On the arcana

6 06 2011

Or two posts in one

About a year ago, I took a personal field trip to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to investigate the phenomenon of the treaters, or traiteurs. The more I read or hear about these folk healers, the more I realize that people’s attitudes towards certain things “back in the day” were quite different from our own. For one thing, I cannot find many instances of people actually writing down the prayers used by the folk healers in their cures. These were supposed to be secret, and only to be passed down to a member of the opposite sex. (As I have found out, this passing to the opposite sex was also the case for Appalachian folk healing.) If a healer could not find someone willing to learn the prayers, he or she took them to the grave. My wife’s great-grandfather was a treater, and the prayers died with him.

Why they were so secretive about these prayers is an object of speculation among anthropologists. One researcher has stated that the secrecy comes from the time of slavery. A slave who had managed to bring the healing arts with him from Africa did not want to reveal this to his master, since this would mean that he would be pressed into practicing them, and if unsuccessful, blamed for their failure, or possibly worse, of killing with black magic. This was perhaps to the point that the arts would die with them if for some reason they could not be passed down to someone reliable. The key seems to be that the power to heal was not seen as something belonging to the treater. Unlike curanderos in Latin America, they were not perceived to have el don or a particular power to heal. The prayers were what was important, and they were communal property, in that a treater could never charge for his or her services.

One could easily compare and contrast such practices to clergy-centered liturgy. Like the old priest at the altar, the treater mumbled the prayers to the point of being inaudible. I am also reminded of the fact that up until the end of the 19th century, the Church did not encourage putting the text of the liturgy into the hands of the laity. The intense training in Latin, something that the common layman would never have, would also place a level of secrecy on the daily actions of the Church. Perhaps in the human psyche, there is a tendency to revere what is hidden. For the modern church, however, it can neither afford to hide its “secrets” from its faithful, nor pretend that it can.

All that said, one has to be a bit dumbfounded by the sheer reverence of people who would take the secret of curing to their grave.

On a somewhat related note, I have to state that, living in New Orleans, I am not that big of fan of jazz. In my younger days, I really tried to expose myself to jazz, but to no avail. Having moved to New Orleans because of my wife’s family, I am a little out of luck then.

My wife’s roots, as I have stated, go back two hours west of here in Acadiana, and like the food that comes from there (cracklin, boudin, and my wife’s spicy and dark gumbo) I like the music from that part of the world far better as well. Maybe it is because it reminds me of accordion-dominated northern Mexican popular music. I can get down with the folksy rural stuff, since my upbringing was pretty darn folksy and rural, even if the soundtrack was in another Romance language.

My personal expert on the music of Acadiana is of course my father-in-law. The one thing you have to realize is that Acadiana is made up of at least two people: the Cajuns and the Creoles. Cajuns are of course white, there are no black Cajuns, and that distinction was made worse by Jim Crow. Creoles are all shades, but all have a black ancestor somewhere down the line. My wife is Creole, though anywhere else in the United States, she would pass for white (people in California assumed she was Latina). The ironic thing, however, is that my wife has Cajun ancestors, and her grandmother remembers visiting her white grandfathers. But the long arm of Jim Crow ended up breaking apart such mixed families.

It seems in some ways, this also occured in music. According to my father-in-law, the music prior to say, World War II, was exactly the same for blacks and whites. Indeed, one of the greatest “Cajun” singers was a black man, Amede Ardoin, who was lynched after a white woman wiped his brow at a dance he was playing at. My wife’s grandfather was apparently a pretty proficient fiddle player in the old style, though he gave it up to devote himself entirely to farming. Apparently, at some point the music of blacks and whites began to diverge. The white Cajun sound began to become more influenced by Texas fiddle music and country music, to give us the sound we associate with Cajun music today. On the other hand, such black musicians as Clifton Chenier, influenced by the blues sound of just over the state line in Mississippi, turned up the volume, upped the tempo, and created that most special of musical creations: zydeco. Like many things, what happened in the Anglophone wider culture even influenced the tail end of the French-speaking culture of Louisiana.

