Animism, HeLa Cells, and Mystical Flesh, (pt. 2)

This is a series on the animist religions popularly known as Voodoo. Yesterday we discussed various West African forms and their notable tendency toward human sacrifice (and even cannibalism.) Today we are hopping the Atlantic to examine the thankfully less-homicidal, local Voodoo variants. (Tomorrow’s post is here.)

The trans-Atlantic slave trade created new religious communities by mixing up adherents from different parts of Africa and exposing them to new religions traditions–Protestantism in the US, Catholicism in Haiti and Latin America, and various Native religions.

The results are the forms of Voodoo you are probably familiar with, due to their frequent depictions in popular media, Halloween productions, and Louisiana tourist shops.

Haitian Voodoo altar located in Boston
Haitian Voodoo altar located in Boston

Voodoo makes for better fiction than reality, because in reality, Voodoo doesn’t work. (If Voodoo spells for power and money worked, Haiti would have conquered the planet and would be fabulously wealthy. Who needs nukes when you could just take out you enemies with Voodoo Dolls?) Voodoo’s popularity is based, instead, on appealing psychologically to its adherents.

Wikipedia claims that Voodoo Dolls aren’t actually for doing harm to others, “The Hoodoo doll is a form of gris-gris and an example of sympathetic magic. Contrary to popular belief, Hoodoo dolls are usually used to bless and have no power to curse,” but this is obvious bullshit. “Sympathetic magic” is the idea of influencing one thing by doing something similar to another thing. So, for example, if you have yellow fever and I want to cure you, I make a little effigy of you, paint it yellow, and then wash off the paint, hoping this will “wash off” the “yellow” from you. Sympathetic magic goes both ways; if I can cure you of yellow fever by washing the paint off the doll, I can give it to you by putting paint on the doll.

Consider, similarly, a claim that “Christian prayer is only supposed to praise god and request good luck or favors, not to invoke harm against others.” A Christian might say that, but in reality, prayers like, “Dear God, please give me victory in battle so that I may defeat the infidel,” or “Please give Johnny a cold so he won’t go to school and beat me up tomorrow,” are pretty common.

There is a general reluctance on Wikipedia to write things that reflect negatively on one’s subjects. For example, the page on West African Vodun doesn’t mention the word “sacrifice” at all, though one wonders how those fetish markets obtain their large piles of animal parts for magic rituals if animals are not killed in some way. The Wikipedia page on the DRC only references cannibalism only in the footnotes, and that’s just the title of an article from which a statistic on the size of the Pygmy population is based. The DRC human rights violations page also fails to mention cannibalism, focusing instead on their more mundane forms of horrifically common violence.

Or take this Scribol article on West African Voodoo, which admits that animal sacrifice is part of the religion, but also says, “These days, Voodoo remains flexible and capable of assimilating ideas from different traditions. At its core, however, it is monotheistic, believing in a single creator god who is assisted by spirits known as “Orishas”.” No, Voodoo is not monotheistic; having a supreme deity who rules over lesser deities is not the same thing as having only one deity. The article is accompanied by this photo:


Wow, look at that expert focusing of the camera on something other than the actual subject of the photo so that you can’t actually tell what’s going on, and the convenient black-and white to make the blood not stand out! If you’re going to defend animal sacrifice as “not cruel” or sinister, then don’t turn around and act like you’re afraid to actually show it to us. The article also reassures us that human sacrifice hasn’t been part of West African Voodoo for a hundred years, though recent news articles tell a different story.

Still, it’s true to say that human sacrifice isn’t exactly “mainstream” in the region and governments in most of the affected countries are trying to stomp it out.

Luckily for us, sacrifice takes a milder form in most of the New World forms of Voodoo, with many adherents content to just pour out libations for the thirsty dead or hand them the odd cigarette.

As always, exceptions exist.

Palo is a Cuban variety of Voodoo with large Congolese influences, which also invokes the magic of human remains. According to Wikipedia:

The main practice of Palo focuses upon the religious receptacle or altar known as a Nganga or Prenda. This is a consecrated vessel filled with sacred earth, sticks (palos), human remains, bones and other items. …

Palo has been linked to a rash of grave robbing in Venezuela. Residents report that many of the graves at CaracasCementerio General del Sur have been pried open to have their contents removed for use in Palo ceremonies.[2] In Newark, New Jersey, USA a Palo practitioner was found to have the remains of at least two dead bodies inside pots within the basement, along with items looted from one of the tombs.[3]

I looked up the Newark case (the original article is from the WSJ, but you have to join to read it, so I linked to a copy from another site):

Unlike its close relative, Santería, which stops at animal sacrifice, Palo believes that dead humans can also help connect believers to the spiritual realm. Paleros, says Mr. Canizares, believe that “the body has a right to be resurrected as a religious aid.” In the mythology of Palo, he says, “there is nothing wrong with asking a skeleton to work with you.” …

Skulls are the most prized form of human remains put into the nganga. Effort is made to leave at least three-quarters of the skull exposed, to enhance the visual effect for adherents at services. The nganga is the home to the spirit of a particular Palo god as well as the spirit of the dead person whose remains are “fed to the nganga.”
Which brings us to grave robbing, or “so-called grave robbing,” as paleros like Mr. Canizares refer to it, objecting to Western judgmentalism. Palo doctrine insists that those who take remains from graves perform elaborate “permission rituals.” The dead are to be left alone if they say no. A palero can gauge skeletal interest by sprinkling liquor on a grave and listening for a rumbling sound–i.e., “yes.” Other permission rituals involve nailing an animal’s tongue to a tree so the spirit can speak through it.
How often do you think those tongues say “no”?
Not all skeletons are created equal: The more evil or powerful a person was in life, and the more violent the death, the better. This makes criminals and corrupt politicians especially appealing, along with murder victims and suicides. The longer a person has been dead, the better, too. An infant’s full skeleton is also highly prized for its power.
With its high concentration of Cuban immigrants, northern New Jersey has become a Palo hotbed. In 1999, Kearny, N.J., police charged a Palo priest and several followers with the theft of the remains of an infant dead for 83 years. Workers at the cemetery had found machetes in trees, and animal tongues.
Consider that it is not actually that easy to get from Cuba to the US! Unless Castro did something clever like load his most annoying population into boats and aim them at the US, one imagines that the average Cuban-American had to do something pretty daring and clever to get over here, or at least had a lot of money. Jumping over to Wikipedia for a second:
From 1965 to 1973, there was another wave of immigration known as the Freedom Flights. In order to provide aid to recently arrived Cuban immigrants, the United States Congress passed the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966. The Cuban Refugee Program provided more than $1.3 billion of direct financial assistance. They also were eligible for public assistance, Medicare, free English courses, scholarships, and low-interest college loans.[citation needed] …

Fidel Castro sent some 20,000 criminals directly from Cuban prisons, as well as mentally ill persons from Cuban mental institutions, with the alleged double purpose of cleaning up Cuban society and poisoning the USA. Those people were labeled “unadmissible” by the US government, and with time, through many negotiations, have been returned to Cuba.[citation needed]

So Castro was pretty clever. (In case you were wondering, New Jersey has 83,000 Cubans, the nation’s third highest concentration after Florida and California.)
Continuing with the article:
…connections to a Palo conspiracy remained elusive until an informant led police to a religious-items store, or botanica, while a ritual was in progress in August of this year. Inside the pots were three skulls and body parts from five corpses. Police charged the store owner with burglary, theft and conspiracy. Just a month ago, Newark police raided the scruffy tenement at Central and Norfolk. Inside a basement worship room, 10-gallon Palo pots held at least two sets of human remains, including two skulls. … The other bones may belong to a juvenile. This, police say, raises the prospect of an unreported grave robbery or even a murder. The scene inside the worship room, says Newark Detective Donald Stabile, was ghastly. Animal parts were arranged on altars around the room. The basement “had an odor that you keep with you–like your first DOA.”
Photo that accompanied the article:
24/7/10A man collapses after the spirit possessing him leaves his body during a Palo Mayombe ceremony in Camagüey, Cuba. After a few minutes passed other members of the Palo house helped to revive him: taking him into the garden and pouring buckets of cold water over his head until his own spirit was revived.
A man collapses after the spirit possessing him leaves his body during a Palo Mayombe ceremony in Camagüey, Cuba.

Let us be thankful that most Palo followers are content with grave robbing. Some, like serial killer Adolfo Constanzo, aren’t:

Constanzo was born in Miami, Florida to Delia Aurora Gonzalez, a Cuban immigrant mother in 1962. She gave birth to Adolfo at the age of 15 and eventually had three children of different fathers. She moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico after her first husband died and remarried there. Constanzo was baptized Catholic and served as an altar boy, but also accompanied his mother on trips to Haiti to learn about Voodoo.[1] … As a teenager, Constanzo became apprenticed to a local sorcerer and began to practice a religion called Palo Mayombe, which involves animal sacrifice. His mother remarried and his new stepfather was involved in the religion and drug dealing. Constanzo and his mother were arrested numerous times for minor crimes like theft, vandalism and shoplifting.

They sound like lovely people! I hope we keep our policy of indiscriminate Cuban migration just because we hate Castro!

As an adult, Constanzo moved to Mexico City and met the men who were to become his followers: Martin Quintana, Jorge Montes and Omar Orea. They began to run a profitable business casting spells to bring good luck, which involved expensive ritual sacrifices of chickens, goats, snakes, zebras and even lion cubs.[1] Many of his clients were rich drug dealers and hitmen who enjoyed the violence of Constanzo’s “magical” displays. He also attracted other rich members of Mexican society, including several high-ranking corrupt policemen who introduced him to the city’s powerful narcotics cartels.[1]

Constanzo started to raid graveyards for human bones to put in his nganga, or cauldron, but before long he would need live human sacrifices instead of old bones. More than 20 victims, whose mutilated bodies were found in and around Mexico City, are thought to have met their end this way.[1]

Constanzo began to believe that his magic spells, many of which he took from Palo Mayombe, were responsible for the success of the cartels and demanded to become a full business partner with one of the most powerful families he knew, the Calzadas. When his demand was rejected, seven family members disappeared. Their bodies turned up later with fingers, toes, ears, brains and even (in one case) the spine missing.[2]

Finally Constanzo murdered an American, at which point politicians in Texas managed to do what politicians in Mexico apparently didn’t feel like doing, and got the Mexican police to do their fucking jobs:

Police quickly discovered the cult and that Constanzo had been responsible for Kilroy’s death, after a ‘good’/superior brain for one of his ritual spells. Officers raided the ranch and discovered Constanzo’s cauldron, which contained various items such as a dead black cat and a human brain.[3] Fifteen mutilated corpses were dug up at the ranch, one of them Kilroy’s.[3] Officials said Kilroy was killed by Constanzo with a machete chop to the back of the neck when Kilroy tried to escape about 12 hours after being taken to the ranch.[4]

Costanzo committed suicide, but 14 of his associates were arrested and charged with murder, drug-running, etc.

I actually don’t object, abstractly, to the physical practice of animal sacrifice. Most sacrificed animals are eaten after wards. I eat animals; what does it matter if someone says a prayer over an animal before butchering and eating it?

I object to the spiritual notion that animal (and human) bodies contain magical powers or spirits that you can obtain by killing them. That is a road that leads to head-hunting, cannibalism, and murder.

One of the things I appreciate about Christianity and Judaism is that they have basically eliminated sacrifice. Judaism first did away with human sacrifice, symbolically in the story of Abraham, Isaac, and the ram, and then explicitly in the injunctions not to sacrifice your children to Moloch. This was no mere hypothetical; their neighbors regularly sacrificed children to Moloch.

Jews still conducted animal sacrifices until the fall of the Second Temple, after which there was nowhere to do the sacrifices, and so they stopped. Hypothetically they could resume if anyone ever gets around to rebuilding the temple, but this does not appear to be a priority, and I don’t think most Jews want to do animal sacrifices.

Christianity never had animal sacrifice of any kind, having begun with a replacement of all forms of sacrifice with deistic sacrifice in the form of Jesus’ death and resurrection. (As a result, some early Christian sects were vegetarian, due to the association between all forms of animal butchering and “sacrifice.”) The closest Christianity gets to sacrifice is the Catholic belief in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, in which bread and wine are supposed to become, in some non-physical way, Jesus’ flesh and blood. Still, there is no threat of Catholics tracking down an actual Jesus and deciding to eat him.

But I’m off-topic. Grave robbing may be illegal in the US, but animal sacrifice isn’t; in 2009, for example, a Texas court ruled that Jose Merced, a Santeria priest (Cuban variety of Voodoo also common in PR,) was legally allowed to sacrifice animals in his home:

“Merced cannot perform the ceremonies dictated by his religion,” Judge Jennifer W. Elrod wrote. “This is a burden, and it is substantial. It is real and significant, having forced Merced to choose between living in Euless and practicing his religion.”

The court said Merced’s only available ceremonial space was in his house, due to the scarcity of Santeria temples in the United States. They also found that the Santeria priest discarded of the animal remains in a timely and sanitary manner.

The Dallas Observer has an interesting article on the case, and a ritual sacrifice reporters were allowed to watch:

As the sacrificial hour approaches, several priests (Santeros) are preparing the 40 assorted goats, roosters, hens, guinea hens, pigeons, quail, turtle and duck who grow noisy and nervous in their cages. Their lives will be taken in an exchange mandated by Olofi, Santería’s supreme god and source of all energy, to heal the broken body and spirit of Virginia Rosario-Nevarez and to initiate her into the Santería priesthood. …

Mounted against a wall in the back room shrine in Merced’s house are shelves containing clusters of small ceramic pots, ornately decorated and filled with shells, stones and other artifacts—the physical manifestations of the Orishas that reside in the room. To initiate Nevarez as a priestess, new godly manifestations of the old gods on Merced’s shelf must be born. To make this happen, animal blood will be spilled onto new pots, which the priestess will take home to begin her own shrine with her own newly manifested gods. …

Thea article then takes us through Merced’s childhood in Puerto Rico and introduction to Santeria. At the age of 12 he developed chronic stomach pain:

A medical doctor suggested exploratory surgery, but his mother wouldn’t hear of it. … he asked his mother to bring him to a woman his mother had been seeing for private spiritual readings. Even without him mentioning it, the woman told him about his intestinal pains and his nightmares. Hoping she could cure him, Merced began attending weekly séances at her home. …

The woman became his godmother in Santería, and she continued to treat him with herbal potions and spiritual readings. Over the next 18 months, he lost 60 pounds and had good months as well as bad.

I’m interpreting “lost 60 pounds” as “his stomach was so bad he couldn’t digest food anymore and was starving,” rather than “he became increasingly healthy and worked off excess fat,” but I’m not positive.

Finally, Merced says that the Orishas spoke through the woman and told her that the only way to make his pain disappear was to get initiated as a priest. Merced was ready, but the ceremony was expensive, $3,000, and he didn’t have enough money. For a year after graduating high school, Merced saved up …

Anyone else get the impression that someone is taking advantage of sick people?

