Las Indias in English

An interesting life

las Indias Cooperative Group

María Rodríguez

María Rodríguez 5 ~ July 15th, 2014 ~ ~ 9 0

Spaces of the path or, what the Romans left us

Castro asturWhen one reads ancient and medieval history on the Iberian Penninsula, one finds the most entertaining things. For example, studies of texts from the times and archaeological remains indicate that all the tribes that inhabited the Cantabrian coast, from the Gallaeci to the Gascones, were very similar, basically Celts, with more Roman influence in some cases than others, but with few significant differences.

However, Luggones and Pesicos tried not have anything to do with Asturians — much less the Gallaeci and Vascones — and defined their differences and borders with everything the technology of the time allowed. That changed, however, with the barbarian invasions, when the tribes joined together in the defense of a common culture and territory. They really joined together for efficiency, because separately, there were few of them, and the barbarians were very brutish, but since that the Kingdom of Asturias would end up being the embryo of the future Spain, the first explanation sounds better.

CovadongaThe identity-based discussion ended with Visigoth domination which, as we already know, had a very good reputation a posteriori, because they came from the north. But they had little depth, and in reality, took advantage of the Roman structures and organizations to make their domination work passably well. When the Umayyad Caliphate, which was militarily and culturally very superior, took control of the Peninsula, a caudillo from the village of Sueve, the famous Pelayo, manages to overcome Munuza‘s Berber troops in Covadonga, which led to the best story-telling in the history of Spain.

Which is undoubted is that Pelayo becomes very popular. No one was pleased about the arrival of the Romans, but in the end, they had to recognize that the quality of life there had increased a lot since their arrival. The Visigoths were a disaster, but in the north, they hadn’t modified things too much. The arrival of a third party from who-knows-where wasn’t appetizing to anyone, even though they were more handsome and sophisticated that the earlier ones.

El oso de FavilaSo, Pelayo was chosen princeps and began what is known as the Asturian monarchy, which was elected until Ordoño I, even though the son of the deceased king was almost always elected — or alternative heir, as in the case of Favila, son of Pelayo, who lasted a short time, because one of those beautiful bears that appear in the Principality’s advertising ate him up while he was taking a nap.

Since then, there was an era of peace with the Berber south and internal war between families, with the Gallaeci and Vascones people helping one band or another, according to what suited them. This ends with the second reign of Alfonso II, the Chaste (791-842), the great creator of stories, and from then on there would be no more peace with the south, at the same time as the true cultural and territorial development of Asturias was beginning.

In close relationship with the marketing of the Camino and the peninsular reconquest are the architectural works that began to be built more or less around the time of the the arrival of Alfonso II, which was doubtlessly due to the new importance of spaces in the strategy general of global positioning. Today, these works are called Asturian art or pre-Romanic Asturian, but in reality they are not the least bit pre-Romanic.

santullanopinturasJust as in the case of the Byzantine art, pre-Romanic Asturian art is really Roman art, which had not disappeared in Asturias, much the way the Roman religion resisted Christianity on the Cantabrian coast until many centuries after its imposition as the official religion. Its definition as the continuance of Visigoth art is part of the story, as well as its similarity with Carloingian art. The most significant changes come more from the change in ritual taking place in its interior than from the introduction of new elements.

Visigoth art itself also was Roman art, and the name “Visigoth” derives from the tribe that had power during the period between Roman Hispania and the Castillian kings, but not its own style of representing things and building buildings. When Romanesque arrived in Europe, by Alfonso’s Camino, it was mixed with what they already had — which was Roman — and was modified little by little.

NarancoThe church of San Julián de los Prados, built by Alfonso II, is the best proof of the continuity of Roman art because of its similarity with what was found in the archaeological site of Veranes.

But without a doubt, the most original and most significant building of that time is Santa María del Naranco. While it is called a “church” and worked as one later, Alfonso’s successor, Ramiro I, had the building built as a second residence, which, by its design, functioned basically as a party house. We were also told that the large room was no more than a throne room, but there’s no place for one. Anyone who knows the place will see clearly that it is the best setting to throw parties: the capital already was in Oviedo, and the main room is perfect to put out tables with the finger food and where the waiters can calmly serve wine between the coolest people of the century IX.

Naranco desde el interiorRamiro himself was responsible for continuing the campaign of his predecessor, Alfonso II, with the legend of the battle of Clavijo, in which the Apostol Saint James appeared to Ramiro’s soldiers astride a white horse to help them in the battle. This victory put an end to the tribute of the 100 damsels annually that the Asturians had to pay Cordoba and Ramiro, grateful, established a remembrance of Saint James, for which a large quantity of rents (an extra tithe of grapes and other crops) would go to the church of the Apostol, as well as a part of the booty of each battle won against the kingdom of the south.

Apart from creating the unpleasant representation of Saint James as matamoros [the Moor-killer], it was a smart way of sending funds towards what must have been the main course of the spatial strategy. The end of the Camino de Santiago couldn’t disappoint anyone. There were many outsiders who married locals, from Navarre and La Rioja to the Atlantic coast. No expense could be spared, and what better way than medieval crowdfunding to make sure there would be nothing lacking?

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish).

Natalia Fernández

Natalia Fernández 8 ~ July 14th, 2014 ~ ~ 9 0

The camino of stories and markets

Beato UrgellIn 1987, the Council of Europe declared the Camino de Santiago as the first European Cultural Route. Beyond religious beliefs and spiritual quests, over the centuries it has become a space for lovers of nature, art, and gastronomy. Since its resurgence in the late twentieth century, the experience of the Camino has gradually become less of an endurance test or an act of faith. Today there are many “caminos” tailored to the needs and pleasures of each. Customization and sophistication have turned the pilgrimage into an experience that more than 200 thousand people enjoy every year; and investment in the recovery of roads, lodges, and hostels, allowed the economic rebirth of many locations far away from the regular tourist routes.

Codice CalixtinusThis relationship between development and pilgrims is nothing new. The Codex Calixtinus, developed in the twelfth century by the cleric Aymeric Picaud, dedicates the last of its five volumes to the description of the different routes that were available at the time for performing the Camino from France. It recommends itineraries, the organization of stages, locations of bridges, towns, hostels, descriptions of peoples and their customs, and churches to visit. It is considered the first “Guide du Routard” for single travelers.

The artistic journey is full of surprises. Porches of churches that tell stories about the imposition of Catholicism, pagan symbols, octagonal floors that reveal the presence of the Templar order in remote places …

If there is anything that characterizes the Camino is its ability to Capilla de Santiagoaccommodate stories, to reinvent itself again and again. Inventions considered to be historical and original. Nothing is more typical than the Santiago pie: the first and duboius reference is from the sixteenth century, and does not exist in its current form until the late nineteenth century. The opposite is also true for dishes that were considered delicacies and were present along the Cantabrian region and southern France, as the goose, which, according to medieval records, is one of the iconic animals of the Camino de Santiago along with the scallop. Indeed, the veneras (symbol of Venus) and geese (Celtic symbol) represent the continuity of the Christian story with previous legends of the road towards Ara Solis.

Beato de UrgellFor a long time, the scallop symbolized the completion of the Camino and the arrival to Santiago. To ensure the accuracy of this distinction as well as the control of its rents, the Catholic Church established a monopoly on the sale of shells, and the excommunication of whomever sold them privately. However, it is possible to slow trade, but not to stop it, so a clandestine trade of souvenir shells made out of wood and stone quickly flourished at the gates of the city. It was necessary to reach an agreement formalizing a franchise of sorts. From this market that leveraged a small legal loophole to thrive, was born in Santiago the guild and neighborhood of os concheiros.

The markets of the camino

The Camino de Santiago opened routes of passage by creating a trade corridor between the French regsions and the North of the Iberian Peninsula, including Portughese lands. Although its opening takes place in the ninth century, it is during the eleventh and twelfth centuries when it will truly flourish, being one of the engines of the “Commercial Revolution” which at that time all Europe would go through.

Beato de LiebanaThese new routes and flows will have a great social, urban, and commercial impact. The central figure in this process is the pilgrim, who adpots different roles in their passing. First, as a consumer of services: the first urban centers emerge in order to meet their needs, the village being the smallest of all of them, organized around a church (usually built on the “castrum”), a hospital or hostel for pilgrims, and houses clustered at the edges of the road. All this created job opportunities for the guilds and professions (tailors, weavers, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, tanners…)

Pilgrims created the need for increased agricultural and livestock production to ensure supplies, and also to provide exchange mounts or draft animals for the wagons. But according to the Codex Calixtinus the pilgrim is also a seller, he is used to carry light goods to trade and cover the costs of accommodation and meals on the road. They almost always carry jewelry, fabrics, and generally things that can pass as personal items in toll booths in order to avoid paying tax. Upon their arrival at the villages, an improvised trade takes place, and with time it gains structure, resulting in weekly markets of food, farming and gadgets is given. Later on, the great yearly fairs will emerge, and with them, the gradual specialization of several markets. With the fairs, travelers will be able to arrange their arrival to different locations depending on their needs.

Seeing the impact generated by the new floating population, monarchs and feudal lords launched offers to encourage permanent settlement, creating the privileges of the villas and the “Right of Franks“: A regulatory framework to facilitate access to property that contemplated a more favorable tax system, and structured the relationship between newcomers and established residents.

With pilgrims and franc merchants the population increases and new urban centers arise. And with them arrive new products, consumption habits, and perhaps most importantly, new technologies applicable to the professions which will have continuity in monasteries, the knowledge centers of the Christian Middle Ages.

An unstoppable flow

El codice calixtinoThus, the Camino shaped the peninsular north, but also the entire continent, as a driver of the Commercial Revolution that would rebuild the foundations of a continental market from the eleventh century. And indeed, the Renaissance ushers in a long decline leading to its virtual disappearance.

But when roads capable of deeply transforming the economy and culture open up, the potential to generate wealth does not disappear so easily. The story, the inspiring power of myth, survived the pilgrimage practice. A series of campaigns and public investments, especially that mythical Xacobeo 93, reactivated the flow and mobilized thousands of people, Catholic and non-Catholic, worldwide.

Art Miniatura XII Codice de San Andres del Arroyo Los cuatro jinetes de ApocalipsisAnd the flow continues. In the last Xacobeo year, 2010, the Camino represented, for Galician GDP only, more than 250 million euros in the midst of an economic crisis, more than ninety euros per member of the community. There will not be another Xacobeo until 2021, but only during the month of June this year, more than 33,000 people ordered their compostelana, so surely in 2014 there will be more than 200,000.

It is common to hear, as a criticism, that more and more pilgrims do not undertake the Camino driven by religious beliefs but by the desire to live the experience with others, to enjoy the route, and to dive into a historical journey. Others suggest that it is “only” another form of tourism. Probably both are true. But isn’t the “miracle” of a small humanity in motion, learning with the journey, and generating wealth in its wake, much more powerful than any other story?

Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 60 ~ July 13th, 2014 ~ ~ 9 2

The camino

caminos de santiagoHaving grown up in Spain, it is difficult not to have been in contact with the Christian myth of the origin of the Camino de Santiago. According to the Calixtino Code,

After Herod killed James the Apostle in Jerusalem, his disciples got hold of the dismembered body and head and sailed with it through maritime and fluvial ways to Iria Flavia (Padrón). From there, while looking for a good place to bury the Holy Body, his disciples had to pass through the lands of a powerful woman who has gone down in history as the Queen Lupa. According to the legend recorded in the Codex Calixtino, which recounts the arrival of the body of the Apostle to Santiago, Queen Lupa (Loba), was an ally of the Romans who lived in a castro that was very close to Pico Sacro, and ruled over those lands. The disciples of the Apostle asked the woman for a cart and oxen to transport the body and a burial place, but what the evil queen did was offer them to work with huge wild bulls that would surely end up killing them. Indeed, the bulls attacked them, but when they were about to die, the men knelt and began to pray. Because of this, the bulls calmed down. Seeing this miracle, Queen Lupa decided to become a Christian, and offered them the “Field of Stars” as a burial site, where nine centuries later the body of St. James would be “recovered.”

Obviously, it is a pious legend, but like so many medieval stories, it contains items from earlier pagan stories: Queen Lupa reminds us of the legend of the wolf and the Bear; the bulls are reminiscent of the Mithraic myth, and abundant references to geese in the Camino’s topology and symbology point to other narrative recycling of Celtic origin. But the truth is that today historians tell us that it is very likely that the one who occupies the sarcophagus attributed to the apostle is the famous Priscillian, head of one of the earliest Christian movements in the peninsular Northwest, and first heretic executed by order of the Catholic Church.

But the most suggestive aspect of the origin of the Camino de Santiago is probably closer to politics and strategy than to literature or the history of religion in Europe.

The Camino de Santiago for consultants

mapa ibericoAlfonso II the Chaste was a remarkable politician: he turned Oviedo into something minimally comparable to a capital, and recovered in it the Visigoth symbolisms in the monarchical ritual to signify its historical continuity with the Toledo court, legitimizing the Asturian monarchy “backwards.”

And more importantly, he projected it forward into the future creating the idea of the “Reconquista,” an ideology with long-term impact that proved to be remarkably popular among Christian populations.

Alfonso II el CastoThis view of Alfonso II as ideologue is probably the key to understanding the birth of the Camino. One should not be deceived by his military triumphs -the origin of the later Castilla- as they surely did not deceive him as to the fundamental weakness of his kingdom, sandwiched between the two main European states of the time -the Emirate of Córdoba and the Frankish kingdom of Charlemagne. The Asturian monarchy was, above all, in a state of dramatic demographic inferiority, which translated economically and militarily in constant military raids, and the fiscal voracity of its southern neighbors. For this very reason, Alfonso could not involve Charlemagne directly in his southward expansion if he didn’t want to risk becoming a tributary state of the power of Aachen.

In an era of very low productivity of land, in which the very Carolingian Empire merely enjoyed a minimum population increase, Alfonso’s true needs could not be fulfilled by the states. And yet… it seems that he was able to see beyond that limitation. “Discovering” the alleged tomb of the apostle allowed him to appeal to what we now call “European citizenship” above states, and without the hateful company of alien troops. The floating population not only generated a real local economic and technological renaissance, but also changed its demographics more deeply than the clearing of the lands that Charlemagne carried out up North. A complete local development model that certainly brings echoes of later historical events in the same region.

caminocarolingioAnd what is no less important, the opening of the Camino was the beginning of a whole new map of alliances: financial and technological with the extension of Cluny in the peninsula, which in time would bring about a whole line of transformations and socio-economic development; political and military with Charlemagne, as in the end his territories would benefit as much as the Asturians from the population movement on a map where the other two major cities of Christian pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem were out of reach.


The birth of the Camino was part of a political gamble that was as bold as it was innovative: to build stories that transformed reality beyond what was then within the reach of any state. “Camino” also meant spaces and returns: physical transformations and ideological contagion far beyond the kingdom of Asturias. The Europe we think of when we talk about “European values​​” is not, except for extreme statists, that of Aachen as celebrated today by the European institutions, but that of the first great medieval network of cities, hostels, and travelers motivated by ideas.

Translated by Alan Furth from the Spanish original.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 60 ~ June 29th, 2014 ~ ~ 9 1

The legend of the wolf and the bear

lobo e indianasIt must have been the mid nineties when a good friend encouraged us to visit what back then was the Provincial Museum of Oviedo. At that time, we cyberpunks visited Colunga in the island quite often, and the beach was becoming the reference site of more than a few meetings and discussions that would, few years later, lead to the creation of las Indias. This friend, who knows the local history very well, encouraged us to look for a tombstone found in the late eighteenth century in the Church, and that had been incorporated into the first collection of the Museum around 1880.

lapida mitra la islaThe tombstone, dedicated by someone by the name of “Fromto” to the imperial cult, and that should “preside over the pater patrarum besides the lion,” proved the existence of a Mithraeum on the island. Originally dated in the third century, the archaeological debate has pushed forward the date to the fourth or even the fifth century.

It was found in 1786 as part of the portico of the Church and had been part of the first collection of the museum in 1880. New remains appeared with the construction of the new church in the late nineteenth century, but most of it got lost. It seems that one of them was the pedestal of the wolf illustrating this post, which in the 90′s appeared in the museum as originating in the island and dated on the fifth century, but now – many years after the museum was closed – appears in the medieval hall without dating and with a short caption that reads “unknown origin.”

Aesthetically, the image is very powerful: a wolf walking under the stars towards the West. In the top frame, a stylized human figure, and what looks like a shooting star or a comet. I remember we left the Museum wanting to know more about this pedestal that no one seemed to have payed much attention to.

The pieces of the puzzle

The first pictorial representation of a wolf on the peninsula is probably the Tajo Cave of Figures, in the current Casas Viejas, painted in a hunting scene that is about 20,000 years old. But the first thing one finds when researching the appearances of wolves in Peninsular iconography is its importance for the pre-Roman Iberian world, in which it is the guardian of the Hades and the groundwaters.

The figure of the wolf appears frequently in sites from the third century BCE, like the famous head found at El Pajarillo Hill (Huelma, Jaen). The wolf walking under the stars first appears in an Ace coined in the Oretan mint of Iltiraka (near present Jaen). In the peninsular north, the wolf was the main attribute and form of Tautates or Dispater, the Celtiberian Mars, a God of the community (dis-pater = father of each) with traces until the thirteenth century in the Cantabrian mountain range, which influenced the subsequent conversion of Santiago into a warrior.

As de Iltiraka (segunda mitad del S II aec), el lobo camina de Oriente a Occidente bajo la estrella lobo en heraldicaThus, the wolf as a symbol is clearly associated with the “old gods,” and that’s the way the thriving Christian culture of the Middle Ages understood it, identifying it with danger, paganism, and irrational ferocity. From being a watchdog that protects from death, it turned into a symbol of greed and savagery. In the Iberian Peninsula, the wolf will occupy the place given to the Bear in the Central European medieval Christian symbology: a symbol of the past and of the beliefs to be rejected.

And yet, it will become the second most common animal of Hispanic heraldry, or the first if we separate the catalanphone world and Galicia from the peninsular story. This vexilological attribute reinforces the perception of the strength of the polytheistic substrate in the culture of the kingdoms of Cantabrian origin of the peninsula.

The legend

El lobo y la OsaWhy this fixation with the wolf? Although the topic does not seem to have worried historians too much, there is a hypothesis that our friend who introduced us to the treasures of the Archaeological Museum of Asturias told us for the first time, and that has appeared several times in our discussions with specialists throughout these years: the presence on the Cantabrian coast and the Pyrenees of polytheistic groups that arrived from elsewhere in Europe -perhaps linked to the armies of late imperial times- because they had not accepted the decrees that imposed Christianity. And although we have heard about it quite often, the truth is that there are no scientific works to support it. So instead of a hypothesis, perhaps it is better to call it a legend – its value as a story is not diminished by the fact that it has not been proven.

It is a beautiful story, and even if perhaps there is not enough archaeological evidence available to write a paper about it, it would definitely be good source material for a good historical novel. Imagine a group – perhaps ex-legionaries, and therefore probably practitioners of Mithraism – that, being unhappy with the religious reforms and fed up with the political and military turmoil, decides to defect and take the path of Ara Solis, a direct antecedent of the Camino de Santiago of which there is evidence from Celtic times, and which had been a widespread religious reference back then.

Escudo de los Elorriaga de OñatiThe Ara Solis was an altar located in Finisterre, the most western point of the then known world, where the the dusk was celebrated. From Augustus onwards it will have an annex temple where, apparently, the birth of Venus was also celebrated – that is the reason why the “pilgrim’s shells” of today are known as “veneras” (scallops).

This also explains the change in the direction of the wolf (the East was usually represented towards the right back then) and the replacement, common in later centuries, of the stars of the Little Dipper for scallops, as in coat of the Elorriaga de Oñati family (pictured).

The historical basis

The great religious reform promoted by the Emperor Constantine, which ended up imposing Christian monotheism and prohibiting traditional worship throughout the Empire with the Edict of Thessalonica of Emperor Theodosius in 380 CE, did not happen instantly or without resistance.

In the Iberian Peninsula, there is in fact a direct order of destruction and Christianization of temples until 435 CE, and its assertive and violent character indicates the persistence of the old religion, which in the late fourth century was, according to historians of the late Roman Hispania, practiced by a majority. It is known that the Iberian West had maintained considerable religious autonomy. The famous pedestal dedicated to Erudinus, which appeared in the Dobra Peak (Santander), dated 30 years after the decree of Theodosius, does not seem to represent an isolated incident whatsoever, although the dating has been questioned.

The association of Mars with the legions, the appearance of the wolf walking from east to west, several shields mentioned in the “Notitia Dignitatum,” and the island’s Mithraic temple, could signal a military origin of our pedestal. However, we have not been able to locate in the Cantabrian any of the units symbolized by wolves in the Notitia between the third (dating of the temple of Mitra) and fifth (dating of the pedestal) centuries. However, in tauroctony (the central myth of Mithraism, a symbolic sacrifice of a bull that generates primordial abundance), the wolf – or some times a dog – represents Humanity, which benefits from abundance in the form of grain that the blood of the sacrificed bull turns into.

Lobo en la Iglesia de OlcozThis also would be consistent with findings of the last decade demonstrating the persistence of the religio within sectors of the Cantabrian upper classes as recently as the eighth century.

In fact, the struggle of the Catholic Church against the traditional polytheistic practices continued until much later, as seems to suggest the “pagan door” of the Church of Olcoz already in the twelfth century, where, by the way, the wolf takes center stage.

