Landscapes of Fear

I finished reading Landscapes of Fear by Yi-Fi Tuan (1979). It was a fairly exhaustive look at the broad range of fear(s); from predatory fear, fear of darkness, fear of absence (i.e., fear of not finding the walrus versus hunting the walrus itself), fear of disease (and of the diseased), natural disasters, witches, ghosts to the sounds and devices of urban areas and the countryside. There was nothing here that could directly influence my current problem of finding a structure of ritual (what people would be engaging in to transcend their level of experience) but I found some interesting thoughts:

If we had less imagination we would feel more secure. (6)

People shun [snakes] less [not] because they may be venomous than because they look repulsive and evil. (14)

In a natural disaster such as flood, authorities and populace fought against a common external enemy. In an epidemic, human beings themselves were a major cause of fear. People feared the sick as well as those suspected of being sick. And they dreaded the vastly expanded power of the authorities, who could impound them in filthy hospitals that were in reality death traps or shoot them when they sought to enter a barricaded area. (104)

Ghosts in backwoods America, as in Europe, most frequently visit man-made features: in the United States these include old or abandoned houses, old mills, covered bridges, and country roads. Ghosts also appear in natural settings such as hills, hollows and woods. Wherever a ghost is reported, that place acquires a numinous cast; it is set aside from the ordinary world. A landscape, to stay haunted, must be maintained by the art of storytelling, which until the Second World War was a popular pastime in many homes and country stores. To people who disapproved of dancing or cardplaying, swapping supernatural tales was almost the sole form of social entertainment. (128)

The countryside nearly always exudes an air of innocence. Even abandoned cottages can look picturesque. If, from the window of our speeding car, we happen to see the bent backs of men, women, and children picking tomatoes in the field, our immediate response is more likely to be "the wholesome life of outdoor labor" rather than "oppression, pain and fear." ...suffering leaves no mark in the country. The processes of rural exploitation have been "dissolved into a landscape." It is in the city that they emerge conspicuously as law courts, money markets, political power, and the arrogant display of wealth. The city, in many ways the supreme achievement of humankind, also stands as a monument to human greed and guilt. (144)

What does society do with such fringe members? In the past, if they were not violent and had some legitimate means of support, their presence was tolerated. ...most societies had two other methods for imposing order or forestalling the dangers of internal chaos: exile and confinement. With exile, danger is expelled from the communal body; with confinement, it is isolated in space, thereby rendering it innocuous. (187)

H. Bosch - The Ship of Fools

...Mad people are those whose minds wander. Without the control of rational minds, their behavior is erratic, either harmlessly adrift or violent. From ancient Greek times to the late medieval period, madmen received--other than medicine of a magical or sacral nature--two basic kinds of treatment: the violent were chained in private houses and religious institutions; the harmless were lightly supervised and allowed to mingle with the populace. When the insane became too numerous and troublesome, they were ejected from the city and encouraged to drift through the countryside. The step of transporting lunatics farther afield was undertaken between the late Middle Ages and the sixteenth century. City authorities hired sailors and merchants to conduct the mentally confused to distant towns where they might in the most literal sense be lost. (188)

...In the "ship of fools," the images of madness and water were aptly conjoined: water, a fluid medium signifying a state that lacks definition, is an appropriate symbol for madness. By contrast, sanity is the firm land the drifting mind hopes to reach and anchor itself in. (189)

Decline into schizophrenia is often preceded by a growing sense of "queerness" in everything. Objects come to have a "deeper meaning"; they seem mysterious and sinister. Such is not the world of the normal child and adult, and yet it does have something in common with the world of exceptionally gifted people. They ask strange questions. What we take for granted they find queer; what we accept as stable and closed they perceive as changing and open. Unlike schizophrenic patients, however, geniuses welcome--or, at least, are highly tolerant of--uncertainty. The circle is breached, but they believe it can be healed at a higher level of generalization. (204-205) Note: higher level of experience?

For geniuses, venturing beyond the familiar circle entails, of course, the risk of pushing to the edge of madness. Blaise Pascal, certainly a genius, is widely known for writing, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me." To the schizophrenic at one extreme and to someone like Pascal at the other, the world is vast, unstable, and frightening. Pascal spoke for fearful people when he wrote:

We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach overselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition, and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses. (205)