Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Ushers' modern-day fall.


Stolen from the internet
I've been a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe's writing since I was a little kid. I thought I'd told this story here before, but I couldn't find it just now in a search, so here goes: When I was in elementary school, a collection of Poe's short stories was among the paperbacks my mom bought me. I loved a whole bunch of those stories, but "The Masque of the Red Death" was my favorite. I actually read it aloud one day to a bunch of my friends from the neighborhood in our backyard. (They were all younger than me. I had to kind of explain the part about how there was nobody in the costume.)

So when I heard that Netflix was doing "The Fall of the House of Usher", I was psyched. And I'm here to tell you that this show is definitely worth watching.

This production is not a modern-day retelling of the short story; it's more of an homage to all of Poe's work. There is a "house of Usher", but it's not a mansion -- it's the crumbling two-story house with a basement where Roderick and Madeline Usher grew up. In this version, the siblings are twins; their single mother was impregnated by her boss, an utter asshole who lives in a real mansion down the street and who never claims the kids as his own. Dad owns a company called Fortunato Pharmaceuticals. Eventually -- the turn of events is laid out in detail in the series -- their sperm donor dies and they gain control of the company. Then they proceed to manufacture an opiod painkiller that supposedly isn't addictive -- except, of course, it is, and lots of patients die. When the company -- and the Ushers -- are finally put on trial for their part in those deaths, they also start dying, and Roderick's six offspring are the first to go. Each one dies in a different way -- all gruesome, all with a reference to one of Poe's stories, and all orchestrated by a mysterious woman named Verna. We don't find out who she is until the last of the eight episodes, and even then, her exact identity is shrouded in mystery. Suffice it to say that the Usher twins sold their souls to some kind of demon to gain their success, and the bill has now come due.

Apparently the director, Mike Flanagan, is well known for turning out creepy stuff. I'm not much of a fan of modern-day horror, either movies or TV shows (I realize that's a weird admission, coming from someone who has written horror in her time), and so I don't think I've seen anything else he's done. But I may have to check out some of his other work now, because I really liked this series. It's a little gorier than I prefer, but none of the gore seemed gratuitous. It all made sense, given the plot.

Judging by a couple of reviews I've read of this series, I guess Flanagan uses a stable of actors in his work. I only recognized two in this show: Mary McDonnell, from the Battlestar Galactica reboot, and Mark Hamill. And I can't say I actually recognized Hamill. His portrayal of Arthur Gordon Pym, Esq. -- aka the Pym Reaper, the Usher family's lawyer -- was astonishing. If I hadn't known, going in, that it was him, I wouldn't have known who it was. That's how far from Luke Skywalker this character is.

Anyway, regardless of whether you're a fan of Poe, if you like creepy stuff, I highly recommend that you check out The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix. And if you are a fan of Poe, have fun noting all the names and situations that have been borrowed from Poe's work. Either way, you won't be disappointed.


These moments of creepy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! Blessed Samhain and happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The ruana saga.

Lynne Cantwell 2023

Time for a less controversial/uncomfortable post. I can now relate the entirety of the saga of the ruana.

A ruana is similar to a poncho. But while a poncho has a hole for your head, a ruana is basically two long rectangles that are sewn together along the long edges about halfway. You drape the unsewn-together ends over your shoulders and hang the sewn-together part down your back. There are other ways to wear one, I guess, but the point is that their construction is stupid easy: make two long rectangles and sew two long ends together halfway up.

So of course I had to make it complicated. I found a weaving draft in a pattern book for a couple of interesting twill patterns. Never mind the little boxes that look kind of like guitar chords; the crucial point here is that with this threading of a four-shaft loom, you can do either the chevrons or the diamonds. 

From The Handweaver's Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon.
I desperately wanted to do the diamond pattern because it looked so cool. The treadling was a lot more complicated -- 16 steps in the repeat instead of four -- but I had plenty of time to get it right. So I found a pattern online that gave me the dimensions for each rectangle (I did not do her double weaving) and warped the loom for the first one. 
This is actually the warping for the second rectangle. I can tell because of the wall color behind the loom. 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
That was Memorial Day weekend. I was in no rush -- I didn't need the ruana 'til mid October for Spirits of New Mexico at El Rancho de las Golondrinas. This annual event is a lot of fun -- it's at night, with the placita rooms lit by candles and fires in the fireplaces, and we volunteers wear ghostly face paint and pretend to be the ghosts of local folks long dead. Last year, I wasn't dressed warmly enough and nearly froze. So I knew I had a hard stop on October 21st to get this done. Five months! Plenty of time!

