Tag Archives: medicine wheel

Jews’ Indigenous Roots

Lately I have been working to ground some of my Jewish wounds through relating biblical stories to Indigenous cultural stories of that part of the world; my own intuition, lived experience and knowledge of archetypes and patterns in Indigenous science; and some western research such as archaeological findings. This post is to share some knowledge that I hope you will find interesting and of service as Judeo-Christian culture has had, and continues to have, a huge impact across the planet.

  • Ancient Jews honoured a male god and female goddess (and an ancient serpent creator)
    • Evidence in written texts at the time and archaeological evidence indicating that for two-thirds of the time the temple in Jerusalem existed (before it was destroyed and re-formed into what is now known as the Wailing Wall), it contained an altar for a male god (Yahweh) and a female goddess (often called Asherah), and that the goddess altar was removed and re-instated repeatedly until ‘the cult of Yahweh’ won out. Then the temple was destroyed. (See e.g. The Hebrew Goddess). There is similar evidence that for about a third of the time the temple existed there was an altar for a serpent creator being. Consider this about Asherah:
      • “Between the 10th century BC and the beginning of their exile in 586 BC, polytheism was normal throughout Israel; it was only after the exile that worship of Yahweh alone became established, and possibly only as late as the time of the Maccabees (2nd century BC) that monotheism became universal among the Jews.”
  • Ancient Jews used a medicine wheel (which Christianity integrated)
    • Biblical references of an ancient medicine wheel are described in Ezekiel and further symbolised in Christianity by the four evangelists Matthew, John, Luke and Mark. Here’s a quote from one of the Wikipedia articles linked above:
      • “The animals associated with the Christian tetramorph originate in the Babylonian symbols of the four fixed signs of the zodiac: the ox representing Taurus; the lion representing Leo; the eagle representing Scorpio; the man or angel representing Aquarius. In Western astrology the four symbols are associated with the elements of, respectively Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. The creatures of the Christian tetramorph were also common in Egyptian, Greek, and Assyrian mythology. The early Christians adopted this symbolism and adapted it for the four Evangelists as the tetramorph…” (Image from Wikipedia is a 13th century Cluniac ivory carving of Christ in Majesty surrounded by the creatures of the tetramorph).
  • Ancient Jews saw human nature as a struggle
    • You know the story: because Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good & evil, they were kicked out of paradise. But did you know that there was a cherub with a flaming sword placed in the East (the direction symbolised by man and water) to block human access to the Tree of Life still at the centre of sacred garden? So we’re our own worst enemy…
    • I invite you to compare some images: Tree of Life by Gustave Klimt (where are the roots?), an image of the Tree of Life (called Yggadrasil in Norse mythology) by Friedrich Heine, and an Assyrian carving of the Tree of Life (roots?)

Note: the fruit representing human’s ‘sin’ isn’t specified literally as an apple in the Bible, but became an apple by integrating a Greek myth about Hesperides. I suppose any sweet fruit could be symbolic of the human struggle to endure pleasure and pain, but a red apple seems like a juicy sexual symbol since we all have red blood and we women have a small round clitoral pleasure spots that could be likened to ripe apples…

Reflecting on all of this, I am reminded of an essential feature of the primordial goddess archetype across Indigenous cultures: her nature embodies positive and negative attributes. Sometimes Mother Nature rages and spews volcanic ash over the lands where we live – and then out of that ash grow healthy plants that we can eat after some rain, sun, and time. The cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth is illustrated beautifully in this collection of cultural myths about the wild side of our feminine nature.  I see it as our job as humans to hold these aspects of our nature with both compassion and awareness. Where I live, for example, there are deadly crocodiles and snakes and other creatures. In order to survive, I need to accept that this land is not necessarily safe. I need to be able to live with danger. And to thrive, I need faith that safety still exists whether I am experiencing it in a given moment or not – that if I see a crocodile and adrenaline pumps through my heart and sends me running, I can come back to a feeling of safety again – and trust that there is something meaningful about such a terrifying experience. It’s not gone forever. (It’s like the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics.) Struggling to hold such paradoxes is to me, essential to being human.

