A Spirit on the Winds:
A Short Introduction to Dr. Felicitas Goodman's Work
-Michael J Dangler
Three Cranes Grove, ADF
In 1999, I met a frail-looking woman who had come to Ohio State to give a lecture and demonstration of something she called "ecstatic body postures." I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in the class she was to lecture in, and had my first real experience with an otherworldly journey.
To anyone who has had a boring lecture, perhaps it's no queer thought that a person might experience a strange and strongly visual experience, but the thing that interested me most about the experience that day is that it was not only not boring, but also that we shared the experience of the demonstration. A number of us visited mountains, saw large eyes open, and many traveled far and wide. The common elements in our experience were surprising to us, but not to the lecturer.
Her name was Dr. Felicitas Goodman, author of a book called Where the Spirits Ride the Wind and founder and director of the Cuyamungue Institute in New Mexico. Her work, since then, has had a major influence on how I have seen meditation, and more importantly, how I have seen religion as a whole.
Thus it was with much sadness that I read of her passing in the paper. I had, I suppose, always taken for granted that her work had influenced others as much as it had influenced me. Now, I looked at how much it had influenced me, and how much it was influencing others, and realized that a number of people who could really use the research Dr. Goodman did, and yet they've never even heard of her.
It struck me most that the work of this amazing lady has not been explored deeply within ADF, which I might find surprising, especially with the number of self-described "shamans" I've met onlist and off. Goodman's work, though, is perhaps more scholarly and more scientific than the usual works on shamanism, though, and ADF has never placed a heavy emphasis on developing shamanic skills. We don't recommend any reading for shamanic skills, nor do we have a Shaman's Guild or a shamanic specialty in any Guild.
Because of this, I'd like to give a short introduction to her background and work, as well as a few further resources on her work. I feel that her theories and her academic work could be invaluable to many of ADF's practicing liturgists, magicians, seers, and priests. I can't begin to delve deeply into her work in such a limited forum, but we can discuss the basics of her work and provide further resources if it interests you.
Felicitas Goodman was admitted to graduate school at The Ohio State University at the age of 51 in 1965, majoring in linguistics. Her primary work was in glossolalia (also known as "speaking in tongues"), and was quite groundbreaking. She found parallels in the patterns of glossolalic speech not only across cultures, but also across languages and dialects (even non-Indo-European speakers follow these similarities). Some of the similarities are as follows:1
- It retains rhythmic patterns
- It "scans" with regular accent patterns
- Each syllable begins with a consonant
- Each person has the same intonation pattern:
- "rose to a peak at the end of the first third of the utterance unit and then sloped gradually toward the end."2
Goodman did the first real serious academic work on trance, relating early on primarily to glossolalia. Before her work (and even after some of it was published), academics firmly believed that trance did not exist at all. After submitting her first paper to a Canadian linguist, she received a response that she describes as, "the gist of which was, now, now, young lady, there is no such thing as trance, and even if it did exist, we would not want to make people unhappy by suggesting that they experienced a weird state of some kind."3
Not discouraged, Goodman continued to work on trance. During her fieldwork, she identified several conditions that she deemed necessary for personal trancework:
- Private physical space, non-distraction
- Expectation of non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Something to assist in concentration
- The person must believe this is a normal state (i.e. that they are not crazy)
- The person must believe it is enjoyable (i.e. the state must be approached with openness)
Rhythmic stimulation of the nervous system.
- Singing or encouragement
- No rhythm or patterns are necessary
- Simply watching the breath as it goes in and out is sufficient
- Not looking to "empty the mind" like Zen meditation . . . "emptiness" closes off the mind to ecstatic trance.
- · "In trance, the mind becomes receptive to perceptions from non-ordinary reality and no longer should remain empty."4
- Goodman found this best accomplished by a percussive instrument, and favoured a gourd rattle
- 210 beats per minute for 15 minutes with the rattle served her best.
