Monthly Archives: June 2016

Walking with the Spirits Part 2-B

“In time, the old ways would be sundered between Man and Wolf. It changed long ago, when Man left the forests for the fields. Man changed his relationship with the land and all the people. He put down his bow, and picked up his pick and shovel. He took his axe and cut down the ancient trees, and in their place he planted his food and cities.

So it was that my people, the Wolf, went to man and asked him why he no longer hunted, why he no longer ran with us as a brother? Man said to us that our ways were wild, and were no longer welcome. He said we were a danger to his cattle, and his sheep. He chased us away with weapons and death. We looked back upon man with longing, knowing that a deep rift had grown up between us. We knew that the days of our bond were passing, and that the coming days would see us as enemies.” The she-wolf said. The old man had tears in his eyes.

“And that is what came to pass. As man planted fields, and expanded across the world, the Wolf was seen as a threat, and an enemy. The Wolf People were killed wherever man went, and went extinct in many places. Man took the forests, and killed the wolves, and so claimed more and more for himself. No longer could Wolf and Man coexist, as the Wolf was wild, dangerous, and would take things from Man, and so must be killed.” The old man said, anger growing in his voice.

“What happened? Why did Man go back on his promise?” The boy asked. The she-wolf lowered her head, looking sad.

“A deep poison had festered in Man’s spirit. You see, even spirits can get sick and fall ill, even spirits can die. They can be wounded, and get infections as well. Man’s sickness was one of the spirit and of the mind. Man became poisoned by Greed and Pride. So it was that Man said to himself; “I am obviously superior to all creatures, and so it must be that I have dominion over them all. They exist to serve my needs, because I am superior.”

Such an idea poisoned Man’s spirit, and turned him away from all other beings. There were no longer Tree-People, or Wolf-People, but only resources and animals. Man told himself that all these things were for his own use, and that there was no need to give anything back. Why keep good relationships with things that are less than himself?

So over time Man became greedy, and was no longer willing to share with the people around him. He took the forests for his own use, and the land for his own us, and the water too the same. He took the air also for himself, and all the food too. He even took these things from of his own kind. Man hunted Wolf, because he could not stand the idea of having to share prey with Wolf anymore. Man and Wolf were no longer friends, and Wolf was no longer a person. Why share at all?” The she-wolf said, tears in her eyes.

The old man nodded sadly.

“That is what happened here. Man took all of it for his own use. The problem was, it was never enough. No matter how many trees we cut down, no matter how many lakes we polluted, no matter how many wolves we killed, it would never be enough. We did not realize until it was too late that by killing all these things we were really killing ourselves. As the she-wolf said, the spirit can be wounded just like anything else. Every tree we cut down, every wolf we killed, what we were really doing was killing ourselves, one tiny scratch at a time.” The old man said.

The boy now had tears in his eyes.

“Yes, this was once a place of water and trees. But now it is dead and lifeless, because we could never get enough, and could not see those different then us as people too. The tree were people, and the wolves were people. But now that is all gone, just like our spirits. It is all dead now, and soon we will be too. You and me boy are the last humans, and my time grows short.” The old man said.

The boy turned to the wolf.

“You too?” He asked. The she-wolf nodded.

“I am the last of my kind.” She said.

The sun had started to rise on the horizon. The old man and the old she-wolf looked at it with sadness.

“It is fitting we should see our last sunrise together.” The old man said.

“With the rising of the sun, we end things as we began them.” The she-wolf said.

“As friends.” The boy said. Both the old man and the old wolf nodded.

The sun rose, and the old man and the she-wolf withered away as the sunlight flooded the desert.

Commentary;

This is the second part of the story that I first posted here. I have been trying to clean it up a little, and make it read a little better. There might be some parts that are still unclear, because this story originally had a very different context.

It was a dream story originally, and the boy woke up at the end. A lot of that has been edited out for flow reasons, but some of it still lingers. For example, this story has a noted “post apocalyptic” feel to it. The implication is that the world around the old man and the she-wolf is dead, nothing but desert and sand. This was spelled out more in the early versions of this story, but here it has been mostly dropped.