He had helped with other initiations at his godmother’s house but was never allowed inside the shrine-room. “I saw the animals going in alive and coming out dead,” Merced recalls. But he had no idea why. … If you’re not crowned [a priest], you’re not supposed to know. So when I went in to my ceremony, I didn’t have a clue.” … As the animals were brought in, he was told to touch his head to the animal’s head and its hooves to other areas of his body. The animal was absorbing his negativity. He had to chew pieces of coconut, swallowing the juice but spitting the coconut meat into the animal’s ear.

… The pieces of coconut represented Merced’s message—his thoughts, feelings, needs—which were transferred to the goat for direct passage to Olofi. His physical contact with the animal was also symbolic of his commitment to God. As soon as the animal’s blood was spilled, Merced’s negativity, which had been absorbed by the goat, was released. The purified blood then spilled into the pots. (bold mine)

Shortly after the initiation, he says his stomach pains subsided. “I never, ever have felt again the same pain that I used to feel before,” he says.”

It’s a pity this sort of thing doesn’t seem to replicate under controlled, scientific conditions, because if you could really cure chronic conditions just by sacrificing a few goats, modern medicine would be revolutionized.

Getting back to the legal situation:

Laycock had successfully represented the Santería church before the Supreme Court in 1993 after the city of Hialeah, Florida, tried to ban the ritual killing of animals not for public consumption. The Hialeah City Council enacted the ban specifically targeting the Santería religion after it learned one of its churches had plans to locate within city limits. The high court saw this ordinance as being applied exclusively to Santería and held it an unconstitutional restriction on the free exercise of religion.

Snake handlers
Snake handlers

Laws specifically targeting snake-handling Christian churches have been on the books in pretty much every Southern state but West Virginia for decades, (WV believes in freedom of religion or something,) and the SCOTUS seems fine with that. (Actually, the court might decide in their favor if they bothered to bring a case.)

The American South has its own Voodoo traditions, with Catholic and Haitian influenced Voodoo down in Louisiana, and the more Baptist flavored Hoodoo everywhere else.

Haitian/Louisiana Voodoo probably come closest to the form of an organized religion, in large part because Voodoo has been able to operate above-ground in Haiti, where about half the people believe in it, including their erstwhile dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier:

Duvalier fostered his cult of personality and claimed he was the physical embodiment of the island nation. He also revived the traditions of Vodou, later using them to consolidate his power with his claim of being a Vodou priest, himself. In an effort to make himself even more imposing, Duvalier deliberately modeled his image on that of Baron Samedi, one of the loa, or spirits, of Haitian Vodou. He often donned sunglasses to hide his eyes and talked with the strong nasal tone associated with the loa. The regime’s propaganda stated that “Papa Doc was one with the [loa], Jesus Christ and God himself”.[11] The most celebrated image from the time shows a standing Jesus Christ with a hand on the shoulder of a seated Papa Doc, captioned, “I have chosen him”.[31] Duvalier declared himself an “immaterial being” as well as “the Haitian flag” soon after his first election.[32] In 1964, he published a catechism in which the Lord’s Prayer was reworded to pay tribute to Duvalier instead of God.[33][32]

Duvalier also held in his closet the head of former opponent Blucher Philogenes, who tried to overthrow him in 1963.[25]:132He believed another political enemy was able to change into a black dog at will and had the militia begin killing black dogs on sight in the capital.[34]

Clearly the kind of guy you want running your country!

Personally, the vibe I get off Papa Doc is less Loa of Death and more Steve Urkel:









But maybe you had to be there.

Sadly, I can’t find the picture of Jesus endorsing Papa Doc.

Wikipedia gives some insight into the practice of Haitian Voodoo, which appears to revolve around death, worship, and spirit possession:

Antique Haitian Vodoo drum
Antique Haitian Vodoo drum

The practitioners of Vodou revere death, and believe it to be a great transition from one life to another, or to the afterlife. In some Vodou families, it is believed that a person’s spirit leaves the body, but is trapped in water, over mountains, in grottoes, or anywhere else a voice may call out and echo for a span of one full year and one day. … After the soul of the deceased leaves its resting place, it can occupy trees, and even become a hushed voice on the wind. …

As the songs are sung, participants believe that spirits come to visit the ceremony, by taking possession of individuals and speaking and acting through them. … In Haiti, these Vodou ceremonies, depending on the Priest or Priestess, may be more organized. But in the United States, many vodouists and clergy take it as a sort of non-serious party or “folly”. In a serious rite, each spirit is saluted and greeted by the initiates present and gives readings, advice, and cures to those who ask for help. Many hours later, as morning dawns, the last song is sung, the guests leave, and the exhausted hounsis, houngans, and mambos can go to sleep.

Vodou practitioners believe that if one follows all taboos imposed by their particular loa and is punctilious about all offerings and ceremonies, the loa will aid them. Vodou practitioners also believe that if someone ignores their loa it can result in sickness, the failure of crops, the death of relatives, and other misfortunes. [32] Animals are sometimes sacrificed in Haitian Vodou. A variety of animals are sacrificed, such as pigs, goats, chickens, and bulls. “The intent and emphasis of sacrifice is not upon the death of the animal, it is upon the transfusion of its life to the loa; for the understanding is that flesh and blood are of the essence of life and vigor, and these will restore the divine energy of the god.”

Hoodoo seems pretty mild, all things considered, involving more stories of witch doctors and sacrifice than actual witch doctors making actual sacrifices, and is less of a “religion” and more a collection of folk medicines and superstitions. Wikipedia explains:

The purpose of hoodoo was to allow African Americans access to supernatural forces to improve their lives. Hoodoo is purported to help people attain power or success (“luck”) in many areas of life including money, love, health, and employment. As in many other spiritual and medical folk practices, extensive use is made of herbs, minerals, parts of animals’ bodies, an individual’s possessions and bodily fluids, especially menstrual blood, urine, saliva, and semen.

Contact with ancestors or other spirits of the dead is an important practice within the conjure tradition, and the recitation of Psalms from the Bible is also considered spiritually influential in hoodoo. …

Hoodoo is linked to a popular tradition of Bottle Trees in the United States. According to gardener and glass bottle researcher Felder Rushing, the use of bottle trees came to the Old South from Africa with the slave trade. Bottle trees were an African tradition, passed down from early Arabian traders. They believed that the bottles trapped the evil spirits until the rising morning sun could destroy them.

*Googles “bottle tree”*

bottle tree, American South East
Oh, that’s really pretty.

Hoodoo and Louisiana Voodoo are referenced frequently in American music:

Many blues musicians have referred to hoodoo in their songs. Popular examples include “Louisiana Hoodoo Blues” by Ma Rainey, “Hoodoo Lady Blues” by Arthur Crudup, and “Hoodoo Man Blues” by Junior Wells. The Bo Diddley song “Who Do You Love?” contains an extensive series of puns about a man hoodooing his lover. He also recorded an album titled Got My Own Bag of Tricks (1972), a reference to a mojo hand or trick bag. In Chuck Berry‘s song “Thirty Days” he threatens an ex-lover, telling her that he “…talked to the gypsy woman on the telephone […] she gonna send out a world wide hoodoo…”. Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics for “Hoodoo Voodoo”, a song later performed by Wilco and Billy Bragg. Creedence Clearwater Revival made reference to it in their hit song “Born on the Bayou” with the lyrics, “And I can still hear my old hound dog barkin’, chasin’ down a hoodoo there….”

and folklore–God, Doctor Buzzad, and the Bolito Man is a good book if you’re interested in the subject, but since I don’t have my copy anymore, here’s a story I found on the internet:

The first Dr. Buzzard came to Beaufort on a slave ship. Almost as soon as he was given a cabin in which to live, his master learned of his magical powers. This Dr. Buzzard had so much influence over the other slaves that his master gave him a large measure of freedom to be used in the practice of witchcraft. When the slaves were allowed to pursue their ancestral customs and beliefs, they performed their tasks more cheerfully.

I have read elsewhere that the “first” Dr. Buzzard was a white guy, but after he died, the mantle was taken up by dozens of others, most of them black. I doubt anyone could prove it either way.

The people born in slavery and their descendents relied on those who “worked in root” for their medical needs. Roots were mixed with cemetery dirt, frog’s feet, hearts of owls, and crushed bones and used as charms.

…He wore purple eyeglasses, a custom which prevented others from seeing his eyes, and he seemed to be always chewing on a root. The root on which he chewed had magical power, according to Dr. Buzzard. He said if he went into a courtroom during the time a case was being tried, he could chew the root and affect the outcome of the case. He also used another procedure in affecting the result of trials. He concocted a powder by grinding together certain materials, and he sprinkled the powder on desks, tables, and chairs in the courtroom. After the powder had been scattered about the courtroom, Dr. Buzzard said the room had been “rooted” and the course of the trial in progress would change.

Dr. Buzzard’s routine also called for the use of black cat’s. He said there was no stronger force in the world than that of a bone from a black cat that had been boiled alive! The technique called for Dr. Buzzard to put a black cat in a kettle of boiling water, and when the hot water covered the cat, “ That cat would talk just like a man.

After the cat had been boiled, it was dropped into a sack (the water in which the cat had been boiled was poured into a container for future use, as it was considered to be powerful in the treatment of certain maladies) and taken to a creek. The cooked cat was then dumped into the creek. If the process of boiling the cat and dumping the remains into the creek had been done correctly, according to the unexplained techniques of voodoo, all the bones would float away from the bank of the creek or sink, except one bone. “That bone just floats right to me,” Dr. Buzzard said. That was the bone with the power. Anyone carrying that bone was safe from “the law and everything else.”

In Dr. Buzzard’s case, it was probably more important to be known as the kind of guy who would boil cats alive than to actually boil them alive–but you never know.

I thought perhaps the “Magical Negro” trope in movies had its origin in folks like Dr. Buzzard, but it appears that–O Brother, Where Art Thou? possibly excepted–the trend is a recent thing has nothing to do with Southern folklore. Besides, proper Hoodoo doctors are supposed to be a bit scary.

I see a certain similarity between the ecstatic dance and spirit possession of the Voodoo ceremonies; the ring shouts of American black churches; speaking in tongues, faith healing, and spirit possession in various Pentecostal or Charismatic churches; snake handling; etc. These groups are not all theologically linked, but they are all common in the South, where they may have influenced each other by proximity.

More likely, though, I suspect the impulse toward these forms of worship arose fairly independently, simply because they appeal to the people involved.

Part one (yesterday)

Part three (next).


Animism, HeLa cells, and Mystical Flesh (pt 1)

Click here for: Part 2 and Part 3

(Do you ever just want to link to about a dozen posts and say, “Here, read all of this quickly and then carry on?)

I did a fair amount of research on animist religious traditions–specifically, those related to West African Vodun–for the Satanic Daycare Posts. Most of that didn’t make it into the posts, but it did manage to give me nightmares.

(Content warning: human sacrifice)

The past three “Anthropology Fridays” have focused on Edward B. Tylor’s description of Animism, the general religious belief that non-human entities, like animals, plants, and stones–have souls or spirits. (AF1: human sacrifice; AF2: animal sacrifice; AF3: plant and object sacrifice.)  Tylor believes that animism constitutes the original form of religious belief from which all others descended (an intriguing position, but nigh impossible to prove,) and that the practice of sacrifice (of people, animals, plants, and things,) follows naturally from the belief that their souls will journey on to the afterlife or spirit realm. Eg:

Of such rites in the Pacific islands, the most hideously purposeful accounts reach us from the Fiji group. Till lately, a main part of the ceremony of a great man’s funeral was the strangling of wives, friends, and slaves, for the distinct purpose of attending him into the world of spirits. Ordinarily the first victim was the wife of the deceased, and more than one if he had several, and their corpses, oiled as for a feast, clothed with new fringed girdles, with heads dressed and ornamented, and vermilion and turmeric powder spread on their faces and bosoms, were laid by the side of the dead warrior. Associates and inferior attendants were likewise slain, and these bodies were spoken of as ‘ grass for bedding the grave.’

(See also: Pictures from Oceana/Indonesia/Polynesia etc.)

“Animism” is a broad term that could be applied to thousands of religions; this post is specifically concerned with West African traditions and their religious descendants, aka Voodoo.

Organized religions like Christianity and Islam have conveniently (for me) written down their beliefs and worked hard to ensure that all of their members believe the same thing. Of course they don’t all believe the same thing, and there are always groups that are exceptions, but overall, we can say things like, “Jews are monotheists who focus on the diasporic experience;” “Muslims are monotheists who really like their prophet, Mohammad;” “Christians are monotheists but their god manifests in multiple different forms.” Talk to just about any adherent of these religions in the world, (Mormons excepted,) and you’ll find someone who agrees with one of these statements.

Polytheistic animist religions from non-literate societies are not so convenient. They happily morph and absorb new traditions and deities wherever they go–Catholicism where there were Catholics; Protestantism where there were Protestants; Islam where there were Muslims; indigenous American beliefs where there were Natives; and these days, apparently, Hindu iconography due to Hindus producing attractive-looking pictures of their deities. This creates a great deal of variation in individual local traditions, though we will be generally ignoring these to focus more on underlying commonalities and big-picture differences.

Of course, people are never content to leave names alone, presumably because there is some sort of elite cred to be earned by carefully enunciating the difference between “Voodoo” and “Vodou,” and because Vodou priests don’t like being associated with schlocky horror movies and Louisiana tourist shops.

So we have a proliferation of terms: West African Vodun, Haitian Vodou (aka Vaudou/Vadoun,) Cuban Vodu, Dominican Vudu, Brazilian Vodum aka Candomble, Louisiana Voodoo, American Hoodoo, West African Juju, Obeah, Santeria, Palo, etc.

For the sake of this post, if it sounds like “Voodoo,” I’m going to spell it “Voodoo.” If I mean a specific variant, like “Haitian Voodoo” or “West African Voodoo,” I’ll say that. If it’s a variety with a really different name, I’ll say something like, “Obeah Voodoo” or just “Obeah.”

I’ve collected some pictures:

Voodoo fetish market in Togo, West Africa
Voodoo fetish market in Togo, West Africa
Voodoo statue from Togo, West Africa
Voodoo statue from Togo, West Africa
Voodoo altar with fetishes, Benin, West Africa
Voodoo altar with fetishes, Benin, West Africa

Some Voodoo art is better looking, eg:

Voodoo Shrine, Benin
Is this what happens when the egg refuses to leave its nest? Voodoo Shrine, Benin
Voodoo Pantheon by sculptor Cyprien Tokoudagba of Benin
Voodoo Pantheon by sculptor Cyprien Tokoudagba of Benin

I think it’s reasonable to conclude that this religion involves a lot of penises.

All of the Voodoo variants basically believe that spirits exist, and you can get them to help you out by sacrificing things to them. These things can be anything from other people to cigarettes. The African varieties seem more likeley to involve human sacrifice, the Latin American and Caribbean varieties tend more toward animal sacrifice, and the American varieties toward herbal remedies and inanimate sacrifice, but exceptions always exist.

