As an occult practice, it may have been discouraged at least, but to say "non-Christian" makes it sound like one arbitrary practice extirpating another.
Rather, the Christian view (and certainly the Catholic view) is one opposed to superstition and the occult on the grounds that superstitions are irrational and immoral and thus opposed to the good of those who engage in them.
It is one thing for there to exist varying customs that are more-or-less arbitrary w.r.t. the signifier (greetings, for example), but the signified is no longer arbitrary.
In any case, the conquerors of New Spain did not encourage the Nahuas to reform their indigenous religion on a rational basis free of superstition. They did not train up an Aquinas for Tezcatlipoca. They suppressed the religion of their conquered subjects in favor of their own, a tale as old as written history.
As a Catholic, even I recognize that essentially the entirety of Catholic practice is superstition from the perspective of anyone who doesn't either take Catholicism as a priori true on authority or (arguably equivalently) have a personal divine experience justifying Catholicism experientially.
If one is not Catholic to start with, it as easy to dismiss Catholic practice on the same argument as presented above against superstition as it is for Catholics to do so for non-Catholic superstitions.
While the foundational tenets of Catholicism are supernatural but the system that sprouts from it is highly rational, descriptive and formal. It's a religion of Roman lawyers and it shows.
As a result I have a hard time seeing anybody dismissing Catholicism as superstitious, even if they a priori dismiss the existence of God, unless they have no actual knowledge of it (which, you know, ends up being most people who feel to need to utter an opinion on the subject).
Catholicism teaches that the laying of hands can endow a person (of male biological sex) with the power to transform bread and wine into flesh and blood through the ritual utterance of certain words.
It's going to be hard sell to explain how that's not superstitious...
I guess I see what you mean by a religion of Roman lawyers...
To the Aztecs, presumably, there was nothing superstitious about using obsidian mirrors as a shield against evil sprits, either.
Also, the belief that praying to someone who was executed two millennia ago would bring you eternal life in Heaven is as superstitious as you can get.
According to doctrine, it's more than symbolic: Catholicism teaches that bread and wine 'really' turn into flesh and blood, while only 'superficially' maintaining the appearance of bread and wine (cf Aristotle's substance theory and the difference between essential and accidental properties). So under a certain point of view, the Eucharist could indeed be considered cannibalism - however, the body of Christ is divine and cannot be digested...
Yes, with the minor complication that a substantial number of Catholics don't actually understand how it's supposed to work (spiritually speaking) and would be absolutely dumbfounded at the basic concept of transubstantiation.
Yes, because that's exactly what it was. If anything they could stand to emphasise the hypocrisy a bit more, though I don't think that was particularly relevant to their actual point.
To 21st-century eyes, [court astrologer John] Dee's activities straddle magic and modern science, but the distinction would have meant nothing to him. He was invited to lecture on Euclidean geometry at the University of Paris while still in his early twenties. He was an ardent promoter of mathematics, a respected astronomer and a leading expert in navigation, who trained many who would conduct England's voyages of discovery.
Meanwhile, he immersed himself in sorcery, astrology and Hermetic philosophy. Much effort in his last 30 years went into trying to commune with angels, so as to learn the universal language of creation and achieve a pre-apocalyptic unity of mankind.
Unfortunately, the book has this to say about the mirror:
The large obsidian mirror that is often associated with Dee, an Aztec cult artifact dedicated to Tezcatlipoca brought back from the New World after the conquest of Mexico by Cortés, which has long been on display at the British Museum,54 may not have been used at all, nor has it been conclusively shown that the mirror even belonged to Dee. If the black mirror was Dee’s, it may have come into his possession at Louvain or through a Spanish courtier.55 Of the other objects in the British Museum attributed to Dee’s use, it is likely that only the three wax seals actually belonged to him; the crystal ball and gold engraving of the “Vision of the Four Castles” are probably later acquisitions by collectors from other magicians or antiquarians who reproduced them from Casaubon’s printing of A True & Faithful Relation.56
I feel the real interesting point is that he was interested in the unknown, and back in those days they didn't have the modern distinctions between what we now consider as natural and supernatural.
