Turner, F. Beyond Geography: the Western Spirit Against the Wilderness. Viking Press, NY. 1983.
“It need not be supposed that a deep hereditary response to former habitats would necessarily be experienced with pleasure,” Paul Shepard, Man in the Landscape.
“A curious thing about the Spirit of Place is the fact that no place exerts its full influence upon a new-comer until the old inhabitant is dead or absorbed,” D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature.
Preface to 1992 Edition
(xii) Beyond Geography will continue to do the work for which it was designed: to provoke discussion of our mission and our obligation here in what remains of that new world Columbus discovered for a civilization that was about to visit upon it an unprecedented ecological destruction, Since the Admiral dropped anchor in the Caribbean islands on that fateful day in 1492, fourteen of the twenty six species of parrots, parakeets, and macaws originally found there have become extinct, and the surviving species have all suffered massive declines in numbers. And this is only to introduce the smallest of illustrations..
..It is with words that a new myth of the New World will be composed, a myth that celebrates the absolute virtues of all our fellow residents, from sequoias to spotted owls to snail darters.
(xiii) What I wanted to write about was my vivid sense - let me risk calling it a vision - that the real story of the coming of the Europeans civilization to the wilderness of the world is a spiritual story. To me it is the story of a civilization that had substituted history for myth as a way of understanding life. It was precisely this substitution that enabled Europeans to explore the most remote places of the globe, to colonize them, and to impose their values on the native populations.
The vision began on a day I spent roaming the hot and windy hills of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I saw myself there as both an inheritor of conquest and as an alien. I knew that both the Lakota and the Cheyenne had held sacred the Black Hills I could see in the westward distance, but I knew also that a belief in the sacredness of lands was not in my heritage. The distance I felt there was more than geographical. I could see the Black Hills. I was on a piece of aboriginal America. But I was estranged by history from them.
The Travels of Turner: T. H. Watkins
(xxi) The importance of Beyond Geography lies in the simple power of its message: that the most enduring strands that have characterized all cultures through all times have been those spiritual connections that bind us to the land - and that our greatest folly came when we were persuaded that our principle obligation to ourselves, our posterity, and our gods was to sever those bonds and pretend they have never existed.
We all share a common mythic past, one that goes back to that unimaginable moment when the fish that learned to walk (as Loren Eisley liked to characterize us) began to blend cognitive thought with imagination to produce symbols. It was the wilderness that taught us this trick, Frederick Turner says. Forged in direct response to the demands of survival that the wilderness imposed, “in the deepest and truest sense myths are directions for the orchestration and recognition of life energies,” and “refer to all that is to be found within Life’s experiences as well as to the end of Life and what comes after. Thus, living myth must include and speak of the interlocking cycles of animate and vegetable life, of water, sun, and even the stones, which their own stories.” This ritual confirmation of the interdependence of all life sustained countless human cultures through tens of thousands of years, at least until the first dibble stick was jammed into the first plot of cultivated earth to signal the beginning of civilization. As the structure of the human community became more centralized and intricately organized in the Mediterranean and then the European worlds, the spiritual character of our relationship to the land slowly evolved through a spiral of increasingly humanistic (and ultimately corrupt) religious systems until the anthropomorphism of orthodox Judaism and Christianity all but obliterated the traces of its earthly connections. By the time internal forces of empire and restlessness sent Europeans to exercise dominion over the lands and people of the “New World,” [as their sacred text commanded] reason had triumphed over myth, civilization over savagery.
…At the center of this conclusion [of this book] is the revelation that however profoundly European civilization attempted to distance itself both deliberately and subconsciously from the earth, it still could not fully escape its origins. Together with the baggage of dominion and conquest, of violent Christian certitudes that vindicated the pursuit of treasure and the wholesale destruction of resident cultures, Columbus and those who followed him to this uncharted world five centuries ago carried like an inarticulate dream the racial memory of paradise lost. Turner himself might even argue that the explorers had been driven into the Ocean Sea in an inchoate response to that loss: “Like…Desert Fathers repressing their bodily desires in mortification, the West turned to exploration as both a ‘palliative remedy’ (Freud) and a way of harmonizing the rest of the world with itself. If it could succeed in making the map of those spaces beyond itself match that of the Christian West, then certain torments of the spirit, certain cognitive disconfirmations (as psychologists wold have it), might be better borne.”
And what did the explorers find as solace for their cognitive disconfirmations? Nothing less than the wilderness their civilization had spent ventures denying and subduing - a dark, jungly, forested, and dangerous country, and immensity so vast and unknowably complicated that nothing in their memory could validate it, two continents that weighed on the European mind like the physical representations of a terrifying subconscious condition that could not even be acknowledged.
(xxiii) Iroquois legends tell of ancestral dreams that “a great monster with white eyes would come from the east and devour this land.”
(xxiv) These resident peoples knew that the world and its creatures were not presented to us, we were joined to them, and that our presence on this earth was not meant to be a conquest but a sharing.
(xxv) The consequent wreckage of land and wildlife is in evidence all around us as we fight with and among one another to discover salvation. It is both a good fight and a necessary one, and if the environmental movement succeeds in redeeming at least some of the damage our history has done, future generations may view it as the most important social movement of all time.
(4) I remember my father taking my brother and me to a part of the woods we had never seen and remarking that this was a stand of virgin timber. The old and moss-clung trunks rose above us into foliage that seemed to be sighing something that had accidentally come to include us.
(5) …a feeling of American loneliness began to insist upon itself, a crucial, profound estrangement of the inhabitants form their habitat: a rootless, restless people with a culture of superhighways precluding rest and a furious penchant for tearing up last year’s improvements in a ceaseless search for some gaudy ultimate.
This is an extraordinary phenomenon, and indications of it are to be found earlier than the political origins of the republic. It was one of the first things traveling Europeans noted about those who had come to live in the New World. Here people seemed to have an itch, as if the living were uneasy, troubling, almost frantic. It was as if those who had inherited the fruits of exploration and conquest had been let a troubled bequest, as if there were some unplanted, unmet spirit of place dividing them from the an authentic and comforting possession here.
- obsession with certainty/domination/progress makes for a “rootless, restless people,” vs the repose/comfort of “Indian Time,” at rest with natural cycles/eternal return.
(6) As Lewis Mumford has shown, it remained for Westerners “to adapt the whole mode of life to the pace and capacities of the machine.” It was western Civilization alone, he remarks, that had the genius to exploit and bring to full force the ideas and inventions of others, to collect and resynthesizes their “technical debris.”
(6) As Howard M. Jones once remarked, in the brief flash of three centuries Europeans transformed this “stone age landscape” into that of a modern European nation. North America is thus the epitome of whatever it was that moved the civilization of the West in its long push outward. This is what exploration and conquest has meant and has come to.
