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Lisa Menna: Culture Change Through Wonder

One of the last episodes in the Tangentially Speaking podcast with Christopher Ryan had Lisa Menna as guest, who turned out to be a fascinating individual for reasons Grailers will surely appreciate.

Lisa is an activist who’s traveled all around the globe seeking to bring about a cultural shift in the way women are treated in small villages, as well as raising awareness on enviromental issues that directly affect their communities. But instead of using the typical tools of social activism –like pamphlets or workshops– that try to embed the lessons in the public awareness of the people, Lisa has another card on  her sleeve: Magic.

In this video you can see Lisa doing magic tricks in front of a small village in Ethiopia, who are so enthralled by the performance of this weird white foreign lady, they become receptive to her message of how good things happen to those who help women:

Here’s another example of Lisa, on a trip to Papua New Guinea:

Lisa and the organization backing her work have a very simple, albeit powerful philosophy: “When you want someone to think, give them cause to wonder.”

That struck a deep chord in me, because I suspect that is the ultimate purpose behind the absurd ‘theatricality’ of the UFO phenomenon: to display something so completely outside the person’s range of previous experiences, they unnoticeably become open to the ‘transmission’ of new information and the consideration of new paradigms; this may be the reason why so many witnesses are unable to go back to their old habits and ways of thinking, and their lives are dramatically changed by that one single face-to-face with wonder –sometimes for the better, when they broaden their philosophical horizons and start to embark in creative endeavors they weren’t interested in before; and sometimes for the worse, when they become the target of mockery by their neighbors, and they don’t also get any support from their closest circle of friends and family.

But getting back to Lisa, it’s interesting to point out how some of her most visceral critics find themselves in apparently opposite camps: On the one side there are the religious missionaries, who take no joy in the fact Lisa is ‘evangelizing’ people through the use of magic –you know, the same way a certain Jewish carpenter also managed to gather a great deal of following, when word of his ‘miracles’ spread around? And on the other side are her own magician colleagues, who don’t see with kind eyes how Lisa employs the tools of their trade to ‘fool gullible people”, and bury the seeds of social change in minds that are still ‘polluted’ by primitive superstitions, using things that might further promote that kind of thinking –I suspect these magician critics might be the kind that used to attend the Amaz!ng Meeting religiously every year…

Both negative attitudes, if you think about it, stem from the type of fundamental thinking that promote the erection of authority figures in order to regulate proper behavior –the priest on the religious side, and the academician on the secular/scientific side– and if those ivory towers are not challenged from time to time they risk suffering the type of stagnation we see around nowadays, with churches bleeding out followers with each passing year, as well as the distrust of scientific authorities manifest in alternative sites on the Internet.

In the TS interview, I was so glad Chris got to point out to Lisa the similarities between her work and the role of the Sacred Clown and other trickster-like figures in other folkloric traditions, whose job is PRECISELY to make fun of authority figures and point out their arrogance. This giddy disruption is also present in many cases of high strangeness that even paranormal researchers are uncomfortable with –because those researchers are more interested in making those cases fit into their preconceived notions, than paying attention on how the ‘Wonder of the Other’ effect changes in those who get to experience them.

I think it also bears reminding ourselves in the the paranormal research community: WHY is it that we keep reading and learning about this stuff? Is it because we want to become insufferable know-it-alls who want to win any futile online argument with our opponents? Or is it because we want to keep the flame of our curosity alive, that it may show us the path to new things we haven’t even considered before?

So here’s a big Fortean kudos to Lisa, hoping that she goes on keeping the curiosity of those villagers alive through wonder for many more years –and maybe a couple of centuries from now, their descendants will still be talking about that comical goddess who taught their ancestors about the luck of treating women right.

Tangentially Speaking #310: Lisa Menna

Cause to Wonder

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