Moderns and Myths: “Genesis, Zen and Quantum Physics”

“Genesis, Zen and Quantum Physics: A Fresh Look at the Theology and Science of Creation,” Jeff A. Benner and Michael Calpino, 2011. Publishing

Benner and Calpino desired to present their version of Genesis as it was originally written. To do this, hey used a computer to translate the pictographs of ancient Hebrew. Based on their conception of the culture of the ancient Hebrews, the two authors then determined how accurate their translation was. (Note 1)

According to the authors, since the Hebrews were nomads, they received divine revelation from God regularly. Benner and Calpino explained that the experiential aspects of the nomadic culture allowed for this. In contrast, modern people received their world view (and theology) from the Greek and Romans. (Note 2) The settled lifestyle of these urban peoples prevented modern people from fully understanding Genesis. Moreover, the authors stressed that in most translations that the text usually reflects the current theology. Therefore, what people read in translation is not what the nomadic Hebrews meant.

In their appendix, the authors explain why only nomads receive regular visions and encounters of God. (The inverse is that urban people do not know the Gods. (Note 3)) They write that “the nomadic lifestyle is key to the success as a person of God.” Benner and Calpino conclude that the lifestyle creates the spiritual and world view of the people. (Note 4)

Benner and Calpino write that nomadism “is a lifestyle that develops godly character and puts us in touch with that which is beyond us.” The authors cite the following elements of this lifestyle that creates such spirituality. 1. Nomads are removed from the dominant cultures of their time. 2. Nomads need to be self-reliant. 3. Nomads are always immigrant and outsiders. 4. Nomads are pastoral. 5. Nomads demonstrate strong decisive leadership. 6. Among nomads, the overriding legal responsibility is hospitality.

Reading deeper, I found the authors contradicting themselves. They write, “in fact, while the outward expressions of the religious traditions of the world may be very different, the mystical subsets of each bear striking similarities in both theology and practice… the truly striking thing is that these ‘mystical’ practices gave rise to similarities in theology that are difficult to explain given the divergent history and geography of the traditions from which they have risen… and irregardless of the forms and rituals of religion, there is singular ‘method’ of making that connection. It is the journey that results in that connection that will reveal the truth about the world, God, and ourselves.”

Edward Butler in his essay, “The Polemic Against Polytheism,” expresses what I found troubling in Benner and Calpino’s book. He writes, “translating the most important concepts in a civilization’s philosophical tradition into another, alien set of terms can never be regarded as a simple, nor a transparent process. This is all the more true when a clash of civilizations, and a veritable war of religions, has been in progress for centuries.” Further, he writes, “The idea of a so-called ‘natural theology,’ a primordial monotheistic revelation granted to all peoples was crucial in this effort.” He is referring to the sense of monotheism being the natural order of things. “The notion of a pure and original monotheism, an idea state of spirituality which existed naturally in the distant past and would be reestablished through human action in the future, was and remains perhaps the single most powerful tool of the colonial project.”

I think Butler has stated what I thought of this book. The authors have colonialized the Hebrew past as being monotheistic instead of polytheistic. They assume a mythic past of “ a pure and original monotheism.”

The subtitle “a fresh look at the theology and science of creation” gives the authors’ actual world-view. Benner and Calpino are modern people with modern monotheistic ideas. They fail to understand the actual polytheism of the ancient Hebrews. As modern people often do, Benner and Calpino assume that the ancients really think the same as they do.

The two authors do make one important point. The theology should not come from the lifestyle or culture. The theology should come from the myths themselves. The myths lead people into deeper connection with the Gods.

Note 1. Benner and Calpino referred to what they did as “mechanical translation.” In his article, “About the Mechanical Translation,” Benner explained “each word would be translated faithful according to its original linguistic and cultural perspective.”

Note 2. What the authors are alluding to is “written” versus “oral” cultures. Written cultures allow for abstractions, while oral cultures reference ideas through the speaker and listener.

Note 3. As a Roman Polytheist, I disagree with the authors’ assertion about urban peoples. Romans experienced the Gods, daily in various ways. Also, I believe that the authors’ own version of monotheism prevents them from understanding polytheistic thinking.

Note 4. Benner and Calpino both live settled lives. However, Benner writes in his various essays how a settled person can have a “migratory journey on God’s road.”

Further Reading:
Edward Butler, “The Polemic Against Polytheism.”
Jeff A. Benner, Ancient Hebrew Research Center,

Magic: A Timeline (Part 3): 1980s-2020s

In the 1980s, David Hune (1939-, American), a scholar of the New Testament, added his voice to the debate about magic. Hune complained that the old dichotomy between religion and magic was unworkable. How does one understand the miracles of the Apostles? He felt that more guidance was needed.

Meanwhile, Tanya Luhrmann (1959-), an American anthropologist, offered new insights in studying magic. After her field work with contemporary Wiccans in England in 1989, she published “Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft.” Luhrmann said that in magical belief, an “interpretative drift” occurs. First, a person finds the ideas of magic persuasive. Then, they notice how magic affects their material world. As they gather data, the person begins to firmly believe in the reality of magic.

Susan Greenwood (English) also studied with Wiccans in London. To rebut Luhrmann, Greenwood wrote “Magic, Witchcraft and the Other World: An Anthropology (1991).” She stressed that a person has to experience magic. It cannot be studied since magic was a form of consciousness.

By 2000, many anthropologists and other academics agreed that separating magic from religion was futile. Moreover, nobody had any idea of what was which. Those who studied ancient and medieval texts complained that they need better rubics.

In 2006, Fiona Bowie (British) published “The Anthropology of Religion.” She studied how a culture mystifies a magical experience. For magic to exist, there has to be a prevalent belief of a life force within people and nature. Moreover, the belief that good fortune is limited prompts that culture to regard magic as essential. (Note 1)

Her contemporary, Peter Geschiere (Dutch) published in 2013, “Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust: Africa in Comparison.” He counseled that magic should be viewed in relationship to modernity, political power and the State. According to Geschiere, magic addresses issues that are crucial to social relationships. Therefore, magic should be defined as how a given society say that it is.

Note 1.
Fiona Bowie founded the Afterlife Research Centre to work on ethnographic approaches to mediumship and the afterlife. Their website is

Works Used:
Bowie, Fiona, “The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction.” 2008. PDF.
Davis, Owen, ed. “The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft & Magic.” Oxford University Press: Oxford. 2017.
Dobler, Gregor, “Fatal Words: Restudying Jeanne-Favret-Saada.” Anthropology of This Century, Issue 13, May 2015.
Greer, John Michael, “The Occult Book.” Sterling: NY. 2017.
Hutton, Ronald, “The Witch.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 2017.
—, “A Framework for the Study of European Magic.” Grey School of Wizardry Class Materials. Dell.Urgano, Ombra, “The Development of European Magic.”
Moro, Pamela, “Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Magic.” International Library of Anthropology.
Seligmann, Kurt, “The Mirror of Magic.” 1948. Inner Tradition: Rochester (VT)

Magic: A Timeline (Part 2): 1940s-1970s

Studying the Navaho in 1949, Clyde Kluckholn (1905-1960, American) saw the same role that magic had in society as Evans-Pritchard (in Part 1). Magic resolved tensions among people by channeling their anxieties. In the Navaho culture, witchcraft, separate from magic, influenced events by anti-social means.

In 1957, cultural anthropologist Victor Turner (1920-1983, British) wrote “Schism and Continuity in an African Society: A Study of Ndembu Village Life.” In studying rituals, Turner defined “liminality,” as the “transitional phrase of betwixt and between of individuals in society.” He also coined “communitas,” which is “when all members of a community were equal in sharing a ritual.” According to Turner, magic and religion were “social dramas” used to resolve conflicts. For him, magic was a ritual performance with a specific end.

In “Religion among the Primitives (1951),” William Goode (1917-2003, American) presented the eleven characteristics (Note 1) of how magic differs from religion. This sociologist noted that magic focused on individual needs. Moreover, it was more concrete and specific in its goals.

Beginning in the 1960s, many anthropologists regarded the academic approaches to magic as inadequate. Studying Asian societies, Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah (1929-2014, Sri Lankan) explained that the Western idea of separating magic from religion was in error. Magic, religion, and science have their own “qualities of rationality.” They were all systems for people to gain mastery over their situations.

The anthropologists, Murray Wax (1922-2012, American) and his wife Rosalie Wax (1911-1998, American) realized that Western intellectuals were hostile to magic. Echoing Tambiah, the Waxes maintained that magic was a part of a society’s worldview. In the 1970s, they wrote that magic was indeed an ordinary part of society.

In 1977, Jeanne Favret-Saada (1934-, French) wrote “Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage.” Studying magic in France, Favret-Saada theorized that witchcraft gained its power by speech. In Europe, as elsewhere, magic was a part of daily life. Moreover, she observed that in Europe, witchcraft was used to gain power, and not knowledge.

Meanwhile, social anthropologist Mary Douglas (1921-2007, British) studied ritual purity and pollution. For her, the traditional concept of magic was useless. Writing in the 1970s, Douglas said that there was little difference between the rituals of Europeans and “primitive” societies. According to her, Eurocentric concepts of magic were wrong. However, she did view witchcraft a disruption to the structure of society since the witch was either an outsider or an internal enemy.

