Thursday, 20 January 2011

Hell, Hussies, Sulphur and Farting

New Zealand boasts one of the most geo thermally active areas on this planet and averages 14,000 earthquakes each year. Roughly in the middle of the North Island is the town of Rotoroa and nearby two tectonic plates meet. Visible signs of thermal activity include eerie lifeless landscapes, geysers, bubbling ponds of thick mud, boiling pools of water and clouds of steam. The whole area including downtown Rotoroa is subject to odorous wafts of sulphur dioxide. Though the intensity of these wafts varies the olfactory experience is much like being permanently in a zone where somebody has farted.

Following on from my last post regarding all things heavenly it seems appropriate to consider the other side of the coin – the smell of hell. Most of us that grew up in European, Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cultures have heard stories telling us that if someone is very naughty and they don’t subsequently feel remorse then they will go somewhere very hot with boiling lava that smells of fart and stay there forever.

Earlier this week I attended a funeral and the priest celebrating the mass actually told us that the deceased was better off than us – because he was dead. I did wonder how that belief was reconciled with official views on abortion and assisted suicide. I haven’t been to many funerals but it would be nice to go to just one where we’re told that the deceased has gone to hell. It would certainly help me to understand the benchmark.

Outside of depth psychology circles it is unusual to come across serious reflection that considers the legacy of the Judeo Christian tradition in relation to our attitude towards the earth and our bodies. The principals of Western societies are based on these values and irrespective of conscious beliefs these inherited attitudes underpin our institutions including scientific ones, which eschew religion.

If we consider the notion that we will be better off when we’re dead it is not difficult to understand how that belief denigrates the earth and the body. Our physical lives become a pre-amble for something much better that comes after death and the earth an unimportant third rock from the sun. It is ours to exploit and ruin.

The body in this context becomes the very thing that keeps us from completion so it becomes something vile and an unhealthy duality is established between flesh and the spirit. Such views give rise to celibacy and the nastiest of all earthly creatures - those that through their devious, alluring, magical and manipulative arts are able to cast spells of lust into the loins of even the Godliest men. In fact they are so devious that the more pious, puritanial and saintly the man the more determined they are to torment.

So what has all this got to do with farting? The answer is fire, brimstone and sulphur. The Mediterranean, like New Zealand, has had several major volcanic eruptions in recorded history that have destroyed large settlements and all the inhabitants. Human imagination creates hell out of its deepest fears.

The Bruegelesque, bubbling mud baths may look like molten chocolate frogs plopping into the air before metamorphosing and being reclaimed by the bottomless, steaming, sulphur smelling pit, which produced them but their attempted leaps of freedom sound more like Orcs farting.

Fire has long been used as a symbol for passions that are out of control and also as a symbol of transformation. It was also used as part of the mediaeval exploration into homeopathic principles by applying it as a fitting punishment for aforementioned hussies who had been very naughty indeed.

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