The Old Queen’s Proclamation

When I began this website back in late 2013, I suggested that in 2012 I’d “incarnated” in my eighth identity or persona as a writer and artist. Now seven years later I’ve written a webpage to characterize this incarnation (thus far) as the Venerable Old Queen. In it you can read about this time of monkish peace and great productivity in books and art, all utterly fascinating.

I hope to continue being peaceful and productive for a long time yet in spite of our dire new reality. The old reality of our world recently underwent a total paradigm shift. As your Venerable Queen, I declare that Friday, March 13, 2020 was the end of the world as we’ve known it. To my neo-Aztec mind, on that day the Aztec Fifth Sun (World) came to an emphatic end. In their calendar, this was the day Four Rain, ominously the day-name of the Third Sun, which was destroyed in a rain of fire. That apocalyptic detail aptly marks this ending of the Fifth Sun.

In Aztec cosmology the Fifth Sun was called Four Earthquake (Nahui Ollin) and was destined to end by earthquake. However, “ollin” means more broadly “movement,” not only the terrestrial kind but the abstract as in “motion” or “dynamism.” If ever anything has moved dynamically, it’s the Corona virus sweeping the world—and destroying the Fifth Sun.

In addition, my venerable highness proclaims that the next day, March 14, 2020, was the first day of a brand new Sun, the Sixth. In my 1993 calendar book, I’d proposed that the Sixth Sun began with the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521; since the invaders actually arrived in 1519, on the average I was only off by precisely 500 years.

In my youthful enthusiasm, I gave the Sixth Sun the day-name Four Flower (Nahui Xochitl) and assigned Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal as its patrons to foster “love and happiness, artistic inspiration, fertility, pleasure, feasting, music, dancing, beauty and peace.” Obviously, I was feeling optimistic, even utopian, about the Sixth Sun, and now in spite of serious counter-indications, I’m trying to be the same as it begins for real. I do indeed accept Four Flower as this new Sun’s day-name and the divine patrons I channeled for it in 1993. The illustrations below are from the old book, and I use this image of the Prince in the banner on my webpages.

        Xochipilli, Prince of Flowers, and Xochiquetzal, Flower Feather, Patrons of the Sixth Sun Four Flower

Let’s look at the divinatory portents in the ceremonial calendar.

Per Azteccalendar.com, March 14 was the day Five Flower (Macuilxochitl), which is the day-name of the deity of games, music, dancing and singing. Five Flower is a nagual (manifestation), of good old Xochipilli, Prince of Flowers, the youthful solar deity of vegetation and abundance, as well as of pleasure, male beauty, learning, and the arts. His day-name is Seven Flower (Chicomexochitl), and coincidentally he’s the patron of both the sacred ballgame tlachtli and of homosexuality. Maybe it was for that latter fact that I chose him, but obviously he’s already become the divine patron of this new Sun without my puny gay-mortal help.

About Flower days in general, that day is ruled by Xochiquetzal, Flower Feather, so again I was right on in my channeled inspiration. She’s the ever-young goddess of love, beauty, female sexuality, and fertility and is the twin sister and wife of Xochipilli. She protects young mothers in pregnancy and childbirth, and is patron of weaving, embroidery, artisans, artists, and prostitutes. The calendar website says that a Flower day is one for creating beauty and truth, which fits right into my forecast, and significantly adds that the day tells us that life, like the flower, is beautiful but quickly fades.

The 13-day week (trecena) that the day Five Flower occurs in (One Vulture), is ruled by Xolotl, the Evening Star. I write in my encyclopedia of the Aztec pantheon that he is the god of sickness, deformity, monstrosities, malice, treachery, and danger, and represents the animal aspect of behavior and the unconscious. It’s rather ominous that he’s also the psychopomp (like the Greeks’ Charon), who leads the dead through the Land of the Dead, Mictlan.

Azteccalendar.com remarks that a Vulture week itself signifies the wisdom and freedom of old age, a fact this venerable old queen can relate to. Terribly right on in its generality for the time around March 14, 2020, it adds that these are good days for disengaging and bad days for participating.

This horoscopic reading for Saturday, March 14 seems uncannily perceptive in our shifted paradigm, and the Flower World it portends is an actual theme in the theology of northwestern ancient Mexico, complete with Xochipilli as its sun-god. Now that he rules this Sixth Sun, I think it would be entirely appropriate to create a new ballgame in his honor.

Let’s play with the idea of tlachtli and maybe call it “Xochiball.” It’s played on a circular court 50 ft. in diameter, where two teams of two players try to knock a soccer-size (but softer?) ball through a vertical hoop (possibly spinning) which is suspended over the center of the court. No catching or hitting the ball with hands is allowed, and the losers don’t get sacrificed. Feel free to make up the rest of the rules.

By the way, on my new page for Venerable Old Queen I didn’t mention the harsh lesson of this eighth persona: The rarest thing in the world is people who get what they really truly deserve. As a case in point, there’s no earthly way I truly deserve the many blessings I’ve had in my long life. When you get right down to it, again as the Aztecs believed, human life is simply a matter of dumb luck, and we’ve got to do everything we can think of to appease and flatter any deities who supposedly control our fortunes. Myself, I’m not poking any thorns through my tongue.

          Aztec Penance

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Tlalocan – The Paradise of Tlaloc

Occasionally I’ve interrupted drawing for my coloring book to remark on particularly interesting details (like the Divine Volcanoes and Visions of Tezcatlipoca), and here I go again.

The icon I’m working on right now is for Tlaloc, God of Storms (as well as rain and weather in general), a very ancient deity with antecedents among the Maya as Chak and in Teotihuacan, his actual name unknown, at least a thousand years before the Aztecs. In conceptualizing the icon, I’m including as the base register an image of Tlalocan, the Paradise of Tlaloc, adapted from a mural at Teotihuacan (c. 500 CE).

