Tag Archives: ancestral healing

Warriorship

Blog by Lukas

Are the most prescient ideas and images that come to mind when you think of the word “warrior” all about physical strength, toughness, and violent conflict? I doubt you’re alone. To borrow a trick from Valerie, if you online image search the word “warrior” the first things that come up are virtually all men and related to physical violence, specifically some new television show that evidently involves a lot of arse kicking. The story is similar if you try “female warrior”.spartan-4016133_1280

The technical definition of a warrior in the English language supports this narrow view, being rooted in a French word guerroieor meaning “one who wages war”. Most definitions of warrior relate to waging armed conflict, specifically those who have some kind of specialised role in doing so. (Image from here)

The etymology of the word “war”, however, is much more interesting, seemingly originating with broader concepts that include difficulty, dispute, and hostility. According to  etymonline.com, if you follow the known Proto-Germanic cognates as far back as they go, you arrive at a word that means “to bring into confusion”.

This is fascinating to me on a number of levels. Not least of all because virtually all first-person accounts of war I have read describe some manner of confusion and chaos to a degree that was unexpected to the writer. My flailing fist fights over the years confirm this; and as “Iron” Mike Tyson said: tyson

So if war is to some degree about confusion and chaos, perhaps the true warrior is someone who uses their power to bring these things back into a calmer balance? This then is about a warrior responding to and resolving conflict rather than instigating it, even if it is they who strike first. Without doubt there is a rightful place for violence in this, but also many other elements. Sticking to the realm of the physical, another version of the warrior could be a woman in labour finding her strength and power and calmly birthing just when things were at their most chaotic and the pain most intense. (Image from here)

But if we are to use this warrior concept to its fullest extent, literally and metaphorically, perhaps the most important thing is to apply it across the medicine wheel. So this gives us emotional, spiritual, and mental warriors; any and all ways in which a being can use their strength and power to bring conflict and disorder back into balance.

Note that this bigger version of warriorship does NOT just mean these other aspects of warriorship being in service of physical violence, such as mental energy being devoted to better weapons technology, or emotional quieting and centring that improves fighting ability. It means recognising their deep value to our being in and of themselves and together in balance.

This topic came to me when thinking about men and masculinity in the context of healing and reconciliation between Anglo-Celtic Australians and Aboriginal Australians. If we restrict our thinking about and valuing of warriorship to literal, physical combat, this makes such healing hard, such was the intense lopsidedness of the physical contest.

I don’t think it is controversial to say that in the world of Aboriginal Australians, weapons and warfare were just one part of what made men and warriors in those cultures whole and powerful. The weapons they had been using for millennia more than did the job they were needed for. Europeans, on the other hand, were by 1788 riding a wave of centuries of escalating prowess in using violence, supercharged by technology and in service of greed. Warriorship caused more conflict and trauma than it resolved.

With this fuller version of warriorship comes some understanding of what I as an Anglo-Celtic colonist lack, and what I need for healing. I don’t yet value my heart and spiritual warriorship enough.

warrior-body-paint-ritual-scars-Western-Australia-1923

On both the oppressor/colonist side, and the survivor/colonised side of this ledger is ample reason to grow through helping each other to see warriorship more fully. When we do this we’ll need no self-shaming to see the deep value of the balanced warriorship of Aboriginal masculine culture. We colonists can learn what being a whole mature warrior means, and Aboriginal men can learn to value who they are more fully. Then we can do ceremony to bring the conflict and disorder back into balance. (Image from here)

Exercise: Taking a strengths-based stance, think about how your sacred masculine (regardless of your gender) displays warriorship across the Medicine Wheel.

Exercise for Australians: If you are doing an Acknowledgement of Country (especially when there are only men present), try acknowledging the Aboriginal warriors as well as Elders.

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Trauma & Healing

Blog by Valerie Cloud Clearer

As some of you know, I have been writing a book (or it’s being written through/with me may be more accurate language ), so I have felt less inclined to blog. Today I thought I’d adapt a chapter from the book into a blog, since I haven’t written directly about the Indigenous science of trauma in blog form before. It was my PhD topic (and much of my lived experience), so it has taken many years to be able to succinctly express some of the ideas. I hope it resonates with you.

forgiveyourselfTrauma’s meaning, causes and methods of healing differ by culture and cosmology. In Western science, trauma is typically defined as profound wounding that damages a person’s ability to trust in life and self, resulting in existential crises[1]. Trauma is encoded in brain pathways rooted in fear/terror and disgust/ aversion. Feeling fear is intended to protect us from life-threatening danger, so our nervous systems rev up and prepare for crisis. Trauma causes our nervous systems to activate stress hormones when danger isn’t present, creating flashbacks, emotional volatility, strained relationships, re-traumatising experiences, and severe stress[2]. Primary trauma occurs for a person who directly experienced it, and secondary trauma for family and friends. There’s also intergenerational trauma. A typical Western healing approach is individual counselling, with some alternative approaches including other family members, or integrating art therapy, body work, or EMDR[3]. The underlying idea is that by surviving trauma, we can become more resilient individuals.

