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Belief Is Not Experience

:
Transformation as a Tool for Bridging the Ontological Divide
in Anthropological Research and Reporting
Bonnie Glass-Coffin
Utah State University
Logan, UT, USA

For more than a hundred years, anthropologists have recorded stories of beliefs in other-than-human
sentience and consciousness, yet we have most frequently insisted on contextualizing these stories
in terms of cultural, epistemological, or ontological relativism. In this paper, I ask why we have had
such a hard time taking reports of unseen realms seriously and describe the transformative role of
personal experience as a catalyst for change in anthropological research and reporting.

Keywords: ontology, epistemology, transformation, anthropology, pedagogy, relevance

I
n the early spring of 2006, after more than 20 years That experience changed the way that I view
of studying shamanic practices among Peruvian anthropology, with its adherence to the assumption that
shamanic healers, I had an experience that changed all beliefs and behaviors can and should be explained
my view of both anthropology and my relation to it. within a cultural context, regardless of whether or not
Like Michael Harner (1982), I finally saw “behind the they are really-real. Anthropology was built upon this
veil” of non-ordinary reality in a way that rocked my premise of cultural relativism, which is the willingness
world. What happened, in a nutshell, was this: I was to take seemingly irrational experiences described by
participating in an all-night shamanic ceremony, as I had informants at face-value and without judgment while
hundreds of times before. Yet, on this occasion, I saw, describing the functions, the symbols, and the meaning
as shamanic healers also claim to, the sentience of non- of what they report as logical within the context of
human Beings (Hallowell, 2002). As I (Glass-Coffin, their cultural beliefs, behaviors, and structures. But,
2010) have described it elsewhere, the open-eyed scene even though anthropologists have frequently been told, by
unfolding before me during that ceremony was: the cultural experts who are the subject of study, of ghosts
and spirits, star relatives, and animal allies, for more than
completely ordinary except that every plant, from
a hundred years, the principle of cultural relativism has
the tallest coconut palm to the smallest blade of
allowed a side-stepping of the more fundamental question
grass acknowledged and honored my presence. Like
of the transpersonal. Instead, through focusing on the
a crowd of well-wishers at an acceptance speech,
interpretation of beliefs, rather than on any evaluation
all turned towards me in unison when I appeared,
of the validity of these against a common frame of
bowing in a sign of respect. When I returned the
reference, anthropologists contextualize such claims—
nod, the gesture was repeated. When I looked
domesticating and dismissing them, colonializing
away, their undulations of stem and flower, of bark
knowledge even as they claim to honor the truth of the
and frond became less focused, marked by private
Other.
conversations and shared whispers between those
In my training as a cultural anthropologist
plants in closest proximity to one another. But when I
who specializes in studies of non-ordinary reality as
returned my gaze again, the coordinated movements
described by shamanic practitioners in northern Peru, I
were repeated. Bowing and swaying like schools
had, until my own experience of peeking behind the veil,
of fish or flocks of geese on a common flyway, the
internalized this frame. Like most academics, I presented
multitudes repeatedly bowed and I reciprocated. We
and wrote what I had heard from my shaman informants
were equals honoring one another. (p. 210)
with the or so they believe and as if qualifiers that would

International
Bridging Journal of Transpersonal
the Ontological Divide in Anthropology pp. 117-126 Journal of Transpersonal Studies 117
Studies, 32, 2013,International

and re-positioning myself also with other-than-human beings” (p. what I had been writing about the modern West imagines nature . 1989). It is. The consequences of remembering or not epistemological frame for making sense of what others remembering these earth offerings are made manifest claim to know in culturally relative ways continues to in material ways as the cause for illness and the way to un-make me. the forests of Southern India (Bird-David. This co-creation is From this brief accounting. and consciousness humans interact in reverence with the very Ground . peasant both inspires and humbles us as we journey. or earth practices as precisely because the transpersonal unmasking had not de la Cadeña (2010) called them. the northern climes of East Central Canada (Ingold. or consciousness is care for the material world that provides for us. classical and medieval philosophers from civilized 2004. 1981). There are within my discipline—all because I know what I saw. It is. it would be easy reflected and nourished by the ways in which we to conclude that only primitive or tribal peoples have interact with one another. 78). human beings live in a sacred landscape “I know as I relate” (p. 2009) have reported elsewhere fundamental ways. Florida night when the trees and grasses responded to than-human intelligences impacts material conditions in my gaze. was completely interconnected with. The rule of ayni (as it is 118 International Journal of Transpersonal Studies Glass-Coffin . my cognitive world and that of the knowing that as mountain spirits are fed. of Being that sustains us. of the Gaia Hypothesis) and David Abram. Thus. I suddenly Poirier (2008) summarized his contribution. as well as the whole beings) participate” (p. For almost 20 years. Viveiros de Castro. What if Native Peoples Have It Right? This understanding of cosmic interdependence F or more than 100 years. restore wholeness and health. 