The unfortunate rabbit in the illustration atop this page has been cut in half. By a taxidermist who fancies himself a post-modernist, perhaps?
The image comes from a book by artist Miriam Elia, brilliantly lampooning the contemporary art scene in the pages of a clearly satirical imitation children’s book in the Penguin Ladybird Books series. Penguin is flapping its legal wings, and wants any remaining copies of the book destroyed once the artist has recouped her costs.
Okay, as usual, the affair is subtler than our knee-jerk reactions might suggest, and while Penguin comes off a little flat-footed, it is in fact in reasonably courteous discussions with the artist by her own account, and perhaps something good will come out of the kerfuffle. Censorship has a habit of biting back.
It’s the dual rabbit that concerns me, though. Can it be happy, sliced and spaced like that? IMO, the whole page is a brilliant visual koan.
[ by Charles Cameron -- Wallace Black Elk & Wounded Knee, 1975, & the loss of a great writer, gone to paradise ]
Peter Matthiessen — novelist, zen priest and teacher, and author of a non-fiction book that means a great deal to me — has died.
I felt a strange and unique bond with the man, because he wrote a 550 page book focused largely on a time and date that were of great importance in my own life, setting my memories in a far wider perspective.
It was late June 1975, and as I was traveling from Denver to Rosebud, South Dakota with Roy Haber, an attorney friend from the Native American Rights Fund, to visit Wallace Black Elk, his Lakota medicine man friend and colleague, we heard word on the radio that two FBI agents had been killed in a shootout at Wounded Knee, the reservation next over from Rosebud.
The news meant little enough to me — as a Brit who had only come to the States a few years earlier, I had very little sense of the elite nature of the Bureau back then — and when at last we arrived at Wallace’s place, I found a tranquil scene. As I wrote recalling my visit a week or so later:
Feelings were running high in the newspapers, but the little town of Rosebud seemed to be an island of good natured calm.
Little did I know.
My recollections of that day will give you a taste of Wallace Black Elk, the man.
It’s fascinating to talk with Wallace, for he braids his topics together, each theme weaving in and out of his conversation for several hours. He speaks for the Indians as though he was carrying their whole history in his body. “I’ve been in prison two hundred years, and I’m about immune to it.” You mean your people?” I ask him. “Yes, my people.”
He’s full of short, pithy quotes, sometimes humorous, often breathtakingly beautiful. “Grandpa Great Spirit planted me here. I didn’t come in a plane or a bus.” “The Spirit comes when we put our ears down and curl our tail between our legs and humble ourselves. The Spirit comes and comforts us, and shows us a pathway through the traffic.”
As I mentioned above, my impression was one of peace and calm as Wallace talked with me for hours about the Lakota ways — but the situation was a great deal more complex, and in 1983, when Peter Matthiessen published his book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, I was able to understand far better just how tense things must have been, not only at Pine Ridge but also on Rosebud where Wallace and I met — and sweated:
Wallace Black Elk invited us to take part in the Sweat Lodge ceremonies that evening. It’s very hard to describe the Sweat Lodge. It’s a place of purification, the place where the Indians meet to express their deepest hearts in prayer. And at the same time, it’s a place of bodily purification, a Native American sauna. So the purification is both bodily and spiritual.
Physically, the Sweat Lodge is constructed around a framework of young willow stems, covered over with heavy blankets and rugs. It’s very dark inside, and when the hot stones from the fire are brought in and sprinkled with water, it gets to be very hot in there. The Sacred Pipe is passed around, and after smoking it and passing it on, each person makes his prayer. Wallace instructed me to address my prayer to Grandpa Great Spirit, and told me, “When your turn comes to pray, your mind will go blank and you won’t know what to say, and the spirits will tell you.” He told me to close my prayer with the phrase “all my relatives,” because “we are related to the sun, stars, moon, to all green things, to fire, the stones, to water, all creatures.”
I remember, too:
After the Sweat Lodge was over, when we came out into the wide South Dakota plains, we could hardly believe the sky. There was no obstruction from where we stood to the horizon in a complete circle, and above us hung the most majestic sunset I have ever seen. Wallace later told me, “the spirits said they would help you increase your knowledge and understanding of our ways and will show themselves to you, and you will actually see them the next time you come to the Sweat Lodge.”
