I feel that American culture lacks a response to ecstatic religion. As a consequence, most Americans are having great difficulty dealing with the evangelical movement. The larger camp of evangelical nonadherents have difficulty assessing (or even admitting) the spirituality of the evangelicals. The smaller (and more fevered) camp of adherents have difficulty limiting their focus to the evangelical's spirituality. American clergymen have traditionally been learned, quiet men active firstly in their church and secondly in their community. These men were the respected and worthy opponents of the secular humanists. They spoke the same language (coming from four years of liberal arts), used the same medium (podium, newspaper and local electronics), dressed the same and used the same method (ratiocination). The evangelical moves in a different sphere.

Consider an evangelical's typical day: up at 4:00 to be at the studio by 5:00 where (s)he is totally remade for the camera. Four to five hours live performance of praise follows and -- as with any prolonged shamanistic exercise -- ecstasy appears. Then the evangelical has a brief lunch with a local business group. (S)He must be up, cheerful, and forceful -- despite the morning workout. These men need him. The evangelical returns for another four hours at the studio, followed by a one-hour radio show, and finally the two-hour revival at the local church. In bed by 12:00 and God willing (s)he will be rested enough for tomorrow. During most of this grueling stretch the evangelical exercises most typical shamanistic activity -- the sacred costume, the fast, prayer, dance, and song. Much of this mysticism occurs in a strange sensory-depleted environment -- the blindingly well-lit television studio. Many individuals deny the spirituality of these practitioners -- individuals who do not say the same of St. Simeon Stylites, a _sadhu_ begging on the streets of Calcutta, or a Sioux medicine man performing a Sun Dance. WASP culture cannot recognize a WASP shaman.

If pressed, most nonadherents would cite the money grubbing of the evangelical movement. Others would focus on the moral misconduct of certain highly visible preachers. Begging is not unknown to the ecstatic -- in fact, it's essential for him. The Buddhist monks have their bowls, St. Simeon had shepherd patrons, the Ojibwa must support the shamans. The scope of the begging seems radically different, but it takes a great deal more money to support their environments. They are set apart from their followers by their wealth much as the fakir is by his poverty. The need for the ecstatic practitioner to exist apart from the social matrix has been amply studied from Mircea Eliade to R. D. Laing. Shamans throughout the Third World often perform acts abhorrent to their followers -- it demonstrates their great holiness, their rising above conventions.

Americans are shocked by the scandals of the Bakkers or Jimmy Swaggart. The shock intensifies when their followers still flock to them. The nonadherents don't see the abundant cross-cultural parallels such as the Yogic practice of the Seeking of Dishonor. This is a far cry from the learned, mild-mannered clergyman indeed!

That widely-held notion of the '60s, that Americans could save themselves by adopting a nonWestern faith, has come to pass; ironically this new faith excludes most of the thinkers that called for it in the first place. My anthropologist friends tell me that they have witnessed miraculous cures among the Navaho -- I have no doubt that similar cures exist in the flock of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

Few nonWesterners would think of getting political advice from their witchdoctors. In cultures with an accepted role for the ecstatic and the visionary, these gifted people do not provide political leadership. Their _total_ devotion causes the divine flame to burn fiercely -- and separates them from the world of men. By providing a sense of _wonder_ or _mystery_ the shamanic performance gives people a direct contact with the divine. We can't spend our time trying to work ourselves into a medumisitic state everyday -- it just doesn't fit in with the world of paychecks and mortgage payments. So in a typical consumerist fashion, our society looks for someone to do the work of spirituality. Our postmodern world has adopted (along with many other strategies from many other paradigms) the tribal practice of shamanism. The practice of the ecstasy is as clear in a an evangelical in a trance as it is in a New Age practitioner crooning over crystals. Both fulfill a human and social need. The problem is we haven't integrated this practice into our society in the same organic way that it exists in tribal societies.

Spiritual and temporal power are separated in most Amerindian societies. Throughout the Orient monks and _sadhus_ are completely outside the political sphere -- often considered as the dead. The adherents of the evangelicals have confused the role of the traditional clergyman with the new ecstatic. If we want as a society to deal with these new ecstatics we need to follow a three fold approach. Firstly we must examine how these individuals act in traditional society, secondly we must create a an aesthetic synthesis of this role and our society's needs. Thirdly we must then enact these ritual dramas in the way to insure the greatest benefit and least social harm. It may be fashionable to merely condemn the irrational elements in our society, but it is a greater challenge to integrate them in a conscious willed fashion.

When passing these electronic _sadhus_ on a channel check -- one may or may not throw rice in their bowls. That is the decision of the Heart. But one shouldn't ask them for political guidance -- that decision would betray the Head.

DWEBB9@aol.com

If the above has disappointed you and you're still looking for a top-shelf devil cult, I recomend writing to the Temple of Set, POB 470307, San Francisco, CA 94147. Ask for the General Information Letter. Come on? What did you do for Halloween?


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