Dialogue on the Threshold

Диалог на пороге

Sunday, 30 September 2012

External and internal darkness


Tenebrae apud inferos, duplices. Illas Corporis voco, et exteriores, has Animi et interiores. Illae Corporis, tenebras Aegyptias, horribiles, crassissimas, manu palpandas longe superant. Ignis apud inferos ardere potest, lucere non potest. Quod Sapientia de tenebris Aegyptiis asseruit, idem de Orcinianis dicendum: Una catena tenebrarum omnes erunt colligati,

clausi tenebris et carcere caeco.

De hac tenebrarum poena Chrysostomus: Plorabimus, omnes tristissime, inquit, flamma nobis vehementius incumbente. Neminem videbimus praeter condemnatos nobiscum, et immanem solitudinem. Quis potest verbis consequi, quam formidabiles pavores a tenebris exorientur, quae in animis nostris extabunt? Quemadmodum ignis illic non habet vim resolvendi, sic nec lucere potest: alioqui non essent tenebrae.

At tenebrae interiores illae, longe horribiliores sunt, quas Theologi Poenam damni, seu, Divinae visionis privationem vocant. Hoc omnino suppliciorum summum est, quo Deus hominem punire potest. Nam uti, Videre Deum, ipsissima beatitudo est, et summa beatorum felicitas: ita, Deum videre non posse, maxima damnatorum poena est, e qua inexplicabilis in eorum voluntate nascitur tristitia.

Jeremias Drexelius, Infernus Damnatorum et Carcer et Rogus Aeternitatis Pars II. 1633


In hell there are two kinds of darkness. The first is external and corporeal, the second internal and spiritual. The corporeal darkness by far surpasses the terrifying, dense, palpable darkness that afflicted Egypt. The fire in hell burns, but sheds no light. What Holy Wisdom declared of the darkness of Egypt may also be said of the darkness of Hell: All were bound with the same fetters of darkness,

shut in darkness and the blind prison. (1)

On the punishment of darkness Chrysostom says the following: We shall all lament most piteously when the fire violently assails us. We shall see none but our fellows in damnation and nothing but a vast solitude. Who can express in words the terrifying darkness-engendered dismay that will exist in our souls? Just as the fire has no power to consume, so too it is unable to give light: otherwise there would be no darkness.

But more terrifying by far is the interior darkness, which the theologians name Poena damni, or privation of the sight of God. This is the highest of the torments whereby God may punish man. For the sight of God is beatitude itself, and the highest bliss of the blessed: thus, not to be able to see God is the greatest punishment of the damned, whence arises in their wills an indescribable sadness.

(1) Virgil, Aeneid, 6, 732

Friday, 17 August 2012

Ici parmi la bourbe et le fient du monde

La présomption est notre maladie naturelle et originelle. La plus calamiteuse et frêle de toutes les créatures c'est l'homme, et quant et quant la plus orgueilleuse. Elle se sent et se voit logée ici parmi la bourbe et le fient du monde, attachée et clouée à la pire, plus morte et croupie partie de l'univers, au dernier étage du logis, et le plus éloigné de la voûte céleste, avec les animaux de la pire condition des trois : et se va plantant par imagination au-dessus du cercle de la Lune, et ramenant le ciel sous ses pieds. 

Montaigne, Apologie de Raimond Sebond

Our natural and native malady is that we are overweening. Man is the most ruinous, the frailest of all creatures, and at the same time the most prideful. This creature knows and sees himself to be quartered here amongst the mire and dung of the world, fettered and nailed to the worst, deadest and most stagnant part of the universe, on the bottommost floor of the building, farthest from the celestial vault, in the third and worst category of the beasts; and yet in his imagination he sets himself above the circle of the Moon, bringing the heavens under his feet.

Monday, 13 August 2012

De stultorum natura (3)

He hath a soule drownd in a lumpe of flesh, or is a peece of earth that Prometheus put not halfe his proportion of fire into. A thing that hath neither edge of desire, nor feeling of affection in it; the most dangerous creature for confirming an Atheist, who would sweare his soule were nothing but the bare temperature of his body. He sleepes as hee goes, and his thoughts seldome reach an inch further than his eies. 

John Donne, The True Character of a Dunce

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Vogouls (6) Modern poetry (2)

Youwan Shestalow (Юван Николаевич Шесталов) (1937-2011)

ērγəŋ mākemn, mōjtəŋ mākemn
ōsta, ōsta joχtŭmākem.
wojkan χāľkwet rāmγantēγət,
ūjriśakwet lujγantēγət.
χotta χallew mowalāli,
māńśi ērįγ sujŭmlāli...
at tōlįγpas, at χarįγlas,
māńśi ērįγ ōs sujŭmlas!
mirŭm, simeke rātχati,
ērγe sujtuŋkw' akwtoχ pati!

To my song-rich land, to my story-rich land once more, once more I have come. The white birch trees are whispering, the birds are twittering. Where the seamew laughs, there Vogul song rings forth... It has not faded away, it has not died out, Vogul song yet rings forth! While the heart of my people still beats, their song will ever ring forth!

l. 2 joχti, cf. Hungarian jut
l. 3 χāľ, cf. Finnish koivu
l. 5 χallew, Samoyed word
l. 6 mowalāli, cf. Hungarian nevet (dialect and obsolete mövet)
l. 7 sujŭmlāli, from sujmi "to begin to ring" with frequentative suffix -lāl
l. 8 χariγli, cf. Hungarian hervad
l. 9 mir, Russian word; sim, cf. Hungarian szív, Finnish sydän 

Vogul text from: Béla Kálmán, Vogul Chrestomathy. Developmental Work on Material in West Siberian Uralic Languages. Indiana University Publications. Uralic and Altaic Series, Vol. 46. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Mouton & Co., The Hague, 1965.

