As we’ve studied shamanism among the indigenous tribes, there is one word that lurks in the back of my head: primitive. Though I respect the beliefs of the Kogi, the Australian Aborigines, and the Navajo, I must admit that at times I’ve felt a sense of superiority. I’ve felt that my beliefs and my lifestyle have reached a higher condition of evolution, a more civilized state. And yet, the more I read in The Spell of the Sensuous, the more I realize the connection between their ideals and actions and mine. According to Abram in Spell of the Sensuous, Western civilization “lost all sense of reciprocity and relationship with the animate natural world”. He argues that where once the hills and grasses spoke to our senses, the letters and marks of the alphabet have now replaced the natural world, and our senses are coupled to the written word. I agree with Abram in that we have lost much of our ability to understand the sensuous world around us. However, I believe that we still use our limited ability to commune with the surrounding world. We just do not recognize what we are doing.
As I read the chapter In the Landscape of Language, I saw multiple parallels between my life and the cultures described within. The Australian Aborigines tradition of Dreamtime was fascinating. The Dreamtime was (and still is) a time where “the earth itself was still in a malleable, half-awake state”. It is the time when the spirits of the world, or the Ancestors, first became oriented and took on a physical form. The Ancestors would travel across the world, leaving marks of their trail behind, before finally settling down and becoming a physical feature. The Aborigines remember this trail through song, and by singing the song, relive the landscape through which the Ancestor traveled.
Though I do not sing, I remember, and the remembering relives the landscapes around me and my ancestors. I am the fifth generation of my family to live in my town. It’s a small town where you can walk from one side to the other in half an hour. At times, I like to walk past certain areas and think of the memories attached to them. I walk past our first house, the house where I spent my childhood in, and I remember time spent climbing trees, building forts, hiding in the garden. I walk past the theatre and remember the story of how my grandma and grandpa met. I ride my bike out past the old family farm, and I can hear the voice of my great-uncle explaining how to herd the sheep. I past the hill scarred with motocross trails towards the cemetery, and memories of my uncle, brother, and grandpa flood in. Each of these memories has a location, a landscape associated with it, and even now as I write this I’m traveling through my town.
There are even more memories of landscapes that I have never seen. I think of my ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, who crossed the oceans from green England to this unknown continent, who lived here before the Europeans arrived, and I feel like I can see their travel, their views, and their land. Perhaps this makes me primitive. Or perhaps the beliefs of indigenous tribes aren’t “primitive”. They are a basic part of human nature. I’m not absolutely sure, but after reading more, I’m leaning towards the latter.