Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Hungry Gods

The other day I was listening to Todd Sheet's Nightwatch podcast. The guest, author Chris Ebert, was talking about Voodoo; early in the conversation he mentioned that an associate of his was a Voodoo priestess, and that she was also a member of PETA and didn't sacrifice animals. The first thought that sprang into my head (since I am completely ignorant of Voodoo, along with just about everything else) was, how could her rituals possibly be effective without a sacrifice to propitiate or otherwise engage the services of the powers? I know that asking that question shows I am relying on a number of assumptions -- all of which are probably wrong -- but, to rework the aphorism of the old duke, one of those incompetent toy soldier aristocrats whose fumblings in realpolitik ruined his king, bankrupted the nation, and butchered oppressed and impoverished peasantry by the hundreds of thousands, you think things out with the brain you have, not with the brain you wish you had.

Mr. Ebert went on to say that the decline in animal sacrifice is general, and that many Voodoo practitioners nowadays will ask for a sacrifice not of animals, but of money; not necessarily as a payment for their services (though that may be partially the case), but for you to prove to yourself, to the priest(ess), and to the spirit power that you are serious about your request: for in the 21st century, what is rarer and more precious to most of us than money or time? This was a novel thought to me, one that I'd never considered, but it rings true: If I had a goat or a pig it would be a considerable inconvenience to me and I'd be glad to get rid of it; but when I'm forced to give up an hour of drinking or vegetating time, that hurts!

But the reason for this post is not to talk about Voodoo, but to muse a little over the idea of sacrifice. I know others must have gone as far toward finding answers as it is possible to go: scholars, anthropologists, students of religion and who-not must have devoted countless hours of time and thought to investigating the origin and purpose of sacrifice in religion; if I really wanted to inform myself on this issue I could read them. But I did not come here to be informed, but only to talk things out to myself in an effort to provide some therapeutic stimulus to my too-long atrophied mind.

Looking at it from a purely rational standpoint, I suppose the argument goes something like this: early humans, with their childlike outlook on the world, couldn't understand scary and destructive natural forces like storms, floods, earthquakes, lions, and so forth, so as a coping mechanism they anthropomorphosized them, thinking of them as sentient beings who acted from some sort of motive and who could perhaps be reasoned or bargained with. I remember reading a dramatization of this idea in the caveman chapter of James Michener's The Source, in which the cavewoman who had discovered the rudiments of agriculture was faced with a flood sweeping toward her wheat field; she started grabbing up handfuls of wheat and tossing them into the water, screaming out that if they gave the flood some of their food maybe it would be satisfied and leave the rest alone.

As the millennia roll on civilization matures and primeval magical thinking develops into organized religion. We've all heard the saying that man makes the gods in his own image. The savage forces that bedeviled the children of nature give way to kingly superheroes dwelling in thronerooms in the sky, their power descending earthward unto man just as edicts and officials descend upon the populace from the palace in the city. The idea of sacrifice is retained: the gods must still be placated, just as taxes must be sent to the city treasury -- withhold either and mighty beings become discontented with you. Then too, the priests themselves must heavily encourage it; after all, there's no sense letting all that good mutton go to waste after the thighbones have been burnt, and the offerings of gold and silver have to be looked after by someone. What a sweet thought for a priest to discover that his own well-being and richness shows honor to the god!

But it's not just childish thinking and greed. As the levying of a cash fee in Voodoo suggests, sacrifice triggers the magical thinking gene to provide psychological stimulation: by offering up something so precious you are conditioning yourself to believe that weighty matters are at stake and that big mojo is being invoked on your behalf; you will then be more likely to accept your situation and keep on keeping on in this cruel hard world whatever the deity decides. Of course you'll get a big boost if your prayers are answered; but even if they're not, despite your disappointment you'll still believe at bottom that everything is fundamentally okay: the power is still there, it can still be invoked for you, it's just that it didn't happen to pan out this particular time.

On the surface this rationalist explanation, which I'm sure I've simplified to the point of absurdity -- and probably gotten wrong from the beginning, since my smattering of anthropological reading dates from books written during the Johnson administration (Lyndon, not Andrew) and it seems like much of the theory from those days has since been discredited or superseded -- on the surface this rationalist explanation makes a lot of sense, and I don't think any honest person can deny that it has to be pretty close to the truth -- on the surface. But at the same time I think that on questions like this rationalists are content with scratching the surface and behaving as if the gouge they've made constitutes the entire answer. Of course you can't blame them: as far as they're concerned the question really is solved, because the surface is all that there is. There are no gods, no magic, no mystic forces. Religious experience is an empty skin of paint with nothing underneath.