(7) And so it has seemed to me in thinking over that experience as a double alien on Lakota lands that the true story of Western exploration, and thus of America, is a spiritual one. It has its basis not in technology, not in the rise of nation-states and the consequent international rivalries that dominate the historiography of exploration, but rather in the history of that mythology that tied the West together into a quarrelsome, unloving, but nevertheless recognizable unit, sharing the same religious symbols, owning the same holy writ, deriving nominal spiritual identity from the same source, and drawing its wilderness probings sustenance from the ancient desert analogs.
- Perry Miller; Wilderness Lost.
The Necessity of Myth
(9) In some truly unimproved natural setting - one well removed from the reach, the sights, and maybe especially the sounds of our wonted culture - surrounded by the immemorial phenomenal world, whether trees, ocean, or the waves of prairie grasses, a change may overtake out, precisely to the extent that we are willing to remain where we are and resist what will be a gathering temptation to return to more certain comforts. It will not quite be fear, but it will be next to this: a kind of existential humility born of a sense of all the life that surrounds and includes us and that will go on without us. And this is the ground of myth - fear or humility and submission to the still unfathomed mystery of Life.
- fear of knowing that we are not in control as we’d like to be, separation from nature facilitates this fear; living with nature dissolves this fear.
(10) In an essay that synthesizes much of this sort of evidence, Earl W Count offers the view that myth making is not only coeval with humanity but is “an aspect of our morphology.” All vertebrates, he remarks, possess portions of the brain whose function is symbolic activity. This can only mean that myth is ultimately a product of “neurologic energies that are more ancient even than mammals, let along the primates and the line of man.” The symbolic process that finally manifests itself as myth is thus “both symptom and reflex of an edifice that has been compounded both phylogenetically and ontogenetically of primitive materials that represent a succession of elaborations.” Seeing symbolic activity and therefore myth making in this anciently functional way, we are prepared to understand that myths are not decorative and outmoded fictions but the instinctual and sure responses of the organism to Life. The symbol, according to Count, must be understood “as a means for contacting reality, and not as a device designed to shut out reality.”
- myth is communication is ritual is myth.
- ..”elaborations,” like “scientific data is a series of anecdotes,” Montaigne. Our reality is fulfilled/created by the stories we tell ourselves, that are passed down from generations. From oral traditions around the firelight to quantified data of measuring devices in a white lab.
(11) Culture contact in the wilderness made it clear that primitives believed that animals, as well as vegetation, stones, and stars, had soul life and languages appropriate to their kind. Primitive observations of animal behavior in particular fostered the conclusion that animals too had their myths and their ritual dances. So myths abound telling us of human visitors to animal kingdoms where they learn the language of species and its ways, and learn thus to respect that particular form of life. And sometimes these myths tell us that the human visitors learn so well a wilder way that they do not wish to return to the human world but would rather roam forever with the herd or swim with the school. Such narratives express the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. They tell us that it is an illusion to see true separations between the forms of being. Cumulatively they have the effect of sanctifying that life they describe.
(14) Wherever cultures have developed and retained a vital and intimate contact with their habitats without the buffers of advanced technology and its concomitants of removal, arrogance, and waste - wherever, in sum, mythology is the ultimate technology - there we find such artifacts of embrace and accommodation.
(14) Whatever explanation we adopt for the few but startling animal/human figures - the bird headed phallic figure of Lascaux, the horned bison/man of Le Gabillou, the famous masked and horned dancer of Trois Freres - [pre-historic cave art] whether we interpret them as shamans, sorcerers, or mere hunters in animal skins stalking their prey, we are confronted by a vision of the glorious indivisibility of Life. The vision was achieved over a long period of little technological elaboration perhaps, but one governed by the generative principles of archaic myth that do not acknowledge such hierarchical divisions as those between heaven and earth, animals and humans, body and soul.
- Wandering God, Berman. The Dawn of European Art: An Introduction to Palaeolithic Cave Painting, A Leroi-Gourhan.
(15) Our skill in discriminating and separating, a skill as overdeveloped as a weightlifter’s biceps, permits us appreciate the art, but not its authorizing worldview. Repeatedly over the last century and a half attention has been called to the primitives’ “unwarranted extension of mind” into the external world, to myth-bound peoples’ fallacious assumption that because they could think and desire, so could animals and trees. “Omnipotence of thought” this is usually called. The false attribution of soul life (“animism”) to nonhuman aspects of the phenomenal world, it has been said, prevented primitives from seeing the world as it really is, prevented them from discerning the operation of process behind the apparently random singularity of events, and thus kept them captives of the world rather than allowing them to become masters of it. Believing they saw and felt life and spirit everywhere, primitives in this view were constantly in the craven act of genuflection before multitudinous power centers, their lives riddled with baseless anxieties, pocked by hideous acts of contrition and propitiation.
Spiritual possession - the “childish credulity” and “loss of control” endemic to this psychic state - is profoundly offensive to the post-mythic Western mind. In time, the condition of letting go, of being entered into or taken over by the spirit of idol, sanctuary, or communal rite, became another of those convenient shorthands for all that distinguishes the childlike primitive world from the adult world of progress and civilization.
(16) As well as it expresses the joy and play of life processes, myth also expresses those darker tides of existence that no amount of electricity and reason may ever obliterate.
- inherent “balance/paradox” that myth carries (Berman, Jung) as well connotative/diffuse meanings in reality (Berman, S Diamond).
(16) It has often been observed that civilized people’s longings for a supposed lost paradise are only possible for those whose level of living allows the luxury of regret. The abandonment of that pervasive sense of the inviolability of large parts of nature is what permits their efficient uses, and this is the way to cultural elaboration and the accretion of comforts. But when handed the implements of modern agriculture which would have permitted them to move beyond their hunting and gathering economy, a tribe of Native Americans was spiritually horrified, and a chief asked the uncomprehending white how he and his people might dare to violate their Mother’s breast with cruel metal harrows.
(17) Over the long course, Life stripped of its numinous dimensions may be phylogenetically insupportable. Assessing modern civilization and its discontents, Freud was moved to a kindred observation - though he could not accept the notion that the major source of the discontent he observed around him was a spiritual one.
(18) To Jung, the discontents of contemporary civilization were the inevitable consequences of Western Civilization’s contemptuous and progressive disregard of the truths by which all men once had lived and which yet live within the individual. With this mythic past in mind, he writes that, “whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that things we have neglected will return with added force.” The fullest possibilities for human life, therefore, are to be realized in conformance with he grand, overarching shapes found in all mythologies, a conformance that is “neither a question of belief nor of knowledge, but of the agreement of our thinking with the primordial images of the unconscious.”