2010). but rather a matter of relationship. as one who has simply gone mad. It is an a sui generis state. and resonant to. 2010. The stories that non- conscious awareness that micro and macro processes are Western peoples have shared with anthropologists since intertwined (Latour. Before that time. the great plains of North America society also affirmed that the destiny of the world (Ross. and lowland Amazonia (Descola. . “the way realized. Native/First-Nation wisdom keepers have been telling anthropologists that the cosmos is animated and responsive to human intention. the motto of these of prominent ecologists like Lynn Margulis (co-creator tribal peoples is not so much the Cartesian “I think. subjectivity. Smith. but this notion is actually found in many by the ways in which we relate to a firmament which other kinds of societies too. expansionist agendas of what Latour (2010) called the 2008). 2011). It is wisdom traditions around the world that consciousness this same knowing that I realized. “as ye sow. Social relations are my own introduction to the transpersonal. As understanding that is resurging today in the writings Bird-David so succinctly captured it. . as an autonomous for many years: that all Life is co-created as willing sphere devoid of spirit. as Philippe Descola asserted. on that cool structures matter. viscerally. therefore I am” and (1997) put it. human gifts to the Earth. Poirier. is the least widely shared thing in the world” (p. as one of my shaman the discipline emerged more than a hundred years ago friends has put it. As Abram therefore I am. when the natural world finally became disenchanted and objectified (Berman. 2008). I learned that night that. are undertaken with affected me personally. 260). viscerally. “Modernist Constitution” (p. Quite farmers and herders assert sacred reciprocity between simply. . 1999). Tribal peoples from geographic regions as widely its sentience silenced to accommodate the political and separated as the Western Australian desert (Poirier. was also common among Western cultures before the Enlightenment. This is the basic premise that is a “field of intelligence in which our actions (and behind human/non-human connectivity. and ubiquitous. and that human interaction with other. so shall human and non-human energies. 1996. sentience.” as it is “I relate. but only This difference between an ontological knowing and an relatedness. S78). the as follows: majority view for most groups in the world today. 1999). questioning. a fundamental understanding of tribal carry these same suggestions (Bird-David. 476). and I found built upon mutual relations of care “among humans and myself reeling. Then I had mountain spirits will feed humans. no a priori separations of humans and nature. 1998) have insisted that being is not human action (Latour. In the high Andes. by the ways in which we asserted that intelligence.position me as one who studies the exotic rather than called) is what keeps all the processes of life in harmony. 354). so the my academic colleagues remained congruent. As As this polite greeting continued. . I (Glass-Coffin.

the Jake Sully in the modern fable Avatar (Cameron. As a Edward Tylor (1871). (pp. religious inclinations. privileging detailed description valid term. R. peek behind the veil. It is the the veil that night was more profound. and with prayer. Maybe this stance might be thought of as cliché.” Literally. the anthropological ancestors who compared of my discipline. suggested tortured as I consider how to translate this knowing. (yes. or psychological needs. While natural world should actually be taken seriously. those who and connectivity. what I learned when I peeked behind anthropologists have so diligently recorded. Restoring should plant and harvest organically. I realized that if we want to change Neither position moves one much closer to international politics. By contrast. even as I lament the colonial beginnings general. In Yet. not merely as something to be explained away Bridging the Ontological Divide in Anthropology International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 119 . Bronislaw experience changed my understanding of human/ Malinowski (1944) and A. Instead. of belief in terms of the cultures producing them. we would do well to start by concluding that accounts of interdependence with the honoring the earth as the Mother of us all. the tipping point of environmental no- that the reason for such different approaches to the return moves ever closer. to wider audiences in ways that will judgments at all. Instead. Radcliffe-Brown (1965) nature relationships. these assertions of human and non-human intelligence social. There has been an ontological turn proposed that such beliefs be evaluated on their own in anthropology that allows for animism to be taken terms tended to steer away from assessing the external as something sui generis and as a useful and empirically validity of such ideas. a unilineal evolutionist who Cartesian worldview that privileges human consciousness was optimistic about the potential of rational thought alone continues to inform the modern world. as is the accidental anthropologist character of individual and social survival. logically functioning to promote I am. 2009). I am heartened by the research of a and evaluated such beliefs between so-called primitives few brave scholars who in the last decade have offered and moderns suggested that reports of transpersonal an opportunity to revisit the frames used to explain experience be considered in terms of economic. and make efforts to slow down global is the main message of indigenous wisdom teachings warming). Franz Boas (1961). Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1910) asserted Meanwhile. human acknowledgement to the predominant paradigms of the respective eras. with thanksgiving. and honoring of plant relatives has consequence. huge tracts as a tool for human liberation. responses in of conscious awareness with the grasses and trees on scholarship to these assertions have been according that cool Florida evening. 64-65) voices to the record mostly stand silent as the Modernist Until recently. most anthropologists have been constitution of these times continues to treat our Earth unwilling to go on record as taking these assertions Mother as an it that can be managed rather than a Thou seriously (even though many describe personal to whom we relate. anthropologists who have All life vibrates when the string is plucked regardless heard these wisdoms and who claim to add indigenous of which note is played. father of modern American anthropology. we this is because doing so would require action. stop polluting harmonious relations with other forms of consciousness the rivers. thought the idea of an of land and water continue to be spoiled by governments animated cosmos was an antecedent to more modern and corporations who do not really grasp the situation. Because we message I personally received during my transpersonal are all related and part of a giant web of belonging. I am quite certain that I can no asked scholars to consider how the seemingly irrational longer participate in a discipline that either relativizes beliefs about an animated cosmos inform behaviors or dismisses indigenous wisdoms without speaking out. ye reap. political. as stewards rather tectonic movements to pan-national awakenings. experiences of unseen worlds to friends and colleagues Yet. really taking this message the way we honor each element of creation. as I learned during that brief exchange over cocktails or at the gym). and social structures. But. that anthropologists should refrain from comparative which is not new. has interact with our environment. unseen between primitives and moderns had to do As I contemplate how this threshold with fundamental differences of the mind. over nomothetic inquiry. with seriously would require change in the ways we as humans offerings. than mercenaries. It would require us to repercussions that are felt on many levels. from act as partners rather than patrons. choosing instead to frame statements serve to awaken.

rather than an epistemological. .“of becoming interact as kin) and political (as sentient beings who with” not of “imposing upon”—a process of building should have input to how the land that sustains them relationships and allowing oneself to be altered and is used) allows for an expansion of anthropological affected as much as one alters and affects others. companies. relations with others. understood within the scope of social and political but] only the rich intertangling of heterogeneous action because it opens a potential space for negotiation beings working with. For most anthropologists engaged in this [It is a radically constructivist turn that goes beyond conversation. 11) that causes much some of the leading advocates of this position were suffering. minimization as primitive artifacts that avoid complete The Ontological Turn: Disciplinary Relevance dismissal only through the loophole of relativism. is precisely because such 120 International Journal of Transpersonal Studies Glass-Coffin . 2012.) asserted in the About This Site section of his It is certainly true that framing relationships website Struggle Forever!: between two-legged and other-than-two-legged sentients as social (as beings who are literal relatives and Existence is a perpetual process . methodology. What became clear was that the ontological designation of lands as sacred sometimes find themselves turn in anthropology is mainly being considered on leaving their ontological frameworks at the door because the grounds of its ability (or at least its attempts) to give of these concerns. I recently attended the American Anthropological Association (AAA) meetings in when communities argue with governments. one that behaves as if the But for most of those who write about the world is not given. The Rights of In his blog. (para. inquiry.d. considering native views on “being-in. that recognizes the presence and expedience of this ontological turn in anthropology. 2011). 2010). 1998. . by providing a means for colleagues to consider more although they are not the only ones talking along these ‘seriously’ these other ways of being in [and relating to] lines. This. & Schwimmer. as Jeremy Trombley the world” (personal communication. emphasis supplied) ground in academe may continue to disempower Because the ontological turn has allowed traditionally marginalized people in the same way that anthropologists to once again seriously ponder the cultural relativism has done. where relationships between all and modern ways of knowing in ways that bring it sentient Beings—whether these walk on two legs or not— closer to its original mandate than ever before possible construct worlds. As such. and in spite of one between groups who compete for scarce resources such another. for. discourse about ontological relativism that is gaining para. position may bring more humanity to Western thought 2004). not merely of ontological relativism to shape political and commercial understanding others. against. It is an approach insisting. the field may effectively bridge traditional the ontological divide. Latour (1993. 3-4. Quebec (November. Poirier or Simply Relativism Revisited? (2011) recently noted that the entanglements that ensue E ncouraged by this recent ontological turn in the discipline. . 1) as land and water (de la Cadeña. . of this turn include Viveiros de Castro (1996. communities native peoples bargaining power when dealing with choose silence when engaging power-brokers who neo-liberal politics and multinational agendas. to listen to what form of ontological violence” (p. . Instead of empowering intentions. communities who argue for saying. and practical consequences of the native communities who stand on the other side of the discipline. and agencies across these consciousness-chasms “may at times be experienced by these Indigenous groups as a Montreal. . Key proponents relation as an ontological. Poirier. . 2009. active participation of all kinds of beings. but of constructing a world of futures in new ways. Poirier explained.in functionalist or evolutionary terms. I fear it will continue to justify their (Clammer. 2011). and that it still seems to represent more of a compromise with is reflexive with respect to the kinds of relations and relativism than a recognition of relevance. and Strathern (2004). the worlds it brings into existence” (Trombley. As a result. (n. the power of this ontological turn is best epistemology where there is no ultimate ground. At least in some cases. 2004). . 2010). November. he also remarked that in this ontological Mother Earth agendas that have recently been codified turn: in places such as Ecuador and Bolivia are but one manifestation of the power of relational ontologies and anthropology becomes a practice. as de la Cadeña (2010) noted. As Sylvie determine the fate of lands they hold as sacred.

