A Useless Wrapper

Mike loved candy. He always had a stash of sweets at hand, and it was a short distance from hand to mouth.

More than anything, Mike liked to indulge his sugar addiction with hard candy, letting the sugar form a thick layer of deliciousness upon his teeth. Years of this activity caused his teeth to slowly decay and in their place grew new teeth of crystalized sugar.

Mike’s sugar-based diet had taken a toll on his health. He now lay dying, too weak to even lift another piece of candy to his mouth. Still, he felt no repentance for his gluttony. His last breath escaped him like a belch after a long gulp of pop.

God reached down into his stash of humans. ‘This one is ripe’, God said as he latched onto Mike’s limpid form.

God plucked the sugary teeth from Mike’s mouth. ‘No use for the wrapper’ God muttered, crumpling the now useless corpse and tossing it down toward hell. Mike’s discarded flesh dropped through the heavenly regions, a lonesome soul on a lonesome journey, downward and further down.

A passing angel took notice, swooped in on mighty wings, and used its talons to grasp the curious object falling from above. With a single thrust of wings, the angel returned to its perch among the clouds.

The angel added this new find to its nest, placing it with great care just in the right spot alongside some moss and a piece of string. Before the angel nestled down, Mike looked around and thought to himself, ‘The clouds look like cotton candy’.

The Cultural Amnesia of German-Americans

My reading lately has been varied, by which I mean I’ve been jumping between many books without finishing any of them, but I’ll finish them all eventually. This jumble of reading has my mind in a jumble. I was also doing some genealogical research, actually for someone else’s family as a favor to a friend. Looking at this other person’s family reminded me of my own family with lots of German ancestry. The German aspect came up in my reading as well.

Thinking about this other guy’s family, I was reminded of how much German ancestry there is in the American population. It is the single largest ethnicity in the entire country. What is odd is how invisible is the German influence.

In a post a while back, I wrote about a few books related to American whites, two of which were about specific ethnic populations. One book focused on the Scots-Irish and the other on the Irish. These two cultures have received a lot of attention and they are in many ways very visible cultures. Even if not English, they are still British and so they more easily fit into the standard narrative of America. German immigrant culture fundamentally undermines this simplistic narrative in a way no other ethnicity is capable of doing. Yet I know of no book about German Americans that is equivalent to the many books on the Scots-Irish and Irish.

A little over a century ago, German culture was the complete opposite of invisible. The German language was widely spoken in the US, second only to English. In German majority cities, public schools were taught in German and the newspapers were printed in German. Now, the only viable surviving German culture and language is that of the Amish, and it has survived for the reason the Amish isolated themselves from the changing world around them.

Germans were among the earliest settlers, the British government offloading German refugees onto ships heading for various colonies and plantations. In the American colonies, Germans even formed their own separate communities early on. The influence of Germans only increased over time with several massive waves of German immigrants in the 19th century. The sewer socialism and progressivism emerging out of the early Midwest was mostly the result of German ideas. Germans loved promoting projects for the public good such as public education, even as they mistrusted the federal government and the often nativist populations surrounding them.

The nativism is where I’ve gained a foothold of understanding. The Republican Party arose partly out of the support of the Know-Nothings who were anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, the former being especially directed at the sizable German population. Non-English immigrants were initially wary of the Republican Party for good reason and non-English immigrants to this day are wary of the Republican Party for good reason.

Nonetheless, the Republican president Lincoln wouldn’t have been able to win the Civil War without the large ethnic immigrant influx that gave the North a population advantage, not to mention the quality of immigrant was very high with Germans on average being more well-trained and well-educated than the average non-German American, specifically more well-trained in fighting modern warfare as many were political dissidents fleeing revolutionary wars against empire. Many of Lincoln’s administration and military leadership were German immigrants and even more were soldiers in his army.

Much of the political foment following the Civil War involved the German population or was in reaction to the German population. Germans fought for workers’ rights and farmers’ rights, the two coming together within the Populist movement. Germans fought against corporatocracy in the way they fought against empire back in Europe. More importantly, they won many of the political battles they fought and we today benefit from their struggle such as with the 8 hour work day and 5 day work week (try working every waking moment continuously 7 days a week and then tell me you aren’t grateful for their struggle and sacrifice). On the other side, Prohibition and Sunday laws were partly enacted in order to control the influence of ethnic immigrants such as Germans and Irish who were fond of their drink.

The ugliness of nativism became a central issue on the national stage when World War I began. The media of the day portrayed Germans as being vile and dangerous which led to mobs forming and many Germans dying. Also, the Germanic culture was nearly eliminated. German newspapers were censored, German names of buildings and streets were changed, German traditions were attacked, and German-Americans experienced political and economic oppression. They were arrested, imprisoned, and deported. They had hard time finding work. Their formerly influential culture suddenly became a liability. Along with the impact of World War II, nearly all traces of German heritage had been eliminated. Many German-Americans experienced a cultural forgetting that scoured the German culture from the collective memory of American history.

There was only one saving grace that helped some minor German identity to survive. The German refugees escaping the Nazis included many of the greatest intellectuals of their day. These German intellectuals gained employment in the arts and education. Slowly, German-American culture has been rehabilitated in correspondence with the German nation itself being rebuilt after WWII. It is no longer shameful to be of German descent, but the living culture in America was nonetheless destroyed beyond repair. The only thing left are a few German newspapers and the popular German festivals involving beer drinking.

This saddens me as so much of my ancestry is German, on both sides of my family. My German ancestry goes back for centuries in American history. But my family has complete amnesia about its Germanic past. America as we know it wouldn’t exist without the German influence. It’s hard to imagine what America would be like if Germans hadn’t been around to help win the Civil War or to help America live up to its democratic promise.

Literary Loss of Faith: Literary Criticism as Doomsaying

I noticed the article Has Fiction Lost Its Faith? by Paul Elie in The New York Times. It initially interested me, but the more I thought about it I felt irritated by it. I did like the idea about making belief believable, as Flannery O’Connor originally explained it.

What irritated me was the simplistic conclusion. It reminded me of the articles I constantly come across about the world coming to an end in some way or another. Books will disappear and along with it reading. Before that, people worried books would make oral culture disappear. Before that, people worried oral culture would make cave paintings disappear. People used to fear-monger about how the first land-line telephones would destroy American society and corrupt the youth. Then they said that about the television, and then cable, and then the internet.

It just goes on and on endlessly. The world is always ending and yet it never ends. The world of faith, of miracles, of gods ruling on earth, of humans and animals as a brotherhood, of the fairyland still being accessible, etc; all of it is always in the past, always declining, always disappearing. For as long as civilization has existed, there have been prophets of doom proclaiming the decline of civilization or some particular tradition.  It has been millennia of failed predictions and disproven criticisms.

This article expresses a related kind of rhetoric. The hypothesis stated as fact is that faith is disappearing from literature and that this somehow implies a deeper problem or malaise, a societal corruption or moral decline or weakening of serious thought, or something like that. People have been worrying about the loss of faith at least since the Protestant Reformation and probably long before that. This obsession is particularly strong in America where religion has had some of the strongest roots in all the world. If faith truly was weakening, no one would even write an article like this or want to read it because no one would give a flying fuck.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m neither religious nor anti-religious. It’s not the substance of the argument that annoys me, rather the style and structure of it. It’s so simplistic and predictable, so tired and cliché. If society is collapsing from internal decay, it is weak journalism like this that is a sign of the coming apocalypse… except journalism has always been this way, as long as journalism has existed… so, I guess no apocalypse for the time being. I’ve always thought that if and when civilization finally collapses or modern Western society declines to a point of no return, it probably would come from a confluence of events and conditions that no one would or could foresee.

