What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Zoroastrian All-Souls, the Master of Suspense, a Krishna feast and Oz


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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(August 10 to 16, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

“OH, MY!” It’s the 70th anniversary of the premiere of the iconic American film “The Wizard of Oz.” Viewed by record-breaking audiences in 1939, this film employed marketing concepts that revved up American anticipation of the event. Blue-and-white gingham dresses and other Oz accessories lined store racks. For a glimpse into the atmosphere that “The Wizard of Oz” created in 1939, read this article in the UK’s “The Telegraph.”
    L. Frank Baum originally penned the children’s novel that inspired the movie, entitled “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” The book was published in 1900, and quickly became a stage play two years later. It wasn’t until the film release, however, that “The Wizard of Oz” garnered such widespread fame. With such success in his first novel, Baum went on to write 13 more books in his Oz series.
    In honor of this anniversary year, “The Wizard of Oz” will be touring the country in October, November and December of this year. Check the touring company’s Web site to see if the Wizard is coming to your city. If the theater isn’t your style, fashion may be; a Ruby Slipper exhibit is also touring the globe at present, and a myriad of anniversary events are happening.
    For its time, “The Wizard of Oz” featured mesmerizing special effects such as a witch flying on a broomstick, a huge crystal ball that could summon visions and, of course, the famous tornado that took Dorothy to the land of Oz. Warner Brothers will be blending that technology with modern techniques when it launches “The Wizard of Oz” in Blu-Ray at the end of this year. This neat WB site lets visitors listen to songs from the movie, learn the story’s journey through the past century and much more.
    Through the years, “The Wizard of Oz” has been interpreted by scholars to have political and religious undertones, although the speculation continues about many of Baum’s references throughout the Oz novels. According to various books, Baum’s characters were on a Christian search for redemption, a Buddhist quest for Enlightenment, a New Age spiritual pilgrimage and, on the opposing side, were taking a stab at organized religion. What is your take?

FRIDAY, Hindus celebrate the festive Krishna Janmashtami,
or the honoring of Lord Krishna’s birth. Lord Krishna was born more
than 5,000 years ago, and Hindus hold high regard for the 10th
incarnated figure of Lord Vishnu. Many of Lord Krishna’s teachings
remain central to the Hindu faith.
    Most commonly, Krishna Janmashtami jubilees occur at midnight, as this is when many believe Lord Krishna came to Earth. According to Hindu tradition, Lord Krishna was born in a prison cell,
but he made a divine appearance when he was delivered with lotus-like
eyes and palms bearing lotus and discus signs. Many describe this
specific time and date in history as the chosen time for Lord Krishna’s
birth by Brahma, the creator of the universe. It’s said that Brahma
aligned the planets in the perfect order for Lord Krishna’s birth.
    During Janmashtami, many customs vary by region, although some are common to all—fasting,
chanting and ancient dances are some of the common rituals. Believers
fast for the entirety of Janmashtami, and after midnight, indulgences
are made in milk and dairy products (milk and butter were two favorite
foods of Lord Krishna—and for some tips on cooking with buttermilk, try this site).
During the fast, the faithful chant mantras. In many temples, it’s
customary to chant 108 names of Lord Krishna and to place flowers on
his idol. After midnight, feasts are typically accompanied by songs,
dances and plays, many of which describe Lord Krishna’s life.
southern India, this festival is often referred to as Srijayanthi, and
along with the more common rituals, devotees spend a great deal of time
making sweets to offer Lord Krishna. In other areas, games are a
prominent feature. A popular game of this festival involves a handi, a
clay pot filled with buttermilk, hung in a high location. To reach this
pot, participants must work together by building a human pyramid, and
the person atop the pyramid attempts to reach and break the pot. When
the handi breaks, buttermilk pours on all of the participants and
symbolizes their unity. Many of these games involve prize monies for
the winning pyramid-builders.

both Eastern and Western Christians enjoy the major feast marking the
miraculous end of the Virgin Mary’s life on Earth. Although called by
two different names—the Dormition of the Theotokos and the Assumption
of the Blessed Virgin Mary, respectively—both recognize the same event.
    In Eastern Christian tradition, the Dormition of the Theotokos
(falling asleep of the Mother of God) is preceded by a two-week fast.
During this fast, Orthodox Christians reflect upon Mary’s death, and
Christ’s reception of her soul upon this day. Three days later, it’s
believed that Mary’s body was taken up into Heaven, mirroring events in
Jesus’ death and resurrection. Here’s a Greek Orthodox site that explores the traditional teachings.
    Western Christian tradition, on the other hand, calls this the Assumption of Mary.
Western Christian churches vary in their understanding of Mary’s death.
According to a biblical verse, Jesus told his disciples during the Last
Supper that “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and
will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also.”
Some Christians believe Mary fulfilled these words, while others argue
that Jesus was referring to events surrounding his coming crucifixion
and remission of sins for all. Some Christians believe that Mary died
prior to the Assumption; others believe she entered into Heaven prior
to death. Here’s an intriguing Catholic overview of the variety of belief even within Catholic tradition. Protestants have a broader range of views about Mary.

