89 Chapters
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Staying Put

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Two friends arrived at our house for supper one May evening along with the first rumblings of thunder. As my wife, Ruth, and I sat talking with them on our front porch, we had to keep raising our voices a notch to make ourselves heard above the gathering storm. The birds, more discreet, had already hushed. The huge elm beside our door began to sway, limbs creaking, leaves hissing. Black sponges of clouds blotted up the light, fooling the street lamps into coming on early. Above the trees and rooftops, the murky southern sky crackled with lightning. Now and again we heard the pop of a transformer as a bolt struck the power lines in our neighborhood. The pulses of thunder came faster and faster, until they merged into a continuous roar.

We gave up on talking. The four of us, all midwesterners teethed on thunderstorms, sat down there on the porch to our meal of lentil soup, cheddar cheese, bread warm from the oven, sliced apples and strawberries. We were lifting the first spoonfuls to our mouths when a stroke of lightning burst so nearby that it seemed to suck away the air, and the lights flickered out, plunging the whole street into darkness.

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Chapter 2. Human Evolution and the Origins and Evolution of Religious Behavior

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In 1866, the Société de Linguistique of Paris banned all discussion of the origin and evolution of human language and speech. The argument was that nothing could be known about the topic, and thus its treatment was sheer conjecture and idle speculation. No such interdict was ever issued with respect to religion, although the disquisitions on its origins have equally been plagued with “sheer conjecture and idle speculation.” Take the French author Ch. R. de Brosses. He suggested in 1760 that humans first invented fetishism, that is, the worship of inanimate objects and of animals. Egypt, he thought, showed traces of such practices, which had also been reported by casual visitors to the West African coast. Fetishism gave rise to polytheism, and that in turn to monotheism. Subsequent speculation ran along similar totally unsupported and fanciful lines. Gradually, however, ethnography, archeology, prehistory, primatology, and even neurophysiology have greatly added to our knowledge about the cognitive evolution of humans, emboldening even the linguists to take a second look, more than a hundred years after the above quoted Paris decision.1 As we shall see, some of the suggestions that emerged from their renewed consideration of the topic supported the idea that there might possibly be some parallels in the emergence of language and religion. To understand this train of thought, let us take a brief look at the course of human evolution as reconstructed by modern science.

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Eleven: Celebrations

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

For the 1985 spring workshop at the Buddhist Center in Scheibbs, our friend Franz announced that we were going to have a masked dance. “Dear Friends,” he wrote in his flyer,

you have all taken part in an introductory course on trance and the religious altered state of consciousness with Felicitas Goodman. For this year, we are planning a more intensive project with Felicitas, to deepen our knowledge about trance and ecstasy and to practice integrating it into our daily lives. This project is not to be as serious as it sounds, however. We want to make it a celebration as it used to be in ancient cultures, a celebration of joy. It is to be a game between the dimensions of the world, a sacred event demonstrating our connectedness with everything that surrounds us.

I arrived late on the first day from another assignment. I had not seen the flyer; we had discussed the matter only in the most general terms, but in no detail, and I knew only that Franz had engaged Rudl, a trained Viennese maskmaker, as an instructor for our project. So I was understandably startled when after greeting the fourteen participants in the upstairs meditation room of the center, Franz turned to me with a confident smile, saying, “All right, Felicitas, so why don’t you just describe some native ritual to us, and we’ll proceed from there.”

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Seven: The Many Faces of Divination

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

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

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

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At Play in the Paradise of Bombs

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

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

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

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

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

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