Seems that if you want to make progress in human knowledge, you assume the risk of doing things that appear frivolous or just stupid in hindsight.
“English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton produced works exploring chronology, and biblical interpretation (especially of the Apocalypse), and alchemy. Some of this could be considered occult. Also, Newton described himself as a ‘natural philosopher’, and his work is grounded in Aristotelian metaphysics. Newton’s scientific work may have been of lesser personal importance to him, as he placed emphasis on rediscovering the wisdom of the ancients. In this sense, some historians, including economist John Maynard Keynes, believe that any reference to a ‘Newtonian Worldview’ as being purely mechanical in nature is somewhat inaccurate.”
: Lytton Strachey: A Critical Biography, Holroyd 1967
Lol! I had to look this up, and indeed it’s true: http://www.danbaines.com/blog/tag/New+Motive+Power
> Nice quote, and a very concise diagnosis of what ails much of science: lots of data jockeys, few true scientists. The output of scientific endeavor is not simply truth, but true theories. Or, more accurately, theories which accurately predict (i.e. are not falsified by) the broadest set of relevant observations. The real tragedy is that genuine theoretical advances are often ignored or overlooked because everyone is too busy collecting more data to notice.
A bit too much focus on the known or what can be known is (probably) playing it too safe to make the big gains.
Sorcery and astrology are certainly frowned upon: ‘The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord has not permitted you to do so.’ Deuteronomy 18:9-14.
The OT, as I further understand, contains a number of different prohibitions of very specific magical practices in the source language, most of which are highly genericized in most English translations.
(There's also a specific enumeration of the parts of the Jewish law that remain in force for Christians in Acts 15, and most of the probibitions under discussion here don't fall within its scope.)
Edit, to add: I initially cited to the King James-translation as that has historically been the most promulgated version of the gospels.
And there's a lot of magic in the apocrypha (which, despite having been removed from canon, does reflect the diversity in Christian belief at the time) such as the angel who teaches astrology and spells to drive away demons in the Book of Tobit, or Solomon using a magic ring to control demons in the Testament of Solomon, or the wizard battle in the Acts of Peter.
I think we need to be careful in how we are using words like "astrology" and "spells", since it is easy to group many ideas under those umbrellas in a way that people living long ago wouldn't have.
For a start, I don't see any mention in Tobit chapter 6 of astrology, and the technique given for driving away a particular demon is "thou shalt take the ashes of perfume, and shalt lay upon them some of the heart and liver of the fish, and shalt make a smoke with it: And the devil shall smell it, and flee away, and never come again any more" followed by "and pray to God".
We wouldn't say that someone is casting a spell if they used cayenne pepper to keep cats away from their garden, and early readers of Tobit wouldn't have considered fish organs to be an unholy or forbidden substance. For a process to deserve the designation of a "spell", it would have to involve either a means or an ends that was forbidden by God.
I also read it as the witch being surprised when the spirit actually shows up...
In spirit, modern science is closer to the occult in the sense that mastery over nature is a major motivation for its pursuit.
But at this point, maybe incorrectly but surely, 'Roman Empire' is synonymous with antiquity so the republic and early empire, I think that even if year 495 counts here then it's borderline
Sometimes is it very good to see the perspective of others. Thank you.
We consider Adam, Noah ancient. But the Romans? Might as well have been last week.
Even Moses, who might have lived around the 13th century bc would have been 1000 years after Sargon of Akkad.
There is a lot of history to go around, so many peoples and civilisations that we know of, and so many that we do not.
Does it? I always felt Columbus was pretty young history and I associate Aztecs with him. Not sure how the time period where we had guns and ships good enough to cross the great seas can be seen as super old, great civilizations had already existed thousands of years at that point.
I agree with the core of your post, but it should be noted that the great seas had been crossed for thousands of years at this time by Polynesian navigators (over the Pacific, not Atlantic), and had also been previously crossed by Vikings a few hundred years before.