but experiential and behavioral. the potential for discussion the consensual agreement foundational to politics” (p. [But. Because remain invisible. e-mail exchange after the AAA Meetings: So. the for environmental protection of sacred landscapes. . insisting other people’s experiences. we would be perceived as naïve. I was will support this expression. especially for those colleagues who colleagues who have not experienced these other worlds have not experienced the transpersonal shift that has first hand? Might opening the dialogue provide a new set pushed me to write in new (and vulnerable) ways. “This exclusion [of subjectivity continue to speak and write to audiences as though these for all but humankind] is not just racism. 2011) Might willingness to go on record regarding these experiences perhaps provide a welcome bridge between As Poirier’s comments suggest. Poirier. After one panel devoted to a discussion about anthropologists who take ontological relativism seriously research on the invisible in the modern world.” (S. told that if anthropologists talked about these things Transpersonal Experiences. . For this reason. “when I decide what to share and what to leave out of my research. the responses I received were to accommodate these voices. Another panelist added.” Like Poirier. As long as wisdom keepers must remain than those panelists described above. . Truth. Self. of relational ontologies to expand discourse. ontological relativism still side-steps the taken seriously. who hold ontological relativism becomes a term that simply much of the world’s economic and political power. William James (1902/2002) lectured and wrote copiously about the nature of mystical experience as Truth. to share these wisdoms within the walls of academe? November 23. my When I asked these questions of my colleagues concern is whether academic discourse can be stretched at the 2011 AAA meetings. there is certainly room the peoples under study who assert these realities and for translation. [as really real]. I come back to the questions at hand: Can I think the work you are doing is indeed important anthropology expand beyond the episteme that separates and necessary within our discipline. I have chosen to remain on the path of the veil? Do not those in this position have an obligation “translation. feels her role to be more that of the question of what is really important to consider as well translator than the transformed. My hope is that those telling.ontological differences cannot be considered in a politics afraid of losing credibility through the telling. wisdoms that humans are connected with each other and While more sympathetic to my questioning with the world. As Kuklick scholars who have another story to tell. and to act 359). I wonder how that the best test for the truth value of belief is not leaving ontological frameworks at the door disempowers logical. I choose to share only what makes the connection to I n the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Yet. personal communication. This aspect of real and unreal according to Cartesian assertions? Does “transformation” of the ethnographer is also needed the option really exist to share transpersonal experience if we are to fully understand and consider seriously in the academic worlds? Can anthropologists find a the worlds of the other. potential value of such notions for Westerners.] as for myself. local leaders often choose to simply with the environment accordingly. In short. gullible. As long as that codifies modernist separations of Humanity and anthropologists who have had transpersonal experiences Nature. the culturally relative qualifiers are still so present in the As long as indigenous peoples have to leave discourse. even Poirier. will be lost. yet who are (1981) summarized in his introduction about James’ Bridging the Ontological Divide in Anthropology International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 121 . of parameters for the discussion to unfold? for those who are impelled to engage this new path. is still dismisses the imperative of listening to indigenous left unconsidered. everyone inspires with her assertions that indigenous frames be loses. it expresses experiences do not matter. who silent in political forums about these wisdoms. and Other. and Transformation and uneducated. role that goes beyond objective reporting about relative though I deeply respect those anthropologists who beliefs and behaviors? What would happen if those in the have chosen the path of transformation (and I field who have had personal experience of other realities guess I was transformed myself—otherwise there is were simply to drop the “and so they believe” qualifiers no point to do ethnography and to exchange with to report what they have witnessed when peeking behind the other). even among anthropologists who take their these insights at the door when arguing the case informants’ views on the unseen world seriously. As she told me in an as what is really real.

