Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Friday, December 12, 2003

More on Titles of Mary and Poetic Expressions

(I was going to update the synecdoche post below, but why?)

One big chunk of the poetic expressions used for Mary refer to her position as Theotokos. If you believe she carried God within her, one can justly call her "Ark of the Covenant" (because she bore the ultimate evidence of God's covenant with us, and not part of God's word, but the Word itself) or "Temple". Like Aragorn's mother, she carried Hope within her. (Well, okay, not exactly like. Aragorn's mother was awfully depressed, and Aragorn's obviously not very Christy. It's a joke, folks.) Since Christ is the hope of all, Mary is literally the "source of our hope". Same thing with "cause of our joy", "seat of wisdom", and "gate of Heaven". This is pretty straightforward on the poetic expression scale, folks.

(Considering that an Irish or SCA poet could call any king a descendant of any other king who was ahead of them on the throne chronologically. SCA poets can even call someone an heir of themselves, thanks to the fact that SCA monarchs win their crowns in tournament combat, and hence often come to the throne after a few years' time. Anyway, back to the point.)

It's a pretty earthy way to talk about Mary, of course. But then, the Incarnation of God is even earthier. If you want to understand Jesus, you have to understand to your bones that He is truly God and truly man. What better way than to contemplate Him with His Mother? He came to us as a baby. The Power that made the cosmos needed His diaper changed, and she did it. God could allow Himself to be touched not only by nice things like bread and the sky, but by wastes, and all the other icky stuff Gnostics hate to think about being part of them. God was not too good for the material world He had made, even though it was fallen. God was not too fastidious to give Himself a human mother (and fosterfather!), or to love the family He sent Himself to.

Other titles of Mary refer to her as a queen. Well, she's the mother of the King of the Universe, to give God an old Jewish title. So presumably, she's given the place of a queen mother in Heaven. Parts of Revelation hint at this: a woman clothed in the Sun, standing on the Moon, and crowned with stars, gives birth to the enemy of the Dragon. So the Church celebrates her with readings like "the queen stands at his right hand, arrayed in gold". (Why not? Shouldn't we be excited by God giving a human such honor? Isn't it a hint that all his people in Heaven will be given some very interesting jobs to do?) Anyway, if Mary is "queen of Heaven" (thus kinda symbolically trampling on the old moon goddess crud that dogged Israel, the ancient world, and many today), then she's obviously also "queen of angels", "queen of all saints", and so forth. But these titles also usually have some connection to or pun on her many roles during her human life. For example, "angel" means "messenger". Mary brought the message of Jesus' coming to Elizabeth. If you take Jesus as a "message", Mary brought Him to all of us. So Mary is the most blessed of messengers -- the Queen of Angels. She was the first person to witness to Him, thus she is "queen of martyrs", for "martyr" means "witness". And so forth.

Some titles of Mary are just there because people like them. Many are swiped from the Song of Songs, in which the lovers can be taken as an analogy for God and His people. But of course Mary is part of His people, and a rather specially favored one. As she's the only person who's had a kid by God, surely a few erotic metaphors can be used for Mary! So, she is the "tower of ivory", the "enclosed garden" and so forth. Some talk about her as a herald of God: "morning star" (which is also an "in your face" to Lucifer, who legendarily gave up the whole "morning star" gig). Some come from poetry combined with Biblical reference, like "mystical rose", which comes from the whole "rose of Sharon" thing combined with the rose as a symbol of love or caritas. Some just pile on the honors: "Mother most amiable" (ie, lovable), "Virgin most renowned".

