Archive | July, 2012

The Mark of Simon

29 Jul

Tradition has it that the first Christian heretic was Simon of Gitta in Samaria, known to most as Simon Magus or Simon the Sorcerer. He appears only once in the canon of Scripture, in Acts 8:9:24, where he is said to be a sorcerer who hears the Gospel and repents, only to beg Deacon Philip the Evangelist to sell him the power to heal and to perform miracles. The Blessed Saint rebukes him and Simon asks that he pray for his soul. However, Simon, we are told elsewhere, did not repent of his error. His not inconsiderable knowledge of the occult warped his understanding and he created a Gnostic heresy. Surviving traditions about Simon appear in anti-heretical texts, such as those of Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius, where he is often regarded as the source of all heresies. The sin of simony, or paying for position and influence in the church, is named for Simon. The Apostolic Constitutions also accuse him of lawlessness. According to the early church heresiologists Simon is also supposed to have written several lost treatises, two of which bear the titles The Four Quarters of the World and The Sermons of the Refuter. In apocryphal works including the Acts of Peter, Pseudo-Clementines, and the Epistle of the Apostles, Simon also appears as a formidable sorcerer with the ability to levitate and fly at will. All of this inevitably leads to the question: who was the real Simon of Gitta? The truth is perhaps stranger than any legend.

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The Dark Tower

27 Jul

Stephen King’s magnum opus

Fabulous Realms

As a novelist, Stephen King needs no introduction. He is perhaps the bestselling, most widely read horror author of all time and among living writers he has no equal in any genre in terms of success, popularity and influence. What is perhaps less well known is that King not only writes fantasy novels, as well as the horror for which he is best known, but he is also an avid reader and fan of fantasy fiction. It was in fact an early reading of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that led in part to the creation of King’s own fantasy epic, The Dark Tower series. Far from being a mere side interest The Dark Tower actually stands at the heart of King’s imaginarium – as he has said on many occasions, this series is not only King’s magnum opus, it is the glue that binds together his entire literary output…

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The Gothic Tradition

22 Jul

The Gothic tradition has been with us for over two hundred years, and is most strongly identified with the works of Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe, which are full of heroes and heroines menaced by feudal villains amid crumbling ruins. While the repertoire of claustrophobic settings, gloomy themes, and threatening atmosphere established the Gothic genre, later writers from Poe onwards achieved an ever greater sophistication, and a shift in emphasis from cruelty to decadence. Modern Gothic is distinguished by its imaginative variety of voice, from the chilling depiction of a disordered mind to the sinister suggestion of vampirism. While writers such as Le Fanu, Hawthorne, Hardy, Faulkner and Borges are the earliest literary exponents of the form, the central role of female writers from Anna Laetitia Aikin to Isabel Allende and Angela Carter in its development should also be emphasised. While the Gothic tale shares some characteristics with the ghost story and tales of horror and fantasy, it also boasts a number of distinctive features that define this powerful and unsettling literary form.

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17 Jul

Click to read my short story, Changed, in The Cynic Online Magazine!

The Lost Maps of the Ancients

15 Jul

While it is often supposed that the earliest human civilizations date back only six thousand years or so, it has long been argued that they may be far, far older than historians now recognize. The conclusions drawn from the study of old maps are that as long as twelve thousand years ago ancient seafarers may have been sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. The story began in 1956, when a cartographer at the US Navy Hydrographic Office found himself looking at a copy of a strange map that had been presented to the Office by a Turkish naval officer. Even though the map dated from 1513 AD, it showed the correct longitudes for a large part of the Atlantic from North Africa to South America. This was a remarkable – in fact, almost unbelievable – achievement for those days, when most maps were laughably crude. What was even more surprising was that it apparently showed Antarctica, which was not discovered until 1818. Oddly enough, it showed the mid-Atlantic ridge, which seems an astonishing piece of knowledge for any period before the invention of sonar depth soundings – unless, of course, it had been observed while it was still above water. The original mapmaker was a Turkish pirate who had made the interesting statement, before he died, that he had based his map on twenty old maps, one of them from the great library of Alexandria, which was destroyed in 640 AD. On closer study it was revealed that the Turkish map not only showed Antarctica, it had seemingly been made before the Antarctic continent was covered in ice! This seems an absurd proposition given that the last time that human beings could have seen Antarctica without ice was many thousands of years ago, long before the earliest known maritime civilizations. That could mean only one of two things: either that ships had sailed the seas at a time when, according to historians, our ancestors were still living in caves or – perhaps equally outrageously – that there had once been a flourishing civilization on Antarctica itself, whose inhabitants made maps that have been copied down through the ages.

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Who Ya Gonna Call?

8 Jul

Despite being almost thirty years old, Ghostbusters has weathered well and still has the ability to elicit a wistful smile from a generation old enough to remember the likes of Madness, Reaganomics, legwarmers and the glory years of Liverpool FC. That’s because Ghostbusters, being made in the middle part of the decade that taste forgot, is as Eighties as it is possible to get. You would think that in the cold, cynical world of 2012 the film would be a bit like an old Status Quo album – so many good memories, but is it wise to revisit, in case you realise it is actually a load of rubbish? Okay, for those too culturally snobbish and those too young to have ever experienced the Ghostbusters phenomenon, here’s the spiel: three young(ish) paranormal investigators are sacked from their positions at Columbia University and decide, once armed with a fireman’s pole and an old ambulance, to set up a ghost-busting service. Meanwhile, Dana Barratt (Sigourney Weaver) is having trouble with her fridge, possessed, it seems, by the spirit of – bear with me – Zuul, an ancient Babylonian and follower of Gozer, the Destructor. Ooh Er.

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Midsummer Mysteries

1 Jul

There are so many myths and legends surrounding the venerable old festival of Midsummer, which has been one of the important solar events throughout the history of mankind. According to folklore it is the time that the fairies and nature spirits are very active and cross back and forth between our realm and theirs to play tricks on unsuspecting mortals. Litha, which is another name for Midsummer Day, is a celebration that has been observed for centuries, in one form or another, in the ancient pagan religion of the British Isles. Midsummer is especially important in the cultures of Scandinavia, Estonia and Latvia, where it is the most celebrated holiday apart from Christmas. In those parts it is said that, if young people pick flowers at Midsummer, they will dream of their future spouse. On the other side of the world, an old Maori proverb states that if you turn your face to the sun at Midsummer, the shadows will fall behind you. Perhaps most famously, William Shakespeare himself utilised the many mythological and fairytale associations of this time of year in penning his comedy romance, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With Midsummer not long past, perhaps now is as good a time as any to ask why the period is so deeply rooted in superstition, myth and legend in so many nations.

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