Mysteria Misc. Maxima: July 10th, 2015


Mysteria Misc. Maxima is a weekly feature which brings together links on religion and esotericism from around the internet.

Photo by Emanuele.

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Mysteria Misc. Maxima: July 3rd, 2015

Aphrodite
Mysteria Misc. Maxima is a weekly feature which brings together links on religion and esotericism from around the internet.

Photo by Paul Simpson.

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Mysteria Misc. Maxima: June 26th, 2015


Mysteria Misc. Maxima is a weekly feature which brings together links on religion and esotericism from around the internet.

Photo by Sam Javanrouh.

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Eight Tips For Going Back to School

Sarah Veale GraduationLast week, I finally graduated from York with an honours bachelor’s degree. Moreover, I graduated in the top 3% of my faculty, and received the the highest honour in the Canadian university system, Summa Cum Laude. After five years of hard work, it was nice to go out on a positive note!

Rather than detail my experiences as an undergrad or whatnot, I thought I would provide some quick tips for those who are thinking of going to school. York is not my first school; it is the fifth post-secondary institution I’ve attended (sixth if you count a non-credit course at Ryerson). I was 35 when I began classes, and I’m 40 now. Like many of you, I’ve had an nontraditional educational trajectory, but I’d like to think that my experiences contributed to my success. So here are my tips for going back to school and getting your degree:

1. Start Where You Can

Reviewing courses with the Husband at York.

You don’t have to look at going back to school as a massive project that gets done all at once, just put one foot in front of the other and see where it goes.

Older students often have obligations that younger students don’t have, like work and family, which means you may have to take it slow and there is nothing wrong with that. (In my case, I worked at a law firm while going to university and picked up side work as a research assistant to pay the bills.)

Classes add up. So even if you can only fit one in here or there, eventually you will reach your goal.

2. Have a Big Goal and a Small Goal

I went back to school with two goals. The first was simple: get my degree so that I was more competitive on the job market. The second, larger goal, was to go to graduate school. The big goal helped me set my long-term approach to my studies. But my small, attainable goal ensured I stayed focused when graduate school seemed far away, and reminded me of my basic reason for going back to school.

Relaxing in Gothenburg after ESSWE4.
Relaxing in Gothenburg after ESSWE4.

3. Find Like-minded People

It will help you greatly if you can find people who work in areas that you are interested in. These people may or may not be your professors, and they may or may not be your fellow students. The good news is that even if you find yourself alone on campus, the internet provides a ton of ways to meet others. Contact some folks through academia.edu. Join a professional society. Attend local (or far away!) conferences. These days, there are so many ways to get involved that you don’t have to toil in the darkness.

A typical bus ride home from school.
A typical bus ride home from school.

4. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others

While it’s good to have goals and look to others for how to progress through your academic career, it’s easy to look around you and feel like other people are getting advantages or moving ahead while you are stuck in place. I know I often looked at my fellow classmates who received student funding or lived at home with their parents and got insanely jealous that they didn’t have to spend three hours a day on a jam-packed bus or reduce their course-load when home emergencies cut into their savings, as I had to do on a number of occasions.

Obviously, this sort of attitude can easily lead to bitterness and resentment, which is certainly not productive or healthy. Conquer the green monster by focusing on your game. The only person you should be measuring yourself against is you! It may be difficult to do at times, but the best strategy is to be happy with small victories, focus on your work, and ignore the rest.

5. Try Community College

I am proud to say that my first degree was from a community college! Forget the naysayers and look at the benefits: the courses are cheaper, the schedule is flexible, and often you can transfer your degree to a four-year university without issue. Bonus: Your local community college likely offers the same core curriculum as a big name university for a fraction of the price.

6. Avoid Debt

Sure, the promise of a fancy education sounds great, but the truth is, despite the promises of recruiters, there may not be a similarly fancy job waiting at the end of the rainbow. Rather than pile-up the student debt, be smart. Work your way through school, and pay cash for your classes (and everything else!). You might not be living the life of luxury (I know I’ve eaten my fair share of pasta dinners over the past few years!), but you’ll be happy when you have the financial freedom to chart your own course post-graduation.

