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Stephen Renico




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 6:24 am    Post subject: Mysticism in WMA         Reply with quote

I apologize if this has been covered before. I was discussing the notion of mysticism in martial arts with someone recently and came to the conclusion that the subject invariably seemed always to drift toward eastern martial arts.

While I have difficulty finding material on this subject, I would imagine that, while pagan traditions certainly echo through history, a good portion of any mystical tradition in WMA would be rooted in Catholic/Christian mysticism.

Was there ever a large martial-mystic movement in WMA? Do any mystic traditions still exist in WMA? Are any still existing traditions contrivances, or do they go back to older traditions which can be cited?

"The state that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting by fools." -Thucydides.
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Dustin R. Reagan





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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 8:02 am    Post subject: Re: Mysticism in WMA         Reply with quote

Stephen Renico wrote:
I apologize if this has been covered before. I was discussing the notion of mysticism in martial arts with someone recently and came to the conclusion that the subject invariably seemed always to drift toward eastern martial arts.

While I have difficulty finding material on this subject, I would imagine that, while pagan traditions certainly echo through history, a good portion of any mystical tradition in WMA would be rooted in Catholic/Christian mysticism.

Was there ever a large martial-mystic movement in WMA? Do any mystic traditions still exist in WMA? Are any still existing traditions contrivances, or do they go back to older traditions which can be cited?


I can't speak to the historical validity of mysticism in WMA, however at least one prominent modern WMA group incorporates mystical elements:

www.selohaar.org

http://www.selohaar.org/Vortex/vSwordCrownGrail.htm

Seems odd and unnecessary to me, but to each their own.
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 8:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Dustin (and Stephen),

It's a bit more complicated than that. The Selohaar Fechtscule, our WMA school, is under the Order of Selohaar umbrella, but the more home-grown mystic elements you link to are not taught as a part of our WMA studies. Further, most members of the Fechtschule are not Order members, so they'd never be exposed to those aspects.

The distinction between our ceremonial work as an eclectic order, and our 'by the book' work with the surviving historic fighting treatises, is an important one.

That said, in the Fechtschule we do some exploration of 'mystic' connections found within period treatises to their understanding of the world. Some of these connections are explored in one of the articles of my book "In Saint George's Name", where I discuss possible analogues between the four guards found in Liechtenauer's art and the system of the four elements/humors/temperaments/seasons/etc.

Other areas where we find 'mysticism' at least 'paralleling' German martial arts include planetary astrological lore; this is often found accompanying treatises on fighting and siegecraft, among others.

Please note I enclose mysticism in quotes above quite purposefully. In the holistic body of knowledge circulating in medieval manuscripts, such distinctions are blurry at best.

Perhaps more to Stephen's point though - while there are connections, I've yet to come across any reference to the type of meditational or energy work aspects found in some Eastern arts. That's not to say there might not be any, of course.

All the best,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
Order of Selohaar

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Author, In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts
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James Head





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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 8:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'll let someone from Selohaar (Tobler?) explain their approach and reasoning behind their order. For what its worth, folks from their organization might be in a good place to discuss the complexities of Western European mysticism for the very reason others might consider Selohaar odd...

Personally, I think the hard part is being able to successfully tease out what we would consider 'mysticism' from the complex and confusing Medieval European religious traditions of that time. Just consider the whole idea of a Judicial Duel, which receives plenty of attention from the Liechtenauer tradition. Everyone participating in those proceedings truly believed that heaven would miraculously assist the party who was innocent, granting them victory and vindication. My understanding is that Dueling-as-Law has its roots in pagan / viking culture, and that it was amalgamated into the common 'Catholic' religious traditions of the day. Also, you can look at some of the 'House Books' that contain segments of HEMA content and find other entries on magic potions or spells. Talhoffer's 'Thott' manuscript includes strange recipes and wisdom. It is hard to tell how much of it is early science, and how much is mysticism.