Leyend, story, and inspiration

The truth is that it matters very little whether anything other than our dear pedestal arises as supportive evidence for the hypothesis that our friend told us twenty years ago. Although we cannot know whether it is true, it has -despite the buts we have found ourselves- a certain plausibility, and it definitely is inspiring.

Logo del Grupo Cooperativo de las IndiasThe “story of the wolf and the Bear” became, from that very first time we heard about it, the novel that we always wanted to write. The timeless story of those who choose to leave the great conflicts of their time to prioritize the people they cherish. We have not writen it yet. But somehow, the reason we took a version of the main theme as the logo of las Indias, was that we had already started, in a way, to live it.

Translated by Alan Furth from the Original in Spanish.

Carolina Ruggero

Carolina Ruggero 1 ~ June 25th, 2014 ~ 0

The tourist of the humdrum life

Epcot world showcase

When I was teenager, I visited the other hemisphere for the first time. As I already commented on at other opportunities, my relatives were spreading across an extensive geography, and Argentine economic policy made it easy for us to take a relative recognition trip to the United States.

Winding up the exciting tour, we made one last stop in Florida. There, we visited Epcot Center, where, apart from enjoying the “futuristic” attractions, I was left slack-jawed by the reproductions of emblematic buildings from different latitudes. In one short hour, I saw the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramid of Chichen Itza, Chinese and Japanese temples, and Moroccan and Italian landscapes.

Back in Buenos Aires, I had fun for a while fooling the unsuspecting, showing them the photos and making them think I had gone around the world. Then I showed an image taken from the lake the different scenes are located around, showing that they were next to each other.

Around the same time, I started to discover what tourism means for an important portion of the [globally] periferal middle class: sleeping in better beds than the ones at home, having better-decorated rooms, eating in fancier places than back home in the neighborhood, driving better cars. That’s what vacations were, a trip to comfort.

Luckily, on one side of my family, learning to travel in any condition is practically in our DNA. Since I was a girl, they explained to me that to spend money on travel was to invest to learning how to get to know different places and people. The difference is between wanting get to know different experiences with hungry eyes, nose and ears, and looking for a controlled experience.

The demand for transparency and the option for slavery

dbnewsTransparencia3Last month Juan talked to us about the feeling produced in him by a presentation given without stuttering, smoothly, without nuances, and he made reference to Byung-Chul Han and his definition of the transparency society as a hell of sameness.

Han, also, refering to the dialectic of the master and slave, says that “today’s slave is the one who has opted for submission” in exchange for a way of life that is barely interesting — “a mere life, as opposed to a good life”:

In exchange for that, mankind cedes its sovereignty and freedom.

This way, the discourse of transparency brings with it not only the lack of surprises about others, but also about our own intimate experiences, resulting in an apathetic life experience.


Also last month, Alberto referred us to an article by Niccolò Viviani, addressed to millenials, which he starts by saying:

We are a generation of happy slaves… we are lazy, empty, decomposed, irresponsible, disrespectful. We don’t know how to suffer, we don’t know what it means to sweat and earn things, we don’t want to grow up and assume responsibility… the cause of this is that we went brought up in a zoo. We were taught in a happy prison, a bubble that has protected us from real life, pain, fatigue, commitment, need, uncertainty, ambiguity…

touristsnativeperformersIn other words, Viviani describes to us the tour, from the first indication that we should not put our hand on the stove through university and work, through which we learn the key to make everything happen without the slightest stress, until we reach that happy ending called “retirement.”

Additionally, in the article, Viviani picks up on a concept of Nassim Taleb: Touristification.

It’s about the systematic elimination of uncertainty and the randomness of things, trying to make everything very predictable down to the smallest detail. All for the good of comfort, convenience and efficiency.

Tourists, contrasted with Benjamin’s traveler, who enjoys that immense and tangled space that is life, look for a safe and predictable trip: transparent.

Spain Financial Crisis

Tourists only have to follow the common and efficient path, and their purpose is to take a selfie in the most popular places, to show the world where where they were.

They don’t live the journey, they only think about how they’ll show it to their friends when they get back.

We all tend to reduce spaces of uncertainty — it’s normal, we do it so as to not go crazy. But there was a moment when this survival instinct was amplified, effectively denying the possibility of any authentic experience.

We cannot grow and mature in a controlled way, without uncertainty. Life experience without choices and the possibility of loss is a life in which desire does not intervene. It’s not possible learn predictably, because there exists no passion without unknowns, because there lies the spirit of adventure.

Being afraid of fear or of making choices, one opts for non-freedom, and tourism is confused with experience. So, a two-week internship becomes job experience, a study trip becomes the adventure of being educated transnationally, showing up to a massive, homogeneous party in Plaza Sol/Vodafone becomes participation in a revolution…

So, everything is reduced to…


So everything is reduced to an experience controlled enough to be able to feel the sense of euphoria that novelty produces without the responsibility that the unknown entails. The possibility of building the story of oneself without dedicated work it takes to build a biography.

Epidermal learning. All false empowerment allows is opting out of being free.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 60 ~ June 17th, 2014 ~ ~ 6 0

Creoles, migrants and nomads

torneo iberoamericano

Cartel promocionando la emigración hacia BrasilThe history of Go in South America was, for almost a century, the history of the friction between Asian migrants and the Creole population. It’s more than possible that Go reached South America at the end of the nineteenth century with the first contingent of Chinese and Japanese emigrants that reached Peru and Brazil.

For a long time, it was one more element of the community culture of migrants, without any organizational expression or exposure in the media, and without permeating into the Creole population. At that time, the migrant communities did not share conversation with their neighbors. Even when, in the ’50s, a first “Brazil Nihon Kiin” was formed, its tournaments, in which more than two hundred people participated annually, were basically limited to players from the Japanese community.


It wasn’t very different in Buenos Aires. For years, Go was practiced almost exclusively in Asian community circles. As Horacio Andrés Pernia tells us, it wasn’t until 1979 that players from the Japanese and Korean communities started to play in the tournaments of the Argentine association. In fact, the Korean-Argentines played daily in the headquarters of the Buenos Aires branch of the “Korean Baduk Association,” and although from the beginning, they were happy to be able to play in open tournaments, they were most hosts that guests. When the young engineers who were pioneers in the dissemination of the game discovered them, they often escaped to the Korean headquarters looking for “strong players and good traditional [Korean] food.”

Hilario Fernández Long desalojado y apaleado junto a estudiantes y docentes durante la noche de los bastones largosAnd if if there’s one thing that Hilario Fernández Long cannot be accused of, it’s of having lived on the sidelines of his times or his surroundings. Dean of the Engineering School of the University of Buenos Aires in the Sixties, he was a pioneer in introducing Information Science. Rector of the UBA during the infamous “Night of the long batons” in 1966, he headed up the statement of the University calling teachers and students to civil disobedience. Following the police occupation, he resigned in protest. Linked to the movement for Human Rights, he would not occupy a public position again until after the fall of the military dictatorship, when, in December of 1983, the recently elected Raúl Alfonsín created the CONADEP, the group of the illustrious, presided by Ernesto Sábato, in charge of collecting the accusations and investigating the mass disappearances during the governments of the military juntas.

Hilario Fernández LongWhen I was little (about 70 years ago), I used to visit the office of an uncle of mine, an engineer, and there I devoted myself to browsing through blueprints, books and magazines. Among the magazines, I remember that was one about architecture, called Architectural Record (it was North American). Once, there appeared an article about an Oriental game, called, in Japan, Go. For the explanations, instead of diagrams in black and white, there were full-color figures of board pieces, almost at a natural scale. More than by the explanations, I was fascinated by the figures, with the color of the wood and the shine of the stones. It has never left my memory. Forty years later, the girlfriend of a son of mine brought me another magazine, also on architecture, but Argentine, and in black and white, that carried a detailed description of the game. It called to my mind the full-color figures, and I devoted myself to deciphering explanations. Later, I got books in English, and I began to play with my son. And right away I started building pieces and boards. The pieces were made for me by a Japanese man, a manufacturer of buttons, from Saint Martín.

But Hilario Fernández Long wasn’t the kind of person who stops there.

And I started to give courses. Because I took the matter as a religion that had to be propagated. I gave many courses in the Argentine Center of Engineers and in the Central Society of Architects, and I made contact with the Cultural Attaché of the Japanese Embassy, who helped me a lot. But right away, followers appeared, who were responsible for creating the Association of Go, for finding places to meet, for organizing tournaments, etc. And that’s how the thing got started. The first course in the Argentine Center of Engineers was in April of 1971. In November of 1970, I had given a conference on Go there, and that was the first official headquarters of the Argentine Association of Go.

fernando aguilarSo, September 11th of 1971, the AAGo was founded with another engineer, Adalberto Moderc, as president. Fernández Long got several notes into La Nación and Moderc published a course on Go by installments in Joker, a magazine specializing in chess and mental games which would also sponsor the first tournaments. Additionally, Moderc and Fernández Long would publish various introductory books and manuals promoting the game.

Borges published a poem in La Nación about Go. Go was starting to form part of the local culture. We are now at the end of 1978. The AAGo and its young, shining star, Fernando Aguilar, are already the model to follow in Spain by the new generation that was beginning to discover the game on the peninsula. Once more, the logic of shared conversations and personal networks is shown to be superior to that of geographic proximity. Before Chile or Uruguay, the Argentine impulse found an echo in Ecuador. The key: the return to Quito of a then-young student at the UBA with his board and stones in his luggage.


Jiro MaedaIn Chile, Go also started to spread starting in engineering schools. The responsible parties were two immigrants of Japanese origin, Jiro Maeda and Masanao Uehuara, who, from the end of the ’50s until their deaths (in 2012 and 2006 respectively) were the main supporters of what, in 1989, would become the Chilean Federation of Go.

UndokaiAnd on the Pacific coast of the US, the history of Go will be that of a cultural blend. In Peru, where the “nikkei” community has had, since the beginning of the century, a strong organizational structure, a natural transition from the communal to the social happened. Promoted by the Peruvian Japanese Association, which had facilitators like Kamisato Masatoshi, Go begins to take hold in the ’70s. Manuel Tokusei Higa and Ernesto Yamamoto then found the Association Peruvian of I-GO Shogi, which soon begins to earn members outside of the community, and which does important work to spread the game, aside from the “Embassy of Japan” tournament.

An illustrious nomad

In Brazil, Go didn’t make it out of the immigrant community until 1988, when a mythical professional Japanese player, Iwamoto Kaoru (9p), also known as Honinbo Kunwa, priced a location in Sao Paulo and created the “Nihon Kiin do Brazil,” the base of the “Associação Brasileira de Go (Abrago).”

iwamotoIwamoto, who by that time was 86 years old. Even though he was born in Masuda (Japan), where his parents’ house is today a popular museum in his memory, he had grown up in Korea, which had recently been invaded by Japan. He left at 11 years old to study the game professionally in Tokyo. Although he lived through the rise of the militarism and imperialist nationalism, he did not participate in the dominant spirit of the times. Together with Segoe Kensaku, he was the principle force behind of the arrival of a young Go Seigen in Japan. Despite being the founder of the Nihon Kiin, the first professional association, he left behind a promising career to go to Brazil for the first time and seek his fortune as a coffee grower in 1929. But it went badly for him, and he returned to Japan in 1931, where he resumed the professional practice of Go.

