Saturday, December 8, 2012

#145. The Keeper of the Threshold

ARCHIVE. For a list of all my published posts: 

Blog entries beginning with #101 are not essays but minimally-edited notes and reviews from the files I've collected over the last few decades. I no longer have the time and energy needed to sort out and put together into decent essay-form the many varied ideas in these files, but I would like to share them with all who are interested.

If you have questions and think I might help, you're welcome to send me a note:


Post #145 is notes on books and essays on shamanism and shamanic ritual, which I see as models for putting into practice the perspectives of the New Cosmology.


1. Aboriginal Men of High Degree
by Adolphus Peter Elkin (1891-1979). St. Martin's Press (1977)

This book is a second, 1978, edition of what first appeared in 1945; it was prior to Eliade’s famous study of shamanism (and apparently helped stimulate Eliade’s work). It describes variations on a theme, as found in different parts of Australia, especially of how shamans are ‘made’ and also of some of the things they are capable of.

It offers three things of interest: 1) The author makes some good comparisons with Tibetan shamanism. 2) Some specifics are mentioned about the tribal group from the Port Jackson area (which is Sydney). 3) A repeated claim is that the Australian shamans could climb up to the sky (for spirit conferences) via a rope which emanates from their bodies; the introduction specifically says “from their testicles”(!).

Of personal interest is the cleaning out of the insides of the body (which I experienced during a vision many years ago) and the mention of a star coming from the sky to a initiate’s heart (which I experienced on VQ I).


2. The Soul of Shamanism: Western Fantasies, Imaginal Realities
by Daniel C. Noel (Continuum Pub Group, 1997) ISBN: 0826409326

This is a weird book. About 80% of it seems unnecessary. “Too many words.” But it makes several main points. One is that shamanism is being recovered in a contemporary form in our time. A second is that Jung provides the main resource for understanding and practicing shamanism. A third is that while Eliade kicked off the process with his late 1940’s book (even though it was too much “ascension” oriented, says the author), what brought the recovery to a popular level was the Carlos Castaneda books the first of which appeared within a decade of Jung’s death. This provides a nice little summary history of neo-shamanism. (Almost every author I’ve read and/or heard of is mentioned here!)

The author says that just about everybody isn’t doing it the right way and that the only one who has a good sense of what a Western neo-shamanism really is, is James Hillman. A large amount of the book’s space is devoted to trying to spell out Hillman’s views, and the author keeps repeating that they are not easy to follow or let alone explain. The great evil is rationalism; the great good is “imaginalism.” Clearly, it’s far easier to say that rationalism isn’t healthy than to say what is healthy.

The existence of neo-paganism is acknowledged and even (almost unconsciously) admitted to being the only form of neo-shamanism that has a ceremonial/ritual practice associated with it. Neither Hillman nor the author seem to have yet picked up on ritual as the very means by which the images are “owned”/ ingested/ incorporated into our lives.
I don’t think the New Age movement is as inadequate as the author makes it out to be, and I feel uncomfortable with Hillman being place in the role of savior.


3. Slavic Sorcery: Shamanic Journey of Initiation
by Kenneth Johnson (Llewellyn, 1998)

This is a half-good book. There's a lot of good information in the book, but it is presented with no differentiation of value, and there is much personal stuff on the author's part which is of total irrelevance.

"Slavic" here refers almost totally to old Russia. Of special interest is the the chapter on ikons, and especially the end of that chapter where St. George is equated with the Master of the Animals.

The one thing I found personally of interest was something about shifting one's seat of consciousness from the head to the abdomen, not to the heart (as in hesychasm) but to one of the lower chakras. The author makes the point that the chakra centers of power in the body are understood (in "Slavic" terms) very much like they are in India, except that the Slavic perspective does not disdain the lower ones, as unworthy, the way Hindu yogis do.

He points out that the Slavic, Siberian and Native American views are in agreement on this. The author is not a patriarchal (body-soul) dualist; he even refers to James Hillman's famous essay "Peaks and Vales" in talking about the need for a recovery of "soul."


4. “Individuation and Shamanism”
by Downton, J.V., in Journal of Analytical Psychology, 1989. 34: 73-88

The article’s claim is that the stages of shamanic initiation, as recorded for centuries by tribal peoples, provide a pattern for the individuation process. Also, that this information is especially valuable because, while Jung described individuation clearly (as a union of opposites: of consciousness and the un-conscious), Jung falls short on the details.

For the most part, says the author, Jung “muted” the details of the individuation process, specifically its lonely, difficult and terrifying aspects. But, as author says, we need to know about these details if we are to go through the process ourselves and to serve as guides for others.

Downton focuses on the image of the World Tree. Although his references are fairly slim (only Eliade and Joan Halifax’ Shamanic Voices), he is not a victim of that religious dualism which sees all “up” as good and all “down” as bad. He says it doesn’t matter which way you think of it: the male-sky-bird working its way down the tree, or the female-water-snake winding its way up; motion in either direction-- as ascent and descent-- is equivalent (as images of individuation).