(19) Living myth must include and speak of the interlocking cycles of animate and vegetable life, of water, sun, and even the stones, which have their own stories. It must embrace without distinction the phenomenal and the numinous. In such ways these vital fictions turn us toward the unchanged realities we must live amidst. They may yet prove to be our most successful response to life on this earth.
- non living myths make for a non living world, a mechanistic world, unspirited, to be controlled/manipulated as resource commodity in unending capitalistic progress.
Bearings From the Ancient Near East
(20) It may well be that myth, even in its most primitive star, is evidence that man is already estranged from the rest of creation, that the capacity to symbolize and conceptualize animals, other forms of life (though theses curiously absent in Paleolithic parietal art), and indeed the wholeness of life is an indication that the primal unity so ardently sought has been lost. Maybe this is the real significance of those ancient ghostly hands found on the cave walls, for it is the human hand with its marvelous dexterity guaranteed by opposable thumb and forefinger, together with our bulging cerebral cortex, that makes man what he must be - the animal that can imagine itself as well as other things, that can make distinctions and separations, that can envision a future and long for a past.
It might further be observed here that one of the better ways of defining myth might be as a strategy of control as well as of propitiation and cooperation. In this context many may think of the theory proposed by nineteenth century anthropologists that to represent something linguistically or graphically is to attempt to establish some power over it. Sir James Frazier styled this “sympathetic magic” and thought it one of the two fundamental principles of all magic practice.
(21) What I seek to show here is that by the fifteenth century, when the West’s exploratory probes beyond its geographical confines took on the earnestness of design, the civilization was possessed of deep-set, long established attitudes toward the wilderness and indeed all unimproved nature, toward those who lived in the wilderness, and toward the relationship of “civilization” to these. These attitudes, codified and embedded within scripture, are in a real measure traceable to the struggles of the ancient Near Eastern peoples with their marginal and tricky environment.
- when your religious foundations come from harsh environmental conditions (the middle east), your attitude toward any new-found environments will be harsh and always felt as separate from essential life proceedings, and must-be-dominated/controlled/kept at bay.
- it is a necessary condition of progress to keep the environment separate/at bay in this scenario, whereas, for nature based societies it is just the opposite - culture/meaning/religious tendencies must not/cannot be felt as separate from geography, by definition.
(23) In the Near East, the hard-won evolution from encampments to villages to the towns that eventually grew into large cities - achieved over thousands of years in a difficult environment - nurtured the belief that ”civilization” meant the walled, blocked, and grain-stocked city and that civilization could only be achieved and perilously maintained by unremitting hand-to-hand combat with a nature that would of itself grant little. Margin [and surplus], that which protected civilized man from nature’s caprices, that which separated culture from the wild and uncultivated, was the work of human hands, assisted not by the earth, which was hostile, but by the gods of the sky - far removed from earth. Whereas the mythologies of the earlier settlements seem to have been based at least partly on the earth, with the development of towns and cities the locus of divinity shifted to the sky and the irrational, violent gods who dwelt there.
(25) Every added protection against the natural world contributes its bit to the steadily building illusion of independence from nature, so that in time that greatest of illusions is erected: the omnipotence of man. The growth and incremental sophistication of technics of animal husbandry, hydraulic agriculture, storage, distribution, and shelter made possible the emergence of the city, of civilization, and this phenomenon occurred both on the landscape of the Near East and in the geography of the mind. The sheer visual stimulation of numbers of people living together thanks to human inventiveness must have fostered a burgeoning sense of the efficacy of human willpower - and this is the progenitor of the will to power, of the urge to dominate the land, and of the belief that all of nature may ultimately be dominated.
(26) It is hard to think of another group of kindred mythologies as unrelievedly brutal, violent, and male dominated as that of these early high civilizations…These sky beings are wholly monstrous in their rages, in their unappeasable appetite for vengeance, in their capricious turnings against one another and against the cities of men. Parricide, infanticide, and rebellion are the lifeblood of their narratives, and their concern with human life is mainly manifested in the forms of floods, storms, droughts, famines, and the destruction of cities.
- myths that pit ”wholly monstrous” nature as the capital punisher of the transgressed.
- violence in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
(29) [Lewis] Mumford calls the new mythology of this Neolithic Revolution a ”mythology of power” and characterizes its cultures as possessed of ”armored personalities.”
- vertical personalities of hierarchical societies in Wandering God.
(30) The walled city is itself the cumulative artifact, lying, as an ancient tablet tells us, like a storm cloud on the horizon. The wall, as Mumford so rightly observes, is not merely a physical entity but a ”spiritual boundary of even greater significance, for it preserved those within from the chaos and formless evil that encompassed them.” What lay beyond the walls became by emerging definition something other and less than civilization; peoples who lived outside the walls became by that placement less than civilized, objects of hatred, fear, and derision.
- nature is chaotic and formless, (to be feared) when you’ve become separated from it.
People of the Book
(31) It has by now become an axiom of historical study the peoples who have gone through a more or less voluntary transition of culture look back with a mixture of nostalgia and fear on those earlier stages out of which they have translated themselves. Usually those earlier days seem ones of comparative hardship and deprivation, and almost walkways for this reason they are equated with a greater moral rigor and purity of purpose. And yet, just as surely the people fear to go back; they do not truly wish to somehow reverse the course of their culture and become “primitives” once again. Indeed, it seems that a certain level of cultural security and stability is a necessary condition for nostalgia, which attains the status of a leisure activity. One might go further and guess that to the extent that the truths of the old days are remembered, and the conditions, artifacts, and most especially the gods and rituals are taken seriously, they will be invested with a strange negative power, having a sort of chthonic authority to summon up feelings of loathing and dread. It is as if one dwelling in the common light of modern times should suddenly come upon an unaccountable kind of movement among the fond, familiar megaliths that litter his plowed fields and feel his hair and skin bristle.
(31) Freud thought it a general law of cultural history that what has been outgrown and displaced becomes feared and disposed.
(37) This is how Eden is imagined: as one of those Mesopotamian walled gardens wherein various birds and animals were kept for scenic and sporting purposes. Here the great god himself, like an Oriental potentate, seeks refreshing shade in the heat of the day (Gen 3:8). These gardens, as Paul Shephard says, were for the city dwellers a formal recognition of the delights of nature, not in the raw or of itself, but a nature tamed, humanized, and walled about like the cities.
