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The information in this post has been integrated into my series
Rune Stances and Creation Stories.
The first volume is available now.
‘Early in the 1980’s, an Austrian friend of mine
Conceived the notion
That we should use the trance-posture experiences for
None of us had any idea how that could be done.
In fact, he thought perhaps we could simply
Imitate some tribal ritual.
To an anthropologist, such as myself,
The idea appeared preposterous.
Native rituals are not only the inalienable property
Of the respective group,
They are deeply embedded in the specific language and culture,
And imitating them is patently impossible.
So, eventually, I turned to the spirits for advice.’
From Dr. Felicitas Goodman’s foreword
to Ecstatic Trance Postures,
An Alternate Reality Workbook
by Belinda Gore
Whenever I start to bemoan my peculiar and apparently irresolvable entanglement with the board members of Felicitas Goodman’s Cuyemungue Institute I have to remind myself that the original impetus for integrating the visionary trance postures into my World Tree card deck (click here) was not my own idea at all, but began with a repeating dream. In the dream, I would find myself walking along a path somewhere in the New Mexico landscape accompanied by a porcupine. Real-life porcupines are not particularly speedy, but the dream porcupine moved briskly enough to leave me trailing after him, falling further and further behind as we walked. He left me a track of clearly defined paw prints to follow in the pre-dawn half-light and once he reached the horizon, he would rise up and stand balanced squarely on his back feet, front paws raised above his shoulders, his silhouette outlined by the rising sun.
As the sun rose higher into the sky, the porcupine’s silhouette would disappear and blinded by the brightness of the sunrise, I would look down. There in my hand would be one of my cards, bordered with porcupine prints, showing the same silhouette I had just seen on the horizon.
His position resembled one of the truly ancient hunter/gatherer postures seen in petroglyphs all over the American Southwest. This was about twenty years ago and at that time I was still naïve enough to not only mention my dream experience to some of the long-timers at Felicitas’ Cuyemungue Institute and but also to be surprised when I was chastised for daring to dream about ‘Calling the Animals’, a ‘forbidden’ posture.
That this reaction was peculiar to American side of Felicitas’ Institute is demonstrated by the photograph of me holding the very same ‘Calling of the Animals’ posture in Felicitas Goodman’s and Nana Nauwald‘s German version of the Institute’s workbook for the trance postures. It was difficult for me to take the board members’ statements seriously even when I was repeatedly given notice that actually attending to and acting on my dream and visionary experiences was frowned upon even more than my unwelcome questioning of what made a particular body position off-limits.
Perhaps because my relationship with Felicitas was personal, I was slow to realize that this turning to the spirits for advice is a risky business indeed for those around her who wished to establish a hierarchical bureaucratic method of control, a ‘certification’ program for would-be practitioners. Since Felicitas herself found my card project intriguingly abstract enough that they just might actually serve as a guide to the alternate realities, I quickly gave up on working with or within the Institute and focused on understanding the porcupine’s instructions. My persistent dream companion had made it quite clear that I was the one being called, not the one doing the calling and ignoring the bafflingly obstructive behavior of the Institute board members was a lot easier than ignoring him.
Once I realized that my porcupine guide wanted me to use my cards to guide people in the use of the trance postures, I thought I should continue in the visionary vein and ask each posture through the trance state where and with whom it would like to be placed. I set up a ceremonial space and settled myself into one of the divining postures that consistently offers a question-and-answer experience to those who attempt it. I immediately found myself nose to nose with the gatekeeper or personification of that posture who responded to my oh-so-earnest request for instructions in posture placement by laughing so hard they fell over. The more I insisted, the harder they laughed, and eventually I had to join them in a mutual recognition of the general ridiculousness of the human condition and the circumstances of my own quest in particular. I also realized that the question I was asking was not going to get me the answers I wanted. I needed to regroup, reconsider, and come up with a different context and a different approach to frame my questions within if I truly wanted to understand the task I had been presented with.
Thankfully, the spirits eventually followed through and some years later when I was poking around the internet looking for information on creation stories and the Sanskrit alphabet, I came across a myth that said when Shiva created the worlds, he did so by sitting and meditating in 84 lakh (a lakh is 10,000) asanas, or sitting positions. This got my attention, although I found the number of possibilities overwhelming huge. I was relieved when the story went on to note that of the 840,000 different positions Shiva sat in at the beginning of creation, he only considered 84 of them suitable for human beings.
As an incurable optimist, I briefly entertained the hopeful delusion that I could type ’Shiva 84 asanas’ into the Google search engines and have the full list of positions pop up. Many lists of 84 yoga related items did appear in response to my query, but despite the fact that the word ‘asana’ best translates into English as some variety of sit or seat, these lists were both wildly varied and invariably padded. Even those who managed to expand their definition of the term asana to include standing and lying yoga positions could only reach 84 individual items by including mudras (hand positions), mantras (chants), yantras (sacred images) and so on.
My curiosity piqued, I then decided to look into Shiva’s indigenous roots and see what the archeologists digging in the Indus Valley, home to the ancient Vedic texts written in the earliest Sanskrit alphabet, had found. While there is evidence of the mobile mounted Aryans arriving among the early horticultural villages of the area, there is no great preponderance of unusual body postures. I had to be satisfied with two images. The more numerous statues of a standing woman with her hands laid flat across her breasts and her elbows raised are a widespread motif found in many different Indo-European archeological sites. Furthermore, the one image I saw of a seated man does not closely resemble any modern yoga position.
