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Chapter 3. The Independent Variable: Interaction with the Habitat

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In the course of the history of our species, a number of different adaptations have appeared vis-à-vis the habitat. Athough transition between them is fluid, anthropologists have been able to recognize five principal lifeways: hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists, agriculturalists, nomadic pastoralists, and city dwellers. As an ideal type, each one of these adaptations correlates with a different religious behavior. It is important, therefore, to outline their special characteristics.

The hunter-gatherers.1 As we know, the exact time at which modern humans appeared is still a matter of debate. Most recently (see Science 237 (1987): 1292–1295) it has been suggested on the basis of new fossil evidence and molecular biological research that they arrived on the scene no earlier than 200,000 years ago. It appears pretty certain that their point of origin was Africa, and by 10,000 before our era they had succeeded in covering the earth.

In a very real way, the hunters and gatherers open the first chapter of our human history. And fittingly, this dawning was as close to paradise as humans have ever been able to achieve. The men did the hunting and scavenging, working for about three hours a week, and the women took care of daily sustenance by gathering vegetal food and small animals. It was such a harmonious existence, such a successful adaptation, that it did not materially alter for many thousands of years. This view is not romanticizing matters. Those hunter-gatherer societies that have survived into the present still pursue the same lifestyle, and we are quite familiar with it from contemporary anthropological observation. Despite the unavoidable privations of human existence, despite occasional hunger, illness, and other trials, what makes their lifeway so enviable is the fact that knowing every nook and cranny of their home territory and all that grows and lives in it, the bands make their regular rounds and take only what they need. By modern calculations, that amounts to only about 10 percent of the yield, easily recoverable under undisturbed conditions. They live a life of total balance, because they do not aspire to controlling their habitat, they are a part of it.

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Chapter 7: The Ghosts that Kill

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

While the multiple personality disorder is rarely interpreted as a condition of demonic possession (although in some instances, as we saw, that would certainly be appropriate), in other contexts the term is bandied about with considerable bravado. In the opening speeches at a newly founded Christian Center for Information about the Occult in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1985, everything popularly subsumed under New Age, such as astrology, aura balancing, crystal healing, plus anything having to do with Spiritualism, was classified as demonic possession. The speakers at this center were fundamentalist Protestants, but when it comes to indicting Satan for the supposed ills of the age, Catholic popular writers do not lag far behind. A Viennese author writing in 19761 includes all the above, while adding also black magic, satanic cults, divination, and spirit journeys to the list. In a 1985 television interview, a Pentecostal minister advocated exorcism for gays, which thus by implication is also classified as possession by an evil spirit. It seems that even in this supposedly rational and scientific modern age, there is no dearth of those who will summarily accuse people of being possessed by abominable spirits if they succumb to the allure of anything culturally decried or censured at the time. But the spirits called up under such circumstances seem rather anemic as devils go. Upon closer examination, they turn out to be no more than flimsy masks used to give an aura of authority to a parochial, dogmatically informed judgment: “In a manner of speaking,” if I see a certain behavior, such as people wearing a crystal on a necklace or paying for an astrological chart, I should warn them in Christian charity that Satan is close by, tempting them to commit an act that within our doctrine, which represents the only Truth, is a Sin. The Evil One, in fact, may have already taken possession of them, and poor benighted ones, they do not even realize it.

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Chapter 6: The Multiple Personality Experience and Demonic Possession

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The multiple personality experience or “disorder” is not usually covered in discussions of demonic possession. That is regrettable, for as we saw in chapter 1, there is a lot that it can teach us about possession, and it also offers some insights into its demonic variant. Perhaps because the multiple personality syndrome is relatively rare, authors of texts on comparative religion are usually not even aware of its existence and would disregard it anyhow, because of the prevailing view that it is exclusively a psychiatric problem.1

Briefly, as will be remembered from chapter 1 and the case of Eve White, patients suffering from this condition experience themselves as having several discrete personalities called alternates that do not share consciousness or memories with their host. That means that the host does not know or is not able to recall what the various alternate personalities do, and extended periods of amnesia, often starting during childhood, are characteristically reported by these patients. Each one of the alternates has its own complex social patterns and behavior. When a given personality is dominant, it will control the individual’s behavior. As should be obvious by now, this description could just as well be cited in any discussion of the experience of possession. There are, however, in the main two differences between this disorder and possession as a religious experience. One of these concerns how the phenomenon is located culturally, that is, what society, especially those charged with treating the patient, thinks is going on. The other is the nature of the beings involved in the possession.

