When people had one name

Thinkin’ about the New Testament bros: Mark, John, James, etc when I came across this from Bob Dylan.

Those songs are just in my genes, and I couldn’t stop them comin’ out. In a reincarnative kind of way, maybe. The songs have got some kind of a pedigree to them. But that pedigree stuff, that only works so far. You can go back to the ten-hundreds, and people only had one name. Nobody’s gonna tell you they’re going to go back further than when people had one name.

(Bob Dylan interview with Jonathan Lethem in Rolling Stone.)


Particular grace at the Constitutional Convention

Picture it: Philadelphia, Friday, May 25, 1787.

The convention is getting started.  First job is to choose a president.  Mr. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania nominates George Washington of Virginia.

Mr Jn RUTLIDGE seconded the motion; expressing his confidence that the choice would be unanimous, and observing that the presence of Genl Washington forbade any observations on the occasion which might be otherwise be proper.

General Washington was accordingly unanimously elected by ballot, and conducted to the chair by Mr R. Morris and Mr. Rutlidge; from which in a very emphatic manner he thanked the Convention for the honor they had conferred on him, reminded them of the novelty of the scene of business in which he was to act, lamented his want of better qualifications, and claimed the indulgence of the House towards the involuntary errors which his inexperience might occasion.

That’s George Washington, the guy who had just defeated the British Empire, who held the Continental Army together over seven horrible years on the strength of his own character.  He begins this job with an expression of humility. An apology for any involuntary errors.

Then Madison adds, in a parenthetical:

Particular grace.

Happy Fourth of July everybody!


Hallucinogens and Shamanism (1973)

This collection of essays from 1973 gets an A+ on cover alone.

Undoubtedly one of the major reasons that anthropologists for so long underestimated the importance of hallucinogenic substances in shamanism and religious experience was that very few had partaken themselves of the native psychotropic materials (other than peyote) or had undergone the resulting subjective experiences so critical, perhaps paradoxically, to an empirical understanding of their meaning to the peoples they studied.  Most, although not all, of the authors in the present book are an exception…

I’ll say!  From Michael J. Harner’s essay “The Sound Of Rushing Water”:

When I first undertook research among the Jívaro in 1956-57, I did not fully appreciate the psychological impact of the Banisteriopsis drink upon the native view of reality, but in 1961 I had occasion to drink the hallucinogen in the course of field work with another Upper Amazon Basin tribe.  For several hours after drinking the brew, I found myself, although awake, in a world literally beyond my wildest dreams.  I met bird-headed people, as well as dragon-like creatures who explained that they were the true gods of this world.  I enlisted the services of other spirit helpers in attempting to fly through the far reaches of the Galaxy.  Transported into a trance where the supernatural seemed natural, I realized that anthropologists, including myself, had profoundly underestimated the importance of the drug in affecting native ideology.  Therefore, in 1964 I returned to the Jívaro to give particular attention to the drug’s use by the Jívaro shaman.

South American shamanism and hallucinogens is one of the topics explored in

Yet the essay our reader found of most interest in this volume was was “The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft,”  also by Harner. The topic of witchcraft, European and American, has been of great interest to Helytimes.

What was going on with the wild bursts of witchcraft persecution in medieval Europe and early colonial America?

A prevalent attitude among present-day historians and scholars of religion (e.g. Henningsen, 1969: 105-6; Trevor-Roper, 1969:90, 192) is that late medieval and Renaissance witchcraft was essentially a fiction created by the Church.

says Harner.  But what this essay presupposes is: what if it wasn’t?

Probably the single most important group of plants used by mankind to contact the supernatural belongs to the order Solanacæe (the potato family)… each of these plants contains varying quantities of atropine and the other closely related tropane alkaloids hyoscyamine and scopolomine, all of which have hallucinogenic effects (Claus and Tyler, 1965: 273-85; Henry, ,1949: 64092; Hoffer and Osmund, 1967:525-28; Lewin, 1964: 129-140; Sollmann, 1957: 381-98).

From here, Harner goes on to suggest:

As is familiar to every child in our culture, the witch is fantasized as flying through the air on a broomstick.  This symbol actually represents a very serious and central aspect of European witchcraft, involving the use of solanceaous hallucinogenic plants.  The European witches rubbed their bodies with a hallucinogenic ointment containing such plants as Atropa belladonna, Mandragora, and henbane, whose content of atropine was absorbable through the skin.  The witch then indeed took a “trip”: the witch on the broomstick is a representation of that imagined aerial journey to a rendezvous with spirits and demons, which was called a Sabbat.

Wild claim!  More:

The use of a staff or broom was undoubtedly more than a symbolic Freudian act, serving as an applicator for the atropine-containing plant to the sensitive vaginal membranes as well as providing the suggestion of riding on a steed

Historical evidence seems thin.  Harner presents a case from 1325, when a Lady Alice Kyteler was investigated in Ireland:

…in rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a Pile of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon the which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin, when and in what manner she listed.

Kyteler fled the country, but her servant was  flogged and burned to death.  Her house is now a pub:

We ran this idea by one of our female editors, who pointed out that if you were going to apply some salve to your vaginal membranes, you’d probably use something a little softer than a broomstick, perhaps a vegetable.  The biodegradable nature of such an applicator perhaps explains why archaeological evidence is so scant.

Thought-provoking, in any case.

 

 


Witch Hunts

In 1693 Cotton Mather wrote a book called Wonders Of The Invisible Worlddefending the Salem Witch Trials.

A few years later a guy named Robert Calef wrote More Wonders Of The Invisible World, which was kind of a sarcastic slam on Cotton Mather.

Calef objected to proceedings that lead to “a Biggotted Zeal, stirring up a Blind and most Bloody rage, not against Enemies, or Irreligious Proffligate Persons, But (in Judgment of Charity, and to view) against as Vertuous and Religious as any they have left behind them in this Country, which have suffered as Evil doers with the utmost extent of rigour.”

Can’t say I got a ton out of the book, but I did get some good stuff from the introduction, by Chadwick Hansen.

If a witch is attacking you boil a pin in urine:

Even Chadwick Hansen appears ultimately baffled by what Robert Calef was up to, since much of his book is lies about how Cotton Mather fondled up a girl named Margaret Rule while curing her of bewitchment.

Hansen attempts to provide the context to a baffling historical period. 

Later Mather would write a book called The Right Way To Shake Off A Viper:

Wild times in old Massachusetts.  Few people who were taken to the Salem Witch Museum in childhood ever forgot it.

Previous coverage of witch hunts.

 


Considering John Kelly

Compelled by John Kelly, Boston Marine turned Trump babysitter / White House chief of staff.

John Kelly, like Robert E. Lee, is brave, self-sacrificing, dignified, and wrong.

It’s possible to be noble and admirable and honorable and really wrong.  Like, a force for wrongness.

Watched his entire press conference re: presidential respect for fallen soldiers.  Found it very moving.  He mentions walking for hours in Arlington National Cemetery to collect his thoughts.  Maybe he should send the president.

In one of the infinite amazing connections of American history Arlington National Cemetery was built on the grounds of Lee’s wife’s house.

INTERVIEWER

What about General Robert E. Lee?

FOOTE

The single greatest mistake of the war by any general on either side was made by Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, when he sent Pickett’s and Pettigrew’s divisions across that open field, nearly a mile wide, against guns placed on a high ridge and troops down below them, with skirmishers out front. There was no chance it would succeed. Longstreet told him that beforehand and Lee proceeded to prove him right. Having made this greatest of all mistakes, Lee rode out on the field and met those men coming back across the field— casualties were well over fifty percent—and said, It’s all my fault. He said it then on the field; he said it afterwards, after he’d gotten across the Potomac; he said it in his official report a month later. He said, I may have asked more of my men than men should be asked to give. He’s a noble man, noble beyond comparison.

(from the Paris Review interview with Shelby Foote)

Henry Lee, Robert E.’s father

Why did people love Robert E. Lee so much?  He was handsome, for one thing.  Here’s Elizabeth Brown Pryor going off in her Six Encounters With Lincoln:

“Matinee-idol looks.”

They liked Lee too because he reminded of them of George Washington.

Is this interesting?: two of the most prominent American slaveholders, Washington and Lee, only owned slaves because they’d married rich women.

Lee’s wife was Martha Washington’s great granddaughter.

Anyway: whatever, it’s time for some new statues!

John Kelly made his most recent remarks about Lee on The Ingraham Angle on Fox News.

During that appearance, Kelly says something not true, that the events in the indictment came from well before Manafort knew Donald Trump.  Not true, if we believe Slate’s helpful timeline. Manafort and Trump have known each other since the ’80s.

Didn’t Manafort live in Trump Tower off the money he made as a lobbyist for dictators?

Kelly also says that the part about where got wrong what Fredrica Wilson said at the FBI dedication, that part “we should just let that go.”

Also brooooo!  What is American history up to the Civil War but a history of compromises?

Happened to read an interview in PRISM, a publication of the Center For Complex Operations, with John Kelly yesterday.  He’s talking about his career leading the Southern Command, ie Central and South America.

This was not my experience talking to Latin Americans.  More than one South American has pointed out to me that in their countries, “the troops” are not assumed to be good guys or on your side.

Didn’t love this:

We need more Marine generals like Smedley Butler:

I wish John Kelly would also remember the time Henry Lee put himself in harm’s way to defend the freedom of the press.

During the civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland in 1812, Lee received grave injuries while helping to resist an attack on his friend, Alexander Contee Hanson, editor of the Baltimore newspaper, The Federal Republican on July 27, 1812.

Hanson was attacked by a Democratic-Republican mob because his paper opposed the War of 1812. Lee and Hanson and two dozen other Federalists had taken refuge in the offices of the paper. The group surrendered to Baltimore city officials the next day and were jailed.

Laborer George Woolslager led a mob that forced its way into the jail, removed the Federalists, beating and torturing them over the next three hours. All were severely injured, and one Federalist, James Lingan, died.

Lee suffered extensive internal injuries as well as head and face wounds, and even his speech was affected. His observed symptoms were consistent with what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Need to learn more about this!

Maybe a statue of James Lingan, outside Prospect House?:

source: wiki, photo by AgnosticPreachersKid

One last bit from Shelby Foote:

Bud, history always has bias!  You don’t think this guy

thought Lee was cool, if only because they looked alike?

 

Does Ta-Nahesi Coates get tired of having to say the same stuff over and over?:

“History’s history,” says John Kelly on The Ingraham Angle.  Is it?

Personally, when I think about John Kelly’s life, I’m prepared to cut him some slack, but man.  I can’t say he “gets it.”

Thomas Ricks, as always, has the take:

A must read.

The comment of Kelly’s that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves is when he half-jokingly suggests (around 26:41)

that they’re gonna replace the Washington Monument with Andy Warhol.

 


Lincoln Mailbag!

Wow, reader Dan G. didn’t take to Elizabeth Pryor Brown’s book, of which I spoke positively:

First chapter berates Lincoln for a disorderly approach to the military — fair enough, I suppose — without acknowledging the more defensible reasons for this, such as a desire to establish the facts on the ground independent of the possibly self-serving officers in the chair of command.  To hear her, the military should be spared any outside audit or opportunity for whistleblowing. And she doesn’t even mention his ultimate success. Her second chapter pooh-poohs his coarse humor and sometimes rustic rhetoric as though the prissy rareified manners of a Boston drawing room were innately superior and not, as they would have been in real life, a barrier to communicating with and leading the broad mass of the people.

It’s not just me:

https://www.civilwarmonitor.com/blog/pryor-six-encounters-with-lincoln-2017

He goes on to describe the book as:

a biography of Sam written by Diane

which is a funny idea.


Abraham Lincoln: Weird

From a capsule review in The New Yorker heard about this book:

What a cool way to bring Lincoln to life.  Tell the story of six meetings Lincoln had that someone wrote an account of.

The six encounters:

  • Lincoln’s first meeting, in the East Room of the White House, with Army officers, including Robert E. Lee

from that we examine Lincoln’s relationship with the military, and with the guy who’d end up being the leading general trying to defeat him.

  • An odd event where Lincoln tried to raise an American flag on the South Lawn of the White House, but accidentally ripped it

from that we examine how Lincoln used humor and a sort of self-effacing charm

  • Lincoln’s encounter with an abolitionist cavalry sergeant named Lucian Waters

which brings us to discussions of Lincoln’s views on race and slavery

  • Lincoln’s meeting with Cherokee chief John Ross

from which we can examine Lincoln’s relationships with Indians, who got pretty hosed under the Lincoln presidency

  • Lincoln’s meetings the powerful Anna E. Dickenson

which opens us up to Lincoln’s weird relationships with powerful women

and

  • a bizarre encounter with this bro:

Duff Green, who wanted to talk to Lincoln about a scheme to help Southerners with their land via a federal bank or something.

from there we consider how Lincoln intended to begin the postwar process, if he hadn’t’ve gotten got a few days later.

Pryor uses these encounters to bring to life the odd, magnetic, awkward, charming, conflicted, pained, intense human man Abraham Lincoln, full of conflict and contradiction.

Here is the first sentence of the author’s introduction:

To look again with open eyes at a subject we think we know is never straightfoward.

Pryor does a fantastic job of bringing Lincoln into focus.  Some highlights:

Getting the mitten:

“Why am I always getting the mitten?”

Down to the raisins:

His sexuality:

 

A very impressive, dense work of history.  Stunned when I opened the book and learned the author had been tragically killed in a car crash before publication:

Seems like an amazing woman.

Her obituary in the NYT by Margalit Fox speaks also of her work on Lee:

Though Lee is often cast by history as a brilliant general, Ms. Pryor, examining the strategic errors that led to his retreat at Antietam in 1862 and sweeping defeat at Gettysburg the next year, judged him “bright but not brilliant.”

Addressing Lee’s stance on slavery, she acknowledged, with other historians, that he harbored deep misgivings on the subject. However, Ms. Pryor wrote, those misgivings stemmed not from his opposition to the institution itself, but from his resentment of the managerial burdens it could place on white slave owners.

As a slaveholder, Ms. Pryor showed, Lee was a cruel master, once forcing a runaway slave to endure 50 lashes and then have brine poured on the wounds. He routinely sundered slaves’ families if selling a slave was expedient, and by 1860 “he had broken up every family but one” on his Arlington plantation, she wrote.

The Lincoln book my friend the presidential biographer, Lincoln scholar and former rock star Ted Widmer recommends is Herdon’s Informants.

Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner, and after he died he wrote to everyone who’d ever met Lincoln pretty much and asked for what they remembered of him.

Following Lincoln’s assassination, Herndon began to collect stories of Lincoln’s life from those who knew him. Herndon aspired to write a faithful portrait of his friend and law partner, based on his own observations and on hundreds of letters and interviews he had compiled for the purpose. He was determined to present Lincoln as a man, rather than a saint, and to reveal things that the prevailing Victorian era conventions said should be left out of the biography of a great national hero.[17][18][nb 2]

In particular, Herndon said of Lincoln’s “official” biographers, John Nicolay and John Hay: “They are aiming, first, to do a superb piece of literary work; second, to make the story with the classes as against the masses.” He felt that this would represent the “real Lincoln about as well as does a wax figure in the museum.”[19][20]

More:

Particularly damning was the denunciation of the book by Robert Todd Lincoln, whose grudge against Herndon stemmed largely from Herndon’s recounting of Ann Rutledge as the only romantic love of his father’s life.

Herndon didn’t care for Mary Todd, I guess:

Even though she was considered a bit of a catch for a guy like Abe.

 

When you think about the stuff that happened to Mary Todd, it’d be a wonder if she didn’t go insane.  Three of her children died, her husband got assassinated sitting next to her.  Her half-sister was married to a Confederate general who died at Chickamauga.

He was a commander of the Orphan Brigade:

At the Battle of Stones River, the brigade suffered heavy casualties in an assault on January 2, 1863, including General Hanson. Breckinridge—who vehemently disputed the order to charge with the army’s commander, General Braxton Bragg—rode among the survivors, crying out repeatedly, “My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans,”

The stuff people go through!