Wednesday, April 29, 2009

why do you want to sit alone in gothic gloom

Anyone remember Cup of Brown Joy? (As if I need to ask.) Well, Elemental wandered in to the post I did last year on the song and the rapper/producer who made it.

According to him, you can now get the album, Rebel Without Applause on Tea Sea Records--which includes "Cup of Brown Joy"--and that page is just fun to wander anyway--there are more artists on the label, and lots of samples, and apparently even a recipe section! Whee!

He says the rest of the album is not very "steampunky" at all, but he's very happy with it, and he hopes we will be, too.

You can also listen in on Elemental's MySpace page for more up-to-date information. And if anyone happens through Brighton, drop him an email--he runs a quirky little Victoriana show there called "Come Into My Parlor". Damn, that nearly sounds fun enough to visit Brighton! (Considering your humble correspondent is in the US, that is rather a long trip.)

After the last post, I am feeling the definite need to get away from the adult content topic. Not because I don't want to cover it, not because some part of me still feels I am somehow invested, but because after today, two things have become inescapably clear. First, that the line between avatar and typist is not so much eroding, as buckling completely and falling aside; and second, now that I'm finally at the place where I face my own prejudices on sexuality and (what is generally considered to be) perversion, I'm having to confront a lot of other issues.

None of which, frankly, I really want to talk about to casual blog-wanderers.

But I did want to make one thing very clear. It's not that I've seen a lot of backlash from this, but reading through the last post, I thought I should state some things formally.

First--I am foursquare against violence to women. Rape is not a good thing. Sexual or physical assault is not a good thing. Torture and murder? Not good things, and I'm not in support of any of them.

There are two things that stop this from being a womens' issue (for me) in SL: first, you can take no action in SL without consent--and while, yes, there are ways to 'force' the issue (spamming some new lass with port requests followed by handing over an item with instructions to put it on is one that still, on occasion, works; there's also, somewhere out there, rumors of a 'date rape' virtual drug that blocks out the visual input from the client, leaving only sounds), by and large, at some point the question will be asked, and it's our responsibility to say yes or no.

The second point is, in my opinion, even more vital: the grid is virtual. There are people doing things in SL they would never do in the real, for an insane variety of reasons. Some just treat it as harmless fun. Some have deeper issues, and are either reacting to those, or actively working on those, again for a variety of reasons.

Whether or not extreme sexual content and violence should be seen in video games or virtual worlds has been endlessly debated--not only this past month, but for the past ten years. There are no clear, solid answers. And whether or not places like Stepford should exist in SL, well, that's not a question for us, that's a question for the Lindens. No one, not even me, is asking everyone to support them; I'm just making the point that fantasy, even dark, disturbing fantasy, is one thing; actually doing things in reality is an entirely different thing.

And doing something we've fantasized about--be that the ability to garden outdoors, clear down to, well, Stepford--that's not a bad thing.

As long as you're not doing things that would harm you on the other side of the screen. (Which yeah, for me, includes being outdoors on a sunny day.)

Amanda Linden also has a Twitter feed where she's listing off business innovations in SL--it may be a good working guideline for what the Lindens at large are thinking, and why.

In the meantime, I want to talk about the paranormal movement in Victorian times, Madame Blatavsky, and intolerance in Caledon.

Spiritualism was huge at the time, one of the few things that transcended cultural and economic barriers. Just about everyone, including those who had the benefit of higher education, believed in some aspect of it, and most of them were willing to defend spiritualism in scientific terms--even if, on occasion, those terms fell short. One of the oddities of the movement, in fact, was that--rather in reverse of other cultural movements--it rose from lower levels to higher; the more educated and cultured the social class was, the more intensely they believed--and defended!--spiritualism.

In another interesting twist, spiritualism arrived in Victorian England after beginning in America, at the behest of well-known mediums who hit the scene in 1848, Margaret and Kate Fox. Later joined by their older sister Leah as manager, they hit stage after stage from New York to London, performing the calling of the beloved dead, and perfecting the art of "table rapping", wherein all hands are visible on the table, yet it 'knocks' with unearthly sound.