I felt I had to share this one, because the message behind it is a strong one. It speaks of a sundering between humanity and nature, between Man and all other Persons. Over the long ages, we have slowly drove a wedge between ourselves and nature. I have made it pretty clear on this blog that I am at best ambivalent towards capitalism. As an idea and as an economic system, it has a hell of a lot of problems. And because of such ideas, we often talk of things like “natural resources” and even “human resources.” There is a lot of problems with this kind of worldview.

Overall, I felt this was a good story to follow up my discussion on totemism. It has a few aspects I would put in that kind of worldview.

However, now I start looking forward to the next part of this series. From here, we will move on to a general discussion on the development of religion, and from there onto various archaeological sites that give us insight into the nature of religion, and what the ancestors thought about their world.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Walking with the Ancestors Part 5-A

At this point in the series, there are two major branches we could follow. While we will end up exploring both branches in time, I have decided to tackle them one at a time. So the question before me was, east or west?

After much deliberation with folks on Facebook, which ultimately was futile and full of comments such as “weast” or “north”, I have decided to follow the eastern branch of my ancestry first. I have a couple of reasons why I choose the eastern branch. First, it’s not going to take as much time, as there are far fewer points on the eastern branch. Second, it is the one that piques my curiosity. I have a pretty good understanding of my ancestry, but doing this kind of thing always comes with its surprises. The eastern branch was one of those surprises, and something I didn’t really expect to show up.

But, it wouldn’t be any fun without discovering something new.

In addition, this post bridges better with the last chapter anyway, as I took some liberties to construct the story. Some of those liberties come from the time of the Mal’ta Boy, which is who we will be talking about this time around.

Mal’ta Boy Match; 11.64%

So let’s start with some context shall we?

The Danish-US research was carried out on the bones of a Siberian boy whose remains were found near the village of Mal’ta close to Lake Baikal in the 1920s in a grave adorned with flint tools, pendants, a bead necklace and a sprinkling of ochre. The remains are held in the world famous Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and analysis of a bone in one of his arms represents ‘the oldest complete genome of a modern human sequenced to date’, according to Science magazine.

‘His DNA shows close ties to those of today’s Native Americans. Yet he apparently descended not from East Asians, but from people who had lived in Europe or western Asia,’ said ancient DNA expert Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen. ‘The finding suggests that about a third of the ancestry of today’s Native Americans can be traced to ‘western Eurasia’.’ “ – Siberian Times

Malta

(We are at the yellow dot today, Ca. 27 kya) 

Just as a side note, I will say that the Siberian Times article is certainly worth the look, as it tells a lot of entangled stories. There is the tattooed “Princess Ukok” that was found in the Altai mountains, and dated to about 2,500 years ago. Ancient tattooing! Neat!

But I digress, so how about a little more context, this time from the New York Times, stating that the boy’s DNA held a couple of surprises;

The first is that the boy’s DNA matches that of Western Europeans, showing that during the last Ice Age people from Europe had reached farther east across Eurasia than previously supposed. Though none of the Mal’ta boy’s skin or hair survives, his genes suggest he would have had brown hair, brown eyes and freckled skin.

The second surprise is that his DNA also matches a large proportion — about 25 percent — of the DNA of living Native Americans. The first people to arrive in the Americas have long been assumed to have descended from Siberian populations related to East Asians. It now seems that they may be a mixture between the Western Europeans who had reached Siberia and an East Asian population.

The Mal’ta boy was 3 to 4 years old and was buried under a stone slab wearing an ivory diadem, a bead necklace and a bird-shaped pendant. Elsewhere at the same site about 30 Venus figurines were found of the kind produced by the Upper Paleolithic cultures of Europe. The remains were excavated by Russian archaeologists over a 20-year period ending in 1958 and stored in museums in St. Petersburg.” – New York Times

This selection gives us a great deal of information, from what the boy actually looked like, to some of the items he was buried with. There are plenty of curiosities here, and I won’t have the space in a single post to detail them all.

But in the context of this piece, the interesting part is how his DNA shares traits with both Western Europeans, as well as Native American’s. This shows long migration routes all across the ancient world stretching from Western Europe to Asia and beyond. In addition, unlike some of the other sites I have discussed on this blog, the Mal’ta Boy was found with an assortment of other objects. Context is everything in archaeology, and it is the context that the boy was found it that tells us a lot about how he lived and the people he spent his life with.