Grounding these Jewish myths in context, while also remembering that a lot has been lost in translation – for example, the Hebrew word ‘shalom‘ which means peace, wholeness, harmony, well-being and hello/goodbye (a beautiful greeting & farewell!) is simply translated into English as ‘peace’ which doesn’t do it justice – is helping me hold my Jewish ancestors and our traumatic history more fully, and helping me access deeper compassion for Judeo-Christian/Western thinking and ways of being generally. Indigenous cultural roots are embedded in everything in the Bible – even the word ‘Eden‘ is from a Sumerian word meaning ‘plain or steppe’, which then became an Aramaic word meaning ‘fruitful, well-watered.’ Water is particularly precious when you live in a desert, and once we Jews were no longer living of our traditional country, we seem to understandably have lost connection with the goddess/sacred feminine aspect of being. In exile, we still have the stars in the sky above (the masculine aspect), so it makes sense we’ve leaned on that to survive and tried to retain some knowledge about how to live well with other earthly creatures in the Bible.

As a final note, I link Wikipedia often because it is open access, and I give thanks for such knowledge that is freely shared (the modern way), as well as secret spiritual knowledge shared in a specific way at a specific time with specific people often through a gruelling ordeal of initiation (the traditional way). Shalom!

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.)

canadianpolitics.jpg

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?

Peace Circles

earthethospeacecircle“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.)taminchiartThe 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.

ent.jpgHealing 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.

Relationships & identity

Relationships form our sense of identity; when we are part of relationships that feel fulfilling and wholesome, we feel magnified collaborating with people around us. Life feels like it’s growing constructively, for even when something is ending, it feels like a natural process of decay before a rebirthing. When we feel connected with the plants we eat, air we breathe, and animals that are our companions, we feel grateful for the gifts the Earth gives so we can be here as humans on Earth, and we are moved to express our gifts too, and willing to sacrifice some pleasures and experience some pains for the betterment of the whole. When we know who we are, that we are timeless, small eternal sparks of much bigger-than-us cosmic energies, then we feel connected with our heart centres. When our hearts are open and we are loving and allowing ourselves to be loved, we know that though each being is an individual expression of something unique and beautiful, there is something relating us all to each other and keeping us inter-dependent while we are here. When we are traumatised or wounded, we lose touch with that sense of being whole. Sometimes, for people like me, it happens when we are so young, and the people around us are so deep in that wounded state, that we grow up quite confused about our identity. We think we are daughters, sisters, friends, lovers, teachers, or some other role that we play. Rather than experiencing a clear mind at ease, we are lost in a torrent of psychic burdens that we move through, only to discover again and again a new way we have been confused and our mind has tricked us, losing connection and feeling isolated and broken again. It is becoming increasingly common to label personalities as narcissist or codependent. In an Earth Ethos perspective, it might be visualised through the Medicine Wheel like this:

medicinewheeldrawings1

Parts of ourselves that are over-developed tend to be arrogant, bullying, on insecure ground, larger-than-life, and take on more than our fair share, more than we can hold with integrity; these parts we tend to be term narcissistic. Parts of ourselves that are oppressed or suppressed, bullied, victimised, and survive by seeking approval or taking care of others at our own expense tend to be termed co-dependent. We have both parts in our lives if we are out of balance, and if we identify as the co-dependent/victim and see a number of people playing the role of the narcissist/bully, that is a sign we have dissociated from our own narcissistic behaviour. This does not mean we are necessarily bullying other people without realising it; it may be that we are bullying ourselves, carrying negative self-beliefs, and allowing other people to disrespect us. The relationships in a Medicine Wheel framework might look like these Venn-like diagrams:medicinewheeldrawings2

The middle diagram is human, not ideal, because part of being here is acknowledging that we all have rough edges and boundaries in the way we can connect. I call it “trauma-bonding” when we are in relationships based at least to some extent on our wounds. This means there are dynamics of the relationship that are volatile, painful, and scary, with behaviours feeling explosive or implosive. It is helpful to remember that trauma is “acted in” and “acted out,” meaning when we feel attacked, we can implode, turning inward and developing a negative self-image and/or negative connection with a Higher Power, and/or we can explode, reinforcing a sense of being offensive and unworthy by creating that reflection through our behaviour’s impact on others. Many of us are familiar with this idea through the cycle of violence. (Image from: https://study.com/academy/lesson/cycle-of-violence-theory-diagram.html)

cycle of violence

Another way to visualise this is the victim-offender cycle, another infinite loop of pain. (Color image is a painting I did.)