(37) The divine meddler who creates out of primal oneness separations and divisions and an anthropocentric hierarchy gives such behavior divine sanction. All cosmogonic myths describe separations, for this is what creation means. Yet it has been the West that has taken this most to heart:
“Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
This vision of life is spiritually light-years removed from that mythic community of the living etched on the walls of caves that infused the tribal life in the forests and along the river courses of the aboriginal Americas, and that buried within us as a phylogenetic memory.
(38) Man was originally an agriculturalist in the paradisal garden (Gen 2:15), yet his punishment is to remain one in his exile from the garden (Gen 3:17). Under the curse, man enters the wilderness of the world, estranged forever from nature, which becomes a cursed adversary, eternally hostile to man’s efforts at survival. He is also now fated to be an enemy of the animals (Gen 9:2), and so existence in this world takes on the character of an unremitting contest with nature wherein man toils to fulfill the god’s command that he subdue the thorny, whistled earth and establish dominion over it. Paradise is closed and the cherubim set to guard its gates are the very creatures that stand sentinel at the gates of the Near Eastern cities.
(39) We resign nothing of intellect of learning in taking seriously the voices and spirits of places, the spiritual dimensions of a people’s history. On the contrary, to dismiss the dictates of the gods and the spirits of places as either transparent rationalizations for aggression or childish credulities is to recommit old mistakes - both of conquest and of historiography.
(41) In his appropriate surroundings the god chooses to make known his essential character, emerging our there from the shadowy voice that prompted the patriarchs, and now revealed as a capricious war god (despite unending efforts at theodicy) whose weapons are those of natural disasters. He has already sent a flood that all but blotted out his entire creation, plagues of locusts and snakes, a famine, and an epidemic, and his hot breath has brought the dreaded desert wind, the khamsin, that blackened Egyptian skies with clouds of sand and dust. His words are volcanic eruptions, thunderstorms, and earthquakes. The cumulative effect of all this is to emphasize the destructive aspects of nature and to reinforce the anthropocentric, adversary attitude toward the natural world announced in the paradise myth. This is what we should expect, given the origin of the tribes and the temper of the lands through which they moved. Behind it lies the entire experience of the Near Eastern peoples in their long struggle with a marginal environment.
This anti nature bias, as [Wittmayer] Baron, Weber, and Johannes Pederson have pointed out, is reflected in the grand conventional experience at Sinai, both in the specifically historical character of the religion there spelled out and in the monotheism that sets it apart fro the nature-based polytheisms of all other peoples - indeed, not only apart but against them in a war to the death.
(45) It was the Israelites who established monotheism in the spiritual geography of humankind. And with it came the terrible concomitants of intolerance and commandments to destroy the sacred items of others (Exodus 23:23;34:13) and to “utterly destroy” polytheistic peoples wherever encountered. Deuteronomy 7:16 commands the holy nation to “consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them: neither shalt thou serve their gods…” And Deuteronomy 13:16 goes so far as to specify that entire pagan cities must be offered up as burnt sacrifices to the one god, as odors pleasing to him. For polytheism is like imagery connected to nature in its concrete particulars and in its numina. It is for this reason that whatever savageries primitive peoples have visited upon one another, they have usually feared to desecrate idols and alters: there was felt to be too much power recognizable to their adversaries. This goes far to explain why the conception of genocide is foreign to polytheistic cultures. But the distinctions raised in the covenant between religion and idolatry are like some clouds over Africa, the Americas, the Far East, until finally even the remotest islands and jungle enclaves are struck by fire and sword and by subtler weapons of conversion-by-ridicule (Deut 2:34;7:2;20:16, Joshua 6:17).
Moreover, in a curious way the very oneness, the singularity, of this god emphasizes the separation from nature, for though he created the earth and claims all of it as his, yet he is not to be found everywhere in it: not in the primal chaos at its edges, nor in the cities of the idolators, nor in the deserts given over to the demons. Light, truth, and holiness are to be enjoyed only where the god dwells, and he chooses to tabernacle exclusively in the camp of his people, thereby establishing a center of civilization beyond the boundaries of which lie darkness and death, a wilderness peopled with beasts, bestial pagans, and their theriomorphic [animal form] deities.
(46) Here then is the tangled but necessary truth of the Israelite’s wilderness experience: though they were originally a desert people, though their god is a desert god, though their covenant with him is ratified for all time in the Sinai wilderness, yet they must resist the wilderness and its dark temptations. They are not to remain here, but to move on. They have been promised civilization with its fruits and comforts if they are equal to the challenges of the wilderness experience. For the god wanted “to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no,” (Deut 8:2).
- the wilderness tradition in Wilderness Lost and in Wilderness and the American Mind.
A Crisis Cult
(63) Ironically, whereas early Christian controversialists claimed that rival cults with their myths offered only temporary, illusory relief from the fate of empire, we are now in a position to see that it has been Christianity in its turn away from myth rooted in nature that has offered only temporary relief - a relief to those very few who shared the gusty joys of the earliest days and to those who managed, like certain gifted mystics, to find their solitary ways back there. For such a turn as this can only gather force as the gap widens between that sanctified moment of the historical past and the moving present that advances relentlessly into its linear future. Thus the crisis cult that had arisen to deliver its believers from the fate of the Roman Empire turned them over to the greater, and more inescapable, “terror of history,”
Primitive cultures, says Mircea Eliade, enact measures to escape this terror of history, the existential loneliness of the linear march of events toward annihilation.
- the timelessness of ritual in enacting/re-enacting natural cycles, the participation in the eternal.
(64) [Primitve, nature-based myths] would explain why that feeling of a “timeless world” so frequently commented on by those of Christian civilization who have encountered the primitives in their native habitats: a dreamlike circumambience in which, though events occur, they are perceived as recurring in accordance with the changeless patterns announced in myth and confirmed in nature. Thus Jung, so sensitive to these matters, remarking on his travels in the mythic zones of Africa:
"The deeper we penetrated into the Sahara, the more time slowed down for me; it even threatened to move backward. The shimmering heat waves rising up contributed a dog deal to my dreamy state, and when we reached the first palms and dwellings of the oasis, it seemed to me that everything here was exactly the way it should be and the way it had always been."
In such a world (as William Faulkner has one Indian say to another [Red Leaves]), tomorrow is just another name for today. And the difference between such a world and the one we know seems largely attributable to Christianity’s turn away from the timeless cycle of myth and nature and its insistence on rendering the Messiah into historical - and thus entirely unique - terms. Robbed this way of old comforts, and unable to feel reattached to the great events sealed off by subsequent history, the Christian West had to live onward, set its face resolutely forward in the hope of recovering in an apocalyptic future what it had once had in the past. The historical interpretation of Christian mythology thus became the very engine of history.