Whether or not the Fox sisters were "real" mediums is still under debate--there's evidence for both sides of the argument. But whatever history would or would not prove them to be, what they represented was seemingly "scientific" evidence of life beyond this one. And spiritualism was off.

The core of spiritualism was the belief that the dead could communicate through mediums, seers into both realms trained, or simply born, to communicate with the departed. These individuals would go into "trance" states, and could then answer and ask questions given to them. There were many different ways to do this: the most common ones involved levitating household objects, eerie music and lights, distant echoing voices, and even full-on apparitions, occasionally comprised of a substance that became known as "ectoplasm".


Past this point, "spirit boards" were invented, automatic writing made an appearance, and on occasion things got much more dramatic as spiritualism waxed and waned (the rise of Apostolic Christianity paired spiritualism with religion, for one, and the Civil War in America brought hundreds of adherents to the cause), but at the time it began, from 1848, until just after the turn of the century, spiritualism was a strong driving force in two countries at least.

For some, it was a pleasant pastime--draw the curtains, light the lamp, invite your favorite medium over for tea and table-tapping. For others, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, it was serious business (if for different reasons).

"Theosophy is the name Blavatsky gave to that portion of knowledge that she brought from the masters to the world. It comes from the term 'Theosophia' used by the Neoplatonists to mean literally 'knowledge of the divine'."

William Butler Yeats was one of many who met the famed "Madame" Blatavsky and joined her Theosophist movement, which persists to this day as, literally, theological philosophy--integrating Hindu and Jewish mystical beliefs, Greek myths and philosophies, Egyptian and Gnostic Christian ritual and magic, and the early scientific principles of death and dying. Theosophists believed then--and believe to this day--that all world religion can be understood in a larger framework; similar to Stephen King's mention of the 'communal myth-pool' in Danse Macabre: that all religion draws from the same group of themes, same cast of characters, same archetypal imagery--simply refitted to adapt to the culture of the believers.

"Madame Helena Blatavsky, who founded Theosophy in 1875, viewed the Gnostics as the precursors of modern occult movements and hailed them for preserving an inner teaching lost to Christian orthodoxy."

Carl Jung was a follower; his twelve archetypes, though developed utilizing his own perceptions, were influenced by Blatavsky's work on collective religious mythology. The entire "New Age" movement--as flaky as it gets at times--was started by a revival of Theosophic beliefs. It's still somewhat hazy--for me, at least--whether Freemasonry influenced Theosophy, or whether Freemasons embraced the writings of Madame Blatavsky, but they are definitely linked. And, intermingled in sometimes unusual ways, the Rosicrucians--with their emphasis on personal understanding and Egyptian history--play into it, again either as another information source Blatavsky drew upon, or as a spiritual movement influenced by Theosophy.

But it all started in a humble little part of Manhattan, in the waning years of the spiritualist movement, that "Madame" Helena Petrovna Blatavsky used to set up shop. Born in 1831, dying in 1891, she didn't do that much that was different from the standard round of mediums at the time--the table-tapping, the luminous ghostly presences in the background, the eerie music playing where no source of music was seen. And she had her share of detractors, more than most--and there are those to this day that said she was the consummate example of the "fake seer".

However, little of that matters, in terms of what she wrote. What Blatavsky ended up doing, and quite well, indeed--was provide a conversational framework, that so many follow to this day--a way to comprehend core beliefs of any faith, and identify their roots--all the way back to Babylon and Egypt.

This is quite the fun article on Freemasons, if you're interested. And go through the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary, if you want; it's eye-opening and very nearly exhaustive.

All right, so--what does this have to do with intolerance in Caledon?

This is the tricky bit. You see, Caledon is a wildly diverse place. We have Duchesses and Dukes, Baronesses and builders. We have egalitarian treatment of both genders. We have the Bashful Peacock, Caledon's premier--and mayhap only--club for gentlemen and ladies who prefer the company of gentlemen and ladies.

(For anyone outside Caledon reading this? That does mean what you think it means.)

And we have religions. Oh, my, do we have religions. We have Walpurgisnacht (for the Wulfenbachians) and May Eve (for Caledon nature worshippers) both coming up tonight, and on any given Sunday you can find Miss Elspeth Woolley and other devoted souls in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Magellan Kinvara. There's an even wider diversity of belief amongst actual residents, from the serious all the way down to Miss Poindexter's Church of Rosedale.

Up until recently, I held out hope that--while scuffles have broken out in the past--we were, more or less, able to deal with the major issues, and keep moving forward as a nation.

I may no longer agree with this.

I've recently found out that Mr. Jayleden Miles, one of the founders of the Caledon Paranormal Society, and also the H.P. Blavatsky Memorial Branch of the Caledon Library (it opens May 1st, in Caledon Wellsian), has been called a Satanist for his efforts in celebrating this period of American and English history, and, while Theosophists and spiritualists both were called that--and worse--during the heyday of the movement, I like to think--in Caledon, at least--we're bigger than that.

Yes, yes, I know I'm wrong, I know many of us are petty vindictive people, but come on, it's a library!

Which means, if that doesn't say anything, that it's backed by Sir JJ Drinkwater. NO Caledon Library branch is built in a vacuum.

Which also means, if that still doesn't tell you anything, that it's backed by Desmond Shang.

You want to take on JJ in high dunder or Des even mildly irked? I sure don't, and I make life difficult for Des like it's my hobby.

So knock it off! Jayleden is no more a Satanist than I'm Darien Mason. GET OVER IT.


Anonymous said...

Heh. I just sent a tweet that would be SO much funnier if you were on twitter to see it.

One of the things that has been nibbling at the back of my mind through this whole violence conversation is related to your observation that SL is all virtual, and therefore no one can be physically harmed. (Which is exactly true, and also just as beside the point as the fact that violence in movies is also imaginary. But I digress.)

My peculiar thought is about how psychological violence is very possible in SL, and may even be rampant. But no one, least of all the Lindens, ever mentions it. Your post comes the closest to doing so that I have seen yet.

Emilly Orr said...

You're so not helping with the slow pressure to join Twitter. :p

I do think psychological violence is very possible, and I think on that level, there are portions of SL that are very dangerous--because we are what we see, we're wired to believe that if we can walk around, look around, perceive things near and far, that we are in reality.

When these things happen in a virtual world, we're not so far removed, in terms of evolution, that we don't still think in those terms. So, on some level, SL is reading as real, to us, it's how we're wired.

And you know, if that was how the Lindens were handling things, I might never have objected--because telling us that some things, one really should be an adult to walk into? That makes sense. Just like you don't want to walk into the haunted house with the three-year-old trailing after you, or carry your baby into the horror movie.

Is there a way around this? Well, don't go to the dangerous places, though people will always be curious. But that's a much larger ethical question--because the number of people who are playing in psychologically damaging ways are growing, and, while some genuinely are understanding why they're there, and what they're doing--in many, many cases it's reactive, and largely unconscious.

I don't think it's the job of SL to make things psychologically "healthier", per se--but by the same extension, if this was how they approached it, instead of blanket statements against dancers and silk designers--I think they'd have gotten far less controversy out of the deal.

Christine McAllister Pearse said...

WHAT?!?!?!! YOU are Darien Mason?!?!?! I never would have seen that coming!!! ;-)

In all seriousness now, I just wanted to say that I really wish I'd have known about that shop in Brighton, I was there last year when I was in the UK. *sighs and adds it to her list for next time*

Emilly Orr said...


Show, not shop, but as I said--drop him a line; he's more than willing to entertain visitors.

Darien Mason said...

Hello. I'm Darien Mason, and I approve this message.

*dramatic pause*

...OR AM I?!?

Emilly Orr said...

Pffft. Please. Next you'll tell me the Clockwinder and the Baron are the same person. :p

Aaron said...