I doubt that there are fewer authors of faith. A better query might be: Have the literary gatekeepers lost their faith? If the great Christian writers of the past were writing today, would they be published by the major publishing companies, would the mainstream critics review their works, and would they make it on Oprah’s book club list?

Then again, I don’t even know that those are good questions. This article, after all, was published in the mainstream media. It is a literary gatekeeper who, in his dual role as journalist and fiction writer, is complaining about this literary loss of faith. It’s like Republicans claiming other Republicans are secret Democrats for not being right-wing enough or nationally viewed MSM pundits complaining about the MSM being liberally biased. It’s a rhetorical trick to manipulate one’s audience.

In this case, the critic of literary loss of faith is setting the stage for his upcoming novel about faith. This means he is offering the solution to the problem he portrays as a threat. How convenient.

In criticism of the article, the following are two good responses.

D.G. Myers writes in The Novel of Belief:

It is not immediately clear why a setting in the past should disqualify any novel from the category “of belief.” Perhaps the greatest religious novel ever written by an American—Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop—is also set in the past. [ . . . ] There have been enough historical novels of religious faith written by Americans that Elie’s demand for contemporaneity begins to seem arbitrary.

[ . . . ] Elie also stipulates that the novel of belief be a novel of Christian belief, which leaves out of account the remarkable turn toward religion on the part of Jewish novelists [ . . . ]

There is no possible stipulation, however, which can explain Elie’s neglect of Christopher R. Beha’s extraordinary What Happened to Sophie Wilder. I’ve called the novel a modern saint’s life. It has everything Elie is looking for—the living language of religious faith, a distinct and conclusive personal transformation under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the acceptance of religion’s explanatory power, a commitment to the established Church instead of the Do-It-Yourself religiosity that so many Americans seem to prefer, an ethical quandary that is directly caused by Christian faith, an emphatic and unembarrassed Roman Catholic character, and best of all, it is entirely contemporary in its setting—but its author is young and not yet famous (he will be), his publisher is a small house (not like Elie’s own Farrar, Straus & Giroux), and it does nothing whatever to confirm the trend away from novelistic belief which Elie is at such pains to illustrate. Even worse, Beha’s novel may be part of a countervailing trend toward anew Catholic fiction, which rejects the literary Catholicism of Flannery O’Connor for predecessors like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh instead.

Abe Rosenzweig comments (from an article by Dominic Preziosi):

To be honest, this is the sort of “trend piece” one expects from the Times. He sort of takes a James Woodsian tour of recent fiction (Delillo! McCarthy!), meaning that he seems stuck on Big House publications, and his dismissal of Robinson seems wholly contrived along the rather arbitrary parameter that works set in the past must be dismissed (seriously, Robinson is one of the most lauded of contemporary authors, and her work is driven by Christianity; his rejection of her is just silly). Also, of course, is the simple fact that he’s not actually interested in works dealing with faith, but rather works that deal with (and are motivated by) Christian faith (equating “faith” with “Christian” is, of course, a typically Christian move).

I also find myself wondering what the point of the piece is. I don’t see how it could really be part of a program (reinvigorating Christian literature?); it seems to just be another soft lament for the fact that the Sikhs are next door.




Wineinger/Wininger: A Close Family

I was trying to clean up my mom’s family tree. We’re using ancestry.com because it is useful for organizing all the relationships and data, but it’s not perfect. I’m still trying to figure out how everything works.

The reason a clean-up is necessary is because somehow extra profile pages were created. A profile page gives the detailed info about one person and shows their immediate family relations. For certain people, multiple profile pages were created. It may have happened in the process of adding data from the family trees of other ancestry.com members.

In getting rid of the clutter, I have to be very careful that I don’t delete something that is important. The same names are often repeatedly used in families, generation after generation after generation. People are named after parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. So, I look at everything very carefully.

I had gone through most of the names when I came to the Wininger/Wineinger family on my maternal grandmother’s side, and initially I was more perplexed than anything else I’d so far come across. I opened up about twenty profile pages in order to see the connections and possible duplicates. I saw the same names with the same birth and death dates, some were centuries in the past while others were in more recent history, but those in the middle were different.

It slowly dawned on me what I was looking at. When I showed it to my mom, she was able to clarify it even further. Several lines of Wineingers descended from the same patriarch, Nicholaus/Nicholas Wineinger. Four and Five generations later, three lines of descent merged again, all of them finally meeting together in the person of my maternal grandmother’s father, Rollie Franklin Wininger.

It sounds kind of incestuous, but the people involved actually weren’t that close of relatives. They were distant cousins, although not extremely distant. In the two marriages of convergence, both involve one spouse’s parent being first cousins of the other spouse’s grandparent. So, that makes the spouses several times removed.

It does look odd when the connections are mapped out on a piece of paper. Only fourteen people of the Wineinger/Wininger Clan are directly complicit in these three lines, including the originating patriarch and the final person of convergence.

Quite fascinating.

In case any genealogists are curious, the following is precisely how it played out:

Nicholaus/Nicholas Wineinger fathered Andrew and John Alexander (Sr.). Andrew fathered Phillip, Phillip fathered George, and George fathered James Klepper. John Alexander (Sr.) fathered John Alexander (Jr.) and William. John Alexander (Jr.) fathered Elizabeth Ellen. James Klepper married Eliabeth Ellen, and from them was born George Alexander. William fathered John, John fathered Sarah, Sarah mothered Eliza Elizabeth. George Alexander married Eliza Elizabeth, and from them was born Rollie Franklin.

Clear as mud, eh?

Iris Dement in the Parking Ramp

I had a funny experience at work tonight. I’m working in one of the ramps in downtown Iowa City. In fact, I’m in my booth at this very moment. A snow storm is beginning and so it is very slow.

Earlier, a lady drove into the lane next to mine in order to use one of the self-pay stations. She had music playing which I recognized as Iris Dement, a fairly well known folk snger who is married to Greg Brown, both of whom live around here. Iris Dement has a distinctive singing style and I’d rate her voice as one of my top favorites.

The lady apparently had trouble with the self-pay machine. She backed up and pulled over into my lane. After handing me her ticket, I asked her about her listening to Iris Dement. She then asked me how I knew about her music. I told her that I’d seen her play live.

Her response was that she was Iris Dement and indeed she was. I didn’t immediately recognize her out of context. Plus, remembering faces isn’t one of my stronger abilities. So, I chatted for a moment with her. And that was that.

The incident amused me. I could recognize Iris Dement’s voice from hearing a small snippet of music, but I didn’t recognize Iris Dement herself when she was at my window talking to me. Part of the amusement also had to do with her listening to her own music. The thought didn’t occur to me that it might be Iris Dement herself driving along with an Iris Dement song playing in her own vehicle.

