Memoirs of a Suburban Shaman

December 24, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

what follows is an intermediary section of a larger project that links josef beuys to hipster-lost-boys shamanism that i’ve been thinking about

(*the craig smith character is very very loosely based on Maitreya Kali, whose album you can see below)


A sliver of Beuys’ spirit remained at large, having escaped the clutch of the shaman’s drum. That sliver has remained, observing without eyes or memory. A hungry ghost.
Truth be told it was that sliver Beuys’ wished to reclaim when he brought the coyote to  the Motel 6 in 1963–twelve years before he would try again in public.

In April of 1963, Beuys brought with him a jar of reindeer piss, purchased on the Mongolian Steepe. The piss was collected from a reindeer, gone mad. Prior to pissing it had eaten a handful of mushrooms that grew wild. According to custom shamans drank the urine in to induce transcendental states. Occasionally, they sold it to foreigners.
Beuys gave the urine to the coyote. He ingested some himself.
He visited the coyote seven days a week for eight hours each day. Upon the shaman’s instruction, Beuys called to the part of himself that had been missing since the war. The part he lost when he crashed the plane–a piece of innocence he thought he could reclaim.
Through a series of incantantions, Bueys trapped the sliver of his spirit inside of the coyote. He found himself looking at himself, long lost.

Against expectation, the coyote retained the spirit. Refusing to bite Beuys and give his spirit a passage back to its source. Instead it became a wherecoyote. It broke free, sprung out the window, (because it was night it was a window–the light indoors reflected the indoors), the coyote escaped into the night and trotted off until it was forgotten, leaving Beuys to weep on a motel bed abandoned a second time.

(His second attempt to reclaim himself, tried again in 1974, under the auspices of art and “I heart America and America hearts me.”)

Years later the coyote bit a man and through the bite passed the spirit; the spirit did not want to die and the coyote was old and would die shortly. In this new body, the spirit lay quite still.

Like that fellow there:

Craig Smith left the city behind he left it he left it differently. He left the city because he tired of squares; he saw squares around him everywhere. He left the city by living in the city. He changed his name, that his mother would not recognize him. He forgot his name, that he could not be tricked.
He went to a man at the University, a man in a tweed coat. The man looked like a square but was not. The man in the tweed coat taught religion. He grew mushrooms in tupperwear boxes. The professor.

The professor sat his visitor on the chair in his office and they made a deal and they shook hands and the professor said he knew of other countries, countries no one had ever seen before, islands of gypsum dust and silence and possibility.
“It’s curious,” said the professor, “that such continents would have gone so long without ever having been discovered.”
“You’ll show me?” asked our friend.
The professor nodded. “You needn’t go far.”

Our friend: he wore dirty jeans. He had long hair. He had silver and turquoise jewelry on the fingers of his hands. He grew up with cowboys and Indians formed from plastic, he practiced their wildness, switching sides depending on the mood and who’s team he might prefer. He rode a yellow bus to school. He liked girls. He lived in fear of Russians and at school they had the children climb under desks during nuclear attack drills. He grew up in Pittsburgh when the city still hummed with steel, the river beds choked with barges carrying astronomically heavy loads; these he often studied growing up, marveling at their capacity to float. Craig moved to California when the city died.

As an adult, he had never before seen an image of earth from outerspace. He also wore cowboy boots and juju beads. He went to war protests wearing a poncho with a variety of buttons pinned to it.

Craig Smith went to the professor’s house. Because it was chilly out, he wore the poncho. They met by the professor’s garage door and the young man entered the professor’s house through the garage door and shook the professor’s hand; the professor wasn’t wearing a tweed coat anymore.

The professor wore moccassins and a corn meal sac for a shirt. He had war paint under his eyes. He did not say anything at all. He would not say anything. Only pressed the small of the young man’s back, bearing him through the darkness of a foreign room—labarynthian because it was unknown.

The young man lay down on a bed of blankets. He lay down as the professor sat down, and the professor crossed his legs. The professor sat in front of an altar—three cardboard boxes disguised by a tablecloth—five tea candles cast light on the alter. A large mirror behind the alter compounded the light by way of refraction. The room was otherwise dark.

