Wednesday, July 13, 2011

God vs. Ganesh

You know those old pre-Renaissance Christian paintings, with the flat faces cranked into an unnatural position, the way they posed you for your school photograph? And halos like dinner plates? Never cared much for them, but I care even less for Hindu art, which always strikes me as looking like it should have been painted on velvet and sold hanging from a cyclone fence at an intersection. I don't get too worked up about the sacredness of any of it. I figure any currently viable gods are unlikely to look like anything we'd come up with. "When my glory passeth by, I will cover thee with my hand while I pass by; and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts," the Lord said, and that's vivid enough for me.

That doesn't mean other people don't get all het up about the accuracy of these things. The folks in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho recently installed some public art works including a sculpture of Ganesh, the Hindu god, and the Kootenai County Constitution Party threw a fit about it. It was a false deity, a demon god, and had no place in a land reserved for Christians, which I am told Idaho surely the hell is.

God, the genuine article, is, as we all know, an old bearded white dude in a dress. Ganesh is an elephant-headed fellow with four arms, so there's really no mistaking the two. It seems like there are a lot of Hindu gods and goddesses, but as I understand it, they are all considered aspects of the one God, Brahman (pronounced "Al-lah"), as opposed to the pantheon of irritable wack jobs the ancient Greeks had to contend with. For instance, Ganesh, with  his big old elephant head, might be invoked when one is embarking on a new venture, because he removes obstacles from one's path, but he's still God. It's as if we could worship an auxiliary Jesus operating a front-end loader: it would still be Jesus.

I'm interested in the way gods are envisioned in various times and places. I think people ascribe to them the attributes they would like to have, themselves. They start out assuming God looks just like them, only with improvements. The Christian god is usually depicted as an attractive white man, but bigger and floatier. The Norse god Thor was basically human, but with a really big hammer. Heh heh. If modern American women were consulted, their gods might look just like them, but about five pounds lighter. As far as the Hindu gods are concerned, many of them have more than the usual allocation of arms. So I'm assuming there's something about India that makes you itchy.

For my money, the Greeks had the most realistic ideas about their gods. They were out there smacking each other silly and you were best off just staying out of their way. They sure weren't looking out for you. They also had a surplus of sidekicks demanding respect, many of them inspired ensembles of several critters, including, of course, humans. The sphinx was set up with a lion's body and a snake's tail and wings and a woman's head and I don't know what-all else, but they made sure to get her titties in there, too. Then you have your minotaur and centaur, which you see rarely these days; and the half-man, half-goat items, which we still frequently elect to office.

I've never thought about what my own god would look like, but I have given thought to my own totem pole, ever since I was a kid. These aren't meant to be worshipped, but they include animals important to the artist. You often see ravens or eagles on top, where their outspread wings make an imposing statement; bears and other heroic sorts figure in too. But this is my pole. Clearly, my own personal totem pole would have to be crowned with a salamander head. It would make my totem pole look like a smiling thumb, but there's no help for that. Moving on down, I like marmots a lot, but there's really no improving on the little noodly salamander arms, so I'd have to carve them in too. Bears are cool, but they'd look really silly with the noodly arms, so I'm thinking the main part of the pole might as well be a salamander's midsection, with more noodly legs towards the bottom. At this point finishing it off with anything other than a salamander tail would be gimmicky. There. Perfection. If you can't see the sacred in that, you have my sympathy.

30 comments:

  1. What about us goons who see the sacred in everything? Huh, what about that? Yeah, I know, triple sympathy. 'Cause that would mean we have to include Eric Cantor, who's all goat.

    Too gimmicky.

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  2. All praise and glory to Efts and Newts! You are the High Priestess of my morning, Murr. Thanks for another sporfle just when I needed one badly.

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  3. Roxie sez
    The multiple arms are a special effect sort of thing to indicate movement and powers. If the old illustrators of the Hindu Gods had today's computer generated FX, the gods would look a lot different. More like animated super heros.

    I figure, God is big and my brain is pretty finite. Any vision I can get of God is going to be incomplete. If you grock God as salamander, then it's time to start a newt religion.

    Can I have a Spanish dancer nudebranch on my totempole?

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  4. I've always been fascinated with totem poles. There is a large pine tree by my bedroom that is starting to look kind of sickly. When it dies, I am going to strip off the branches and carve some images into it. A beaver for sure (I'm from Canada). Maybe a Canada Goose. All the animals that come and eat my garden...

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  5. There's only one god that matters, as far as I'm concerned. He's the supreme being my father taught me to call on in times of need, and more dependable than any other deity I know: the Parking Space God. I'm not kidding, either, which probably guarantees that after I die I'll be a valet parking attendant in Hell for all eternity.

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  6. I'm in tears. And I'm permanently stuck with a horrid visual of God's back parts. I really didn't want to think about the ass-end of an old white guy in a dress.

    I'm scarred for life. And in pain from laughing so hard. Your blog posts should come with a health warning. :-)

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  7. Snortworthy indeed! I am ready to be a follower of a benevolent, smiley faced Salamander god with noodly arms.

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  8. Josh Ritter just wrote a book about an angel's interactions with a young man just home from WWII. Josh doesn't believe that angels are good to have in your life, as they nearly always are precursors to trouble. I wonder how he'd feel about a great oogly-boogly sky salamander?
    He's signing books at Powell's on Thursday, then in Seattle on Friday. Guess where I'll be on Friday?!!!

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  9. You do realize that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are going to haul you off to wherever it is they haul heretics off to...oh, wrong century. Hmmmm--I don't think so. Things are getting really dicey down in DC; better watch yourself there.

    This is KGMom, in case Blogger can't get it right. As of when I tried to post this, Blogger insists on calling me anonymous. Oh, maybe I should just shut up, so "they" can't track me down.

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  10. Indian art seems to have an awful lot to do with sex positions. Or, it could be that that's the Indian art that really attracts my attention. All those arms would seem to come in handy for the sex theme.

    Let's see, my totem would probably have a Southern Fox squirrel's head, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak's breast, a red-tailed hawk's wings, and a raccoon's tail. That would look too stupid to stick in the front yard, surely. Still, it beats the heck out of those garden gnome totems most folks seem to favor around here.

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  11. Exodus 33, Diane (King James version of course). Nance, actually, your totem pole sounds pretty gnomey. And Luisa, I don't think the Parking Space God is any more reliable than any of the others. Obviously you're living right.

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  12. Just out of curiosity, Ms. Murr, why have you been studying up on the book of Exodus?

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  13. Btw, I've almost finished All the Names of the Lord - Lists, Mysticism, and Magic by Valentina Izmirlieva:
    http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/A/bo5747722.html

    Next up: Mapping Paradise - A History of Heaven on Earth by Alessandro Scafi
    http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/bo3750575.html

    I'm pretty sure that when done, I'll still have an outlook similar to yours - hanging with the Greeks and their cartoon characters.
    Keep up the good work, pal.

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  14. Ren! Research for my novel, bud. I use the same verse in it. And many more. Plus, I'm just that pious.

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  15. Angel of the mudpuppy morning.

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  16. Personally, I can't wait for your book. You and Garrison Keiller (hope I spelled that right) are true Americans. Only here, while our religious freedom lasts, can one feature a totem as yours.
    Personally, I find my God in all my flowers, my cats, my birds, and I don't figure if the real creator is listening, she's going to mind one bit that I admire all her creations.

    Go, Murr, you have some wonderful mind to explore!

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  17. @Reynolds: be careful!

    http://downlode.org/Etext/nine_billion_names_of_god.html

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  18. This is a shiner, a sparkler. Bears reading several times.

    I have to confess some alarm at the apparently human hand the little sallyminkle is climbing over in the last photo. I know it is a hand only by the rings on its fingers; otherwise I would have named it some kind of aquatic plant root. If it be yours, it be time to get out of the swamp, Murrbaby.

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  19. I love your humor! I love your writing! Your salamanders, not so much.

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  20. Goin' 90 it ain't scary, 'cause I've got the Virgin Mary, stuck up on the dash board of my carrrrr! YOU ROCK my fiendish friend. We here in my town have totem pole that is 75 ft tall and expressing the community fetishes. It's often photographed. However, more often, it's stated that only the west coast Haida carved totem poles -and never the Algonquin..and so people continue to fight so that one day a pole can be planted up in their honours.

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  21. Julie, I am charmed by the thought that but for a little jewelry I could have stumped the Science Chimp into mistaking me for a bog plant. I should probably spend less time watching TV.

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  22. My totem pole would consist of a cow on the bottom, then an armadillo, topped with a spider. I know. Truly the design of someone completely whacked out on LSD or mental illness. Probably both. But, hey, why not. The UUs are letting me preach again this Sunday and I chose the Rapture. Just like to be different and controversial.

    P.S. I don't even like cows, but it's all about cow piety. Which I also don't like but once, well, preached on. So other folks chose that particular totemic symbol for me.

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  23. Explained! The two-house-tall pole that appeared a couple of houses over after the mysterious visit of a crane(yellow, Julie, not sandhill) must be a totem pole. If it's a sally-baby they'd have to glue on the legs, so it must be a snake. It's about the proportion of a gopher snake before dinner. I can't wait to see how they do the scales. Come see it in a year or two.

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  24. Awww, that little black one is with the yellow spots is so adorable I want to snuggle it.

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  25. Hey Murr! I have no personal deity, just a philosophical outlook or two. If I had a spirit guide (very totem pole-ish) I imagine it would be a bear; they're full of wisdom at the best of times. Or maybe I just liked Baloo from THE JUNGLE BOOK? Either way, I think James Woods as Hades in HERCULES was pretty cool as deities go. Indigo

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  26. The one thing I do know, if someone challenges you on the street in Kootenai County, or pretty much anywhere else, to come up with your god, you better have one. NOT having a god is the worst thing you can do... upon which you will be leveled with devil worship even though the devil isn't on your list either.

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  27. @Murr they are all considered aspects of the one God, Brahman (pronounced "Al-lah")..
    Seriously? you couldn't find humour anywhere else?

    @Nance Indian art seems to have an awful lot to do with sex positions.
    No, it's least about it, but you couldn't understand.

    @Nance Or, it could be that that's the Indian art that really attracts my attention.
    Yes, you have gift for introspection.

    @Nance All those arms would seem to come in handy for the sex theme.
    See above.

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  28. Well, well, well. Looks like we have a very ugly troll here - an unknown with a non-blog, which he uses as a front to spew his vomit all over people. Nasty "neel" would have his nasty ass kicked off my blog in two seconds flat for a lot less. To personally attack anyone and hide behind a fake blog is not okay - especially when it is someone as witty, intelligent, respected and beloved as Nance.

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  29. Thanks, Leslie. I feel comfortable leaving him up because he stands out so clearly among my fine commenters.

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