I admire an artist who can appreciate their own art. I’m fond of how Philip K. Dick analyzes his own fiction in his Exegesis. It always seems odd to me when a musician claims to not listen to their own music or a writer claims not to read their own writing, claiming to just produce it and never give it another thought. I find it nice to know that an artist I like apparently also likes her own art.

Anyway, that is my amusing anecdote.

Politeness, Humility & Forthrightness

What is the relationship between politeness, humility and forthrightness?

As a general rule, I value all three, but… there is always a ‘but’… I can’t say I value them equally. I suspect most people would favor one or another, and thus give short shrift to the rest.

Depending on context, I probably would most often emphasize forthrightness. I’m definitely not for superficial politeness, although it is necessary in professional and formal situations. I’m fine with going along to get along in my everyday life, but certain things will trump that.

Maybe I find it easier to balance forthrightness with a certain kind of humility or at least self-deprecation. About many things in my life, I can be fairly lacking in secretiveness and I haven’t tended to have an overabundance of pride.

Whether I’m forthright or not, it usually wouldn’t be an issue of politeness as the deciding factor. But all other things being equal, I prefer basic politeness for the simple reason of not enjoying conflict.

Particular things, however, can aggravate me in such a way that I feel disinclined to back down, sometimes because of a principle and at other times because of plain irritableness. I’ll (humbly) admit that my depressive personality can make me not perfectly friendly and kind more often than I’d prefer. I have a bad habit of treating people rudely who treat me rudely, especially online. I don’t have much patience for trolls or for troll-like behavior. I also can’t stand willful ignorance, but unwillful varieies of uninformed people don’t directly annoy me.

I won’t suffer fools when they force their foolishness on me. And I try not to force my personal issues onto others. No one is perfect. I’m fine with imperfection as that is the normal state of humanity. This is where my basic sense of humility comes in, humility tinged with an element of empathy. The difficlty is that not everyone shares this attitude.

I’d love to live in a world where empathy was the normal way of relating. In my experience, mutual respect more has to do with empathy than with politeness. I’d put empathy at the root of many worthy values: humility, compassion, understanding, etc. I’d also add my valuing truth in terms of basic honesty, a close cousin of forthrightness. Empathy helps one to consider honesty as it impacts others, transforming mere verbal truthfulness into a more profound sincerity.

I can’t emphasize enough how closely my valuing of truth relates to my sense of empathy. I don’t always overtly express my empathy, but it is always there in the background. I care about truth for very human reasons. Lies and ignorance aren’t harmless things. Truth-seeking, and when necessary truth-declaring, are what gives morality force in the world, the only force that can challenge the physical kinds of force.

This is why forthrightness can matter so much, even when it might be perceived as rudeness. I will never back down when it comes to important issues of truth. It is about the only thing I will get righteous about.

Roger Williams and American Democracy

I finished listening to the audio-book Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul. The more I study history the more I discover all that I wasn’t taught in my public education. I didn’t know anything about Roger Williams or Rhode Island prior to this book.

The first American radical that awoke me to the American radical tradition was Paine. It blew my mind that ideas so far to the left could be found at the founding of the country. Paine makes Democrats today look like conservatives.

Since then, I’ve discovered such radical thought (and action) goes even further back into colonial history.

The Quakers and William Penn’s experiment was the second radical influence I learned about. We think of Quakers being tame these days, but back then they were the worst troublemakers around. They would protest using almost any means available to them, including stripping naked and parading through towns while preaching about fallen man and fallen society. Puritans hated them to no end. Quakers were turned away, imprisoned, fined, maimed, and killed. And Quakers kept coming back for more.

What I discovered in this recent book is that Roger Williams is the only colonial founder who didn’t mistreat Quakers. Williams came to America as a Puritan and despised Quakers, but there was a difference. He was mentored by Sir Edward Coke, the famous common law lawyer. Also, he was heavily influenced by Francis Bacon, the famous scientist and arch-rival of Coke. These were the type of influences that would inspire the Levellers and others involved in the English Civil War. Williams came to America before revolution erupted, but he brought the societal conflicts with him.

Williams believed everyone should have equal freedom: Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Baptists, Quakers, atheists, etc. He abolished chattel slavery for all races, witchcraft trials, most capital punishment, and imprisonment for debt. He defended free speech. For example, instead of punishing Quakers, he invited them to a public debate. Most importantly, he valued fair treatment under the law and legal procedure, values he learned from Coke’s defense of common law.

Basically, Williams was articulating Lockean political philosophy when John Locke was still in diapers. Even Locke never defended Lockean rights as strongly as did Williams. Locke didn’t think Catholics and atheists deserved equal freedom. Locke was involved in writing the constitution of the Carolina Colony which included slavery, something Williams wouldn’t have ever done under any circumstances and no matter the personal benefits. In writing about land rights, Locke defended the rights of colonists to take Native American Land whereas Williams defended against the theft of land from Native Americans.

Despite being a Puritan, most other Puritans didn’t like Williams any more than they liked the Quakers. He was a strong critic of the theocratic tendencies of the Puritan colonies, just as he was against mixing of religion and politics back in England.

Williams, however, took the ideal of freedom further than anyone before.

One example had to do with Native Americans. Williams initially wanted to convert the natives to Christianity, but he changed his mind once he came to know Native Americans and their culture. He concluded it would be hypocritical for him to try to force his religion onto others, even with the best of intentions. He saw how the Native Americans were mistreated and he became a strong defender of native land rights. He maintained peaceful relationships between natives and settlers for many decades and remained neutral during King Philip’s War.

Even when the Native American’s attacked Providence and burned many houses down, including William’s, he still couldn’t bring himself to blame them for their acts of desperation. During that incident, he went out to the warriors and convinced them that the Rhode Island colonists weren’t their enemy and they were left alone after that. All in all, Native Americans treated Williams better than many of his fellow colonists. When he was banished from Massachusetts, the Wampanoag tribe took him in for the winter. He never forgot the kindness of his Native American friends and allies.

The only colonial leader before him that treated the natives as fairly was Samuel de Champlain. A really good book, Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer, is written about Champlain’s experiment in French Canada. Champlain, like Williams, would live with and study Native American culture. Champlain went even further in that he sought to create a shared culture where the French settlers and Native Americans would exchange children to be raised in each other’s communities, and he encouraged the French to learn the Native American languages. Later on, William Penn attempted to have similar good relations with the natives, although it was becoming increasingly difficult with the growing population of colonists, especially the Scots-Irish immigrants.

Both Williams and Champlain had personally experienced the violent oppression that could be caused by the combining of religion and politics, and so both wished to create havens in the New World. Williams was the first to use the phrase, “wall of separation”. He didn’t think government should even promote religious values. Government should do basic governing and that was it. He thought you shouldn’t attempt to force people to do or not do something simply because that is what your religion teaches. Each person should do their own thing as far as possible and leave others alone.

He took separation of church and state very seriously, took it to its furthest end in fact. He thought religion should be a purely individual matter. After briefly becoming Baptist, he never became affiliated with another church for the rest of his life. He came to the conclusion that no church had the right to claim to represent Jesus Christ’s teachings or to rule in place of God. He disagreed with Quakers that religion was solely based on a personal relationship to God, but he did believe that Jesus’ teachings via Scripture trumped any worldly organization including churches.

