Tag Archives: story

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.

Stories, beliefs & their shadows

Blog by Valerie

“The story owns the storyteller.”–Traditional wisdom shared by the Nhunggabarra people (western NSW, Australia)

Like all biased humans, I am predisposed to see certain things whether they are strongly there or not. For example, I was raised with a deep belief that ‘people are good’ which came into conflict with evil/inhumane, abusive/betraying and neglectful/denial behaviours I experienced from adults around me. I turned ‘seeing the good’ into an art form of magnification of certain elements of someone’s character and minimisation of others so my life could fit that story, because the story was so foundational to my sense of self, safety, path in life, etc. A related one was ‘Family is always there for each other’, referring to family by blood or marriage, and it too proved very destructive for me.

In general, stories grounded in absolutes are dangerous. They can create self-hating fanatics like me who feel worthless and resentful and get abused and mistreated again and again because I was convinced that the ‘good’ was there if only I worked harder to see it and it was my family so I couldn’t leave anyway. What a trick to intertwine my existence with stories keeping me stuck in situations trying to teach me the shadow of the story and show me that it wasn’t true. And what a trick it would’ve been to convince myself of the opposite in reaction – that people are untrustworthy and you can’t have faith in anything good ever happening. Thankfully I didn’t oscillate into a cynicism trap, but many of us do. (Image from here.)

new-age

What I find to be New Age trickery is the idea that if a character trait isn’t present you can just ‘see it anyway’ and manifest it, and what I find to be Western scientific/atheistic trickery is the idea that if it isn’t there it never will be and you better accept that and take a pill to replace it or become dependent on some kind of therapy for the rest of your life. For example, I was told by Western doctors that I would need to be on thyroid hormone all my life (I was on a swine substitute for 3 years) and that I’d never be able to eat gluten again (I was off it 15 years until I woke up one day knowing my body had healed). But my mother, brother, aunt, cousin, grandmother, etc. have all been taking thyroid replacement hormone for many years. Of course we are each unique, but a belief that we need a pill can prevent something from healing that might shift our need for the medicine. It’s important to discern when we are and aren’t helpless, and in my opinion it’s rarely wise to believe in Western medicine, though using its tools may be a wise option. (Image from here.)

Maybe you know of Louise Hay’s famous book You Can Heal Your Life. Her diagnosis for stomach pain, which I used to have a lot of in my life, is: Holds nourishment. Digests ideas. Dread. Fear of the new. Inability to assimilate the new. I definitely got some value in approaching underlying beliefs that were creating psychological, spiritual and emotional blocks connected with my stomach; the metaphor of digesting ideas and feeling nourished resonated with me at a time I was deep in pain and seeking non-physical empowering approaches to healing. However, I also used her positive psychology ‘self-love’ approach to try to brainwash myself into believing I could manifest my own safety when I actually was in a lot of physical danger. I remember driving around repeating the phrases she suggested in her book for hours, how much work it was to keep up the story and its resulting facade of safety, and how the facade ultimately cracked and I really crashed. (Image below from wikipedia page on belief).

Belief - Wikipedia

When such stories have owned me, I’ve often suffered accordingly. But that isn’t to say that we should give up our beliefs. Beliefs can be incredibly enriching, create cultures and communities, and bring deep meaning into our lives. I think we need self-awareness of our beliefs to help us carry wise ones and to let go of those based in trauma and denial/lies. Today I listened to a story of a woman who felt deep shame about her grandfather’s actions during WWII which no one in her family would discuss. She went to Germany and read archives to learn he had been an S.S. officer and what he had done. She made a list of people he’d hurt and went into the Polish countryside to visit some of the places and people, and said:

A turning point in the work arrived when one of my grandfather’s victims, a ten-year-old child back then, looked me in the eye and told me that it wasn’t my fault, I hadn’t done anything. In that moment, the door of my room of shame opened a crack to let in a slim ray of light that showed me the way out…Survivors have sometimes told me about the enduring shame that comes from continuing to live when close family perished in the Nazi death machine. In turn, their descendants relate the impact of silence generated by the previous generation’s feeling of shame.

She said confronting the shame of her grandfather’s past and her families’ denial of wrongdoing has transformed her into carrying the past with honour and compassion as a responsibility instead of with shame and guilt as a burden. She also said it helped her heal an eating disorder. This woman’s experience aligns well with my own. What she didn’t say was that it probably also helped her eating disorder to heal by eating foods that felt better in her body or something else more physical and pragmatic as well.

Image may contain: water, outdoor and nature, text that says ""Ancestral healing means we inherit not only the blessings but also the unpaid debts of our ancestors. This means that most people of European lineages have a moral obligation to participate in cultural repair, work for racial justice, reparations, and being part of the change.' DR. DANIEL FOOR ANCESTRAL MEDICINE"

When we consider our beliefs and how they create biases, blind spots and shadows, we are wise to reflect on the entire medicine wheel, seek wise counsel in material, spirit and visionary forms, and be self-aware. These days I carry a belief that ‘life is always here for me’. This came to me some years ago and I choose to continue to believe it because of the trust, faith, safety, and security it gives me. I realise it biases me towards moving into traumas, pains, etc that I might try to avoid if I had a different belief, but I feel that such experiences are inevitable and that this belief is highly protective and predisposes me to resilience rather than feeling victimised or hard done by. I find it helps me avoid the ‘why me?’ question many of us ask when ‘something bad happens’.

I find the trick of being able to heal one’s life is resolved by allowing healing thorough brutal self-honesty and fierce embodiment of one’s truth so as to release conflicting relationships; then, from a space of self-acceptance when I perceive others to be sitting in denial, for example, compassion naturally emerges in me. Ultimately I don’t think that we’re not nearly as helpless nor as powerful as we are often led to believe…

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