I should note that human sacrifice is not some kind of African universal, but it is more common than we like to think.

In 2001, the ritually-dismembered, headless torso of “Adam,” a Nigerian child about 5 or 6 years old, was found floating in the Thames. An autopsy revealed, via stomach contents and pollen found in his lungs, that he’d only been in Britain for a few days and had drunk a potion used in West African ritual magic. (There are approximately 180,000 Nigerians living in the UK.)

Nigerian Joyce Osiagede, the only person to be arrested in Britain as part of the inquiry, has claimed that the victim’s real name is Ikpomwosa. In an interview with ITV’s London Tonight, Mrs Osiagede said she looked after the boy in Germany for a year before travelling to Britain without him in 2001. She claimed she handed the boy over to a man known as Bawa who later told her that he was dead and threatened to kill her unless she kept silent. ..

Asked who killed him, she said a ‘group of people’. She added: “They used him for a ritual in the water.” Claiming the boy was six years old, she said: ‘He was a lively boy. A very nice boy, he was also intelligent.’ Detailed analysis of a substance in the boy’s stomach was identified as a ‘black magic’ potion. It included tiny clay pellets containing small particles of pure gold, an indication that Adam was the victim of a Muti ritual killing in which it is believed that the body parts of children are sacred. Bodies are often disposed of in flowing water. (source)

These cases more normally happen in Africa, but then we tend to lack official police investigations, autopsies, and BBC articles, but there’s plenty of documentation if you look:

The Leopard Society was a West African secret society active in the early- to mid-20th century that practiced cannibalism.[1] They were centred in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.

Members would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards’ claws and teeth. The victims’ flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the secret society. According to their beliefs, the ritual cannibalism would strengthen both members of the secret society as well as their entire tribe. (source)

The “Refworld” (Refugee World) article on human sacrifice in Nigeria (from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) claims that,

According to various sources, ritual killings in Nigeria are performed to obtain human body parts for use in rituals, potions, and charms. The Lagos-based newspaper This Day explains that “ritualists, also known as headhunters, … go in search of human parts at the request of herbalists, who require them for sacrifices or for the preparation of various magical potions”. …

According to This Day, ritual murders are “a common practice” in Nigeria. … Similarly, a 2012 Daily Independent article states that “in recent times, the number of … brutal murders, mostly for ritual purposes and other circumstances, involving couples and their partners has been on a steady progression.” …

This Day reported that a confidential memo from the Nigerian police to registered security service providers indicated that ritual killings were particularly prevalent in the states of Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Abia, Kwara, Abuja, Rivers, and Kogi. … In 2010, one newspaper reported that dead bodies with missing organs were being discovered on a daily basis on a road close to Lagos State University that was described as a “hot spot for ritual killers.” A second newspaper reported in February 2011 that, in the same area, ten people had been killed in suspected ritual murders in the preceding two months. A 2009 article published by Agence France-Presse reported that, according to a state government official, the kidnapping of children for ritual murder was on the rise in Kano.

(I have removed the in-line citations because they make the article unreadable; check the original if you want their sources.)

Ju-Ju (Voodoo) house, Nigeria
Ju-Ju (Voodoo) house, Nigeria

According to Wikipedia,

Juju is sometimes used to enforce a contract or ensure compliance. In a typical scenario, a juju spell will be placed on a Nigerian woman before she is trafficked into Europe for a life in prostitution, to ensure that she will pay back her traffickers and won’t escape.[5][6][7]

From the BBC, Witch-Doctors Reveal Extent of Child Sacrifice in Uganda:

A BBC investigation into human sacrifice in Uganda has heard first-hand accounts which suggest ritual killings of children may be more common than authorities have acknowledged.

One witch-doctor led us to his secret shrine and said he had clients who regularly captured children and brought their blood and body parts to be consumed by spirits.

Meanwhile, a former witch-doctor who now campaigns to end child sacrifice confessed for the first time to having murdered about 70 people, including his own son.

The Ugandan government told us that human sacrifice is on the increase, and according to the head of the country’s Anti-Human Sacrifice Taskforce the crime is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity, and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly.

Wow, that’s a terrible side effect of increased prosperity. (You know it’s bad when you have an “Anti-Human Sacifice Taskforce.”)

A witch doctor explains:

“They capture other people’s children. They bring the heart and the blood directly here to take to the spirits… They bring them in small tins and they place these objects under the tree from which the voices of the spirits are coming,” he said.

Asked how often clients brought blood and body parts, the witch-doctor said they came “on average three times a week – with all that the spirits demand from them.”

We saw a beaker of blood and what appeared to be a large, raw liver in the shrine before it was destroyed, although it was not possible to determine whether they were human remains.

The witch-doctor denied any direct involvement in murder or incitement to murder, saying his spirits spoke directly to his clients.

He told us he was paid 500,000 Ugandan shillings (£160 or $260) for a consultation, but that most of that money was handed over to his “boss” in a nationwide network of witch-doctors.

Remember, reputable economists and immigration experts all agree that stemming the tide of mass migration from Africa to Europe is physically impossible, but not to worry, because all of these migrants will revitalize the European economy with their fecund vitality.

Thankfully, there is an anti-child-sacrifice movement in Uganda:

Former witch-doctor turned anti-sacrifice campaigner Polino Angela says he has persuaded 2,400 other witch-doctors to give up the trade since he himself repented in 1990.

Mr Angela told us he had first been initiated as a witch-doctor at a ceremony in neighbouring Kenya, where a boy of about 13 was sacrificed.

“The child was cut with a knife on the neck and the entire length from the neck down was ripped open, and then the open part was put on me,” he said.

When he returned to Uganda he says he was told by those who had initiated him to kill his own son, aged 10.

Ugandan child mutilated by witch doctors
Ugandan child mutilated by witch doctors

Okay, technically, Uganda is more central Africa than west Africa.

The Guardian reports:

Uganda has been shocked by a surge in ritualistic murders and human sacrifice, with police struggling to respond and public hysteria mounting at each gruesome discovery.

In 2008 more than 300 cases of murder and disappearances linked to ritual ceremonies were reported to the police with 18 cases making it to the courts. There were also several high-profile arrests of parents and relatives accused of selling children for human sacrifice. …

Both police and NGOs are attributing the surge to a new wave of commercial witch-doctors using mass media to market their services and demand large sums of money to sacrifice humans and animals for people who believe blood will bring great prosperity.

“Cases of child sacrifice have always existed, mainly in the Ugandan central region, but there is a new strain of traditional healers in Uganda and their geographical spread is mainly attributed to increased unemployment and poverty,” said Elena Lomeli. …

Maybe the BBC got the prosperity angle wrong.

“My experience working with victims suggests that the abusers are greedy people who want to get rich quick. In rural areas, people can sacrifice their own child. In urban areas, educated and rich people will look for somebody else’s.”

Looming food shortages and famine hitting Uganda’s poorest in the north and east are also feeding the demand for sacrificial rituals. “These are not poor people paying for these rituals, they are the wealthy elite taking advantage of the desperate poor,” said Binoga. “In January a 21-year-old woman was jailed for 16 months for kidnapping a child and trying to sell him to a witch-doctor for a large sum. These cases are on the increase.”

Ugandan police are increasingly linking the sudden increase in cases to organ trafficking. The anti-human trafficking taskforce said many of the bodies found in the past few months were missing organs such as kidneys, hearts and livers, a detail not consistent with many traditional ritualistic practices.

Sadly, Uganda may still be doing better than neighboring Rwanda (genocide) and the DRC (cannibalism):

Pygmy activists from Congo have demanded the United Nations set up a tribunal to try government and rebel fighters accused of slaughtering and eating Pygmies who are caught in the country’s civil war.

Army, rebel and tribal fighters – some believing the Pygmies are less than human or that eating the flesh would give them magic power – have been pursuing the Pygmies in the dense jungles, killing them and eating their flesh, the activists said at a news conference yesterday.

There have been reports of markets for Pygmy flesh, the representatives alleged.

“In living memory, we have seen cruelty, massacres, genocide, but we have never seen human beings hunted and eaten literally as though they were game animals, as has recently happened,” said Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of the Mbuti Pygmies in Congo.

… Earlier this year, human rights activists and UN investigators confirmed that rebels cooked and ate at least a dozen Pygmies and an undetermined number of people from other tribes during fighting with rival insurgents. There have been no reports of Congolese Army soldiers engaging in similar activity. (bold mine.)


That’s the end of the Africa section of this post.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the New World Voodoo varieties, where human sacrifice is thankfully less common. (Thank you, Columbus.)

Click here for: Part 2 and Part 3

RIP Programming, America

The first time I read Mencius Moldbug’s Unqualified Reservations, the style was so familiar, I thought Moldbug was just a friend writing under a pseudonym.

He’s not; I’ve never met him.

Some people dislike Moldbug’s style. They call it “smug, long-winded, and elitist.” I reflexively identify Moldbug as “one of my tribe” based on it and find it far more readable than, say, Das Kapital, which I had to read twice at university.

I have not read all of Moldbug, no more than I have read all of Tolstoy. There are, in fact, a great many unfinished books in my stack, Anna Karenina among them. I don’t claim to endorse or support everything Moldbug’s said; rather, I found his posts an entertaining and thought-provoking way of looking at the world, a means of shifting the political discourse outside the normal boundaries of Democratic and Republican bickering that, to be honest, I find repulsive.

Here was a space for thinking about societal organization from evolutionary, game theoretic, and entropic perspectives. [Note: Moldbug is far from the only person involved in creating this space, and I actually owe much to other writers, like Jayman, who have nothing to do with Neocameralism.] I wanted to move beyond a system where one’s politics were simply an artifact of whatever issues happened to be cool while one was in college. I did not want to become one of those old guys who is still concerned about defeating the USSR, or worse, still bitter about Pearl Harbor. I did not want to become an old woman who is in favor of the radical feminism of the 70s, but in the face of radical politics of the 90s, starts talking about traditionalism and religion.

I do not want to be a crystal, solid, never changing. I want to find the metapolitics that transcend generations and create long-term civilization.

Mainstream American Conservatives have been, to be frank, intellectually bankrupt. This does not mean they are wrong, necessarily–it just means that they have been very bad at articulating themselves. They are especially bad at articulating themselves in ways that will make sense to young people. Take the most common argument against homosexuality: “God says it is a sin.” Young people are fairly atheist, believe in separation of church and state, and think a god who doesn’t like gay people is a jerk. This argument doesn’t just fail at convincing young people that gay marriage is bad; it also convinces them that God is bad.

By contrast, a simple graph showing STD rates among gay people makes a pretty persuasive argument that the “gay lifestyle” isn’t terribly healthy.

Conservatives have made lots of other bad arguments, like opposing clean water regulations (what, do you want to be known as the guy in favor of mercury in the drinking water?) promoting tax cuts for the rich (like indebted students care about them), bombing Iraq (because destabilizing the Middle East is always better!) and blathering endlessly about Supreme Court decisions from a couple generations before today’s students were born.

All of which created an intellectual void which liberals were only too happy to fill. And with no one to respond to them, they dissolved into holiness spirals and madness, trying to cast each other as the “other” they were fighting against, like a bird that has mistaken its reflection for an enemy, trying to peck a mirror to death.

Holiness spirals and litmus tests are not my thing. I hope they die in a fire.

There was a time when programming (and science, more generally) existed as an independent zone well outside of both the intellectual vapidity of the right and the holiness spirals of the left. People who were too busy building and creating and discovering to waste their time on holiness spirals, who seemed to delight, in fact, in sticking it to the norm in shocking but fairly harmless ways. We were mostly “liberals,” of course, in the sense that we weren’t Republicans, but beyond that, we dreamed of colorless green libertarian utopias, free information and anti-trusts.

You could be a furry or a Nazi, a ESP-wielding psychic or a polyamorist sadomasochist who ate poop and no one really cared so long as you wrote good code or did good science. We were unafraid.

And this attitude, as I saw it, came straight out of America. I mean America in the metaphysical sense, the America of Freedom of Conscience, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Freedom. The America of yeoman farmers and mountain men, in stark contrast to the bullshit of “parental advisory warnings” on music Tipper Gore didn’t like.

You have your mythic fantasies; I have mine.

So it was with great sadness that I watched Curtis Yarvin get un-invited from Strange Loop last year, not because his code was bad or because he made someone feel uncomfortable in an elevator or because he advocated for the murders of millions of people, (which, of course, many Strange Loop attendees do,) but because Yarvin wrote Unqualified Reservations, which does not bow to the litmus tests and holiness spirals of leftism but exists outside of them.

Oh, Yarvin can play the games if he wants, but he is also still clearly playing a game, not surrendering.

Yes, there are lots of people who dislike Moldbug. There are far more who’ve never heard of Moldbug and wouldn’t have cared at all without the 14 minutes of Twitter Hate to tell them they ought to be outraged about some guy named Moldbug.

There are also lots of people who like Moldbug; lots of people who would actually like to hear Moldbug speak or who are interested in Urbit.

Now we get to LambdaConf. LambdaConf accidentally accepted a programming talk by Yarvin based on its merits, in a blind application process, without first applying a political filter to all of their applications and tossing out anyone who believes anything offensive to anyone. Then they found out what they’d accidentally done, were horrified, and went into a long, hand-wringing process of trying to figure out whether they should start screening programmers for Wrong Think or if they should try to just have a programming conference.

They eventually came to a sensible conclusion, but the fact that it took them that long to figure out something considered obvious back in the day and were that afraid of the political backlash is saddening.

Rest in Peace, programming.

(Also, I dislike the current habit of calling people like Moldbug “autistic” when people actually mean, “He doesn’t prioritize MY feelings! WAH!”)

Cathedral Round Up #8: history edition

My dear friends, this month I happened, to my delight, upon A Chronology of Stanford University and its Founders (which is only 16 cents on Amazon.)

The really interesting parts are in the 1960s and early 70s, but for completeness’s sake, I have quoted interesting bits that both before and after.

Since this post is quote heavy, from here on out, assume that everything that is not in [brackets] is a quote (and the bold is all mine; I have abbreviated some obvious words, like “U” for “university.”)

[The Early Years]

May 10, 1869: Last Spike Ceremony: Central Pacific Railroad President Leland Stanford drives the gold spike ant Promontory, Utah, to connect ceremonially the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, North America’s first transcontinental railroad.

October 1, 1891: The university opens as a coeducational institution charging no tuition, with 15 faculty. … At the end of the academic year (May 1892), the number of students has grown to 555… Female students initially make up about 20 percent of the student body, an unprecedented 25 percent majoring in sciences (compared to 4 percent nationally.) The student body is drawn from across the country, although two-thirds are from CA and much of the rest from Western and Midwestern states; 12 foreign students, largely from Japan and Canada, also attend.

[Today, it costs about $130,000 to get a degree from Stanford, (not counting room and board, which wasn’t free in 1891, either,) though there is, of course, financial aid.]