The professor picked up a ball of sage. He lit the ball of sage with the candles and he poured the smoke on himself and blew the smoke over the young man’s body and sang an unecognizable song and then the professor picked a conch shell from the alter and blew sage smoke into the conch shell and sang a song again, a different song.

The professor put down the sage. He put it in an ashtray on the altar, then reached into the conch shell and pulled out the mushrooms and he placed the mushrooms in the young man’s mouth, “Chew these with your front teeth,” the professor said. “This is not food. Use your front teeth.”

The young man chewed. The taste was bitter and dry and he wished he had a bit of honey though he did not gag. When he finished chewing the professor put a mask over his eyes such that the young man could not tell whether his eyes were open or shut.
And then young man waited.

It began with a peculiar zinging sensation.
“Ahhh,” said the professor. “Las ninos. The little chimney sweeps.” It would be the last thing the young man remembered hearing for one hundred years: the duration through which the young man lay.

The zinging sensations persisted. Like electricity shot through the young man’s limbs, from the tips of his fingers the feeling travelled down along his spine, zinging, spitting electrons, little gasps of consciousness, sprung loose and shaking up his body, down to the base of his toes. Uncomfortable, disquieting. The young man was afraid.
Yet.

Too late too soon. He could not change his mind, could not go back to that faraway suburban drive outside the professor’s garage. The young man could only wait for this journey to pass through him and in the waiting he began to forget himself.
Sounds around him spun. He was in a boat on his back, a canoe in the jungle; he heard the crack of a parrot or a frog, he could not tell which; traveling down a river, passive, gazing up at foliage (imagined) when suddenly the vision would break entirely he would find himself self-concsious, bumping into a dream he’d had the night before but forgotten he wonders is it possible that he really had this dream, and yet surely for it has a substance; it occurs to him that there must exist a real space in his brain, physical compartments, rooms as in a house, where certain things are kept, like the dreams that one thinks they’ve forgotten where instead the dreams remain behind a closed door in one’s head. He knocks on the wall between himself and last night’s dream, playful, but this too is lost. He sees his brain like a doll’s house, a set with one side peeled back, his larger consciousness looking in, watching himself rap on the side of one wall at what he’d dreamt on the other side.

He experiences himself thinking in the present, a present self drawn from the sensation of a cumulative past—one in which the ‘I’ is persistent, continuous; similarly his present self exists with an imagined self projected into and through the future.
He is torn up again. He cannot follow a single thought. His body twitches with the uncomfortable spurs of electric goading that ride his body. He feels like he is falling down a tube. His body twitches involuntarily. Something goosing his insides.
Suddenly consumed with the sensations of his body he coughs, phlegm and spittle. He spits. He hears himself and the sound is ugly. He turns. He tosses. He sweats. He gasps. A monster choking inside of himself. It’s hard to breathe. I am dying, he thinks. This must mean that I am dying. The difference between breath and breathe, desert and dessert. He sees himself suddenly in a desert, walking beneath the sun, skin scorched, spluttering and mad with dehydration, pain.

He feels the professor next to him. He feels a hand on his forehead. The hand is cool and dry. He feels his skin draining the coolness. He splutters again. The professor’s hand pulls away and the young man cries out. He feels hands again, pulling down the covers, opening the buttons on his shirt; the young man helpless feels his bare chest exposed suddenly, he falls limp, cold, dead, certainly dead This is what it is at last at last at last.

Hands on his chest suddenly, over his heart he smells something—
“Craig,” the professor says gently. “Craig, I am about to put a balm on your chest. A powder. Chili and garlic and tobacco. I am opening your chest. Let the medecine ride through you.” The professor takes a bit of the powder, he rubs it in his hands, he rubs his hands very quickly together, he sounds not like the professor, but like a shaman, a psychic massoos and the young man’s heart has gone limp, “This is good,” the professor says, “as it should be. The death of the ego everyone must die.” The professor puts his hands on the young man’s heart and—

Craig Smith feels heat, at first soft and then stronger and stronger and more and more fierce, the young man gasps again he moans, yells, certainly alive certainly, the energy of the professor’s hands on his heart, the young man sees/feels his chest open, he feels his whole heart open up, spread wide, in two—almost painful—Craig gasps, wheezes, practically ecstatic—he feels the universe pouring into his chest, he feels himself connected. He would later describe it as something sexual. But it wasn’t quite like that at all.

