Tuesday, December 25, 2018


Designing effective ritual/ceremony for a global but various population can be difficult because of so few shared images and experiences.  For some populations, like kids who have been confined to homes with few resources and have never traveled, it is sometimes necessary to provide them with experiences they've never had so they can have a reference for future community events.

Our alcohol and drugs counselor in Heart Butte in 1990 understood this, that kids who say there is "nothing to do except get high" need to be taught what else to do.  She arranged for the entire school to take the buses down to Great Falls to see "Dances with Wolves" as a student body special showing just "us".  Both the people who later picked it all apart politically and those who just got absorbed into the story at least shared a common experience and could talk about it.  I suspect they dreamed the movie for a while.  This was one of the earliest movies with Blackfeet stunt riders so they would have known some of them.  I did.

Deciding what those new experiences should be can puzzle anyone who can't empathize with others.  The first step may be realizing that what seems like and is labeled "white bread"/vanilla/hegemonic/"educated" is not the norm or the standard.  In terms of demographics, they are not even the majority. Every group is unique and what is lazily called "middle class" is neither typical nor in the middle.  Thus, people who claim that they are the index to the norm are just wrong and can be stymied when it comes to ritual, particularly with a missionary mindset.  If everyone is not just like "us", they are a mystery.

Some look for common ground in the mall, expecting everyone to enjoy spending, buying things.  When money becomes the religion and the dominant experience, we come to the world of discardable "stuff" that we now live in.  My alternative in this thread I've turned to examine the physiological mechanisms that make us vulnerable to the world outside us.  What happens in our bodies to make us aware? And why is vulnerable considered weak?

(From Wiki)
Spindle neurons, also called von Economo neurons (VENs), are a specific class of neurons that are characterized by a large spindle-shaped soma (or body), gradually tapering into a single apical axon (the ramification sending signals) in one direction, with only a single dendrite (the ramification receiving signals) facing opposite. Other neurons tend to have many dendrites, and the polar-shaped morphology of spindle neurons is unique.

Spindle neurons are relatively large cells that may allow rapid communication across the relatively large brains of great apes, elephants, and cetaceans. Although rare in comparison to other neurons, spindle neurons are abundant, and comparatively large, in humans; they are however three times as abundant in cetaceans. . . .

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) the frontal part of the cingulate cortex that resembles a "collar" surrounding the frontal part of the corpus callosum. . It appears to play a role in a wide variety of autonomic functions, such as regulating blood pressure and heart rate. [Both indicators of emotion that can become conscious.]  It is also involved in certain higher-level functions, such as attention allocation, reward anticipation, decision-making, ethics and morality impulse control (e.g. performance monitoring and error detection), and emotion.)  This list is typical of the concerns in an institutional religion.

All of these are closely related to "Western" style worship in church, which is mostly rational and predetermined.  Consider the contrast between a standard morning service and a spontaneous late-night self-chosen circle around a bonfire, possibly sharing a mood enhancing substance while telling stories.  The effect on the participants in both might be profound, but they are certainly different.  Still, both are stored in the unconscious, which is PHYSICAL, electrochemical, molecular.

People have been gathering around a fire as long as they've managed fire. The circle of light that keeps away the danger in the night is a basic part of our wiring, possibly at the level of instinct, only conscious when it emerges in a situation where there is risk.  The statement below is research about who is rejected from participation in a group or possibly even being present. Persons previously stigmatized as individuals or as a group might be particularly sensitized.

Activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) has been implicated in processing both the detection and appraisal of social processes, including social exclusion. When exposed to repeated personal social evaluative tasks, non-depressed women showed reduced activation in the dACC on the second exposure, while women with a history of depression exhibited enhanced BOLD activation. This differential activity may reflect enhanced rumination about social evaluation or enhanced arousal associated with repeated social evaluation.

Excluding the uninitiated is a major characteristic of Christians and has been since they first separated from the Jewish community.  Those who had not been baptized were prevented from being present for communion. In recent times birth has conventionally been sequestered, but now birth can be crowded with involved spouse, close friends -- besides being videotaped. We have been pulling away from private, even secretive, acts, making them public. 

Giving birth, a new person coming out of an old person, is one of the most impressive physical things that can happen, a fitting centerpiece for human ceremony -- not witnessing an actual birth so much but calling up memories,  When we took birth out of the home, we removed the experience for many people, but it is often depicted in videos, even commercials.  Birth is the centerpiece of an entire series -- "Call the Midwife."  Therefore, human birth is a moving and enduring metaphor near solstice in what we call the nativity. It is a turning point even for a non-Christian.

Sunday School classes cannot trek to hospitals to watch birth, or even get to farms in time to see calves and foals born.  We don't encourage people to let their pets give birth anymore.  All this weakens the metaphor.

The other major Christian metaphor -- Crucifixion -- could be interpreted as a new person coming out of an old god, an agonizing process. But today we elevate a figure of Jesus the Christ as an indiscriminate happy man with open arms, fully dressed. Most of us never witness extreme trauma intended to be lethal.

Vietnam combat veterans, signalling their status with black leather, formed into groups secretly practising a form of S/M that could be compared to crucifixion.  This as well was imitated by the un-entitled, trivialized, stripped of felt meaning.  Geoff Mains, a participant with a degree in biochemistry, related it to the triggering of serotonin in the body. This does not exclude the view that isolated and traumatized humans were mastering extreme witnessed ordeal as a source of relief and personal stature.  This is a squib from Amazon:  "A subculture of gay men participate in a radical form of sexual and community known as leather. Through intimate forms of play, using such tools as pain-pleasure, bondage, and role-play, leather activity strips away frustrating cultural patterns."

All those gently raised young people wanted to go torture themselves at a Sun Lodge. They knew about ornamented and familiar worship services based on cultural authority. They hungered for the primal.  People spontaneously search for rituals that address their most crucial and central issues.  Cultures that shield us from our real bodily selves also starve the most vital metaphors, which come from the actual physical nature of bodies.  Rituals can give us back ourselves through our bodies.

No comments: