Read for Session #6
Pop Spirituality Entrepreneurs - Wannabe Indigenous Gurus
Please read this whole posting and browse through the links presented.
Here are some questions we can discuss in class: Why have so many non-native spiritual writers presented themselves as representing secret indigenous traditions? What is their audience, and why has the audience responded so positively? What is the response of native folks to these authors and texts? What are the important issues for our study of emerging spiritualities in looking at this phenomenon?
Overview: In the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, books written for Western audiences purporting to reveal secrets of indigenous people�s spirituality were very popular. One such series were the Don Juan books written by Carlos Castenada, purporting to recount the trainings he had received from a native sorcerer. Millions of copies were sold. Here�s information about Castenada and his success:
Following the Castenada books, other authors wrote books purporting to describe their own initiation into magical realms of Native American or other indigenous spiritualities. A common premise of some of these books was that the ancient ways were dying out, and that the author had been chosen as the one to receive the magical secrets from the last of the ancient teachers and, obviously, publish these secrets to the world. This sort of story was appealing on many levels: it was often very dramatic, with psychic and magical powers being bestowed on the author. The stories capitalized on the romanticism people in the United States have long had about Native American culture (think of the many summer camps for middle-class white kids with so-called Indian themes and rituals); it captured people�s nostalgia about their perceptions of simpler times, especially when people were closer to the land and to nature in general; and these texts gave a sense of ancient authority to emerging �shadow culture� spiritual ideas and practices.
Many of these authors have made a lot of money both from their books and from their later spiritual guidance businesses. Here�s a link to a good, though somewhat long, overview and critique of this kind of use of Native culture for non-Native appropriation. If you pick any of the names and do google searches on them, you will see what kind of spiritual entrepreneurs these folks are.
Marlo Morgan Case Study: We�re going to talk in class about an example of this sort of book (Mutant Message from Down Under) written by an American woman, Marlo Morgan, but set in Australia, purporting to describe her initiation into the secret ways of the indigenous people there. The book was an underground best seller later released by a major publisher in the United States. Please read through the links. Pay attention to the reviews of readers who found the book to be moving and important � what were their reasons for finding it so?
The first site will give you links to much of the history of this book, and the concerns people had about it.
This next link takes you to the reader responses listed on amazon.com for this book. Note that you would have a hard time from this presentation finding out that the book had been thoroughly denounced. Obviously, amazon.com has an interest in continuing to sell the book.
This last link is a strong critique of the book: