Panel 19:

APPROACHING THE END: PRECARIOUSNESS, TRANSCENDENCE, POLITICS

Organizer and Chair: Emilio Giacomo Berrocal

In his last and unfinished book, La Fine del Mondo (The End of the World), Italian anthropologist Ernesto de Martino argued that the process of modernisation in Western societies brought with it the rupture of the ‘crisis-redemption’ mechanism that traditional and archaic societies mastered. By this, he meant that whenever the social order was under threat from whatever event, a shaman, a wizard or someone similar accessed the “world of beyond” to re-establish the cosmological unity. Today, however, almost 50 years after de Martino wrote his book, we seem to be living in a time when the work of shaman is no longer enough to avert the crises facing shamans’ societies. This is evident in, among other things, the international campaigns that indigenous leaders have launched to defend their territories against the projects of global companies and/or States, and also in their direct involvement in the worldwide movement for the preservation of the Earth. What does this request for ‘help’ mean? How can it describe the times we all live in? How do Westerners respond? Can ‘their’ request for help and ‘our’ inability to solve the crisis tell us something about the ‘transcendental ethos’ of our species?


The Positionality and Temporality of Thinking

Berrocal, Emilio G.

Independent Researcher, Seminar of Thinking

This paper reflects on the relationship between the positionality of thinking and the temporality of the end (or beginning). When one thinks, it is argued, one seems to occupy two different positionalities at the same time: the physical and social place a body inhabits, and the mental and solitary place one’s mind takes refuge in while thinking. But what does it mean to think? Far from confusing this double-positionality with the Cartesian duality aimed at sanctioning the dominance of the mind over the body, this paper overturns de Martino’s framework of the «crisis-redemption» mechanism. Thinking, it is pointed out, does not take place at the beginning and the end of the crisis, when a shaman is called to work or when s/he is successfully back from the world of beyond, as implied in de Martino’s proposal. Rather, thinking happens in the crisis itself – what can be called the temporality of the end (or beginning). What does this imply? This paper addresses this question by considering Terrence Deacon’s concept of the «missingness» of life and Gilles Deleuze’s idea of immanency.


Indigenous Leadership and the Margins of the State: The Case of Cacique Celio Guerra

Karkotis, Alexis

Bai Lab

With a population exceeding 300,000 people, the Ngöbe are the largest indigenous group in Panama. Primarily horticulturists the Ngöbe practice a subsistence economy and maintain an egalitarian society with a symmetrical political system. The majority live within the Ngöbe-Bugle Comarca, a semi-autonomous territory, which was politically demarcated in 1997 after decades of struggles with the government. The article explores indigenous resistance against large scale developmental projects within indigenous lands. By following the steps of one particular Ngobe leader, General Cacique Celio Guerra, I examine the multiple discourses of manipulation and coercion that indigenous leaders are forced to face from the state and transnational corporations. I also examine the strategies that leaders employ against such external forces. In indigenous societies the role of the headman and the role of the shaman often overlap. Amazonian leadership, Fernando Santos Granero argues, is ultimately interlinked to a “mystical means of production.” The control of life-giving knowledge, ceremonial techniques and ritual paraphernalia can be at the hands of either a shaman or a political leader, or at the hands of an individual playing both roles. I argue that the dual role of the shaman and leader has become even more blurred since the Technological Revolution. This is because life-giving knowledge drawn from the media-scape is as important as life-giving knowledge drawn from the spirit world.


“I cannot do what they want me to do. Got it?” An Alternative Way of Living in the Shamanic Intentional Community of Terra Mirim (Brazil)

Fois, Francesca

Nottingham University

Terra Mirim is an intentional community embedded in the shamanic tradition of the Mother Goddess that emerged 20 years ago in the metropolitan area of Salvador. Jussara was 27 years old when she went to live to Terra Mirim. She grew up in one of the richest neighbours of Salvador in Bahia and after studying law at the university, she realized that she could not ‘fit’ anymore in the society she belonged to. This paper investigates the stories of people that, like Jussara, have moved to the shamanic intentional community of Terra Mirim in search of an alternative way of life. How can Terra Mirim be considered an alternative space? What alternative way of living does the community offer to its residents? Utopian literature, although commonly used to study intentional communities, provides limited lens to understand spiritual alternative spaces. On the other hand, the work of Gloria Anzaldúa -‘The Path of Conocimiento’ (2002)- through exploring personal spiritual journeys, sheds light on the concept of spiritual activism and contributes to understand spiritual alternative spaces. Drawing upon detailed ethnographic research, this paper shows how the shamanic intentional community of Terra Mirim offers to its participants the possibility to undertake a spiritual journey of self-discovery through communitarian living and shamanic rituals. The paper contributes to utopian studies arguing that ‘enacted utopias’ are those spaces in which individuals feel free to search, find and express themselves.


