Existential Wounds

vol-13-1-coverExistential wounds seem to occur more often for those of us with multi-cultural, immigrant, and colonial heritage. When we are (or our ancestors were) forcibly moved, forced to adopt unfamiliar cultural practices of spiritual worship, live in homes and wear clothes of unfamiliar materials, eat foods unfamiliar to our bodies, or were abused or enslaved in some way, we experienced trauma. This trauma often took the form of existential wounding where the very core of our identities, ways of being, and understandings of the world are shaken. It can take many generations and much work to heal such wounds. I recently had an article about indigenous trauma healing published if you want to dive more deeply into that. (Ignore the abstract; they used the wrong one.)

Through generations of carrying existential wounds, we feel ashamed that what our ancestors taught us about the right ways to live and what we learned to honour has been desecrated. We become ungrounded and disoriented and struggle to trans-form and re-form ourselves and our cultures in new places. We feel lied to and know in our bones that something is wrong. We wonder if we’re crazy, if something is wrong with us; we get angry with our families or society and struggle with mountains of conflicts. (This is structural change; re-claiming the body/mind/spirit as one where we are now.) If you are reading this, chances are you feel a calling to do that work! As an example, I always felt disoriented in the Northern Hemisphere. I struggled to orientate and make sense of directions, and when I got my PhD I had the definitive feeling that I was moving backwards, spiralling inwards to the core so I could get to the essence of the existential wound, go through a spiritual death and be reborn again. Moving to the Southern Hemisphere has helped me feel like my life is finally correctly oriented. Yet at the same time, native foods of Australia are unfamiliar to my body. So I gather lily pillies to make jam, eat native figs off of big ficuses when I walk by, and cook up warrigal greens (See images below). I’ve noticed that native foods are unfamiliar to most people here, though, and eating European meats and veggies seems to keep people’s psyches more tied to places across the planet and help them be more willing to mine indigenous land in their own country! (Images from here and here.)

I believe that decolonisation has profoundly positive effects on healing of existential wounds as it helps us feel more whole. While listening to the Mythic Medicine podcast recently I realised a simple way to heal some of our existential wounds is to name and honour the landforms and elementals that raised us, and support us where we now live. Here is mine for where I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia:

I was raised on the foothills of the Appalachian mountains (earth), hilly land with red clay soil and loads of spindly pine trees. The water (water) that I drank and bathed in came from Lake Lanier, a dammed portion of the Chattahoochee River. The winds (air) were unnamed but predominantly flowed from the southwest towards the northeast. Power (fire) came predominantly from a hydroelectric plant that dammed the river. The main spiritual practice (heart) there was Protestant Christian, and in particular Southern Baptist. The largest landform was Stone Mountain, a granite outcropping that extends underground into five states and has a Confederate Memorial carved into it which is the largest bas relief sculpture in the world. Other memorable landforms are the network of manmade highways, including a circle around the city with an X of two highways that meet at the centre, and incredibly messy interchanges such as one called Spaghetti Junction that looms large in my memory (see below). A local park called Henderson Lake was a safe space for me, and I walked there regularly (see below). The Creek and Cherokee nations existed on the land before English colonists, and before that were nations of mound-builders which we know little about. (Images from here and here.)

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Exercise: I invite you to download this My Ancestry Exercise that came together when preparing for an ancestral healing workshop a couple months ago. I have my answers on there as an example. It will give you a reflection of what you know about where you come from, and your intuition may answer some questions you didn’t realise you knew! You can add to this exercise an honouring of landforms and elementals exemplified above for the land(s) that raised you, and the land that now supports you!

Healing & Cultural Appropriation

In the previous post I wrote about how complex it is to honour multiple cultural identities, ground ourselves where we are now and honour the ancestors of the land, forgive our ancestors’ mistakes and decolonise our everyday lives. This post is a step further, because cultural appropriation is different in the context of spiritual healing. I have learned through experience what cultural appropriation in a healing context is, and the destructiveness it brings. I have also gained valuable insight, lessons, and tools when some cultural appropriation was being done that added a layer of destruction to the person’s offering. We are human, and our healing work is inherently imperfect. (Image from here.)

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In my experience, once we are out of crisis, healing within a market economy context is limited. There are different power dynamics, feelings and experience when meeting in a therapist’s office for 50 minutes for $100, and when with meeting a caring community member in a home, or while walking and talking with a friend in a park. As I wrote in a previous post, please RUN AWAY FROM people who say they are fully healed or ascended masters or anything like that unless you want to join a cult, because delusions of grandeur and beliefs around exceptionalism and/or superiority are not conducive to healing. Also from a previous post, keep in mind that:

“A common mistake when examining myths of other cultures is to interpret them with symbols and values of our own culture” (Gleiser, 2012). Common values of the dominant Western cosmology such as competition, hierarchy, individualism, and the primacy of the nuclear family greatly limit our ability to embody indigenous wisdom (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013). When this happens, ceremonies can “become empty of their power” (Rael, 1998). 