Enemy'Aggressorcycleofviolence

At their core, these cycles show the same thing: that we do not know who we are, we do not feel whole, we are acting out of and identifying with wounds. When we hurt another being, we hurt ourselves; violence begetting violence is ancient wisdom. Our minds are so good at tricking us, at getting us to forget that all is connected and engaging in us versus them thinking that we have an entire criminal “justice” system based upon it! It is a testament to our ability to experience independence that we have gone so far in this direction. It is a testament to our ability to experience inter-dependence to become increasingly honest about the destructiveness of trauma-bonds and wounded relationships, whether with ourselves, with others, or with our understanding of an exclusive, rather than inclusive, God-head.

I’ve been through a lot of trauma and pain in my life, and harder than healing 15 years of incestuous sexual abuse has been healing the trauma-bond I had with my birth mother. It is a deep grief to realise that one trauma-bonded with one’s mother, and that she did the same with her mother and on up the ancestral chain, and that violence is the foundation of her identity and the basis of at least one foundational relationship, with the sacred feminine, Mother Earth. It can be hard, too, when we experience narcissistic abuse to realise that we are worthy of respect, and the person we experience that with may or may not have a trauma-bond as the foundation of all of their relationships. Sometimes reflections and experiences are so painful, we need a space to come to terms with the “shit” and to turn it into fertiliser. If we do not look for what we are missing, are unwilling to receive hard feedback and examine our own rough edges, we tend to identify as victims, because that is a more socially acceptable role.

Our narcissistic parts tend to attract wake-up calls in the form of humbling experiences, disappointed expectations, and seemingly childish, selfish behaviours and “why-me” picked-on feelings. Our co-dependent parts tend to attract wake-up calls in the form of abuse, disrespect, not feeling good enough, and being oppressed, suppressed, in our heads and disconnected from our bodies. It is a mark of spiritual maturity to hold compassion for all of these parts of ourselves and others we are intimate with, while ongoingly maintaining healthy relational boundaries, even when it triggers others to go around the cycle of violence. It is hard to watch people we care about suffer the pain of the cycle of violence, but we are of no help if we remain there with them reinforcing the confusion in us both. It takes courage, trust and faith to let go and allow ourselves and others to be on a journey of remembering that who we are is undyingly eternal and innately whole.

Being & Doing

When walking the medicine wheel in everyday life, we choose where to place our focus. The lower world, the invisible, felt world of Mother Earth is a metaphor for our state of being. Out of our state of being arises action in the physical, visible world of Father Sky. By focusing on our deepest values, we feel more solid, like a tree with a strong foundation in the Earth. By focusing on specific actions and situations, we feel more like an individual leaf that may be tossed about by a breeze. treebg

Using the Medicine Wheel as a metaphor for our life path shows us how this works. The concept of the Red Road and Black Road is distilled from numerous traditional tribal teachings of indigenous cultures of North America. The illustration below suggests how to walk the Red Road. Imagining a line drawn across the Medicine Wheel below shows that on the Red Road the majority of our focus is on the lower world of Mother Earth, on letting go. This means we are focusing on embodying our deepest values, such as compassion, empathy, grace, and kindness. It means we are regularly purifying ourselves individually and in community so that we deepen our ability to remain present. It also means that we trust that all of us on this planet are of innate value, that the Earth wants us here because we are being supported to live right now, and that we have gifts to share. Sometimes it takes leaps of faith to be willing to trust that we are valuable. We may get caught up in proving our worth through our intellect or actions. Most of us carry stories from the Old Testament of a God that asked us to do good actions to prove that we are worthy of living another year. When we are behaving this way, we are walking on the Black Road. We are focusing on actions and outcome, often justifying means that conflict with our most cherished values to reach certain ends, because we feel scared, overwhelmed, or confused.

hopiroadoflife

Many indigenous languages focus on action verbs and vowel sounds to embody this Red Road path. In this kind of thinking, there are fewer labels and fixed ways of being. I am not a noun called “Valerie” or “Cloud Clearer,” I am “Valerie-ing” and “Cloud Clearing” in every moment as I flow through the world. The avoidance of labels like “right” or “wrong” gives us space to exist no matter how we behave, or where we place our focus. Yet, if we choose to be on the Black Road, there are consequences. For example, if we don’t tell the truth, we are in a state of being untrustworthy and create shame. In modern Western culture, we often feel an expectation to have an opinion or respond to a question with an answer. We even talk over each other in spirited debates. On the other hand, to show respect for each person’s place, many indigenous cultures traditionally practiced deep listening in silence, only responding after more silence once the person finished speaking, to show that their words were considered first.

