Stars come down in you and love, you can’t give it away

The following entry may contain triggering material.

My corporeal roommate Cecil recently asked me how I’d planned to kill myself. I’d made numerous attempts, all emotionally serious of course, in the unutterably bleakest mindset—but, not serious in the sense that I’m alive today because I’d been transported unconscious to some hospital; that hadn’t happened. So, from the outside, I was just making up exaggerated stories so that my whinging would get more serious attention, and my melancholy laziness excused (though my birth family would have held that same attitude otherwise, I’m certain.) From the inside, I had tidied away every trace of my history, spent the wee hours of each morning in the bathtub with a kitchen knife to my neck and failing to lean into it enough to break skin; considered bleach, oven gas, what to overdose on, starvation; on the morning of my 18th birthday I’d tried to jump off the balcony of the 22nd floor—planned for it, left everything that had been mine in the stairwell garbage, so there was nothing for me to go back to—and was most abjectly terrified that I couldn’t follow through with it, though every fibre of my being remained in far too much pain, (intractable pain, every waking moment, seemingly only from living,) to endure any alternative.

Because of that, I can’t help but suspect that most apparent suicides are secretly accidents in at least the final conscious half-second.

I’ve finished reading Marie-Louise von Franz’s Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, and it is dated. Jungians remain stodgy about gender binary, of course, but common terms in this text include “primitive”, “crippled”…and Franz openly admits to a childhood imaginary monster being human. Because Franz grew up in a neighborhood that very much lacked racial diversity, it seems.

Many other ideas contained in this text, I considered very intriguing and helpful. One of these being how the dead become evil.

…there is a certain amount of life energy in them which has not been exhausted but has been unnaturally blocked before the proper time. The clock’s spring has broken instead of running down, and that unexhausted life energy turns hostile (…) Therefore even people who during their lifetime were really good people and not possessed by evil, can, out of resentment at having been robbed of life, turn into such a thing if they are killed before their time.

That is why late antique invocations of [curse] magic always begin: “Oh, you gods of the Netherworld, Hades, Proserpina, and you the nameless enormous army of those who killed themselves, or who were murdered, or died before their time.” That is a classical late Greek invocation to be found in most of the magical papyri of antiquity.

I’d also told Cecil of my attempt to hang myself from the closet and a twisted-up bedsheet. There’d been a mirror on the inside of the door, and a wide enough gap around the door that the blue evening light could seep in, and I could watch me hang myself.

To Cecil, I’d joked that maybe a mirror does catch at some shade or fade of people, and maybe a future tenant would wake up in the wee hours of the morning, and move to the closet to get a cookie they’d left in the pocket of their trousers that they’d thrown in there, and when they’d open the door, I’d still be hanging there in the mirror, and they would see me hanging there…and reaching out and screaming, in uncanny harmonics, “My cookie!”

…Cecil didn’t think it was funny, either.

It wasn’t true, anyway; I hadn’t really wondered, until now, what sort of ghost I would have been.

To parse this phenomenon on a level of personality and egoism, the evil dead are jealous. To understand it on a level of egoless power dynamic, the evil dead are embodiments of an unlived life, the subtle psychic energy from that which was meant to be lived out and was not. They embody consequence, without interiority.

Almost a decade after the attempt in the closet, I feel fine. I feel happy! No invisible vice tightening around my skull. My ribs don’t feel like a knife rack. I’m not even wracked with anxieties as I was when I was a very small child up to my mid to late teens.

I did get around to proper Mirror Work, recently: looked into a compact that the Dierne Pallis held out to me and I found, at last—palpable venom and poisonous fumes, a ceaseless scream of raw pain in what sounded like my voice (but from the outside, so…not my voice like I know it), and an undertow of sorrow so forceful as to be inescapable.

To which I said, well, yes, obviously, I hope obviously—that’s me in that mirror, for sure. But there’s a bit more to me now.

I’ve lived out all that—or, a comparative lot of that…unlived (oppressed), unspoken (silenced) life.

No more hallucinated planets made of vacuum, or smoke serpents, or insect clockwork dragon…Okay, there’s a flint arrowhead welded to my fetch’s left hand that’s awfully opinionated for an imaginary inanimate object—but that’s just life.

My ghost would have had all the fury of all this unresolved.

I’m in love. This love is requited. I almost wasn’t alive for this. (She almost wasn’t, either, but declined to develop a concept of an afterlife as a consequence, so I wouldn’t presume to speak over that. She’s reading this right now. I love you, Bartie!) In Franz’s interpretation, my ghost would have carried this corrupted potential too: fears never soothed into strength and courage, a world of insecurities never steadied, joys never lived, discoveries never shared.

But when I used to hear such things from recoverees, about how great they’d noticed life could be with an attitude adjusted to “happier than suicidal” I could only take it as condescending glibness. The only response I could muster would be, “oh how nice for you.” Automated, not even lively enough to have a sarcastic grudge behind it.

So…maybe I can’t claim that we need ghost lore and fairytales about the dead, to express something much bigger than a mind can carry—let alone generate.

At this point I’d shoehorn other tidbits about ghosts that I’d picked up before reading Shadow and Evil in Fairytales. The Tiv people don’t appear to have ghost lore, as Laura Bohannan discovered in the attempt to retell Hamlet to her host family in “Shakespeare in the Bush”. Stephen Greenblatt’s “A Touch of the Real” was more about the culture, and especially the literature (nonfiction and fiction), surrounding ghost encounters in medieval Europe. That’s where I read it outright stated that ghost lore and Christian lore fuses divisively (against all my own intuitions of conceptual geometry): Catholic dogma allowed for the belief that spirits of the deceased wandered the earth and interacted with the living; Protestant dogma held that such apparitions could only be evil spirits in the guise of deceased loved ones. As tensions rose between Catholicism and Protestantism, someone could fall under the suspicion of being Catholic just by making a casual mention about ghosts as though they weren’t evil spirits, and that accusation would also come with not a small amount of political baggage.