Early Academic Policies: … equally controversial is the university’s first effort at affirmative action: 147 “special” or probationary students–those applicants who did not meet minimum entrance requirements–make up nearly 25% f the first year’s student body. … Aimed at older, working students who did not have the opportunity to attend qualified highschools or afford tutoring, this category had been successfully, if more modestly, used at the U of C for “mature” students, usually over 21. … (The graduation rate of this first group of specials is 17%; by comparison, that of the class of 1895 is 54%.)

May 31, 1899: …Jane Stanford limits the number of female students who may enroll at one time to 500. Women are entering American colleges in record numbers during the 1890s. Female enrollment at Stanford has risen from 25% of the student body to more than 40% in eight years, fueling public debate regarding the comparative purposes of women’s and men’s education. … The 500 limit is first reached in 1903…

[See May 11, 1933]

[There is an interesting dispute over academic freedom in the early 1900s that ends with a number of professors resigning and the beginnings of the tenure system.]

Spring, 1904: The growing number of Japanese students–five in 1891, 19 in 1900–results in establishment of a Japanese Student Association. … The first foreign student to complete a Stanford degree was Keinosuke Otaki of Tokyo, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1894.

[I wish I could reproduce for you the photos of Jane Stanford posing with the sphinx and visiting alumni in Japan. (Alas, I cannot reproduce any of the photos for you.)]

February 5, 1908: A drunken student returns to Palo Alto from a Menlo Park saloon, enters the wrong house and, thought to be a burglar, is shot and killed. This prompts the Academic Council on Feb. 14 to unanimously adopt a resolution to ban liquor from Encina Hall, fraternity houses, and other student residences, and to expel students guilty of drunkenness. In Stanford’s first major student demonstration, several hundred students march to the house of the chairman of the Committee on Student Affairs…

March, 1909: Anti-liquor law passed… that forbids the sale of alcohol within a mile and a half of the boundaries of Stanford U and the U of C, after local citizens complain strongly of many students’ excessive drinking and their disorderly conduct. …. Little attention is paid to the law by student, saloon keepers, or city supervisors, and drinking in dorms and fraternities continues…

Fall, 1910: Mosher studies women’s sexuality: … Her 28 year research of 45 women remains unpublished until Prof Carl Degler features her results in his important 1973 article on Victorian women.

[Stanford abandons its founder’s vision]

Lewis M. Terman joins the Education Department, where he will develop the Stanford-Benet IQ Test. In 1916, Terman publishes The Measurement of Intelligence.

October 29, 1911: Herbert Hoover elected to Board of Trustees… He spends the following months studying g academic, financial, and administrative conditions at Stanford and in a long memorandum the following January warns that the university is lagging behind. Over the next two years, he fosters dramatic improvement in faculty salaries, both to attract eminent senior faculty and encourage current professors, recommends strengthening existing departments, instigates changes in the university’s financial management, and promotes a campus building boom.

May 23, 1913: David Starr Jordan steps down from the presidency and is named chancellor of the university by the Board of Trustees. The reassignment is the brain-child of Herbert Hoover. It allows Jordan, hesitant to retire, to honorably give up administrative responsibilities without diminution of salary.

October 13, 1915: Wilbur appointed third president… declines to wear academic robes as too elitist.

September, 1916: Fraternity reform: Twice as many students live in fraternities and sororities as in campus dormitories and off-campus housing. … members of Stanford’s 24 fraternities are consistently in the bottom third of scholarship lists (along with varsity football and baseball players, who are often fraternity members.)

May, 1917: War-time commencement… An estimated 90 faculty serve in the Palo Alto area and overseas in Red Cross work, famine relief, o military service. An initial enrollment of 250 students in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit, organized in September 1916, jumps to 850 by this spring semester and is ranked among the top 10 in the country.

June, 1918: … in 1921, President Wilbur reports that 3,393 Stanford men and women … served during the war in US and foreign service or war-related civilian posts, and that 77 were killed.

December, 1919: Future Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck… receives a “C” in freshman English. … He drops out in 192, re-enters as a journalism major in 1923, and drops out again in 1925.

January 1, 1920: Undergraduate tuition starts… $40 per quarter. Herbert Hoover, returning to national acclaim from his European food relief work, leads the board in pushing through this break with the founder’s intention of a tuition-free education, at the October 1919 meeting. … Students unable to pay are offered an alternative of seven-year interest-bearing notes. Mot of the tuition income is immediately passed along in across–the-board pay increases for the faculty. Two years later, tuition goes from $40 to $75 per quarter.

Summer, 1921: Lewis M. Terman begins his lifelong study of 1,528 gifted children. Terman began investigation so f gifted children in 1904 when he encountered the theory that exceptionally bright children might suffer  physical or mental illness or social maladjustment. The children chosen… have IQs ranging from 135 to 200. … The longest psychological study ever conducted, the project produces evidence that exceptionally intelligent children grow up to be more successful, better satisfied, and more productive than average people. However, the gifted eventually seem to have a many emotional difficulties as the rest of the population. The work continues, now in its ninth decade, under the direction of Albert Hastorf,… professor emeritus of psychology.

Fall, 1923: Beginnings of Western Civ: “Problems of Citizenship,” a course required for freshmen and taught by various faculty members as a team, is inaugurated… it is designed to examine the “fundamental political, social, and economic problems of the American people” In 1935 it will evolve into “History of Western Civilization.”

April, 1924: Beginning with fall quarter, all applicants will have to … achieve a satisfactory score on a supplement examination (“intelligence test”).

[Science and War]

August, 1926: Aeronautics Laboratory… Important aerodynamic research is carried out int he 1930s and into the war years. In summer 1939, Charles Lindbergh pays a secret visit to campus to inspect the research work…

September 17:  High-voltage laboratory is dedicated. … Ryan later helps solve the problem of transmitting large amounts of power from Hoover Dam to Los Angeles.

March 4, 1929: Hoover asks university President Ray Lyman Wilbur to join him as secretary of the interior; the trustees grant Wilbur a one-year of absence with pay.

October, 1930: Tuition is raised $25 to $100 per quarter.

October, 1932: Sheep sold: The Board of Athletic Control sells its 300 sheep… Billy McClintock, the Scotsman who herded the university’s sheep in Highland style for 30 years, is too ill to carry on. The athletic fields now will be clipped using lawn tractors.

May 11, 1933: 500 Limit removed … “For over 30 years the most outstanding handicap in the operation of Stanford University has been the limitation on women to 500…” By fall 1932, women account for only 14% of the total–a situation generating anger and ill will. … Every year since 1929, total enrollment–and tuition income–has fallen, even while qualified women are turned away. … Three hundred additional women enroll in fall 1933.

April 1, 1934: physicist Felix Block comes to Stanford from Switzerland. In the late 1930s, he begins research on “nuclear induction”… After WWII, Bloch and his Stanford colleague William W. Hansen devise ways to detect nuclear magnetic resonance. [Later renamed MRI]

March, 1937: Collaboration begins between the brothers Russell and Sigurd Varian and physics Prof. William W. Hansen that leads to the invention of the klystron microwave tube… The klystron tube makes airborne radar feasible and proves essential to Britain’s defense against threatened German invasion during WWII. Later, the klystron tube become a cornerstone for microwave research and an important device for the construction of various high-energy particle accelerators… including the two-mile Stanford Linear Accelerator.

April 7, 1937: Peace Day: In a later student survey, more than 92% at Stanford oppose armed assistance to France and England; however, 54% favor economic aid in the event of a war with the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis.

[Then there is a bunch of stuff about WWII, which is interesting but predictable. A bunch of students go to war, a bunch of professors do war-related research, and all of the Japanese students and professors are sent to internment camps. Many soldiers on campus.]

April 20, 1944: Sororities disbanded. … The ban has been approved by female students following complaints that sorority rush is undemocratic.

July 2, 1944: Because of the war, less than half those scheduled to receive degrees are on hand for commencement… Not a single graduate of the Medical School appears for the ceremony.

[The Cold War]

January, 1946: Peacetime registration figures break an all-time record when 4,464 students enroll winter quarter. Of those 1,382 are veterans using the GI Bill of Rights. Spring quarter enrollment rises to 5,028, including 1,950 veterans; enrollment soars fall quarter, when 7,244 students appear, including 4,047 veterans. President Tresidder reports that the vets display “a seriousness of purpose” and maintain higher scholarship records than the general average.

July 15, 1952: … a compact six-million-volt machine is developed on campus to shoot X-rays at deep-seated cancer tissue. … on Jan. 11, 1957, 2-year-old Gordon Isaacs, whose left-eye vision is threatened by retinoblastoma, a form of cancer, is the first patient to be treated successfully with the medical linear accelerator.

March, 1953: Computation Center launched: a high-speed electronic calculator is installed on campus. … The IBM Card Programmed Calculator, with auxiliary equipment for handling punched cards, will perform large computation jobs that take too long using desk calculating machines. It can store 16 words in its electromechanical memory… Stanford’s first real compute, an IBM 650, is installed in 1956. It holds 2,000 words in its drum memory’ in several years it is supplemented with a Burroughs 220. In 1963, the university acquires an IBM 7094 and Burroughs B5000.

August 22, 1955: McCarthyism hits Stanford: … a conservative syndicated radio commentator uses his nationwide broadcast to launch an attack on the university. His object is the impending appointment to the law faculty of Herbert Packer, recruited by law Dean Carl Spaeth to conduct a study of the testimony of important witnesses in judicial and legislative inquiries into communist activities in the US. … Facing threats of mass resignation by young law faculty members, President Sterling overrides vocal right-wing objections to Packer’s appointment… Packer… spend the next six years assembling and analyzing more than 200,000 pages of testimony from congressional investigations, administrative hearings, and court cases. His book… “a thoughtful, balanced study of the testimony given by a group of ex-communist witnesses…” As such “it failed to satisfy extremists of the right or left.”

February, 1956: Alexander Kerensky, briefly Premier of Russia before his gov’t was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in 1917, accepts a position as research associate at the Hoover Institution.

May: Construction is under way on a radio telescope… it consist of 32 parabolic antennas–10-foot diameter aluminum dishes–to study the sun’s surface and map its temperatures, which it does daily for 11 years after it is completed in 1959.

November 1: Shockley wins Nobel Prize

Spring, 1957:The Interfraternity Council unanimously passes a resolution opposing racial and religious discrimination clauses contained in the national charters of 13 of their 24 parent organizations.

November: At the Hoover Institution, wire and lead seals are broken on 16 wooden boxes stored for 31 years. Inside are the Paris embassy office files of the Russian czar’s  imperial secret police. Basil Maklakoff, last pre-communist ambassador to France, signed a statement that he had burned the files. Instead he hid them and in 1926 shipped them to the Hoover War Library.

May 14, 1959: To the surprise and delight of Stanford scientists, President Dwight Eisenhower announces at a gathering of the nation’s top scientists and industrialists in NYC that he supports Stanford’s proposal to build the world’s largest and most powerful atom smasher. [the SLAC]

August 4: Stanford announces that a 150-foot dish antenna–to be the nation’s largest radio telescope–will be built… the huge parabolic reflector “ear “plus the powerful radio transmitter to be built next to it, is designed to detect nuclear bomb blasts in the atmosphere.

[The 60s begin]

January 7, 1960: Nuclear reactor unveiled … In 1974, the operation is shut down and fuel rods removed. … It is dismantled in 1988.

April 1: President Sterling presides at the opening of the Stanford Center for Japanese Studies in Tokyo.

November 16: Russian-born professor of economics, Paul A. Baran, an avowed Marxist, causes quite a stir when, after at three-week visit to Cuba, he tells students and press at Cubberly Auditorium that “Castro is one of the great men of this century.” Hostile alumni letters soon pour in, threatening to stop donations unless Baran is fired. President Sterling responds… “Professor Baran does not speak for Stanford University. … A university is, and must be, hospitable to differing points of view, just as a free society has the obligation of respecting a man’s right to speak.”

March 6, 1961: Fraternities fight religious, racial discrimination: ATO has its charter rescinded by the national because it pledges four men of Jewish faith. … in 1963, Sigma Nu, frustrated in its two-year effort to end discriminatory racial clauses at the national level, vote unanimously to become a local fraternity, Beta Chi. In April 1965, Sigma Chi is suspended for one year by its national organization after pledging a black student. In November 1966, the Stanford chapter votes unanimously to sever ties with its national… In 1967, Kappa Sigma is suspended by its national, two years after it pledges a black student.

[Interestingly, I have not noticed any account of the first black student at Stanford. Given that Mr. Stanford stumped for Abraham Lincoln and included women and Japanese in the opening class, I suspect Stanford was always open to blacks, though there may not have been many in the area in 1890s.]

September, 1962: John McCarthy, who coined the term “artificial intelligence” to describe his efforts to make computers simulate human thought processes, joins the faculty… He soon creates the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

April 1, 1963: Black and yellow civil defense signs are posted on campus identifying basement areas that are newly stocked as nuclear fallout shelters. This act, inspired by the Soviet missile crisis in Cuba, touches off the first major postwar political protest on campus, including a peaceful 24-hour vigil outside President Sterling’s home and office.

May 6: University Trustees reject gift offers from two individuals who stipulate that their use would be later designated or approved by directors of the Winds of Freedom Foundation, a conservative group that wants to “underwrite the work of distinguished faculty members who are not enamored of socialism.” In February 1964, trustees reject $35,000 offered by the foundation for a visiting professor in either economics or political science from a list of candidates it would provide. … Organized as a nonprofit CA corporation in July 1962, the foundation notes in its literature that its “prime purpose… is to aggregate funds for gift to Stanford.” … Trustees say they will not surrender authority for solicitation and acceptance of gifts and termination of their use.

Summer: A Stanford-in-Washington summer internship program is launched… In the next three years, more than 100 students land summer positions in congressional offices and federal agencies.

Fall: … Allard Lowenstein, former assistant dean of men, and a dozen students travel to Mississippi at their own expense to help local blacks stage a mock election. Among the students are Dennis Sweeney,  leader of a new campus political organization called the Student Congress…  Ten Stanford faculty and 40 student volunteers, the largest group from any university, spend summer 1964 in Mississippi helping blacks register to vote. Sweeney nearly escapes death when the “freedom house” he occupies in McComb is bombed on June 21. A draft resister, he later becomes a paranoid schizophrenic. On May 14, 1980, he murders Lowenstein in his New York Office.

[November 22nd, 1963: Kennedy assassinated]

April 23, 1964 In the fist of two campus speeches, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. asks an overflow crowds at Memorial Auditorium for help: “In the Mississippi power structure, justice has no meaning… Civil rights issues cannot be resolved from within the state’ help must come from the outside.”

November 30: President Sterling appoints a faculty-administration committee on educational opportunities for disadvantaged minorities to explore ways the university could be useful in promoting opportunities for African Americans and other minority groups.

February 12, 1965: Anti-Vietnam protest: Faculty and students express opposition to American involvement in Vietnam, beginning with a combined faculty-student rally of 400.

April: In Loco Parentis fading: Full confidence in the “maturity and good judgment” of coeds prompts the university to liberalize social regulations for women.

December: The Stanford Sexual Rights Forum registers as a voluntary student organization, the earliest known student group nationally to advocate civil rights for homosexuals.

January 31, 1966: Vietnam protesters at a noon rally call for a university-wide strike, but only a small number of professors cancel classes. In the evening, more than 700 stage a torchlight parade from Cubberly Auditorium to downtown Palo Alto. In April, 135 donors volunteer to donate blood “in physical and moral support” of the Vietnam War effort.

April: Prof. Hugh McDevitt and his group discover that genes responsible for regulating immune response to infection are clustered together on one chromosome in mice and are linked to those responsible for destroying tissue grafts.

May 19-21: President’s Office sit-in: What start as a protest against university involvement in Selective Service testing that could affect student draft deferments, broadens into a challenge against faculty and administrative decision-making. Fifteen students begin a three-day occupation of the reception area in the President’s Office. Thirty-six students later are charged with violating the Fundamental Standard and are placed on probation for a year.

January, 1967: Women demand off-campus option: Challenging the university’s practice of in loco parentis, approximately 350 women students delay payment of room and board bills as a demand for the option of junior and senior women to live off campus.

January: Coeducational housing begins on campus. … Experts predict that coed housing will transform the traditional dating-mating game, as men and women begin to regard each other more like brothers and sisters.

January 12: Student body President David Harris, a veteran civil rights worker and outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and the draft, tells a rally of 400 that he will go to jail rather than accept military service.

April 13: About 400 attend an anti-war rally sponsored by students for a Democratic Society, after which 150 march to the Stanford research Institute to protest weapons and chemical warfare research. …

November 1: Students protest CIA, Vietnam…. temporarily blocking access to Encina Hall’s west wing, where interviews are scheduled. The university starts judicial against against 10 demonstrators. Two weeks later, 2,000 conduct an all0night vigil for peace…

April 2, 1968: Blacks, Mexican-Americans, and other minority students should have priority in obtaining financial aid, an interim committee report… recommends.  … The committee reports that recruitment efforts in recent years have produced an increase in applications from African-Americans: 154 applied for the freshman class entering in 1968, compared to six for the class entering in 1960. [71 are admitted in 68, compared to 3 in 60.]

April 5: An overflowing crowd of 2,400 attends a noon service in Memorial Church for civil rights leader MLK Jr. … 400 attend a BSU-sponsored rally during which an American flag is burned. … more than 2,000 members of the Palo Alto and East Palo Alto communities stage a silent walk from downtown PA to the steps of the Quad…

April 8: Blacks demand increased enrollment … The demands include proportional representation of minority groups in the freshman class of 1969-70  and a role for black students in decisions on minority recruiting and admissions. … Provost Lyman and President Sterling issue a statement committing the U to try to double minority enrollment … by 1970 … The U will start a pilot admission program for at least 10 minority student who do not meet present admissions standards. During an April 9 session, … a group of faculty and administrators say the U will hire an admissions officer concerned with minority student recruitment, conduct a  fundraising drive for expanded financial aid for minority students, and encourage recruitment of minority faculty and staff members.

April 11: BSU leaders emerge from a two-hour meeting with administrators declaring, “They have met our demands.” … “Race relations in America are so serious that every institution must do whatever it can to help,” Lyman says, “Ours is the one society on the face of the earth where a reconciliation of the races can take place on a sufficiently large scale to teach its lessons to the world.” Faculty and staff establish a MLK Memorial fund three days after the assassination. By the end of May, it is at $50,000…

May 6: Protest against student suspensions

May 7: Arson destroys ROTC building… This is the second fire at the building; it was damaged by arson in March.

May 8: [Committee decides not to suspend students for protesting against the CIA.]

May 16: Students oppose sit-ins.

July 5: Arson destroys the office of President Sterling… causes an estimated $300,000 in damage.

July 8: The Population Bomb is published.

August 19: Kenneth Pitzer appointed president… Student body president Denis Hayes expresses “grave reservations” about Pitzer’s appointment, but later says it would, “in effect destroy this university” to try to stop it. He says he is convinced “a president can be educated by the students.”

November: The Mexican-American Student Confederation at Stanford “strongly requests” that the university admit 100 new Mexican-American students… Enrollment… currently stands at 57. With an intensive five-state recruitment program, the results for fall 1969 pass the goal when 75 freshmen, 20 transfer students, and 30 to 40 graduate students bring the campus Chicano total to nearly 200.

January, 1969: African and Afro-American Studies launched.

January 14: Students invade Trustee Meeting… demanding that Stanford “halt all economic and military operation and projects concerned with Southeast Asia.”

January 29: Conservatives disrupt radicals

February 11: ROTC credit dropped … by a 3-2 majority, [students] favor ROTC on campus… In April the full faculty votes 403 to 356 to end ROTC academic credit … because appointment of teachers and course content are not subject to usual university controls.

April 3: April 3rd Movement born: at a mass meeting… students formulate demand to end classified research and war–related research on campus, stopping chemical-biological warfare and counter-insurgency studies at the SRI…

April 9: Protesters close electronics lab: Several hundred A3M protesters occupy the Applied Electronic s Laboratory… disrupting its operations for nine days.  On April 14, 100 students … stage a counter-demonstration…

April 30: Protesters occupy Encina Hall… around 1 am they scuffle with 30 conservative students who are blocking the door, but about 200 break into the building… Faculty observes say they see numerous incidents of students removing file. University payroll records are ransacked. Provost Lyman summons sheriff’s deputies…

May 13: Trustees sever ties with Stanford Research Institute

October 15: … more than 8,000 take part in the Vietnam Moratorium, calling for an immediate end to the war.

October 30: Budget problems… The biggest single factor slowing the U’s fiscal growth is the decline in federally sponsored research.

November 11: Board of Trustees expands… The change follows recommendation that the board should be more representative of society–professionally, politically, geographically and in age distribution.

March 30, 1970: limited credit for ROTC

April: Crowds of students, including many highschoolers, resort to violence to protest the continued presence of ROTC on campus. A crowd of about 300 roams the campus night after night in early April, smashing windows. …

April 24: Several hours after the Old Union sit-in ends, arsondestroys the life work of several prominent scholars, including Prof. M. N. Srinivas, India’s leading social scientist, who loses 22 years’ worth of research material about caste systems in India.


April 29: Cambodia invasion protested… a day-long sit-in at the Old Union erupts into a rock-throwing, club-wielding battle between several hundred students and more than 250 police.

April 30: ROTC, Cambodia protest… demonstrators demanding immediate elimination of ROTC battle police… Property damage for the moth is estimated at $100,000, with 73 injuries in the past two nights.

May 1: Campus turmoil… hundreds of protesters block entrances to Encina Hall… three shotgun blasts are fired into the campus home of the Army ROTC commander. No one is hurt.

May 3: Nonviolent strike. … continues all week.

May 7: Senate ends ROTC credit.

May 18: … entrances to the Athletics/ROTC building continue to be blocked 10 hours a day. … a band of about 75 demonstrators moves swiftly across campus, tossing rocks through windows of the Athletics/ROTC building, aeronautics and astronautics, the Hoover Institution, and smaller buildings.

June 4: Faculty bars future ROTC enrollment

June 25: [President Pitzer gets the hell out of there.]

September: An intensive recruiting effort has led to enrollment of 23 native Americans in the freshman class. … By fall 1973, the number increases to 57 undergraduates and 22 grad students.

January, 1971: More than 200 students register for a new course on “Problems of Arms Control and Disarmament”

January 11: Henry Cabot Lodge speech disrupted

February 10: Students seize computation center… Photographers are banned from the building and a Viet Cong flag is posted overhead. … Assoc. Prof. Franklin calls for a “people’s war” in the face of an “occupation army” of police. … the 16 year old son of a professor is shot in the right thigh while standing near the headquarters of the Free Campus Movement (FCM). Earlier, eight FCM members who watched the Old Union rally were assaulted as they walked across White Plaza.

[I think FCM is a conservative organization.]

February 12: Assoc. Prof. Franklin suspended.

April 9: Hospital sit-in turns violent: Police end a 30-hour sit-in at the hospital administration offices, arresting 23 of more than 50 demonstrators who cause $100,000 damage protesting the firing of a black employee. Fewer than half those arrested are associated with the U.

April 12: Police search the Stanford Daily... it is the first known use of a search warrant in an American newspaper office. … During the 12 years following the Daily search, based on this precedent, police conduct at least 63 searches nationwide of journalists, lawyers, doctors, and psychotherapists who are not suspects.

April 21: Demands to end war

April 23: A bomb planted at the President’s Office explodes in the early morning hours, causing $25,000 damage to the roof, attic, and second floor. … Three days later, an arson fire guts the Juniper Lounge… frequently used for meeting by the BSU.

May: The Board of Trustees… urges General Motors to try to improve conditions for nonwhites n South Africa.

August 15: [Prof Philip Zimbardo’s “Prison Experiment”]

[I admit, I laughed at the juxtaposition of the Prison Experiment and all of the other craziness. It’s a pity no one’s replicated it on a calm campus.]

January 5, 1972: [Assoc. Prof] Franklin fired… Following the Advisory Board’s decision, Franklin holds a press conference, expressing hope there will be more violence on campus… His wife, Jane, stands at his side holding a carbine she says is unloaded. … After leaving Stanford, Franklin is appointed to the Rutgers faculty.

March 2: Indian Mascot discontinued. … Timm Williams, a Yurok from Northern CA, dances as the band mascot the U forces him to stop after it discontinues the Indian mascot in 1972.

[He had danced with he band for 20 years, but no details are given on the “forcing.”]

April 20: More antiwar protests… About 100 police repeatedly charge the group at El Camino and Embarcadero, arresting 205 who block traffic.

May 9: War protests… Former Assoc. Prof Franklin urges the crowds to “take the Old Union and the placement center… and move from there to shut down the university.”

June 7: A nighttime fire, thought by many to be arson, causes $1 million damage to Encina Hall, the U’s main administration building. … In the previous four years there had been at least 30 incidents of arson, attempted arson, bombing, or attempted bombing.

[August 15, 1973: America withdraws from Vietnam]

October 9: [Students build an observatory, and life fades back to normal.]

[1974: Center for Research on Women founded; name later changed to Institute for Research on Women and Gender.]

May 19, 1975: Three students and a Dutch research assistant are kidnapped … in Tanzania, Africa, where they have been working with anthropologist Jane Goodall. The kidnappers, insurgents from Zaire [now the DRC] … grab the group during the night and head across Lake Tanganyika to Zaire. They demand a ransom of $460,000, arms and ammunition, and the release of political prisoners from Tanzania. … Kabila later becomes president of the DRC and is assassinated in 2001.

June: Alexander Solzhenitsyn … accepts an appointment as an honorary fellow at the Hoover Institution.

October, 1976: Faculty women on the rise

May 9-10, 1977: South Africa protest

December: [Sororities return]

October, 1978: As part of the thaw in Chinese-American relation, six research scholar arrive on campus from the PRC… Several Stanford students go to China in ’79.

January, 1979: 25% of undergrads in the School of Engineering are women

November, 1980: Center for Chicano Research is created with history Prof. Albert Camarillo as its director.

December: A month after his election to the US Presidency, Ronald Reagan, an honorary fellow of the Hoover Institution, has named 21 Hoover scholars and Stanford professors to advisory committees.

Fall: [Feminist Studies launched]

February 24, 1983: Anthropology student dismissed… after an investigation of charges relating to Mosher’s field research on a Chinese commune in 1979-1980. Mosher claims his dismissal is in response to pressure from Chinese officials upset over his writing about forced abortions.

July: Stanford Blood Bank becomes the first in the nation to begin screening blood to prevent transmission of AIDS.

March 6, 1984: Gay liberation statues vandalized

April, 1985: Students ask the Board of Trustees to divest stock in companies doing business in South Africa. … two dozen students block their cars by lying in the road. … 206 faculty members petition trustees for total divestment. The U continues its policy of selective divestment.

February, 1986: Jewish studies

May, 1987: Cheerleaders make a comeback

March 31, 1988: … new freshman requirements in Culture, Ideas, and Values (CIV) … replaces the Western Culture requirement adopted in 1980, and requires freshmen to take courses that cover both European and non-European cultures.

May 25: U official adopt a policy calling for preservation and study of native American archaeological sites found on U lands.

September 23: Mice with human immune cells

October: Racial tensions lead to free speech debate

April 5, 1989: An 18-month study finds that… undergraduates still perceive racial tensions and feel social distance from each other. … the report urges adding 30 minority faculty over the next decade, doubling minority Ph.D. enrollment, doubling undergraduate courses focused on minorities, and establishing an ethnic studies requirement for graduation.

May 15: A broad coalition of student groups stages an eight-hour takeover of the President’s office, barricading themselves inside the building to demand faster progress on minority issues.

June: U officials announce they will return skeletal remains and associated artifacts of about 550 prehistoric native Americans from the Stanford Museum to Ohlone-Costanoan tribal representatives for reburial.

August 31: Hoover director retires; Hoover-Stanford relations improve: Campbell, director of the Hoover Institution for 29 years, retires, though not without a fight. In April 1988, he calls opponents on the faculty who were seeking to bring Hoover under tighter U control, “very left-wing and very undistinguished.” On may 10, 1988, the Board of Trustees present Campbell with what it calls a “generous” retirement package if he agrees to retire at 65.

September, 1990: Human Genome Project

May 23, 1991: Neurosurgeon charges sexism… She is elected chair of the Faculty Senate for the 1997-1998 academic year, and in 1998 is appointed chief of staff at the Stanford-affiliated Palo Alto Veterans Hospital.

December 12: First American website

December 8, 1992: The U agrees to extend benefits–including health plans–to employee’s long-term same-sex domestic partners.

August 25: Graduate Amy Biehl, 26, is killed in South Africa. She is the first American to die in the violence associated with the country’s transition from apartheid to democracy, a transition she has been studying on a Fullbright scholarship. Biehl, who is white, is ambushed by a group of youths while driving black friends home from a party in her honor.

[The article does not mention that the “youths” who killed her where black.]

September 1: Condolezza Rice, 38, becomes provost, the first woman and fist African American to hold the No. 2 job.

October 6: [New sexual harassment policy.]

May 6, 1994: Chicana students hunger strike… [they call for] 1) a grape boycott on campus, 2) enhanced collaborations with East Palo Alto, and 3) add a Chicano studies program. … The Chicana hunger strike was largely triggered by the dismissal of Cecila Burciaga, the U’s highest-ranking Latina administrator. … they were told nothing could be done because it “was part of budget cutting in the office of Student Affairs.”

[See November, 1980, when the Center for Chicano Research was created.]

May 12: Asian American Students disrupt faculty Senate… “Asian American Studies now”

February 13, 1996: Food Research Institute to close. … FRI, which has 13 professors and 71 graduate students, was founded in 1921 by Herbert Hoover to study the world production, consumption and distribution of food. Once independent, it has a separate endowment of $12 million plus four endowed chairs. In recent year FRI ha focused on food and economic development issues in third world countries.

