Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Can't Believe My Own Eyes

Many years ago I wrote a book set in Australia. It was while I was researching Aboriginal religions for this book that I first learned about “pointing the bone.”

“Pointing the bone” is a ritual curse that Aborigine shamans perform which causes the person pointed at - the “pointee”, as it were - to die. The shaman does nothing whatsoever to the pointee other than point the bone at him. And he dies. This is not a rumor or superstition. Over many decades, English observers, including research scientists, were unable to unearth an example whereby a person so cursed did not die. However, when the curse was laid upon a European, the European invariably went about his business in good health. The obvious conclusion to be gained from this example is that human beings create their reality.

Now, I don’t intend to imply in the least that our misfortunes are our own fault or that fortunate people deserve their luck more than the rest of us. It’s way more complicated than that.

A couple of days ago, Don and I were having breakfast in a restaurant and being royally entertained by a watching three-year-old girl in the next booth make people and buildings out of condiments and napkins and narrate their lives and histories aloud to herself.

“She’s in another world,” Don said.

I wondered then, as I have many times, if the world a little child inhabits is in fact less real than mine. When a little guy plays with a companion we can’t see, is his friend really imaginary? When a kid says she remembers when she was a cowboy before she was born, does she really?

We shape our children’s attitudes. No one would dispute that. But do we also shape the way they perceive existence? We dismiss their perceptions as unreal if they don’t fit in with how we see things. Slowly, as they grow, the kids begin to fall in line. They believe us when we say they didn’t really see that woman in the corner of their bedroom. And eventually, their vision adjusts itself and they can no longer see her.

A Native American parent confirms her child’s vision of a spirit helper, so the spirit helper really helps him. We 21st Century Westerners teach our children that money has power, so in our world, it truly does.

This niggling feeling that existence is fluid influences my writing a lot. I try very hard to put aside my own beliefs about the way the world works and perceive things as my characters would without judging them. It’s hard. Almost impossible.

In my upcoming novel, Crying Blood, Alafair’s husband, Shaw, sees what he believes to be a ghost. It’s common knowledge around those parts that the place he saw the ghost is haunted. Whether what he saw is actually a ghost isn’t as important to his view of reality as the fact that not one single person in his world tries to tell him that it can't be true since there are no ghosts. Because in his time and place, everyone knew that the dead walk.

And perhaps because everyone knew it, the dead did walk. Who am I to say otherwise?


Vicki Delany said...

Always a fascinating topic for discussion. Me, I am in the "if I don't believe it then it doesn't exist school" but in fiction it's fun to explore the 'what if' side.

Hannah Dennison said...

Really thought-provoking post, Donis - especially as my cottage in England had a "ghost" and I saw him just the one time. Only my cat believed me as she practically had a coronary. No one can convince me otherwise either - it was a life changing experience. I'm more a "let me have proof myself and I'll believe."

Donis Casey said...

I seem to be a contrarian and want to believe the opposite of anything I'm told. If my characters have a completely different view than I do, that pleases me.