89 Chapters
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Beauty

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

In memory, I wait beside Eva in the vestibule of the church to play my bit part as father of the bride. She is supposed to remain hidden from the congregation until her queenly entrance, but in her eagerness to see what’s going on up front she leans forward to peek around the edge of the half-closed door. The satin roses appliquéd to her gown catch the light as she moves, and the toes of her pale silk shoes peep out from beneath the hem. The flower girls watch her every motion. Twins a few days shy of their third birthday, they flounce their unaccustomed frilly skirts, twirl their bouquets, and stare with wide eyes down the great length of carpet leading through the avenue of murmuring people.

Eva hooks a hand on my elbow while the three bridesmaids fuss over her, fixing the gauzy veil, spreading the long ivory train of her gown, tucking into her bun a loose strand of hair, which glows the color of honey filled with sunlight. Clumsy in my rented finery—patent leather shoes that are a size too small and starched shirt and stiff black tuxedo—I stand among these gorgeous women like a crow among doves. I realize they are gorgeous not because they carry bouquets or wear silk dresses, but because the festival of marriage has slowed time down until any fool can see their glory.

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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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At Play in the Paradise of Bombs

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Twice a man’s height and topped by strands of barbed wire, a chain-link fence stretched for miles along the highway leading up to the main gate of the Arsenal. Beside the gate were tanks, hulking dinosaurs of steel, one on each side, their long muzzles slanting down to catch trespassers in a cross-fire. A soldier emerged from the gatehouse, gun on hip, silvered sunglasses blanking his eyes.

My father stopped our car. He leaned out the window and handed the guard some papers which my mother had been nervously clutching.

“With that license plate, I had you pegged for visitors,” said the guard. “But I see you’ve come to stay.”

His flat voice ricocheted against the rolled-up windows of the back seat where I huddled beside my sister. I hid my face in the upholstery, to erase the barbed wire and tanks and mirror-eyed soldier, and tried to wind myself into a ball as tight as the fist of fear in my stomach. By and by, our car eased forward into the Arsenal, the paradise of bombs.

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Five: The Way of the Spirits

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The first workshop that Franz organized in the Buddhist Center in Scheibbs (Austria) took place in 1982. He published the announcement in the schedule of the center, and a few of the regulars became interested. Others had seen the television show. Kurt, also of the television workshop, told friends in Vienna about his experiences, and they came to Scheibbs to find out more. Yolanda of a later Scheibbs workshop was from Switzerland. The next spring, she got some friends together, they rented suitable quarters in a mountain resort, and we did a workshop there. A stop in Switzerland has become an institution since then, part of my yearly spring tour, which at this writing covers five European countries.

In this country, the development of the workshops took off slowly. For several summers in a row, I taught anthropology courses at Cuyamungue Institute. However, with the connection to Denison University, my home institution, weakening with the years, recruiting undergraduates became more and more difficult. Increasingly also, that was really no longer what I wanted to do. It was at this juncture that summer workshops comfortably fitted into the premises already available there.

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Buffalo Eddy

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

From pristine headwaters in Yellowstone National Park, the Snake River flows through western Wyoming, across Idaho, and into Washington before joining the Columbia River near the Hanford Nuclear Site, a destination as toxic as any on Earth. Hanford, repository for two-thirds of our nation’s high-level radioactive waste, has leaked its lethal brew into air and water and soil since reactors there began making fuel for bombs during World War II. Despite its pure beginnings, by the time it reaches the Columbia, the Snake bears its own load of pollution, mainly runoff from irrigated croplands, feedlots, and fish farms. Such a fall from innocence to corruption is a common fate for American rivers, but few have fallen as dramatically as the Snake.

Over its thousand-mile course, the Snake cuts through mountain ranges, surges across sagebrush plains, and roars through canyons—or at least it did cut and surge and roar, until a series of fifteen dams built during the past century reduced the river to a string of lakes. The dams have been profitable for ranchers, farmers, barge companies, and electric utilities, but they have proven disastrous for salmon. Huge numbers of returning coho, chinook, and sockeye perish at each dam, chiefly from the strain of climbing fish ladders. Of those that survive the climb, many die from the higher temperatures and increased predation in the reservoirs, and others lose their way in the slack water, where the current is too weak to offer direction, and where silt blocks the light and pollution muffles the smells they need to guide them to their spawning grounds.

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Chapter 8: A Legion of Demons

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In addition to the African variant of demonic possession, there are innumerable stories also of another type, which we will here call the Eurasian variant, because it is reported from India and China, as well as from Christian Europe. In a number of characteristics this Eurasian form of possession agrees with its African counterpart. In both, the noxious spirit entities invade their victim uninvited, but have to wait until a path opens for them, a breach of sorts in the personality of their intended victim. Their presence is signaled by illness. If a trance is ritually initiated, the spirits reveal their presence. Healing is accomplished by dislodging, expelling, that is, exorcising, the malevolent being.