It is therefore of ironic significance that the mechanical measurement of time arose in part out of the routine of the Christian monastery. St. Benedict, Lewis Mumford tells us, added a seventh period to the round of daily devotions, imposing a Roman regularity on them, and a bull of Pope Sabinianus decreed that the monastery bells be rung seven times every twenty four hours. So the regular striking of the bells marked the passage of time and served to regulate and synchronize the actions of humans. Mechanical time became “dissociated from organic sequences,” and the Christian world came increasingly to live by a mechanical contrivance that had no relationship to organically derived needs. Centuries later, invaded, surrounded, but still unconquered by Christianity, the Pueblo Indians’ sacred clowns would carry with them alarm clocks in their dances as a way of ridiculing the whites’ enslavement to the marching minute hand.
All of this suggests a source of that burden, that anxiety, so frequently sensed by primitives who have been encountered by the whites on their long march outward. As an aged Pueblo Indian once pointed out to Jung:
“See…how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think that they are mad.”
- blind progress is what they want.
(73) Here begins in New Testament scripture the fatal divorce between body and soul, between nature and religion, that has come to seem the very essence of the faith (Rom 6:6, 12-13, 19; 7:18-25; 8:12-13). In passages such as these the great advocate effectively reinterprets the message of the Messiah. All that persecutory violence now turned inward, Paul preaches to the fledgling churches and to those who would later read his words and be guided by them - Terrtullian, Origen, Cyprian, Clement, Porphyry, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine - of the prison house of the body, of the fatal, earthly attractiveness of women, and of the high, solitary virtues of continence and mortification.
And since Paul is next in importance in the New Testament only to Jesus himself, it seems not happenstance that an early and crucial manifestation of violence-as-regeneration took an internalized form in the mortified lives and legends of the Desert Fathers.
(76) In the Crusades and in campaigns against heretical sects, Jews, and suspected and/or purely imaginary thaumaturges, Christian civilization embarked on its first concerted effort at regeneration through sacrificial violence, offering the mutilated bodies of its enemies as gifts pleasing to a god whose son had once appeared as the Prince of Peace.
(82) At issue during these centuries [high middle ages] was the shape and content of the psychic geography of the West. In the same way that civilized men had cleared the earth, pruned back the forests, planted villages, towns, and cities, so had Christianity stripped its world of magic and mystery, and of the possibility of spiritual renewal through itself. In cutting down the sacred trees in the mystic groves, in building its sanctuaries on the rubble of chthonic shrines, and in branding all vestiges of ancient mythic practices vain, impious superstition, the Church had effectively removed divinity from its world. But its victory here was pyrrhic, for it had rendered its people alienated sojourners in a spiritually barren world where the only outlet for the urge to life was the restless drive onward, what Norman O. Brown has called the desire to become. Eventually this drive would leave the religion itself behind.
(83) The clearest illustration of the spiritual plight of the Western world before it reached out beyond itself into the wildernesses is the Inquisition. For just as the fervor of the Crusades was dying (in the last years of the thirteenth century, Pope Nicholas IV found it necessary to offer full remission of since for all who either sponsored Crusaders or went at another’s expense), this new plague of violence was visited upon the first of what may have been well over a million people before it was at last concluded. It was as if the culture now abhorred a vacuum of violence. Or, as critics of the Church have it, the hierarchy recognized that yet another mass movement was required to bolster a faith flagging in all but formalisms. Lea argues in his huge A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages that in it drive to supreme power the Church had created so enormous a chasm between itself and the daily lives and practices of the laity that it had almost forced itself into such drastic measures. Like Spengler, Lea uses the towering medieval cathedrals (and abbeys) as a symbol for this situation, for these were constructed with terrific sacrifices of labor and money of the laity to support the opulent, often decadent tastes of the clergy. While some (like Henry Adams) have seen these edifices with their glories of stained glass refracting heaven’s rays, aspiring Godward from the tilled land, as symbols of the strong faith of a unified civilization, others (like Lea) regard them as symptoms of a dangerous disease that in the Inquisition became virulent. Like the faith itself, they were formal and imposing and costly, but inwardly they were empty.
(84) Beginning with [Pope] Innocent III in the last years of the twelfth century and continuing in a mounting-and-receding pattern throughout the following four centuries, the clerical and secular arms of the West worked in coordination to purge civilization of the vast hidden army of Christ’s enemies. Only by such actions, it was asserted, could Christianity be saved. Gregory the Great unwittingly exposed the truth behind this when he stated that the bliss of the saved in Heaven would be incomplete unless they could gaze across the abyss and behold the sinners tormented in hellfire. Perhaps this explains the great popularity of the Dives and Lazarus theme in medieval funeral statuary: as if only by exposing, torturing, or killing others could one win salvation - or belief.
By the sixteenth century the full force of thwarted desire had been reached, and the enemies burned by the thousands. A bishop of Geneva, that quiet, saintly city, burned five hundred in three months. A Bamberg bishop burned six hundred. A bishop of Wurzburg, nine hundred. In 1586 the spring was late and its warmth weak in the Rhinelands; nature’s power to be renewed had obviously been tampered with. Thus the Archbishop of Treves burned 118 women and 2 men in these fires of spring. Regeneration was thought to rise from such sacrificial ashes.
(86) So it appears neither accident nor native genius that impelled Western Civilization to embark on the conquest of the globe. It was need, and that casts a different light on this spectacular achievement. Thought it is not thus robbed of its heroic aspects, since desperation and thwarted desires may fuel heroic behavior of any kind, we can no longer attribute European exploration to “the vigor of the Renaissance,” or “the optimistic mood of exploration,” or “the natural and healthy competition of the nation states.” We can retain the common explanation of it as a consequence of missionary zeal, but because of what we know of that zeal and its history, we must regard it differently from the traditionalists.
(89) Whether this lust for things that will automatically confer power on their possessors is not another symptom of the petrification of the faith. For, as the questing Christians were soon to discover in the spaces into which they thrust themselves, the native peoples who lived amidst vast, unexploited lodes of this very things often regarded them as mere sparkling parts of an infinitely larger and more beautiful design. Maybe no single aspect of the cultural difference between Christian and natives is more revealing than of the differences between a civilization ruled by a dead mythology and people animated by vibrant ones than this contrast of attitudes toward stones and metals. Maybe this is how to measure the truth of that distance we had to travel to get to those palmy shores, vine-tangled river banks, and mountain gorges of other worlds beyond.
(90) As early as the eleventh century…[L Mumford] connects the first great wave of technical interest to the weakening of other institutions in the West. “This early triumph of the machine,” he writes, “was an effort to achieve order and power by purely external means, and its success was partly due to the fact that it evaded many of the real issues of life and turned away from the momentous moral and social difficulties it had neither confronted or solved.” Mechanical invention, he observes more pointedly, became the answer to a dwindling faith.
