89 Chapters
  Title Author Publisher Format Buy Remix
Medium 9780253000958


Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Two blacktop roads, broken by frost and mended with tar, running from nowhere to nowhere, cross at right angles in the rumpled farm country of northeastern Ohio. The neighborhood where they intersect is called Wayland—not a village, not even a hamlet, only a cluster of barns and silos and frame houses and a white steepled Methodist church. Just north of Wayland, the army fenced in thirty square miles of ground for their bomb factory, and just to the south the Corps of Engineers built their reservoir. I grew up behind those government fences in the shadows of bunkers, and on farms that have since vanished beneath those imprisoned waters. Family visits to church began carrying me to Wayland when I was five, romance was carrying me there still at seventeen, and in the years between I was drawn there often by duty or desire. Thus it happened that within shouting distance of the Wayland crossroads I met seven of the great mysteries.

Even as a boy, oblivious much of the time to all save my own sensations, I knew by the tingle in my spine when I had bumped into something utterly new. I groped for words to describe what I had felt, as I grope still. Since we give labels to all that puzzles us, as we name every blank space on the map, I could say that what I stumbled into in Wayland were the mysteries of death, life, beasts, food, mind, sex, and God. But these seven words are only tokens, worn coins that I shove onto the page, hoping to bribe you, coins I finger as reminders of those awful encounters.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253318992

Chapter l. The Religious: Can It Be Defined?

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Magic versus religion. In contrasting the so-called “great religions’ and others, the term magic is often employed to describe the latter. In the past, this usage was popular because it seemingly supported the superiority of the “great religions.” There, a religious ceremony, so the argument went, was designed to elevate, to praise, etc., while a magical rite of savages was thought to be able, “falsely, of course,” to manipulate the objects and circumstances of the real world.

Even when a somewhat more balanced view of non-Western humanity began to dawn, the topic of magic proved to be surprisingly slippery, despite the fact that at first blush it seemed to represent an apparently neat and well-defined category. Recognizing the difficulty, social scientists tried repeatedly to redefine the difference between religion and magic. To the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, it lay in the fact that a religious rite was obligatory, while a magical one was optional. Frazer, also much quoted on the topic of magic, subdivided the category into types, such as “contagious magic,” “imitative magic,” etc. He considered magic “false science”: Science worked, magic did not. The British social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, consistent with his view that all cultural behavior was “functional,” i.e., directed toward the goal of satisfying physical needs, advanced the suggestion that magic had a definite practical purpose, while religious rites were expressive without purpose. Harking back to Frazer’s “false science,” he felt that magical practices attempted to bridge the hiatus between knowledge and practical control, so that magic was applied when the practitioner felt that there was an element of uncertainty involved. In a now-famous example (1954), he described how in the Trobriand Islands, where he did fieldwork in the first decade of this century, no fishing magic was used to enhance the catch and provide protection within the lagoon. Such rituals were carried out only on the high seas.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

After the Flood

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

A river poured through the landscape I knew as a child. It was the power of the place, gathering rain and snowmelt, surging through the valley under sun, under ice, under the bellies of fish and the curled brown boats of sycamore leaves. You will need a good map of Ohio to find the river I am talking about, the West Branch of the Mahoning. The stretch of it I knew best no longer shows on maps, a stretch that ran between wooded slopes and along the flanks of cornfields and pastures in the township of Charlestown, in Portage County, a rural enclave surrounded by the smokestacks and concrete of Akron, Youngstown, and Cleveland in the northeastern corner of the state.

