Re: mutilation and ritual

Robert Snower (rs219@IDIR.NET)
Wed, 3 Jul 1996 22:51:17 -0500

At 04:04 PM 7/3/96 -0700, Nedra Sue Davis wrote:

>I have 45 interviews so far, and before the summer is out, i will have 100.
So if
>any one has any information about tattoos they think i should know please
>post. :) thanks
>Nedra Sue Davis

I do not think there is anything too mysterious about the custom of
tatooing, except the great mystery of how the emotional value of such things
can get into our bones, and stay there for thousands of years--how there can
be such a thing as the "deep structure" of Dwight Read's recent post. I am
not very optimistic about your interviews. People have no idea, on an
articulate level, why they get a kick out of, e.g., a Pollock and not out of
a Picasso, or vice-versa, and likewise they are unable to tell you why
tatooing turns them on, and stamp collecting doesn't. Tatooing harks back
to totem days, and that is a long time ago. I spoke in previous posts of
ethnic identity of the present day as a descendant of the totemic collective
device. That's what it is, and there is where the story of tatooing lies.
I quote from Jane Harrison (1912):

"Another totemistic relic remains to be considered; it is again enshrined
with singular beauty in the Bacchae. Among totemistic peoples it is
frequently the custom to tattoo the member of the totem-group with the
figure of the sacred plant or animal. That this custom was in use among the
Thracian worshippers of Dionysos we have clear evidence in Fig. 23. . . .
You want to identify yourself with your totem, who by now has developed into
your god. To effect this union, this consubstantiality, it is well to carry
his symbols and dance his dances, on occasion it is well to eat him; but,
best and simplest, be stamped indelibly with his image. . . . We have then
in Greek and especially in Bacchic religion traces slight but sufficient,
not of a regular totemistic social system, but of totemistic ways of
thinking. We pass on now to show how these totemistic ways of thinking
explain the gist of the Feast of Raw Flesh . . . "

Best wishes.