29 October 2010

Where Are All the Halloween Carols?

I saw zombies eating Santa Claus
Over at the shopping mall last night
They didn't hear me weep
But I swear I heard them creep
Past me as I hid behind
The counter, trying to peep

Then, I saw zombies rip up Santa Claus
Tearing off his beard so snowy white
And as his guts spilled on the floor
I knew the world would end for sure
As they ate up Santa Claus last night

27 October 2010

I, Scrub

Let's face it, I'm a scrub.

(In case you don't know, it's fighting game slang, described in Wiktionary as: 'A derogative term, mostly synonymous with "loser." It is usually used to indicate a player whose skill level is low or who is deemed to simply be unable to win.')

I can't pull off a proper combo to save my life. I still have trouble getting the 'dragon punch' motion right. Precision timing techniques, like parries, are completely beyond me.

This doesn't only apply to fighting games, but any type of game requiring actual skill, really, and particularly those requiring precise timing, co-ordination or fast reflexes. Which describes most arcade games, and a lot of other action games as well. My lack of patience in practising might be part of the problem, but it runs deeper than that, I think, based in actual physical/mental shortcomings.

It wouldn't be such a huge issue (I'm hardly the only person in the world with poor co-ordination and reflexes), if I didn't actually like these games so much. I'm a gamer, after all. It's one of the categories I most strongly identify myself belonging to, alongside the more broad category of 'geek'. I want to at least do OK in these games, and it annoys me greatly when I don't. It depresses me, and causes me to often lose patience with games rather quickly. It's lucky I'm not a very violent person (or have too much respect for objects that cost money to replace), or I might have smashed many a game controller by now. Online multiplayer modes are meaningless to me, I'd hardly want to play against total strangers with my embarrassing skill levels.

Can anything be done about this? I doubt it. I'm not even sure why I'm writing this post, just my way of wallowing in self-pity, I guess. 'Only happy when it rains', etc. etc.

26 October 2010

Stuck between Pantheons

Warning: philosophical musings and boring autobiography ahead.

'The one place gods inarguably exist is in the human mind.' (Alan Moore)

This is a principle I've more or less built my spiritual views around. Deep down I may be an agnostic, even lean towards scepticism, but I still recognise the potential value of religious/spiritual symbolism, even if it is 'all in the mind'. I might call it a Jungian approach to spirituality, if I actually knew enough of Jung's views to confidently use such a term, which I don't pretend I do, though at least my layman's understanding of the concept of archetypes is an important element of my personal philosophy.

Acceptance of religion as a primarily psychological phenomenon is a two-edged sword, though. On the one hand it is quite liberating. Deities and other concepts in themselves are meaningless, it is what we get out of them that matters. This means we are free to pick our own symbols, even make up entirely new ones, if this is something that inspires us, helps our development as human beings. But on the other hand, this very freedom may lead to an inability to connect with and commit to these symbols on a level required for them to make a real difference in our lives, the problems of too much choice, even an information overload of sorts.

Personally, I seem to be on a never-ending quest to find a form of spirituality that satisfies me. A little history: Like most Finns, I was raised in a Christian family, and went through Confirmation at 15. I'm not sure my heart was ever really quite in it, and certainly by adulthood I was certain it was not my path. Years of fairly nondescript, passive agnosticism followed, occasionally reading about such topics as Buddhism and Shinto but never really being drawn in, until I stumbled upon books about Wicca in my later 20's. I'd read a little about neopaganism as a teenager and found it intriguing, but that was the extent of it. Now I found a new desire to actually practise a spiritual system, and Wicca appeared to be one of the most interesting around.

Even then I had trouble deciding on a particular set of deities/symbols. Wicca (today) is a fairly splintered, eclectic religion. Though some traditions have certain deities they usually call upon, Wicca is not directly based on a specific mythology, but allows the incorporation of almost any deity, or the use of a more generalised God and Goddess. I used Odin and Freya for a bit, then adopted a perhaps more traditional figure of Cernunnos, accompanied by Hecate. No specific pantheon as such seemed to appeal to me, so I picked pleasing deities haphazardly.

Through Wicca I learned more about the history of Western occultism, particularly Qabalah and the hermetic tradition as practised by the Golden Dawn (an occult fraternity founded in the late 19th century) and its offshoots, such as the works of Aleister Crowley. I gradually came to feel that no one spiritual system, be it Wicca, hermetic ceremonial magic or Crowley's Thelema, was really quite right for me, even if they all had elements that interested me. The answer? I'd have to create my own system, of course, inspired by all the above. Around this time I was also reading a little about Egyptian mythology, and realised the incarnation of the the Egyptian pantheon known as the Ennead of Heliopolis was pretty interesting, probably the first pantheon that more or less seemed to work as a single whole that I'd so far encountered. So it became the basis of my new 'system', a sort of one-man occult lodge, if you will.