He emphasizes not the earth but the “waters under the earth” as being polar to the sky, and sees the earth itself as the barrier between the sky and the waters. (I’d prefer to say that earth-- or even the tree itself-- is the union of those two poles.) He seems to join with J. Halifax in seeing the union of opposites as a restoration of uroboric unity rather than as a forward movement towards the attainment of a differentiated unity.

Perhaps this will be Christianity’s long term contribution to human understanding: the demonstration that the goal of cosmic transfiguration is more of a trinitarian “communitas” than a Buddhist “original block.” But these are not the major issues here; what is, is the description of the stages of shamanic development and/or individuation.

Obviously the stages may be named, numbered and imaged in many ways. The shaman can be seen as making his way up (or down) the (usually seven) branches of the tree; but in a significant alternative image, he is pictured as a developing embryo in an egg in a nest on a branch of the tree.

In any case, the whole process starts with introversion and a sense of vocation: focusing one’s attention within and doing so with a sense of being called to do so is “preparation for taking the first step.”

SUMMARY of the Stages:

ONE: “Divine invasion.” Invasion of the consciousness by the unconscious. The experience of chaos, being torn apart, killed and dismembered.

TWO: “Entering the strange land.” Once the ego is flooded with (or immersed in) the unconscious, there is profound questioning and personal redefinition: both ego-inflation from the sense of being “chosen” and also alienation and loneliness.

THREE: "The dark and light vision.” One endures, living between the opposites; experiences the tension; feeling that one has “no ground to stand on.” (Sounds familiar!)

FOUR: “Becoming two worlds.” The pieces start to fall together as the self permeates consciousness and remolds it in its own image. One becomes a healed and healing symbol. The author says one “becomes a mandala.”

FIVE: “Taming the instincts.” As antagonism between the unconscious and consciousness lessens, “the once oppressive animal spirit no longer attacks.” He now becomes a friendly, helpful, guide. The numinous energies of the unconscious are no longer feared. Creativity is available for everyday use. (That son of a bitch trickster becomes Kola Coyote!)

SIX: “The world tree bears fruit.” As things calm down and some degree of union of opposites is achieved, one begins to taste the fruits of inner balance, harmony, relatedness. (This one’s image wasn’t fruit but honey, the “honey of the good company.”) “The engagement period before the divine marriage.” Greater autonomy and significantly less internal suffering.

SEVEN: “The One.” One becomes the fruit (honey, harmony, beauty). The only task is to “go with the flow” and to “take whatever shape needed.”


5. A Magic Dwells
by Shiela Moon. Wesleyan U Press (1970)

This is a study of the Navajo emergence myth, familiar from Centerpoint study days; it seems to be something like a study of the individuation process from a highly communal or sociological and 'tribal' viewpoint.

The section on pages 85-86 dealing with the Great Horned Rattlesnake is very helpful. It represents "earth energy in heroic size," feared as dangerous but also known as a helper, guardian spirit.

Paul Radin is quoted to the effect that the Horned Snake is the same as the Plumed Snaked or Feathered Serpent, and "belongs unquestionably to the old strata of belief; although adopted by shamans everywhere, it has undergone almost no recasting."

It is a water spirit, but really a "helpful sky monster controlling waters and thunders." I.e., it is the union of earth (snake) and sky (bird) and the energies (thunders) flowing from that union. It is a dynamic and power-filled axis mundi and tree of life image, a more elemental image of the cosmic forces resulting from the union of opposites, just as Coyote-Creator is himself yet another image, more human and four-dimensional, of the same thing.


6. Studies in Siberian Shamanism
edited by H. N. Michael (U of Toronto Press, 1963)

This is number 4 in a series of translations from Russian sources dealing with the "anthropology of the north" by the Arctic Institute of North America.

Five articles; all by Soviet authors who would have been children or young adults in 1917; a great deal of Soviet propaganda is included. Even the editor remarks of one author (who has two of the five essays in the volume), "his assumptions and conclusions [are] based on ideological concepts."

Stimulated from my recent reading of Åke Hultkrantz's book on Native American religion is the question of the age of the three-storey cosmology and the cosmic tree. Information in this book indicates that the three-level universe is probably as old as the human mind's ability to ask and come up with an answer to the question of what the universe looks like.

Also, and significantly, I think: the cosmic tree by which the shaman travels to the above and below worlds apparently is as old as the three-levels concept itself. It looks as if the cosmic axis is the path to the North Star (the hole in the sky through which one enters into the 'above' world). A ceremonial tree seems always included in shamanic rites: erected so that it extends from next to the hearth in the tent right up through the smoke hole. I get the feeling the original pole or sapling was simply a visible indication of the path to Polaris, and only later became an image on its own.

There is no indication from these essays that the axis-tree was understood as uniting above and below in such a way that their union constituted the real world of middle earth (rather than being just a link between three more or less originally equal worlds). But that only says I didn't see it (if it is in the texts, which I don't think it is), or that the authors did not see it (if it is in fact part of the Native understanding), or that they saw it and didn't themselves grasp its significance and thus didn't report it.

Is this world created by the union of opposites in the vision of the people being described in these essays? I don't know.

Is there a 'below' right from the start? Apparently, and at least very early on it was valued no differently than 'above.' Only later (don't ask when; apparently these sciences can say "later" based on linguistic studies) was 'below' identified with land of the dead (and therefore?-- not clear even here-- an evil place).

With regard to the question of how old the idea of 'moieties' or other ceremonial expressions of union of opposites is (also stimulated by Ake's book): there seems to be some indication that the idea is very old. For example: the word 'phraty' (apparently a tribal word, like 'shaman' itself)-- which means something close to 'moeity'-- is said to come from the phrase "to add half" (so that the result is a whole something). This would seem to be an issue to keep looking for.

A problem (in getting a clear perspective on all this) is that the author unquestioningly accepts the 19th century Mutterricht idea and seems (very confusingly) to identify shamanism with the transition to male-dominated civilization (rather than to the Neolithic goddess period). He says categorically, for example, that "shamanism was originally the prerogative of women."

Discussions of the shaman's costume, ritual tent and ceremonies are radically limited to descriptions of very specific costumes, tents and rites-- and are, therefore, greatly distorted. It is as if a car mechanic with a Methodist Sunday School background, present at the liturgy of John Chrysostom on a specific feast day, takes "field notes" from which he later describes 'the heathen services.' Details are emphasized without any sense of their importance or lack thereof: I guess this is classical ethnographic data-gathering-- with, here, the soviet overlay, to make it even more confusing. One essay-- to indicate how much more than merely data-gathering is involved-- begins with references to two earlier articles: "The Struggle Against Shamanism" (1931) and "Shamanism as a Hindrance to Social Construction" (1932).

A book on Siberian shamanism I described in Nov 89 as "unmanageable wealth"-- Popular Beliefs and Folklore Traditions in Siberia, V. Dioszegi, ed. (The Hague, 1968) is one I may be ready to look at, again.

Meanwhile... Of great personal interest is the original Siberian word used for earth (world, universe, nature): it also means "that which shows itself in natural phenomena" (that which thunders, for example); and also sky and land, and the spirit-powers of the land, and even the master-spirits of the animals and of nature.

I think it would not be inaccurate to say that in modern language the word means something like "the sacred ecological world" or "(the world of) nature surrounding humans and which is perceived to be revelation." I.e., this may be a term which preserves the primordial sacramental perception of the world! (I know that is far-fetched, but so is all of this stuff!)

It is one of the oldest known words and appears in many ancient languages: Sanskrit "bhagas", Avesta(?) "baga", Persian "boga", Russian "bog", Korean and Ainu "pa", Chinese "ban" and "byan." It's also the first word I learned for God, in the Polish form, boze.


7. Rites and Symbols of Initiation
Mircea Eliade (HarperCollins, 1966) ISBN 0-06-131236-3

Initiation rites are essentially death-rebirth rites; ultimately, all are based on puberty rituals and find their full flower in shamanic initiation rites. The shaman is the ideal type of the "re-made man." He is exemplar of humanness, and humanness is essentially religious. [A shaman is a transformed person, essentially "spiritual."]


8. North American Indian Studies: European Contributions
Pieter Hovens, ed. (1981; Edition Herodot, Two volumes, 2nd: 1984)

These essays vary immensely; they seem to me to be poorly translated, often pompously academic, and to deal to a great extent with sociological data. I made the ILL request to get the book in order to see the article by Rolf Krusche (of the Leipzig Museum of Anthropology), "The Wabeno Cult as a Adversary of the Medewiwin."

It talks mostly about Wabeno's "bad press" as being created by the Medi; offers an example of Parry Island where the opposite happened: Wabeno is the established religion and Mede is "devil worship." Other than that they danced all night (ending at dawn) and handled hot things (the way Heyoka do), and were 'founded' by Morning Star, the article gives little information about them.

Volume I contains an interesting essay about the Castaneda books. Volume II has a long article by Åke Hultkrantz about Swedish contributions to Native American (especially NA religions) studies; the Swedes really do deserve much credit. The only other essay of interest is Franco Meli (U of Rome), "Charles A. Eastman: A Parabola of Integration." Very sympathetic. Claims that Eastman's Soul Of An Indian is his most important book, and that it remains valid today as profound critique of white culture's lost-ness.


9. Tending the Fire, The Ritual Men's Group
Wayne Liebman. (Ally Press, 1991)

This is a gem of a book. Only 57 pages total, and the main points are made in the first forty. Highly confirming of our men's group process and my personal understanding of ritual. 'Verification' might be a better word than 'confirming.'


10. Inner Traditions of Magic
William Gray (Samuel Weiser, Inc. 1970)

This is the first real book about 'magic' I've ever read. It never uses the words "craft" or "witchcraft" and doesn't seem feminist or earth goddess oriented in a contemporary sense.

The author plunges right in, in chapter one, with a discussion of images as divine energies which are the basis of our existence, and of ritual as the process by which we make them our own. The language is exotic, to be sure, but the concepts are quite clear. Far more even than Wayne Leibman's book, this is highly confirming of my own understandings.

The real essence of the work seems to be creating of sacred space via the circle/cross; here the guardians of the four directions are called by the names of archangels, but there is also an above and below and emphasis on the individual as the center of it all. Not unfamiliar, to be sure!

From this book I see a difference between this kind of 'magic' activity and shamanism: it's the work of individuals or small groups, and perhaps even "for all" in some sense, but never do I get the idea that the practitioner acts to help another, less able, to come in contact with the powers. I.e., there's no sense of the kind of healing and/or divining rites so characteristic of shamanism.

The author says very many good things about the importance of a modern calendar which keeps ties with the important ancient dates. He says something like "This recovery is one of the most important things needed in our time."

This book contains the only authoritative description I've ever read of the Black Mass. Essentially it is the intentional use of power to do evil, specifically by conceiving a child which would in some way be an incarnation of evil powers. There's also a description of an "incarnation of God" ceremony, where twelve "potent males," representing the fullness of masculine attributes, donate semen used to artificially inseminate an "untouched virgin." The resulting child, after 32 years, becomes a sacrificial victim. Overall view: despite odd things like these rites, this is a remarkably sensible book.


11. Turtle Island Alphabet, A Lexicon of Native American Symbols and Culture by Gerald Hausman (St. Martin's Press, 1992)

Eighty or so Native American-related items are described here: from arrow, basket, bead and bear to yucca and zigzag. The style is somewhat fuzzy ("poetic") but readable for the most part. Nothing new, as far as I can see, but much appreciation of Native American perspectives, which is good enough.

The author is from New Mexico and the references are all heavily southwest oriented, so it's not as interesting as it might be for my taste. For example, "pipe" here means only a sacred object, not a way of life. Many old and fascinating photos, which are merely credited but not, alas, described.


12. The Wolves of Heaven, Cheyenne Shamanism, Ceremonies and Prehistoric Origins, by Karl H. Schlesier. U of OK Press, 1987

John Grim's book [The Shaman: Patterns of Religious Healing Among the Ojibway Indians] compares Ojibway and Siberian shamanism. This book goes a bit further. It claims to prove the direct link between the two forms (Siberian and Cheyenne) of shamanism.


13. Religion in Context by I. M. Lewis (Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science). Cambridge University Press (1986).

This is a series of talks on cannibalism, witchcraft, possession, etc. The point of the collection is that all are versions of shamanism. I found it overly intellectualizing, but there's one neat quote: "The Russian St. Nicholas has been adopted by the Tungus as the 'grand master' of shamans."


14. Witchcraft and Sorcery of the Native American Peoples Deward E. Walker, Jr., ed. (U of Idaho Press, 1989)

Approximately 18 separate essays by different authors, each discussing the topic-- from a totally anthropological or sociological viewpoint-- for different regions of North and South America. Plains/Sioux are not represented. Closest is Nez Perce of Northern Plateau. The only one which looks of interest is the Great Lakes/ Menominee essay. This essay contains a valuable list of hunting culture characteristics; also a description of wabenos and tent-shakers-- as two different kinds of shaman; this is, perhaps, even a major distinction.


15. Sioux Indian Religion
Raymond J. DeMaile and D.R. Parks, Eds.
U of OK Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8061-2055-X

This is a collection of talks given at an early 1980's symposium on Sioux religion in Bismark, ND; organized apparently, by DeMaile and Jahner.

Demaile reviews 19th c beliefs, all of which is not unfamiliar. Jahner presents myths, based on early written records of oral traditions; most of which is quite unfamiliar, and most valuable.

Other chapters include a talk by a hereditary keeper of the sacred pipe, something by Vine Delora, Sr., some by fundamentalist Native Americans, a Native Amerocan Church leader, a Jesuit missionary honestly saying he and his fellow Jesuits don't know what they're doing, and a very interesting talk by a Lakota woman who is traditionalist, PhD academic scholar, and feminist.

Hers is probably the most thought provoking talk. It must have been a very exciting symposium.


16. Oglala Religion by William K Powers. U of NB Press (1977)

In the acknowledgements the author thanks the Red Cloud community for allowing him to grow up there and become part of their culture when he was unhappy with his own. He was 14! (There must be quite a personal story there.)

This is a good book. It's clearly an insider's look at Oglala religion, but with all the academic apparatus being available to a white author. The main point of the book is that religion (in all its various expressions at Pine Ridge) is the one thing that gives Oglalas identity in white man's culture and that it persists through numerous adaptations.

It is a sociological, anthropological study of Oglala religion for its own sake. It takes that religion seriously in a way most books about Native Americans don't. (If only a book on Native American religion from as serious a viewpoint but with a psychological orientation would appear, we have some kind of initial closure on these introductory stages of study!)

The section on Sacred Things (Part II) is as fine a summary as I know. Within Part II, chapter 6 deals with Intermediaries (ritual specialists), listing Heyoka, Bear Dreamers, Wolf Dreamers, etc. Chapter 7 deals with Cosmology. Both are very well done chapters.

Some tidbits...

"Pitifulness" is the proper stance for one wishing to live in harmony with nature. Our innate powerlessness when confronted with danger, famine, etc. requires us to assert that we are pitiable. This is something like the Christian assertion of sinfulness before God, but much healthier.

With regard to the importance of seasonal celebrations: the Oglala word for season and year is simply a form of the word for 'earth' or 'land.' "Maka" is mother earth; "omaka" is season. (This really has significance to me; it confirms that seasonal celebrations are indeed of primal importance in being one with the primal gift of 'land.')