We often think of the American Revolution as the product of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment thinkers without a doubt contributed much. However, the basic elements of a new society were long before then being planted in the colonies. The charter for Providence Colony even referred to it as a democracy: “The form of government established is democratical”. Besides Paine, most of the later American founders were wary of democracy. Nonetheless, Roger Williams’ experiment was the most direct precedent for the American Revolution, and indeed Rhode Island declared independence two months before any other colony.

There have been many social experiments in American history, during and after the colonial era. What makes Roger William’s social experiment stand out is that it was so successful. If it had failed, American society might have turned out differently.

Liberalism, Enlightenment & Axial Age

There are two historical periods that have interested me for a long time: the Enlightenment Age and the Axial Age.

We speak of these modern times as if there is something fundamentally different about society today, but I feel unconvinced as I look about the world. I often get this sense of how primitive humans still are with only a veneer of civilization.

This brings me to my fascination with history. The past isn’t really in the past. History is the act of storytelling in the present. All the basic problems of humanity still exist and have always existed. The reason tumultuous events of bygone times fascinate us is because they symbolize the very issues with which we still struggle.

At the same time, there are societal shifts that are fundamental. I would add that there is no way of going back. But the shift I perceive is much larger than any given historical period. The Enlightenment Age and the Axial Age are the outward manifestations of this foundational reallignment. It comes down to civilization itself, specifically in terms of the the first cities and city-states as they developed urban infrastructures and cultures which in turn laid the groundwork for the first empires.

We are more or less the same as humans during other times in the development of civilization, but we are utterly transformed from humans prior to that. The Axial Age most clearly demonstrates this period of transition. It’s when all the problems of civilization and urbanization came to the forefront. It’s also when patterns were being set down that would lead to all later developments: Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, Enlightenment Age, Revolutionary Era, etc.

The Axial Age was more pivotal than even the Enlightenment Age. I’d argue that the Enlightenment thinkers were largely just responding to the ideas and practices first introduced during the Axial Age, although it is worthy of note that the Enlightenment Age allowed those ideas and practices to be taken to their next level. What the Axial Age prophets and philosophers offered to ensuing generations are such things as individualism, republicanism, democracy, anti-authoritarianism, universal truth, transcendent idealism, non-ethnic/non-tribal communitarianism, egalitarianism, multiculturalism, scientific inquiry, rational thought, international trade, syncretism, etc; but also such things as monotheism and patriarchy.

We moderns, left and right alike, are the descendants of the Enlightenment. And the Enlightenment thinkers, radical and moderate, were descendants of the Axial Age.

So, this makes us all descendants of that first shift that began as civilization more fully took hold across all societies.

This shift has been continuing ever since and has yet to play itself out. I don’t sense that we’ve yet come to another era that comes even close to the vast significance of the shift that became so apparent during the Axial Age. What was started so long ago either needs to come to some kind of conclusion or else utter failure; then and only then will society be ready for something entirely new.

My most personal interest at the moment, though, is on a much smaller scale.  As can be seen from many recent posts, my mind has been overly focused on conservatives and liberals, even moreso than usual which is saying a lot. My focus has often been on what divides people in terms of ideologies, movements and predispositions. But thinking about the Axial Age reminded me of what unites all modern people.

I’ve thought about this most specifically in terms of America which is most representative of what it means to be modern, considering most Americans have so little sense of the larger past beyond the American Revolution. One implication of American history can be interpreted as a lack of having a tradition of conservatism. Those Americans claiming to be ‘conservatives’ tend to identify with classical liberalism or at least be heavily influenced by it.

The problem with this is that classical liberalism isn’t simply or directly opposed to modern 20th century liberalism. For one thing, later liberalism emerges out of classical liberalism (in the sense of classical liberalism being defined as all liberalism prior to the 20th century, including radical liberals such as Spinoza and Paine). For another, classical liberalism originated specifically in opposition to classical conservatism. Conservatives can’t simultaneously claim classical liberalism and classical conservatism, two mutually exclusive categories. American conservatives aren’t traditional conservatives or, to put it another way, their tradition of conservatism isn’t very old and is actually a reformulation of one variant of early liberalism.

In some ways, this is just an argument about terminology. But it is important because it is about the history of that terminology. I don’t care, in a practical sense, how others choose to label themselves. What I care about is the deeper meaning and values that underlie those labels. Liberalism by any other name is still just as liberal.

An obvious thing to note is that conservatives today are more socially liberal than liberals were in past centuries. So, we presently all are social liberals. It’s just that people who identify as liberals are slightly more socially liberal than people who identify as conservatives. Most of the things that conservatives opposed in the past have now become the social norms for modern Westerners and for much of the world as well. Conservatives no longer defend monarchy, theocracy, slavery, racism, genocide of the indigenous, etc; at least few do so fully and overtly. Traces of classical conservatism remains, but they are just traces at this point. Even fundamentalism is just another manifestation of modernity.

All of this can’t be denied, and yet most conservatives can’t accept the truth of it. They are caught up in the word ‘liberalism’, not looking beyond their own fearful projections to the actual meaning behind the word. That is the challenge. There doesn’t seem to be any neutral language to use. Instead of social liberalism, I could speak of social democracy. But that is problematic as well since social democracy has a history with socialism. Of course, we technically live in a social democracy already, whether or not conservatives realize this simple fact. America is a liberal society, in the basic sense of the word.

The Axial Age can be seen as the first time social liberalism manifested on a larger scale, even if it only looks like mere glimmerings by today’s standards. It took the Enlightenment and many revolutions to bring this emerging social liberalism to greater fruition. Even now, social liberalism can feel like it is barely limping along. The important part is that we’ve collectively come to see that social liberalism is of central value, no matter what terms we use to describe it.

I don’t know why the language aspect is such a stumbling block. I think that is why I was recently thinking about this in terms of the Axial Age. That earlier era came before such labels were invented, although I’m sure similar distinctions were beginning to arise back then.

Maybe if we liberals speak about social liberalism in the terms of the Axial Age,  then it will be more acceptable to conservatives. The Axial Age as the origin point of Christianity is less threatening, if anything the source of what many conservatives see of value. To find a shared language, we might have to step back in time before we can step forward.