In my process, I first gather, massage and manipulate source material to create a layout. After settling on the composition, I turn the images into line drawings. Working with a mural from Teotihuacan—and snitching a neat piece of Codex Vindobonensis—I’ve reconfigured it to be what I call the Tlalocan, the Paradise of Tlaloc, restoring the heavily damaged left half:

Teotihuacan Mural Reconfigured by Richard Balthazar

Keep in mind that the Teotihuacan mural (with an obfuscating deep red background), was painted some 1,500 years ago—before European monks ever started illuminating manuscripts.

Some scholars argue that this mural represents the sacred Water Mountain—Cerro Gordo behind the city—and was associated with the (also nameless) Great Goddess. While her mural is positioned right above this one, I heartily disagree and have removed the arguable “mountain,” moving in the centerpiece from the upper border (enlarged), an indubitable image of the fanged, goggle-eyed deity the later Aztecs dubbed Tlaloc.

The deity also holds “head”-pitchers like those Tlaloc holds in Codex Borgia pouring water onto the maize-fields. As well, the dedication to Tlaloc is tripled by the matching busts of the iconic water deity in the upper corners. In upper center, I’ve installed an anachronistic Mouth of the Earth pouring forth water (from Vindobonensis). The name Tlaloc means “He of the Earth.”

I have no problem with Cerro Gordo being the sacred Water Mountain of Teotihuacan. That nearby massif may well have sourced lots of springs and streams, and I gather there’s evidence of intensive agricultural terracing and other works on its slopes and summit. The original Water Mountain image in the mural I assert to be in fact the way of entry into the afterlife of Tlalocan. The figures in its waters aren’t just gaily swimming around but struggling, sinking, maybe drowning, and ultimately erupting into the Paradise of the god later known as Tlaloc. Note the attempted life-saving. I found the image nice but unnecessary. After all we’re worshipping LKA Tlaloc here.

“Water Mountain” from Original Mural at Teotihuacan

Circumstantially, priority entry into Tlalocan, a joyful place of games, butterflies and flowers, was granted to victims of drowning, then to children sacrificed to Tlaloc—note the many children in the mural’s pastiche—and only afterwards to victims of certain diseases such as leprosy. Those less than enviable passports aside, Tlaloc’s 8th heaven (out of the 13), was a great place to wind up, all dancing, singing, and having fun. In the other heavens, not so much…

If you squint at the little figures in the mural, you’ll see groups engaging in several games. On the far left it’s with soccer-type balls while another guy runs in perhaps a hybrid of bowling and hopscotch. Moving to the right, we come to a bunch of dancers, and beside them a guy getting tossed into the air. On the deity’s crest, four fellows play perhaps some version of leapfrog. On their right, kids play marbles, and four guys play on something maybe related to a teeter-totter.

Historically significant are those little curlicues issuing from the figures’ mouths, the symbol for song: These folks are rejoicing, singing out their joy. Even the birds I lifted from the Great Goddess mural are singing as on far right. (In the original a tiny worm also sings!) I know this symbol because it’s widespread in the Aztec codices of a thousand years later meaning the same.

I’m taken with the little guy on the lower right bending to admire a flower. This stretch of plants and figures has been called a scene of farming, but that’s just nonsense. Farming in heaven? The man standing on the far right might be yodeling, and the kid under the bush is merrily waving a flower, not particularly agrarian activities. Various other figures scattered around seem to be telling stories or doing tricks. A good time is being had by all.

Generally, I try not to engage in much speculation, but this time it’s terribly tempting. Let me suggest an intriguing possibility. Perhaps with the Water Mountain adjacent to their prosperous city the Teotihuacanos came to think of their world as literally Tlalocan on earth. Maybe they didn’t, but Mesoamerican history could have—taking that long-gone civilization into their cosmology as the Third Sun, Four Rain.

According to the Aztecs, Four Rain was ruled by Tlaloc while consorting with Xochiquetzal (Flower Feather), who might have been the Great Goddess, though She was usually seen as the proto-Chalchiuhtlicue (Jade Skirt). Lore has it that when Tezcatlipoca (The Smoking Mirror) abducted his goddess, Tlaloc raged and destroyed the Third Sun in a rain of fire.

This apocalyptic detail suggests another possibility. I’ve read that right around 600 CE there was a major eruption of Popocatepetl which, besides raining fire, spread a pyroclastic flood of toxic gases all over the valley of Anahuac (Mexico). Is it just coincidence that at exactly this time the civilization and people of Teotihuacan vanished?

Just wondering…

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A New Human Age

Maria Branyas, survivor

In isolation at a care-home in Spain where she’s been living for 20 years, Maria Branyas (113) survived Covid-19. For The Guardian, she reflected on what the world may look like after the pandemic: “…I think nothing will be the same again, and don’t think about redoing, recovering, rebuilding. It will have to be done all over again and differently. … You need a new order, a change in the hierarchy of values and priorities, a New Human Age…”

The old order which Maria rejects is, of course, the economic system that informs and directs society. But the Oxford Dictionary defines “economy” as: 1) “the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services” and 2) “careful management of available resources.” Note no mention here of an “order” or “system,” and “management” is simply an undefined process.

Our old order has been in place for millennia. Ever since humans lived in trees, on savannahs, or in caves, there’s been only one rule for management of resources: Take what you can get and keep it. The sole modus operandi for humanity’s economic activity has been private enterprise.

Since absolutely forever, private enterprise has been the only game in town. Political systems will sometimes tweak the rules—and simply complicate matters and magnify existing inequities and injustices. Maria is totally correct about doing it all over again and differently. We don’t need to change the rules of the old game but to start a whole new ball-game!

As the old order, private enterprise has now outlived its effectiveness for managing resources and providing for the common good. In a new ball-game, the wealth and resources of countries or regions can no longer be private property of individuals but public property. And the people can manage their resources themselves, with benefits accruing to the public at large.

A new order of public enterprise and benefit can focus on the common good, supporting, embodying and perfecting democracy. Vigorously and very likely violently opposed by the entrenched old order, such a systemic switch of values and priorities for a “New Human Age” will not come easily. And I’m certainly not the one to say how to make it happen.

