Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Goddess Isis, My Mom and Winona Ryder

Winonisis by Christopher T.
I was feeling kind of sad yesterday, partly because it was my mother's birthday, when I remembered that it is also Winona Ryder's birthday. Often I am cheered on this day by the morning radio news chirping something like, "It's 70 degrees in Los Angeles and Winona Ryder is 44 years old."

I realized too that it was the first day of the festival of Isis and Osiris, the Ancient Egyptian myth that was spun into the Mary and Jesus resurrection story in the bible. I'd connected my mother to the myth, but not, heretofore, Winona.

My mother's name was Inez, which we pronounced "I-nis" (a little like "I-sis"). When I was very young, I thought her name was "Icing," which is what I called the satin border sewn onto my baby blanket. I used to like to fall asleep fingering that soft, comforting strip of satin. I remember feeling the coolness of it the night I had a 104 degree temperature with the measles, and Mom stayed up all night rubbing me down with isopropyl alcohol while I hallucinated.

She'd hoped I would be born on her birthday, when I was due, but I took my sweet time and picked a birthday of my own a few days later, on the final day of Isis/Osiris saga. In that tale, Isis journeys to the underworld and brings her husband back from death so that they can conceive a son.

I have the great good fortune of knowing Ryder's parents as colleagues and mentors. In 1982, Michael Horowitz and Cynthia Palmer published the book Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady (aka Sisters of the Extreme), which first opened my eyes to the connection between cannabis and the female. It is on their giant shoulders that I stand, and they couldn't be more gracious, helpful or inspiring to me in my quest to uncover even more Shaman Women. Horowitz was also Timothy Leary's archivist, which is how Leary famously became Ryder's godfather.

Because we are in touch, they recommended I watch "Stranger Things" on Netflix, which in case you're aren't aware, is quite the phenomenon. In the last two nights' time I've managed to bingewatch all gripping episodes as a nod to Halloween/Samhain.

In it, Ryder's character's son is taken to the underworld and she must rescue him. That's so Isis.

I love that the show touches on MK-ULTRA, the CIA program that dosed unprepared participants with LSD to develop the sacrament as a weapon. The program, which was exposed in the Church Committee hearings, did much to unravel the peace movement of the 60s as well as, I discovered yesterday at the Oakland Museum, the Black Panthers.

Today, as a friend points out, it is very troubling that "ISIS" has become the known name of a terrorist group. Perhaps that is why President Obama more properly calls them ISIL.

More on Winona in How to Make an American Pot Party.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Hooray for Hayden

My reminiscence of Tom Hayden, excerpted from the book I may publish someday. I'm devastated. What a loss, and how lucky we are that he lived. 

Chapter 8—Hooray for Hayden 

Tom Hayden and his wife Jane Fonda in 1976.
When I tell people about Tom Hayden, I love to say that I went to hear a politician speak on the night before an election, and the question I most wanted to ask was, “Can you recommend a good translation of the Tao Te Ching?” 

In fact, the night of the lecture, which took place at the Phoenix bookstore in Santa Monica, I went up to ask Hayden that very question, because he had spoken so eloquently about it. It took a while, because I was last in line behind a group of his students from a class he was teaching at Santa Monica College. My friend Genie (a.k.a. She Who Remembers), who was taping the event and is also a big hemp activist, saw me approach him and yelled out, "Ask him about hemp!" I kind of paused, not knowing what to say, when he started picking up his papers to leave. Damn, I'd lost my chance to ask him anything. … 

A year or so later, when Hayden was running for Governor of California, my friend and fellow activist CJ started lobbying his office for him to appear at one of our hemp rallies in L.A. Finally, he agreed. This was an amazing accomplishment, since no elected official had set foot at one of our rallies before (in fact the only political parties ever represented were the Libertarians and the Greens). This one, on May 1, 1994,  was strange because the flags on the Federal building property on Wilshire Blvd. that was the site of our protests were at half-mast because Richard Nixon had just died.

Not only did Hayden come, he signed our initiative, and he gave a beautiful speech. He stood, very unassuming, with his hand on his heart, and he seemed to be speaking from there when he said:

I want to express my appreciation and respect for the many years in exile that many of you have suffered because of the cowardice of the political leadership of this state to address the issue of why we have legal tobacco and alcoholwhich my family has suffered from and your families have suffered fromand we have continued to impose not just criminal penalties but a social and moral prohibition and taboo on marijuana. There is no reason for this except cowardice and a generational conflict that seems to go on and on. 