During the war, he was part of the nucleus of players that kept the game and its spirit alive against wind, tide and government control. In fact, will be the leader of the mythic game of the atomic bomb and everything that preceded it. Although that Honimbo ended in a tie, the tie-breaker the following year would be his first grea title, re-validated in 1947, and lost in 1950 to the hands of the same rival, his friend Hashimoto Utaro.

Jubango entre Go Seigen e IwamotoHe would not retire until the age of 83, the year he returned to Brazil (though he would still play one last professional game at 92). By then, his life already was centered on spreading the game and its values throughout the world. In 1972, he published what surely has been the most-read introductory book of the twentieth century outside of Asia: Go for Beginners, and above all, he dedicated the savings from his entire career to creating centers for teaching and promotion of Go in New York and Seattle, and in Amsterdam, the famous European Go Cutural Centre. Brazil, which had been his first adventure as a nomad, would be his last adventure as a patron.

The Iberoamerican conversation

Torneo iberoamericano de GoAt the end of the ’90s, Go in South America had already left the small circle of migrant communities, and was a shared element between people who love the game. The separation between conversations of Creoles and immigrants has faded. But also, in those years, the growth of the Internet began to connect conversations with a scope that had been unknown until then, and Go starts to experience a true explosion throughout the world. The old game found itself on another plane, as a conversation, which was now global, limited only by the large spaces of linguistic continuity.

In 1997, players from eight Spanish-language federations converged on the amateur world championship of Go of Sapporo. None of them spoke Japanese, and they need an interpreter. They speak with the vice-president of the International Association, Alan Held, who encourages them to organize themselves as a federation. The Iberoamerican Federation of Go (Fedibergo) is born, the only one of the international federations that groups associations on three different continents. Today, the Fedibergo groups practically all organizations that communicate in Spanish and Portuguese in both Americas, the Caribbean and the Iberian peninsula.

And what’s most important, they share in-person tournaments, a half-dozen virtual tournaments, pedgaogical materials for children, and more and more manuals and courses, even classes by Fernando Aguilar himself across the network. All so that any new group of curious people who begin to discover the game won’t lack for support and peers. Go is no longer that exotic game of Asian clubs to us, but it maintains the traveling spirit of the nomad and the generosity of mutual support among migrants.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 60 ~ June 15th, 2014 ~ ~ 9 1

Fraternitas mercatorum

Henri PirenneIn order to rescue the following story in this series, we will travel with Henri Pirenne to the times of the birth of the merchant class and the rise of the arts between the tenth and fifteenth centuries. Pirenne was one of the great historians of the Middle Ages, and although his work focused on what would later become Belgium, the story we are interested in affects all Western Europe, because:

The “brotherhoods,” “charities” and commercial “companies” of the Romance-language countries are exactly analogous to the hanses and guilds of the Germanic regions. There is even a similar organization in Dalmatia. What has dominated economic organization are in no way “national genius,” but social needs. Primitive trade institutions were as cosmopolitan as the feudal ones.

So let’s go to the 10th century. The first merchants don’t have the glamor of their Renaissance descendants:

The sources allow us to get an accurate idea of ​​trade groupings that, from the tenth century onwards, are becoming more numerous in Western Europe. You have to imagine them as armed gangs whose members, armed with weapons and swords, surround the horses and carts loaded with sacks, bales, and barrels.

caravanaThey are armed because their life is nomadic and risky, constantly subjected to the dangers of the trips of those times.

In the same way that the navigation of Venice and Amalfi, and later, that of Pisa and Genoa, make far-reaching voyages from the start, mainland merchants spend their lives wandering through vast areas. It was the only way for them to obtain significant profits. In order to be able to sell at high prices, they had to travel far to the areas where products were in abundance, in order to then be able to resell them profitably in places where they were scarce, and therefore more valuable. The farther the merchant’s trip was, the more advantageous it was for them. And this is easy to understand assuming that the profit motive was powerful enough to counteract the fatigue, the risks, and the dangers of a wandering life, exposed to all hazards.

It is this continuous and dramatic risk that strengthens the social cohesion of the group. Neither can survive without the other. They themselves are considered a phratry, a group of “brothers”:

The standard-bearer marches at the head of the caravan. A boss, the Hansgraf or Dean, assumes command of the company, which consists of “brothers” united by an oath of fidelity. A strong spirit of solidarity encourages the whole group. Goods are apparently bought and sold in common, and profits distributed in proportion to the contribution made by each to the association.

This new kind of real community collides with the prevailing values at the time due to its nomadism and meritocratic ethos.

Other than in winter, the merchant of the Middle Ages is permanently on the road. Interestingly, the English texts of the twelfth century called them “dusty feet” (pedes pulverosinaryi). These wandering beings, these vagrants of commerce, must have amazed the agricultural society with whose customs it clashed, and where there was no place reserved for them, due to their extraordinary lifestyle. It represented mobility among a people with strong bonds to the land. It introduced, in a world faithful to tradition and respectful of a hierarchy that determined the role and range of each class, a calculating and rationalist mentality for which fortune, instead of being measured by the condition of man, only depended on his intelligence and energy. We cannot be surprised, then, if it caused scandal. The nobility had nothing but contempt for those foreigners, whose origin was unknown and whose insolent fortune was unbearable. It was enraged for seeing them in possession of larger amounts of money than them; it felt humiliated by having to rely, in difficult times, on the help of these new rich.

Nor will the Church approve of them:

As to the clergy, their attitude to traders was even more unfavorable. For the Church, commercial life endangered the salvation of the soul. The trader, says a text attributed to St. Jerome, can hardly please God.

Freedom as identity

mercaderes urbanosBecause the merchant is a freedman who breaks the social scale, an upstart son of servants who “improves without improving his blood”:

The legal status of traders eventually provided them, in this society for which they were original for so many reasons, a totally unique place. Due to the wandering life they led, they were foreigners everywhere. No one knew the origin of these eternal travelers. Most came from non-free parents, whom they abandoned very young in order to live a life of adventure. But servitude is not pre-judged, it must be proved. The law establishes that a man that cannot be assigned to a master is necessarily free.

It so happened that it was necessary to consider traders, most of whom were undoubtedly sons of servants, as if they had always enjoyed freedom. In fact, they became free by loosing their attachment to their native soil. Amid a social organization in which the people were tied to the land and each member depended on a lord, they presented the unusual spectacle of going about without being claimed by anyone. They don’t demand freedom: it was given to them as a result of the impossibility of showing them that they did not enjoy it. In a way, they acquired it by use and by prescription. In short, just like the agrarian civilization had made the peasant a man whose habitual state was slavery, commerce allowed the merchant to become a man whose habitual state was freedom.

ciudad medievalGradually, fairs and markets become stable, and with them, the presence of merchants-artisans:

For these newcomers, association was the surrogate, or even the substitute of family organization. Thanks to it, a new, more artificial and at the same time simpler social grouping emerged among the urban population, together with the patriarchal institutions that had prevailed until then.

The artisans/traders didn’t recognize children of a marriage of a slave and a freedman man as subject to bondage. Moreover, if a servant came to town and was accepted as an apprentice, he was freed, for all practical purposes, and protected by the community. The law allowed the Lords to claim the children of mixed marriages or urbanized servants, but,

For the trader, the mere idea of ​​such interference must have seemed monstrous and intolerable.

The arts and equality

Enter the arts. Their aim is to consolidate, through economic equality, that which originally had been a close cooperation between different “bands” of merchants/artisans to ensure survival. Within each art, competition was regulated to the point of making revenues and way of life equal for all members.

Among these men of equal profession, equal fortune and equal longings, close ties of friendship were created or, to use the expression that appears in contemporary documents, of fraternity. A charity was organized in each trade: brotherhood, charité, etc. The brothers helped each other, took care of the livelihood of widows and orphans of their comrades, jointly attended the funerals of the members of their group, participating side by side in the same religious ceremonies and in the same celebrations. The unity of feelings corresponded with economic equality. It constituted their spiritual guarantee, while reflecting the harmony between industrial legislation and the aspirations of those it was applied to.

The Arts were real communities, groups of artisans/merchants who knew each other and reproduced and developed in their organization a specialized expertise of their own. But their weight in cities is such that their lifestyle becomes the spirit of the city itself:

Rural organization was patriarchal. The idea of ​​paternal power gave way to the concept of brotherhood. The members of the guilds and the charités already called each other brothers, and the word passed from these associations to the entire population, “Unus sbveniat alters tamquam fratri suo,” says the “keure of Air”: “one shall help the other as a brother.”

Taking fraternity to city government

And that’s when the fraternity that characterizes the arts inwardly starts to become a project and a political myth, together with the demand for freedom associated with the end of the “right of womb” and their practice of internal egalitarianism. Their way of materializing this was simply hacking the feudal order by occupying public services, taking them for themselves:

They were no longer content with their corporate competencies. They dared to assume public functions and, facing no opposition from the authorities, usurped their place. Each year in Saint-Omer, the guild allocated its surplus revenues to the common good, that is, to road maintenance and construction of gates and walls in the city. Other texts suggest that something similar happened, from very ancient times, in Arras, Lille, and Tournai. In fact, during the 13th century, the urban economy in these two cities was controlled, in the first, by the charité Saint-Christophe, and in the second, by the count of the Hansa.

Officially, it had no right to act the way it did; its intervention is explained by the cohesion that was reached by its members and the power they had as a group

And by then the committees mercatorum of Carolingian times has already become Count of the Hansa, a title that did not come from royal or feudal merit, but from a tradition that was based on the very organization of the original caravans of merchants.

mercadoThe contradictions between the first urban patricians and the arts will not take too long to arise. The latter would eventually end up openly fighting for the representation and the the power to organize the cities. In Liege, they will earn it intermittently beginning in 1253, and definitively as of 1384, and in Ghent, intermittently during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries until the fifteenth.

This brings about a novel form of political legitimacy: the judges of the boroughs exercise power on behalf of the communitas (community), or the universitas civium (all citizens), and not on that of the civil Prince or the Church, but neither on that of the fraternity or brotherhood that binds together the artisans and builds the obligation to belong to a trade to exercise full citizenship (as in the Florence ruled by the arts). The community, however, was not defined in a trivial way. On the contrary, it required an identity and strong material relationships of each to the whole.

In the cities where there were courts, as well as in those lacking them, citizens were a body, a community whose members were all in solidarity with each other. Nobody was a bourgeois without paying the municipal oath, which linked him closely with the rest of the bourgeois. His person and property belonged to the city, and both could be, at any time, required if need be. You could not conceive the bourgeois in isolation, nor was it possible, in primitive times, to conceive of man individually. At the time of the barbarians, one was considered a person thanks to the family community to which one belonged, and one was a bourgeois, in the Middle Ages, thanks to the urban community that one was part of.