. 2010. I continue to move The proof of Truth is in the pudding. Barbara Bradley the plant spirit of San Pedro. Moreover. at least. sentience of non-human others who respond to human and to engage (Palmer. halting the course of degenerative more and more aware of the intimate ways that we illness. on more than one occasion. I continually ask myself. 2009. Most recently. and transpersonal veil? the late Felicitas Goodman. although our semi-hospitable world. changed overnight by their transpersonal encounters. Beliefs were ways of I have continued to struggle with whether or not acting with reference to a precarious environment. I have asserted that world of academe and the confines of my discipline. to enlighten. to understand spirituality. ceremony. an academic. and completely. 19) rather than mere reporting to a more explicitly shamanic course. it is the in 2006. an anthropologist who has to relationships between the human and the nonhuman been transformed by this knowing. or overcoming depression and other pathological are connected in thought and its consequences to a states as they encountered meaning and connection universe in flux. I can no longer or the seen and the unseen worlds” (Glass-Coffin. I have become alleviating addictions. as James recounted. These direct to include the task of teaching others to awaken to encounters with the numinous changed lives. As I have noted elsewhere: A belief was true. I have been emboldened 122 International Journal of Transpersonal Studies Glass-Coffin . I can no longer employ the “as-if” qualifiers when I however. I have expanded my net of services to something greater than themselves. and guided us expeditiously through extraordinary encounter engendered. 2010. I find tremendous resonance. like many anthropologists before me. I have come to live accompanied by what James (1902/2002) called a the dictum that I first heard expressed by my friend reasonableness that only need make inherent sense to the Oscar. experiential anthropology can expand its reach to and to say they were true was to say they guided us include the kinds of interactions and relationships to satisfactorily in this environment” (p. I have found Haggerty. seems the only should be measured according to its application to actual ethical path to follow. he said. Before I make this decision to abandon the 2010) and. with regard a scholar. if in the long run it worked I cannot deny the call to action that my own for all of us. 212) and. that consciousness structures matter. Furthermore. hide what I now know. I have wondered whether I can must I do with this knowing? What is my ethical ethically stay within the walls of academe or if I should responsibility now that I have glimpsed behind the just leave. that night in a number of venues (Glass-Coffin. belief that holds the power to transform behavior— Along the way I have facilitated pilgrimage and radically. Coffin. As stretch to embody a new cognitive map . I find myself returning to have wondered is whether anthropology. as a discipline. Almost all of I have begun teaching others how to ethically those she interviewed who had personal experience of engage with elements of the unseen world to foster the transpersonal had one thing in common: they were healthy relationships with those forces and powers. as did Michael Harner. xiv). Renaissance understandings of what higher education can continue to stretch in order to accommodate the was designed to accomplish—to transform. which I gained access that night. Thus. if it cannot. whether “the I experienced in a way that makes convincing others discipline that has nurtured me for so many years [can] of the reasonableness of my experience irrelevant. . One thing that I of academic discourse. and I have apprenticed more deeply with More than 100 years later.philosophical Pragmatism: intention. along the way. 2009). I have become certified Haggerty (2009) found the same thing to be true for as a teacher of the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition that the hundreds of interviewees she spoke with in her quest don Oscar Miro-Quesada founded. Angeles Arrien. (Glass- one affected. . which he referred found myself shifting my focus from ethnographic to as “immediate luminousness” (p. so to speak. suddenly. I find myself drawn to challenge the boundaries describe my transpersonal experiences. direct experience of the transpersonal. because. What p. I know what myself asking. Since that threshold moment practice. to name a few colleagues I have written about what happened to me who made that choice. . pp. when this consciousness of connection. scientifically. It down a path that for me. 212-213) As I consider the findings of both James and As a result of this experience. . I have. in these publications.

