Introduction: “The group of gods from Anthropology to Group Psychotherapy”
“What ever be the faith that they practise,
all poets as such,
The famous song Acquarello by the Brazilian songwriter Toquinho goes as follows:
“ On a piece of paper you can see who travels in a train… they’re three good friends who eat and talk softly… from one America to the other, it’s a joke, a second is needed… you only need to make a nice circle and here you have the whole world…”
This relates to the atmosphere during the meeting for the work and research project.
Whilst from the outside world an abundance of dramatic headlines flooded in regarding ideological interethnic conflicts, ‘of civilization’, as someone claims, on a roman terrace the authors of this introduction met for dinner during a summer evening: there was an atmosphere of peace, that of exchange and curiosity for the thoughts of others.
The triggering idea was in someway autobiographic: Enzo Scotto Lavina’s personal encounter with Pierre Fatumbi Verger in Africa during the sixties, this recollection was evoked from the recurrence of the centenary year celebrating the birth of the famous French photographer and ethnographer.
Therefore we thought about putting together an edition of Funzione Gamma, the University La Sapienza of Rome’s online journal, starting from the topics and the cultural realities that Pierre Verger dealt with, that today are of great interest.
At this point we started to discuss Pierre Verger’s choice of working in Brazil, as a matter of fact he was invited to Brazil by Jorge Amado. The friendship between the well known author and Verger is highlighted in the contribution by Antonella Rita Roscilli on Zelia Gattai Amado, wife of Jorge Amado and herself a writer, she provides us with important information on the biography and personality of Verger.
In Brazil, Verger was in contact with the autochthonous culture, particularly in San Salvador de Bahia, that not only did he observe as an ethnographer, but that he acquired above all through his African and syncretistic knowledge, as the attribution of the name Fatumbi underlines.
Enzo Scotto Lavina edited for the Italian edition the archetypes, elaborated by Pierre Fatumbi Verger for The group of Yorouba gods, with a brief historical introduction and a personal memory of the great Verger that he met in Dahomey in 1966, nowadays Dahomey is known as the Republic of Benin.
Our thoughts led us to consider how in times of conflict between various forms of integralism, analysing the cultural context can prove useful, even in the dramaticism of the historical-social conflicts that characterize the cultural context, thus, manages to conduct or ‘invent’ cultural strategies enabling a dynamic representation of the ‘social drama’ with the attribution that the British anthropologist Victor Turner gave, in his analysis of rituals.
In fact, for Turner, the ritual has the important function of integrating the conflicting instances of the social group that are particularly intense in moments of transformation that highlight the precarious aspects of existence, in a representative performance (Turner, 1966).
Turner’s considerations lead us closer to certain concepts that are probably more well known to Italian academics, that of Ernesto de Martino and the concept of crisis of presence, that is in someway similar to losing the coordinates of cultural identity that ‘decontextualizes’ the individual, (to consider outside of historical context, as de Martino would say) placing him in a transitory way outside of a shared cultural dimension, in dramatic situations of existence. This crisis finds a resolution through the reactivation of the social group, via a process of meaning and containment through the dramatic and sacral representation of the magical-religious ritual. Concerning this point, de Martino sustains: “ In fact the simple breakdown of presence, the indiscriminate Koinonia, the unleashing of uncontrolled impulses represent only one of the poles of the magical drama: the other pole is constituted by the moment of reclaiming the presence that wants to be in the world” (de Martino, 1973, pp.73-74).
The Brazilian reality and the multiple cultures that make it up, seemed very appropriate in grasping the profound sense of social capacity of hybridisation and mestizo of religious and cultural forms. The nature of these relationships between groups led us to think about the strong polytheistic and ‘elastic’ essence of religious phenomenon and how important they are in contrast to the extremely rigid nature that they have undertaken in various historical contexts, and nowadays in monotheisms.
In these regards Francesco Remotti has underlined the greater openness of polytheism and exchange with others, whilst on the other hand, monotheism prefers hard definitions of identity. This author considers “…polytheism – connecting, enabling possibilities and pluralist…- it wouldn’t be at all bad for ‘modernity’ and the desire for ‘modernization’” (Remotti, 1996, p.43).
Therefore, we thought it would be appropriate with the themes we were dealing with, to entitle this edition ‘The group of gods, between group psychotherapy and anthropology’ to define in this manner a common and complex area where dynamic and polyvalent phenomenon that are of concern to analytic groups and traditional rituals could be compared.
At this point, the workgroup widened in number with the participation of Ginevra De Bellis, who is English but of Italian origin, she’s completing her studies in psychology and interested in the function of dream, considered from both a psychodynamic and anthropological perspective. She has contributed to this issue with an article that deals with these topics.