(92) E.R. Dodds quotes a patristic description of Christians:
“They live in their own countries, but as aliens; they share all duties like citizens and suffer all disabilities like foreigners; every foreign land is their country, and every country is foreign to them.”
(95) Mapping…is psychic as well as spatial, and the Western tendency was to consider terras incognitas as either empty or demonic.
Sailing for Oriental civilizations and unconscious of either true destination or the motives that drove the sails, Columbus and his successors broke in upon mythic zones wholly unsuspected. It is impossible to overemphasize their error. What soon became known as the “New World” was in fact the old world, the oldest world we know, the world the West had once been. Now the onward press of Christian history brought a civilization into contact with its psychic and spiritual past, and this was a contact for which it was utterly unprepared. The ensuing conflict was so deep that is has yet to be resolved or even understood.
(113) Somewhere the great radical primitivist D.H. Lawrence, in surveying such remnants of primitive myth, inveighed against scholarly attempts, to analyze these fictions to live by. We may analyze them, he wrote, but if we think we have thus denoted their meaning, we only reveal ourselves as silly and partial. There is much to be said for this view since in some sense to believe our analyses can pin down the meaning of a myth is to recommit the older error of believing that once a territory is reduced to the one dimensional surface of a chart, it is known and under control. Geography, as a Saul Bellow character remarks, is a bossy notion according to which once you have been there, you know all about it. Rational analysis, then, may amount to a disbelief in the power of myth and in its deep authority for us.
(130) In his very first island entry (Oct 12), Columbus [says of the natives]:
“They should be good servants and very intelligent, for I have observed that they soon repeat anything that is said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, for they appeared to me to have no religion. God willing, when I make my departure I will bring half a dozen of them back to their Majesties, so that they can learn to speak.”
And two days later in a characteristic chiaroscuro passage he went even further:
“…these people are very unskilled in arms, as your Majesties will discover from the seven whom I have caused to be taken and brought aboard so that they may learn our language and return. However, should your Highnesses command it all the inhabitants could be taken away to Castile or held as slaves on the island, for with fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we wish. Moreover, near the small island I have described there are groves of the loveliest tress I have seen..”
(140) Within the lifetime of the Admiral [Columbus], the Indies became the New World analog of the Crusades where, under the cover of righteous Christian outreach, criminal rapaciousness had sanction.
(142) Though he could never bring himself to admit that there was something radically wrong with Christianity itself, [Bartolome de] Las Casas became adamant in his conviction that is was surely diseased in it New World practice. Though he could not admit that something in the history of this religion made men callously commit great cruelties in its name, he could name those cruelties and he came very close to discerning one of their causes: the divorce of the faith from the human body. The Christians despise these natives, he wrote, because they are in doubt as to whether they are animals or beings with souls. Such a distinction is foreign to the world of living myth, and if Las Casas could never make his way back to that, he was nevertheless quite certain that for all their attachment to nature, to the earth, these peoples had immortal souls. In 1551 he argued this very proposition against Spain’s most distinguished theologian, Juan Gines Sepulveda, who held the Aristotelian notion that the natives as brutes were fit objects for enslavement.
- Valladolid Debate, the first debate in European history to discuss the rights and treatment of natives by colonizers.
- see Savagism and Civilization for how early colonizers understood Native Americans.
(143) Despised ridiculed in his time as a fanatic and troublemaker, and castigated in our own as a pathological liar, ideologue, and irresponsible exaggerator, the creator of the “Legend Negra” (Black Legend of Spanish cruelty), Las Casas remains for us a vivid testimonial that it was possible for an individual to sense his way though soldered armor of his faith to the green springs of renewal that await true discovery. The existence of Las Casas, Justin Winsor wrote, is the indictment of Columbus. Let us ease the Christ-Bearer [“Christopher” in Greek] of some of that burden if we can, and say that the existence of Las Casas is the indictment of the Christian West.
(149) Requerimiento [of Spanish Monarchy 1513]:
“In the name of King Ferdinand and Juana, his daughter, Queen Castile of Leon, etc, conquerors of barbarian nations, we notify you as best we can that our Lord God eternal created Heaven and earth…The late Pope gave these islands and mainland of the ocean and the contents thereof to the above-mentioned King and Queen, as is certified in writing and you may see the documents if you should so desire. Therefore, Their Highnesses are lords and masters of this land; they were acknowledged as such when this notice was posted…We request that you understand this text, deliberate on its contents wishing a reasonable time, and recognize the Church and its highest priest, the Pope, as rulers of the universe, and in their name the King and Queen of Spain as rulers of this land, allowing the religious fathers to preach our holy faith to you. You owe compliance as a duty to the King and we in his name will receive you with love and charity, respecting your freedom and that of your wives and sons and your rights of possession, and we shall not compel you to baptism unless you, informed of the Truth, wish to convert to our Holy Catholic Fatih as almost all your neighbors have done in other islands, in exchange for which Their Highness bestow many privileges and exemptions upon you. Should you fail to comply, or delay maliciously in so doing, we assure you that with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and of Their Highness; we shall enslave your persons, wives and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals. And we declare you guilty of resulting deaths and injuries, exempting Their Highnesses of such guilt as well as ourselves and the gentlemen who accompany us. We hereby request that legal signatures be affixed to this text and pray those present to bear witness for us, etc.”
- “certified in writing,” see Russell Means in links section
- as if natives would understand foreign languages, verbal or written
(149) The Requerimiento was not merely a grotesque artifact of the Hispanic legalistic temper, nor an old-fashioned scheme for real estate development. Rather is was a milestone in the onward march of a religion fleeing its primitive beginnings and posed for a civilizing mission in these strange, vast lands…They must have known too that the natives’ incomprehension would inevitably make them “delay maliciously” in complying with the document’s terms, and that this would furnish the pretext for attack. But such cynicisms were ancillary and must be understood as a consequence of the decay of Christian myth, for where myth is rationalized into history, cynicism may be expected to appear also.
- social hubris of onward march; “bull in a china shop” of western progress
(161) In a contrast between light and darkness, there could be no differences. Tolerance or, worse, partial acceptance of differences, was the death of belief. In a curious way Christianity had come to impersonate the perverse practices of the Aztecs, with Jesus fed and strengthened on the sacrificed blood of unbelievers.
- indictment of modern christian conservative right
The Lost Colony
(174) With the spectacle before us of the invasion of a new world by a whole civilization, we are led as by a dowser’s wand beneath politics, technics, and economics to the world of the spirit. And the spirit of the West is to be found in the history of that religion to which all Europe subscribed.
