A Tibetan Gun License, on the Eve of Invasion

gun license tibet

This is an amazing piece of history, courtesy of the illustrious historian of Tibet Gen Tsering Shakya la. What you see here is a Tibetan gun license, issued by the Tibetan central government in 1949. The document lists the gun-bearer’s names, place of birth and residence etc. and is license number NINE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FIVE Continue reading

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The Meditation on the Two Brandos

brando

For many centuries and up until the present day, Buddhist ascetics have used contemplation of their body and its transformation into a rapidly disintegrating corpse as a sobering exercise – as a practice that reconfigures their relationship to their sense of self and deepens their appreciation of impermanence. In some cases, meditators have even visited charnel grounds and cremation sites where they have observed corpses directly to amplify their reflections. Not all of us have such opportunities. Continue reading

On Weird Cultural Beliefs, Anthropologists’ Wizard-envy, and the Skeptical Native

graeber wizard envy ontology

“Apparently there’s virtually nothing, no matter how obviously crazy, a contemporary academic can’t get away with if they find some way to attribute it to Gilles Deleuze. (And in this case the authors themselves admit the link is fairly tenuous.)”

So, I finally got around to reading anarchist theorist, anthropologist, and public intellectual David Graeber’s recent piece in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, that looks at one of the sexiest, most trending topics in Cultural Anthropology right now, the ‘Ontological Turn’, and specifically how this trend has influenced debates about how anthropologists should go about studying and interpreting magic.

When I first came across OT theories as an anthropology student in Cape Town in 2007/2008, I happened to be conducting fieldwork on neo-Pagans and their understandings of what it meant to identify as ‘witches’ in South Africa, where not everybody thinks of witchcraft as a benign revival of pre-Christian nature-worship. When I read cutting-edge OT theory, I thought to myself Continue reading

Some Thoughts on the Ominous, and Magical Consciousness

omens

Looking on Tumblr I realized I made a blog years ago, but made it private and only ever made one post. The post was an essay I wrote in 2008 in Cape Town that I called “Some Thoughts on the Ominous, and Magical Consciousness”. I think I wrote it for my photographer friend Jarred Figgins for some weird reason. I never did anything with it, and I don’t think anyone ever read it. I’m not sure I still stand by it all, but I figure people interested in magic and divination, or in how boringly consistent my long-sentence writing style has been, might enjoy reading it. Continue reading

On Gay Cowboys, Pirates, and Going Fishing

blue pirate.jpg

I just read Annie Proulx’s ‘gay Western’ “Brokeback Mountain” for the first time. I saw the film adaptation with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal just after it and I, came out ten or more years ago, but had never read the story until now. I’m amazed at how faithful the film is to the story. In both the original and the adaptation, Alma, Ennis/Heath Ledger’s character’s now ex-wife (played by Michelle Williams), confronts Ennis one Thanksgiving in the kitchen about the real purpose of his intermittent fishing trips with his old buddy/secret-not-so-secret-lover Jack Twist/Jake Gyllenhaal. In one of the most poignant parts of the film, Alma says Continue reading

A Modern Tibetan Refuge Formula

internet refuge

I was sent this parody of the Tibetan Buddhist ‘refuge formula’, as seen on Tibetan social media, by a young Tibetan monk friend in McLeod Ganj. There’s potential commentary here on how much Tibetans depend today on social media and virtual connectivity to keep their sense of community together in diaspora. Continue reading

Buddhist Bromance and Homoerotic Hermits: Queer Sociality as an Obstacle to Spiritual Attainment

jewel neck

I was recently looking through the Jataka Tales, that sizable collection of fables about the previous incarnations of the Buddha and his close disciples, when I came across one story, called ‘Jewel-Throat’, which you could call a queer, Buddhist version of ‘The Little Mermaid’. In this story about the relationship between a naga or snake-spirit king and two ascetic brothers, homoeroticism and homosexual love appear incidentally as obstacles to ascetic attainment. The story’s vivid account of homosexual spirit-love with reptile-people raises a number of points. Continue reading

Dreaming as Research: Tibetan Knuckle-bone Oracles and Seership with Citations?

This morning, Iastralagus had a dream in which a young Tibetan refugee woman was doing mo for clients. To ‘do mo’, ༼མོ་རྒྱག་པ་༽ ‘moh gyap pa’, means to tell the future, and over the centuries various divinatory systems, such as throwing dice, counting rosary beads, observing animal auguries, consulting spirit oracles, reading the pattern of rice on a drum skin, interpreting dreams, and scrying with brass mirrors to see visions, have played an important role in Tibetan civilization. In my dream I did not initially realize I was in a མོ་རྒྱག་ས་, a place of divination. I was in a dimly lit, low-ceiling-ed room – a number of individual computers stations were set up with chairs like in an Internet cafe and there were booths and tables dispersed around the screens padded in cheap blue, orange, and black imitation-leather like in some kind of diner (there was indeed a kitchen of sorts, that was serving food to customers). Continue reading

Facebook, Public Mourning, and Virtual Graveyards

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Yesterday I found out that one of my friends and ex-lovers in Denver, John passed away. What a strange thing it is to be able to publicly tag a dead person on Facebook. I have mixed feelings about doing so, and about discussing John’s death at all. John wasn’t always a big talker. I doubt I wrote as much to him on here in the time we were friends and while he was alive as I am now. I don’t know what to think about virtual mourning. The whole narcissistic architecture of Facebook seems kind of gross in the face of death. The platform has none of the intimacy of a quiet, fleshy memorial, and I’m not sure yet what the social-ritual function of likes may be when it comes to honoring the departed. But John’s Facebook page has already become a space of commemoration Continue reading