When you talk about the Medieval Church, you often hear people say that the common peasant population were the ones who held onto superstitions and pagan practices, slowly melding them into new religious traditions on a local level. But it is not that simple. I'll post a wikipedia link describing the official ceremony of Anathema in the Catholic church HERE. I don't know about you, but the whole idea of a bunch of guys standing around in a circle, holding candles, reciting a formula and then casting the candles to the ground seems very 'mystical' to me.
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 8:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good post James.

What's hard for the modern mind to grasp is that medieval lore exists on a continuity of what we would now consider science-philosophy-religion-mysticism-superstition.

Discussing the four elements falls into New Age discourse now; in 1400 it was simply a model of how the world worked, not a way to "talk about mysticism". Interestingly, when you delve into that model, you see it was a pretty good template for physicality, once you realize they're talking about states of matter, and not elements in the sense we mean for copper, hydrogen, or uranium.

We're also burdened, as people of any place or time are, by the very human tendency to view one's own beliefs as normal, but other peoples' as 'mumbo jumbo'. From a strictly scientific view, I marvel at the number of people who can dismiss a set of beliefs without realizing how superstitious their own might appear from the outsider's point of view.

Yours,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
Order of Selohaar

Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

Author, In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 9:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A related topic I neglected to mention earlier is the importance of allegorical imagery in fighting treatises.

Master Paulus Kal includes an allegorical figure representing fencing qualities:



...as does Fiore dei Liberi:



These both draw on symbolism from the "beastiaries" of classical antiquity and the Middle Ages - books of mythic animal lore.

Other times we find images of saints, or in the case of this image, drawn from the so-called 'Goliath' Fechtbuch, images of biblical tales. Here, we see David fighting Goliath:



All of this imagery is important to consider when trying to understand the context that these arts were practiced in.

Yours,

CHT

Christian Henry Tobler
Order of Selohaar

Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

Author, In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts
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Adam Bodorics
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 9:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also note that they kept referencing their fighting arts as the art of Mars. This very basic and known-by-all thing sets an astrological/mystical connection by default - Mars could of course refer to the Roman god, but most fechtbuchs contain a part where the writer offers his work to the one-and-only Christian god and his saints, so referring to a vilified god seems strange at least. On the other hand, Mars happens to be associated with Geburah, the sephira of God's Severity, and the connections between astrology and kabbalistic lore are often studied by certain scholars of that time, and it was quite normal for wealthy people to employ such scholars thus such knowledge wouldn't be exactly rare. Referring to the fighting arts as being integral to the world's function, created by God and overseen by his underlings (planetary spirits and intelligences, see 1459Thott for some of it in period) seems much closer to the Christian ideal than "well, it's the Renaissance, so it's okay to accept the existence of the gods our fathers considered to be actually demons deceiving our pagan ancestors".

Note that (ignoring whether all this stuff is real or not or was only in their heads) with some exceptions Christian Europeans thought themselves to be an integral part of God's plan, so the idea of using only one's own power to achieve something wasn't exactly widespread - don't hold your breath to find any of the Eastern energetics there, but evocative rituals for Christian entities are common, and so are rituals aimed at dominating a demon in God's name, and as long as it's in accordance with God's will, there's nothing against using this stuff for increased martial prowess. Compare this idea with what we know about judicial combat.
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 10:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello Adam!

Clearly, at the more intellectual eschelons of medieval society, a degree of hybridization with and/or inclusion of Classical religious elements was more than tolerated.

The symbolism of the "Children of the Planets" (Ger: Planetenkinder) includes imagery of the deities of the Roman world personifying the seven planets - Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The Planetenkinder lore is found in lots of places, including several Fecht-, Haus-, and Kriegsbücher. You've of course mentioned the Thott Talhoffer manuscript, which is an excellent example. In the case of the Schloss Wolfegg Hausbuch, we find images of fencing found in the illustration accompanying the text describing the attributes of the "Children of the Sun".

