Body Ritual among the Nacerima

The anthropologist has become so familiar with the diversity of ways in which different people behave in similar situations that he is not apt to be surprised by even the most exotic customs. In fact, if all of the logically possible combinations of behavior have not been found somewhere in the world, he is apt to suspect that they must be present in some yet undescribed tribe. The point has, in fact, been expressed with respect to clan organization by Murdock.  In this light, the magical beliefs and practices of the Nacirema present such unusual aspects that it seems desirable to describe them as an example of the extremes to which human behavior can go.

Professor Linton first brought the ritual of the Nacirema to the attention of anthropologists twenty years ago, but the culture of this people is still very poorly understood. They are a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. Little is known of their origin, although tradition states that they came from the east….

Nacirema culture is characterized by a highly developed market economy which has evolved in a rich natural habitat. While much of the people’s time is devoted to economic pursuits, a large part of the fruits of these labors and a considerable portion of the day are spent in ritual activity. The focus of this activity is the human body, the appearance and health of which loom as a dominant concern in the ethos of the people. While such a concern is certainly not unusual, its ceremonial aspects and associated philosophy are unique.

The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. Incarcerated in such a body, man’s only hope is to avert these characteristics through the use of ritual and ceremony. Every household has one or more shrines devoted to this purpose. The more powerful individuals in the society have several shrines in their houses and, in fact, the opulence of a house is often referred to in terms of the number of such ritual centers it possesses. Most houses are of wattle and daub construction, but the shrine rooms of the more wealthy are walled with stone. Poorer families imitate the rich by applying pottery plaques to their shrine walls.

While each family has at least one such shrine, the rituals associated with it are not family ceremonies but are private and secret. The rites are normally only discussed with children, and then only during the period when they are being initiated into these mysteries. I was able, however, to establish sufficient rapport with the natives to examine these shrines and to have the rituals described to me.

The focal point of the shrine is a box or chest which is built into the wall. In this chest are kept the many charms and magical potions without which no native believes he could live. These preparations are secured from a variety of specialized practitioners. The most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with substantial gifts. However, the medicine men do not provide the curative potions for their clients, but decide what the ingredients should be and then write them down in an ancient and secret language. This writing is understood only by the medicine men and by the herbalists who, for another gift, provide the required charm.

The charm is not disposed of after it has served its purpose, but is placed in the charmbox of the household shrine. As these magical materials are specific for certain ills, and the real or imagined maladies of the people are many, the charm-box is usually full to overflowing. The magical packets are so numerous that people forget what their purposes were and fear to use them again. While the natives are very vague on this point, we can only assume that the idea in retaining all the old magical materials is that their presence in the charm-box, before which the body rituals are conducted, will in some way protect the worshiper.

Beneath the charm-box is a small font. Each day every member of the family, in succession, enters the shrine room, bows his head before the charm-box, mingles different sorts of holy water in the font, and proceeds with a brief rite of ablution. The holy waters are secured from the Water Temple of the community, where the priests conduct elaborate ceremonies to make the liquid ritually pure.

In the hierarchy of magical practitioners, and below the medicine men in prestige, are specialists whose designation is best translated as “holy-mouth-men.” The Nacirema have an almost pathological horror of and fascination with the mouth, the condition of which is believed to have a supernatural influence on all social relationships. Were it not for the rituals of the mouth, they believe that their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them, and their lovers reject them. They also believe that a strong relationship exists between oral and moral characteristics. For example, there is a ritual ablution of the mouth for children which is supposed to improve their moral fiber.

The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite. Despite the fact that these people are so punctilious about care of the mouth, this rite involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.