In Indigenous science, all disease including trauma is indicative of “disruption in the natural order of humans’ interactions with the spirit world,” such as failure to honour the spiritual realm, failure to honour one’s ancestors, neglecting cultural rituals or religious ceremonies, or losing faith in the Creator[4]. Where Western scientists seek cures of diseases and treatments for trauma, Indigenous scientists view trauma and diseases as potential gifts of healing that can offer important insights about how to live well and bring new wise leadership into a community. Where Western science views a personality or ego as the centre of an individual being, an Indigenous medicine person or ‘shaman’ views a person’s eternal spirit as the centre of being. That is why the heart is at the centre of a medicine wheel, to remind us that we are connected to ourselves, each other, and all of Creation.

In Indigenous science, to try to make trauma ‘go away’ through suppression, denial, or taking drugs (legal or illegal) is denying an important spiritual initiation needed by an individual and their community[5]. Experiencing and healing trauma includes all our relations, human and non-human. Through my Ph.D. studies on Indigenous scientific approaches to healing trauma (which included Indigenous healing ceremonies and apprenticeships as well as Western scientific research), I found four underlying causes of trauma in Indigenous science:

  • Disconnection from the Earth;
  • Unhealed ancestral trauma;
  • Soul loss; and
  • Shaman’s illness.

hardtimeReconnecting to the Earth, healing ancestral trauma, and Shaman’s illness have been covered in previous blogs, so let’s discuss soul loss. In Indigenous science, traumatic experiences propel us into terror and dissociation, creating “soul loss,” meaning that we are no longer fully present in ordinary reality because parts of our spirit have split off, fled, or gotten lost. “Soul” is understood to mean ‘consciousness’.[6] To live with soul loss means we are not consciously whole in the moment, that parts of us are frozen in an unresolved past, causing us to lose energy and feel disorientated, weak, anxious and depressed, and to exhibit signs of mental and emotional illness. We may have internalised punishment or protectively hidden parts of ourselves that were unsafe to express, or internalised poisonous emotions like anger, bitterness, envy, fear, greed, hate, intolerance, pride, rage, resentment and vanity that need to be released [7].

findingyourselfOur task as healers is to allow alchemy to occur so that sh*t we are carrying in our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits can instead turn into fertiliser for ourselves and others. By consciously choosing to move into terror and aversion/disgust when we are in a safe space, we can reconnect with lost soul parts. In doing so, we gain knowledge that expands our individual and collective understanding of ourselves and our world. This is seen as the sacred calling underlying a ‘shaman’s illness’. Trauma is seen as a spiritual offering of a huge amount of energy that can redirect us into a new identity like a phoenix rising out of ashes. Indigenous healers are called ‘medicine people’ or ‘shamans’ because through healing trauma we embody medicine by living in a wiser way and offering support to others who are struggling through similar wounds.

We heal by consciously going into our traumatic states in a safe space. We are born being able to express few sounds, and similarly much of the traumatic energy of re-birthing ourselves is preverbal. Indigenous traumatic healing requires us to access profound, primal energies, to re-member ourselves by moving through layers of pain, being with and expressing chaotic, violent, pre-conscious and unconscious energies through visions, bodily sensations and movements, and dream-like states of consciousness outside of a Western cosmology.[8] Trauma gives us the ability to enter into altered states of consciousness, and by transforming that gift from sh*tty triggered experiences of traumatic dissociation into a skilful powerful method of connecting with the ethereal, spiritual, sub- and un-conscious realms, we gain access to profound wisdom and aspects of life that others do not experience.

Exercise: Reflect on a traumatic experience you have had. How did it change your understanding of yourself? Your place in the world? Of life itself? See if you can reflect on a deeper level of consciousness through relaxing into a drum journey.

[1] See e.g. Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[2] See e.g. Kirmayer, L., Lemelson, R., & Barad, M. (Eds.). (2007). Understanding trauma: Integrating biological, clinical, and cultural perspectives, pp. 118-141. Cambridge University Press.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_movement_desensitization_and_reprocessing

[4] Monteiro, N. & Wall, D. (2011). African dance as healing modality throughout the diaspora: the use of ritual and movement to work through trauma. Journal of Pan African Studies4(6), 234-52.

[5] See e.g. Kopacz, D. & Rael, J. (2016). Walking the medicine wheel: Healing PTSD. Tulsa, OK: Millchap Books.

[6] See e.g. Cervantes, J. & McNeill, B. (Eds.) Latina/o healing practices: Mestizo and indigenous perspectives, pp. 139-174. New York, NY: Routledge.

[7] Nuñez, S. (2008). Brazil’s ultimate healing resource: The power of spirit. In Cervantes, J. & McNeill, B. (Eds.) Latina/o healing practices: Mestizo and indigenous perspectives, pp. 139-174. New York, NY: Routledge.

[8] See e.g. Culbertson, R. (1995). Embodied memory, transcendence, and telling: Recounting trauma, re-establishing the self. New Literary History, 26(1), 169-195.

