Sometimes when people find themselves in a closed container among supportive people—that is, in ritual—the process of emotional process and release is both eased and intensified. In a ritual for the Dark Goddess, which touches on death and the surrender into that, that's always part of the spell. No one that I saw at the "Sacrament to Hekate Triodia" was weeping uncontrollably, but more than a few people were wiping back tears as they gazed at the altars and considered how they wanted to change their lives. And at the end of the ritual, as the priestesses released the spirits they'd called in, the crowd erupted in a collective shout of joy. There's more than one way for a priestess to gauge a successful ritual, but the crowd's reaction at the end is a good start.
Have you heard the joke about the elderly rabbi who tries to settle a bitter dispute between two men? The rabbi listens to one man’s case and pronounces him right. Then he hears the second man’s case, and concludes the second man is right. At this point his eavesdropping wife steps in and points out that both men can’t possibly be right. To which the rabbi replies, “And you are right as well!”
That conundrum lies at the heart of two new books: Christophe Galfard’s “The Universe in Your Hand,” and Carlo Rovelli’s “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.” Rovelli uses the case of the indecisive rabbi to illustrate the dilemma faced by theoretical physicists in the 21st century, except in this case what is under dispute are two competing “rule books” for reality: Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and quantum mechanics. Each functions perfectly well within its specific realm: Quantum mechanics governs the subatomic world of the very small, while general relativity describes how the world works at very large scales. But neither offers a complete description of how the world works.
The trade-off for submitting voluntarily to the pain of a marathon—which really can be otherworldly—is the opportunity to transcend your anger, to step outside normal life and build a unique narrative out of a sanctioned act of rebellion. For several hours, the long-distance runner becomes a sober and well-hydrated flaneur carousing through city streets, absorbing floods of impressions and assembling the images and thoughts that will animate her post-run account. All the while she can be assured that her story will not be scooped: marathoners can’t plagiarize.
In other words, they said, don’t let your culture decide the nature of happiness for you. Philosophize instead.