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Sovereignty

In his “Society against the State” French anthropologist Pierre Clastres describes how people in primitive societies force the chief to be their servant, never allowing him to turn his position into a source of power with which to dominate them. For that reason, the chief was not supposed to accumulate wealth and was obliged to constantly give his possessions to those of his fellow men who asked for them. His word was never allowed to command, only to give peaceful advice in moments of internal strive and to remind the group each day about the origins of their society and the moral guidelines left by their forebears. The word of the chief, according to Clastres, was ‘innocent’, without force, and if he would but try to lay down rules or command his people, these would turn away from him and look for a better-suited leader. There was one catch to make the man accept this otherwise unenviable function: he, alone among all his fellow men, was allowed many wives. The availability of unlimited sexual gratification in exchange for continuous frustration and stress in the service of his people, allowed primitive society to have a chief on an equal footing with the other members of his group.
Because of this primitive equality there were no classes in these societies and people worked exclusively to fulfill their basic needs for food and shelter. Nobody was forced to work for anybody else, which allowed for a lot of leisure time. It is estimated that in these primitive societies the average amount of time spent on working was from 3 to 4 hours daily.

 
As for the rest of the time, they reserved it for occupations experienced not as pain but as pleasure: hunting and fishing; entertainments and drinking sessions; and finally, for satisfying their passionate liking for warfare. (Clastfres. Society against the State, p 86
 

These people got themselves what they needed and loathed working more for goods they didn’t need. Admirable, says Clastres, who goes out of his way to impress on us the superior art of living of our primitive forebears. And then he posits the question that must answer that what for him was a mystery. What is it, he asks, that made our forebears give up this most “civic” way of living leisurely? What made them do that, violence from the outside? But then the answer begged the question how these violent outsiders had come to relinquish their own individual sovereignty.
For Clastres the answer must be hidden somewhere in the prehistoric development of the tribe, a moment when someone made his word respected and obeyed.
He is frank in admitting that he doesn’t know but finishes his essay by looking with us at a prophetic movement in search of the Land without Evil. Masses of Guarani Indians left everything behind to follow the prophets who had received divine messages commanding them to move east, to that promised land. These prophets seemed to be able to do what no chief ever had achieved: command.

 
Prophetic speech, the power of that speech: might this be the place where power tout court originated, the beginning of the State in the Word? Prophets who were soul-winners before they were the masters of men? (Cl 96)
 

But were these prophets soul-winners? The people that followed them might have been lost souls, but the prophets - maybe under the pretext of wanting to save their souls - were out to capture their minds. That’s the goal of each prophet, to make his fellowmen believe that He has the ear of The God and a special message to boot. Prophets are ego trippers, even if their ego is imbued with cosmic consciousness, the message they convey is formed by his or her unique personality. In the end, we cannot escape the conclusion that the Guaranis following their prophets, were already receptive to accept someone else’s word as a command for them to follow. A fundamental change had already taken place. They had accepted that there was somebody with better connections and more understanding. “Their sovereign will”, as Clastres calls it, which had been used to defend their leisurely stateless society, that will had already been lost, which is another way of saying that they had already lost the will to defend their personal sovereignty.

Now if ever you have experienced the feeling of sovereignty, then you will never be of a mind to want to become somebody else’s subject, mentally speaking that is. Therefore, the people that didn’t defend their own sovereignty, they never must have known that sovereignty, they never had gone beyond their minds to meet their gods, as equals. Which is to say that the members of those societies that did exhibit a sovereign will strong enough to withstand the formation of a State within its midst, were meeting with their gods. Probably not all of them, but all those who felt the desire to do so would have been able to escape the grip of the mind, to extricate themselves from feelings of inferiority and the ideas rationalizing them. That is because at the moment of transcending the mind, one enters a different plane of existence. Not a supernatural plane, one that only exists in the mouths of those who want to confuse and in the minds of their victims. But there is a supramental plane, the realm where nature trumps culture and civilization, where the heart expresses the genetic knowledge accumulated since the first micro-organisms appeared on Earth. It is the space where the ego comes to rest in an ocean of tranquility, and repressed feelings manifest in images and sounds unknown to the mind. It is in this environment of cosmic belonging that hidden feelings of natural esteem are projected in the form of the most-high: the personal god. This is what the peyote consuming Wixarika tell us, that they make their gods as they travel to the mountain where they will meet them. And in the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, where royal ideology had monopolized relations with the divine world in the king’s favor, it was said that “the king is the mirror of a god”. (ANET, p 594)

