27 August 2009

Quemado II

[For any newcomers—and I do not know that there are any—you can find an account of an all-night purification ceremony presided over by a Huichol shaman at July 20. This is where I made the acquaintance of Fabien and Maga. You can find an account of a Temazcal, a sweat lodge ceremony, at July 27.]

The mountain top—and certainly any mountain can do this--forcefully brought me back real close to a fact having nothing to do with any spiritual bullshit. The physical me, that which has temporarily taken the form of my body, is incontrovertibly a small parcel of all that is around me—the dust, wind, fire, and water, as the Huichol would have it. And it always has been. And it always will be after it loses this form. . . .I think. Let us just say that it always will be until the cosmos themselves are swallowed up in the abyss. I need to check with the Huichol on what happens then. Or maybe we just worry about that when the time comes.

Now, it is one thing to apprehend that intellectually, and I always have off and on as far back as I can remember. Most reasonable people apprehend this. All you have to do is study a decomposing squirrel carcass in the road. It is quite another thing to embrace the idea that one's body is only temporarily in this form. This is where the Huichol hereabouts come in. Huichol ceremonies coupled with the fasting and the sweat lodges at first blush appear to be so much more new-agey, touchy-feely spiritual bullshit. Here is my firm opinion now. They are not just so much more spiritual bullshit.

I must interject something here. There can be very few people more skeptical about “ceremonies” of all kinds than I normally am. I find clerical vestments to be hilarious. The sing-song, cloying voice that some clergy employ when addressing the Almighty nauseates me. Examples of what I am talking about are legion. All such is designed to overawe the ignorant. The same goes for secular ceremonies, too, but those are not the subject at hand.

Having said that, these all-night Huichol ceremonies also put one nose to nose with the truth that our bodies are a part of the dust, wind, fire, and rain and will return to them. They put you right down next to that. Then without even being aware of what has happened—and I do not know why--one has suddenly. . .suddenly is not the right word. . . several hours later one has embraced the fact. . . .or taken it to heart in a joyful way, to use a more poetic phrase. Then the sun comes up. Everyone, all the Mexicans and the few gringos, is elated and hugs each other and has their picture taken together.

I can understand why the annual pilgrimage to Quemado now. Hell, you put one of those ceremonies on top of that mountain, Sally, and you have a powerful thing indeed. In fact the ceremony that the Huichol—and only Huichol—do up there I understand lasts seven days straight, twenty-four hours a day.

So far so good. Not overly difficult either. Maga is perfectly in tune with that in a beautiful way at a little over one-third my age. Fabien, a pretty well reasoned atheist, is comfortable with this part of the deal. But here is trickier part.

I have come to have serious doubts that when the legit Huichol shaman calls in the “the spirits,” that he is attempting to call in ghosts or Halloween creatures or even anything remotely related to the Jewish God or Hindu gods. Rather, he may just be using shorthand for something else that I do not yet understand.

I am starting to think that it may be that portion of the consciousness, some portion of thought in the big sense of that word, that does not disappear but rather also is eternal and also has returned to the earth, wind, fire, and water or is out there somewhere with them. If so, then I am really impressed. That is essentially one of Spinoza's ideas. And I, and a lot of people a helluva lot smarter than I, think Spinoza is the bomb, in African-American street parlance.

On the other hand perhaps the shaman is like the Peter Sellers character, Chance the butler, in Being There, and I am beginning to see profundity in what is and always has been utter idiocy.

The way I look at it is that either way, I was goddamned lucky to be invited to these ceremonies. You do not just wave your money and walk into one of these things. If that were the case, sure as hell you would have some moron from Peoria pulling out his guitar and singing Kumbaya right in the middle of the deal.

* * *I carefully inserted the word “legit” up there because that damned Fabien to my delight can mimic the Shaman's chant so perfectly that one immediately appreciates how easily a fraud could be floated. I would prefer that my shaman have studied somewhere for at least a couple of weeks. He or she need not necessarily be Huichol, but I am now forever unable to buy into a French shaman.

The shaman who presided over that all-night gig up in San Luis Potosí last month was Huichol. We just chatted with him socially again four or five days ago in a little shop in Real de Catorce, where we bumped into him, and like an idiot I forgot to ask for a picture.

Photo from the internet of Huichol shaman head gear.


Candy Minx said...

Well, the Age of Enlightment and all that rubbish has poisoned many contemporary minds to believing that there is a separation between the supernatural and the material. Then in many Christian societies they adopted the notions from the Age of Enlightenment. Find me a cynic and I'll show you someone who has Christian mindsets in their past family history.

For those of us not raised with that kind of "Westernized" philosophy...there has never been a separation between the supernatural and the material.

I wasn't raised with religion. But I think there is a big difference...and one you seem to be learning about Steve...between spirituality and religion. Two very different things. One way to look at ritual is to see that it is actually more an aspect of social life.

And this social life with it's various customs and beliefs is a response to the practical problems of earthly existence.

When you can unplug the dictatorship of the age of enlightenment...when you can see people want the best for their friends and family...then ritual is revealed for it's purposes. And actually, one can begin to see the motives behind many customs in our society.

The ceremonies you've been lucky enough to be introduced to have less distance between them and earthly existence. With monotheistic and religious traditions with the Judao-Christian religions it isn't always so easy to see their link to earthly existence. The Judae-Chritian tradition is heavily influenced by and with the age of enlightenment.

More ancient and polytheistic belief systems don't tend to separate the supernatural with the material. This is a concept very difficult for U.S. to comprehend at times since it has such strong ties to the Age of Enlightenment...so much so it has ties to Judeo-Chritian skepticm...spread all the way through to aethists.

Hey did you ever see Bill Maher's "Religulous"?

Señor Steve said...

I am sorry, Candy. I did not see this comment until moments ago. Thank you. All I can say is that I am a late comer to these things.

I have not seen that particular Bill Maher piece, but I have seen shorter riffs by him on the subject.