October 31, 2007


Caption: This man has been overcome with it.

This is Haint Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

(For the un-hillbilly, haint is Appalachian for that which haunts.)

Whatever haints may or may not be, one reason many people have believed in them over the ages is no doubt the feeling of fear or awe that sometimes strikes us in the apparent absence of an ordinary cause.

The 20th century German theologian Rudolph Otto referred to this feeling as the "mysterium tremendum." In his classic book The Idea of the Holy, he suggests that this feeling of awe lies at the basis of both religion and many superstitions:

The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at least it dies away and the soul resumes its 'profane', non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy.

This feeling can take many forms:

It has wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of--whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.

The biblical Book of Job has a great description of this unbidden feeling of awe or dread:

“Now a word was brought to me stealthily, And my ear received a whisper of it. Amid disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night, When deep sleep falls on men, Dread came upon me, and trembling, And made all my bones shake." (4:12-14)

Otto believed that earlier, more "primitive" manifestations of this feeling had a dark side and generated belief in ghosts and demons:

Its antecedent stage is 'daemonic dread' (cf. the horror of Pan) with its queer perversion, a sort of abortive offshoot, the 'dread of ghosts'. It first begins to stir in the feeling of 'something uncanny', 'eerie', or 'weird'. It is the feeling which, emerging in the mind of primeval man, forms the start-point for the entire religious development of history. 'Daemons' and 'gods' alike spring from this root, and all the products of 'mythological apperception' or 'fantasy' are nothing but different modes in which it has been objectified.

From a purely psychological point of view, these unbidden feelings of awe and dread are the stuff of which haints are made.

POVERTY AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT is the theme of the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. One item of interest deals with the possibilities of micro-loan programs to alleviate poverty and improve health outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

CHANGE TO WHAT? It's been two years or so since some unions split from the AFLCIO to form Change to Win. Here's an item from In These Times about what's changed, what hasn't and what might.

DEATH PENALTY. Yesterday's Supreme Court decision could mean a temporary moratorium on executions.

LATEST PRESS ON MEGAN WILLIAMS MARCH includes this item from the Daily Mail about Malik Shabazz,one of the march's organizers, and this item from the Charleston Gazette about the decision of the Charleston NAACP not to support the march, a decision shared by several other predominantly African American groups in WV.


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