Ginevra, has also been precious for her knowledge of English, she pointed out to the group the important interview – dialogue between Pierre Fatumbi Verger and Gilberto Gil that took place in 1996, that has been published in this edition. Gilberto Gil being the great Brazilian musician and also the minister of Brazilian culture.
Alfredo Lombardozzi’s professional formation in anthropological field inspired the meeting with Vittorio Lanternari, one of the most important ethnologists and historians of religion in Italy.
Our group organized an interview with Vittorio Lanternari regarding his latest book ‘Ecoantropologia’, (Lanternari, 2003) that will be published in a forthcoming edition of Funzione Gamma. Some topics from the interview and from the above mentioned book widened our thoughts further on the group phenomenon and the analogies and differences with traditional therapeutic contexts.
These themes were also discussed with the anthropologist Massimo Canevacci, that has dealt with topics dealing with Brazil and cultural communication, he has contributed to this issue with an article that also highlights the contradictory and conflicting aspects of syncretistic processes.
Alfredo Lombardozzi has written an article for the journal that aims at analysing the analogies and differences between the therapeutic contexts of the small analytic group and traditional rituals. These considerations are important as they are intended to draw a comparison not only between anthropological and group psychoanalytical theories, but also between their underlying practice in both a clinical sense and in research.
Thanks to Claudio Neri’s interview in San Salvador de Bahia with Balbino Daniel de Paula, the whole proposal for this issue found a more concrete and definite form. Balbino Daniel de Paula is head of the terreiro Axê Opò Aganju, he is a pai de santo which is an intermediary figure between the divine entity of the saint and the people that ask to be cured, as he is considered to embody divine powers. The terreiro is the physical space where the Candomblé rituals take place; this ceremony originated in Africa, and was then syncretized with certain aspects of Christianity, nowadays certain individuals are attempting to have this return to the original essence of how it was before. One should distinguish Candomblé from other traditional customs that are in vigour in Brazil and central American culture, like Voodoo and Umbanda, that can be divided into white and black macuba, these being a social response to the varied and complex Brazilian reality, yet also connected with the cult context of the magical- ritual.
Verger’s position in regards to this reality and to these phenomenon weren’t only analysed from a scientific approach, but were above all lived, to such a degree that he was given the role of Ogan, which is the layman counsellor of the terreiro, during these years Verger developed a close bond with the Brazilian culture and he became a good friend of Balbino.
The interview between Claudio Neri and Balbino was carried out in dialogue form, this is of great importance, as not only does it provide significant information on the therapeutic ritual, but above all it shows the comparison-meeting between two cultural modes of thinking, as for example the function of dreams in human relations and their interpretation.
It’s a meeting that allows to keep hold of the ‘differences’, but exchanging ‘mental forms’ of different ‘knowledge’: hence, a ‘mestizo’ context that François Laplantine defines as follows “ it’s a never ending process of bricolage”. This author considers the risky tendency towards excess on behalf of the differential identity “…that doesn’t whatsoever support mestizo, mixings, contradictions and change. It aims at isolating the phenomenon in a pure state, without mestizo, for example purely biological, purely psychological, purely economic. Such a concept is subtractive to identity, this leads to composed character negation, composite and polyphonic both to human beings and culture, it’s made up of a mutilant function: hence, for the individual to remain ‘correct’ he should reabsorb his duplicity, triplicity, etc…(Laplantine, 1999, p.42).
For those interested in group psychoanalysis, these themes have a certain resonance, that evoke the thoughts of Francesco Corrao, who often underlined the complex logics of group processes that characterize communication form, which widens the field of meaning towards a polysemous dimension.
Corrao describes the group modality of thought as: “ The use of the analogical structure of discourse and the metaphorological structure, can be defined as the attempt to activate a multiple thought, a multifocal, plurifocal and polyvalent thought, therefore in a group saying something idiotic has the same value as saying something intelligent” (Corrao, 1995, p. 205)
This perspective seems very relevant in regards to the necessity of meeting diverse cultural contexts, thus, questioning ones own schemas of comprehension.
The important topics that are dealt with in the interview to Balbino are interestingly commented by Réné Käes, these comments help us in thinking about dream themes in different cultural contexts. Käes invites us to consider the different interpretative contexts of dream in traditional cultures and within psychoanalytical theory. Käes affirms, going by what is deduced from the interview with Balbino, that in Yorouba culture and in Candomblé an elaborated theory and practice of trance is underlined. Whereas, in our culture the leading theories are those that developed throughout the years starting from Artemidoro up until Freud. In other words, according to Käes, Balbino places dream and dreaming inside the more general concept of trance and consequentially alongside the premonitory function of dream within the social network of the complex Brazilian reality. Instead, his interlocutor moves within vision guided from dream theory.
