Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Death of a shaman, death of a tribe....

Sibin Aus, shaman of Pertak in 2004 & 2009 (portraits by Antares)

Sibin Aus (also known as Sudin), resident shaman or dukun of Kampung Pertak (a Temuan village located 44 miles northeast of Kuala Lumpur in Ulu Selangor) died in his sleep on 9 January 2011. His sister-in-law found him lifeless around noon. When I said goodbye to him around 2:30pm his body was still warm.

My guess is that Sibin was around 79. He told me he had served with the Royal Malaysian Police during the Emergency period, which means he must have turned 18 in 1950 or thereabouts.

Sibin was one of the most enigmatic Temuan elders I have had the honor of befriending. One by one they have balik pulau (returned to the Isle of Fruits or paradise) since I relocated to the area in early 1992. When I first met him Sibin was living with a medicine woman named Awa Anak Lahai. She threw him out eleven years ago and hasn't spoken to him since.

Sibin was a bit wayward but quite harmless. The kids enjoyed teasing him whenever he was intoxicated (and he invariably was). He always took it goodnaturedly, even when they called him Berk'ot (smelly and unwashed) to his face. After his old lady threw him out, Sibin sometimes appeared at my window in the wee hours, singing sad songs in his distinctive raspy voice. I would invite him in and make him a cup of coffee. But after half an hour he would start singing his drunken lament all over again and I would have to physically throw him out so he wouldn't wake everybody up.

In the last ten years I have watched Sibin's health deteriorate to the extent that more than a few times I believed he was already a goner. Once, about five years ago, I was sitting by the river when I spotted him wading unsteadily across the rocky stream. He collapsed midway through and landed face down in the fast-flowing but shallow water. I rushed over to haul him to the opposite bank where I propped him against a rock.

"I can see my dear mother," Sibin muttered, as if in a visionary trance. "Yes, yes, I'll soon be joining her..." and I noticed a glazed look on his face, eyes focused on some distant horizon. "Don't budge from here," I admonished, and went off in search of help. A couple of villagers came down to the river to assist Sibin. He managed to get back on his wobbly feet... and then he trudged off into the forest.

Rasid Aus in 1996 (Antares)
No sign of him for a couple of weeks... and then Sibin would be spotted merrily bouncing along the road, looking ten years younger and glowing with vitality. I guess he did have some ilmu (magical knowledge) and knew how to rejuvenate himself and repair his alcohol-ravaged liver.

Whenever I bumped into him, I would wave and he'd come over and say, "I shake hand you!" We were actually quite fond of each other, in a comradely sort of way. After all, Sibin was among the Temuan elders who readily accepted me as a friend and colleague right from the outset. His younger brother Rasid subsequently became my stepfather-in-law.

In the early years when I was in the habit of constantly asking questions about Temuan folklore and terminology, Sibin proved an invaluable resource, though I never knew when he was serious and when he was merely pulling my leg.

With Sibin's passing, an era of childlike innocence and indigenous wisdom has ended.

The present crop of Temuan males are so vastly different from their grandparents' or even their parents' generation. Growing up watching brain-deadening TV programs piped in from the urban capital, these kids I first befriended when they were in their early teens have since grown into sullen, surly, resentful, unfriendly and xenophobic adults - no thanks to the constant indoctrination and official propaganda they are subjected to by the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (Orang Asli Affairs Department) who are past masters of divide-and-rule management strategies.

Alcohol abuse has become far more serious ever since one of the villagers decided to start selling cigarettes and cheap spirits from home. In the old days, when they had finished all the booze, they had to ride 8 miles to Kuala Kubu Bharu to obtain another round of drinks. Now they only have to stagger a hundred yards down the road. For RM10 they can get at least three bottles of rotgut.

After a few rounds they seem to get possessed by demons and begin to brawl amongst themselves. They literally turn into Orcs, making a huge racket on their motorbikes, setting off cherry bombs and, even worse, hurling empty bottles into the river so they will smash on the rocks and pose a serious hazard to others. Some have become so demented they routinely poison cats and murder dogs that chase after their motorbikes. Anyone who can kill a cat or dog in cold blood is perfectly capable of killing another human being... it's absolutely tragic.

In a way, what has happened in Kg Pertak over the last 20 years pretty much reflects what has happened to the rest of the country. It's almost exactly like what happens to Underland when the Red Queen seizes power in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

The following is a brief excerpt from my book, Tanah Tujuh: Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos (Silverfishbooks, 2007). I dedicate it to the memory of a trueblue Orang Asli shaman...