Do you know what I am doing later on tonight? I'm going to a performance about the Chicago conspiracy trial. Some of these things never end. 

Let's express our compassion for Richard Nixon, who passed away last week, and let's express our apprehension for the Nixonism, the law-and-order-ism that continues to be mainstream political bread and butter in Sacramento. 

I'm here to say that the War on Crime and the War on Drugs have got to be re-examined. They are a quagmire of crime, of blood, of alienation, of tax loss, the destruction of our cities, the destruction of our people. 

This is one of the hardest issues for me, and for you, since the Vietnam War. It is a quagmire like Vietnam. There is no military solution in the long run to this madness. It's even worse than Vietnam in this sense, because you can't pack up and withdraw, you can't go home. We are home.

So I wish you well and certainly in my campaign I will speak with respect to the efforts you are making. I will try to raise the issue of the morality, the double standards, the economic benefits, the total political and moral blindness of our political leadership and challenge them to debate these issues. Thank you.     
To say he electrified the crowd would be an understatement. After his speech, CJ walked him to his car and told him she was concerned about the impending Three Strikes You're Out law, which would put people in prison for life upon committing three felonies. She told him that growing any amount of marijuana was a felony. “That's not true, is it?” Hayden asked. “Check it out yourself,” she said. “If that's true, I'll raise that issue in my campaign,” he pledged.

CJ came back to the rally and told us all the story. Then, she said, someone tried to give him a copy of The Emperor Wears No Clothes. “I know that book,” he said, “that's more popular than the . . ." “I can't remember what he said next,” CJ said. I took a guess. "The Tao Te Ching?" I asked. "Yes," she said, grabbing my arm. She took me around to everyone else to whom she told the story and when she came to "that's more popular than the..." I filled in "the Tao Te Ching." I realized he must have made that assessment from that night at the Phoenix, one year before. Was he actually disappointed that after hearing his lecture, all some hemp chick could think to say was, “Have you read The Emperor?” If only he knew, he did get through to me. 

A month or so later Chris and Mikki were in town and Greg and I staged our first-ever dinner party at the Love Shak. I ran out and bought second-hand plates at the thrift shop and saw this really cool coffee table for $15. I checked with Greg before making such a huge purchase, and he loved it too so we bought it. So just in time for this party we had plates and something to put them on! Ain't life grand.

CJ came by with a tape of the gubernatorial debate between Kathleen Brown, John Garemendi, and Hayden. Brown wouldn't allow the debate to be aired over the networks, but CJ had a friend in SF who got hold of it. Brown did badly (no wonder she wouldn't air it), but Tom was amazing. He came off so much more reasoned and intelligent than the other two. It was two politicians and a statesman. If the people of California had watched those debates, they would have immediately carried Hayden on their shoulders up to the Governor’s mansion. 

Already it was making my day just to see anyone with anything logical to say in a political debate, when the question was asked, “Do you support the Three Strikes You're Out initiative?” Of course, Brown and Garemendi couldn't wait to jump all over it with their support, no doubt hoping for the lucrative endorsement of the prison guards’ union. When it was Tom's turn, he said, "I am opposed to Three Strikes because it will put check kikers and marijuana farmers in prison for life." 

Hallelujiah! You could have heard me yell for miles. We all stood up, cheering. He called us farmers. Not dealers, even growers, but farmers. Not only that, he KEPT a PROMISE. I couldn't remember the last time any elected official had done that. 

I walked right over to CJ and told her, "You are responsible for that!" It was great to be able to congratulate her for her work. Those moments are too rare. It was by far the best political moment of the year for me. 

Of course, we called and got Hayden literature and passed it out at our tables and told everyone we could about him. It was hard to raise hope in such a bleak landscape, but as with Jerry Brown, I figured if Tom could keep fighting so could I.

