‘A Vision of Angels’ by Timothy Jay Smith – review

Originally published by Friends of Al Aqsa: http://foa.org.uk/publications/a-vision-of-angels

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A Vision of Angels by Timothy Jay Smith is a light but well balanced story surrounding the Israel/Palestine conflict.  It’s general pace is appropriate and being a predominantly dialogue based novel, makes it easy to read. It was therefore not surprising to discover Timothy Jay Smith is also a screenwriter. This novel could easily translate well to screen or stage. There are some interesting and consistent characters presented to us throughout the novel.  However, it is their surroundings and the ensuing situations that find the characters lives unknowingly intertwined, that gives this novel its appeal.  In spite of the portrayal of characters from both sides of the divide, and all the various strata within those two sides, Smith manages to make each character’s life seem separate, while simultaneously being inextricably linked.  This is perhaps a nod to the clarity of the writing style, and could be said to represent a true mirror of the broken society. The selection of characters are somehow thrown together in the story, despite having high walls surrounding keeping them worlds apart, literally and figuratively, as represented in Smith’s prose.

The main characters, according to the author’s acknowledgements, are based on his lifetime of experience with Jewish families and his work with Palestinians during the peace process.  He also acknowledges his time spent travelling around the Middle East and the vast range of people he met along the way as inspiration for the characters in the novel.  The key characters are from each side of the Israel-Palestine divide and include: David Kessler, an American journalist whose work becomes a focal point of the story, Major Levy and his family; his wife Leah, daughter Rachel and most notably his son Mishe; a young Israeli soldier, quickly recognised as a hero, an angel, and later a peace activist. Amin Mousa, from a powerful Gazan land-owning family and an ally of Hamas. Issa and his wife Nadia; a Christian/Muslim Palestinian couple.  I warmed a great deal to these characters in particular.  The name of this character becomes an important but subtle undercurrent, that runs through the novel about the similarities between the 3 monotheistic religions. Other important characters are Captain Sa’ab Al-Rayes, Senior Security Officer in Gaza, Major Levy’s close friend IDF Chief of Staff Ben-Ami, Noam, a Brooklyn-born Jew, immigrated to Israel, and Katya, a single-mother, native of England.

Overall the story uses the characters well to describe and demonstrate the differences in culture and way of life.  The routine inter-mingling of faiths is made clear in symbols. Smith uses the title of Chapters as one way in which to demonstrate the importance of the three faiths and the role they play in everyday life in Palestine and Israel, and most notably of course in Jerusalem. On the other hand, I do feel that the most has not been made of an opportunity to develop one of the main families as Muslim Palestinians. This would hence give a more balanced insight into life in the Occupied territories for them.  Conversely, the use of a Christian Palestinian family as protagonists, could go some way in extending the popular generalization of all Palestinians being Muslims. Issa’s character plainly states this, ‘For the day he could forget about being part of a Christian minority in an Arab world and a Palestinian minority in an Israeli one.’

The writer makes good use of timescales and pace to connect the past and present and throughout the novel there is a great fluidity of transition from the past to present and vice versa. The historical context is key in this novel, not only because of the nature of the subject matter. The fluidity of movement over time, gives a great sense of singularity and consistency to the conflict. A well-constructed example of this is Amin Mousa looking through his father’s diary.  The flow of prose from Amin’s thoughts to the diary entry feels contiguous, and as such serves to join the past and the present as one. There are also many references to history and historical sites, which are of course a part of the fabric of the land. Nevertheless, Smith uses these to great effect perhaps to remind us of the importance of the cycle of history that is attached to the past, present, and future of the conflict.