The king himself:



7 responses

8 06 2011

Given this, is it even possible to say that modern people engage in religion in the same way as their counterparts 200, 100, or even 50 years ago?

Leah, I think this has been a theme of Arturo’s, and he has explicitly answered it as “no”. It is in this sense that he argues, correctly IMO, that fundamentalism and traditionalism are just as “modern” as modernism. They both take post-Enlightenment modes of thought for granted, and thus trads and fundies, whatever they think they’re doing, are really just doing modern religion in pre-modern drag,. In short, they play “let’s be pre-modern!” while living lives and thinking in modes that would be totally incomprehensible (and perhaps viewed as heretical and evil) by real pre-moderns, could they come forward in a time machine.

I’d tend to agree with Arturo’s analysis. The issue is, what do you do with it? One could throw up one’s hands in despair that there is no real continuity, since even “traditional” Christianity isn’t traditional; or one could say it’s OK, since our views evolve (or God relates to us in progressively different ways, or whatever); or one could take any of a number of other views. I think the important thing, whatever our conclusion, is that we not delude ourselves that we’re doing the same thing as our ancestors, or that our descendants will do the same thing we do.

7 06 2011

When theology in the Western Church moved from the monasteries into the universities it became philosopical/ontological rather than biblical/relational:

In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe , where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.
–Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate

Allow the wise to illuminate your relationships with these powerful and inspiring remarks:
“So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.” (J. Krishnamurti)
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” (Carl Jung)
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” (Ralph W. Emerson)
“Let me tell you something: If you ever let yourself feel good when people tell you that you’re O.K., you are preparing yourself to feel bad when they tell you you’re not good. As long as you live to fulfill other people’s expectations, you better watch what you wear, how you comb your hair, whether your shoes are polished — in short, whether you live up to every expectation of theirs. Do you call that sane?” (Anthony de Mello)
“The person on a quest for wisdom and spirituality always has a choice facing him: Is he to live in the way others live in order to please them or is he to live in the way his own standards call for? If he lets them pull him down he loses what has taken him many, many years to develop. Somewhere at some point he must take his stand, must plant his feet and refuse to budge any farther.” (Dr. Paul Brunton)
“A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
“If a foolish man is associated with a wise man, even all his life, the foolish man will understand truth as little as a spoon understands the taste of soup.” (Buddha)
“There is one thing that, more than any other, throws people absolutely off their balance – the thought that you are dependent upon them. This is sure to produce an insolent and domineering manner towards you . . .they soon fancy that they can take liberties with you, and so try to transgress the laws of politeness. This is why there are so few people with whom you care to become more intimate, and why you should avoid familiarity with shallow people.” (Schopenhauer)
A singular strength of mind is therefore required to enable a man to live among others consistently with his own ideas and convictions, to be master of himself, and not fall into the habits or exhibit the same passions as those with whom he associates.” (Spinoza)
A disciple confessed his bad habit of repeating gossip. Said the Master, “Repeating it wouldn’t be so bad if you did not improve on it.” (Anthony de Mello)
“It was once the authority of the priest that held us, and now it is the authority of the expert, the specialist. Have you not noticed how you treat a man with a title, a man of position, the powerful executive?” (J. Krishnamurti)
A Man interrupted one of the Buddha’s lectures with a flood of abuse. Buddha waited until he had finished and then asked him, “If a man offered a gift to another but the gift was declined, to whom would the gift belong?”
“To the one who offered it,” said the man.
“Then,” said the Buddha, “I decline to accept your abuse and request you to keep it for yourself.” (Buddhism)
“Everything great and intelligent is in the minority.” (Johann von Goethe)
“If everyone were nice and pleasant, I would have no opportunity for practical training; so I should be glad to have people to practice on.” (G.I. Gurdjieff)
“As you acquire more and more spiritual light, a wonderful thing will happen by a definite spiritual law. What happens is people in love with darkness will move away from you. They want absolutely nothing to do with you. The torment of being unable to pull you back into the mud is too great for them.” (Vernon Howard)
“So long as men praise you, you can only be sure that you are not yet on your own true path but on someone else’s.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
“Take another example – a roomful of guests in full dress, being received with great ceremony. You could almost believe that this is a noble and distinguished company; but, as a matter of fact, it is compulsion, pain and boredom who are the real guests. For where many are invited, it is a rabble – even if they all wear stars. Really good society is everywhere of necessity very small. In brilliant festivals and noisy entertainments, there is always, at bottom a sense of emptiness prevalent. A false tone is there.” (Schopenhauer)
“If anyone can show me, and prove to me, that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. I seek the truth, which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.” (Marcus Aurelius)
“Spirituality is awareness, awareness, awareness, awareness, awareness, awareness. When your mother got angry with you, she didn’t say there was something wrong with her, she said there was something wrong with you; otherwise she wouldn’t have been angry. Well, I made the great discovery that if you are angry, Mother, there’s something wrong with you. So you’d better cope with your anger. Stay with it and cope with it. It’s not mine. Whether there’s something wrong with me or not, I’ll examine that independently of your anger. I’m not going to be influenced by your anger.
“Only a very aware person can refuse to pick up the guilt and anger, can say, ‘You’re having a tantrum. Too bad. I don’t feel the slightest desire to rescue you anymore, and I refuse to feel guilty.’” (Anthony de Mello)
“Make not a close friend of a melancholy, sad person. He will be sure to increase your adversity and decrease your good fortune. He goes always heavily loaded, and you must bear half.” (Francoise Fenelon)
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured and far away.” (Henry David Thoreau)
“Condemning others makes a man oblivious to his own faults, which therefore flourish unrebuked. Many individuals hide their own serious flaws behind a critical spirit. . . They cannot stand the painful operation of being themselves corrected. Such persons expend their energy and intelligence on superficial activities and so have neither time nor vitality left to concentrate on essentials.” (Paramahansa Yogananda)
“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” (Buddha)

