There are innumerable uses of the noun place. To a waiter, ‘The placemats are cute!’; in a concert hall, ‘Please find your places’; in a restaurant, ‘I like this place’; in a business meeting, ‘That comment is out of place!’; having misplaced keys (action), ‘I looked all over the place!; at a rugby football game, ‘We’re missing a place kicker!; at an AFL football game, ‘Justin Tucker (pictured here) is the all-time most accurate place kicker. For this post, place can be an idea, a social construct, or a destination – even a destination after death. Some of these are hopes, memories, wishes and desires that are abstract, and hard to place – especially for absent-minded professors, like yours truly.
There’s something fascinating about the Devil and Satan. Here are some examples: the Hell’s Angels film of 1930; the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club (founded 1948); Salman Rushdie’s controversial book Satanic Verses (1988); WW II Hellcat fighter planes (shown here); Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. ‘Mark Twain’) 1909 ‘Satan’s Letters’ – a series of atheistic diatribes against human folly – sent to Twain from the Archangel Satan (not surprisingly, published posthumus since he was full of anger and hate, though his books are loved); my home-made roller coaster, the Blue Devil; Rene Girard’s 1999 book, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning; Nike Satanic Shoes, etc. I suppose this attraction to the dark side expresses a natural urge – especially in ‘teens – to rebel and do the opposite of what we’re ‘meant to do’. It’s cool to be evil. There are over 45,000 denominations of Christians around the world. If you’re in one of those, you believe in Satan (also called the Devil) the ruler of Hell. I like the image of Merill Streep in Devil Wears Prada, sporting spiked heels ending in a downturned trident. This opposes the upturned trident of the Greek god of the sea Poseidon.
Carlos Castaneda was a Peruvian-American writer. His birth date and place are controversial. So are his many books on Shamanism in South-Western USA – particularly The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Life, 1968 which was a best seller, and still attracts readers. He also started an organization to teach shamanism which had many followers. He was accused of fraud, plagiarism and among some of his followers, sexual abuse. This Wikipedia article describes his life, work, death and severe criticism. The 20th-anniversary edition of Don Juan (1988) was praised by Deepak Chopra, an American alternative medicine seller born in New Delhi, who is most likely fraudulent as well. There’s a 40th-anniversary edition this year with some new information.
I first read this book in the early 70s while teaching comparitive religions. I would not have forced myself to read it again, except to recall what he said in his writings about the importance of place – the topic of this post. He (or Don Juan) claimed that every individual can find an exact ‘spot’, e.g., in her/his house, on the porch or inside, seated or standing, that ‘fits’, i.e., empowers that person. This power is not comfortable; far from it. The experiences of ‘non-reality’ that come with it are terrifying in the extreme, but Don Juan says that’s just the burden of a ‘man of knowledge’. If an evil spirit- female or male – challenges or tries to seduce the person in that place or spot, she/he must never be tricked into leaving it. Spirits can inhabit herbs, shrubs, trees, birds, animals and even rocks. There are no good spirits, although one can find ‘helpers’ and ‘allies’, if they ‘like you’.
Place in Society
In groups of people (and animals), leaders have a place of power and honor, in contrast to lower status individuals. There is often a pecking order. The term started with chickens, whose order is very complex, and can be destructively chaotic if it’s challenged. In a small flock with one Rooster, he determines what every member does. One account among dozens I read described an unusual Rooster who protected and watched over his flock, even ensuring they all had enough food before he ate! A Cocky Gentleman, that! With hens, the strongest pecker is the keeper of order. I presume this dominating behavior insures the best genetic heritage.
Place among primal tribes
I want to avoid current political issues that involve Native American rights in our West and Southwest. To that end, I did some research in Britannica on the history, social order and religious beliefs of Athabascan tribes in Alaska. They are a language group. Their nomadic ancestors crossed from Russia some 40,000 years ago. Around 500 a.d., Apache and Navajo Athabaskans went to the American South West, while the third group stayed up in the cold wilderness. Until foreign intervention, fishing and hunting in families was the mainstay of their lives. Here’s a striking fact. Having no specific leaders, they would come together in time of threat and choose the most suited person for the task. Afterwards, they would disband. What honorable individuality and practicality!
Alaskan Athebaskans had no settled, civilized culture until the Russians, Brits and Americans came looking for furs in the early 18th C. They often enslaved the natives as well, which makes me wonder what being civilized means, and whether it’s possible. To this day they are understandably wary of foreigners. Although the US purchased Alaska from the Russian Emperor in 1867 for $7 M. (Seward’s Folly?), today’s Russia seems bent on taking it back, by tunnelling under the Bering Straits, or through Putin’s hoped-for conquest.
Place in the Hereafter
Emanuel Swedenborg has much to say about the importance of place, but primarily the place in the afterlife of every human. Those who disbelieve in such a life will still find their place. It exactly matches the things we love most deeply, which in the end come down to our neighbors, or ourselves. Swedenborg interprets Biblical texts to explain place in this lifelong search, e.g., ‘I have prepared a place for you’, and ‘in My Father’s house there are many mansions’. Here are those passages in context from Bible hub (John Ch. 14) And here is Swedenborg’s interpretation of that text.
I spoke earlier of the Alaskan Athabaskans who live in separate families rather than in communities. Swedenborg says much the same thing about the earliest humans who believed in the One True Divinity. They so loved God with their hearts, and so welcomed his wisdom into their thinking, that even while on earth they communed with angels. From nos 188 to 190 of the work Heaven and Hell this is spelled out. What I found truly striking is that the best angels of the earliest true church – i.e., The Most Ancients – were so pure and close to God that they didn’t have communities, but lived in single family places (called tents in the Bible)..
These good people lived before Adam and so also before The Flood – i.e. they were Pre-adamites and Antedeluvians. No, Adam was not the first human. He was a symbol of the few good humans who remained after the fall of the Pre-adamites. In Swedenborg’s teachings, every true religion ultimately falls because of humankind’s tendency to reject God. But Providence assures that all humans can be saved. The early chapters of the current Bible – speaking about Abraham and his heirs – are not history. Up to Gen: 10:21, which mentions Shem (the Semites) and Eber (the Hebrews), the Bible is pure symbolism.
Many texts in the literal Bible contradict other texts, and often defy common sense as well. This has been known ever since biblical criticism began, e.g., Peter Abelard’s book Sic et Non (Yes and No) published 1120 A.D. Passages abound that say God hates, vengeance is his, he kills, hardens people’s hearts, holds one generation accountable for another’s evil, refuses to forgive. Strangely, this ambiguity is all because God – who is Love Itself in his very being and essence – wants every human to have the best chance at reformation. Why the symbolism? Why not tell it like it is? The main reason is to protect people from the evil of blasphemy. Blasphemy really means the commitment to reject God; it’s the unforgivable sin called ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’. The blasphemer does not want forgiveness; she/he rejects God altogether and chooses Hell. That’s their ‘place’. God can’t force people to accept him, else he would deny their humanity which lies in everyone’s freedom to choose. That freedom is guaranteed to eternity.