Notes on Jesus Christ, Scarab, Dung Beetle, etc

I was just remembering these notes I took a long while back. I meant to put  it together as a followup to my previous posts on the topic (see here), but I never got around to it… and I don’t know if or when I might ever get around to it. So, I’ll just present the notes as they might be of interest to some people.
“Homage to thee, Ra ! Supreme power, the god with the numerous shapes in the sacred dwelling, his form is that of the beetle.”
The Litany of Ra from Egyptian Literature, by Ephanius Wilson
“‘These creatures, like many others in the insect world, deposit their eggs in the ground, where they are hatched, and the appearance of their progeny rising from the earth is by some writers supposed to have suggested to the Egyptian priesthood the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Certain it is that beetles were very common in Egypt, and one of them, thence styled by naturalists Scarabeus sacer, was an object of worship: and this fact gives strength to the conjecture that this creature is meant in Exod. viii, as the sacred character of the object would naturally render its employment as a plague doubly terrible. Besides its being worshipped as a divinity, stones cut in the form of the beetle served as talismans among the Egyptians. The under surface was filled with figurines cut in intaglio of solar, lunar, and astral symbols and characters. They were held, according to Pliny, to inspire the soldier with courage, and to protect his person in the day of battle, and also to defend children from the malign influences of the evil eye. There is little reason to doubt that the Hebrews learned the use of these things Egypt, but they were prohibited by the Mosaic law. The Gnostics, among other Egyptian superstitions, adopted this notion regarding the beetle, and gems of gnostic origin are extant in this form, especially symbolical of Isis (q.v.).”
p. 467: “The biblical terms slsl in Deut. 28.42 and slsl knpjm in Isa. 18.1 were never satisfactorily defined. A thorough analysis of Ancient Egyptian texts, classical literature, Aramaic and rabbinic sources, post-biblical texts and archaeological material suggests that slsl in the Pentateuch means beetle and Isaiah’s phrase can be translated ‘land of the winged beetle’, that is, Egypt. Moreover, the Egyptian beetle metaphorically could represent a (sacred) boat and in Christian commentary, cruicified Jesus.”
International Review of Biblical Studies, by Bernhard Lang
The author writes that, according to Massey, “The beetle-headed Kheper-Ptah is Cancer, the Beetle and, later, the Crab.”
The Suns of God, by Acharya S
The author writes about Kheper-Ptah, the sign of Cancer, the Beetle and the Crab.
Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World, by Gerald Massey
The author goes into detail about Khepr, the scarab, and Isis and Nephthys rolling a ball; and also mentions Ambrose.
Book of the Beginnings Part 2, by Gerald Massey
The author has some interesting thoughts about the allegorical meaning of the dung beetle in terms of Christian theology.
Who Is This King of Glory?, by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
The author mentions that Khepr is born his own son.
Lost Light, by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
And he mentions the motif of 6 months above and 6 months below in terms of the beetle.
The author describes the beetle in European mythology and folk rituals.
Encyclopedia of Religions, by John G. R. Forlong
An early Christian story: while fleeing to Egypt, Mary is looking for Jesus and soldiers are close behind.  When the soldiers pass where Mary had been the day before, they ask some farmers when the other had passed.  The farmers give a misleading answer, but a black beetle tells the truth and so helps the soldiers.
The Flight Into Egypt, by Henry Van Dyke (Harper’s Magazine)
‘ Saw ye passing to-day or yestreen,
The Son of my love— the Son of God ? ‘ ‘
We saw, we saw,’ said the black beetle, ‘
   The Son of freedom pass yesterday.’
‘ Wrong! wrong! wrong art thou,’
Said the sacred beetle earthy:
‘ A big year it was yestreen
  Since the Son of God passed.’
Carmina Gadelica
This is strange as it seems to show the knowledge of the Egyptian dung beetle survived into much later apologetics:
The apology for the Church of England: and A treatise of the Holy Scriptures, by John Jewel, William Rollinson Whittingham
The author quotes Ambrose: “He was crushed although He was the Word made man; and He became poor, although He was rich, that we might be enriched by His want. He was powerful, and offered himself to be despised, as when Herod rejected and mocked Him; He was moving the earth, and He hung on a cross; He covered the sky with shadows and crucified the world, and He was crucified. He bent his head and the Word went out, he was emptied out and refilled everything; God came down, Man went up. The Word was made flesh that flesh might claim for itself the throne of the Word on the right hand of God; He was wounded and the perfume flowed. The beetle was heard and God was recognised.”
In his Against Cainites, Epiphanius concludes: “After exposing the opinion—like exposing poisonous dung-beetles!—of such people, who desire what is bad, and after crushing it by God’s power because of its harmfulness, let us call on God for aid, sons of Christ, since we intend to inquire into the others.”
The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Sects 1-46, by Epiphanius, Frank Williams
In his Against Archontics, Epiphanius writes: “For I find even in the so-called naturalists—or rather, I observe this for myself—that dung-beetles, which some call bylari, have the habit of rolling in foulness and dung, and this is food and a task for them.  But this same filthy food of theirs <is obviously> ofensive and bad-smelling to other insects.  For bees too, this dung and foul odor is death, while to dung-beetles it is work, nourishment, and an occupation.  For bees, in contrast, fragrance, blossoms and perfumes serve as refreshment, property and food, work and occupation.  But such things are the reverse for the dung-beetles, or bylari.
Anyone wishing to test them, as the naturalists say, can cause the death of dung-beetles by taking a bit of perfume, I mean balsam or nard, and applying it to them.  They die instantly because they cannot stand the sweet odor.”
The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Sects 1-46, by Epiphanius, Frank Williams
In speaking about women worshippers of the Virgin Mary, Epiphanius says, “…since we crushed with the word of truth this beetle, so to speak, golden colored, winged, and buzzing about, at the same time very venomous and full of poison…” Cantharides beetle, some varieties of which are poisonous, are compared to Mary-worshipping (Isis?).  Certain beetles lick the chemical off of Cantharides in order to attract mates, and it is from Cantharides that is derived the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly but there are also other medicinal uses (diuretic, skin irritant).  Dung beetles are a type of blister beetle.  Blister beetles are also ground up in drinks.
The Virgin Goddess, by Stephen Benko
Palladius says, “So Theophilus arrived at Constantinople, like a beetle loaded with the dung of the best that Egypt, emitting sweet scent to cover his stinking jealousy…”
The Dialogue of Palladius Concerning the Life of Chryisostom, by Palladius
The author writes, “What is striking, for my interests, is the fact that John Scotus elaborates, as did Origen, naturalistic imagery for the resurrection, making full use of Clementine cyclical metaphors and of the Pauline seed.  The resurrection of the phoenix from ashes or the beetle from dung, the gradual unfolding of seeds in things, the turn of the seasons from winter to spring, all become analogies for a return to God that is transformation.”
The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, by Caroline Walker Bynum
“The “Hieroglyphica” of Horapollo is cited as an important source of information concerning the unicorn symbolism of Mercurius. According to this work there exists a genus of scarab which is unicorned and thus sacred to Mercurius. In addition to being one horned this scarab is described as being “born of itself.’ In Paracelsus, the prima materia is also depicted as “uncreated” and is directly linked with Mercurius. A further parallel found in the Hieroglyphica is the dismemberment of the scarab. Such a dismemberment was undergone by the dragon, a common symbol of Mercurius, in what is referred to in Egyptian alchemic literature as the “separation of elements.”
Abstracts of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, by Carrie Lee Rothgeb


scarab images


several pages on scarabs from above book.


More about Kircher on the scarab including an Osiris-headed scarab.


In reference to the 17th century Athanasius Kircher, the author mentions the scarab in context of alchemy and cabala.  The author also points out the scarab being representative of the Son of God and defends this by quoting Augustine.