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Identity politics

At the heart of the Earth Ethos Indigenous Science Dialogues earlier this year was the issue of identity politics. dialogues.5.2021-1The dialogue of that name was with my friend Shannon Field, a Walbunja woman of the Yuin nation, a traditional owner of the land where Lukas and I currently live, the land his first settler ancestor claimed for himself through the crown of England and in whose name the Australian government is still run today.

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With identity politics at the centre, all dialogues touched on that issue. Anglo-Celtic Australian man Lukas Ringland spoke for the PHYSICAL, sharing his experiences of settler trauma, including the pain of being part of a corrupt social majority. On the Crown’s genocidal survival strategy for ex-convicts, he explained: “The more wild the land was, the more likely it was to be given to an ex-convict, like, ‘you go to war against the Indigenous people.’ So you had this battle for life being fought between newly freed convicts and Indigenous people, and then closer to the centre of the colony you had the higher-ups who didn’t have to participate in that.” (Image from here)

Filipino Australian Ellis Bien Ilas spoke for the SPIRITUAL about the trauma of leaving the Philippines for Australia as a child, and his subsequent complex journey of ancestral healing: “I was literally shaken by an event on July 2, 2015…in the ER with an undiagnosed cardiac condition…I was having symptoms medical professionals can’t explain, and…it was looking back…[realising the date of my event] was my grandfather’s death anniversary, and I [] carry his name…That event was a huge catalyst for my spiritual awakening which occurred here in Sydney, Australia.”

Jewish Pakeha (non-Maori New Zealander) woman Sara Hudson spoke for the MENTAL about the close-mindedness in Aboriginal governmental policy: “When [the government] could verify [some Indigenous knowledge], they were like ‘Ooh! Okay, maybe there is something to this, because it matched what we found ‘scientifically,’ so therefore maybe we will listen now to these Indigenous knowledge-holders around water.’ This is the crazy stuff –  ‘I only listen to you once we have it verified by our Western scientific methods.'” (Image from the ABC, link unknown)

beautiful handsShona (Zimbabwean) Australian woman Dr. Virginia Mapedzahama spoke for the EMOTIONAL, about her experiences navigating whiteness trauma as an African migrant, the absurdity of Australia’s racial labels (Anglo-Celtic, Indigenous, and CALD – culturally and linguistically diverse), and how invisible she feels because “we have never dealt with the race issue with our Indigenous Australians…[but] the WHOLE THING is based on a system of whiteness…[and] we’re not looking at ourselves and the system that led us to do these things…[and now the definition of CALD is] so broad that the only people not captured by that category are Indigenous Australians!”

At the HEART centre, Walbunja Australian woman Shannon Field spoke about “cultural mining”, how “non-Aboriginal people mine our knowledge, mine our experiences in order to form up views, opinions, politics, positions…but in doing so, not providing us with a legitimate and/or authentic opportunity to have influence on what those outcomes actually are….So basically taking the authority and control of our knowledge into White hands.” She also explained, “For me, what identity politics is, that isn’t always a comfortable topic…as an Aboriginal person with fairer skin…I don’t know if it is called a colour privilege, but certainly there are some biases that are applied in terms of palatability of lived experience for White people taking on a Blak story or Blak history…that fits a narrative of what White people want to see….That’s something as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more aware of…[And] while I feel like I personally have had a fairly benign experience as an Aboriginal person, your life as an Aboriginal person is not unpoliticised…your mere existence [is under constant political scrutiny and attack].”

always was always will be aboriginal land | Aboriginal ...This “mere existence” of Aboriginal people as humans worthy of dignity collapses the entire ‘legal’ foundation of the Australian nation. The High Court overturned terra nullius and declared that the Australian lands were inhabited at colonisation, but no treaties have been signed, and the Native Title system designed to return Crown land to Aboriginal control (which often takes decades to do so) is fatally flawed. My heart bled last week when I read these words from Gamilaroi-Irish woman Aimee Mehan: “[O]ur Native Title Act does not give Indigenous Australians the right to refuse development on our ancestral lands…imagine that you are told about the impending trauma to a relative [your land/home]. Now you, together with your extended family, must ‘negotiate’ [the] event. You cannot prevent [it]…you must not only endure the trauma…you must sit month after month at the table to negotiate the future occurrence of it with a tribunal. [Then] imagine watching your close relative’s perpetrator being promoted by the Australian government on the world stage in Glasgow.” Gamiliroi Man Wollumbi Waters added: “All of which triggers the trauma and pain we carry as Aboriginal people, the true caretakers of our sacred lands. We walk with our ancestors every day, as the earth is our body and the water is our blood, and the trees and rocks our brothers and sisters, and this is what we hold on to.” Aimee describes this trauma as part of the #metoo movement from an Indigenous science perspective, with non-consensual boundary-breaking rapes and related actions that violate the vitality of the Sacred Mother, the land. (Image source)

Indigenous Justice & Restorative JusticeWhen I hear transhumanists like Jeff Bezos talk about ‘using up’ the resources of Mother Earth (i.e. destroying our home and source of life) necessitating the colonising of Mars, I cannot understand how we continue to give that insane and destructive a person so much power and control over so many resources. I pray for transformation of our rotting, greedy and destructive collective psychosis towards fulfilling the wisdom of Sioux scholar Vine Deloria Jr. instead: “The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things. Who will listen to the trees, the animals and birds, the voices of the places of the land? As the long forgotten peoples of the respective continents rise and begin to reclaim their ancient heritage, they will discover the meaning of the lands of their ancestors” (Quote source, Image source).

