coromandal


madness and glory

A wallflower sits and sweats and watches the dance, all the pretty girls, the well socialized having fun.  There’s a mountain the size of life itself between the chairs ringing the hall and the throbbing boards and hearts in the center.  And any puny will that climbs it and makes it to the happy center is indeed triumphant.

Watching the religiously convicted is similar.  Something huge separates the ordinary person from the convicted.  Of course, the ordinary are convicted too, by rationality and superior processes.  Is it two camps staring with unbelief – and maybe contempt – across an unnavigable void?

Believing is an effort of the imagination; knowing is to directly experience, says Ehrenreich in her book Dancing in the Streets.  The rational believer apprehends the deity backing up and advancing in a flux of faith, doubt and negotiation.  The ritual dancer entwines with the deity in a profound and intimate embrace.

Objectivists, rationalists, inculcators of Calvanistic dread, 20th century ideologues, scientists, free marketeers, fundamentalists, social engineers, are the rational believers.  And the knowing dancers are sufis and dervishes, ritual dancers, Hindu kavadi, ascetics, mortificators of the flesh, peyote takers, speakers of tongues, the voudou possessed and Koolaid drinkers.

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rites performed in the forest at night
August 25, 2009, 1:21 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

Here is a list of the many incarnations of the god Dionysus who presided over “rites performed in the forest at night,” as described by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy.  She describes the particular allure of this god for women who leave their children and duties and husbands to take up the ritualized dance.

In the description below, Shiva, the Indian Dionysus, is an outsider in extremis:  he steals our women, tramples our codes, engages the outcast, communes with the dead, he is obscene.

From Dancing in the Streets —

Dionysus was no respecter of ethnic boundaries.  According to the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, the worship of gods resembling Dionysus ranged over five thousand miles, from Portugal through North Africa to India, with the god appearing under various names, including “Bakkhos, Pan, Eleuthereus, Minotaur, Sabazios, Inuus, Faunus, Priapus, Liber, Ammon, Osiris, Shiva, Cerenunnus,” and, we might add, the delightfully named Etruscan analog of Dionysus:  Fufluns.  In his brilliant rendition of the Indian epics, for example, Roberto Calasso describes the Hindu god Shiva as “this stranger, this woman-stealer, this enemy of our rules and ties, this wanderer who loves the ashes of the dead, who speaks of things divine to the lowest of the low, this man who sometimes seems crazy, who has something obscene about him, who grows his hair long as a girl’s.”  Like Dionysus, Shiva bore an association with wine, his cult being “particularly widespread in the mountains where the vine is cultivated,” according to a Greek who lived in India in the fourth century BCE.