November 21: The Faculty Senate approves a new interdisciplinary program in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

[That’ll feed the starving masses of the world!]

May 4, 2000: An anonymous donor gives $20 million to help boost the university’s efforts at attracting and retaining women faculty and students in science and engineering.

[Hey, Stanford, you can hire me for your science faculty for free.]

December 12: Scientists at the Stanford Genome Technology Center complete the sequencing of the genome of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana… Their decoding marks the first time a plant genome has been completely sequenced.

Anthropology Friday: The souls of stones

Hello, everyone! Today we are finishing up with Tylor’s Primitive Culture:

“Plants, partaking with animals the phenomena of life and death, health and sickness, not unnaturally have some kind of soul ascribed to them. In fact, the notion of a vegetable soul, common to plants and to the higher organisms possessing an animal soul in addition, was familiar to medieval philosophy, and is not yet forgotten by naturalists. But in the lower ranges of culture, at least within one wide district of the world, the souls of plants are much more fully identified with the souls of animals. The Society Islanders seem to have attributed ‘varua,’ i.e. surviving soul or spirit, not to men only but to animals and plants.

“The Dayaks of Borneo not only consider men and animals to have a spirit or living principle, whose departure from the body causes sickness and eventually death, but they also give to the rice its ‘samangat padi,’ or ‘ spirit of the paddy/ and they hold feasts to retain this soul securely, lest the crop should decay.

“The Karens say that plants as well as men and animals have their ‘la’ (‘kelah’), and the spirit of sickly rice is here also called back like a human spirit considered to have left the body. Their formulas for the purpose have even been written down, and this is part of one : ‘ O come, rice kelah, come. Come to the field. Come to the rice Come from the West. Come from the East. From the throat of the bird, from the maw of the ape, from the throat of the elephant. …'”

“On the one hand, the doctrine of transmigration widely and clearly recognises the idea of trees or smaller plants being animated by human souls; on the other, the belief in tree-spirits and the practice of tree-worship involve notions more or less closely coinciding with that of tree-souls, as when the classic hamadryad dies with her tree, or when the Talein of South-East Asia, considering every tree to have a demon or spirit, offers prayers before he cuts one down. …”

“Certain high savage races distinctly hold, and a large proportion of other savage and barbarian races make a more or less close approach to, a theory of separable and surviving souls or spirits belonging to stocks and stones, weapons, boats, food, clothes, ornaments, and other objects which to us are not merely soulless but lifeless. …

“Among the Indians of North America, Father Charlevoix wrote, souls are, as it were, the shadows and the animated images of the body, and it is by a consequence of this principle that they believe everything to be animate in the universe. This missionary was especially conversant with the Algonquins, and it was among one of their tribes, the Ojibwas, that Keating noticed the opinion that not only men and beasts have souls, but inorganic things, such as kettles, &c., have in them a similar essence. In the same district Father Le Jeune had described, in the seventeenth century, the belief that the souls, not only of men and animals, but of hatchets and kettles, had to cross the water to the Great Village, out where the sun sets.

“In interesting correspondence with this quaint thought is Mariner’s description of the Fiji doctrine, ‘If an animal or a plant die, its soul immediately goes to Bolotoo; if a stone or any other substance is broken, immortality is equally its reward; nay, artificial bodies have equal good luck with men, and hogs, and yams. If an axe or a chisel is worn out or broken up, away flies its soul for the service of the gods. If a house is taken down or any way destroyed, its immortal part will find a situation on the plains of Bolotoo; and, to confirm this doctrine, the Fiji people can show you a sort of natural well, or deep hole in the ground, at one of their islands, across the bottom of which runs a stream of water, in which you may clearly perceive the souls of men and women, beasts and plants, of stocks and stones, canoes and houses, and of all the broken utensils of this frail world, swimming, or rather tumbling along one over the other pell-mell into the regions of immortality.’ …

“The theory among the Karens is stated by the Rev. E. B. Cross, as follows: ‘Every object is supposed to have its “kelah.” Axes and knives, as well as trees and plants, are supposed to have their separate “kelahs.” “The Karen, with his axe and cleaver, may build his house, cut his rice, and conduct his affairs, after death as before.”

EvX: Notice how many of these informants are Reverends. There is definitely a connection between early anthropology and missionaries–who were, perhaps, the first whites to spend large amounts of time inquiring after the local beliefs of obscure peoples in certain far-flung, undeveloped corners of the world, and happened also to write fairly frequent letters back to friends and parishioners back home. We may question the truthfulness of some of these reports (missionaries may lie as much as any other men,) but the ones I have checked, so far, have been pretty accurate.

“As so many races perform funeral sacrifices of men and animals, in order to dispatch their souls for the service of the soul of the deceased, so tribes who hold this doctrine of object-souls very rationally sacrifice objects, in order to transmit these souls. Among the Algonquin tribes, the sacrifice of objects for the dead was a habitual rite, as when we read of a warrior’s corpse being buried with musket and
war-club, calumet and war-paint, and a public address being made to the body at burial concerning his future path; while in like manner a woman would be buried with her paddle and kettle, and the carrying-strap for the everlasting burden of her heavily-laden life. …

“The whole idea is graphically illustrated in the following Ojibwa tradition or myth. Gitchi Gauzini was a chief who lived on the shores of Lake Superior, and once, after a few days’ illness, he seemed to die. He had been a skilful hunter, and had desired that a fine gun which he possessed should be buried with him when he died. But some of his friends not thinking him really dead, his body was not buried; his widow watched him for four days, he came back to life, and told his story. After death, he said, his ghost travelled on the broad road of the dead toward the happy land, passing over great plains of luxuriant herbage… . He came in view of herds of stately deer arid moose, and other game, which with little fear walked near his path. But he had no gun, and remembering how he had requested his friends to put his gun in his grave, he turned back to go and fetch it. Then he met face to face the train of men, women, and children who were travelling toward the city of the dead. They were heavily laden with guns, pipes, kettles, meats, and other articles… . Refusing a gun which an overburdened traveller offered him, the ghost of Gitchi Gauzini travelled back in quest of his own, and at last reached the place where he had died. There he could see only a great fire before and around him, and finding the flames barring his passage on every side, he made a desperate leap through, and awoke from his trance. Having concluded his story, he gave his auditors this counsel, that they should no longer deposit so many burdensome things with the dead, delaying them on their journey to the place of repose, so that almost everyone he met complained bitterly. It would be wiser, he said, only to put such things in the grave as the deceased was particularly attached to, or made a formal request to have deposited with him.”

EvX: This Gitchi Gauzini was a very clever reformer.

King Tut: defiitely overburdened
King Tut: definitely overburdened

“With purpose no less distinct, when a dead Fijian chief is laid out oiled and painted and dressed as in life, a heavy club is placed ready near his right hand, which holds one or more of the much-prized carved ‘whale’s tooth’ ornaments. The club is to serve for defence against the adversaries who await his soul on the road to Mbulu, seeking to slay and eat him. We hear of a Fijian taking a club from a companion’s grave, and remarking in explanation to a missionary who stood by, ‘The ghost of the club
has gone with him.’ The purpose of the whale’s tooth is this: on the road to the land of the dead, near the solitary hill of Takiveleyawa, there stands a ghostly pandanus-tree, and the spirit of the dead man is to throw the spirit of the whale’s tooth at this tree, having struck which he is to ascend the hill and await the coming of the spirits of his strangled wives. …”

Wikipedia notes of Margaret Mead‘s peaceful paradise, the nearby islands of Samoa:

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the early 1700s, Samoa’s history was interwoven with that of certain chiefdoms of Fiji as well as the history of the kingdom of Tonga. The oral history of Samoa preserves the memories of many battles fought between Samoa and neighboring islands. Too, intermarriage of Tongan and Fijian royalty to Samoan nobility has helped build close relationships between these island nations that exist to the present; these royal blood ties are acknowledged at special events and cultural gatherings. Other Samoan folklore tells of the arrival of two maidens from Fiji who brought the art of tatau, or tattoo, to Samoa, whence came the traditional Samoan malofie.

“The Caribs, holding that after decease man’s soul found its way to the land of the dead, sacrificed slaves on a chief’s grave to serve him in the new life, and for the same purpose buried dogs with him, and also weapons. The Guinea negroes, at the funeral of a great man, killed several wives and slaves to serve him in the other world, and put fine clothes, gold fetishes, coral, beads, and other valuables, into the coffin, to be used there too. When the New Zealand chief had slaves killed at his death for his service, and the mourning family gave his chief widow a rope to hang herself with in the woods and so rejoin her husband, it is not easy to discern here a motive different from that which induced them at the same time to provide the dead man also with his weapons. Nor can an intellectual line well be drawn between the intentions with which the Tunguz has buried with him his horse, his bow and arrows, his smoking apparatus and kettle. …

“So in old Europe, the warrior with his sword and spear, the horse with his saddle, the hunter’s hound and hawk and his bow and arrow, the wife with her gay clothes and jewels, lie together in the burial-mound. Their common purpose has become one of the most undisputed inferences of Archaeology.”

Drawing of the interior of the Leubingen Tumulus
Drawing of the interior of the Leubingen Tumulus

“The Australian will take his weapons with him to his paradise. A Tasmanian, asked the reason of a spear being deposited in a native’s grave, replied ‘To fight with when he is alseep.’ Many Greenlanders thought that the kayak and arrows and tools laid by a man’s grave, the knife and sewing implements laid by a woman’s, would be used in the next world. The instruments buried with the Sioux are for him to make a living with hereafter; the paints provided for the dead Iroquois were to enable him to appear decently in the other world. The Aztec’s water-bottle was to serve him on the journey to Mictlan, the land of the dead; the bonfire of garments and baskets and spoils of war was intended to send them with him, and somehow to protect him against the bitter wind; the offerings to the warrior’s manes on earth would reach him on the heavenly plains. …

“In Cochin China, the common people object to celebrating their feast of the dead on the same day with the upper classes, for this excellent reason, that the aristocratic souls might make the servant souls carry home their presents for them. These people employ all the resources of their civilization to perform with the more lavish extravagance the savage funeral sacrifices. Here are details from an account published in 1849 of the funeral of a late king of Cochin China. ‘When the corpse of Thien Tri was deposited in the coffin, there were also deposited in it many things for the use of the deceased in the other world, such as his crown, turbans, clothes of all descriptions, gold, silver, and other precious
articles, rice and other provisions.’ Meals were set out near the coffin, and there was a framed piece of damask with woollen characters, the abode of one of the souls of the defunct. In the tomb, an enclosed edifice of stone, the childless wives of the deceased were to be perpetually shut up to guard the sepulchre, and prepare daily the food and other things of which they think the deceased has need in the other life.’

“At the time of the deposit of the coffin in a cavern behind the tomb building, there were burnt there great piles of boats, stages, and everything used in the funeral, ‘and moreover of all the objects which had been in use by the king during his lifetime, of chessmen, musical instruments, fans, boxes, parasols, mats, fillets, carriages, &c., &c., and likewise a horse and an elephant of wood and pasteboard.’ Some months after the funeral, at two different times, there were constructed in a forest near a pagoda two magnificent palaces of wood with rich furnishings, in all things similar to the palace which the defunct monarch had inhabited. Each palace was composed of twenty rooms, and the most scrupulous attention was given in order that nothing might be wanting necessary for a
palace, and these palaces were burned with great pomp, and it is thus that immense riches have been given to the flames from the foolish belief that it would serve the dead in the other world.'”

Terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang
Terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang (these guys sure were lucky the Chines didn’t believe it was necessary to inter the actual army with the emperor.)

1024px-Qin_bronze_chariot_two 800px-Soldier_Horse

“The souls of the Norse dead took with them from their earthly home servants and horses, boats and ferry-money, clothes and weapons. Thus, in death as in life, they journeyed, following the long dark ‘hell-way’ (helvegr). The ‘hell-shoon’ (helsko) were bound upon the dead man’s feet for the toilsome journey ; and when King Harald was slain in the battle of Bravalla, they drove his war-chariot, with the corpse upon it into the great burial-mound, and there they killed the horse, and King Hring gave his own saddle beside, that the fallen chief might ride or drive to Walhalla, as it pleased him.”

Recreation of the Sutton Hoo burial
Recreation of the Sutton Hoo burial

EvX: Tylor then draws his account to a close, concluding:

“Among races within the limits of savagery, the general doctrine of souls is found worked out with remarkable breadth and consistency. The souls of animals are recognized by a natural extension from
the theory of human souls; the souls of trees and plants follow in some vague partial way; and the souls of inanimate objects expand the general category to its extremest boundary. Thenceforth, as we explore human thought onward from savage into barbarian and civilized life, we find a state of theory more conformed to positive science, but in itself less complete and consistent. Far on into civilization, men still act as though in some half-meant way they believed in souls or ghosts of objects, while nevertheless their knowledge of physical science is beyond so crude a philosophy. … In our own day and country, the notion of souls of beasts is to be seen dying out. Animism, indeed, seems to be drawing in its outposts, and concentrating itself on its first and main position, the doctrine of
the human soul. …

“The theory of the soul is one principal part of a system of religious philosophy which unites, in an unbroken line of mental connexion, the savage fetish-worshipper and the civilized Christian. The divisions which have separated the great religions of the world into intolerant and hostile sects are for the most part superficial in comparison with the deepest of all religious schisms, that which divides Animism from Materialism.”

Patriarchy and Objectification are the only reasons Emma Watson has a job

Listening to Emma Watson talk about Feminism and “objectification” is hilarious in a depressing sort of way.

Emma Watson to take a Year Off Acting to Focus on Feminism:

“I’m on my journey with this and it might change, but I can tell you that what is really liberating and empowering me through being involved in feminism is that … so much of the self-critiquing is gone,” said Watson.

Before taking her break from Hollywood, Watson will be seen alongside John Boyega in the thriller The Circle, and in the lead role in Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast.

Doesn’t she realize that the only reason she has a job is that men want to fuck her?

If feminists were making movies, Emma Watson would not have a job. Heck, if I were making movies, Emma Watson would not have a job. I don’t like watching movies with women in them who are more attractive than I am. Women–lesbians aside–don’t watch movies so they can fantasize about the female characters. (This is why romance novels have pictures of men on their covers.)

Men are the ones who want attractive female characters in movies.

Emma Watson calls for feminist alternatives to pornography:

Emma Watson has called for the creation of “awesome alternatives” to pornography that empower instead of objectifying women.

Emma Watson speaking out against objectification is like Budweiser protesting beer consumption or rich people talking about the evil of having too much money.

“Feminist pornography” already exists, but if Emma Watson wants to make “empowering” movies about herself “enjoying sex,” I’m sure plenty of men will happily pay her money for the privilege of masturbating to it. Go feminism!

Megalithic Burials are so Weird

The vast majority of the world’s oldest, still-standing human-built structures are tombs of one sort or another. (To be fair, this excludes not-still standing structures, like ruins.)

