05 lipca 2005
Alternate Face of Everyday Life - meeting Belinda Gore
...with Belinda Gore at Cuyamungue Institute
In this still point,
in a turning world
the dance is.
The Earth covered herself with a black veil. Grandmother Moon hid her face behind the coat of fate and walked away without a word once more. She dissolved, announcing the death and rebirth. Only a tiny slice of red, like the streak of blood, is still visible on the dark coat of the horizon. The smell of herbs and the voice of a drum call the people. People create a circle around a wild fire. The rattle is rattling. The beat of one heart. All bodies sit in one posture. This posture is a key that opens a door to the world of spirits. The bodies become a gate... Their souls are circling in a trance, meeting animals, ancestors, and shamans of the past. They travel to bring back the gifts from the other world: guidance, words that calm the mind, a bit of joy that will give the strength and will to help in finding happiness in everyday life...
People in this village-circle know that ecstasy is necessary for a happy life. They also know that one of the easiest ways of achieving the alternate state of reality is body posture.
Different States of Reality
In the past people knew that the visible world was only a small slice of reality. The meetings with the world of spirit were something obvious and natural. There were many rituals and ceremonies that helped to open the gate into the spirit world. The ceremonies were similar in every corner of the world. The sweat lodge is a good example of that. People around the world had a ceremony that helped them to purify their minds, bodies, hearts and souls, helped them to pray and meet with the spirits. "Ecstatic body postures" is another ritual whose purpose is to travel to the spirit world. I found out about this way of contacting the spirits from my fiancé, Mr. M who, after reading Wojciech Jozwiak's article about Cuyamungue Institute, decided to visit that place. Cuyamungue is located close to Santa Fe, New Mexico's capital. Because we live in the southern part of this state and we were getting ready for a trip, we decided to visit the place and talk to Belinda Gore, a woman who inherited the knowledge of ecstatic body postures from Felicitas Goodman who established the Institute in 1970.
Look and You Will Find
After all day in Santa Fe, where we were enchanted by the beauty of adobe buildings that fit into the surrounding mountains so perfectly, we decided to go to the Institute. It happened that instead of driving on the interstate we found ourselves on a beautiful byway. The narrow streets, full of twists and turns, like the ones in France, were extraordinary. The villages full of green lawns and wooden houses seemed surreal in this part of the world. On the way, we got an invitation to join a wedding reception but we did not have much time so we graciously thanked and went further to look for the Institute. We reached Cuyamungue but finding the place we were looking for was not going to be easy. We asked many people about the way to the Institute, but we could not find a single person who had heard of the Institute. Later I found out from Belinda that Felicitas kept her research a secret, as she did not want to be called a heretic in this small village full of conservative minds. At last when we mentioned Felicitas' name somebody showed us the right road.
A narrow path lead us through the mountains carpeted with the desert-like plants. We almost lost our hope that we would ever find the place when we suddenly drove into a courtyard full of cars. The registration plates from all over the states told us that we were in a right spot. What I learned was that you do not come to this place by accident...
Soon Belinda Gore-or rather, her eyes-welcomed us, because it was the eyes that I noticed first. They were full of life, peace, and joyful openness to the world. Belinda delighted me with her warmth and the way she was sharing the knowledge, which she has been gathering for many years.
Belinda Gore - Photo by John Hoenie
For a few hours, with bated breath, we were listening to the stories about Belinda's work, Felicitas Goodman, ecstatic body postures, and research conducted by the Institute. It turned out, for example, that Belinda is a psychologist and sometimes uses the postures in her therapy. Mr. M's was the one who wanted to visit this place, but it was me who was asking hundreds of questions. Belinda showed us the whole Institute. One of the customs practiced in the Institute seemed really beautiful to me. Before entering each of the buildings we had to take off our shoes. I loved it so much, maybe because it brought me close to home, close to Poland, where it is normal to leave one's shoes at the door.