7. Do Something You Love

Presenting on John the Baptist at the CSBS. (Photo by Tony Burke)

I’m not going to bullshit you with the old adage, “Do what you love and the money will follow!” Let’s face it, that is not a realistic approach. If it were, I would be getting paid to eat burritos and sing advertisement jingles.

Right now, academia is a bad place to be. Good jobs are disappearing and being replaced with bad ones, and cut backs mean that there is a lot of competition for the few positions that do exist. Why mention this? Because this dim scenario is all the more reason to do something you love! The skills you learn in university are definitely transferable to the private sector, so you might as well spend your time working on things you find interesting, and building your skill set that way, rather than slaving away towards a profession that may or may not exist in ten years.

8. Be Grateful For Your Support Network

Although going to class, studying, and writing research papers is 100% on you, no one works in isolation. I was enormously lucky to have a husband who encouraged my studies. Having his support made everything much, much easier. I was also fortunate to have professors who encouraged my work and provided me with amazing opportunities, friends who offered timely advice, colleagues who helped me grow as an academic, and a boss who gave me the day off if there was a big test that needed studying for. All these people contributed to my success in one way or another, and I am eternally grateful for that.

Going back to school isn’t always easy, but with a little determination it can be done. If you keep your goals realistic and take things one step at a time, you’ll find yourself succeeding in ways you never imagined sooner than you think!

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Mysteria Misc. Maxima: June 19th, 2015

Mysteria Misc. Maxima is a weekly feature which brings together links on religion and esotericism from around the internet.

Photo by Paula Soler-Moya.

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A Few More Awards…

On Tuesday, I will be graduating (finally!) from York. This will bring to a close a chapter of my life that was an enormous amount of work but also enriched my life in so many ways.

Before I leave the campus for good, I want to share with you some good news: I received a few more awards in conjunction with my academic work. I anticipate this will be the last stretch of awards for a bit, so if you don’t mind, I am going to enjoy the moment:

1. The Vanier Convocation Prize in Religious Studies/The Vanier Convocation Prize in Classical Studies.
Technically two awards, each award is given to a student graduating Summa Cum Laude, who has the highest GPA in each specific major. Since I am a double major of both programs, I was able to hog both awards this year! Don’t let anyone tell you that hard work doesn’t pay off!

2. Vanier College Council 50th Anniversary Award
This one was a bit of a surprise as it’s given to a student who has demonstrated commitment to the student body. Sure, I was a peer advisor, but I was honored when this came through the door. My thanks to whomever put me up for this award!

3. Vingt-deux Master’s Honour Roll
Being a “Vandoo” means that you are one of the top 22 graduating students in Vanier College, a college which encompasses fifteen programs and has a student body of around 7000.

My thanks to everyone who helped to make my time at York a total success—I have been very lucky to have been surrounded by so many supportive people who encouraged me to produce my best work. Huzzah!

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Mysteria Misc. Maxima: June 12th, 2015


Mysteria Misc. Maxima
is a weekly feature which brings together links on religion and esotericism from around the internet.

Photo by Jiří Zralý.

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Mysteria Misc. Maxima: June 5th, 2015

Mysteria Misc. Maxima is a weekly feature which brings together links on religion and esotericism from around the internet.

Photo by ZeePak.

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More Good News! SSHRC 2015

Applying to graduate school was quite an involved process. There were transcripts, essays, letters of recommendation, and resumes that had to be prepared and sent to every department. In addition to these materials, I also applied for a government scholarship to pay for my studies. This award, the Canada Master’s Scholarship, is awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of the government of Canada. It is given to the nation’s top scholars to facilitate their research.

I am very happy to announce that, indeed, I was awarded one of these prestigious scholarships! The University of Toronto awards 295 of these scholarships across all the fields of study. To put that in perspective, the total graduate student population at University of Toronto numbers around 16,000 students. While certainly these are not all Master’s students, we can guess that quite a few of them are!

Here’s what the scholarship is:

The objective of the Canada Graduate Scholarships-Master’s (CGS M) Program is to help develop research skills and assist in the training of highly qualified personnel by supporting students who demonstrate a high standard of achievement in undergraduate and early graduate studies.