Expanding the theme of time and history, another theme is the generational gap.  The older generation seem to represent an older more binary way of thinking, where themes of tradition and heritage appear to confuse the younger generation. Noam, an American immigrant, often expresses his minor crises of identity in various ways. David Kessler, a character who always seems to be somewhat detached from Jewish life, as an American of Jewish heritage. ‘Pausing outside a synagogue to listen to boys chant their nasal prayers, he pondered how, through their shared blood, it could have been him inside.’ ‘Could he deny his blood heritage that made him want to touch his forehead to Isaac’s altar or link arms with the men dancing in the synagogue?’ In spite of David’s secular, modernist/liberal stance, Smith shows him, and other characters, repeatedly struggling with denial of faith and issues of guilt that revolve predominantly around heritage and bloodlines. In this sense, Smith represents the spectrum of Jewish people that have immigrated from all over the world, while at the same time examining some of their individual and collective insecurities about tradition and culture, particularly through language and religious practices.  Comparatively, the Jewish characters seem to have more of a disconnection with their elders. The relationship between Mishe and his father is an example of such.  His girlfriend Nina also complains of the poor relations between her and her mother. The Arab characters on the contrary seem to have much stronger ties to the older generation.  This is perhaps because the fathers of the two main Arab characters, Issa and Amin, died in the conflict.  This seems to serve to venerate and almost idolise memories of them.

Another common thread that links the characters is political involvement. All the main characters are involved in some kind of movement, public speaking or action group that assists with pushing forward their solution to the conflict.  The power and perceptions created by the media is another running theme of this novel.

Demonstrates the power and perception of images in the media. Chief of staff Ben-Ami mistakes a scene from Iraq for a scene from Israel; ‘He knew those battlefields too well and had almost mistaken the broadcast for one of his own wars when the reporter identified it as Iraq.’ Timothy Jay Smith emphasizes the futility of war many times in this novel and this is one clear example. The repetition of images by the media is also remarked upon here, ‘Then suddenly the same picture popped up on the screens like cherries on a slot machine. A good Samaritan extending his hand to a mother whose injured son lay stretched across her knees.’  The interpretation of the image and representation of the soldier as a hero are strong, and Smith uses the pace well to represent a real-time understanding of the speed at which the photo moves from being just a photo, to an iconic image within hours. This image becomes the central focus of the story, interlinking all characters together in one image.

By and large this work succeeds at showing a balanced view of the conflict and the lives of those characters involved.  It illustrates life across every demographic, however the vision could be a little better balanced. The ending felt a little rushed as if all the action had been saved until the end, this added to the pace at the end however but made for slower reading in the first third of the novel. Although there were some interesting twists and surprises, the unsurprising fate of the Arab characters, as well as the occasional incorrect transliteration of Arabic, felt a little disappointing. Nonetheless, Timothy Jay Smith does balance out the predictable terrorist rhetoric with a revealing comment from Avi, an Israeli soldier with a colourful history, that David befriends. He astutely notes that in he eyes of the media, “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.”  This point not only ironically indicates a part of the plot that follows later in the story, but also emphasises the importance of language used by the media in creating and upholding images and perceptions, that serve to perpetuate and exacerbate conflict.

 

 


UEFA under- 21 finals hosted by Israel because ‘Sport is never just about sport.’[1]

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Sport, like its cultural counterpart music, has always been linked to politics. They both similarly form a large part of popular culture and consequently hold a firm place in collective public consciousness. In the contemporary age, where political awareness has all but disappeared in music[2], sport on the other hand, only continues to become increasingly involved with politics. This involvement that sport has seems to be going from strength to strength, moving ever forward in its interdependence with politics.

The ultimate sports event, the modern and ancient Olympic games, were initially a competition between the city-states of Ancient Greece. The foundations of this event were built on the existence of competition between states. In Ancient Rome the games then evolved into a competition that aimed to impose political and religious orders.  In its current form the games are recognised as a competition between nations. The games in their status as the pinnacle of all sporting goals, simply cannot avoid being connected to politics. The fervent nationalism involved in the Olympic games, despite the IOC’s public statements to the contrary, can only be aligned with the political.  Similarly, other international tournaments, particularly in games as prevalent in the public consciousness as football, cannot avoid being tarred with the same nationalistic brush. The nationalism that arises out of sport however is always viewed as being of the friendly variety rather than the threatening. The only other realm in which nationalism is as openly encouraged, is in the military. Therefore, if these events encourage some kind of nationalism, albeit congenial, then international sporting collectives such as UEFA and the IOC are the driving mechanisms behind this nationalism.

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The Special Relationship: Same tree, many branches.

Article first published by Friends of Al Aqsa, 2nd May 2013: http://foa.org.uk/news/the-special-relationship-same-tree-many-branches

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Relations between Britain and Israel have not seemed comparatively as significant as Israel – US relations in recent decades.  Historically however, the term ‘special relationship’ held greater implications for understanding the relationship between Britain and Israel. It seems quite fitting that as we are approaching the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, Britain’s policies towards Israel appear to be moving full circle. 1917 drew a firm line marking Britain’s official political involvement in Palestine, which initiated the legitimisation of the state of Israel at the end of the British Mandate period, and has since been the crux of a conflict that is seemingly, and allegorically, infinite.

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Abraham’s family tree, according to followers of the British Israel movement, who believe the Anglo-Saxon people to be one of the lost tribes. Note the importance of 1917.

British politics of today remains comparable with historic policies which have provided unwieldy support for Israel.  Both Conservative and Labour party leaders have affirmed directly their stand with Zionism through the potent platforms that are the Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel respectively. Both have also stated that the deligitimisation of Israel will not be tolerated. Nick Clegg has also experienced an allegiance to Zionism, although that has been somewhat more wavering. His focus on human rights for Palestinians and his controversial statement on Israeli settlements caused a contentious relationship between the Lib Dems and the British and international Jewish community. He soon backed down on realisation that he was not winning any friends, and the looming influence of the Israeli lobby came to the fore. Ever since, his policies, or at least his rhetoric on Israel has backpedalled.  Clegg apologetically announced to a luncheon of the Liberal Democrat friends of Israel in 2010 that he was engaged in ‘clarifying misunderstandings’.[1] But these ‘misunderstandings’ resurfaced their ugly head when in 2012 Clegg was quoted as calling Israeli settlements ‘deliberate vandalism’.[2]

Along similar lines, the British government has on the one hand frequently spoken out against Israel’s human rights violations, while on the other astutely performing a delicate rhetorical balancing act ensuring it did not denounce the state of Israel itself. The current emphatic support for Israel echoes Balfour’s words that created the state. The only difference is that, in the present day there is some consideration, rhetorical at least if not political, for the rights of Palestinians.  Whereas in 1917 the cabinet decided to issue a declaration, that favoured the hopes of the European Jewish community, over the rights of the Palestinians already in situ.  Perhaps the patches of human rights rhetoric that have filtered out of Westminster in recent times are words of remorse.  Ultimately however, it is clear that the legacy of the Balfour Declaration cannot be undone, and in the eyes of the British Government the legitimacy of the state of Israel will remain intact.

Theories of Political Science argue that in order to understand a country’s foreign policy you have to look at its internal politics[3]. In the UK, as with most democratic political systems, the Left/Right divide appears to be the chief divisor in terms of foreign policy.  On observation of Britain’s policy towards Israel however, this is not the case. Historically the three main parties across the left-right spectrum have all comparatively fluctuated in their support for Israel.  The Late Margaret Thatcher went some way in her Conservative leadership to solidifying this relationship, by being the first serving Prime Minister to visit Israel in 1986.[4]  Her other strategy at a local level involved securing votes within the Jewish community in London.  

Today’s parties do not differ greatly in their overall support. The divergence in opinion between parties is now closed, which may be the result of intense pro-Israeli lobbying.  Channel 4’s Dispatches[5] concluded that pro-Israel influencers have been bankrolling MP’s in all three major political parties. Even without taking on in-depth research, the uniformity of opinion across the parties is ironically reflected in the names of the more influential groups; the Conservative Friends of Israel, The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, and last but not least, the Labour Friends of Israel. Comparatively, Labour has a ‘Friends of Palestine and the Middle East’, while the Conservatives have no such party.

So is this century-old relationship a circle of policy, or a disbandment of policy circles? Some would suggest precisely the latter, and that Britain’s input in the Palestine-Israel conflict is, and has always been, party partisan.  I would strongly disagree and use a comparison between David Lloyd George’s Liberal Party and Nick’s Clegg’s Liberal Democrats as a direct example of how policies of the same party evolve to suit the political landscape by which they are surrounded. What has been clear, throughout this century of change and much that has stayed the same, is that Britain has kept up a great appearance of power and influence in its policy towards Israel, but in reality has floundered in its capability to convince and coerce internally.

