Eliade's Consecration of a Place
Storytracking includes engaging accounts of many of the colorful figures involved in the nineteenth-century development of Central Australia, and it is an argument for a multiperspectival theory of history. It presents descriptions of an important aboriginal culture--the Arrernte--and it critically examines ethnography. It exposes the colonialist underbelly of all modern academic culture study, yet it embraces the situation as one of creative potential outlining an interactivist epistemology with which to negotiate the classical alternatives of objectivism and subjectivism. Gill presents an examination of the emergent academic study of religion focused on two exemplary scholars--Mircea Eliade and Jonathan Smith--offering a play theory of religion as the basis for innovative critical discussions of text, comparison, interpretation, the definition of religion, academic writing style, and the role of "the other."
Based on painstakingly detailed research, Gill exposes disturbing and confounding dimensions of the modern world, particularly academia. Yet, beyond the pessimism that often characterizes postmodernity, he charts an optimistic and creative course framed in the terms of play.
Repetition of the Cosmos"
The Sacred and the Profane
(New York: Harper & Row, 1957), pp. 32-33.
It must be understood that the cosmicization of unknown territories is always a consecration; to organize a space is to repeat the paradigmatic work of the gods. The close connection between cosmicization and consecration is already documented on the elementary levels of culture--for example, among the nomadic Australians whose economy is still at the stage of gathering and small-game hunting. According to the traditions of an Arunta tribe, the Achilpa, in mythical times the divine being Numbakula cosmicized their future territory, created their Ancestor, and established their institutions. From the trunk of a gum tree Numbakula fashioned the sacred pole (kauwa-auwa) and, after anointing it with blood, climbed it and disappeared into the sky. This pole represents a cosmic axis, for it is around the sacred pole that territory becomes habitable, hence is transformed into a world. The sacred pole consequently plays an important role ritually. During their wanderings the Achilpa always carry it with them and choose the direction they are to take by the direction toward which it bends. This allows them, while being continually on the move, to be always in "their world" and, at the same time, in communication with the sky into which Numbakula had vanished.
For the pole to be broken denotes catastrophe; it is like "the end of the world," reversion to chaos. Spencer and Gillen report that once, when the pole was broken, the entire clan were in consternation; they wandered about aimlessly for a time, and finally lay down on the ground together and waited for death to overtake them. ([Footnote:] B. Spencer and F. Gillen, The Arunta, London, 1926, I, p. 388.)
This example admirably illustrates both the cosmological function of the sacred pole and its soteriological role. For on the one hand the kauwa-auwa reproduces the pole that Numbakula used to cosmicize the world, and on the other the Achilpa believe it to be the means by which they can communicate with the sky realm. Now, human existence is possible only by virtue of this permanent communication with the sky. The world of the Achilpa really becomes their world only in proportion as it reproduces the cosmos organized and sanctified by Numbakula. Life is not possible without an opening toward the transcendent; in other words, human beings cannot live in chaos. Once contact with the transcendent is lost, existence in the world ceases to be possible--and the Achilpa let themselves die.
To settle in a territory is, in the last analysis, equivalent to consecrating it. When settlement is not temporary, as among the nomads, but permanent, as among sedentary peoples, it implies a vital decision that involves the existence of the entire community. Establishment in a particular place, organizing it, inhabiting it, are acts that presuppose an existential choice--the choice of the universe that one is prepared to assume by "creating" it. Now, this universe is always the replica of the paradigmatic universe created and inhabited by the gods; hence it shares in the sanctity of the gods' work.