I'd Be a Rotten Belly

Not long ago I wrote about a great interview with Danforth Prince, where he was asked what role he would fill in a tribal society. He said he would be a shaman, and explained why.

Naturally, that got me thinking about the tribal role I settled on, some time ago. Among the Cheyenne and other Plains Indians, some individuals were directed by visions from the Thunder Beings to be...different. Membership in the Rotten Belly Society was a cultural safety valve, allowing non-conformists to exist without being outcasts and exiles.

Like Younger Bear in Little Big Man, the contrary people would sleep on bare ground, abstain from sex, sit backwards on a horse, make noise during quiet ceremonies and so on - teaching the children by negative example.

Not that it’s an exact analogy, but in our day and age, artists seem to fill the spaces allotted to members of the Rotten Belly Society. They certainly are contrary – caring more about other values than money and success, for example. They will sit on bare ground or do whatever else is necessary to complete a creative mission. The more militant artists will certainly make noise during quiet ceremonies, or for that matter, put a banana cream pie in the face of a dignitary. These days, they may show their contrariness by having an extreme amount of sex (although abstemiousness is not unknown.) And they are definitely directed by visions from the Thunder Beings, an assortment of creatures that may be known as the Muse, the Lady, or any number of other titles.

And I'm not sure the art life is a negative example.

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