What does all this mean? How does an immersion in the realm of the divine, the realm beyond the control of the mind, impart sovereignty?
For whom has had the experience it is a matter of intuitive knowledge received in a moment of cosmic belonging, but absent the experience it seems a psychological tour de force.
Imagine that you have left your ego behind. The ideas of duty, obeisance, reverence, grandeur and inferiority have disappeared. You are not even aware of your self and suddenly you find yourself in the presence of a god, maybe a revered forebear or the god that you have been brought up with. You look at him, chat with him and become friends with him before leaving his presence to return to the ordinary state of your conscious self. Once you’re securely back there, your mind is racing to make sense of the extraordinary event experienced and the feelings it provoked. You realize that you were in divine presence, that you were an equal of the most-high. Even if you don’t believe in gods and know very well that you are just another insignificant member of the human species, you know now that at the same time you are part of it all, second to nobody, equal of the gods: you feel like a god.
Thus, even though you are an ordinary commoner, the ecstatic experience has put you, psychologically, on the same footing as the king. He too was said to go to heaven and there get his royal investiture. His enthronement was but the ritual enactment of his heavenly ascent and his subsequent descent, blessed with divine wisdom for his royal task. This is known as royal ideology, a way of portraying relations between the ruler and the ruled, and between men and gods, relations we must look at if we are to comprehend the loss of individual sovereignty.

The Baal Cycle from Ugarit describes this process as having been initiated by the gods:

 
Then Athtar the Brilliant went up into the uttermost parts of Saphon¹:
he sat on the throne of Valiant Baal.
But his feet did not reach the footstool;
his head did not come up to its top. ²
Then Athtar the Brilliant said:
“I shall not rule in the uttermost parts of Saphon!"
Athtar the Brilliant came down,
he came down from the throne of Valiant Baal,
and ruled in the earth,
god of it all.
 

When Baal had been dispatched by evil Mot to the underworld, the gods, looking for a new king of the divine realm, had asked Athtar to occupy Baal’s throne. But when Athtar had shown himself to be too small for the throne, he had thought it wise to leave heaven to somebody else and reign the earth instead, from the city-state of Ugarit. If we understand it correctly, Ugarit mythology tells us that Athtar had been the ur-king of the city who had instituted the ritual of the ascent to heaven for a meeting with the gods, receiving from them the wisdom to govern wisely.

¹ Mount Saphon, Ugaritic name for Mount Hermon or its summit, dwelling of supreme god El.
² In Baal’s absence Athtar is shown to be too small for the throne of the king of the gods and takes up a minor position on Earth. The king of Ugarit, Niqmaddu III or IV, a vasal of the Hittite king Tudhaliya IV, likewise is enthroned on a lower echelon of royalty. The present narrative is thus an extended wedding song. (Wyatt, Rel role, p 50)

Ugaritic scholar Nick Wyatt considers that “this was surely the paradigm for the human institution [of kingship], its mythic prototype. By mounting the throne, the king, like Athtar, entered heaven and was transformed by virtue of the ritual”. (Wyatt, Ugarit at 75, p.55)
In this story, written at the occasion of the Ugarit king’s enthronement, sovereignty has been given to a ruler and society will have to make do with the symbolic ritual investing the king with the sovereignty in representation of all his people. Wyatt explains: “This ritual process was in one, psychological, respect the whole purpose of the liturgy, because the identification of men with the gods, even if only through their representative, the king, was an escape from the alienation that marks the human condition.” (Nr.?
With Wyatt we certainly want to believe that the king hoped that his personal relation with his gods would help his people identify with these gods, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the king, by usurping the relation with the gods, did bring on his subjects' alienation in the first place. That relation was now just a symbolic ritual, re-enacted for the legitimation of the king and the dubious pleasure of his people. But that relation had been accessible to every member of society till it had been claimed by the king for his exclusive benefit.

 
"[The ritual] marked the king out as Pontifex, the representative figure who bridged the gap between the human and the divine and enabled society, through him, to benefit from the blessings divine power bestows. This in turn sealed the exercise of power, which maintained the power (that is, political control) of the dynasty.”
 

Wyatt paints us in a nutshell the situation that enabled a king to rule: require that the people – duly alienated from their own gods - identify with the king’s god and the blessings which that god bestowed on him, for his own and society’s benefit. The sovereignty experienced in meeting with your own god, an integral part of the life of every individual in primitive society, had been delegated to the king, leaving a symbolic, mentalized version of the royal sovereignty for his subjects to appreciate.

Here it is good to emphasize the fact that the identification of the people with the king’s sovereign experience in meeting with his god is a mental one, so very much different from the physical one experienced in a meeting with one’s personal god, the one that engraves one’s own sovereignty on one’s mind and anchors one’s ego - the personal self - in the Cosmic Self.
Clastres’ question about the process that led to society’s relinquishing its sovereign will results in a first ascertainment that the alienation of the people from their gods brings about their subsequent incapacity to experience the feeling of individual sovereignty physically. At this point we are faced with another question: how is it that the people got alienated from their gods, what mechanism triggered their acceptance of a make-believe religious experience? And here we are very fortunate to have a wealth of information. First from tribes and nations in the Americas, where the process has been documented in its different stages by anthropologists. Secondly from the literature of the ancient near-eastern civilizations, which gives us a detailed historical account of the muzzling of the spirit.