Finally, Mary has many titles based on the good experience the Church has had with asking her to pray for us. (Obviously if you don't believe in the communion of the saints, this is going to weird you out. But why? Weren't we promised that nothing, not death nor life nor anything else, could separate us from God? And if we are all part of the Body of Christ, surely we can ask for the prayers of our fellow Members in Heaven as well as those on Earth?) Mary, like any Jewish mother, is very interested in her son's associates. If, like John, we have been made her children (and hey, even if we weren't, we're _part_ of her Child!), we can expect her to be more concerned with us still. (So she's called "Mother of the Church".) She is highly favored by God; He listens to her, as we saw at Cana. (Again, this shows us the honor God means to give His people in Heaven.) So we give her names like "comforter of the afflicted", "help of Christians", and "Mother of good counsel".

With all this concern, it's not surprising to the normal Catholic that Mary has been known to occasionally drop in on people. This used to be very common for mystics; but there are also grand appearances which become famous and have churches built in their memory. Today's feast of "Our Lady of Guadalupe" commemmorates one such event. However, any place can celebrate "Our Lady" as its queen. "Our Lady of X-town" used to be a very common sort of title. Furthermore, such titles may describe a certain way that Mary is shown in a famous artwork -- for example, "Our Lady of Czestochowa" refers to the "Black Madonna" icon of Mary displayed in that town.

So there actually is a rationale behind the titles Catholics use for Mary. You may think they're too much, but they aren't just some wild goddess-worship thing. And believe me, if you think there are big names for Mary, wait till you see all the titles we have for Jesus!

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Stop Worrying and Love the Synecdoche

I was reading a page about keikyo (Nestorian Christianity in Japan, which arrived centuries before the Jesuits) and read a rather Nestorian-biased account of its beliefs. This guy felt that the Nestorians were right and that "Mother of God" (Theotokos) was a bad expression; all you could legitimately say was "Mother of Christ" (Christotokos). Ignoring how much the Arians woulda loved that, it's obviously that this guy didn't like using the word for the whole to refer to the parts.

But hey, Jesus Christ is God, right? (Well, if you're not an Arian or a non-Christian.) And Mary is Jesus' mother, right? So, though Mary didn't cause all of God to come into existence, she is the one who carried God around for nine months. So she is the Theotokos, not just the Christotokos.

Of course, this leads to a lot of poetic expressions and titles that Mary is given. Christ is the Way, Christ came through Mary, so poetically, everyone coming to Christ comes to him through Mary...hence, she's called "Gate of Heaven" (Porta Caeli). And so forth. It's poem logic and very sensible, too.

Monday, December 08, 2003

It's a Blog World, After All....

Eve Tushnet reveals that her sister is the sainted Rebecca Tushnet, given dulia by all fanfic writers.

Gooooo Tushnets!

Crazy Theory Time!

There's more than one play-within-a-play in Hamlet. Heh. This is pretty odd, but it could certainly make for a fun production or movie version.

The Shakespeare/Marlowe/Bacon crud is pretty pitiful, though. Generally, I'm all for historical persons being tragically misunderstood (Richard III was framed! Bloody Tudors....) and lost causes (Everybody's a little bit Jacobite!). I'm even willing to stand up in public and claim with a straight face (though my tongue in cheek) that Sherlock Holmes was a real person and Watson was his biographer. But joking about Doyle the Literary Agent is funny. Seriously believing that no poor boy from the sticks could possibly become a great actor and writer is snobby.

Why Is There a "Lukomor Oak" Next to the School in Tanya Grotter?

Why, yes, I have been reading Book 2: Tanya Grotter and the Disappearing Floor....

Apparently, it's from this poem I ran across in my dad's Russian lit book. "Lukomorskoi" just means something like "bay of the sea". This is also the poem which inspired the info, in book 1, that Pushkin had in fact been invited to visit Tibidox on the island of Buyan and had had a very good time there despite being a "lopear". I didn't see any public domain translation, so here goes mine.

Introduction from Ruslan and Ludmila, by Alexander Pushkin
(Translated by Maureen S. O'Brien)

By the bay, an oak grows green,
And on that oak's a chain of gold,
And day and night, a wise cat's seen
Padding 'round in that chain's hold.
When to the right, a song it wails;
When to the left, it tells a tale.