The Wikipedia page on the oldest buildings in the world lists 67 tombs, 11 religious buildings, 9 ruins people lived in (including settlements), 5 used for things like grain storage, and one amphitheater–or 72% of sites built specifically for holding dead people. Additionally, many religious buildings double as tombs–take your typical cathedral with its small graveyard–and we don’t know the purpose of some sites. Stonehenge, for example, contains over a hundred human burials, but we don’t know if Stonehenge was intended as a fancy graveyard, if the people were sacrificed there to sanctify the site, or if it was primarily a religious site at which important people were interred.

The Wikipedia list, alas, is far from complete–it mentions, for example, that over 1,000 Neolithic dolmens (believed to have been ancient burial sites,) have been found in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, but doesn’t list them.

Wikipedia claims that there are 35,000 Neolithic and Broze Age dolmens from Korea, constituting 40% of the total–implying a total of 87,500, most of which are found in Europe. The stone circle–and stone ship–tradition in Iron Age Scandinavia was linked to burials. We’re not sure about the 1,000+ British stone circles, but Avebury–the largest stone circle in Europe–like Stonehenge, contained burials. 800 Bronze Age graves called “Giants’ Tombs” have been found in Sardinia; large “Beehive” tombs were built across Greece, southern Europe, and parts of the Middle East.

A tumulus is a mound of earth or stone raised over a grave, ranging in size from small mounds to hills 100 meters wide. Goodness knows how many of them there are; there are over 20,000 in Denmark alone.

Even the great pyramids of Egypt are nothing more than enormous tombs.

In other words, when ancient people died, their relatives–if they had any money–put a remarkable amount of effort into building them enormous, sturdy tombs.

Meanwhile, outside of a few settlements, people don’t seem to have put nearly so much effort into building houses for, you know, people who were still alive and could actually enjoy them.

Folks regularly filled the graves with the deceased’s personal belongings, including wagons, chariots, mummified pets, sacrificed horses, sacrificed wives, sacrificed slaves, food, mancala boards, spinning wheels, jewelry, pots, etc. The ancients believed that you really could take it with you.

I recall one account which noted a particular society that was having trouble accumulating wealth or building up any material development just because every time someone died, all of their belongings were buried with them.

In another account, an Indian chief claimed to have fallen ill and journeyed almost to the land of the dead. On his way back to his body, he encountered a line of deceased villagers, struggling to carry the great quantity of goods they’d been buried with all the way to the land of the dead. Upon waking, he instructed his tribe that the dead had asked to be buried with just the things they could easily carry–a very clever approach to reforming inefficient customs if I ever heard one!

Now imagine King Tut–or Ramses the Great–trying to carry all of that stuff he was buried with to the Egyptian afterlife.

As someone who thinks we should just compost bodies that aren’t being used for organ donation or scientific purposes, I find the whole idea of building giant tombs and filling them with stuff for dead people really weird. How much better off could the Egyptians (and Europeans,) have been if they had devoted of that effort and wealth to building irrigation system, aqueducts, sewer systems, better houses, schools, etc.–or just relaxing–instead of giant tombs for their dead?

But there is some logic to this madness.

Rituals surrounding human interment–whether by water, fire, air, or soil–go back at least 100,000 years, and even the Neanderthals may have buried their dead (also, potentially elephants and chimpanzees.) If there exists any modern or recent human society that does not have some form of rituals surrounding the proper disposal of dead bodies, I have not heard of them. (But maybe this?) Whether motivated by some animist impulse, grief, abhorence of dead things, or respect for the dead, these ritual are important to people.

And outside of communities that practice air burial, people dislike it when stray animals dig up the recently buried corpses of their deceased loved ones and scatter their bones about.

Thus most likely arose the sensible practice of piling rocks atop a grave, both to mark the spot for later mourning (and avoidance) and also to deter the depredations of wild animals.

The more important the person, the more relatives show up at the funeral to pile up rocks and the more importance the tribe places on ensuring that the body is not defiled. So it become a matter of social obligation to create nice cairns for one’s deceased relatives, and a matter of social status to have the biggest cairn.

Next thing you know, your country’s entire economy s devoted to building giant tombs and filling them with stuff.

Ancient Egyptian peacocks' tails
Ancient Egyptian peacocks’ tails

And then these burial monuments have stuck around for so long because of the taboo against disturbing them–people will happily disassemble an old house for the stones so they can build a new one, but people don’t like disassembling old graves to build houses out of.

Interestingly, though, these kinds of enormous burial mounds seem to have completely died out. Perhaps this is a side effect due to the lack of wolves digging up modern cemeteries.

Elsewhere in the Baltic: Gotland

190px-Sweden_Gotland_location_map_modified.svgToday we move out of the more speculative parts of the Baltic trade routes and onto the Swedish island of Gotland, which was possibly one of the wealthiest islands of the Middle Ages.

Hunter gatherers arrived in Gotland around 9,500 years ago, (when the Baltic was apparently more of a lake than a sea,) and stuck around for about 5,000 years–persisting on the island for nearly a millennium (or longer) after farmers had invaded mainland Sweden and displaced the hunter-gatherers there. (Of course, you may note that farmers still haven’t made it to northern Sweden.)

I have not found a whole lot in English about stone-age sites in Gotland, but GotlandsResor–yes, a tourist info page–states that:

Several Stone age settlements are known and many of them has been excavated. Stora Karlsö, Visby, Västergarn and Ajvide south of Klintehamn, also in Ihre and Bjers in the north and finally Suderkvie in the south, which was surrounded by open sea. In the centre of Gotland the oldest settlement, Mölner Gullarve, is located, over 7 000 years old.

According to Wikipedia, Ajvide,

covers an area of 200,000 square metres and was occupied from the Late Mesolithic through to the mid Bronze Age. The majority of the activity on the site took place during the Middle Neolithic period (3100 – 2700 BC). This phase of activity belongs to the Pitted Ware culture. …

The principal feature of the site is a burial ground containing some 80 graves. …

A significant faunal assemblage has been recovered from the site. This suggests that in the late Mesolithic the economy was based upon the hunting of grey, ringed and harp seals, porpoise and fishing. Cattle, sheep, and pigs were introduced at the start of the Neolithic. However, there was a resurgence in seal hunting and fishing by the Middle Neolithic. Cattle and sheep returned during the late Neolithic and Bronze Age.[1] It has been argued[5] that the pigs which remain on Gotland during the Pitted Ware phase are in fact wild or feral animals, implying a general return to hunting and gathering during this period and not just a reversion to marine resources.

While northern Sweden has remained agriculture-free due to its harsh, cold climate, the perhaps the apparent abandonment of agriculture and resumption of hunting during the Middle Neolithic was driven by a mild climate creating an abundance of easily-hunted animals–or perhaps we are just dealing with two (or more) separate populations who had their own lifestyles.

Wallin, Wallin and Apel’s Prehistoric lifestyles on Gotland – diachronic and synchronic perspectives adds to our picture of the late neolithic and early Bronze Age:

The settlement pattern from the late Neolithic is unclear, and no settlements with house foundations and distinct cultural layers have been found. … In the Early Bronze age around 1800 BC … the cairns became clearly visible monuments in the landscape. The cairns became the new statement indicating more complex social formations and distinctions that already started in the late Neolithic. The Neolithization with control over land resources and extensive use of domesticated animals was a long struggle during a time period of c. 2000 years that finally around 1800 BC could be put in practice and developed further during the Bronze Age. …

One obvious change which probably indicates the establishment of far reaching contacts is the introduction of metal. Copper started to appear in graves during the late Neolithic … Recent studies of copper in bronze artefacts indicate that southern west Europe is a likely source of origin, and it is almost certain that this alloy found its way to Gotland through bartering/trade.

Wallin, Wallin, and Apel also provide us with some maps:

Picture 7 Picture 5 Picture 6

The Bronze Age appears to have been a good time for Gotland:

The material culture that constitutes the Bronze Age on Gotland is the alloy bronze, large cairns, stone ship settings, rock carvings, cup mark-sites, fire cracked stone mounds and pits.  There are according to the Swedish National Site Survey over thousand cairns on Gotland belonging to the Bronze Age.

"Tjelvar's grave," ship cairn, Gotland
Tjelvar’s grave,ship cairn, Gotland

It has been difficult to locate distinct settlement areas from the Bronze Age, but … field systems have been found, which have indicated Bronze Age dates. Lindquist suggests that evidences point to the fact that Gotland during the end of the Bronze Age was organised in units that were larger than the extended family level with a possible division of labor into farmers, herdsmen, and craftsmen. During this time was an extensive farming and herding method used. … the land-use changed into intensification of agriculture with arable meadows and grazing in smaller “privatised” established areas with a fencing system, during the pre-Roman Iron Age. These types of smaller irregular farming units are also found in Estonia. Lang calls these “Baltic fields” and according to him they reflect the boundaries of clearing of the arable soil and centered on clearing cairns. Thus they diverge from the larger regular Celtic fields, which reflect a conscious land-division and land ownership. (I have removed the in-line citations for readability; see the original if you want them.)

The local Iron Age began around 500 BC, and is divided into “Pre-Roman,” “Roman,” and “Germanic:”

During the decline of the Roman Empire, an abundance of gold flowed into Scandinavia; there are excellent works in gold from this period. Gold was used to make scabbard mountings and bracteates. After the Western Roman Empire fell, gold became scarce and Scandinavians began to make objects of gilded bronze…

This was, as you know, a time of much Nordo-Germanic movement, and was followed by the Viking Age, which was also a time of much Nordic movement.

In the midst of all this trade (or plunder,) Gotland became one of the most important harbors in the Baltic:

The number of Arab dirhams discovered on the island of Gotland alone is astoundingly high. In the various hoards located around the island, there are more of these silver coins than at any other site in Western Eurasia. The total sum is almost as great as the number that has been unearthed in the entire Muslim world.[24]

And from GotlandsResor:

Gotland is often referred to as “The World´s Treasury”. Over 145 000 coins have been found in Gotland, a fact that makes the island to one of the worlds most important places in prehistoric finds. … The world´s largest ever found silver treasure dating Viking Age was found on northern Gotland at Spillings in 1999. It weight over 80 kilos!

The Spillings Hoard is truly remarkable:

The silver hoard consisted of two parts with a total weight of 67 kg (148 lb) before conservation and consisted of, among other things, 14,295 coins most of which were Islamic from other countries. A third deposition containing over 20 kg (44 lb) of bronze scrap-metal was also found. … As of 2015, more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) silver from over 700 caches deposited between the 9th and 12th centuries have been found on Gotland. This includes 168,000 silver coins from the Arab world, North Africa and Central Asia.[16]

Khazar coin, c. 800
Map of the Hanseatic League
Map of the Hanseatic League

Gotland went on to become an important trade point in the Hanseatic League, (1400-1800):

Visby [Gotland] functioned as the leading centre in the Baltic before the Hansa. Sailing east, Visby merchants established a trading post at Novgorod called Gutagard (also known as Gotenhof) in 1080.[2] Merchants from northern Germany also stayed in the early period of the Gotlander settlement.

Gotland’s Visby was, for a time, the second-most important city in the Hanseatic league, until the Danes decided to conquer and loot it, prompting a war between the Hanseatic League and Denmark. Denmark lost, but kept Visby (and all of Gotland.) From there, it degenerated into a pirates’ nest, and in 1470 was soon stripped of its Hanseatic membership.

Still, not a bad run–from back-water hunter-gatherer hold-outs to one of the wealthiest islands in the world in just a few thousand years.

Europe before Rome


Herodotus’s world (You don’t want to travel to the land of the Androphagi, that’s for sure.)

The civilization of Greece and Rome make such an impact upon the pages of history that everything before and after is cast in shadow. Despite this, history since the fall of the Roman Empire has been fairly well documented–but European history before Herodotus laid quill to parchment is known almost solely through archaeology (and, increasingly, genetics.)

What was Europe like before the Romans conquered it? Was it rather like Europe after the Fall of Rome, but with less Christianity and fewer scribes? Had Europe already started down the path to technological development and innovation, or was it still a barbarian backwater that only became significant later–perhaps because of the Romans, Christianity, or trade routes to other, more developed parts of the world?

Oddly, some of the world’s oldest still-standing houses are found on a tiny island off the far northern tip of Scotland, at a site named Skara Brae, (occupied between 3180 and 2500 BC):








Or perhaps this isn’t so odd–not because people on windswept islands in the middle of the North Atlantic developed house-building skills before anyone else, but because they had to work in stone because they had so few trees. Most people–especially folks living in hot places–build houses out of materials like wood and reeds, which biodegrade over the course of a few thousand years. Skara Brae, built in a nearly treeless, cold, windy island, looks an igloo made of stone instead of ice and surrounded for insulation with turf instead of snow.

Skara Brae’s isolation has probably also helped preserve it–there haven’t been a bunch of people wandering around the Orkneys, plowing up the land, building hotels, and generally obliterating ancient sites.

Likewise, those footprints on the moon are likely to be there for a very long time.

The Orkney islands boast some even older houses, at the Knap of Howar (occupied between 3,700 and 2,800 BC):








Most of the other structures we have from this time period appear to be tombs or stone circles. The Great Pyramid of Giza, for example, is a giant tomb (and since it was built in 2,560 BC, it’s younger than Skara Brae.) Stonehenge was built sometime between 3,000 and 2,000 BC and serves no obvious purpose, but given the 100+ people interred there, it probably also began as a fancy graveyard.

The preservation of houses and other structures on the Orkney islands may be an accident of geography, but it is a lucky one, for it allows us a rare glimpse into how these people lived.

Orkney boasts not just houses, of course, but also chambered tombs and stone circles, more houses at the Links of Noltland, and a possibly ceremonial complex–or just regular complex of buildings–now known as Ness Brodgar (photos and map belong to the Ness of Brodgar excavation site):

ness2015plan Site-overview






(Sorry these pictures are oriented in different directions, and the map shows a different stage in the excavation than the photos.)

Structure-10-note-more-of-the-paving-around-it-revealed-at-the-bottom-of-the-photoFor orientation, Structure 10 is in the lower right on the map, the lower left in the overview photo, and oriented toward the top of the second, close-up photo. For comparison, there is a modern house in the lower-left hand corner of the overview photo, which does not appear much bigger than the excavated structures.