The Vogouls (5) Modern poetry

Youwan Shestalow (Юван Николаевич Шесталов) (1937-2011)

χōtal śarmat χuriŋ āγi
kit saγaγe saγijāγe.
āŋkwatike - simkem tōli,
wōrkem jiki, mākem ērγi.
tūjtχatike - kāskem χōli,
witkem tisti, simkem śarγi.

The sun is like a beautiful girl braiding two plaits of her hair. When the sun shines, my heart melts, my forest dances, my land sings. When the sun hides, my gladness dies, my water grieves, my heart aches.

l. 2 kit, cf. Hungarian két, Finnish kaksi
l. 3 āŋkwatike, precative mood; tōli, cf. Hungarian olvad, Finnish sula
l. 5 tūjtχatike, precative mood; χōli, cf. Hungarian hal-, Finnish kuole-
l. 6 wit, cf. Hungarian víz, Finnish vesi

Vogul text from: Béla Kálmán, Vogul Chrestomathy. Developmental Work on Material in West Siberian Uralic Languages. Indiana University Publications. Uralic and Altaic Series, Vol. 46. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Mouton & Co., The Hague, 1965.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Universality of the belief in hell (6)

According to Jochelson (1), among the Koryak there exist two conceptions of the abode of the departed. One soul of the deceased may rise to the Supreme Being, this idea being very indefinite, but another one goes to the underground world, that of ‘people of the ancient times’, peninelau, and the description of the future life of the departed is based on their life in this world. The peninelau live in the underground world in similar villages and in a similar way to their manner of life on earth, and the new-comer at once finds his place among his relatives. At the entrance to this underworld are found dogs as guardians, and a person who used to beat his dog during his life on earth will be stopped by them, though, in order to propitiate the guardians, he can carry in his mittens the fins of fishes, of which they are very fond.

M. A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia: A Study in Social Anthropology, Oxford, 1914.

(1) Memoir of the Jessup North Pacific Expedition

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Vogouls (4) Sacred poetry

A Vogul of the northern Ural. (Collection of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography). M. A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia: A Study in Social Anthropology, Oxford, 1914.

from The Heroic Song of the Elder of the Middle Section of the Ob, Ajäs-god

[...]
My water on one side: the wide-watered, wide Ob [vitä χarä, χarä Ās]; -
Numi-Sorńi [Upper golden Sky] my royal father
called me, Ajäs-god elder, here.
My water on the other side, sacred lake flowing with sacred water;
Numi-Sorńi my royal father
charmed me, Ajäs-god elder, here.
These stretched-out [settling], far flung seven regions,
they all exist through my power;
my many shabby-coated poor people [sawiñ sāχip saw kuńärėm]
they all exist through my power.
[...]
I inhabit the wide water of the nourishing Ob,
I inhabit the wide water of the fish-abounding Ob.
In this dwelling-place of mine
my many shabby-coated men [sawiñ sāχip saw γumin],
my many shabby-coated women [sawiñ sāχip sāw nēm],
when they are touched by disease of diseased flesh,
when they are touched by sickness of sick bone,
they come to me to pray.
[...]

Translated (from Bernát Munkácsi's Hungarian translation of the Vogul original) by Bálint Sebestyén. Vogul Folklore. Collected by Bernát Munkácsi. Selected and edited by Otto J. Sadovszky and Mihály Hoppál. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, and International Society for Trans-Oceanic Research, Los Angeles, 1995.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The language(s) of the dead

De Lingua etiam et sermone Mortuorum oriuntur quaestiunculae. Mortuorum Dialogos finxere multi, sed qua lingua colloquuntur mortui, nescio. Materna, inquies, seu vernacula, qua usi sunt in terris: ut Graeci loquantur Graece: Latini Latine, et sic de caeteris gentibus. Sed tempora mutantur, et populi, et linguae, de saeculo in saeculum. Hodierni Romani Veterum Latinorum non callent linguam: nec quamcunque Latinitatem, vulgus Italorum: Qui confabulabuntur hi populi cum suo Romulo, aut Numa? Celtarum et Scytharum linguas non retinent hodie, qui easdem sedes per occidentem et septentrionem incolunt. Denique quid fiet a nobis, incolis hujusce Insulae, qui tot habuimus origines et linguas? Britannice loquemur in corporibus aëriis: vel Saxonice, vel Normanice, vel ut hodie fit mixte et composite? Alteram fore suspicor Linguarum confusionem, Babelis illa graviorem, si in hunc modum vita futura ordinanda esset. 

 Thomas Burnet, De Statu Mortuorum et Resurgentium Tractatus, London, 1727, p. 89, recte 93


The minor questions of the language and speech of the dead now arise.* Many have invented Dialogues of the Dead, but in which tongue the dead converse with each other I know not. In the mother tongue or the vernacular they used in their own countries, you will say, and thus Greeks would speak Greek, Latins Latin, and so on for every other nation. But the times, as well as peoples and languages, are forever changing. Today's Romans, the Italian rabble, would be ignorant of the language of the ancient Latins and any Latinity whatever: by what means will such people talk to their Romulus or their Numa? The languages of the Celts and the Scythians, who inhabit the same homelands in the West and North, no longer survive. What then of us, the inhabitants of this Island, who have had so many different origins and languages? Will we speak British in our aerial bodies, or Saxon, or Norman, or the present-day composite tongue? I suspect that there would be another Confusion of Tongues, worse than that of Babel, if the future life were arranged in this way.

