241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things


The cards brush against the heavy carpet as old hands roughly arrange them into rows of three. I am amazed how fast the reader moves, and how consumed the questioner is. It is apparent that the cards are holding authority over the both of them.

These opening titles for Cleo de 5 a 7 gave me a clear destination in Paris; a grungy esoteric shop in the 7th Arrondissement. I have heard that one should not buy one’s own deck. I figured, because I set out with different intentions than divination that I was safe. I was after the imagery, and I know now how complex tarot is to use. Every card has its own meaning, which can be altered by what is dealt nearby, and its orientation. Every reader has different methods, and every reading is subject to subtle changes in ritual.

Tarot was once just a game. It took only one century to become a method of clairvoyance after its arrival in southern Europe. By the 19th century reading Tarot was very vogue, a Victorian titillation akin to Ouija boards and séance. Now the poor cards have been smothered by the crushed purple velvet of modern occult clichés.

The deck of cards I came away with was a plastic coated reproduction named Tarot Egyptien. Egyptian because of a slightly misleading development; it is said that Tarot is derived from ancient Egyptian knowledge and mythology. This has never actually been confirmed and is a little unusual considering a recurring motif in Egyptian mythology is that the knowledge of gods is not human domain.

The eclecticism in a shop devoted to mysticism is both baffling and wonderful to me. Most of the objects you’ll find there are tools; to understand, to teach, to reach, to overcome, to pacify. They are arranged from all kinds of backgrounds. A fossil, a mandala and a rosary lay next to each other, closing oceans and centuries of spiritual development.

Things like tarot are so highly romanticized it is no wonder they are met with so much skepticism. As an artist, tarot is a kind of tool that speaks to me directly. With tarot, an object stands between two people. Through the object issues can be filtered and analyzed. The biases of each person involved in the conversation are present but because the object has the power, they are not leading the discussion.

To place this kind of energy into a physical entity enables the mind to reflect on it from a different perspective. You are actually looking at your question, instead of asking it.

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The Experts (fragment), 2014

A series of fragments from the multichannel video installation 'The Experts' that is part of the Damagomi Project by Floris Schönfeld. The work consists of a number of interviews with a group of experts on the subject of the possibility of a post-anthropocentric relationship with the natural world. The experts are; Pit River shaman Floyd Buckskin, audio ecologist Bernie Krause, biologist Rupert Sheldrake, anthropologist Ida Nicolaisen, philosopher Jacob Needleman, wizard and paganist Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and sociologist Fred Turner.

In March 2014 I met Rupert Sheldrake at his home in Hampstead, London. I had been trying to meet him for about a year and had written him a number of long and increasingly pressing emails. He finally granted me a 20 minute interview, more to get rid of me than anything else I was presuming. That morning, in his pleasantly eclectic study, he summarised his basic position on the role of science, consciousness, religion in relation to his own personal belief system. The overarching view which permeates his work is a particular variation of the idea of panpsychism. This is by no means a new idea, but it seems to have once more gained relevance as the once ‘simple’ problem of consciousness has proved deceptively difficult to explain within mechanistic science. In his book A New Science of Life (1981) Rupert Sheldrake proposes the theory of morphic resonance in which he explores the idea of a universal, extra-human sentience that is present in all living things. His theory states that "memory is inherent in nature" and that "natural systems, such as termite colonies, or pigeons, or orchid plants, or insulin molecules, or galaxies, inherit a collective memory from all previous things of their kind.”

My interview with Sheldrake was a part of a work called The Experts for which I interviewed a number of contemporary researchers and thinkers about the possibility of a non-anthropocentric relationship with the natural world. The video above includes a number of fragments from these interviews including the one with Rupert Sheldrake. The other ‘experts’ interviewed for the project were the Pit River shaman Floyd Buckskin, audio ecologist Bernie Krause, anthropologist Ida Nicolaisen, philosopher Jacob Needleman, wizard and paganist Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and sociologist Fred Turner some of whom also feature in the video fragment. The interviews were part of my project, The Damagomi Project, an ongoing archive that documents the history of the Damagomi Group; a group of spiritualists and academics that was active in Northern California in the 20th century. Through the project I am trying to create a new path which can be followed to address the idea of panpsychism. In this sense the archive represents a series of thought-experiments in physical form that try to approach the seemingly impossible task of stepping out of our own human perspective. More about the project here.