After the pandemic devastates economically all but the (corporate) elite, for at least a decade, they say, the old order will try to redo, recover and rebuild. Fantasizing about a future on a global, monopolistic scale, the obsolete system of private enterprise will surely prove even less productive of common good then with the world’s population essentially infinite in number.

If it doesn’t kill us first, this wretched pandemic ironically offers us a now-or-never opportunity to birth a New Human Age. At this unprecedented crux in human history, maybe we can at last create a truly humane society.

Let’s do it!

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JOAN OF ARC: The Maid in New Orleans

The Translator’s View by Richard Balthazar

Statue of Joan of Arc in New Orleans

On the 100th anniversary of her canonization, St. Joan of Arc appeared in New Orleans in a miraculous vision to the fortunate multitudes in the 2,100-seat Mahalia Jackson Theater, and I was privileged to be among them. The New Orleans Opera Association’s production of Tchaikovsky’s “Joan of Arc” was presented there February 7 & 9, 2020 under the artistic direction and musical baton of Maestro Robert Lyall. For the unfortunate multitudes who couldn’t be there to experience Joan’s epiphany, I want tell you all about it.

As the translator of Tchaikovsky’s Russian libretto of “Joan of Arc” into English, I’m probably as close as anybody alive to this work. The first translation was done for performances by the Canadian Opera Company in 1978, and though I thoroughly revised it afterwards, Michigan Opera Theatre used the first version for their 1979 production in Detroit. For New Orleans Opera Association’s production in 2020, I substantially revised it yet again.

Having seen the two earlier productions, I feel eminently qualified to critique the New Orleans production. “Maid of Orleans,” or “Joan of Arc,” was the composer’s foray into the field of French Grand Opera, and in my humble opinion, its grandiosity is incomparable. Connoisseurs of the genre, please feel free to differ…

As a Russian scholar, I’ll just say that in my translation the music sounds like it was written for my straight-forward and poetic English words, rather than for Tchaikovsky’s convoluted, many-syllabled Russian syntax. But I also thank Maestro Lyall for his superb edits smoothing out rough edges and much improving the “sing-ability” of some phrases.

In the same vein, I applaud Lyall for masterfully abridging Tchaikovsky’s sprawling libretto (which if performed in its entirety, would run for well over four hours!), into two hours and forty minutes of magnificent music and inspired drama. I also applaud his clever use of supertitles during overtures and entr’actes with brief texts to set true historical contexts and to link the disparate scenes into a cohesive narrative and easily followed story.

This translator’s view will be largely that of a discerning audience member with a long life in theater and opera. Necessarily, I’ll have to leave detailed musical analysis to the musicologists, but I’ll strive for objectivity in my descriptions.

The Production

In the four acts of the opera, scenes were all framed simply but ornately as though they were paintings. (In his libretto, Tchaikovsky called the Scenes “Pictures.”) The sets in the Pictures were pleasantly simple and effective, abstract constructions of planks and platforms—call it “plank and platform style,” adaptable and easy to alternate and to execute rapid scene changes.

The backdrops were beautifully “painterly.” That in the first act was particularly so with a hazy landscape and only an outline of a small church that was very symbolic. In later pictures we saw an elegant stained-glass window and then a vast iconic painting of a woman’s face. I thought at first it was Joan, but considering the halo, it made more sense for it to be the Virgin Mary. Whichever, it was an appropriately religious symbol and I hope Scenic Designer Steven C. Kemp is justly proud of his success!

The noted Stage Director, Jose Maria Condemi, should also take pride in his smooth handling of the numerous large crowd scenes and of his sensitive direction of the characters’ movements and interactions within the Pictures. The tableaux, ranging from pastoral to ornate cathedral, were beautifully composed, and all very subtly yet dramatically lit by Lighting Designer Don Darnutzer. Maybe it won’t be a spoiler if I praise his fiery pyre in the opera’s finale.

Joan of Arc at the stake – Photo: Brittney Werner

Let me offer my sincere compliment for the fantastic musicians of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Maestro Lyall. They poured Tchaikovsky’s immortal music out over the audience in powerful and heart-wrenching waves. While not a qualified music critic, I can only observe that it sounded really great!

But I do have more than a few clues about some other things. In my past I did a bit of Russian vocal coaching for singers (and for the Paul Hill Chorale to sing Kabalevsky’s “Requiem”). An important component of “Joan of Arc” is that it’s an enormously “choral” opera. Those large crowds mentioned earlier belted out several numbers that rattled the rafters, laments, prayers, fight songs, triumphal marches… What really blew me away was the Hymn in Act One. Prepared by Chorus Master Carol Rausch, the opera chorus sang with remarkable clarity and precision, delicately modulated to balance with the soloists, yet with startling power.

Having been in my long ago past an extra in the ballet “Coppelia” (and a life-long avocational dancer), I’ll claim to know about dance. The obligatory ballet number in Act Two was truly what the King ordered, a jolly entertainment, and likely a lot jollier and sprightlier than it would have been at any French court six hundred years ago. Choreographer Gretchen Erickson melded three superb dancers into an exciting athletic, even gymnastic, frolic. Of the three ballet numbers Tchaikovsky wrote for the opera, Maestro Lyall definitely chose to include the jolliest.

I must also commend the Fight Director Mike Yahn for the various sword fights and attendant mayhem. Avoiding flashy displays, he kept the violence to a realistic and convincing minimum, the way people actually try to stab each other with swords. And I’ll wind up my remarks on the physical production by praising the beautifully detailed period costumes for the peasants, nobles, and military, created by the talented Costumer Julie Winn. Joan’s armor alone was a marvelously medieval piece of work!

The Performances

As the heavenly-inspired peasant girl Joan of Arc, Hilary Ginther completely commanded the stage from the moment of her angelic inspiration through the triumphs, soul-wrenching romance, crushing tragedy and divine enlightenment to her ultimate immolation. This tiny but mighty mezzo Maid filled Mahalia’s huge house with the glory of her prophecies, prayers, spiritual anguish, religious fervor, heroic valor, tender love, and ultimate martyrdom. It is difficult to describe the glorious musicality of Ginther’s performance, but it was a tour de force, a true epiphany. I hope Joan of Arc can become this incredible artist’s signature role, and other opera companies should sign Hilary for many more productions of this masterpiece.

