Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Runaway Children and the Purple Cave

The Runaway Children and the Purple Cave

Slowly and steadily, they continued along an underground river, the tunnel now so dark and narrow Odi began to hyperventilate again.
"Just what I need" he whined "another bout of close-to-phobia!"
"Claustrophobia." Alice corrected him. "Seems pretty close to me!" replied Odi, for once unable to think of anything clever to say. To his great relief, they soon reached another, bigger cavern. So big, in fact, it resembled a magnificent palace, adorned with shafts of sunlight from above. As the Judith Mary approached it's mooring, coming to rest on the banks of a crystal lagoon, all aboard gaped in astonishment.  Not only was the cavern wonderfully bright and airy, it was like no other they had ever seen before.
"It's purple!" Joe cried. "All purple and shiny!"
"We must be in the Blue John mines." Laurel suggested.
"But it's purple!" insisted Joe.
"Blue John IS purple, Silly". Alice tutted despairingly. "Don't you boys know anything?"
"Oh, so that's why it's called blue!" said Odi with a good dollop of sarcasm. "The stuff's purple, so naturally, you call it Blue. That's cool, and not at all confusing!" – “The Runaway Children Vol 1 – Flight from the Nunjas”

No wonder Odi was confused. Despite its name, Blue John – a semi-precious stone from Castleton in Derbyshire – is generously threaded by bands of purple which tend to predominate.
However, there is also a yellow banded variety of this rare fluorite and one theory is that, during the reign of Louis XVI, it was exported for use by French ormolu workers who dubbed it ‘bleu-jaune’ (or ‘blue- yellow’ to Derbyshire folk like me!) Another source for the Blue John name may be miners drafted in from Cornwall. They referred to the stone as ‘bleujenn’, a Cornish term for a flower or blossom.
According to “Gem of the Peak” by 19th century writer William Adam, Blue John was discovered by the Romans but, as no evidence has ever been found for such a claim, we might put it down to historical embroidery! What we DO know is that Blue John was a popular material for fireplace panels during the mid-18th century. A Blue John plaque dated around 1760 can be seen in the Friary Hotel in Derby, while Robert Adam, the famous architect and interior designer used it to decorate nearby Kedlestone Hall.
At their 18th century peak, the Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern in Castleton (the only sites in the UK where Blue John is mined*) produced 20 tons per annum. By the late 19th century, 3 tons per annum was mined, a figure further reduced to a mere half a ton today. Castleton is highly protective over its unique resource which is why all items made from Blue John, such as boxes, pots, vases and distinctive jewellery, are created by local craftsmen.
*The only other place where Blue John can be found is the Deqing Fluorite mine in the Zhejiang Province of China.



Monday, 20 April 2015

Ark of the Covenant. Does it still exist?

Fashioned by master craftsman Bezalel from acacia wood overlaid with gold, it measured 111cm x 67cm x 67cm (44” x 26” x 26”) and had a solid gold cover supporting two angels with bowed heads and outstretched wings.

Truly, the Ark of the Covenant was a treasure beyond price. Yet, to the nation of Israel, its material value was as nothing compared with what it represented – the presence of its original designer, Almighty God himself!

In fact, the Ark, which contained the Ten Commandments and, initially, a golden jar of manna and the flowering rod of Aaron, was considered so sacred that no one was allowed to touch it – or even to look upon it - on pain of death.

When the people of Israel came to rest during their 40 year wanderings through the desert, it lay in the Holy of Holies, an inner chamber screened off from the main tabernacle (or tent), accessible only by the High Priest for just one day every year - the Day of Atonement. And when the people broke camp, the Ark had to be carried by Levites on poles slotted through two rings of gold on either side and covered with blue cloth and sealskin to shield it from the gaze of the people.  In this way the Ark was carried into battle ahead of the nation of Israel, putting courage into the people and striking fear into their enemies, particularly after the spectacular fall of Jericho. 

