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by J.A.

IN THESE CRYSTAL-GAZING DAYS, it`s virtual dogma that truth is most pure when it rises out of the heavily spiced pot of aboriginal mythmaking. While this presumption fed the Castaneda fad and now the New Age movement, it rather begs the question of what it all means to a professional anthropologist. In Little Bit Know Something (Douglas & McIntyre, 281 pages, $16.9 5 paper), a study of the Beaver Indians of the northwest subarctic, Robin Ridington confirms that "primitive" mythmaking is central not only to his subjects, but to us as well. In a collection of 15 essays that range from the stuffily academic to the journalistic, he zeroes in on vision quests and central mythic concepts to investigate their specific significance for the Beaver. But in a most intriguing creative essay, "Eye on the Wheel," he applies elements of their mythology -- the trail, the Dreamer, and the monster Wolverine -- to the story of astronaut moonwalking. As a piece of writing it`s sometimes exasperatingly opaque, but it does succeed in suggesting how modernity must still find its own meaning in myth. As a scientist, Ridington is no guru and can provide only 70-per-cent answers to 110-per-cent questions. But 70 per cent carries weight: he reminds the sometimes antiseptic science of anthropology of a purpose it often prefers to abjure.

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