Exercise: Reflect on your own lived experience of Identity politics. You may want to listen to the Indigenous Science Dialogues and share to inspire rich, healing conversations with loved ones.

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We are Enough

Blog by Valerie

Picture1In social environments, it seems to feel proportionally less safe to be oneself the farther we identify from collective norms and ideals. There is a concept in mathematics called ‘regression to the mean’. It is basically the idea that when you put some ice into a glass of water, the ice will tend to melt and take the form of the water; in essence, it is about assimilating into a collective norm. Yet assimilation is a dirty word for many people, because we want to celebrate our uniqueness as well as being part of a peoples. (Image from here)

Picture2Feeling safe to celebrate our difference depends on culture and context. These social wounds keep us trapped and unable to trust ourselves, each other, non-humans, and Spirit/God/oneness. Our capacities to heal and seek retribution are also based on cultural values and intergenerational traumas. Cultures that are more welcoming of outsiders seem to encourage healing and embracing collective wounds for transformation, whereas cultures that are more exclusionary seem to ‘other’ people and tend towards separation and seeking retribution. Fear of retribution can keep us trapped and unable to trust. It is as if there is a collective trauma belief that says, ‘if we let them in, they will hurt us.’ In my experience with Judaism, and what I am learning are my deeper Sumerian cultural roots, there seems to be a collective belief that ‘we can’t trust anybody.’ My own grandmother told me that as a child, and I asked her incredulously if I couldn’t even trust her. She didn’t answer, just stared at me in silence. Living in this social environment, I never felt safe. In fact, I felt terrified to even take up space. One wrong move could find me terribly punished, kicked out of the group, or worse, judged irredeemable by God. Despite constantly striving to be ‘a good person’, it never felt like what I did was good enough. I got used to feeling terrified that threats of judgment, punishment and retribution were always imminent. I worked hard to learn the rules I might break and the triggers I might set off that would result in my being punished. But I wasn’t in control. My brother had a habit of breaking rules and refusing to admit it, so we would both be punished. This was scary, too, because I didn’t know when the punishment would happen, or how intense it would. It felt safer at times to intensely control and punish myself so that I maintained a sense of autonomy. It also seemed safest to play the part of Narcissus’s lover Echo, to hide my own voice rather than put myself into danger, because I depended on dangerous people and their approval for my survival. It wasn’t safe to be different, much less to celebrate it. (Image: Echo & Narcissus by painter John William Waterhouse

Picture3For most of my life I felt terrified to take up space. I felt like no space was ‘mine’ existentially or practically. For example, growing up, I wasn’t allowed to lock my bedroom door. I used to get dressed in my walk-in closet so I had some privacy and warning if my mother was coming into my bedroom. It took many years into adulthood – and practically ending many formational familial relationships that were untrustworthy just as my grandmother had told me – for me to become trustworthy to myself, be authentic and celebrate my difference, and surround myself with trustworthy and authentic people. By trustworthy, I mean people who say what they mean and do what they say, and when they can’t follow through on something, own it, apologise, forgive themselves, and make amends if needed. By authentic, I mean people who know their core values and practice embodying them in everyday life.

Picture4It is still unsafe for me in many spaces where my values conflict with the collective. But I don’t feel a need to constantly strive towards some central ideal, nor do I feel like it’s me against the world at war. I feel peace in myself for accepting who I am and doing my best to navigate the collective morass, and for cultivating spaces where I, and others, are free to be. In this way, I can embody the knowing that we are enough. (Or ‘good enough’, whatever that means.) (Image from here)

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Indigenous Science Dialogues

Update: All dialogues are now available online on the Earth Ethos YouTube Channel.

You are invited to join Earth Ethos in honouring each element of the medicine wheel (earth/physical, air/mental, fire/spiritual, water/emotional) and the heart centre through five dialogues between Indigenous scientists this May.

All dialogues will be facilitated by Dr Valerie Cloud Clearer Ringland, an East Frisian (Indigenous to northern Germany) and Jewish-American woman living of Yuin country with lived experience and a PhD in Indigenous trauma healing.

May 3, Fire/Spiritual: Ancestral Healing with Ellis Bien Ilas, a Filipino-Australian ancestral healer living of Eora country.

May 5, Earth/Physical: Settler Trauma with Lukas Ringland, an Anglo-Celtic Australian (and Valerie’s life partner) healing and living of Yuin country.

May 7, Air/Mental: Weaving Knowledges with Sara Hudson, a Jewish-Pākehā woman living of Darug country using Indigenous and Western knowledges in evaluation and academic work.

