Sunday, 10 January 2010
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, part 2
The Brighton Museum also has a very good collection of 'ethnic' artifacts, such as ritual native costumes from around the world. I'm always fascinated by these, and have been ever since I saw such things during the 1980s in the former Museum of Mankind in London. (I believe that museum has now been absorbed by the British Museum: please correct me if you know better)
Some of these costumes, masks and carved figures are grotesque; others are frightening. You can feel their power. I can quite understand how, in a claustrophobic tribal world of gods, powerful priests, strict rituals, hypnosis-inducing incantations, drumming and dancing, an ordinary person would feel caught on a swaying tightrope stretched over an unimaginable abyss. One slip, and you fell into the waiting jaws of devils. At night, these creations, lit only by firelight, or perhaps brooding in menacing silence inside a dark hut or cave, would inspire terror beyond any withstanding.
I am only mildly superstitious. It extends only to wearing my 'lucky' jewellery, without fail, and (almost frivolously) saying 'White Rabbits' as my first utterance on the first day of each month, for good fortune. My PDA reminds me to. I have no lucky numbers. I scoff at having a heart attack if the salt spills. But I do avoid walking under ladders. And I wouldn't like to put any 'serious' piece of superstition to the test. If spending a night in a haunted house, I'd prefer to do it inside a pentacle, whatever reason tells me, and risk being called a daft old woman in the morning. I wouldn't face a night amid a stone circle of ill repute, or murmer the words to a spell if it just might bring forth some demon. I know, any 'demon' would be entirely conjured up by my own imagination; but if it seemed real, what's the difference? Why drive myself mad with fear?
In the modern world we have moved away somewhat from the old biblical representation of Awful Beings From Hell. More recently it has been Something From Outer Space - the Alien - or the Intelligent Computer That Gets Out Of Control. Nevertheless I think that the ancient primeval fear of dark nights, odd noises and strange happenings is not far away in our minds. It's easily aroused. And there is the related fear of People Who Are Not Like Us. Anyone can be a witch. Anyone can be pointed at and set upon in the name of Community Safety.