Five Spirits

/ Cosmology / Anthropology, Religion /

From Robert Wright, Evolution of God

Linguist Albert Samuel Gatschet studied the Klamath language and culture. He identified five types of supernatural spirits. They apparently fill the quorum for gods, etc.

Gatschet’s writings on the Klamath capture something found in every hunter-gatherer culture: belief in supernatural beings — and always more than one of them; there is no such thing as an indigenously monotheistic hunter-gatherer society.

In fact, the anthropological record reveals at least five different
kinds of hunter-gatherer supernatural beings, some of which are found in all hunter-gatherer societies and most of which are found in most hunter-gatherer societies. Klamath culture, with a rich theology, illustrates all five. 19

  1. Hunter-gatherer supernatural being Type I: elemental spirits. Parts of nature that modern scientists consider inanimate may be alive, possessing intelligence and personality and a soul. So the workings of nature can become a social drama. When the Klamath saw clouds obscuring the moon, it could mean that Muash, the south wind, was trying to kill the moon — and in fact might succeed, though the moon seems always to have gotten resurrected in the end.
  2. Hunter-gatherer supernatural being Type II: puppeteers. Parts of nature may be controlled by beings distinct from the parts of nature themselves. By Klamath reckoning, the west wind was emitted by a flatulent dwarf woman, about thirty inches tall, who wore a buckskin dress and a basket hat (and who could be seen in the form of a rock on a nearby mountain). The Klamath sometimes asked her to blow mosquitoes away from Pelican Bay.20

    Combining supernatural beings of types I and II into a single scenario is possible. The Klamath believed whirlwinds were driven by an internal spirit, Shukash. The nearby Modoc hunter-gatherers, while agreeing, believed that Shukash was in turn controlled by Tchitchatsa-ash, or “Big Belly,” whose stomach housed bones that rattled, creating the whirlwind’s eerie sound.21 Such theological differences are found not just among different hunter-gatherer societies, but within them. Thus Leme-ish, the Klamath’s thunder spirit, was sometimes spoken of as a single entity but was sometimes said to consist of five brothers who, having been banished from polite society, now made noise to scare people. (These interpretive divergences form the raw material of cultural evolution, just as biological mutations create the diverse traits that feed genetic evolution.)

  3. Hunter-gatherer supernatural being Type III: organic spirits. Natural phenomena that even we consider alive may have supernatural powers. The coyote, for example, housed evil spirits, and, Gatschet noted, “his lugubrious voice is the presager of war, misfortune, and death.” 22 One species of bird could make snow, and another made fog. Some animal spirits could help the Klamath cure disease, a collaboration facilitated by a spirit called Yayaya-ash, which would assume the form of a one-legged man and lead a medicine man to the home of these animal spirits for consultation.
  4. Hunter-gatherer supernatural being Type IV: ancestral spirits. Hunter-gatherer societies almost always feature spirits of the deceased, and typically these spirits do at least as much bad as good. Ancestral spirits, Gatschet wrote, were “objects of dread and abomination, feelings which are increased by a belief in their omnipresence and invisibility.” 23
  5. Hunter-gatherer supernatural being Type V: the high god. Some hunter-gatherer societies, though by no means all, have a “high god.” This isn’t a god that controls the other gods. (One early-twentieth-century anthropologist wrote about the Klamath, with traces of disapproval: “there has been no attempt to marshal the spirits into an ordered pantheon.”) 24 Rather, a high god is a god that is in some vague sense more important than other supernatural beings, and is often a creator god. For the Klamath this was Kmukamtch, who inhabited the sun. Kmukamtch created the world, then created the Klamath themselves (out of a purple berry), and continued to sustain them, though he had been known to rain burning pitch upon his creation in a fit of temper. 25 *

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Happy Easter

/ Chat / Seasonal /

Happy Easter!

I loved Easter as a kid. The forsythia was in bloom! Broke as we were, Mom tried to get us new clothes. I loved the choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I was in the kids” choir and we sang part of the Handel with them. Wow, unforgettable.

