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Cuyamungue Diptych

Cuyamungue Diptych by Holly Whitstock Seeger
Cuyamungue Diptych, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 16" x 12" and 12" x 12"

In the Spring of 2011, I attended a retreat at the Cuyamungue Institute near Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was led by my friend and Astrologer, Marianne Carroll in celebration of her recent certification by her teacher, Barbara Hand Clowe as an Ecstatic Posture Instructor.

* * *

The Cuymungue Institute, now officially known as Cuyamungue: The Felicitas D. Goodman Institute, was named after an ancient pueblo in the area and in honor of Dr. Goodman who founded it in 1978.

Dr. Felicitas Goodman was an anthropologist who specialized in the study of “glossolalia” (speaking in tongues) and altered states of consciousness. Early on in her research, she had noticed how Shamans always appeared to first arrange themselves by sitting or standing in a specific way before going into trance. When she had asked them about this, she learned it was essential to the ritual, the way the medicine men established communication with the source of their traditional wisdom.

This information began her inquiry into whether the distinctive poses of sculptures and votive figures found in ancient ruins were also depicting postures from their cultures which were meant to open pathways to alternate realities. The revelation led her to research and develop a specific method of entering a religious altered state of consciousness which she termed Ecstatic Postures.

Dr. Goodman began by selecting ancient relics and observing their poses. She would assemble a group of student volunteers, pick one statue and instruct the group to all hold the "posture" in trance for 15 minutes. Over time, she found that by shaking a shamanic rattle, the focus of the participants was better held during the session.

Immediately following the posture, the group would record their observations as to what they saw, heard, and felt while in trance. Through this data, Dr. Goodman was able to build a body of neurophysiological research to better understand ecstatic trance meditation.

* * *

My adventure at the Institute with Marianne and other friends who had joined her in celebrating her milestone lasted for several days. During this time, we held postures at least twice a day, received instruction in the basics of astrology, had wonderful meals, and greeted a gorgeous sunrise each morning. New Mexico holds a special place in my heart—there must be a past life memory somewhere. I remember feeling very much at home.

On the last night, we made our way up to the top of the hill to hold “The Lascaux Cave Posture.” For those who may not be familiar with the Palaeolithic paintings of Lascaux Cave, located in the Dordogne region of southwestern France, this historic monument is estimated to be about 20,000 years old. Discovered in 1940 by 4 boys looking for their dog, the paintings found there are especially remarkable for their life-like renderings of animals. Some time ago, I had the good fortune to visit Lascaux. Although the "cave" I went into was actually a replica, (the original was closed in 1963 for fear of deterioration) one certainly got the sense of its ancient magnificence.

I recall the guide pointing out the human-looking figure, noteworthy because it was the only one. Perhaps for this reason, Dr. Goodman had chosen it as a part of her study. During her research, Dr. Goodman had puzzled over how to most accurately achieve the exact position for this posture since the figure in the cave was lying at a very specific 37-degree backward slant. After many unsatisfactory attempts to get good results, she came up with the idea of actually creating wooden platforms at exactly this angle. If you visit the website of the Cuyamungue Institute, you will actually see a photo of the founder, Dr. Felicitas Goodman instructing a man who is positioned on one of the boards I spoke of, which directly correlates to the image from the Lascaux Cave.

Once she had the platforms built, the posture results were somewhat better but still, her group was not having as great a success as hoped. Dr. Goodman again studied the cave painting and then realized what they were missing—the position of the thumb on the left hand. Although the fingers should be relaxed, she found that if the left thumb was held stiffly at an angle, this was the ticket!

* * *

The Lascaux Cave Posture was the one Marianne and our group would hold on this last night together. There were only 3 or 4 boards and about 14 of us so it was arranged that Marianne and I would be the last of the group to have our turns. While waiting, I was assigned to keep a steady beat with two giant drumsticks on an enormous 60” wide drum while Marianne shook the shamanic rattle.

As all this was going on, my attention was on the most expansive sky full of stars so close I had ever seen. After several moments, I began noticing lights shooting straight up into space at remarkable speeds and then stopping on a dime and just as quickly making right-angle turns. Am I really seeing this?!, I wondered. It almost seemed cliché but there it was happening right in front of my eyes!

When our time arrived, I took my place on a board, with one between Marianne and myself. The rattling began and I imagined a silver thread around my hand and attached to the wooden platform. If I was going to be flying out in space like a bird, I was taking no chances about my return.

At first, nothing happened. Then I remembered the part about the thumb. “Whoosh!,” in a flash, I was out there among all the glittering stars. Suddenly, right in front of me, a light flicked on and a windshield appeared, like that of an old school spaceship. The body of the craft was invisible, in darkness, just stars surrounded the window itself. Inside was the silhouette of what I would term a classic alien figure. I couldn’t make out any facial features and I remember thinking the head was not as oversized as I would have thought.

Shocked! Stunned! I immediately brought my thumb down and found myself back on the board. Whew! The rattle and drum were still going. Did I really see what I thought I saw? I decided to take another look. Thumb up and I was out there again in a mere second. As before, all was darkness and twinkling stars. Then suddenly, against this backdrop, a huge reptilian eye (or was it like a cat’s?) opened slowly, encompassing the entire space just inches in front of me. The pupil narrowed and I had a strong sense this being was laughing at me—So funny to be playing jokes on the silly humans! There was no audible sound, just a very strong feeling.

As you might imagine, my thumb down went down in an instant and I found myself safely back on the board, so grateful I had that silver thread attached! As I gathered my wits, the rattle and drum soon stopped and it was over.

* * *

As I thought to write the story of this diptych painting, I went in search of my notes from that day. After this session, we all sat down and wrote out our experiences. In my journal, in addition to my written words, I had actually drawn images of what I had seen, which I later based my paintings on. After this, we assembled in a circle and, one by one related what had happened. Curiously, in this instance, no one else had had any sensation of flying anywhere. Stranger still, despite my account, no one remembered me talking about it! Marianne later sent out an email to all participants discussing each posture and relating the accounts we had all written down. Classic ET manipulation, right?

This experience was so vivid and the images so stuck in my head, I was later prompted to capture them on canvas. These are the paintings, although I have taken artistic license with the fanciful background.

* * *

To learn more about Cuyamungue, here's the link:

To learn more, read Where Spirits Ride the Wind by Dr. Felicitas Goodman and also, Ecstatic Trance: New Ritual Body Postures by Dr. Felicitas Goodman and Nana Nauwald.

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