The Anthropologist and the Ancestors

otto

Dutch anthropologist Ton Otto

Thanks to Sabina Magliocco, I read this interesting piece about a Dutch anthropologist experiencing an ancestor ritual, one involving both the ancestors of the people in New Guinea whom he is visiting and his own.

And even though science failed to explain everything, the way I viewed the world was based on the idea that everything – with time – could be explained with logic and observations of reality.

Most likely, spiritual manifestations were simply projections of the unconscious, the deceitful trickery of sensory impressions or misunderstandings of natural phenomena.

I had no problem leading a life without spirits, but even so, deep down I always had a nagging feeling that I’d cut myself off from a lot of experiences.

The photo with the article is too perfect. I have cropped it here.

In turn it reminded me of an collection published twenty years ago: Being Changed: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience. (The late Judy Harrow told me about that one.)

A reviewer wrote,

Anthropologists of recent generations have always expressed enormous sympathy with ‘non-rational’ modes of thought, with the ‘supernatural’ experiences of people around the world. What they have rarely in their scholarly writing admitted to doing is giving any credence to the ‘irrational’ themselves—though such beliefs have long been common among those who have lived and worked for extended periods in cultures different from those that dominate Western society.

Now, in a ground-breaking volume, leading anthropologists describe such experiences and analyze what can occur “when one opens one’s self to aspects of experience that previously have been ignored or repressed.” The ten contributions to the book include Edith Turner on “A Visible Spirit Form in Zambia,” Rab Wilkie on “Ways of Approaching the Shaman’s World,” and Marie Francoise Guedon on “Dene Ways and the Ethnographer’s Culture.”

Note that it came from a small publisher, not a university press! But these experiences do happen, and it is good to get them into print.

Meanwhile, if you are interesting in “going native” in the physiological sense, I wholeheartedly recommend Carl Hoffman’s Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art.

It’s the best combination of archival research, history, and walking the ground where it happened, talking to people who were there.

And this is getting away from anthropologists . . . but spirits and possibly angry tribal peoples have been evoked to explain the “Dyatlov Pass Incident.”

Writer Donnie Eichar followed much the same methodology as did Hoffman for his own 2013 book, Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Some people treated those deaths as “high weirdness,” but his explanation is more naturalistic — and fairly convincing.

Why “Aliens” Might Be Invisible

Magonia, the review blog of esoteric books (0r should that be, books on esoterica?), recently revisited two books on Unidentified Flying Objects from the 1950s by Morris K. Jessup, the first writer, they say, to use the term “UFO” in a commercial publication.

Ah, those were the days, I take it, when the assumed evidence for the reality of alien spacecraft was growing steadily. Soon we would know the truth! Governments would be forced to admit that there was Someone Else! Perhaps a disk-shaped spacecraft would float down onto the White House lawn — or in Red Square, why not? — and a being would step out, proclaiming, “We come in peace.”

Or, conversely, the aliens would not be peaceful, and Earth would have to put aside its wars and rivalries to unite in a battle to save humanity. We have all seen book and movie versions of these possible scenarios, going back to War of the Worlds in 1897, at least.

Astronomers have now found — by calculation if not direct observation — many planets that orbit their suns not too close and not too far — the habitable zone — and which, therefore, could possibly contain life “as we know it.”

But getting there is the thing. With our chemically fueled rockets, which are limited in size, even a trip to Mars would take half a year or more. And right now, that would be a one-way trip — although some people are still volunteering. It did not take so much fuel for astronauts to escape the Moon, but Mars would require quite a bit more.

“Hyperdrive” and “warp drive” are science-fiction plot devices, not technology that is anywhere in sight.

So when it comes to actual physical aliens visiting us, I see only two possibilities:

1. They travel slower than the speed of light, which means that they either have incredibly long lifespans or that they have learned to  “hibernate” while traveling for many years.

2. They travel faster than the speed of light using a sort of “hyperdrive.” But if they can do that, what else can they do?

