Saturday, March 12, 2016


My approach to the function of minister was through ceremony.  It was NOT about being saintly, theologically correct, politically dynamic, reassuringly therapeutic or running an efficient House of God, or at least congregation.  I did not want to be confessional; that is, staying within allegiance to one tradition.  Nor emotional, that is, escaping into ecstasy.  Therefore, I collected ceremonies that simply struck a nerve in me, then set about trying to figure out what that “zap” was about.  Instead of letting the categories that already existed dictate what I would explore, I explored first and classified later, inventing new categories if necessary.  It was "necessary" to realize whole new realms of information, particularly since many others seemed to be having the same experience.  (In the preface to "Metaphors We Live By" by Lakoff and Johnson, they say, ". . .we discovered that certain assumptions of contemporary philosophy and linguistics that have been taken for granted within the Western tradition since the Greeks precluded from even raising the kind of issues we wanted to address."

Because I was in a UU seminary (whose MDiv included the U of Chicago Div School MA at that point in history), the major symbol was a chalice with a fire in it.  There are historical reasons, but I liked the symbolism: Dionysius contained by Apollo.  Or the major part of the brain “burning” (emotion, passion) contained by the bone skull.  But I wanted theory that could include ALL “religions.” 

I was already moving away from binary systems that were thinly disguised “us” versus “them.”  I was remembering Dean Barnlund's "Language and Thought" classes (1957) as an undergrad, where we struggled to move from debate to discussion, very much like the Lakoff and Johnson thinking that produced "Metaphors We Live By."(1980)

For a while I thought about continuums, but even they couldn’t encompass the whole.  The cross, in the abstract meant something like four-part graphs or Tillich's horizontal v. vertical, but it was still two-dimensional.  So I ended up with a globe that had a core (home) but also extended in rays out into space towards the strange and the unknown.

The Core of Ceremony: Confirmation of Survival

Homeostasis as the terms of survival.
Ecologies as a source of homeostasis.
Individual vs. group survival vs. planetary survival.
The abyss: lost.

This was a sacred mountain in Papua, New Guinea.
Now it is a mined-out pit like Butte, Montana

These were the ceremonies:

The Abrahamic series of burnt sacrifice on an altar, the production of written text which is studied in a group, and prescribed prayer — leading to the Roman Catholic mass as explicated by Dom Gregory Dix.   This discussion is meant to extend from the hunter-gatherer shift to farming (Cain and Abel) up to some of the traditional concepts that are broken now. 

The 20th century “post-Christian” succession of Unitarian Universalist theorists and some experimental ceremonies.

The defense of cannibalism through the symbol of Christian communion.  (The soccer team crashed in the Andes.)

An adaptation of traditional marriage on the occasion of the groom killed on the way to the ceremony.

A minimalist artist's "proof of life" with chilled glass and warm breath.

The Umeda ceremonial cycle in New Guinea about cassowaries as a trope of men’s lives.

A Blackfeet ceremony called “Bundle Opening” which is the local tribal version of all prairie tribes' practice with a calumet which led to ideas of a "peace pipe."

Bob Scriver's depiction of a Beaver Bundle Opening Ceremony.
The women are holding beaver skins and pretending to "be beavers."

Sorting inquiries that developed:

Some are culturally mainstream worship services, some are anthropological, some are therapeutic, and some are artistic.  

I considered these factors:

Whether the participants are in the “believers” circle.
Whether this is a familiar and often repeated ceremony or an
  annual festival or an individually devised experience.
Whether this was text-based, ecologically based, or
Whether this was a long-standing community with shared
Whether this was individual or congregational.
Whether introspection, observation, or participation (meaning
   experience was the basis).
Whether the culture will accept the erotic or insist on the

Hominin skulls

Evolution of everything

   Hominins:  chimp ceremonies
   Neanderthal/Cro Magnon:  evolution of the brain
   Evolution of the landscape
   Evolving culture that is entangled with ecological metaphor 
   Entangled with government
These elements (and more) are relevant:

Brain evolution
   Animal subliminal 
   Emotion vs. reason
Entheogens and auto-theogens


How you do it:

The sequence of liminality
The use of the sensorium 
   in-skin v. out-skin
   boundaries and nodes


Culture has also evolved.  As sketchy indicators, consider the following. The ecstatic Seventies were iconoclastic, boundary-crossing, and full of every kind of movement and music -- in the EuroAmerican world.  Because of the ebbing of the old colonial order without replacement, the Eighties in the Third World paid a high price in epidemic, famine, and genocide.  The Nineties were technical, extending our understanding out into the universe to the verge of black holes and the echo of the Big Bang, down into the ocean to the lair of the giant squid and lifeforms that never see light, and tracing through the human neurons, genomes, molecules.

The Twenty-zeros were another return to order and consciousness: writing out mission-statements and best practices.  Now the Zero-tens are packed with fear and confusion.  What the heck are we doing?  Shifting into universals, connecting with handheld devices.  Looking at ourselves from space.  

We do seem to swing through periods of grouping and then separating into individuals, through wanting freedom and then clear lines.  Ceremonies can clarify what’s happening, justify it, or push back against it.  Probably best to know which is in play.

Temple frieze in India

I’m reading: list servs, websites, organizational statements, research studies, and books.  I look up all the neologisms, definitions, examples.  If they mention a film, I try to get access to it.  If they talk about a book — well, you can’t buy ALL the books, but you can usually find a talk about it on YouTube or a review about it, or — curse wikipedia — someone's anonymous take on it.  

When the focus changes, power falls away from those who had the attention earlier.  This makes them scared and angry, so that the times are usually marked by argument and emotion.  This makes them a little easier to find.  But the newly empowered don’t always realize that they’re drowning in two inches of water, so they could save themselves by simply sitting up.  That is, they are often merciless and therefore must be approached with caution.  Caution means examining oneself, playing your convictions backwards.

Jane Goodahl

Anthropology is a useful portmanteau sort of discipline which, like the new studies of neuro-function, show up as hyphenated and cross-disciplinary categories all the time, helping to keep us from being trapped in pigeon-holes.  It has evolved quite a lot, since it responds to culture, and at some points is more helpful than at others.  “Useful” and “helpful” are dependable criteria, much better than “correct”, which is only a version of “dominant.”

Over and over again I ask myself: who am I missing?  The assumption of ninety per cent of what I read is that everyone is just like the writer.  This doesn’t mean that if I read minority writers that it will depart from “received wisdom” because the publishers control the rhetoric.  Truly divergent and unique people will never see print.  When we have minority and specialized publishers, we can escape the mainstream.  But that means we also escape the profit.  Any kind of meaning-ceremony that gets entangled in money is doomed.

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