May 11, Heart/Cultural: Identity Politics with Shannon Field, a Yuin woman living on country and working in Aboriginal policy.

May 13, Water/Emotional: Confronting Whiteness with Dr Virginia Mapedzahama, a Shona (Indigenous to Zimbabwe) with African Women Australia Inc. living of Wangal land.

Sign up at the Eventbrite page to get the Zoom link or use the Earth Ethos Calendar to click on the Zoom link to participate. All dialogues will be available next day on the Earth Ethos Facebook page.

Please pass on information about this dialogue series with others who may be interested!

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Lived Experience Knowledge

lovepain

Blog by Valerie

There is immense power in embodying healing through lived experience. As I work in facilitating & healing spaces, I feel it is important to be open about parts of my journey. If you want to learn more about my personal lived experience journey, please read on.

My healings, awakenings and navigations of grief and loss have been quite intense. I am the child of two lineages steeped in trauma and conflict: an Ashkenazi Jewish-American mother whose ancestors fled pogroms in Eastern Europe to the U.S. in the late 1800s, and an East Frisian father, an Indigenous northern German man who moved to the U.S. in the 1970s, and bonded to a lapsed Catholic Anglo-Celtic-American nanny as a mother. I was born on Shawnee land in Ohio, U.S., and from infancy until age 15 was sexually abused by an uncle who may be my biological father. My maternal bond to my nanny created resentment and jealousy for my mother, and a cross-country move separated me from my nanny, creating another layer of abandonment wounding. As my father was the first in his family to move off country, I inherited his abandonment of country wound, in addition to that of my mother’s family which for Jewish people is extensive.

I grew up primarily in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., a city with a history of genocide, slavery, civil rights, and immense racial tension for over 300 years. It was the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and is home to the largest Confederate Memorial in the U.S. as well as being ceded Cherokee land that was the start of the Trail of Tears. Most my community was heavily Christian, and I lost many childhood friends who failed to ‘save me’ from being Jewish. 

Throughout childhood I had problems with my digestive and hormonal systems, and from ages 18 to 33 I endured intense physical health challenges, with my digestive, hormonal and nervous systems dis-functioning and shutting down. My body was so full pain, trauma, and loss, I could not digest or hold what I had experienced in childhood, nor be present in my environment. I did not know myself. I had poor boundaries and was almost entirely enmeshed in codependent and abusive relationships, including with my family of origin. I experienced my parents’ relationships as domestic violence and grew up with a lot of mental illness and intergenerational trauma impacting me and my family, though people denied it.

nightskyBecause of an interest in justice and meditation, I was pushed into law school, though the Western legal system is not my idea of justice at all. Determined to be of service, I spent years doing pro bono and low-paid work around the world with a focus on child advocacy, community building, and conflict resolution. In India I drafted a law to criminalise child sexual abuse that passed in 2012; in South Africa I led a small non-profit focused on community building and did conflict resolution with a rural Zulu communities; in Australia I worked with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, which ultimately led to a Royal Commission and systemic reform; and in Peru I worked with an inner-city restorative justice program. During this period of my life though I had already been through a lot of healing, I was still in spiritual crisis and had multiple near death experiences. Something in my life needed to dramatically shift as I was numb to dangerous situations.

sterntalerI met my life partner Lukas in Australia in 2011. Our journey to be together has been hard work, which has helped us both to realise our worth. We travelled South America to be together when my Australian visa ended, and I finally felt safe and distant enough from my family of origin for repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse to emerge. It was like a cork full of chaotic energy popped open and challenged my mind’s ‘knowns’. My life started to make more sense as dissociated and lost soul parts emerged in an intensely painful and dramatic awakening process. As I healed, every family of origin relationship and many others with close friends and trusted mentors faded away. The period of most profound grief and loss I weathered was when my father, nanny, and best friend all died within seven months, my husband moved across the country for work, and the professor I moved across the world to do my Ph.D. with behaved abusively and unethically, causing me to change the direction of my work from restorative justice and conflict resolution to Indigenous trauma healing and to founding Earth Ethos.

In my healing journey I have re-membered the medicine wheel, altar practices, totemic relationships, cultural lore, and ancestral healing practices. I have participated in plant medicine ceremonies in the Amazon; done a 10-day silent meditation retreat; danced three dry-fasting Native American knowledge-sharing healing ceremonies; apprenticed in sweat lodge-keeping; studied Indigenous grounding, movement, music, ritual and ceremony as medicine; and learned some wilderness, survival and first aid skills. I earned a Ph.D. in social work through doing three interrelated research projects on indigenous trauma healing focused on sexual trauma. 

For most of my life I have lived in denial about my value and worth, and it’s been a continual series of blessings to be freed of wounds and re-member who I am and why I am here. Through trauma healing and spiritual awakenings I have been on a journey of becoming free. I have learned to courageously speak my truth, embody sovereignty with dignity, and live interdependently with respect for all beings. My cosmology, identity, and placement continue to become clearer as I adopt and am adopted by the land, peoples, and ancestors of Australia. I find myself in flow navigating life through Indigenous Science. Though I am very far from ancestral lands, increasingly I feel, for the first time in this life, that I am centred and at home. I am grateful for all I have been through that has made me who I am and enables me to support others on their healing journeys.

