Tag Archives: respect

Bog People and Mummies

I’ve been fascinated with mummies since I was about nine. These husks of a former life, reamed, cleaned and packed were then embalmed, smeared with unguents, wrapped in yards of cotton and placed in several sarcophagi. They were sent well prepared into the next life with canopic jars for all the important organs, gold and jewels and food. What a amazing world. And some of those mummies, richer in death than you or I could be in life, continued to grow nails or hair.

Is it any wonder that these bodies, preserved for millennia, fostered a whole host of reanimated mummy movies? Disturb the grave, steal from the dead and they will come back to exact their curse upon your person. And they, like zombies, will be powerful, single-minded and unstoppable. There was a more romantic mummy in Anne Rice’s The Mummy but on whole they are unnatural forces of death or evil that try to destroy the powers of life.

It is that sense of disturbing the dead that spawned so many mummy movies, which is also the heart and soul of many belief systems. Most spiritual paths indicate that there is a transmigration of the soul at the time of death, that in fact we leave the corporeal vessel that can serve us no longer and that our ethereal, quintessential selves move on to another state of being. Whether that is heaven, reincarnation, or a great unknown depends on the belief.

So it is interesting that in all these belief systems, which of course have funerary customs for the dead, that there is sometimes more concern placed on the decaying corporeal remains than on the soul’s departing. Many people agree that the soul is what matters, that that person no longer inhabits the fleshy shell, so then why do we place so much emotion into something that no longer resembles the person we knew?

We see this over and over again, where someone was cremated but the family received the wrong ashes. That a nation’s people died maybe a century ago and for whatever reason the remains are in another country (or museum) and great efforts are made to get those people back. But it’s not a person any longer; what defines “person” is gone. It’s as if we all live a two-faced belief, one where we agree the soul is what matters and the other in which we cannot let the material aspects go, no matter whether they’re rotted, embalmed, ashes or missing.

Does the respect and superstition for the remnants of the dead extend only as long as there is someone who cares? Most likely, yes. It may be family or friends, or in some cases a nation asking for a great hero, artist or politician’s body to be returned. It might be an ancestral thing or something to do with spirituality. But how far back should such a re-appropriation of remains go? Should the primitive man found in an iceflow before there were nations be claimed by one? Should he be buried with dignity? Should he be used in research? Which religion presides over his burial (or cremation) when none existed when he was alive?

Sometimes such requests for very ancient remains have little to do with sentiment and emotion. Sometimes they are levers for politics whether to further a nation’s claim or to purport ongoing indiginities. (No one has said a thing about the two dried out husks that reside in the curio shop on the wharves of Seattle.) It’s hard to say what is right when you think of the millions (maybe billions) of dead over millions of years (yes, humans have been roaming the earth for a very long time). Not everyone is claimed or cared about and really, we’re talking about a husk of old flesh here. Don’t get me wrong. I live this conundrum too, believing that which made the person human and real dissipates at death.Yet I have a reliquary necklace with some ashes of a dead friend in it, even though I know that his soul does not reside there.

Which brings me from mummies to bog people. Bogs have a unique chemical balance that preserves organic materials far better than anything else. People who have died in bogs turn leathery, whereas most bodies will decay to just the bones. Even their fingerprints are noticeable, as well as the foods in their stomachs and intestines still being discernible. Clothing decays fast under most conditions but the bogs preserve fabrics indicating that these early peoples wore leather and woven wool. All of these things can tell us how people lived, what level their culture was at, what techniques they had and how they died.

Denmark has some of the most interesting historical bogs where clothing and bodies have been found. As well, the Netherlands, England and other places in northern Europe have bogs that hold snippets of history. A few years ago (2004) the Glenbow Museum in Calgary exhibited “The Mysterious Bog People.” I had a chance to see it where the lighting was low, but bright enough on the bodies. There were displays of jewellery and tools and reconstructed fabric from the original finds. Also, there were reconstructions of the heads of some of the bodies. The exhibit talked about where they’d been found, when they had lived, how old they were and what had probably happened to each person.

