Monday, March 12, 2007

Against His-Story, Against Leviathan! Chapter 21 (Potawatomi, banishment of Wiske, cyclical time, Maya and Quetzaquatal)


Potawatomi storytellers of the Great Lakes told of a certain Wiske, an ancient trickster who, long ago, almost became Archon over Nesh- nabe, over free people.

This Wiske was not altogether villainous to the Potawatomi. In ceremonies enacting his deeds, he wore the long-eared mask of the Hare totem. It was said that he helped the destitute, the trapped and the lost. His nephews said he gave the people webbed shoes so they could traverse the snow, canoes so they could float on water, as well as spears and arrows so they could feed themselves.

Wiske's nephews thought much of their uncle's gifts, and they expressed their gratitude by returning gifts of similar magnitude. They pulled Wiske over the snow, paddled him over the water, and fed him all he could eat.

Wiske was on the verge of becoming a Potawatomi Lugal. But the land around Kichigami, the lush woodlands, prairies and forest openings surrounding the Great Lakes, was not "the Fertile Crescent."

Potawatomi women and men gathered in a Council and pondered on the gifts given and received by Wiske.

The Council concluded with an unprecedented resolve. Banishment was unheard of. It was doubtful if the Council of gathered Neshnabe had the authority to banish a member of the community; each person was free to follow her own dream wherever it led. Yet the Council banished Wiske.

The free people of the lush woodlands of Kichigami were happy without an Archon. They were happy because they were free. The good uncle was told to take his gift-giving disposition to a northern land of ice or to a southern land of fire, to a place where, it was thought, he might find people who were destitute, trapped and lost.

Armored Europeans will be interested in learning if this Wiske actually existed, and when he existed.

This was not what interested the Potawatomi. Wiske existed in the present. The story was reenacted in songs and dances, at ceremonies and festivals. Wiske was always a member of the community and he was always exiled.

The paradox will be problematic to people trapped in linear, Leviathanic time. The Potawatomi knew linear time as well as rhythmic time, and they also knew that what mattered, what was humanly important, did not take place in linear time.

Wiske's gift-giving, his elevation and his banishment were rhythmic events, like the heart's beat, like the sun's rising, like vegetation's rebirth. Rhythmic events were the subjects of songs, of dances, of the frequent ceremonies and festivals.

To know that Wiske "actually existed" was both impossible and trivial. Such events will be considered `facts' and "raw data" by the Leviathanized because the linear progression of such events constitutes Leviathanic time, namely His-story. The Leviathanized will remember only fragments of the sole events they consider worth remembering because the memory of such events will not be lodged in living human beings but on stone tablets, on paper, and eventually in machines.

The Potawatomi were not data-processing machines nor computers for the storage of trivial information. They needed "raw data" about as much as they needed Wiske. They made Wiske the butt of many of their jokes. Among the Potawatomi, the almighty Archon got no further than to be the subject of funny stories.

Part-human, part-beast, and possessing the Leviathanic virtue of existing forever, Wiske the gift-giver reappeared in the jokes as the long-eared, long-membered and long-tailed Trickster, forever setting traps for animals and people and forever trapping himself.

Jokes were for laughs. Linear events, namely unexpected disruptions of life's rhythms, were usually funny. Sometimes they were tragic.

If the tragedy was repeated, then the event was not linear but rhythmic, and it was already known. Rhythms were grasped with symbols and expressed with music. Musical knowledge was knowledge of the important, the deep, the living. The music of myth expressed the symphony of rhythms that constituted the Cosmos.

* * *

Yhe Archon, the Civilizer, namely Leviathan's personification, was a familiar character to free human beings in very close touch with nature's rhythms. And the Civilizer was ejected by the free human beings. Both of these statements will be jarring to many, perhaps most, of my contemporaries.

How could the Potawatomi have known so much about Leviathan when even most of us will think we're free individuals encased by nothing but air? And why would they eject the bringer of so many amenities, of institutionalized social life, of law, of order? The answers are as related as the questions, but being a product of linear upbringing and therefore inept in expressing kindred thoughts with symbols, I will have to take up the questions separately. I will deal with the `why' first.