…It used to be good enough for me that my family calculated every moment of my life as monetary debt—can’t kill yourself yet because you haven’t turned your education into a career, can’t cut your losses because therapy and psychiatry is expensive and we’re coughing up more than you deserve already okay?!

It was a revelation when I entered a discussion about negative reactions to suicide, and I voiced the standpoint I’d come to in the paragraph immediately above. A respondent turned it around with this idea: If I killed myself, even the threat of it in a mention of planning to suicide…it would cause the people with that attitude to question whether the calculated value of their own lives truly held a meaningful measure. To remove compassion from the approach to suicide (or confuse compassion with condescension) was a way to resist bearing witness to their own weakness. (Protective projection, maybe, on the part of us discussing this. I still doubt that threat of existential angst would endanger anyone who wasn’t, say, predisposed genetically to depression. Projection it may be, but it still saved me from internalizing an idea that wouldn’t ultimately have been helpful. I had made a foothold of it because it was unfeeling, at a time that my feelings threatened to fatally overwhelm me.)

Ghost lore could still factor as a thrill. Some Jungians I’d eavesdropped on lately mentioned an adolescent tendency towards fun fictional violence—as adolescence is a frequent breaking point of societal accommodations, leading to Shadow-possessed rebellion, or a fascination with unsavory ideas that an adolescent had not been allowed to explore—death, for one example, externalized as a ghost in a fictional way that could be mastered.

More mature attraction to ghost lore might have more to do with a grieving process. This isn’t to say the “adolescent” (not necessarily the category, but I haven’t figured out yet what would be) use of ghost lore is the wrong way to hold it, only that the same cultural phenomenon can have different significance depending on the developmental phase in an individual person’s life…or, indeed, depending on the culture.

With Franz’s interpretation…It’s weighing on me, the way it hadn’t before, the cosmically colossal loss that a suicide—even of a nobody like me, then and now, no cyclopes-badgering in between—truly is…when the (Jungian) Soul has an instinct for so much more to be lived out or lived down than the ego can own, especially in a mind of such singularity as a suicidal person’s. Stories provide—or, maybe at least to narrative psychologists, stories have provided—an intermediary for this sobering revelation (in my opinion, anyway—immensely sobering.)

For that, I can almost forgive the negligence of Franz’s Shadow & Evil in withholding judgment on this circumstance described: that it’s traditionally (not only commonly, but ingrained in lore as a trope) oppressed and abused people who suicide, having a communal Shadow laid on them in life, having to go through more of the same after death.

(…) there are many types of ghosts, but the worst are those of people who hang themselves. Generally these are the ghosts of women of poor peasant families who, if ill-treated by their mothers-in-law, or if hungry, or over-worked, get discontented. If they quarrel with their sisters-in-law, or are scolded by their husbands, if they don’t see any way out of their trouble, often in despair they will put an end to their lives. They take poison, or jump into a well, but most hang themselves, and such people make those awful ghosts. Our grandfathers say that the ghost of a woman who has committed suicide always tries to seduce other women, for only thus can it go to the Beyond and be reborn (…) and return to life. Until they have found a substitute they have to wander

This post from last year on Gods & Radicals, “Thinking About the Dead” has a more advanced commentary on this, that I like.

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Symbols: the Labyrinth

So it took some explaining for me to appreciate the labyrinth. Mazes, I could understand the appeal, as those “require acute attention to choices at intersecting paths and a high degree of critical awareness to remember detours and dead ends. Mazes do not grace those who enter; they taunt, tease, and challenge.”

Cretan Labyrinth

Cretan Labyrinth (pg. 81) “Exploring the Labyrinth” by Melissa Gayle West, Broadway Books NY 2000. ‘It is the oldest (…) form of the labyrinth, dating back at least 3,500 years.’

Labyrinths, in Melissa Gayle West’s case studies, do grace those who work with them. They provide a time and shape-of-space set out for liminality, for psychic (as in, pertaining to the psyche) development—yet, the structure is open enough that anyone can travel in them at their own pace, in their own way, with any approach they have. I find two common processes in the cases included in Exploring the Labyrinth: The first is those who have been harmed and hardened (into “small selves” as West describes it; having created a complex or intense focus around a specific issue) travel a labyrinth and gain a bigger perspective through that walking meditation; that intensity, or that defensiveness that precludes healing, tends to soften and release. The second are labyrinth-travelers who enter too lofty, too cerebral, and find the travel grounding—the labyrinth has an opposite effect of focus and integration.

Mentioned often, too, is the benefit of Second Thinking. If a traveler can catch how they approach the labyrinth, they can examine how they approach life. I’d considered labyrinths pretty but pointless. From entrance to center and out again, it’s too easy to be worth working with. It took more explaining before I could appreciate it.

Three labyrinths featured in the book included the organic, off-center Cretan labyrinth above, drawn from an equal-armed cross axis. West presented the Chartres labyrinth below as an innovation in labyrinth design that diverged from labyrinths throughout world history, but I can’t help but expect more than a surface scratching of art or architectural history would show the lineages and influences of it.

chartres

Chatres Labyrinth (pg. 96) “Exploring the Labyrinth” by Melissa Gayle West, Broadway Books NY 2000. ‘Named after the permanent stone labyrinth set into the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France during the thirteenth century…It is a distinctly Christian pattern, an equal-armed cross visible in its elegant layout.’


The third labyrinthine pattern, a simple spiral, made a brief mention.
spiral

Ibid.


