Archive for March, 2007

What I Am Studying

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

MM,

Aside from reiki, Wicca, and martial arts, what else am I studying you may be wondering.

It’s funny how following a spiritual path leads you in all sorts of directions. For one thing, I seem to have gone full circle and I’m studying more about my heritage and genetic roots. Thus, I’ve been studying a bit of China’s history and culture as well as Cantonese.

Cantonese is the dialect of Chinese most similar to my own (there are reportedly hundreds of dialects, but they are probably dying out as the Chinese government made Mandarin the official language, which is taught in school), and is the one most commonly spoken amongst North American Chinese people. Mandarin is being spoken more often by the next generation in China since it is forced on them in school. Basically, Cantonese was the most common language in China before the rise of communism there. With the upheaval in China in the mid-twentieth century, many Cantonese speaking Chinese left the country and went to North America. Thus, Cantonese is what you are likely to hear amongst the older generation North American Chinese – those who immigrated here as well as the first generation North American Chinese like myself. However, there are also many Chinese who left who spoke one of the hundreds of different dialects, like my family. My mother speaks Cantonese but in the home she speaks what I just call Toi San, after the name of our hometown in China (the town is now a small city called Taishan, which I hope to visit one day). Because the town of Toi San was fairly large, there are quite a few speakers of Toi San as well. Cantonese is very similar to Toi San, the major differences being the consonant sounds at the beginning of a word or syllable. Since I do hope to visit China one day, I thought I should learn to speak the more common dialects, plus you really can’t learn any other dialect of Chinese unless you grew up with it. Since Cantonese is closer to my dialect, I decided to learn that first and then Mandarin later. This is just the spoken language. The written language for Chinese is the same. The written language for Chinese (composed of characters) is unique in that each syllable is written not as it sounds like, but as the idea. Thus, the characters do not inform you as to what word needs to be sounded. You read Chinese as if you were looking at multiple pictures. Because the written language for Chinese is the same regardless of the dialect spoken and nowadays you can only learn to read and write using Mandarin, I will have to learn Mandarin just to make the learning to read and write Chinese easier.

Cantonese is both difficult and easy to learn. The easy part is that there are few actual sounds in Cantonese. There are only six consonants that may be used at the end of a word/syllable, and there are many homophones (words that sound the same). However, because of the many homophones there needs to be a way to distinguish between them. This is done by using tones, though you might be able to determine the correct word by the context. This is where the difficulty lies. The ear needs to be trained to hear the difference in tones. Those who are tone-deaf will definitely find Chinese challenging, and I’m not sure if there is sign language for Chinese – I imagine that would be difficult.

However, it is said that is easier to learn Mandarin once you know Cantonese, but it’s harder the other way around.

Writing Chinese is fairly easy. There are rules for how to write the characters. Each character is comprised of a “stroke”, and each stroke must be written in a specific order. These rules for stroke order are fairly straightforward. Once you have that writing Chinese is easy. It’s the reading that is difficult. Because each word/syllable is represented by a different character and the character does not give you any idea of how the word sounds, you have to be able to see the idea the character represents. It is said that to read a standard Chinese newspaper, you need at least 1000 characters. About 3500 characters are probably used. A well learned individual should know about 5000 characters. A good Chinese dictionary consists of about 50,000 characters. For someone new to reading Chinese (and I am despite being Chinese, I grew up in an English society so I never had any need to read in Chinese), it’s quite a feat to learn just 1000 characters. The neat thing though is that the characters were based on images of what the characters represented. Thus, if one studies how the character for a word came about, it’d be easier to remember. Yay for me, loads of studying to do still.

I’ve also picked up a book on hieroglyphics, which is about reading and writing in Egyptian and Mayan. Hieroglyphics is commonly associated with Egyptian, but since hieroglyphs just mean “carved writing” it applies to Mayan as well. Egyptian hieroglyphs are like Chinese characters in that they depict the idea. However, Egyptian hieroglyphs also represented a sound. But they represented the sound that was part of the Egyptian word that is depicted in the hieroglyph. Ah… interesting. Because some hieroglyphs represent both sounds and an idea, there is a hieroglyph that indicates which it is – sound or idea. This is called a determinative. There are quite a few hieroglyphs, but surprisingly it’s fairly easy to read Egyptian hieroglyphs once you get used to it. You just have to get used to the different hieroglyphs and you can just use a reference book to look up the ones you don’t know.

Languages are interesting. They tell you much about the culture you are studying, and part of the reason I’m studying the different languages is because of this. I also find written language can be artistic, especially Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese. The other language I would like to learn is Irish Gaelic. It would give a more authentic and personal feel for Celtic rituals to be able to read the Irish texts without translating.

