Time, Space and ‘declutching’ time.

The following quotes all come from Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff’s article ‘The Sacred Mountain of Colombia’s Kogi Indians’ (E.J. Brill. 1990). In his writing, Reichel-Dolmatoff points to cultural differences in the concept of time - by understanding time, he asserts, the Kogi priest can transcend it. Reasons for wanting to do so may be: to escape the consequences of actions; to escape from the material world having achieved ‘perfection’; or to manipulate people (as in the training of the young priests) or events (as in agriculture). For further ramifications of these ideas, please see the documents ‘The Education of the Mamas’ and ‘Agricultural Theory’.

‘The Kogi recognise a close relationship between time and space, an idea that is abundantly illustrated by local historical traditions. For example, long lists of temples or of mythological way-stations, or lists of ancient priests, provide important points of historical reference. And so do traditions of astronomical events in the past, of eclipses or of certain phenomena that are said to have been observed at only one spot or one time. An often mentioned image is that of a creeping squash plant the slow spread of which provides a ready model for the propagation of the Kogi people in mythical times. The bifurcating branches, bearing large womb-shaped fruits here and there, are explained in terms of a huge, all-embracing genealogical tree which, in those times, began to cover the mountains and valleys of Kogi territory. A dendritic structure like this combines the concepts of exact place and relative chronological distance, matters that are of considerable concern to Kogi thinkers.

  In our cultural tradition we are inclined to believe that a causally connected sequence of events takes place in a neutral context of time; time simply flows on while we act in it. The Kogi believe that certain moments in time are of a decisive importance in causing and shaping events. This conceptualisation is partly derived from their astronomical knowledge and practice in which, of course, exact time periods or precise moments of observation are all-important. The agricultural cycle, the onset of the rainy season, the coming of the tradewinds and similar events seem to provide ample proof to the Kogi, and their sun- and moon-watching stations are used to predict some of these events.

  This emphasis on time-reckoning, on calendric elaborations, and on ways to predict the coming seasons are quite normal in agricultural society. The Kogi have been agriculturalists for several millennia; five hundred years ago they already had extensive irrigation systems in the lowlands near Santa Marta, and built large agricultural terraces on the mountain-flanks. A successful adaptation to a recurrent pattern of seasonal changes had to be based on efficient devices to make possible the precise detection of the beginning of the rains some time before they actually arrived.

  But the mámas concern for timing is not limited to the routine of the agricultural cycle; intellectually they try to reach beyond this sphere, and attempt to manipulate a cosmic machinery of surprising dimensions.

  Closely linked to Kogi concepts of time and space is their interest in all cyclic phenomena, in rhythms. They believe that rhythmic geophysical changes of the environment affect all life forms and, above all, they believe that human life is subject to a multitude of influences that emanate from the universe.

  On a personal level, a Kogi priest might try to step outside of time… Some mámas claim that they and other men of high esoteric knowledge and power of concentration, can reach beyond time through a process of transformation which can be induced either through a narcotic drug or through the coordinated effect of sensory deprivations. The purpose of this may be twofold: a person might want to step outside of time because of his manifest evil intentions, of his determination to act against all cultural norms. Jaguar transformation is an example, or certain rituals that contradict all established rules. Or, on the contrary, a person might step outside of time because he has achieved spiritual enlightenment and moral perfection. These are two extremes which delimit this dimension of behaviour; in the Kogi view, they lie outside of time and, therefore, they lie outside of the cogwheels of biology and environment.

  Since Kogi priests believe that timing can be manipulated, they also believe that light/darkness stimulation can be manipulated for specific ends, and that this can be done quite independently of time. The idea of ‘throwing time out of gear’ - if I may say so - is found mainly in the early stages of priestly training and, later on, in the preparation for mystical experiences.

  This uncoupling or declutching of time is manifest in the esoteric lore of Kogi priests and, indeed, seems to be rather characteristic of Colombian shamanism in general. Among the Kogi, this relativity of time is expressed in attitudes toward death, towards rebirth, in ghostly apparitions, in ritual (e.g. masked dances), or in the wanderings of the soul in sleep or during trance-like states. This relativity is well expressed in a tale about a famous mythical Kogi priest who predicted the date of his own death and invited a group of other priests to attend his burial. He himself died on time but of the guests he had invited, some arrived a long time before the burial; others arrived a long time after it, and the rest of them never came because they simply forgot about the appointment. This tale makes an important point in Kogi teachings: one must be able to “forget time.” ‘