[1] The Jewish Chronicle ‘Nick Clegg: we got it wrong on Israel’. http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/41015/nick-clegg-we-got-it-wrong-israel

[3] James D Fearon. ‘Domestic Politics, Foreign Policy and Theories of International Relations’. Annual Review of Political ScienceVol. 1: 289-313

[4] Haaretz. Margaret Thatcher, the British PM who praised Israel’s ‘pioneer spirit’. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/margaret-thatcher-the-british-pm-who-praised-israel-s-pioneer-spirit.premium-1.514374

[5] Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby – Dispatches

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLm7CXywmGc


Cultural boycott – an effective political tool.

by Carlos Latuff.

Until very recently, the cultural boycott of Israel has often been dismissed as ineffective at influencing policy. Even those such as Noam Chomsky, who are generally uncompromising in their criticism of Israel and the Zionist ideology, have considered boycott a misguided step.  The two most prevalent arguments against the support of cultural boycott are; firstly that the notion that culture and politics are entirely unrelated entities, and secondly, that because the underlying aim of boycott is the delegitimisation of the state of Israel, it should be avoided.

The first argument often equates to the question, ‘What do Arts and Entertainment have to do with politics?’ “Everything.” I would suggest is the answer. Freedom and the arts seem to be synonymous, and the inability to express is seen as contrary to the definition of culture itself. This sense and rhetoric of ‘freedom’ through the arts however is easily put to ill use, and we must not be so blinkered by political rhetoric as to not realise this fact. To see my musical heroes such as Stevie Wonder* considering ignoring this negative use of his art is heart-breaking.

Historically, culture has often been used as a tool through which to proliferate propaganda and boost public image in world politics, particularly in wartime. Israel is not the first and will certainly not be the last state in the world to use this technique. Culture and the Arts are often seen as a liberation or antidote to political problems, but I believe it would be a grave mistake to overlook their importance or be deluded about their impact on politics and society as a whole. Therefore, answering ‘Everything’ to the question of the relationship between politics and culture is not an overstated interpretation, but is visible as an integral and functional part of the mission statement of the Israeli state itself. The Hasbara Project, or ‘Brand Israel’, was set up with the express purpose of creating a positive image of Israel.  The much-contested Batsheva dance company is associated with this initiative, and is a prime example of how culture is often used as a political tool.  Alon Pinkas, during his role as Consul General for Israel in New York, and who, ironically, is now also a current Foreign Affairs analyst for Fox Television stated, “We are currently in a conflict with the Palestinians…engaging in a successful PR campaign is part of winning the conflict.”[1] The role of Zionism is therefore not solely military but aims to achieve its goal by creating an image of itself that encourages its legitimacy as a state. This vision of ‘self’, created by the Hasbara PR Project, aims to convince the world that the Zionist ideology is a peaceful, diplomatic, combatant of anti-Semitism, among many other falsely positive images.  In his film Reel Bad Arabs, Dr Jack Shaheen noted that, ‘Policy enforces mythical images, mythical images help implement policy.’[2] Therefore, when culture clearly plays such a political role in defining images and shaping ideologies, can associations with Israel and its culture, or exporting culture to Israel, ever really be impartial?

I would suggest that while these mythical images of ‘self ‘ (Israel) and ‘Others’ (the Arab World) are still being offered up to us as truth for consumption through the medium of culture, and are used as a means to a political ends, the international community should refuse to accept them. Luckily however, the huge discrepancy between positive public images of Israel and her political actions is fast becoming general knowledge.