In June, I spent my free time creating my tote bag for the ranch. I still had plenty of time for the ruana, though -- almost four months!

In the first week of July, my upstairs neighbor's plumbing sprang a leak, and all of the water ran down into my apartment. The worst hit was my office/craft room. The loom itself wasn't damaged, nor was the warp on the loom (phew!), but the mitigation took more than a month, during which time the room was all torn up and the loom was under a plastic tarp. (Part of the mitigation was to repaint both the craft room and my bedroom. I blogged about the new and old wall colors -- you can see them here.)

It was now very late in August, and I had just about two months to go. So I started weaving the diamond pattern -- and I kept getting lost in the treadling, which messed up the design. I asked Mokosh (the Slavic goddess of weaving and spinning, among other things) for advice, and immediately understood that I needed to give up on the diamonds and do the chevrons, or I'd never get the thing done. I resisted for another couple of weeks, which was dumb -- when a goddess gives you advice, you really ought to take it -- but I finally admitted defeat and switched to the chevrons, which had a much less complicated treadling. And it worked. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
I finished the ruana with about a week to spare, and I was able to wear it last night, as you can see in my selfie up top. Although I kind of didn't need it. It only dropped to about 60 degrees by the end of the evening -- which figures, right? But it's done, and I can wear it for this event from now on.

Next up on the loom will be a runner for the bathroom. Luckily, I have no deadline for that project.


These moments of bloggy snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Welp, here we are again.

 There's a new war in the Middle East -- same as the old war.

lightsource | Deposit Photos
I wouldn't even be writing this post, except that I told a couple of people I would. See, I have no dog in this hunt. I'm not Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. The sources of my DNA go no further south in Europe than Czechia (other than the 1% or so that's African, but it's from the western side of the continent).

To clarify: I have no dog in this hunt except that I am a Person, as is each of the Persons, willingly or unwillingly, in this conflict. And as recently discussed here, I am an animist. I believe every Person deserves respect. 

So on that basis, I'm wading in. With the emphasis on wading.


In case you've been living under a rock for the past week and change, this live update story will bring you up to speed. But basically: a week ago yesterday, Hamas, a Palestinian group that the US State Department has labeled a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack on Israel. More than a thousand Israelis were killed, and a number of people were taken hostage. There have been reports -- some now debunked -- of atrocities committed by the Palestinians against Israeli civilians.

In retaliation, the Israeli government, led by hard-line President Benjamin Netanyahu, has attacked Gaza -- where Palestinians have been living under Israeli rule for decades -- basically bombing it into oblivion. Israeli officials have warned those living in Gaza to get out, because they intend to launch a ground war to hunt down and destroy Hamas, once and for all. More than a million people live in the area, and they have had nowhere to go; Egypt now says it will allow Palestinians to cross into their country, starting tomorrow morning.


I spent some time, yesterday and today, acquainting myself with some of the history between these two peoples, and I still have only a cursory grasp of it. Here's the outline, though: this region is part of the Levant, which has passed back and forth from one ruler to another since ancient times. (For a while, of course, it was part of the Roman Empire.) About a hundred years ago, give or take, Britain took control of the region -- then called Palestine -- from the Ottoman Empire. In 1917, the British came up with the idea that there should be a "national home for the Jewish people" there. Please note that nobody asked the Palestinians what they thought of the idea.

This rejiggering of countries to suit colonial powers seems to be a theme throughout the first half of the 20th century. For example: At the end of World War I, the Habsburg Empire was carved up into various new countries. One of them was Czechoslovakia, a union of the Czech lands and Slovakia -- but it wasn't long after that when the Allies lopped off the Sudentenland and gave it to Germany in exchange for a promise from Hitler that he wouldn't invade Czechoslovakia. (Spoiler: It didn't work.) Another was the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, aka Yugoslavia. And of course Russia sucked up several nations, including Ukraine, when it became the USSR in 1922.

As I understand it, virtually all of this was done on paper by the winners of war, without taking into account the relationships among the various ethnicities in these new countries, or even, really, the way the people who lived there felt. 

And so it was with Palestine. Britain's declaration caused a lot of tension and not a few battles between Arab states and the British, but in 1947, the United Nations stepped in and set up these boundaries:

From Wikipedia
The idea was that the Jews would have their territories, the Palestinians would have theirs, and Jerusalem -- sacred to both Jews and Muslims -- would be a UN protectorate. 

