Every morning I wake up and after the usual teeth brushing, and coffee drinking routine, I walk into the Room, a room in my house where I have my Saints, Icons, and various other things, and Work. On some mornings, depending on the day, I do specific things. Some time ago I was in there, chanting a rosary, when I had the distinct impression of my mouth become a portal, through the act of utterance. Where breathe and sound entwine to allow for spirits (in this case a particular spirit) to pass. It was an odd experience because even though I’ve been mounted before- as part of a spiritist house being mounted and serving as a medium through which spirits pass, and even causas, is part of the work we do- this felt adjacent to that, it was private and personal. A communion with spirit. I felt vulnerable, and this surprised me to the extent that I paused and covered my mouth instinctively. I looked at the particular Icon/spirit/person and felt the reciprocity between us, the connection.
I’ve sat with this experience, and this sitting has led me to other thoughts that have been with me for some months now, and it is the idea of Hollow Vessels. Let me explain, a couple years ago my friend wrote an excellent piece on this, titled Hollow Vessels, in her words:
I was reading Umar S. al-Ashqar’s The World of the Jinn & Devils.[…] as I’m reading, I come across a passage that gets my attention:
“When Allah fashioned Adam in Paradise, He left him as long as He wished to leave him. Then Iblees roamed around him to see what he actually was and when Iblees found him to be hollow from within, he recognized that the new creature had been created with a disposition such that it would not have control over itself. (emphasis mine)”
That hollowness caught my attention. I thought about how spirit contact for me can feel like they’re filling me with their speech and thoughts, and I had pondered how does one go about filling oneself with oneself. The hollowness of Adam in this passage also suggests a kind of extra-dimensionality: Iblees can literally look into Adam and sees there’s not much there. And we talk about possession as entailing spirits entering into persons and inhabiting them. But we also talk about filling ourselves with all sorts of non-food, non-drink things.
The apprehension of this hollow-ness is what struck me in my experience. I and we as hollow vessel, engaging with the world through our senses, our skin, our actions, and our bodies. I understood in my body what I had read months before.
Let’s briefly go back to the same article, yet this time addressing specifically Rane Willerslev’s Soul Hunters, the Yukaghir and Yakaghir animism, “Animism as Mimesis” where the shaman engages in mimesis to ‘become “not an elk, and yet…also not not an elk.”’:
‘For a time, the shaman becomes something other than only-human, and while in this state, the shaman perceives a female elk as a beautiful human woman. He must then kill her while avoiding going off with her, which would lead to his death when she killed him. In Willerslev’s account, the hunter even hears her speak his language. For the Yukaghir, “the capacity to take on the appearance and viewpoint of another being is one of the key aspects of being a person.” Mimesis-as-animism entails “the ability to see similarities and invent correspondences with the surrounding world” in order to “imitate significant and powerful others not simply to represent them, but also to exercise power over them.” The shaman’s power comes not from the similarity they cultivate during the hunt—the elk shaman is not a “perfect copy” of an elk, for the power he wields comes via his difference—otherwise, similarity collapses “into each other…[and they] become one.” Power-over depends upon seeming similar enough for the subject to recognize the Other in part, but the shaman cannot be able to identify with the Other, or else the power dynamic emerging in their difference collapses into sameness.’
It is in this Play of identity that I found my self that sunny morning holding a rosary, staring at an icon, and chanting words thousands and thousand of others have uttered before me. I sensed the hollow-ness within me, the becoming like, which was in relation with the other that was looking on, and through this hollow-ness I perceived how the boundaries between our selves and the landscape our bodies inhabit are permeable and in continual interaction. There was a sameness/difference tension in our identities playing out.
In relationship with the Other is knitted through these boundaries, through the permeability that opens up in these encounters, with our words, our tongue, mouth, touch, sight, smell. Through this interplay of actions our differing bodies meet, intertwine and participate in one another, both that of the other and our own. This is what I would call, in David Abram’s words, the sensuous involvement, the spontaneous life of our sensing bodies. With these hollow sensing bodies in play we enter into a field of meanings, yet not just meanings prescribed by one, “the world has meanings beyond what we describe, invent, or discover.” These meanings are descried in the contours of these engagements, of this interplay, and are located within our “ongoing reciprocity” with the persons, and the world/landscape around us (Abrams, 56).
Now why am I saying all this? To be frank, I’m not sure myself, I’m writing out my musings and there is no overarching reason, only that I grasped my perception of this mutual interaction, this intercourse, one sunny morning. I also recognize how we all seek to fill our selves up, with material and non material things, that we are both hollow and we are full. Permeable. And as we move about the world, about the landscape we inhabit in our daily lives so as well the landscape moves through us, breathes and speaks. After saying all this I must conclude with the same question my friend did in her piece:
“What have we been filling ourselves with, and how is that—if it actually is—carrying us forward to the kind of fulfillment we actually want?”
- Hollow Vessels, crowess.wordpress.com/hollow-vessels, December 12, 2017.
- Abram, David, The Spell of the Sensuous, First Vintage Books Edition, New York, 1997.
- Unless otherwise noted, quotes are extrapolated from the piece Hollow Vessels.