The second concern of those against cultural boycott is that it is being used as a tool to support the deligimistation of the state of Israel.  The subtle but considerable impact of boycott on policy has only recently been felt.  The most obvious manifestation appeared recently in statements in the British political arena.  Last month David Cameron made his non-alignment with the boycott movement very clear.  “And to those in Britain’s universities and trade unions who want to boycott Israel and consign it to an international ghetto…but I also say this: we know what you are doing – trying to delegitimise the State of Israel – and we will not have it.” In this speech made at the Annual Dinner of United Jewish Israel Appeal[3], Mr Cameron made it very clear that he associates boycott as a direct attempt to delegitimise the state. It’s worth noting that political rhetoric is generally representative of the ideology or the actual sentiment evoked by those in power. If this is the rule, then David Cameron’s recent statement was not the exception. It demonstrated a clear iteration of his own personal or political sentiments with regards to Zionism and his support for the state of Israel.

‘Brothers in Arms’

Mr Cameron went on to add that economic and cultural relations between Britain and Israel are, 60 years worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make both our countries stronger.”  If culture reflects ideology, and subsequently influences power and policy-making, then by making this statement it appears that Mr. Cameron has no qualms identifying the British economy and culture with Israel’s.  Perhaps witnessing the usually lightweight nature of culture turning into a political force is the proverbial last straw.  As the international community shifts the boycott of culture from ‘entertainment purposes only’ into the political realm and subsequently influencing policy, governments across the globe are starting to sit up and take notice. Mr. Cameron’s response to this suggests either he is suffering from overexposure to ‘Brand Israel’ PR, or he is revealing his genuine considerations on Britain’s position towards the state of Israel. In either case, his comments demonstrate the success of cultural boycott as a political tool, and as such give a clear indication of why, in my opinion, it must be continued.

*Please sign this petition now to stop Stevie Wonder performing for the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) whose job it is to kill, torture, and harass Palestinian people on a daily basis.

http://www.causes.com/actions/1708640#


[1] Sut Jhally. Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land.

[2] Dr Jack Shaheen. ‘Reel Bad Arabs – How Hollywood Vilifies a people.’

[3] http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/ujia/ Speech at Annual dinner of United Jewish Israel Appeal. Monday 15th October 2012.


Street mentalists

From http://platonicsolids.tumblr.com

Meaningful messages can be delivered to a public audience in many ways be they music, as discussed in the last post, art, particularly street art, or other forms of media. Of course there are many places to find your target audience depending on your choice of media. But in capital cities of the world such as London, the streets and its variety of public transport systems, are where you find the biggest mass movements of people.

Arriving in London, which if you’re familiar with it or not, does have a reputation for being a seemingly cold and mercenary city.  Of course, like most major cities in the world, it is a place where huge masses of people, despite coming into relatively close physical contact, have the bare minimum of actual interaction on a daily basis.  Interaction, at the most, often solely involves a sideways glance at those with whom you will be sharing very-precious-because-it’s-somewhat-limited oxygen on a packed tube that morning.  It’s likely to even be the same group of people for a successive amount of days, working weeks, months and even years.

What is unlikely to happen in that time however, is that you strike up a conversation with said fellow oxygen-sharer.  If you did, you would initially be looked upon with some degree of suspicion. When someone starts talking to you in London the first thing you are programmed to think is ‘What does he/she want and why are they talking to me?’ It’s like an automatic switch that comes on when someone tries to interact with you.  You quickly get sucked out of your individual bubble, as if someone had stuck a pin in it, burst it and your head came popping out under considerable pressure.  I always envisage people walking around in bubble-like pods in London.  I mean, each person actually walking around with a physical oval or pod-shaped bubble that extends from the bottom of their necks up over their heads.  The pod would be transparent, and ultimately pretty much bubble-like.  It could be made of plastic or some kind of galvanized rubber so as not to cause discomfort or be too heavy. Ideally, people wouldn’t even really feel that it’s there.  Inside the pod people are connected to their music, their media, their literature, their own thoughts, their own language, tastes and smells: their own veritable mini-universe.  When they sit down next to someone else on the tube, then the bubble extends down to the elbows, leaving just enough room for the necessary forearm and hand manoeuvres for the turning of pages or electronic device operation.