I made no secret of the fact that I used some of the finds from Mal’ta as inspiration for the previous story in this series. Unlike the finds of femurs, or teeth, when archaeologists come across finds like Mal’ta, they tell us a great deal. Here is just a brief example from the New York Times article;

The Mal’ta people built houses that were partly underground, with bone walls and roofs made of reindeer antlers. Their culture is distinguished by its many art objects and its survival in an unforgiving climate.” – New York Times

And at least one of my ancestors was there, living in one of those houses. That is something that is kind of mind blowing to think about. I would have been related to both his parent’s as well, and this young boy would have likely been raised in a village/tribe of hunter-gatherer’s in ancient Siberia.

But before I digress too much, there are some important elements of this story that still need to be told. The Mal’ta Boy is but one link in a chain, of a long migration route across the ancient world, and across the Beringian land bridge and into North America. I did say we were heading east after all.

Here is a quote from the New York Times;

The other surprise from the Mal’ta boy’s genome was that it matched to both Europeans and Native Americans but not to East Asians. Dr. Willerslev’s interpretation was that the ancestors of Native Americans had already separated from the East Asian population when they interbred with the people of the Mal’ta culture, and that this admixed population then crossed over the Beringian land bridge that then lay between Siberia and Alaska to become a founding population of Native Americans… “ -New York Times

Which is where we are heading next with this series, across the Beringian land Bridge and into North America. But that is the next chapter of this series.

Over the ocean and through the woods, to the Clovis Culture we go…

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

There are plenty of other goodies to be found out in internet land! I have included a couple more articles here that I did not specifically reference in my post. Enjoy!

Nature

BBC

Siberian Times

New York Times

Wikipedia (Mal’ta-Buret Culture)


Walking with the Spirits Part 2-A

I wanted to spend a little more time with ideology before I move to archaeology with this series. As such, let’s circle back to Edward Tylor and his contemporaries for the moment.

I find it fascinating how there are greater intellectual “patterns” that color a lot of early anthropological writing. That is why it is so important to remember the context from which this kind of thinking arose. For example, a fair amount of writing such as Tylor’s comes from a a time of colonization, or times immediately after. This means that colony building, and more generalized forms of imperialism and colonialism are ever present in the thoughts of writers at the time.

It is a specter that still somewhat haunts anthropology to this day. In the time of Tylor, anthropology was not yet a fully developed academic discipline, and often had different goals from modern day forms. One of those goals was colonialism, and many early “anthropologists” were sent abroad to learn about the “natives”, so that they might be easier to convert or conquer. This played right into the ideas associated with the Myth of Progress, because if the Empire was the height of civilization, it was also the height of religion; that religion being Christianity. A fair amount of early ethnography comes from missionaries. As such, many early thinkers felt it their “duty” to bring “civilization” to those “unevolved savages.”

We are still trying to deal with the fallout of that kind of thinking.

But more to the point, another big “intellectual pattern” at the time was the Origin of Religion, and several thinkers just like Tylor tried to put forth a theoretical model for such an “origin”. As has already been discussed, Tylor’s model was animism. I would like to touch on another idea that circulates commonly in pagany spheres, and that is the idea of totemism.

Going back to Harvey’s book, another thinker in the 20th century proposed a theory on the “Origin of Religion”, and his name was Emile Durkheim. Here I offer a quote from Harvey’s book concerning Durkheim;

“The founder of French anthropology and sociology, Emile Durkheim, proposed that religion did not originate in animism (as understood by Tylor) or in naturism (e.g. Max Muller’s ‘awe at the extraordinary power of nature’) but in totemism. He dismissed existing theories of of animism and naturism as inadequate explanations for the origins of religion because the facts that they supposedly respond are too ordinary to generate something as extraordinary as religion.”1

Which begs the question of course, of what is “totemism”? Here we turn to Britannica for a brief rundown, because going deeply into the full ideology of the concept would be a lengthy task;

“Totemism is a belief in which either each human, or each group of humans (e.g., a clan or tribe) is thought to have a spiritual connection or a kinship with another physical being, such as an animal or plant, often called a “spirit-being” or “totem.” The totem is thought to interact with a given kin group or an individual and to serve as their emblem or symbol. “ -Wikipedia

It is a complex concept, that has many different facets that we will not discuss here; and can be categorized in both “group” and “individual” forms. As to the group forms, Harvey has this to say concerning Durkheim’s work;

“He (Durkheim) proposed that the priority of social facts over individuals’ embodied experience gave rise to the notion of systemic kinship and other relational identities. Totemism is central to this contextualizing and pervasive relationality. Individuals considered themselves not only related to their ‘blood’ kin, but also to a wider clan identified with a particular symbolic animal, a totem.” 2

As Harvey goes on to point out, the relational nature of individuals to the totem may result in concrete social rules and guidelines for behavior within a society. Some examples are; “do not eat the totem” or “do not marry within the clan”.

