The shaman’s open-ended universe

If Freudian psychology teaches us anything about the world, it is that patriarchal value systems go hand in hand with the sense that everything already has a predefined meaning and purpose. That the Earth was the centre of the Universe was the prime article of faith when the patriarchal system was at its greatest, mystical heights.

The medieval (and earlier) era of church domination brought us the fantasy of a Universe ordered by a supreme being who kept everything within its proper sphere, which was thought to be determined by the thing’s ascribed ‘essential nature’. The boundary limits of reality were determined theoretically by the mind of God the Father. Practical reality was limited, in turn, by the head of the extended family household — the human father, who laid down the law concerning not only what was allowed, but what was to be considered to be knowable. For, what was outside the sphere of what was known by the household father was not considered to be worth knowing, if the father was to hold his position as the supreme human knower — the one most in touch with the mind of God.

Despite cultural and historical claims regarding the omniscience and omnipotence of the Christian deity (or, indeed, with regard to any patriarchal deity), the force of such claims did not lead to a veneration of knowledge as a direct link to the sacred. Rather, the claims concerning the attributes of God the Father placed a heavy weight of fear upon the population that was gripped by the fantasy. As Nietzsche teaches us in Genealogy of Morals, a feeling of indebtedness to a power greater than oneself produces guilt. From Freud’s teachings, we can likewise deduce that introjection of the image of an all-powerful father figure (God) would produce a superego of proportions that would go beyond the kind of superego generated by the theoretically “normal” resolution of the oedipus complex in relation to the laws laid down by one’s human father.

The overall effect of succumbing to belief in God the Father, is thus a superego that binds the universe shut in such a way that obedience to “law” rather than search for knowledge becomes the guiding principle of life. This social and psychological limitation to stay within the boundaries of “the law of the father” and not to question it, or go outside of it (in order to explore further) was what bound the universe into a limited, secure, and theoretically already-known sphere of human relations — a bubble of meaningfulness securely pinned-closed by God-the-Father clasping it all together, circumscribing the upper limits of the mass fantasy.

What would it be like if the fantasy of that-which-is sacred came to Earth — not as transcendence (which is mere suggestiveness of an idea), but as integral, experienced reality? The loss of a father at an early age might trigger such an explosion of knowledge of the sacred, as “God” becomes immanence again, and all things take on an animistic hue (imbued of the sacred). Then the Universe would continue to expand in an unbound way, its meanings and purposes stretching out to limits that God-the-Father can no longer put a lid on.

The sense of being safely ensconced within a limited, but already-known Universe would be all gone. Death would take a step closer to the observing and questioning subject — whose existence is no longer metaphysically assured. (One would have to get to know death intimately, and to live along with it, as part of life.) Yet life itself, and eros and the sacred would also come crowding in. In all, the fantasy that concerns the meaning of life would become more complex.

This is the nature of the shaman’s world — and Marechera’s:

My father’s mysterious death when I was eleven taught me – like nothing would ever have done –that everything, including people, is unreal. That, like Carlos Casteneda’s Don Juan, I had to weave my own descriptions of reality into the available fantasy we call the world. I describe and live my descriptions. This, in African lore, is akin to witchcraft. My people could never again see me as anything but “strange”. It hurt, for the strangeness was not of my own making; I was desperately cynical for the descriptions were the only weird things I cared to name “truth”. They were the heart of my writing and I did not want to explain my descriptions because they had become my soul, fluid and flowing with the phantom universe in which our planet is but a speck among gigantic galaxies. [ p 123 Mindblast].


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