Nothing much can disconnect you from the pod. Its very existence allows you to virtually ignore other human beings, even and especially when they are in times of need. There are of course the few who actually want to open their pod. Or, being new to the city and due to the pod’s lightweight and almost invisible qualities, they aren’t fully conscious of its presence yet.  They tend to breach pod protocol by having a moment of interaction with you that goes beyond pod-world norms. Interaction has a whole range of levels of intimacy in pod-protocol. The base level being a standard acknowledgement of another person, that is acknowledgement not as in direct eye contact, but just a simple feeling of recognition that there is another person next to, in front of, or behind you.  It’s almost telepathic. You can do this without disconnecting any of your senses from your pod.  The most intimate in pod interaction would probably be the dreaded conversation, or even worse the emergency situation where you might have to be one of the small percentage of people in pod world that actually offer to help someone out in such a situation.

The only other interactions or distractions that lead you to think about the world outside the pod are the invariable announcements you hear from the tannoy.  The tannoy, which neatly connects directly into your internally fitted pod-speaker, delivers regular and repetitive messages about delays to your service, as well as the incessant warnings about the destruction of left luggage and safe-guarding of your personal belongings.  This instils a feeling of constantly being watched and under threat simultaneously, despite the protective shield of your pod.

Funny thing being that all this pod-living directly contrasts the idea that floats around of London being a free and liberal city.

However, there are a few glimmers of hope when some people leave their house deciding not to wear their pod.  Having not lived in London for quite some time I tend to be one of those, but after 4 weeks have realised that people tend to think you’re an escaped care-in-the-community-case, so most of the time I partially slip unwillingly back into the pod of conformity, always poised to take it off.

The people that battle on without their pods though are inspirational to me. They decide to step out of the grid and give us, the pod-wearing public a chance to hear their thoughts and actually try to interact with us about issues that matter to them.  These are the mostly-silent protesters who stand, camp or live in the streets with signboards.  They have really had an impact on me because of the very nature of the city just described. These people have really decided to shout their message out.  And quite cleverly so, as in a world full of pods, no one will hear words being shouted, but the impact of reading words in the street through our pods can be phenomenal in terms of the message hitting home. Thankfully for us they disconnect from pod world, because how stale street life would be without them.  Often written off as madmen, I’d like to suggest they be nominated as metropolitan superheroes.

‘Repair the world, keep hope alive.’

Some camp outside of Parliament for days to years.

Mark Quinsey killed by Freemasons

Others are homeless and make their home a place of political argument by relentlessly trying to tell us something through their boards.

Protest at home. Under the Great West Road Bridge, Chiswick, London

Dale farm evictions – The vile english at their most grim and mercyless*’ (left)

‘A vile and brutal country England.’

Maybe it’s nothing new, but in a city full of tightly sealed pods, it seems refreshing to at least see some trying to get their message across.  It’s particularly uplifting and effective that they protest alone, and continue on through adversity.

The pod makes the messages all seem real. Real, exaggerated and in neon-bright colour.  Their message gets amplified because the people that don’t instantly dismiss them as mentalists*, really take a moment to disconnect themselves from their world and enter another’s.  And this, I think, is the ultimate in effective message delivery.

*Mentalist (n) (adj) One who is mental – first coined by UK sitcom “I’m Alan Partridge” (Episode 5)  “What are you doing, you mentalist?”

“Mentalist” has more recently become a tongue-in-cheek insult for when someone is behaving oddly or wackily, thanks to tv series “Alan Partridge” and “The Office”. (From http://www.urbandictionary.com)

From ‘mentalism’ (noun) Philosophy

The theory that physical and psychological phenomena are ultimately explicable only in terms of a creative and interpretive mind. (Apple dictionary version 2.1.3)

Related links:

Group protest to be criminalised ‘lone protesters’ come together for mass impact

http://www.peacenews.info/issues/2478/247801.html

Dale Farm evictions

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/dale-farm

Mark Quinsey/Freemasons protestor on bus

http://www.life.com/news-pictures/89369743/freemasons-protest-sign-seen-on-london-bus

‘Doing Battle in a War of Words’ – Meaningful messages on the streets of Dubai.

http://www.7days.ae/article/news/special-reports/doing-battle-war-words-29305


Voices of Political Music Women: the delicate chords delivering a political message

Article published here:

http://shejay.net/articleDetail.php?articleID=62758


Follow the signs


While I was in Katmandu recently I noticed the huge number of religious symbols that exist for various different reasons and beliefs.  A huge number if you compare it with most of Europe for instance, particularly the UK and France where secularization and political correctness now exist to a point where religious symbols are severely frowned upon and in some cases, banned in public.

