Kindred Spirits, County Cork
Week Four: Chapter 4 “A Reverser of Laws” (pg. 49-58 Hilaritas edition)
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Interestingly, since we have spent so much of the early novel considering Ireland I should point out that the Irish have been donating to the American Indian groups in small amounts as a show of solidarity. This is because of the generosity of the Choctaw people during the Potato Famine when they sent a donation for the Irish people. Considering that the survivors of a forced relocation by the US Government made this donation, it is one of the more noble moments in history. Some of the Irish didn’t forget. In County Cork there stands a monument called “Kindred Spirits” to commemorate the unique bond between the two peoples. In many ways “Kindred Spirits” would have been a good alternative title to this chapter. (Incidentally, Eric’s music selection this week contains a Navajo chant called “Potato Song.”)
It wouldn’t be a Historical Illuminatus novel without someone trying to kill Sigismundo; instead of inept assassins hired by overly-competent conspirators Sigismundo encounters an opponent who is equal to him in strength as well as mystery. My searching couldn’t find anything about the Maheema tribe so I am going to presume that they are fictional. Because of indications later in the novel and because Sigismundo is in the then “Northwest Territory” we can assume that the Maheema people live in Ohio- Miskasquamish indicates that the Maheema and Chickasaw people were sometimes familiar. From my understanding he would probably have encountered Chickasaw peoples south of the Ohio territory in what is today Tennessee. The Chickasaw inhabited the areas that are modern day Mississippi and Tennessee- “Father of the Waters” is a translation of the name of the Mississippi River. Because of a reveal later in the book we also know that Miskasquamish’s perspective on the land and time is different than Sigismundo’s.
Let’s talk about funny names. Miskasquamish is an obvious Wilsonian pun on H.P. Lovecraft’s Miskatonic River/University which is another fictional name that comes from a mashup of Algonquin language sounds. This is possibly an allusion to the fact that the Maheema people are also a fictional creation. The Squamish are a First Nations’ people from British Columbia. Another Lovecraftian connection is when Miskasquamish thinks: “A man of medicine can look straight at a Sky Demon, He who Walks on the Wind, and not show his fear.” I believe this is a reference to one of August Derleth’s, sometimes regrettable, contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos. Ithaqua is often called “the Wind-Walker” and one of Derleth’s stories is titled “The Thing that Walked on the Wind.” I’m not a huge Derleth fan but Ithaqua is based on Algernon Blackwood’s excellent, subtle tale of ineffable horror in the wilderness, “The Wendigo.” (With some homoerotic subtext to boot!) It’s a longer short story but many of us have time on our hands: give it a read. The Wendigo itself is a “real” evil spirit spoken of by the Algonquin people of Eastern Canada. Finally, my favorite name in this chapter is Miskasquamish’s misapprehension of Sigismundo: Sackymondo. For some reason this mistranslation reminded me of an older cartoon, by my estimation, called Rugrats which I watched as a child: in one episode the children are very afraid of Sasquatch who they call “Satchmo” throughout.
Miskasquamish’s beliefs and practices seem to be derived more from Wilson’s own imagination and the relatively-lurid descriptions of psychedelic use in Native cultures propagated during the mid to later twentieth century. (This is not to say that these accounts were entirely untrue or of no value.) Mainly, Miskasquamish’s use of drug blends and his talk of animal spirits reminds me of the novels of Carlos Castaneda. (The bear-people though are a reflection of RAW’s interest in early bear gods and ideation.) In Cosmic Trigger Wilson discusses Castaneda frequently, and to this reader, his influence is clear. Castaneda’s books have received a great deal of scrutiny from Academia and his later “Tensegrity” cult activities mars an already complicated legacy. That said, I didn’t read Castaneda until pressured to by one of my teachers - I considered it nonsensical trash until then - and found that his works make a great deal of sense as far as magical philosophy goes. Indeed, I find the teachings of Don Juan resemble those of Aleister Crowley to a great degree. Who am I to refuse nonsensical fiction as a path to the “truth?”
Miskasquamish’s other unique belief, and the one that drives much of his activities throughout the novel, is that Sigismundo is a “Reverser of Laws.” My searching didn’t find anything quite like what Miskasquamish describes but there was the concept of “contraries” or “reverse warriors” among the Plains Indians. The idea was that these people would deliberately act opposite from the rest of the tribe and sometimes formed “cults” of similar people. It’s an interesting idea.
Naturally, Sigismundo’s attempts to dissuade Miskasquamish’s enmity doesn’t pan out. There is a series of breakdowns in communication that strengthens the medicine man’s convictions. We may meet again next week as we revisit James Moon and the Man from Mt. Vernon.
From Eric: “ I don’t know the tribe of the shaman in the novel, but I play a Navajo song for my music history students in our unit on Gregorian chant and other religious chant traditions. I couldn’t find the exact recording I usually use, but I like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tCeJ2BDEu8 .”