Fraternity, which was born as the characteristic relationship among caravan traders, had grown to define the foundation of the body politic. The result in Liege — according to Pirenne, “the most democratic system that ever existed in the Netherlands” — required that

All major issues should be submitted to the deliberation of the thirty-two guilds, and settled on each of them by recess or “sieultes” (verbal process through which the discussions of the diets are deposited.)

Urban communitas is actually a confederation of arts in which, although the commitment of each is made towards the whole city, deliberation and decision remained in the space where relationships did not require mediation or representation.


triada republicanaBrotherhood as a political myth is born of mutual aid among medieval merchants and artisans. It meant bringing the open and strongly cohesive logic of the arts to the government of the bourgeois city. This is why it would become the longing of the urban popular classes, but as we shall see, with the dilution of the rigid organizational framework of the art, the original idea of fraternity is transformed and becomes confused. It will no longer be the product of a series of interactions among peers that scale only through the guild confederation.

In the next installment, we will go back to the Greek classics to understand why “fraternity,” even if it remains one of the founding values ​​of European political thought, became so difficult to define.

Translated by Alan Furth from the originial in Spanish.

Manuel Ortega

Manuel Ortega 3 ~ June 4th, 2014 ~ 0

Andorra and the histories of European microstates

Andorra-Andorra-La-Vella-ViewAccording to legend, Andorra was founded by Charlemagne, but the true history of this small state starts in 1278 with the signature of the first Paréage. In virtue of this treaty, Andorra, which had previously been under domination of the bishop of Urgell, though under protection of the Count of Foix, formally came to be a domain shared by both feudal lords.

The destiny and history of Andorra follow the course of the diputes between the House of Foix and the bishop of Urgell. Andorra managed to maintain its autonomy in most cases, thanks to the willingness of their feudal lords to forget their disputes, but for the same reason, it remained in a state of war with Germany for 25 years. And above all, it kept some institutions of the Middle Ages around until well into the twentieth century.

This willingness to forget reached its end when one of their feudal lords considered events in Andorra to be disobedience. June 17, 1933, the Consell General unilaterally established universal suffrage masculine and on the request of the bishop of Urgell, the President of the French Republic sent a detachment about the police to re-establish order. A further disobedience, a year later, was the naming Boris Skossyreff as the first king of Andorra.

Boris Skossyreff, King of Andorra?

BorisBorís Skossyreff was born in Vilna in January of 1896. For 15 years, he roamed Europe, and in 1933, arrived at Andorra. The 17th of May, 1934, he presented a writ to the Consell General d’Andorra in which he explained his intentions, promised modernization of infrastructure, international investment, and status as a fiscal paradise. He was threatened with expulsion, which occured five days later, the 22nd of May, 1934, when was he expelled by French and Spanish administrators of justice.

July7, 1934, Trustee General of Andorra convoked the General Council of the country to proclaim him King. And with the image that Andorra would be like Luxembourg or as Monaco – and it should be said that he wasn’t far off – all of the Counselors (except one) supported him, and he ruled from a hotel, for nine days.

Following the end of World War II, Andorra started a slow but continuous modernization, benefitting greatly in the ’60s and later from its status as a fiscal paradise and from mountaineering tourism. Political modernization advanced, with universal suffrage in 1970, the constitution of the first Govern d’Andorra in 1982 and, finally, with the Constitution of 1993, which came to eliminate the last feudal structures.

Why do the histories of European microstates particularly interest us?

Map_of_European_Microstates.svgAfter a broad and interesting tour through the histories of a good part of the European microstates one might wonder if their histories are particularly interesting.

Certainly this tour has allowed us to rescue important elements so that today’s Europe can begin to make sense. But the reason for our stroll through the stories of these microstates is the search for antidotes against the essentialist discourse of the territory and of the state. It’s never bad to remember that prior to State-nations, there were royal houses, before constitutions or political dynasties, and that territory is merely an accident that in no way defines us. There is no territorial essence. There never was. There are social contracts whose ultimate expression of freedom is being able to separate, to break the contract.

Translation by Steve Herrick, from the original (in Spanish).

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 60 ~ June 1st, 2014 ~ ~ 9 2

The long cycle of Mithra

In classical Rome, religio involved a legal obligation tied to membership in the community which consisted in symbolically honoring those values ​​that formed the basis of coexistence, and therefore the basic political nexus. Abandoning public worship of those values ​​meant abandoning a pillar of social cohesion, and was considered negligence, a word which, as religio, derived from religare (relate, assemble, link, associate).

This idea of the gods as allegories of stylized social values, so different from the concept of “faith” as understood today by the influence of monotheism, was not born in a day. Roman religio first evolved from an original animist cult based on genius (the immanent spirit of individuals, communities and events, as opposed to animus, which meant “mood” or “opinion”), Manes (ancestors), and numens (spirits of places and later of natural phenomena), to a peasant religion with specialized gods.

Upon the consolidation of an urban society, some gods, like Vesta, evolved to express fundamental concepts of political life (such as inside/outside), and in the end, the allegorical deifications like Fides, Virtus, Liberalitas, etc., appear. All these gods lack a mythology in the Greek sense: they don’t have a set of stories and narratives that articulate a sacred biography. The Roman gods always oscillate between the immanence of the numen and the allegorical stylization of the deified virtues.

And the interesting thing is that the Republican polytheism had identified the gods with allegories of social values ​​that supported the foundations of the state (in part also to conveniently reduce to allegories the superstitios that were most dangerous for coexistence, almost all of them coming from the East, like the cults of Apis and Ceres at some point, and then the cults of Isis and even Judaism), turning public ritual (the religio) into a ceremoniousness that furthered social cohesion.

Virtus y HonosHowever, as the contact with other cultures grew, and the need to integrate different beliefs and forms of worship into a common and diverse system arose, the Roman religio had the wisdom to establish equivalences and parallels, adopting and merging stories of the different gods that it absorbed into a literature that was seen as allegorical, and that even allowed upfront invention if it was useful for political positioning or coexistence (as Virgil and his Aeneid). So Cicero writes in “On the Laws,”

It is also convenient to deify human virtues as Intelligence, Pietas, Virtus, and Fides. In Rome, all these virtues have officially consecrated temples, so that those who possess them (and certainly, people of good faith have them) believe that in this way the gods are installed in their spirits.

To fully understand this quote from Cicero one must interpret, of course, those same virtues in their original context. Piety in Roman terms, pietas, is a feeling of respect and duty towards those groups that are shared and loved: family, motherland, etc. The faith that it speaks of is the virtue of fides, i.e., the “commitment to one’s word,” because “faithful” still didn’t mean someone submissive to a creed or faith, but someone you could trust because they honored their commitments. And virtus meant self improvement and courage in the pursuit of the public interest or the public good.

The divinities, the gods of the late Republican period and the early Empire are actually allegorical archetypes. And if deifying Augustus’ genius was equivalent to recognizing in his work the epitome of good governance, the installation of which Cicero speaks is nothing else than individual inspiration through social ceremonies of positivie values that further coexistence and the survival of the community. The Pax Deorum is actually the ceremonial tool (sacra publica) for shoring up social peace.

What was the Roman religio then? Fundamentally, it was a social ritual for the transmission and permanent celebration of the values ​​that were considered the foundation of social cohesion.

Mithra, the crisis of republican values​​, and the end of religio

When the Republican system starts decomposing, a number of cults arise in which the center of the story are not the social attitudes, but the individual ones. Uplifting biographies and autobiographies become popular, growing sectors of the population look at initiatory cults and oriental gods as food for an introspection that was originally alien to Roman traditions.

Instead of the cosmological interpretations, pertinent to its Persian origins, the cycle of Mithra as it evolved in the early centuries of the Christian era should be read as part of the “return to community” that followed the perceived failure of the imperial system to restore Republican values.

The Roman Mithraic cycle is especially interesting precisely because it elaborates, on the cosmogony of an earlier Persian god, a moral tale protagonized for the first by a human being characterized as an ethical and sovereign being. The ideas of intelligence, abundance and liberty appear for the first time in their contemporary form (The republican Libertas was not a moral liberty, it was a public liberty) and linked through a moral reflection in which doubt and decision are placed in a superior plane to that of destiny or the will of the gods.

The relationship between the cult of Mithra — specially popular among the legions and the cosmopolitan merchants — with the decay of Roman society is evident. The Roman Mithra is not a god-man, but a generic man who earns his own space among the gods, producing abundance for all. This generic and human character is underlined by the idea that the cycle itself has an end, with the intuition of a similar new cycle.

The Mithraic cycle

nacimiento de mitraMithra was born of a rock that becomes alive. In some versions, a snake breaks the rock allowing Mithra to come out. In his hand, the earth’s globe takes shape. The birth of a single person — and we will see that Mithra actually symbolizes every person — accompanied only by that which represents Nature. He is born with a torch (foculum, small flame), intelligence, and a Phrygian cap. The Phrygian cap was the symbol given at the time for slaves when they were freed. That is, Mithras, being born, receives freedom and intelligence from nature. Saturn (cultivated Nature) also gives him a gladius, a short sword, an instrument of struggle.

From there, stories differ in the number of adventures and their purpose, probably responding to different local cultural needs. But they still come together in five stories: the miracle of the rock, Tauroctony, submission of the Sun, the banquet, and finally, his solar ascension.

The “miracle of the rock”, in which Mithra makes water flow from a rock firing a stone at its center, is very similar to later metaphores on the use of instruments of force and precision. It represents the ability to meet the necessary with decisiveness and intelligence, with strength and control.

The Tauroctony starts when Mithra is visited by a raven, the messenger of Helios (Sun), Mercury (Commerce), etc… The Crow entrusted him with a mission and presents itself as fatum, as fate decided by the gods.

And Mithra doubts.

He doesn’t know whether he should obey Helios’ order or not. Why? Because he doesn’t understand its purpose. What the message commands is for him to find the original bull, a giant being from a former age, and to sacrifice his death in a cave chosen by Helios himself.

The bull represents the existing, the former, that which lives in the world in which Mithra is born… and his destiny is to kill it? The episode of the doubts and thoughts continues, clearly showing the sovereignty of Mithra to emphasize that it is him who chooses his own fate, that it is him, not the gods, who owns his own actions… even if he is deciding without completely knowing and understanding Helios’ wishes.

When Mithra finds the bull and confronts him, he discovers that he is not strong enough to defeat him. So he tries to ride it, tame it. But he cannot either. He finally decides to resist by gripping its horns… and after a grueling ride through the world, the strategy works: the bull falls to the ground, lifeless.