My one’s more like a spiral, really, as the path doesn’t ebb to the periphery before flowing towards the center again. It just zigzags towards the center.
combinationlock
While the full-sized labyrinths are meant for walking meditations, I very much like the idea now of having a hand-held labyrinth to work with. The meditative mind state can be done while the labyrinth-traveler traces the path with their fingertips. Made out of pottery clay or salt dough, that would provide a tactile component, and of course the same time and symbolic shape-of-space that labyrinths make, to invite or facilitate that meditative mindset.

Almost Feel Like You’ve Been Here Before

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for Discworld.

The volcano erupted. Apparently, it does that on occasion still, and…the city’s still standing, the cane fields unrazed, nobody evacuated, there wasn’t even an earthquake. It was more like an ash burp. I was still sorry not to have seen it, because there didn’t seem to be any other way to know that it had happened, except by word of mouth of new friends I made in this city…who might have, on second thought, been joking.

One good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: hot springs. They were a half hour’s drive past the edge of the city, through the definitely-horizontal sugar cane fields, then past rice paddies terraced to keep up with the incline of the mountain—if we can say that a volcano is just a mountain with extra geothermal activity—and through the semi-domesticated jungle that the volcano dressed up in. The venue was like a park, with several families strolling down the cobblestone paths, sometimes in swimsuits. Bamboo fences divided and hid the hot spring pools (access to which pools varied in price depending on the temperature or mineral concentration of the water.) It was like sitting in a mossy stone bath tub of warm broth, under the light and chill mountain rain. I toweled off and came out feeling deeply juvenated, if smelling a shade fartlike.

One tall bamboo fence, topped by a vast netted tent, turned out to be a butterfly sanctuary and flower garden. The rest of the area were mostly more cobblestone paths and cold boulder-rivers, some plots of grassy turf and other plots of semi-domesticated jungle, a hiking trail upwards to adventure, and a hiking trail downwards to an eatery.

We had grilled garlic scallops in the half shell for lunch. I can’t get seafood this fresh at mountains of the same altitude up north, maybe due to less competent urban planning, or maybe due to the capital being on a bigger island with far more distance between the mountains and beaches, or maybe due to the belligerent introversion of the mountains themselves. I also had the fried chicken, and while this town has a signature chicken recipe that isn’t fried, there’s something about the chickens here that taste more like chicken no matter what the recipe. I wonder if it’s something in the feed.

Another good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: previous explosions can make some of the most fertile ground for farming, and that residual fertility can last for generations.

*

To Corporeal Cecilia, the volcano is personified but not anthropomorphized. He (the volcano, not Corporeal Cecilia) just looms there and grumps. My source for the personification-anthropomorphization was J. A. Macculloch’s The Religion of the Ancient Celts (“In early thought everything was a person, in the loose meaning then possessed by personality, and […] this led later to more complete personification”) although Cecilia, who is currently taking anthropology classes, knows this as an unfashionable anthropological theory wielded to justify colonialism. (Ahem, “more complete” personification?)

The volcano does have a story, as Cecilia told me. There was a seven-headed dragon (that’s the volcano, zoomorphized…or should that be cryptozoomorphized?) and some legendary heroic figure that dueled the dragon, and the townsfolk were so happy this hero won that they named the volcano Laon after the hero. Which could get confusing, because the dragon was the volcano?

*

My proto-source for personification and anthropomorphism was Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. There’s a faithful film adaptation of Hogfather somewhere out there that probably best shows Discworld theology, the Hogfather being the Discworld’s equivalent of Santa Claus. Sir Pratchett peppers a fair few books with Anthropomorphic Personification, by those words, with Capitalization.

What gets less brightly highlighted, though, is Discworld’s sort of Animism, probably because it’s never called that, let alone with Capitalization. Discworld has a natural phenomenon known as the Narrative Imperative. This prevents heroes from dying off before the villains, and also allows the medieval fantasy battle party to get very meta about everything. I think that could be one example. Another could be the idea introduced in the Tiffany Aching quintet, about how witches awaken to their abilities depending on the geology of their home. Granny Weatherwax’s power grew from the granite mountains of Lancre (or, according to a fellow witch in-world, from having a mild inborn predisposition to witch-ing which may or may not be genetic…and then working bloody hard at it.) Tiffany’s power grew from the chalk hills, which age-peer witches give her flack for, and one old witch who meant well but couldn’t help being flabbergasted. Older and wiser witches know the bones of the chalk hills are flint, which is more acceptably rocklike, but most of the big magic that Tiffany does calls to the oceanic origins of her land and name.

My concept of sea witches grew out of that sort of animism, how the coral bones call to the fetch, and the salts turn to fluid crystals and liquid rock. Beaches are edges, too—liminal spaces between sea and earth, and even whitecaps on the high seas a liminality of sea and sky.

What about volcanic witches? Far less explosive and destructive than stereotyped, I gathered, at least around this volcano. How does one capital-w Work with an animistic grump dressed like some plant goddess of mountain-jungles and fields (who does good, but really doesn’t know or care or try to do it, or take thanks for it because he’s that much of a grump)? Or an adversarial dragon named after the hero who slew him?

I can still feel the warmth of the scalding, sulphuric waters. That’s all that grounds me on this subject, really, and walking around in Volcano Country, and eating stuff grown in Volcano Country, and catching conversations and stories in and of Volcano Country, and breathing the air. What do I make of this all, with folklore and pop culture and passé anthropological jargon, and why? (This is neither rhetorical nor curious. I’m just settling into an approach, or honing a perception.)

An Ethnomusicology of the Baylan

The following content felt very important to me personally and it also made me so very sad.

I sat in on one of Cecilia’s classes in linguistic anthropology. The professor made it clear that such an intangible thing as language was still no mere point of philosophical debate. People agree to words for that which we embody and enact. Platonic philosophers can get bent.

Of course, in that class, the word would lead. A cursory glance through Life Hacks tells me that on the contrary, embodiments and enactments should lead, because the word or name for a thing limits our thinking.