Not a magic charm

However, contrary to the Indiana Jones movie, the Ark of the Covenant had no miraculous properties in itself. Success or victory depended entirely on the people’s loyalty to God – a lesson which the Israelites learned to their cost. Acting against divine instructions, Hophni and Phinehas, renegade sons of the High Priest Eli, took the Ark from the tabernacle in Shiloh, wrongly viewing it as a magic charm that would protect them against their enemies and help them conquer the Promised Land.

They soon realised their mistake. After a humiliating defeat in which 30,000 Israelites lost their lives, the sacred chest was captured by the Philistines who brought it back to Ashdod. Here, it was placed in the temple next to the half-man half-fish image of the Philistine god Dagon. But not for long. Overnight, the idol fell flat on its face before the ark. It was then put back on its plinth, only to be brought  crashing down again the following night, this time losing its head along with the palms of its hands.

Later, as the Ark was paraded on a seven month tour of Philistia, the people were plagued with haemorrhoids, the land was overrun by jerboas, and the city of Ekron was hit by death-dealing confusion. These woes were enough to prompt the Ark’s speedy return to Israel, accompanied by a suitable offering!
Eventually, the Ark was brought to Jerusalem, although it did not have a permanent home until Solomon’s temple was built. In 642 BCE, King Josiah arranged for the Ark to be brought back to the temple, although there is no indication as to why it was removed in the first place. It may have been for safekeeping during temple renovations; or it could have been to prevent its misuse by one of Josiah’s predecessors, including his own father Manasseh, who fell away to false worship.

Whatever the reason, the Ark is not mentioned again in Hebrew scripture and there is no evidence that it was taken to Babylon after Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 BCE. It simply disappeared.

Does it still exist?

Various archaeologists have spent years searching for the Ark of the Covenant without success. Some believe it’s in Axum, Ethiopia at the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, having been ‘acquired’ by Menelik, the Queen of Sheba’s son during a visit to Jerusalem. However, this does not square up with the Bible account (2Chronicles 35 v 3) which, as previously mentioned, places the Ark in Jerusalem during Josiah’s reign – nearly 400 years later. This might explain why the “Keeper of the Ark”, the monk who claims to have possession, refuses to let anyone see it.

Archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer claims to have discovered where the original Temple’s Holy of Holies was located, pointing to a bedrock section in the centre which matches the precise dimensions of the Ark. Whether the Ark is indeed buried there is likely to remain a mystery, as neither the Muslim or Israeli authorities will agree to an excavation.

To sum up, it seems unlikely that the Ark of the Covenant will ever be found, partly because it has served its purpose, and also because such a precious artefact would doubtless attract unwarranted veneration.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Origins of the Cross

In the run up to the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, here’s an intriguing question for Christians: Should the cross be venerated?

       Men have bowed to it, fought for it and even died for it. Revered by Christendom, it has come to symbolise the supreme sacrifice of one perfect man for a grossly imperfect world.

       Even today, despite determined attempts by militant secularists to efface it from schools, council chambers, courts, colleges and other public buildings, the cross remains a powerful image, a rallying point for some 41,000 Christian denominations.

       So it may came as a shock to learn that, according to several respected scholars, Jesus didn’t die on a cross at all. Instead, scriptural accounts indicate that Jesus was impaled upon a single, upright stake. 

       In his Expository Dictionary of New & Old Testament Words, W E Vine distinguishes the Greek word ‘stauros’ (‘stake’ or ‘pale’) as used in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death, “from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed cross”.
       This is backed up by The Imperial Bible-Dictionary which says that the word stauros′ “properly signified a stake, an upright pole, or piece of paling, on which anything might be hung, or which might be used in impaling a piece of ground.......Even amongst the Romans the crux (Latin, from which our cross is derived) appears to have been originally an upright pole.” The Catholic Encyclopaedia also admits that “the cross originally consisted of a simple vertical pole, sharpened at its upper end.”
       Another Greek word used in the gospels to describe the means of Jesus’ execution is xy’lon, which in the Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament is defines as “a piece of timber, a wooden stake.” This is in agreement with the King James Version at Acts 5:30: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree [xy′lon]”, while other versions, including also translate xy′lon as “tree.” At Acts 13:29, The Jerusalem Bible at Acts 13:29 says: “When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about (Jesus) they took him down from the tree [xy′lon] and buried him.”

