Do Objects Have Power?

March 17, 2015


I’ve recently completed seven shaman pictures. These are paintings of shamans from my mind. Shamans have a strong connection to art. Outsider art, at least. My kind of art. The kind that tries to get beyond.

Shamans interface with the spirit world. You don’t necessarily need a shaman to get down with spirits, but the conventional wisdom is you’re better off with one. Spirits can be scary – a shaman can keep one under control, most of the time. As a painter, I’m always on the lookout for spirits and for shamans. If you accept the spirit thing, you should be ready to face the issue of: can a spirit inhabit an object? Can it animate such an object?

Or, can objects have energy? Can an object contain power? Every time I go to the New Guinea collection in the deYoung Museum I feel. Feel is a weird word. What is it to feel?

Most of the time you don’t feel the stuff around you. Are you a stuff-around-you feeler? I’m not. Not most stuff. But the New Guinea power stuff I feel. How can that be? How can some stuff get through to you? What is it I feel? Is it like a communication? Not really. It’s an emanation from the object itself. It has no awareness of you. Not at first. It emanates something we call ‘power.’ If you have a thing emanating power, people should be able to feel it, wouldn’t you think? Well, there aren’t a lot of people who spend any time in the New Guinea gallery. People are visibly uncomfortable there, most of them. So it’s usually empty. But it is chock full of power stuff.

Let’s say you feel power coming off some bloody thing. Whatever the thing is. A shield, a feathered, carved figure. What you’re really trying to say is you feel energy. Where’s the energy coming from? I stood there closing my eyes and I could feel energy coming from an opening, like a door, not the object. The object was somehow letting energy from some other time/place/dimension come through it and by Jove, us humans can feel it. Or I could, anyway. It wasn’t actually the thing itself, was it? It was the transparency of it. It was a door into their spirit world.

The tribe who made the power object didn’t think of it that way. The spirit world wasn’t hiding from them. They might infuse spirit power into an object, like a spear or a shield, to maybe do a bit better in the next homicidal battle with the tribe over the hill. Or invite spirits to occupy objects in return for favorable treatment of, say, disease. The objects were spirit reservoirs at times, other times they were spirit shrines where people could give cool shit to the spirits. Or maybe they housed a particularly good spirit who could provide some relief from the bullies, thugs, extortionists, con spirits, murderers and scoundrels that were heavily represented in this part of the spirit territory.

Here in the museum’s New Guinea wing the spirit power doors are wide open, dozens of them, and the spirits are beginning to realize it. It takes some time for them to wake up. If they sense a door opening, it’s because that door leads into you. Oh no! It’s because you have the freeq, not those other cretins wandering through. You have it and they, the spirits, are starting to crowd the doorways, bright eyes flashing furiously against the velvet black of the interstellar void, looking for the carrier. Looking for you. They can feel you there but they haven’t quite found you. Not yet.

Here’s the crux. Do you shut it down and turn your back on the whole spirit mess and make a dash for the exit, or do you hang around and see what the danged things are like, what they have to say? Here’s the even-more-cruxy crux: can they infect you?

Way back in New Guinea, to create the power objects the regular folks needed a shaman. Every band had its shaman, or several. Shamans were prestigious professionals for the most part, priest-doctors with esoteric knowledge that they could use to help you. Or mess you up. For example, any dork can carve a spear. But to get it infused with power, of precisely the right kind, you needed a shaman who could connect you with the power source. Whether the source would agree to give power was up to the source and the supplicant. It didn’t always work. It did always require a tribute. The tribute sting still goes on everywhere. If you want access to the spirits, you gotta pay.

Spirit-power infusion was a mainstay of the New Guinea shaman business, and the shamans liked it since they could just be a middleman between the power and the goon, do the connection and scram outa there and let the rubes figure it out. If you wanted, you could tell a seeker the infusion was successful and most of the time they’d never know otherwise. But some people could always tell, usually old ladies who could finger the object and cackle obscene things to their friends about its power or lack of. Half the time the spirits turned down the seeker. They always took the tribute, though. All the shamans had a stable of spirits they did most of their business with; spirit contractors, more or less. It was reliable, repeatable (kind of) and had the highest success rate. It was when renegade spirits showed up, wreaking havoc, that the shams had to get off their asses and do some battle. Lazy fuckers, most of them. Drunks, too. It’s a well-known shaman perk, 24/7 service by beer-brewing adolescent females.

The ones in the deYoung are the spirits that survived the trip in the form of New Guinea ritual objects, weapons and effigies. The regular stable of spirits wanted no part of it and stayed behind with the shamans and the nubile, beer-brewing girls. We got stuck with the assholes of the New Guinea spirit zone. They are aggressive with pent-up energy and frantic for a way out.

You are their way out.You can feel them, can’t you! Can you handle a comm with one of these nasty pricks? How about a whole portal full of ‘em, all screaming to invade your mind and fabricate an escape hatch through you, bonny lad; can you handle it? Are you sure? You are in shaman territory now. Without a minute of training. Here you are, zero training for dealing with a spirit horde that’s dying, literallydying to get out of their prison inside some wood and feather monkey and into your warm and fuzzy cerebellum?

No. Don’t do it. Flip ‘em the bird and get the hell outa there. Ixnay to the spirit download.

The daily side of my brain is taking in the trees and grass, coming back into command. There. It’s probably all a feverish idea without the slightest basis in reality.

Or maybe not. I’m getting a headache. Maybe I am infected. Maybe I didn’t get outa there in time. How can I tell? What if I need an exorcism? I’m no Catholic. Where do you find a shaman today? Do I look in Yelp or Craigslist? Actually I just did. Craigslist listed an ayahuaska-based shamanic experience in the Copper Canyon of Mexico, which claimed to be assisted by a “Paq-o-runa Peruvian shaman hand in hand with Mexican Mayan shaman.” How can you beat a deal like that?