Even during the coldest winter days, when the branches of evergreens sagged from their weight of snow, the human child was born into a very warm context. The warmth did not come from the walls of the bark lodge, which failed to block all draughts, nor from the fire on the floor, but from the radiant people welcoming the newcomer.

The child was expected; she was already an important personage; her arrival completed the community. Soon after her birth, she was ceremonially named, not arbitrarily but very carefully. The Totem, namely the community of the newcomer's kin, possessed a number of names, as the sky possesses a number of stars, and the community was not quite whole, was in fact uneasy, if the names were not carried by living individuals. Everyone attended the naming ceremony because all were enhanced by the newly-named. The names did not run out. The Potawatomi were not committed to what we will know as Population Growth, and it is said that they did not experience the phenomenon.

The newcomer provided a missing rhythm. The name expressed the community's embrace of the missing rhythm and also some expectations about the music that might be heard.

But the specific rhythm of the newly-named could be foretold no more than the final shape of a tree can be foretold from a seedling. The child was placed in no school to stunt her growth to the expected size and shape. On the contrary, the girl-child as well as her newborn brother were left free to emulate, or ignore, uncles and aunts, cousins among the animals, everyone and every- thing under the Sun, not excluding the Sun.

The grownups watched, not to close doors, but to open doors, to let the children wander where they would unharmed.

By the time the Potawatomi children were old enough to have expectations of their own, they were prepared to be their own guides. Dream lodges were set up in the forest, one for the girl, another for her brother. The youngsters fasted until a Totem spirit visited them. The spirit usually appeared in the form of an animal, and was usually not the same spirit whose name the child wore. The spirit promised to guide the child along a specific path, namely to give the child an individual rhythm, and the spirit offered the child certain powers with which to achieve the rhythm, powers with which to light the path.

Henceforth the children were on their own, bound neither by laws nor by the community's expectations. Their own dream spirit helped them decide whether or not to live up to the ancestor whose name they carried. If they decided not to, they would be renamed after the first act that revealed the children were determined to follow distinct paths.

The boy, carrying his guide's offerings in a beautifully adorned bag, and knowing that he could call on his guide simply by fasting, set out on his own to face a cosmos whose grandeur and mystery will be inaccessible to our imaginations. We will know something of his feats as a hunter or a warrior, as a long-distance walker, as a lover. We will know less of the depth of his friendships with kinsmen or strangers, and almost nothing of his friendships with wolves and bears whose tracks he followed, whose signals he tried to grasp, whose universe he tried to understand. And we will know nothing at all of his fasts on mountain tops or alongside green mirror-like tree-surrounded lakes, of the journeys he undertook with his guide across and through the water to the place of life's origin, of his flights on the guide's wings to the sunset land where his ancestors gathered.

We will know that he eventually returned to his Totem with meat and with numerous stories, and that he married his beloved's sister because his beloved had in the meantime married a youth who had not stayed away for so long. We will know that he spoke of his exploits and his voyages to his children and also to his sister's children, the nephew and niece whose dream lodges he built in the forest.

We will think that his strength left him when he gave up warring as well as hunting, when he became a peacemaker, storyteller and lone wanderer.

We will not know that he revisited a mountain top he had known in his youth, fasted until his guide came for him, flew to the land beyond the sunset, joined his beloved, he as youthful as on his first trip, she as beautiful as on the day he first saw her, and traveled with her alongside him across and through water to the place of Life's beginnings.

If we knew all this, we wouldn't ask why the man resisted encasing himself in our linear, visionless Order. Isn't it our longing that expresses itself in a story about a European called Faust who turns his back on respectability, on the esteem of his colleagues, on law as well as religion, so as to have access to a personal guide and personal powers available to every Potawatomi?

The man's older sister, in the meantime, created a music that will sound less `romantic' to our ears. She too followed her own dream, but she found it possible to fulfill her own guide's expectations as well as the community's. She lived up to the Totem ancestor whose name she proudly continued to carry. She threw herself into the Totem's activities, perhaps reacting against her lonesome brother; perhaps she, too, thought him excessively `romantic'.

Like her name-ancestor, she turned bark of birch trees into canoes and winter lodges and tree-sugar baskets; she turned the skins of animals into cloaks, skirts, moccasins and medicine bags. Her own spirit inspired the colorful quilled symbolism with which she finished everything she made.