Then I read Deepak Chopra’s The Way of the Wizard, and what I neglected to address in my review of it was when Chopra casually stated that Alchemy came from India. My first book about Alchemy was MacCoun’s who tried to combine Vajrayana and maybe chakras, and I didn’t get the feeling that these traditions combined well, at least not on the page. Maybe some embodied enactments in Hermeticist Alchemy came off to Chopra as very similar to some Indian mystical traditions? At this point I’d go by the word history as an indicator for who consolidated the ideas described by the words, and where.

The word “Alchemy” contains the Arabic article al- combined with the name for Egypt, the land of black soil, Khemia (or possibly the Greek khymatos, “to pour, especially to pour juice or sap”.) The discipline might be slightly less chemic now, for the most part, let alone chemical.

I also sat in a couple of Cecilia’s Religious Systems classes, and flinched several times at Durkheim’s use of totemism and too many other important writers’ respectably academic use of shamanism. When I asked one of Cecilia’s classmates about Mudang because she came from Korea, and Cecilia didn’t know what a Mudang was, and I didn’t know either which was why I asked, but I forgot how to pronounce Babaylan which I guessed was sorta maybe close to something kinda like—

I resorted to the S-word already.

There’s a lot more of that sort of thing coming up, though I really felt that that the following lecture by Grace Nono to the Harvard School of Divinity’s Women’s Studies in Religion Programme about Philippine shamanism is…important.

The general term for practitioner in this indigenous Philippine practice is babaylan, a word that’s probably from the Hiligaynon language (but I’m not certain: you can’t skip a pebble here without annoying representatives of like 5 different ethnolinguistic groups that occupy that distance, but of course I’m exaggerating) which is the mother tongue of my corporeal roommate Cecilia. My language would have been Tagalog, which is completely different—not a dialect, a completely different language—and I grew up in Jakarta anyway and instead learned Bahasa (which is the word for “language” in Bahasa Indonesia) in addition to my mother’s language, which was Bahasa Inggris.

Grace Nono talks about baylan, a possible linguistic cognate of babaylan. After taking to the podium, her initial introduction is in a spoken Philippine language. I understood every noun of it, but either the conjugation or the accent is unfamiliar to me. Or maybe I didn’t understand every noun, I only think I do because the syllables sound familiar by complete coincidence. Maybe the introductory speech actually was in Tagalog, but too technical and/or spoken too fluently for me to understand. In any case, this speaker having a mother from Mindanao and a father from Luzon is a significant regional distinction.

Filipino was supposed to be the national language, kind of like how Bahasa Indonesia is different from Javanese or Balinese, but last I checked, Filipino was mostly Tagalog anyway. Cecilia’s better at complaining about that than I am. To protest this imperialism of the capital, I refused to learn this domineering language. Also because Tagalog is slightly less agglutinative than Entish and difficult to learn. I speak English instead, which isn’t at all imperialistic or privileged. (The English language is totally imperialistic, everyone. And so is Esperanto, kind of.) Seriously, though, Cecilia and I speak to each other in English, except for the words that English doesn’t have for some things. My family took a trip to the northernmost island of Batanes once, and the people there didn’t even speak the language of the capital, they spoke the language of Batanes and they spoke English. I’ve heard people from the region of Cebu speak Cebuano and English. We’ve got to start somewhere.

The lecture above contextualizes the baylan on the border of Visayas and Mindanao. The baylan that is Nono’s specific case study, and more broadly babaylan, practice a way of life and spirituality in decline. This decline is evidently due to the introduction of both Christianity and Islam, Western medical science, environmental devastation, the political tensions between modern capitalist development and the pushback movement of militant communism, and that some baylan are even captured and fed to crocodiles. Wait, what? What. WHAT. Apparently all the aforementioned circumstances didn’t make life difficult enough. Still hung up on the Burning Times? The Crocodile Times are still happening! (I watched National Geographic documentaries. Death by crocodile is messy and painful.)

Baylan continue to exist and practice, at least fitting in the communities that don’t feed them to crocodiles. Nono asserted that the “disruption” caused by a baylan‘s continued existence, to commercial development, to recognized world religions, to violently antitheist communism, is not necessarily active resistance. I can guess that there would be some digging in of the heels when getting dragged towards the crocodile is involved, but seriously, some people just be how they be.

I’m just going to put dots on the rest of the lecture’s parts.