Perhaps it is. Probably it is. Yet I wonder (because I have the mind of a greedy child who needs security) if the nothing-to-see-here explanation doesn't rely on some unfounded assumptions.

Throughout history examples may be found of individual disbelief or crises of faith. In civilized societies, with large numbers of unconnected citizens and an entrenched religion, these individual experiences don't have the power to overturn the entire system of belief. But in the tiny confines of an ice-age nomad tribe, in which everyone knows everybody else and authority is honorary and ceremonial rather than a function of sociopathy and armed might, does the day never come when someone realizes that no matter how much wheat you throw into the flood, the grain still gets swept away? Or that no matter how many times you dance for rain or deer that the rain and deer don't come? Or that no matter what kind of hoodoo convolutions your shaman works up, the person who dies remains dead? Does the day never come when the great original atheist hero doesn't arise and gather all his friends and relatives around the campfire and grunt out, "Listen, I've been doing some thinking about things and all this magic we've been pouring our time into just isn't getting the job done?" and somebody else grunts back, "you know, now that you mention it...."

Is it reasonable to assume that these early people who had to be so perfectly attuned and observant of the natural world in every other way would turn into blind chuckleheads who kept throwing precious food away with no return on their investment? It seems to me, contrary to what smart people are looking for in this brouhaha about the proposed God Gene, that the natural world most definitely does not reward baseless magical thinking, no matter how fervently you believe in it. Once you get into cities you have some cushion, perhaps. You have farmers and silos. You have some amount of surplus. Perhaps you can afford to get a little screwy in your notions about what goes on in the sky. But can you afford it on the glaciers of Beringia?

There is more I want to say -- in fact I haven't even gotten to what I wanted to talk about when I started -- but this post is long enough for now. More to follow, if I don't get distracted.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Weird House, Post 1

I've gone back and forth in my mind as to whether I should bring this up at all.

From one angle I suppose it doesn't really matter; most people who care enough about the paranormal to spend time hashing it out on blogs probably have already joined one of two predetermined camps: either they refuse to admit its existence at all (in which case everything I say will be ridiculous) or they wholeheartedly believe in it (in which case stories like mine will seem perfectly commonplace). In any event, it's certainly not like anyone is beating a frenzied path up the mountain to base their viewpoint on the latest oracle from the Staggering Priestess.

At the same time, though, I think that for any of us -- even for superficial dabblers like your hostess -- who believe that the paranormal is a legitimate field of inquiry that deserves to be taken seriously, more is at stake than simply the issue of whether we're preaching to the choir or proselytizing amongst the damned.

Between the two armed camps of no-there-isn't and yes-there-is lies the great mass of society at large: the undecided, the open-minded, the (gods, I feel my IQ dropping to the level of a network news anchor, and with my mangled brain that's saying something) swing voters, whose "hearts and minds" (another IQ drop) are still in play and whom we on our side should be fighting to win over: not so that we can take a vote on the validity of the paranormal, and not to deprive the no-there-isn't people of their civil rights or force them to start wearing yellow question marks or anything like that, but to bring public consensus over to the idea that paranormal occurrences are not just a bunch of hoo-ha kookery, misidentification, and lies but valid phenomena produced by something that can be investigated and for which, hopefully, some explanation can eventually be found.

If the subject is respectable, investigation opens itself to many more serious people whose training and expertise might be of great value but who at present won't go within ten miles of the paranormal because it is fatal to reputations. And not just in laboratories and academic cloisters.

Of the people I know, most do believe in at least one aspect of the paranormal: religious experience, ghosts, UFOs, cryptozoology, or something. Most of us have no problem with the idea of the paranormal at all. But once we enter the circle of public consensus we all become skeptics; we all toe the line. Regardless of what we may privately believe, if someone in a public environment starts talking about seeing a ghost in the attic or strange lights over the expressway or a hairy giant on a camping trip, our group reaction tends not toward "wow, that's intriguing, tell us more!" but "uh-huh, okayyyyyyy...." because we are conditioned to react as if anyone who publicly confesses to a paranormal experience has a little screw loose.

