“Stories are medicine…embedded with instructions” that guide us about how to live our lives (Estés, 1997). Practices of talking circles, or peace circles, have emerged within many cultures throughout known human history, though most modern Westerners don’t understand underlying cosmological foundations of these practices, which come from indigenous cultures. The talking circle is a metaphorical life tool of the medicine wheel. Being aware about what we are doing allows metaphor to bring ceremonies like talking circles to life (Rael, 1998). It is no mystery why, in Australia for example, when people with indigenous ancestry facilitate yarning circles, a type of talking circle, it feels different than when Westerners do. I learned why while working for a decade in the field of restorative justice. When we encouraged people to put altars in the middle of their circles, I had quite an aha moment when I saw what people were using to metaphorically represent the heart centre. “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).a
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. (Image is a screenshot from an online gallery of Amazonian-Andean artist Juan Carlos Taminchi of ayahuasca visions.)The depth of relationships, and the experiences, feel quite different to participants. Similarly, instead of peace circles as a tool to help control behaviour or improve the way people speak and listen to each other as is common in westernised restorative justice practices based on a Judeo-Christian worldview, an Earth Ethos peace circle is an opportunity for a communal spiritual experience based on an indigenous cultural cosmology. Because of the intentional use of metaphor, it ought to feel different to participants (and certainly does to me) than simply sitting in a circle (or around a table where we are blocked from connecting with each other physically) and passing around a talking piece. Many indigenous peoples use oral traditions to preserve cultural wisdom. Verbal repetition and physical embodiment of teachings keeps them pure (Rael, 2015). An important aspect of any medicine wheel ceremony, including a peace circle, is purification or cleansing, opening participants’ hearts for sharing wisdom as a community. Purification is often symbolised through the use of smoke, or smudging.
Healing of, and prevention of, dis-ease requires ceremony. Ceremony is an important human practice connecting the visible material/physical world with the invisible, spiritual world. Life feels empty and unsatisfying when we do not do enough ceremony, and ceremonies are most powerful done regularly and intentionally in community (Rael, 1998). Disease in indigenous thinking is caused by natural and supernatural forces, where natural forces include things like cold air, germs, or impurities in food and water, and supernatural forces include things like upset social relations between people, with ancestors, or other beings such as spirits of the traditional custodians of a place (Sussman, 2004). (Image is a depiction of one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s land spirits called the Ent, a tree spirit) Western concepts of unconscious or subconscious drives are similar to indigenous concepts of such spiritual forces (Holliday, 2008). When we focus our energy on cultivating healthy invisible environments based on values such as acceptance, non-judgment, inclusivity, compassion and empathy, we help purify our own hearts and the collective unconscious, or the spiritual realm. Indigenous thinking teaches that our social reality is based on a fundamental understanding of life in which humans are interconnected with all of nature, and by participating in an Earth Ethos peace circle, we literally embody Mother Earth together by sitting in a circle with an altar at the centre honouring the interconnected web of life we are part of. If you’re in Sydney and want to join a monthly Earth Ethos peace circle, please contact me for more information.