Having recently written about the first evidence of the Clovis culture being found at Farpoint, Malibu, I also found out the Chumash Native Americans are that State’s oldest recognised inhabitants, dating back some 10,000 years. They apparently dwelt both on the mainland as well as nearby islands, which as accomplished mariners they accessed by use of ‘tomol‘ canoes, and had constructed a complex society which recognised ‘class and rank divisions’. Out of an original population of 18,000, their number had been reduced by the effects of European contact and its associated outreach teams, keen to snap up all the available land, and the subsequent abundance of dispossessed humans, thereafter considered fit only for slavery and hard labour.
Despite this brutal end to one people’s existence and culture, what eventually sprang up in its place was another culture that not only sought out and embraced spiritual teachings and beliefs from around the world, but also went to the trouble of inventing a few of its own, at least one of which was fictional.
Here, I’m referring to the cult of ‘Selfosophy‘ as discussed at some length in ‘Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defence‘, and whose origins were owed to one Onan Goopta, whose own early days are described thus…
Once upon a time, two East Indian immigrants gave birth to a baby boy, whom they loved very dearly. Yet, nevertheless, named “Juggernaut Onan Goopta“. Other than the name, and, uh, the beard, he was a normal boy, who suffered all the usual humiliations of a normal childhood.
Upon graduating High School, he went off to college with a dream of someday becoming a famous neuroscientist. His goal was to be the first to comprehend how the biology of the brain gives birth to the greatest mystery of life: self-consciousness.
Unfortunately, his own brain could not comprehend basic biology. He quickly switched majors to philosophy; but alas, while reading Kierkegaard’s “Sickness Unto Death”, he became sick and nearly died.
Fortunately he recovered, and went on to achieve accidental fame as a misunderstood writer, and when that career appeared to be in danger, he responded…
Out of pure desperation, he managed — in a single, feverish night — to crank out a book that changed the course of human history: “How to Be Happy, Even When You Shouldn’t.” It was quickly followed by the bestsellers, “How to Manipulate People by Your Apparent Friendliness”, and “How to Overcome Your Fears by Making Others Fear You”.
And upon the release of his masterpiece, “Selfosophy: The Power of Positive Negation”, Goopta hit the lecture hall circuit, always preaching to standing room only, for he shrewdly refrained from providing chairs.
Goopta then opened an institute to help teach people how to become more self-helpful. Patients — who were called “doctors”, since the term “patient” has unhealthy associations — learned how to shed the darkness of their minds by mastering therapies taught by the institute’s staff, which to inspire a sense of spiritual, empirical, transmigrational, is modelled after the U.S. Postal Service. The institute proved to so popular, Selfosophy branched out, and institutes popped up throughout the nation.
Which brings us back to California, as we see a map of North America, upon which a plethora of red dots appear, not ‘throughout the nation’, but in a crowded bloc up and down the the Californian coastline, attesting in part to the perception of that part of the world being a spiritual haven of great potency, variety and complexity.
It is precisely this landscape which is discussed by author Erik Davis and photographer Michael Rauner in the ‘The Visionary State: A Journey Through California’s Spiritual Landscape‘, and commented upon by the reviewer at BLDGBLOG. Picking up the review/interview a few paragraphs in, we learn of Anton LaVey, author of ‘The Satanic Bible’, …
Born Howard Levey in 1930, LaVey was less a freak guru than a Playboy-era steak-and-martini man. He hated hippies and LSD, played Wurlitzer organs in strip clubs, and had no interest in mystically dissolving the ego. Though essentially a con man, LaVey had enough psychological frankness and sleazy charm to attract scores to the black masses he held at his house in the Outer Richmond, a place he had, as the song goes, painted black.
Perhaps this is the person who inspired the character of Onan J. Goopta, although it is clear that the writers are satirising Scientology as a theological entity – in any event, these cults are good examples of how the individual is brought to the fore, breaking with a much older and more pervasive idea of the individual being part of a greater whole, which the individual should regard as being of greater importance than the self.
