Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Where Nature Lies Naked Awaiting The Hunt

By David Metcalfe

It is a mark of Western society to relish our supposed developments, be they technological, psycho-spiritual, social, or really whatever area we put our mingling little minds to that produces a new color, shape or sound. We often miss the fact that what we truly excel at is the ability to create myths that cover our co-opting and rebranding of traditional elements, and the naiveté to clap with delight when shown the same things in different packaging.
Our view of the ancient world is skewed by an Academy that very rarely accepts the reality of the subjects that they delve into, whether it's Christian scholars discussing the 'literary' quality of 4th century liturgy, or Classicists debating if Parmenides really meant it when says of people:
"Helplessness guides the wandering thought in their breasts; they are carried along deaf and blind alike, dazed, beasts without judgment, convinced that to be and not to be are the same and not the same, and that the road of all things is a backward-turning one."
In his book The Dark Places of Wisdom, Peter Kingsley astutely points out that the reason the Academy is free to debate this is that Parmenides was describing them.
The discovery of a sunken Roman ship 40 years ago yielded samples of ancient pills, and after waiting with bated breath for DNA analysis on the contents, scientists in charge of the project produce the stunning and superficial observation that:
In a time when the illiteracy rate included nearly 75% of the population, and paper actually required manual labor to make, it would seem to be a given that medical texts would not be flights of fancy. In our culture's self aggrandizing narrative scholars are free to drift about in a hazy world of unreality, never recognizing the fact that what they are writing about, and studying, is an indulgent product of their own minds. If they read Parmenides with greater clarity they might learn something.
We also relish our freedoms, freedom to choose this or that brand of toothpaste, freedom to "program or be programmed", but rarely do we recognize the freedom of limitations. A recent post on the blog Cryptoforest contained an interesting quotation from Ettore Biocca's book Yanoama which contains Helena Valero's account of witnessing an Indian community in the Venezuelan Amazon:
"The next morning, all the men who had come to prepare the curare had painted themselves black with coal on the face, on the body, on the legs, because they said curare is useful for war. They didn't eat that day: they said that the woman who stayed to watch must not bathe, because the poison would no longer kill animals or men. Pregnant woman must not be present because, they said, the babies whom they carried in their stomachs make water on the poison and the poison becomes weak. They do not begin preparing the poison too soon, because at that time the deer is still walking about in the wood and urinating: the deer urinates a long way off, but for them he urinates on the poison and makes it weak. Towards six o'clock in the morning Rohariwe and the others went into the forest to gather other plants, especially the plant ashukamakei, which is used to make the poison more sticky; it is a plant with long leaves."
Wilfried Houjebek, the author of Cryptoforest, wonders how Western scientists can decode the hidden chemical knowledge that these folks obviously have. With processes cloaked in 'taboos' the Western mind, especially the Western scientific mind, finds it difficult to decypher exactly what is going on amidst this seemingly incongruous series of restrictions. What is missing is the realization that these restrictions are actually evidence of a wider sense of consciousness.
Imagine you are going on a hunt, what mindstate makes you a more effective hunter? One focused solely on the step by step process leading up to the kill, or an all encompassing vision that is cultivated daily through being aware of something as innocuous as a deer pissing in the distance? What better way to foster that kind of thinking than to encode it in every activity leading up to the hunt, even the preparation of the poisons that will tip your arrows.
It would surprise most people to realize that this thought process is at the very heart of our Western traditions, but it has been lost amidst our ill conceived social myths. In an essay on the ways of knowing in the Hermetic tradition Peter Kingsley quotes the following passage from the Hermetica:
"Now be completely present, give me your whole attention, with all the understanding that you are capable of, with all the subtlety you can muster. For the teaching about divinity requires a divine concentration of consciousness if it's to be understood. It's just like a torrential river, plunging headlong down fro the heights so violently that with its rapidity and speed it outstrips the attention not only of whoever is listening, but also of whoever is speaking."
This Divine Consciousness is what is being cultivated in the poison making process. The restrictions placed on the participants actions are opening them to a wider sense of the world around them. For the price of missing a night of relaxation they are given the opportunity to find enough to eat for their people. This is access to a world without ‘literary’ litanies or clever debates, where knowledge is exchanged through enigmas and Nature lies naked and awaiting the hunt.
Note: Thanks to Ishtar who runs Ishtar's Gate for directing me to the Washington Post article on the DNA analysis of ancient medicine
David Metcalfe is an antiquarian and artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is author of “Of Dice and Divinity – Some Thoughts on Gambling and the Western Tradition,” forthcoming in The Immanence of Myth. Writing and scrawling regularly for The Eyeless Owl, his illustrations were brought to life in the animated collaborative grotesquery A Serious Enquiry Into the Vulgar Notion of Nature featured at select venues in downtown Chicago during the Spring and Fall of 2010. The Long Now Foundation has made the unlikely decision to include one of his illustrations in their 10,000 year library vault. He also co-hosts The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:04 AM

    Woah. "Nature lies naked awaiting the hunt"? That is the epitome of western patriarchal self-aggrandisement. Yuck.



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