Like her ancestor, she was one of the preparers of the ceremonial welcoming of spring's new shoots, and after her marriage she was also a preparer of the ceremonial expulsion of Wiske, but the words she sang and the steps she danced were inspired by her own spirit.

Like her ancestor, she gathered herbs and became familiar with their general uses, but when her son was attacked by something he ate, she had to learn from her own spirit how to combine and administer the herbs while singing him back to health.

Her son as well as her daughter later took after her lonesome younger brother, but she was neither disappointed nor surprised; she knew that the children were following their own dreams, as she herself had.

Her dream had guided her to the center of the festivals and ceremonies, to the village council and the medicine lodge. Nothing her kin did or knew was alien to her.

Yet some of us will pretend to be honest when we ask why she was so vigorous in expelling Wiske from the ceremonial circle, why she would have been repelled by the prospect of becoming a housewife in a Civilized household, even the Archon's.

Can we not recognize that in the fullness of development of universal human capacities she exposes the immiseration of the shamefully stunted products of Civilization? Can we not see that this Potawatomi matron who excells as Architect, Shoemaker, Shipbuilder, Furrier, Dramatist, Painter, Composer, Dancer, Druggist and Doctor already surpasses the many-sided Genius, the notoriously flexible Renaissance Man?

Shouldn't the question be inverted? Shouldn't we ask why we are fascinated by a Da Vinci, instead of asking why she is repelled? Is it because Da Vinci dangles from Leviathan's neck like a cowbell, whereas she stands on ordinary dirt?

Why does a Da Vinci gleam for us among the beast's innumerable cowbells? Is it because, after all the stunting and spirit-breaking that makes us Civilized, we still want to be what she was, but can no longer become even what he was, can only applaud what Leviathan becomes instead of us?

* * *

To some of us it will be crystal clear why the Potawatomi woman as well as her younger brother were repelled by the prospects held out to them by the generous Wiske. But we will ask how people who were never encased in a Leviathan's entrails could know enough of such a condition to be repelled by it. This question has been given numerous answers, all of them speculative, all songs or stories. The quality of the songs has been declining ever since written words began replacing living voices, ever since Leviathanic records began replacing human memories. The story I've been telling is not from the heyday but from the decline, yet I'II go on singing it because at least some of its cadences disrupt and even wreak havoc on the stupefying, passively-accepted official tunes.

I've been telling a story about human resistance to a beast that originated in Ur, a beast whose artificial progeny would eventually swallow all human communities and, by our time, begin to eat the Biosphere.

I've come to some of the last human communities swallowed by Leviathan, and I find them resisting the beast already before it reaches them. How do these people already know what they are up against? Is it possible that the beast is not one but many, that Ur is not in Sumer but wherever people gather, that Leviathan is as natural to human beings as hives to bees? Anything is possible, but the admission of such a possibility is cynically misanthropic and it precludes envisioning any exit from the trap. Such a possibility cannot be admitted into a song of freedom, because its admission is a prognostication of Earth's doom.

I cannot deny that human beings on all the world's great islands are able to encase themselves in Leviathan's entrails, since they've all demonstrated this ability. I can deny that such a condition is as natural to them as hives to bees, and the rest of my story will affirm that it is not.

How could the Potawatomi have had any wind of the Leviathanic currents stirring in other parts of the world? The Great Lakes were as far removed from such currents as any refuge on the globe. Stories have been told about Leviathanic currents that blew from continents called Atlantis and Mu, but the stories of sunken conti- nents raise more questions than they answer, and most of their tellers place Leviathan, not living beings, at the Origin.

The breezes need not be sought on sunken continents; they could have blown to the Great Lakes from every one of the four direc- tions. I know as little about these four winds as about Mu, but my story can soar more easily on the winds than on sunken continents.