Origin of the Cross

       Vine explains that the cross originated from ancient Chaldea where it was used “as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt.”

       By the middle of the 3rd century CE, the early Christian faith had been polluted by unscriptural doctrines, many drawn from pagan beliefs. “In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches....and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ.”

       Much of the blame for this can be laid on Rome’s sun-god worshipping Emperor Constantine who, it was claimed, had a vision of a cross emblazoned on the sun with the words “in hoc vince” (by this conquer) just before an important military victory. As a result, he supposedly became a Christian, but was not baptised until just before his death 25 years later. Questioning his motives, the author of The Non-Christian Cross stated:  “He acted rather as if he were converting Christianity into what he thought most likely to be accepted by his subjects as a catholic [universal] religion, than as if he had been converted to the teachings of Jesus the Nazarene.”
       Interestingly, the image of the cross is not exclusive to churchgoers. The ancient Egyptians had their own version with the handle-shaped ansate - a T shape topped by a circle, while the ‘gamma’ cross venerated by Hindus and Buddhists is more commonly recognised by its Sanskrit name.....

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Miracles: Do they happen today?

       According to a recent article* in the BBC magazine, some Christians maintain that, ‘Yes’, miracles really DO happen, a belief which many members of medical and scientific communities would dispute - especially as some religious ministers even claim to have raised people from the dead!

       Such claims inevitably lead to heated arguments with no middle ground and even less tolerance, with people on both sides of the issue firmly entrenched in their own particular stance. 

       So who’s right? With anything vaguely religious, particularly from the Judeo-Christian perspective, it’s a good idea to look at the scriptures and do a little digging.

       That miracles were performed in Jesus’ day is for any Christian beyond dispute. Supernatural feats -such as the feeding of the 5,000, calming storms and healing every kind of disability and sickness - demonstrated what God's Kingdom will accomplish when, under Jesus' oversight,it is ruling fully over the earth. Such miracles also offered tangible proof that Jesus was truly the Messiah and had his heavenly Father’s backing.

       Another factor to bear in mind is that not everyone whom Jesus healed demonstrated faith. Think of the disabled man waiting to enter the pool of Bethzatha; the young blind man who didn’t realise he was speaking to Jesus; or the widow of Nain whose son Jesus resurrected. (John 5:1-9; John 9:25; Luke 7:11-17)

       Sadly, even after being healed, some failed to show appreciation for what Jesus had done. Ten lepers were cured on their way to show themselves to the priests, yet only one returned to thank his saviour. (Luke 17:12-19)
Miracles continued to take place in the first century until the last apostle died.

Jesus himself warned of false prophets who could perform many powerful works, yet he would view them as ‘workers of lawlessness’

      Writing to the Corinthian congregation, Paul clearly stated that such ‘gifts’ as healing and praying in tongues would cease, having played their part in convincing people who held firmly to the Mosaic Law that the new Christian arrangement was the ‘Way’ and had God’s blessing – once this was established there’d be no further need to keep on proving it over and over again. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

       What about today? If these miraculous gifts are no longer in evidence, why do some Christians insist that spiritual healing – or miracles such as Pope Francis liquidising the blood of a saint in Naples – still take place?  It’s sobering to consider that these may come from sources other than God and Jesus.  Jesus himself warned of false prophets who could perform many powerful works (‘miracles’ JB, NE, TEV) yet he would view them as ‘workers of lawlessness’. (Matthew 7:15-23) Think also of Pharaoh’s magic practising priests in Egypt and their ability to copy the first two miracles performed through Moses. (Exodus 7:22; 8:7)
       There are supernatural forces in the world which may on the surface appear beneficial. However, before submitting to them in the hope of a cure - or a message from God - it would be wise to do some research.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Does Your Teenager Self-Injure? How Can You Help?