  • (7 mins) Nono addresses the universalization of the term shaman, a consequence of globalizing European modernity, according to Thomas Carl Oliberts(?) The term babaylan similarly gained prominence not by the choice of the babaylan themselves, but because of nationalists, feminists, decolonization scholars, and social movements since the 1980s. The term refers to the ritualist, oralist healers in the Visayas. The same function or role is performed across the Philippine islands.
  • Nono describes the main informant, whose name I think is spelled Ondine Potensiano. The event described takes place in/near Surigao del Norte, among the people known as Agusan Manobo.
  • Important concepts include the entities known as abiyan (I hope it’s spelled that way) and the practice of yagung, or the embodied voice. The embodied voice becomes enacted in the gudgud ritual songs, or the tudlum (possibly tud’um) songs.
  • (11 minutes) Ondine suffered a long bout of an undiagnosed illness. As a granddaughter of a baylan, this deceased relative descended upon her as an abiyan at which point Ontine began to heal herself, and conduct healing ceremonies, childbirthing, and so on.
  • Of interest to an ethnomusicologist, is how this yagung is generated, how it is listened to by ritual participants, what the yagung tells us about baylan and abiyan, and how this relates to dominant understandings of voice.
  • Dominant understandings of the voice (in the West, the voice has an individual material source, Roman rhetoritician Quintilla says that every being has a voice of their own, Mladen Dolar wrote that we can “unfailingly identify a person by the voice…the voice is like a fingerprint, instantly recognizable and identifiable”)
  • (15 mins) Connors notes: Late classical and medieval concept of the body was not an object so much as a dynamism, vulnerable to invasion by other forces and agencies; “insides” and “outsides” produced each other reciprocally, and this was steadily eroded in the 17th and 18th centuries by the notion of the body as an object in a coherent and fixed field, an individual unity by itself.
  • Such a concept of the body, and by extension the voice, was introduced via colonialism to indigenous people in different parts of the world, which modern society now compelled to rid their own bodies and voices of coming and goings of ancestors, deities, and spirits.
  • “…the relational voice that arises from plural and overlapping materialities continues to be heard as we speak in ways that does not annul the individual agent, but maintain a critical participation in composite acts of voicing.”
  • It would be easy enough to locate the baylan‘s spirit helpers, the abiyan, in a pantheon not their own, and in so doing, distort baylan experience. Vicente Rafael writes: “…in reorganizing the structure of native beliefs…(standard missionary practices situate/document) spirits in a type of spiritual order that positions this hierarchy as part of a set of reflections of a distant pre-Christian past.” Other misunderstandings include how missionaries equated offerings as a sign of respect to these spirits with idolatry, conflating the nature of these offerings with that of Christian offerings.
  • In comparison with Haitian spirits, by McCarthy Brown: “The Vodou spirits are not always models of the well-lived life; rather, they mirror the full range of possibilities inherent in the particular slice of life over which they preside. Failure to understand this leads observers to portray these spirits as demonic (…) Virtue is less an inherent character trait than a dynamic state of being that demands ongoing attention and care. Virtue is achieved by maintaining responsible relationships, characterized by appropriate gifts tangible and intangible.” When such relationships are disrespected or disrupted, illness can result that can be healed with the intervention of the baylan.
  • (20 mins) Description of the Panumanan ritual, involving prayers to the Creator for protection, and a string of beads and bells dedicated to the spirits, and a transfer of human song to spirit song from the same voice. The spirit was an established one in the myth of the people, followed by Ondine’s deceased grandmother’s spirit. The first message to come through: “For us to sing in a house not our home makes us feel ashamed.” When asked after the future of humans, considering hardships and uncertainties, the spirit replied in song that, “No one accepts the law of Ginoo/Magbabaya anymore, that’s why you shouldn’t be surprised at the difficulties people are experiencing.” A spirit of midwifery and healing added, “Even our medium commits many mistakes!” The informant later clarified that these included drinking too much, skipping ritual offerings, not owning a gong that was necessary to the ritual, and having children who misunderstood or despised tradition. Returning to the topic of human concerns: “We have become weak, lowly and diminished in our ability to help and to keep assurances regarding the future.” Finally, a specific patient was brought to the baylan, and the recommended remedy was for the patient to apologize to the patient’s own father (whose own abiyan convinced a storm spirit to curse the patient) and offer a chicken as sacrifice so that the patient’s leg would no longer feel pain.
  • (32 mins) Nono’s disclaimer: “I knew I wasn’t necessarily sharing in my fellow ritual participants’ habitus—” (Becker’s term for overlapping structures of understanding) “—of listening…for though I was born and raised in the same province, and I had ritual healers also among my maternal relations in Mindanao, I was not socialized in baylan rituals and their sounds, having grown up in a heavily colonized lowland area where rituals hardly took place. I was outside this community of listeners.
  • Description of the mechanics of the trance among those who conduct the rituals, and the “summoning songs” that act like a telephone—those go both ways between baylan and abiyan. During possession, a baylan can both give voice to an abiyan and hear the abiyan in conversation with those beyond the body who those in the corporeal realm could not hear. This implies multiple levels of listening.
  • (43 mins) Description of the bodies of the abiyan: invisible and intangible except to those who also have a meditator or special hearing, light enough to travel with the wind and penetrate walls and human body parts, an abiyan‘s original form takes a gender and an age that help determine the quality of voice but these forms and voices can change, location in the cosmology (such as a deceased elder would inhabit Maybuyan, the city of the dead, and travel to the world of the living, or a nature spirit would dwell in the mountains and also travel to take possession of a baylan), categorized as ancestors, land spirits, and those with wider jurisdictions such as storms, all employed under a Creator.
  • (47 mins) Obstacles to abiyan activity, rivals of people’s devotion, and Western medicine, have chased away the abiyan. The continued applicability of shamanistic healing, and the culturally acceptable medicines.
  • (52 mins) “At this point, I would like to ask a question. Is yagung-s or voices’ permeability and plurality applicable only to baylan? What about people like ourselves, who may not even believe in spirits, let alone think of ourselves as entered by these spirits?” Martin Dowdry: The voice is constructed in part through our memetic, dialectic, dialogic, and polyphonic relationships with the voices that surround us from birth, voice is not the essence of a unitary self, but an instrument through which our personalities and our many overlapping selves are projected out into the world.
  • (53 mins) Nono sings a tudlum, a ritual song without possession, distinguished from the gudgud, which is a song guided by the abiyan.
  • (55 mins) Closing statement on reclaiming ancestral voices.
  • (56 mins) Q & A portion, from a scholar in Chinese shamanism. What is the social or legal status of baylan? What could be the psychological or social factors that make someone want to be a shaman, or shamanic healer, in spite of those obstacles? Answer. The Philippine government gives legal status to albularyo and hilot practitioners, but ritualists—Babaylan, broadly—not so well-consiered. (Baylan continue to be fined for practicing midwifery and the one giving birth also penalized with a fine, noted later.) As for the traits of a potential baylan, nobody wants to be one, not only because of the stigma, but because the life of a baylan is a commitment to instability and poverty. It takes a kind, gentle, and generous soul. It takes a conscientiousness to the spirit world and adherence to the rituals, and a talent for speech and singing.
  • Inaudible question by Ann Braude, who introduced Nono at the beginning of the video.
  • (62 mins) Q & A portion, from a scholar in Peruvian shamanism, noting the commonalities in colonial history between Philippine shamanism, Chinese shamanism, and Peruvian shamanism. A minister of health tried to outlaw Ayuhuasca, and did so successfully for two weeks until people revolted. Urbanites in Latin America and further north increased the commercial demand for Ayuhuasca, and the consequent subculture of charlatanism. A friend of this scholar, a French doctor apprenticed among local shamans, had these spiritual guides direct him to treat drug addiction, and augmented this shamanic practice with a medical degree and transpersonal/Jungian psychotherapy. Sometimes, a spirit is involved in the havoc, and states that “Modernity willfully closes its eyes to this reality (of spirits.)” A colleague of this questioner, the Dean of Mt. Julio College or Smith College, has a book of channelled messages from a Tibetan Bodhisattva, Teachings from Manjushri, authorship encouraged by the Bodhisattva. Answer. There is a growing fascination among the intellectual elite who want to know more about the babaylan, previously inaccessible as history textbooks claim the babaylan have completely disappeared. Nono’s work involves uniting well-meaning intellectuals with those who can more patiently teach an unfamiliar embodied practice beyond intellectual discourse. (Mention of the legal persecution of midwives come up at this point.)
  • (70 mins) Q & A portion. How does someone receive recognition, or otherwise qualify? Is a teacher-student relationship required? To what extent is this formalized or is it informal? Answer The first way is through lineage, as in an apprenticeship. When Ondine’s grandmother passed away, the spirit of this grandmother continued this informant’s training. Otherwise, a potential babaylan have strange dreams and fall ill as a way of spirit initiation. Ritual acceptance of this initiation can involve animal sacrifice, that’s the extent of the formality. If the practice is effective, then more people begin to refer others to a babaylan. The practice is not generally to be advertised.
  • (71 mins) Q & A portion. About the fossilized or idealized notion of the babaylan, and the competition between the traditional spirits with other religious spirits and forms of modernity. Have there been any changes in the conception of the spirit world that reflect changes in the contemporary world? For example, voice recording, do those also get reflected in the spirit world or concepts thereof? Answer. The different spirits of different babaylan would have different reactions to recordings. Some allow only still photography. Others would be eager for the recording of these practices with cutting-edge technology. Sometimes there are disagreements between the babaylan and the abiyan. (However, no mention of the concept of the spirit world changing to reflect or as this adapts to the presence of technology.)
  • (74 mins) Q & A. What is the journey of these multiple voices at work? If the spirit voice is not just the reproduction of existing language, then what is the implication of the spirit voice, in terms of a reconstitution of the language and maybe the creation of a different language? These babaylan, what is the relational field? What is the nature of community between them? Answer. The second question’s answer comes first, because the first question is complicated. There is no centralized governing power amog babaylan. Each community will have a family that has the lineage. Babaylan don’t necessarily know each other, they call different ancestors, they call different spirits, and adhere to different histories. There can be common threads between practices, but also differences of course. Only with recent intervention are some of these babaylan beginning to meet, and for the most part, these babaylan were happy to meet with each other, introducing spirits to each other. As for reconstitution of language? Clarification is needed. Q & A (78 mins) Any language is understood theoretically in terms of social practice. The babaylan believe in a world of language, but when you hear the voice of the spirit, then it is not just the reproduction of an existing social language. What can be the implications of that with rethinking language? Would new forms of poetry and literary work come from this? Answer. It’s the other way around. The language of the Manobo come from spirits. The spirits do not reproduce the language of humans, the humans reproduce the language of spirits. The human language does change due to history and upon encountering another ethnolinguistic group, but then it seems the language of spirits keep an archaic quality. That’s why interpreters who are elders are needed, because younger people don’t understand what the spirits are saying. It’s not just the languages’ referential meanings that are important in this practice, however, but the sound itself. It’s important, if you become a babaylan, you have to learn how to not just speak the words, but to sing them in a way the spirits can recognize. To the spirits, talking is sung, in the same way that walking is dance.
  • Modes of Discourse

