This project, working title ‘Tangled Joy’, is a performance piece facilitated by Alicia Radage. Together a group 5 of neurodivergent artists will form a dance troop, of sorts. 'Tangled Joy' brings together Neurodivergent experience, Shamanic practice*, neurogenic shaking and histories of segregation.
*The word Shamanism (origins with the Evenki people) is used here in light of Core Shamanism: the understanding that Shamanic cultures from across the world have common core practices and that Shamanism is one of the earliest forms of human spiritual practice worldwide.
Through a recently Arts Council England and Shape Arts supported project I having been researching the intersection between Neurodivergent experience and Shamanic Practice. Through my training in Shamanic practice I developed a movement I termed the ‘Worm Dance’: through repetitively and rapidly treading ground on the balls on my feet, I found it shook my whole body and prompted Worms to come to the surface.
I commissioned milliner Rosanna Gould to make a hat to perform in. Attached to the hat are old iron nails taken from my floorboards, making a sheer curtain around the body. The hat was developed to be worn whilst performing the dance, thus it transforming into both costume and instrument as the nails jingle with the movement. Around this time I started working with another artist who was training in TRE (trauma release exercise). TRE is the induction of neurogenic shaking, which relieves stress as well as induces pleasure and joy. Mechanical and neurogenic shaking links to stimming as well as shaking as an ancient and euphoric practice used in rituals.
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The project would see this Neurodivergent ‘dance troop’ create an orchestra using their movements whilst wearing the nail hats. As this movement is very taxing and can only be performed in short bursts, the piece would be an orchestra of endurance; as one dancer’s energy wains others start dancing and there becomes a sharing, flow and balancing of energy levels. The project speaks to:
models of care
interspecies communication and respect in light of the current Anthropocentric climate crisis.
"spiritual inspiration may trigger shaking that leads to a healing encounter" - 'Shaking Medicine' | Bradford Keeney
Shaking is a spiritual and healing practice seen with Kalahari bushmen, Squaxin Indians, Schuckling in Judaism, Quakers just to name a few. Historically, and now, shaking was feared by the colonialist mindset and used as an example of uncivilised, primal activity. When Christianity spread across the globe, shaking was a threat; instead of a quiet, submission to beliefs and dogma, the spiritual practice of shaking encouraged a visceral spiritual experience, essentially giving the individual direct communication with divinity and the more than human.
This 'power-from-within' mentality is the kernel of Shamanism.
Shamanism is the practice of Animism: the belief that everything is alive. Within this framework Humans are an equal part of the ecosystem. Through entering into altered states of consciousness we can journey to Shamanic realms, communicating with the more than human and receiving knowledge and healings.
There are 3 main Shamanic Realms:
The Lower World - the place of Mother Earth, The Soul (appropriated by Christianity as Hell)
The Middle Word - the world we live in, of physical iterations of life
The Upper World - the place of Father Sun, The Spirit (appropriated by Christianity as Heaven)
By demonising the Lower World, the Church asserted the idea that communing with the divine could only be through the Church and its priests. This lead to a deep loss of individual power and a submission to hierarchies.
When coming to Shamanism I found a deep connection to both my art practice and my experience as a Neurodiverse subject. In the process of training in Shamanic journeying and connecting to the Lower World I began exploring ways of communing with other life forms and rewilding myself.
Through communicating with the more than human, outside of language and an ordinary state of consciousness, I found my senses to be more vibrant and that, as an ND subject, I experienced sensory overload much less. I was enjoying my body and my environment much more.
Whilst Journeying I found myself shaking and through working with neurodivergent practitioner and researcher Hayley Hindle I found a clear connection between the joys and reliefs of Shamanic journeying and those of TRE. This project will explore this joy within a community of Neurodivergent artists.
Historically, wide brimmed hats can be traced back to Witches and Quakers. With the conical hat having medieval origins in the induction of divine knowledge to the wearer, they were transformed into markers of difference and separation for the purpose of discrimination, another example being that of the antisemitic Judenhat. Witches, Jews and Quakers were accused of sorcery and using magic for dark purposes (essentially their existence outside of patriarchal Christianity made them a target for condemnation). Both Witches and Quakers overtly broke gender norms, with Quakers practicing gender equality (highly unusual in the 17th Century).
A 17th Century Quaker woman publicly preaching,
wearing the 'Quaker hat'
An 18th Century depiction of a witch's hat
Quakers were named 'Shaker Quakers', due to their practice of shaking to connect to God. Their songs and dance of worship were not formulaic to the European traditions and were seen as primal and wild, not deferring to the status quo and practicing a direct connection to the divine, bypassing the Church and its priests. These dances were seen as sexual and Quaker women were often labelled prostitutes.
It is argued that vilified the Quaker woman morphed into the symbol of the witch. Witches, again, were seen as unruly and wild, demonic and lustful.
Furthermore, the conical 'Dunce' hat became a symbol of idiocy, being used to mark out problematic children in the class room. Many of the behaviours that lead to having to wear a Dunce hat, such as lack of concentration, fidgeting, miscomprehension, are now understood to be behaviours of Neurodivergent people.
Within this context, 'TANGLED JOY' will reappropriate the emblems used to distinguish these stigmatised behaviours in an effort to empower ourselves, joyfully inhabiting this condemned wildness. Undoing neurotypical, patriarchal and colonial dogmas and oppression, neurodivergent bodies will tremble with joy through accessing altered states of consciousness.
The hats, with nails going down to ankles, create a force field whilst also gesturing to the ground, connecting to the lower world. The body inhabiting the space between the Lower and Upper Shamanic worlds will be a conduit for the current of shaking, allowing a reconnection to and visceral acknowledgement of an electricity passing through all life forms.