Wikipedia gives us some more detailed descriptions of the site:

There are the remains of a large stone wall (the “Great Wall of Brodgar”) that may have been 100 metres (330 ft) long and 4 metres (13 ft) or more wide. It appears to traverse the entire peninsula the site is on …

The temple-like structure, which was discovered in 2008, has walls 4 metres (13 ft) thick and the shape and size of the building are visible, with the walls still standing to a height of more 1 metre (3.3 ft). The structure is 25 metres (82 ft) long and 20 metres (66 ft) wide … The archaeological team believe it is the largest structure of its kind anywhere in the north of Britain…

In July 2010, a remarkable rock coloured red, orange, and yellow was unearthed. This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic peoples used paint to decorate their buildings … Only a week later a stone with a zigzag chevron pattern painted with a red pigment was discovered nearby.[14]

A baked clay artefact known as the “Brodgar Boy”, and thought to be a figurine with a head, body, and two eyes, was also unearthed in the rubble of one structure in 2011… archaeologists discovered a carved stone ball, a very rare find of such an object in situ in “a modern archaeological context”.[17]

Prehistoric roof tiles were used in Ness of Brodgar. The archaeologists at the ongoing Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) excavations have found Orkney’s first real evidence of a Neolithic roof. In most reconstructions of prehistoric buildings, one will often see the roof made of turf, animal skins or thatch. But on the Ness, the builders used stone slates for at least one of their buildings the remains of which have been uncovered within the side recesses along the interior walls of Structure Eight.[18]

The Wikipedia page on Prehistoric Scotland gives a quick description of the Knap of Howar and Skara Brae :

At the wonderfully well preserved stone house at Knap of Howar on the Orkney island of Papa Westray (occupied from 3500 BC to 3100 BC) the walls stand to a low eaves height, and the stone furniture is intact. Evidence from middens shows that the inhabitants were keeping cattle, sheep and pigs, farming barley and wheat and gathering shellfish as well as fishing for species which have to be line caught using boats. …

The houses at Skara Brae on the Mainland of the Orkney Islands are very similar, but grouped into a village linked by low passageways. This settlement was occupied from about 3000 BC to 2500 BC. Pottery found here is of the grooved ware style which is found across Britain as far away as Wessex.

Old map of the Orkney Islands
Old map of the Orkney Islands

The page on Skara Brae further notes:

On average, the houses measure 40 square metres (430 sq ft) in size with a large square room containing a stone hearth used for heating and cooking. Given the number of homes, it seems likely that no more than fifty people lived in Skara Brae at any given time.[5] …

The dwellings contain a number of stone-built pieces of furniture, including cupboards, dressers, seats, and storage boxes. Each dwelling was entered through a low doorway that had a stone slab door that could be closed “by a bar that slid in bar-holes cut in the stone door jambs”.[9] A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the village’s design. It included a primitive form of toilet in each dwelling.

Seven of the houses have similar furniture, with the beds and dresser in the same places in each house. The dresser stands against the wall opposite the door… Each of these houses had the larger bed on the right side of the doorway and the smaller on the left. Lloyd Laing noted that this pattern accorded with Hebridean custom up to the early 20th century suggesting that the husband’s bed was the larger and the wife’s was the smaller.[10] The discovery of beads and paint-pots in some of the smaller beds may support this interpretation. …

One house, called House 8, has no storage boxes or dresser. It has been divided into something resembling small cubicles. When this house was excavated, fragments of stone, bone and antler were found. It is possible that this building was used as a house to make simple tools such as bone needles or flint axes.


Continuing on:

Other artefacts excavated on site made of animal, fish, bird, and whalebone, whale and walrus ivory, and killer whale teeth included awls, needles, knives, beads, adzes, shovels, small bowls and, most remarkably, ivory pins up to 10 inches (25 cm) long.[32] These pins are very similar to examples found in passage graves in the Boyne Valley, another piece of evidence suggesting a linkage between the two cultures.[33] So-called Skaill knives were commonly used tools in Skara Brae; these consist of large flakes knocked off sandstone cobbles.[34] Skaill knives have been found throughout Orkney and Shetland.

Not bad for such a small, isolated place!

In the spirit of speculation, BBC Travel asks, Were these remote, wild islands the center of everything?

“…the Ness of Brodgar, an elaborate ceremonial complex the size of four US football fields, is reshaping our understanding of the people who lived more than 5,000 years ago. …

To appreciate the Ness, though, you also have to visit the Ring of Brodgar: … Each of the stones, measuring up to 4.5m tall, was dragged from quarries as far as 10 miles away. (The earliest example of a wheel in Britain dates to about 1100 BC, some 600 years later.) The surrounding ditch was cut 9m wide and 3m deep through bedrock – all without the use of metal. Including the ditch and bank … the Ring of Brodgar’s diameter is 130m… Among Neolithic structures in Britain, its size is exceeded only by Avebury and Stanton Drew; it edges out Stonehenge, whose ditch and bank measure 100m. In all, the Ring of Brodgar is estimated to have taken as many as 80,000 man hours to complete.

The Ness of Brodgar underscores that even further. Both the size and intricacy of the complex are unlike anything that’s been found in Europe before. The main building, nicknamed the “cathedral”, had an area of some 465sqm, including a forecourt; the entire Ness was surrounded by a wall more than 365m long…

All of that opulence was for something likely never meant to be a permanent settlement. Instead, the Ness was used periodically for more than 1,300 years. Around 2300 BC, near the end of its life, shinbones from some 400 cattle were deposited on the site – likely the remains of a very large feast, when you consider that a single cow could feed about 200 people.

… that final ceremony – along with the rest of the finds, and the size and design of the buildings themselves – has led archaeologists to believe that its purpose was largely ritual, with people gathering here from many miles away. … It’s also adding evidence to what might be the most surprising takeaway of all: that this corner of Scotland wasn’t just a centre of Neolithic civilisation in Britain. It may have been the centre.

Today, the remote location of the archipelago’s 70 islands means that it is widely ignored by all but the savviest of history- (or prehistory-) loving travellers. But once, it was this very location made them a centre of civilisation. The islands were along the North Sea route that prehistoric people would have taken from northern Europe to Britain and back. Archaeologists have already found, for example, that Orkney invented grooved-ware pottery some 5,100 to 5,300 years ago – a development that later made its way across the rest of Britain, probably accompanied by other types of technology, art and ideas.

The grooved ware pottery point is interesting. According to Wikipedia:

Unlike the later Beaker ware, Grooved culture was not an import from the continent but seems to have developed in Orkney, early in the 3rd millennium BC, and was soon adopted in Britain and Ireland.[1]…

Since many Grooved ware pots have been found at henge sites and in burials, it is possible that they may have had a ritual purpose as well as a functional one. …

The earliest examples have been found in Orkney and may have evolved from earlier Unstan ware bowls. … The style soon spread and it was used by the builders of the first phase of Stonehenge. Grooved ware pottery has been found in abundance in recent excavations at Durrington Walls and Marden Henge in Wiltshire. …

One way the tradition may have spread is through trade routes up the west coast of Britain. … Evidence at some early Henges (Mayburgh Henge, Ring of Brodgar, Arbor Low) suggests that there were staging and trading points on a national ‘motorway’ during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. This evidence perhaps explains how Cumbrian stone axes found their way to Orkney.

Was Orkney some sort of important trade point?

Since the invention of the wheel, the road, and the internal combustion engine, I suspect that we moderns have begun defaulting to thinking about trade routes in terms of places you can get to by car (or train.) But these sites were constructed before the wheel reached Britain–in the days when burdens taken overland had to be carried on one’s back or loaded onto an animal.

It was likely far easier to trade by water than by land–simply load all of your goods into a boat, shove off, and row. The close association between “Greek” cities and “Turkish” cities in Hellenic times exemplifies this–it makes more sense to think of ancient Greek civilization as an island-hopping Aegean-based people than to think of them as a land-based people. Even today, human settlements cluster around ports–the easiest places to load and unload shipped goods.

Just as the Aegean was to Greece, the Mediterranean to Rome, the Nile to Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates to Babylon, and the monsoon trade routes to the Indian ocean, so may the Baltic have been to northern Europe:


This map doesn’t show Scotland, but it is rather to the West of the southern tip of Norway. It is not a coastal-hugging route, but if you just aim your boat due West, you’ll probably hit it.

But due to the big chunk of hard-to traverse European land in between the Baltic and the Mediterranean, none of these potential trade routes connect with Herodotus’s world.



Anthropology Friday: Animal Souls

I hear the Pope has declared that dogs can get into Heaven, now. (I guess technically he can do that? Like, the opposite of excommunication? But don’t only humans have souls under Catholic doctrine? Can some Catholic expert clarify?)

Continuing with Edward B. Tylor’s Primitive Culture:

“In now passing from the consideration of the souls of men to that of the souls of the lower animals, we have first to inform ourselves as to the savage man’s idea, which is very different from the civilized man’s, of the nature of these lower animals. …

“Savages talk quite seriously to beasts alive or dead as they would to men alive or dead, offer them homage, ask pardon when it is their painful duty to hunt and kill them. A North American Indian will reason with a horse as if rational. Some will spare the rattlesnake, fearing the vengeance of its spirit if slain; others will salute the creature reverently, bid it welcome as a friend from the land of spirits, sprinkle a pinch of tobacco on its head for an offering, catch it by the tail and dispatch it with extreme dexterity, and carry off its skin as a trophy.

“If an Indian is attacked and torn by a bear, it is that the beast fell upon him intentionally in anger, perhaps to revenge the hurt done to another bear. When a bear is killed, they will beg pardon of him, or even make him condone the offence by smoking the peace-pipe with his murderers, who put the pipe in his mouth and blow down it, begging his spirit not to take revenge.

S”o in Africa, the Kafirs will hunt the elephant, begging him not to tread on them and kill them, and when he is dead they will assure him that they did not kill him on purpose, and they will bury his trunk, for the elephant is a mighty chief, and his trunk is his hand that he may hurt withal. The Congo people will even avenge such a murder by a pretended attack on the hunters who did the deed.

“Such customs are common among the lower Asiatic tribes. The Stiens of Kambodia ask pardon of the beast they have killed; the Ainos [Ainu] of Yesso kill the bear, offer obeisance and salutation to him, and cut up his carcase. The Koriaks, if they have slain a bear or wolf, will flay him, dress one of their people in the skin, and dance round him, chanting excuses that they did not do it, and especially laying the blame on a Russian. But if it is a fox, they take his skin, wrap his dead body in hay, and sneering tell him to go to his own people and say what famous hospitality he has had, and how they gave him a new coat instead of his old one. The Samoyeds excuse themselves to the slain bear, telling him it was the Russians who did it, and that a Russian knife will cut him up. The Goldi will set up the slain bear, call him ‘my lord’ and do ironical homage to him, or taking him alive will fatten him in a cage, call him ‘son’ and ‘brother’ and kill and eat him as a sacrifice at a solemn festival. …”

Ainu bear sacrifice
Ainu bear sacrifice
Ainu bear hunt
Ainu bear hunt

“Even now the Norse hunter will say with horror of a bear that will attack man, that he can be “no Christian bear.” …

“Men to whom the cries of beasts and birds seem like human language, and their actions guided as it were by human thought, logically enough allow the existence of souls to beasts, birds, and reptiles, as to men. The lower psychology cannot but recognize in beasts the characteristics which it attributes to the human soul, namely, the phenomena of life and death, will and judgment, and the phantom seen in vision or in dream. As for believers, savage or civilized, in the great doctrine of metempsychosis, these not only consider that an animal may have a soul, but that this soul may have inhabited a human being, and thus the creature may be in fact their own ancestor or once familiar friend. …

“North American Indians held every animal to have its spirit, and these spirits their future life; the soul of the Canadian dog went to serve his master in the other world; among the Sioux, the prerogative of having four souls was not confined to man, but belonged also to the bear, the most human of animals. The Greenlanders considered that a sick human soul might be replaced by the sorcerer with a fresh healthy soul of a hare, a reindeer, or a young child. Maori tale-tellers have heard of the road by which the spirits of dogs descend to Reinga, the Hades of the departed; the Hovas of Madagascar know that the ghosts of beasts and men, dwelling in a great mountain in the south called Ambondrombe, come out occasionally to walk among the tombs or execution-places of criminals. The Kamchadals held that every creature, even the smallest fly, would live again in the under- world. The Kukis of Assam think that the ghost of every animal a Kuki kills in the chase or for the feast will belong to him in the next life, even as the enemy he slays in the field will then become his slave. The Karens apply the doctrine of the spirit or personal life-phantom, which is apt to wander from the body and thus suffer injury, equally to men and to animals. The Zulus say the cattle they kill come to life again, and become the property of the dwellers in the world beneath. …”

“Animals being thus considered in the primitive psychology to have souls like human beings, it follows as the simplest matter of course that tribes who kill wives and slaves, to dispatch their souls on errands of duty with their departed lords, may also kill animals in order that their spirits may do such service as is proper to them. The Pawnee warrior’s horse is slain on his grave to be ready for him to mount again, and the Comanche’s best horses are buried with his favourite weapons and his pipe, all alike to be used in the distant happy hunting-grounds. 1 In South America not only do such rites occur, but they reach a practically disastrous extreme. Patagonian tribes, says D’Orbigny, believe in another life, where they are to enjoy perfect happiness, therefore they bury with the deceased his arms and ornaments, and even kill on his tomb all the animals which belonged to him, that he may find them in the abode of bliss; and this opposes an insurmountable barrier to all civilization, by preventing them from accumulating property and fixing their habitations.

Certain Esquimaux, as Cranz relates, would lay a dog’s head in a child’s grave, that the soul of the dog, who is everywhere at home, might guide the helpless infant to the land of souls. In accordance with this, Captain Scoresby in Jameson’s Land found a dog’s skull in a small grave, probably a child’s. Again, in the distant region of the Aztecs, one of the principal funeral ceremonies was to slaughter a techichi, or native dog ; it was burnt or buried with the corpse, with a cotton thread fastened to its neck, and its office was to convey the deceased across the deep waters of Chiuhnahuapan, on the way to the Land of the Dead. The dead Buraet’s favourite horse, led saddled to the grave, killed, and flung in, may serve for a Tatar example. In Tonquin, even wild animals have been customarily drowned at funeral ceremonies of princes, to be at the service of the departed in the next world. …

“Among the nations of the Aryan race in Europe, the prevalence of such rites is deep, wide, and full of purpose. Thus, warriors were provided in death with horses and housings, with hounds and falcons. Customs thus described in chronicle and legend, are vouched for in our own time by the opening of old barbaric burial-places. How clear a relic of savage meaning lies here may be judged from a Livonian account as late as the fourteenth century, which relates how men and women slaves, sheep and oxen, with other things, were burnt with the dead, who, it was believed, would reach some region of the living, and find there, with the multitude of cattle and slaves, a country of life and happiness. … It is mentioned as a belief in Northern Europe that he who has given a cow to the poor will find a cow to take him over the bridge of the dead, and a custom of leading a cow in the funeral procession is said to have been kept up to modern times.”

EvX, here: Turning to the European intellectual tradition on the subject of animal souls, Tylor observes:

“Although, however, the primitive belief in the souls of animals still survives to some extent in serious philosophy, it is obvious that the tendency of educated opinion on the question whether brutes have soul, as distinguished from life and mind, has for ages been in a negative and sceptical direction. The doctrine has fallen from its once high estate. It belonged originally to real, though rude science. It has now sunk to become a favourite topic in that mild speculative talk which still does duty so largely as intellectual conversation, and even then its propounders defend it with a lurking consciousness of its being after all a piece of sentimental nonsense.”

Sentimental nonsense, and may it remain that way.