The building I was most impressed by was the kiva, a place where most of the ceremonies take place. In the past the land at the Institute belonged to the Pueblo Indians, and Felicitas wanted to honor them by conducting her ceremonies in the kiva, a small, circular building, half buried in the ground. We took the stairs, instead of a traditional ladder and walked into the sacred space. There was a small hole in the middle of the building for the spirits to enter the place and join the ceremonies. The decoration around was impressive and powerful. The walls were covered with masks from the previous rituals. Scorpion, bear, snake... They were the relics from the mask dances that have taken place in the Institute. During a mask dance people use a certain body posture to enter a trance state. In this ecstasy they dance and meet with their power animal. Then they make the beautiful costumes we were looking at, and they dance once again. This time, however, they do not dance as people, but as animals...
Scorpion snake - Photo by John Hoenie
For a while I heard a fast rhythm of a rattle. I was dancing among the colors, shapes, animals, and breaths... I was a bird of the night - an owl. I was softly moving among the animals of the wilderness, but there was no fear in me. Belinda's voice brought me back into the reality... The Institute caretaker took us to a small house, which is like a little store now but used to be a place where Felicitas spent her time when she was at the Institute.
Adobe - Photo by the author
Come With Me Into the Trans
The sun was hiding his face behind the mountains, and we did not know where we would spend the next night. Belinda proposed that we could pitch our tent somewhere on the land of the Institute. I was greatly surprised when she pointed to a sweat lodge, a place so close to my heart, and said that we could put our "home" somewhere close by. It was a special day...
The next day Belinda was going to lead a workshop where she was going to introduce people to ecstatic body postures. I asked so many questions that this poor woman, overwhelmed by my curiosity, invited us for a two-day workshop. We decided to stay for one day because the Road was calling us... Usually the workshops take place on the grounds of the Institute, but this time we had to go to Santa Fe. We left the Institute in the morning, and around ten o'clock we were ready for a new adventure. Belinda started to prepare an altar, and I was surprised again seeing that so many of the props reminded me of those used by some Indians.
An Altar - Photo by the author
Your Body Knows Ecstasy
Twelve people, most of them initiated into the practice, sat in a circle. We created a village where nobody had to be ashamed of who they were or who they were not. I was curious of what was going to happen. At the beginning we called out the spirits, our helpers. We put a ribbon with a particular color in six directions of the world. Belinda used the colors according to Mayan tradition. I was surprised to discover that they were identical to those in Cherokee tradition. My surprise was even greater when I saw that everything she was doing was done counterclockwise. I am used to the ceremonies where you move clockwise, but Belinda believes that by turning around the rhythm we are used to it is easier to contact the alternate reality.
I Come To Learn About Mystery
After everything was ready to begin a practice Belinda told us her story about how she got to know Felicitas. Long ago her friend invited her to a workshop. They went by a bus, which dropped them at a small house with a white fence around. A little, gray-haired woman opened the door. It was Dr. Felicitas Goodman. Belinda started to work with Felicitas, and after a few years she was invited for a conference in Washington D.C. where she was supposed to talk about the Institute. She did not know where to begin her speech, so she decided to go through her journals. What she found was a description of her dream from years before. In her dream, Belinda was riding a bicycle. She reached a small house with a white fence. She jumped over the fence, knocked on the door and a gray-haired, older woman opened the door. Belinda told her that she came to learn about mystery. but the older woman refused to teach her about the Mystery. Instead, she adopted Belinda into a way of life. The time washed away the memory of this dream, but thanks to the notes a magical piece of the puzzle was found...
