Seventh Heaven

Some popular sayings exist only in one or two languages. They range from the scatological as happy as a pig in shit, which has no translation into Portuguese, and probably does not exist in any Latin language, to one of my favorites: as bruxas estão a pentear-se, cackled by an old woman in The India Road: “See, my lords, the witches are combing their hair.”

In Portugal that means a very light rain is falling from a largely blue sky. A few scattered clouds cast raindrops on your face through the bright sunshine above—a trick of the wind.

But the Seventh Heaven, that ultimate state of bliss, is a place that harks back to the days before Copernicus, and exists also in Islamic writings. The expression is used in the Latin and Anglo-Saxon languages, and although still current, the concept is of course totally false.

Religions, like wars, always thrive on extremes: God and Satan, darkness and light, good and evil. You rose to heaven, or sank into the depths of hell. Moreover, the notion that the devil was an estranged archangel is really appealling to the common man, who knows that the best friends often become the worst enemies.

And the clergy had to find a metaphor that spoke to the hearts of people. If you were good, you got to heaven. But how good is good? Do you qualify as long as you don’t murder forty-nine innocent little children in a small Syrian town called Houla? It must henceforth be pronounced howla, with all that tragedy and pain.

And of course it happened on May 25th, a Friday.

So if your hands, arms, and in fact your whole being are not bathed in the blood of innocents, as is the case of Bashar Al-Assad, if in fact you’ve never killed or maimed, then are you good? I’d say it’s certainly a good first step. Let’s take a digital liberty and call it Heaven 1.0.

A depiction of the seven heavens from Zubdet Ut Tevarih, the Turkish History of the World.

I struggled to discover an image of the seven heavens, and came up with one that represents also the twenty-eight lunar mansions. Although the lunar cycle is actually 29.53 days long, how’s that for pedantry?

The whole seven heavens search consistently brought up the intertwined threads of cosmology and religion. The Greek Stoics, and probably others that preceded them, identified Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon as the ‘visible heavenly bodies’. Listed in order of their distance to Earth, except that Mars is a bit of a cheat. The reason being that sometimes Mars is closer to Earth than the Sun is, depending on the relative orbital positions of the two planets.

If we give those seven bodies one hour each in the day, the first hour of the first day is Saturn, i.e. Saturday. The first hour of the second day is Sun, i.e. Sunday. And so on through Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus for the whole week. In Spanish: Sabado, Domingo, Lunes, Martes, Miercoles, Jueves,  Viernes—you get the picture. Since I’m lazy, I wrote a quick and dirty algorithm in excel, numbering the bodies from 1 to 7. It needed an IF statement because of the 7th body, i.e. the moon. If your first body (Saturn, as 1) is in cell A2, the equation is:

=IF(MOD((A2-1)*24+1,7)=0,7,MOD((A2-1)*24+1,7))

All this is very well, but the Romans then began naming gods after the bodies, and the religious mumbo-jumbo began. It’s cool to understand how our ancestors named the weekdays, and why there are seven, but it’s also important to note there’s nothing caballistic about it. The criterion for the Stoics was that the bodies were visible. And they mixed up planets, satellites, and stars.

They might instead have used Polaris, Kochab, Merak, and Dubhe, the stars of the Portuguese sailors, and the weekdays would be called something else. As they are in Chinese, which uses a simple numbering system—start with xing qi, then add a number. Although Sunday is xing qi tian,  and tian means heaven, as in Tiananmen Square. Just to confuse you.

Well, the whole framework of religion, any religion, needs a very good story. And whatever else the bible means to you, it is undeniably a good story. The good book is not really good in that sense, but it is a good book. Arguably, it might be considered a major work in historical fiction. After all, it’s full of colorful characters, countries, and travel, and it’s well grounded in the ruling peoples and empires of its times. A kind of history of the peripherals.

On the personal level, it’s easy to identify four or five main characters, and moving in and out of this circle are a range of others, introducing appropriate levels of pathos. Prodigal sons, fatted calves, and the ultimate Nirvana (Seventh Heaven 7.0?) for the common man, turning water into wine. Which of course is how wine is made, if you factor in a drop of sugar and unleash the yeast. Grapes are eighty-two percent water, somewhere between humans at birth (90%) and death (50%). Apparently we literally dry up and die.

By the way, I am not seeking to offend those of you who are religious, only pointing out that the biblical descriptions of the main characters are bound to be fictionalized. I cannot imagine that a book such as the bible, which is really a collection of books, or a serialization, is not based on real characters. Then again, there is Harry Potter!

True confessions? I’m agnostic because I find it hard to accept religious dogma, but simultaneously feel science leaves a lot unexplained. The evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that it makes fools out of creationists. But the intellectual scope of humans is so stunningly different from all other species on the planet that there is a missing link in the paradigm. As evidenced by the fact that I’m able to write this and you’re able to read it. In real time, on the other side of the globe. I can say this with confidence, because WordPRess now has a map showing me where my readers are, and we’re everywhere.

So I confess my lack of gnosis, or knowledge. Speaking of Hellenic matters, do you think Europe is witnessing a gigantic Greek bluff? After all, this is the nation that replaced vast areas of olive groves with sunflower under the Common Agricultural Policy (doesn’t that sound pretty Stalinist?), and received large amounts of compensation from the EU, all the while managing to retain the olives and plant precious little sunflower.

I can assure you Germany is currently in utter turmoil. There’s nothing they hate worse than the ruination of a good plan, and the perplexity of not knowing what to do next. Whereas the Greeks have a secular tradition of being absolutely clueless and muddling through.

It wouldn’t be an issue if Germany could remain unscathed, but the exposure of the German banks to risks in Greece, Spain, and Italy is considerable. As is the case for other countries in Northern Europe. And the financial doomsayers have calculated that a Greek exit would cost between three hundred billion and one trillion dollars. A good deal more than supporting the Greek economy. And then there’s the knock-on effect.

The irony of it all is that eighty percent of the Greeks want the euro, and Tsipras and his pals do too (we have their brethren in Portugal also, but so far few people take them seriously). Naturally enough, the Greek people thought they were coming to a party, and when suddenly they find it’s really an S&M orgy aimed at making them yowl, they yowl!

Data from x-rates dot com, showing the euro sinking faster than the Costa Concordia.

Anyhow, the euro is sinking like a ship, which will be great for the European economies. Cheaper production costs, improved exports, more American tourists. More jobs, which are the EU game-changer. In a US Presidential election year, the last thing Obama wants is a strong dollar and a stall in the US recovery. Which is also jobless!

Like the invention of penicillin, we are facing the law of unintended consequences. Whether these will provide a cure for disease, or certain death, remains to be seen.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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One Response to “Seventh Heaven”

  1. Alice Newton Says:

    Interesting that you have “come out” as an Agnostic.
    I enjoyed the Ghetto too.
    What about wrtiitng a true historical roance next Inez de Castro? Manuel and Isabel?

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