In addition to the private mouth-rite, the people seek out a holy-mouth-man once or twice a year. These practitioners have an impressive set of paraphernalia, consisting of a variety of augers, awls, probes, and prods. The use of these objects in the exorcism of the evils of the mouth involves almost unbelievable ritual torture of the client. The holy-mouth-man opens the client’s mouth and, using the above mentioned tools, enlarges any holes which decay may have created in the teeth. Magical materials are put into these holes. If there are no naturally occurring holes in the teeth, large sections of one or more teeth are gouged out so that the supernatural substance can be applied. In the client’s view, the purpose of these ministrations is to arrest decay and to draw friends. The extremely sacred and traditional character of the rite is evident in the fact that the natives return to the holy-mouth-men year after year, despite the fact that their teeth continue to decay.

It is to be hoped that, when a thorough study of the Nacirema is made, there will be careful inquiry into the personality structure of these people. One has but to watch the gleam in the eye of a holy-mouth-man, as he jabs an awl into an exposed nerve, to suspect that a certain amount of sadism is involved. If this can be established, a very interesting pattern emerges, for most of the population shows definite masochistic tendencies. It was to these that Professor Linton referred in discussing a distinctive part of the daily body ritual which is performed only by men. This part of the rite includes scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument. Special women’s rites are performed only four times during each lunar month, but what they lack in frequency is made up in barbarity. As part of this ceremony, women bake their heads in small ovens for about an hour. The theoretically interesting point is that what seems to be a preponderantly masochistic people have developed sadistic specialists.

The medicine men have an imposing temple, or latipso, in every community of any size. The more elaborate ceremonies required to treat very sick patients can only be performed at this temple. These ceremonies involve not only the thaumaturge but a permanent group of vestal maidens who move sedately about the temple chambers in distinctive costume and headdress.

The latipso ceremonies are so harsh that it is phenomenal that a fair proportion of the really sick natives who enter the temple ever recover. Small children whose indoctrination is still incomplete have been known to resist attempts to take them to the temple because “that is where you go to die.” Despite this fact, sick adults are not only willing but eager to undergo the protracted ritual purification, if they can afford to do so. No matter how ill the supplicant or how grave the emergency, the guardians of many temples will not admit a client if he cannot give a rich gift to the custodian. Even after one has gained and survived the ceremonies, the guardians will not permit the neophyte to leave until he makes still another gift.

The supplicant entering the temple is first stripped of all his or her clothes. In everyday life the Nacirema avoids exposure of his body and its natural functions. Bathing and excretory acts are performed only in the secrecy of the household shrine, where they are ritualized as part of the body-rites. Psychological shock results from the fact that body secrecy is suddenly lost upon entry into the latipso. A man, whose own wife has never seen him in an excretory act, suddenly finds himself naked and assisted by a vestal maiden while he performs his natural functions into a sacred vessel. This sort of ceremonial treatment is necessitated by the fact that the excreta are used by a diviner to ascertain the course and nature of the client’s sickness. Female clients, on the other hand, find their naked bodies are subjected to the scrutiny, manipulation and prodding of the medicine men.

Few supplicants in the temple are well enough to do anything but lie on their hard beds. The daily ceremonies, like the rites of the holy-mouth-men, involve discomfort and torture. With ritual precision, the vestals awaken their miserable charges each dawn and roll them about on their beds of pain while performing ablutions, in the formal movements of which the maidens are highly trained. At other times they insert magic wands in the supplicant’s mouth or force him to eat substances which are supposed to be healing. From time to time the medicine men come to their clients and jab magically treated needles into their flesh. The fact that these temple ceremonies may not cure, and may even kill the neophyte, in no way decreases the people’s faith in the medicine men.

There remains one other kind of practitioner, known as a “listener.” This witch-doctor has the power to exorcise the devils that lodge in the heads of people who have been bewitched. The Nacirema believe that parents bewitch their own children. Mothers are particularly suspected of putting a curse on children while teaching them the secret body rituals. The counter-magic of the witch-doctor is unusual in its lack of ritual. The patient simply tells the “listener” all his troubles and fears, beginning with the earliest difficulties he can remember. The memory displayed by the Nacirema in these exorcism sessions is truly remarkable. It is not uncommon for the patient to bemoan the rejection he felt upon being weaned as a babe, and a few individuals even see their troubles going back to the traumatic effects of their own birth.