An Adequate Faith

“If I, as a Christian, believe that my first duty is to love and respect my fellow in his personal frailty and perplexity, in his own unique hazard and need for trust, then I think that the refusal to let him alone, to entrust him to God and his conscience, and the insistence on rejecting them as persons until they agree with me, is simply a sign that my own faith is inadequate.

My own peculiar task in my Church and in my world has been that of the solitary explorer who, instead of jumping on all the latest bandwagons at once, is bound to search the existential depths of faith in its silences, its ambiguities, and in those certainties which lie deeper than the bottom of anxiety. In these depths there are no easy answers, no pat solutions to anything. It is a kind of submarine life in which faith sometimes mysteriously takes on the aspect of doubt, when, in fact, one has to doubt and reject conventional and superstitious surrogates that have taken the place of faith. On this level, the division between believer and unbeliever ceases to be so crystal clear. It is not that some are all right and others are all wrong: all are bound to seek in honest perplexity. Everybody is an unbeliever more or less.”
~ From “Apologies to an Unbeliever” by Thomas Merton

The Law of Allowing
“I am that which I am.
While I am that which I am,
I allow others to be that which they are.”

Over the last 20 years, God has taken me deeper and deeper into His own heart. He has transformed me (and has promised to continue that!) with revelation, by lavishing His Love, and sometimes by saying, “this one will now suffer for a season”. I know Him, trust Him, and love Him. So excuse me when I find it funny when some Facebook person questions my “salvation” because I don’t line up with their exact doctrine.~ David Wilson

I love Jesus, it’s his fan club that freaks me out!
–Blog Post

7 06 2011

I believe that the 16th century controversy over “works” has created a confusion of beliefs with faith in the Latin/Western Church(es). Anselm defined theology [beliefs] as “faith seeking understanding.” Most Protestants, and perhaps Catholics, also, seem to think that faith is primarily giving intellectual assent to the Church’s doctrinal teaching.