Tuhan & Iblis (God & Devil): Creation & Design

ACCORDING TO SIBIN AUS, the first humans which Tuhan made were like patong (dolls) with no discernible facial or bodily features. They were, if truth be told, extremely crude and primitive. Iblis (or Hablis, as Sibin pronounces it) came along and shook his head. “Not bad,” he said, “but I have a few suggestions, if you don’t mind my interfering.”

Tuhan raised an eyebrow and stroked his chin. “Well, show me what you have in mind.” Iblis set to work and soon the human was endowed with eyes and ears and nose and mouth and fingers and toes... and genitals.

Tuhan had to concede that Iblis had truly succeeded in making a good thing even better. “Great stuff,” Tuhan said, patting Iblis on the back. “From now on, let’s work as a team. I’ll handle the Creation, you take care of the Design!”

And this is why Manusia, while essentially godly, is also always somewhat diabolical.

Sibin's account resonates with the universal myth of the Hero Twins, who appear in Mesopotamian lore as Enki and Enlil (Enuma Elish); in Mayan cosmomythology (Popol Vuh) as Hunahpu and Xbalanque. The Hero Twins manifest as Gilgamesh and Enkidu in Mesopotamia; Castor and Pollux in Greece; and as Romulus and Remus in Italy. Norse legends have Loki and Thor in the rôle of the Hero Twins. Leonardo da Vinci’s famous twin paintings, Virgin of the Rocks, mysteriously depict the Holy Infants as a pair of royal twins; and, closer to home, the Jah Hut tribe of Peninsular Malaysia attribute the creation of Adamic man to the rival deities, Ebrahil and Peruman.

But why twins? Is there a long-forgotten truth to be gleaned about bi-polarity as the basis of creation? Does our Sun have an invisible twin? Does the Milky Way galaxy have a twin in Andromeda? Is this why everyone seems to be in perpetual search of a Twin Flame?

[First posted 10 January 2011]

Monday, February 27, 2017

Alternate Realities Revisited ~ by Paula Peterson

MODERN DAY MYSTIC: Awakening to Alternate Realities

"Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one." ~Albert Einstein

"Reality is just a crutch for people who can't cope with drugs." ~ Robin Williams

Many find it difficult to believe that "ordinary" people can have mystical experiences. Just like some of you reading this, I have experienced such events ... and yet, to avoid being categorized as a "looney" I have kept much of it to myself or briefly shared a few stories with trusted listeners.

After all, super-sensitive folk who hear voices that no one else hears, see visions that no one else sees (angels, ascended masters, elves, fairies, spirits, star-people, spaceships, strange lights, etc.) and feel energy or vibrations that no one else feels are often perceived as kooks - even labeled schizophrenic - while some end up being institutionalized when talk of such topics are too openly and too often discussed in the presence of the wrong people.

As if threatened by the unknown (or sometimes even envious of the mystic), the non-experiencer will often resort to ridicule, debunking or harassment of those who are brave enough to tell their stories. Because they believed strongly enough in their experience to tell about them, the lives of some very fine and honorable folk have been severely damaged and their reputations unfairly shattered by vicious skeptics and debunkers. I personally know such individuals and have, myself, been subjected to cruel and ignorant ridicule.

Many have a personal or collective investment in keeping things the way they are. They may employ extreme methods - or engage in subtle, indirect manipulation - in order to maintain control, secure a state of comfortable existence and manage their version of reality. From individual to entire governments the agenda is the same: to oppress or eliminate whatever threatens a reality that appears to insure a sense of control and security.

It seems that the vast majority in this culture still cannot accept that there are other planes of existence not ruled by the "laws" and perceptions of this physical world nor easily and comfortably explained through use of logic. Doors flung open wide to greater enlightenment are just as quickly slammed shut when the fear of closed-mindedness reduces a mystical experience to a fabrication of an overactive imagination.

By forcing an extraordinary experience into the limiting confines of trite and easily managed explanations, one is robbed of the power of the mystical event to inspire and awaken its beholder through awe and wonder ... and a potential breakthrough to deeper unity with the divine is missed again.