    So, I recently read a marvelously concise summary of the academic categories put to stories. The first point being that context is the determiner of these categories, not content. My personification of Context has no determination, though. Context lounges on the sofa singing, “que sera sera” while accompanying eirself on a plastic ukelele, which Context has never studied. Seriously, though, I can understand this, context, being the unspoken guidelines and sensitivities of a group of people towards these stories.

    Myths are believed in: we can infer this from how a body of stories (categorized as myths) can be cited as an authoritative explanation for how things are or how behavior should be. Folktales, on the other hand, are purely entertainment, perhaps I could say that some firewall is more of a given between reality and fiction.

    Before I read this, my approach to stories was of a categorization between tales and lore. The tales, the way I use the word, were any ideas, philosophies, experiences or representations thereof that a recorder-writer-person makes explicit in a medium of recorded history or fiction. The lore would be the sense of self, sense of world, relationship, and perceptions inferred and adopted from the tales, and refers to the given circumstances from which the tales would be generated, and lore becomes a sort of tale if I even try to explain what lore is (so, when it gets fuzzy then these terms are interchangeable.)

    And, personally, I think I’ll keep it that way. Because I do believe that even the myths survive by sustaining some veneer of coolness and entertainment, and that even the folktales and pop culture stories intended for entertainment in the first place become really popular when there’s some deeper resonance.

