V is the Roman number five, today is the Fifth of November, and it’s the fifth part of the series on meaning and another Scarlet Letter. I keep this loosely connected, to allow you to catch up.
When future historians look back at our time now, they will most likely include something on Guy Fawkes and have some explaining to do. How come a Puritan Age “insurgent” became the face, literally, of a whole movement that seems to be quite influential today? And what could this have to do with this series on meaning and beliefs?
Welcome back to the series of the Scarlet Letter (Magic of Meaning, Mark of the Witch). If you’re new, you will do fine without having read anything before, but some parts may be a bit difficult to understand without the themes introduced before (and I hope I haven’t written them for naught).
or us visual creatures, the darkness is the omnipresent metaphor of the unknown – that which is outside of our senses and faculties. Thus recognizing a “thing”; giving something a name, labelling it, or learning the “true name” means not only knowledge, but control.
Fear of the dark, fear of the dark I have constant fear that something’s always near Fear of the dark, fear of the dark I have a phobia that someone’s always there — Iron Maiden “Fear of the Dark” (excerpt)
And quick! As long as the iron is red hot! This is the next instalment of this series of meaning with the Red Letters. You can jump in without having read anything previously (but it can’t hurt either). Since today, 496 years ago the Reformation was kicked off, and since today is also Halloween, this part will be a tad gruesome. Brace yourself.
Old Europe was an unpleasant place to live in the Early Modern Period (ca. 16—18th century), the period that saw the Puritans as well as the Gunpowder plot.
This time, I hope to explore a bit how meanings change and what all this symbology meant in practice by giving a tapestry of the times. It is not merely historical backdrop. Our ancestors at the time were like you and me. History could tell us a lot about how we (as humans) tick. The general populace at the time was perhaps simultaneously more pious than ever, while it also lost faith in their traditional beliefs, and found itself surrounded by a rapidly changing world–like it is today.
Phobocracy: Greek phóbos (Φόβος), “morbid fear” and kratos (κράτος), “power” or “rule”: rule by fear or power through fear.
Competing information flew in swarms out into the streets from the printing presses and hit upon minds that weren’t familiar with such a storm of symbology. The art of writing was arcane and magical, where we already saw some examples and possible (non supernatural) mechanisms. Words can have a strong effects on consciousness. The traditional symbolic culture was challenged, and collapsed and probably left people without orientation. Amidst this situation, the Catholic Church, the big bad of human history, tightened its iron grip on their flock.
Get yourself a tea, and some biscuits. You happened upon Scarlet Letters, Part II. Given the time that has passed, it’s only loosely connected to the previous entry and will montage again a lot of interesting things, you’ll see… It turned out pretty big and perhaps compensates for the long wait.
Part of the fun of writing is that I have to look closer into my own thoughts and order them – a little – in ways that are hopefully intelligible to other humans. I was searching for some way to convey that humans inhabit two different “realms” with a continuum of intermediary states between them. To sidestep unintentional connotations I will simply call them Out There™ and In Here™.
The realm on one end of the continuum is the physical reality “out there”, which is entirely unknowable und indescribable to us and which seems to be some sort of fuzzy field. I could as well claim it was populated by machine elves singing intertwined rainbows into existence. We have no idea how it is like. Then again it is not entirely arbitrary, we know for sure what it isn’t. It is not made of cheese, for example. And there we are in the middle of the problem: this reality “out there” is so far outside of our senses that it it is really not a cozy place where we dwell on. Conciousness altering substances or meditation may change perception by shaking our biochemistry up a little, but we do not come closer to it, as we still rely on our senses and faculties that interpret the information.
The “Scarlet Letter” is an old pointy hat. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his magnum opus in 1850 and not too much later, in 2007, the Richard Dawkins Foundation came around with the idea that Atheists shall “out” themselves, too, with a scarlet A on their chest like the unfortunate characters of Hawthorne’s novel.
“Good evening, […] I thought it time we had a little talk.Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…” — V in “V for Vendetta”
For those who bunked the English lessons, or who didn’t enjoy English literature education in some foreign country, I found this video illustrating the plot. It is quite worth your time.