They would have no need to land a spaceship on the edge of town, leaving scorched spots on the ground, drop a ladder, and climb down wearing silvery suits, looking for someone to put on their operating table and probe.

Instead, their technology would so far ahead of ours that it would seem invisible to us. And so might they. We would not even know that we had been observed.

That blog’s name, Magonia, pays homage, I am sure, to French astronomer Jacques Vallée and to the name of a land in the clouds., taken from a medieval French tale. Vallée borrowed the name when he wrote Passport to Magonia, introducing his “interdimensional hypothesis.”

Briefly, it states that the Visitors/Fairies/aliens etc. are not from Out There but from In Here, “visitations from other ‘realities’ or ‘dimensions’ that coexist separately alongside our own.”

Maybe they live in Icelandic boulders, or as someone in a dream once told me, “inside the walls.” Either way, they should not be disturbed. Contact with them can be extremely upsetting.

This idea has long made more sense to me than the idea of physical “flying saucers” coming chug-chug-chug through interstellar space. Now you see them, now you don’t.

Queen Nefertiti Goes Cuckoo

clock“It’s kind of fascinating but it’s kind of horrifying,” I said to M. across the breakfast table when I saw an ad for “the only cuckoo clock inspired by the Wonders of Ancient Egypt.”

“‘Queen Nefertiti’s regal procession rotates,‘ it says,” I added.

“Horrifying, completely horrifying,” she replied. She detests noise-making clocks and barely tolerates my c.1910 “kitchen clock” that merely strikes the hours.

“You can have it in your study if you turn the sound (‘an exotic melody capturing the mysteries of Ancient Egypt’) off.”

Still, couldn’t you imagine sitting under it as you read John Crowley’s Ægypt sequence?

La fiesta de los zombies

What do New Mexico zombies eat? Brain tacos, of course.better off dead

  • 2 lbs. brains
  • 6–8 tortillas
  • 1 fresh tomato, sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced, shredded lettuce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover brains with water in saucepan, add salt and simmer 15 minutes. Drain well and mash with fork while adding seasonings. Cover and keep warm while preparing taco shells. Fill shells with brain mixture, onions, tomatoes, and shredded lettuce. Serve immediately.

The recipe is from Yolanda Ortiz y Pino’s Original Native New Mexican Cooking. Sure, she specifies “beef brains,” but we know better, don’t we.

Scholars have taken notice of the fact that “the zombie is ubiquitous in popular culture, as note Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro, editors of Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human (2011), which I am just getting around to reading.

One of the contributors, Lynn Pifer, (English, Mansfield U.) notes that the George Romero-style zombie hordes have completely supplanted the old-style Haitian worker-zombie in popular culture.

Something I doubt that any of the contributors deal with is the popularity of the zombie-as-Other in the shooting sports.

The Scary Countryside 2: Children of the Stones

The original “Scary Countryside” post.

Uncial script means “old and spooky.”

As mentioned above, “the scary countryside” is a staple meme of television and movies on both side of the pond, but in the UK there is the additional refinement of “the scary countryside where people practice strange and ancient rites.”

That does not work as well in North America unless you set your TV show in Awatowi, which is not going to happen soon.

So M. and I are enjoying a little “back to the Seventies” moment, watching the British TV series Children of the Stones, which so far might be described as The Prisoner meets The Wicker Man meets Groundhog Day. Or something like that.

To quote its Wikipedia entry,

Filmed at Avebury, Wiltshire during Summer 1976, with interior scenes filmed at HTV’s Bristol studios, it was an unusually atmospheric production with sinister, discordant wailing voices heightening the tension on the incidental music. The music was composed by Sidney Sager who used the Ambrosian Singers to chant in accordance with the megalithic rituals referred to in the story.Director Peter Graham Scott was surprised on seeing the script that the series was intended for children’s airtime due to the complexities of the plot and disturbing nature of the series. The series is frequently cited by those who remember it as one of the scariest things they saw as children.

Sounds good to me. More episodes await. If Netflix had existed in the late 1970s, this would have been on the coven viewing list, I am sure.

Keep the Weird in the the West

Indianapolis blogger Roberta X muses on the literary sub-genre known as “Weird West.

Sometimes that means sort of H. P. Lovecraft-meets-Wyatt Earp, sometimes other things.

My introduction was the online graphic novel Tex Arcana, back when the Web was still young.

If your reading tastes don’t go that direction, here are Montana novelist Ivan Doig’s favorite Western reads.

Once when I asked a prominent historian what he thought of the many writings by Stegner, novelist and English-department star at Harvard and Stanford, about the background and the West, he didn’t hesitate: “He hits the nail on the head every time, damn him.”

Yep, every book that Stegner built (they always feel “built,” like Robertson Davies‘ stuff, but that is a Good Thing) was solid as the proverbial brick shithouse.

On the Keeping of Pet Hermits and Druids

Some of the eighteenth-century hermits employed by rich landowners were in fact characterized as “Druids.”

Campbell clearly had fun with his quest for real hermits. At Hawkstone in Shropshire, a bare-footed and venerable Fr Francis regularly posed with his stock-in-trade: a skull, an hourglass and book. Although replaced at times by an automaton, Hawkstone’s hermit – a hereditary post – may have survived into the twentieth century. The impecunious Charles Hamilton reputedly advertised for a hermit for his Gothic hermitage at Painshill in Surrey, offering a fee of 700 guineas (some reports say 500) to anyone able and willing to meet his stringent conditions over seven years: to go barefoot in a woollen robe, never to cut beard or nails, or to speak with the servant who brought his food. Although the advertisement cannot now be traced, the hermit undoubtedly existed, and Campbell’s exhaustive enquiries confirm how ubiquitous hermits were in Georgian Britain.

Maybe there is still a niche waiting to be exploited here, for either philosophy majors or designers of animatronic hermits.

Quality of British Crop Circles Sagging

Says the Daily Mail, which prints some examples.

Insiders say a number of top crop circle makers have quit following a clampdown by farmers and moved onto making sand circles, which are legal.

In previous years, impressive crop circles have drawn in thousands of tourists to southern England and some believers who saw the circles as the work of aliens.

But this year visitors have been disappointed by just a handful of crude patterns such as a square, a heart and a small uneven circle.

Former crop circlemaker Matthew Williams [not an  “energy vortex”] — who has given up his hobby because he suffers from hay fever — said the lack of competition is driving down standards.

He said: ‘The problem is that the best croppies have retired or gone onto something new, so there isn’t any competition any more.”

Hogwarts for Vampires

Maybe if I had a bookish teenage daughter I would know this, but the boarding-school-for-vampires (etc.) genre has exploded.

Here is a typical cover blurb:

Two years after a horrible incident made them run away, vampire princess Lissa and her guardian-in-training Rose are found and returned to St. Vladimir’s Academy, where one focuses on mastering magic, the other on physical training, while both try to avoid the perils of gossip, cliques, gruesome pranks, and sinister plots.

Margot Adler and I were discussing vampire books about four years ago, when her quest to read them all had passed ninety titles. Cradle-Marxist that she is, she was trying to understand the vampire craze as being somehow a critique of capitalism.

I don’t think so—and definitely not in the Young Adult classification. Check out this list of suggested titles, linked from a website of a public library near me.

It could be more work for Joseph Laycock, the go-to guy in religious studies for vampire-ology, but he has moved on to otherkin, of which more anon.

RELATED? “We are more interested in the zombie at times when as a culture we feel disempowered,” [Clemson professor Sarah] Lauro said. “And the facts are there that, when we are experiencing economic crises, the vast population is feeling disempowered. … Either playing dead themselves . . . or watching a show like ‘Walking Dead’ provides a great variety of outlets for people.”