* Burnet has been discussing whether there be a polity of the dead in their aerial state during the interval between death and the resurrection. Will the dead form a promiscuous republic, or will they be separated according to their various nations, e.g. French, Spanish, German, British, etc.?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Vogouls (3) Theology, eschatology

On the 14th of May [1692], he embarked at Solikamskoi, and crossing the little River of Usolkat, half a League from this City, he entered the Kama again, and crossed that River from Europe to Asia, arriving in the Country of the first Tartars of Siberia, called Wogulski, which is indifferently well people, and a most pleasant Country all along the Banks of the Susawaia, having on it all Sorts of Flowers and odoriferous Herbs; with prodigious Numbers of Deer, and all Sorts of Game. As the Tartars of Wogul upon this River are Heathens, he had the Curiosity to go on Shore to talk with them, concerning their Belief and Manner of Life. (...) M. Isbrant, the Muscovite Minister, asked them if they had any Knowledge of a God, and if they did not believe there was a supreme Being in Heaven, who created all Things, and governs the World by his good Providence, and who gives Rain and fair Weather? They answered, it was not unlikely, seeing the Sun and Moon, which they worshipped, and the other Stars, were placed in the Firmament, and that there was doubtless a Power that ruled them: But they would by no means agree, that there was a Devil, because he had never made himself known to them: Yet they do not deny the Resurrection of the Dead, but know nothing of what is to become of them.

John Mottley, The Life of Peter the Great, Emperor of all Russia. The second edition, with curious Copper Plates, and Maps. London. Printed for M. Cooper, in Pater-noster Row. 1755.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Description de la Moldavie

La Moldavie est une des plus belles et des plus agréables Provinces de l'Europe. On y voit de grandes Campagnes, qui font arrosées de diverses rivières, dont la principale est la Moldava, qui serpente à-peu-prés comme la Seine, et qui semble par tous ces détours vouloir porter l'abondance partout. Toutes ses eaux rendroient en effet les Campagnes trés-fertiles, et contribüeroient assurément à faire de cette Province, une des meilleures et des plus riches de l'Europe, si elle étoit moins exposée qu'elle n'est aux insultes des Turcs et des Tartares.

P H. Avril, Voyage en divers Etats d'Europe et d'Asie. Entrepris pour découvrir un nouveau Chemin à la Chine. Contenant Plusiers Remarques curieuses de Physique, de Geographie, d'Hydrographie et d'Histoire. Avec une Description de la grande Tartarie, et des differens Peuples qui l'habitent. Paris, 1692.


Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Vogouls (2) Character, social organisation

The Vogouls are hardly of a middling stature, have generally black hair, and for the most part a scanty beard. They have some traits of the Kalmouks in the style of their physiognomy. They are of a gay disposition, teachable, honest, laborious, and acute; but sloveny and fickle, inclined to be disorderly and passionate to excess. Their women are robest, civil, laborious, and generally speaking well made. (...) They distinguish themselves into tribes or races; and commonly a Vogoul village is only composed of one family, whose chief or elder performs the functions of a staroste or mayor of the village. 

Russia, or a Compleat Historical Account of All the Nations which Compose that Empire. London. Printed for J. Nichols; T. Cadell in the Strand; H. Payne, Pall-Mall; and N. Conant, Fleet Street. 1780. 2 volumes in 8vo. 10 shillings.


Friday, 1 June 2012

The Vogouls (1) Ethnonym, territory, language

These people are sometimes called Vagouls and Vagoulitzes; but the appellation they give themselves is Mansi. They are of Finnish extraction as well as their language, but this latter has so many peculiarities of its own, and comprehends such a number of different dialects, that it has often, with good reason, been taken for a distinct language. The Vogouls have established their habitations in the forests on the northern side of Mount Oural, extending themselves to the westward, and still farther on the plains to the eastward of this chain of mountains. The disposition of their abode is such, that the houses are continued along the borders of a number of little rivers which fall into the Kama and Irtisch, on the borders of Solikamsk and Verghotouria, not far from the rivers Kolva, Vischoura, and Tawda. Here they have dwelt for time immemorial, and are possessed of traditions which have a great conformity with history. Some authors pretend that they are the brethren of the ancient Ougrians, or of the present Hungarians, and found their conjecture on the situation of the Vogoul territory, and the striking resemblance there is between the languages of the two nations. This people was subjected to the dominion of Russia at the same time with Siberia.

Russia, or a Compleat Historical Account of All the Nations which Compose that Empire. London. Printed for J. Nichols; T. Cadell in the Strand; H. Payne, Pall-Mall; and N. Conant, Fleet Street. 1780. 2 volumes in 8vo. 10 shillings.


Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The voices of the dust (2)

Me did he lead to the Dwelling of Darkness, the home of Irkalla,
Unto the Dwelling from which he who entereth cometh forth never!
(Aye), by the road on the passage whereof there can be no returning,
Unto the Dwelling whose tenants are (ever) bereft of the daylight,
Where for their food is the dust, and the mud is their sustenance:
                bird-like
Wear they a garment of feathers: and, sitting (there) in the darkness,
Never the light will they see.


R. Campbell Thompson, The Epic of Gilgamesh. A new translation from a collation of the cuneiform tablets in the British Museum rendered literally into English hexameters (1928).

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Lūji xum: homo infernus

The Sosva Voguls maintain that the Prince of the Underworld sends sickness and death. (...) In several areas xuḽ-ōtәr or kuḽ-noàjer is identified with the devil. On the upper Lozva, in fact, xuḽ-ōtәr is considered just below the 'World-overseeing Man' in the hierarchy of spirit forces. The Sosva Voguls say that kuḽ lives in a black lake called kuḽiŋ tūr. If one travels there even in the winter, one will be pulled down into the water. In other areas kuḽ is a forest spirit. At the creation of the world kuḽ asked God's permission to put animals into the world. The permission was not granted, so he asked that he might at least be allowed to make a hole. This request was granted. From this hole came forth lizards, snakes and wolves. While several curse words are also associated with kuḽ, another significant epithet on the Sosva is lūji xum (literally 'under man'), which means the man that lives under the river bed. This is another name for xuḽ-ōtәr, the Prince of the Underworld. The Prince also has the name jolixum, meaning 'under man', but with the connotation of 'the one found under the earth.' (...) On the Konda, there is jalqum ('under man' or 'the spirit of the underworld').