I still love Easter. I celebrate how confused and confusing it is: all holidays based on lunar calendars supervised by astronomical ignorance. Sometimes the forsythia was far from blooming: it felt like mid-winter, and we needed warm coats and mittens to wear over the bright cottons. The Hallelujah Chorus sounds great no matter the weather but it’s far and away the best if the air is drunk with blossoms, if the air is two parts pollen to one part breathable.

But these days I best like the conundrums I didn’t even know about in the kids’ choir: how did the Jews trick the Romans into murdering their god for them? Jesus hadn’t broken any Roman laws, not that the gospels mention: and it was illegal by Roman law for Roman administrations to execute locals except according to Roman law. I can see Pilat and the Romans looking the other way while Herod and Caiaphas tortured Jesus in public, but how did the latter get Pilat to violated Roman law to join a strictly local quarrel?

Of course the real problem is that we have no idea how much of the bible is fabricated. We know that some is; but we don’t know where the lies end. If Judgment were today and God appeared in person to tell us what’s forged and what, if any, isn’t, I can’t imagine Christians holding still and listening.

i jut censored some of this, don’t know what in any i dare restore in future


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Resurrection Blues

Cosmology / Religion / God /

The gospels tell how on the third day Jesus rose again from the dead. The gospels further tell how Jesus appeared before his disciples. Even seeing his master Thomas doubted: and had to poke his finger into the mortal holes.

Good. Now what else did he do? Where did he go? Did he have a smoother time this time?

I want to know what happened when Jesus reappeared before Pilat! and Herod! and Caiaphas! They didn’t like it the first time he told them that he was the son of God: were they ready to listen a few days later? or a month?
(About as ready as I am to hear that Trump is a good guy, good for our country.)

There isn’t much historical evidence for the original Passion: does the Resurrection do any better? (I mean of course the apres-resurrection.) What did Tiberius say when Jesus extended his howdey-dos to Rome? If the governor had freadked out, whet did his boss, the emperor, do?

Well, those questions aren’t very well answerable: and they weren’t when first asked. But there are some answers that ought to be at least discussed. at least brought up.

I step back to enter at an angle:

When I was a kid I believed what everybody seemed to believe: God sent Jesus, Jesus chose his disciples, the Passion happened, Jesus showed strength, the disciples showed more than a little weakness … but: everyone, good or evil, already damned or saveable, was on the same page. Everyone knew who God was, the true God and all the false gods, the truth, and all the mistakes. Everyone understood who Jesus was: or at least understood what he was saying he was.
And the mistakes were “honest” mistakes; not deliberate obfuscations: evil for the sake of evil.


It wasn’t until the early 1960s, when I was in the army, and my buddy and I were toying with the big fat Kazantzakis novel The Last Temptation of Christ, that we first broached the possibility: the disciples didn’t know who Jesus was after the Passion, and the disciples didn’t know who Jesus was before the Passion, and Pilate did know who Jesus was but kept it to himself … And the world is not a world replete with understanding. Peter didn’t know who Jesus was, Paul certainly didn’t know. Paul’s egregious epistemology chases, doesn’t invite, understanding. The Church doesn’t know who Jesus was. No pope, no bishop. The priests certainly don’t know. With a few exceptions: Francis, maybe. (At least Francis was trying.) (As had Augustine.) (seems to me.)

Not only Francis: a couple of contemporaries had tried. Ivan Illich. (Me.)

That doesn’t mean we got it right either.

But try again: God sent Jesus, at least something, some non-thing, something I call “God”, or rather I call god, sent Jesus. Jesus said some stuff, that no matter how many lying priests bolixed it seems somehow to suggest that despite the hierarchical kleptocratic apologies the theology seems to offer, there’s also the possibility of interpretation in which something, some set of things that can be abstracted, misleadingly, as evolution, as survival, as intelligence was possible to try to broach …

And is, despite the verticallity, the infinitude or hebetude, or misunderstanding.

An infinity of liars, no matter how stupid, can still model some Platonic shadow of the truth.

Related scribble, some already broached, some blabbed about incessantly, some new angles just peeking around the corner:

Multiple God
If we’re ever to become sentient, to be worthy of honest discussion, semanticists should be compelled to interrupt any questions about “god” to clarify what god is being referred to. Otherwise the morons will say God meaning Jaweh, will be understood to mean Jehovah while others think Allah is meant … People think the participants are on the same page when next to no one is on the same page.

