“To understand that the self must leave if the Loa is to enter, is to understand that one cannot be man and god at once,” wrote artist and filmmaker, Maya Deren, in her work on Haitian Vodou, The Divine Horsemen. In order for a Loa, or spirit, to possess a human, the human body must become vacant or “available” for possession. The human must rid themselves of their ego, their own preferences, even their own desires so that something “other” may appear. The body made “available” is something often spoken of. Be patient. Listen.
It is not uncommon in the early stages of availability, to have an experience that seems to border on the mystical. An experience in which you are at once completely aware of your physical presence, yet sense yourself from a space beyond the boundaries of the flesh. An experience where you feel sensation acutely, and yet, do not doubt your ability to endure. As Paul Valery states, “The sensation of being everything and the certitude of being nothing.”
Only ecstasy cures us of pessimism.
Life would be unbearable if it were real. As a dream, it is a mixture of charm and terror to which we gladly abandon ourselves.
Consciousness is nature’s nightmare.
-E.M. Cioran, Tears and Saints
In the end, there is nothing so esoteric about the experience. Its reproduction can be cultivated and refined through technique and training. Therefore, It is not the eternal which intrigues us, but that single unsustainable moment which gives us the right to love transitory things. A sensitivity towards impermanence and an awareness of its melancholy elegance. Mono no aware.
It is this world, this particular personal experience that we are interested in and not the beyond. When Zeami wrote his treatises on noh drama, he wrote on the concept of yugen (幽玄), the dim, mysterious, subtle grace. The idea that a performer can be completely present and available to the universe, and to partake of the vastness and wonder within the natural world: “To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds. And, subtle shadows of bamboo on bamboo.” The associations with the images go beyond words and thus, the seed of one’s own personal experience may foster an entire landscape within a dance.
When the performer is in the process of becoming, the audience may not perceive the image that is conjured by the performer. Perhaps they only see a transformation occurring or the earnest yearning of the performer for change. Regardless, the dance is not about what the performer “shows” the audience, but more about what remains hidden or partially revealed. That which is not obvious, “not known, because not looked for / But heard, half-heard, in the stillness / Between two waves of the sea.” (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets)
We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and darkness, that one thing against another creates. - Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows
photos by Nobuyoshi Araki