Along that river bottom I gathered blackberries and hickory nuts, trapped muskrats, rode horses, followed baying hounds on the scent of raccoons. Spring and fall, I walked barefoot over the tilled fields, alert for arrowheads. Along those slopes I helped a family of Swedish farmers collect buckets of maple sap. On the river itself I skated in winter and paddled in summer, I pawed through gravel bars in search of fossils, I watched hawks preen and pounce, I courted and canoed and idled. This remains for me a primal landscape, imprinted on my senses, a place by which I measure every other place.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

Honoring the Ordinary

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

For years, I could ignore the charges raised against the memoir, just as I could ignore the charges raised against burglary, because I had no intention of committing either offense. But then the circumstances of my life and the sad state of my country prompted me to write a book called A Private History of Awe, which I thought of as an extended essay about my lifelong spiritual search, but which my editor informed me was, indeed, a memoir. When the book was published in 2006, it bore that label on the jacket for all to see. And so, having joined the suspect company of memoirists, I began to take a personal interest in the accusations leveled against this literary form.

The most common accusations often appear in the guise of two blunt questions: How could you write a whole book about yourself? And how much of it did you make up? The questioners assume that a memoir must be an exercise in narcissism, and that it is likely to be dishonest to boot. One can easily find published examples that would justify either suspicion. There has never been a shortage of egotists or frauds, so it’s no wonder that some of them compose and peddle books. Although these two human failings often go together, for the sake of clarity I’m going to separate them, speaking first about the dangers of deceit and then about the dangers of narcissism.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958


Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Finding a traditional Quaker meeting in Indianapolis would not be easy. No steeple would loom above the meetinghouse, no bell tower, no neon cross. No billboard out front would name the preacher or proclaim the sermon topic or tell sinners how to save their souls. No crowd of nattily dressed churchgoers would stream toward the entrance from a vast parking lot filled with late-model cars. No bleat and moan of organ music would roll from the sanctuary doors.

I knew all of that from having worshipped with Quakers off and on for thirty years, beginning when I was a graduate student in England. They are a people who call so little attention to themselves or their gathering places as to be nearly invisible. Yet when I happened to be in Indianapolis one Sunday this past January, I still set out in search of the meetinghouse without street address or map. My search was not made any easier by the snow lilting down on the city that morning. I recalled hearing that the North Meadow Circle of Friends gathers in a house near the intersection of Meridian and Sixteenth Streets, a spot I found easily enough. Although I could not miss the imposing Catholic Center nearby on Meridian nor the Joy of All Who Sorrow Eastern Orthodox Church just a block away on Sixteenth, the only landmark at the intersection itself was the International House of Pancakes. Figuring somebody in there might be able to direct me to the Quakers, I went inside, where I was greeted by the smell of sausage and the frazzled gaze of the hostess. No, she’d never heard of any Quakers.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253205667

The Emergence Story

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Two Indian friends, Rosemary from Taos and Joseph from Picuris, were participants in the first workshop I ever did in Cuyamungue, in the summer of 1982. We had done the postures together that I had worked through for the German television program, and then the question came up whether there were also others that I had not tried yet. So I got out the few examples that I had collected at the time, and we decided on the posture of a man squatting on a carved red sandstone pipe, an exquisite piece of art created about A.D. 1300 and discovered during excavations in Hale County, Alabama (pl. 63). The man is naked except for a cap, perhaps made from strips of hide. He has his tongue between his lips. His left hand grabs his lower left leg at an angle, his right hand is on his right knee, but stretching upward on the side of the leg, and his buttocks rest on the ground, a posture extremely demanding physically.

Both Joseph and Rosemary were shaken by what they had seen in the trance using that posture. It was dark, said Joseph, and the earth had burst open, as if an enormous volcanic eruption was about to take place, and the sky was lit up by exploding stars. Rosemary had heard people screaming, sighing, and moaning as if they were about to die. They both said that they would not try that posture again.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

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.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253204677