I say God I mean god. I say god I mean evolution. Is it possible to know what I mean?
I guess not: someone would actually have to read what I wrote, understand what I meant, still understand it thirty seconds later. …

What if there was a god actually in existence 10,000 years ago? What if the same god was in existence 3,000 years ago? 2,000?
What if that god ceased to exist in the last few hundred years?
What if that god needed sacrifice to sustain his super-engergy level? What if the sacrifices, the nutrients, the sutenance that god used to receive: from priests, from temples, from worshippers … terrified, threatened, cajoled …
Can a “Confucian”-type god sustain when the sacrifices are given instead to Ford? and GM?

Only since I jotted the above has bk sent me the e-book Evolution of God by Robert Wright. And I just read the following:

The Ainu, Japan’s aborigines, would sometimes try to win divine favor with offerings of millet beer, but if the gods didn’t reciprocate with good fortune, the Ainu would threaten to withhold future beer unless things improved.

i be back

Cosmology, Theology

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Aging Scrapbook

/ Stories / By Age / ’70s /


I’ve been riding my bike nearly every day for a bit now, three miles, five miles … I’m embarrassed to report a mistake I just made:
I was pedalling home through Woodhaven Estates. A couple, elderly, were walking ahead of me. When I first took up skiing I was grateful to the experts who would warn “On your left” or “On your right” as they whizzed past me. This pair shifted position, and then some. Finally I was almost upon them, the woman was lurching a bit left. I decided the safest and most courteous thing would be to pass them on her right. So I said, softly, “On your right.”

I saw no response from her or him, but by that time I was abreast of her and passing her. “Ooo, ooo, ooo,” I heard from her. “Ahh, ahh.” Then, “You should toot your horn.”

No, I did better than that: I spoke, in an even voice, unalarmingly. At least that was the intention.

I’m 78 1/2. I don’t hear much of what people say. I suspect this couple didn’t either. I warned them, they remained unwarned. Now I see that I should have come up on his left, should have warned them earlier, should have made sure they acknowledged me … Or I should have blared them off the face of the planet with a truck horn! I worked in a motorcycle place in NY& in 1967: Outrider sold truckers’ air horns for motorcycles: clear traffic for ten miles!

I coming up behind them, I should warn them in a polite way; but at the same time at some time pedestrians become responsible for their own handicaps: they certainly weren’t paying attention.

London Bridge is the first known avenue to have instituted traffic rules: then invented traffic keeping to the left, or to the right. With manners many more people can it into the one shrinking world.

Points I yield on: I believe that pedestrians should have right of way and right of courtesy over vehicles: they were afoot, I was on a bicycle.
Further: it was (I presume their park, not mine. I owed them a little extra courtesy. They were old: I should beware of assuming competence.
But I’m old too. they should beware of assuming competence … pk, joking again.

Stories by Theme by Age
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Truth versus Fact

/ Thinking Tools / Truth

A TV viewer emailed an accusation: Texi Thompson, winning the major, had hit her ball from an incorrect position. The officials assessed her four stroked in penalties. Tumple, tumble out of the lead.

Back in 1961 I worked a season at the flat tracks, NYRA. Cappy would announce, “The results are now official.” That signaled the bettors that winning tickets could now be paid off. Once the state paid off on the 6 hors at 8 – 1, the state didn’t care if God showed up with an alternate photofinish: The state paid on what Cappy announded as fact. The state didn’t bother to distinguish fact from truth, itself from God: the truth was a practical matter, money was involved.

What would monotheism be like if the epistemology of science held. Science goes by the best information at hand. New data, new interpretations may succeed old date, old interpretations. Churches can’t do that. At least churches don’t do that: correct wrong information at your peril. Where money is involved, power, the 2,000 year old account will correct the current account. Indeed, there will be no current accound. Classic information only.

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Fashion Puritan

/ Deschooling / Rants /

Steven Johnson’s Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World just gave me an insight into why the world of the last five decades has refused to acknowledge my FLEX: my offered internet of 1970. FLEX was conceived by this infrmation-Puritan as hard-pewed: bare, spare, utilitarian: information without frills. But societies, nations, states … banks, manipulated markets posing as free … profit from illusion, delusion … luxury: not rational shopping (what I had in mind); irrational window shopping!