This is why the urban mystic of industrialized, high-tech, First World cultures often chooses to conceal extraordinary experiences and are content to simply allow these events be known only between himself (or herself), their chosen Higher Power (God, Jesus, Great Spirit, Buddha or whomever) or a few trusted individuals. Those living in less advanced countries are fortunate in that a large segment of the population - mostly those still living close to the land and the spirit of nature - still accepts the supernatural, mystical and unexplained phenomena as another part of life - and an important one. In those cultures, the mystic in the form of shaman, currandero, healer, sage, medicine man, etc., is a respected member of society.

Thankfully, the more advanced societies - like America - are witnessing increasing numbers of folks who do believe - or want to believe - even if they themselves don't have these experiences. Perhaps this is true because the hopes and dreams that we were raised upon - which emphasized accumulation of possessions; personal fulfilment and accomplishment through monetary gain; cultivating intellectual and academic status; and a myriad of other material pursuits - has finally reached the saturation point for many of us: we have found that in striving for the accoutrements of a mundane, material world that we have become "spiritually bankrupt" and sadly lacking in miracles and deep soul fulfilment.

Seeking deeper, more meaningful experiences that unite us with a Higher Power through re-uniting with the inner, mystical-self is becoming the new adventure. The inward journey abounds with discoveries just as rich and juicy - even more so - than any experience of the external world.

And so it serves us greatly to embrace stories of mystery and awe ... not because we're gullible ... but because such stories have the power to instil wonder and awe and bring our over-busy, chattering, analytical minds to a screeching halt - which can then give way to a quieter but more compelling voice that whispers, "What if it's true?"

What if it really IS true .... then what? Will our world seem less predictable? Will we feel less in control of our reality? Will we have to question our beliefs and all the things we were taught while growing up? Will we feel less secure with ourselves if the mysteries of the unknown remain unexplainable? Will it really be all that bad for us if we are simply left with a wondrous feeling of awe in the wake of a mystical experience?

What if we really are being visited by advanced civilizations from other worlds that wish us no harm? What if these advanced civilizations use telepathy to communicate instead of the spoken word? What if some of these same visitors recognize the benign and peaceful intelligence of dolphins and choose to hide their ships in the quiet depths of the ocean?

What if these advanced civilizations were simply observing while waiting for earthlings to stop being so disrespectful and hurtful towards each other, the animals, the forests, the land and all living things? What if they were waiting for us humans to stop fighting so much before revealing more of themselves to us?

What if visitors from other worlds are to play a significant role in helping to raise the consciousness of humankind and lead us into a more peaceful, productive and fulfilling future? Its entirely possible when we are willing to think "outside the box" of the old paradigm.

Of course, I could go on and on with the questions ... its fun to contemplate the possibilities. Posing such questions is also another way to trigger a shift consciousness since a deeper part of our awareness will try to rise to the surface in the attempt to answer: not with the usual answer that comes from beliefs taught by a disbelieving society - but an answer that comes from an ancient, abysmal and long forgotten aspect of ourself that "knows."

The unexplainable and the mystical happens everyday - in small or large ways - in some area of the world. We may call these events miracles, super-natural or extraordinary (extra-ordinary!). Or we may simply accept them as another part of life that is just as real and significant as any other part of life.

After all ... we can order plain, ordinary pizza or we can order a cosmic pizza with an extraordinary array of tasty items - both known and unknown! Maybe we'll suffer momentary mystical "indigestion" as the mix clashes: the familiar with the mysterious. But it is guaranteed that the first burst of amazement will remain in our memories forever as a moving experience that left us changed ... to become an experience we can draw from for inspiration and wonder forever after.

Paula Peterson

Spirit Grove by JJ Leduc

[First posted 1/11/11 @ 11:11PM, reposted 10 May 2014 & 27 March 2016]

Sunday, February 26, 2017

THE INNER TECHNOLOGY OF ART: Making Public the Private (repost)

A paper presented by Antares at Sidang Seni 2001, Galeri Petronas’ first annual conference on the arts, March 24-25, 2001

ONCE IN A WHILE it helps to sit back and think about things like Art – and what it actually means to be called or to call someone an Artist. We could think about the earliest evidence of human artistic activity, found before the outbreak of the First World War in southern France: the famous paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux, more than 30,000 years old, which largely depict the primal mystique of the hunt. The scholar Joseph Campbell, in Primitive Mythology, describes these prehistoric artists as shamans: medicine men and women who worked as intermediaries between the mystical and practical worlds, whose private visions - projected into public ceremony and ritual - could effect profound change in our lives by impinging upon our perceptions.