Roman and European Mythologies, by Yves Bonnefoy
pp. 219-20: “Athanasius Kircher (1602-82), the hero of the quest of Isis, even while attacking alchemy magnified its purely spiritual doctrine, finding it in concord with the true Cabala, which he did not condemn along with the Cabala of the rabbis.  Dazzled by John Dee’s discovery, copied by Cesare della Riviera, of the hieroglyph of Mercury, Kircher perceived the hieroglyph of the scarab as the key to the chemical art, in perfect concordance with the famous exegesis of bereshit, the first word of the Hebrew Genesis, at the end of the Heptaplus.
The scarab signifies the raw material of the metallic art: rolling up the bodies of the whole world, it produces an egg, visible above its tail.  The seeds of all the metals that hide there eventually rise up to the seven spheres of the planets: besides the five spheres of the minor planets, the head of Horus designates the sun, and the segment of a circle above it designates the moon, and inside it is the cross, natural symbol of the elements.  Between its forelegs the scarab holds a tablet bearing (in Greek script) the word phulo which signifies love.  If like doctors we dissect this hierogrammatism into its parts, we obtain this phrase: The soul of the world or the life of things is hidden in the machine of this lower world, where rests the egg fertile in seminal reasons, which, exercising its power over the spheres of the metallic planets, animates them with its heat and makes them act, so that Horus, that is, the sun and the moon, emerges through the dissolution of the elements and the separation of pure from impure things.  When this is done, each thing is linked to every other thing by a natural and sympathetic love, and this is the completion of the work.
Kircher before explaining a discourse too obscure for novices, referred to his Prodomus Coptus, in which, after analyzing the hieroglyph of the scarab, he connected it with Pico della Mirandola’s analysis of the first word of Genesis: “The father to the Son or by the Son, beginning and end or rest, created the head, the fire, and the foundation of the great man by good accord or alliance.”  “What can the winged globe in the hieroglyph signify other than the famous circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, to speak with Trismegistus, which is the supermundane abstract Intellet, first Intelligence, celestial Father.  What could the body of the scarab signify other than the Son whom his Father has constituted principle, rest, and end of all things, by whom all was made and without whom nothing is made.  Lest someone be angered at seeing God himself, who surpasses all admiration, being compared to the most vile, the most horrible, the most stinking of all beings, let us hear what Saint Augustine, the great light of the Church, has said of the admirable humanity of Christ in his Soliloquies: ‘He is my good scarab, not so much because he is the only son of God, author of himself who took on our mortal form, but because he rolled in our filth, when he sought to be born a man.’  By this son, then, eternal Wisdom and true Osiris, the world was created, this great man, whose head is the angelic world, source of knowledge, whose heart is the sun, source of movement, life, and warmth, and whose foundation is the sublunary world.  What could the character signifying love designate but this Spirit, who, ‘meharephet peney ha-maym, floating on the waters,’ gives life to all things by the fire of his most fertile love, and ties all together in a good alliance.”


p. 22: “The beetles in the zodiac Dendera have, according to Dr. Young, much more of a mythological than of an astronomical nature.  The beetle near the beginning of the zodiac is well-known symbol of generation, and he is in the act of depositing his globe: on the opposite side, at the end of the zodiac, is the head of Isis, with her name as newly born; both the long female figures are appropriate representations of the mother; and the zodiac between them express “revolving year” which elapsed between the two periods.”

A History of Egyptian Mummies, by Thomas Joseph Pettigrew


pp. 178-9: “Remarkably, a stylistic representation of the Rostau meteorite appears in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Hidden Chamber.  In figure 73, we see the beginning of the creation, as if it were frozen in time.  In the lower register is the body (or flesh) of Sokar, contained within an ellipse of sand, representing his ‘hidden land’.  He is about to put on his wings of transformation.  Above him, in the middle register, a pyramid-shaped hill represents the body (or flesh) of Isis, whose head is seen at the apex of the mound.  Above the head of Isis, in the upper register, there appears a dark, bell-shaped chamber, flanked by two falcons and surmounted by the hieroglyphic sign for ‘night’.  From the bottom of this chamber, a scarab beetle — symbolic of rebirth — descends towards the head of Isis in order to converse with Sokar below, but is menanced by a two-headed serpent who ‘sets himself in opposition to the scarab’.  Between the beetle and the head of Isis, there runs the rope by which the barque of Re is towed through the underworld by seven gods and seven goddesses.”

Pyramid of Secrets, by Alan F. Alford


“On the central vertical band, beneath Nut with her outspread wings, are (from top to bottom) a shrine with two crouching figures of Osiris flanking a scarab, Isis and Nephthys adoring the symbol of Osiris, a scepter flanked by winged wedjat eyes, and a winged scarab above the boat of the sun.”

Coffin set of Henettawy


pp. 10-11: “In one rendition of John’s Gospel, instead of the “only-begotten Son of God,” a variant reading gives the “only-begotten God,” which has been declared an impossible rendering.  But the “only-begotten God” was an especial type in Egyptian Mythology, and the phrase re-identifies the divinity whose emblem is the beetle.  Hor-Apollo says, “To denote the only-begotten or a father, the Egyptians delineate a scarabeus!  B this they symbolize an only-begotten, because the creature is self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  Now the youthful manifestor of the Beetle-God was this Iu-em-hept, the Egyptian Jesus.  The very phraseology of John is common to the Inscriptions, which tell of him who was the Beginner of Becoming from the first, and who made all things, but who himself was not made.  I quote verbatim.  And not only was the Beetle-God continued in the “only-begotten God”; the beetle-type was also brought on as a symbol of the Christ.  Ambrose and Augustine, amongst the Christian Fathers, identified Jesus with, and as, the “good Scarabeus,” which further identifies the Jesus of John’s Gospel with the Jesus of Egpt, who was the Ever-Coming One, and the Bringer of Peace, whom I have elsewhere shown to be the Jesus to whom the Book of Ecclesiasticus is inscribed, and ascribed in the Apocrypha.

In accordance with this continuation of the Kamite symbols, it was also maintained by some sectaries that Jesus was a potter, and not a carpenter; and the fact is that this only-begotten Beetle-God, who is portrayed sitting at the potter’s wheel forming the Egg, or shaping the vase-symbol of creation, was the Potter personified, as well as the only-begotten God in Egypt.”

Gerald Massey’s Lectures


This article shows that beetles (and in particular dung beetles) are a religious symbol older than Egypt.  As a main source of food, beetles have always fascinated humans and taken on divine meaning.  Beetles are able to fly and descend into the earth, and they emerge out of the earth when they’re growing.  The beetle as a creator and a potter is found in tribal cultures, in Egyptian mythology and even Jesus is portrayed as a potter.  In Egypt, the scarab was identified as a solar deity.  This is because the dung beetle forms balls of dung which it rolls around (and out of which it is born), and also because they’re shiny beetles who can fly (and it was believed they could fly carrying a dung ball).