I refer once more to my analogy of the time: in 1970 I was forever citing the dictionary as a paragon of information organization: list the words defined alphabetically! not in technicolor, not with a loud soundtrack, not with porn queens, legs agape: no: plain text, black and white, a standard font. Just the information please. If I’m looking up “information” I want to find it in the “I”s, after “im…”; before “it…” No pop-up ads: no ads other than the word itself. You use FLEX to announce your availability as a math teacher. In front of your students you want your math to show; not a Coke ad, not MIT’s logo on your shirt. Napoleon dressed his generals to show his, Napoleon’s might: Napoleon himself wore basic black. Jesus was crucified in his birthday suit; not wearing purple robes.

The Church dressed its Christianity in gold, in silver, with colored lights, with spectacular architecture; Puritans said Enough already: and wore plain black and white: puckered their bottom on the hard pew.

Johnson writes, Where shopping for clothes had previously been a straightforward, no-frills series of exchanges, bartering with street vendors or tradesmen— no different from buying eggs or milk—now the practice of browsing and “window shopping” became its own sought-after experience.
A page or two before he had reported Daniel Defoe (in The Compleat English Tradesman) looking for and failing to find commercial utilitarian function in the shops that were inventing fashion as luxury.

In the 1960s I wanted a Puritan internet. I wanted everyone to have politically free advertising: I wanted the ads to be digital, online, in the Cloud … barebones, hard-pewed. The person advertised could wear jewelry; but not the ad itself. I was looking for society to offer its contents in plain black-and-white text, like a dictionary. Let the word defined be jeweled or plain, the dictionary itself “should” be unadorned.

DeFoe didn’t understand his own culture. His century was inventing shopping as fantasy, as indulgence. He didn’t get it, he didn’t like it.
Me too: with this difference: my offering an anarchist internet to a controlled kleptocracy was itself a form of play: absurdist. I couldn’t possibly expect people compelled to study state propaganda under state automata, people with no idea what their words meant, to understand. My idealism was an entertainment. If you weren’t entertained, I was: it’s like Alan Watts’ theology: Shiva disguises Shiva from Shiva: the universe contains no other entity to fool. Shiva pretends not to get it. That’s the joke. Get it?
No, of course not.

more in a bit

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O’Hairy Morality / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Cosmology / Religion /

I’m loving the biopic I’m watching on Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

I wouldn’t spit in your ass if your guts were on fire.

Mme Atheist addressing the kidnapper who’s holding her for ransom
(while Christian society looks the other way).

I’m hating my memory of a letter I wrote Madalyn Murray O’Hair in the 1960s: wise-ass pk took the stance that she was deeply religious, as am I, but with slightly difference semantics. Now I apologize to one- and-all, especially to her, for what I now believe were wrong spiritual and political tactics: everyone understood what she meant; no one understands what I meant. (That could all change, could all reverse (or alter to some other torque) but I’m not holding my breathe.

(I’m paused in her movie where she’s about to take on the Plege of Allegiance’s “under God”. I remember the grade school we were compelled to attend addressing that issue when I was in the 4th grade or so: the pledge had not had that provision; the school added in in my childhood, I was part of the alteration.) I want to point out please that I’d been brainwashed to believe that worshipping God was a good thing, then that freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, were good things. I was part of the preposterous attempt by churches and by schools to pretend that they believed both, respected both, had both. Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s life shows us as clearly as any behavor from Senator Macarthy that we don’t know what words mean, what actions mean, what politics and religion is about.

The Christians send her shit smears in the mail, throw rocks, run away: don’t take responsibility for their sabotages.

Why, when Nazis parade, do the “majority” so successfully remain silent, don’t expose the egregious pretenses, allow the hypocrites their hypocrisy?
O’Hair is vulgar, confrontational: but by their behavior it’s the Christians who are the immoral atheists, O”Hair the hyper-moral “Christian”. But of course it’s the hypocrites who firmly control the majority: the Christians don’t speak up, neither does God.

But should God really have to? Isn’t it all obvious? Which one’s the Christian? the guy on the cross? or the felons who put him there?

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