Then, as now, the shaman-artist served as a visionary of the sacred, a medium connecting the various dimensions, a transducer of spirit into matter and vice versa, a vital link between metaphysical and physical. His ability to merge the inner world of dreams and symbols with the outer world of the hunt made him a healer and a seer, gifted with initiatic and prophetic authority.

Australian aboriginal creation myths speak of archetypal ancestors, closely linked to specific animal lineages, singing the landscape into being as Songlines. The spiritual world is a vibratory essence which can materialize itself by lowering its frequencies. Physical reality is but a shadow of the metaphysical.

Interestingly, this idea of earthly existence as a shadow-play is the central metaphor in Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave, wherein he describes the unawakened consciousness as a prisoner chained in darkness, kept enthralled by an illusory pageant of animated shadows enacted by an invisible priesthood. Precisely the technique employed in the Wayang Kulit tradition, still practised in former colonies of the Majapahit Empire.

The imaginative interplay of light and dark creates all drama – a word associated with dreams and nightmares.

From Plato’s Cave to Wayang Kulit to the Magic Lantern and George Lucas’s Industrial Light Magic is a mere progression of technological sophistication. A father amusing his child by creating animated shadows with his hands is drawing on a very ancient artform.

These days the same father (especially if his name happens to be George Lucas or Steven Spielberg) would have access to computer-generated digital images which enormously enhance his power to project his imagination to a remote audience of millions. The art of entertaining and enthralling an audience is akin to hypnotism (or to an ancient Javanese magical practice known as pukau, by which means the victim is involuntarily put into a paralytic trance, thereby allowing the practitioner to do as he will as long as the spell lasts).

Disregarding the superficial changes in the technology of art, the primary tool of the artist will always be his imagination. The secondary tool of the artist might be a stick with which to draw figures in the sand, a brush with which to paint, a chisel with which to chip away stone, a flute on which to blow, a lute on which to strum, or a computer with which to sequence an electronic fugue. Technology, after all, is essentially the evolution of tool-making and using. A gripping tale can be told with only an eloquent tongue – or with an extravagant panoply of son et lumière effects. Without the artistic imagination, Creation itself would not exist, nor would the concept of a Creator. We have been told that God made man in his image; the artist intuitively knows that the reverse equally applies.

To imagine is to create an image on the screen of one’s mind – and this act of imagination, when focused through the clear lens of willful intent, is a magical performance which can effect a transformation on all levels. Thus the artist-shaman-magician has always been a source of fascination and fear. His powers of creation and projection make of him a god or demon, depending on his mood and inclination. And indeed, in days of old, the visionary power of the artist-shaman often gave him tremendous influence over his tribe. It was only recently – in the last 13,000 years or so – that brute strength gained ascendancy over mind, and the warrior muscled his way into dominance. The gradual erosion of archetypal pantheons and monarchies has facilitated the rise of the merchant-entrepreneur, whose crude Time-is-Money credo rapidly became the ‘Bottom Line’ over the last few centuries.

Commercialism and industrialism now threaten, alas, to turn Art into just another economic activity – and the Artist’s ceremonial and magical rôle into a purely ornamental one.

No doubt a certain superstitious awe still attends the artist’s endeavors; but in the Age of Consumerism, the artist-shaman’s contribution to the success of the hunt has been reduced to churning out effective advertising and public relations for the vulgar new gods of materialism - or fashionable new trends for the children of the privileged.

AT THIS JUNCTURE, we must examine the complex interactions between the inner and outer self of the artist. Paradoxically, what begins as a unique experience ultimately transforms itself into a universal truth through the exercise of the artistic imagination and will.

A personal encounter with grievous loss and emotional distress, for example, can be transmuted into art – in the form of a novel or a symphony or a painting or sculpture - and thereby shared with society at large. The skillful selection of linguistic, visual, auditory, olfactory or tactile symbols that will compress a complex experience into communicable or transferable form is what constitutes the inner technology of art.

The word technology itself derives from technique – which may be classified as “hardware and software” in modern parlance. Tools are hardware and, as such, are utterly useless unless one is also equipped with the necessary knowhow, the software. A simple case in point can be seen in the evolution of writing utensils - from chisel or quill or brush to chalk or crayon or ink pen; from manual to electric typewriter, to electronic word processor – all in the course of a mere 6,000 years.