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Under the Influence

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

My father drank. He drank as a gut-punched boxer gasps for breath, as a starving dog gobbles food—compulsively, secretly, in pain and trembling. I use the past tense not because he ever quit drinking but because he quit living. That is how the story ends for my father, age sixty-four, heart bursting, body cooling and forsaken on the linoleum of my brother’s trailer. The story continues for my brother, my sister, my mother, and me, and will continue so long as memory holds.

In the perennial present of memory, I slip into the garage or barn to see my father tipping back the flat green bottles of wine, the brown cylinders of whiskey, the cans of beer disguised in paper bags. His Adam’s apple bobs, the liquid gurgles, he wipes the sandy-haired back of a hand over his lips, and then, his bloodshot gaze bumping into me, he stashes the bottle or can inside his jacket, under the workbench, between two bales of hay, and we both pretend the moment has not occurred.

“What’s up, buddy?” he says, thick-tongued and edgy.

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7 The Path of “WE”

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I would like to tell you more about my people.

Our story may help you to see the world anew
and to discover the majesty that lives in the hills.

My people have been upon the earth
as long as time itself, or at least so it is told.

According to legend, the Creator made Mother Earth
and dressed her with light, wind, water, stone,
plants, and animals. Then he placed my people
among his creation.

It is said that all creation lived in harmony. In all that they
did, light, wind, water, stone, plants, animals, and my
people supported one another. They had become, in the
language of my people, “WE”—that is, “as one.”

This pleased the Creator.

But this harmony did not last. Some say that a dark cloud
enveloped the earth and turned my people from the path
of light. Other say they were bound by a great cord, keeping
their feet from the sure path of stone. However it happened,
the hearts of my people began to walk backward against
creation. Darkness reigned, and the harmony was broken.

Witnessing the strife among the workmanship
of his hands, the Creator shed tears as the rain upon the
mountains. Unless creation could again be made as one,
the children of Mother Earth would be lost.

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A Maya Whistle

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In tomb 23 on the Rio Azul in Guatemala, archeologists came across a figurine representing a young man (pl. 65). He is sitting cross-legged and has his arms folded over his chest. The posture is also seen in a warrior from a classical Maya site at Jaina, on the western coast of the peninsula of Yucatán. Two features, however, distinguish the Rio Azul figurine from the Jaina one. The man from the Rio Azul has his tongue between his lips, and the figurine is a whistle.

When we did the posture for the first time in Cuyamungue in the summer of 1986, one participant was advised to heal a split in her body, another one was to guard something, and Isi was told, rather severely, “If you don’t have any questions now, come back when you do.” Although there were also other kinds of visions, of a hammock, of finely decorated pots, “as if from Mimbres,” of potsherds scattered about, we still decided mainly because of Isi’s report that the posture was intended for divining. However, when we did the posture once more in Columbus in November 1986 with a rather large group, Belinda was informed emphatically that divination was not what the Spirits had in mind: “No—that won’t happen here.”

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Five: The Fourth Limb: Breath Control (Pranayama)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Listen, are you breathing just a little
and calling it a life?

Mary Oliver


Steve, a physician who works as a development officer for a large West Coast medical university, has found practicing breath control (pranayama) at work is a way to slow down a conversation, allowing him to be more grounded and thoughtful. When he is asked a question, he takes a slow, deep inhale and exhale before answering, a practice he adopted after a yoga teacher suggested it in class several years ago. “It helps me slow down that gerbil on the treadmill in my mind. I need that time to really think about what I have to say. It helps me not regret what I say.”

He’s noticed that most people at work answer questions without hesitation. It is not uncommon to hear someone respond before the other person even finishes a sentence. “I’ve even noticed in job interviews how quickly people respond,” Steve says. “I ask questions, and a lot of times I get a canned response. It’s like they came prepared with answers and are looking for a way to insert them into the conversation, instead of taking the time to really think about the question, then give a thoughtful response.”