The Aztecs had no written language equivalent to what we’re using here, and instead used ideographs. They did, however, record history cartographically!
Either way, it's a terrible definition. As an archaeologist, I use "prehistoric" to describe really old fossilized crap. Anything newer is historic.
My understanding - which may be wrong - is that it's at the level of much older high civilization. And I think that makes them "feel" as old as those civilizations, because we know so little.
I'm not sure the Aztecs were that technologically behind. The main reason they and all the other New World peoples lost was their less robust immune system. Typically, 80-90% of the population died of European diseases as soon as - or often even before - the Europeans arrived.
This was 300 years before germ theory, so no one on either side knew what was happening.
It rather sounds super primitive and savage. With human sacrifices and stuff. And yes, that stone mirror was polished by slaves.
Oh, those columbus day inspired pages...
Yes, it's not impossible that it could have been produced in Europe, but it's far more likely that it was produced like the numerous other similar mirrors dated before contact and documented as produced by American artisans in early writings. This is all the more likely given the known supply chain for such objects, specialists in Aztec mirror production are specifically known to have used material from the two sources identified, and that Spaniards documented shipping such mirrors back to Europe as gifts.
> X-ray imaging of the stately Victorian artwork has revealed that Dee was originally surrounded by human skulls before the ghoulish image was painted over, probably because it was too odd for the buyer. But curators of an exhibition opening on Monday believe it sums up the conundrum of Dee: should we remember him as brilliant pioneering scientist, or as an occultist who thought he could talk to angels?
Can somebody explain why it is interesting that Dee had a polished piece of Mexican obsidian, probably plundered from some Spanish galleon some privateer raided? I guess it is interesting that modern lab analysis can identify the mine a piece came from, but it is not as if Dee ever actually got any inforation out of it. Do we even have any idea which privateer, or which galleon?
Henry IV Part 1
We might wonder if Shakespeare was needling John Dee, here.
Today the extreme specialization and sophistication of scientific silos means the excitement of "probing the universe" has become very remote. When looking around we assume (and it is generally true) that practically anything that happens fits in a neat scientific bucket that somebody is on top of.
Theres all kinds of interesting factoids about him. He started collecting books and at the time had what was probably one of the largest personal libraries in existence, and the list goes on.
The theory is that he played a significant role in the (literal) conspiracy to bring Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V of the Palatinate to become the new Queen and King of Bohemia, and rule Protestant Europe.
"The zeroes represented eyes, and the seven was thought to be a lucky number that offered protection"
In 1581, Dee mentioned in his personal journals that God had sent "good angels" to communicate directly with prophets. In 1582, Dee teamed up with the seer Edward Kelley, although Dee had used several other seers previously. With Kelley's help as a scryer, Dee set out to establish lasting contact with the angels.
Dee's Speculum or Mirror (an obsidian Aztec cult object in the shape of a hand-mirror, brought to Europe in the late 1520s), which was subsequently owned by Horace Walpole. This was first attributed to Dee by Walpole. Lord Frederick Campbell had brought "a round piece of shining black marble in a leathern case" to Walpole in an attempt to ascertain its provenance. Walpole said he responded saying, "Oh, Lord, I am the only man in England that can tell you! It is Dr. Dee's black stone". However, there is no explicit reference to the mirror in any of Dee's surviving writings.
Yates is a very serious scholar in a field that is often marked by not so rigorous "believer" types.
The book itself covers Dee in detail, as well as the general intellectual environment at a time when modern science was just starting to catch shape.
Oversimplified "pop" narratives of the enlightenment often taught in school tend to edit out all the wild-ass spooky shit. The reality is that the enlightenment was not a linear transition from medievalism to modernism but a period of extreme experimentation and "counterculture" similar in character to say 1920s Germany or 1960-1970s California.
I've come to believe that this is what periods of extreme creativity look like. They are not "pure" in any way. They're not linear movements toward something. They are chaotic soups of wild and often contradictory ideas merging and fracturing and fighting and being synthesized together.