But differences emerge all along the line, with the African variant in each instance simpler and at the same time much more sinister, which confirms its greater antiquity. In the African variant, the invaders are always ghosts. In Eurasia, on the other hand, there is a great variety of such evil beings. According to European folk belief, for instance, also fervently held by Protestant fundamentalists in this country, there is a whole slew of demons, associated with Satan as his entourage, fallen angels and unredeemed humans, roaming the earth, eager to possess, corrupt, and plague humanity. In the Christian West, the principal guardian of the tradition about demons is the Catholic church. According to a contemporary catechism,1 devils or demons represent temptation, confusion, deception; they are inimical to humans, barring their entrance to heaven.

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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 7. The Agriculturalists

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The Agriculturalists as State Societies

The agriculturalist has assured subsistence. All good things come to him, as we read in the Popol Vub, as a blessing from the “House on the Pyramids,” from agencies “on high.” But in order to have them, he has to work hard, earning his daily bread “by the sweat of his brow.” To pay for those good things, all members of the group have to be drafted into a continued and sustained effort. There is no room anymore, as the Popol Vuh tells it, for the venturesome and the proud. What the tillers need to inculcate in their young is conscientiousness, compliance, humility, and obedience.

With permanent settlements, agriculturalists can no longer avoid the problems of conflict by picking up and leaving: Conflict resolution, in other words, cannot be brought about by fissioning. Chiefly, authority comes into being as one avenue of solution. There is more personal property, and the concept also intrudes into the position of women. A man wants exclusive rights to his spouse, and his elevated status leads not only to her eventual disenfranchisement, but also to her ritual inferiority.

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Doing Time in the Thirteenth Chair

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

The courtroom is filled with the ticking of a clock and the smell of mold. Listening to the minutes click away, I imagine bombs or mechanical hearts sealed behind the limestone walls. Forty of us have been yanked out of our usual orbits and called to appear for jury duty in this ominous room, beneath the stained-glass dome of the county courthouse. We sit in rows like strangers in a theater, coats rumpled in our laps, crossing and uncrossing our legs, waiting for the show to start.

I feel sulky and rebellious, the way I used to feel when a grade-school teacher made me stay inside during recess. This was supposed to have been the first day of my Christmas vacation, and the plain, uncitizenly fact is that I don’t want to be here. I want to be home hammering together some bookshelves for my wife. I want to be out tromping the shores of Lake Monroe with my eye cocked skyward for bald eagles and sharp-shinned hawks.

But the computer-printed letter said to report today for jury, and so here I sit. The judge beams down at us from his bench. Tortoise-shell glasses, twenty-dollar haircut, square boyish face: although probably in his early forties, he could pass for a student-body president. He reminds me of an owlish television know-it-all named Mr. Wizard who used to conduct scientific experiments (Magnetism! Litmus tests! Sulfur dioxide!) on a kids’ show in the 1950s. Like Mr. Wizard, he lectures us in slow, pedantic speech: trial by one’s peers, tradition stretching back centuries to England, defendant innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and so abundantly on. I spy around for the clock. It must be overhead, I figure, up in the cupola above the dome, raining its ticktocks down on us.

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Nine: Female Powers of Healing

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The forty-one girl knights. Although the Bear Spirit may on occasion appear in the form of a female bear, his power seems to be predominantly male. There is another posture, however, which apparently summons a special kind of female energy.1 The posture first came to my attention early in 1985 in a publication about antiquities from Tennessee.2 The stone sculpture, created about A.D. 700, represented a woman who had her arms placed on her chest in a special way, so that her right hand came to rest above the left (see pl. 31). Subsequently, I saw the posture also in Marija Gimbutas’s book about ancient Europe.3 The terra-cotta figurine, once more a woman (pl. 32), was much older (5th millennium B.C.), but there was no mistaking the position of the hands. I was anxious to explore the posture, but in neither case was there any indication about the position of the legs, and I was at a loss about what to do about that.

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Introduction

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

My first reaction at rereading my notes about Edeltraut’s account of her experiences during the posture of the Feathered Serpent was amazement. Through the magic of the posture, the burning of a witch, the obscene crime perpetrated against uncounted women in centuries past, had here undergone a miraculous, a redeeming transformation. But at closer scrutiny, there seemed to be even more to it. As though witnessed from the inside, the event assumed an eerie reality. Joan of Arc might have experienced her trial this way, the Inquisitors tormenting her like the bothersome insects whose buzzing she could not stop; the distorted mask of the heretic that had been forced on her, and which hid the gentle girl who used to dance around the trees at her father’s homestead; the battering of the endless hearings that bruised her day after day. Finally there she is, standing naked at the stake, burning and yet not in pain, and flying through the blackness toward the light, a free spirit at last, an invisible companion of white birds.