That didn't solve anything. There was continued fighting between Jews and Arabs, with the occasional attempt at a diplomatic solution that never held. You can read all about that here. The bottom line is that over the years, more and more of what used to be Palestine has been handed over to Israel, to the point where Palestinians today live in just two areas within Israel, the West Bank of the Jordan River and Gaza, and Israel controls everything, from access to food and water to the number of work permits issued to Palestinians so they can have jobs in Israel.

Getting back to all that nation-building in the early 1900s, you may have noticed that virtually all of those cobbled-together nations in Europe have since split up. Czechoslovakia split into Czechia and Slovakia in the Velvet Divorce of 1992. Yugoslavia began to fall apart in 1980, when strongman leader Tito died, and officially split up in 1991, although it took many more years for all the new borders to shake out. The USSR also imploded in 1991 -- but of course Putin has been trying to get the band back together for a while now, as witnessed by Russia's incursions into Ukraine, starting with the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

And yet, the Israel/Palestinian mashup has endured. Until now, maybe.


To be clear, I'm not taking sides. I believe the reports that the Hamas attack was especially brutal -- but the Israeli government's scorched-earth response is brutal, too. I think the Hamas attack, whatever their rationale for it, played into Netanyahu's hands; for decades, he has wanted the Palestinians gone, and now he has a perfect excuse.

If I had my druthers, the Israelis and the Palestinians would both have their own countries. But nothing's ever that simple.

If I'm on anybody's side, it's the side of the people -- both Palestinian and Israeli -- who are suffering as a result of this war. Yes, the Palestinians elected Hamas to run Gaza, and the Israelis elected Netanyahu (again). But people make mistakes. We elected Trump, right?


There's a lot more I could say. I could talk about the reasons that the US supports Israel, both political and diplomatic. I could talk about the role of religion and whether it's more important as a cause of the strife than simple land grabbiness (TL;DR: I used to think it was all about religion, but I don't anymore). But this post is already super long, and I'd like to watch more of The Fall of the House of Usher tonight. So I will close with this: I really, really, really hope nobody decides this would be a good time to attack either Jews or Muslims anywhere else in the world. 

And please, you guys, take any report of any atrocities as rumor until independently confirmed. Think about the source of what you're hearing and what that source stands to gain from ginning up anger and fear, and then decide whether to believe it.


These moments of Mideast historical blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe, everybody.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

A reading list for cooler days.


Lynne Cantwell 2023
With the weather turning cooler here in New Mexico, my thoughts are beginning to turn toward hunkering down before a fire with a glass of something warming and a good book. And since I've been blogging quite a bit lately about things like anthromorphism and animism and how Native Americans' concept of history and religion is different from Europeans' -- not to mention this idea that there's more than one god -- I thought it might be helpful to give y'all a short reading list. Just in case you're stuck for something to do, one winter night, and decide to find out why this crazy woman keeps saying the stuff she does.

But seriously, each of these books has stuck with me over the years. As I often recommend them to others, I figured I might as well put them all in one place on the blog. So here you go: some of the books that have shaped my current thinking. I'm not posting links because y'all know how to search Amazon and/or inquire at your local library.

Animism: Respecting the Living World, by Graham Harvey. Harvey has studied the way Native peoples throughout the world relate to beings that most Westerners think are devoid of life. I quoted from this book on my post about sentient balls of moss back in 2020.

The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind, and the Self in Nature, by Emma Restall Orr. I also mentioned this book in that blog post about glacial mice. Orr is a Druid and a philosopher; the text is denser than Harvey's, but her ideas about animism are intriguing, particularly when she talks about how trees must communicate, although clearly they have a different language than humans do. 

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard. Speaking of trees communicating, Simard has discovered how they do it: via a network of fungi in the soil. She started on this journey of discovery when she began to wonder why seedlings planted to replace clear-cut forests often don't make it. The answer: old trees supply nutrients and other types of support to young and ailing trees, and when the old trees are gone, that support -- that wisdom -- is gone, too.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Kimmerer is a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She writes beautifully, arguing that scientific knowledge could -- and should -- be enriched by indigenous wisdom. 

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. These two authors put paid to a whole host of ideas about human progress that were basically invented by Western Europeans to convince themselves that they -- we -- represent the pinnacle of civilization. For one thing, that timeline about how humans progressed in a straight line from hunter-gatherers to farmers? It's bogus. Totally made up. It's as true as the idea that "savage Indians" couldn't have been smart enough or advanced enough to build cities like Cahokia or Teotihuacan, or massive earthwords like those in Ohio, so they must have been constructed by aliens, or maybe one of the lost tribes of Israel.