But the task does not end there. Mithra has to take the bull to the cave. Tired, with the monstrous bull on his shoulders, he embarks on a path that will be painful and exhausting. The image is very powerful: the weight of the old world, the weight of our own decisions, the resistance, now, to interrupting the task…

Finally, he reaches the cave. He is accompanied by Cautes (dawn) and Cautópates (dusk), who open the way for him with torches. He is distressed (and it is interesting how this feature is highlighted in the interpretations of tauroctony), he seeks Helios with his eyes, but finally, he cuts the bull’s jugular with the gladio that Saturn gave him. He expects that a torrent of blood would flow… but instead, edible grains and vegetables start coming out endlessly. A wolf (sometimes a dog), that symbolzes humanity, appears in the scene, enjoying the abundance created by Mithra through the sacrifice (in its literal sense of a meaningful act), which completes his task. There also appears a snake (knowledge/rejuvenation), and Mithra then understands the meaning of his mission. And in fact, he exceeds it: he cuts the bull’s genitals and domesticated species sprout from the wound. The constant flow of life and diversity is only interrupted when a scorpion (death) stings the bull’s testicles. Not even the creative act escapes that fate.

Then the raven brings a new message: Mithra has to carry the bull’s meat to the open countryside to prepare a banquet. A lion (the king of the world that has died), which had appeared, in some accounts, accompanying the wolf and the snake, helps him tear and carry the abundant food brought about by the slaughter.

When he arrives, Helios pays him homage, kneeling and placing his solar crown on Mithra’s head. Mithra is a god now. And he is god for creating a world that is now being born. The message is clear: if people meet their transformative destiny, life will in the end become — after doubt, struggle, effort, and a series of significant events — a celebration of abundance in which the gods themselves shall bow to the power of change.

After enjoying the banquet of abundance with all the other beings, Helios calls Mithra again. The dusk of his own world arrives. As the scorpion had already told us, Mithra — and his creation — even after becoming a god, will not disown death. In a chariot of fire, both soar into the sunset.

Characteristics of Mithraic celebrations

The ceremonies were practiced in mithraeums, many of them in caves near rivers or waterways. However most of thos that have survived were buildings annexed to houses or military facilities.

Their long and rectangular shape allowed for the celebration of ritual banquets. Sometimes, in addition to an atrium or lounge of lost steps, changing rooms and baths with swimming pools were incorporated (as in Mérida).

It appears that the right bank was associated with Cautes (dawn), and the left to Cautópates (dusk), and that the upper grades sat on the righ bank — as in the guild rituals — with the starry sky on which the sun travels represented on the roof of the mithraeums — many of them in caves-”sepeleums”.

The communities could not have more than 40 men. When that number was exceeded — in any case before reaching fifty — the community was divided into two (which brings us to Dunbar’s number). They met, at least, on Sundays (the day of the Sun). The ceremonies were probably preceded by ablutions and ritual baths. The remains of lamps with figures of Mithra and representations of Tauroctony that were lit from behind suggest that the ceremonies started with some sort of “lightning” of the space, passing then to a libatio or a toast that included a mark of wine on the forehead (as is still practiced in popular blessings), and a ritualized banquet handing over rolls and other foods representative of the wealth generated in the sacrifice of the bull. It is possible, given their appearance in initiations, that the meetings culminated with some kind of clash of hands or “chain of union.”

The story of the myth was transmitted through three levels (crow, lion, and father) which then would rise to seven after a series of initiations for each grade (sacramentum) aimed at exalting the serenity of the initiate .

iniciacion-2Apparently, for what the frescoes in the mithraeum of Capua Vetere describe, in the first degree (the raven) the applicant was driven, blindfolded and naked, to the mithraeum. Upon entering the “cave” (speleum) he was made to kneel and his hands were tied behind his back, and the pater (with a Phrygian cap) showed him a torch so that he could sense the light through the blindfold. Presumably after several ritual questions, some kind of analogy was established with the crow (light bearer); according to the account of Ambrosiaster — an anti-Mithraic Christian propagandist — the community members waved their arms as if they were wings and chirped like crows, after which his liberator removed the blindfold.

mithras-solPossibly, the fourth symbolic test was related to water and several testimonies of church fathers even suggest a ritual baptism. The parallel with the eighteenth-century Masonic initiations here is amazing (tests of fire and wind, “to give light,” the test of water…), specially considering that it was not until the late nineteenth century, with Cumont‘s seminal work, that Mithraism started to become minimally known. The incorporation of the caduceus among the symbols of the raven’s grade may indicate its ritual use at the end of the initiation to “resurrect” the initiant and take his vows. Some have seen in this possibility a history of the guilds’ flaming swords, but there is not a sufficient record to confirm this.

The ceremony — perhaps all meetings — were closed with a “grip” or “chain of hands” to the initiated, who turned into one of the syndexioi, a member of the community. Sindexioi literally means “joined by the hands,” creating a parallel with Helios’ recognition of Mithras after the bull’s banquet. One can only wonder at the possibility of this being a direct antecedent of the “granting peace to each other” of the Christian Mass, and the “binding chain” of Masons and scouts.

According to Cumont, the “crows” performed a similar function to apprentices in the guild celebrations: they attended the table, and served and looked after the speleum, but they did not take part in the ritual banquets of which they were spectators and waiters. Only “participant” grades (from “lion” up) were full members of the community. Here, Cumont points out, is where the association with the crow, the Sun’s servant, probably comes from.

We know little of the following two degrees, nimphus and miles, probably because they were segregated from the training of crows and belatedly incorporated into the liturgy. Cumont tells us, based on Christian propagandists of the time, that the nimphus wore a veil and were kept in a separate place in the temple, invisible to the other members. Displaying them (ostendere) constituted a solemn ceremony in itself, surely part of the initiation to the next grade. He also notes that in the ceremony of the miles the initiate were crowned with laurels. Laurels that the initiate should reject — as well as any award or public honor from then onwards — saying “they belong to my God.”

The transition to fourth grade, lion, meant a greater leap to the extent that it allowed them to take part of the ritual banquet. The “exalted” had to symbolically defeat death (just as the bull must die before reappearing as a lion in the banquet with the gods). So their ceremony included a symbolic death and rebirth, surely an interpreted story before the initiated himself, a typical solar initiatory ceremony which centuries later also appears in the “Scottish” ceremonies of transition into mastery.

Two other degrees sprung later on from the lion: perses and heliodromus, of which we know little because they most probably did not contribute core elements to the story, but certain spin-offs or marginalia stories, similarly to the eighteenth-century multiplication of degrees in the first symbolic lodges. What we do know is that the Phrygian cap was given to these two degrees and that they had to carry it in the temple.

The last degree, pater, seems to originally have been –similarly to the Greeks– reserved for the services director and community manager of the cult, but then evolved to a degree that united all those who had performed that task, or were, for having reached the stoic “apathy” — intimate serenity — ready to assume it.

Like any system of degrees in a community based exclusively on worship, one of the main attractions of the Mithraic communities resided in the cultivation of fraternity and the dissolution of external social hierarchies. Epigraphy shows how freed slaves often achieved not only the degree of lion or pater, but also occupied a central place in the social structure of the community. These were, at least from the time of Nero, legal civil partnerships, with its own parallel hierarchy of posts dedicated not only to care for and financially maintain the temple, the rituals, and public ceremonies (funerals, weddings, etc.), but also to the administration of mutual aid arrangements that covered some kind of basic insurance (of life, death, etc.).

Originality and significance of Mithraism

Pater mitraicoMost historians of religion start by noting the peculiarity that Mithraism represents in relation to both the religio and the mystery cults, both classical and Oriental, from which it differs starkly, as it simply lacks supernatural elements.

Because even though its relationship with Christianity has very often been highlighted, due to the fact that Christianity took from te mithraeums no small amount of symbols and even stories and celebrations, the Roman Mithra never intended to be a material, historical god who interacts with humans as the Persian god of the same name or his Jewish equivalent. In fact, it is not, –as all the gods of the religio– anything other than an allegory. The special thing is that it is not the allegory of a value, an activity or a social behavior, but of the life path and the potential present in every person.

Actually, Mithraism is purely and simply the first program of personal development we have a historical record of. Hence its importance and the constant reappearance of many of its elements in the main ceremmonial forms of the later real communites, especially in those of the medieval guilds, and as we have seen, those of the Masons of the Enlightenment.

Did the Mithreans survive in the Middle Ages?

Logia masónica en SueciaThe very logic of the functioning of the mithraeums, that were divided when the number of members — all male — approached fifty — which implies a relationship with the community that took into account Dunbar’s number –, its spread among merchants, artisans and markets — even more than within the legions, as is often emphasized — and the horizontal character of the cult, without a centralized priesthood structure — as the Jewish or that of the cult of Isis — or decentralized — as the Christian –, takes us over and over again to a world full of parallelisms which a few centuries later will lead to the birth of medieval guilds and Arts.

It would be tempting to try to build a thread that linked the latest manifestations of the religio in Western Rome that were tied to Mithraism, surely public in some regions until the sixth century, with the birth of the guilds. Since no few contemporary studies link the last remnants of the guild ceremmonies with Freemasonry and other enlightened and liberal organizations of the nineteenth century, it would not be too far fetched to argue for a continuity and certain influence that “somehow” would have served as a counterpoint to the idea of Christianity as the only foundation of Europe.

The sudden disappearance of the vibrant activity of Mithreans in most of Europe in the fourth century (although in some isolated places they persisted until the sixth century) allows some historians of Masonry to hypothesize about a transformation or fusion with some proto-guilds and brotherhoods, since as we have seen, every Mithraic temple was itself sustained by a civil partnership with its own properties and financial ndowment. It is also true that one of the keys of Mithraism is its assimilation into Mithras of the cult of fides — the value of contracts and the given word. This emphasis — also inpired in the Stoics – allowed it to win over artisans and merchants already in its very early stages, well before its development among the imperial armies. If to this we add the esoteric nature of the cult and its striking similarities with some guild ceremmonies between the tenth and seventeenth centuries, the idea of the ​​”transmutation” of Mithraism is suggestive. But even if the idea is certainly evocative and would provide freethinkers with a “myth of origin,” it has too many intractable temporal holes and is actually unnecessary.

mitra_et_lirumThe real question is why Mithraism arises, not how it relates to Christianity, to Stoicism or other later forms of community ceremony. And the answer has to do with the purpose of its vital proposal: the development of the “serenitas” of each person, of their personal sovereignty, and the conviction that this — and not the submission to a supposedly common good or dogma of any type — is the foundation on which the community itself becomes resilient.

Because we must remember that Mithraism was implanted — in fact, most probably was created — in the most Romanized provinces circa 150. This was the time when the imperial regime is proving not to be a solution to the decomposition of republican society and its values ​​as it intended to be, but a catalyzer of such decay. That is, a time in which it no longer suffices to extoll collective values, ​​and where many begin to find a material base for them beyond the political system, in the very real community, and in the ethos that is built for it.

What were those first Mithraeans, with their symbols, ceremonies, banquets and the myth of abundance looking for? To purely and simply empower their communities, to give them a symbolic model from which to build the story of an interesting life in a decaying environment.