As with most bog finds, many people died violent deaths, stabbed or strangled or possibly drowned. It may be that they were robbed or that they were sacrificed in various rituals. In most cases their lives were cut short in a brutal and sudden way. After I saw the exhibit and mentioned it to someone she asked if it was right because it didn’t show respect for the dead. I found this odd as I knew her belief was the same as many people’s, that the soul leaves the body and the body nourishes the earth in an endless cycle. So I said, in fact they had gained more respect than they had in death, lying in a bog. They died a brutal death and were forgotten. Here they were remembered and we learned something of who they might have been. And that the exhibit as a whole wasn’t a spectacle so much as educational and even reverent in treating the people of long ago.

It is an interesting conundrum we have in many aspects of our lives. We know that it is love and relationships that matter most. Yet we continually grab and procure more goods. Many of us believe the soul leaves the body and that part is the person, yet we hang on to the rotting remains. I’m not sure why we do this, if perhaps we need something tangible to trigger our memories and sentiments, but it is an intriguing aspect of human customs. And it is through funerary customs that anthropologists can chart when civilization began.

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Internet: Rudiments of Courtesy and Respect

I have been on the internet since it was DOS, a big black screen with glowing green text. The early chat rooms and newsgroups were full of pedantic people trying to prove themselves in one way or another, from the spelling nazis to the socially insecure showing their scintillating intelligence and argumentative nature. In the new newsgroups, there are often rules against correcting someone’s typos but you can still get the know-it-alls. You also get the people who have to air their grievances against another for one and all to suffer through.

We live in a modern age of computers and instant messages. Before those came along there were phones and letters. Before that era, there were letters and pigeons. Before that, and during, there were riders on horses. Communications could always fall into the wrong hands, or not get through, or your courier be killed…if it was really important and political.

Some of our view of courtesy comes from the Victorian era but even before that, through much of the middle ages there were such things as courtly behaviour. Nobles and the higher echelon, even the peasantry, showed respect. Sure, rumours existed but they were and have always been perpetuated by people talking about the subject behind the subject’s back and never addressing the issue directly. Should one noble to the other have something particularly vicious to say, probably couched in witty ways, it was usually done face to face, because the fewer witnesses the better to deny it ever happened.

To call one out, especially one of any noble lineage was tantamount to a duel or a war, or maybe an assassination. Words had power, have always had power. Words can slander, can give respect, can color one’s view. But even as much as words reflect on the subject, they also reflect on the speaker.

No matter how wronged a person is, or how justified they may be in speaking of the scurrilous things people have done to them, when even the injured get on the soapbox it most often is not pretty. Be careful who you paint with that brush for the paint can spatter on you. I have seen this over and over, and used it as a good lesson. When the wronged one starts pointing a finger back
and getting to name calling, that person too loses credence. Sometimes turning the other cheek is the best policy.

To air one’s laundry, whether yours or the pilfered goods of the “other”, it is still airing your laundry in public. It is a tactic that holds the public hostage to a viewing whether they want it or not. It is a tactic that one does to shame the other. It is a tactic that shows the one who airs as callous, mean, little and low class. It is a tactic meant to anger and to justify one’s own behavior. And it is always lowly done and not of the noblest of intentions.

Here are a few rules by which I judge if there is courtesy and respect. I try to use these. Discussing is one thing but belittling or berating others is not acceptable.

1. If you have nothing nice to say, shut up.
2. If you hate someone, tell them personally. We don’t want to know.
3. If you want to be Machiavellian and stir the pot, well then you really think
you’re so witty that no one is catching on as you sit back and lick your paws.
You’ll believe yourself superior, but it’s not very noble either.
4. If you have to show off your intelligence and superior knowledge in a
pedantic manner, then you’re not very secure and it shows.
5. If you have to whine about how much you did and that no one ever notices or
wants you, then no matter your position you’re not doing this for noble means and
maybe there’s another reason no one wants you.
6. If you make yourself a martyr and make sure everyone knows, then expect to
be used that way and not to get sainthood at the end.
7. If you’re getting so out of hand in your vitriol that someone has to smack
your hand, well then maybe it’s time to go to mommy until you grow up.
8. If you can’t be constructive, or don’t know the facts, shut up.

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Separtism vs Unity

I was going to write a book review today but this is more important. Thanks, Stephen Harper, for raising the hoary head of separatism yet again. Wasn’t it enough that it’s almost torn the country apart twice in the past?