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Healing Whiteness Trauma

Blog by Valerie

“The first step in liquidating a people…is to erase its memory…Before long a nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”—Milan Kundera

Whether you are considered “white” or not, I feel confident saying you have been impacted by whiteness trauma, and as this quote suggests, that your people/s likely experienced and perpetrated genocide somewhere in your family line/s. Genocide is an intentional act to destroy a people, and whiteness is an intellectual construction based on traumatic social rejection from & disconnection with Mother Earth, self & cultural heritage, and other people. It was used as a tool by the ruling class to divide the working class, and so is also called “the bribe of whiteness.” David Dean gives a clear and compelling history of the creation and rise of the “white” identity in this article, People who have learned to identify as “white” tend to deny their own complex cultural heritage. Some people even study “whiteness theory” and “white fragility” to try to make sense of the shame they carry and the way this history of European identities being whitewashed and replaced by modern, nationalistic ‘Western’ identities still play out today. For example, did you know that assimilationist policies in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s led to companies like Ford running mandatory English classes and job training programs that finished with ceremonies in which people clad in traditional cultural clothing walked through a huge ‘melting pot’ then emerged in company uniforms? (Image from here)

fordschoolmeltingpot

David Dean cites the success of such policies & programs on two factors:

  1. The violent displacement of communities from their traditional lands in order to use that land for profit and create a dependent, exploitable workforce, and
  2. The replacement of traditional cultural identities that valued the welfare of the community and the Earth with a culture of capitalistic, possessive individualism with a social hierarchy divided along racial, gender, religious, and other identities.

As Tyson Yunkaporta points out in his new book, ‘Western’ is not an identity, because by its nature it is in reference to someone or someplace else (presumably ‘Eastern’); it is not inherent. To be ‘American’ or ‘Australian’ is also quite amorphous. I have out of curiousity asked a number of people what it means to them to be ‘Australian,’ and I have gotten one of two answers: (a) I am part of a multi-cultural modern soup, or (b) It means nothing to me, and I am English/Irish/Wiradjuri/Yuin/etc. living on this land we collectively call ‘Australia’.

My view is that whiteness trauma is based on a European history of intergenerational trauma, shame & pain. It was spread by the Romans & other empires dividing and subjugating peoples on their traditional lands; by the violent spread of Christianity through power & force, including the systematic desecration of indigenous & pagan sacred sites; and by horrendously hateful acts such as witch trials, inquisitions, slavery, rapes & genocides. It seems to me that over the last few thousand years, violence, terror & control became normalized as a method of asserting dominant leadership throughout Europe. Multi-generational disconnection with an innately human intimate & reciprocal relationship with the Earth were replaced by a power struggle for whose anthropocentric story is ‘right’, in a might-makes-right model. This led to land ‘discovery’ (i.e. colonisation) and other myths such as when upper class, white-skinned, Christian, land-owning males founded a ‘free’ government for ‘the people’ in the U.S. Ultimately, whitewashing & glomming together of many European peoples and cultures into “Western” expanded to non-‘white’ people, so that today millions of people around the world identify with a colonial nation rather than a traditional culture living within an empire.

Here is a little poem I wrote about my own journey of healing ‘whiteness’ trauma:treechakras

Beneath the Roots

Ancestral trauma 
Has defined me
But I kept digging
Because I knew
My taproot was deeper
And drinking in peace
Somewhere down there

To heal from whiteness trauma, I have found many helpful approaches, including: honouring ancestors, grounding, re-defining tribe & belonging, bridging multiple identities, healing power dynamics, and healing existential wounds. The following quote is a humbling reminder of what our indigenous minds carry somewhere inside of us from an Australian Aboriginal culture more recently colonised:

“The first peoples of this land don’t need statues of our heroes, we have mountains that remind us of our people. We don’t need painted portraits, we have rivers that flow with the stories of our dreaming. Our songs are filled with culture, our language of the land. So we don’t need books. Our history, our connections, our hearts are true to this country.”–Baker, 2017, quoted in Koori Mail, Oct 23, 2019 p. 24

- Tree Annick Racines du Ciel

(Image from here, by artist Annick Bougerolle)

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The power of denial

Denial literally means “saying no” to something, but we tend to think of it in a negative way. We say things like, “He’s in denial” when someone’s not accepting a truth. Here’s a concerning example of Reagan talking about Native Americans:

We’ve done everything we can [stop residential schooling & child removals] to meet their demands…Maybe we should not have humored them in that wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle. Maybe we should have said no, come join us; be citizens along with the rest of us [they all became citizens by 1924]…Some of them became very wealthy because some of those reservations were overlaying great pools of oil, and you can get very rich pumping oil. And so, I don’t know what their complaint might be.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the current president had said this. What I struggle to see is why so many Americans are surprised about what Trump says when this shit has been going on for ages. It’s not new unless you’ve had your head in the sand! (Image from here.)

Illuminated Living: Burying Your Head In The Sand

But denial can be a positive and empowering act. We can deny a lie and re-claim what is real and true. It’s enlightening to see how often we perform during the day, and to choose consciously when to please people with the status quo (“I’m fine, and you?” and when to deny the expected social dance and be a truthful disrupter (“I’m sad today, my mom’s sick”). When we are flow-ers, our experiences feel embodied and full, and memories are centred in our hearts, without head-spins or image/sound loops, body aches or numbnessPsychedelic flower by HouseofNika on DeviantArt. When notice those, we need to accept the pain/dissonance of the experience and decide how to respond. And our responses can be so inspiring and powerful, like a Lakota woman called Blackowl describing her free birth at Standing Rock:

Having babies is my act of resistance; our reproductive rights as Native women have been taken away from us in so many ways. At one time, we were forcibly sterilized…[We] have become so disconnected from our bodies and our roles as a result of the mainstream colonial culture…[but my daughter] will know where she came from, that she came from very strong women who all stand behind her wherever she goes. I definitely felt those strong spirits near us when she was born.

We are all trying to survive and navigate dehumanising social systems today, and many of my ancestors were complicit in this de-humanisation. I am too sometimes. It seems to me that exceptionalism and greed are foundations of colonisation. So many of our ancestors were tricked or forced into leaving the safety and security of their homelands, and ended up at the mercy of leaders filled with abstract promises and entitlements. If we can decolonise these lies and griefs by seeing through them with compassion and expressing our feelings, how much more centred, peaceful, and grounded will we all be? (Image from here)

One way that I am denying exceptionalism and de-colonising is by creating a calendar that is a mix of Frisian (Germanic), Ashkenazi pagan (Slavic), and modern celebrations that are meaningful to me, my ancestors, and are seasonally appropriate for the land where I live now (no fake snow in the summer for Christmas, please!). Through developing this calendar I learned so much, felt moments of deep resonance in my body, and peace in my mind. For example, I realised that all my ancestors followed lunisolar calendars (I love moon ceremonies), and my Frisian ancestors considered sunset the start of day (I’ve been a lucid dreamer since childhood and find the subconscious space much more powerful for healing and insight than waking life).

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This act of denying the colonial Christian calendar is especially important to me, because the Gregorian calendar has never felt like my calendar, and the years and months and days I write to communicate with others have never made intrinsic sense to me. It’s no wonder, because they don’t come from my culture! (Check out this previous post with about calendars if you want to learn more.)

Wiradjuri language - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaDenying oppressive cultural stories frees not only you, but your ancestors, the lands, and indigenous people and their ancestors connected to the land where you live.  A few hours outside of Sydney, Australia in Wuradjuri country (green on the map):

When you look across the river you can still see the remains of the Aboriginal camps…all these highways that criss-cross the landscape, they are following Aboriginal trails. It’s not as if an explorer blazed through the wilderness. They just followed a track. Churches — both Catholic and Protestant — were built on Bora Rings which were sacred dance and initiation sites…Goonoo Homestead was a sacred area. It’s a bend in a river and that’s where the Wiradjuri all camped. A squatter came along and built his house there.

File:Baiame Wiradjuri.jpg - Wikimedia CommonsThough churches and houses were built on their sacred sites were intended as acts of dominance and genocide, they ensured that those sacred places survived as sites of worship. Today Wuradjuri people are going back to those places and re-membering their language and culture:

You have to be in that one spot to actually know the ways of thinking around the naming of that area…All the Aboriginal history has been eradicated, the scar trees have gone. But several waves of white or non-Indigenous history has also been eradicated and that’s what’s really interesting. But the land remains, the trees are coming back. A lot of scrub is coming back — prickly pear and god knows what else — but the beauty of the land remains. And it’s such a beautiful country.

Many people don’t realise that patron saints of cities or groups of people were often people who killed local shamans and sages, desecrated sacred sites, and forcibly converted people. This happened throughout Europe and the Middle East, and spread across the world. I once asked an African American pastor how he had reconciled his faith with the fact that Christianity was forced onto his ancestors during slavery. He hadn’t yet thought about it. It’s no wonder to me that we are filled with so many survival fears! The more we heal these denials, the more powerful our faith will become, and the more peace and truth we will embody. There’s nothing wrong with Christian; there is something wrong with ignorance, intolerance, and avoidance. May reading this inspire you to deny a lie and more fully live in truth tonight.