Egyptians came to believe in the scarab as a resurrection deity and that it was self-originating.  So, it was considered virginal as they believed no sex occurred.  The author doesn’t note this but it is reminiscent of how Mithras was born out of a rock.  The scarab became identified in two forms that were identified with Osiris who dies and his son Horus who is born from his death, but the two forms were also identified as singular.  This dual aspect god was a central prototype of Jesus Christ.  In its role as resurrection deity and ruler over the dead, the scarab was associated with the heart (the scarab being placed over the heart of the mummified deceased).  From the Wikipedia article on the Dung Beetle:

It may not have gone unnoticed that the pupa, whose wings and legs are encased at this stage of development, is very mummy-like. It has even been pointed out that the egg-bearing ball of dung is created in an underground chamber which is reached by a vertical shaft and horizontal passage curiously reminiscent of Old Kingdom mastaba tombs.”[8]

Another interesting connection (not from this article) is the understanding of gender in Gnosticism and in the Egyptian portrayal of the dung beetle.  Despite an earlier association with a goddess, Egyptians came to believe that all dung beetles were male.  Another excerpt from the Wikipedia article:

The scarab was linked to Khepri (“he who has come into being”), the god of the rising sun. The ancients believed that the dung beetle was only male in gender, and reproduced by depositing semen into a dung ball. The supposed self-creation of the beetle resembles that of Khepri, who creates himself out of nothing. Moreover, the dung ball rolled by a dung beetle resembles the sun. Plutarch wrote:

The race of beetles has no female, but all the males eject their sperm into a round pellet of material which they roll up by pushing it from the opposite side, just as the sun seems to turn the heavens in the direction opposite to its own course, which is from west to east.”[7]

The ancient Egyptians believed that Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it above the horizon, then carried it through the other world after sunset, only to renew it, again, the next day.

Strong arguments have been made that Gnosticism (and through it Christianity) came from Egypt, and certain Gnostic texts speak of the female becoming the male.  Also, during the Axial Age, there was a mixing of gender traits as gender identities shifted.  Many gods (such as Yahweh) had taken over aspects of prior goddesses.  D.M. Murdock, in her book Christ In Egypt, argues that in Christianity’s competition with Isis worship, Jesus became identified with that which had been formerly identified with Isis for centuries throughout the Graeco-Roman world.  Furthermore, Isis’ son Horus (in his form as Harmakhet the rising sun) was associated with Khepri (combined forming an image of a scarab with wings).  Murdock points out archaeological evidence of Egyptian Gnostic merging of Horus and Jesus; and, in the Alexandrian Gnostic system, Isis is Sophia and Horus is the Logos/Word.  Early Coptic Christians mummified their dead, had scarabs with Christian emblems etched on them (The Sacred Scarabs, The New York Times), used the ankh as a cross, and even invoked Jesus and Horus together.  Also, followers of Serapis (a mix of Greek and Egyptian gods) are another example as they were supposedly described as the first Christians by Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata.  In many locations in Egypt, such as at the Serapeum (temple to Serapis) in Alexandria, large sculptures of scarabs have been found.  (Besides Murdock’s Christ In Egypt, much of this info and more can be found in Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge’s Amulets and Superstitions, the Egyptologist Erik Hornung’s The Secret Lore of Egypt, and Theologian Karl W. Luckert’s Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire; also, check out the books of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Gerald Massey, and G. R. S. Mead.)

To return to Cambefort’s article, the author mentions that Ptah the divine craftsman was connected with the scarab as the potter.  Ptah was also was at times confused with Osiris.  The wife of Ptah was Neith who was originally considered a beetle goddess before the scarab became identified as solely male and so she instead became identified with the vulture (which was considered solely female).  The vulture and scarab became a paired symbol and a word play.  In the 4th century, Horapollo wrote about hieroglyphics of this pair of deities. “He also described the scarab as “only begotten,” and the Greek word is the same used by John (3:16) referring to Christ (below).”

In Minoan Creta, horned “scarabs” crudely modeled in clay were used by peasants, probably in fecundity rites (right). Apart from these models, the scarab’s role is not obvious in archaic and classic Greek civilization. During late Egyptian periods, dwarves were devoted to Ptah (under the name “pataeci”) and many of them wore a scarab on their head. Probably for this reason, the scarab gained the reputation among the Greeks to be the king of Pygmies, although the Pygmies themselves represented the dead. In addition, we can find evidence that scarabs in a broad sense (sacred scarab and stag beetle were more or less confused) were important in the initiation rites of warriors (possibly due to the fact that warriors bring death). As a result, the scarab was consecrated to Zeus, to the same extent as the eagle. In fact, both animals seem interchangeable as favorites of the King of gods. Æsopus fable, “The Eagle and the Scarab,” is a testimony to the secular dispute between the scarab and the Eagle, or rather between their supporters. In this fable, the scarab wins, but historically, the eagle gained victory over the scarab, and remained the emblem of Zeus, carrying his thunder. The fable might also be a reminiscence of the late Egyptian periods, when the scarab and vulture (there are no eagles in Egypt) were united to write the Great Gods’ name T-N and N-T(above).

Meanwhile, the scarab became an object of derision and jokes, the most famous of them being Aristophanes comedy “Peace,” where a peasant flies up to Olympus riding a colossal scarab, whose coprophagous habits are insisted upon. Despite these trivial manners, the scarab retains his divine nature, which enables him to reach Zeus’ throne. Another clue of his importance could be the name “scarab” (greek: kantharos) of Dionysos’ cup, where pure wine is served in order to provide sacred drunkenness. Dionysos seems to be related to Osiris, who was said to have introduced wine in Egypt. As a sacred trance, drunkenness is related to shamanic powers of uniting the sky, the earth, and the underworld. Dionysos also had close relationships with Hephaistos, who was god of the fire. Since wine “burns” or at least heats as fire does, Hephaistos is often represented as being drunk. Hephaistos was confused by the Greeks with the late Egyptian scarab god, Ptah. In Germany, the property of thunder belonged to the god Thor (or Donar), who was second only to Odhin. The stag-beetle was devoted to Thor, and reputed to bear not only lightning and thunder, but also fire, in the form of embers. Thor was reputed to set fire to thatched houses, hence many names relating to fire and thunder are still frequently used in Germany.

…Coming back to Israel, the word “scarab” does not occur in the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish authors probably did not want to recall the detested enemy through this Egyptian emblematic character. However, in the Greek translation of the Bible (called Septuagint,) the word “beetle” occurs once (Habakkuk 2:11):

“For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beetle out of the timber shall answer it.”

Habakkuk’s passage would not have been quoted here except for the use that Saint Ambrose of Milan made of it. On five occasions, this Father of the Church alluded to the text and compared Jesus Christ to Habakkuk’s scarab. Other Christian authors (St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, etc.) made equivalent or similar comparisons. These are the most obvious testimonies of a possible influence of Egyptian religion on Christianism. They also might have been influenced by (or had influenced on) some late Egyptian beliefs, e.g. reported by Horapollo (above), who described the scarab as “only begotten,” with the same Greek words (monogenes) as used by John 3:16 referring to Christ, and repeated by other Christian authors.
In Germany, where scarab worship, in the form of the stag beetle, has persisted longest, the equation scarab = Christ was widely accepted. The quintessential German artist, Albrecht Dürer, associated the stag beetle with Christ in various paintings, and produced a famous watercolor of the insect. The Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) did not hesitate to recall the identification scarab = Christ, referring both to St. Ambrose and Psalm 22:6:”But I am a worm, and no man,” verse which has been referred to Christ, and where (as Kircher says), “some read scarab instead of worm.” He went further to combine Christian faith with Alchemy: for him, the scarab was the prima materia of the Great Work. This idea was shared by some alchemists, e.g. Michael Maier (1566-1622), who explained in his writings that the so-called “philosophal stone,” product of the Great Work, was nothing other than Christ, resuscitated from the dead; a promise of resurrection for all human beings.
Beetles as Religious Symbols, Cultural Entomology Digest 2, by Yves Cambefort


The author connects the  dung beetle with the vulture in opposition to the eagle.  He uses as an example Aristophanes play Peace where the dung beetle is used by Trygaeus to fly up to speak to Zeus.  This connection of dung beetle and vulture is similar to Bruno Schultz’ story “Cockroach”.