The north wind carried news of people who wandered over the land of ice. Linguistic cousins of the Potawatomi, called Lenni Lenape, preserved a scroll which vaguely referred to their own one-time journey over the land of ice. Other linguistic cousins, called Cree, inhabited the northern river valleys and forests that separated the Potawatomi from Aleut, Athabascan and other peoples of the north. Some of the northerners are said to have come from Eurasia more recently than others, some after Lugalzaggizi launched the first Leviathan on the first imperialist venture. We've seen that people attached to their homelands tried to resist the Levia- than by confronting it head on, whereas others resisted the beast's embrace by fleeing beyond its reach. If we knew something about the waves of migration set in motion by the outward thrusts of Eurasia's Leviathans, we might know that some of the more recent migrations across the northern Strait were the fringes of an anti-Leviathanic resistance movement.

The west wind carried news of great mountains and of seafaring people beyond the mountains, people with large sturdy oceancraft who braved the currents and stormy waves to hunt ocean monsters and gigantic fish. Many of the seafarers, people called Nootka and Kwa- kiutl, Tillamook and Bella Coola, were distant linguistic cousins of the Potawatomi, and many other linguistic cousins, people called Kutenai, Spokan, Okinagan, Atsina, Arapaho, Ojibwa and Menomini, inhabited the mountains, plateaus and plains separating the Potawa- tomi from the western seafarers. The westerners are said to have maintained sporadic contacts with Chinese and Japanese carriers of Eurasia's Leviathanic ways, but we know as little about these contacts as we do about Mu. We don't even know enough to speculate if any of the Trickster lore shared by the Potawatomi with their linguistic cousins, the lore about Hare, Coyote and Raven, expressed responses to carriers of Leviathanic ways.

The east wind carried news of close cousins of the Potawatomi, people of the sunrise who would be remembered as Abenaki, Penob- scot, Massachuset, Wampanoag, Pequot, Narraganset, Mohigan, Lenni Lenape. Removed from Eurasia by an Ocean they had no reason to cross, these people, or at least some of their ancestors, are said to have had brief views of human beings who hailed from the other side. Ancient Phoenicians, Libyans and Celt-Iberians are said to have ventured across the stormy Ocean. Vikings actually left a saga describing their trip across. Biscayan, Basque and other European fishermen did not ask Ferdinand and Isabela's permission to fish for cod near shores inhabited by cousins of the Potawatomi. The easterners' contacts with Eurasians were apparently no rarities, but our knowledge of them is as poor as our knowledge of Mu.

The south wind carried more substantial news, and our knowledge of it is not so sparse. Across a narrow strait from the Potawatomi villages there were large villages of Iroquoian speaking people who lived in long rectangular lodges, people later known as Wendats or Wyandots. These longhouse people, as well as their linguistic cousins further to the east, remembered having migrated northward from a far-away land. They had fled from stone giants, flying heads and maneaters. These dreaded beings are of course mythological subjects, airy creatures of the imagination, not solid historical entities like Nero, Caligula and Constantine. The Wendats who told of these beings were not interested in His-story, but in their own cosmic context.

The cosmos of the Wendats, who were peaceful corn and bean cultivators in northern woodlands, included monsters that did not exist in the north. With poetic accuracy and succinctness, Wendat myths gave an outsider's view of beings uncannily similar to stone pyramids taller than jungle trees, to feathered serpents, to masked priests who sacrificed human beings. The Wendat cosmos included a Leviathan, most plausibly the Leviathan that stirred in Yucatan already before Frankish tribesmen stormed the walls of the Roman Leviathan in Eurasia.

It is likely that news of the southern Leviathan reached the Potawatomi already before the Wendats' ancestors fled from the stone giants of southern jungles. The Beautiful Valley just south of the lakeshores of the Potawatomi was once dotted by earthen mounds, large and small, many of them in complexes enclosed by token walls demarcating a sacred space. The tales of the earliest mound-builders have not survived, but later mound-builders remembered southern origins, and their temple-topped earthen pyramids bore affinities with the stone giants of Yucatan and Central Mexico.

The practice of raising mountains over the bones of the dead was not kept up in the northern woodlands, but one element of that practice survived among the people of the Great Lakes. This element was the Feast of the Dead. The bones of deceased kinsmen were carefully preserved. Once a year, villagers from every corner journeyed to a gatheringplace and buried all the bones in a common grave. There the bones of strangers mingled with each other, and the living descendants of those in the grave ceased to be strang- ers, for their ancestors were eternally bound to one another.

