Recently our critic William Wilson set out for Goleta intending to review an exhibition of African art at UC Santa Barbara titled, "I Am Not Myself." When Wilson sat down to write, he was not quite himself. His body seemed to be inhabited by the spirit of a visiting African graduate student studying American folkways. The student wrote a letter home to his mother--which we found so interesting that we ran it on Jan. 20. Now, much to our surprise, we've received a reply from the spectral student's mystical mother, who appears to have taken possession of a local resident, Pamela Weaver. Dear Son,
How wonderful it is to have a letter from you, and to hear of your strange and discouraging experiences with the Euro-American ethnics. I cannot help worrying about your feeling that Euro-Americans do not understand spiritual matters. Of course you are the one who is there, and I am still in Africa.
We have had a white visitor here who has told us stories of his culture. I am passing some of these back to you, hoping they may help you correct or refine your analysis of the people you are studying.
Our visitor told us that although some of American culture does suffer from spiritual ignorance, there are teachers there who understand the powers involved in rituals. Native Americans who are for some reason called "Indians" developed a rich array of spirit symbols which have appeared throughout the traditional daily lives of their tribes. Surely if these "Indians" developed the first American culture, they must have influence in the land. Have you missed them?
Our source spoke of the Southwest Museum, where he said there is curently an exhibit of Canadian and American native "art." Of course only primitives use the word "art," since enlightened people see the spirit in a daily way and do not separate "beauty" from images which are a natural part of life.
Of course, son, you were brought up to know all this intimately. We know that symbols on Native American objects, for instance, were not placed there for decoration. They are powerful symbols of spiritual visions. Baskets, rugs, jewelry and other "art" are extensions of what is seen in the mind's eye during the vision quest which gives birth to adult life. Of course we know that the same designs are also visible in the world around us, painted on rocks and on the sides of mountains where trees cluster in meaningful patterns.
Our visitor explained that exhibits of "art" are necessary because much of the spiritual vision was destroyed in some kind of accident suffered by the "Indians." Canadian whites, he added, are quite familiar with spirit forces and their forms and faces, because totems and other symbols have been preserved and respected in Canada.
Is it true that American "artists" have taken on the role of teachers, whose mission it is to show their people how to see the invisible?
At any rate we all envy you. You, unlike our visitor, must have contact with people who truly have the chance to "make progress." Our visitor was kind enough to bring us one sign of the kind of life you may be living. It is a spirit face on paper that he said is one of the most widely used images in American culture. It evidently represents efficiency, plenty, and feasting. Under the odd symbol is a name: "McDonald's." We hear that this face and name are reaching around the world and that faces like it represent the force of the future. Are you acquainted with this American spirit-god?
Write us soon and report on your travels. Especially inform us about the face of the future. Masks, after all, are power objects, and you are right that we must not use them without knowing what spirit they may invoke.
Wishing you clear vision and good health,
Your loving mother