Blessing Joan to lead the troops – Photo: Brittney Werner

In commenting on tenor Casey Candebat’s performance as the Dauphin (King Charles VII), it’s hard not to resort to even more superlatives. In a word, he WAS superlative. With touching humanity, Casey’s rich, clear voice carried all the majesty, romance, and elements of Charles’ personal struggle between cowardice and bravery that Tchaikovsky had written into this role. His coronation address to Joan was a marvel of reverent adoration. Then, convinced by a few presumably divine claps of thunder, he, too, was swept up in the chorus’ orgy of fear and superstition. Abandoning Joan, he rushed off with his newly-won crown, ending the King’s role in her dramatic story that had been wonderfully sung.

Coronation of Charles VII – Photo: Brittney Werner

There are lots of other characters in this opera, and the performances of each and every one were outstanding.

The pivotal role of Thibaut, Joan’s father, was sung by bass Kevin Thompson who, as noted by others, has “a mountain of a voice.” That voice perfectly embodied the element of superstition on which the opera turns. Kevin’s remarkable bass voice, aided by those aforementioned divine thunderclaps, created a true avalanche of fear, hatred, and stupidity that swept Joan from her exalted heights into a pit of despair and exile—the ultimate parental guilt trip. No wonder that during the bows Kevin earned the audience’s heartfelt boos!

Soprano Elana Gleason, playing Agnès Sorel, the King’s affectionate mistress, expertly delivered her extremely difficult love arietta with the King—with its very high notes!—with great delicacy and tenderness. We should all have such generous mistresses!

The role of Dunois, duc d’Orléans, was impressively fulfilled by dramatic baritone Michael Chioldi, who served as the conscience and inspiration for the King. In all of his scenes, Michael’s resonant voice drove the action, his nobility instilling courage and resolve. It is a complicated role with its aspects of conflicting loyalty and heroic determination.

The role of the romantic male lead, the Burgundian knight Lionel, was performed by baritone Joshua Jeremiah. Lionel is a pivotal role, a man who turns from French traitor into passionate lover, who first abuses Joan as a demon and then becomes her protector. In the final love duet, Joshua’s heroic voice blended perfectly with Joan’s mezzo in praise of God’s heavenly gift of love. (Unfortunately, he had to die—but did so grandly.)

I was thrilled by bass Raymond Aceto’s Archbishop who narrated to the court with ecclesiastical majesty Joan’s first appearance with the French troops, her leading them into battle, and their victory over the English. Raymond’s every word was crystal clear and weighty with the miracle of it all. He brought the same musical authority to all his other scenes, whether urging the people to believe or interrogating Joan’s virtue, or even when proving to be just as stupidly superstitious as everybody else.

In Act One, Kameron Lopreore movingly played Raymond, a village suitor whom Joan rejected; his tenor solo line in the Hymn was sung with plaintive force. Bertrand, a peasant refugee, was sung with immense pathos by baritone Ken Weber, and his solo line in the Hymn was a profound lament. The unnamed Warrior played by baritone David Murray dramatically narrated his narrow escape from the battle of Orleans and confirmed Joan’s first prophecy. In Act Two a dying soldier named Loree was sung by Frank Convit. His lines urging the King to join the fray and his final words “I’ve done my duty now…” were sung with all the poignant power of a seasoned soloist. All four of these roles were expertly delivered.

Concluding Remarks

You’re probably wondering if the preceding descriptions can be called objective, but I assure you they were—I could find nothing even vaguely negative to say! But, though I’d love to say that the New Orleans production of “Joan of Arc” was flawless, I admit there was one challenging detail.

Three times Joan hears the heavenly voices, and the angelic messages are crucial to the very structure of the opera. First, they send her forth on her mission, and second, they proclaim her mission accomplished and call her to come to glory (where a virgin martyr’s crown awaits, as well as rapture in God’s divine embrace). Then, third, they welcome Joan into heaven.

The off-stage voices of the angels, necessarily somewhat muted and baffled by curtains, largely got drowned out, sometimes by the enthusiastic orchestration and at other times by competing vocal lines. Fortunately, the words appeared on the supertitle screen—albeit quite briefly—allowing audience members to some degree to follow what they were supposed to be hearing sung and to sort it out from the other competing vocal lines.

What I could hear of Julia Tuneberg’s lovely soprano was ethereal, but her single voice was mostly lost in the melee.  If that was anyone’s fault, it was the composer’s.  Julia’s vocal lines being absolutely the most important element of the sequences, and given the traditional limitations and challenges of writing for off-stage voices, Tchaikovsky’s rich orchestration and vocal writing probably should have taken that more into consideration.

A modern solution for future productions, (of which I hope there will be many—my English translation gratis), would be to forget the back-stage and off-stage voice placement and send their sound through speakers from the ceiling of the house, even sending the separate vocal lines down from either side, antiphonally if you will. The audience should ideally hear surreal voices coming from heaven—and understand the words.

On that note, let me strongly advocate for performing operas in translation. Operatic puritans’ desire to preserve the musical sound of a composer’s work is admirable, but by opposing performances in translation, they often discount the verbal sound and deny “foreign” audiences a full appreciation of the drama in a work, especially so in this one. As a Russian scholar, I observe that with its intensely poetic language (i.e., twisted word order and obscure, stylized vocabulary—not to mention some wild musical calisthenics on important words), Tchaikovsky’s Russian libretto for “Joan of Arc” verges on the unintelligible even for native speakers of that language. In some respects, the composer seems to have chosen to rely on the visual scenes (Pictures) to suggest most of the theater in his work and considered the verbal fine points of the drama as more or less negligible.

Yet, Joan’s drama is the truly grand part of this grand opera. Like the angel voices, audiences deserve to comprehend fully her inspiration, heroism, moral anguish, triumph, and apotheosis. Her story is of vast import even for today: a woman of incredible strength and determination who literally saved her country, a powerful spirit who transcended medieval superstition and ignorance to achieve Sainthood—her true moral victory. All the more astounding for happening six centuries ago, Joan’s victory needs not be reduced to mere musical fireworks and orchestral magnificence. To convey all the grandeur, her glorious words should be readily comprehensible.

That’s why I’ve devoted creative energy to this amazing work for more than forty years. And that’s why I now urge opera companies in English-speaking countries everywhere to produce it—now readily available in translation—and to thrill us with the brilliance of Joan’s glory, as so beautifully done by the New Orleans Opera Association.

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Richard Balthazar is a former Russian scholar, arts administrator, and vendor of used plants, now happily retired as a writer and artist. He can be reached at rbalthazar@msn.com.                

 

Monetary Mammoths

Long ago the late great British writer Wolf Mankowitz, for whom I briefly worked as a secretary/scribe, made a penetrating comment that I’ve never forgotten. In response to some news phenomenon of those early 80’s, he remarked that though Europeans would never believe such a thing, “Americans equate being rich with being good.”

Over later years I’ve watched our national “mentality” start believing that wealth itself is virtue, i.e., that money is a god—good old Mammon. Notice the religious awe with which Americans contemplate the iconic dollar sign—and really big numbers.  Millions used to be a lot, then it was billions, and now we toss around trillions.  Mammon is obviously a megalomaniac.  I’ve recently come to believe that the operative word for our civilization is “More.”

The holy magic of numbers of dollars is nowhere more rampant than in the electoral process. Political races have come to be characterized and predicted by the amount of funds raised by the candidates.  The media blithely compares fundraising totals as clues to who is running “ahead,” as though dollars equal votes (and political virtue), as though reporting on a horse race.

In the electoral process, a composite total of many mega-millions—perhaps billions— is raised from supposedly civic-minded donors, all looking for a bang for their bucks. And then there are the mega-millions the government has to spend to manage the process at thousands of polling places—as well as staff costs for the counting/accounting.

Overall, I expect that elections are a trillion-dollar industry right now—tomorrow it will probably be a jillion. Some might say that’s not a high a cost for running our huge democracy, and sadly they could be right.  My problem comes from seeing where that trillion goes.

The tax money that the government spends naturally goes to the enormous workforce needed to operate the electoral process—a job program. But what about the countless millions raised for campaigns?  And public financing means that the government is paying for a large part of that. Some funds do pay for a temporary job program and operations to organize trips and events, but the lion’s share of election funds flows directly into the media/advertising industry.  For it, elections are bread, butter, and roast beef—simply for playing both sides against the middle.  Our election cycles have become the media’s cash elephants!

Humility Redeems All Species.

I have a distinct problem with this being a closed financial loop. You see, campaign donors are basically the same class of people who are getting paid by the campaigns.  What’s more, they get a tax-break for donating (ultimately to themselves).  Sounds like a racket to me.

Instead, let’s get honest and admit that our elections are in truth theatrical fundraising races. Why not just admit that whoever nets the most money over campaign (i. e., fundraising) expenses should win.  Big spending then would become a handicap, most government expenses would be eliminated, and the public wouldn’t have to suffer through empty or obfuscating campaign rhetoric, except as pleas for donations.

And to make this a really sweet deal: Whatever campaign funds the candidates, winners and losers, don’t spend would have to be turned over to the government for the imperiled Social Security Trust Fund and the crucial Medicare/Medicaid programs.  Political donations thus would become reasonable tax-deductions, and the onerous governmental process of elections would produce revenue rather than expense.

Of course, the media industry would raise holy hell about trading its monetary mammoths for mere cash cows. No matter how rational and reasonable this proposal, it wouldn’t mean More for them, just More for the public weal.

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The Primal Flaw

Here I go again with another quasi-political pronouncement!

Ever since this whole debacle started, I’ve been asking myself what exactly the problem is with our country. At first I looked for what’s wrong in our economic system and found many truly fatal flaws.  But then I realized that to find the primal flaw one must look on the meta-level—at the country itself as a social organization.

As a career organizational administrator (long retired), I know how crucial it is for any organized undertaking to have plans for operations and future directions. As a country, the US supposedly has a detailed plan for operations, or at least guidelines for such, in our revered Constitution.  However, we have nothing that tells us which way or where our country is supposed to go.

A notion of future directions is necessary to accomplish any purpose or achieve a mission. Believe it or not, our founding sages never articulated a mission for their new country.  The only thing I can find in the Constitution even vaguely regarding a purpose is in Article I, Section 8: “The Congress shall have Power To [lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and] provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…”

Note that this section merely gives Congress the power to do various things; it doesn’t charge the government as a whole with responsibility to do those things. And what’s more, “Defence” and “Welfare” relate only to the country/government itself, not to its citizens.

I can find no constitutional parallel to Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg comment about the US being a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  Here Lincoln says explicitly what the mission should be for our country as an organization:  The purpose of the government is to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare of the citizens of the United States.

More simply, the government should operate for the benefit of all the people and move in directions that protect and improve all our lives.  But in regrettable statistical fact, our government serves only some of the people, those with (heavily) vested interests.

So that’s my well-considered diagnosis. Let me think for a while on what to prescribe for this serious Social Systemic Disorder (SSD).  It’s an unsustainable, life-threatening condition that will definitely require radical treatment to save the patient.

An Aerobic Insight

Most of my penetrating insights come while peacefully tromping the treadmill (lengthening those pesky telomeres to counteract aging—which I’ve done more than enough of in eight decades of breathing). Nearing the mile mark the other day, I suddenly considered that our abominable chief executive might well have a death wish.

On further consideration, I saw that my amateur psychoanalysis of the beast should be more complicated than that. The vile creature probably doesn’t wish for death as a release but as an apotheosis, quite possibly its ultimate goal.

I understand that its campaign goal was purported to be to “Make America Great Again,” but I also understand ‘great’ in its diabolical terms to mean ‘a rich (old) white man’s country.’ That would be just like America used to be under the heartless oligarch’s favorite president, Andrew Jackson, with whom it shares many biographical and attitudinal characteristics.