In the northern forests, the great burial ceremonies were not occasions for the introduction of Leviathanic relations, but occasions for enlarging the world of kinship. Continually pulled apart from one another by their own dreams, the free villagers were continually drawn together by ceremonies that embraced all who could reach the festival grounds. The genuine solidarity of human beings whose ancestors shared common graves would not have been enhanced by the artificial unity imposed by the force of Hobbesian Leviathanic peacekeeping institutions.

The Potawatomi who ejected Wiske from their midst probably felt Leviathanic breezes from every direction, and surely from the south, long before French Jesuits and Voyageurs reached the Great Lakes.

* * *

If we think of Eurasia as a model and of His-story as Fate, we can easily convince ourselves that the Potawatomi would eventually have fallen into the entrails of a Leviathan, notably the southern one, even if Europeans had not crossed the Ocean. But if we think of Eurasia as a freak and of His-story as an aberration, we can just as easily convince ourselves that the community of freedoms we call Nature or Paradise would never have vanished if the Europeans had not brought Leviathanic holocausts across the water.

In Eurasia, the artificial monsters expanded with seeming inevitability. I've shown that the inevitability is an illusion created by scribes who overlook the numerous vanished Mohenjo Daros and Hittites, scribes who are trained not to see the decomposition that accompanies every functioning Leviathan.

The inevitability is an illusion, but the spread of the artifices over the length and breadth of the continent is not. All of Eurasia ends up in Leviathan's entrails.

But there is no reason to project such a fate across the water. There are, in fact, indications that the stone giants did not fare as well in the world across the water as they fared in Eurasia, indications that the Potawatomi ejection of Leviathan was more prevalent in this world than the Leviathanic encasement of free communities.

We've seen that the Eurasian monster spread very quickly. At first there was only Ur, the Beginning of something unprecedented. Soon there was Lugalzaggizi, then Sargon and a world-empire.

No comparable speed can be found across the water, where the first artificial beasts appear to have been sluggish, even moribund from the start. The monstrosities remembered by the Wendats were admittedly younger than Ur, but not young enough to explain their sluggishness.

Olmec heads and Ziggurat-like stone giants were apparently contemporaries of the first Ocean-faring Phoenicians. By coinci- dence, architectural marvels appeared in Yucatan and Central Mexico at the time when Phoenicians set out on the great Ocean. Earlier in this narrative I suggested that this may have been no coincidence. But even if it was a coincidence, even if the ancestors of Toltecs and Mayas reinvented Tyre and Byblos in Central Mexico and Yucatan, the Leviathans on this side of the great water failed to swallow the double continent's human communities and failed to confront the Biosphere as overpowering opponents.

These failures cannot be explained by the newness of this world's artificial beasts, since the beasts existed for a long time. The failures cannot be explained by quirks or weaknesses in the beasts themselves. The cruelty of Aztecs was comparable to that of Assyrians or Spaniards; the architecture of Mayas to that of Greeks; the administration of Incas to that of Chinese or Persians.

Nor can the failures be explained by the absence of so-called material conditions. Those who cling to this pseudoexplanation must first explain why the most powerful of Leviathans will subsequently flourish in the very same material conditions. The so-called material conditions are Leviathan's garments, not the ground it stands on.

In my view, the failure of this world's Leviathans can be explained by the human resistance to their spread. The Potawatomi expulsion of Wiske is only one instance of that resistance. Wendats of the north's woodlands had a low opinion of stone giants. Guarani people of the southern continent spoke with fear and loathing of The One. Hopi people of the north's canyonlands told of gods destroying human beings who turned from the ways of living beings. Winnebago people of the Great Lakes made fun of the great gift-bringer, the Trickster.

In fact, even this world's priests and militarists, namely Leviathan's own agents, spoke of Civilization as something alien. On the northern as on the southern continent, the bringer of Leviathanic powers and amenities was remembered as someone who had come from abroad, had left again, and would return from abroad to reclaim his gifts.