Also on SATURDAY, it’s Napoleon Bonaparte‘s
240th birthday! He was born in Ajaccio, the capitol of Corsica. In
life, Napoleon I was a powerful political and military leader of France
who shaped politics across Europe during his lifetime. In light of his
forceful means and immense power, Napoleon said his actions helped him
to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
    Born to a family of 10, Napoleon was a subject of the French King Louis XV,
and his family had claim to nobility. After being educated in France
with his siblings, Napoleon entered a Brienne military school, where he
worked hard and quickly rose in ranks. In 1804, Napoleon crowned
himself the Emperor of France, and during this time, he waged war against every major European power.
Through his success, Napoleon held much of Europe under French rule. It
wasn’t until the French invasion of Russia in 1812 that Napoleon’s
successes began to falter, and in 1814, he was forced off the throne
and exiled to Elba. While Napoleon’s conquests weren’t performed
ethically, he continues to be a central subject of study at military
academies. Napoleon also formed the Napoleonic Code, thus creating the foundations for administrative and judicial structures in Western Europe.
    Having been quoted as saying that “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet,” Napoleon had an obvious distaste for organized religion, despite his strong belief in God. However, he was known as respectful of religious leaders—certainly
more respectful than the leaders of the French Revolution had been. In
some notable instances, Napoleon treated Islamic sites with respect
during his time in Muslim lands.
    A few years before his death,
Napoleon conversed with Count Montholon on St. Helena, asking the Count
if he knew who Jesus Christ was. When the Count didn’t respond,
Napoleon said,
Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar,
Charlemagne and myself have founded great empires; but upon what did
these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded
His Empire upon love, and to this day, millions will die for Him. … I
think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these
were men, and I am a man; none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more
than a man. … All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that
remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is
unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative
powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this
sacred flame. … This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the
divinity of Jesus Christ.”


MONDAY, Parsi Zoroastrians remember their ancestors during Fravardeghan Days, or Muktad.
Although spelled a variety of ways in English, this 10-day observance
leads up to the Nowruz (New Year) for all Zoroastrians who follow the
Shenshai calendar. (There are three Zoroastrian calendars.) In
preparation for the New Year, these Zoroastrians venerate the spsirits
of their ancestors. This feast is often compared to an All-Souls Day.
“Fravardeghan,” which translates into “to choose,” describes a soul
that chooses to leave his or her mortal life behind after death. The
corresponding “faravahar” image (at left), a symbol of divine kinship derived from Egypt,
is often believed to represent the part of the human soul that is
immortal. During Muktad, faravahars are invited to join the goings-on,
and it’s common practice to offer food to the spirits.
    The last day before the New Year is Pateti, a day reserved for both repentance for past deeds and excitement for the Nowruz.

make room for the “Master of Suspense;” on this date 110 years ago,
Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born. On August 13, 1899, this British
filmmaker and producer was born to a London family. Courtesy of PBS, here’s the story of David O. Selznick’s role in bringing Hitchcock to Hollywood.
    Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock made more than 50 films
during his lifetime, including “Psycho,” “The Birds” and “The
Thirty-Nine Steps,” and many critics regard him as a pioneer in the
genres of suspense and psychological thriller. Hitchcock continues to
ride high in popular culture. His films are frequently rereleased on
DVD—and his first hit film, “The Lodger,” recently was remade with
Alfred Molina and Hope Davis as the mysterious lodger and his landlady.
Interestingly, Hitchcock attributed some of his creative ideas to his
strict Catholic upbringing and he remained a practicing Catholic into
adulthood. (Here’s a Web site where you can read more about his life and work.)
Heavy undertones of guilt drove many Hitchcock characters. Patterns of
human weakness—with the hope of redemption—were also front-and-center.
His main characters often were men or women wrongly accused of a crime
or somehow duped into criminal behavior, desperately trying to reclaim
    In an online movie feature for “Christianity Today,”
an article describes Hitchcock as a “cranky Catholic.” In interviews,
Hitchcock denied a direct influence from his Catholicism, but he
admitted that a person’s past does affect his future. Hitchcock himself
embodied one of the most prominent features in his characters: an evil,
or weak, side. According to “Christianity Today,” when Hitchcock was
presented with the opportunity to meet with the Pope, he declined,
saying, “What would I do if the Holy Father said that in this world, where there is so much sex and violence, I ought to lay off?”
As sex and violence were such vital parts of his films, Hitchcock said
he just couldn’t be faced with such a request. In his personal life, he
also was infamous for playing practical jokes that sometimes had a
cruel streak to them.
    Hitchcock died in 1980, but his image is
present today in his old movie cameos and in reruns and DVD copies of
his TV series, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Hollywood continues to
emulate him. In 2011, a remake of “The Birds” will be released. Click here for a sampling of clips from a few Hitchcock films.

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