However, this does not mean Durkheim was on the mark any more than Tylor. Ultimately, even though Durkheim considered totemism to be rational, he also determined it was an error in thinking, in the same way that Tylor dismissed animism as something belonging to “primitive” people.

But just as animism has “old” and “new” forms, so too does totemism. As with animism, as a concept totemism has gone through many cycles of criticism and revisiting. So this begs the question, how has totemism been revisited in recent thought?

Harvey tackles this question in chapter 11 of his book. In Harvey’s section called ‘Updating the old totemism’, he has this to say about past theories on the concept;

“Scholarly discourses about totemism and animism have been theorised as opposing moves in the engagement of (human) culture and (non-human) nature. Animism has been seen as the projection of human culture onto inanimate nature, while totemism has been seen as the use of nature to categorise human social groups.”3

As Harvey points out, early thinkers such as Tylor and and Durkheim put forwards their ideas as contrasting theories about the “origin” of religions, but these days the thinking has moved towards animism and totemism as complimentary more than contrasting. As Harvey points out;

“Recent discussions have found animism and totemism to be more related than opposed. The neatness of their analytical separation in the old system conceal the fact ‘that the two schemes have fundamental properties in common’…”4

In truth, at least how I understand them, the two constitute in many ways two sides of the same coin, with many points of overlap. As just a brief example, I recently wrote a piece talking a little bit about these things here.

But more to the point, Harvey quotes another scholar by the name of Århem, who summarizes the ideas as “if totemic systems model society after nature, then animic systems model nature after society.” To which Århem adds later in the chapter;

“Experientially they (totemism and animism) form part of totalising eco-cosmologies, integrating practical knowledge and moral values. As holistic cultural constructs, eco-cosmologies engage and motive; they mould perception, inform practice, and supply meaningful guidelines for living.”5

And before we close out , we give the final word to Harvey;

“Totemism, then, is one sociological structure in which animist persons (human and other-than-human) meaningfully, respectfully, morally and intimately engage with one another. The new totemism adds to the new animism by clarifying a way in which some relationships are closer than others while, conversely, not all relationships are equally valued by all persons and groups.”6

The take away I think is this; that between the interconnected concepts of animism and totemism we find conceptual frameworks in which to understand how we relate to one another, as well as to our environment. This is a crucial understanding that will be vital not only to this series of posts, but also to our relationships between ourselves and the natural world. For too long we have tried to build a wall between (human) culture and (non human) nature. I think that animistic/totemistic understanding of our relationships to the planet are one method to start taking that wall apart, one brick at a time.

Both animism and totemism conceived of in this way will also provide the framework for many of my future writings on this project. That is why I choose to explore both old and new versions of these theories, for a good theoretical understanding before we move on to other things.

Thanks for reading!

Notes;

1Harvey, pg 11

2Harvey Pg 11

3Harvey Pg 166

4Harvey Pg 166

5Harvey pg 166, quoting Århem 1996, 185-6

6Harvey pg 168

References/Sources;

“Animism: Respecting the Living World” By Graham Harvey

Britannica (Totemism)

My post on “Reflections/FFA”


Some Thoughts on Science and Animism

Recently, over at A Sense of Natural Wonder, Lupa came out with a blog entitled “Dear Pagans: Please Stop Abusing Science.” Overall, I thought it was a great read, and made many important points, and I think some of those deserve a little more exploration here.

I would like to start off with a quote from Lupa;

When I was a kid, I always wanted to be some sort of STEM major, whether it was veterinarian or biologist. Unfortunately, my terrible math skills barred me from anything but the humanities. Even my psychology degree is more geared towards counseling practice than scientific research; in grad school, my research methods and statistics classes were specifically for not-math people, just enough to be able to understand the latest studies in counseling-related psychology. “

My story is a very similar one. I have wanted to be a scientist of some kind for a long kind. Some of my earliest memories on a child are reading The World Book Encyclopedia; you know the twenty some volume hardcovers that weigh a over a hundred pounds. I devoured things like astronomy, biology, ecology, and pretty much every other -ology you can imagine.