Chapter 5: The Dangerous Spirits of Japan

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

From the benevolent spirits experienced in possession by Spiritualists, Umbandists, and Pentecostals, we now pass on to another class of spirit beings, namely, the dangerous ones. Powerful, but neither absolutely good nor absolutely evil, they represent humanity’s horticulturalist heritage (see chap. 2). They can and most of the time do act in a friendly manner, and thus on the face of it there seems to be little to distinguish them from the kindly entities we have come to know. But if crossed, they may become threatening, and it is this potential for mischief, this perceived underlying threat, that marks them as qualitatively different. They may even start out causing harm, but then turn around and come to be helpful friends. To us Westerners, whose thinking is schooled by a pervasive good/bad categorization, it is sometimes disconcerting how in a particular story a spirit who to our way of perceiving the world is clearly up to no good can still be classed as benevolent. The ancient exu spirits of Umbanda retain some of this peculiar scintillation, but they are mainly known to anthropologists from their study of surviving small horticulturalist societies, for instance in South America. Of the large modern industrial societies, Japan is the only one where they still play an important role, appearing in many of the modern sects called in the literature the New Religions.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781609949198

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.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

A Private History of Awe

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

When I rise from meditation each morning, I gaze through an uncurtained window at the waking world, and I bow. The gesture is plain enough—hands drawn to my chest, palms pressed together, a slight bend at the waist—but its meaning is elusive. If you asked me to explain my little ritual, to say whom or what I honor with my bow, I would be hard put to answer.

It’s a question I ask myself with increasing urgency as the years run by. The urgency is not the same as I felt at the age of ten or fifteen, when I prayed fervently each night, having been persuaded by preachers and Sunday School teachers that there was one and only one combination to the door opening from life into immortality. Nor is it the urgency I felt in my twenties, when the Vietnam War pressed me down to the roots of conscience as I struggled to choose between going into battle, exile, or jail. Nor is it the urgency I felt during my thirties and forties, when my children, still young, looked to me for guidance about ultimate things.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781609949198

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:

See All Chapters
Medium 9781609949198


Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9780253205667

Two: Getting in Touch with the Spirits: The First Discoveries

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In the Protestant Christian tradition in which I was raised, it was held that the only way in which a human could communicate with the beings inhabiting the alternate reality was by prayer. But in the view of the vast majority of other traditions, speech, as the mode of communication of ordinary reality, is singularly unsuited for this purpose. It is but a hardly audible knock on the very thick wall separating humans from the spirit realm. In fact, humans have to make a truly heroic effort to be noticed on the other side. Merely talking, falling into a worshipful mood, feeling “transcendent,” “numinous,” or “oceanic,” or whatever other pompous words are listed in the dictionary, simply will not do. Instead humans, if they have the urgent necessity or desire to squeeze through the chinks in that wall, need to change the very functioning of their bodies in the most radical way. The term summarizing these changes is religious trance, one of a large group of altered states of consciousness of which humans are capable. It is termed religious because observation shows that it is the one occurring in religious context, that is, when contact is made with the alternate, the sacred, reality. (For the problem of defining “religion,” see Goodman 1988.)

See All Chapters
Medium 9781609947972

Two: The First Limb: Universal Morality

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

We are here to awake from
our illusion of separateness

Thich Nhat Hanh


Most religions or philosophies speak to some aspect of the morality contained in the words of the Sutra referencing the yamas. Robert Johnson’s classic treatise on Patanjali’s Sutras explains that “The commandments [yamas] form the broad general training of humanity. Each rests on a universal spiritual law.” Patanjali says that the commandments are not limited to any “race, place, time, or occasion.” They are to be integrated into daily living.

Often called the moral restraints, the precepts in the yamas are universal, and are framed as the “do nots” in life’s list of moral do’s and don’ts. The precepts contained within this First Limb are:




Brahmacharya—non-squandering of vital energies

Aparigraha—non-greed, non-hoarding

Put into positive wording, ahimsa asks that you eschew all forms of violence and treat all living things with respect and compassion. Satya is a commitment to truthfulness and transparency. Asteya means we take only that which is freely given. Brahmacharya is about controlling our senses and energies so we can cultivate our inner life, and aparigraha is about living simply by taking or using nothing more than what we truly need.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

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.

See All Chapters

Load more