Otto J. von Sadovsky, Aspects of Vogul Religion (based on A. Kannistor, E. A. Virtanen, M. Liimola, Materialen zur Mythologie der Wogulen, MSFOu 113, Helsinki, 1958), in Vogul Folklore, collected by Bernát Munkácsi, selected and edited by Otto J. von Sadovsky and Mihály Hoppál, translated by Bálint Sebestyén, ISTOR (Internataional Society for Trans-Oceanic Research) Books 4, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1995, pp. 160-161.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Universality of the belief in hell (5)

Les fausses religions ont aussi leur enfer: celui des Païens, assez connu par les descriptions qu’en ont faites Homere, Ovide et Virgile, est assez capable d’inspirer de l’effroi par les peintures des tourmens qu’ils y font souffrir à Ixion, à Prométhée, aux Danaïdes, aux Lapythes, à Phlégias, etc. mais parmi les Païens, soit corruption du coeur, soit penchant à l’incredulité, le peuple et les enfans même traitoient toutes ces belles descriptions de contes et de rêveries (...) Cette persuasion des peines dans une vie future, universellement répandue dans toutes les religions, même plus fausses, et chez les peuples plus barbares, a toujours été employée par les législateurs comme le frein le plus puissant pour arrêter la licence et le crime, et pour contenir les hommes dans les bornes du devoir.



Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société de gens de lettres. Mis en ordre et publié par M. Diderot.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Universality of the belief in hell (4)

Xaca, dont la secte est très-répandue dans le Japon, enseigne que, dans le lieu du supplice que les méchants vont habiter après leur mort, il y a un juge sévere, nommé Jemma-o, qui regle la rigueur et la durée des châtiments, selon les crimes d'un chacun. Il a devant les yeux un grand miroir qui lui représente fidellement les actions les plus secrettes des hommes. (...) La pagode de Jemma-o est située dans un bois, à quelque distance de la ville de Méaco. Ce dieu redoubtable y est représenté ayant à ses côtés deux grands diables plus hideux encore que lui, dont l'un est occupé à écrire les mauvaises actions des hommes, tandis que l'autre semble les lui dicter. On voit sur les murailles du temple d'effrayants tableaux des tourments destinés dans les enfers aux âmes des méchants. Les peuples accourent en foule dans cette pagode. C'est la crainte, plutôt que la dévotion, qui les y conduit.

Delacroix, Dictionnaire historique des cultes religieux établis dans le monde depuis son origine jusqu'a présent, Paris, 1775

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Universality of the belief in hell (3)

Exotericam Xekiae disciplinam describunt Le Comte, La Loubere, Bernier, maxime vero Kaempferus, ex quorum narrationibus constat, ita hunc Indorum legislatorem ad populum praecepisse: (...) II. Animas homimum et brutorum esse immortales eiusdemque substantiae, et tantum ratione subiectorum, quibus insunt, differe. III. Animas hominum, a corporibus morte separatas, vel praemia accipere vitae bene actae, in sede felicitatis, vel poenas experiri in loco miseriarum. (...) IX. Homines omnes, et seculares et ecclesiasticos vitae iniquitate et actionum perversitate indignos factos vita beata, missum iri post mortem in locum miseriae, Dsigokf, ubi in carcere tormentorum cruciatus patientur, non tamen aeternos, sed ad certum tamen tempus licet indeterminatum. (...) X. Praesidem carceris squalidi et miseri, iudicemque esse Iemma O, qui actiones hominum omnes examinet, et in speculo cognitionis exploret. (...) XIII. Expiatis hunc in modum animis, remitti eas ex sententia praesidis infernalis in mundum, ut iterum corpora animent; ast non humana, sed animalia immundorum, quorum natura cum vitiis illis conspiret, quibus in mundo infectae erant.

Jacob Brucker, Historia critica philosophiae, De Philosophia exotica, De Philosophia gentium asiaticarum in genere, vol. 4.1, lib. 3, cap. 1 (Lepizig, 1766)

The exoteric doctrine of the Xekia [i.e. the Buddha] is described by Le Comte, La Loubere, Bernier, and especially Kaempfer, from whose accounts it can be seen that the legislator of the Indies passed down the following precepts to the people: (...) II. The souls of men and beasts are immortal and of the same substance, and differ only according to the subjects in which they are placed. III. Men's souls, having been separated from their bodies at the moment of death, are either rewarded in an abode of bliss for having led a good life or are punished in a place of torments. (...) IX. All men, both laymen and clerics, who through an iniquitous life and evil deeds have made themselves unworthy of the life of bliss are sent after their death to a place of misery, called Dsigokf, where they are imprisoned and endure torments, which are not eternal, but last for an undetermined time. (...)  X. The governor and judge of this foul and wretched prison is Jemma O, who weighs men's deeds and searches them out in the mirror of knowledge. (...) XIII. The souls having thus been cleansed, by the judgement of the infernal governor they are sent back into the world to become the souls of new bodies, not human ones, but those of unclean beasts, whose nature is in keeping with the sins with which they were tainted during their worldly life.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Universality of the belief in hell (2)

Les habitants de l'isle Formose croient que les hommes, après leur mort, passent sur un pont fort étroit, fait avec une sorte de roseau qu'on nomme bambou, sous lequel il y a une fosse profonde, pleine d'ordures. Le pont s'écroule sous les pas de ceux qui ont mal vécu; et ils sont précipités dans cette horrible fosse.

