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So, quick caveat: this song has nothing to do with my tenth wedding anniversary yesterday. Just putting that out there.

It has everything to do with me having a shitty day at work and feeling tense and taut like a wire. My first year here at the Firm was pretty rough: I was absolutely miserable and stressed constantly, to the point where I was sick all the time. Things have gotten better, but sometimes a day is nothing but a series of minor disasters and it feels like my first year again.

A lot of things got me through that first year when it was rough every day. My amazing wife. My wicked cool kids. Counting down the days until I could quit my job and not owe money to the Firm. Stuff like that. One of those things was Waylon Jennings.

I discovered Ol’ Hoss last summer when I got in a mood to throw more country music into the mix instead of just all metal all the time. I was starting to read western novels, and I was starting to get homesick for the South, and both of those deserve a country soundtrack. But I don’t really like suburban pop-country (I’m talking to you, Keith Urban), so I set about discovering all the old outlaw country legends, and Waylon Jennings jumped out at me like few things ever have.

You know how sometimes you hear a song and immediately, right from the first listen, you know it just knocked about three other songs from your top ten to just make room for it? That’s how it was with “This Time.” I first heard it on the bus on the way to work in the middle of one of the worst times of last year–I had an absolutely disastrous year-end review that I had been mortally dreading for months, and I was insanely busy right around a holiday when I had made plans to spend time with family. But this song came on my headphones and it changed my life.

So here it is, because today’s the kind of day when I need this kind of song.

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You may wonder why, on a blog that’s ostensibly about spirituality, I post so often about music. The fact is, to me, music is inseparable from spirituality. Music is transcendent. Through music, I touch the universe, the ultimate reality, God. I take music seriously. It’s a hobby, and that’s important to me because its a hobby that my unreasonably demanding job can’t take away from me, but its more than a hobby. I enjoy it so much precisely because it is a window into the sublime.

Music fanatics have been accused of worshipping rock stars. This is usually meant pejoratively, to make the level of devotion shown by music fans look ridiculous. But I embrace it. Do I worship Jim Morrison? You bet your ass I do. And Johnny Cash. And Ronnie James Dio. And Waylon Jennings. And Jimi Hendrix. I’m a polytheist, and I embrace a tradition that includes deifying heroes. And I think these men are heroes worthy of worship. Even gods. Not gods of the same magnitude as Dionysus or Aphrodite, and certainly not of the same magnitude as the ultimate one cosmic unity, whatever you like to call that. But gods no less, and I treat them as such.

Some days I pour out a libation to Zeus, and some days I pour out a libation to Dio.

With that in mind, a friend of mine just put up a blog post about how thankful she is for music, and I want to echo her sentiments. Music makes the world just a little bit better. Music makes life a little easier to live.

My friend also posted YouTube videos of some of her favorite songs, as a part of this post. And I want to do that, too. So I give you, in no particular order, ten of the greatest fucking songs in the whole world.

1. Johnny Cash, “I Walk The Line”

This is my favorite song of all time, and it has been since I first knowingly heard it. I’m not afraid of complicated arrangements, but something about the stripped-down simplicity of this song just pieces me to the core. Johnny Cash wields his guitar like a rifle, and in a few spare words, he says all that anyone ever needs to say. This is the best, most important song ever written. If I had to pick one single piece of music to be all that survived of human civilization, I would not pick Beethoven, Mozart or Bach. I would pick this.

2. Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”

An intense, emotional song with absolutely brilliant lyrics. Nothing more even needs to be said. Also, Wyclef Jean’s version is amazing as well.

3. Jimi Hendrix, “All Along The Watchtower”

This was already one of my favorite songs in the universe before Colonel Tigh started mumbling the lyrics at the end of the third season of Battlestar Galactica. I pretty much just pissed myself when I realized what it was he was saying. And using the song the way they did was perfect, because “All along the Watchtower” is like a fucking rock and roll window into the supernal realms. The opening guitar riff knocks my socks off and I’m not able to put them on again until the song is over. Also, don’t miss Apuleius Platonicus’s amazing analysis of the spiritual significance of this song.

4. Jimmy Durante, “As Time Goes By”

Another song beautiful in its simplicity. A romantic classic for a reason. It will always make me think of my beautiful and sexy wife and the absolutely amazing life we have had together so far. It may not be “our song,” but to me it is nevertheless a song about us.

5. Black Sabbath, “Heaven And Hell”

The world lost a god when Ronnie James Dio died. The two albums he recorded with Black Sabbath in the early 1980’s are some of the best heavy metal albums ever. Tony Iommy shines all over the place like he never was able to with Ozzy, and Ronnie’s lyrics are timeless, creative, and iconic: They say that life’s a carousel, spinning fast, you’ve got to ride it well. The world is full of kings and queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams, its heaven and hell.