Consider the difference between participating in a plant medicine ceremony in the jungles of Peru with a shaman who spent decades apprenticing with a teacher and working with plants and spirits of the jungle deeply connected with the land and its ancestors, versus participating in a plant medicine ceremony in an apartment in a Western city facilitated by someone who got the medicine from such a shaman and perhaps studied with the shaman for a short period of time.

I don’t mean to say we should never participate in a ceremony in an apartment with a medicine from a foreign culture and land. But if we do, let’s do it with awareness and help it be as safe as possible. I ask for my own guidance in a form that resonates with me (either prayer or meditation usually). I acknowledge the limitations of the healing work I am considering participating in and ask if it is right for me. If I get signs and insight to move forward, then I ask what I need to do so that it is in balance. For example, when I offered an ancestral trauma healing workshop earlier this year on land with which I have limited cultural connection, I received guidance to donate participants’ gift economy offerings to an Aboriginal advocacy organisation. I also verbally thanked the ancestors of the land during the workshop for supporting our lives and the healing work.

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I will share the following story to offer a contrast of an experience of cultural appropriation with a man who called himself a shaman and worked with indigenous people in the Amazon, Mexico, and the Southwestern U.S. He quit his day job to do healing work full time and did so within a gift economy and invited me to participate in a group healing ceremony supported by the tribe in the Amazon. He gave us all a protocol of how to prepare for for three weeks, which I followed. Two days before the ceremony, he said he had new information and changed some things, which I found strange. My husband said he had a bad feeling, but I still trusted the man. I got a sign there was danger ahead, and I felt shaken but kept going. The ceremony changed again the night it took place. At one point, the so-called shaman stood over me menacingly while I was laying on the floor, yelled at me and called me names. I told him I found the behaviour abusive, but I never heard from him again and did not see him after that. When I wrote the couple running a school for shamans in the Southwestern U.S. who recommended him on their website, they said that he had lost his mind, that he was threatening them and they were scared of him, and that putting his information on their website was not an endorsement. I later realised that the tribe was split in their support for his doing that ceremony within their lineage, with their healing tools, away from their land and culture, and that my own cultural heritage was so filled with conflict that I was able to provide the group with a reflection of this problem he was denying. What a messy, valuable lesson he gave me. Here are some less extreme examples of cultural appropriation I have experienced:

  • People charging money for community healing ceremonies traditionally offered within a gift economy or by donation, and/or facilitating ceremonies without integrity:
    • e.g. for a sweat lodge: charging a fixed fee, failing to configure the fire and lodge correctly, failing to honour the land and lineage ancestors, failing to clear the space and clean up the lodge before doing another ceremony
    • e.g. calling oneself a spiritual counsellor in a modern city and charging $100/hour without any formal counselling training or supervision from another counsellor
  • People of mixed cultural heritage identifying with only one ancestral blood lineage,  denying their own complex wholeness, then projecting that dissociation onto others whom they are supposedly offering healing to:
    • e.g. studying curanderoismo healing with someone from rural Mexico and identifying as an indigenous Aztec healer when the person did not know one of their birth parents, grew up in one U.S. state, and lived in another U.S. state.
    • e.g. identifying only as an oppressed African-American, indigenous or Jewish person without acknowledging other blood lineages and cultural heritages

heartheal.jpegI have a lot of compassion for the messiness of embodying Earth Ethos in modern multicultural cities. This is my life! And it is hard, messy work. It’s important to give ourselves and each other grace and trust that we all do our best. For a beautiful story from someone of mixed cultural heritage about honouring all of her complex heritage, read this by Lyla June. (Image from here.)

Since I have learned much of this stuff the hard way, I offer you the following suggestions of what to consider when seeking spiritual healing:

  • Intention & Identity
    • How do YOU see your role and identity in healing work done within the context of a human relationship? Are you looking for practical tools? Emotional support? Plant medicine? Ceremonial healing? A spiritual elder? Escapism? Adventure? Gratification of curiousity about an ‘other’ culture?
    • How does the other person see their role? Do they call themselves a healer or shaman? Do they say they are healing you? Channeling healing energy? Facilitating healing? Holding space? Offering medicine? Helping you connect with your inner higher self? How does the other person identify themself?
  • Cosmology & Culture
    • What cosmology/cosmologies do you embody? What perspectives and beliefs do you want to learn more about and bring into your life? To let go of? How do you relate safely to people with different cosmologies and/or cultures?
    • Is the other person’s cosmology related to (a) specific culture(s) or lineage(s)? How do you relate to the other person’s cosmology? What ancestry does the person have?
  • Place & Form
    • What physical place supports your healing (e.g. a sweat lodge, therapist’s office, church pew, a home, etc.)? Is the place relevant to the culture or lineage on which the work is based, or has it been adapted to your context in some way? What form supports your healing (e.g. talking and listening, music, dance, energy work, laying of hands, artistic expression, etc.)?
    • Where is the person willing to meet with you, and what forms of support are available? How does the person honour multiculturalism, modern places and forms? What cultural and place-based relationships does the person bring? If the person is working within a specific cultural context, how has the person received those teachings?

