Thursday, 31 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 17: Syncretism as a peak experience

Fragonard, Inspiration (self portrait)

"...the healthily Apollonian (which means integrated with the healthily Dionysian) can become pathologized into an extreme, exaggerated, and dichotomized compulsive-obsessional sickness. But also the healthily Dionysian (which means integrated with the healthily Apollonian) can become pathologized at its extreme into hysteria with all its symptoms."
Abraham Maslow,  Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, preface.

It has been many years since I read the Maslow work quoted above, and I no longer have it in my library. There have been a couple of times that I have had to downsize my library and I think it vanished as a result of the first. This morning, I was checking to see if it was now in ebook format, and I was surprised to find a free PDF version that does not even require any sort of membership.
I don't really like the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy ― as Maslow says in the above quote, each can be pathologized and I think that the entire concept can be better understood and built upon by using, instead, the spectrum I propose of Mythos to Logos. As both Apollo and Dionysos are mythological elements, we could run into all manner of difficulties when building upon the concept. Maslow, too, did not like the dichotomising of Apollo and Dionysos, so what he had to say about it was thus provisional to his viewpoint. Mythos to Logos could then easily incorporate the very materialist extravert who does not tolerate the mythic in any form. Such a person is also expressed in Chapter I:
"It is almost universally true for the positivistic psychologists, the behaviorists, the neo-behaviorists, and the ultra-experimentalists, all of whom feel values and the life of value to be none of their professional concern, and who casually renounce all consideration of poetry and art and of any of the religious or transcendent experiences. Indeed, the pure positivist rejects any inner experiences of any kind as being "unscientific," as not in the realm of human knowledge, as not susceptible of study by a scientific method, because such data are not objective, that is to say, public and shared. This is a kind of "reduction to the concrete," to the tangible, the visible, the audible, to that which can be recorded by a machine, to behavior"
Even within the religious spectrum, alone, such dichotomising also occurs as he reveals in Chapter III:
"If you look closely at the internal history of most of the world religions, you will find that each one very soon tends to divide into a left-wing and a right-wing, that is, into the peakers, the mystics, the transcenders, or the privately religious people, on the one hand, and, on the other, into those who concretize the religious symbols and metaphors, who worship little pieces of wood rather than what the objects stand for, those who take verbal formulas literally, forgetting the original meaning of these words, and, perhaps most important, those who take the organization, the church, as primary and as more important than the prophet and his original revelations. These men, like many organization men who tend to rise to the top in any complex bureaucracy, tend to be non-peakers rather than peakers."
What is true for religions, here, can also be extended to archaeology, and we might wonder if it might be said that archaeology is dead in the same sense that Nietzsche said "God is dead".  I found it interesting that Maslow's views were influenced by his visit to the Blackfoot Confederacy Reserve at Siksika here in Alberta. In response, mainly, to archaeologists who criticized the Indian's claim: "We have always been here", I thought that I should write something about the different worldview expressed by "We" in that statement, because it does not just refer to the identity of people whether genetically, culturally, or nationalistically expressed. It also included their environment: the mountains, hills, plains, forests, and all of the animals and plants therein. Thus, their claim was true by their own worldview. So I wrote Prehistoric Religions -- Interpretation and MetaphorWorthing Archaeological Society Journal, Vol. 3 No. 4, Autumn 2004. In it, I gave a personal experience about an encounter with a member (Blood) of the Blackfoot Confederacy:
"I remember one such incident when Willy Big Bull, a Blood Indian, came to town with his latest paintings. He had achieved a decent living as an artist and his paintings blended western styles with native iconography. He exhibited at a gallery owned by my friend Marion. He was always well dressed, in a western casual manner: His only obvious connection to his culture from his appearance was his long braids. We talked as we looked at his latest paintings and he mentioned that his daughter had come down with the flu.  Marion suggested that he bring her up to town and that her own doctor, she was sure, would be able to see the girl. He politely refused. We tried to talk him into it but he still kept politely refusing. After a while, seeing that neither Marion nor I were backing down and were alarmed about the welfare of his daughter, he said "my wife is taking her to the old woman". We both backed off at that point! Even though he was among friends, he did not want to admit the strength of his connection to his own culture.
"While we were not told about this visit "to the old woman" would entail, and perhaps even Willy was not entirely sure, we might imagine that a combination of ritual and native herbal medicines would have been used. In this effort to understand what would have happened, I have already filtered the event through my own cultural background: by separating the concepts of herbal medicine and ritual. I have assigned two methods. In the mind of that old woman this separation likely did not take place. She would simply "cure" the young girl."
The Celts who first noticed the strong connections between the beliefs of the indigenous people whom they encountered had experienced peak experiences, and these gave birth to a new artistic style that we now call La Tène. We can imagine that those same people who were either the Druids, themselves, or their forerunners were decidedly closer to the Mythos on the spectrum than the Logos. The New Archaeology of the seventies was more scientistic than scientific, at least in its popular expression. Whenever the word "ritual" appeared in the reports of such archaeologists, it was nothing more than a "black box". Many such archaeologist were atheists as it reflected  their own worldview that the New Archaeology seemed to support. It is reflected, today, within die-hard survivors of  that archaeological theory, in their criticisms of postmodernism. Thus any archaeologist holding such a viewpoint would be seen by the Indians they might study as not understanding their people at all. It is no wonder that the Gundestrup iconography is so poorly described and understood by many archaeologists who have little good to say about art-history, mythology and psychology. Perhaps archaeology is dead. In today's complex world, mere details about a culture's material life does not provide the answers that people need. People want to know about what ancient people thought, believed and felt. The very things most avoided by the materialist extravert who mostly sit in positions of power in archaeological societies.

But here's the rub: just as the Logos leanings of professional societies and organizations such as UNESCO attract such people, so too, the Logos leaning of Celtic statehood attracted similarly extraverted materialists from among the Druid class. Thus the La Tène religion also started to move further away from the Mythos of the early "peakers".

Tomorrow, "Hacking the Druid code".

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