    What I did consider interesting was the category of a legend, basically running the gamut of attitudes between “well yeah obviously course this is completely made up” to “this might have actually been a thing so keep it in mind” and having one other main distinction: that is, of referring to the earthly rather than the cosmic. Legends have more verisimilitude. Two stories for example:

    Story One: Little Red Riding Hood skips through the woods and encounters a talking wolf, which whom she engages in conversation without any pre-establishment of her animal communication superpowers. Myself as a young reader would have some intuition that this story refers to mythic rather than literal truth, or that it’s a folktale. All the humans in this story can speak Wolf. Whatever.

    Story Two: Some random villager takes a twilight walk through a familiar meadow, only to find a cave in a hill in that meadow. This familiar meadow had no such hill or cave yesterday. There’s a party in the cave. The random villager’s sweetheart is serving on the wait staff of this party. The random wandering villager is well aware that this sweetheart died of tuberculosis two years ago. What the—just what is going on? What is this??? WHAT. IS. THIS?????

    Story Two is, academically, a legend. In my personal categories, I would have sorted Story One among the Tales and Story Two among the Lore before, but now they’re both Tales to me. I appreciate how the flabbergastedness echoes through the generations of telling and retelling of the second one. The firewall of this being fiction is thin, here, and to me it feels like it could be too real.

    That’s inevitable, comfortable—and perilous.

    I find a contemporary gamut of legend in celebrity gossip and Real Person Fanfiction (RPF). The democratization of any corporeal living person’s image into fictionalization just sat so wrong with me. I personally shouldn’t write about someone else’s life unless I know the canon, if it were an incident belonging in my own diaries, or a result of exhaustive research that I should hope hadn’t become stalking or harassment by the end. What I personally shouldn’t do, though, would itself never stop gossip columnists. I’m inclined to consider the entitlement to another’s existence and life as the same between the sloppy journalists of celebrity gossip magazines or tabloids, and those who write RPF. One important difference is that RPF makes no claims or call to social action for something that plainly isn’t true, and if that absorbs the collective sense of entitlement into a body of harmless fanworks, then I’ve got to not only tolerate that RPF exists but argue for people’s right to write it. Besides, I have no problem with the fictionalization of historical figures, even though, by all this logic, I should. (Respectable news reports are a whole other thing entirely.)

    So, I continue to make a distinction between the facts of the Corporeal, the contested perceptions of the Sidereal (my word for a layer of cultural value, so I might write “my corporeal friend Cecilia” or “my corporeal friend Anjie” but the value of friendship is psychological and cultural and therefore sidereal), and the forays and quests into the Ethereal, Incorporeal and Surreal. These have earned their categories by their very different natures in my experience, for the most part, but the firewalls between them can become too thin. So, I’m still mulling over ifwhen a distinction is or isn’t made, versus ifwhen a distinction should and shouldn’t be made.

    Eat, Prey, Judge

    This entry contains discussions of spiritual tourism, exploitation, and body shaming.

    Rhyd Wildermuth over at the Gods & Radicals site wrote a marvelously incisive review of Alex Mar’s exploitative pseudo-ethnography, Witches in America.

    First, in many of the contentious passages, I’ve got to consider why Mar considered that okay to write in the first place. She had the interest and the means. She’s honest about her standpoint and perspective, which I can’t condemn, and evidently hasn’t had those challenged before publication, which is one reason that criticism and discussion of any work after publication is so important. (Although Mar’s lousy attitude and not to mention skeevy approach probably wasn’t challenged before publication precisely because those would go largely unchallenged after publication. I hope I’m wrong.)

    Wildermuth compares Mar’s “duplicitous insertion into a culture or community to which they have no vulnerability (and towards which no obligation)” to spies, opportunists, and colonialists.

    Since I’ve been sitting in on anthropology classes, I would compare Witches in America, as I have, unfavorably, to an ethnography. One important difference is that anthropology has had decades of re-evaluation of its ethics that, in the classes I’ve sat in on at least, come up for discussion frequently. Pseudo-ethnographers have the interest and the means, but perhaps not such persistent reminders of the genre’s history, nor the forum for debating the method of data collection.

    Only relatively recently in the history of anthropological study have major shifts to the entire discipline been put forth, such as queer autoethnography and anthropological indigenization. Every basic or beginner anthropology text I’ve read has dedicated a huge chunk to Marxism and Feminism as influential to anthropological theories, but categorized separately from anthropology proper (whatever it would even be by now: science, political platform, or body of knowledge.) Anthropology also facilitated the publication of such works as Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa, now infamous for its lack of academic integrity, and numerous similar works that reflected the problematic intellectual climate of the time.

    Anthropology was colonialist, and perhaps remains so. The rankings of First World (democratic world powers), Second World (communist world powers), and Third World (developing nations with lower economic power or less global importance) remain relevant in anthropology because a common area of study is the Fourth World (for lack of better terms within this structure, the Fourth World comprises of: primitive, uncivilized, and/or isolated peoples).

    The discussions that I’ve read and heard about the limitations of an anthropologist as a human being with specific experiences and interpretations and evaluation methods, combined with the freedom to outright fabricate, balanced against the academic duty to document the cultures of people accurately and completely, and that balanced against the ethics of keeping such reports incomplete for the personal safety of the anthropologist’s informants (especially when the community expresses that a specific feature of their lives is not public)…these are important to consider. These are so important. Even though anthropology might largely remain a bourgeois infatuation with the exotic, the structures for checking that infatuation should be at least as accessible as the products of ignorance or disregard for those structures.

    *

    When it comes to spiritual tourism, Elizabeth Gilbert has received a lot of criticism for her autobiography, Eat, Pray, Love and this serves as another passing comparison to Alex Mar’s Witches in America. I haven’t read either. I have watched Gilbert’s TEDtalks on the mystery of creative inspiration that involved mention of daemons, genii, and the transfer and adaptation of cultural traits during the Moorish invasion of Spain, and the unfortunately wry response to her critics in a later talk she gave about success, failure, and persistence (“I knew well in advance that all of those people who had adored Eat, Pray, Love were going to be incredibly disappointed in whatever I wrote next because it wasn’t going to be Eat, Pray, Love; and all of those people who had hated Eat, Pray, Love were going to be incredibly disappointed in whatever I wrote next…because it would provide evidence that I still lived.”)

    My impression was that Gilbert offered a more benign form of infatuation with the exotic: that what would be classified as “exotic” exists in a world shared with “normative” and it’s the purpose of life to experience humanity in all the ways we can, and help others to situate themselves in a shared world and a full life experience. From Gilbert, I receive the impression of an inevitable failure to shake one’s approach (as that is the result of a lived experience as much as it changes new lived experiences, and as dangerous as that privilege may be) but above all a willingness to give of herself as much as she receives.

    Yet.

    To offer a more benign form of inevitable objectification and distance isn’t assurance of sustained benignity. Criticism is as important as enjoyment, because Gilbert and Mar don’t relate as individuals to equally-empowered individuals, and there can be no mutual respect for boundaries (and thus representation, as a result of permission granted at that boundary, would never be unskewed) without equal empowerment.

    As for the excerpts of Alex Mar’s writing…those weren’t even benign. I might sit down to read Eat, Pray, Love one of these days, but there’s no way I’m ever touching Witches of America.

    Aristotle’s Poetics and Finally Some Structure to Wishcraft

    Tune in for Aristotle being such a sexist!

    Lately, I’ve been thinking of Poetics. The word reminded me that I never got around to reading Aristotle’s lecture notes on Greek theatre, The Poetics, so I finally got around to reading it.

    It didn’t have much to do with my Poetics, or my ideas of what it would be as these ideas form, but it was an interesting read.

    Much of it pertained to the technicalities of Greek theater, specific meters, how the Chorus should be treated, dramatic beats defined as Reversal of the Situation (Peripeteia) and Recognition and the necessary setups for that (I’m guessing that’s now like the chase scene as a narrative convention that Charlie Chaplin rebelled against in his time, which is not to say that narrative conventions such as “chase scene” or a “main character” aren’t worth exploring the significance of in its context or even today), but a lot of it could be applied to any narrative. It’s definitely dated, although interesting that Aristotle made the distinction between that which was virtuous, that which was appropriate, and that which was “ennobled”: so, characters in a play must be good and even a woman who is also a slave and doubly lowly can technically be so; but must also be appropriate, and valor and cleverness in a woman was inappropriate to show to audiences onstage (while learning something new would be a big draw, on some levels individual audience members do expect some validation of some of their worldview as-is); and yet, every defect of character preserved and presented onstage is necessarily ennobled by a poet. There were also some recommendations for information that must be left offstage, even as it affects the story shown onstage. The definitions and history of comedy versus tragedy were also interesting, with the comedy having no history according to Aristotle because it wasn’t taken as seriously (ba-dum-bam) as epics and tragedies.

    The Poetics proposed that the stageplay was an imitation of life, and there was a whole chapter on how to address critics of a play on the basis of how the imitation went. To me it spoke of how artistic license and the tumultuous relationship between the work and the audience have been issues for a very long time.

    *

    Six parts of a drama that determine the quality according to Aristotle (translated by S.H. Butcher here): Plot, Character, Thought, Spectacle, Diction, and Song. I conjecture that they go in order, when Aristotle continued that two constitute the medium of imitation (so, I’ll guess that’s Plot and Character), one constitutes the manner (Thought, or perhaps theme as the political and rhetoric), and three constitute the object (Spectacle, Diction, and Song.)

    I think of it more like the story as medium versus the story at large and at small. If we start small, a story is primarily description, dialogue, and narrative (or spectacle, diction, and song.) As a medium, audiences infer characterization and plot development or plot twists from the primary. I sometimes think of narrative as broader than plot, so they should switch places in size rankings, but I’ll position Song in a special way in my own system later. Thought, or what I could call Theme, positions the work in the context of society, which is the larger view of storytelling.

    I recognized notions as both the basis of a belief system and generated or synthesized by the same. Beginning to think in ritual structure, now, the qualities in parts of a drama can serve as placeholders of a structure that can synthesize notions, the filler of the structure being the Ogdoad (and the application in Ways, that I haven’t yet written about.)

    (Developments in Ogdoad can be followed here, although I recently decided to just do away with affricates and plosives already and just make a language with what’s left.)

    I have thought about some significant differences between the Animist approach to mystic elements (that treated these powers as animate) and the Ceremonial (that tended to treat these powers as inanimate or resonant worldly extensions of the elements within oneself). Ogdoad would be neither, rather themselves being a perception filter construct, strengthened by recognition of how these notions (or elements) invite or apply to the greater world.

    A one-to-one correspondence of narrative parts to Ogdoad definitely made it simpler, but I guess if intuition moved for a ritual that was all Pawn, or all Castles (even in the song, plot, and character positions) then that’s how it would go.

    At first, I figured that the Pawn would always be in the position of Song, if I think of Song more as the connections that make the whole more than the sum of its parts. Depending on the notion to be synthesized, (which would only be complicated if one thinks in categories that would then fracture the notion rather than activating a whole that can then only be described in what would once have fractured it) the “plot” of the spell can either be imbued Kingly, Queenly, or Pawnly; same as the “character”. And the final three qualities would be imbued with the remaining pieces, for balance of the spell, and compatibility with that which the spell applies to.

    Outside of this, where most modern spellcasters would put a circle, I’d put a triangle instead: sea, sand, and sky; the pledge, the turn, the prestige; or craven’s, maven’s, and haven’s ways. Craven’s Way applies more to personal development, Maven’s Way applies more to external entities on the same wavelength, and Haven’s Way applies to external forces and entities not on the same wavelength.