And yet, the use of a high-powered computer does not provide any creative edge over the use of a goose quill. Would Shakespeare or Mozart, for instance, have done more inspired work if they had had access to “better” tools? Indeed the sonnets and plays of Shakespeare have survived the centuries better written in ink on parchment than they would have as digital code on magnetic disks – just as Mozart’s masterpieces have better lasted the centuries on paper than they would have on acetate or vinyl or optical disk.

Perhaps a digression is in order here: when politicians speak of “Smart Schools” they invariably have an image of students being plugged into a network of expensive computers. The big budgets are reserved for the acquisition of high-tech hardware rather than human software (in terms of dedicated and conscientious and innovative educators). This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse, of valuing packaging above content, of idolizing form devoid of spirit, of exalting style above substance.

The unfortunate fact is that, in the last 500 years, businessmen and bureaucrats have quietly forged themselves into a freemasonry of secular authority – wresting control of human destiny from the sacred visionaries, the healers and the seers, the artists and philosophers.

No one can stop the pragmatic businessman or bureaucrat from having visions – but it is almost inevitable that their pragmatic visions would tend towards the ridiculous rather than the sublime, the crude rather than the subtle, the ugly rather than the aesthetic. Instead of making public the private, their basic instinct is to make private the public, thus spawning an atmosphere of hypocrisy and secrecy conducive to criminal conspiracy rather than creating the climate of openness and trust necessary to greater social cohesion.

This is the great quandary in which the modern world finds itself. Industrial society’s pursuit of Quantity has blinded it to Quality; the entrepreneur-merchant’s quest for and obeisance to the “lowest common denominator” makes him favor the numerous above the numinous, the secular above the sacred.

Democracy is misconstrued as being allowed to choose from a wide range of political candidates or consumer products.

The ancient nobility has been rudely supplanted by a clamorous cadre of status-seekers who have no qualms about using ignoble means to achieve their myopic ends. A newly ascended plutocracy of soulless materialism appears to have usurped the traditional aristocracy of spiritual values.

Perhaps this was an inevitable development. The artist-shaman is acutely individualistic and on the human level is more prone to ruinous competitiveness than any athlete or warrior. Could it be that the golden age when art and philosophy reigned triumphant abruptly ended when artists and philosophers became too isolated in their ivory towers and lost direct contact with the grassroots? Is that why there has been a pronounced swing towards community arts as a new context in which the artist can once again feel connected with his or her tribe? Contributing positively towards greater cohesion and healing is possibly the most creative option available to the artist-shaman at this point in evolution.

As human consciousness becomes more engrossed with density, darkness and discontent, the urge to destroy grows more compelling than the urge to create.

Hindu mythology offers us a helpful metaphor by postulating the archetypal trinity of Creator-Destroyer-Preserver – Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. The dynamic principle of 3 defines many processes, even in the atomic world of nuclei, electrons and protons.

The eternal quest for truth is ultimately three-pronged: Science represents the left brain, Art the right brain, and Spirituality the heart. Only a creative convergence of all three prongs can lead us to self-mastery and wisdom. In the biological world the trinity of Mother, Father and Child underlies all life cycles. What the Mother creates, the Father destroys, and the Child preserves – even as we emerge from the past into the present, and project ourselves into the future.

The conclusion we may draw from this is that our greatest hope now resides in the upcoming generation: whether it has the ability and agility to avoid growing up like the corrupt and morally bankrupt Father and propel itself an octave higher in aesthetical and ethical awareness, attaining the mystical baraka or Heaven’s Grace - and regaining thereby the artistic key to a new paradigm of paradise on earth.

Antares © March 2001
“Art is a means of connecting two worlds, the visible and the invisible, the physical and the spiritual. The area of our consciousness where culture has its roots lies in the uncontrolled mind of every individual: in the moment when it is given space to make a creative leap. Artists, scientists and spiritual masters alike have great respect for that particular faculty of our human potential. It is in the realization of each individual’s intuitive creativity that everybody would agree with the statement, everyone is an artist." ~ Louwrien Wijers

“art as awakened warriorship... art as a dynamic agent of planetary transformation... art as a foundation for global peace...” ~ José Argüelles

“Culture is shared meaning in which everybody participates.” ~ David Böhm

“Our true capital is our creativity.”
 ~ Joseph Beuys

"It's far too late for anything but magick, as the future is clearly up for grabs."
 ~ Antero Alli

[First posted 4 October 2008]