I have a relatively limited knowledge of the Hindu religion and only a little more of the Buddhist religion, which I was told firmly by many Hindus in Nepal is actually considered by them to be more of a philosophy rather than a religion.  I found it so intriguing that whenever you ask the Nepalese people about the religious structure of Nepal you get a different answer.  A Tibetan taxi driver I met told me that there are 40% Hindus and 40 % Buddhists in Nepal, 20% other.  I have a very funny story to recount about his views on the world and religions which I will have to write about in another post, because it opens up a whole new topic!  Another guy I met called Rama, a Hindu of Indian origin who guided me around Durbar Square and explained the history of all the temples and the palace.  He also gave me a quick rundown of the key beliefs in Hinduism so I could make sense of all the carvings and symbols.  They were so intricate and numerous that even he joked that he didn’t know the meaning of every single one. He remarked that there were indeed a lot of symbols and they all had some specific interpretation most of which he enlightened me with.  So Rama’s view on the religiosity of Nepal was 60% Hindu and 30% Buddhist 10% other denominations.

Rama

Later I met Krishna, a Hindu shopkeeper who introduced me to Siddhartha, which I bought and read the same day on his recommendation.  We had a very interesting conversation and he introduced me to the notion of Hindu practices with a very strong Buddhist philosophy.  He also had some very interesting views about life, love and all the rest of it, and as did Rama, made a clear distinction between his religion and his philosophy.  His estimate of the number of Hindus to Buddhists was roughly the same.

Krishna. He has special powers, his own words not mine!

I found it fascinating that Hindu and Buddhist temples were as one in Kathmandu.  Often both religions pray in exactly the same place.  As I continued around the city the presence of the Hindu religion was ultimately the strongest, particularly in terms of symbols that you see all over the city.

I also noticed that many of these symbols have been borrowed and used in the Occult and various other religious/spiritual practices.  Of course, as I touched on in the last post, Hitler notoriously took the previously Hindu swastika, turned it around, and gave it a meaning entirely of his own making.


I started to question why symbols had been so readily borrowed from this religion in particular.  On researching I found lots of information that I’m yet to fully analyse and understand, as it’s pretty complex.  I don’t feel I have enough knowledge as yet to give a detailed analysis but the two easiest and most general assumptions I can come to are 1) it’s such an old religion and hence had a lot of influence over those that followed and 2) Paganism and occult practices existed long before the revelation and establishment of the monotheistic religions.  Perhaps it’s because Hinduism is a polytheistic religion and it’s on this basis that a lot of occult and pagan practices can find common ground to borrow ideas and base their practices on.

Skull engravings at the entrance of Kumari Devi's (The living goddess) house

Hand of the Kalydana holding his dead victim. His hands held in Apan Mudra - hand gesture for cleansing, now used as a Horned god hand gesture between those in the occult.

Skulls on the crown of the Kalydana

Shatkona, six-pointed star which is two interlocked triangles denoting male and female energy. Known as a hexagram in the occult used for working magic. The sacred dogs that guard temple entrances stand either side. In the occult symbols dogs represent of the guardians of the underworld as taken from the ancient egyptian god Anubis.

Helena Blavatsky (see previous post) was reknowned and cited for using Hindu teachings in her development of the Occult.

“ Narrowly defined, modern New Age teachings can be linked to the transplantation of Hindu philosophy through the Theosophical Society founded by Helena Blavatsky in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the United States, and to the psychic medium Edgar Cayce, whose prophecies scholars now consider foundational to its birth and development.  Madame Blavatsky, as she was known, promoted Spiritism, séances, and basic Hindu philosophy while manifesting a distinct antagonism to biblical Christianity.”

The Kingdom of the Occult By Walter Martin, Jill Martin Rische, Kurt Van Gorden