Thanks for your excellent post,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
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Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

Author, In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts
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Stephen Renico




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 11:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christian Henry Tobler wrote:
Perhaps more to Stephen's point though - while there are connections, I've yet to come across any reference to the type of meditational or energy work aspects found in some Eastern arts. That's not to say there might not be any, of course.


This is something which I find very interesting.

While we see the aspect of qi/chi (with cultural variations) in EMA, I know of nothing similar in WMA.. Qi seems to be a primarily internal way for people to do extraordinary things. I've never heard of any western version of it; western mysticism seems to involve more invocations/prayers to higher powers (God, saints) to achieve the same things.

"The state that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting by fools." -Thucydides.
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Stephen,

I know of no Western analogue to Qi. That's not to say there might not be one though. Certainly, other arts, particularly those involving memory, involve internal processes.

Monastic 'murmuring' - a mumbled reading of a text, usually scriptural - is an internalization process, for instance.

And for the learned man, one needed first to study the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, logic), then the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy), before one could study Philosophy or Sacred Theology.

Essentially, you need to know yourself, then the outside world, before you can better understand how to know God at the most intimate levels.

If that seems a bit off-topic, I only stress it to be sure we don't go too far down the "it's all externalized" path.

Yours,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
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Author, In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts
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Adam Bodorics
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 11:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

After re-reading what I wrote, I realized that I wasn't clear (didn't mention it directly) about the external-internal part - regardless of geographical location, all this needs a huge amount of personal internal work. The difference is that in the West, it's used to align the person better with God's will which in turn allows for external effect by his doing, while in the East, it's mostly used to achieve results more directly. Of course, it's not this simple, but the general idea is roughly this.
...
This topic might seem strange here, but I think that trying for a better understanding of the central things that formed our ancestors' perception of the world around them is important. The modern secular world imposes a hugely different mindset on nearly everything we try to re-learn and/or recreate, and while this can't be erased (I'm not sure that even trying would be wise), knowing (at least roughly) the differences is necessary.
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 11:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Adam,

We're in complete agreement.

Yours,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
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Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

Author, In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 12:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christian Henry Tobler wrote:

Perhaps more to Stephen's point though - while there are connections, I've yet to come across any reference to the type of meditational or energy work aspects found in some Eastern arts. That's not to say there might not be any, of course.

All the best,

Christian


Basically no technical relationship to some sort of force like " CHI " in Eastern martial arts which even though may have no basis in objective fact do work on a pragmatic way in focusing the mind and calming the mind.

A form of visualization that affects the way one moves i.e. also animal forms, move like a tiger, elephant, monkey snake etc ... that although not directly relevant to a specific application of technique are still effective. ( I think that there is some of this kind of thinking/teaching in Fiore ? ).

Don't want to offend anyone's belief system here but at times the way one thinks affects the way the mind controls the body subconsciously. As an example in my old group we often did a push-pull exercise using a staff where the objective was to force the other person to move one of their feet due to a loss of balance, or rather keep one's balance and make the opponent lose theirs. The ideal way was using strength against weakness and vice versa, but I did it differently by imagining myself to be an immovable rock and push against a push and pull against a pull, but reverse the direction of force in such a way that it looked like I wasn't moving at all .... ( Probably only works if one is substantially stronger and is better at fühlen, otherwise the weak against strong is a better tactic ).

O.K. a long explanation of an exercise but just to make the point that this was in a way an application of " CHI " or visualization but not done in an Eastern Martial Art context.

Of this type of " spiritual " training I don't think there was much emphasis on it in European Martial Arts.

Spirituality might play a part in a judicial duel when the innocent party believed that he or she would get help from God to win and in reverse the guilty party would be less confident knowing that God would be against them: Where and when faith was strong this could have an effect on the results because state of mind, confidence would affect the way one fights.

