At what is now Independence Fiord, in the extreme High Arctic, cut off from the rest of the world by "the great ice wall," Paleo-Eskimos, hunted muskoxen, cooked over open fires, gathered birds' eggs during the short summers, hunted hares, and fished from the shore. They had lost their knowledge of the bow and arrow, of the kayak and sea-going vessels. But with the gods and spirits they found there, they were able to start over again.
"the practices and beliefs of the shaman posed a model of behavior for others to potentially utilize in times of personal distress. Dissociating one's anxious mind into the realm of the supernatural is a familiar human mechanism for handling problems unsolvable by other means."
"Pindlingayak means a fool, and Pindlerortok a mad or delerious person. By degrees, as madness increases, disturbing the operation of the senses and clouding the judgement and insight into things present, the absent or concealed things and the events of the future unfold themselves to the inner sight of the insane."
H. Rink, Tales and Traditions of the Eskimos. Edinburgh, 1875.
This morning I thought about giving away the backpack I’ve had for over thirty years. In the mid-1970s, it carried supplies up the mountain to my California hermitage. In the early 1980s, it swayed to the rhythm of the steep trail into New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains. So much sweat on the brow and running down the back! So many pounding heartbeats as the importance of magico-religious beliefs and their association with Dorest technology is apparent in the most striking accomplishment of the Dorset people: the creation of a body of art that is unique, unexpected, and it struggled to keep pace. Now my backpack carries only memories, "the odd otherness of things."
Fearing a runner, a dog, or a person looking up, would crush them, on a twig I carried two parts of a worm, both wiggling, to the side of the trail, where
a small purple flower clung to the cold earth.
R. McGhee, Ancient People of the Arctic. Vancouver, B.C., 1996
Ivory maskette 3,500+ years old, is the oldest known Paleo-
Eskimo portrait of a human.
E.F. Foulks, The Arctic Hysterias. Anthropological Studies #10 (1972)
D. Abram. From an address given to the "Nature and Human Nature Conference, " Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, CA. March 2007