 

Multiculturalism & Cultural Appropriation

You may have grown up, like me, steeped in multiculturalism in your home and city, eating foods from all over the world, making friends with others of totally different cultural heritages, travelling and living overseas, and honouring multiculturalism in your everyday lives. If you go back a few generations, how many of ancestors of your blood lineage spoke your language? Dressed in clothes like yours? Listened to similar music, or did similar dances or art? Were taught similar stories about the right ways to live? Did formal schooling? Worked indoors? Followed a similar faith tradition? Celebrated the same holidays? Lived on the same land where you live? Ate foods native to the land where you live? The hardest thing for most of us to fully accept is that in order to survive, we and our ancestors all appropriated from other cultures, and had our own cultures appropriated from. All earth beings move and trans-plant. For example, potatoes are native to the Andes, yet we often think of them in relation to Ireland. We are in living in a hopelessly multicultural world. Just think about the fact that one box of tea we buy for $3 is made from leaves grown in India, packaged in China from cardboard made in Bangladesh, then is shipped to England in a barge made in Denmark, and then distributed to our local supermarket chain owned by a German company. How complicated! (Image from here.)

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How do we practically honour the multicultural complexity of one product in our shopping cart?  How do we honour the complexity of our lineages, in terms of relationships with food, place, land, and spiritual traditions?  At what point does honouring multiculturalism become cultural appropriation? Here’s a perspective from a woman whose lineage was transplanted from the British Isles to North America in the 1700s:

I bring with me–in the very blood that flows through me–the DNA of my ancestors…for good or for ill, that cultural legacy and that history, the choices that they made, and I am living the benefits and consequences of those choices…I simply cannot hope to have the same kind of relationship that a Native person has on this land today–because relationships aren’t just about individuals, they are about cultures and generations of people…[Yet] the land, her spirits…even after all that has happened culturally, welcome relationships with white people…built upon acknowledging and honoring the past, building trust, and about reparations…[that will be] inherently different looking because of our own identities, cultures, and histories.

If we want to build deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships with the land here, we’ve got to do the work from the ground up. If we are appropriating someone else’s culture and spiritual practice, we aren’t doing the hard and necessary work of relationship building for our own tradition–hence, we are perpetuating more colonizing behavior.

I see colonising behaviour all over modern cities today. We talk about ‘gentrification’ when people of traditionally more dominant and resourced cultural groups displace traditionally oppressed groups in the parts of a city where the oppressed groups had been forced to live. I consider this micro-colonisation, akin to the term micro-aggression. What if that’s the only place you can afford to buy a house? Does that mean you ethically shouldn’t? Should people with white skin never move to Oakland, California or to Redfern in Sydney, Australia? I don’t think so. But if you choose to, you have the responsibility to be honest about what is happening, feel the pain of others’ displacement along with the joy of your new placement, make amends and build positive connections with the people and land as best you can.

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Acknowledging the peoples and lands from which traditions emerge is a way to deeply honour ancestors and keep wisdom alive, and allows you to be a cultural bridge in new lands. The respectful intent and humble, teachable spirit with which you approach such activities is the main difference between honouring multiculturalism in our modern world and a the colonial, oblivious, blind, entitled, and greedy and grabby spirit of cultural appropriation. If you are honest about where you stand today and are able to honour your ancestral journey, however many mistakes and sacrifices you and your ancestors have made, you will have a much easier time honouring others’ cultural traditions.

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It also helps to keep in mind how fluid ancestry and identity is. Culture is so much more complicated than just tracing your blood lineage and labelling someone as indigenous or non-indigenous, black or white or brown-skinned. Just because you do not have a known ancestral lineage in Japan, for example, does not mean that you are culturally appropriating if you feel moved to practice aspects of Shintoism, learn to do a traditional tea ceremony, or how to brew your own sake. We multicultural moderns have much more similar journeys to drops of water that are re-cycled around the planet, evaporating from a lake into a cloud and flowing across the sky, falling as rain into a huge ocean, entering a jet stream that crashes as a wave against a rock across the world from where we started, and hanging out in a pool on that rock for a while. I personally think this modern mess we’re in is here to remind us that we’re all one big human family! (Image from here.)