Then the reality of my struggles with higher math caught up with me. Don’t get me wrong, I am “not” bad at math as a whole, as math is something I do for a living. It just that I wasn’t “good” enough” to go into a STEM field, which among my first choices was ecology or forestry.

I ended up in social science, more specifically with a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology. But before I digress too much, the point is this. I consider myself among the scientifically literate.

I do write science fiction in my free time. Which implies that I have to at least know a little bit about science as a prerequisite. In fact, I have a great love of science, which is after all a method of knowing, an epistemology of a sort. It is, at it’s core, a method and technique of knowing and understanding the world. And on this point, I think it is a sad fact that Lupa points out;

But it was enough. Many of us in the United States get a cursory look at the scientific method in public school, but most of us forget it after we’re done “

I think scientific literacy is something that is sorely lacking in the US. Honestly, we have climate change and scientific “skeptics” and deniers running the damn country. You add in the endless cutting of research and university budgets, you get a poor outlook for scientific literacy. Lupa is right on point here;

Two words: scientific literacy. American culture in particular is woefully prone to pseudoscience and science denialism already, and our clinging to bad science doesn’t help. When we replace scientific literacy with non-scientific explanations for things in this world, we are making it easier for people to spread and utilize misinformation. We also make it harder to disprove their claims and to get people to stop supporting them. We increase the societal view that scientific literacy isn’t important for anyone except scientists. And that leads to some really bad things.

And as such, I think she is correct in calling out some of the misuses of things like quantum mechanics, piezoelectric, or one I could fill volumes about; pseudoarchaeology. Seriously folks, don’t even get me started about Ancient Aliens and that crackpot that runs it. Not to mention some of the claims I hear come from some pagans. I am not even going to go there.

Generally as I said I think this is a great article, but it was this section that gave me a little bit of pause;

It also helped me shake off the last vestiges of “woo” in my spirituality. I’m theologically an I-don’t-care-ist; I don’t especially care whether the spirits and such exist outside of my own psyche or not. What’s important to me is that my spiritual path is both personally fulfilling, AND encourages me to give back to the world that I am a part of through service and love. When I can find wonder in the process of photosynthesis, or the delicate trail of a doe through the tall grass, or the perfect spiral of a lancetooth’s empty shell, what need have I of anything beyond that? The stars are themselves fonts of the numinous, without having to be gods on top of it. “

If that works for Lupa, that is fantastic. What works for one person may not work for another, and that is perfectly okay. I am also in agreement with the naturalism in Lupa’s comment. The stars are beautiful things, as well as the tracks of does. Certainly, the physical world is a source of great awe and beauty for me as well, and this all leads to a certain amount of naturalistic leanings. Forests really are amazing things, as is that fusion furnace that rises and sets each day, painting the sky in a plethora of colors.

That is an amazing thing, and truly one part of the reason I consider my self a pagan (as in nature based). Still, all that considered, I often find that the concept of “woo” is used in an unflattering light when referring to things that are “unscientific”. Don’t get me wrong, there is such a thing as a badly thought out idea or belief. There is such a thing as the misapplication of a concept. There is such a thing as being in error, and their is certainly such a thing as calling something science that plain and simply is not.

The whole of it all (cosmos, universe, whatever) is incredibly complex. Science is a wonderful, fantastic, self correcting method that should be encouraged. But at the end of the day, it is only one method of knowing. It is suitable for answering certain questions, such as why the sun is so damn bright (something about fusion and photons). However, I am an animist as well…

Biology tells us that a tree is a living thing.

Ecology tells us that the tree is part of a greater ecology, that includes non-living things.

Animism tells me that the trees are people, and that our relation to them is important.

While it may not be scientific to think so, I find the additional layer of meaning works for me. I don’t necessarily need animism to understand why respecting nature is important, but it gives me another way of knowing that respecting nature is important. Not only are we destroying habitats and killing of species, but we are killing off (non-human) people too. It may not be scientific to think non-human persons (living or dead) can be communicated with, but it is another way of understanding the world. It helps reinforce my connections to the natural world, as well as to my ancestry.