Even in the height of summer, Julia preferred long-sleeved, high-necked tops to the snappy, strappy, crops worn by her peers.  The reason? Pus-filled sores which covered her arms and shoulders along with  vivid red scars where Julia’s nails had dug repeatedly into her flesh. Not a pin-prick of uninfected skin remained - due to her incessant picking. 
Excoriation (or Dermatillomania) is just one type of self-injury. Others  - including cutting, bruising, head-banging, burning, scratching, eating disorders, stabbing with sharp objects and hair pulling – are used to create the same effect; temporary relief  from overwhelming feelings, anxiety and stress.

Julia had ‘issues’. Lack of self-esteem, even self-hatred, was certainly one of them, as was a plethora of repressed emotions. But there are several underlying factors: Mental disorders (such as depression), trauma (physical, emotional or sexual abuse), social factors (bullying, conflict within the home, or poor interpersonal skills), and additional stress (exams, bereavement and other distressing events). Whatever the cause, the sufferer may experience intense feelings of anger, hopelessness, an inability to communicate feelings and a complete lack of worth.

A self-injurer is “someone who has found that physical pain can be a cure for emotional pain” (Cutting* by mental health specialist Steven Levenkron)

Self-harmers are usually (though not always) adolescents who, by inflicting pain on themselves, attempt to regain a sense of control, or to break through emotional numbness. Of course, some may wish to manipulate others or it could be a plea for help but, usually, sufferers are ashamed of their compulsion and try to keep it hidden.

If you suspect your teenage son or daughter is self-injuring, what steps can you take to help them?

First of all, don’t blame yourself. Wondering whether faulty parenting has contributed to your child’s condition is a waste of time.  Look instead on how you can positively help him or her to recover.

Communication, of course, is key, and it’s important that, on discovering your teen’s secret, you stay calm. Reacting with horror or disgust will only make matters worse. So don’t yell. Be consoling, supportive and reassuring. Convince your son or daughter that you’re on their side.

Ask the right questions, and leave out the ones that could alienate, such as “How long has THIS been going on, then?!” Nonthreatening questions should encourage the child to express their viewpoint, “I know you find it hard to feel confident at times. What frustrates you the most?” “How can I help you when you’re worried or feeling low?” “What can I do for us to break down any barriers between us?”

So you’ve asked the questions. Now comes the difficult bit: Listen. Without interrupting. Without disagreeing. Without judging.

As adolescents tend to focus on their flaws, be positive. Point out his or her qualities, the ones you genuinely admire them for. Encourage your teen to write three or more things they like about themselves, so getting them to focus on their strengths.

An in-depth, one-to-one with your teen will work wonders. Glad to have got the problem off their chest, he or she will be happy that you’re prepare to share the burden with them, and relieved that they’re no longer alone.

Most of all, your kindness and concern will assure them of your love – which may be all they really wanted all along!


Monday, 9 March 2015

Could a virus cause mental illness?

       If you’ve read my blog on daydreams*, you’ll know that for most of my life I’ve lived in another universe. Which for a writer is no bad thing.
       However, 2 years ago, these imaginings began to take a sinister turn. The line between fantasy and fact became blurred. It wasn’t that I couldn’t tell the difference, but my parallel universe became so vivid, so exciting and invoked such powerful emotions I was reluctant, if not unable, to return to my ‘normal’ existence with all its mundane problems.
       Secondly, having previously enjoyed the occasional trip to La-La Land, my mind not only visited this virtual holiday home more often, but took up permanent residence. My work suffered (I could scarcely bring myself to turn the computer on), I didn’t go out unless I absolutely had to and, when with friends, I rarely took in their conversations, being too wrapped up with my own fantasies, which grew more complex and intriguing every day.  And of course, as the star of each invented scenario, I was totally amazing – beautiful, witty and extremely brave!
       Finally, just as my dream world started to deliver, offering all the success and ego-boosting attention I’ve rarely achieved in reality, things started to go horribly wrong. The handsome man absconded with somebody else; the Nobel prize was snatched away by a vastly superior author;  none of my characters behaved as I expected or wanted, even though I’d created them! From the heights of these reveries, I could be plunged into an abyss of despair - so much so I felt suicidal.  My moods switched faster than Usain Bolt on speed, the most inane humour would set me off into peals of helpless, hysterical laughter.  A chance remark reduced me to tears.
       And, worst of all, when I tried to come down to earth, my mind kept dragging me back into what was no longer a dream but a dystopian nightmare. I was in a loop, a video that had somehow got stuck and never stopped playing.  I just wasn’t ME anymore.  I needed help. Drugs. Tranquillisers. Gin. Anything to stop these now intrusive imaginings  trampling all over me. 