Of course I am not the first to make these observations (I admit openly that nothing on this blog is original, I am not that deep a thinker). Many have commented before on the way our great national brainwashing machine deals with paranormal subjects. But, as usual, I have wandered far, far away from the subject of the post. When I started I just meant to say that I am hesitant to talk about my own experiences because, while I know my efforts can't aim very high, I still feel an obligation for the sake of the field at large (oh so pretentious!) to treat the subjects discussed here sincerely and do them as much justice as I can; and I feel I can't do that properly, or at least not as well, if I present myself as an experiencer. And yet, I should question that assumption. But that's a subject for another time.

So here is the experience I was going to share. If you're expecting a good story I warn you: it's uninteresting and utterly banal. The main reason I bother to tell it at all is so that I can start documenting these occurrences, because this is not the first time something like this has happened. I wish I'd had the idea back when it started, because by this time my memory has jumbled the earlier events into one big slush. But there's no use crying about that now. Maybe later I can work on summarizing them. But enough yapping.

It happened on the morning of Tuesday, May 27. My husband had returned the afternoon before after being away for the Memorial Day weekend. I mention this only because it's the one out-of-the-ordinary detail I can recall. Maybe his absence for a few days had something to do with it. Anyway, over the weekend while he was away I noticed that he had left a bottle of Windex on the kitchen counter by the coffee pot, so I put the bottle on top of the refrigerator, cramming it in among all the other junk he's stashed up there over the years. I distinctly remember doing this.

Apparently he wanted to use that bottle of Windex on Monday night, couldn't find it, and was going around the house looking for it and asking what had happened to it. He told me this the next morning; I was sealed up back here working on something and didn't see or hear him, so he never managed to find the bottle and couldn't finish whatever he'd wanted it for.

On Tuesday morning he came into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and yelled "where did this come from?" I asked what he was talking about and he gestured at the Windex bottle, sitting on the counter by the coffee pot again. I'd made the coffee earlier that morning and while I couldn't recall if the bottle had been there I certainly knew that I hadn't put it there.

This is not the first time an object has appeared to relocate itself. About a year ago my husband's primary set of car keys went missing only to turn up a week later in a basket in the back of the pantry. I vaguely seem to remember one or two cases of things disappearing never to be found again, but my memory is too foggy that far back for me to be sure. There have been other instances of items seeming to disappear and reappear within a few minutes, but these, I suspect, are due to us being hasty and just not seeing something that is lying in plain sight.

I know, drunks are proverbially unreliable witnesses. I still have enough functioning gray matter left to be sure of what I did and did not do with that Windex bottle.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Are Answers To Be Had?

Now that I've purged my system of the question (still unsolved, but I don't feel like beating my head against the wall over it any more) of whether there exists a curse on zero year presidents, I'd like to spend a little time stumbling over what I'd originally intended to talk about before the willful Muse carjacked my rusty little Ford Pinto of a mind and drove it into a tree: what the mechanism underlying such a curse might be.

For the purposes of this reflection I am assuming that the curse does exist; although "curse" isn't really the right word. Curses convey the idea of a spell of misfortune deliberately brought down on someone by another human, like a witch doctor, the priests of Amon, a wizard, or a pissed-off Mediterranean woman or something. I guess some people might say curses can be leveled by a god or demon, but that doesn't seem quite right to me; there must be a stronger word for the kind of magic such supernatural beings can excercise, but if so it slipped through a hole here and I am too lazy at present to get the Thesaurus. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. Suffice it to say, then, that I'm assuming some process other than mere chance is at work.

Not that I'm deluding myself that I'll find any answers. I know I won't. I'm not sure it's even possible to find answers, since a whole lot of people, many of them brilliant even if they were magical thinkers, have been working on questions like this for thousands of years and have yet to find a definitive answer to any of them. Can you imagine the countless hours of contemplation and debate that have been spent trying to figure out the gods since the first troglodyte sensed something unseen moving in the swamp or the dark of the cave? Yet to this day we have little more than disparate and contradictory scraps of perception, that, because they are fragmentary and unconnected and self-negating, are probably as worthless to the understanding as the various conceptions of the elephant worked up by the gropey blind men in the famous fable.