The Active Imagination and the Problem of the Conjunction of the Opposites

Cestari, Zaira

Independent Researcher / Analytical Psychology

In the years immediately preceding the two world wars, from the consciousness of the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung arose images portraying Europe flooded by a sea of blood. At first, he believed to be on the verge of psychosis, but then, when the war started, he began to realise what those images meant and ventured himself into an exploration of the inner self that he afterwards called «Active Imagination.» This whole experience is illustrated and commented in the Red Book. This paper dwells on the testimony embodied in the book regarding the issue of archetypal polarities. The practice of the Active Imagination, I will argue, represents an individual and collective source apt to overcome the global crisis in an era where hypertrophic and extroverted vision divides the archetypal opposites. The internal vision of the Active Imagination opens a path to reignite counsciousness, clarifying that whatever is unsolved in the inner self, conflicts externally. In so doing the Active Imagination relies on the vision of the inner cosmology to activate a process of transformation. This is done to acquire consciousness of the opposites and the conflicts deriving from their division.


Transformation by Solving Conflicts through Symbols and Rituals

Maimon, Oded & Kreitler, Shulamith

Professors, Tel Aviv University

Symbols are complex meaning-carrying constructs that may take the form of images, actions (e.g. rituals), sounds and rhythms, or certain words. Regardless of the form in which they are manifested, symbols provide an alternative system of thinking and solving problems, which consists in harmonizing contrasting constructs, ideas and approaches. Whereas the standard logical thinking consists in a linear approach, which excludes contrasts and clashing conceptions, symbols enable integrating the clashing paradoxes in a harmonious whole.
A series of studies showed that structures, which have the potential of functioning as symbols, present a variety of inconsistent features that are integrated harmoniously on the level of the image. Such complex good gestalts stimulate the projection of paradoxes, conflicts or contradictions of various kinds by the individual who may experience thereby the likely solution of the paradox or conflict.
Conflicts that may be resolved in this manner by means of symbols include the conflict between love and hatred, revenge and forgiveness, feeling lonely and feeling a part of a large community like humankind, being afraid and trusting. The resolution of the paradox or conflict may not follow logical rules, but nonetheless it provides peace of mind and a kind of harmonious freedom from anxiety and stress. This emotional-experiential benefit is amplified by a cognitive benefit of expanding consciousness and one’s view of the world, and even starts a process toward higher realms.
Instead of dismissing paradoxes as irresolvable or choosing only one of the conflicting constructs, symbols enable incorporating both conflicting poles and thereby ascending to a higher level of thinking that provides a richer cognitive.


Transcendence and Infinity in African Witchcraft

Vermeylen, Saskia

Lancaster University

Witchcraft discourses have played a dominant role in postcolonial African politics. Colonial history has tainted the study of witchcraft and even today witchcraft is often still understood as an exotic occult. In this paper, I first explore the role witchcraft plays in fast changing African societies and through a detailed study of a few case studies show how witchcraft is a cultural expression of local knowledges and philosophical traditions often linked and part of daily life. In the second part of this paper, I show how not only the practice of witchcraft is often misrepresented and misunderstood but also how ‘western’ dominant epistemological and ideological framings of witchcraft are an expression of a wider systemic problem of alterity. This links to a wider debate that I address in this paper and that is to examine the link between witchcraft and justice. Drawing upon the work of Emmanuel Lévinas and Paul Ricoeur, I reflect how an ethics based on local discourses and one that privileges the human other might be more appropriate than an ethical framing based on universal principles and metanarratives when establishing the relationship between justice and witchcraft. The final part of this paper will explore to what extent Lévinas and his concept of the Radical other can help with understanding witchcraft in a more contextualised and culturally appropriate manner.