In conclusion, mention must be made of certain practices which have their base in native esthetics but which depend upon the pervasive aversion to the natural body and its functions. There are ritual fasts to make fat people thin and ceremonial feasts to make thin people fat. Still other rites are used to make women’s breasts larger if they are small, and smaller if they are large. General dissatisfaction with breast shape is symbolized in the fact that the ideal form is virtually outside the range of human variation. A few women afflicted with almost inhuman hypermammary development are so idolized that they make a handsome living by simply going from village to village and permitting the natives to stare at them for a fee.

Reference has already been made to the fact that excretory functions are ritualized, routinized, and relegated to secrecy. Natural reproductive functions are similarly distorted. Intercourse is taboo as a topic and scheduled as an act. Efforts are made to avoid pregnancy by the use of magical materials or by limiting intercourse to certain phases of the moon. Conception is actually very infrequent. When pregnant, women dress so as to hide their condition. Parturition takes place in secret, without friends or relatives to assist, and the majority of women do not nurse their infants.

Our review of the ritual life of the Nacirema has certainly shown them to be a magic-ridden people. It is hard to understand how they have managed to exist so long under the burdens which they have imposed upon themselves. But even such exotic customs as these take on real meaning when they are viewed with the insight provided by Malinowski when he wrote:

Looking from far and above, from our high places of safety in the developed civilization, it is easy to see all the crudity and irrelevance of magic. But without its power and guidance early man could not have mastered his practical difficulties as he has done, nor could man have advanced to the higher stages of civilization.

Originally written by Horace Miner

*Source

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Ronald McDonald Rehab Center

Music: “Anxiety”, “Dark Pad”, “Fantastic Dim Bar” & “Awkward Meeting” by Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
Stock footage from Stock Footage For Free

Images available through Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License from the following people:
Suan Eman
JeKemp
Sameold2010
Joe Gray
Jean Burgess
Duncan Laws
Cathepsut
Jonathan Kramer
Anthony Catalano
Sarah Gilbert
Aussie Gold
dwwebber
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mafleen

Just Cause

premade_background__1095_by_ashensorrow-d38cig7

The Economic System takes what biology says are necessities to sustain life and then constructs a standard operating procedure through which those necessary elements of healthy sustained life are in jeopardy. You are put in a panic-like state out of fear scrambling to obtain those elements. They make up stories you have to believe to behave in such a panicky way. You know, we should say, ‘Wait a minute! What am I doing here? Running around like a crazy fool.’ You know? These are just elaborate imaginative stories spun by professional storytellers. The stories and the storytellers are not to be believed; reacted to probably, but certainly not to be believed. The stories like amusing little anecdotes, they’re faerie tales. And the storytellers are like precocious children with wild imaginations and we pat them on the head then send them outside to play. But that’s not what we’re doing. We’re still treating them like an obnoxious brat. And we’re placating them hoping they’ll sit down and be quiet. Except we’ve forgotten that. And now they’re grown up and still an obnoxious brat. . . only worse. And we pretend we don’t see it, so continue running around in a self-induced maze. Well, isn’t that crazy? To behave and live like that?

There are plenty of ways and means and solutions and differences, so why are we behaving as if they and their stories are a lifeline? We lock ourselves away, at first behind locked doors, but now locked selves. You know, we sit behind a screen staring into oblivion and call ourselves independent. As if we are absolutely certain what is going on, and then we fight about it. Well, isn’t that crazy?

You know, and we have this neat little trick  called money that we pay between ourselves and consider ourselves happy to oblige hooking ourselves to the pleasure of value (which is really war profiteering. We demand more of this ridiculous notion just to entertain ourselves that we care). We demand the spoils of conflict, so fight with each other so we can feel better about ourselves. Isn’t that crazy? Money: it’s a neat little trick.