Before this experience. percussive/repetitive sound. to have more first-hand encounters with the numinous. A growing trend in their comments public. So. I used to gaze down three hours and introduced the students to techniques at the ground. Now I and simply show-up to all required sessions during the 15 know that whatever I desire. what did this course have to do with aided by guided imagery. Astin. Harner Bridging the Ontological Divide in Anthropology International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 123 . and repetitive vocalization. which demonstrated how more than to free-write about insights obtained as well as to pay 130. everyone could experience . the universe conspires week course.. provided through ritual.” as I was focusing on teaching a method rather than a and the sense of “sacred community” that was built doctrine. music. A debate ensued on what they liked most about the course included about whether what I was asking to do violated (or not) the statements that students valued “the many lessons I public mandate about teaching religion in the classroom. me the tools to effectively make my case. . or they could take it Pass/Fail I thought that the world was out to get me.by the work of the multi-year HERI study on spirituality states. as well as use of scent. Student evaluations of course content.000 students at more than 300 universities yearn for attention to their dreams and to keep a journal between opportunities to explore their connections to that which class meetings. and spirituality. experiences seriously. and focused intention to induce these altered Shuar shamans during the 1950s and 1960s. shamanic breathwork. as well as to write an academic So.75 for course content and 5. anthropology? In his seminal work with Conibo and breathing. with 39 and imaginations to project healing into the world brave students who enrolled in my course entitled must be the first step in bringing humanity back Introduction to Shamanism: Shamanic Healing for into balance and reciprocity with the Mother. tools. ritualized performance. Utilizing our inner energies. as long gained. desires. during Spring Wardle) semester 2012. [this] to enter into the Techniques facilitated by the instructor included realm of self-awareness. I asked the academic research paper. and uses in particular cultural contexts. grade with three credits. students were encouraged in higher education.” Two students of the 38 who might provide the means for students to more deeply participated in the course evaluations chose to make engage the big questions in their lives.” experiment to see whether an experiential pedagogy “connected” and “healed. & Lindholm. which I asked if I might teach a class on shamanism that were based on a 6-point Likert scale. They said: higher education to feed heart as well as mind (Palmer & Zajonc. experiment in the classroom that might allow students functions. learned that will help me get through life. Students who enrolled for the academic lies beyond as a regular part of their academic experience grade were also asked to write weekly reflection papers (Astin. and shamanic journeying But.9 for the teacher. . but now I’m noticing the beauty of for engaging in what Harner (1982) has termed shamanic the world around me. I wish that ego-mind in order to experience the transpersonal. spiritual resources. The In that course. Students commented that they felt “safe. Comments non-ordinary states of consciousness. the provisional consensus was that. After these experiences.” the “new After multiple discussions with administrators. students had two options for meditation practices changed my life in ways my enrollment. I could engage the students in a one-semester along the way. They could take the course for an academic mind can’t even comprehend. and understandings” and students. faculty. as well as increased awareness of student This course helped me gain an experiential demand for educational experiences that do more than understanding of the power in giving ideas form simply fill minds with facts (Astin et al. which compared their experiences with officers at my university for the opportunity to try an published studies of shamanism including its symbols. This experience opened my states of consciousness so that students might quiet the mind more than I ever thought possible. 2010). Each of the sessions lasted approximately in helping me to achieve it. the opportunity for “personal transformation. yielded averages of introduced students to a shamanic toolkit for engaging 5. about their experiences. (Kayla Aiken) chanting. 2010). connection. (Mark Personal and Planetary Transformation. I’ve never learned so much about myself. in the spring of 2012. 2010). I engaged in an experiment to see just Shamanism was a beautiful experience that opened how far anthropology might bend to take transpersonal my mind to the systematic harmony of the universe. skills. mindful meditation.

2007). the narrowness of someone’s conscious experience. this ontological turn in the discipline is awareness of relationship with other sentient beings still not easily accommodated by many anthropological (not all of whom walk on two legs). In his and my teaching to assist in awakening moderns to new/ words. I cry out against the To understand the deep-seated. and armed with and between participant and observer. symbiosis. Harner’s quest to make shamanic states of a greater whole. and by service to colleagues. Now. I count upon the support of my colleagues. that one is most often of human/non-human interactions being discussed transformed by one’s experiences with unseen realms here are best able to be discerned] are those who (Goulet & Miller. Because I have been transformed myself. I can popular awareness more than a decade before no longer engage in the sin of omission that has kept Harner’s The Way of the Shaman]. I see Harner’s legacy as 124 International Journal of Transpersonal Studies Glass-Coffin . As I think about new materials with ontological wisdom of connection and consciousness can which to construct narrative bridges between myself and should be taught in ways that allow students to be and those others who may listen . Through that threshold have never experienced it. xvii) ontological turn in the discipline of anthropology. reciprocal relationships with non-human relatives out of They are narratives informed by Spirit. in mind that this kind of prejudice is often involved. most of however. For more than a hundred years. They are narratives that may or may consciousness widely available to multiple publics provided not be accepted by my academic peers. Together with Harner. it is there. karma. one of the main obstacles to taking seriously the old ways of being-in-relation-in-the-world. this wisdom is now firmly ingrained in popular culture. the analogue in consciousness of imperatives that have become the focus of a new ethnocentrism. . these experiences without the “or so they believe” qualifiers in my writing were simply unavailable to most moderns. But it is thanks to Harner that the power of these connections to restore individuals. I became personally aware of the relational cognicentrism. golden rule. one