Delacroix, Dictionnaire historique des cultes religieux établis dans le monde depuis son origine jusqu'a présent, Paris, 1775

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Universality of the belief in hell (1)

Offenditur nationes omnes, quae modo in Universo sunt, conspirare cum antiquis in dogmate de misera impiorum post mortem conditione 

Satis iam constare arbitror communem fuisse apud nationes, quae olim invaluerunt eorumque celebriores Sapientes, persuasionem, superstites esse post mortem animos, eosque pro meritis vel praemio donari, vel plecti supplicio. Reliquum est ut videamus eamdem hodieque vigere apud nationes, quae universum orbem terrarum incolunt: ex quo et quid creditum antea fuerit firmius argumentum sumere licet, et de universali in ea veritate consensu, certius judicare.

 J. V. Patuzzi, De Futuro Impiorum Statu, 1748


Agreement with the ancients as to the dogma regarding the wretched state of sinners after death is to be met in all the nations that now exist in the world 

I think it is now sufficiently established that among the nations that were powerful of old and among their famous wise men there was a general belief that souls live on after death and are given recompense or punished with torment according to their merits. As we may see, the same belief still thrives among the nations that today inhabit all the lands in the world: whence it is justified to take as the stronger argument that which was formerly given credence, and to judge with more surety from the universal agreement in its verity.

De stultorum natura (2)

Chichikov himself is merely the ill-paid representative of the Devil, a travelling salesman from Hades, “our Mr Chichikov” as the Satan and Co. firm may be imagined calling their easy-going, healthy-looking but inwardly shivering and rotting agent. The poshlust [i.e. пошлость] which Chichikov personifies is one of the main attributes of the Devil, in whose existence, let it be added, Gogol believed far more serously than in that of God. The chink in Chichikov’s armour, that rusty chink emitting a faint but dreadful smell (a punctured can of conserved lobster tampered with and forgotten by some meddling fool in the pantry) is the organic aperture in the devil’s armour. It is the essential stupidity of poshlust.

Vladimir Nabokov, Nikolai Gogol, 1959, 2nd edition 1961

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Vogul eschatology

When a corpse is buried, the soul of the deceased descends into the underworld - called the 'lower land' or the 'lower world' in all Vogul dialects. (...) Among the Voguls this lower world is identified as being in the Arctic Ocean. The Northern Voguls speak of a 'Prince of the Underworld', xuḽ-ōtәr, who lives in the Arctic Ocean. When a Vogul dies, in fact, his or her soul travels down the Ob river to the Arctic Ocean. There is a particular hole through which the soul travels to reach the underworld. (...) The deceased continues life in much the same way as before his or her death. They reside with the same possessions and at the same age they had at the moment of death. (...) Punishment after death for evil deeds is occassionally mentioned among the Northern Voguls, but this idea is probably borrowed from the Russian - "Do not steal, you will be punished for it in the future life." But it should be noted that death itself is often referred to as 'gone to torment/agony' and the cemetery as 'the place of agony.' (...) An informant on the lower Konda reports that the 'place beyond' is always as dim as a summer night. The inhabitants live in subterranean huts and they are ruled by the Prince of the Underworld (...) There is also a folk poem about an underworld woman who lives at a 'goose-rich lake, a duck-rich lake' to whom the gods send the deceased.

Otto J. von Sadovsky, Aspects of Vogul Religion (based on A. Kannistor, E. A. Virtanen, M. Liimola, Materialen zur Mythologie der Wogulen, MSFOu 113, Helsinki, 1958), in Vogul Folklore, collected by Bernát Munkácsi, selected and edited by Otto J. von Sadovsky and Mihály Hoppál, translated by Bálint Sebestyén, ISTOR (Internataional Society for Trans-Oceanic Research) Books 4, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1995, pp. 160-161.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Man Who Looks at the World (3)

One of the most significant protective spirits among the Northern Voguls is mir-susnē-xum 'the World Overseeing Man'. He is also called ali-xum 'the man above' (ali: the upper course of the river), or just simply ōtәr. In some areas, he has acquired the attributes of a local protective spirit. On the Sosva, he is thought to be the son of sōrńipos 'the Golden Light'. He has a winged horse, towlәŋ luw, which has such sharp eyes that he sees even the invisible and flies at the height of the clouds. (...) On the Sosva, they believe that while he wanders the forest feeding his horse, the blades of grass that fall from the horse's mouth become Calla palustris (German: Drachenwurz, Vogul xūs). This plant is then used as an offering to Mir-susnē-xum. (...) They also believe that if one laughs while eating it raw, it will surely bring death, and so it is always eaten cooked. One is also not even allowed to speak about the plant, fearing death. It is believed that the World Overseeing Man cures illnesses and lengthens life, in fact, some say this is his primary function. The Voguls often identify the World Overseeing Man with Jesus Christ. He is considered the mediator between humans and the lower guardian spirits.

Otto J. von Sadovsky, Aspects of Vogul Religion (based on A. Kannistor, E. A. Virtanen, M. Liimola, Materialen zur Mythologie der Wogulen, MSFOu 113, Helsinki, 1958), in Vogul Folklore, collected by Bernát Munkácsi, selected and edited by Otto J. von Sadovsky and Mihály Hoppál, translated by Bálint Sebestyén, ISTOR (Internataional Society for Trans-Oceanic Research) Books 4, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1995, pp. 161-162.

