

 

Now, while we’re on the numbers game: the 13 isn’t quite as prominent as another number, popularized among others in Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus novel, but pre-dating it. First mentioned, as goes the common wisdom, by William S. Burroughs in what he describes as the 23 Enigma. I’m not going to go in any more detail about 23 here, as there already is enough about this out there. You may also want to google “Discordianism”.
Suffice to say that 10 and 13 add up to, exactly!… 23! So much for that.
Now if only we could, at some point, know the question to which the answer is 42, and we’d be sorted. In the meantime, while we search for the ultimate meaning of life, the universe and everything, we might be best served in making observations here and there. Go through life with Zen awareness. Observe. Think.

 

Or, as Aristotle put it in his Nicomachean Ethics:
“The pleasures arising from thinking and learning will make us think and learn all the more.”

 

PS: Obviously all of this is still always going to be a work in progress. Even more so right now. But it has to start somewhere, one has to write and publish the first post. Form and content can now start to evolve. Feedback via comments is welcome. Ta!