Dreaming, meditation, and mindfulness practices are other great ways to connect with our ancestors, as well as donating time and money, building and tending ancestral altars, spiritual practices to heal unjust power dynamics and colonial wounds, supporting the revitalisation of indigenous languages, connecting with non-human ancestors of land and place, and reconnecting with languages and traditions of your ancestors.

Exercise: Modern people tend to use food and drink as the main tool for connecting with ancestry. Try branching out. If you have Gaelic ancestors, learn a few words and see how you feel speaking them, then put on music and see how your body naturally wants to move to it. You may have some moves burst out that you didn’t know about! Also, imagine how ancestors lived on the land where you are now. Did they used to fish by the river you walk along? Imagine how your ancestors used to live in faraway lands. Did they build a fire in the evening to heat their homes just like you are doing? One study found that just thinking about our ancestors and how they lived is beneficial to us! 

 

Guest Post: Colonial Disconnection

My partner Luke Ringland posted the following on Facebook, and with his permission I am re-posting it here, because his words paint a clear and powerful picture of modern city life. Those of us who have disconnected from our land(s) of origin have much loss to grieve, and much joy to gain by re-integrating with the lands and indigenous wisdom of where we now live.

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One of the many MANY things about my life and worldview that has changed since I’ve known my wife Cloud Clearer has been seeing things more clearly from an indigenous perspective. And in this I don’t mean indigenous Australians. A lifetime of my best effort at open hearted learning would be nowhere near enough to truly know their suffering. And I certainly don’t mean nativism, which so often takes the form of destructive, oppressive tribal occupation.

I’m talking about indigenous in the form of a deep, dare I say spiritual, connection to place. A felt and emergent sense of belonging in which one’s existence is symbiotic with, dependent on, and unshakeably connected to the Earth. A oneness that means all that happens to earth, happens to a person, and what happens to a person is also happening to the Earth. This is opposed an egoic mind, floating in desperation and disconnectedness on top of the earth, plotting the ways in which all other things around it can be exploited for its survival, as though one were necessary for the other. An indigenous worldview, or Earth Ethos, understands that the exploitation of the land is ultimately a self-destructive act.

I spent the day driving around Western Sydney today, and it hit me so hard how disconnected, and therefore desperate, we are. Billboards, trucking supply chains, retail superstores, and development. Everything a commodity. And I don’t mean to pick on the West. The older areas of our colonial civilisation are just pretty scars, made so long ago it’s easy to see them as somehow natural, as though European energy has somehow always been here. And herein lies one of many white Australian delusions: It is not that there isn’t something wrong in a felt sense about the tens of thousands of newcomers setting up mini colonies in our big cities. I believe there is. I feel it. But the delusion is that we were, or indeed are, any different. Just ask any indigenous person.

(Images are the first two found for the google search ‘colonialism’, from here and here.)

Exercise: What is one way you can support indigenous well-being? Consider learning which indigenous people have lived where you now call home and how to honour them, such as donating to a non-profit like this, or a local one like this in Australia. Consider integrating Earth Ethos ceremony into your everyday life to feel more deeply what is happening in your body and with Mother Earth. You might try beginning and ending each day with intention through prayer, mindful movement, breath-work, sound, or spiritual reading.

Cultural Shadows & Reflections

Our lives are an endless series of resolving tensions, or reconciling polarities. We navigate this process based on stories, beliefs, and spiritual tools we’ve learned, which differ by culture. Culture arises from the Earth below, and for the majority of us who come from immigrant, slave, refugee, or forced migration lineages, our sense of culture has been disconnected from land(s) of origin. This creates cultural shadows and reflections, which are different things.

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Think about a reflection from a lake: if the surface of the water is clear and still, the reflection maintains its form and colour, but size may be distorted by angle of perspective, uneven water surface, if we are bigger than the body of water reflecting us is able to show., and by warmth of the water – just look at the difference of the reflection of the trees from water and ice.

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Now think about a shadow: it distorts form, colour, and size. So it is a rather messy reflection of blocked light. The way shadows work, the closer we are to the source of the light, the larger the shadow appears. Placement and perspective have a huge influence on us, from how we see ourselves to how we survive in different environments.

Survival is primitive, root chakra, grounded energy. All Earth environments have a unique nature, which is why I agree with the perspective that Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land. This is nature; we all know that Earth environments and human cultures are diverse. We would aboriginalland.jpegnever expect someone from Northern Europe to have the same culture as someone from Australia. But when a bunch of people with Northern European ancestry move here (many unwillingly), what does that mean for the culture of the people and place now living on land we call Australia?

