Tag Archives: spiritual

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.

Spiritual Traps

Adapting another chapter from the Indigenous Science book I’m writing into a blog.

Blog by Valerie Cloud Clearer

This week we’re going to consider eight common spiritual traps we can fall into that take us away from Indigenous Science, along with suggestions for freeing ourselves.

(1) Spiritual vacations occur when we do something (like take a psychedelic) or go somewhere (like a meditation retreat) that alters our consciousness, then find ourselves unable to integrate what we learned into daily life. Putting ourselves in a group environment allows some of us to access states of being we otherwise can’t, just like some of us find that certain substances help enter altered states of being. Eric D. Schabell: 3 Ways to Empower Employee Vacation ...

Cultivating the self-discipline of a daily practice is a way out of this trap. Another is honest check-ins about our intentions; like: ‘Am I reaching for this plant because I feel called to do sacred ceremony, or because I want to feel a certain way today?’ (Image from here)

(2) Sometimes we get addicted to intensity. This could look like anything from doing thirty ayahuasca ceremonies to being in relationships with lots of drama. Indigenous Science is about balance, and we need to be able to deeply appreciate a range of experiences (emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually).Sound Intensity and Level | Boundless Physics

The main way to break free is to detox by taking a break from the intensity, resetting boundaries, and allowing ourselves to feel numb, grumpy and bored while we reset. With patience and persistence, we regain the ability to enjoy more subtle states of being. For example, if you’re used to hearing city traffic, it’ll take a while of being in the quiet of the country to be able to hear the wings of a butterfly when it flits by. (Image from here)

(3) Spiritual bypass is a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” Someone may believe that they must remain in an abusive relationship because of karma; or someone might be getting feedback they’re behaving bossy and controlling and excuse it as being a leader with high standards.Route 250 Bypass | Route 250 Bypass Interchange at ...

The first step out is being open to realising that you have been denying or suppressing something. Sometimes it takes multiple experiences, or wise counsel from someone we trust. The next step is facing the denial and seeking support. (Image from here)

(4) Another trap is black and white thinking. In Indigenous science, “Both dark and light are necessary for life.” Unlike New Age ‘go to the light’ thinking, Indigenous scientists see darkness as the purest form of light because it contains all colours, whereas white reflects and rejects. When we find ourselves existentially rejecting or judging (e.g. ‘cancel culture’), being ‘objective’ (e.g. imposing our view onto others) and/or labelling (e.g. a ‘bad’ person), we are engaged in black and white thinking. Black & White Sunflower Photos | Literary Spring Designs

To heal we must make space for grey areas, find the humility to carry a little doubt even when confident. Noticing our and others’ existential crises (i.e. being highly triggered), we can then unpack why we and/or others feel so unsafe and shift beliefs. (Image from here)

(5) Guru worship involves giving our power away to a being who ‘knows better’ on an existential level. When we place someone on a pedestal, we devalue ourselves. That which we honour with our time is what we worship, which may be non-humans such as marijuana, mushrooms, alcohol, etc. Guru worship is the basis of most cults. Beautiful Warm Cloudscape With Man Silhouetted Standing ...

The main way to escape (as a giver or receiver) is to become aware of feeling devalued or pedestalled. And if you are using a substance with the intention of doing ceremony, I suggest stopping regularly to see if you experience any addictive urges, reflect on your relationship with the substance and work to purify it. For example, I know someone who stopped doing Native American tobacco pipe ceremonies the moment he realised he had picked it up to smoke without the intention of praying. (Image from here)

(6) Spiritual ambition is tricky, because ambition is often rewarded in other areas of life. The saying that when the student is ready the teacher appears is wise. With each spiritual teaching comes responsibility. For example, if you do a pipe ceremony, you enter into a sacred relationship with tobacco. If you then smoke a cigarette at a party, it not only won’t be fun but you may even become unwell for desecrating the plant. Collaboration is... taking up as my own common challenges ...

I suggest reflecting where your desires for new learnings are coming from, and taking a small step to see what feedback you get through Indigenous Science data. For example, if you wish to carry your own medicine drum, you might start by placing a power object representing this desire on your ancestral altar and pray for guidance and support on that path. Then see whether a step towards a drum emerges for you. (Image from here)

(7) Spiritual businesses are another tricky aspect of modern life. What is spiritually wise (e.g. telling a student they are not ready for a ceremony) may be very unwise in the business world. And sacred reciprocity isn’t based on a transactional economy. What It Takes to Keep a Small Business Open and Thriving ...