Emilio Rodrigué’s contribution Encounter with santo mestre didi is very significant and widens yet more these fields of thought by linking the subjective experience of the encounter with the other, with a comparison between belief systems. Furthermore enriched by the suggestive contribution by Michael Houseman ‘The red and the black: A practical experiment for thinking about ritual’, this article invites us to evaluate the dynamics of a ritual process, so to speak, from a ‘live’ point of view.
Considerations on the fundamental issues of this issue (identity, mestizo, polytheism) are of up most importance for the development of group psychotherapy orientated psychoanalytically as it helps us to glance towards, so to say, ‘social’ figures of ‘difference’.
In particular this regards the ‘difference’ that is inferred, as was mentioned earlier, by the encounter with the Other, as in different cultures, that in a similar if not identical way, we find in various aspects of the analytic group. This occurs, for example, when the group finds itself elaborating significant elements of discrepancy, therefore it perceives itself as ‘different’ from the external Other, or furthermore in moments when the unhomogeneity of lived experiences of the various members asks that the group finds once again or discovers a common and shared discourse, that often takes on the form and consistency of ritual experience and mythical narration. It’s important to underline this type of procedure as Freud himself had dealt with such relevant themes, reaching though pessimistic conclusions, when talking about narcissism of small differences.
The thoughts of Sudir Kakar, Indian psychoanalyst, interested in the therapeutic aspects of traditional rituals from his own culture, are relevant: “ But, maybe, every culture in the world is a sort of magical mirror for others. Sometimes it seems like a common piece of glass with silver underneath, that faithfully reflects silhouettes, the surface and details of familiar faces. Yet other times it shows dark and threatening faces, strong manifestations of our rejected self, that we believed to no longer exist” (Kakar, 1989, p.18).
These words by Kakar lead us to think about the fundamental theme regarding the complex relationship between different cultures and the reflection between ‘otherness’. An important point for those that work in the field of psychoanalytical group psychotherapy, is to compare oneself with the social modalities that are enacted through the cultural institution of ritual and the mythological foundations thereby resolving the inevitable destructuring identity crisis at both individual and group level. Psychic suffering and illness in general, are for example, amongst the instances of existence that are most in need of a link from an individual dimension to that of a group dimension, at a social level this occurs during the activation of ritual process, and in the small analytic group within a modality of meeting and dialogue in the setting, that favours emotional exchange and the development of deeper and wider thought, that places the individual and the group in a shared togetherness of meanings, metaphors, mythologies and polyvalent logics.
We could maybe, welcome Mauro Ceruti’s proposal to deepen the transcultural dialogue. Ceruti sustains: “ The creative potential of this opportunity that is given to contemporary humanity comes to depend in an essential manner on our capacity of listening, on our capacity of detaching ourselves (from…) models orientated by the contraposition between truth and error enabling us to emerge ourselves in a multidimensional dialogue space, that is similar to a multicoloured texture with entwining thread, or similar to an articulated musical piece, which is made up of re-echoing themes” (Ceruti, 2004, p.23).
The overall feeling of this issue, is therefore that of being a ‘project’ of thought of which maybe it only constitutes an initial and limited move, a suggestion to open oneself to new possibilities of development. In origin, multidimensional, multiple and polyphonic thoughts are polytheist, it’s the gods that return in thoughts.
See, they return; ah, see the tentative
Movements, and the slow feet,
The trouble in the pace and the
See, they return, one and by one,
With fear, as half awakened;
As if the snow should hesitate
And murmur in the wind,
And half turn back
Ceruti M., Tra scienza, mito e spiritualità: contaminazioni tra le esperienze umane, in Psiche, 1-2004, pp. 13-24
Corrao F., (1995) Ti koinon: per una metateoria generale del gruppo a funzione analitica, in Orme vol.2.Milano: Cortina, 1998 de Martino Ernesto (1973), Il mondo magico.Torino: Boringhieri, 2003
Kakar S., (1989), Sesso e amore in India.Parma: Pratiche ed., 1995
Lanternari V., Ecoantropologia, Dall’ingerenza ecologica alla svolta etico-Culturale, Dedalo, Bari, 2003
Laplantine F., (1999), Identità e Métissage, umani al di là delle apparenze, Milano: Elèuthera, 2004
Pound, E. (1912). Ripostes. In Poems and Translations. Library of America. 2003
Remotti F., Contro l’identità.Bari: Laterza, 1996
Turner V., Il processo rituale. Brescia: Morcelliana, 1972