Most of us today are experiencing such a cultural transition. We are reconciling polarities of disorientation and loss as we let go of what does not serve us anymore, and trying to ground ourselves where we are. The lived experiences of our ancestors, the myths and teaching stories our elders have passed down, and collective wisdom that has allowed our lineages and tribes to survive has reached limits. Coming from cultures that are disconnected from the Earth where we live now, unpack a lot of shadows. Some of us fret about sustainability yet cling to old cultural stories and ways of being, while others seek to adapt and grow by learning through diversity, taking risks and trying new things. We seek new cultural forms to ensure the survival of our lineages and tribes, which requires sacrifice and risk. (Image from here.)

shadowbookWe literally become bridges between the land and cultures of our ancestors and a new land and culture. Our wild and crazy human journeys allow landforms like mountains and lakes, and trees that have been grounded in one place for centuries to travel vicariously through our reflections and learn what we’ve seen and experienced. What rich gifts we bring when we allow ourselves ground in a new environment. (Image from here.)

What drives us onward through the pain? What makes us want to endure the challenges of reconciling such vast polarities of energies in order to survive? It’s an innate, profound joy and gratitude that we are alive and embodied. And if we are open and humble enough, we can learn a lot about how to survive in our current environments from indigenous elders in person and in spirit. See if you can allow the Aboriginal elder’s joy in the video below to spark a memory of never feeling lonely because you are so connected with your environment and nourished by Mother Earth. 

If we remain shut down, overwhelmed, and closed to connecting with our new environments, we miss opportunities to ground polarities and transform ourselves, and instead become stories of fallen civilisations or evolutionary dead ends.

The Red Road

The concept of the Red Road comes from Westerner’s attempting to understand the way indigenous cultures of North America structure their lives and see the world, though I havehopiroadoflife heard people who identify with a North American tribe use the term too. (If you are not familiar with the concept of a medicine wheel, read this post first.) Consider the example of the Red Road from the Hopi who live in the Southwestern U.S. Look at the medicine wheel is in the centre alongside da Vinci’s re-drawing of the Vitruvian man. The belly down to the feet maps onto the lower world coloured in black which represents Mother Earth, the sacred feminine. I estimate the proportion of the Red Road in this lower world is about 80%. This means focusing 80% of our time and energy on standing up for our values, exploring the mystical side of life, and nourishing and expressing our creative energies. 

vitruvian.pngLiterally, this means keeping our hips open, our legs strong, and our bare or grounded feet firmly planted on the Earth. We talk about having our carbon footprints, but what about our physical ones? I practice walking so respectfully and gently that I imagine my feet are kissing Mother Earth with gratitude with each step. My respect is shown through wearing flat, primarily leather-soled shoes, as well as through the act of stepping. Consider how to walk silently and softly with fox walking, and compare those movements with how you normally walk through the world. (Here’s another video to help you practice fox walking.) Aside from yoga or pilates classes, I find most of us pay very little attention to how we physically move through the world. To be honest, I cringe when I see people walk in stiletto-like heels because it looks to me like they are stabbing Mother Earth. I also feel pain when people are very heavy-footed, because it looks like they are punching Mother Earth with each step.

Metaphorically, as one indigenous scholar describes it:

Walking the Red Road is a determined act of living within the Creator’s instructions.  Basically, it is living a life of truth, humbleness, respect, friendship, and spiritually. Those on this road are by no means walking a perfect path, but are in search of self-discovery and instructions.

The path of the Red Road is mostly felt and sensed, and includes the mystery, magic, and miracles that arise through following signs and seeking synchronicities. It is more bottom-up than top-down, more grassroots than executive-led. Someone who walks the Red Road is more likely to be described as determined than headstrong. It reminds me of the Lakota morning prayer ‘Today is a good day to die”, which embodies living fully in the moment. In such a state, we harbour no regrets and are able to even let go into physical death if that is what is asked. It is being so attuned that there’s little to think through, life magically and consistently emerges and we are so allowing that living is like watching beautiful flowers blossom over and over again.Indigenous-Flag-RS.jpg

 

There is wisdom in the colour red, with some universal meanings present across cultures, such as: primal and sexual energy, blood and ancestry, fire and passion, and physical earth or clay. I am reminded of the colours of the Australian Aboriginal flag, with red representing Mother Earth, black representing Aboriginal people walking on Her, and the sun representing the creative life-giving energy connecting the people and the land. (Image from here.) I am similarly reminded of a current affairs story in Canada of an indigenous minister who resigned due to unethical political pressure from the prime minister, and another minister who resigned in solidarity. I find it apt these women chose to dress in black and red together as they took this historical stand. (Article about it and image from here.)

