…ghost dance and cargo cult…In times of stress look for the prophets of an earthly paradise: Handsome Lake of Mohammed, Lenin or the Teacher of Righteousness. America is always ready willing and able for any millennial cult that presents itself…
Most of the great economic, social, political and religious upheavals in history-early Christianity, Mohammedanism, the Protestant Reformation, the Russian and Chinese Communist revolutions, the Mau Mau in Kenya, Jihadism, and many others- started out as small cults predicting the imminence of a millennium that would decisively overthrow the established order. When we think about them, these cults are unusual for several reasons. First of all they are “religious” and evangelical, even though some, such as the Russian Revolution, denied the existence of religion, and others, such as the revolution preached by Martin Luther, opposed the established religion. Secondly, a close study of their histories tells us they combined two things we usually regard as incompatible: earthly material rewards and religious fervor.
The pattern of these historic upheavals is being followed by the numerous prophets, cults, and millenarian movements that seem continually present in the American landscape. Impoverished Americans refuse any longer to be deprived of their share of the nation’s material wealth- yet their protests, such as from a Cornel West, or even a Bernie Saunders, often take a religious form. The Occupy movements and their “prophets” whether Zinn, Chomsky,Chris Hedges, or a Zizek among others, although avowedly opposed to established religions, exhibit all the qualities of millenarian cultists; in a similar fashion as the Black Muslims in the 1960′s with Malcolm X, who in protest against economic deprivation reached outside the known Judaic-Christian tradition to a then alien religion.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi showed his converts the transcendental path to wealth and happiness the same way that Marshall McLuhan and later Alvin Toffler urged preparation for the imminent millennium through technology and communication. Clearly, all these cults, from Bible fundamentalists, to Eastern religion adepts, to Veganism to Feminism as a religion, to the Black Bloc etc. are telling us something important. To understand what it is, we must first disabuse ourselves of two false notions- that they are something new and that they are experiencing a particular form in North America.
Such movements have been seen in every race on every continent, though the better known ones have occurred among the Native people’s of North America, the blacks of Africa, and the natives of the South Seas. Nor are they anything new: they have been documented at least as far back as Hebrew times.
Probably more is known about millenarian movements among American Indians than among any other people. Almost as soon as white culture became dominant in North America, prophet after prophet arose. As early as 1762 a Delaware Indian preached a new doctrine that he said had been revealed to him in a vision. The Master of Life told him that the Indians must give up liquor and polygamy and other vices: “Let them drink but one draught, or two at most, in one day. Let them have but one wife, and discontinue running after other people’s wives and daughters. Let them not fight one another.”
If they also performed certain sacred rituals, revealed to the Delaware prophet in a dream, they could defeat the British- and be rewarded by liberation and e
mic well-being. The prophet’s teachings inspired an Ottawa Indian warrior named Pontiac to unite several indian groups around the Great Lakes. In 1763 his followers attacked the English forts, toppling one after another, including even the fort at Detroit, before the British beat them back and he himself was slain in an ambush. ( to be continued)…