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Saturday, Feb. 26, 2005 - 6:27 a.m.

Chinese Temple, Taipei City

The two REGs click quietly before the temple opens for the day; each sound that hits the stone floor of the temple courtyard registers on the graph as a small linear advance. Overall, the black horizontal lines remain superimposed and unperturbed. But later in the morning when the temple starts filling with worshippers and the incoherent vibrations of their prayers, the two lines begin jumping all over the graph, like the seismological readings to a psychic earthquake. The courtyard is crowded with worshippers who form supplicating rows of kneeling bodies, in front of the Buddha reclining in the inner vestibule. The statue itself is flanked by gigantic prayer wheels slowly turning on their motorized axes, with thousands of little yellow lights studded on the curved red surfaces. The eyes of the worshippers are closed because the gods are invisible. Looking down any of the rows, one sees only pairs of hands with incense sticks repeated to the far wall of the courtyard. But each pair of hands is unique, as are the prayers contained in them. The prayers for the health of a sick mother, a son's university exams, a daughter's inability to find a husband, the lottery numbers for next week, can all be seen through the sweet-smelling haze of incense smoke, leaving the inaudible muttering of believing lips.

Haj Pilgrimmage, Mecca

The performance of the tawaf, one of the five rituals of the Haj, is a dramatic sight when seen from the air. Thousands of pilgrims, all dressed in unhemmed white robes surround the Kaaba, a black cuboid structure that represents the House of God on earth. It is the focal point for the Muslim faith and the pilgrims circle the Kaaba and the emptiness within its walls seven times in a counterclockwise manner. The concentric rings of human bodies turn around the Kaaba at different speeds due to their varying distances from the centre, like the orbits of planets around a sun. The tawaf ritual involves the confession of sins to God, the re-centring of faith and many are moved to tears during the circumambulation of the Kaaba. To confess one's sins is also to recount them, and the REGs click rapidly with even greater randomness as each pilgrim remembers the numerous breaches of the divine law. The REG graph no longer contains two lines, but pixelates into a composition of dots that speckle the graph. It is the Cartesian delineation of confessional thoughts, a representation of the mental space that floats over thousands and thousands of contrite heads.

Thaipusam, Singapore

The streets outside the Hindu temple are lined on both sides by devotees, watching the last few steps of the kavadi bearers as they enter the temple doors. Each kavadi is an overhead arch of metal or wood, attached to the bearer's skin by a hundred and eight metal hooks; they are decorated with flowers and urns of milk are tied to it as offerings to the deity Muraga. The bearers are not incapacitated by the pain as they concentrate their thoughts on the divine, and the lifting of the kavadi is as much a paean to Muraga as it is a form of penance. The kavadi bearers move through the streets in a trance, guided by the drum beats at the head of the procession, oblivious to everything except the next step. Inside the temple, the kavadi is removed hook by hook, and the bearers continue their prayers before the firewalking. When ready, they cross a pit of glowing embers barefoot to complete the ritual of cleansing. The graphical result of the REG measurements is typical of a mass-consciousness event, with the minds of the bearers, the devotees, the temple attendants and the priests all focused on the same thing, in this case the manifestation of Muraga. This causes the two REG lines to deviate from randomness and to diverge. But there is also a small anomaly, an outlier coordinate where a single consciousness stood separately. This belonged to the one bystander who stumbled onto the kavadi procession and did not comprehend the offering of pain. He took a few photographs with his camera and perpetuated the anomaly by asking - do we really owe the gods that much?


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