This collection of essays from 1973 gets an A+ on cover alone.
Undoubtedly one of the major reasons that anthropologists for so long underestimated the importance of hallucinogenic substances in shamanism and religious experience was that very few had partaken themselves of the native psychotropic materials (other than peyote) or had undergone the resulting subjective experiences so critical, perhaps paradoxically, to an empirical understanding of their meaning to the peoples they studied. Most, although not all, of the authors in the present book are an exception…
I’ll say! From Michael J. Harner’s essay “The Sound Of Rushing Water”:
When I first undertook research among the Jívaro in 1956-57, I did not fully appreciate the psychological impact of the Banisteriopsis drink upon the native view of reality, but in 1961 I had occasion to drink the hallucinogen in the course of field work with another Upper Amazon Basin tribe. For several hours after drinking the brew, I found myself, although awake, in a world literally beyond my wildest dreams. I met bird-headed people, as well as dragon-like creatures who explained that they were the true gods of this world. I enlisted the services of other spirit helpers in attempting to fly through the far reaches of the Galaxy. Transported into a trance where the supernatural seemed natural, I realized that anthropologists, including myself, had profoundly underestimated the importance of the drug in affecting native ideology. Therefore, in 1964 I returned to the Jívaro to give particular attention to the drug’s use by the Jívaro shaman.
South American shamanism and hallucinogens is one of the topics explored in
Yet the essay our reader found of most interest in this volume was was “The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft,” also by Harner. The topic of witchcraft, European and American, has been of great interest to Helytimes.
What was going on with the wild bursts of witchcraft persecution in medieval Europe and early colonial America?
A prevalent attitude among present-day historians and scholars of religion (e.g. Henningsen, 1969: 105-6; Trevor-Roper, 1969:90, 192) is that late medieval and Renaissance witchcraft was essentially a fiction created by the Church.
says Harner. But what this essay presupposes is: what if it wasn’t?
Probably the single most important group of plants used by mankind to contact the supernatural belongs to the order Solanacæe (the potato family)… each of these plants contains varying quantities of atropine and the other closely related tropane alkaloids hyoscyamine and scopolomine, all of which have hallucinogenic effects (Claus and Tyler, 1965: 273-85; Henry, ,1949: 64092; Hoffer and Osmund, 1967:525-28; Lewin, 1964: 129-140; Sollmann, 1957: 381-98).
From here, Harner goes on to suggest:
As is familiar to every child in our culture, the witch is fantasized as flying through the air on a broomstick. This symbol actually represents a very serious and central aspect of European witchcraft, involving the use of solanceaous hallucinogenic plants. The European witches rubbed their bodies with a hallucinogenic ointment containing such plants as Atropa belladonna, Mandragora, and henbane, whose content of atropine was absorbable through the skin. The witch then indeed took a “trip”: the witch on the broomstick is a representation of that imagined aerial journey to a rendezvous with spirits and demons, which was called a Sabbat.
Wild claim! More:
The use of a staff or broom was undoubtedly more than a symbolic Freudian act, serving as an applicator for the atropine-containing plant to the sensitive vaginal membranes as well as providing the suggestion of riding on a steed
Historical evidence seems thin. Harner presents a case from 1325, when a Lady Alice Kyteler was investigated in Ireland:
…in rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a Pile of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon the which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin, when and in what manner she listed.
Kyteler fled the country, but her servant was flogged and burned to death. Her house is now a pub:
We ran this idea by one of our female editors, who pointed out that if you were going to apply some salve to your vaginal membranes, you’d probably use something a little softer than a broomstick, perhaps a vegetable. The biodegradable nature of such an applicator perhaps explains why archaeological evidence is so scant.
Thought-provoking, in any case.
Getting pretty close to having read all of Larry McMurtry’s nonfiction. LMcM has a rambling, conversational way in these books, I enjoy it. Here is some previous coverage about his book Hollywood, and his road trip book Roads, and the best one of all imo, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen.
Oh What A Slaughter is definitely worth a read. A good quality of McMurtry and my all time favorite Evan S. Connell is that they really capture the weirdness of history.
How about this, as McMurtry describes the buildup to the Wounded Knee massacre?:
How can you not like a book that has this in it?
Sacagawea’s Nickname wasn’t as compelling to me.
It collects essays McMurtry wrote for the New York Review Of Books: a couple about Lewis & Clark, one about the great one-armed explorer/surveyor/ethnographer/proto-environmentalist John Wesley Powell:
But for title alone I was def gonna read it. Like every American kid I was taught about Sacagawea in school, whose name we were told was pronounced “Sack-a Jew-ee-uh.”
