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Mrs. Dr. Omed and I recently drove to the local Mong-O-Plex to see Werner Herzog’s idiosyncratic 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I’m not a fan of 3D or of 3D glasses–neither is Herzog, as it turns out–but it was worth the headache and two days of blurred vision to see this film, and to see how the prehistoric painters used the contours of the cave walls to conjure the presence of the animals.
In his big book on Paleolithic art, The Creative Explosion: An Inquiry into the Origins of Art and Religion, the anthropologist John Pfeiffer proposes the hypothesis that cave paintings are part of the arsenal of “special effects” created by the anatomically modern Cro-Magnons reinforcing and dramatizing the “mnemonic systems” that preserved the technological, cultural, and general knowledge of the tribe. Pfeiffer points out that “the notion…that knowledge of any sort…should be shared as widely as possible is a relatively recent thing.” Secret ceremonies, degrees of initiation in the mysteries of the tribal cult are also major components of the process of imprinting vital tribal memes. Not to mention dislocation, pain, and fear. Learning by ordeal. Penile subincision with a stone knife, for instance, concentrates the mind wonderfully; the boy will remember what the elder whispers in his ear. Pfeiffer calls it “education for survival.” He also emphasizes that these are things done in the dark, the ritual drama playing out against a pitch black backdrop, the sputter of flames from fat-fueled lamps licking painted stone into life.
Despite the decimation of traditional tribal cultures in the world wide demolition derby of modern history, we are all becoming more and not less tribal. In the Information Age all the netizens of the Global Village are self-selecting in a frenzy of Lamarckian cultural evolution, into tribes. Not tribes based on kinship or territory, but on shared memes (on shared whims sometimes). Instant communication equals instant tribalism. The question is no longer “what’s your sign,” it’s “what’s your tribe” asked in any number of ways.
In the American midwest there are fundamentalist-run “Hell Houses” that open during the Halloween season with the avowed purpose of instilling the fear of Hell in their customers, and facilitating the conversion of the rubes by literally scaring them into the arms of Jesus. This is the ritual drama of recruitment into a tribal cult in a degenerate form.
As Lao Tzu said, there are many paths, one way. One possible path is to return to making dreamtime maps, epics and legends with plenty of “entertainment value” to transmit the nested data in continuing sagas to the post-illiterate electronic tribes of the noose-sphere, with a trickle-down to the post-literate society at large. Pilgrims and seekers, Dr. Omed has gazed deep into the blue screen of fate. He sees some. He knows some. Know it or not, some of you are the root workers, the conjure doctors, the shamans of Little Sister. Just keep on doing that hoodoo you do so well.
In related news: All Non-Africans Part Neanderthal