Of the 16 expressions of wakan, the second group of eight includes the two-leggeds (along with tantaka, the four winds and others). Of interest is that the two-legged group includes not just humans but also bears.

Chapter 10, on Political Discontinuity, makes clear how the Jesuit-established catechist sodalities and a great deal more of what the missionaries set up, allowed old Native Americans to maintain their pre-reservation cultural identity. Due to the sodalities, the "sacred persons" (as Powers calls the shamans) take on the social roles that formerly had been those of the "political" tribal leaders. This makes tremendous good sense, both expanding my appreciation, and deepening my understanding, of Black Elk's 30 years of active involvement as a catechist.

Related to the above. The fact that "Not only do sacred persons preserve the myth and ritual of their people, but they assume the responsibilities to their people once held by now politically powerless tiyospaye leaders is also an excellent confirmation of our understanding of the shaman as human norm rather than social aberration. I see this development at Pine Ridge as simply a return to what probably was the historically far earlier situation.

The various denominations on the Pine Ridge reservation play a role similar to that of the old hereditary bands. Groups in geographical areas tend all to join one denomination, but tend to marry (consciously or not, the author isn't sure) outside the denomination, thus following the old rules for not marrying within one's band. This is an excellent example of the author's main point, that religion in its various adapted forms is the one thing that allows the Native Americans to maintain their cultural identity. It's an exciting idea, since it seems to guarantee some preservation of the 'old ways' precisely by the religious denominations which on the surface would seem to be the least likely tools for such preservation.

All in all, a delightful book. I'd like to own a copy. I've had that feeling about very few of the numerous NA-related books I've read over the last several years. The one other which stands out in my mind just now is Ake Hultkrantz's with a simple title something like "NA Religion." (Alas, most of Ake's texts have titles that all sound the same!)


17. Yuwipi: Vision and Experience in Oglala Religion
William K. Powers. U of NB Press (1982). ISBN 0-8032-8710-0

The author says he first went to Pine Ridge in 1948; this material dates mostly from the 1960s. It's in narrative form, well done; much of it is so familiar that I've either read the book before (which I doubt) or much of it has been printed under other titles. But much, too, is unfamiliar. And of interest. Powers is sympathetic and does not interpret through a philosophically dualistic viewpoint.

Most interesting is the ambiguity regarding the spirits who gather at a yuwipi meeting. The narrative's central yuwipi man addresses the spirits a number of times as "you animals." In the yuwipi songs they are called "stones." And the author clearly states that they are ghosts (literally, formerly alive human persons). Also, and contradictorily, he says that there are 405 kinds ("species") of them. (This number accounts for the use of 405 tobacco ties, which we first encountered in reading about Frank Fools Crow.)

The term used for what we might call "liturgical participation" is "to help out." One "helps out" by singing or whatever, but no less importantly by one's presence which "supports the task." The "task" is the ritual for the benefit of 'all my relations.' This 'helping out' notion seems to be an excellent understanding of "public work" or "work of the people."

At only 101 pages, this is a small but valuable book for anyone who thinks he may be called to be a yuwipi man-- or anyone who just wants to understand this specific form of shamanic activity.


18. My Friend the Indian James McLaughlin.
U of NB Press (1989). ISBN 0-8032-8160-4

The original of this text appeared in 1910. McLaughlin was an Irish Catholic Canadian, who somehow became a US citizen and perhaps the most important government agent for Native Americans over a period of forty or so years. He was personally responsible for Sitting Bull and played a role in the mid-December 1890 killing of Sitting Bull that led to Wounded Knee two weeks later. I find the book very uninteresting. But despite all his goodwill, his attitudes toward NAs are hard to take.


19. Sister to the Sioux, The Memoires of Elain Goodale Eastman
Kay Graber, Ed. U of NB Press (1978). ISBN 0-8032-6713-4

This is Mrs. Charles A. Eastman (Ohiyesa). Apparently her talents as a writer to some extent account for the high readability of his books. She was a published author before she met him. Raised in New England in a highly creative farm family situation, she taught at Hampton Institute (for Blacks and Native Americans, in Virginia-- the predecessor, I think, of Carlisle) for a year, then started a school at age 23 in South Dakota.

She was in Pine Ridge village during December, 1990, and helped tend the wounded from Wounded Knee in Holy Cross church. The kind of person I'd like to have as a friend.


20. Shadow Catcher, Charles Fergus. Soho Press (1991).

This is a novel dealing with the 1913 Wanamaker Expedition, a traveling circus-type activity which tried to get Native Americans to swear allegiance to the American flag. A monument was to be built near the Statue of Liberty somehow commemorating Native Americans. (I don't know if this is fact or fiction. A Feb 1992 review in NY Times says the basics are fact.)

James McLaughlin, author of My Friend the Indian, is a principal character. Hard to follow the plot readily. Revolves around a stenographer with the expedition who takes candid photos with a hidden camera.


21. I Become A Part of It, Sacred Dimensions in Native American Life. Parabola Books (late 1980s).

A collection of new essays and classic texts which have appeared in Parabola magazine. Of special note is an original essay by Vine Deloria, Jr. called "Out of Chaos."