Christianity, as we have seen, had a unique orientation to the world, an orientation that emphasized the capacity of rational thought to render Christians lords of all earthly creation. In the age of exploration, Christians of all nationalities and persuasions were united in a conception of the earth as a divinely created thing, there for the enjoyment, instruction, and profit of man. Though the nearest derivation of this view seems to be Augustine, who viewed the world as of no intrinsic interest, its ultimate derivation is Old Testament scripture as rendered through Christian exegetes. There, in the deeply incised record of a new monotheism turning away from the worship of the natural world toward the adoration of a god so otherworldly that his name could not even be written down, is the beginning of the superimposed sacred history.
Max Weber, for one, traces the West’s gradual, inexorable elimination of the magical or numinous from the world to the influence of the Old Testament, and he finds enormous entailments to Christianity’s developed view of the world as neutral and even empty of all spirit life. To Weber, this view resulted in the conception of the world as an open field for such human activity as might be pleasing to a god infinitely removed from it. Here, human ingenuity and restless creativity might enjoy almost limitless freedom, governed only by the increasingly qualified stricture that such behavior not work unnecessary hardships on fellow Christians. Such a nonsacremental world, bereft of spirit, its gods and sacred groves and megaliths reduced to euhemeristic [myths believed to originate from real historic events] ciphers, or else banished to devilish realms, could pose no resistance to those intensive investigations of nature that ultimately resulted in the West’s celebrated ability to expand.
- anti evolution/anti nature (climate change denier) sentiments as relevant as current vice president Pence.
A.R. Hall points out in his study of the scientific revolution (1500-1800) that it was precisely this world view that progressively eroded authority of Hellenistic science. Christianity’s conception of the world as the mere material artifact of God, he writes, allowed for the increasingly “objective” considerations of that material artifact, rather as if the maker had gone away and left it behind.
- transcendent spirit world of the West vs imminent spirit world of nature-based societies.
(177) Lewis Mumford observes that the greatly increased fund of scientific knowledge was accompanied by a “deformation of experience as a whole.” The instruments of science, he writes, “were helpless in the realm of qualities. The qualitative was reduced to the subjective: the subjective was dismissed as unreal, and the unseen and immeasurable as non-existent.” How fatal such an attitude is toward the life of religion is obvious. What has not been so obvious is the manifold effects of this attitude on the behavior of the West in the centuries of its great outreach.
- Fromm, Berman, Carolyn Merchant, Dave Abram, Derrick Jensen.
(196) One month from the time the ships had arrived at the Outer Banks the entire company came to White [John White, leader/governor of the colony], begging that ships be immediately dispatched back to England for necessary supplies. After much wrangling about who should go, it was agreed that it should be the governor himself, and on August 27, 1587, White weighed anchor, leaving behind 110 colonists, including his daughter, son-in-law, and Virginia Dare, said to be the first English child born in the New World. None of these people was ever seen again by whites.
- The Roanoke Colony.
(199) Only when the New World had been pruned and leveled so that none need fear becoming lost in it, and its remnant natives had been disarmed and corralled, could Europeans begin to rest east in their possession. And it was at that moment in our history that we began to experience the spiritual enormity of what had been done here.
Things of Darkness
(203) Elizabethans, says [E.M.W.] Tillyard, were obsessed by the fear of chaos. It perpetually gnawed and threatened at the edges of their world like the barbarian hordes of an earlier age.
- The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Friedman), Wild Men in the Middle Ages (Bernheimer).
Certainly one does not have to search very far for explanations of this fear of chaos, for eruptions within the bodies of the states of the West were as frequent as pox. Shakespeare knew his history well, as his plots and sources demonstrate, and he also knew that deeper history of the flagitious heart of man. Beneath these was that sense so powerfully urged in Old Testament writ of dark chaos rolled back to the edges of lucid creation, where it crouches waiting to engulf the cleared spaces of human endeavor as the desert sands of the Near East seemed waiting always to sweep again over cultivated lands too long neglected. Order was the cleared and cultivated field or the carefully tended garden, nature made better by man, and it was the obligation of the Christian to bring this order to places lacking it. Only then might one hope for prosperity.
- Lockean concept of ownership-as-cultivated; Hobbes’ “nasty brutish and short” life of nature.
(213) By conceiving of themselves as “this little Isreal now going into a Wilderness,” as Cotton Mather put it in his history of their movement, the Puritans were hoping to have their own special role in Christian history, to be thus reattached to a drama that had become progressively remote. To become reattached to the primal source was a disguised way of trying to escape the “terror of history.”
- Errand into the Wilderness, Perry Miller; The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization, T Ruiz.
(227) Even as New England succumbed to commerce in the last years of the seventeenth century and correspondingly altered its conception of its errand into the New World, those nightmare notions of the Satanic wilderness they had cleared still haunted them.
(227) For one final time they all felt the old demonism of the continent. In 1692 the Devil danced in the woods outside Salem and the long silent voices of the repressed clamored sorcery…Cotton Mather writes of this time, “The New Englanders are a People of God settled in those which were once the Devil’s Territories; and it may easily be supposed that the Devil was exceedingly disturbed, when he perceived such a People here accomplishing the Promise of old made unto our Blessed Jesus, that He should have the Utmost parts of the Earth for his Possession.”
- land possession as a religious rite more so than an economic/social one.
(235) While the emphasis changed, the interior of the narrative [Indian captivity narratives] remained remarkably consistent, even in its late and palpably fictive stage. And, as Richard VanDerBeets has pointed out, that interior is curiously mythic in form, for it describes the patter of separation, initiation, and return that we have noted as belonging to the myths of heroic questers. Typically, the narrative begins with a scene of domestic tranquility, emphasizing the innocent husbandry of the frontier family: the mother at churn or spindle with her newborn babe in her arms; the older child at play or chores; and the father dropping seed into the fecund fields. Suddenly the wilderness that looms at the edges of the civilized clearing erupts - as it has always threatened to do - the red fiends bursting from their unhallowed sanctuary. The father is instantly slaughtered, the brains of the baby are dashed out against a tree, the cabin is ransacked and burned, and the captives are carried off into worse than Egyptian blackness. Then there is a long, forced flight through the brambles and snags of the wilderness, across rivers of no returning with the panting and often wounded captives torn bloody in their passage. At last they arrive at the heart of darkness, a hellish thing, a clamorous clearing that is a caricature of that left so fat behind. Here the captives are subjected to the tortures of these damned souls, perhaps forced to run the gauntlet while savage squaws rain lethal blows on them with studded clubs. Or they are tortured piecemeal like Father Jogues. Even worse, they might forcibly be “adopted” into the tribe, and if women, compelled to marry swarthy, grunting warriors, And finally, the “redemption,” a significant term almost universally used to describe a captive’s return to civilization, whether through ransom, prisoner exchange, or escape.
