Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dances in Bloomington

A correspondent has drawn my attention to what looks like a must-read article that I have so far missed, Hugh Urban's "A Dance of Masks: The Esoteric Ethics of Frithjof Schuon," (in Crossing Boundaries: Essays on the Ethical Status of Mysticism, G. William Barnard and Jeffrey J. Kripal, eds, New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2002, pp.406-40).

According to the introduction, Hugh Urban examines the most controversial of the Maryami practices in Bloomington--dances involving "sacred nudity."

The introduction says,

Urban not only analyzes the symbolism of this ritual and its purported links with the Sun Dance of the Sioux, but also discusses how Schuon legitimized this unorthodox ritual behavior by distinguishing between the exoteric, conventional level of ordinary understanding and morality, and the esoteric, transmoral level of knowledge and action granted to those who have been initiated into a higher Truth.


a critic said...

Interesting publication. I found the book listed on, under another title: "Crossing Boundaries: Essays on the Ethical Status of Mysticism." Is this the same book? according to the publisher's description on, there is an essay on Schuon in the title mentioned above.

Mark Sedgwick said...

I think you're right--that is the title as given in the Catalog of the Library of Congress. I'll change the original entry.

a critic said...

Thanks, Mark. Have you ever thought that Frithjof Schuon could have been inspired by the character "Winnetou" in the late 19th-century German writer Karl May's works? An interesting path to follow in order to understand Schuon's fascination with American Indians, according to someone who pointed me in that direction.

Anonymous said...

A suspicion I've long entertained. Rodger Cunningham

Anonymous said...

This is stricly anecdotal.

My father, born in 1906, was brought up in Europe between 1913-1914. Dad he said that when he was a little boy, he somehow picked up idealized notions about Native Americans, and was convinced that in the US, they were honored, that people bowed down to them.

And in his autobiography, The Ochre Robe, Agehananda Bharati, who was born Leonard Fischer, in Vienna Austria in 1924. In his biography, Bharati recalled , among various boyhood memories, that he had been given a wonderful collection of playthings including, 'A full Indian brave rig-out made to measure with a magnificent feathered Sioux headdress to match' (page 26)

This would have been some time in the 1920s-very early 1930s at most. It indicates that there was something 'in the air' in Central Europe in which Native Americans were of interest, sufficiently so for this kind of costume to be made as play thing for a young boy. Its not clear if young Leonard asked for this item on a wish list, or whethr he had shown some interests in that direction and these had been taken as a clue by his parents.

Fisher later went on to learn Sanskrit and several modern Indian languages when still a boy in Vienna and later became a sadhu in India, raising hackles when he caught preceptors making mistakes with texts.

He says nothing about utilizing Guenon as a medium for his Hindu studies, and having endured and disliked Nazi authoritarianism, Bharati spent the rest of his life battling fascism and was distressed to encounter kindly Hindu monks and scholars who considered Hitler an avatar.

So getting back to Schuon and his interests in Native Americans--it appears a critical mass of people in Europe, or Central Europe, were intrigued with Native American peoples--or at least, interested idealistic representations of these people and thier belief systems.