Imagine my shock years later when my friend Leila, who was schooled in Oregon and thus had some cred on the issue, told me her name was pronounced “Sack Ahj Way.” Well, sure. How could we know? Both Lewis and Clark, Clark especially, were crazy spellers, so their clues are confusing. From Wiki:
Clark used Sahkahgarwea, Sahcahgagwea, Sarcargahwea, and Sahcahgahweah, while Lewis used Sahcahgahwea, Sahcahgarweah, Sahcargarweah, and Sahcahgar Wea.
Anyway let me go ahead and give you a spoiler that Sar car Ja we a’s nickname was Janey.
Death Valley Days ran for 18 seasons and 452 (!) episodes.
You can’t top Death Valley for place names. Just reading the map is a pleasure.
But hey, the map is not the territory. So the boys and I went out to have a look:
Things aren’t what they used to be in old Chloride City:
Just as well I didn’t know what these mountains were called.
On to Titus Canyon:
Rendezvous in the twilight:
Morning at camp:
Ever since I heard about the sailing stones I’ve wanted to see the Racetrack:
Not the easiest trip.
Let’s go have a look:
Bobby will do whatever it takes to get the shot:
These guys have a long walk ahead:
Keep going lil buddy!:
(is there anything so human as “rooting” for a rock in its meaningless decades-long journey across a dry lake bed?)
How about the crater?:
“Let’s drive down the old Lippincott Mine road!”
Shoutout to the rad Tom Harrison map of Death Valley.
Stirring clip from Death Valley Days:
We know that the ancient Inca used systems of rope-based accounting called quipus or khipus. Beyond that, it seems like many scholars have come close to losing their marbles trying to sort them out.
Were they something like an abacus? Musical notation? A binary system like a simple computer code? How about this, from Wikipedia:
The Khipu Database Project (KDP), begun by Gary Urton, may have already decoded the first word from a quipu—the name of a village, Puruchuco, which Urton believes was represented by a three-number sequence, similar to a ZIP code. If this conjecture is correct, quipus are the only known example of a complex language recorded in a 3-D system.
Marcia and Robert Ascher, a married couple, he an anthropologist and she a mathematician, collaborated on on ethnomathematic projects, including a good hard look at quipus/khipus and came up with this :
For example, if 4s represents four simple knots, 3L represents a long knot with three turns, E represents a figure-of-eight knot and X represents a space:
- The number 731 would be represented by 7s, 3s, E.
- The number 804 would be represented by 8s, X, 4L.
- The number 107 followed by the number 51 would be represented by 1s, X, 7L, 5s, E.
This reading can be confirmed by a fortunate fact: quipus regularly contain sums in a systematic way. For instance, a cord may contain the sum of the next n cords, and this relationship is repeated throughout the quipu. Sometimes there are sums of sums as well. Such a relationship would be very improbable if the knots were incorrectly read.
Now comes news in the NY Times, “Untangling an Accounting Tool and an Ancient Incan Mystery” by William Neuman, that some quipus have been found in an excavated Incan storehouse in Incahuasi, Peru:
Says the Times:
Now the Incahuasi researchers hope that by studying the khipus and comparing them with others in a large database, they may find that the khipus discovered with the peanuts contain a color, knot or other signifier for “peanut.” The same goes for those found with chili peppers, beans and corn.
“We can look at how the chili pepper khipu differs from the peanut khipu and from the corn khipu in terms of their color and other characteristics and we can build up a kind of sign vocabulary of how they were signifying this or that thing in their world,” said Gary Urton, a leading expert on khipus who is studying the new trove with Alejandro Chu, the archaeologist who led the excavation.
“It’s not the great Rosetta Stone but it’s quite an important new body of data to work with,” he said, adding, “It’s tremendously exciting.”
Prof. Urton has been working on khipu for almost as long as I’ve been alive. He started his archaeological career helping out at Cahokia.
The Times article introduces us to Patricia Landa, who cleans and untangles the khipu. It sounds like she takes a reverse Marie Kondo approach:
“You have a very special relationship with the material,” Ms. Landa, 59, said. “I talk to them. I say, ‘Excuse me for disturbing your rest but you’re helping us to understand your ancestors.’ ”
There is something deeply moving and wonderful and absurd and human about spending years of your life trying to decipher how 15th century people counted beans and corn. What a worthy challenge to try and sort this out:
To the khipu guys and gals, I say: good luck.
You can read more about khipu/quipu and the Inca/Inka in my book, The Wonder Trail: True Stories From Los Angeles To The End Of The World, coming June 2016.