Not the least of those is being a megalomaniac real-estate rustler, cynical and dishonest game-player, and unscrupulous persecutor of non-rich and non-white populations. All its policies and actions show unambiguously that our rogue leader is in no way a humanitarian, but an aristocratic despot engaged in a class and racial war.

Its now-failed attempt to extort funds from Congress for a barrier to human freedom by closing down the government was intentionally designed to damage the economic security of the non-rich and people of color and deepen the class and racial divides.

Even with the government re-opened, that social divide will remain much deeper than before. In its misanthropic view, that political atrocity was still a battle essentially won.  In future battles, its strategy will be the same and tactics just as inhumane and ruthless.

The hubristic autocrat will see the people’s suffering, unrest, and possible resistance as futile. Winning the class and race war is to be its historic contribution to society, human and cultural costs be damned.  For the amoral, the ends justify the means.

Total victory would of course be to re-institute slavery, re-establish a nobility, and address the population situation with genocidal solutions—the true essence of conservatism. Should resistance not prove futile and someone manage to eliminate it, the monster would probably consider that the best-case scenario.

I’ll bet the demagogue is psychotically jealous of the eternal glory that Lincoln and Kennedy achieved through being assassinated—or more grandiosely of the immortal fame of Julius Caesar. (For the tragically murdered, all faults and sins are apparently forgiven.)

If so, the unbelievable genius would become not only a messiah for rich (old) white men, but a sainted martyr. Let’s call the spade a self-anointed second Jesus Christ—sacrificed for the sins of humanity.  Sad.

If these are truly the demon’s delusional ambitions, we have to ask which would be preferable: for the scoundrel to win its inhuman war or for it to become a glorious hero?  I would opt instead for the slight chance that it might lose the war and go down in history as an unparalleled villain.

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A Roar of Jaguars

In the past few years, I’ve realized that, in the Native American tradition, I seem to have an animal totem, the jaguar. This past year when I started my second memoir, I understood my deep connection to this apex predator of the Americas and included an illustration:

My Totem Jaguar

I also realized that this magnificent feline has been lurking in my background for at least 35 years. At a yard sale I’d bought a carved-wood figurine and stashed it away as a curiosity.  Later I gave it as a birthday gift to a friend, who returned it explaining that there was some spirit in it which didn’t “resonate” with him.  Stashed away again, it sat on a shelf for decades—following me around to various domiciles.  Then about a year ago I recognized it for a jaguar-priest or shaman from some South or Meso-American tradition.

My Jaguar Priest Figurine

It suddenly made sense that this jaguar figurine was probably why some 30 years ago I’d gotten so involved in the Aztec milieu. I soon learned that this New World King of Beasts had originally roamed throughout most of the South and Meso-American jungles and even ranged north into the American Southwest (apparently now making a comeback in southern Arizona!).

I also learned that the noble jaguar was central to the mythologies of basically all the ancient civilizations of the New World (just as the lion was to those of the Old). First off, I found it in the Aztec calendar, as the 14th day of their agricultural month and in the second week of their ceremonial count of days (tonalpohualli).  Starting with the day Ce Ocelotl – One Jaguar (those with this birth day-name coincidentally being destined for sacrifice), that second week was under the patronage of the god Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent.

I already knew that the Aztec ceremonial calendar had been more or less inherited from the much earlier Maya and then discovered that it, just like its patron deity, was also revered by the even earlier Olmec. Then about three years ago in considering that maybe the sacred calendar’s count of days had originated in the still earlier Chavín civilization in Peru, I learned that the jaguar was for them also a major deity, often seen as an ornate man-jaguar.  Do note this Chavín were-jaguar’s startling snake-locks!

Chavin Were-Jaguar

If my suggestion that the count of days originated at Chavín de Huantar is correct, that ritual (more like a religion), was carried north by trader-missionaries to populations along the Pacific coast. Ultimately they crossed the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and proselytized the Olmec with the sacred way of telling time.  While many surviving Olmec sculptures are of infant were-jaguars, I’ll show you their dramatic animal.

Olmec Jaguar

Coincidentally, earliest calendar lore has it being brought by a god, namely the Plumed Serpent, who was also the bringer of maize (and culture). Between the calendar, the jaguar, and this legendary civilizer deity, they had a rather well-rounded theosophy, even if some rituals might have involved sacrifices frowned on nowadays.

It’s now become reasonable to think that the early Maya were “civilizing” in Yucatan at much the same time as the Olmec were hard at it in Veracruz. More mercenary missionary work was probably what took the calendar to the Maya.  They hugely elaborated and ornamented the new “faith” with their own deities and even started writing about it in glyphs.

Along with calendar, the jaguar deity (B’alam) came to the Maya, but their representations of it were generally not anthropomorphized.  I found a spectacular relief at Chichen Itza on Google Images, apparently a repro in gold (!), that’s both naturalistic and stylized.  Not to gross you out, but I bet that’s a heart it’s holding in its paw and licking.

Mayan Jaguar from Chichen Itza

Of course, the third part of the religion was the Plumed Serpent, the civilizer deity whom they called Kukulcan (or Gugumatz).  This Triad then moved west and north to early Teotihuacan, where the Serpent likely became known as Quetzalcoatl, or maybe that was amongst the later Toltecs.  That calendar religion reigned across the centuries and other areas of Mexico, as shown by this jaguar totem from the Zapotecs, possibly a funerary urn.

Zapotec Jaguar

Eventually, the barbarian Aztecs came out of the north and adopted the local religion, and it came to be known and misunderstood as the “Aztec Calendar.” In their historical or genealogical picture-books, many of which were from other cultures like the Mixtec, the were-jaguar shows up as jaguar warriors.  These “jaguar-weres” were simply humans wearing jaguar pelts.

In their religious documents, the jaguar is generally depicted as a divine animal such as these two from Codex Borgia, (adjusted and adapted to prepare for drawings in my next icon).  By the way, those wavy figures represent the jaguar’s roar.