The CGS-M Program provides financial support to high-calibre scholars who are engaged in eligible master’s or, in some cases, doctoral programs in Canada. This support allows these scholars to fully concentrate on their studies in their chosen fields.
The CGS M Program supports 2,500 students annually in all disciplines and is administered jointly by Canada’s three federal granting agencies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The selection process and post-award administration are carried out at the institutional level, under the guidance of the three agencies.

This scholarship will help to fund my research into Dionysiac associations of the Roman Empire, which intends to explore the nature of religious identity in antiquity.

It goes without saying (but it must be said) that I offer my thanks to everyone who helped make this happen, including my referees and the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. And, of course, my thanks to the powers that be that award these scholarships. Huzzah!

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Conference Presentation: Two Martyrdoms of John the Baptist at the CSBS

At the end of May, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences hosts their 2015 Congress, a simultaneous gathering of Seventy Canadian academic associations in Ottawa, Ontario.

I am thrilled to announce that I will be co-presenting a paper with Apocrypha scholar Tony Burke as part of the Canadian Society for Biblical Studies (CSBS). We will be presenting new English translations of the martyrdom of John the Baptist—that’s the story where John the Baptist is beheaded.

My understanding is that my text, which I am translating from a Greek manuscript, has some bits that the other accounts lack. I do know that there is sex and murder in my version, so we already have two main ingredients for an interesting story!

Burke and I will be presenting these texts on June 1st at 1:30 (that’s a Monday). For those who may want to swing by and hear some new (or sorta new) biblical stories, the abstract is below:

Tony Burke and Sarah Veale (York University)
Two Martyrdoms of John the Baptist

In 1904 Alexander Berendts (Die handschriftliche Überlieferung der Zacharias-und Johannes-Apokryphen. TU, N. F. 11/3. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs) published a comprehensive survey of five martyrdoms of John the Baptist extant in Greek and Slavonic. Of these, only Passion 5 (the Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist; CANT 181) has seen much attention—a critical edition and French translation was published by François Nau (“Histoire de saint Jean Baptiste attribuée à saint Marc l’Évangéliste,” PO[1908]: 521-41) and an English translation was prepared by Andrew Bernhard for New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (forthcoming). As for the other four texts, there is much confusion in Berendts’ and Nau’s reports about the contents of the unpublished manuscripts. This paper seeks to make some progress in sorting through the various witnesses by presenting editions and English translations of two texts: Berendts’ Passion 2 (the Decapitation of John the Forerunner attributed to his disciple Eurippus; CANT 180.2) and an unedited, related but lengthier text (untitled but also attributed to Eurippus; CANT 180.4). The translations will appear along with introductions in the second volume of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures.

For more information, you can download the full CSBS programme here. I hope to see you there in Ottawa!

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Graduate School: An Announcement!

When I returned to university in 2010, it was with the goal that I would go to graduate school. At the time, I saw a lot of people doing really cool work and I wanted to be a part of it. After five years at York (this one, not the one in England!), graduation is right around the corner. And yes graduate school remains in my future.

I began researching my options several years ago. Most graduate programs are applied to a year in advance, and each has their own requirements. Because I wanted as many options as possible, I ended up putting on a double major at York (Religious Studies and Classical Studies). This turned out to be a sound strategy, even if it meant an extra year of course work!

I applied to four graduate programs for my master’s degree: University of Toronto Classics, University of Toronto Religion, York University Ancient History, and York University Humanities. As a mature student, moving around for a master’s degree wasn’t really on the table. Luckily, Toronto has some fantastic schools that make relocating a bit of a moot point—why leave when you have the best right at your door?

And then something amazing happened: All four programs offered me admission!

Deciding which program to attend was not easy by any means. It didn’t help that a strong case could be made for all my options. Moreover, while most programs offered a fully-funded graduate school experience, one of my top choices did not. I had a number of long conversations with prospective departments, conferred with my academic mentors, and talked with my colleagues about what road to take. Objective friends tempered my aspirations with practicality. Of course, The Husband provided a patient sounding board as I deliberated night after night, switching my decision back-and-forth between two programs which offered equally amazing—yet entirely different—opportunities. For someone who is normally very decisive, this was new for me.