Perhaps trying to find answers is part of the problem. Perhaps it hinders us because it makes us concentrate too much on looking for something that is beyond the reach of our sight. On these subjects perhaps modern humankind, despite the advances we have otherwise made in science and technology, are no more sophisticated than the ancient Epicureans who had to explain the nature of the universe from a few wisps of observation and their own imaginations. Amazingly, with these humble blocks they succesfully constructed the general principle of the existence of atoms, although the world had to wait 2200 years to develop the measuring devices to prove it. When they tried to go beyond general principles to reason out the details, however, they fell into error because they had no means to test their hypotheses.

It might be that the general principles are all that are within our grasp, and the details will elude us no matter how hard we try to pierce them out. Never let this discourage you from the attempt, though, if that's the goal you've set for yourself -- all breakthroughs and advances are made by someone at some point, and you may be the Copernican or Newtonian giant on whose shoulders later pygmies will stand! But my own limitations are such that I can't dive deeply: I have to stick to shallow waters or I'll drown. Over the next few posts I'll be doing my puddle splashing on the possible mechanisms behind the 'presidential curse'.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Presidents and Patterns

I know Big Cosmo better than you do. Yeah, people are always bitchin' about him rolling too many sevens. Usually after he cleans their clock. Ha, ha, ha. But he's just lucky. Not that there is such a thing as luck, if you listen to them Vegas eggheads. It's all just dumb chance. Ha, ha, ha.-- overheard at the Domino Bar and Grille

When I was little my mother, who as a high school student had been traumatized by the murder of President Kennedy and as early as I can remember worked on transmitting the momentousness of that event to my tiny mind, opened my first window on the genuine weirdness of the world, by which I mean the weirdness that happens in real life rather than in books and movies (which even as a child I vaguely understood somehow not to be the real world, even though I thought the actors were tiny people inside the TV screen and was scared to death by the "money shots" in the old Hammer horror films that seemed so often to be showing at our house long before the creation of DVDs, Blockbuster, or even TV remote controls).

But I'd better find the thread again before I become mired in sorrowful contemplation of my age. Sometimes when weaving her recollections of that shattering day in Dallas my mother would mention a strange little quirk of American presidential history variously known as "The Presidents' (or The Presidential) Curse", "The Curse of the Zero Year", or (since in America nothing even remotely unusual can be permitted to occur without some country-fried raconteur dragging in dime-novel Native American hoodoo), "Tecumseh's Curse": the fact that U.S. presidents elected in years ending in zero (like 1840) do not finish their terms but die in office.

This "curse" hasn't afflicted every eligible president since the founding of the Republic in 1788, but it has hit more often than it's missed. As of this writing (2008) it will take another 52 years for the number of survivors to balance out the victims -- assuming, of course, that everyone from George W. Bush onward makes it out alive (and assuming that 52 years from now U.S. presidents are still being elected). I'd put the roster here for your convenience but I can't get the table to format right, so here's a nice concise summary from Wikipedia.

Of 11 eligible presidents, 7 have been stricken, all during the 120 year period from 1840 to 1960. Some people try to milk the phenomenon for maximum effect by including Reagan as number 8 on the grounds that he was nearly killed and if he'd been shot before contemporary medical advances he would have died, or that the wound accelerated his Alzheimer's disease and left him effectively brain dead before the expiration of his term. I suppose you could (very tenuously) shoehorn John Quincy Adams in as well, since after leaving the presidency he pulled the unique stunt among presidents of going back into the minor league of the House of Representatives and did die in that office, died in the Capitol Building in fact. If Bush II finishes out his term, as I suspect he will, one could point out that he was not technically elected in 2000. So by Enronning the numbers in this way you could say that the curse has stricken 9 out of 10 eligible presidents, with the tarnished sage of Monticello being the only one to escape; but given the circumstances of Jefferson's death when it finally did come, perhaps in him the mystical workings of the universe had other fish to fry.

Personally I think the curse, if there is one, has run its course, but that's for another post.

When I was younger and had not yet started busting holes in the wallboard of my brain I used to believe very strongly in this baleful spell on the presidents, because it is so obvious! Not even the most jihadist skeptic can deny that all seven of the stricken presidents were elected in zero years and that every one of them died in office, one after the other, like a row of dominoes. On that bet even the Amazing Randi would lose his million dollar shirt. Proof positive, Punkin!!!