Let us first look at a nation which, more than any other nation mentioned in anthropological literature, resembles the society without a state sketched by Clastres. The Wixárika – also known by their Spanish name Huichols – are a people living high up in the Western Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico. The hard to access terrain has kept outsiders at bay, protecting their unique culture from assimilation into the national mainstream. They live from agriculture, primarily corn, but still hunt deer. According to their mythology it was a deer being hunted by their forebears that brought them to Wirikuta, the semi-desert land between two eastern mountain ranges, where the peyote cactus grows. 
Each year, all those prepared to participate, travel under the guidance of their local shaman the 500 km from their western mountain habitat to Wirikuta in the east, there where the sun first appeared over the Cerro Quemado, the Burned Mountain. Before departure the leader of the pilgrimage assigns to each participant the task of looking after a specific forebear/god, for whom gifts and food are taken along and whose company will be sought once they have arrived on the spot.
Once in the semi-desert of Wirikuta the Wixaritari collect the peyote, hikuri in Wixárika, the little cactus that will allow them to meet with their forebears, ’Our Ancestors’, the gods, on top of, the mountain. No statistical studies have been made on the percentage of people that meet with a god, there on top of that mountain. Was the god each person met the only one? Or was this ‘personal’ god in the company of a complete pantheon, waiting to start negotiations with the representatives of their offspring, maybe in the midst of a festive garden party for a proper reception?
There are lots of questions one would like to ask the pilgrims travelling to meet their gods on the mountain, lots of aspects of these meetings with their immortals we’d like to know. But most questions won’t be answered as these revelations touch on the spiritual life of the participant and are protected with utmost secrecy. What we do know though is that they talk to their gods and ask them for advice and that their forebears answer them. And we know that if the pilgrims go back home weeping it is because they are sad to leave their forebears behind, even though they are satisfied because their family reunion has provided them life and the assurance that the gods will watch out for them during the coming year and that by the end of that year they will come back and meet again. These are encounters that end quite differently from the wretched exit of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, concocted by the priests of Yahweh.

How to make sense of this? What we observe is a people that fashion the god they want to see on the way to the place where they hope to meet them. Once there, and the mind properly inebriated by the hikuri, they – maybe only some of them – meet the god or forbear they’d come to see. This is a visionary experience, fashioned by the billions of nodes in the brain that have been waiting for this moment of a stimulus from the heart. Neurologically one can almost imagine the network of the different parts of the brain that work closely together to create self-consciousness, disintegrating, enabling otherwise censored images to come to the fore. Images originating in the deepest recesses of the brain that project the immortal entities one had come to meet.  To call these experiences up and discuss with the imagined immortal the ups and downs of life and receive from them advice for the pressing problems of the moment, this is the Wixárika art of living.
Divisions disappear, and insoluble problems are shown to be mental aberrations, products of confused thinking. In the dialogue with one’s supramental – divine – alter ego, the bond between the alter ego and the ego is restored. There is peace between the heart and the brain, allowing the self-conscious mind upon its return to regain its bearings in nature, starting with one’s own body and extending to the environment, without boundaries.
And while still in the meeting - one’s mental confusion gone - one’s eyes see the world without the web that normally covers it and does keep us from seeing it in all its beauty. Now, with that mental web cleared away, the world takes on brilliance, as if illuminated from within. That’s the reason why the Wixárika don’t aspire to transform their habitat into another manmade wonderland: they venerate the world as it is and treat it deservedly as the living extension of their own physical being.

 
Artwork Gonzalo Hernández Carillo - Graphic design Manuel Piña Chairez - All rights reserved by the Centro Indígena Huichol A.C. © 2007

With their personalities embedded in a most physical experience of nature, the Wixárika are a fiercely independent people. Even if they have lost in name their sovereignty to the Mexican State, in their mountainous hideouts they live far removed from the grasp of the national bureaucracy, allowing them a communal life without chiefs, in accordance with their need for independence, commensurate with their divinely instilled sense of sovereignty. Elders and shamans advise and guide, but when in doubt about the proper course of action, the route to Wirikuta and the advice of the gods are the only avenue open for the communal acceptance of the decisions to be taken.

The H can learn from us and we from them. What can we learn from them? How to get the spirit back for the common people. The Wonderland our rulers have historically created to realize its dreams of grandeur, that Wonderland is found to be a dirty cover made of nature-defiling crimes. Everyone but the Trickster and his admirers agrees that civilization is another term for what I'd like to call naturemination, the extermination of the environment. Not any environment, but the one of the common people.
The cities that is.
Erstwhile