His main point is that Native Americans share the classical archetype of exile (as for example in the Biblical exile imagery) and that the Exiled One is traditionally a person who brings back a wider, universal perspective on what previously had been a limited parochial vision.

He notes that in our pathological fantasy-desert cultural context, a communication of what is perhaps our last best hope-- the ancient Native American sacred vision-- isn't possible. (This essay gives substance and confirmation to my directive about being "nothing." It is personally very significant.)


22. Understanding Russia, The Holy Fool in Russian Culture
by Ewa M. Thompson. University Press of American (1987).

The author doesn't much care for shamans or holy fools, but she devotes one whole chapter (of the book's six) to showing how the institution of Russia's holy fools is nothing but shamanism ("the universal pagan religion") in Christian guise.

It's a form of culture shock to read this book right after reading The Wolves of Heaven. Both authors make good cases for the Siberian origins of both the shamans of the Great Plains Cheyenne tribes, and the holy fools of Russia. Mind blowing!

Clearly, what is most of interest in the Russian religious tradition is precisely its incorporation of "the universal paganism."

Three odds and ends:

1. St Nicholas is one of the highly revered personages of the shamanic tribes of eastern Russian.

2. The holy fool, as the most typical Russian folk hero of all time, is the link between shamanism and Christianity.

3. The holy fool's prestige was grounded in the shamanic belief in the possibility of a direct contact with the supernatural.

Number 1 is fun. Numbers 2 and 3 are of great significance.


23. Initiation, by Jean Sybill La Fontaine
Manchester University Press (1986, c1985).

Not bad. A little too heavy on the “secret knowledge" idea, but a much broader than usual sense of what ritual is all about. Good criticism of early writers on ritual.


24. The Trickster in West Africa, A Study of Mythic Irony and Sacred Delight, by Robert D. Pelton. U of California Press (c1980).

This is the most intelligent book I’ve ever seen on the trickster. Text is from point of view of religion, primarily; intelligently quotes scholars of religion as well as Jung, Freud, et al. Too dense to be read casually.


25. The Winter King, a novel by Bernard Cornwell.

Lots of blood and gore, but very interesting. A fictional account (none other is possible) of the events leading up to Arthur becoming “king:” the unification of British tribes and their efforts to repel the Saxons, after Rome had abandoned them.

Fun stuff, too, such as Lancelot is a jerk and a coward. It’s even mentioned in the story how the tales will be changed so that future generations think of him as a unblemished hero.

The author mentions in a ending piece that the Christianity of the time would be unrecognizable to us. That makes me think about other “models” of Christianity for the future, how we can’t fight all the battles with the institution, and that trying to take a stand against the meaningless which prevails in the culture isn’t even possible. All one can do-- this one at least-- is be marginal.


26. Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, two essays by D. H. Lawrence (Heinemann, 1961)

Some interesting stuff here. Essays written in the early 1920’s, dealing with psychoanalysis and sexual development. He makes a really good point: that people need to be sexually “satisfied” or “fulfilled” first, and only then can they-- and once they are, do they-- devoted themselves to a broader, cosmic “purpose” (one that is “on behalf of all and for all”).

Other interesting stuff, specifically about male development, but done in a style requiring more work and effort than I can give to it just now.
Another really important point is our sensitivity to “vibes” contained in things: old houses, objects, trees, etc. And how all of those things relate to one’s inner, wholistic maleness. (I think of two places I've experienced with very powerful vibes: the Church of St. Genevieve (Paris, from about the 5th c) and Bear Butte (South Dakota).


27. Shamanism and the 18th Century
by Gloria Flaherty (Princeton U Press).

The author’s point is that shamanism has been known to the intelligentsia of Europe since the age of explorers and missionaries. It was a kind of shadow concern during the age of the Enlightenment. Catherine the Great actually wrote a play about it! Goethe studied it. Faust is all about it. (Just what E. Edinger says in his commentary on Faust.) Interesting stuff.


28. The Shaman From Elko, C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco.

This is a festscrift in honor of the 75th birthday of Joseph Henderson (born and raised in Elko, Nevada). It is without doubt the most interesting collection of Jungian essays I’ve ever come across.

Several are well worth looking at: Adler’s, Spencer’s, Travis’, and Levene’s. One is a must: Reed’s, entitled “Shamanistic Principles.”
Brief summary: The shaman is essentially a keeper of values, which he activates via ritual. He is called to this task by a spirit or spirits, who are very often alien to his social setting. (The author’s examples are fascinating!) Thus, by dealing with them, the shaman is on the leading edge of cultural change. He is a culture-transformer, and this is the very substance of (cosmic) evolution. (All this gives new and deeper-- and personally very satisfying-- meaning to “marginality.”)


29. Maya Cosmos, by David Freidel, Linda Schele, Joy Parker (William Morrow and Co, 1993).

The subtitle of this book is “Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path.” It is not, however, so much about the practice of shamanism as it is of how the shamanic world view was and is incarnated spatially in Maya culture.

