Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Is He Dead, Alive, or in Between?"

From the Nasca province (ancient Peru).
Strange question, isn't it? I mean, someone is either dead or alive. Right?

Not for the folks who lived in the ancient Americas. They believed there was an "in between" state--a spirit world where shamans traveled to obtain information that would help or heal their people in the living world.

Dr. Rebecca Stone, curator of the ancient American galleries at the Carlos Museum discussed the issue of "dead, alive or in between" in relation to Nascan pottery. In a docent training session, she pointed out a pot (similar to the one above) showcasing a series of disembodied heads meant to represent the staked heads of enemies. No question there--all dead!

But in some pots, the dead-heads were juxtaposed with other heads, which turned out to be not just alive but in between--shamans in the process of journeying to the "other side." Fascinating.

I also loved Dr. Stone's explanation of "anomalous bodies"--statuettes of shamans with some kind of physical challenge, such as being visually impaired, having a hunchback, having ravaged skin, or the like.  Instead of being shunned, differently-abled people were revered for their spiritual strength. Their suffering or difficulties made them important and powerful shamans on the spiritual plane. Being "different" in these cultures was a positive, empowering thing.

I tend to focus my tours on the Egyptian and Greek/Roman galleries because they are my favorite periods in history; however, it's always good to be reminded that just across the hall, entire worlds of wonder and awe await.

The Carlos Museum's comprehensive collection of ancient American art (more than 2,000 pieces) will re-open to the public February 9th.  Come on out y'all!


Cathy C. Hall said...

I suppose we (Catholics) have an "in-between" state, too, not that I've ever thought about it in those terms. But I can see where the concept shows up in other religions.

Fascinating stuff, Vicky! I need to get back to the Carlos--I'd love to see that collection.

Narukami said...

"Is he dead, alive or both?"

Must be Schrodonger's Cat.

Mathematically speaking you can be in two states at once.ödinger%27s_cat

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Mmmmm, shamans. I see a future book in the works! :) e