But of course no one questions the fact that it happened, but only whether there's any mystical import in it happening. A number of smart people who don't believe in mystical import, but who haven't had the opportunity to prove it by popping the back off the cosmos and examining the clockwork, use probabilities or the law of averages or whatever you call it to support their belief that there is nothing to see in the string of White House fatalities. Naturally the arguments vary in skill, cogency, and thoroughness depending on the author, but they all boil down, if I understand them correctly, to this idea: statistically it isn't very remarkable for presidents to die in office, particularly in the medically unsophisticated past, and so there is no curse, pattern, or any other organized process at work. The facts that all of the deaths but one affected zero-year presidents, and that 31 of the 32 non-zero year presidents did not die in office, are an interesting curiosity but a meaningless coincidence.

I can't effectively argue against this because I have no skill in math and no training in statistics. I'm not even sure I want to argue against it because I'm not sure it's wrong. I used to believe very strongly in the curse, but I don't so much any more; at least I don't feel so passionate that it proves anything. But it has always seemed to me -- and I admit quite openly that I have a damaged brain which is configured to think magically and struggles against any other mode of thought -- that the authors of the mathematical analyses devised to explain these things away, however exhaustive they may be, in the end always fail to pierce to the heart of the matter: their entire solution lies in calculating the odds; that done, they see no significance when the outcome keeps skewing one way. Gamblers may find it meaningful when the same numbers come up over and over again, but statistical analysis doesn't.

But what if the universe is playing with loaded dice? Of course rational people discard that idea at once, but to my goblin-infested mind it's as likely as the alternative, and so I can't help feeling that maybe the skewing is the most important part of all because it might hint at a concealed truth or underlying mechanism that casual observation does not perceive: a wax-filled hole, shaved edges, an ace up the sleeve. The preliminary number-crunching of the statisticians is trivia, or perhaps a smokescreen.

So the smokescreen whispers that no meaning lies in the fact that between 1840 and 1960 every one of the seven presidents elected in a zero year died in office, while of the twenty other presidents serving during that same period only one died. It's just the luck of the draw, and if somehow the clock were turned back and the period were run through again maybe McKinley and Garfield would live and Buchanan, Cleveland, and Coolidge would die. I understand the reasoning in this (at least I think I do), but I can't accept it. I literally experience (or at least used to experience, when I was younger and took these things more seriously) a physical aversion to the idea that this is random chance. I suppose it's the God Gene at work, warning my inner cavewoman to flee to the safety of Woowooland.

My big stumbling block, the obstacle I cannot get over, is the fact that, however else the history of the presidents might conceivably have played out, it didn't play out in any of those other ways but in this way. Maybe Harrison could have lived, but he didn't. Maybe Lincoln could have lived, but he didn't. Any of the other zero year presidents could have lived, but none of them did, and given these mortality rates the survival of the other twenty (minus poor Rough 'n Ready) stands out even more sharply. To me the statistics demonstrably have it wrong: it is not particularly common for presidents to die in office; obviously most of them don't do it! unless they are elected in a zero year.

Of course my brain resembles a sodden swiss cheese, and even simple thoughts are sometimes a struggle for me, but it genuinely appears to me that the 'reality-based' argument is fantastic, in the old sense of being an imaginative flight of fancy unconstrained by reality. To my mind my view is the stronger because it is based on the evidence, on reality, on what actually happened. When the rationalist argument speaks I hear it telling me to pay no attention to the elephant in the middle of the room; I hear it telling me that woulda-coulda-shoulda is more substantial than reality; I hear it telling me to forget what actually happened because what really matters is what theoretically might have happened! The rationalist argument, however perfect it may objectively be, seems to me to be counterintuitive, topsy turvy, and just plain wrong.

The rational argument would, if I understand it right, counter with the assertion that my view is wrong because the reality I think I see isn't really there. The human mind is designed by nature to impose order on chaos, to see patterns where they don't exist. The fact that all of the presidents who have died have been elected in zero years is just a fluke.

But what is order? What is chaos? What constitutes a pattern? Nature is full of order and patterns and symmetries imposed by some primordial mechanism, from the formation of ice crystals or the number of seeds in a sunflower to the periods of the tides and the movement of the heavens. No one questions this so long as it merely affects atoms, rocks, plants, waves, galaxies and things like that. But when it becomes a question of human history arranging itself in patterns, or of some cosmic clockwork ordering the movement of individual free will, the orderly, patterned universe suddenly gets hit on the head and becomes random and chaotic.