“Mayan” refers to the native peoples of the Yucatan peninsula, which includes today parts of Mexico, Belize, Honduras, etc. The Mayans were preceded by the Omlecs, and much of the book is devoted to showing how the Omlec culture not only was passed on to the Maya, but that it survives today fairly strongly, although with a veneer of Spanish Christianity. (Thus the “Three Thousand Years” of the subtitle.)

The book was co-written by three people totally immersed in field research and teaching. Dennis Tadlock is frequently mentioned as a colleague. (He apparently speaks the Mayan language and can read the glyphs on the temple walls.) References to the glyphs constitute a major portion of the book, but for me it is nearly impossible to make out what they are pictures of, let alone to see how they can be translated into words and ideas as the authors do constantly.

The essence of the book is discovery of the central place of what the authors call the quincunx: a basic pattern of four corners and the center marked off in some way: piles of stones in fields, the words “north," "south," etc. written on walls (in glyphs for those words, of course), posts at the corners of houses, pillars at the corners of temples, etc.

This is, according to the authors, not just the laying down of sacred space, but is in fact the re-creation each time it is done, of the cosmos-- which is why sacred space is in fact constituted.

The World Tree, understood to be at the center, of course, is always erected nearby, and much of the time in the form of a Western-looking Christian cross (but which in fact in pre-Christian by millennia).

Human beings are thus responsible for the on-going creation of the world, maintaining balance/harmony by its on-going renewal, re-creation, transfiguration.

A shaman is simply someone who is especially good at what everyone has to do: at entering into communion with the life-giving forces and powers of the universe. The life-force comes through at the world-center, exuded as sap from the world tree. It is imaged as sweat from a human body, but also as blood, semen, nectar from flowers, wax dripping from a candle, rust forming on a piece of iron, etc. It is given by the gods in exchange for goodwill gifts to them (flowers, tobacco, blood, whiskey, whatever).

The sense that the gods/spirits need us humans seems to be quite strong; at one point the text sounded like the old catechism: the gods/spirits “made us to know and love them.” The shaman is called a “do-er” and the life-force is called itz; thus the shaman is an itz-er: a “do-er of itz.”

All of this world-center establishing is tied in with the stars, notably the Milky Way (which is the World Tree) and the seasons, as well as the years. (These are the people who have that billions-of-years long cyclic calendar of which the Harmonic Convergence in 1987 was an expression.)

Appropriating the life-force takes multiple forms, everything from the famous ball-playing rites to blood-letting and human sacrifice. Apparently blood-letting by perforation of the penis was common, and there are numerous flint penis-perforators, in the shape of scorpions, mostly, found as artifacts.

One photo, of a rain-making ceremony, and the diagram which went with it (pages 32 and 56) was especially interesting. Above an altar-table are strung sky-ropes and corner tree-branch supports, from which hangs a circle (made of gourds) called the sky-hole or glory-hole, the portal through which the life-giving spirit-forces come. It sure looks to me like a Central American version of a shaking tent. Fascinating!

Turtles, by the way, play a central role in the cosmology. They give birth, through a crack in the carapace, to the reborn Mother-Father god who is the origin of the world.


30. The Nature of Shamanism: Substance and Function of a Religious Metaphor, by Michael Rapinsky-Naxon (SUNY Press, 1993).

I found this accidentally, while looking for something else, at the county library. The author acknowledges writing it under a compulsion: he had been working on another book when this one more or less demanded to be written. [A great example of the cosmic process on Earth making itself known!]

The book is not easily summarized. It might be called an overview of shamanism. The emphasis is not, however, on the essence of shamanism as the title implies, so much as on the persistence of shamanism to our day in both surviving native cultures and in the ‘high religions.’

The author knows an incredible amount about shamanism, and sometimes the text seems to have no point other than to demonstrate that knowledge. And it is literally “all over the place;” he moves from examples in one cultural area to another and from one time in history to another without any clear pattern.

He seems little concerned with shamanism’s origins, what I think of as its “normal” (hunting culture) form for most of human history. And there is much more emphasis on shamanism's biological-psychic basis in brain chemistry and in the use of hallucinogenic plant substances.

Examples from native North America are conspicuously absent: almost all his native examples come from Central and South America, and his interest in South America and drug-induced visions put Michael Harner’s work in the spotlight.

I see no evidence of the author’s sense of a clear connection between shamanism, hunting and sacred maleness; he seems, instead, to accept uncritically the perspectives of those who see everything arising only from a Great Mother.

Despite all this, it is a fascinating book, simply because it contains so much interesting information. Most delightful was his list (p 12) of persons whose work has especially contributed to our understanding of shamanism. I was familiar with every name on his list!

Especially in the author’s favor is the fact that he does not seem to buy into the patriarchal matter-spirit duality of so many writers on the topic.

His notes and bibliography are a gold mine of resources. They include references to the Saami shaman's drum, the Mochia Culture of Peru, spirit possession in Belize, the Cubeo Indians of the North West Amazon, the religions of Mongolia, the rock art of Texas Indians, ancient Texans, the shamanism and art of the Eastern Tukanon Indians, and even a study of the Menorah as The Tree of Light.