Floyd Buckskin is the last remaining shaman of the Pit River tribe of north-eastern California. I interviewed him in his bedroom that doubled as his music studio on the Pit River reservation to the east of Mount Shasta, California. In the interview he told me the word damagomi comes from the Achumawi language, a language still spoken by a small population of Pit River tribe. It translates roughly as ‘spirit guide which provides a channel of communication with the natural world’. The damagomi usually takes on the form of a particular animal and this animal will accompany an individual as long as their bond is honoured. When I asked him why the Pit River people searched for their damagomi Buckskin answered ‘We are trapped between spirit and animal. We aren’t one or the other, but both and because of this we need help.’

Towards the end of my interview with Rupert Sheldrake he mentions the idea that scientists (and I would add artists) are our modern answer to shamans; ‘members of the human community who are dealing with the natural world.’ In this sense they are instrumental in trying to bridge the gap between spirit and animal that shaman Floyd Buckskin describes. However the very language with which we have tried to describe nature with has come to define our view of it to such an extent that we are unable to see it at its most vital. When we look at the natural world through the lens of our scientific tradition we can only do so by breaking it into ever smaller pieces. The whole, as in the whole organism or being or galaxy, is often only considered through the sum of its parts. This is the metaphor of the machine which is essentially static and dead. In The Science Delusion, Sheldrake attacks this simplistic perception of the universe:

‘Science at its best is an open-minded method of inquiry, not a belief system; it has been successful because it has been open to new discoveries. By contrast, many people have made science into a kind of religion. They believe that there is no reality but material or physical reality. Consciousness is a byproduct of the physical activity of the brain. Matter is unconscious. Nature is mechanical. Evolution is purposeless. God exists only as an idea in human minds, and hence in human heads.’

According to mythologist Joseph Campbell the shaman should have the dualistic approach of understanding the world around her/him through mechanistic and empirical as well as the spiritual and holistic methods. I think the contemporary artist is perhaps somewhat better positioned to consider systems from the perspective of the living whole than the contemporary scientist. This is mainly due to the holistic nature of the creative process. The creative process requires a dialogue or push back from an other, alien influence. This can be through a concept, material or human collaborator(s). Without this push back the process remains static and you are not able to create anything new. In this sense the process must be ‘alive’ for anything of interest to happen. It must ride the line between defining the context of the artist and being defined by it.

I can imagine a kind of damagomi facilitating this exchange, providing the bandwidth that allows us to access the anima mundi. What are the repercussions of following this line of questioning and assuming an existing anima mundi contains our entire consciousness along with that of all living things? Or to follow Sheldrake’s way of putting it; is the act of making art merely the fusing of the morphic resonance of various beings and materials within the temporary morphogenetic field that is an art practice?

I think it might be time for a damagomi finding quest.


A lecture at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague on good and evil closed with a ritual performed by Winti priestess Nana (Marian Markelo). A few weeks later, I went to meet her to find out more about Winti.

What is Winti exactly?
It's a way of life that deals with the balance between yourself, nature and the people around you, your ancestors and your spiritual mentors. You can turn to Winti for support at any given point in your life.


Is it a religion?
Not when you compare it to Western religions: there is no leader, there are no writings, and it’s not institutionalised. If you consider religion to be about connecting, you could call Winti a religion. The word religion has many meanings.

Where do you find Winti?
Winti originated in Suriname, and it’s comparable to Santeria in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil.It deals with nature, living people and the people on the other side of life (in Winti they are with us). Nature is the main focus, it's about everything that is a part of nature but also about the people that no longer posses their physical bodies.

The western world is completely reliant on rationality, on facts measurable through clear cause and effect. Scientists have led us to believe that things exist only when they can be measured. Because of this way of thinking, we have lost sight of so much. People have grown estranged from nature and from who they truly are. They focus on everything around them, but not on themselves and nature.

Winti is a model for harmony, it ends contradictions: people who are here have to communicate with people on the other side.

What does nature mean in Winti?
The Winti see humans as advanced beings of nature and if we start with ourselves we'll be able to set the right examples for others. When I perform my rituals I make sure the waste material is dealt with properly, in the garbage or in the forest. It starts with the little things: like not dumping your rubbish just anywhere, not spitting on the earth, keeping yourself and your property clean. Otherwise the gods will be reluctant to approach you, they wouldn't visit a dirty place.

People are too involved with the superficial, think that nature is theirs, and that they posses the material world.



How did Winti come to originate in Suriname?
Winti is truly Surinamese. It finds its origin in the time of slavery. In Suriname different groups of people were mixed and Suriname succeeded in creating a whole out of all those African elements: Winti. Until 1979 the practice was prohibited by the Dutch, which meant that many elements of Winti were lost.


