Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ghost Dancing on the Bones of Civilization

Towards the end of the 19th century, when the genocide and ethnic cleansing was for all practical purposes completed and the few remaining remnants of the tribes were confined to reservations on land so poor that none of the new Americans desired its use, there arose a strange new religion proclaimed by a Paiute called Wovoka -- we know it as the "Ghost Dance".

At the safe distance of history, sitting in my couch here in Denmark, it looks like a pitiful last gasp, a desperate grasping for meaning in a world turned completely upside down. However, things are not necessarily what they appear to be, especially at a distance.

Wovoka required of his followers that they live moral lives and forswear violence and alcohol. At the center of his religion was of course the Ghost Dance itself which was intended to call upon the spirits or "ghosts" of their ancestors.

Described cynically, the dance was bunch of men and women wearing funny clothes who held hands in a big circle and ran around and around, chanting, until some of them fell unconscious into a trance.

Although it was a perfectly harmless activity, the dance entailed so much wailing and chanting that the whites became alarmed and thinking that this was the beginning of new trouble called upon the government which sent the army.

The end of it all was in yet more tragedy, the massacre at Wounded Knee and the murder of Sitting Bull.

Wovoka had promised his followers that the white people would be destroyed and that the land would become like it had been before, with sweet grass and buffalo and the people would be restored to their former state.

Wovoka died in 1932, so, obviously, he was a failure.

On the other hand, perhaps these things take time.

It was a program I saw on television which set me off on this train of thought. In the program it was said that when the people awoke from their trance after falling into the center of the circle, they wept, cried and wailed inconsolably. I wondered, what did they see in their trance?

Perhaps it is something like what we see coming today, climate change, wars and, as resources dwindle, perhaps a confirmation of the Olduvai Theory.

Our culture is utterly dependent upon electricity which in turn is dependent upon resources which are being rapidly depleted. At a tipping point the house of cards will collapse and life in our cities will become almost over night untenable. A lot of people will die and we will be thrown back to the stone age.

If you want to be even more depressed you can read Joe Bagent's depressing essay.

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