31. Anthropology and the Study of Religion, edited by Robert L. Moore and Frank E. Reynolds, Center for the Scientific Study of Religion, Chicago, 1984

This book is an attempt to overcome the split between anthropology and religious studies. It contains three sets of articles (10 in all) dealing with scholars whose work impinges on both areas. Some essays were not of interest and one was incomprehensible, but the section on Victor Turner contains two fascinating essays.


One of them is: "Women’s Stories, Women’s Symbols: A Critique of Victor Turner’s Theory of Liminality."

The author, Caroline Walker Bynum, is a professor of History at the University of Washington and interested in medieval female mystics. Her point is that Turner’s idea of liminality and transformation simply doesn’t apply to women. She makes an excellent case for the fact that while transformative experience may be absolutely necessary for male growth and development, it isn’t for women. Worth reading, as much for the exotic medieval females she mentions-- many of whom I’d never heard!-- as well as for its main point.


The second especially interesting essay is "Space and Transformation in Human Experience" by Robert L. Moore, a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary and editor of the whole series of which this text is a part.

If the essay by Caroline Walker Bynum strongly supports an understanding of the need for transformation experience in male development, this essay strongly supports an understanding of ritual as the necessary container where it happens.

Moore begins by saying that therapy and religious guidance have jointly neglected ritual (as well as any attention to cultural anthropology) because of their narrow Protestant and “liberal” bias stemming fro the 1950’s. The essay has three sections, dealing with Eliade’s, Turner’s and Moore’s ideas on sacred space.

1) Eliade. Space-time, he says, is in fact experienced as sacred or profane. Profane means lacking orientation, lacking a center, having no contact with the “really real.” It is, thus, devoid of creativity and is not life-giving. In profane space life and cosmos deteriorate.

Sacred space , in contrast, is experienced as empowering and life-giving, strong, significant, real, re-creative. Such sacred space can be where a hierophany has occurred, where a sign indicates the sacred, and where the sacred may be evoked.

While humans may evoke, but can not create sacred space, they must always guard it: steward the boundaries, keep the enclosure. Doing so is one of the most ancient and important of human activities. Without it there is no order, no creativity, no renewal-- i.e. precisely none of those things which define male spirituality!

In any initiatory, healing or transformational experience, sacred space is the place of transition. There is where cosmos/self is renewed.

A primary task of the shamanic person is to locate and effectively use this transformative space, to help the initiate enter and leave it. It is, says Eliade, via initiation that men become human. And without it contemporary life is radically impoverished.

2) Turner. Turner’s work builds on van Gennep’s pioneering recognition of three phases of rite of passage: Separation (creation of a cultural milieu other than that of the ordinary/conventional), Transition (the limen [margin or threshold], where’s one’s old identity is stripped away and a new meaning and purpose comes to be), and Incorporation ( the return to conventional world but bringing to it and for it one’s new identity, meaning, purpose).

Elaborating on Gennep’s transitional phase, Turner made three main points:      
       1. He distinguished ceremony (such as a high school graduation) from ritual. “Ceremony indicates, ritual transforms.”
       2. He emphasized that in liminality the “old” is destroyed and the “new” created.
       3. He distinguished between the liminal and liminoid. Liminal is a “tribal” or collective experience, tied into natural life-cycles and calendar rhythms and social crises; it is the place where conventional social structures are minimalized. Liminoid, in contrast, is non-cyclic and non-biological experience: far more that of the individual, and marginal to conventional cultural norms. It tends to be associated with leisure: the theater, ballet, art, music, film, literature, poetry and pilgrimage. Such things, says Turner, “ are dismembered components of the liminal.”

Turner apparently saw the great divide between tribal and contemporary to be the industrial revolution, but also felt that the liminal is still to be found in churches, cults, Masonic orders, fraternity initiations-- i.e., in various groups within society, but not in society as a whole.

3) Moore. It is just this point (about liminal and liminoid) that Moore is critical of. He wants to make the liminal/liminoid distinction not between groups-within-society vs whole-society but rather “on the basis of how the boundaries that delimit sacred space are constituted and maintained or ‘stewarded’;” i.e., on the “relative importance of the leadership of ritual elders.”

“Ritual leadership is the key variable,” Moore says. Liminal space requires it, liminoid space doesn’t. Liminality occurs “because of the availability of knowledgeable ritual elders.” Their “conscious intentionality” is what holds and keeps the boundaries so that the intensity of the transition is contained. The transitional process goes awry is the leader does not prevent the boundaries from becoming permeable.
Anyone seeking transformation today is bound to end up on the margins of society and at natural boundaries (seashore, mountains, desert). But “some forms of contemporary psychotherapy are liminal.”

The essence of it all is a safe container, where conventional autonomy may be surrendered and the individual submit to a process which has its own autonomy. The boundaries must be stable, impermeable. The ritual leader’s job is to maintain the boundaries, to facilitate the sacred context by avoiding the kinds of behavior that destroy the possibility of its appearance.

He is not in control of the process, he “merely” guards the enclosure. In all culture, he is keeper of the threshold. “The rigorous attention to detail characteristic of ritual elders reflects not a sense of mastery of sacred space. On the contrary, such care is an indication of the ritual elder’s awareness of the fragility of regenerative space and the ease with which it can be spoiled.”


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