 

*Image credit–
“Premade Background 1095” by AshenSorrow resources

Quantum Action Policy

From this quantized  eBay™, humans can order, for an equally astronomical fee, packets of time to dilate their day or night. . .

Pi_The_Transcendental_Number_by_Tom_Blackwell_flickrQuantum Order

Any mass object warps the spacetime surrounding it and drags spacetime along with it, causing a perversion of time. When someone wishes for more time, he or she should spin as close to the speed of light as humanly possible to increase the surrounding gravitational waves, therefore slowing time. Such that, anyone observing this “dance” (a sort of gathering momentum) will perceive the spinner as slowing down. At the point where the observer screams, “Wow! Is he/she ever moving slowly!” (or some equivalent exclamation) the Salt Pan Stereographic spinner can stop spinning (having conserved enough momentum) and carry out the remaining tasks of his/her daily routine, comfortable in knowing he/she has now enough time. I recommend a policy be enacted into Physical Law that at certain intervals of the workday, the entire planet could spin rapidly to near the speed of light. The accumulation of energy of every Human Being equaling the entire mass of Earth’s population should slow down time for the entire planet simultaneously. If we could somehow conserve this energy, those who were on the night side of the planet could use their extra time during their daylight and vice versa—a system of lending a continuous supply of extra time. Careful monitoring would need to be implemented to ensure that no single individual spins before his or her allotted interval, throwing the entire planet into a maelstrom. This average of interactions create the perception of Time. From this quantized  eBay™, humans can order, for an equally astronomical fee, packets of time to dilate  their day or night. The morphing of time could be a commercial venture. Imagine a stock market determined by time rather than digits.

Never Enough Time Factor

Einstein’s theory says that uniform motion is relative. So, the Earth’s Warp_Core_by_GarlandCannon_flickrpopulation could decide en masse to simply stand still (rest is a state of motion), effectively decreasing their velocity, acceleration, and motion to zero. This would remove the distribution of seemingly chaotic (a symptom to the Never Enough Time factor) events and human entropy from the equation of Time altogether. As the universe expands, it would drag humans along with it, stretching time out to infinite proportions relative to human perception. Much like the notion of singularity associated with falling into a black hole, and time will simply unfold before us, infinitely.

Cosmic To Do Lists

Hyper-Sky_by_FrankHg_flickrHuge amounts of Dark Energy can be utilized to accelerate the Earth to as close to near the speed of light as Earthly possible. This will slow down time enough that all the clocks on the planet will slow to a virtual stop, and all Humans will now have plenty of time to check off each task on those cosmic To Do lists, like repairing that leaky faucet, fixing that running toilet, filling in that nasty hole in the attic wall, completing the work in the Inbox at that job, reading all those new WP blog posts in that reader, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum.

Stretch Spacetime

Multiverse_by_Kevin_Dooley_flickrIf the expansion or contraction of spacetime, and consequently the expansion or contraction of Time itself, is correlated to density, then this would mean that the more humans gathered in a particular spatial geographical region, the perception of Time at that position would increase proportional to the level of attraction (gravity) and the distance relative to each person in the area.  The amount of persons herded at one position is proportional to the perception of time. This proportion increases at the rate of assumptions relative to the volume of references to Time in communications. Therefore, with a cosmic density parameter, Ω0, equal to the mass of herded persons, spacetime is stretched, as well as all references to time itself.

 One Final (Disturbing) Recommendation

Corn_by_Klaus_Friese_flickrSir Isaac Newton postulated the Law of Gravity by the following equation:  where F = the gravitational force, G = the gravitational constant, 6.67×10-11 Nm2/kg2, m = mass of an object, and r = distance between m1 and m2. Distance is measured relative to time. The concept of time is perceived relative to some other object; therefore, Time is an illusion. If time is an illusion, then distance is also an illusion and r = 0. If r = 0, then there is no gravitational force.