And thereafter, the young man began to dream,

easily:

He rode a ship and on the ship he sat with his father on the rocking ship and his father gave him a small toy horse, a black one, and told the story of Bucephalus, and his father made him happy on the rocking ship where he happened to place cubes of sugar at the round window of a mouth

(visions are truncated–perplexed–repetitive–incomplete–out of order–happening at once)
When the ship struck an iceberg and the ship began to sink and the man felt himself a boy, for upon the death and drowning of his father he felt himself a boy, as one left alone, save for the horse—

—who drug dragged drug him to an island upon which he awoke with a spider on his face, a spider he could not see. He could not remember his name. The sand on the island was white. It was not gypsum it was still sand.

The boy lay on the beach on his back looking at the sky, every so often he tasted the sea for its tide pulled up and over and then off him like a perpetually moving blanket. He was not cold. Everything was very quiet.

He had surely died.
He never expected heaven to be like this: a lonely tropical island.
He stood up, unsteady. He wobbled. Like a colt learning to walk again.
He saw the black horse. It stomped its feet.
It stomped at the snake that tried to eat the sleeping boy.

Save for the horse, the boy was more or less alone on the island. Save for the rocks and the grass. And the boy learned to rub grass together very quickly. He learned to make fire from nothing. He fished using a stick and the pocket knife his father had left him. He explored the island. He found caves and crags. The boy went inside the caves, searching through the dark, using a torch he’d fashioned from hair stolen from the horse—collected from rocks and trees upon which the horse had rubbed himself. The boy took his torch into the darkest cave on the island and he climbed into the cave and he traveled for days through the darkness; there he found a room and under the dim light of his torch he saw ancient paintings. Paintings of horses, crude and elemental in the light.

He understood, somehow, Craig the young man understood these drawings. Completed by other young boys like himself. They were drawn along the pitch of a heros journey—the boy could see himself in the paintnigs left behind. They were never meant to be seen. The boy put his hand on one of the figures in the painting: a horse left in blood beside a handprint the size of his own. The boy closed his eyes with his hands on the horse and he saw into the past.

The boy who left the drawing there came here on a journey. He ate mushrooms grown in a tupperwear box and his teacher left him at the mouth of the cave and the boy traveled into the interior space of the cave and found his way, through a cloak of visions, to this very spot where the boy, apriori, drew the horse, before returning again to his teacher, a man.

Craig could remember, almost, if memory is like a sensory feeling of nearly grasping something palpable—Craig could almost remember hearing something about this on late tv. Was it? That cave paintings were created on shamanic visions, drawn in inaccessible places. Treacherous to achieve, possible only when one pierced reality with the second sight of lucid and psychadelic dreams.

He felt suddenly the intruder, suddenly not the boy at all, but another man in the same cave in the darkness, scaring the boy, stealing somethng from the boy, the boy looked at Craig with contempt the boy looked through Craig Smith and then Craig Smith lost his name and then he felt a sliver of an old man steal into his heart, caught in the cross fire of a prism,  the man formerly known as Craig Smith swallowed Josef Beuys.

and woke up on a beach again.

and woke up on a ship again.

and saw the men grappling the black horse again. He felt nauseous. He vomited. He had an erection. He saw only darkness.

He saw, suddenly, a woman riding a horse off a diving board. She drove the horse through the air and into a very small glass of water. He turned away before they landed, but he heard the splash.

He looked at the sky which was smaller than the widness of the sky and he looked at the sky full of stars and realized that some stars could only be seen with his peripheral vision. He was confounded by the periphery of his vision.

He woke up, his hands wobbly to look at. He woke up and looked into the professor’s wobbly face.

“How are you?” asked the professor.

“I don’t know myself.”

“Here. Eat this fruit. And drink this water. And rest awhile.”

Following months: In order to better understand himself he had a spider tatooed on his face. He changed his name. He called himself Maitreya Kali. He was a new man a new man a new man a new man.

A man with a sliver of Beuys inside him, staring out his eyes.

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