A Gate to Alternate Reality
Felicitas began her work by researching the phenomenon of speaking in tongues (which are not really tongues that can be understood but rather sounds people make during a trance). Felicitas was disappointed by this research and abandoned it. Only a few years later, after a Canadian psychologist found out that mudras have an influence on the human brain, she began to conduct her research on ecstatic body postures. For Felicitas, her work was an attempt to pay back to the Hungarian shamans who gifted her enormously when she was a girl and a young woman. By visiting various museums, looking at sculptures, and studying different books, Felicitas discovered that some of the body postures serve as a gate to alternate reality. Fifteen minutes of holding the postures and listening to the rhythm of a rattle or a beat of a drum is enough for everyone to touch the alternate reality. According to Felicitas, "body creates ritual." Intentions are not needed as the body knows an intention (this is different from M. Harner's approach where an intention begins a ritual). The only thing you have to do is to give yourself to your body, the rhythm, and then travel safely in the realm of trance.
The founder of the Institute divided the trance state into five elements. First a person has to be ready, she has to believe that going into a trance state is possible. Belinda claims that westerners are so cut off from the nature of trance that sometimes the left hemisphere of the brain does not register any changes even if the trance took place. Cleansing with a smudge is a part of the first step. During our ceremony Belinda used sage, but she believes that all herbs are good, as it is the smoke that matters. Smoke exists in two worlds simultaneously; we can see it and smell it but it is impossible to touch it. The next step of a ritual is preparing a sacred space. It can be a grove, chapel, a circle of prayer ties (another element similar to some Indian ceremonies), an altar, or a mask. The third element helps to calm the mind. Belinda told us to use our breath, but I think that a serving of vanilla ice cream would work better with me.
Next, when the mind is ready, it is necessary to find something that would stimulate the nervous system and let the body know that it is entering an alternate reality. It can be the sound of a rattle or a beat of a drum (200-210 beats a minute). And then, the last element. It is a ritual which is an appropriate body posture.
Sweetness Dwells In Your Body
Before we started our ceremony Belinda fed her rattle with corn meal, and then we were ready to taste ecstasy. We stood in a unfamiliar position, and Belinda started to rattle. Even though she was rattling, which made it impossible for her to hold the position with the physical body, she was able to hold it with her energy body while we (not busy with the rattle) were holding it with our physical bodies. Darkness. Peace. Bliss. Heat. Kaleidoscope of pictures. Animals. People. Past. Tunnels. Secret passages. Pillars. The sound of a rattle split into two separate sounds. It became louder. I could see more pictures... I was the journey, and then suddenly the sound stopped and I found myself in the room again. I felt incredible, like after a long and rejuvenating dream...
We started to share our experiences, and it became apparent that almost everyone had very similar sensations. The body posture we used came from the Olmec people who knew it in 3000 BC. Its purpose was to call out friendly spirits. No wonder that during these fifteen minutes I saw hundreds of animals and people.
The next body posture we used came from the Mayan tradition. Belinda informed us that it is an oracle, and we need to ask some question before entering a trance state. Just as during the first posture, I had a strange experience with the sound of a rattle, but this time there were no visions. Instead of the visions, after two minutes the posture became a torture. My hand was going numb, and it felt like it was going to fall off.... I started to wonder if this practice was really for me. I started to doubt. I got an answer to my question but would I not get the same answer if I were lying comfortably listening to the sound of a rattle or a beat of a drum? Does this practice make sense? Do these postures really work? The answer to my last question came immediately. When we shared our experiences it turned out that they were similar again. Almost everyone had difficulty holding the posture, and nobody had visions. I knew that there had to be some magic involved if twelve people experienced something similar... The first day of workshop ended...
We came back to the Institute, and Mr. M came up with an idea of inviting Belinda to Poland. It was a great idea, and maybe Belinda will visit Poland to share the knowledge of the ancestors. It is her dream to discover the body postures that were known and used by the Slavic people...
In the morning of the next day we were on the Road. Different states were awaiting us...
On the way to Colorado one thought lingered in my mind. The words that Felicitas uttered not too long before her death. One day Belinda sat on her bed assuring her teacher that everything was all right and beautiful because soon she was just going to enter an alternate reality. Suddenly Felicitas looked into Belinda's eyes and said: "You know, it's all alternate reality."
Silver City, New Mexico, July 5. 2005