I find that animism and science can be complementary, as long as we realize that there are real limits to both. There is some overlap, Venn diagram style, but also science and animism inhabit their own realms. Science is not equipped methodologically to handle animistic questions, as animism is not really equipped to handle scientific questions. Both are different ways of understanding the world, but this does not mean they are 100% compatible. It is important to understand the boundaries of each.

Which is the take away from all of this I think. While “woo” might not necessarily be a bad thing, we need to be really careful (if not outright avoid) trying to use science to justify it. There is a difference between science and belief. A point I think Lupa hammers home nicely;

“Whether you’re a polytheist or a humanist or a duotheist or an animist, I encourage you to (re)familiarize yourself with the scientific method and with the basics of research design and statistics. I encourage you to look at the ways in which sloppy, bad science has affected everything from the environment to human rights, historically and now in the 21st century. I encourage you to look at ways in which good science can support our spirituality–how spirituality can lead to a healthier, more positive outlook on life, for example. And I encourage you to consider being both a spiritual person, and a scientist (even if you’re a citizen scientist like me, rather than a full-time professional scientist!) In doing these things, we can set a good example by being a spiritual community with a firm grasp on the differing bailiwicks of science and spirit.”

Or, if I may quote from my favorite archaeologist *cough*;

“Archaeology (science) is the search for fact, not truth. If you want truth, Philosophy is down the hall.” Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. (Paraphrased)

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References:

“Dear Pagans” By Lupa


I Do Not Work for Free

If you pardon me for a moment, I am going to put my frowny ranty face mask on…

This is a topic I have seen circulate a great many times through various author and writing blogs, and every time I think it is something that is really important that readers need to read.

Recently, this topic surfaced again from the author Sarah Madison. Here piece is excellent, and I think her point is spot on. Let me summarize this as briefly as I can. As an author;

I DO NOT WORK FOR FREE.

The story Madison tells is a heartbreaking one for an author, and one that happens far too commonly. Someone is going on about how they got such and such a book for free from somethingorother pirate site. Someone else speaks up about how “free books” from pirate sites are stealing from the author. And more horrifying, others come to the pirate’s defense.

Seriously folks, go read Madison’s article, just the first few paragraphs. Author and readers both often get eviscerated on the internet for daring suggest an author get paid for their labor. In various disguises, I have seen small time authors such as myself utterly destroyed because of those kind of people. Bad comments on facebook are only the beginning. Next thing you know, there are spammed bad reviews of their books and…

An author has their entire life’s WORK destroyed because of some thief. Their reputation left in tatters. I am not going to mince words here;

PIRACY IS THEFT.

I think Madison lays out a good case for piracy being a bad sense of entitlement (as well as theft), and if I may I would like to add a few points to her own, as a self published author. She outlines three basic arguments you here from “piracy” folks.

1) I’m broke and I can’t afford to pay for my entertainment.

I think Madison does a great job dismantling this argument, mostly on the premise that most authors understand what it is like to be broke. I certainly understand. I don’t like to talk about my personal past here, but let’s just say I have been broke. Really broke. I get it, I do. I know what it is like to go without.

However, that is no excuse for theft. These days, I work a full time job to pay the bills, and I write on the side. Reread that sentence again carefully. I have a full time job to make ends meet. I cannot afford to write for a living, because I would be broke and homeless if I did.

Author’s generally don’t make enough to live on. The Stephen King’s and R.R. Martins of the world are the exception not the rule. The rule being, most authors can’t even pay all the bills with their writing. So we are forced to work day jobs, when we would much rather be writing.

She also points out this great thing for the low income reader, THE PUBLIC LIBRARY. They even have things like movies….

But even Madison is straight forward on this point;

“Oh. You want stories in your favorite genres by your favorite authors and you want them today, without having to pay for them, regardless of their listed price. Yeah, that’s entitlement. And when you download them illegally from a pirate site or torrent, that’s stealing. Let’s just get the terms right, okay?”

 

  1. Creative Works should be free…

Oh yes, and the world should be full of ice cream and unicorns shitting rainbows. There is no free lunch folks. Let me tell you something, writing and other forms of art are LABOR. In other words, work. If you think that work shouldn’t be paid, might I ask for the number of your boss?