6. Led Zeppelin, “Stairway To Heaven”

This song is ubiquitous for a reason. I wrote a post about its spiritual significance a couple months ago, so I won’t repeat myself unnecessarily except to say this song is not a cliché. This song is just that good. It builds from a soft, mystic, poetic beginning into a massive sublime onslaught. If you don’t love this song, you have never paid attention to it.

7. Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

The best of all new wave and post-punk songs, a perfect blend of synth instrumentation and earnest, passionate and dark lyrics. There is nothign here not to like.

8. The Doors, “L.A. Woman”

Somewhere I wrote a poem about this song, but now I can’t find it. “L.A. Woman” is a perfect example of all four of the Doors working together in synergy. The other great thing about this song is that the beat of the opening movement is exactly the right beat for me to run to and pass an Army AFPT. For the record, I have been out of the Army for about four days now, and I am not really okay with that.

9. Dio, “Holy Diver”

My kids love this song as much as I do. They know all of the words, and they know how to do devil horns with their hands. It’s the most cute-awesome thing ever. Also, if I could make every Dungeons and Dragons adventure I ever ran feel exactly like this song and its goofy music video, I would be a happy man.

10. Highwaymen, “The Highwayman”

Reincarnation and country music. Four outlaw country gods walking among men.

11. Mazzy Star, “Into Dust”

I have loved this song for more than a decade. To me, it is the most intense song I know of.

12. Waylon Jennings, “Rough and Rowdy Days”

Another one for my beautiful and sexy wife. And for me.

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This post by Sannion is excellent. I shall quote it in its entirety, because I want people to actually read it and not just follow a link, which I don’t think people are likely to actually just do. But if you do read it, be considerate and follow the link, so Sannion gets the hit and thus full credit.

The Other Aphrodite

Everyone knows the goddess Aphrodite, right? The blonde, buxom, bubble-headed beauty rising from the waves on a conch shell, surrounded by fat little flying cupids, flowers, birds, and golden sunlight gleaming off of her diaphanous gown that doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination. Her gifts to mortal-kind are grace, feminine wiles, the warmth of love, successful relationships, and everything that is sweet and pleasant about life.

This image of the goddess has been a favorite of poets and painters down through the ages and has become deeply imbedded in our collective unconscious. Even people who do not recognize the divinity of Aphrodite respond to the power of this image, as evidenced by the lasting interest in faded celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith, who have both been likened to the goddess by lazy journalists more times than one can count.

And yet, this is only half of the picture. There is, literally, a darker Aphrodite lurking just beneath the surface, a powerful and dangerous goddess smiling enigmatically from the shadows, forgotten and scorned, but waiting to teach her mysteries to those unwilling to accept superficial appearances and easy answers.

We encounter this side of the goddess in a host of random passages scattered throughout the works of various Classical authors, usually alongside more standard representations of her. When the unsuspecting student first discovers them it is often a jarring experience, conflicting, as it does, with our accepted, sanitized notions of who the goddess is and what her realm represents. Some might be inclined to reject them outright, to say that the ancients were mistaken in giving the name of Aphrodite to this deity, that these ideas just don’t fit or make any sense with the rest of what we know about her. (Others may be inclined to reject them because then they’d have to take her seriously: it’s common in the Neopagan community to dismiss Aphrodite as frivolous, vacuous, unimportant and contrary to a conception of modern, powerful women. How different they might feel if they were aware of this other Aphrodite!)

I maintain that these images and ideas are fundamental to a true conception of the goddess, and that they make perfect sense with and can even help elucidate some of her other aspects. Aphrodite is not a patchwork, contradictory, hybrid creature – but a whole and mighty goddess who can only be understood in her totality, both light and dark, joyous and frightening, merciful and cruel – and I would like to help draw the reader’s attention to just how complex and wonderful a deity Aphrodite can be through the following pages.

To begin with, let us examine some of the unusual names that have been bestowed upon this goddess, both in poetry and cult.