First-hand religion is based on direct experience of the sacred, also called mystical experience. Second-hand religion is based on another’s experience, authority, or dogma. This distinction is often framed as the difference between spirituality (first-hand) and religion. (second-hand). –John Davis

Martin Luther recognized the difference between the Scholastic “god of the philosophers” and the “God of the Bible”; but few contemporary Lutherans make that distinction.

In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all
philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the
assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses
and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the
disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat
dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the
metaphysicians remains a diagram – impersonal and unattainable – the
Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive.
— by Evelyn Underhill – MYSTICISM (Chapter One)

The life of the soul is not knowledge, it is love, since love is the act of the supreme faculty, the will, by which man is formally united to the final end of all his strivings–by which man becomes one with God.
….The heights that can be reached by metaphysical speculation introduce a man into a realm of pure and subtle pleasure that offers the most nearly permanent delights you can find in the natural order. When you go one step higher, and base your speculations on premises that are revealed, the pleasure gets deeper and more perfect still. Yet even though the subject matter may be the mysteries of the Christian faith, the manner of contemplating them, speculative and impersonal, may still not transcend the natural plane, at least as far as practical consequences go.
–Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Luther also differed with medieval Catholicism about the definintion of sin. Most medieval Catholics thought that sin was “man curved down toward the earth”-being focused on physical/temporal rather than spiritual/Eternal matters. Luther taught that sin was “man curved in upon himself”-what mental health professionals today call “narcissism”–rather than focusing outward on God and others.

Luther’s insight seems to be confirmed by the difference between “joy”-a fruit of the Spirit and pleasure-which, along with the avoidance of pain, is a primary pursuit in our hedonistic, consumerist society.

On joy as an experience distinct from pleasure: “Joy is a different thing, because its focus exists outside the self–delight in something external, not satisfaction of some inner craving.”
–Mary Karr

All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others;
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.
–Shantideva, Buddhist mystic

Virtue is its own reward, and brings with it
the truest and highest pleasure; but if we cultivate it
only for pleasure’s sake, we are selfish, not religious,
and will never gain the pleasure, because we can never
have the virtue.
~John Henry Newman

“There is no true joy in a life lived closed up in the little shell of the self. When you take one step to reach out to people, when you meet with others and share their thoughts and sufferings, infinite compassion and wisdom well up within your heart. Your life is transformed.”
~D. Ikeda

If I live in a world that has no meaning beyond my own
biography, my own personal pains and joys, I will experience
an emptiness that always threatens to render even my most
joyous moments “meaningless.” Only through participation in
a universe whose ultimate meaning is larger than my own life
and life span can this psycho-spiritual problem be resolved.
–Jeremy Taylor, “Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill”

7 06 2011

“The more I read or hear about these folk healers, the more I realize that people’s attitudes towards certain things “back in the day” were quite different from our own.”

Given this, is it even possible to say that modern people engage in religion in the same way as their counterparts 200, 100, or even 50 years ago? Although different brands of fundamentalism can capture (with varying degrees of success) the doctrinal elements of a religion, the various folk elements of said belief system (the aspects that actually are traditional) are de-emphasized or eliminated altogether.

7 06 2011

White mind? Tell that to the Irish Cures–you know, the seventh son of the seventh son….

6 06 2011
Renegade Eye

Added to my blogroll.

6 06 2011

Arturo writes: About a year ago, I took a personal field trip to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to investigate the phenomenon of the treaters, or traiteurs. The more I read or hear about these folk healers, the more I realize that people’s attitudes towards certain things “back in the day” were quite different from our own.


–Anne Wilson Schaef (Cherokee)
Author- Native Wisdom for White Minds
From rear cover:
What is a white mind? White minds are trapped in a closed system of thinking that sees life in black and white, either/or terms; they are hierarchical and mechanistic; they see nature as a force to be tamed and people as objects to be controlled with no regard for the future. . . . . Anne often heard Elders from a wide variety of Native peoples say, “Our legends tell us that a time will come when our wisdom and way of living will be necessary to save the planet, and that time is now.”

“Only after the last tree has been cut down…the last river has been poisoned… the last fish caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.” – Cree Indian Prophesy

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