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Exercise: Regret is a grief about something left undone. When we are em-bodied there is nothing to re-member because we are living in the moment on the Red Road. Think of a regret. Is that dream still viable and important to you? If so, can you take a step towards fulfilling it and make a commitment to continuing on that path? If not, can you make time to grieve the loss of the dream and let it go, perhaps through some sort of ritual, so you can move on and allow new creative energy to flow?

Shaman’s Illness

Many indigenous cultures have a concept of a “shaman’s illness,” which is simultaneously a traumatic ego-death and initiation in the form of a spiritual crisis. Modern people experiencing shaman’s illness may have multiple traumatic (often near-death) experiences, which can be physical, mental, and/or psychological, as well as spiritual. Such experiences create opportunities for a person to see the world in a new way. A shaman’s illness brings intense experiences that destroys life as a person knows it and shatters previous identities and ways of being that the person was attached to. The gifts of such a brutal illness are an awakening of a huge amount of energy that can be redirected from being destructive or dissociated into being healing and empowering. As a person heals and allows a new identity to be created, the person rises like a phoenix from ashes of a fire and is reborn into carrying a wound as a medicine for others (Pendleton, 2014).

phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes.jpgI have witnessed many people experiencing a shaman’s illness. When people reject or resist it, they usually end up dissociating the destructive energy and becoming very challenging externalising personalities (like narcissists or sociopaths), or internalising the destructive energy and creating diseases such as quickly metastasising cancers. I have witnessed multiple people do both of these things. When people accept the calling of the illness, there are different speeds of doing so, which impacts the way the illness plays out in a person’s life. I have seen some people slowly accept that they are experiencing shaman’s illness over many years and bit by bit change their paths so that over time more aspects of their lives are working. Some (including myself) dive directly into the fire and allow our lives to become incredibly chaotic as our identities are re-forged and often become overwhelmed at the amount of emotion that needs to be processed and the whirlwind pace of life changes that occur. (Image from here.)

Seeing the world in ways that are outside one’s mainstream culture and being sensitive to feelings and experiences that others are blocking or numb to is a big responsibility and often triggers feelings of rejection, social/cultural alienation, doubt, confusion, fear, shame, deep grief, and anger. Learning to pace oneself is part of the journey, but if you are resisting the illness, your life will keep getting harder. What I see often is that the illness brings up such intense feelings of loss of control that people find it hard to “let go and let God” and are unwilling to allow their lives to flow into mess and chaos required for healing. I have received messages a few times that I will be kicked off the planet if I did not take make certain choices, and I have seen others similarly forced to face primal survival fears. The following are keys I’ve found to accepting a shaman’s illness:

  1. Faith in a guiding force/God/divine intelligence/Higher Power bigger than us;
  2. Trust that whatever comes into our lives is meant to help us;
  3. Willingness to experience death;
  4. Following signs, synchronicities, and symbols in dreams and everyday life; and
  5. Finding tools to ground intense energies and forms to express dark emotions.

angrylovingpeople.jpgIt is helpful, but not necessary, to seek support from someone who has been through similar things. Such people can give you compassion and empathy, guiding wisdom, and tools to process wounds and express energy. But it’s vitally important not to delude yourself that any human is a fully healed Jedi-master, all-knowing figure. If someone says they are, then RUN AWAY FROM THEM, because that person is dangerous and delusional and is on a path of becoming a cult leader or something else you don’t want to be involved with. It is important to think of illness and healing as processes, not finite endpoints. When someone says they have “healed” a wound as intense as sexual abuse or parental abandonment, I am suspicious; and when someone plays power games, disrespects, or in any way puts me down, then I know that person is ill and cannot support my healing anymore. I have no tolerance for these behaviours, even when people are unaware. I either change my boundary and create space or make someone aware of their transgression, and if they then don’t own it and work through it, I’m done with the relationship. (Image below from here.)

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I do this because I have learned through my own shaman’s illness that setting fierce boundaries shows that I value my life and my energy, and that I do not need to prove my worth by battling (e.g. convincing, power playing, manipulating, etc.) anybody. Most people who justify harmful and dangerous behaviours are carrying unprocessed primal survival fears. I rarely feel afraid of dying, though. In some ways it would be easier than being here and going through all the trauma my body is still carrying. Working with my shaman’s illness so that I become a medicine person instead of sick or dissociated is a journey of experiencing alchemy, of metaphorically turning dirt into gold as my darkest experiences become fertiliser for the growth of beautiful flowers in myself, others, and the environment. Mircea Eliade says a shaman is a “healed madman,” and Rumi says, “In their seeking, wisdom and madness are one and the same.” If you’re reading this, maybe like me, you can relate to these.