Well I am a Mason and would opine that Madame Blatavsky was interested in and read numerous sources that many Masons had been interested in and read. She was also interested in Freemasonry and widely read about it.

Her friend and in some ways successor Annie Besant was initiated a Mason in Le Droit Humain and founded a number of Co-Masonic lodges.

I don't know that Blavatsky "took" anything specifically from Freemasonry, but read much of the same stuff as Masons who were interested in the esoteric side of Freemasonry. Freemasonry is largely a collection of traditions and philosophy from a number of sources (mostly Judeo-Christian, but numerous others as well)blended into a rather unique system of its own.

She shared an openness to all religious wisdom that Freemasonry tends to encourage.

Just my opinion and I could well be wrong.

As for the "quite the fun article on Freemasons", harummph. He even tells lies about his lies.

Rhianon Jameson said...

What people will get their bloomers in a wad about never fails to amaze me. I'm saddened to hear that the Church of Rosedale isn't to be taken entirely seriously, however.

As an aside on spiritualism, I just found (and read) a very brief 2005 novel by Connie Willis, entitled Inside Job involving the debunking of fake mediums and H.L. Mencken. Quite entertaining, and can be finished in an evening. (And no, I am not a Satanist, nor am I Darien Mason. You know, just for the record.)

Frau A. S. Lowey said...


Miss Em, you never cease to make me think, but that last shot made my brain try to hide in my thoracic cavity... ow.

Considering what some members of the Europan emigre contingent have been called of late, I am not surprised at the attack on Mr Miles; saddened and angered, but not surprised.

Emilly Orr said...


Though I am not affiliated with the Freemasons, my uncle was one in good standing. Regardless of what anyone says, what the local Masons did after he died I can't count anything but good.

Three men came to the house after calling my aunt; they wished a private commemoration. We did as they requested, dressed a table as they instructed, and sat quietly through their ceremony for the departed. Then one came forward with a gold pin. You being a Mason, you'll know the symbol that was on it.

They told my aunt, please, wear this when you travel. If you are in any difficulty, and there is a Mason nearby, they will come to your aid. She thanked them, and they quietly left.

A year later, she planned out a road trip from Washington to Arizona. As an afterthought, she tossed the pin in her purse, and, when her car broke down on the highway, she walked back the half mile to a small diner. As she tossed the keys to the car in her purse, her fingers grazed the pin, and she shrugged, and put it on.

Rather than call anyone immediately--it was evening, not night, and she had time--she ate dinner in the diner to settle her before she called a tow truck. As she had a last cup of coffee, and was getting out her wallet to pay, a man came to the table.

"I noticed your pin," he said. "How can I help?"

Over the next two hours she had a lesson in how seriously the Masons take the protecting of widows. He called a tow truck, drove her to the garage, and when the mechanic said he didn't have the part her car needed, but he could get it in the morning, he brought her to a motel for the night. Free of charge; he paid for everything (including the alternator, and dinner).

As far as the article, I didn't say it was accurate--I said it was fun. But let this tale ease your heart. It's true.

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Jameson: Oh, I'm sure Miss Poindexter takes it quite seriously. And she has more than a few devotees to the cause.

Frau Lowey: Oh, what now? Obviously I have missed drama.

Anonymous said...

I am saddened to hear of the intolerance directed toward Mr. Miles. The most trouble my own church ever had was at one of our first services, when somebody very politely excused herself upon realizing that our services were devoted to Philip Linden, and not a more conventional deity. (I consider that to have been entirely my fault; ever since then, I have taken pains to specify the object of worship whenever there is the slightest chance of ambguity.)

While I've had a fair amount of curiosity directed my way, not to mention much friendly debating over whether there is a Phil (if you can credit such a thing), nobody has ever taken issue with our right to worship, called us idolaters, or complained that we were making a mockery of religion in any way. All of which might easily have happened elsewhere.

I do hope that at least none of the present nonsense has come from members of the clergy?

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Poindexter: You know, that I don't know? I should ask...