The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek Mythology, by Marcel Detienne
Peace, by Aristophanes
Aesop’s Fables, “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle”
The author discusses the gospel genre comparing the Christian, Judaean, and Greco-Roman traditions.  Specifically, he compares the text titled Life of Aesop.  I observed two aspects of this text.  Firstly, Aesop starts off as an ugly, mute slave.  He helps a priestess of Isis who prays for him and so Isis (and her muses) blesses him with speech.  Aesop starts telling fables which are equivalent to Jesus’ parables, and he uses his storytelling as a way of teaching and challenging authority.  This, of course, leads to trouble (similarly to Jesus, an accusation of blasphemy) and is condemned to death.  It is while being brought to his place of execution that he tells his fable “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle”.  This is rather fitting as the dung beetle is a lowly creature as Aesop was portrayed.  It’s also relevant in terms of the gospel genre of the doomed hero because the dung beetle is a symbol of resurrection.  The fable could be interpreted as saying that, unlike the judgement of the Delphians, Almighty God will pardon Aesop (like Jupiter/Zeus pardoned the dung beetle)
The quest of the historical gospel, by Lawrence Mitchell Wills
“‘The Dung Beetle”: a medieval version of Aesop’s fable where Jesus speaks with the dung beetle.
The Peasants Bible, by Dario Fo
Later European fables involving themes of male pregnancy and birth and a beetle.  The way in which the beetle enters the priest or thief demonstrates a cultural memory of the birth of the dung beetle from fecal matter.
The Pregnant Man, by  Roberto Zapperi
A Mithraic magical ritual involving a scarab during early Christianity.  This ritual is the type of thing that Christians would’ve been aware of as the two religions shared similar motifs and Mithraism was very popular.
The Historical Jesus in Context, by Amy-Jill Levine, Dale C. Allison, John Dominic Crossan

Richard Marsh’s The Beetle has a woman that transforms into a scarab.  The author speaks about the Gothic being relevant during times of uncertainty and change such as during the urbanization of the industrial age.  He also mentions Darwinism that created a sense of the closeness between man and animal, and theories arose of the possibility of degeneration to earlier forms.

The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, by Jerrold E. Hogle


“Holland notes that beetles, unlike cockroaches, undergo total metamorphosis. Further, dung beetles are scarabs. The Egyptians venerated the scarab as an image of the sacred dung beetle linked to the sun god. Samson (Samsa) means in Hebrew “the sun’s man.” The German word for the title of the story, Die Verwandlung, means not only insect metamorphosis and transformation in general, but also transubstantiation… “The dung-beetle, then,” Holland concludes, “was the one animal that gave Kafka everything he needed: total metamorphosis from a wingless grub to a hard-working, traveling salesman-like adult plus the combination of loathsomeness and divinity”

The metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, commentary by Stanley Corngold

“The brilliant writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote of the interpretative impact Kafka’s earliest translators had made by turning the character from The Metamorphosis, Gregory Samsa, into a lowly cockroach, when in actuality Kafka had Gregory metamorphosed into a magnificently domed scarab beetle. The implications here are profound when we contemplate Kafka’s intense intimacy with the figure of Christ, and his knowledge of ancient cultures and art. Kafka was obviously aware that Albrecht Duer associated the symbolic aspect of the stag beetle with Christ. ‘Some biblical linguists have written of the aramaic word “scarab” being mistranslated as “worm,” in Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm, not a man.” Certain imminent alchemists considered the scarab to be a symbol for the Great Work of transformation. In ancient Egyptian alchemy the scarab beetle’s activity of making its nest out of dung for eggs to hatch from, symbolized the process of creating disciplines and procedures to bring forth spirit from flesh. The scarab is also associated in both Egyptian and Greek text with the solar aspects of the divine.”

Pushing Ultimates, by Lew Paz


Gregor Samsa “is “a phonetic contraction of the Czech words sam (‘alone’) and jsem (‘I am’).” Also there is the suggestion of “samson” (literally “the sun’s man”), combining the image of the lowly dung beetle with the sacred scarab linked to sun god worship, an ironic “combination of lothesomeness [sic] and divinity.” The name “Gregory” (literally “watchful” or “awakened”) strengthens the symbolism of the story by implying that Gregor’s transformation corresponds with his sudden awareness of his own alienation.”

The modern allegories of William Golding, by L. L. Dickson


“In “carry, as earwigs do their dead, their soil to the earthball,” Joyce confuses (probably intentionally) the earwig with the dung beetle, the prototype of the Egyptian scarab.”  In a notebook, Joyce mentioned the scarab along with other symbols of regeneration.

Narrative design in Finnegans Wake, by Harry Burrell


Author describes Joyce’s reference to scarab (in terms of creation and generation) in a notebook that was later developed in Finnegan’s Wake.

Greek and Hellenic culture in Joyce, by R. J. Schork


Dick writes in his Exegesis:

“Ugly like this, despised and teased and tormented and finally put to death, he returned shining and transfigured; our Savior Jesus Christ (before him Ikhanaton, Zoroaster, et; Hefestus). When He returned we saw Him as he really is — that is, not by surface appearance. His radiance, his essence, like light.  The God of Light wears a humble and plain shell here. (Like a metamorphosis of some humble toiling beetle).”

Mckee comments on this:

“For Dick, Christ will not return riding a white horse, but rather in the form of a beetle, a beggar, or an empty beer can kicked to the side of the road. God, though remaining all-powerful, allows himself to be made weak and to appear defeated in this world. But his moment of apparent defeat is truly his moment of final victory: Christ’s death on the cross is the moment that assures the salvation of humankind.

‘In this concept of the deus absconditus Dick’s theology overlaps with thtat of Martin Luther. Luther’s “theology of the cross” depends on just such a view of God’s hiddenness in wretched and helpless forms in our world.”

PKD’s God in the garbage is Augustine’s Christ as beetle who “has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself”.

Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter, by Gabriel Mckee


The author quotes PKD describing an event from third-grade where he was tormenting a beetle that was trying to hide itself:

“And he came out, and all of a sudden I realized — it was total satori, just infinite, that this beetle was like I was.  There was an understanding.  He wanted to live just like I was, and I was hurting him.  For a moment — it was like Siddhartha does, was like that dead jackal in the ditch — I was that beetle. Immediately I was different.  I was never the same again.”

Divine Invasions, by Lawrence Sutin


Jung: “A young woman I was treating had at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab.  While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window.  Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping.  I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside.  I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in.  It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. (The Structure and the Dynamics of the Psyche, p. 438)

The scarab here can be interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, of new life, an external manifestation of an inner awakening.  The dung beetle lives in filth, the material world which the rational mind can comprehend.  And yet the dung beetle represents that which is greater than rational and above the physical, the solar disk.  The Sun of God is Logos, but this isn’t rationality.  Logos signifies an ordering principle beyond causality, which Jung termed synchronicity.

A large section that describes the context of the scarab in Jung’s life.
Who Owns Jung?, by Ann Casement