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The Singular First Person

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

The first soapbox orator I ever saw was haranguing a crowd beside the Greyhound station in Providence, Rhode Island, about the evils of fluoridated water. What the man stood on was actually an up-turned milk crate, all the genuine soapboxes presumably having been snapped up by antique dealers. He wore an orange plaid sport coat and matching bow tie and held aloft a bottle filled with mossy green liquid. I don’t remember the details of his spiel, except his warning that fluoride was an invention of the Communists designed to weaken our bones and thereby make us pushovers for a Red invasion. What amazed me, as a tongue-tied kid of seventeen newly arrived in the city from the boondocks, was not his message but his courage in delivering it to a mob of strangers. I figured it would have been easier for me to jump straight over the Greyhound station than to stand there on that milk crate and utter my thoughts.

To this day, when I read or when I compose one of those curious monologues we call the personal essay, I often think of that soapbox orator. Nobody had asked him for his two cents’ worth, but there he was declaring it with all the eloquence he could muster. The essay, although enacted in private, is no less arrogant a performance. Unlike novelists and playwrights, who lurk behind the scenes while distracting our attention with the puppet show of imaginary characters; unlike scholars and journalists, who quote the opinions of others and shelter behind the hedges of neutrality, the essayist has nowhere to hide. While the poet can lean back on a several-thousand-year-old legacy of ecstatic speech, the essayist inherits a much briefer and skimpier tradition. The poet is allowed to quit after a few lines, but the essayist must hold our attention for pages and pages. It is a brash and foolhardy form, this one-man or one-woman circus, which relies on the tricks of anecdote, conjecture, memory, and wit to enthrall us.

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The Men We Carry in Our Minds

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

This must be a hard time for women,” I say to my friend Anneke. “They have so many paths to choose from, and so many voices calling them.”

“I think it’s a lot harder for men,” she replies.

“How do you figure that?”

“The women I know feel excited, innocent, like crusaders in a just cause. The men I know are eaten up with guilt.”

We are sitting at the kitchen table drinking sassafras tea, our hands wrapped around the mugs because this April morning is cool and drizzly. “Like a Dutch morning,” Anneke told me earlier. She is Dutch herself, a writer and midwife and peacemaker, with the round face and sad eyes of a woman in a Vermeer painting who might be waiting for the rain to stop, for a door to open. She leans over to sniff a sprig of lilac, pale lavender, that rises from a vase of cobalt blue.

“Women feel such pressure to be everything, do everything,” I say. “Career, kids, art, politics. Have their babies and get back to the office a week later. It’s as if they’re trying to overcome a million years’ worth of evolution in one lifetime.”

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Looking at Women

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

On that sizzling July afternoon, the girl who crossed at the stoplight in front of our car looked, as my mother would say, as though she had been poured into her pink shorts. The girl’s matching pink halter bared her stomach and clung to her nubbin breasts, leaving little to the imagination, as my mother would also say. Until that moment, it had never made any difference to me how much or little a girl’s clothing revealed, for my imagination had been entirely devoted to other mysteries. I was eleven. The girl was about fourteen, the age of my buddy Norman who lounged in the back seat with me. Staring after her, Norman elbowed me in the ribs and murmured, “Check out that chassis.”

His mother glared around from the driver’s seat. “Hush your mouth.”

“I was talking about that sweet Chevy,” said Norman, pointing out a souped-up jalopy at the curb.

“I know what you were talking about,” his mother snapped.

No doubt she did know, since mothers could read minds, but at first I myself did not have a clue. Chassis? I knew what it meant for a car, an airplane, a radio, or even a cannon to have a chassis. But could a girl have one as well? I glanced after the retreating figure, and suddenly noticed with a sympathetic twitching in my belly the way her long raven ponytail swayed in rhythm to her walk and the way her fanny jostled in those pink shorts. In July’s dazzle of sun, her swinging legs and arms beamed at me a semaphore I could almost read.

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The Force of Spirit

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

My wife’s father is dying, and I can think of little else, because I love him and I love my wife. Once or twice a week, Ruth and I drive the forty miles of winding roads to visit him in the nursing home. Along the way we pass fields bursting with new corn, stands of trees heavy with fresh leaves, pastures deep in grass. In that long grass the lambs and calves and colts hunt for tender shoots to nibble and for the wet nipples of their mothers to suck. The meadows are thick with flowers, and butterflies waft over the blossoms like petals torn loose by wind. The spring this year was lavish, free of late frosts, well soaked with rain, and now in early June the Indiana countryside is all juiced up.

On our trip to the nursing home this morning, I drive while Ruth sits beside me knitting. Strand by strand, a sweater grows under her hands. We don’t talk much, because she must keep count of her stitches. To shape the silence, we play a tape of Mozart’s Requiem from a recent concert in which Ruth sang, and I try to detect her clear soprano in the weave of voices. The car fills with the music of sorrow. The sound rouses aches in me from earlier losses, the way cold rouses pain from old bone breaks.

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Three: The Second Limb: Personal Code of Conduct

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Personal transformation can and does have global effects.
As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us.
The revolution that will save the world is ultimately
a personal one

Mary Catherine Bateson


By now, you have a sense of how interrelated the yamas truly are. Violating one yama inevitably involves negative action in another. Practicing one strengthens and supports the practice of the others. Ahimsa (non-violence) cannot be achieved without aparigraha (non-hoarding) and practicing aparigraha makes it impossible to violate asteya (non-stealing). Practicing satya (truth-telling) will help you honor asteya (non-stealing) and brahmacharya (managing vital energies).

Michelle Ryan, who owns a yoga studio in Florence, Massachusetts, says practicing the yamas informs every aspect of her business. “I try hard to incorporate ahimsa in what I do, compassion for students and where they might be in their lives. I also try hard to be truthful (satya). I am honest with students about what they can and can’t do physically, and also about what I do or do not know! I am conscious about not sharing others’ ideas as if they are my own, which is asteya. And I do not look at my students as dollar-signs walking through the door, aparigraha. From a business standpoint, that may not make much sense to some people. But I am not teaching for the money—although it’s nice when that manifests, too!”

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2 The Path of Wind

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Weeks into my journey, I came to the edge of a land
known by my people as “the land of winding cliffs.”

Sandstone ridges filled the horizon.
Junipers peeked out from crags in the rocky cliffs,
but otherwise vegetation seemed scarce.

I had never seen this land, but I had heard rumor of it
among my people. It was said to be a place to be avoided—
a confusing land where many entered and few returned.

But here it was, too immense to be avoided, or so I thought.
And so I entered it, despite my people’s warnings.

For most of a day, I carefully picked my way from one
canyon to the next, consulting the sun above for direction.
But as the day grew longer, I became less sure of each choice.

By the time the sun set, I was lost.
Rock walls rose high on either side, obscuring
the night sky and pressing their shadows against me.
After a series of choices I could not retrace, I found myself
stuck in a labyrinth of dead ends and gullies.

It was the last time in my life that I would feel fear.

Yes, the last time.

For as morning dawn broke,
I discovered a truth that casts fear away:

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Eleven: Celebrations

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

For the 1985 spring workshop at the Buddhist Center in Scheibbs, our friend Franz announced that we were going to have a masked dance. “Dear Friends,” he wrote in his flyer,

you have all taken part in an introductory course on trance and the religious altered state of consciousness with Felicitas Goodman. For this year, we are planning a more intensive project with Felicitas, to deepen our knowledge about trance and ecstasy and to practice integrating it into our daily lives. This project is not to be as serious as it sounds, however. We want to make it a celebration as it used to be in ancient cultures, a celebration of joy. It is to be a game between the dimensions of the world, a sacred event demonstrating our connectedness with everything that surrounds us.

I arrived late on the first day from another assignment. I had not seen the flyer; we had discussed the matter only in the most general terms, but in no detail, and I knew only that Franz had engaged Rudl, a trained Viennese maskmaker, as an instructor for our project. So I was understandably startled when after greeting the fourteen participants in the upstairs meditation room of the center, Franz turned to me with a confident smile, saying, “All right, Felicitas, so why don’t you just describe some native ritual to us, and we’ll proceed from there.”

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Chapter 9: Two Recent Cases of Demonic Possession

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Stories about possession by evil spirits have always fascinated people, and our own century is no exception. The film The Exorcist, based on an actual case, had numerous reruns both here and abroad. Hostage to the Devil, by the Jesuit father Malachi Martin,1 which recreates six contemporary possession cases, was widely read in this country, and in the German-speaking parts of Europe, the case of a nurse called Magda, described by Adolf Rodewyk,2 also a Jesuit father, has gone through four editions since it was first published in 1965.

Yet demonic possession is not just the stuff of scary stories. As explained before, we are dealing with actual, catastrophic physical and psychological changes, bringing great suffering to the afflicted. To demonstrate the point, I want in the following to describe two recent cases. They show first of all how little the symptoms of the affliction have changed over time, that is, how stable the syndrome actually is, and second, they raise the important question about what role, if any, modern psychiatry and allopathic medicine might play in the cure.

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