Mithra and Christianity

mosaico bizantinoThere is a tendency to emphasize the apparent similarities between Mithraism and Christianity. But the similarity in forms and rituals actually conceal a radical opposition. Death, strictly speaking, does not exist for the Christian, who celebrates it because only after it will they encounter God and will really be able to take care of their own. For Christianity, death is the way to true life, and life, as Mother Teresa said, “a bad night in a bad inn.”

In the myth of Mithra death is present from the same moment in which abundance appears in the form of a scorpion that definitely kills the bull by stopping the flood of species flowing from his wound. Mithra has a concrete life to create abundance for his community. He doubts, suffers, makes the sacrifice of the bull, kills an entire age with it, he reaches and creates abundance for others… and for that he becomes recognized as a god. Even Helios, the sun, the greatest creator of abundance, surrenders to his feet for this. But after the banquet he shall die, regarldess of how divine he is. Death is there, infinitely terrible. there is nothing behind it. Ash, glory in the last glimmer of the Sun’s charriot. And then it starts all over again. It’s your turn.

mitra_de_cabraOf Mithra will only remain the genius, the ideal of created abundance and its consequences. Mithra is us. Death, in Mithraism, generates no meaning. The meaning is in what each one does, in our lives. And in nothing else. Death is nothingness and leads nowhere. If Mithra had chosen not to make the sacrifice, his life would have been different, meaningless to others, it would not have been divine, perhaps not even remembered. In Mithraism, the meaning of life consists on generating abundance (infinity) in a finite time. To move forward putting, as our friend Juan Hernández said, the full force of the entire trip on each step.

This is already hinted at in the “miracle of the rock,” one of the stories of Mithra’s pre-Tauroctony period. Mithra is thirsty, creeps over the fields. Builds a bow and an arrow. Shoots a rock. The arrow penetrates its center, and water starts flowing. The bow combines the intelligence of invention, the precision of aiming, and the force of tensioning. The three virtues of the first Mithraic grades. Their result is a way out of scarcity, of the empire of necessity, symbolized by thirst. But not abundance.

Nacimiento de MitraAbundance is something else. It requires sacrifice, making the other, the bull, “sacred”. Something that becomes complex when the bull is that against which Mithra rebels against, the old world out of which Mithra himself was born. Only through the slaughter of the old world, which is also the sacrifice of everything he knows, Mithra is able to create real abundance, abundance for others — represented by the wolf — who will feed on the diversity that springs out of power’s wound at sunset. An old world which, incidentally, reappears, magnificent, as a lion that helps Mithra in transporting the remains, once freed from his own cycle of power.

This cannot be any more different that the sacrifice of the Christ. A Christ that allows the old world to sacrifice him and therefore also renounces to recover the best of it. Who discovers that he was always God, not as result of action, but from an inexorable nature. Whose pain is evident, direct, bleeding, whose only doubt arises from the feeling that the Father abandoned him.

Mithra, born from a rock, hesitates to nail the gladio delivered by Saturn, father of the gods, and hesitates at the idea of ​​sacrificing the bull — the reigning world –, it hurts him to do it, he will seek with his eyes the crow who brought him the idea from the Sun. But he overcomes his doubts by becoming the protagonist, carrying out the significant act himself, symbolically transforming the bull into a lion. Nothing is farther from Christ the victim, passive and suffering recipient of a violence that he forgives but does not elude for his loved ones, a community that since then, according to the Christian story, he will accompany in a long era of martyrdom and persecution.

The long cycle of Mithra

sol invictus - mitraThe cultural footprint of Mithraism beyond the anecdotal is undeniable (the celebration of December 25, the miters of bishops, the numbers of guild degrees, the spatial planning and the benches in Masonic temples, or the popularity of Phrygian caps among nineteenth century liberals). Mithraism was linked for almost two centuries to a social environment of Stoic ideas — if we follow the ideas of some historians, it may even have been its “mass-market version” — and was in great part the first popularizer of an ethic of personal responsibility, serenity, and cosmopolitanism that was reluctant towards the supernatural, contrary to slavery, and uplifting for the moral individual in the community.

Beyond its message, its very form, closer to a “personal development program” than a mystery cult in the style of the cult of Isis or Eleusis, certainly had a cultural continuity — even if not organizational — which contributed to the systems for the transmission of knowledge ​​and values born in Europe, from the guilds to the first groups of thinkers who would later rise as the first scientific societies, and the first forms of contemporary political parties.

tauroctonia-colorIt is from this perspective that the cycle of Mithra deserves much more attention. If Christianism gave Europe stories, taboos, and values that remain hegemonic, Mithraism was the cohesive myth of the first social form taken by a cosmopolitan communitarianism based on an ethic of personal responisbility. And that is no small contribution to the definition of so-called “Western culture.”

Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte 60 ~ May 25th, 2014 ~ ~ 9 1

Fraternity, Subversion, Pigs, and Asparagus

EpicuroIf there is a subversive doctrine at the very origin of Western thought, it is that of the Epicureans. Even the biography of Epicurus by Diogenes Laertius devotes its first half to pick up much of the infamies and outrages of various kinds that were invented about its author during the first centuries. Although in the end he categorically denies them, at first he accepts them, with the sole objective of turning them upside down and damage his memory. In fact, very few texts related to this movement remain today. From Epicurus himself, three letters, some maxims, a few fragments isolated from each other, a few citations in the works of his disciples, and comments from Seneca and Cicero. And above all, the beauty that is the “Rerum Natura” of Lucretius, a long poem explaining the basics of Epicureanism.

The fact is that thanks to the influential contemporary resistors for six hundred years, and the phobia of Christianity for almost two thousand more, even today, for many the word “Epicurean” is associated with excesses and luxuries, when in fact Epicureans lived a minimalist life that simply refused to preach asceticism. But why so much animosity? What were the Epicureans all about?

The Epicurean narrative

As we saw in a previous post, Aristippusresponse to the death of Socrates is based on raising the foundations of a utilitarian ethic. Epicurus and his followers built from it a whole worldview that can be summarized in three points: materialism in their vision of Nature, pursuit of happiness in their ethics, and fraternity in their conception of community, the only social structure they were interested in.

Medita sobre la muerteFor centuries, they were the most important supporters of the atomic theory inherited from Democritus, but releasing it from the rigid determinism of its original creator. Epicurus introduces for the first time the role of chance in both nature and society. That materialism without final destinies or grand “necessary outcomes” will be their big disagreement with the Stoics. For the Epicureans, necessity (causality) is balanced with the denial of doom introduced by chance and spontaneity in Nature itself. This natural triad -necessity, chance, spontaneity- is for them the base for human freedom in society. The Epicureans considered themselves much more autonomous than the Stoics because they simply thought they had a stronger influence on their real environment. Their serenity, their ataraxia, doesn’t require so much separation neither asks for renunciations as the Stoic ataraxia: it is simply the product of a balanced set of good choices that allowed enjoying life, knowledge, and simple everyday pleasures – from contemplating to eating – without guilt or torments.

So was that it? Was that the reason why the Epicureans were portrayed as a bunch of revelers given to excess? No. In fact, the Epicurean ethic was a minimalist ethic, a prudent strategy for the search of pleasure – primarily intellectual pleasure, but never rejecting, much less condemning, sensual pleasure – that rejects excess and even admits that it is legitimate to trade off present “pain” for greater future pleasure. Surely all this will today sound familiar for anyone who has studied an introductory course in Economics: Epicurean ethics, its arithmetic of attractions and aversions where pleasure adds and pain subtracts, doesn’t differ much from the logic of Bentham‘s utility function. And let’s not forget that Catholic economists as illustrious as Pareto, the first source of inspiration for fascism in economics, devoted their lives to trying to “remove” utilitarianism from economic analysis.

cerditoepicureoA task that the Church Fathers had already undertaken against Epicurus, even resorting to the Old Testament to discredit the pig – the favorite pet of the Epicureans – presenting it as “a filthy animal that is slave to its instincts.” The implied associations were obvious, and ignored precisely what the Epicureans valued the most from the animal: affective bonds as the basis of their small social structure, living “inwardly”, their passion for play and interaction… and its utility as a food sources, of course.

But actually, caricaturing Epicurean ethics was just a hypocritical way of attacking what was really considered more subversive.

And that was not their atheism, even if the Internet is still full of Epicurean arguments against the existence of an omnipotent and good God, and even if it is hard to forget the strength of their complaint against the professional “pious”:

The godless are not those who supress the Gods, but those who conform them to the opinions of mortals.

What is really subversive and hated is their love for fraternity. The largest area of ​​personal sovereignty claimed by the Epicureans, following the metaphor of their conception of matter, led them to think of themselves more as nodes than atoms, and to focus on building communities that were not only conversational and focused on knowledge, but also on celebration. Thus, the Epicureans conclude that friendship//fraternity is the source of any significant social bond:

We do not need help from our friends as much as we need to long for their help.

And they see fraternity as intrinsically united to true learning:

Of all the things that wisdom gives us, the greatest is enabling us to make friends

Fraternity will be the main binder of their communities, and therefore of not only a theoretical but a real apolitical ethos which annoys even the theoretically apolitical Stoics, not to mention Cicero, who despite having been tutored by an Epicurean master and being a supporter of the school, dedicated his life and career to the turbulent politics of the final years of the Republic. But as Filodemo says:

If we were to investigate what is most opposed to friendship and the most fertile of aversions, we would see that this is simply politics

As the Mithraics, to whom they seem to have influenced, even if to a lesser extent than the Stoics, by the Stoics, the Epicureans seem to have intuited the Dunbar number. They not only preach the apolitical, they also divide their communities to not become so many as to not be able to enjoy fraternity, which in practice seems to be as important as freedom for the pursuit of happiness.

This subordination of the external, of the public to communitarian logic, is embodied in what is probably the least known legacy of the Latin Epicureans: frozen food.

The invention of frozen food

Epicureans groups gave banquets regularly. They were all about uniting conversation and joy on a regular basis in a small order that would be the delight of contemporary atheists 2.0. One of the popular dishes of those banquets were asparagus, a nice minimalist symbol for its simplicity and delicacy, but also the triumph of natural spontaneity versus effort as a merit in itself, exalted by the Stoics. The problem is that asparagus are seasonal and Epicurean feasts were distributed throughout the year.

What to do? While civil wars that would end with the triumph of Augustus and the end of the the Republic bled Rome and the empire, the Epicureans of the entire Italian peninsula created a huge logistics network outside battles for power. They didn’t carry any weapons or messages, and did not interfere with the warring factions. They only transported fresh asparagus to the Alps, where they kept them in deep holes dug in the rock and covered with ice. The state could sink, but the Epicureans would not take part in its battles, and fresh fresh asparagus would not go amiss in their cliques.