- 10 minutes felt "unfinished" and more than 15 left an "empty space" or caused exhaustion.
All these keys brought out an experience of trance, but through experimentation she found a wide variety of experiences. What Goodman began to aim for was commonality in experience, a way to obtain the same results traditional shamans had been obtaining for centuries in indigenous cultures. How is it, for instance, that an Australian shaman can enter a trance and fire a magical missile into his enemy? Why do Lapp shamans describe being "squeezed out" through their heads? What are they doing to find this commonality that she was missing? It was from these questions that the final piece of the puzzle fell into place:
- The idea was inspired by an article by psychologist V. F. Emerson in 1972.5
- This article studied changes in body function during meditation in different body positions. In particular:
- Galvanic skin response
- Hormone secretion
- Blood pressure
- Posture seems to be the key to results
- How do you choose the postures?
- Look at the large bodies of ethnographic representations
- Some postures repeat and are common among cultures
When each person was posed in exactly the same manner (down to the degree in which their back was elevated from the floor), there emerged a sudden commonality in experience. While the Emerson article took the first steps, it was Goodman who conducted extensive experiments (university students in the 1970's were more than happy to experiment with just about anything, apparently, and were quick to volunteer).
What she found was that the magic and the experiences that we read about in the sagas and myths of our people are not impossible feats, or the imaginings of our ancestors, but they are literary representations of the processes and experiences that can be obtained by the act of positioning the body in certain ways and entering into a trance-state.
What can we take from Goodman's work? The first thing we can take is that religion and the body are intertwined in a way that few of us ever think of. When we stand before our altars, or raise our voices in ritual, how do we position ourselves? I'm willing to bet that each person who has done ritual for a long time will have a series of actions that he or she performs for each ritual. This, of course, does not mean that you need to begin with a set of ritual motions, but most people will find motions that make them feel "religious", and each person will naturally find these motions on their own.
Taking off this same train of thought, though, we can see that it's possible that a set of ritual motions that are developed by our more experienced members might help some of our newer members to connect with the Spirits on a similar level. Sometimes, suggestions on how to stand, where to place your hands, and how far back you should tilt your head might bring someone who isn't "feeling it" a certain measure of commonality of experience.
Another thing we might consider is looking into the same forms and postures that our own ancestors represented. Sitting in the same position that Cernunnos is represented in on the Gundestrup cauldron while listening to a steady and rapid drum beat might bring about an entirely new experience, and perhaps even one that is more accurate than all the historical information that we have gathered about Cernunnos to this point.
We might also consider the creation of a series of movements and postures that could be learned as part of a later study program, made into a portion of the ceremonial magical system that ADF's Magician's Guild sometimes talks about, or even learned as part of the Daily Practice requirement in the ADF Dedicant Program.
Perhaps what we can best take out of Goodman's work, though, is that there are ways to experience the feats of the ancients, the magical work that they did, and the trances of the diviners. These things are surprisingly simple for us to attain, if we know the route to take. Goodman has given us a rough roadmap, and I think that if we work from some of her ideas, we will find many ways to attain a more powerful worship for ourselves.
- Emerson, V. F. 1972. "Can Belief Systems Influence Neurophysiology? Some Implications of Research on Meditation". Newsletter Review, the R. M. Buckle Memorial Society, 5:20-32.
- Goodman, Felicitas D. Speaking in Tongues: A Cross-Cultural Study of Glossolalia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1972 (ISBN: ?)
- Goodman, Felicitas D. Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1990. (ISBN: 0253327644)
- Gore, Belinda. Ecstatic Body Postures: An Alternate Reality Workbook. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company Publishing. 1995.
- Goodman - Speaking in Tongues
- Goodman - Where the Spirits Ride the Wind, p. 12
- ibid., p. 13
- Gore, Ecstatic Body Postures, p. 7
- Emerson, V. F. "Can Belief Systems Influence Neurophysiology?"
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