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CONCULTURE: Xinkùtlan souls and metaphysics

From:Geoff Horswood <geoffhorswood@...>
Date:Wednesday, January 26, 2005, 10:25

As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

As complex and wide-ranging as their classification of different types of
spirits and gods and monsters is, you might expect that their beliefs about
the souls / spirits of people would probably be equally complex.  And you'd
be right.

There's no _one_ word that translates the English "soul", for example, and
the word for "spirit" in Xinkùtlan refers to a substance, not an entity.
In other words, there are creatures* whose bodies are made of "flesh", and
creatures whose bodies are made of "spirit".  Pretty straightforward so
far, right?  But it gets complicated from here.  There are creatures with
flesh bodies that have all of the different types of soul, creatures that
have some of them, creatures that have only one of them, and created things
which have none of them.  And there are also creatures with spirit bodies
that fall into all of those different categories.

*creatures: I'm using this word in its broadest possible sense; I mean not
only animate creatures, but also plants and some inanimate things as well.

The Xinkùtlan believe that there are several different kinds of soul.
People (and some very few kinds of Elder Creature ("monster") such as
dragons) are the highest form of creature with a body of flesh, and have
all of the different types of soul.

These are the different types of soul.  They are each associated with one
of the seven elements, and reside in a different part of the body.

1) tor /to:r/:         Shadow; soul of being.  All created things have a
tor, which resides in their shadow.  It is associated with the element of
Light, and is considered to result from the light of the High God in all
things "throwing forth" the shadow.  The tor can detach from its owner and
wander freely while the earth is in darkness; this is part of what is
thought to cause dreams.  The soul of being is released after death by the
ritual cremation of the body; it is not immortal, but endures only as long
as the body.
2) kùtas /ku'tas/:     Earth soul (associated with this element).  All
living things have a kùtas.  It is perhaps best described as the principle
of growth, the capacity to grow and to be what a thing is, according to the
order of things set at the founding of the world.  This soul is thought to
reside (in humans) in the bowels; it is probably the least understood type
of soul.  It may or may not be immortal, and is probably not pre-existent.
3) kum /kum/:          Bone; instinctual soul.  The kum is common to all
animate creatures, residing in the bones (or shell, or exoskeleton: these
are all considered to be "bones").  It houses the instincts, the primal
fight-or-flight mechanisms, and the emotional reactions, and is associated
with the element of Stone.  kum souls are believed to transmigrate on a
reincarnation-type basis: you don’t know where your kum soul has been
before it was in you, nor do you know to whom or to what it will pass.
4) tseid /tsejd/:      Blood; paternal soul.  The blood, or tseid, is
thought to descend from the paternal line, and is seen as the source of
courage, manly strength and masculine virtue.  It is dominant over the ùsul
in males (producing maleness), but like the yang principle, is resident in
both men and women.  The blood is associated with the element of Water
(perhaps unusually for a "primitive" culture, Water has masculine, not
feminine associations).
5) ùsul /u:'sul/:      Breath; maternal soul.  The ùsul, or breath, is
received in the womb from the mother, but activated directly after birth
(with the first breath).  It is the source of compassion, female strength
and feminine virtue, dominant over the tseid in women (producing
femaleness), but like the yin, residing in both sexes.  The tseid and ùsul
coming from the father and mother respectively are blended together in the
new child (this is what the Xinkùtlan perceive to be the mechanism of
biological inheritance), but are separate souls with their own
characteristics and powers.  It is associated with the element of Air or
6) cùihir /Suj'hir/:   Created soul.  Only human beings and certain few
other of the Elder Creatures have cùihir.  The cùihir is linked with the
element of Rain (which also manifests as mist and clouds), and is directly
created by the High God, the Creator, for each child at its conception.  It
enters the body at birth or soon afterwards and activates the tseid and the
ùsul.  It is this soul in particular that Darklings are thought not to
possess; this is vital, because it is the seat of much of the personality,
also it is the source of art, skill and imagination.  cùihir are believed
by some to outlive the body and take on bodies of spirit; others believe
that they dissipate and become part of the mists and rain of the world.
7) zuakàn /zwakan'/:   Fire soul.  The zuakàn normally enters into the body
of a child during their Rite of Passage ceremony (thus, even human children
only have 6 of the 7 souls).  It is this soul that is considered to be the
well of spiritual/magical power from which shaman-priests and sorcerers
draw.  It is through the zuakàn that one is able to perceive spiritual
beings and communicate with spirits.  The fire soul is intimately linked
with one of the zi animal spirits, which will become your spiritual totem
and protector.  The animal type of the zuakàn is determined by your
personality and character, as revealed in the vision of your Rite of
Passage; a boy with a Passage vision of the snake will have a zuakàn of the
Snake totem, and their sacred animal and protector will be the snake.
Totem animals are perceived as neither good nor evil; they have their
particular character, and that is their nature.
Fire souls are conceived to be both immortal and pre-existent; able to
wander in the physical and spiritual realms and to carry other souls with
it.  Shaman-priests and metalworkers (who are seen as a kind of half-
shaman) have very powerful zuakàn.

Note: Fire is very important in the Xinkùtlan religious life, as the only
elemental power that can be summoned at will by men.  (Partial)* control of
fire is considered to be the great gift of the High God, the Creator.

*brushfires, forest fires and lightning are separate cases.  Oxen are
domesticated animals, but people still get gored to death sometimes.

This is what I have.  It's partially modelled on something I heard of once
about an African(?) tribe (can't remember which one) who believed that
people had 3 different souls, some of which were immortal and others tied
to the body.  This gave the missionaries a real conundrum- which word
should you use to translate things like "Praise the Lord, O my soul" or "I
saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the
word of God"?  Fascinating!  So I decided to take it a step or two further,
in the interests of going beyond cultural anadew.



Isaac Penzev <isaacp@...>