casparhenderson   1

Why Light Inspires Ritual - Issue 11: Light - Nautilus
"For Aboriginal cultures, light is a physical and spiritual guide."
"Tell me about how light creates “wonder.”
Wonder comes from all sorts of light. People tend to appreciate unusual light phenomena such as sunrises and sunsets, rays from behind clouds, exciting color contrasts, and rainbows. And while cultures vary, our shared sensory avenues for engaging with the world explain why we’re similarly affected by light. The Aboriginal people in Queensland, Australia, where I have worked for many years, may not have the same conversations that we do about the beauty of light and water, but they do sit and gaze at water bodies. And they generate ideas about what water and light mean.

What are some of these ideas?
The notion of visibility and invisibility is central to Aboriginal thinking. There is the invisible and immaterial world that is held within the land where ancestral beings reside. From there, they generate life and emanate power upward into the visible material world. The notion that it’s the ray of light that rouses the spirit is all around their mythology. Even the words they use to describe the spiritual movement from the ancestor to a human being can be translated roughly into English as “becoming visible” or “becoming material.”

So light makes the Aboriginal ancestral beings visible?
Yes, and it’s usually done through the interplay with water. Aboriginal Australia’s major ancestral being, the Rainbow Serpent is, in a sense, composed of water and its power is emitted by light or shine. Many other ancestral powers are contained in sacred water spots that are brought into the visible world through the shimmering water surface. A similar idea applies to rock and body art: The dots and patterns painted on the landscape or on the body represent the emanation of ancestral forces—their shimmer makes them manifest. In songs and stories too, “things that shine” are quite literally powerful and alive. The process of retelling the myths is meant to evoke the ancestors."



"Is there a reason why people are riveted by light and water?
In many cultures, but especially in the West, we tend to privilege our sense of sight above the other senses. Water’s capacity to reflect light is a particularly powerful sensory stimulus. So if you add together the fact that we prize visual experience, and that water and light in combination can produce large-scale, intricate, rapidly-moving patterns and effects with elements of both order and disorder, it seems reasonable to speculate that this is particularly stimulating and engaging to the brain, evoking something for which we can use the term wonder. There is, at least, a good research question here.

Is there a way to measure people’s emotional response to light and water?
A fruitful line of research, I think, would be comparing ethnographic accounts of watching the play of light on water with neuroscientific research on how light affects the eye, the brain, and the body. I suspect that the shimmer of light on water echoes what is going on inside our heads. This constant neurological “fizz” or “shimmering” of thoughts might remind us of the mesmerizing effect of sitting beside a glittering body of water, watching the light sparkle on the surface. This remains rather speculative, but when I interview people in cultures such as ours about their experiences with water, they very often talk about its powerful mesmerizing or hypnotic effects. The nascent science of how light and water affect the mind makes me understand better why indigenous peoples, such as the Aboriginal Australians, would have practices that involve it."
veronicastrang  light  water  casparhenderson  2014  culture  anthropology  australia  aboriginal 
april 2014 by robertogreco

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2014  aboriginal  anthropology  australia  culture  light  veronicastrang  water 

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