Monday, January 25, 2021

The Ghost Shirt Rituals: Preparing for the End of the World


Ishi, (c. 1861 –  1916), the last member of the Native American Yahi people, photographed as he was in 1911 when he came out of the woods in California. How did the Yahi react when they saw that the Whites were going to exterminate them? Perhaps not differently from the way we are reacting to the prospect of the collapse of our civilization: going crazy. The overreaction to the current Covid pandemic is just the first stage of the wave of madness that's engulfing humankind.


Imagine you are a Native American living before the arrival of the Whites. Maybe you are a Lakota, hunter of the central plains. Or maybe a Yahi, living in the thick forests of California. Or a member of any of the many Native American nations that existed back then. 

As a Native American, you have your family, your friends, your day-to-day routine of things and tasks. And you are busy with that, except for one thing: you know that there is a big problem. A VERY big problem. There is an entire nation, out there, bent on exterminating you and your people: the Whites. 

At first, you try to ignore the problem: those Whites are far away. Or maybe you'll deny that they are coming, or that they are so many as they are said to be. But, at some moment, the truth cannot be anymore ignored or denied. The Whites are there. They are coming for you, for your family, your children, your friends, your people. And you know that there is really no way to stop them. So, what do you do? 

You go crazy. And so does everyone. Suddenly, you are catapulted into a "new normal," a world where the routines of everyday life have disappeared. You are now into a sort of "heroic space" where you are supposed to go through mystic rituals that involve dancing yourself to a trance, wearing "ghost shirts" that are supposed to protect you from the Whites' bullets. Even more extreme dances, called "sun dances," involve hanging oneself to a pole with a rope with hooks at the end that pierce one's breast. That is supposed to make warriors braver in the coming fight

A contemporary representation of the "sun dance" involving people hanging themselves to poles with metal hooks stuck inside their breasts and other forms of self-inflicted tortures. This image was probably made to emphasize the "barbaric" aspect of these rituals, but it is true that the Native American society, under heavy stress, had developed these bloody self-punishing dances.

We don't know how exactly the Native Americans of those times saw these bloody rituals. Did they really believe that ghost shirts made them invulnerable? Did they really think that their problem was that their warriors were not brave enough and that to become braver they needed to hang themselves to poles by the breasts? We can't know, and we can't know if someone understood that it was way too late, that the Native American peoples should have acted much earlier to face the Whites as a united nation, instead of scattered tribes. But so moves the great wheel of history, mercilessly crushing everything and everyone when their time has come. After the massacre of Wounded Knee (1890), nobody could anymore think that ghost shirts were a solution.   

The Native Americans were not the only culture that went crazy when facing their own demise: Mon Seul Desir (see the text below) calls this phenomenon the "Indian Reservation Syndrome" and he lists other cases of societies gone into a frenzy of mysticism and rituals when they faced problems that they could not solve. One was the Nongqawuse cattle-killing cult in South Africa, another was the Boxer Rebellion in China (the latter also believed that their spiritual powers made them invulnerable to bullets). 

And then, of course, there is our civilization. We are facing a disaster even worse than anything the Native Americans ever faced: the collapse of the whole planetary ecosystem. And, like them, we are going crazy. 

You can see the ongoing craziness everywhere in its many forms, but the overreaction to the Covid-19 pandemic is perhaps the most pervasive, the most destructive, and the most misunderstood form of craziness that has hit us. The parallels with the rituals of the Native Americans are evident, with the role of the ghost shirts taken by the face masks as a visible garment signaling the beliefs of the wearer, and by vaccines as magic tools making people invulnerable to the enemy. 

The most evident parallel is how the current rituals include various forms of penance. Westerners are not hanging themselves by the breasts, but they undergo segregation, limitations to movement, loss of personal freedom, economic ruin, and more. The idea is to turn the whole story into an obsessive-compulsive ritual carried out with the same stoicism and indifference that Native Americans showed in their bloody rituals. 

It is part of the way the human mind works: when things go bad, the first reaction is to look for someone to blame. But, sometimes, when things go not just bad but truly rotten, then the culprit may turn out to be yourself. So, with the Covid pandemic, that's the reason for the general acceptance of rules and laws that, in other times, would have been unthinkable. It explains the demonization and the mistreatment of those who are the victims and not the perpetrators of what's happening: single human beings, treated as the one cause of the pandemic.

It was probably unavoidable. The Covid is not the real problem, we all know that. The problem is another: it lurks in the background, but it is there. No ghost shirt (and no vaccine) will send away the ecosystem collapse that we are facing


Note: What I wrote is not meant to disparage the Native Americans, nor their beliefs. The Sun Dance was a deeply felt ritual developed by people who were trying to cope with an impossible challenge and I am sure that they genuinely believed in what they were doing. I personally met some Lakota men who were still doing the dance and, years ago, even an Italian man who had converted to the rituals and was doing the dance, including the metal hooks stuck in his breast. These people deserve our respect for their courage and their dedication. About the current Covid rituals, I am sure that many people in the West genuinely believe that they are doing something good and useful by punishing themselves with masks, distancing, home segregation, and all the rest. But there are differences. One is that the Sun Dance was meant to unite the people, whereas the Covid rituals are explicitly meant to separate them. Also, the Sun Dance rituals originated from the people, while the Covid rituals, no matter how sincere are the believers, have been inflicted on the people, not developed by the people. 