There's wonders there: leshies roam free;
Rusalkas sit up in the tree;
On unknown paths, at tracks you stare
Made by strange beasts not seen before;
A hut on chicken legs stands there
Without a window or a door.
There wood and dale's full of strange sights.
And at the dawning of the light,
Where waves wash sandy, empty shores,
Ride thirty fair and noble knights
Come one by one from the water bright,
And with them comes their sea mentor.
A king's son, passing through by there,
Takes prisoner a fearsome tsar.
While all the people stand and glare,
A sorcerer takes a knight off far
Over woods and over sea.
In prison there, an empress pines,
And a brown wolf serves her and whines;
A mortar with Baba Yaga aboard
Moves along of its own accord;
Tsar Kashchei fades by his gold so fair.
That's a Russian scent...I smell Russia there!

And I was there, and drank mead rare.
By the sea I've seen that oak of green.
'Neath it I sat, and that wise cat
All its stories shared.
I remember one -- this story.
Now I'll show the world its glory....

From there, presumably, he goes on to tell us about Ruslan and Ludmila. (And the evil dwarf mage Chernomor, who is presumably related to Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov, principal of the Tibidox School for Troubled Wizards....) Btw, if you were wondering, a leshy is a sort of forest spirit that makes people get lost, etc. A rusalka is a lorelei-ish river spirit, sometimes pictured as having a fish tail but generally looking just like a human woman. Well, any human woman who sits around nekkid in trees overhanging rivers and ponds, singing to handsome young male passersby and drowning them when she catches 'em. Some say they're the ghosts of girls who commit suicide over men.

The rhyme scheme is almost exactly the same as in the original. The scansion kinda varies.... (Sigh.) This isn't the worst translation, but it loses some of Pushkin's ease of style. The horrible thing about him seems to be that you think you could write just like that...but you're wrong. And of course he's also one of the world's great short story writers as well as great poets. (Envyenvyenvy....) I don't know why we never get to read much of the man here. Russians certainly go gangbusters over the man, and I can see why.

UPDATE: has a fun full text translation up of Ruslan and Liudmila. Check it out! Liudmila turning herself invisible with the wizard's hat and tormenting her own captor is worth the read in itself. Also, there's a sorceress who turns into a dragon and a cat! The site's also got a lacquer copy of a painting of Pushkin sitting under that oak. Beautiful. They've also got the text of Pushkin's poem "The Rusalka". Yes, is there to entice you to buy their Russian lacquer art. But it's full of good info and pretty to boot.

Pushkin Stuff

Btw, if you didn't know, Pushkin, like Dumas, had African as well as European ancestors. (Well, okay, so we all have African ancestors. But I mean recently, not geological time-recently. His mother's side came from Abyssinia. (Why Peter the Great needed to bring an engineer all the way from Abyssinia, I don't know. I guess the Abyssinian must have been really really good.

Another interesting Pushkin fact: Liv Tyler has gone from Arwen to playing Tatiana, the heroine of Pushkin's epistolary novel-in-verse, Eugene Onegin. If you've seen the opera, you still gotta see the movie!

Here's Pushkin's portrait, a mini-biography, and a longer bio. has some English translations of Pushkin poems.

Adventures in Hymnwriting, Part Whatever

Hymn for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Lyrics and Music: Maureen S. O'Brien

Mary, praise the God who saved
You before your wombing!
Bride to Him you raised and bore,
He raised you from entombing.

You, the first Evangelist --
You, who knew such sorrow --
Point us to your Son through this.
Sing of God's tomorrow.

Sinless by the grace of God,
Sinless by your choices,
You sing praise, new Eve! while we
For you raise our voices.

(Queen of Poets, pray for us!
Mother of God's Word,
Pray for us, that we may write
So God's voice is heard.

By Your Son, like John, we've been
Named your sons and daughters.
Queen of Poets, pray for us
By the living waters!)