Speaking of art, I’ve decided to study up a bit more on drawing and painting techniques since I’d like to experiment a bit more with my watercolour pencils and crayons. Art takes a lot of patience and time because it takes a while to get used to a technique. Plus, there’s also the fun of experimenting and seeing what you can personally make up. I can spend a good night just playing around with the colours – mixing and blending just to see what comes out.

This is just what I’ve been studying lately – and I still haven’t gone through my reading list and work load yet.

Okay, back to reading… oh, um… yes, the Spartans and King Leonidas.

BB,
Cassandrah
Your local renaissance woman
Brigid’s Flame

Gym day – March 8, 2007

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

It’s warmer now. I made it to the gym this Thursday. 😀

I ran a half mile to the bank first (it felt good to run now that the weather’s a little warmer), then speed-walked to the gym.

COMPLETE LIST OF WEIGHT TRAINING EXERCISES:
Machine/apparatus Exercises:
Leg lifts
Pull-ups/chin-ups
-military
-parallel
Dips
Leg press
Hamstring flexor/seated leg curls
Hip adductors
Hip abductors
Seated row
Seated chest press
Lateral pull-downs
Pectoral fly (sometimes done using free weights)
Reverse pectoral fly (not sure exactly what this is called, it works the rhomboids in between the scapulae/shoulder blades)
Shoulder fly
Shoulder lift/press
Back extensor
Tricep extensor
Bicep curls (usually done using free weights now)
Weighted squat machine

Free weights:
Two additional shoulder exercises
– lift weight in front using shoulder muscles
– bending at waist lift weight out to the side using muscles along the scapulae (this is the same as the machine that works in reverse of the pectoral fly)
– wrist strengthening

Other exercises:
Pushups
Situps
Cycling (25 minutes)
Elliptical

Cassandrah
Your local renaissance woman
Brigid’s Flame

Movie Time!

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

MM,

I’ve been hankering to see another movie again lately. According to my horoscope, transiting Neptune trines my Ascendant until next February, which means that I will be tempted to escape and withdraw from the world during this time. Since this period is long, I can’t realistically withdraw for that whole time – not unless I plan on finding a monastery I can stay at. However, this astrological aspect provides a “spiritual cast” (I use www.astro.com for my forecasts) which means that it is a good time for me to focus on my spiritual studies more than ever. This also means that I’m tempting to absorb myself in certain movies (a way of withdraw from the world) lately – perhaps something that jives with my spirituality.

This time, I’ve decided to see 300, which is a movie version of the graphic novel by the same name. The graphic novel in turn is based on the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, a decisive battle during the Greco-Persian War. According to historical sources, three hundred Spartans participated in the battle against a Persian army consisting of millions. It was the willingness of the Spartans to give their lives up for a greater cause (than themselves) that helped turn the tide of this war. Supposedly this battle gave the Athens time to come up with a naval strategy that would hold off Persian invasion of Europe. (Imagine how different Europe would be now if the Persians won that war.) The movie and graphic novel tell the story from the view of King Leonidas of Sparta. In the end though, all three hundred Spartans including King Leonidas are killed.

The Battle of Thermopylae is referred to as the “most famous last stand” (see above link to the “Battle of Themopylae”). It is especially notable because although the Spartans lost the battle, they succeeded in diminishing the Persian army more so than normal considering the odds (three hundred Spartans against millions of Persians). Basically, the Persians lost more men than would be expected against such a small army. The reason for this is simply effective strategy. I find this battle to be notable because the Spartans display a sense of honour and duty – they stayed and fought although they knew they’d be slaughtered in the end. They did this because they believed in their cause. They knew that their actions and their ultimate deaths would mean something. Of course, they were right as history records this as such. The famous Oracle at Dephi was even consulted regarding this battle that the Spartans would engage in. From this, King Leonidas knew he was following his destiny.

I find movies like this touch me more than interpersonal dramas, probably because they move beyond our own selfish lives. Astrologically, I can explain my attraction to such movies by my Mars in Aries in the 11th house. Mars is the planet that represents aggressive action (such as war and battles). Aries is the sign that Mars rules, which means Aries also represents aggressive action. The fact that I have Mars in Aries in my horoscope means that aggressive action is doubly represented. The 11th house represents associations, acquaintances, and humanitarian issues. Thus, Mars in Aries in the 11th house for me represents aggressive action (war, battles) within the realm of associations, acquaintances, and humanitarian issues. Epic stories about the struggle and fight for the good of all definitely fit this description! (This also explains why I love Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Stargate so much. I liked Battlestar Galactica at first for this reason, but the writers for that show seem to have forgotten the appeal of the main story. See my previous post on that.)

Well, if I get the time I might do a review of the movie later. For now, I think I’ll read a bit more about the three hundred Spartans, King Leonidas, and the Battle of Thermopylae.