Jaguars from Codex Borgia

Modelling mine on the image on the left, several years ago as my first attempt at drawing on computer, I drew a jaguar with a realistically patterned pelt (and more aggressive demeanor). Intended to be the apotheosis of the Lord of the Animals, the drawing had to wait some three years to be enthroned in YE GODS! Icon #11 – OCELOTL.

My Jaguar–Lord of the Animals

But I’m not done with this roar of jaguars! Recalling that the historical range of the jaguar reached up into North America, there is the possibility that the creature may have been known, or at least recalled, by populations outside of the desert Southwest.  I’m talking about my other favorite topic, the Mississippian “civilization.”

I found a trace of the calendar and image of a heavily stylized man-jaguar in the Southeast and drew this fanciful animal below from a shell gorget (from Fairfield MO across the river from Cahokia) for a book on the Indian mounds.  (See my Gallery of Pre-Columbian Artifacts.)

Jaguar Gorget – Fairfield MO

In the magazine “Ancient American,” Vol. 21, No. 116, I wrote about the cult of the Plumed Serpent in North America, which shows that the trinity of Calendar-Jaguar-Serpent was a Pan-American “religion.”  Small wonder I feel the jaguar my totem—it’s the totem for all Americans.

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Ancient America-Asia Coincidences

Recently I came across two historical coincidences worthy of comment. Both may be archaeologically, or at least anthropologically, significant.

  1. The Rabbit in the Moon.

Readers should be advised that I’ve “studied” (more like “obsessed with”) things Mesoamerican for about 30 years now, and have become fairly conversant about their mythology and art, mainly of the Aztecs. More about that in a moment.

Some decades ago I learned that the Mesoamerican peoples saw a rabbit in the moon. This “moon rabbit” was famous amongst the early Maya, shown here with the moon goddess Ix Chel:

The image of a rabbit in the moon occurs in two of the surviving pre-Conquest Aztec codices (picture-books) and in one of the post-Conquest documents.

Aztec Rabbits in the Moon

Learning about this lunar bunny, I checked out the full moon and immediately saw it clearly. Before, I’d never really been able to see a face in the moon (the European tradition), and now I can see nothing but the rabbit.  In my Aztec obsession, I’ve spent the past several years drawing icons of their deities and am now working on the god of the moon, Tecciztecatl.  As a detail for that icon, I’ve concocted my own Moon Rabbit in an Aztec style and in the orientation I’ve scientifically observed.

Imagine my surprise when I read a book about Chinese myths and legends and discovered that the ancient Chinese also saw a rabbit in the moon. Under “Moon Rabbit” on Wikipedia, I learned that in their inscrutable oriental way, the image the Chinese saw was a rabbit facing to the right—and anthropomorphically using a mortar and pestle to pound herbs or medicines (that equipment occupying the area of my bunny’s bottom).

The entry advised that this traditional image also spread to Japan and Korea and added, “Legends of moon rabbits exist among some of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.” Then the entry states categorically:  “These legends were not influenced by Asian cultures.”  This gratuitous pronouncement smacks of a polemical personal opinion designed to forestall any further discussion of the subject.  Typical…

Now, I’m not arguing that this coincidence necessarily shows any America-Asia connection. It’s quite reasonable that the two widely separated peoples could see the same familiar creature (in differing perspectives) in the Rorschach blur on the moon’s orb.  The bunny could well be a pure coincidence (though some say there are no coincidences).

  1. The Ten Suns

In the same book of Chinese myths and legends, one struck me as surpassingly surreal. The god of the eastern sky, Di Jun was the father of ten suns [sic!] which took turns crossing the sky on each of the ten days of the week.  But they got bored with the routine and one day decided to ride in their chariots all together across the sky, which heat caused great damage to the earth and its creatures.  Unable to make his suns behave properly, Di Jun summoned the Divine Archer Yi and gave him a magic bow and arrows to make the suns resume their rotating duties.  Yi shot down nine of them, leaving only one to cross the sky every day.  That solution greatly distressed Di Jun, who condemned Yi to live a mortal life.  Curious tale…

A few months later I read a book called “Native American Myths and Legends,” which was published by Arcturus Publishing Ltd. in London (2017). The stories were recorded by a range of different writers/ethnographers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The story that stopped me in my tracks was attributed to a tribe called “Shastika” and taken from a book by Katharine Berry Judson, “Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest (1912). That tribe from northern California/southern Oregon is now called simply Shasta or Shastan and logically relates to the magical Mount Shasta. Per Wikipedia, by the early years of the 20th century perhaps only 100 Shasta individuals existed, and some few Shasta descendants apparently still reside in various reservations with other tribes.

The story is called “Old Mole’s Creation.” (Forgive my disrespectful levity, but the title calls to mind a character from that ancient comic strip “Pogo”—Ol’ Mole was blind as a mole and an avid bird-watcher!) Anyway, first “Old Mole burrowed underneath Somewhere and threw up the earth which forms the world.” Then, “in the beginning, Sun had nine brothers, all flaming hot like himself. But Coyote killed the nine brothers and so saved the world from burning up.” Those two simplified sentences are an obvious restatement of the Chinese legend of the ten suns.

But the Shasta tale does the Chinese one better by adding a parallel plot: “But Moon also had nine brothers, all made of ice like himself, and the Night People almost froze to death.” So as the Moons arose, Coyote killed nine of them with his flint-stone knife saved the Night People. Native American story-telling loves coyotes and symmetry.

These two tales of the ten suns are simply too counter-intuitive (and weird) to have developed independently. So I’ll boldly claim that they prove an ancient cultural connection between Asia and America. (They clearly support Gavin Menzies’ book “1421: The Year China Discovered America” and Laurie Bonner-Nickless’ interminably titled book about Chinese exploration of North America in 1433-34, which was just reviewed in “Ancient American,” Issue 121.)

Cue the academic inquisitors!

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Ancestors, My Fore-Folks

So I’m finally getting around to following up on my earlier blog: Ancestors, Level 1, My Parents. To be gender-neutral, this one will be a composite about my “Fore-Folks” going back a few generations.  On my maternal side, I’ve had the enormous help of second cousin Gus who at 94 still lives in Baltimore and has been keeping track of all the descendants of his grandfather (and my great-grandfather) Eugene Trinité.  He has sent me photos of even more fore-folks.  But let me proceed properly:  backwards.