The Winning Offer…

Anyway, I am happy to announce that I will be joining the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion in the fall!

The University of Toronto is Canada’s top-ranked university, and is ranked sixteenth internationally. The Religion program itself is highly competitive, and attracts the top students from all over the world. Every admitted student must have an A- Grade Point Average or higher, though this alone does not guarantee admission. Many highly qualified applicants are turned away from the program—for every 100 applicants to the MA/PHD program at the DSR, only around 20 receive offer letters. Needless to say, I am thrilled to be one of those persons admitted to the program!

For those of you who have read this far and still want more details: The Department for the Study of Religion is an extremely diverse program, and thus divides itself into nine sub-fields. I will be working within the Religions of Mediterranean Antiquity section. This is an exciting group of students and faculty who are working on a number of ground-breaking projects in antiquity. Some of the projects currently being worked on include prophesy and ecstatic religion, early Christian manuscript diffusion, and even curses (!). I am really looking forward to being a part of this group and contributing to the scholarship which is currently being produced.

My proposed project seeks to challenge existing models of religious identity in antiquity through the lens of Dionysiac associations in the Roman Empire. This project allows me to continue working with “on the ground” source material, such as inscriptions, and I hope that my research will broaden our understanding of Dionysiac cult as well provide a new approach to religion in the Roman Empire. Of course, I will have a lot of coursework to sift through before that happens, but it’s a challenge I am eager to begin! Huzzah!

 

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A Dramatic Example of a Confession Curse: Sophocles’ Antigone

This article is cross-posted from AncientCurses.com, a research project about curses and cursing in the ancient world.

Sophocles’ Antigone is one of the better known Greek dramas. It relates the tragic events that follow after a power struggle in ancient Thebes. The political dispute ultimately continues among family, when formerly warring factions find themselves under the same roof.

The protagonist of the play, Antigone, is at odds with Kreon—the new Theban dictator who also happens to be her uncle and guardian. The issue at stake is whether or not the body of Polyneices (Antigone’s brother and Kreon’s nephew) should be buried. Kreon says no—Polyneices was an enemy of the state; Antigone says yes, and even more, that the gods demand it.

Long story short: Antigone buried her brother in contravention of Kreon’s edict. For this she is condemned to death.

In a pivotal scene of the play, Antigone is led by guards to the cave where she will die. As she laments her fate, she unleashes a final curse upon her enemies, saying the following:

ἀλλ᾽ εἰ μὲν οὖν τάδ᾽ ἐστὶν ἐν θεοῖς καλά,
παθόντες ἂν ξυγγνοῖμεν ἡμαρτηκότες:
εἰ δ᾽ οἵδ᾽ ἁμαρτάνουσι, μὴ πλείω κακὰ
πάθοιεν ἢ καὶ δρῶσιν ἐκδίκως ἐμέ.
(Antigone 925-928)

But if these [actions of men] are good to the gods,
having suffered this, I could agree that I had erred;
but if these men err in these matters,
let them suffer no fewer bad things
than what they do unjustly to me.
(Translation mine)

This curse could be considered a confession curse, and it is likely that Athenian audiences would have recognized it as such, for reasons we will see shortly. Such curses seek to exculpate a person when they have been accused of wrongdoing. Confession inscriptions fight fire with fire, so to speak. By inviting the god to punish them, the author effectively demonstrates their innocence and turns the gods against their enemies.