I want to suggest the same thing to him/her, and see what he thinks. I am sure you could put in a few hours without pay.

In addition, art is often one of the lowest paying kinds of labor, which often means it is a labor of love. Honestly, minimum wage for the time I put into writing would be fantastic! If you don’t think writing is labor?

WRITE A BOOK.

I am going to break this down for you. I am self published because I am too small of fish for most publishers to even consider, and I don’t have a lot of money to put up front, so I turned to self publishing. There are pros and cons to this. I get to retain most of the creative control, but at the same time I end doing a lot of the work myself. Work like marketing and networking, and actual trying to sell books, in addition to actually writing them. You want to talk about work? Okay, let’s talk.

(Note, these numbers are inspired by actual numbers.)

Average amount of time spent on a 80,000 word book: 100 hours. 1 day at a time, one hour at a time. (Writing only.)

Time spent editing: Varies, but at least 20 hours. (Back and forth, multiple times. My time only.)

That is 120 hours right there folks, and that is MY time. I also have a small team around me, artists, graphic designers, an amazing friend who doubles as my editor. They are all putting in their time too.

Remember that adage about time being money? Yeah, there is plenty of that too. I have to put in time making money, so that I can pay the various helpers so they can put in their time. More labor folks, and money out of my own pocket. More of my time. Time I would rather spend writing.

Madison hits this one home;

“Forget about the effort it takes to write a story. Let’s ignore the author’s contribution to this endeavor and deny them any right to be paid for their creativity. This ‘art should be free’ argument completely discounts the fact someone has to pay the editors, cover artists, formatters, distributors, book promotions teams, buy a dealer’s table and so on. I guess entitled readers expect that investment to come out of my own pocket with no hope of return. And if authors didn’t pay someone to for these services, we’d have to do them ourselves, taking time away from writing to do so. Not to mention a shabby editing job or poorly executed cover is one of the first things readers will complain about.”

 

  1. Writers already make enough money

I am right in line with Madison. This one makes me want to laugh hysterically, or curl into a ball and cry. I have already pointed out that authors that make a butt-ton of money are the exception, rather than the rule. Madison herself points to an article in the Guardian, that the average earning of an author is less that $10k a year.

I for one would be much happier to make even $10k off my writing a year.

Madison goes on to point out how ONE torrent site alone had over 16K downloads of one of her books. An estimated lost to her of about $13,500. From one site.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Now, I want you to go look at my publications tab real quick. Just look, and see the prices.

For printed books, my average is about $10. Now realize there is markup and printing costs rolled into that.

So guess how much I make, on average, per book?

Between $1.50 and $3. That’s right folks, sitting on a measly 15% – 30%.

To break even I have to get books to sell. Which you guessed it, means more time, upfront cost to me, and more hours at my day job to cover those costs.

And if we circle back, at $1.50 – $3 per book, every time a book like mine gets torrented, it’s pretty much the same as stealing $1.50 – $3 worth in change out of someone’s pocket.

That’s called mugging, another form of theft.

In summary, piracy is theft folks. In addition, it just contributes more to the devaluation of our author’s and artists. Remember where I said getting paid minimum wage for my writing time was laughable and really sad? Yeah, that is what I was talking about. Authors and artists generally are really underpaid to begin with.

And stealing doesn’t help.

Sources/References;

Sarah Madison “Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me” Part 1

And she now has a second part up.

Sarah Madison “Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me” Part 2


Walking with the Spirits Part 1-B

In ancient times, when humanity was young and many of the People were already old, a great council was called to discuss what to do about the young humans.

The People turned out for the council in great multitudes, for they were diverse in kind and number. Tall and strong were the Oak People, and the Ant People had to be careful under foot. The Salmon people swam up the rivers, and the Wolf People appeared in their packs. It was a sight like none that had been seen before, so great were the multitudes that were in attendance.

Yet, it would have been impossible to talk in such a great host, and so small groups of People broke off so that they could discuss the matter easily. So it was that the land, sky, and water was filled with countless circles of speaking

Upon the land, one such group was headed by one of the White Oak People, who towered above all the others. His silvery bark was old and scaly, and his leaves were green in their full summer bloom. His low rumbling voice was the first to be heard in the speaking circle.