I suggest not making a spiritual business your sole survival strategy financially so it’s easier to maintain integrity. It also helps to be willing to fail while doing what’s right. (Image from here)

(8) Cultural appropriation is using “objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that doesn’t respect their original meaning, give credit to their source, or reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression practices.” There’s some nuance here, but it’s important to consider when knowledge-sharing with other cultures. Have you had your identity stolen? Great cartoon from Last ...

It’s important to be honest with yourself about your intentions when learning and using other cultural knowledge, how you may be benefitting (socially, financially, politically etc.), how you are honouring the source of the knowledge, and whether you are the right person to be further sharing another cultures’ knowledge. It is valuable to be an ally, but keep in mind that allies do not lead unless they are asked. (Image from here)

Exercise: Reflect on the eight spiritual traps discussed this week. Which ones have you experienced? Which ones have you witnessed others go through? What helped you and those you know escape and avoid these traps?

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Jews’ Indigenous Roots

Blog by Valerie

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, 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, and is changing my sense of identity. 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. The Bible indicates that Jews settled in Palestine, not that Jewish people are Indigenous to there. Abraham (the original father/cult leader of Jews) was from Ur, a city in Sumeria. Within myself I have found a stronger felt connection to Sumerian lands currently in Southern Iraq, though I may not be able to visit there this lifetime for political reasons. This journey into my roots led me over time to change my sense of cultural identity from Jewish to Sumerian, which feels more grounded and whole, since I do not practice the Jewish religion nor, having visited, do I feel that Palestine is my land.

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).

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Accepting Rejection

Blog by Valerie

Through my first formalised human spiritual teacher Tom Lake, I learnt how to describe a core teaching that defines my path: unconditional love and acceptance. However, English is a challenging language filled with binaries. When I explain my worldview as animist, I am instantly confronted with the binary shadow of inanimate, which is a concept at existential odds with animism and not something I want to retain. Similarly, when reflecting on acceptance, rejection seems to be at odds. How do we conceptually accept rejection when it emerges in our lives, and what do we do with it? We seem to like to talk about boundaries in Western culture lately, which I’ve previously written about. But rejection isn’t always a boundary issue in my experience. Rejection could be a call for healing a part of ourselves we have denied and the need to open ourselves up to change, or it could be used to reject what we are currently accepting and stand for something different. It is this latter definition I will reflect on today. th (474×307)

Experiencing rejection, or the need to reject something or someone, tends to feel unpleasant. Much has been written about gentler speech, saving face, and ‘not taking it personally’, whatever that really means, because all experiences are both personal and universal in my world, and that keeps my sense of self engaged without feeling deflated and inflated in an existential crisis state. Rejection, like feeling or experience, can be approached with curiosity and playfulness. Giving rejection might seem the easier than receiving or witnessing it because it comes with more agency and control, but it isn’t pleasant to know our words or actions are likely to bring up pain in another person, so many of us choose to avoid confrontation. We might reject someone by ‘ghosting’ them and not calling or writing back; or we might say we want to move on and ‘break up’ or otherwise express our need to change the boundaries and dynamics of a relationship.

Seed Ways Internally, when we have rejected a part of our ‘self’, we might need to sit with painful feelings such as anger and mistrust and rebuild a relationship, for example, with an aspect of our inner child who was judged as ‘lazy’ and felt ashamed about it. When we become our own parents, we can teach that part of our self that resting and going slowly is something we value and are sorry they were judged and shamed for it. As we can start enjoying resting and being lazy, we accept and move through feelings of shame and thoughts of judgment and whatever else we took onboard as a child, allowing healing to occur for a wounded part of our self. While accepting our ‘self’ and all these feelings, we are rejecting the previous teaching (lazy = shameful, unworthy, etc.). In this way, we can find ourselves on a path of rejecting what we’ve thought of us as our core self – including culture, identity/self, family/blood, sexuality, etc. (Image from here.)

For me, accepting my self has involved ongoing rejection of foundational teachings and experiences from my childhood and allowing my sense of self to heal and be redefined. The path I was set up on was a literal dead end, tragic and painful. There was no way for me to survive but to accept that for what it was and go on a journey of allowing that old world to self-destruct, land on a solid yet rocky foundation of rubble, and start rebuilding in a better way. I have found that the accept myself/reject past teachings process has become less dramatic and intense over time, at least through my experience, but not necessarily through outsiders’ witnessing of my journey. th (474×147)

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