So the captivity narrative was the perfect scripture for a civilization’s sense of its encounter with the wilderness, for in the redemption that rounded it out there was victory. The happy ending was a triumph, as ultimate mastering of everything the wilderness and its natives could throw up in the way of opposition and temptation. And the losses served to strengthen the impression of a grand pattern in which civilization absorbed its defeats, even its lost colonies and failed expeditions, and still went ahead with the work of civilizing.
It is the sense of victory over the wilderness that distinguishes the captivity narrative from that mythic pattern it impersonates, for in the interior of the narrative where there should be initiation there is only resistance. And at the conclusion, the redemption, nothing new is brought back out of that fearsome other world except a strengthened determination to ultimately subdue it, establish dominion over it, and so utterly to change it. What really is being dramatized in this tradition is the historic Christian fear of becoming possessed, possessed by the wild peoples, yes, but also more profoundly, by the wilderness and its spirits. We might say that it is the fear of going native.
- Fear of nature is the fear of being possessed…by visceral, non-abstract, non-thinking, unorganized (uncontrolled/unmanipulated) wildness. The ultimate fear is to be possessed. The ultimate goal is to be the possessor.
(236) The dread of being entered into and taken over by malign spirits is not limited to Christian civilization but is in fact widespread and has been found among many cultures living in intimate connection with the natural world. But in Christian civilization, possession is negative in imputation, whereas in many native cultures possession is actively sought. Not only are there positive aspects to non-Christian possession trances in which an individual feels himself or herself to have been entered into by divine spirits and so acts in accord with them, but there is also a more general and less spectacular pattern of seeking out direct encounters with the spirit world in which the individual might feel again the primordial urge of at-one-ment and be momentarily transfigured. Individual vision quests, vigils, communal ceremonies, even the recitation of tribal legends and myths, are all means of continually revivifying that necessary sense of belonging to or being merged with an encompassing order of things. In all these situations the individual will is “captured” and submitted to a greater power, and though this must often by a fearful experience, it is nonetheless a desirable one.
(238) The thing to do was to take possession without becoming possessed: to take secure hold on the lands beyond and yet hold them at a rigidly maintained spiritual distance. It was never to merge, to mingle, to marry. To do so was to become an apostate from Christian history and so be lost in an eternal wilderness.
(245) Crevecoeur: “As long as we keep ourselves busy tilling the earth, there is no fear of any of us becoming wild,” (Letters From an American Farmer).
- contrast with Thoreau: “I do not need the police of meaningless labor to regulate me,” (Life Without Principle).
The Vanishing New World
(256) No nation in history ever plundered its own resources so rapidly as we have.
(260) In Hinckley Township, Ohio, on the day before Christmas 1818, five hundred men and boys from neighboring areas gathered to clear out pests. They marched forward into the forest blasting away, and when they came together at last they accounted for the lives of 300 deer, 21 bears, 17 wolves, and uncounted numbers of foxes and other small game.
(262) In 1830, there were only 23 miles of railroad in the entire country. In 1850, when attention turned in earnest to the spanning of the continent, there were 9,000 miles of railroad, and a decade later that figure had tripled.
(266) For $500 a month, [Buffalo Bill] Cody killed buffalo, and in the year and a half that he shot for the Kansas Pacific he dropped an estimated 4.280…and in a contest to see who could kill more buffalo in a single day he bested one Billy Comstock, 69 to 46.
(270) Thoreau: “I do not know where to find in any literature, whether ancient or modern, any adequate account of that nature with which I am acquainted. Mythology comes nearest to it of any.”
A Dance of the Dispossessed
(279) In the East, as throughout aboriginal America, the tribes had always carried on extensive trade among themselves. But with the coming of the Europeans, trading took on a new and sinister velocity, for the new party to the bargaining had no relationship whatever to the lands other than what could be realized economically from them. To them the land were satanic rather than sacred, and the traders and their employees could tolerate the wilderness only in the hope that eventually they could make enough money to leave it behind and return to civilization to live like humans. So they would grimly push out into the woods beyond the farthest reach of civilization - but not so far that they could not be supplied with trade goods. Here they would establish a post and make it known that they stood ready to supply the needs of the resident tribes in return for pelts taken in trapping and hunting.
But in order for such a scheme to work, the Indian hunters, trappers, and dressers had to be made to want the imported items that the trader had to offer. Here again we encounter the clash between history and myth, with the whites, driven to enormous technological ingenuity, producing a vast array of seductive items for peoples of the globe whose spiritual contentments had kept their own technologies at comparatively simple levels. Regarding this phenomenon, enacted everywhere whites invaded the wilderness, we know now that there has been no people on earth capable of resisting this seduction, for none has been able to see the hidden and devious byways that lead inevitably from the consumption of the new luxuries to the destruction of the myths that give life its meaning. From the acceptance of guns, powder, shot, flints, metal traps, swollen blankets, capes, and metal cookware to deportation, the reservation, and cultural extermination is an unforeseeable way. All that is known is all that can be: and this is that these new luxuries make daily living easier, and myths or no, all humans have wanted some relief, some margin against the beloved lands. None have known how much margin would be too much.
- “no people capable of resisting” is not true; perhaps, “allowed to resist/given the choice”
(282) After the civil war the heavy guns were deliberately swiveled west under the direction of General William Tecumseh Sherman who, surveying the situation of the Plains, wrote to his brother, “The more we can kill this year, the less will have to killed the next war, for the more I see of these Indians the more convinced I am that all have to be killed or maintained as a species of pauper. their attempts at civilization are simply ridiculous.”
(297) As the tours and the applause went on and as the real Wild West steadily receded into memory, there came a change in the mind of the hero. [Buffalo Bill] began to be haunted by the suspicion that he and his kind had killed the thing that he had most loved. For Cody knew, better than any of his fans or even those responsible for the promotion of his show, that he had been one of a singular breed of white men who had destroyed a whole way of life in the name of civilization. In his later days, therefore, he became increasingly uneasy about the fact that his reputation rested on his prowess as a killer. He no longer would answer questions as to how many Indians he had killed...
…He had known the great chiefs Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and American Horse, and also the many tribespeople who toured with him, and he could not have escaped knowing what these people had lost to him and his civilization. He could also see in the aging companions of his youth a sense of loss beyond mere nostalgia. America had been deprived of something indefinable but precious with the destruction of the buffalo, the tribes, and the free lands. Cody came to feel himself less hero than romantic mortician, less master of ceremonies than relic of vanished times.