needs to keep anthropology at the margins of pressing world problems. . But. The persons most prejudiced against a concept of because I have seen beyond the veil. their communities. I bear first-person witness to the reality consciousness and responsibility. experiences that informed their worldviews were not I am committed to presenting these age-old wisdoms relativistic imaginings at all. or (worse still) insist on explaining away with anthropologists. I know as I believe. This might be termed experience. as a discipline. but stand with me. (p. tribal peoples even as many academics are silent about the role of Spirit have shared their understandings of an animated cosmos in the academe. in nonordinary reality [where awareness of the kinds shamanic states of consciousness. Instead. to cultural experience that is the fundamental issue. I have more confidence that the deep discipline. While there is growing of unseen worlds as I teach and as I write. As I (Glass- awareness in anthropology that authors do a tremendous Coffin. Harner (1982) wrote: must begin sharing what has been learned. possibility of meaningful exchanges between human If. and living intelligence. they continue to serve as bridges between this service occurred beyond the halls of academe. by deep the equation.(1982) became convinced that the transpersonal a template for transformative learning in the classroom. 2010) have written elsewhere: disservice to indigenous communities when leaving their These are the narratives that I am willing to articulate. between Self and Other. in ways that student evaluations of my recent course on experiential I am confident reflect the resilient legacy of our shamanism. the or not my peers choose to accept these narratives. that greeted the works of Castaneda [whose books and will search for ways that move those who read brought accounts of these kinds of exchanges into my work to compassionate action in the world. emotional hostility ontological violence that still privileges human action. I have replaced transformed by these wisdoms. who honor But in this case it is not the narrowness of someone’s the principles of cultural and ontological relativism. those who have very real counterpart to what anthropologists refer to as been transformed by experiences of the transpersonal ethnocentrism. and the cosmos even if it has not yet permeated academic spheres of to harmony. anthropology wants to have and other-than-human entities is a prejudice that is a continued relevance in the world. consciousness and matter. the natural world. and I believe as I know. Whether a tremendous service to a world shaped by ayni.

students’ inner lives. surrendering to the unknown. Schwimmer (Eds. NY: Continuum.). F. embraced the understanding that comes through Ithaca. New York. who are the hope of a new generation of Introduction: The relevance of ontologies in scholars and citizens. B. M. The reenchantment of the world. The spell of the sensuous: Perception and field. 25(2).. My choice to teach a course on experiential NY: Free Press..01067. doi: of objects. What student evaluations of this experimental course in Hearne & R. doi:10. and as the I-it orientation discovery. Figured worlds: Ontological obstacles in There is wisdom that can be gained. (1982). by not only observing University of Toronto Press. S. S67-S91. New York. anthropological detachment with engagement and Berman. but can we easily see what the placement Cultural Anthropology. the organization of chaos. Anthropology and Humanism. In G. James.x own movements and that of others can mean in the Descola. S. 35(2). those who some think of as primitive for their lack Glass-Coffin. as well as to write narratives challenging Cameron. M.x however it is received by academicians who dismiss these Haggerty. NE: University of Nebraska Press. N. B. language in a more-than-human world.2010. doi:10. Avatar my anthropological colleagues to take up the gauntlet [Motion Picture]. (1961). G. In the society of nature: A native allegorical ritual of our daily lives? Speaking as an ecology in Amazonia. “Animism” revisited: Personhood. & Schwimmer. P. New York. (2010). (2010). New York. as the only Hallowell. 57-67). 217.1111/j.). Extraordinary anthropology: Transformations in the Abram. Harner. (1996). J. world view. E. NY: Cornell University Press. And. 334-370. Cambridge. of ontological relevance. (1981). Trites (Eds. Boas.1548-1360. NY: Riverhead. 40(S1). experiences seriously might. shamanism need of reassessing the roles of sentience and relationship and alternate ways of knowing-being in the world: as economies crumble. Ojibwa ontology. The way of the shaman: A guide to NY: Vintage Books. M. (2004). (2007). behavior. Astin. indeed.. W. The mind of primitive man. and ethical response to my own experience of the transpersonal. Indigenous cosmopolitics in and meaning. Our culture can discern meaning the Andes: Conceptual reflections beyond “politics. Current to be reckoned with.1111/j.” from words.01061. H. Readings in indigenous religions (pp. and even our 10. (2009). which is urgently in Glass-Coffin. NY: Bantam Books. rather than relevant. Astin. 215). New York. Canada: our education system lacks. The varieties of religious experience: A Cultivating the spirit: How college can enhance study in human nature. Lincoln. NY: Routledge. B. J. 17-49). References Goulet. (Producer/Director). (2002). New York. G. is an imperative that I am willing to engage. 3-22). W. B. as we open ourselves to the Anthropology.1086/200 possibility of shaping material futures through our 061 conscious engagement with the world (p. & Lindholm. (1997).. & E. J.). (Eds. is best expressed by the students Clammer. B. power and healing. Balancing on interpretive fences of education but who in actuality are infinitely wiser or leaping into the void: Reconciling myself with than [we are. more relevant to a 21st century world. Toronto. S. Clammer. Poirier. Poirier. Urbana.1548-1409. A narrative compass: anthropology affirmed to me is this: Taking transpersonal Stories that guide women’s lives (pp. shamanism. S. and that which intercultural relations (pp. but participating in ritual saturated with symbolism de la Cadeña. Harvey (Ed. A. (2010). themselves. and relational epistemology. A. San Francisco. (2009). D.] Castañeda and the teachings of don Juan. UK: Cambridge American I think that we have a lot to learn from University Press. J. Bridging the Ontological Divide in Anthropology International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 125 . CA: Jossey-Bass. Fingerprints of God: The search for experiences as culturally relative. I am ready to reaffirm Bird-David.. In B. (2009). (1999). as human action becomes more One anthropologist’s journey of transformation and environmentally unsustainable. As one anthropology major who anthropology—Reflections on a new anthropological enrolled in my course commented early in the semester: field.). make anthropology IL: University of Illinois Press. In J.2010. I. (2002). the power of this kind of anthropology as a force environment. & Miller. Anthropology. USA: Twenthieth Century Fox. it the science of spirituality. 204- of modern worldviews threatens to destroy the earth.