BB,
Cassandrah
Brigid’s Flame

Recent Rituals

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

MM,

The past month has been quiet for me, at least concerning rituals. I’ve been in study mode mostly – you may have noticed less frantic posting as of late. 😉 Eventually, my brain just fills up again with too much and I have to start writing again!

Since February 18th was Chinese New Year’s and I also had to be out of the city that day, I had the night off as Summoner. (I just wouldn’t have made it back in time to get to the temple.)

Ritual on the 25th of February was based on the Roman festival, Lupercalia.

Ritual on March 4th was a simple ritual calling on the goddess and god and providing participants a chance to connect with whichever deity they normally associate with. As of late, there has been many rituals that are based on something more complex – perhaps a bit too intellectual too often for some. Sometimes, it’s nice to do something simple. I thought though that the ritual was nice just for that alone because as a participant you get a more personal feel in ritual.

The women’s group had their changeover this week, which is the installation ceremony for the Gatekeeper (aka Summoner), Handmaiden, and Bard. This is always a lovely ritual as it honours those who have willingly given in service for the past year and those who are stepping into service for the upcoming year. A ceremony like this is often important so people don’t forget how important they are to others. The three ladies did do a wonderful job the past year, and I expect that will continue in the new year.

As for me, I’m about halfway through my term as Summoner. It’s been good so far, I’m happy to say. I love being the first “Stick Chick” for the Toronto Temple – it’s a big honour. I actually can’t wait to be out in the park in the spring and summer (we go out in the park starting on Beltane in late April or early May, depending on which Sunday it falls), but my counterpart, the Hand, hopes it’ll rain every Sunday in the spring and summer! On rain days, we hold ritual inside instead. Frankly that would make my job too easy, as part of the challenge for me is to be out in the park at night standing guard alone. I think most people in today’s society grow up afraid of the park at night – kind of like wandering into the woods at night like in those horror movies. 😀 Well, it’s just a park, and in the summer it’s still light when we arrive there. Walking out of the park at night isn’t as terrifying as walking in there at night! In any case, we have a policy that no one shall leave the park alone at night. Since I normally walk into the park, I’ll shall accompany anyone out of it after ritual.

BB,
Cassandrah (“Stick Chick”)
Brigid’s Flame

Battlestar’s Big Mistake

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

If you haven’t seen the most recent episode of Battlestar Galactica called “Maelstrom”, be warned – spoilers follow.

When I first heard about a remake of the original Battlestar Galactica TV series, I was ecstatic. First, Lucas makes a second Star Wars trilogy (something I wished for after I saw Return of the Jedi in the theatres oh-so-many years ago), then I get to see a re-telling of Battlestar Galactica with better special effects.

Now though, I’m truly disappointed. What started out with a bang with a spectacular mini-series and excellent first season has turned into, to steal from Katee Sackhoff, “90210 in space”. Apparently, she’s been a tad disappointed with the show as of recently. According to a Sy Fy Portal article, Sackhoff was “critical of is Kara’s tendency to bed hop, which reminds her more of a soap opera plot than something found in science-fiction.” Sackhoff reports that Ron Moore specifically said “we are not doing 90210 in space”, but in her opinion it’s turned into that. She’s not alone in that thought though. I’m patient if a sci-fi show throws in one or two “soap opera-ish” episodes here and there interspersed amongst loads of climactic battle scenes (for example, the Stargate SG-1 episode where Teal’c moves into an apartment and gets involved with a lovely young lady – who happened to be played by Erica Durance – but then at least in that episode he gets accused of murder and the N.I.D. try to interfere, and in the next episode we get back to the sci-fi), but enough is enough. Battlestar Galactica has tossed in soap opera episode after episode. We don’t even see “toasters” anymore – that Raider in the last episode was supposedly a hallucination of Starbuck’s and therefore, doesn’t count. I mean, come on! I thought the main thrust of the show was about the battle between cylons and humans – life long enemies. Maybe if the producers focused on that a bit more rather than worrying about the ratings and how to build up the characters, the show will get back on track – and the ratings will come after.

Then the next thing you know, they go and do the worst thing possible (short of killing off Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama) – they kill off Starbuck. Yes, that’s right, the “rock ’em, sock ’em, ‘I’m gonna get that toaster!’ chick” has left the building. “Wait? Say that again?” Starbuck is gone. That fact was brought home with the last scene of Admiral Adama tearing apart his model ship after he puts on it the mini-statue of the goddess Aurora that Starbuck gave him. Angry and upset, the Admiral tore apart the model ship that Starbuck wanted him to finish. Unfortunately, us viewers don’t have a model ship to destroy as well – to take out our anger and disappointment at how badly they ruined Starbuck’s character.

Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace was the archetypal female warrior. She’s strong, tough, and you don’t mess with her because frankly she doesn’t give a damn about the rules – she’ll hit you even if you’re the X.O. She’s the best Viper pilot in the fleet pulling off feats that no one else can, even saving Lee’s butt a few times. She’s also managed to escape cylon capture (reference “The Farm” in season two). Then the writers turn her character upside-down by portraying her as an emotional mother with the first episodes of season three (though the child really wasn’t hers). Of course though, her experience as a “mother” is supposed to change her and she is more in touch with her emotions. Then, all seems fine with Starbuck for a while until the most recent episode, “Maelstrom” where Starbuck is having dreams about her old apartment on Caprica and, in particular, about that painting she made that looks like the “Eye of Jupiter”. A man who looks like the cylon Leoben is in her dreams and is supposedly leading her to her destiny, which as it turns out in this episode is to fly into a cloud and blow up with her ship from the pressure in the atmosphere. In “Maelstrom”, Starbuck is a teary-eyed mess and it is revealed that she was abused by her mother. By the end of the episode, she forgives her mother for the abuse as somehow she can see her mother on her death bed. Then Starbuck wakes up in her cockpit and tells Lee that she isn’t afraid anymore. She doesn’t eject out of her Viper, and then it blows up while Lee watches nearby not able to do anything.

There are few things as inconsistent as a warrior committing suicide for no good reason. A warrior may sacrifice herself for the explicit purpose of saving someone else, but a warrior is not suicidal. In this episode, Starbuck commits suicide just because she has a destiny? The Starbuck that we know and love wouldn’t do such a thing – no way, she’d say “Frak that!” Warrior archetypes have too much self-preservation to just give up and commit suicide. They may give up their lives trying to save someone, but that doesn’t mean they court death. What happened with Starbuck in the last episode was just out of character and basically non-sensical. In the episode previous to this one, Starbuck was giving her new “nugget” hell for not showing up for training on time AND out of uniform. Basically, the writers and producers want us to believe that somehow Starbuck went from being a warrior to someone who runs back crying to Mommy. That is how we are supposed to remember her? Sheesh, perhaps the producers need to read some Joseph Campbell – maybe look up the Celtic goddess Morrigan and the Norse goddess Freya while they’re at it.

Aside from Starbuck dying in “Maelstrom”, there are many things that were just wrong with that episode. First off, it’s another soap opera episode consisting of flashbacks with Starbuck’s mom who as it turns out was abusive to Starbuck. Second, Starbuck forgives her mother. What?! There are some things in life that are unforgivable, abuse is one of those things. To forgive an abuser is to accept abuse, it gives it validation, it says it isn’t at all wrong (is that really the message we’d like to say about abuse?) The character of Starbuck as a strong woman would not have forgiven her mother – again, she’d say “Frak that!” and she’d move on. There’s a difference between accepting what’s already happened to her and accepting abuse overall. Third, there’s the cylon Leoben again. Er… wait, it’s not Leoben? He’s there to help her cross the river between life and death. So, Starbuck’s spiritual guide is personified as the cylon who abused her? I don’t know about anyone else, but my spiritual guide isn’t someone who abused me. Fourth, why was Starbuck even written as an abused child? Just because a woman is strong doesn’t necessarily mean she was abused. Some people just have strong personalities, they’re just born that way. Some people are less resilient. Some people who have been abused aren’t strong at all – they can’t stand up for themselves. So, why is there this assumption that since Starbuck is a strong woman she must have been abused? That’s a stereotype. (Actually, this is a problem overall in the show. Strong women are portrayed as having been abused in some form or another. Or for a woman to become strong, she has to experience abuse such as in the case with Sharon who was raped while being imprisoned as a cylon.) Fifth, Starbuck was a poet and a painter. Apparently, this was supposed to imply that she was moody, subject to depression, and potentially suicidal because all poets and painters are. Another stereotype.

Granted, some of these issues with the show have been apparent earlier on, but I’ve been patient (bored, but patient) hoping the show will get back to its roots and not turn into a major sci-fi soap opera (sci-opera?). I’ve also been patient hoping that Starbuck’s character will switch back to the warrior archetype, but I guess I was wrong. The producers had one chance to “fix” Starbuck, but now they’ve blown it (literally, as her ship blew up). What’s next for us? Helo turns into a moralizing something-up-his-butt bastard? Please not! I’m liking Helo and Sharon right now. Supposedly, Lee is to turn against his father and the President over the issue of how they are treating Baltar. Does that not sound like a plot from The Young and the Restless? Oh dear. I keep hoping for the cylons to return and for some more climactic space battles. I guess we’ll find out next week on “90210 in Space” if the producers have heard my plea. Come on, let’s blow up some more toasters! (Or can’t they afford them anymore???)

BB,
Cassandrah
Brigid’s Flame

Other articles on Battlestar Galactica:

Starbuck: Is She or Isn’t She?
Major Cast Member to Depart
March 4, 2007: Mother, May I