Note 1. His rules were: 1. Concrete specificity of a goal, 2. Manipulation, 3. Professional-client relationship, 4. Focus on an individual’s ends, 5. Practiced only by individuals, 6. Technique can be changed, 7. Lesser emotional involvement, 8. Evading the nature of the universe, 9. Bending the rules of the universe, 10. No accepting the universe as it is, 11. Instrumental use for the attainment of specific goals.

Works Used:
Bowie, Fiona, “The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction.” 2008. PDF.
Davis, Owen, ed. “The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft & Magic.” Oxford University Press: Oxford. 2017.
Dobler, Gregor, “Fatal Words: Restudying Jeanne-Favret-Saada.” Anthropology of This Century, Issue 13, May 2015.
Greer, John Michael, “The Occult Book.” Sterling: NY. 2017.
Hutton, Ronald, “The Witch.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 2017.
—, “A Framework for the Study of European Magic.” Grey School of Wizardry Class Materials. Dell.Urgano, Ombra, “The Development of European Magic.”
Moro, Pamela, “Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Magic.” International Library of Anthropology.
Seligmann, Kurt, “The Mirror of Magic.” 1948. Inner Tradition: Rochester (VT)

Babylonian Month: January/February

The calendars of Mesopotamia have non-standard months from the winter solstice to the spring equinox. The Standard Mesopotamian Calendar attempts to fit the lunar year into a solar one. To accomplish this, an extra month is added every two and half years. Then every 17th and 19th year, one more month is added. The result is that every nineteen years, the calendar would reset. Therefore, timing for the festivals from January to March differs from year to year.

Modern Sumerian Polytheists follow the calendar of Nippur, the sacred city of southern Mesopotamia. The month of January/February is Ud Duru (“fresh Emmer wheat”). (Emmer wheat is a primitive form of grain.) At the first of the month, “Celebration of the Early Grass” (Ezem-Sekinku) is held to celebrate the early harvest.

“Asnan, like a beautiful maiden, appears; She lets the crop for the great festival of Enlil come up heavenward.”

From the myth of “Lugale”
“At the Gods’ ‘Early Grass’
May they seat the two of you
New-Moon day by New-Moon Day
On the broad side of the table.”
“O Hulalu stone, may you be found in honey and wine,
And may you all rightfully be decked out with gold,
At the ‘Early Grass’ festival of the Gods
May all the lands salute you by lowering nose to the ground for you.”

For Babylonian Polytheists, the month is Sabatu (“blowing storms”) of the Standard Mesopotamian Calendar. The barley harvest is two months away, and the canals need to be inspected. The Festival of Dikes and Canals (Ni-diri-ezem-ma) is held mid-month. Enkimdu, the God of Ditches and Canals, and Enbiluli, God of Rivers and Divine Canal Inspector, receive offerings of water boots. Then, the canals are repaired and inspected.

Roman Gods of the Month: January

Note: Regular readers will note that I regularly publish two calendars each month – Roman and Mesopotamian. I do this because I believe that a part of piety is following the liturgical calendar of festivals.


Named for the God, Janus, the month of January is the hinge of the year: the old year ends and the new one begins. The second King of Rome, Numa Pompilius (715 – 673 BCE) reformed the Roman calendar by adding two more months – January and February at the beginning of the 10-month year. Thus the New Year began in January instead of March. (However, for Romans, both New Years are celebrated.)

January is the month for public vows and divination of the coming year. Festivals celebrating the beginnings of life – both human and plant are held. The Carmentalia is for childbirth, and the Sementivae is for crops. Also, the Gods of Healing are given offerings to ensure a healthy year.

Janus, the two-head God, is the God of Beginnings and Endings. In Ovid’s Fasti, Janus explains to the poet why the year begins in the winter instead of the spring. “Midwinter is the beginning of the new Sun and the end of the old one. Phoebus and the year take their start from the same point.”

On January 1, dedications to the Gods of Healing were made at temples on an island in the Tiber River. A plague was stopped during the dedication of the temple of Aesculapius on January 1, 291 BCE. Meanwhile, Lucius Furius Purpurio vowed the temple to Vediovis on January 1, 194 BCE for the God’s help at the Battle of Cremona (against the Gauls).

During January, the Compitalia is observed to honor the Lars who watch over the crossroads. At each crossroads, shrines are set up and dolls hung from them. I live at the nexus of three streets, and make offerings of crystals to the Lars. I also hang a wooden doll on my door knob for a day.

January 11 and 15 are the two days of the Carmentalia honoring Carmentis, a Goddess of Childbirth and Prophecy. Prayers for safe childbirth are made to Her. For the two days, matrons celebrate their status in the family. In addition, divinations are done.

Held between January 24 and 26, the Sementivae is a festival of purification to protect both the seeds and the sowers. Tellus and Ceres are entreated to keep the seeds safe. Oscilla (small clay discs) are hung in trees to ward off evil spirits.

Picture of Janus by Grace Palmer.