Borna Virus is reaching epidemic proportions
       As it happened, I had an appointment for a check-up with David, my bio-resonance practitioner. I first visited him on a friend’s recommendation, presenting with extreme tiredness, bad headaches and painful joints.  Using electro-magnetic waves, which pick up the frequency of parasites and bacteria, he correctly diagnosed 20 different kinds of Candida and advised me on the foods to avoid.  I now felt so well physically, I almost cancelled my appointment but, having grown so concerned  with my mental aberrations, I decided to see if David could help.
       Turns out, I had not one but two protozoa – single-celled organisms which cause diseases in humans and animals. The most serious was the Borna virus, usually found in horses and now apparently in me, ever since I suffered a particularly nasty flu-like illness in March- which was when my fantasies began.
       Borna affects the brain, heightening emotions and causing sudden mood swings. Left untreated, the it can lead to depression, OCD, bipolar  symptoms and even schizophrenia. And, most worryingly, it can spread as rapidly as a common cold. David had, over the previous few months, treated 100s of people for this virus, each having  suffered some form of psychosis. And he's still treating the condition which, he believes, is reaching epidemic proportions.  David has also suffered from Borna when, despite being a kind,mild-mannered man, his personality changed and he suffered intense feelings of rage, causing him to isolate himself from his family.  Yet so far, conventional medical practitioners seem unaware of this virus and its potentially devastating effects. 
       The other virus he found in my brain was Toxoplasma, a protozoa that causes similar problems to Borna. And, as if two were not enough, I also had Trypanasoma, which fuels obsessions and fantasies. David had of course encountered these viruses before but never all three in one person at the same time!
       “Some people take Sativa to get the highs you’ve been having,” he said, cheerfully.  
       “Ah, maybe I should keep the viruses then,” I replied. 
       David shook his head: “Not a good idea. They can be dangerous if untreated – even fatal. But don’t worry, you’re in the clear now.”
       Fortunately for me, it took just half an hour’s zapping with a electro-magnetic 'wand' to eradicate all three viruses and, within a matter of days, I was back to my old, rather boring, self.
      Update: Since the first diagnosis, I've suffered from the Borna virus again but, thanks to bio-resonance, can keep it at bay. 

**Not his real name

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Church of England vs Russell Brand

Some Church of England clergy are in a lather over UK comedian Russell Brand’s urgings for young people ‘not to vote’ in the forthcoming election.

Lining up alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Norwich Graham Jones - who believes Christians ‘have a duty to vote’ - is trying to counter the ‘profound effects’ of Russell’s comments, which have apparently been endorsed by heiress Jemima Khan.*

Russell Brand

So who’s right? The established Church of England? Or the alternative (and often controversial) comedian, Brand? Whose views are most in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ?

If you really want the answer, check out Jesus’ own words at John 17:16 and John 18:36. By his actions, Jesus also showed his determination to resist political involvement  – John 6:15. And he identified the real ruler of this world in John 14:30.  (See also 1 John 5:19).

According to The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries – Augustus Neander (translated by H J Rose) “The Christians stood aloof and distinct from the state, as a priestly and spiritual race, and Christianity seemed able to influence civil life only in that manner which, it must be confessed, is the purest, by practically endeavouring to instil more and more of holy feeling into the citizens of the state.”

Nice one, Russell!