My maternal grandmother Freda Marie Rosenbauer was born March 20, 1895. Freda’s father was Otto William Rosenbauer (great-grandfather), who was born in Austria in 1868. It seems his wife Marie (née Pemsel) was born in 1869 in Germany.  Probably around 1890 they immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland, met, and early in that decade were married.  Otto was a Victorian silversmith and a partner in A. G. Schultz & Co.  That famous company made repoussé sterling hollowware that now sells for large sums.  That’s as far back as I can take Freda’s line.

Otto and Marie Rosenbauer with family, 1905; Freda Rosenbauer, 1910

My maternal grandfather George Marius Trinité, was born on May 15, 1890 in Providence RI. He married Freda on March 29, 1917, just in the nick of time before the US entered WWI.  Just saying…

George and Freda Trinite, 1956

George had a printing shop which I well remember from our rare visits to Baltimore (Ballmer). What I remember most fondly was their big house on Elsinore Avenue (near Druid Hill “Droodle” Park)—and tricking Grampa George by emptying out walnuts (his favorite treat) and gluing the shell-halves back together. Out in the hall, I laughed secretly at his startled exclamations each time he cracked a nut and found it empty.  Freda passed in 1970 and George in 1975.

With my cousin’s help, I have a bit more about George’s line. His parents were Eugene Charles Trinité (b. 10/27/1857) and Johanna Von Euw (b. 8/4/1863) (great-grandparents).

Eugene Trinite and Johanna Von Euw

I’m not sure when exactly, but somewhere in the 1880’s Eugene left Paris and moved to the US, I assume meeting Johanna in Rhode Island and proceeding to have several children, including George and the mother of Cousin Gus, Jeannette. In Paris and in Baltimore, Eugene was a lithographer, which makes George’s choice of a printing career something of a tradition, I guess.

Eugene Trinite as lithographer in Paris; Eugene at mantel in Baltimore

Gus also sent me old photos of two of my great-great-grandmothers, Eugene’s mother Marie Josephine Carlavan and Johanna’s mother Rosa Von Euw. I know virtually nothing about these imposing ladies except that someone has laboriously traced Rosa’s line way back to something like 1204!  It would be fascinating to know who Eugene’s father and Mr. Von Euw (great-great-grandfathers) were and from whom they came, but no such luck.

Great-great-grandmothers Marie Josephine Carlavan and Rosa Von Euw

On the Wisconsin paternal side, I have fewer photos, but a bit more genealogical information. My father’s mother Ella Josephine Perry (Paré) was born as ninth of ten children on May 21, 1893.  Meanwhile, Joseph Raymond Balthazor (AKA Jody), was born a month earlier as fourth of eleven children on April 25, 1893.  I learned somewhere that Jody was a bar-keep (saloon owner).  There were, of course, myriad taverns all over Wisconsin—until Prohibition nixed that line of work.  Adaptable, Grampa Jody transitioned to being a storekeeper.  I never saw much of my Balthazor grandparents, except when I was quite small.  Ella passed in 1958, and Jody in 1960.

Jody and Ella Balthazor

Jody’s mother was Melvina Joubert (born 4/9/1870), and Ella’s mother was Delsina Joubert. Since Melvina and Delsina (great-grandmothers) apparently were sisters, my grandparents were cousins.  We have to remember that Bear Creek was a tiny town…  Ella’s father was Louis (Loudacicus) Paré (great-grandfather), who was born 5/1/1844 in Canada, but there’s no further information on this branch of the family tree.

Jody’s father was John Balthazor (born 3/22/1865—great-grandfather) of New London, Wisconsin.  He was the son of Joseph Balthazar (born 11/28/1841—great-great-grandfather) and Margaret Guyette (b. 10/9/1843), whose parents were Joseph Guyette (born 10/19/1810 in Montreal—great-great-great-grandfather) and Madaleine LaValk (birthdate unavailable).

Joseph and Margaret Balthazar (Great-great-grandparents

Note how the spelling changed, probably due to the illiteracy of the parties involved—and watch what happens as we go back in time. Joseph Balthazar was the son of Michel (Mitchell) Beltazar/Beltezar (b. 1816—great-great-great-grandfather) and Rosalie Plante (b. 1815) of Iberville, Quebec.  And Michel was the son of Martin Balthazard (great-great-great-great-grandfather) and Sophie Herbert (dates unknown).

Somewhere I’ve filed (and lost) materials on the generations of B-lt-z-rs during the 17th and 18th centuries who came from central France to Canada early in the 1600’s, most likely to Quebec City (f. 1608).  For US-historical reference, Jamestown and Santa Fe both were founded in 1607.

Those early fore-fathers went by very French names like Jean Baptiste Balthazar. In the many generations leading up to Martin in Wisconsin, the tribe spread to Montreal (f. 1642), the nearby little town of Iberville, and across Canada.  Some of the family must have also been amongst the Acadians who were expelled from Nova Scotia to Louisiana by the British in 1751—since Balthazar is not an unusual name amongst modern Cajuns.  In all likelihood, my fore-folks were also involved in 1775 defense of Quebec and Montreal against the invasion by the Revolutionary American Colonists.  Meanwhile, those pioneer generations before Martin in the wild woods of Canada almost certainly involved Native American mothers, tribes unknown.

I have to ask myself what I’ve inherited from that horde of fore-folks besides the exotic name. Well, for one thing, I’ve got a slightly darker skin-tone than most white guys, and for another, my “artistic” inclination may be inherited from Otto, Eugene, and George.  But beyond that, I can’t say where my “brains” came from.  I suspect they’re my own creation.

What I really have to wonder is who all those fore-folks really were. They lived in worlds utterly different from this one I live in and undoubtedly lived lives utterly different than my own.  I’m sure my own grandsons in their new worlds wonder the same about me.  And the lives they’re living are definitely different than mine.

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