I’ll never forever the obviously possessed person I heard one night in Berkeley, California. I lived above campus on the edge of a forested area bordering a state park. Beneath an approximately full moon which I distinctly remember, I took a shortcut home, passing Grizzly Stadium and the mouth of Strawberry Canyon. Yes, people get mugged all the time there, but that wasn’t what freaked me out. It was this loud, sustained, deeply-afflicted wailing — obviously human.
It wasn’t a prank. He was in a slightly different fold of the foothills, seemingly well-ensconced and wholly oblivious. I would have seen his light, but he had none. The voice and thoroughly inscrutable sentiment wrapped up in it would have driven away all other humans, as it ultimately did me.
I lingered and listened just long enough to realize this person wasn’t dying or even in physical pain or imminent danger — nor calling for anyone’s help. Rather, it was extremely vigorous and purposive and also complex and rhythmic– ultimately creative. But totally weird — like a human radio set tuned to static and cranked. The dude clearly had a few more chapters or verses or whatever, and clearly wasn’t gonna finish till he finished. No one — in their right mind or not — would have disturbed him, not even — I mean especially, a cop.
That guy was doubtlessly one of Berkeley’s homeless denizens and not well. But quite by accident, over recent years — about 3 of them — I’ve found myself literally face to face with people who’ve similarly gotten quite out of hand and remained that way for long periods. It’s happened in Java, Madura and Bali. Those people are just fine now, as far as I know.
Which means I’m the one who’s wiggin’ now. What the devil gets into people? Most puzzling, you can’t ask them about it. They don’t seem to have a lot to say and usually change the subject.
Curious, I did research, which went in every direction. I found free ethnographic films on Bali, learned about continuities between Balinese and Javanese religion and what it’s like to work in a kretek factory, and discovered several new genres of Indonesian trance dance, important jazz musicians from the West, and websites like Mindhacks and Lifeslittlemysteries.
Anyway, that’s why it’s been fun: zero danger of reaching any conclusions on how (and why) people wig flip.
Here are the posts in order of relevance (if any ; )
- The magic of Bali generally (indirectly related)
- Trance dance & spirit posession in Indonesia (be mused, and baffled )