Friday, June 15, 2012


I have always thought of Estragon in Waiting for Godot to be a lost kinda shaman. The metaphor of the journey and the follower. Vladimir refers to Estragon as his Highness. Estragon does not object. Estragon removing his boot is removing his heart which is what he has always traveled with. But all the illusions are coming together to form only an echo.  Vladimir wonders why Estragon does not listen to him.
Because shamans have a hard time with that. They DO listen. But sometimes you have to jump up and down to get them to wonder if their paying attention to you is worth their time.
"But what do we do," Vladimir asks.
"Let's do nothing. It's easier."
Becket is poking fun. At everything as we know it.
In the end, it's Beckett who is the shaman. Exit Estragon./ t  

(--Tim Barrus)
Tim and I sort of bracket the category of parashaman.  He’s over on the risky and authentic side, close to the heart of the authentic shaman, complete with dismemberment (shoulders and hips replaced), visits to death, and Orphic poetry.  I’m on the semi-respectable edge, solitary and bookish.  You could say he’s on the Dionysian shore and I’m on the Apollonian verge, except that we interact via email which is not the usual way these things work.  We both know “real” shamans -- not many -- but certainly not para- anything.  We both think things in the world are headed for trouble.  The Other Worlds?  Don’t count on going there.
No use trying to tell the old Blackfeet shaman I knew about coming dystopias.  He’d been there, done that, his people killed off, his buffalo livelihood killed off, his ability to follow the nomadic gyre stopped, the old ceremonies forbidden, his family killed.  This did not improve him.  He was not compassionate and generous -- he wasn’t even clean.  But he endured.  He and those few who survived with him were just plain hard to stamp out.
Alice Beck Kehoe, anthro who studies Blackfeet, comes to Browning every year, but I have to admit that I haven’t yet read her book about shamans. “Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration in Critical Thinking.”  She has strong ideas about shamans and has attended the same ceremonies that I have, plus more.  In fact, she was in attendance as an anthropologist taking notes when Bob Scriver and I had to reinvent a ceremony for the painting of a Badger Lodge because no one living remembered how to do it.  Several Canadian elder ceremonialists were advising on the premises but left after lunch.  They were tactful, gentle old men who took their payment gratefully.  But I know that “shamans” can be sexual abusers, greedy, vengeful, and destructive -- nothing a parashaman would want to emulate.
Bob and I were not very shamanic.  We were performance artists, he a musician and I an actor.  We were children.  There was no audience.  If you cut me open and looked at my heart, you could see that long bright day even now.  Alice wrote out the ceremony but I wrote out the dream that was the source (as is the Blackfeet way) as soon as Bob told it to me in bed that morning after waking.  This is one of the origins of my ideas about liturgy.
If you’re into definitions of shamanism and all that stuff, there’s a good discussion at]   Again, Tim is over on the ecstatic, spirit-journey side while my primary experience is as an ordained UU minister and as a hospital chaplain, with one foot always on the Blackfeet Rez.  But I’m not insitutional after all.
Abramists are so insistent on in/out, good/bad, empowered/helpless, angel/devil that it never occurs to them that someone can be an outsider, bad, devilish and STILL powerful enough control everything.    Sometimes by simply not paying attention.  Just waiting.  White American males aren’t good at that.  Maybe if they use weed.  Abramists love institutions and texts.  Not shamans that live in margins.
Neither Tim nor I is text-dependent.  Neither one of us fits into institutions.  We operate on dreams.  Our communities gather, then disperse, then gather again.  He travels; I don’t.  He’s married: I’m not.  He has children: I don’t.  He’s been to Europe: I haven’t.  He’s extremely orderly and lives out of one bag.  My place is always a mess.  I will never willingly move again.  He has dogs.  I have cats.  We’ve never met.  (Talked on the phone once.)  I write reasonable, sequential thought pieces -- a little irreverent.  Tim does video, poetry, passionate, ambiguous.  People think I’m normal.  (I’m not.)  People think Tim is not normal.  (He’s not.)
Every time I find a new expert on a subject I love (currently liturgical design premised on recent brain theory plus anthro theory and a bit of UU experience) I am overjoyed.  I get all the books, read the essays, chase down every kind of information about the source: bibs, vids, bios.  THIS has got to be the answer, the magical key!  Then I find the differences.  Grimes is quite dignified, says nothing about sex or drugs, and guards his professor status.  In his parlance, liturgy is within the church circle, but ritual can be secular or anthropological, so to him, I’m cross-mixing the two.  Anthropological ritual has no obligation to justify itself with a theological system or a history of practice -- does it?  But my liturgical theory is not theological.
I go somersaulting and ransacking through my memory banks, tossing things around, barely sorting them out.  I can’t always tell when I’m finished with a project.  They tend to be like those trick birthday cake candles -- you blow ‘em out and then they light themselves again.  

Now -- before I’ve really digested all there is to Grimes and still haven’t cornered a copy of his Journal of Ritual Studies -- I’ve discovered Anthropology of Consciousness as a discipline with a proper journal and everything.  Alice Kehoe will be here in a few weeks.  Should I make contact?  There are thresholds all around me, doors enticingly ajar, doors still in shadow, locked doors.  One of my little material symbols is an old porcelain doorknob I picked out of the wreckage of a demolished house we camped near in 1961; “we” being my parents and I returning from Chicago to Portland, which is how I got to Browning.  It looked like an egg among the debris and that’s what it was.  I’m Stays Put Woman.  I sit on that egg.  In my Mare’s nest.
And Tim?  He waiting.  He took his motorcycle boots off, but not his heart.  He still flies.  Alone.  High.  The boys find him anyway.

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