To walk the Red Road has much in common with A Course in Miracles. What we can dream up on our own pales in comparison to the miracles that can occur when we truly let go of resistance and allow our lives to flow. Sometimes we are so full of emotion, stories, and unprocessed past experiences, that what we need most is to create space. Crees teach seven ways of releasing negative emotion: crying, yelling, talking, sweating, singing, dancing, and praying (Ross, 1996). We also need practices to help us return to and retain states of being that we prefer. In my life, meditation is an invaluable daily practice in this regard. In meditation, I listen to my inner voices, practice compassion, honesty, and letting go, and create space so that miracles may occur.

bryant-mcgill-heart-broken-expanding-love-9q1m

Exercise: Our hearts are for-giving and for-getting. What are you giving and getting in this moment? If it is painful, remember that you already survived it, and feeling it fully, expressing and releasing the emotion, is a courageous and freeing choice to let it go. May you enjoy the flow.

The Medicine Wheel

Indigenous cultures around the world are based on a philosophy of innate wholeness of all beings. The medicine wheel is the “essential metaphor for all that is” (Rael, 1998, p. 35). Walking the circle of the medicine wheel is a life path, and the medicine wheel in any physical form is a tool for learning, growth, and remaining in balance. A visual representation of the medicine wheel tends to be a circle divided into fourths (though some cultures such as in China and India divide the circle into five). There are many metaphors for the four parts of the circle, including: the four directions (north, east, south and west); the four seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall); the four times of day (morning, afternoon, evening and night); the four stages of life (infant, child, adult and elder); the four elements (earth, air, water and fire); and four aspects of being human (physical, spiritual, emotional and mental) (See e.g. Bell, 2014; Charbonneau-Dahlen, 2015; Dapice, 2006; Rael, 2015). The medicine wheel below in 2D is from the Hopi tribe of southwestern North America as an example of one culture’s symbolism for the wheel.

hopimedwheel

To see the medicine wheel in 3D, imagine a central point below the ground, a point in the centre of the circle representing the heart that unites us all, and a central point above the ground. The portion of the medicine wheel above the ground represents Father Sky (aka Pachapapa), the visible parts of life, and the lower half of the medicine wheel represents Mother Earth (Pachamama), the invisible parts of life below the ground. Mother Earth is experienced through feeling and intuition; she is mysterious, a dark womb of life. One of Joseph Rael‘s teachings is that darkness is the purest form of light, because all colours come out of it. Mother Earth nourishes all of us who walk on her surface.

vitruvianWhat is outside the medicine wheel is without form, what we refer to as the unknown or the shadow, whereas inside the medicine are known aspects of a culture or individual’s world (Rael, 1998). Energy is constantly cycling in and out of the medicine wheel. In the Hopi medicine wheel some energy may enter in the North, the mental realm, and give us an idea: I forgot to brush my teeth. Then the energy moves into the East, the spiritual, where we give meaning to the idea: I might get a cavity. Then it moves to the South, the emotional, generating feelings based upon our meaning: Fear of cavity! Our feelings then move us into taking action in the West: going to the bathroom and putting toothpaste on our brush. By expressing the energy, we move to the centre of the circle, the Heart, where we reconcile the energy and experience it in 3D as human lightning rods (or channels or hollow bones) connecting the Earth and Sky. To imagine the medicine wheel in 3D, consider da Vinci’s drawing of the Vitruvian man, which is based on an indigenous Greek drawing.

All directions need to be in balance for us to live in well and be centred in our hearts. So the medicine wheel shows that each of us humans is a symbolic embodiment of our spherical planet Earth. A talking circle, in which a group sits in a circle with open space between them (and may pass a talking piece around) is based on this sort of Earth Ethos cosmology. The talking circle represents a communal medicine wheel where every being is interconnected within an inclusive web.

medicinewheelexerciseExercise: Consider where you may be in and/or out of balance by filling out this empty medicine wheel chart. Write down what is going on in your mind, what you are experiencing in your spiritual world (aka what is giving your life meaning and purpose), what emotions you are experiencing, what’s going on physically in your body and environment, and what keeps you centred/keeps your heart open. Notice if something is out of balance, and consider what area(s) of the medicine wheel might need some attention. This is a tool I developed that can be used periodically to check-in with yourself, or be given to friends or clients to do so to help notice progress and change.