In his travels through Sparta Pausanias described visiting a temple of Aphrodite Areia “War-like” where the goddess was depicted armed and wearing a full panolopy or suit of armor. (3.17.5) In Arkadia (8.9.6) he found a cult of Aphrodite Summakhia “Ally in Battle”, while elsewhere (10.19.6) he discovered an Aphrodite Nikephoros “Bringer of Victory”. What, one may reasonably ask, does a goddess of love have to do with warfare? This is precisely the charge that Homer has Athene bring against her sister when she urges her favorite Diomedes to attack the lovely goddess, piercing her with his spear, and driving her shrieking from the blood-drenched battlefield to cower at the feet of Zeus. (Iliad 5.297-430)

It is a naïve question. Anyone who has ever felt the stirring of a true and intense love understands what a violent and overwhelming emotion it can be. Eros, love, is a madness that comes upon us unexpectedly, disrupting our nicely ordered lives, throwing everything into confusion, making otherwise sensible men and women do things they would never contemplate in their right minds. People risk everything for love – wealth, status, family, even life itself scarcely matters in the face of this overwhelming mania. Look at how many politicians have been ruined because of sexual indiscretions; how many families broken apart because of infidelity; how many once-promising careers have been snuffed out because the person couldn’t let go of someone that was dragging them down into the muck; how many lovesick souls have been driven to murder or suicide after being rejected. And the Trojan War, the greatest event in Greek history, was caused by an illicit love affair. Love, as the Greeks well knew, was a powerful, dangerous thing – but it could also be channeled towards a positive, community-strengthening end.

Why, after all, do we do the things that we do? Why do we have families, go to work, live in cities, create laws, fight wars, aspire to improve ourselves and try to leave the world a better place than we found it?

The answer is: Love. That ephemeral, invisible, constantly shifting and impossible-to-pin-down emotion that lies at the heart of everything we do and are. Love is connection. It’s what brings two people together, an unbreakable bond that unites disparate souls as mysteriously as the force of gravity keeps the atoms from spinning out into chaotic dissolution. If there was no love, people would live by themselves in barbarous solitude, never sparing a thought for anything other than their most basic, primal animal needs. It is love that makes civilization possible. For through love we feel a desire to connect with our fellows, to find a way such as language to express our thoughts and understand theirs. Love causes us to place the other person’s needs above our own, to do things that inconvenience us so that their life will be improved, even if there is no more tangible reward for that labor than the person’s affection. Love, further, induces us to put ourselves at risk solely to protect our beloved and their property. Men brawl in the streets to defend the honor of their girlfriends; mothers find the courage to face ferocious beasts when their children are at risk; nations clash over ideals that they deeply cherish. It is love that inspires all of this – as well as honor and pride.

For what is honor, but the desire for the one you love to look fondly upon you? People change the way they act, the way they dress, their level of education, and even their professions simply to impress other people. They will suffer great indignities and even death solely to avoid losing face before countrymen, family, friends, and romantic partners, all of whom they love in different ways.

In his Life of Alexander Plutarch discussed how love made men better soldiers. The Sacred Band of Thebes, which was comprised of pairs of lovers, was considered the greatest fighting force in antiquity because they never backed down out of fear of appearing shameful and forfeiting the love of their partner. Death was preferable to that horrible fate. And when Alexander finally defeated them he wept for the loss of such glorious and unmatched warriors. It was Aphrodite who brought them such undying fame, thus proving that her epiklesis “Ally in War” was an apt one.

Equally appropriate are the names that portray Aphrodite as dark or nocturnal. This may strike some as contradictory – after all, Aphrodite was called Khrusee “golden” (Homeric hymn 5) and Olumpian “brightly shining” (Pausanias 3.12.11); she emerged from the oceanic depths into the joyous sunlit world attended by the Horai and Kharites who adorned her with radiant gowns, shining jewelry, and brightly colored flowers of every hue (Kypria frg. 6). Even her star – the planet Venus – burns the brightest of all the heavenly bodies. She is a warm, glowing, pleasantly intoxicating goddess – at her appearance our flesh flushes with her heat – so how can she be connected with something cold and desolate like the blackness of night?

Well, Aphrodite is a complex, paradoxical goddess with a strongly fluid nature. Her name is derived from aphrou “the sea foam” (Plato, Cratylus 400d) and in Sparta she was worshipped as Morpho “changeable of shape” (Pausanias 3.15.10) which is natural enough when you consider that she is a goddess of life, and like Aphrodite, all life emerges from the watery depths. Our bodies are over seventy per cent water, and the fluids we release in sex have about them a whiff of the ocean to remind us where we came from. Love is an oceanic thing, deeper than we can comprehend. Love, at times, can be serene and beautiful, like the gentle, rocking waves spilling over the sandy beach in an eternal dance of life – yet at other times it can be torrential and destructive, those same waves threatening to engulf us and carry us down to our deaths. This doubling ambiguity is the hallmark of the goddess.

Not only does this suggest that Aphrodite’s nature embraces paradox – but it also hints at a possible reason why she was connected with the night.

