This week, I had the privilege to visit The World Museum in Liverpool, where an entire exhibit on the third floor is devoted to preserving artifacts of ancient cultures all around the world. On this magical and spiritual journey, I was able to look directly into the eyes of African dance masks; tremulously admire Congolese idols used for black magic and sorcery; and regard with wonder the fold-out books of a hieroglyphic Mayan ‘dream book.’ I came face to face with statues of Vishnu and Ganesha; priceless suits of samurai armor; Buddhist hanging scrolls and Tantric deities straight from Tibet; and beheld with awesome fear relics that were never meant to be witnessed outside of ancient secret societies and mystery schools.
I was in this large, circuitous exhibit mostly by myself, with the pregnant silence only occasionally interrupted by tribal drumming and chanting bursting out of the speaker system. As in the Egyptian exhibit at Bristol, I once again had the mystical experience of being confronted with a spiritual presence far greater than myself, overwhelming me with raw emotion. This presence commanded great awe and respect, and I was repeatedly moved to press my hands together, bow, and chant, in order to properly express my deference.
But, overwhelmed and humbled though I was, nothing could have prepared me for The Totem Pole. As I rounded the corner, and was confronted with a deific figure towering above me, its face frozen in a martial rictus, I was so frightened that I had to retreat for a moment to sit down, and stitch back together the thread of my courage.
Composure regained, I tentatively re-entered the room, building myself up to it by looking at the other exhibits. But towering at between 15-20ft tall, it really was the proverbial elephant in the room, commanding every part of my being to kowtow to it with my attention.
The totem itself was a chimaerical hybrid of human, animal, and spiritual elements, effortlessly fusing a man, a killer whale, a serpent, and two mythical giants into one single, phallic entity.
Once I observed this unity, my fear began to subside. Despite its fearsome appearance, I realized that the pole was not an apotropaic structure, but a potent symbol eloquently depicting the holographic truth of the ineffable unity of all things. Man, Nature, and Heaven are not separate from one another, but are one another, interwoven so that all things are within them, and they are within all things – a true hologram.
This truth was so evident to the Native Canadian artist, Richard Hunt, that I was amazed to learn that the human head on top was actually a self-portrait. These animals, these ancestors, these myths were so much a part of him so as to actually constitute his very being.
If only we were all so in-tune with the world as to recognize it as our being, and to recognize our being as the world.