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Wednesday, 8.18.04: Beware of magic

I'm still chewing on the spiritualist thing. My house is full of objects that other cultures have used to call upon the spirit world to protect them or to bring them good fortune -- fetishes, amulets, masks used in rituals. I can hardly move without knocking one of these things over. Of all the collections in our house, I love these cultural items best.

Fetish from the CongoWhile I might refer to these items as "magical," would I ever try to invoke their spirits (say, with a Ouija board) or use them somehow to change my future or to bring bad luck to people I don't like?

First of all, I have enough respect for the cultures these items come from not to fool around. I can waffle some on this issue: if these objects do have powers, I certainly don't have the cultural know-how to release them. The last thing I want is something on the order of poltergeists creating havoc around here. No time for that.

Second, I think their "magic" is more about the living human minds, hands and hearts that created them. Minds that struggled to make sense of the world and to manage the unpredictable. Hands that learned how to create something interesting and beautiful. And hearts that treasured the objects and preserved them for decades or centuries.

And there is one more thing. J has been reading a book called Art and Oracle: African Art and Rituals of Divination. I took a look at it. It is very specific about the purpose of the kinds of items we have in our collection. It contains a map of where the tribes are located: Congo, Liberia, Nigeria and other west African nations. That made me think. Here are cultures with incredibly sophisticated and complex spiritualist systems. And where did it get them? Chaos and ruin. Slavery. Centuries of colonial exploitation. Bountiful natural resources wasted or gone to the bank accounts of corrupt rulers.

Maybe these cultures have been wrong-headed about where to spend their energies. Or maybe they have been too effective, on a local basis, in evoking voodoo-like spirits to bring bad fortune to enemies. Or, if they are trying to divine the future, will a bad reading will make one despair and a good reading make one lazy? It's like house odds at the casino -- hatred and evil and despair always have the edge over generosity and joy and diligence. Have everyone's little spirit manipulations piled up in a giant psychic mess? I say no thanks to that.

This is what I'm thinking at the moment.






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