In his General Theory of Relativity, Einstein wrote the following equation, referred to as Einstein’s Field Equations (EFE):  where Gαβ = curvature of spacetime as determined by the metric tensor, and Tαβ = stress-energy tensor. Solutions to EFE are metrics of spacetime, which constitutes the universe. If there is no gravitational force, then Gαβ = 0, and there is no spacetime curve problem. However, that would also mean there is no universe. As such, my final recommendation is that I promptly wink out of existence.

Hypnotiq_No_71_by_Shane_Gorski_flickr

. . .more

*Image Credits (used through CC license)–
“Pi: The Transcendental Number” by Tom Blackwell
“Salt Pan Stereographic Panorama” by Martin Heigan
“Warp Core” by GarlandCannon
Hyper-Sky” by Frank Hg
“Multiverse” Image by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons license
“Corn” by Klaus Friese
“Hypnotiq No. 71” by Shane Gorski

The Humdrum Syndrome and the Origins of the Mundane

A_Distortion_In_Spacetime_by_Torley_flickrThe Human Complaint–that there is never enough time–can be traced to the spacetime curve. Because spacetime is curved time can only follow a single one-dimensional path. Time, then, is available in only a finite amount, albeit, appearing infinite, but in actuality being a repeating finite amount. Hence, there is not enough for everyone. The Humdrum Syndrome, brought on by the Human Complaint and caused by the resulting circular path perceived by the spacetime curve, is an effect of the spacetime curve problem, and the origins of the Mundane. However, if spacetime were straight, and thus able to flow in multiple directions simultaneously, in this monochronic age where time is a resource and space a commodity, everyone perceiving in the third dimension could benefit.

The scope of the spacetime curve problem extends beyond the curvature of spacetime and cast tendrils out into the realms of velocity, acceleration, motion, position, and ultimately into the very material of human perception.

take_it_as_you_need_it_by_Parg_flickrTime is a sort of Doppler Effect to human beings, derived from our perception of the length of time it takes for some perceived object to travel from point A to point B. All observed objects are the perception of electromagnetic radiation in the form of the visible photonic spectrum, called Light. When we speak of Light, we are also speaking of matter. Any mass object warps the spacetime fabric surrounding it and drags spacetime along with it, causing a twisting of spacetime.

“[There is a] dependence of space and time on velocity: at speeds near that of light, space itself becomes contracted in the direction of motion and the passage of time slows.” ~Gravitation

The very existence of mass objects causes spacetime to be curved, Quantum_Gravity_NASA_GSFC_flickr and that curvature determines the perception of Time. Human beings (a mass object) perceive time relative to their present position on the spacetime grid. The Humdrum Syndrome is the effect of that perception on the observer as he or she observes the universe. The expansion of the universe, too, is accelerating, so humans believe that Time is also accelerating.

The faster an object moves the slower its time relative to its motion. Humans are already moving at a fast pace (relatively); therefore, as people move faster to try to catch up with the speed of light, they should actually be moving slower relative to an observer (the clock). As a human being attempts to catch the speed of light (his “pursuit of happiness”), he is, in effect, stretching time out to infinite proportions without ever gaining any space. In other words, his distance and velocity remain at zero.

Untitled_Tau_Zero_by_flickrHumans always perceive other objects relative to the time taken for the electromagnetic radiation emitted by that object to reach our eyes plus the time taken for our brains to compute the apparent look-position of that object. Thus, human perception of another object is always relative to the past. Humans may not even have begun to use the time available, because humans are essentially always moving backwards (into the future; making each one of us a potential time machine, with the body as the space vessel) relative to one’s reference point. Conversely, this same logic could also be interpreted to mean that humans have already consumed the time available and no one yet has awakened to the reality that we are, in fact, “Out of Time.”