com/about Trombley. teacher of the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition (PMT) and. 179-200 Ingold.). Viveiros de Castro. S. L. A. A. Retrieved from http://struggleforever. New York. S. April 26). Quebec. 2(1).). R. MA: Harvard University Press. Indianapolis. CO: Wicóni Wasté. and the discipline higher education: An interview with Parker J. politics—poetics. (2004). All Radcliffe-Brown. For more information about Bonnie. the planet. 41. Trombley. (1965). Smith. C. J. art. Bonnie Glass-Coffin. Association Meetings. 1). (1944). P. Perspectival anthropology B. November). Charleston. NC: University of North the State of Utah. SC: Create Space.). (2012. B.” New Literary History. We have never been modern (C. Chapel Hill. Bonnie is an endorsed Poirier..com. J. is a Professor of Anthropology Princeton. B. (2004).edu. Trans. Anthropologica. Clare. Montreal. Partial connections. The dynamic reproduction she recently published Lessons in Courage: Peruvian of hunter-gatherer ontologies in today’s context. Figured and Amerindian perspectivism. (Eds. please visit her website: bonnieglasscoffin. In tion: A call to renewal. Lakewood. Introduction. Levi-Bruhl. A. Mitakuye Oyasin: We are all related. Canada: University of Toronto Press. CA: Jossey-Bass. she was tasked with discussions about the use of engaged Palmer. Reflections on indigenous cosmo. J. Annual Review of Anthropology. Poirier. 471-490. 75-85. Shamanic Wisdom for Everyday Life (Rainbow Ridge Paper presented at the American Anthropological Books. Walnut Creek. PhD. religion. About this site. (1993). E. Her current research focuses on Carolina Press. Spirituality in Higher Education Newsletter. How natives think (L. In W. Poirier. and the method of controlled equivocation in Tipiti. (1871). Cambridge. Toronto. Schwimmer. 3-22. NJ: Princeton University Press. The emerald tablet of Hermes and the Kybalion: Two classic books on hermetic philosophy. of Palmer. E. doi:10. In J. J. Pragmatism (PAGE NUMBERS). NY: Free Press. Viveiros de Castro. & E. Transforming teaching and learning in individuals. 469-488. The heart of higher educa. & Zajonc. and custom (Vol. (2008). of anthropology. Structure and function in correspondence should be directed directly to the author primitive society. A circumpolar night’s dream. (Original work published 1902) 25. South America. San Francisco. (1989). A scientific theory of culture and the 2004 CASE/Carnegie Professor of the Year for other essays. Strathern.d. B. James (Author) & Viveiros de Castro. philosophy. (n.com/ the-ontological-turn Tylor.). (1981). Kuklick (Ed. (2010). Latour. B. Primitive culture: Researches into the development of mythology. B. (1998). M. the Royal Anthropological Institute.). 5(2). 1-8.glasscoffin@usu. addition to her work in academe. Ross. P. (1996). CA: Altamira Press. 50. J. 25-57). An attempt at a “compositionist About the Author manifesto. Trans. Cosmological deixis Clammer. communities. Peruvian shamanism as a tool for transformation. Images of nature and society in Amazonia. S. During the 2012-2013 academic year. (2008). IN: Hackett. (2004). together with PMT founder don Oscar Miro-Quesada. The ontological turn [Web log post]. (Original at Utah State University and an Associate Editor of work published 1910) the journal Anthropology of Consciousness. 2013). (2011. (2009).2307/3034157 Kuklick. Porter. T. 126 International Journal of Transpersonal Studies Glass-Coffin . A. 4(3). at bonnie. Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland Latour. Palmer. Canada. E. London. UK: John Murray. M. E. She was Malinowski. learning in the classroom at her home university. (2010). Retrieved from http:// struggleforever. The Journal of worlds: Ontological obstacles in intercultural relations (pp.