I have to concede the possibility that my mind is imposing a pattern on something that has no pattern, but it seems to me that the converse has an equal chance of being true: that it is possible for one to deny the existence of a pattern that is actually there, either because one wishes not to see it, or, more likely -- are there evolutionary misfits with a Spock Gene? -- because one's brain simply is not configured to see it, just as a colorblind eye stares at the green petri dish on the test card and cannot see the little pink squiggles in it. You can scream at me all you want that you and your buddies aren't really colorblind and that I'm stupid, simplistic, and crazy, but it's not going to convince me. I'm not convinced that I'm right either. I used to feel certain, but now I just feel confused.

How do you find the tiger in the forest when half of your hunters are hallucinating and the other half are colorblind?

Friday, May 2, 2008


Goddess, I invoke thee with this cup of wine. The liquid I consume; the finer savor of the fragrance is fit sustenance for thy ethereal palate. Draw thou near, sit beside me, and guide my clumsy hands as they fumble o'er this square of cheap plastic junk, mass-produced by the helots of far Cathay. Goddess, sing!

Readers of old-timey books will recognize the above nonsense as an attempt at an obsolete literary device known as the Invocation of the Muse, developed (or at least popularized) by the ancient Greeks and later clubbed to death by the scribblers and poetasters of the literary dark age of the 18th Century. By raising its long-forgotten corpse here do I mean to suggest that I believe in the existence of an external spirit of creative power that can be tempted to emerge from wherever it normally hangs out to interact with humankind? No. And yet, I do. Kind of. At least I believe it's possible that such a thing can happen. But this is to be expected of a feeble mind like mine, because I am a terribly gullible person and I believe in all sorts of absurd trash.

I've never been able to discover why. I'd like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent person, but I'm probably not particularly gifted that way, and the pool of destructive chemicals in which I've been steeping my brain for longer than I care to admit hasn't improved matters much. At any rate I have enough exposure to the Weekly Reader version of the scientific method to understand why smart people dismiss all manner of religious experience as magical thinking (when they condescend to be polite), and to concede that they're probably right. But I can't help it.

Some smart people now, trying to find a reality-based explanation for why folks who otherwise seem to be reasonably intelligent persist, right down to our present illuminated age of depleted uranium and GMOs, in believing in demonstrably false delusions like Muses and other such sky fairies, have found the answer in the thaumaturgical toybox of genetics. Magical thinking, they propose, is hard-wired into the brain. It's an evolutionary advantage: in the dangerous hardscrabble world of the Pleistocene, religious-minded troglodytes who believed that a benevolent sky fairy was looking out for them would be more likely to survive than analytical trogs who coolly evaluated any given situation and crafted their response on the facts.

So magical thinking is a process of natural selection, like huge hips you can shove a melon-headed little hominid through or a body that effortlessly packs on adipose reserves for the lean times, and as usual I appear to be a marvel of design. Two million years of survival development have honed my brain to reach out to every ancestor, tree spirit and idol floating between Olduvai and the Fertile Crescent. You can't fight Mother Nature. Why try? I've believed in probably just about every crackpot fantasy or bugaboo on record at one time or another, and although alcohol and the stress of living have mostly deadened the facility now, still at times I continue to believe, or, I admit, to want to believe, that something (I no longer feel I hold any clues as to what precisely) exists beyond the bounds of known reality. I don't know if that thing is sentient. I don't know if humans can explain or interact with it beyond merely perceiving its presence. In fact I don't even know that it is a single entity; perhaps there are many; perhaps the numbers are countless, and each one is a different type.

But the Muse is growing thirsty. Or perhaps I am. If anyone ever reads this, I suppose they're going to be thinking: you invoked a Muse, and all you got was this??? But remember, she's been vegetating for centuries before you were born, without even a Lord Hervey to train on, and the tool she's been called out of retirement to handle is, alas, none of the finest. Who wouldn't feel a little challenged?

I thank thee, Goddess, for thy aid. Let us share another cup of wine, and then I shall release thee to the happier realm of St. Brigid and ibis-headed Thoth.