Honouring Our Ancestors

If we want to honour our ancestors, who are they? As Dakota Earth Cloud Walker explains, our human ancestors are more than our blood lineage. They also include ancestors of land/place, past/present/future versions of you, and ancestors of traditions that are important to you such as leaders of religious movements or fields of study. Non-human ancestors are abundant too, from minerals that have been here millions of years which nourish our bodies and fuel our vehicles, to plants that feed us and animals that provide us with companionship. When participating in a sweat lodge ceremony, rocks that are heated and brought into the lodge are often referred to as grandfathers and grandmothers. This reverence is a reminder that our bodies are made up of atoms that came from these other beings’ forms and that we are all alive from an animistic Earth Ethos perspective.

Genealogy Clip Art.gifA Druid blogger points out that feeling our non-human ancestral connection during this time of rapid climate change and extinction is a painful opportunity to witness loss and engage in mourning. We all know of painful events that took place on lands near our homes, and we know of ancestors who behaved in ways that don’t align with our values. I grew up on land from which the Cherokee were forcibly removed, on which African Americans worked as slaves, I have known Nazis and rapists in my blood line, and my lifestyle is reliant on resource-rich technologies that disconnect me from the Earth so that I buy most of my food from grocery stores and spend 40 hours a week in an ungrounded office. As a Wiccan blogger said, “If you show me a family that has no problems and no family history of pain, abuse, and all the people in it have been and are kindly saints – I will show you either a fool or a liar.” (Image from here.)

Given this messy reality, how do we practically honour our ancestors in their fullness and complexity?

First, we honour ourselves. An Earth Ethos perspective is to set boundaries but not to completely block energies from our lives, because what we avoid tends to grow bigger and bring in more destructive energy than if we try to turn that “shit” into fertiliser. Keep in mind that you wouldn’t be here if not for your ancestors.flowers2altar.jpgancestral altar.jpg Second, “if you don’t have an ancestor altar, you become the altar.” I spent most of my life in a lot of danger and had multiple near-death experiences. My ancestry is full of trauma, and I wanted to create space to show I was in relationship with my ancestry, rather than things happening to my body and in my everyday life. When I began an ancestral altar practice, I created one human and one non-human (tree) altar outside. Over the first few months, two human ancestral altars were completely destroyed during thunderstorms. I was so grateful that the trauma and violence had left my body! The human ancestors settled down after many offerings and ceremonies to make amends for wrongs they’d done. (Photos: the destroyed human ancestral altars from years ago)

Today I have the human ancestral altar inside, a non-human altar outside, and leave regular offerings at both. Some ancestors I honour directly; for example, last night I burned a candle to honour ancestors who offer me spiritual support, and I left a small glass of beer with gratitude for my Germanic blood lineage. Today at my non-human altar (a fern tree in the garden) I buried some jewelry. I have been doing that for some years, as I have many Jewish ancestors who were jewelers and were quite greedy and ungrounded, so giving jewelry back to the Earth is one way I make amends and heal that ancestral trauma energy. Whether you have an ancestral altar or not, our ancestors receive the intentions of our offerings. Honouring someone through dedicating a work of art or a good deed, or planting a tree on clear-cut land can honour ancestors and heal ancestral trauma. If you are interested in creating an ancestral altar, you can access guidance here, and you are welcome to join me at a gift economy ancestral trauma healing workshop this Saturday.

 

Calendars, Seasons & Cycles

There are four types of calendars:

  • A lunisolar calendar follows both the cycles of the moon and sun. Because the days, weeks and months are fixed, holy-days determined by the lunar cycle fall on different calendar days each year. (e.g. Hebrew, Buddhist, Hindu, Chinese, Korean, Tibetan, and pre-Christian Germanic tribes)
  • solar calendar like the Gregorian and Julian ones we are most familiar with follows the cycle of the sun only. It tends to be used by agricultural cultures. (e.g. Christian, Berber, Tamil, Bengali, and the French Republican calendar)
  • mooncalendar.jpgA lunar calendar follows the cycle of the moon only and may have 12 or 13 months in honour of the number of moons in a year. (e.g. Islam, Igbo & Yoruba of Nigeria)
  • A seasonal calendar is based on elemental (earth, air, fire, water), floral (plant) and faunal (animal) patterns throughout a year. The number and types of seasons are dependent on specific places, so even tribes near each other may have different seasons if their land has a river that floods during a “wet” time, or if an animal migrates through their land at a specific time of year. (e.g. Aboriginal Australians)

You may think that four seasons a year has been standard in European cultures, but the old Norse calendar had only two: summer began in mid-October, and winter in mid-April. The “Wheel of the Year” is a common calendar used by modern-day pagans of European ancestry and is based on the equinoxes and solstices, and the half-way moments between them to mark changes of a four-season calendar. The images below are of Heathen (modern-day Germanic and Norse pagan) and Celtic pagan calendars. If you are in the Southern hemisphere and wish to honour this calendar, Glenys of Pagaian Cosmology translates it so your celebrations are seasonally appropriate.

