Saturday, April 7, 2007

Boil Me a Star

Where one story ends, another inevitably begins, or continues or, in this case, predates. The Easter story would never have happened without the Passover story. Passover began last week on April 2 at nightfall, and will end April 10 before nightfall. That is a Star of David there in the foam of simmering oatmeal, the first example of a Jewish icon appearing that I have read about. This article from the Jewish Journal indicates that there are no known occurrences of pareidolia in Judaism. Passover oatmeal cookies are common, but this isn’t a Passover story, because Gary Marcus made this breakfast a few weeks ago at his home in the Northridge section of Los Angeles. He called for his wife Marsha to bring a camera, and she brought her cell phone.

I’ve been talking, and thinking, about Madonna of the Toast quite a bit lately, in a way, so it seems, more than when I was putting it together. Part of this is because I’ve been engaging with people about the book, the stories and the ideas behind them. And one question that has come up a few times is, Do these occurrences happen more frequently now?

Because the phenomenon that has become known as pareidolia is such an intrinsic human trait, documented over hundreds of years, it is fair to say that such visual manifestations have always happened, we have always facilitated their appearances. Today though, the rate at which information zips all over the world, has unquestionably accelerated our knowing about – well, almost everything really. With a camera phone at hand and good Internet connection, if you choose to, you can arrange to never miss much, even the unexpected and the previously unknown.

Gary Marcus recently lost his job of 24 years, so Marsha approached a rabbi for a blessing, which had been delivered three days before . . . via email, a common practice for this particular rabbi.

Our understanding of the world we inhabit has changed quite a bit due to technology: the wheel, fire, printing press, television, Internet. Doubtless, all of these factors play into how people react to the visual manifestations of religious and secular icons. A thorough analysis of the matter requires more thought and time, but I will say, when we live in a world where religious piece of mind is emailed, it should come as no surprise that people are eager to share their discoveries, no matter how personal, with anyone that wants to take a gander. We relay stories that mean something to us, and though they may not mean the same thing to others, or mean anything at all, the fact that we can know about them with such ease, weaves them into our cultural fabric. It doesn't so much matter if these events happen with greater frequency these days, what matters is that they happen, and people react.

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