“I have seen the humans, and they are an interesting people. Unlike all that I have seen, they move about on two legs, not four. Nor do they have wings like the Bird People, nor fins like the fish and whales.” The White Oak said.

“Some of my people have said that they were once like us, before their arms grew short and their legs grow long.” Another said, a member of the Ape People.

“Yet they are not like you at all. They are hairless and odd in other ways.” Gray Wolf said.

“At least they don’t eat your kind. They have chased us long across the plains and the woods.” Red Deer said.

“They still kill us, and use our skins to keep warm.” Gray Wolf added with a snarl. Red Deer jumped to alert, as if ready to run. White Oak intervened.

“This is not a place for hunting, nor a place to bring out all our various differences. Is it not true Gray Wolf that you also hunt Red Deer?” White Oak said.

“It is true. But for meat, not for her fur.” Gray Wolf said.

“Yet the humans too hunt Red Deer for meat. And as you have said, they are naked and so must get cold easily.” White Oak said.

“Maybe they should have kept their hair?” Ape said.

“It is not only their nakedness that makes them odd. They have learned from other People who have not taught us their ways.” Gary Wolf said.

It was at that time that two new People joined the circle, and they were very different from those that were already gathered there. Still, all were welcome in the circle to have their say.

White Oak flinched back as one of the Fire People joined the circle, as the people of Wood were not always on friendly terms with Fire.

“What you say is true. We have entered into an alliance with the humans, and we have found it good for both of us. They benefit from our heat and our light, and we are well fed.” Fire said.

White Oak shuddered slightly.

“And what do you have to say about the humans?” White Oak said, directing his attention towards the Stone People that had joined the circle. Several different voices tried to speak all at once, as the rock people came in groups. Several smaller pebbles tried to speak over larger boulders, and the voices made no sense at all to those present.

“One at a time if you please.” White Oak said. All the stone people went silent for a moment, and then one sole boulder spoke.

“Some of our kin have also entered into.. connections with the humans. They have a knack of working with us that we have not seen before.” The Boulder said.

“We have worked with stones for longer than humans.” The Ape countered.

“Yet, it is not quite the same. Their hands are different than yours, as is their… vision. They shape us, and turn us into new forms, for skinning and hunting, and all matter of things.” The Boulder said.

“And this is acceptable to you?” The White Oak said.

“We find it benefits us as well. We are a slow moving people, and the humans take us when they move. It is nice to see our relations in other lands.” The Boulder said.

“But that is not the relation all of us have with them. They kill my kin without any thought, and our dead are left angry and confused. This is hard on our people.” Red Deer said.

“As it is on ours. They kill our mates and our friends, are packs are broken and our families scattered. And to what purpose? Because the humans lack fang, claw or fur?” Gray Wolf said.

“Perhaps you should rethink your relations to the humans? Perhaps you could benefit in the same way that we have?” Fire said.

For a long moment the circle was silent.

“Perhaps it would be well to reach out to the humans? We could form bonds with them just as the Fire People have, and the stone people too?” White Oak said.

“But will they listen? Can they be taught?” Gray Wolf said.

“We have to hope that they can be.” White Oak said.

Commentary;

No story should be taken without a grain a salt. Obviously, I had to take some liberties with this one, not only with time, but with conception as well. Honestly, I struggled with it for several reasons. Edward Tylor proposed animism as a theory of the origin of religion. But we cannot say for sure exactly how religion came into being, partly for a lack of definitive evidence, but partly because it is a complex process which no one theory really grasps entirely. In addition, there may be limits of biology. Over the long course of human evolution, our brains have increased in size and our minds have expanded. There is great a deal of debate concerning the nature of “awakening”, and the question at what point did humans become capable of “conceptualizing” something like religion? Or is it something that we have “always had?” I certainly can’t answer this question, and I am not certain any one really can. It might just be one of those Big Questions, that really never gets answered.

Given my animistic inclination; that is why I finally choose this kind of form for this story. Much of my understanding of the spirits come from working with them as well as my ancestors. I ran with the idea that maybe it was the spirits that first introduced them to humans, and the process of learning began. From my own work, I have been given individual taboos, and methods to interact with the spirits, and what is good to offer them, and so on. Maybe one of the reasons religion came about was that people started getting messages from other People, as a kind of “teaching.”

It is damn near impossible to say for sure.

Thanks for reading!