Excerpted from Confessions of the Happy Hempstress, by Ellen Komp. Copyright 2016

Hayden won the International Awareness Tokey Award in 2012. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Martha Gellhorn, Leonard Bernstein, and the Ballerinas

Looking up war correspondent and third wife to Ernest Hemingway Martha Gellhorn after seeing the spotty-at-best 2102 film Hemingway and Gellhorn, I found this item about Martha and Leonard Bernstein trying marijuana in Mexico at the end of 1948 or the beginning of '49 in Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life by Caroline Moorhead:

Another visitor was Leonard Bernstein, who turned up unannounced one day in Cuernavaca, proposing to move in and stay with her, and bringing with him a grand piano.....Martha moved him smartly into a house up the road, with a large pool, in easy walking distance. He wanted to play Scrabble, which she resisted, hating all games except for gin rummy, but one night, after he had been told by local musicians he met that marijuana made the music flow faster, they got ahold of four joints and prepared to experiment. 

Since they were both terrified of what might happen, they decided to boost their courage by having a few martinis first, generously poured into water tumblers. After a while, beginning to feel ill, Martha crawled toward the spare bedroom. As she reached the bed, she heard Bernstein fall heavily in the sitting room and lie still. She was sick all night; when she fell asleep, her nightmares were appalling. Next morning, she crept home, leaving Bernstein still unconscious on the sitting room floor. 

Too bad about the martinis.

Bernstein is depicted snorting coke and drinking heavily in the excellent 2023 film Maestro, with Bradley Cooper playing the title role. Bernstein is said to have described Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique as “the first psychedelic symphony in history, the first ever musical description of a trip.” 

Gellhorn famously said, "People often say, with pride, 'I'm not interested in politics.' They might as well say, 'I'm not interested in my standard of living, my health, my job, my rights, my freedoms, my future or any future.' ... If we mean to keep any control over our world and lives, we must be interested in politics."

Nicole Kidman, who played Gellhorn in the film, recently appeared in a biopic of Tokin' Woman Gertrude Bell but it hasn't been released, except in Germany. As Gellman she had some strong scenes, but in others was a basket case who need Hem to help her out. It was co-written by a woman and a man, I think I know which scenes were written by whom.

Going further back, a Joyce Kilmer essay, “Absinthe At the Cheshire Cheese,” published in his 1921 book The Circus: And Other Essays and Fugitive Pieces, states, "When Dowson took hashish during his student days, Mr. Arthur Symons tells us, it was before a large and festive company of friends.” He is speaking of poet Ernest Dowson, whose famous turns of phrase include “gone with the wind” and “the days of wine and roses.”

Margaret Mitchell, touched by the "far away, faintly sad sound I wanted" of Dowson's line, chose it as the title of her epic Civil War novel. In the 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses, Jack Lemmon leads Lee Remick into alcoholism (by giving her a crème de cocao-containing Brandy Alexander after she says she likes chocolate).

Symons, a Baudelaire scholar who reportedly had a psychotic breakdown in 1909, was an influence on Yeats and a member, along with Dowson and Yeats, of the bohemian Rhymers' Club, whose members reportedly used hashish. In 1918 he wrote a piece for Vanity Fair titled, "The Gateway to an Artificial Paradise: The Effects of Hashish and Opium Compared," in which he says hashish "has the divinity of a sorceress, the charm of a dangerous and insidious mistress."

The book Arthur Symons by John M. Munro says, “The years between the publication of Days and Nights (1889) and London Nights (1895) may properly be referred to as Symons’ Decadent period…..he experimented, cautiously, with hashish…. The footnote reads: “On one occasion, John Addington Symonds, Ernest Dowson, and some of [Arthur] Symons’ lady friends from the ballet all tried hashish during an afternoon tea given by Symons in his rooms at Fountain Court." Symons described the event:

"Dancers" by Edgar Degas, c. 1878
No word about the effect on the ballerinas, except perhaps for their laughter.

Despite Symons saying hashish (or the more beautifully spelled haschisch) had been Dowson's favorite form of intoxication in college, Kilmer downplays the effect it might have had on Dowson's work,  calling it "incongruous and unconvincing....He was an accomplished artist in words, a delicate, sensitive and graceful genius, but he was no more fitted to be a pagan than to be a policeman."

