Tag Archives: ceremony

Initiation

Blog by Valerie – hope you enjoy another book chapter!

Initiations are rites of passage ceremonies marking existential life transitions. An important one across Indigenous and Western cultures is the transition from spiritual child into spiritual adult. Abagusii scientist Mircea Eliade describes it thus:

To gain the right to be admitted among adults the adolescent has to pass a series of initiatory ordeals; it is by virtue of these rites, and by the revelations that they entail, that he will be recognised as a responsible member of the society. Initiation introduces the candidate into the human community and into the world of spiritual and cultural values. He learns not only the behaviour patterns, the techniques and the institutions of adults but also the sacred myths and traditions of the tribe, the names of the gods and the history of their works; above all he learns the mystical relations between the tribe and the Supernatural Beings as those relations were established at the beginning of Time[1].

transitionInitiations intentionally lead us through Earth’s cycle from life into death then rebirth with a new identity through a purposefully traumatic process. (Image from here) As one Western psychologist explains:

The initiate, by virtue of encountering ritual trauma, was prepared to meet real-life trauma on terms that were integrative to the tribe’s social system and spiritual beliefs. Rather than encounter trauma as senseless and random, as many tend to do today, the initiate could meet trauma as an opportunity for meaningful participation with the greater spiritual powers[2].

SunwheelbyRyanSpellmanenhancedInitiations may be seen as having three distinct phases: separation (from daily reality), ordeal (trauma), and return (rebirth and resolution)[3]. The separation phase tends to include seclusion from family and time in the wilderness to take us out of everyday familiarity into unknown energies and into encounters with the elements, spirits, and our non-human kin. (Image from here)

In many Indigenous cultural traditions, men are put through painful initiation ordeals and women’s initiation is considered to be biologically built into the sacred ordeals of pregnancy and childbirth[4]. In some cultures, though, women are put through ordeals as well[5]. Spiritual initiations are painful because we tend to value what we earn through hard work, and we learn best through lived experiences.

Interestingly, a South Saami creation story[6] teaches that this entire world is the result of our previously taking the Earth’s bounty for granted and needing strong reminders of the value of her resources. This is similar to what I was told by some Mayan people in 2012 when the Western media was reporting that the Mayan calendar said the world was going to end. ‘No’, they told me, ‘our calendar says that in 2012 we are collectively moving out of spiritual childhood as a human species and into adolescence, and into a different calendar. They said overall we will become consciously aware that Mother Earth requires reciprocity, that we cannot just take from her, that there are consequences for our use of the Earth’s resources.

an_amazon_boy_needs_to_pass_through_these_painful_rituals_to_prove_his_adulthood_20171127120918One example of an ordeal is the Sateré-Mawé tradition of adolescent boys enduring the pain of repeatedly putting their hand into a glove filled with bullet ants that inject toxins into them[7] (Image from here). They are called bullet ants because the intensity of the poison they inject is meant to hurt as much as being shot. The boys are expected to endure this willingly, silently and stoically, which teaches them be hunters who can handle the toughest aspects of their Amazonian jungle home; it also affirms values such as courage and strength. It also represents a loss of innocence by teaching that their environment can be dangerous, and even deadly, for after each session of placing a hand into the ant-ridden glove, boys are given medicine that makes them purge. Keeping the ant toxins in their body can have lifelong effects, such as loss of sanity. The myth is that the ants originate from the vagina of an underworld snake woman – an embodiment of the dark side of the sacred feminine and the Earth herself[8].

AboriginalStoneArrangements1Initiations thus teach cultural myths and values, and ordeals without sacred spiritual stories attached to them are merely meaningless violence, reinforcing nihilism and lacking re-integration and fulfilment of a new identity along with its social responsibilities. In the example above, boys who complete the initiation are allowed to hunt and marry, which complete their rebirth as adult men in the community. Many of us grew up in cultures with rites of passage that included separation and ordeal phases but lacked full return phases to reintegrate us into a healthy new identity. We may feel called to question our cosmology and find a way to re-birth ourselves with limited collective ceremony or recognition of our hard work. (Image from here)

Exercise: What partial or full initiations have you been through? Were they facilitated by other people, or simply lived experience? If it was a full initiation, how do you celebrate your new identity? If it was a partial initiation, work with your ancestors and reflect how you may complete it to feel whole and celebrate your new identity.