What made you get involved with winti?
I wasn't raised with Winti, my mother was a member of the church and my grandfather was even a preacher during the time of slavery. Winti has always been with me: when I was thirteen years old I had to clean the chicken shed, I sat down there quietly. I heard a voice inside me say: 'you already know everything you need to know, you're still a little girl, but we're going to make sure you'll know everything. The supernatural is inside you.'


I went inside and told my mother: 'I won't be going to church anymore.' My mother and father supported their children to do what they wanted to do and to focus on the things they were good at. They accepted our individuality.

One day, my mother sent me to the market to buy fish. I wore nice American clothes that I had picked myself. Yes, I like to show off a little. A man paid me a compliment, 'O little girl, you look so beautiful.' 'It's none of your business,' I answered. I didn't accept his compliment. He kept on repeating his words. It bothered me. I had a nice bike with a little bag on the front, I collected stones thinking if the man would bother me again I'd throw those stones at him.


But right when I wanted to throw a stone at him, the man suddenly stood at the other side of the river. This was not good! I biked home as fast as I could and when I arrived my mother told me I was rude and impolite: you shouldn't throw stones at old men, you should say thank you when someone gives you a compliment.

Later in life, I decided to move to the interior of Suriname to work as a nurse. Three days before I let I was asleep and had the following experience - it was not a dream, but an observation. In my sleep a man approached me, he was made out of bronze, he looked beautiful. He told me: you're going to Stoeli [an island deep within Suriname] and I will introduce you to all the people you need to meet.

People were waiting for us all around the shore and the man would say: this is the one, this is her! In a big wide-open field men and women were circled around an iron pot, cooking. The man said: I'm going to put my hand inside and you should do the same. I put my hand inside the pot. That man took hold of me, I looked at him, at his smile, and saw he was the man from the forest.


That dream put me in a trance and I screamed so loud that the neighbour came and forced the door. She recognised that what was going on was Winti. When I came to, she had arranged all kinds of things around me: pimba (white clay), gin, a squash. She told me: ‘Girl, you need to do something, you have Winti, you have to tell your mother.’


Who is this man?
This Winti is a god of war, he very manly. It means that I'm not afraid of anything. As a kid these qualities made me rude and strong-minded. You see, you can’t ever really choose your way, it was always in me and in my destiny. You receive skills and insights to be able to do what you are supposed to do, to reach your destination and on the way, the Wintis will find you. That's how you reach faith, or your destination, with help of the Wintis, the Jorkas, and the spirits of your ancestors.

My guide is a Kromanti Winti and I love him—he’s a beautiful sculptured bronze man, and he’s strong. Although I am a woman, his power gives me a masculine strength.

But a god of war sounds frightening to me, does he contribute to the good in the world?


This Winti is a Kromanti, a god of war, a thunder god with knowledge of herbs and rituals. Although this might sound negative, one must keep in mind that during slavery the power of the Kromanti was necessary—they were fearless and heroic spirits. Where battle is necessary they come, they take action and they clear up the mess.

When I'm in need, he will take over. In Amsterdam, I was attacked by two men and the Winti took over. I call him god of war because of those qualities. It's a force that was given to me by my enslaved grandparents.



And through the Kromanti you became a Winti priestess, how did that happen?

We performed rituals in the outback of Suriname to properly initiate me and give me tools. I know what to do with them. As an initiation you marry your Winti, I receive energy from within, also to help others.

How do you see, from the perspective of Winti, the role of the artist?

In the west, spirituality is on the sidelines. The emphasis on the material has not only brought prosperity, but also an imbalance between it and the immaterial, which is vital to society. Where we stand today, the artists’ role is to revive the immaterial and spiritual to bring society back to balance

Tourist in Holy Mud, Chimayo, New Mexico,
Tourist in Holy Mud, Chimayo, New Mexico,

Mud flourishes where cold and warm meet. Travelling through the American Southwest state of New Mexico – in a time where adobe only referred to a local building technique involving sun dried clay – we arrived at El Santuario de Chimayo, a mud sanctuary. In a Spanish colonial church, Indians erected an altar behind a small, inscrutable hole: just lke Anish Kapoor’s hole at the Museum de Pont . But there’s one difference, the hole in Chimayo contained Holy Mud, as healing as the water of Lourdes. How this came to be? In 1810, a New Mexican friar discovered glowing earth on a hill.