The Mound Builders, by Robert Silverberg. Those Hopewell culture structures have recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which puts them on par for cultural importance with Stonehenge, the Acropolis, and the Great Wall of China. (This pleases me inordinately, as my Transcendence series features some scenes at the Newark Great Circle Earthworks.) Silverberg usually writes sci-fi, but this book is nonfiction. It doesn't get into the archaeoastronomy that's built into the mounds; instead, the author writes about how European settlers "discovered" them and how Western science finally got around to investigating who built them and why. 

God is Red: A Native View of Religion, by Vine Deloria, Jr. I read this book years ago. It's billed as the seminal work on Native American religious views and their relation to Christianity. I think it was the first time that I was introduced to the idea that Christianity, as a source of the belief in human exceptionalism, is responsible for so many of our culture's ills, including genocide and environmental damage. Deloria wrote the book in the early '70s. With climate change whacking us upside the head, it might be time for a re-read.

A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism, by John Michael Greer. If you're wondering why polytheism makes sense to educated people like me, read this book. It delves into the philosophical underpinnings of the belief system and demonstrates why polytheism is as rational a way of seeing the world as is monotheism -- or atheism, for that matter. I've heard that Greer has unfortunately turned Trumpy in recent years, but this book was first published long before, in 2005, and remains an excellent introduction to polytheistic thought.

So there you go -- eight books to get you through the winter. Enjoy. And if you read any of them, let me know what you think.


These moments of bloggy reading recommendations have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Celebrating anthropomorphism.

The things you get to talking about with friends on Facebook. Or maybe it's just me.

This week, somehow I ended up in a several-days-long Facebook chat with friends from Kevin's Watch about religion -- which to be honest, isn't that unusual with this crowd -- but then I steered the discussion into animism. 

Niceldeas | Deposit Photos
I was primed for it: I'm taking an online class right now on Pagan metaphysics, and one of the modules is on animism. Here's what we've been taught: Animism starts with the idea that whatever it is that animates humans also animates everything else -- our pets, of course, and other animals, but also plants, rocks, rivers, mountains, our earth, other planets -- everything. But it goes further than that. It suggests that all these things aren't just alive; they are also persons -- persons with whom we can form a relationship.

I discovered some time ago that I'm an animist, partly through my Pagan studies, but also by delving into so many Native American myths. Many tribes have a different attitude from that of Western civilization when it comes to the land. We have historically seen the earth and its resources as Jehovah's gift to us, to use for our benefit -- even to exploit. By contrast, Native Americans generally see the Earth as our mother, and the animals and plants that live here with us as people in their own right, whose qualities are wisdom that we could do well to emulate. These Natives believe we are here not to exploit Earth and her resources but to be good stewards of them. Which is one of the attitudes that made Europeans think, when they first got here, that the Native Americans they met were uneducated and naive -- in other words, ripe for exploitation. (I hope I've gotten some of this across in my novels.)

Getting back to the conversation this week: It then took a turn into a discussion of how we're not supposed to anthropomorphize things. Say you hear one of your cats using the litter box, and then notice that one of your other cats is also paying attention -- and is actually lying in wait to pounce on the poor boy when he gets out of the box. He does, and she does, and he freaks out and dashes down the basement stairs, and she saunters away, her practical joke played. Oh, all right -- it was Pumpkin in the litter box and Squeaker who was the jokester. And the whole thing was hilarious. 

But when I recounted this some years ago, I was admonished by someone for anthropomorphizing Squeaker's behavior. I thought the concept was ridiculous at the time, and I still think so. But this week, in remembering this series of events, I came to a realization: Humans, in our hubris, have it backwards. It's not that we attribute human emotions to animals -- it's that every living thing has the same emotions. We know when our pets are happy to see us and when they're jealous of the attention another pet is getting. We know when a wild animal is angry or afraid. We are learning that trees take care of one another, feeding resources through a mycorrhizal network underground to an ailing neighbor tree. We recognize these emotions because we have them, too.

But we can't admit that to ourselves. If we did, it would make humans, Jehovah's chosen ones, equal to every other species on the planet, including the rivers and trees and mountains and the planet herself.

As an animist, I believe we are all equal. We are all persons. And every person deserves respect.

So I've decided that anthropomorphism isn't an actual thing. It's certainly not anything we should avoid doing. In fact, I think we should do it more often. Let's celebrate our similarities so that we're less likely to treat the Earth, and every person on her, as "less than human".


These moments of bloggy equality have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!