The first Kukulkan-Quetzaquatal may have been a tentacle of a Phoenician or a Libyan octopus. The feathered serpent may have been the Phoenician adventurer's headdress, or it may have been the deity on the ship's prow. The man from afar would not have spoken a language foreign to the villagers who greeted him, but a language familiar to them. He would not have spoken of terms of trade, but of the cycle of vegetation and the cycles of life, death and regeneration, of sacrificial giving, of Baal. The hospitable villagers would have outdone themselves in giving all they had to the god-like foreigner who emerged from the sea.

Like the Potawatomi, the villagers who initially showered the feathered Wiske with gifts would grow tired of the burden, but being hospitable, they could not exile the foreigner. Consequently, so they told, Quetzaquatal exiled himself, promising to return. And the villagers returned to their own communities, their own ceremonies, their own visions, their own ways.

But the arrival of the serpentine god was remembered. The event was important, and important events were not what they would be for us: single, isolated, linear, unrepeatable. An important event was a cosmic event, and like other cosmic events, like the rising of the sun or the eclipse of the moon or the journey of a comet, it was rhythmic, cyclical, infinitely repeatable.

The visitor left scars in the form of fawning priests and ambitious admirers. Periodically - the Mayas actually measured the exact duration of the period - the scars reopened and Quetzaquatal reemerged from the sea.

The subsequent man-gods were undoubtedly local priests and admirers who clothed themselves in the foreigner's fame, but they continued to insist on their foreign origin. The giftgiving resumed. Vast ceremonial centers sprang up in the jungle, stone cities with temples and palaces of incomparable beauty. And once again the beast was abandoned, the Leviathanic man was self-exiled. The stone cities reverted to jungle.

The ruins of abandoned architectural wonders will be found in our day by so-called Archeologists, who will be dazzled by the grandeur of what they find, and even more by the abandonment of places so ideally suited to being university campuses. The Arche- and Anthropologists will fill libraries explaining the abandonment in terms of every cause except human resistance. The prospect of their own academic centers reverting to what they call weeds will fog the Anthropologists' imaginations.

* * *

In Eurasia, Leviathan destroyed communities and encased human beings in its entrails. Linear His-story replaced the rhythmic cycles of life. Music gave way to the March of Time.

But across the great water, living communities were not destroyed. On the contrary, the few Leviathans that emerged here seem to have been swallowed by the communities. Leviathanic time was submerged in cyclical time. The coming and going of the beast became part of the rhythm of life. The Leviathanic excrescence, like other excrescences, remained no more than manure. Music did not give way to the March of Time. Life did not give way to His-story.


If we continue probing through seas of facts for meanings, this too can be answered. Arnold Toynbee once spoke of two types of stimuli. One stimulus overpowered and incapacitated, the other revived and strengthened the subject.

The communities of Guti who tried to resist the Sumerian Leviathan militarily were overpowered already before they set out to respond. The moment the Guti constituted themselves into a permanent military organization they ceased to be what they wanted to remain and became what they opposed. As communities they were incapacitat- ed before they took up arms against Leviathan. They gave themselves the illusion of resisting the beast even as they leapt into its entrails.

On the other side of the Ocean, the communities who hosted the first Quetzaquatal were not crippled by the initial stimulus, and they were able to respond in their own ways and on their own terms. They did not only curtail Leviathanic time, reducing it to rhythmic irruptions in the symphony of cyclic time. They also forced Levia- than's own agents, whether priests or administrators, to confine themselves to the enactment of community rituals, to perform fertility ceremonies, to give unsparingly to rain deities and corn deities, to celebrate the cycle of vegetation, to enhance Earth and Life.

The communities who thus reduced Leviathan to their plaything did not always emerge unscathed. Leviathan was a lethal toy. Here as there it grew fat by eating human victims. But whenever it started to get obese, its period ended and the villagers let the jungle's plants grow over it.

Communities as distant from Quetzaquatal's landingplace as the Potawatomi became familiar enough with Leviathan to want to expel him from their midst.

And the myriad communities between the northern woodlands and the southern jungles, each as different from another as elk from quetzals, played with the monster or avoided all contact with it as suited their sensibilities.

My brief account is deliberately idyllic. The idyl is what the Europeans came to destroy. The so-called dirty realities, the cynical compromises, the vicious betrayals were nothing new to Europeans, who allied themselves with these against the other, against the pure, the beautiful, the new.

* * *

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