Two examples of confession inscriptions will serve to illustrate this point. The first is an inscription from the first century BCE found in Cnidus, in Asia Minor. In our first example, a woman has been accused of poisoning her husband. She pleads her innocence, and asks that the gods punish her accuser:

I hand over to Demeter and Kore the person who has accused me of preparing poisons/spells against my husband. Having been struck by a fever, let him go up to Demeter with all of his family, and confess (his guilt). And let him not find Demeter, Kore, or the gods with Demeter (to be) merciful…I hand over also the person who has written (charges) against me or commanded others to do so. And let him not benefit from the mercy of Demeter, Kore, or the gods with Demeter, but instead suffer afflictions with all of his family. (Gager no. 89=DT 4 no. 85)

The second also comes from from Cnidus and also involves a case of poisoning. Here, the woman (coincidentally named Antigone—no relation!) submits herself to divine punishment in the event she is truly guilty of her crime:

I, Antigone, make a dedication to Demeter, Kore, Pluto and all the gods and goddesses with Demeter. If I have given poison/spells to Asclapiadeas or contemplated in my soul doing anything evil to him…[if so] may Antigone, having been struck by a fever, go up to Demeter and make confession, and may she not find Demeter merciful but instead suffer great torments. (Gager no. 89 = DT 1 no. 81)

It is easy to see the parallels between Sophocles’ Antigone and the confession inscriptions here. Both seek to clarify the nature of the punishment in proportion to the crime. Both argue that they are willing to accept the punishment, as long as it is just. They also request divine retribution in the event that they have been treated unfairly. The function of these curses is obvious: These persons  are using them to clear their name, explain their situations, and enact revenge on their accusers.

Confession curses are thought to be very important in situations where legal redress wasn’t always possible. In such cases, the gods themselves are called upon to rectify matters (Assmann 150-151). Confession curses expand upon this theme; there is the question of whether proper action has been pursued, and an appeal to higher powers for a reevaluation. Clearly, it is hoped that the gods will determine, once and for all, the degree of appropriateness of a given punishment.

For Antigone (the one in the play), the laws of the gods are timeless and superior to any temporal, ad hoc decisions made by humans. She specifically lays out here reasons for disobeying the laws of Kreon by citing the supremacy of the gods. For example, in one passage she says:

οὐ γάρ τί μοι Ζεὺς ἦν ὁ κηρύξας τάδε,
οὐδ᾽ ἡ ξύνοικος τῶν κάτω θεῶν Δίκη
τοιούσδ᾽ ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν ὥρισεν νόμους.
οὐδὲ σθένειν τοσοῦτον ᾠόμην τὰ σὰ
κηρύγμαθ᾽, ὥστ᾽ ἄγραπτα κἀσφαλῆ θεῶν
νόμιμα δύνασθαι θνητὸν ὄνθ᾽ ὑπερδραμεῖν.
οὐ γάρ τι νῦν γε κἀχθές, ἀλλ᾽ ἀεί ποτε
ζῇ ταῦτα, κοὐδεὶς οἶδεν ἐξ ὅτου ‘φάνη.
(Antigone 450-457)

It seems to me that Zeus was not the one who was declaring these things,
nor did the Justice of the gods below lay down these very laws for men,
Nor did I think that your proclamations were strong in such a way as to be able to prevail, because you are being mortal,
and since the laws of the Gods are unwritten and unshaken.
Indeed, the laws of the gods are not something that had been placed today or yesterday,
but these things live on always,
and no one knows from when it was revealed.
(Translation mine)

As Mark Griffith observes, appeals to “universal codes of morality” were frequently used in court cases to challenge the validity of a charge (Griffith 201). And I think this is where the confession curse comes in. Antigone has been defeated by the mortal courts, which she had little faith in to begin with. As such, she appeals to what she see is the real authority in the case—the gods. It is the gods she looks to rectify what she see as an unjust situation. Sophocles tacitly supports this view as the play—and Kreon’s life—unravels. It is the gods who have the final say in the affairs of men.

Confession inscriptions then can be seen as a key component of extra-legal redress, not just in situations where access to recompense is hindered, but also where human adjudication may not render the desired outcome. The gods are viewed as superior to humans, and thus able to rectify situations gone wrong on earth. Antigone’s curse represents the incorporation of a cultural practice into a dramatic literary form. It is likely that ancient audiences would have clued into her final invocation of the gods and recognized her actions as an attempt at divine exoneration.

Sources:

Assmann, Jan. “When Justice Fails: Jurisdiction and Imprecation in Ancient Egypt and the Near East,” in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 78 (1992): 149-162.
Gager, John G. Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Sophocles. Antigone. Edited by Mark Griffith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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