File:Pink sunset.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

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Altars, Shrines & Power Objects

Blog by Valerie

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I am delighted to hear from people having success working with ancestral altars and have been asked to write more generally about altar and shrine practices. I will also talk about power objects. Starting with etymology, “altar” is from a Latin word for “on high” (like altitude) and refers to honouring and worshipping great gods through sacrifice, usually by burning something and sending smoke up towards the heavens. “Shrine” is one of those mysterious words of unknown origin that refers to a sacred case or box (like the ark of the covenant) for keeping holy papers or other powerful spiritual objects. Shrines honour the spirit of a person, event, or ideology. The way we tend shrines is by leaving offerings. Altars are interactive, working spaces of worship where we ask for insight and guidance. We often create blended shrine-altars where we both leave offerings, as well as ask for insight and guidance. Most churches and temples are such blended spaces, where people leave incense, flowers, or candles with gratitude to figures like Jesus,

shrineofrememberance.jpgBuddha, and Krishna, and where people also sit in contemplation and pray for insight and guidance from those figures. I find it helpful to be intentional about these differences in my own life, but maybe blended spaces work for you. Ultimately, we build relationships with figures, ideas, events, places, and energies, and those relationships work best when we both give and receive, and do not always ask or give with the expectation of immediately getting back… (Images: Altar of St Michael’s Church in Munich, Shrine of Remembrance for the War Dead in Melbourne)

There are three types of altar practices that I use in my daily life: an ancestral altar, a personal altar, and a body altar. My introduction to a personal altar practice came from the mesa program. The personal altar for me, is medicine wheel-based, because that is my cosmology. It is a cloth on a flat surface next on my night table to represent the medicine wheel and provides a personal reflection for me. My husband who gravitates more towards Buddhism has an altar built on a footstool that is in three vertical layers. Yours might be Christian or Daoist; it depends on where your spirit feels most at home. Out of respect for my privacy and current altar work, I am posting a photo of my altar from 2 years ago to give you an idea of what it looks like and to explain some of the symbolism.

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Following a medicine wheel path, in the centre is the heart, where I have power objects of rocks and crystals representing core beliefs I was working with at the time, including rose quartz for unconditional love and acceptance, a fossil for honouring ancestors, a small glass globe for honouring Mother Earth and right placement, and two clear quartz crystals for clarity and courage. In the north (mental) realm which in my medicine wheel is white, there is a feather and a small angel figure to connect with my personal power animal (egret) and my highest thinking (angel). In the east (spiritual) realm which is yellow is a candle in a glass with UT Austin written on it as I was pouring my spirit into my PhD program at the time. In the south (emotional) realm which is red is a shell that was in my parents’ house growing up where I burned offerings to clear those emotional bonds. And in the west (physical) realm which is black is a young girl to represent my inner child being held by a crystal to represent Grandmother Moon and a salt lamp to represent Grandfather Sun.

All of the items on the altar are power objects, meaning they are imbued with energy and meaning, and I put them on and take them off the altar with care and ceremony. Power objects can be anything that we feel drawn to or has meaning for us, from a candle to a cross to a rock we pick up off the ground. Sometimes the meaning is clear to me when I place an object on the altar, and sometimes the meaning becomes clear over time and begins mysteriously. At times I am moved to break open power objects to free trapped energy (which I find creates ease for my body and relationships that do not need to break instead), and at times I pass the objects on to other people, bury them, burn them…it depends what feels right and what insight comes to me in visions and dreams.

The body altar practice is how I start each day. It was inspired by a practice Cristina Pratt mentioned of using her body as the centrepiece of the medicine wheel, followed by most elements of the body prayer which I learned from kundalini yoga teacher Carolyn Cowan (see below).

These days Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon are outside of the borders of my personal altar, and Grandmother Moon carries slips of paper I regularly print with inspirational notes and quotes to set my daily intentions. So each morning from my bed I reach for some of Grandmother Moon’s wisdom, take it in, and place the slip of paper on my altar. (I regularly burn the slips of paper when it feels like the right time to ground this wisdom into my life.) Then I get up and do a body altar practice. I stand facing the east and ground my feet by imagining roots extending into Mother Earth. I reach my left arm out to the side and thank Grandfather Sun, and reach out my right arm to thank Grandmother Moon. I raise my arms up to thank Father Sky, and bend to touch the ground to thank Mother Earth, then place my hands on my heart to honour my interconnection with all beings. I then honour each of the four directions with breath, movement, voice, and intention, and then extend my arms out and twirl to honour my boundaries and human limits. I then do a movement to bring energy up from the Earth below and into my life for the day and thank the ancestors of the land where I am and of my lineages and past lands of connection. And I end with an embodied prayer of unconditional love and acceptance through the Body Prayer above (minus lying prostrate on the floor).

Each evening before bed I pray at my personal medicine wheel altar. Behind the altar on the wall are images of my totems, moiety (paternal line) and heart-language (Frisian), so that that I honour them daily. Many days I am moved to leave offerings at my ancestral altar which is more of a shrine for me and a working altar for my husband at the moment. Some days I leave offerings at a tree altar in our garden (such as bits of food with thanks for Mother Earth’s bounty and with awareness that non-human beings in our garden also need to eat!). Some days I bring offerings to a tree grove in a nearby park whom I have asked to support an upcoming ritual. Offerings are a complex subject for a future post, so I hope this has given you plenty of food for thought at the moment!

Exercise: What altars and shrines are in your life? What do you intentionally want to cultivate? To let go of? What meanings do some power objects in your home have? Which ones might be useful to let go of, destroy, bury, flush, or pass on to someone?

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Multiculturalism & Cultural Appropriation

Blog by Valerie

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! 

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