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There are many ways of acknowledging seasons and cycles because of the diversity of environments, traditions and beliefs that influence a culture. The term “pagan” may make you think of someone in pre-Christian Europe who worships multiple gods, but it actually refers to people who are “fixed or fastened” to the land, i.e. villagers and country folk. In other words, pagans are people who have not yet experienced cultural genocide and disconnection from their ancestral homelands and whose culture is indigenous to, or rooted in, a specific environment and place. Aboriginal Australians offer us a reminder of how all humans once lived “fastened” in sacred connection with our environments:

(Clip from here.)

Exercise: Wherever you live, consider how to describe a seasonal calendar in your area. You may want to use the image below as a blank canvas, and an Aboriginal seasonal calendar as an example. Consider how this may be different to the environment and seasonal calendar of your blood ancestors from another land. Consider how you might honour this knowledge in your life today. (Image from here.)

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Kinship

In a previous post I wrote about ancestry:

Through a Shipibo elder of the Amazon I learned that about 90% of the thought-loops that circulate our minds are not based in ego, but in ancestral trauma. I learned through Dakota Earth Cloud Walker that ancestry is defined in three ways: blood lineage, ancestry of place, and personal karma. Personal karma refers to past, present and future versions of ourselves, and all of the complex identities we take on during our lifetime (or multiple lifetimes if you see things like that). Blood lineage is the most common way we think about ancestry, reflected in a family tree. Ancestry of place includes places where the people in our family tree lived, as well as where we have lived and live now.

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This blog and this short lecture about kinship from an Aboriginal Australian perspective are a reminder of the kinship relationship indigenous cultures traditionally have with animals, plants, landforms, and elements of nature. Aboriginal Australians and many First Nations in the northern US and Canada constructed totems (or tokens) as emblems of these relationships. (Image from here.) It’s a stark contrast to modern living, well said in a post of The Druid Garden’s Blog:

One of the great challenges of our age is that humans are radically disconnected from nature; our food comes from somewhere else, our products come from somewhere else; we don’t know the names of plants or animals in our local ecosystem, we don’t know what a healthy ecosystem looks like. We could not survive in our ecosystem without modern conveniences in place, as our ancestors once could. Through learning about nature, through nature study, wisdom, and experience–we learn how to be in nature.  Once you begin seeing nature as sacred, you treat it as sacred.  

Since an Earth Ethos is based on interconnectedness, it is important to honour non-human kinship relationships and ancestors. Most of us do this to some extent every day, through choices such as bringing a bag to the supermarket to be respectful of Mother Earth’s resources, but we could go a lot deeper. We may consider our pet dog or cat a member of our family, but we generally struggle to see non-humans as kin. In one of Peter Wohlleben’s books he asks if we humans are the most intelligent species on the planet, why we work so hard to teach other animals like parrots and chimps to speak our language, rather than learning to chirp or hoot in their languages. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound. For example, many hunters have tools that mimic bird or mammal calls, a few years ago I took a class on bird language in Texas, and Aboriginal Australians traditionally integrate animal calls and movement patterns into their music:

Something that helped me shift my thinking and ways of being was learning sweat lodge. In a sweat lodge, we refer to the rocks we use as our grandfathers, because they have been on Earth much, much longer than any of us. Many have broken off of mountains and been on long journeys before they become small enough for us to pick up. When we build the fire for sweat lodge, we ask which sticks and logs will give their lives for us and thank them for changing forms for our ceremony of purification. We ask which rocks will come into lodge and give their lives to us, meaning their life force energy and the wisdom of their long journeys, so that we can purify our hearts, minds, and bodies during the sweat. Often while we are preparing a bird will circle overhead or a mammal or reptile will visit a while, and we thank them for blessing our ceremony and ask what we may learn from them. This kind of thinking is a refreshing change from seeing ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution, to the humble new species on the block. human-evolution-vector-74195(Image from here.)

Research has shown that plants grow better when humans speak to them. So next time you walk past a tree, why not nod in greeting? Or as you water a bush, thank it for flowering?

Exercise: To connect with our non-human kin, as previously mentioned, a great method is a sit spot. A variation of this is to do a sit in the wilderness (even your garden or a park) blindfolded, or at night, so that you focus on using your non-visual senses. If you have access to a stethoscope, you can use it to listen to the heartbeat of a tree. Another fun way is to greet non-human kin like plants or animals. Finally, check out fun videos like the one below that link plants’ carbon dioxide emissions to sounds we can hear: