Mysticism: Holiness East and West

By Denise Lardner Carmody; John Tully Carmody | Go to book overview

dream time, or the realm of the traditional gods, where one might find healing and fulfillment?

Dreaming came to the fore in the Australian case, along with creating the song lines through which many Aborigines have constructed maps of their environs. A many-sided, many-ritualed concern for vitality, fertility, vigor, health rather than sickness, and strength rather than weakness seemed the best analogue in Africa. Both dreaming and the vital side of many African religious activities (for example, the trance of the diviner) bear similarities to the ecstatic interests and methods of the classical shaman, but in neither Australia nor Africa has the ecstasis been as intense, so much a matter of flying to the gods and combatting death, as it has been for the prototypical shaman.

The greater likeness among the overall religious profiles of traditional natives in the four cultural areas that we have described probably resides in the excitation of religious imagination that we found in them all. Oral religion en bloc has involved dazzling exercises in picturing how the gods originally fashioned the world, what the different shapes or sounds or smells of given creatures say about their origins and rightful uses, and how human beings gained their present social relations. In contrast to the concentration on reason, will, understanding, and love that we found among the mystics of the world religions (who tend to distrust the imagination, the senses, and the feelings, even though of course they have to use them), the leading figures among oral religionists have tended to be poets, artists, masters of masked dances, and sages such as Ogotemmeli, who have gone in the night to star after star, possibility after possibility, ultimately because, after years of practice, they have come to love such work, finding in it both aesthetic fulfillment and transcendence. That probably has been their greatest kinship with the more classical mystics. The religious functionaries through whom it is easiest to interpret oral religion have been like the classical mystics in following a path of maturation that led them more and more to identify their treasure, what they had been made for, as a reality richer than themselves, more ultimate, with which they might, if the gods favored, gain blessed union.


NOTES
1.
Mircea Eliade, Shamanism ( Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press/ Bollingen, 1972), 4.
2
Joan Halifax, Shamanic Voices ( New York: Dutton, 1979), 50.
3
Joseph Epes Brown, The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian ( New York: Crossroad, 1982), 113.
4
See Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

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