Reply To: Artistic Origins, with Professor Andrew Gurevich
Thank you for these thoughtful, transparent, and relevant observations and questions. I will actually try to be brief in my responses as you observation about verbosity taking up space is one that resonates with me as well.
So much here to explore. first a few academic and historical points and then I will finish with the personal turn you requested. Anthropology is the study of human behavior as mediated through the complex matrix of biology, culture, psychology, history, and topography. And consciousness is the foundational informational interface by which we can meaningfully inhabit any transformative sense of “knowing” in these spaces. So for me, the anthropology of consciousness was a natural fit. The study of how human beings engage, relate to, and are transformed by modalities of consciousness is, after all, what we study as mythologists and students of religion. And the plot only thickens when we add the “new” physics to the mix. A “new” spin on the very first science is arriving at some of the same conclusions that the authors of the Vedas explored in their conversations “overheard on the wind,” some 3500 years ago. Scientific Materialism is now in question as a foundational assumption regarding the makeup of the universe, as more and more scientists are coming to the conclusion that Max Plank did in 1931: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
So if this is indeed true, than the entire Cosmos is the product of a unified, nonlocal, infinitely creative consciousness that is both the source, sustainer, and destination of all forms. It is truly as if the Vedic phrase, Tat Tsvam Asi, so central to Joe’s later work, is finally getting the hearing it deserves in Western academic enclaves. It is also reminiscent of one of Joe’s favorite quotes, “God is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.” So we are told in a little twelfth-century book known as The Book of the Twenty-four Philosophers. Each of us — whoever and wherever he may be — is then the center, and within him, whether he knows it or not, is that Mind at Large, the laws of which are the laws not only of all minds but of all space as well. — Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By (p. 274)
Stanley Krippner, another prominent founder of our anthropology organization, spent the better part of his career studying the connections between dreams, liminal states of consciousness, and mystical knowledge, both in the field and as a senior member of the famed Maimonides Research Lab. The first recorded dream in literary and mythological history comes to us from the Gilgamesh epic, and involves a mortal in conversation with a deity, in a non-ordinary experience of co-creative emergence. All of this involves the ability to experience various modalities of consciousness, and also to be able to move between them. Activities that trigger the awareness of liminal space, and thus both establish and question the notion of subjectivity as stable category of identification. It seems the Other is all we have. And we are it. Or in the other direction, there is only Self. Distinctions, obstructions, even deeply felt ones, are Maya.
Joe’s work was heavily informed by another anthropologist of his day, the great Adolf Bastian, whose distinction between the “elementary” and “folk” ideas provided a very workable, adaptable, and integral model for Joe to explore the similarities AND differences of the world’s great wisdom traditions. I’m glad you mentioned Victor Turner’s work on ritual. I would also add the great book “Boiling Energy” by Richard Katz about the Kalihari Kung. There is a quote that is misattributed to the late anthropologist Ruth Benedict that goes, “The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” I didn’t know it was a misquote at the time I first encountered it, and it is one of the many things that drew me to anthropology. That along with the work of Carlos Castaneda and the way Joe relied on anthropology, as you have already noted. Now, for the personal part of your question…
Part of what drew me to Joe’s work was that it provided a way for me to reengage the sacred. I was trained as a fundamentalist evangelical pastor and when I left that particular faith tradition, I believed, like many so-called “ex-vangelicals,” that my time in relationship to the ground of being was all an illusion and that nothing was left in the well to satiate my thirst for an authentic encounter with spirit. You are taught as an evangelical that all other explorations of the sacred are toxic, so when you walk away from the faith, you often feel, subconsciously, that all traditions are utterly now bankrupt. So for me, Joe changed all of that and provided the basis for me to begin to restructure my relationship to the Great Mystery in ways that weren’t built on sand. Ways that were adaptive, expansive and energized by awe, gratitude, and deep compassion for self and other.
During that process, I became aware of the work of Marija Gimbutas, the late Lithuanian-American archaeologist and anthropologist known for her research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of “Old Europe.” She was embraced and amplified by Joe back in the day, and her work on the Goddess traditions of the Neolithic and Paleolithic had a profound effect on me. I dove in with a ravenous hunger and ended up writing several articles about Goddess religion that were published in a few books and in magazines such as Reality Sandwich, The Ecologist, and Popular Archaeology.
What I didn’t realize at the time was what was truly, deeply, driving my fascination with Goddess religion. Oddly, tragically, it was a deep and embedded fear, mistrust, and anger at women. A toxic relationship born out of the devastation of my relationship with my own mother. I won’t go into details here but I was raised in an extremely abusive and unsafe home and I grew up resenting my mother for not protecting me from it. And for actually participating in the most severe episodes of the abuse. Her body was at war with me before I was even born. She used to tell me all the time, “I had five miscarriages before you were born. God was trying to tell me something and I should have listened.” So the interest in the Goddess was, ultimately, an attempt to recover my mother, The Mother, and ultimately, the Mother within. It has been a long process to come to this awareness and move from a performative and reactive “feminism” to one of authentic and organic trust and belief in the inherent value, equity, and right to thrive for all the living. Joe kicked open the door for me to start the work of soul recovery. And in the process the way I relate to everything and everyone has grown more authentic, more compassionate, more life-affirming.
I first spoke about all of this at an Anthropology of Consciousness conference because it was the only place in modern, Western academia that I could find that embraced all of the threads I just mentioned. The religious, the mythological, the anthropological, the depth psychology…all of it was embraced in this transformative web of becoming. I found a home in a subsection of a field that has roots in colonial epistemologies but is working to embrace ways of seeing that are more expansive, more archaic, more equitable, and more resonate with the lived experiences of the majority of our species through history.
I hope any of this begins to answer your wonderful questions, friend.
And oh well, I really tried to be brief! 🙂