Calla palustris

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Des murs de papier


Le Feu que nous avons ici bas, quoique il ne soit qu'une image très imparfaite de celui de l'Enfer, abîme, détruit, dissout, et réduit en cendres toutes les choses sur lesquelles il exerce son activité. Maisons, Villes, Bois, Forêts, il dévore et consume tout. Rien de semblable dans le Feu Infernal. Quoique un million de millions de fois plus vif, et plus ardent, que tous ceux du Monde réunis ensemble, et que tous ceux même qu'on peut imaginer, sa vivacité, ni son ardeur, ne s'étendent point au-delà des Ames, qu'il brule sans les consumer, et qu'il doit bruler éternellement. Elles ne passent jamais cette borne, qui leur a été prescrite. La chose est si vraïe, et si incontestable, que, quoique le lieu que l"eglise Romaine apelle Purgatoire, dans lequel les Ames des gens de bien expient, dit-on, les souillures qu'elles emportent toujours de ce Monde; quoique le Purgatoire, dis-je, ne soit séparé de l'Enfer, selon certains Ecrivains de cette Communion, que par une grande Toile d'Aragnée, ou, selon d'autres, par des Murs de Papier, qui en forment l'enceinte et la Voute, néanmoins les Ames qui sont renfermées dans le premier, y sont dans une parfaite sécurité.

Eloge de l'Enfer. Ouvrage critique, historique, et moral, 1759

L'âge du papier

Le livre imprimé n'existe que depuis quatre cents ans tout au plus, et il s'accumule déjà dans certain pays de manière à mettre en péril le vieil équilibre du globe. La civilisation est arrivée à la plus inattendue de ses périodes, l'âge du papier.

Charles Nodier, L'Amateur de livres, 1841

Monday, 30 April 2012

Vogul psychology

The souls of man:

1) urtă - the soul that departs for the warm regions after or on the point of a man's death;

2) lash - soul in the form of a little bird that bodes death;

3) ulm uye - soul that takes the shape of a bird and watches over a man's sleep and health during life;

4) utshi - the soul that always remains in the body, even after a man's death. This is the soul to which commemorative offerings are made;

5) the fifth soul is apparently the soul of the first, but has no definite name.


Е. И. Ромбандеева, История народа манси (вогулов) и его духовная культура (по данным фольклора и обрядов), "Северный дом" Северо-Сибирское региональное издательство, г. Сургут, 1993

(trans. A. I. Blyth)


Sunday, 29 April 2012

Psychê tetrigyia (3)

I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit (ἐν τῷ ἐγγαστριμύθῳ), and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. (Reg. I 28.8)

The prophet who possesses or is possessed by a familiar, usually an ancestral ghost, is often to be met with in the lower culture. Among the Jews, besides the power of summoning spirits enjoyed, for example, by the Witch of Endor, diviners might possess a familiar ghost who speaks through their lips. The words ’ōb and yidde ‘oni, which mean in the first instance the spirit of a deceased person, came to mean him or her that divines by such a spirit. Now the Septuagint translates sho’ēl ’ōb, one who consults an ’ōb, by the word ἐγγαστρίμυθος. The ἐγγαστρίμυθοι were apparently very common in antiquity. Clement refers to them as one of the principal types of pagan diviner (Protrept, i. 11). (...) So far as the nature of their familiar spirit is defined, it seems probable that it was supposed to be the ghost of a deceased person, though one would not look for clear definition or consistence of theory in this lowly branch of the art of divination. (...) In the Byzantine period diviners of this character appear to have retained their popularity, and they are said by Psellus, that expert in the ranks and categories of devils, to be possessed by the subterranean kinds of devil (De op. daem. (Gaulminus), GIII, p. 55)."

W. R. Halliday, Greek Divination. A Study of its Methods and Principles, Macmillan, London, 1913.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Psychê tetrigyia (2)

Bogoros (1) believes that he can explain the "separate voices" of the Chukchee shamans by ventriloquism. But his phonograph recorded all the "voices" exactly as they were heard by the audience, that is, as coming from the doors or rising from the corners of the room, and not as emitted by the shaman. The recordings "show a very marked difference between the voice of the shaman himself, which sounds from afar, and the voices of the 'spirits', who seemed to be talking directly into the funnel." (2)

(1) Waldemar G. Bogoras (V. G. Bogoraz), The Chukchee, American Museum of Natural History (New York), Memoirs XI, Jesup North Pacific Expedition VII, 1904, pp. 435ff.
(2) Ibid., p. 436.

Mircea Eliade, Shamanism. Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard R. Trask, Bollingen Series LXXVI, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 1972, 2nd ed. 2004, p. 255, n. 120.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Descensus ad inferos

[I]t seems that the [Altaic] shaman makes vertical descent down the seven successive "levels," or subterranean regions, called pudak, "obstacles." He is accompanied by his ancestors and his helping spirits. As each "obstacle" is passed, he sees a new subterannean epiphany; the word black recurs in almost every verse. At the second "obstacle" he apparently hears metallic sounds; at the fifth, waves and the wind whistling; finally, at the seventh, where the nine subterranean rivers have their mouths, he sees Erlik Khan's palace, built of stone and black clay and defended in every direction. The shaman utters a long prayer to Erlik (in which he also mentions Bai Ülgän, "him above"), then he returns to the yurt and tells the audience the results of his journey.

Mircea Eliade, Shamanism. Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard R. Trask, Bollingen Series LXXVI, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 1972, 2nd ed. 2004, pp. 200-201.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A sodaine dampe

This distemper [Melancholie] would sometimes cast a cloud, and some halfe damps upon her naturall cheerfulnesse, and socialblenesse, and sometimes induce darke and sad apprehensions.

Howling is the noyse of hell, Sadnesse the damp of Hell.

Who hath imprinted terrors in thee? A damp in thine own heart? Who imprinted it? Swear to me now that thou believest not in God, and before midnight, thou wilt tell God, that thou dost; miserable distemper! not to see God in this light, and see him in the dark: not to see him at noon, and see him fearfully at midnight: not to see, where we all see him, in the congregation, and to see him with terror, in the suburbs of despair, in the solitary chamber.

If he neglect his calling now, tomorrow he may forget that he was called today, or remember it with such a terror as shall blow a damp, and a consternation upon his soul, and a lethargy worse than his former sleep. 