There can hardly be a more radical and insolent example of communitarianism. Because the Epicureans had tried a drug that the Stoics hardly new: if parrhesia, speaking truthfully, was the heart of philosophical life from the time of Socrates, living it in the fraternity of the community was something even more powerful. The Epicureans speak truthfully as part of a conscious effort to “live for real”.

Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.

What is «las Indias»?

David de Ugarte60 ~ July 13th, 2014 ~ 0

Community and happiness

imageThe Philosopher’s Mail, the blog of Alain de Botton and the followers of atheism 2.0, published an article about the Epicureans. Its most interesting aspect is that, in a nutshell, it proposes that Epicurean communitarianism is based on its founder’s minimalist definition of happiness:

With his analysis of happiness in hand, Epicurus made three important innovations:

Firstly, he decided that he would live together with friends. Enough of seeing them only now and then. He bought a modestly priced plot of land outside of Athens and built a place where he and his friends could live side by side on a permanent basis. Everyone had their rooms, and there were common areas downstairs and in the grounds. That way, the residents would always be surrounded by people who shared their outlooks, were entertaining and kind. Children were looked after in rota. Everyone ate together. One could chat in the corridors late at night. It was the world’s first proper commune.

Secondly, everyone in the commune stopped working for other people. They accepted cuts in their income in return for being able to focus on fulfilling work. Some of Epicurus’s friends devoted themselves to farming, others to cooking, a few to making furniture and art. They had far less money, but ample intrinsic satisfaction.

And thirdly, Epicurus and his friends devoted themselves to finding calm through rational analysis and insight. They spent periods of every day reflecting on their anxieties, improving their understanding of their psyches and mastering the great questions of philosophy.

Epicurus’s experiment in living caught on. Epicurean communities opened up all around the Mediterranean and drew in thousands of followers. The centres thrived for generations – until they were brutally suppressed by a jealous and aggressive Christian Church in the 5th century. But even then, their essence survived when many of them were turned into monasteries.

De Botton forgets that that Epicurean, familiar, and mixed monasticism of the 5th century, common and even dominant in places like the Iberian peninsula and the island of Ireland, was gradually enclosed from Rome and finally removed with the Gregorian reform. The spirit of Epicurean communitarianism would then begin to thrive in a very different environment. But that’s another story.

Translated by Alan Furth from the Spanish original.


las Indias20 ~ May 17th, 2014 ~ 1

Market activism

Aesires en acción (From Indianopedia) Market activism is our term for the design and trade of products with the goal of spreading values and ideas. The name was coined in 2012 by Juanjo Pina from “aesirs,” based on a previous debate on entrepreneuralism held by “las Indias Group of Cooperatives” since 2009, linking the idea of the phyle to the medieval arts and guilds:

We believe the kind of knowledge that enables us to make beautiful and socially useful things cannot be reduced to technical knowledge. It must contain a social meaning, a work ethic and a worldview. Goods offered in the marketplace carry with them a vision of the world, of social projects and a moral points of view.

Some examples

  • In 2007 the indianos combatted «rankism», a narrative on the blogsphere spread by the media that we saw as a danger to its distributed structure. As a response, we developed feevy, the first dynamic blog-roll for blogs. It not only made it easy to link and share audiences between blogs, it made it obvious that the “star blogger system” was just a media myth. Feevy had soon 60,000 users/blogs, making it possible to map hundred of thousands of blogs in Spanish and how they were connected. We called this map the map of flowers, and was, itself, a refutation of the narrative imposed by the mainstream media. Feevy, carefully developed not to use personal data, was programmed as free software, and its platform sold later to a a big firm.
  • Since 2001, the whole “neovenetianist milieu” did its best to transform its knowledge into useful tools to combat the European unemployment crisis:
  • In 2010, Alain de Botton launched his atheism 2.0. His main tool would be “The School of life,” an international chain of stores supplying consumer goods, courses and motivational seminars for businesses

las Indias20 ~ April 22nd, 2014 ~ 0

Vote for Guerrilla Translation in the 2014 OuiShare Awards

Our friends of Guerrilla Translation are among the nominees for the 2014 Ouishare Awards. You can vote for them or in any case know a little more about them and this Awards.

las Indias20 ~ February 11th, 2014 ~ 3

The fruits of an interesting life

festival-de-las-linternasToday our front page has a new banner: series. That’s what we have called the thematic threads that have been forming since we started to focus “El Correo de las Indias” on the idea of an interesting life. And in fact, the first series tries precisely to answer the question what is an interesting life? This leitmotif that was born in another series, the only one now finished: “Towards a new narrative,” by Juan Urrutia. And of course, we can’t leave out our love of cooking, our pulp heroes, and Go. They all continue growing and will appear again in the future. For the moment take a peek, and we hope that you’ll like them.

(Note from your translator: if there are older posts you want to see translated, please leave a comment!)

David de Ugarte60 ~ February 7th, 2014 ~ 0

What’s left when the state falls?

These days, the press all over the world is talking about the Michoacan self-defense movement, since the Mexican State is confronting them, after letting the “Knights Templar” camp there for years. This mafia was the beneficiary of decomposition, accelerated by the State itself, of the formerly, and sadly celebrated “Michoacan family.” The debate is now the typical trap of decomposition between the defense of the monopoly on violence by the state and the verification of a captured and corrupt state that for years abandoned the life and treasure of thousands of people to a terrible mafia.

So rather than entering the debate, I’d like to draw attention to an element of “self-defense” and the form that its process of legitimation took: the reemergence of a series of forms, like open town councils, which come from the birth of urban democracy in medieval Europe.

These forms are not “natural,” but rather cultural and historical. Born with urban development, they became revolutionary in community revolts, and reappeared in the open crisis of the Napoleonic wars – which led to the birth of the Mexican State – and during the large civilian conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. And now they return in the middle of decomposition. Quijote told Sancho on the path to the island of Barataria to “be careful of your vassals or they will take the government from you or form communities by themselves.” The “Long live the commoners!” shout is heard in the Michoacan town halls. In my view, there are issues here to reflect upon and learn from.

las Indias20 ~ February 5th, 2014 ~ 0

Interesting people

marianoypilarTomorrow we will publish a beautiful post by Mariano Gistain answering what is an interesting life to you?

Before him, Michel Bauwens and Kevin Carson paved the way, and Steve Herrick, Daniel Bellón and Mar Abad not only wrote and provided posts, but joined the team to present us with new articles.

So, the most gratifying thing about “El Correo de las Indias” in this new stage is not, as we expected, debates about the direct economy, or even the exploration of new topics and ways of living… but rather the friends, the people who are joining us to do it… and surely, those still to come!

Steve Herrick7 ~ December 14th, 2012 ~ 9

Seeking feedback

English-speakers, I need to hear from you.

There is a thriving cooperative movement in Spain and throughout Latin America. In the English-speaking world, and in the US particularly, we hear nothing about it (apart from Mondragon). Some members of my co-op want to remedy this situation. This would likely take the form of an e-book with around a half-dozen essays in it, written by academics and established movement members, and translated by us. It would sell for around $2, and assuming the first one does at all well, there would be more.  I received several generous donations for my work on the Indiano Manifesto (thank you again!), which gives me hope that a larger number of people would support this work with smaller amounts.

So, the question for you is, would it be worth $2 to you to hear what Spanish-speaking cooperators are doing these days, in their own words, professionally translated by fellow cooperators? What topics would be most interesting to you, or, conversely, least interesting?

Steve Herrick7 ~ December 14th, 2012 ~ 2

Buscando retroalimentación sobre la traducción

¿Qué pensáis los lectores?

Hay un movimiento cooperativista vigoroso tanto en España como a lo largo de Latinoamérica. El mundo de habla inglesa, y EEUU en particular, lo desconoce (con la excepción de Mondragón). Algunos miembros de mi cooperativa (ubicada en EEUU) quiesieramos cambiar eso. Pensamos hacerlo en la forma de un e-libro con unos seis artículos escritos por académicos y participantes en el movimiento, y traducidos por nosotros. Lo venderíamos por unos US$2, y si tiene buena acogida, publicaríamos más. Varias personas me dieron donaciones generosas por mi trabajo en el Manifiesto Indiano (¡gracias de nuevo!), lo que me da la esperanza de que más personas apoyarían este esfuerzo con cantidades menores.

Mi pregunta es, ¿creéis que vale la pena crear semejante fuente de noticias para una audiencia de habla inglesa? ¿Cuáles son los temas más importantes — o, por el contrario, menos importantes?

Steve Herrick7 ~ November 19th, 2012 ~ 0

Flattr us!

On the advice of a reader, Evan, we’re beginning to integrate Flattr buttons into this site. Flattr lets you make online donations to sites you want to support — see the site for more details. The first page we’ve put a button on is the English version of the Indiano Manifesto. All contributions will go to Las Indias, although if this proves as successful as we hope, I’ll add another button, so readers in English can also support these ongoing translation efforts.

David de Ugarte60 ~ September 27th, 2012 ~ 0

The devil through the window

Club Esperantista de BilbaoSometimes, you throw the devil out the door, and he comes back in through the window. No one would suspect us “Indianos” of encouraging imagined communities. We’ve spent years working on our criticism of them, and we put out a decent text on it, and all. But then… we approached the Esperanto community, we got them worked up with the way we talked… and we annoyed them. Last Friday, three of us “Indianos” asked to become members of the historic Esperanto club of Bilbao. They rejected us. The people we met, mostly older and pretty unfamiliar with the ‘Net and our history, were afraid that we would somehow co-opt the association and use it to advance the Esperanto Urbo. If you think about it, it’s logical: we’re people whose primary source of belonging is our real community, which, in turn — thanks to the cooperative — allows us to have certain economic resources for social actions, and if there’s one thing that’s indisputable, it’s our capacity for work. The truth is that they said it in a way that came off as rather offensive. But they were right, maybe not in their logic, but in ours: what we had to do and what they offered, was to work as equals, community with community, las Indias and the club: to offer to let them participate in concrete projects, not to integrate ourselves individually and assume the imagined identity of members of a community of speakers. But we felt offended, and over the weekend, a huge debate broke out, both on our blog and on other publications in Esperanto. And, in the end, we saw it — it was our mistake: it didn’t make sense to dissolve ourselves into a real community that we don’t know (the club) in the name of a presumed common belonging, or, even worse, of the implicit acceptance on our part of what they would represent, the imagined community of speakers (Esperantio). What it’s about — and we appreciate the lesson — is working coherently on our ideas, which is to say, on the P2P mode, community with community, people with people, everyone from their own contexts, from their own traditions and values, without catching the ever-destructive virus that is accepting any imagined community.

Translated from the original (in Spanish) by Steve Herrick


In Spanish

Nao VictoriaEl Correo de las Indias is our original blog. We use to publish everyday a couple of posts. Visit us.

El Correo de las Indias es el blog colectivo de los socios del
Grupo Cooperativo de las Indias
Gran Vía 48 - 48011 - Bilbao
F-83409656 (SIE) ~ F-85220861 (EAC) ~ F-95712659 (E) ~ G-84082569 (BIE)