The message from "Mon Seul Desir" that inspired this post

Hello Ugo,  

Thanks for the data, it confirms what I’ve was perceiving through feel and anecdotes, you’ve put hard numbers on it. It’s something I’ve been observing building up for a number of years, increasing drug use, alcoholism, and mental illness, I call it the Indian Reservation Syndrome, it’s the product of cultural collapse. I think you have heard of how primitive people can leave themselves to die when they lose their traditional way of life, it was hubris to say that this is confined to allegedly primitive tribes. Any culture can collapse when it comes into contact with a more advanced one. 

A couple of years ago I started having the feeling that collapse would start with massive mass psychoses, like the Nongqawuse cattle-killing cult, the Ghost dance, the Boxers, and the Cargo cults, I’ve been amazed by the Covid cult, it has turned into a collective obsessive-compulsive disorder, disconnected from any reality and resembling witchcraft and demonic possession hysteria, it has the common factor of having been embraced by the elites and much of the educated, with Mr. Fauci and Ferguson in the role of Herr Kramer and Sprenger. And it’s not isolated but part of a massive collective frenzy extending into every aspect of society. The processes that led to this, I’ll take up in a later message... 

Now for the Galla Placidia text, I see you as pointing to a non-linear transition, a complete change of state of the system, where the Homeric world gave way to the Medieval World, the City of God replacing the Glory of Rome. For this to occur implies that Medieval potentialities already existed in Late Rome, the collapse of the Empire allowed actualization of them. We are all chimeras, modernity is a chimera with a younger culture as a ghost in the shell of an older one. The Late Bronze Age had the Homeric world growing within itself, the Roman Empire had the Medieval world within and the modern West which is simply Medievalism in its late form has the Technospheric world growing within itself. 

How do you recognize the new culture? When its mythology emerges in a recognizable form, in pagan Rome the Gospels were regarded as crude tales for the credulous and uneducated, in the Bronze Age, Homer was probably seen as folklore for simple soldiers and sailors. I needed to find something similar, in December 2017 Me and my wife purchased movie tickets and sat down to watch Thor Ragnarok and I found it, Technospheric Mythology right in front of my eyes, it’s regarded as just entertainment for children, I thought about the utterly alien feel compared to movies from the 1950s like the 1959 Ben Hur movie. That earlier movie represents the Medieval Myth, you could show it to an audience from centuries ago and it would be fully comprehensible, but show Thor to even a 1959 audience and it would be surreal and insane, the motivations and morality of the characters would be mostly incomprehensible. 

I’ve seen the way many people react to it, it’s just special effects, it’s action, they can’t see why these movies are so popular. The Christian Myths are the Neoplatonic- Aristotlean weltanschauung turned into a narrative, the Marvel, DC, Inception and so on are the Relativistic-Quantum-Jungian weltanschauung similarity turned into narrative.


This is a moving and beautiful song by the Italian singer Fabrizio de Andre (1940, 1999) inspired by the massacre of Sand Creek of 1864 where some 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed, most of them women and children.

They took our hearts under a dark blanket
Si son presi il nostro cuore sotto una coperta scura

Under a small dead moon we slept without fear
Sotto una luna morta piccola dormivamo senza paura

He was a twenty year old general
Fu un generale di vent'anni

Blue eyes and the same jacket
Occhi turchini e giacca uguale

He was a twenty year old general
Fu un generale di vent'anni

Son of a storm
Figlio d'un temporale
There is a silver dollar at the bottom of Sand Creek.
C'è un dollaro d'argento sul fondo del Sand Creek.

Our warriors too far on the bison trail
I nostri guerrieri troppo lontani sulla pista del bisonte

And that distant music got louder and louder
E quella musica distante diventò sempre più forte

I closed my eyes three times
Chiusi gli occhi per tre volte

I found myself still there
Mi ritrovai ancora lì

I asked my grandfather. is it just a dream?
Chiesi a mio nonno è solo un sogno?

My grandfather said yes
Mio nonno disse sì
Sometimes the fish sing at the bottom of Sand Creek
A volte i pesci cantano sul fondo del Sand Creek

I dreamed so hard that my nose bleed
Sognai talmente forte che mi uscì il sangue dal naso

Lightning in one ear in the other heaven
Il lampo in un orecchio nell'altro il paradiso

The smallest tears
Le lacrime più piccole

The biggest tears
Le lacrime più grosse

When the snow tree
Quando l'albero della neve

Bloomed with red stars
Fiorì di stelle rosse
Now the children sleep in the Sand Creek bed
Ora i bambini dormono nel letto del Sand Creek

When the sun raised its head between the shoulders of the night
Quando il sole alzò la testa tra le spalle della notte

It was just dogs and smoke and upturned tents
C'erano solo cani e fumo e tende capovolte

I shot an arrow in the sky
Tirai una freccia in cielo

To make it breathe
Per farlo respirare

I shot an arrow in the wind
Tirai una freccia al vento

To make it bleed
Per farlo sanguinare
Look for the third arrow at the bottom of Sand Creek
La terza freccia cercala sul fondo del Sand Creek

They took our hearts under a dark blanket
Si son presi il nostro cuore sotto una coperta scura


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)