The moralistic Roman Catholic poet who wrote, "I think that I shall never see /A poem as lovely as a tree," Kilmer writes in his essay on Dowson, "There are, and there have always been since sin first came into the world, genuine decadents. That is, there have been writers who have devoted all their energies and talents to the cause of evil, who have consistently and sincerely opposed Christian morality, and zealously endeavored to make the worst appear the better cause. But every poet who lays a lyric wreath at a heathen shrine, who sings the delights of immorality, or hashish, or suicide, or mayhem, is not a decadent : often he is merely weak-minded. The true decadent, to paraphrase a famous saying, wears his vices lightly, like a flower. He really succeeds in making vice seem picturesque and amusing and even attractive."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Viking Völvas and Cannabis Seeds

In 1903, near the Oseberg Farm in Norway, a farmer discovered a Viking ship built around 820 AD that had been buried for 11 centuries. The ship contained the remains of two women, along with two cows, fifteen horses, six dogs, several ornately carved sleighs and beds, plus tapestries, clothing, and kitchen implements, and—it was discovered in 2007—a small leather pouch containing cannabis seeds.

The find is similar to the Siberian “Ice Princess," a 2500-year-old elaborately tattooed mummy who was found in 1993 similarly appointed with a container of cannabis.

In 2012, archeologists found that hemp had been grown as early as 650-800 AD in Norway, most likely for cordage and sails for ships. However, speculation that the women were carrying cannabis seeds to enable them to cultivate industrial-grade hemp upon their arrival in the next world is disputed by the fact that none of the ropes or textiles found on board the Oseberg ship were made from hemp. “This suggests that the cannabis seeds were intended for ritual use,” writes M. Michael Brady.

One or both of the Viking women, whose ages have been estimated at 50 and 70, may have been a Völva (“priestess” or “seeress”). The older woman, possibly the legendary Queen Åsa, was buried holding a wooden wand or staff, “not only a shamanic implement but also an insignia of their profession. Indeed, the Old Norse term völva has been widely translated to mean a woman ‘wand carrier' or ‘magical staff bearer,’” writes Evelyn C. Rysdyk in her book The Norse Shaman.

"A metal rattle of the sort that a Völva could have used in rituals was found on the ship, fixed to a post topped by a carved animal head and covered with sinuous knot work," writes Brady. "Völvas are presumed to have employed psychoactive substances, as in burning cannabis seeds to induce a trance." In 450 BC Herodotus described Scythian funeral rites where cannabis seeds were thrown onto hot stones and "the Scythians, transported by the vapor, shout aloud."

"Women in ancient Norse society were the ones who primarily practiced shamanism or seiðr,” writes Rysdyk. “A woman who practiced this art was known as a seiðkona or völva. During the Viking Age, practitioners of seiðr were often described as women past their childbearing years [as were both of the women on the ship]. Like their Paleolithic and Neolithic sisters, these women carried the tools of their trade into death….A völva buried in Fyrkat, Denmark was buried with a box containing her talismans or taufr. These included an owl pellet, small bones from birds and animals as well as henbane seeds. When thrown on a fire, henbane seeds can produce a hallucinogenic smoke that gives those who inhale it a sense of flying which may have enhanced the völva’s trance. The völur who were buried in the Oseberg ship were similarly outfitted with a pouch of cannabis seeds for their journey beyond life.”

A silver-gilt, 10th-century figurine
found at Harby, Denmark which may
represent Freyja, a Valkyrie,
or a human warrior woman.

In A History of the Vikings: Children of Ash and Elm, Neil Price writes of hallucinogens being found in graves of völva, and the role of mythical women in Viking lore, such as the Valkyries, female spirits that guide the dead. "Contrary to the general assumption that the Viking warrior dead went to Odin in Valhalla, only half of them actually found a posthumous home there," Price writes. "The remainder traveled to [the goddess] Freyja in her great hall of Sessrumnir, 'Seat-Room'." 

Freyja taught Odin seithr (seiðr), the "highest, most terrible magic." Seithr could "confuse and distract at a fatal moment, or fog the mind with terror. It could strengthen the limbs or disable them, giving someone godlike dexterity, or reduce them to stumbling uselessness. It could make weapons unbreakable or brittle as ice. It was the magic of the battlefield, the farm, the field, the body and the bedroom, and the mind. There was nothing coincidental about its associations with the divinities of war, sex, and intellect." 

Other Viking goddesses included Idun, the keeper of the golden apples that ensured the gods' eternal youth; Eir, a goddess of healing; and Odin's wife Frigg.