However, religion and spirituality also exist outside people’s heads, as is evident from places and locations which have been declared sacred over thousands of years to the present day.
The authors of the book have travelled extensively throughout California, documenting its numerous sacred places in text and photographs; however, upon glancing through the many images of these places that appear in the book prompted the reviewer to question why this or that place should have been declared sacred, or why people should have been drawn to a particular site in the first place. In order to clarify the issue, he contacted Erik Davis, who had previously described California thus:
This landscape ranges from pagan forests to ascetic deserts to the shifting shores of a watery void. It includes dizzying heights and terrible lows, and great urban zones of human construction. Even in its city life, California insists that there are more ways than one, with its major urban cultures roughly divided between the San Francisco Bay Area and greater Los Angeles. Indeed, Northern and Southern California are considered by some to be so different as to effectively constitute different states. But that is a mistake. California is not two: it is bipolar.
Whilst its geography made this impression on Davis…
“an overlapping set of diverse ecosystems, hanging, and sometimes quaking, on the literal edge of the West”
And although the original aim of Davis was to document the physical landscape, he quickly came to realise there were many structures in the built environment that were equally valid for consideration as sacred sites. It’s worth reading through the rest of the interview, as the interviewee asks such questions as to whether darker cultural events, like the spot where James Dean wrote off himself and his car, might also be memorialised within a sacred landscape, in what he describes as the geography of celebrity.
After all, is an archaeological site sacred to the Chumash more sacred than a street sacred to Philip K. Dick – or a quarry sacred to the Center for Land Use Interpretation? Or vice versa?…
…If the Mormons, for instance, launched a geostationary satellite over the city of Los Angeles, and they used it to broadcast radio sermons, is that precise location in the sky – a square-meter of rarefied air – to be considered sacred? Or is there a holy tide or blessed current that flows through the coves of Big Sur …
…Does that visionary landscape have a correspondingly sacred hydroscape, some undersea world of the dead discussed a thousand years earlier in tribal myths? Can the weather be sacred – or even a particular storm?
I suppose what he’s getting at here is humans can ascribe all manner of abstract importance to any number of natural or artificial locations – but do those sacred places remain sacred even after the last of those who regarded it as sacred, have died out, and can updated sanctity be conferred by people with new beliefs visiting sites of old beliefs.
Because mankind has had a unique journey through time and space in this world, it is very unlikely that the same set of beliefs and observances of rituals and locations would occur on other worlds should we ever reach them – but who knows how people might think in a few hundred or thousand years from now, or what importance they may attach to sites as yet unknown to us.
Moreover, how should we as a modern society, treat such places on this planet that were obviously sacred to people of the near or distant past, especially when we may only have the vaguest of notions of what comprised their particular belief system – or when a sacred site is described in a building or street – architectural relics are prone to destruction and redevelopment in the same way as sacred landscapes can be, although the more remote sacred places are less prone to the predations of developers – if not vandals and grafitti sprayers.
One of the most sacred places to the Chumash is Humqaq, or in modern parlance, Conception Point, location of ‘The Western Gate‘, associated by them with ‘the souls of the dead’, and there is a telling description here of the problems the Chumash have has since the time of the Spanish arrivals to present disputes with the federal government and big business. An indication of just how widespread Chumash, or related culture may have been is in the location of the Eastern Gate (scroll about halfway down page to “The Shrine at Humqaq – Embarkation and Reincarnation)- right across the other side of the US, at Montauk Point, infamous in later years for being the site of a supposedly bizarre set of experiments and undercover projects – the point here being, is that this gives the impression of the entire northern US as having been regarded by its pre-Colombian residents as a sacred landscape, upon which mortal humans played out their physical and spiritual lives. (tj)
see also: “Anthropology and the Making of Chumash Tradition”, Brian D. Haley and Larry R. Wilcoxon, (Current Anthropology – Volume 38, Number 5, December 1997)