Wallace had been involved in the 1973 American Indian Movement occupation and FBI siege of Wounded Knee, two years before I met him. In the words of Carter Camp, given in memory of Wallace after his death in January 2004:
In the natural order of our ways it fell upon Wallace Black Elk and his beautiful companion Grace to minister to the needs of the young men and women of the warrior society of Wounded Knee. We were a rag-tag group of young men and women from many tribes and nations from throughout this invaded land they call the new world. Our squad leaders and military planners were veterans of Viet Nam and Korea and our cadre were the youth of the red people. We could fight and we were willing to die without exception, but to be a warrior society in the old way we needed to be more than that, we needed the guidance of a wise man to differentiate us from the hired wasicu killers. So we turned to Wallace Black Elk to be that guiding teacher and his companion Grace to be our clan mother. It was a rule among us for each patrol or squad to be cleansed in a Inipi [a stone people's lodge or "sweat lodge"] and for each to pray for bravery and success in the old way. Uncle Wallace was called on to do this sacred thing for us, to make us worthy to fight and perhaps to die for our little nation.
The occupation of Wounded Knee was, from Wallace’s perspective, yet another battle in the long war between US government forces and the Lakota and other tribal peoples — this one specifically commemorating the Lakota Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.
You can get a sense of how Wallace comported himself under fire — and the intensity of his belief in the sacred ways of his ancestors — from the following episode which Camp describes:
Once as we prepared to enter the inipi, the sacred grandfather rocks had already been heated and a dozen warriors were inside the lodge, the enemy began to fire on us and bullets were flying around us like mad hornets. My brother Vic and I were the last ones outside, just undressing after bringing in the rocks. When the enemy began shooting we started to get ready to run and told Wallace and the others inside… “they’re shooting!” Let’s go!” but Black Elk calmly looked out and said, “come inside nephews, don’t leave”. Quickly we jumped into the lodge and closed the door. Uncle began to sing and we all began to pray with him, we could hear the wasicu firing their M-16′s and machine guns but nothing penetrated the thin covering of the lodge. Calmly, without fear or hesitation, Black Elk performed the ancient ceremony while the shooting continued and we could hear the gentle rain of the bullets falling upon the lodge.
Soon we forgot them and sang, and prayed and learned to believe, in an hour maybe two the fight ended and we came out to continue our duties. The next morning the people came and looked at what had happened, women and children picked up hundreds of spent bullets laying around and upon the lodge and then strung them into necklaces as souvenirs.
Wallace Black Elk prays with the Sacred Pipe in the tipi with Asst Atty General Frizzell and AIM leaders Means, Banks and Camp prior to signing of Wounded Knee peace settlement. AP Photo: Jim Mone
Agent Ron Williams' car, June 1975, FBI photo
It was a continuation of that century old struggle when two FBI agents, Ron Williams and Jack Coler, were shot and killed in a firefight on the Pine Ridge reservation on June 26, 1975 — not thirty miles and twenty-four hours from where Wallace welcomed me to his home and introduced me to the inipi ceremony.
Matthiessen’s In the Spirit of Crazy Horse offers a detailed exploration of what was happening on Pine Ridge on and around the day Agents Williams and Coler were killed — and an impassioned defence of Leonard Peltier, who was found guilty of their murder in 1977 and remains incarcerated in US penitentiary in Florida today.
I cannot do the book, or Peltier’s case, justice in this post, but for those who are interested, Matthiessen’s book is required reading, while the Bureau’s account can be found on the FBI’s website, Minneapolis Division.
At age 86, Peter Matthiessen has written what he says “may be his last word” — a novel due out Tuesday about a visit to a Nazi extermination camp. It’s called In Paradise, and it caps a career spanning six decades and 33 books.
This would appear to have been written before his death was announced. The New York Times obit, also published yesterday, says quietly:
Mr. Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday by Riverhead Books.
In Paradise… the timing could hardly have been more exact.
In paradisum deducant te angeli….
I offer this rendering of Faure’s beautiful In paradisum with prayers for the repose of Peter Matthiessen, Wallace Black Elk and Grace Spotted Eagle, and FBI agents Agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler: may they all rest in peace.
Perhaps Wallace should have the last word, as he did when I interviewed him that day in 1975, since he generalizes on the same theme: “I can see” he said, “we’re going back to paradise.”
[ by Charles Cameron -- describing the second of two books I am currently working on -- your comments invited ]
I’m currently working on two book proposals for a publishing start-up a couple of friends of mine are putting together, and wanted to keep interested ZP readers informed. One proposal is titled Coronation: the magic of monarchy, and the other Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making. In this post, I want to say a little about coronation and monarchy.
Tregear's image of the coronation procession of Queen Victoria, 1837
Coronation is the secret ingredient in monarchy, the symbolic gesture which sets things turning. It is high ritual — but whereas in general sacred rituals, countly rituals, legal rituals, military rituals and so on are separate and distinct from one another, at a coronation they are combined, with the sacred taking pride of place.
Thus in Tregear‘s image above, we see the loyal subjects, the liveried flunkies, the military, the justices, the noblility, and Her Majesty… but it is the church to which her procession tends, the church in which she is crowned, and the church, in the person of the Archbishop, which crowns her…
Coronation is a fascinating business, and in the course of the book I’ll be exploring coronations far and wide — papal coronations, the coronations of Charlemagne and Napoleon, the tantric union of the Emperor with the Sun Goddess Amaterasu-omikami in the symbolism of the Imperial Japanese enthronement rites [Holtom, Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies; White, Tantra in Practice, p 27]
This golden Ampulla containing sacred oil or chrism was first used at the coronation of Henry IV in 1399
The secret ingredient in the western tradition of coronation is the anointing: it is the signing with chrism that confers on the monarch the blessing of God, the crown being no more than a confirmation of that blessing in terms of visible power and dignity. Thus Sir Laurence Olivier, reading the words of Christopher Fry in the film commentary on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, called it “a moment so old, history can scarecely go deep enough to contain it”.
From a poetic perspective, the sacral anointing of the monarch conveys not merely temporal power, but also a priestly and a healing function. Thus the ceremonial partakes of some of the same features as the ordination of a bishop, while the monarch also receives the gift of healing scrofula with the Royal Touch, as Shakespeare notes in Macbeth:
A most miraculous work in this good king;
Which often, since my here-remain in England,
I have seen him do. How he solicits heaven,
Himself best knows: but strangely-visited people, 150
All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despair of surgery, he cures,
Hanging a golden stamp about their necks,
Put on with holy prayers: and ’tis spoken,
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction. With this strange virtue,
He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy,
And sundry blessings hang about his throne,
That speak him full of grace.
In monarchy, and by the divine anointing, earthly and celestial powers are ceremoniously aligned.
Notice, too, that in Handel‘s celebrated coronation anthem, Zadok the Priest (video below), it is the anointing of the monarch that is featured:
The ripples that extend from anointment and coronation across time and continents are many and varied. This video shows one small but beautiful ritual associated with British royalty since the twelfth cedntury, which takes place during the third week of July each year…
At the opposite end of the royal spectrum, if I may call it that, we find the cargo cult on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu that awaits the coming of the man they call Man Belong Mrs Queen:
I will close with the ode Handel wrote for the Birthday of Queen Anne, Eternal Source of Light Divine, featuring the fabulous voice of countertenor Iestyn Davies and brilliant trumpet of Alison Balsom, directed by Trevor Pinnock with the English Concert.
Your comments and suggestions for the book are most welcome.
[ by Charles Cameron -- describing one of two books I am currently working on -- your comments invited ]
I’m currently working on two book proposals for a publishing start-up a couple of friends of mine are putting together, and wanted to keep interested ZP readers informed. One proposal is titled Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making, and the other Coronation: the magic of monarchy. In this post, I want to say a little about landmines in the garden.
Ali parlays with Amru bin Abd al Wudd prior to their duel, illumination from Bal'ami MS
What I find so fascinating about the story as Rumi and others tell it is that is shows us what are called the “greater jihad” or struggle against one’s selfish nature happening in the context of the “lesser jihad” or war to defend the fledgling Muslim community. It is often claimed that the ahadith which depict these two jihads, with Muhammed obseerving that warriors returning from battle are returning from the lesser to the greater, are of late date and/or dubious provenance, and (tho no expert) I am inclined to accept that claim. Nevertheless, this story vividly illustrates the relation between them — and is one that has been used by Muslim sources more than once to restrain potential and wannabe jihadists from a foolish and dangerous impulse…
The story of the duel between Ali ibn Abu Talib and Amru ibn Abd Wudd is one in which a great Muslim warrior, Ali, interrupts an act of war (killing an enemy in the course of the “lesser jihad”) because he finds himself filled with angry pride (a condition that is unacceptable in terms of the “greater jihad” of the struggle for purity).
I strongly recommend the sermon and subsequent discussion that Kamran Pasha puts into the mouth of his visiting Imam in that episode, which can be seen here:
— and note in particular how Pasha explicitly connects this story of Ali with the issue of the greater and lesser jihads.
If both the writers of a scholarly treatise and the writer of a popular television series use the same story to convince their fellow Muslims, it seems plausible that the story in question may in fact powerfully and appropriately serve such a purpose as deradicalization — while emanating from within the culture and context of Islam itself.
I shall be using that story as the narrative heart of my book, which will explore both religious violence and peace-making.
The cover I’d like for the book is this one, since it emphasizes the peaceable side of things — the terrorist side is only too clear, and in my view requires balancing from the side of the peace-makers:
My over-arching theme will be that religions offer us Pardes, Paradise, Firdaws — a garden or orchard of peace — but that buried within their scriptures and narratives there are texts which, if triggered, can be interpretetd as offering divine or transcendent sanction for violence — hence, landmines in the garden.