Stephen Harper is like Gordon Campbell. They both have this smooth plasticky look that I’ve never trusted. And Gordon Campbell’s adamant voice this last week against a coalition partially formed of his party (albeit at a federal level) really cements that he is a Conservative in Liberal clothing. BC Liberals are the same as Alberta Conservatives.

Anyway, I wouldn’t trust either as far as I could throw them. But back to Harper who in his arrogance not just poked at the sleeping lion of separatism, but prodded it with a red hot poker. He has single handedly guaranteed that the Conservatives will not win in Quebec’s provincial election that’s coming up.

Although I do not like what the Bloc stands for and there is a huge problem in having a federal party that is only concerned with one geographic area (I don’t think it should be allowed at all but how do you word something like that?), they are a valid party in the current parameters and have to be respected in that aspect.

When Harper said, “The highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if one wants to be prime minister, one gets one’s mandate from the Canadian people and not from Quebec separatists,” he pried open the lid on the issue that will not die and now has another chance to suck the lifeblood from Canada. Somehow, he neglected to understand that Quebec is part of Canada.  He pitted anglophone Canada against francophone.

But of course, he isn’t the only one who sees Quebec as separate. Jacques Parizeau, a former Quebec premier, was quoted as saying, “The fact that the Bloc got Stéphane Dion to sign a political accord in which it is explicitly written that he undertakes  ‘to act in partnership with Canadians and the Québécois should bring a smile to the face of many sovereigntists.’ ” Here again we see Québécois as separate or other from Canadians when in fact they are Canadians.

The separatist (or soverignist if you want the word that muddies the connotations) movement has surged like a tide in the past. A good French-Canadian friend has told me that the provincial government often keeps the Québécois insulated from the rest of the goings on in Canada. We’re a bilingual country but truly it’s Quebec and New Brunswicks and some of the other areas in eastern Canada that speak French and that right is protected. Western Canada predominantly speaks English. There is a law that public signage has to be in both languages, especially official and government signs, yet in Montreal when I was there, there was a lack of English

The Québécois have received many rights protecting their culture, which is absolutely fine but they don’t always realize that they sometimes have more rights than the rest of Canada. And then on top of that, there are those who foment views that they’re hard done by, they’re picked on, they’re whatever. Canada is a large country with not an overly large population when you compare it to smaller countries. But Quebec is about a third of Canada’s population. There are unique areas and cultures throughout this country.

Any split of Quebec from Canada would sever Canada as a nation. We wouldn’t survive. You can’t take a chunk out of the middle and expect it to continue. Of course the Québécois wouldn’t want to take one-third of the deficit and other costs that have been spent to maintain the provinces. And the US would be waiting like a hungry shark to get the little provinces that couldn’t survive on their own. The maritimes may be the first to go. BC and Alberta (especially) would most likely survive as their own little nations.

But more than the geo-political aspects, there are those of nationality, of identity. I very much feel that I’m Canadian, so much so that when I thought of moving to Seattle to work I just couldn’t do it. Only love could make me move. I love my country in a way that’s not stand-up-and-wave-the-flag, hand-on-my-heart patriotic. But it is a deep and visceral love of this land and way of life.

It makes me furious whenever someone stirs the pot and makes people think they’re disenfranchised. Stephen Harper gave in to base prejudices and let his arrogance get the better of him. He’s been accused of showing little respect and it is damaging the nation, just as the Bloc would if they ran this country for it wouldn’t be a country for long. But saying that a government can’t work with the Bloc is thumbing one’s nose in their faces. We have a government and it is made up of several parties, including the Bloc. The governing includes all parties coming to decisions.

Unfortunately people often vote with their hearts and not their heads. I just hope that the Quebec people realize that there are many people in Canada and that we’re not all Stephen Harper. I’ve been to Montreal and it is beautiful and intriquing and full of artistic life and unique culturer. I don’t want it to be somewhere else. I want it part of Canada. Just as I want all the idiosyncratic pieces and cultures and diversity.

And I just wish that we could see more effort in the political parties (all of them) at working together and finding solutions, rather than finding the flaws in each other and name calling. I’d rather see a party saying what they’re going to do and do it, than pointing fingers at others and saying what they’re doing. Some integrity in politics again would really be nice. So let’s stay united.

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