In a learning sense we would say that they are not stuck at a local maximum; they are exploring state space. When new local maxima are found you get convergence there. That's when things get once again more stable, but less creative.
Here's a BBC documentary that goes into some of Isaac Newton's other interests:
More for others who love this history:
There is way more if you tug on this string.
Science is great, and I love science, but it paradoxically has a way of limiting our understanding. Things that the scientific method cannot be successfully applied to are immediately written off.
The rejection of anything not deemed scientific is a dogmatizing and close-minded approach to understanding the universe.
Or in more practical terms: I wouldn't bet on a spell or the advice of long dead ancestors.
Such a cool game.
I just made the connection between the title of the second game (Smoking mirror) and the plot when reading the article. I remember that I found the name of the game a bit odd. No wonder, when I did not realize that this is actually the name of the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca.
They’re both very good. He’s a very big Shakespeare buff.
In general, Elizabeth I is solid food for all kinds of folk legends, conspiracies, fantasy pastisches etc.
Employed John Dee, after all.
interesting to see the subtle apologizing narrative, as if there were conquests that weren’t disastrous (to those defeated).
Compare the impacts of the conquest of the Americas by Europeans and the conquest of Central Asia/Middle East by the Mongols vs the European conquest of Egypt. The conquest of Egypt, while colonialism, seems almost benign in comparison to the destruction brought about the former two examples.
The conquest of the Americas killed more than 90% of the population of the Americas. The conquest of Egypt mentioned before maybe killed 1% of the population. Are they the same thing or not?
In any regard, the last century has been the greatest disaster of conquests in terms of absolute numbers/victims/weapons used/etc.
When you know the full history of the Conquistadors and their relationship with the local population, things are not so clear.
For example, the Spanish:
- didn't teach locals to do mass ritual sacrifice and throw the bodies down the steps of the temples
- didn't tell one of the local kings to burn his empire's library to erase any history before his reign
- didn't force their "local allies" to march on the capitals of the empires.
Besides that, there are apparently written records and native lore from Mesoamerican cultures that them as mirrors.
I can't recall if it was some detective Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck or frankly Tintin.... and I'd love to re-read it, damn it!
I would say, no, it was by boat. But Smithsonian just giving up and mixing archeology and the occult may signal a defeat, where they were like, "the only way we're going to get young people into the field is if we address this stuff, because that's what they're interested in. Post that Queen's astrologer and Aztec magic portal thing, and let's A/B it."
It also contains some speculation about why it might be that European occultists considered this obsidian mirror an artifact of occult merit, and offers a perfectly natural (not supernatural) explanations for why that might be: it was exotic, European occultists had a history of liking mirrors, and these particular European occultists may have heard stories about these mirrors being related to Aztec occult practices.
I don't think the article did that. The article suggests the occult significance of obsidian mirrors to Aztecs is known through the relationship of those mirrors to the god Tezcatlipoca:
>The Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, or “Smoking Mirror,” is frequently depicted wearing mirrors that allow him to see humans’ thoughts and actions. As Campbell tells Live Science’s Mindy Weisberger, “[T]here’s quite a specific association with these types of mirrors and that particular deity.”
Of this god, wikipedia says:
> His name in the Nahuatl language is often translated as "Smoking Mirror" and alludes to his connection to obsidian, the material from which mirrors were made in Mesoamerica and which were used for shamanic rituals and prophecy. Another talisman related to Tezcatlipoca was a disc worn as a chest pectoral. This talisman was carved out of abalone shell and depicted on the chest of both Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca in codex illustrations.
Then suddenly, my brain started working properly again and I remembered the concept of A/B testing.
> [The Spanish] quickly began shipping treasures, including obsidian mirrors, back to Europe... Dee was interested in the Spanish Conquest and had probably heard stories about obsidian mirrors... Dee may have bought the mirror in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) in the 1580s...
Not seeing any suggestion of magic portals or ETs here. It is of historical interest that we've been able to verify the Mesoamerican origin of these mirrors, and the connection to an interesting figure like Dee makes a good headline. This isn't an earthshaking revelation, and I don't think it's being treated as such.