I am all for the identification and avoidance of landmines.
Here, then, is my “executive summary” for the book:
War and peace are getting more, not less, religious as we move from the second into the third millennium.
Somewhat to the surprise of those who felt sure the world was growing ever more secular as time went on and the marvels of science and technology prevailed over myth and magic, it seems as though religion is enjoying an upswing — and while this might seem no more than a mild sociological curiosity for many of us, for those concerned with threats to national and international security and peace, it’s a major problem.
And it’s a far more intractable problem than it needs to be, because we have a blind-spot with regard to religious violence: we either don’t see it at all, thinking it’s all just politics as usual, wearing a religious mask — or we think it’s all religion’s fault, or all the fault of one religion in particular — someone else’s religion, one we don’t much like at all. What we don’t see is the whole picture.
There are robust industries proclaiming that religion is responsible for all the woes of our times, and that Islam is responsible for terrorism in particular — and a powerful lobby, backed by US presidents of both parties, that argues that Islam is a religion of peace and that al-Qaida and its offshoots have “hijacked” that peaceable religion for purely political reasons.
In truth al-Qaida is but one expression of Islam — a religion as widespread and diverse across centuries and continents as Christianity or Buddhism — but by no means representative of all that Islam has to offer the world.
In this book, we shall explore the strands of violence, warfare and terrorism to be found across all the major religions — Buddhist killings of Muslims in Myanmar, Sikh separatist assassinations in India, Christian vs Muslim militias in Africa (with touches of cannibalism on both sides), Hindu mobs razing a Muslim temple, Jews attacking the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron… and the call, in each of these religions, for moderation and peace.
Christian contemplatives, Islamic Sufis, Taoist masters, Hindu yogis, Tibetan lamas, and Jewish mystics find common cause in a self-surrender to a power greater than themselves, a power which offers love as its highest goal, seeks justice balanced with mercy, and has compassion as its practical expression in the world. These religions do not merely teach peace, they show us how to find it in ourselves, and how to practice it in our lives.
The great and glorious beauties that the various religions have brought into this world offer us fruits of that contemplative love, foretastes of the Garden, the Paradise all religions proclaim. But there are landmines in that Garden. If we are to come to grips with the perils of religious terrorism and hate, we must understand religion’s potential for both violence and peace.
My book will refute the myths, expands our horizons, and offer reconciliation, beauty and hope.
Your comments and suggestions for the book are most welcome.
Finally, I countenanced what I had been dreading for quite some time. Journalists and media houses being under threat is a well-known story in conflict-ridden Pakistan. I had also heard about my name being on a few hit-lists but I thought these were tactics to scare dissenters and independent voices. But this was obviously an incorrect assessment of the situation.
On Friday night, when I had planned to visit Data Darbar after my television show, my car was attacked by “unknown” (a euphemism for lethal terror outfits) assailants. The minute I heard the first bullet, the Darwinian instinct made me duck under and I chose to lie on the back of the car.
This near death experience with bullets flying over me and shattered window glass falling over me reminded me of the way my own country was turning into a laboratory of violence. Worse, that when I saved myself, it was not without a price. A young man, who had been working as my driver for sometime, was almost dead. I stood on a busy road asking for help and not a single car stopped…
As I tweeted when I heard about the attempt, I was distressed to hear of the attack, and wish him well — and Pakistan, too.
I’ve been a quiet admirer and occasional reader of Rumi’s blog for quite a while now, and am looking forward to reading his book, Delhi By Heart.
The first and final paragraphs from Venki Vembu‘s review of the book confirm me in my wish to do so. They also — and here’s what this post is really all about — show us both the deeply etched lines of division –
In his novel The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh writes of the imagined cartographic lines that divide people in the Indian subcontinent and cleave their souls. Many of these “shadow lines” are etched in bitter, hand-me-down memories and imaginations, and for that reason are rather more indelible than lines on a map, which can perhaps be redrawn over time.
— and the possibility that such lines and boundaries can be overcome, erased, transcended —
Rumi offers this fascinating narrative as a “faint voice that wants to transcend boundaries and borders and reject the ills of jingoism spun by nation-state narratives.” In form and spirit, this unusual travelogue is like a jugal bandhi: songs of bhakti tradition fuse seamlessly with qawwali strains from the Nizamuddin dargah. It is an enchanting illustration of how the divisive shadow lines of history can be erased when hearts and minds are opened to new experiences.
Finally, for your listening pleasure: an intricate jugalbandhi or musical dialogue between Zakir Hussain on tabla and Hariprasad Chaurasia on bansuri flute…
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.