I picked up a copy of Frisvold’s latest, Ifá: A Forest of Mystery pretty early out of the gate. I started in my usual way, dipping in and out of the book at random or as some specific curiosity prompted me (what does he say about Ogun? What about Òbárá Meji?). That left me with a favorable impression of the text—each time I came away with a sense of having my understanding both confirmed and expanded.
This will be another short post; I just have two developments that I want to flag for further consideration. The first comes from reading the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, the second from a bookstore/museum synchronicity.
So far, the new year shift seems to be toward less frequent posting. Partly, that is because I am thinking about some different sorts of things and thinking a little differently all around. That shift hasn’t quite congealed into a pattern that I can sit down and just write about. But I write to think, too, so I want to keep up the habit of posting.
This weekend I’ve been reading Alfredo López Austin’s Tamoanchan, Tlalocan: Places of Mist in a way that I haven’t read anything in a while. He’s an exceptionally good comparative thinker, triangulating from several contemporary Mesoamerican religious practices to better pin down a model of pre-Columbian Nahua thought. It’s funny, every time I find myself working through an account of Mesoamerican or Caribbean or Amazonian philosophy, I can just feel all the little gray cells standing up in recognition of their insight.
I first read Dumezil’s Mitra-Varuna in the Spring of 2008. It was a chaotic period for me and I only took from it some broad but intelligible points. A few weeks ago, a copy of the book made its way to me and I have been chewing slowly through it, taking more time with each subsection. It doesn’t hurt that most of those subsections are only a couple of pages in length, perfect bathroom reading (Hey, I’m not made of time–I take my reading where I can).
Please indulge me as I wax philosophical. If we define religious experience as experience of the spiritual plane, then it makes sense to explore it on its own terms. While our attitudes, expectations, and behaviors shape how we approach it, there is something distinctive to it that resists our expectations. That resistance demands some sort of response such that the understanding we develop about the spiritual world and how we behave toward it tell us something both about ourselves (individually and socially) and the spiritual world. Because the spiritual world isn’t just any way we want, but has its own substance, we can discern its reality ‘beneath’ the descriptions and rites. This makes it both possible and reasonable to compare one form of religious expression with another. The way in which we make that comparison, though, needs to keep those variables in mind and try to make sense of the different forms of religious expression ecologically rather than getting carried away with superficial similarities.
[For those who are fans of technical philosophical vocabulary, we might call this strategy critical, phenomenological, and pragmatic. If you don’t care about those terms, don’t worry. You don’t have to be connosieur to enjoy the wine.]