Now, a little while back a seemingly innocent little thought popped into my head: what if I'd invented my own gods completely from scratch? I was reading Alan Moore's Promethea at the time, which had gotten me thinking about occult topics again more earnestly after a little break, and also emphasised the importance of imagination in spirituality. This would be a pantheon based directly on Qabalistic and other occult symbolism, not adapted to it, forced into a suitable shape, like any historical pantheon would be. Though at first I didn't entertain the idea very seriously, it began to nag at me, and as I speculated on the potential forms the gods could take, I began to see apparent flaws in my current system. Not flaws really, merely alternate interpretations, but enough to weaken the foundations of that system. On the other hand I'd invested a lot of mental effort in the creation of that system, and it did contain many interesting insights, in my mind, so I was reluctant to leave it behind.

So I was left in a kind of limbo, torn by conflicting emotions, almost an apathy and disillusionment with religion altogether, and I'm not sure I'm quite out of it yet. I'm playing around with a potential original pantheon, a mix of some fairly archetypal figures and more imaginative ones, more simplistic perhaps than my Egyptian-inspired system (not necessarily a bad thing), taking influence mainly from Qabalistic symbolism, and perhaps a little from Thelema. We'll have to see if anything practical comes out of it, although at this stage I'm not sure a return to the previous system is any longer possible.

All in all, I've probably spent much more time thinking about the structure and philosophy of spiritual systems than actually practising them, which is certainly not what I set out to do. Whether I'll ever find that perfect system, I'm unsure. Maybe before long I'll find myself utterly fed up with spirituality. I hope not, as I still do believe it can have much to offer. It's pretty much like anything in my life: gaming, music etc. There are so many things I'm interested in, but in the end I'm just not very good at.

19 October 2010

Comicsin' It Up Volume 7

After a longish break, I once again ventured into the local library and ended up lugging a pile of comics back home. There was a lot of Alan Moore material there, plus a few random DC and Marvel titles.

I'm not going to go through all the books I've read here, just a few highlights. Though I think I'll start with a 'lowlight'. Marvel Platinum: The Greatest Foes of Wolverine must be one of the worst planned comic book collections I've seen. It's not that the comics included are bad in themselves, but the selection makes no sense at all. Individual issues have been removed entirely from context. Readers are thrown right into the middle of a storyline, and more often than not stories end with an unresolved cliffhanger, jumping on to a completely separate storyline years forward. Reading the book made me so annoyed I couldn't even finish it.

I can't really pinpoint a reason for it, but DC's universe and characters have always seemed to appeal to me more than Marvel's. I read a Green Lantern book (I forget the title now, and I've already returned that one to the library), which was fun, and a couple of Batman collections (classic 80's material in A Death in the Family, and newer post-Bruce Wayne story Battle for the Cowl), which were also fun. Green Lantern is one of those classic characters I'm sadly not all too familiar with. I hope I'll run into more collections, but I fear he may be a little less well represented in the local libraries than certain other characters.

Alan Moore, however, was the real meat of this comic book binge. DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore was sheer brilliance, of course, multiplied by the coolness factor of some of DC's greatest characters. But the work that stood out head over shoulders from all the rest was Promethea. Adventure, comedy, art, philosophy all rolled into one in one of the most unique comic book series I've ever read.

Promethea is probably not a work for everybody, as it is strongly rooted in Moore's personal philosophy and beliefs, dealing with such topics as occultism, magic and qabalah. Some segments seem like almost textbook-like introductions to these topics, and could conceivably seem a little monotonous, although even these are beautifully and artistically illustrated, with clever and creative features that really take advantage of the medium. As it happens, Moore's philosophy is not too far removed from my own, so this did not disturb me in the least, quite the contrary. Knowledge of qabalah and the writings of Aleister Crowley, for example, will surely make the experience even richer. Actually, for someone interested both in genre fiction and hermetic magic and qabalah, Promethea is almost a must read.

Waiting for me last, but not least, of my current loans is a re-read of Watchmen. (Has it really been a year and a half already?)

1 October 2010

Sintel, or Look, More Free Stuff on the Internet

The computer animated short film Sintel was released online today, available on YouTube and for download in various formats. This 15 minute work was created to showcase the power of the open source 3D modelling software Blender, and is released under a Creative Commons licence. Besides being a cool project from a free software viewpoint, it's actually a pretty neat short fantasy film about a girl looking for... well, don't want to spoil it, and in such a short film there's very little you can say without doing so.

In terms of narrative, 15 minutes is of course a very restrictive frame to work in. I think the structure and pacing could have perhaps been improved a little, but it's a pretty nice story anyway, and surprisingly moving. (Honestly, I was almost weeping. Not many movies do that to me.)

Hm, second post already about actual stuff happening on the Internet, rather than strange personal musings... What's the world coming to.