Maya Deren’s White Darkness and the Phenomenon of Possession

The Vodun practices tell the stories of ancestors. To participate in the activities is to honor the dead, culture, history of your own people, and to participate in social life outside of work. The group of people dancing in the film Divine Horsemen remind me of any given dance club or house party. I noticed the people dancing were passing and drinking a bottle. I noticed guys playing it cool, and women acting out for attention. I noticed people looking to see if their antics were being noticed, but I also noticed many people excelled in pretending that was not their intention. After all, that ruins the game, and people love games especially unspoken ones.

Humans are people detached from their very selves, that when they see their own reflection they describe it as god. It is related to the way the brain is wired. There is a part of our brain that takes what is currently believed to be true, and goes around changing everything else according to that. That’s why people make up things as they go along and don’t think of it as wrong. At some point there is an underlying assumption driving the process.

The behavior of these people reflect their very own nature, and not something unnatural. This became clear to me when the film described that people who got into their dancing were evidence that the loa were around and at work. This reminds me of the way many Christians presume God is at work, when they leave 3 minutes before they planned to, avoiding an accident that may have occurred when they were traveling. Is every coincidence truly evidence of God, or is it just a coincidence? Humans sometimes attribute sudden emotions or changes in mental states to the presence of God, as if God is something which transforms us actively, when in my opinion we are just changing based on perceptions of experience.

The most human part of this all is the sexuality. I found it particularly disturbing that the females would shake their private parts on the private parts of the priest. The priest was an attractive, young charismatic man. Women kissed his feet. Women danced, and their dancing was said to be spiritual the more lively it was. Men would drink and stand around watching a woman dance. In America, at dance clubs any man who stops a girl from dancing would be ostrasized by his peers who want to watch or to have sex with that woman. In America we do not call it spiritual, though it certainly invokes a sensation of being taken over. I feel this is a biochemical process, and the fact we don’t understand it leads us to describe the process as spiritual. I experienced this at a Pentacostal church once, as a guest. The louder people sang, the more overwhelmed with emotion they became, the more part of the crowd they felt, the more they described that as the experience of closeness with god, or of being filled up with the spirit of God.

My research on the fetiales ritual made me realize that the psychological impact of rituals on the ones involved is more powerful than any other type of manipulation or control, and many believers have been taken advantage of by those few who have perfected playing the game, as history has time and again shown.

However, this control is only a part of the game. It is not the process. The process is driven by vibrations, which facilitate movement. The bodies of the people participating are exhibiting the phenomenon of entrainment. The movement of the sound becomes the movement of the body, and so too, the movement of the mind.

It is clear from the line on page 253 where it is written, “At such moments one does not move to the sound, one is the movement of the sound, created and borne by it; hence, nothing is difficult.”

I believe this activity eventually causes a removal of the active thought process, due to the activity of the body and not of any spirit. The body has modes, and I believe it appears as if these ritualists have mistaken a mode of tranquility with an unnatural phenomenon. I believe it appears natural. It may seem hard to believe that something odd isn’t happening, because of the strange behaviors of the people, but of course these are people who for their entire lives learned to prove to others they have loa, by acting in patterns that seem unnatural. It seems to me to be a socially motivated behavior. It seems to be heavily based on a person’s own sense of identity of self.

Participation in the event is characterized as bravery, the opposite as “cowardice.”

All of that said, the most interesting part of the ritual is the connection of the behavior to vast repositories of knowledge, about the history of the people and their way of life through reflection on death. This seems no different than the Egyptians and many tribal cultures perhaps.

What is amazing to me is that the behavior itself, cultivates and stimulates the knowledge and leads to the people remembering it better. Their very neurons are grown due to their behaviors as a group, and their memories are shared through communication. So as an activity done by everyone in a vast area at the same place and time, it is profound to think it might have the effect of distributing knowledge around society itself, directly and physically cultivating the minds of each member. The knowledge itself is an accumulation of hundreds if not thousands of years of humans passing on their wisdom to their children, and in some way without being able to even say or imagine that knowledge, it is preserved by the very ritual itself. A culture and potentially a people’s very DNA are affected by this ritual.

Overall, this practice of possession is multi-faceted and filled with mystery and delight, which is precisely what people love to do on a Friday night all over the world. It is perhaps what bees are doing every day, and we look on bees like a lesser intelligence; ourselves as greater. What does that say about us? Perhaps we do not know ourselves. In knowing ourselves, do we not fit other patterns found in the natural world? The beauty of all of this is that it appears as evidence that humans and all life on earth exhibit similar patterns, and that’s quite profound to me. It’s ironic to think, that these people are quite in tune with their own nature, and yet describe that nature as something unnatural.

The experience of life is a phenomenon that cannot adequately be described by the living. To describe the phenomenon of existence as anything but life, seems absurd. Yet somehow it may be the very strength of human society and the species itself to go along with the flow of practices enshrined in social behavior.

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