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Ten: Changing Shape—The Shimmering Game

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In a tale of Rabelaisian abandon related by Indian fishermen of the Northwest Coast,1 their culture hero, the Raven, changes himself into a fisherman in order to make merry with the latter’s wife. When the fisherman unexpectedly returns and begins beating the intruder into a pulp, the Raven is constrained to revert to his original shape. The incensed husband ties him up and throws him into the pit of the outhouse. But the Raven, being immortal, eventually frees himself of his bonds and lives to see another day and more adventures of a similar nature.

Traces of such “softness,” as one anthropologist calls it,2 of the boundaries between humans and animals, when matters were in a state of flux between the species, are all about. Egyptian and Celtic and Hindu gods have animal heads or shapes. Echoes of the same tradition abound in the myths of every society of the world. They are known among the Australian aborigines and on the other end of the spectrum among the nineteenth-century Germans who were the consultants of the Grimm Brothers. And they are, of course, equally familiar to the Indian societies of our continent. There is a story current among the same Indian fishermen of the Northwest Coast, according to which a hunter once heard laughter coming from a cave. When he sneaked up to the entrance and peeked in, there were the animals hilariously playing at turning into people. In fact, the Haida Indians of the region recount that in those early times animals used to have both human and animal forms. As the Navajo singers put it, “In those times all the animals were like people. The four-footed beasts, the flying birds, the coiling snakes, and the crawling insects behaved the way that earth-surface people who occupy the world today behave” (Zolbrod 1984:98).

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Conclusion: The Twilight of the Spirits

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

There is no doubt that the societies that used postures in religious ritual highly valued this knowledge. Shamans must have cherished them; that was probably why in a first-century Eskimo grave, three finely incised statuettes were found as grave offerings, carved out of walrus ivory, and clearly created by the same artist (pl. 69). They are (from left to right) shown in the Singing Shaman, the Calling of the Spirits, and the Bear Spirit postures respectively. In each instance the hands are placed somewhat lower than we are used to seeing them. Perhaps it was the intention of the artist to indicate that this was the shaman in death. Not only are the postures recreated over and over again in native art, they are also considered attributes of the Spirits, part of their power, as we see in the drawing of the Matsigenka shaman (pl. 60). Going from left to right, the “pure and invisible Ones” are shown in the posture of the Feathered Serpent, of the Singing Shaman, and of the Bear Spirit. And they passed into later traditions as conventionalized characteristics of the gods, as in the Aztec examples (Chap. 10).

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Words Addressed to Our Condition Exactly

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

In the fall of 1971, seeing that I was floundering, a veteran teacher who had I floundered himself when he was twenty-five gave me a book by a writer he knew down in Kentucky. “You might find some guidance here,” he said, handing me The Long-Legged House.

It was a paperback edition, small enough to fit in a coat pocket, printed on cheap paper, unassuming, not the sort of book one would expect to confirm or change the course of a life. The cover illustration showed a cabin perched on a steep riverbank, with a view across the stream toward green ridges fading away into the distance; a curving flight of stone steps led to the uphill side of the cabin, which rested on the ground, while the downhill side rested on poles, evoking the long legs of the title.

The author’s name, Wendell Berry, was unknown to me, but his photograph on the back recalled men I’d known while growing up in rural Tennessee and Ohio. He wore a work shirt unbuttoned at the throat, with a T-shirt underneath and striped coveralls on top; beneath a billed cap, his face lay in shadow, the mouth slightly open and jaw set as if he were catching his breath in the midst of sawing or plowing. In the faint background of the photograph, instead of the usual desk littered with papers or shelves of books, there were blossoms, as of hollyhocks or fruit trees in flower. The biographical note identified him as a teacher and farmer, as well as the author of three collections of poetry, two novels, and the slender book of essays I held in my hand.

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Seven: The Many Faces of Divination

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Divining is as old as humanity. The hunters developed it as a ritual to discover the location of game, a matter of vital importance to them. As other types of societies arose, divination was adapted to the changing circumstances, but it continued to serve important societal goals. It is regrettable that in the Western world divination has been decried as irrational, antirational, or a fraud perpetrated on the ignorant and the superstitious, because divination is not that at all. It is soothsaying, that is, revealing the truth. What the diviner does is uncover to his clients some hidden truth about themselves, or about what is going on around them. There are certainly situations in everyone’s life where such insights could be of overriding importance. This is why within and outside the Western orbit, divining continues to play an important role, exposing that which is hidden, soothing anxiety, and aiding in decision making.

In Western-type societies, ours among them, quasi-mechanical means such as tarot cards are frequently employed for “fortunetelling.” However, the repository of much of divinatory knowledge is the alternate reality, and access to that treasure trove can best be gained in trance, and in the appropriate posture.

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