This doesn't mean that the virtuous won every fight but the odds might have been improved by faith to a degree.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Colt Reeves





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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 12:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A few thoughts that hit me as I read:

1. If you are of a different religion or atheist, all other religions or religions in general are complete mysticism (Consider the classic model of going to church and praying from alien eyes and tell me that doesn't scream mysticism Wink ). Indeed, Christianity has changed much over the years, and the faith of then doesn't match up with that today. I know Christians today wouldn't truly expect God to save them in a duel to the death, though they will pray that he aids them and thank him afterward if they should live. This brings me to my next point:


2. If the medieval folk truly believed that no matter what, God would give the victory to the "right" party, then they wouldn't have had much of a training session before judicial duels. Forget Thalhoffer's six weeks and four days, why not just have God strike the wicked down with lightning ASAP?

I'm sure there were plenty of duels where the bad guy won and everyone knew very well he was in the wrong. Yes, I know "God helps them who help themselves", but still, the training shows they were not so confident in God's will to provide justice as to just go for it. The training then, as in anything now, was and is an admission that it can't all be left to God.


3. As I recall, some rules for tourney and dueling specifically state neither combatant is allowed to wear any charms or spelled items to influence the fight. Seems a bit like mysticism to the modern person and something that would be considered a joke at best or a Satanic thingamabobber at worst to today's Christians, but obviously fits in the medieval viewpoint well enough to have rules against it.




Edit: My second point is merely to offer the viewpoint that just because some engaged in mysticism left and right doesn't mean everyone bought it, or for that matter even the majority did. Again, this is just like today's world, where one person's views are a joke to another's, despite both being of the same faith. People are people and skeptics are a dime a dozen.

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown.
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.
As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small.
For Iron, Cold Iron, must be master of men all..."
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 1:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One of the nicest things about studying Western martial arts is that we can ignore the mystical nonsense of the Eastern martial arts. Yes, we should, of course, study what medieval martial artists believed about their superstitions, if only to put their teachings (and sometimes their words) into proper context, but we needn't invent some mythical force in order to apply the basic physics of the techniques. As one fellow put it, "I don't need ki, I understand physics!"

So we should read Talhoffer's silly magical rules for who will get wounded when in a duel based upon his name in his 1443 Fechtbuch because it gives us information about judicial duels, but that information is not at all relevant to using Winden with a spear, nor is it necessary to understand it in order to be able to do so.

Some people, however, just adore the idea of pretending there are magical forces all around that can be tapped by those "in the know," or else love to convince the gullible of this kind of nonsense in order to make themselves seem more impressive. Because I have grown so fond of Talhoffer I rather hope he was this latter sort, because a con man selling unicorn farts to the gullible is less offensive to me than someone so lost to reason as to actually believe in this stuff.

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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 1:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greer presents a Western tradition with a big dose of mysticism in The Spirit and the Sword. It's mostly "just" swordsmanship, but there's a little esoteric theory supporting the exercises, and relaxation and breathing exercises. You could call these Western qigong, but that's not pushed hard in the book.
"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 1:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen, in his original post, mentions Catholic mysticism. I'd like to touch on that, since it has not been discussed thus far.

Catholic mysticism, in the 14th and 15th centuries, is represented by texts such as The Cloud of Unknowing, which will be my principal source for this response. Mysticism of this sort was probably practiced by relatively few Christians. This is because Christian mysticism, like most authentic forms of mysticism, demanded a fairly intensely contemplative life, something that not all Christians would have had time for. But the bigger reason why it was not widely practiced is that many of the teachings in Christian mysticism, like any authentic religious mysticism, are unorthodox, even heretical, as far as official Catholic dogma was concerned.