more. . .
*Image credits (all artwork used under CC license)–
“A Distortion In Spacetime” by TORLEY
“take it as you need it” by Parg
“Quantum Gravity” by NASA Goddard Photo and Video
“Untitled” by Tau Zero

Thanksgivings To Come

“Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.” ~Alan Watts                 

–BEGIN TRANSMISSION–

this is not a clock

After much deliberation, I decided to spend Thanksgiving with my family. . . my future family. How is this possible, you ask? Ask and the Internet provides. I found these instructions (thank you, internet), followed them, and with a few minor adjustments, ended up with with a time machine. . . I set my alarm clock, settled my affairs and took off. I was back before I left, but I did experience some interesting shenanigans with my future self. I should say that Planet Earth is now Planet Hollywood and is owned by BG (the big corporation, corporations have consolidated and there is [was?] now only one.

Contrary to scientific belief, it was easy to get around with all the data influx using my new spectacles (made in about an hour).  AR is great, but can be disconcerting at first. However, without much trouble [I got lost only once], I was able to find Future Me.

what traveling through time looks like, if you’re conscious. . . and your eyes are open

Arriving just in time for dinner, with a few moments to spare, everyone was gathered around The Screen watching the game. It took some time before I realized what was so strange about sports in the future. Namely, there weren’t any people, or any reality at all, but I didn’t let this stop me from thoroughly not understanding the rules of this game either. Also,  I didn’t know who [what?] to cheer for, but Future Me didn’t either so we got on great. Before the game was over, we were called to dinner [apparently, Future Me still doesn’t cook, must have become genetic], but that wasn’t problem as we feasted on imports from one of the aquaponic colonies on Mars and home-prepared meals provided by the FPU,  one of the standard amenities in my future home.

Scanning brain waves for communication is everyday stuff here, so I haven’t had to talk much. Or do much of anything really, since the robots and robotic appliances take care of all that. Thankfully, I didn’t have to say much during dinner. Mind flexing is weird at first, but soon I got the hang of it and even dueled with the house champion. I am now no longer on speaking terms with Future Cousin, but I figure no one will remember as soon as the past catches up to the present [my future present, your past present…or…whatever].

not exactly a holodeck. . .

After dinner, I suggested we take a walk as I was anxious to see some of the scenery around these parts, but I was quickly overridden for fear of shear stupidity [I mean, I had to keep a low profile, I wasn’t really invited to dinner was I? Which was weird because everyone apparently knew I was arriving before I did. NOTE: In the future, the concept of time-space travel is common knowledge, and there’s an app for all due arrivals. Buy stock now, it’s my only advice]. Instead, Future Me suggested we just step into the Virtualizer; apparently, exposing oneself to the actual elements is out of style. The earth is still healing from all the pollution, so fossil fuels were replaced by new forms of energy.

In case you’re wondering (weren’t/aren’t you?), I’m using qubits to beam this blog post back. If my calculations (you’ll have to forgive me, I’ve only had one semester in quantum information; it’s standard here)  are correct and the foam holds this should have [will have] arrived 22 November 2012, give or take a day (I’ve always had trouble with decimal points, still do).  I won’t be/haven’t been/should already have been back just yet; I think I’m going to stick around. Future Me promised to let me try out tachyon jumping to a different galaxy; apparently we have some relatives there and my clothes are drastically old fashioned. A virtual trip to the NanoShop and I’ll be normal in no time.

Happy [belated] Thanksgiving Everyone! See you in the past (or the future, if you follow the above instructions carefully).

–END TRANSMISSION–

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.” ~Alan Watts

*With a friendly nod to H. G. Wells

Image Credits–
Top image: “The Time To Process” by Dennys Kien Yotl
Second image: “Industrial 21” by Dawn
Third image: “Connectivity” by Zananeichan
Final image: “Cube Key” by Zananeichan

*Transmission links lead to more information on the technology as it is known today, click for some fun.