Pausanias, never one to be accused of being a deep thinker, provided a straightforward explanation for her epikleseis Melainis “black” and Philopannux “night-loving”:

“This surname of the goddess is simply due to the fact that men do not, as the beasts do, have sexual intercourse always by day, but in most cases by night.” (8.6.5)

And indeed, that is true. Night-time is very conducive to love-making. People seek out the warmth of other bodies against the chill of the evening; they desire comfort and release after the stress of a long day; there is the practical consideration that two people sleeping in the same bed have more of an opportunity to engage in sex; shadows help conceal one’s otherwise noticeable physical shortcomings; it’s easier to slip about unseen under the cover of night if one is looking for some adventurous extramarital activities; and the dark is mysterious, romantic, and a little dangerous, all of which helps set the proper mood for love-making.

But there’s more to this – quite a bit more, in fact.

Most modern people don’t understand what real darkness is actually like. We live in electrical cities and there’s always a light on somewhere: street lamps, television sets, signs in empty buildings, distant traffic, airplanes flying overhead. We have lived with all of this for so long that we hardly even notice it most of the time. Even if we happen to find ourselves out in the wilderness – and suddenly notice the stars shining more brightly since they don’t have to compete with the haze of light from our urban settings – we know that we will soon be back to civilization and surrounded by the comforting omnipresent electrical glow of our cities.

But things were different for the ancients. Darkness was total, all-consuming, and even the light from candles and lamps was fairly dim by comparison, centered in a single spot, a pool of illumination in the midst of eternal darkness. Think about what that darkness must have been like for a moment.

During the day everything is distinct, separate. You can clearly see that this is this and that that, and navigate your way through the world of form easily. But when the darkness came – everything changed. It enveloped the world of creation, blurring things together in an undifferentiated mush of shadows and even darker shadows. You couldn’t see what lay before you – whether you were about to stumble over a rock or if a vicious creature lurked on the side of the road, preparing to tear your throat out. Nothing existed, for nothing could be seen. It was as if the world had been returned to its original primal state – a yawning chasm, chaos and emptiness, everything in a state of potentiality before the process of creation unfolded, as it would when the sun emerged once more and things became distinct, manifest, capable of being seen and navigated through.

This is what night and blackness meant to the ancients – and it is significant that they associated it with Aphrodite. For sex is a chaotic force. It frightens us, deep down. We feel that we are about to lose ourselves, that we are going to dissolve into an oceanic state of undifferentiatedness. The contours of our personality begin to shift, just as our body becomes united to another person’s, and in the throes of orgasm there is no thought for all of the things that make us who we think we are – our job, our politics, our religion, our status within the family and society, rules, inhibitions, fears, hopes, the foibles of our personality – all of this dissolves, fades into the background. All that we feel is the rush of sensation flooding our synapses, the intoxication of pleasure that drives us closer and closer to the edge of the abyss and the looming darkness beneath – and in climax we finally are pushed over the edge and plummet down, down, down into that perfect, primal, emptiness from which we first emerged into life.

That place is where life is. It is also where death is. It is the home of Aphrodite who straddles both spheres – because in truth, they are one and the same. Life is flowing out of the chasm – death is flowing back into it. But in time each stream will change its course and flow in the opposite direction. During the light of day we see these two as distinct – but in the darkness, and those things which remind us of darkness such as love, sex, creativity, madness, ecstasy, and being in the presence of the divine – we intuitively sense their connectedness. Life and death haunt each other – you can not draw close to one without finding yourself in the proximity of the other. When a child comes into this world, it is a dangerous time both for infant and mother with the potential for death looming over every second. From the decaying husk of a fallen log an ecosystem emerges supporting flowers and grass and fungi and insects and other animal life. A couple survives a car crash and for some inexplicable reason find themselves incredibly horny.

And Aphrodite watches over all of this and smiles.

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I had an interesting conversation on the subway ride home the other day (actually it wasn’t on the way home; it was on the way to have dinner and see Rent with my beautiful wife for our seventh wedding anniversary, which is another story). A colleague of mine was on the same train–he’s an interesting guy and we’ve had a few brief but stimulating conversations about politics, society, culture, etc. Anyway, this guy is Greek Orthodox, and for some reason or another the fact that I’m an ex-Mormon came up in the conversation.

The interesting thing is, we didn’t really talk about Mormonism or ex-Mormonism for very long before we transitioned, and we started talking instead about Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, and some of the issues that the two churches face. The big deal about this conversation was that my point of view in the exchange was Anglican. I was speaking not as a Mormon, or an ex-Mormon, but as an Anglican.

It was kind of awesome. We talked about the Reformation, about creeds and schisms, about theology, and about church and culture and the challenges that come from the interplay between the two. But instead of talking from the perspective of an ex-Mormon floundering about on a spiritual quest, I was talking from the perspective of a committed Anglican.

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