More research gave me to understand that even though the word yoga is found in the earliest rendition of the Vedic texts, the practice we now call yoga only appeared a few hundred years ago. This was a bit of a surprise, but even more disconcerting was the Vedic Scholar Dr. Vasant Lad’s well-researched assertion that while the Sanskrit word chakra also appears in those ancient sacred texts, there is no mention of yoga’s ubiquitous contemporary idea of seven chakras vertically arranged along our spine anywhere in the Vedas.
Heretical as it seems, Dr Lad’s conclusion rang true to me. Following an entirely different avenue, down the trail of the Runic alphabets (click here), had led me to one of the very few older written descriptions of modern yoga’s unusual concept of blossoming energy moving in seven types or stages along the spine, head to root, in the poems of the Welsh bard, Taliesin:
I will adore my Father,
My God, my strengthener,
Who infused through my head
A soul to direct me.
Who has made for me in perception,
My seven faculties.
Of fire and earth,
and water and air,
and mist and flowers,
and southerly wind.
Other senses of perception
Thy father formed for me.
One is to have instinct
With the second I touch,
With the third I call,
With the fourth I taste,
With the fifth I see,
With the sixth I hear.
With the seventh I smell
From Taliesin’s Song to the Great World
What we now know as yoga appears to be a sort of hybrid practice that arose among those of a spiritual bent among the English colonials stationed in India, and then reintroduced to Europe. Given the British Empire’s lengthy presence in India, it seems inevitable that a combination of genuine East Indian meditative practices and Greek gymnastics as practiced by the British boy’s schools and military, then infused with the teachings of the secret societies of the time would arise. The ongoing and relentless suppression of indigenous spiritual practices in Europe combined with colonialism’s rationalization of cultural appropriation made projecting those secrets onto a foreign culture and then re-introducing them to their homeland a remarkably successful strategy for preserving them. Yoga’s popularity among people of European ancestry attests not only to its effectiveness, but also to its origins.
While this information opened many intriguing avenues to explore, not only did Shiva’s actual 84 asanas of creation remain a mystery, I found I was continuing to ruffle feathers among Felicitas’ followers. One of the ongoing issues within the Institute is the question of what constitutes an ‘acceptable’ posture, and/or a ‘new’ posture and , perhaps more to the point, exactly who gets to stamp a particular position with the Institute’s seal of approval.
My opening quote, written by Dr. Felicitas Goodman in the mid-90’s, encapsulates the dilemma that her Institute still struggles with. My search for a basis to define and organize trance postures for my cards inevitably drops me into the midst of this conflict as it apparently threatens their sense of, or need for, control over who takes which body position when and for what reason. Somehow her followers have failed to grasp that attempting to limit other peoples visionary experiences is as preposterous and non-productive as attempting to appropriate others public ceremonies and/or private rituals, never mind imitating the motions of other people’s spiritual searches.
So, while I understand the call to share this type of working with others, and see the need to support and educate those who wish to learn, in retrospect, it is clear that was only a matter of time before my path diverged from the direction taken by the formal Institute. It has occurred to me that that very need to limit other’s access to the visionary trance might be part of the spirits’ relentless push for me to seek and share my own understanding of the relationship between trance experience and body position. But I still find it ironic that I was cast out of the Cuyemungue Institute in no small part because my personal resolution of how to access our lost shamanic heritage, the dilemma all survivors of Western Civilization face, is based on following its founder’s example.
Serendipitously, at about the same time I first ran headlong into this interminable conflict with the Cuyemungue Institute board members, I was treated to the following true story that always helps restore my perspective on institutions and boards:
One of the many applicants for certification from one of the many regulatory boards for one of the various New and not-so-new Age modalities of healing here in Northern New Mexico was venting to the secretary, as their frustration with the mysterious licensing process created by their board members had reached overload proportions. When a brief pause in the tirade offered an opening, the secretary leaned forward.
Having caught the applicant’s eye, they asked: Do you believe in magic?
The applicant was dumfounded, and stuttered incoherently in response: Wh -What?!
The secretary repeated: Do you believe in magic?
The applicant replied somewhat huffily: Of course not. Do you?
The secretary sat back, smiled, and replied: Yes, I do.
The applicant snorted disparagingly.
Ignoring the snort and with the air of sharing a truly arcane phenomenon, the secretary confided:
I see it every time
a pleasant, knowledgeable, experienced, educated, rational, intelligent, well-intentioned person
becomes a board member.
With that statement, the secretary finally had the applicant’s full attention.
So they triumphantly concluded:
I watch them magically transform into complete and total assholes practically overnight!
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“The ongoing and relentless suppression of indigenous spiritual practices in Europe combined with colonialism’s rationalization of cultural appropriation made projecting those secrets onto a foreign culture and then re-introducing them to their homeland a remarkably successful strategy for preserving them.” Brilliant, I assumed that all these traditions… eastern and western came from the same root and that is why what was taken from the East echoed what we had lost in the west… it hadn’t occurred to me that we may have projected these secrets onto the foreign culture and then reintroduced them into our culture as a way to preserve them.
I am sure that there was/is a great deal of echoing between East and West, it is some of the details that surprised me!