In The Cloud of Unknowing, the anonymous author exhorts readers not to peruse the text if they have no interest in “the highest contemplative life” (11). This is undoubtedly because the author of the text realized that his writing, for all its attempts to fit within orthodoxy, strays dangerously close to heterodoxy. The core of the teaching of the Cloud is to “refuse to think of anything except on [God]” (21). We are instructed to forget about all of God's creations and their actions if we can, and even to forget about our thoughts and our concepts about God, because they interfere with the process (21). The meditator will enter into a darkness, a cloud of unknowing, that seems to separate him or her from their God. So the meditator must “prepare to remain in this darkness” for as long as they can, always begging God for his love, because He can only ever be “seen” in this cloud and in this darkness (22).

The author goes on to clarify that the reader is not to understand the cloud of unknowing as being a sort of water vapour. Rather, when he mentions “darkness”, he means “an absence of knowing, in the sense that everything that you do not know, or have forgotten, is dark to you, because you cannot see it with your mind's eye” (26). Thus, the cloud of unknowing is the absence of thought, and the absence of any knowing or intellect.

Even from this very brief discussion, some of the heterodox implications should be apparent. First, God cannot be known through the intellect, so any thoughts one can have about Him are not true, even if they come from the Bible or from church teaching. Second, there is noticeable absence of Christ in this mysticism. Although the author mentions Christ elsewhere in the text, Christ's passion and crucifixion are largely irrelevant for the purpose of contemplation. In fact, the author even identifies meditating on Christ's suffering as a hindrance, because it will soon lead one to other thoughts which have nothing to do with God or Christ (28). Therefore, meditating on God Himself, without attributes, is to be preferred.

Given the contemplative, rather than active, focus of the text, and the rather unorthodox teaching it presents, I can see little reason why this would be taught alongside western martial arts. As you can see, Christian mysticism has almost nothing to do with historical armed combat. I suspect the same is also largely true even for historical Asian traditions, but that's another post.

Anonymous. The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works. Spearing, A.C trans. Penguin Books, 2001.
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Patrick De Block




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 1:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As someone who mainly is an JMA practitioner, I do not believe there's much mysticism in Eastern Martial Arts.

They had to explain difficult to express concepts in language and since 'normal' language couldn't convey what they were trying to say they expressed themselves in a language borrowed from whatever belief that was common in their days. And maybe they didn't clearly know what they wanted to express. Although, we don't , as the language is very strange to us, but they did, as they had the experience. If you read what they said and think about it and experiment with what you think it meant and what others think it means. ... It usually comes down to skills which can be learned by everyone once you known what is meant and how to train it, lots of practice and a lot of sweat. But nothing mystical.

Consider Thimothy Leary who was a well respected psychology professor who started to experiment with all kinds of drugs and who can be credited with developing a language to speak about 'altered states of the mind'.

Or the Spanish 'Magical' Circle. Whow, man, if I know that, I must be invincible. It's just applied mathematics. You won't become invincible, it's just pratice.
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Colt Reeves





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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 1:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Human beings love order and ritual. I myself do things I consider stupid or... "mystical." I know they don't mean anything, but I do them anyway. I'm sure everyone else does too, even if they don't realize it. There's a difference being doing and believing. Throw some salt over your shoulder, don't walk under ladders (hey, things could fall on your head, practical reasons not to), and avoid them there black cats.

Not saying I do those things, but they're the classic examples. I'm more a OCD "I rubbed the tip of my right index finger fifteen times, I'd better do the left now to keep things even" or "cross your fingers when getting your exam grades" kind of guy. Regardless, they are things that are basically mysticism and I acknowledge they don't do a thing.

Maybe that should be "Humans are just plain strange..."

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown.
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.
As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small.
For Iron, Cold Iron, must be master of men all..."
-Cold Iron, Rudyard Kipling
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 25 Oct, 2011 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A more pertinent author for our subject would be Hugh of St. Victor. His discussion of the internalization of knowledge (in his case, specifically spiritual knowledge) sheds some light on how 'stuff' in general was internalized.

In particular, his "Ark of Moral Wisdom", describes a 3-stage process of internalization.

Yours,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
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Author, In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts
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