He began to dig and found a crucifix that he brought the next village, Santa Cruz. But it disappeared from there three times, only to be found in the same old mud hole. The message was clear. The crucifix was to stay there. And thus, the chapel rose around it. It turned out that the mud was holy (not to be confused with Holy Mud, a Dutch chocolate mousse dessert) and healing. Crutches left abandoned at the wall of the church testify to the healing power of the sludge. On a miracle website I find a story of a girl who was cured of fifteen tumours in her leg after applying Holy Mud mixed with her own saliva. She’s now plays cello in a Philharmonic orchestra.

Elegguan, the mediator made from mud, vodou Santeria, Cuba.

Mud seems to be the catalyst of transformation. In Vodou rituals, packets of clay and earth are made to influence events (like putting your nemesis on the wrong track, for example.) Eleggua is an egg-shaped pointed head formed from clay, with shells for eyes. The evil Humpty Dumpty is part of the Carribbean pantheon of Santeria and acts as the guard at (muddy) crossovers and mediates between the upper- and underworld.

The Golem as a character in the first German expressionist 1920 film adaptation, by Carl Boese and Wegener Pauil.

Likewise, in other ancient tales of animism, an inferior being rises from the mud. A figure in the Jewish Kaballa is the Golem: a soulless, formless mass. During the 16th century, Rabbi Juda Löw ben Betsabel of Prague documented a number of Golem stories. Extremely holy persons in close proximity to God were given the wisdom and power to create life. But what they were able to create from mud remained a shadow of His Creation. After all, Golem, the mud figure, couldn’t speak. In later literary versions, the rabbi Rabbi Juda Löw is credited as having shaped Golem himself from the muddy banks of the Moldau. The creature would help the poor, similar to the robot that Karel Capek, also Czech, would later invent. Of course, his tale ended badly. This is where the Jewish idiom “olem golem” derives from: man is the golem, man is a machine. Or, in other words, the world is an evil place. In the latest postmodern, post-historical, post-religious incarnation, Golem is a malevolent turtle-like character in the Japanese game of Pokémon.

Sadhu´s, holy yogi´s covered with mud.
Waiting room in Brazilien Hospital.
Ex Votoos, collection MRK Uden
Waiting room in Brazilien Hospital.

They look like relics from a superstition of a bygone past: arms, legs, hands and feet of wax raised high, hanging from the ceiling of a waiting room at a Brazilian hospital.In fact, they’re a good sign. They represent the tangible evidence of recovery since its only when a patient is successfully healed that his gratitude and respect is expressed by leaving the due saint an ex-voto (Latin for: from the vow made.) Doctor heal their patients by the grace of a saint or by that of the holy Maria: a relationship that no longer seems plausible to us, but is still very normal in Latin America and Southern Europe.

The ex-voto culture is as old as it is diverse. Calling on saints and gods for health and fertility is an ancient tradition. Like the pits found in the vicinity of Etruscan temples filled with votive offerings—feet, hands, breasts and eyes. This tradition is still upheld in Catholic countries, although the material and forms of the ex-votos have become more varied. The more simple ex-votos are made of silver plated copper, the more costly ones of solid silver. Some of the most attractive ones depicts the ailments or accidents they are devoted to curing or preventing. A man falling from the roof, a rider being catapulted out of his saddle, a woman being struck by lighting. But in the cloud (heaven) Maria, or a saint, watches over and ensures that all is well.

Ex-voto painting: during an epidemic in a Bavarian village three three family members (with Red Cross in hand) were killed, one survived it. The vow after the rescue is this time focused on life here on Earth and in the afterlife.
It’s these little paintings, some of which are examples of great folk art, which have rekindled the interest in the ex-voto phenomenon. Erik van Zuylen dedicated a documentary to it: De wonderschilders (2000,) that tells the story behind these ex-votos. The most interesting reference book is still Ex Voto, Zeichen, Bild und Abbild im christlichen Votivbrauchtum, written by Lenz Kriss-Rettenbeck in 1972.
Meerveldhoven bij Eindhoven, photo: J. Bijnen
Calvinism in the Netherlands, with its aversion to superstition and folklore, had its effects on the ex-voto culture within its borders. In our country, the ex-voto is of modest size, of (plated) silver or wax, and is connected to Maria or a cult of saints. It’s often the cult and not the votive that draws the attention, as is visible at the Meerveldhoven in Eindehoven, where ex-votos are tied to the branches of the Maria oak tree inside the church.