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[1] Kenya, S.W. (2002). Rites of Passage, Old and New: The Role of Indigenous Initiation. In Thought and Practice in African Philosophy: Selected Papers from the Sixth Annual Conference of the International Society for African Philosophy and Studies (ISAPS) (Vol. 5, p. 191). Konrad-Adenauer Foundation. citing Mircea, Eliade., (1965) Rites and Symbols of Initiation, translation by W.R. Trask, New York; Harper and Row, pp x.

[2] Morrison, R. A. (2012). Trauma and Transformative Passage. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies31(1), p. 40.

[3] Id. citing Eliade, M. (1995). Rites and symbols of initiation: The mysteries of birth and rebirth. Woodstock, CT: Spring. (Original work published 1958)

[4] See e.g. Gonzales, P. (2012). Red medicine: Traditional Indigenous rites of birthing and healing. University of Arizona Press.

[5] See e.g. Dellenborg, L. (2009). From pain to virtue, clitoridectomy and other ordeals in the creation of a female person. Sida Studies24, 93-101.

[6] See Nordic Story Time: A South Sami Saami Creation Story, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTDKeZB7rnM&list=WL&index=16&t=474s

[7] See e.g https://sites.google.com/fsmail.bradley.edu/buanthro/satere-mawe-ceremony

[8] Kapfhammer, W. (2012). Tending the Emperor’s Garden: Modes of Human-Nature Relations in the Cosmology of the Sateré-Mawé Indians of the Lower Amazon. RCC Perspectives, (5), 75-82.

Thanks-Giving at Solstice

Blog by Valerie

A few months ago somewhere in the outback around Broken Hill, I experienced a spiritual lightning strike inside. Something in me died, an old dream (maybe it was always a lie), and its energy has been emerging from my body in incredibly itchy rashes across my chest, back, face, and shoulders, and grief-laden tears. Sometimes I know certain things aren’t working but am reluctant to call them out or make a change, sitting in doubt and denial and dumbly hoping they’ll work out without conflict. I started to feel, for the first time in my life, like I could fully exist somewhere, and a community started to gently invite me in. Though it was not practical to join them, I can still see some smiles and hope and hear someone asking me to invite her to my housewarming when I move out there next year. It is possible. I’m sure I don’t know. All I know is the sand is shifting under my feet again, and some people and aspects of life I’ve been counting on are disappearing. I’ve been through this many times, and I know my role is to stay centred, be patient, accept the gifts I’m given, let go of that which is not working, and freefall into the unknown with as much grace as I can.

quote.jpgThough much trauma is being acted out in the world right now that is sometimes referred to as ‘white privilege,’ no one is merely ‘white’, and I cringe when I am referred to as such. We all have cultural heritage with gifts to unpack and celebrate. My modern, multi-cultural self includes a body born of Shawnee land carrying earth ethos teachings from my East Frisian roots as well as teachings about existential destruction from my Ashkenazi Jewish lineage, as well as wisdom from Native American, Anglo-Celtic Australian, Anglo-Saxon American, Irish-American, Hispanic-American, African-American, Asian-American, Peruvian, Indian, South African, Buddhist, Christian, Hindi, Aboriginal, and many other beautiful cultures. I saw a quote a few months ago that really resonated and went something like this:

Life was better before colonisation and mass migration, but now it is more beautiful.

I think there is much truth in that, as well as the inset quote a friend sent me. We each have much to celebrate and reconcile within our individual cultural mix. So on December 24, I finished baking some Stollen, sang Godewind songs in German and Platt, told stories and looked at photos to honour my East Frisian paternal ancestors and country.

solstice.jpgTo honour my earth ethos, I celebrated a fiery summer solstice in ceremony with loved ones. (Literally, there were, and are, many fires burning this country.) Sitting around a fire pit in the four directions, we embodied some of my heart’s favourite forms of expression: music, meditation, poetry, and art. Part of our ceremony was a poetic prayer in words & drumming to the Thanksgiving Address gifted to us all by the Haudenosaunee, which brings our minds together as one in thanks for: The people, The Earth Mother, The Waters, The Fish and Other Water Creatures, the Plants, The Food Plants, The Medicine Herbs, The Animals and Insects, The Trees, The Birds and Other Air Creatures, The Winds, The Thunder Beings, Grandfather Sun, Grandmother Moon, The Stars, The Wise Teachers, The Creator, and All Others Who Have Not Been Named. (Image from here of the People thanking Grandmother Moon)

May you enjoy the blessings of the season from Father Sun and Mother Earth whether you have just been through Summer or Winter Solstice.

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