John Donne, loca varia

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The voices of the dust (1)

And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy voice shall be low out of the dust and thy voice shall be as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper (Heb. peep, or chirp) out of the dust.

Isaiah, 29:4

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

To kalyptesthai


La thème des personnages enfermés dans des bocaux sphériques « résulte - indique Baltrušaitis - de la dégénérescence du cosmos cristallin, mais en rejoignant aussi une fable de l'Enfer. On se souvient que le Bouddha avait emprisonné le plus jeune fils de Kouei-tseu Mou, mère de dix mille démons, dans un vase à aumônes. Ce vase était en verre et il avait la forme d'un globe... La légende des diables enfermés dans des fioles a été également tres répandue au moyen âge, mais la représentation la plus ancienne et la plus proche de ces visions se trouve sur un rouleau chinois du XIe siècle avec une horde préfigurant le Tartaros gothique». 

Robert L. Delevoy, Bosch, 1960

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Man Who Looks at the World (2)

Géza Róheim, Hungarian and Vogul Mythology, Monographs of the American Ethnological Society, ed. Esther S. Goldfrank, Vol. 23, J. J. Augustin Publisher, Locust Valley, New York, 1954,  p. 30:

Karjalainen contends that the spirit [sc. World-Surveyor-Man or Gander-Chief], who is sometimes simply called the "Spirit of Troitsa," is of Christian origin. Foreign names such as Master 'master' are applied to him, and he has recently been identified with Christ, St. Nicholas, and St. George, while solar elements, which are present, are derived from Russian lore concerned with these saints. (1) Harva goes even further: The seven sons of the Sky God can be linked, he believes, to Iran, since the Amesha Spentas are seven, as are the Adityas of the Rigveda. Names, such as "Interpreter" (of God) and "Writer" came to the Ugric people through the Tartars, and indeed, some traits may go back to the planet gods and Nabu, the scribe of the gods. (2) (...) Gander-Chief or World-Inspector-Man is the patron god of the Moś moiety. Other designations for him, besides Lunt-Ater 'Gander-Chief', are Sorni-Ater 'Gold-Chief', or simply Ater 'Chief'. (3) In 1712 the missionaries found a brass idol representing a goose with extended wings, which was considered the patron god of swans, geese, and all water-fowl. (4) (...) We are told that his cult is localized in the village of Troitsa. He resides in a sacred forest near the village, and every Vogul is expected to make a pilgrimage to this place three times a year, or at least send him presents. Appeals for his help are usually made during the night in a dark hut, because it is just at this time that he is supposed to be traveling from one place to another on a white horse. When such an invocation impels him to descend to the earth, his servants deposit four metal plates, each bearing the image of the sun. (5)

(1) K. F. Karjalainen, Die Religion der Jugra-Völker, Folklore Fellows Communications, nos. 41, 44, 63, Helsinki, 1921-27 (44), pp. 191-93.
(2) Uno Harva, Finno-Ugric, Siberian Mythology, Archaeological Institute of America, 1927, pp. 403-410.
(3) Munkácsi Bernát, Vogul Népköltési Gyűjtemény, vol. II, pt. 1, Budapest, 1910-1921, p. 53.
(4) Ibid., p. 66.
(5) Karjalainen, ibid. p. 190. In one Ostyak village the tin image of the sun with rays was put up for the winter and hung on a holy larch during the sun's absence (Lehtisalo, Entwurf einer Mythologie der Jurak Samojeden, Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne, no. 53, 1924, p. 17).

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The seven-tiered universe

In the Vogul conception, the vital space of the surrounding world consists of seven strata or tiers. According to our information, these are as follows: 1) Yoli torum “the nether realm” or “netherworld”, which is mainly inhabited by beings inimical to man or the spirits of “the upside-down world”, which as a rule cause people illnesses and misfortunes; 2) Yalping ma “the sacred earth” or the stratum that supports life and in which inheres future life and the life force (oln yor); 3) Ma unlup, unlup torum or posing torum “the earthly realm”, which is all that dwells on earth, all the things that exist, visible and invisible to the eyes of ordinary men. The last are concealed from human eyes in a thin layer of bark (sas khalyup sayt olnă makhum). The realm stretching from the Earth to the blue Heaven; 4) Torum “Heaven”, which is the blue space above the earth; 5) Numi Torum, which is the world above the celestial cupola, shining blue above us; this is the stratum wherein dwells the life of the spirits or folk of the overworld, including God and his children; 6) Opil, which is the uppermost stratum of the vital space, above Numi Torum (the term opil derives from opa "paternal grandfather"); 7) Kors > Kars, literally “High”. Herein dwell the all-powerful forces, the all-seeing forces, unconcerned with the life of the earthly space, although in time of great misfortune men can make appeal to them in prayers for succour. Their likenesses are not depicted; they are invisible, indescribable. The Voguls have no places in nature where they worship or pray to them.

Е. И. Ромбандеева, История народа манси (вогулов) и его духовная культура (по данным фольклора и обрядов), "Северный дом" Северо-Сибирское региональное издательство, г. Сургут, 1993

(trans. A. I. Blyth)

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Man Who Looks at the World

The Voguls worshipped - and perhaps still worship - one especially among their gods who bears the name of "The Man Who Looks at the World." He is a god let down from heaven in two variations: with his mother and without her. With his mother he was "let down" in such a way that he was born as the son of a woman expelled from heaven. She fell upon the banks of the River Ob. "Under her right arm-pit two ribs broke out. A child with golden hands and feet was born."* This manner of birth, the emergence of the child from its mother's right side, betrays Buddhist influence. The Bodhisattva who later became Gautama Buddha entered his mother's womb from the right side and at the end of ten months left the right side of his mother again in full consciousness and immaculate; thus it was according to the Buddha legend of the northern sect - Mahanya Buddhism as it is called. "The Man Who Looks at the World" is an exact translation of "Avalokiteshvara," the name of the world-ruling Boddhisattva in the above religion, whose missionaries are dispersed throughout Northern Asia. Avalokiteshvara is just such a divinity compassionately observing the world as the god of the Voguls became.

* B. Munkácsi, Vogul Népköltési Gyűjtemény, Budapest, Vol. II, 1 (1910), p. 99


C. Kerényi, The Primordial Child in Primordial Times, in C. G. Jung and C. Kerényi, Science of Mythology. Essays on the Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis, trans. R.F.C. Hull, Routledge, London, 1985, 2002, p. 36

Torum and Koul


Torum is a divinity under whose symbol [the Vogouls] convey the idea of a universal god, the merciful sovereign of the world. They imagine divers inferior deities in subordination to him, of whom they form different conceptions, and characterise them under various appellatives. The sun, as they conceive, is the abode of their Torum; but that orb itself is with them an essential divinity, as well as the moon, the clouds, and the principal phaenomena of nature. The devil, whom they call Koul, is in their estimation of very little consequence; they look upon him as a very contemptible being, and scarcely think at all about him.

Russia, or a Compleat Historical Account of All the Nations which Compose that Empire. London. Printed for J. Nichols; T. Cadell in the Strand; H. Payne, Pall-Mall; and N. Conant, Fleet Street. 1780. 2 volumes in 8vo. 10 shillings.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Psychê tetrigyia

Géza Róheim, Hungarian and Vogul Mythology, Monographs of the American Ethnological Society, ed. Esther S. Goldfrank, Vol. 23, J. J. Augustin Publisher, Locust Valley, New York, 1954, p. 22:

In one of the Bear Songs published by Munkácsi we find the following passage:

The earth is inhabited by the people of the underworld,
The earth where they squeak like little geese,
Where they squeak like little ducks.

The "earth" as used here refers to the underworld. We may therefore conclude that the people who dwell there, that is the ghosts, are generally geese and ducks. The early Russian reports (1715) contain the observation that the [Vogul] shaman speaks to his gods in a strange squeaky voice.*

*B. Munkácsi, Vogul Népköltési Gyűjtemény, Budapest, Vol. 1 (1892-1902), p. cii.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Sur l'origine de la religion des Gètes

Il est bien plus probable que les Gètes avoient puisé dans la Tartarie, d'où ils étoient originaires, le culte du Dieu La, & l'avoient porté avec eux dans la Valachie & la Moldavie, où ils se fixèrent, de sorte que leur Pontife, résidant sur le mont Kagajon, n'étoit proprement qu'un vicaire ou un Kutuktus du grand Lama, qui a actuellement sous lui deux cents de ces Kutuktus, dont le principal a son siége & sa pagode chez les Calmouks, qui le nomment leur Catoucha.

Cornelius de Pauw, Sur le grand Lama, Recherches philosophiques sur les americains (1771)

Monday, 16 April 2012

De stultorum natura (1)

Il semble à chacun que la maîtresse forme de nature est en lui : touche et rapporte à celle-là toutes les autres formes. Les allures qui ne se règlent aux siennes sont feintes et artificielles. Quelle bestiale stupidité.

Essais de Michel de Montaigne, Liv. II, chap. XXXII

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The cockroach in Russian literature (5): Dostoevsky (2)

А Митьку я раздавлю как таракана. Я черных тараканов ночью туфлей давлю: так и щелкнет, как наступишь. Щелкнет и Митька твой.

Ф. М. Достоевский. Братья Карамазовы. Книга четвертая. Надрывы. II. У Отца

And Mitka I shall squash like a cockroach. At night I crush black cockroaches with my slipper: it makes a cracking sound when you tread on them. Your Mitka will make a cracking sound, too.

The Brothers Karamazov. Book Eleven. Strains. II. At Father's


The cockroach in Russian literature (1), (2), (3), (4)

Monday, 30 January 2012

The cockroach in Russian literature (4): Dostoevsky (1)

В этой избе печь стояла изразцовая и была сильно натоплена. По стенам красовались голубые обои, правда все изодранные, а под ними в трещинах копошились тараканы-прусаки в страшном количестве, так что стоял неумолкаемый шорох.

Ф. М. Достоевский. Братья Карамазобы. Книга одинадцатая. Брат Иван Федорович. VII. Второй визит к Смердякову

The stove in that room was of the tiled kind and very well stoked. The walls were decorated with blue wallpaper, although it was all in tatters, and in the cracks below them swarmed cockroaches in such dreadful profusion that there was a constant rustling noise.

F. M. Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov. Book Eleven. Brother Ivan Fedorovich. VII. The Second Visit to Smerdyakov

Ces pouilleuses demeures ne sont pas de simples décors. Elles ne servent pas seulement à situer l'action dans son cadre géographique et social. Ce cadre extérieur se révèle comme la cristallisation la plus noire et la plus dure de l'existence terrestre défigurée par les puissances du péché. Au coeur de la vallée de larmes, voici la forteresse de la misère et de l'abomination. La lèpre des murs, les souillures des chambres sont les signes manifestes de l'état hideux des âmes, elles en sont indéfiniment les effets et les causes par une succession terrible de chocs en retour. C'est là le premier cercle, le plus extérieur, du grand labyrinthe. Sous nos yeux surgissent les premières pierres de la cité infernale en voie de construction. Plus intérieurement, les scandales, les crimes, les symboles insectiformes témoignent directement de l'état des coeurs ravagés par l'esprit du mal. Et tel est le second cercle de la descente de Dostoïevski dans les profondeurs souterraines de l'être.

Michel Carrouges, Images de l'enfer (1950)

The cockroach in Russian literature (1), (2), (3)