Saturday, October 24, 2009

Time to Apologize to Witches

"So yes, it's time for an apology.
The viability of all nature's life support systems
are threatened today by what our civilization has become.
What better time for the religions of the book to signal a new
respect for the religions of nature?

With Halloween quickly approaching I just googled my favorite witch to see what she was up to. Starhawk is an American witch and the author of Dreaming the Dark, The Spiral Dance, and The Earth Path, books that inspired a generation of American women to cast off the patriarchy and return to the ancient Goddess to find spiritual fulfillment. She is now inspiring the next generation with her new children's book, The Last Wild Witch.

On Halloween night Starhawk will be part of an annual public celebration and spiral dance in San Francisco that honors the dead and celebrates renewal. She is also blogging for On Faith, a Newsweek and the Washington Post blog. That is where I found her post, Time to Apologize to Witches. I excerpt it here but go to the link to read the entire post.

And if apologies are being given out, Witches would like one. It's more than time that the Catholic and Protestant Churches both apologized for centuries of persecution of Witches, Pagans and those they deemed 'heretics' for believing something different than standard dogma. How about an apology for the Papal Bull of Pope Innocent the Eighth, in 1484, that made Witchcraft an heresy and unleashed the Inquisition against traditional healers, midwives, and any woman unpopular with her neighbors for being too uppity? It's high past time to apologize for the Malleus Maleficarum, a vicious document written by two Dominican priests in 1486 that created a whole mythology of Satan worship, attributed it mostly to women, and unleashed a wave of accusations, torture, and judicial murder that have haunted us ever since. An apology won't do much good, now, to those accused, tormented, and destroyed because someone coveted their property or needed a local scapegoat, nor to their children left motherless or fatherless centuries ago. But it might clear some air.

On Faith, Starhawk: Time to Apologize to Witches

Friday, October 2, 2009

Survival of the Nicest

Back to Darwin's theory... I'm not saying it shouldn't be examined or questioned. The Dalai Lama pointed out that it is not always the "survival of the fittest", or toughest but that often enough it is through cooperation and even altruism that a species will survive and thrive. Honey Bees for example survive though building cooperative communities.

Honey Bees

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Two New Books About God

The Case For God - The Book of Genesis

Two new books about God came out recently, The Case For God by religious scholar and writer Karen Armstrong and The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb by the expatriate cartoonist and creator of 1960s underground commix character Mr. Natural. Both deem to be provocative in their own ways.

NPRs Terr Gross interviewed Karen Armstrong for the program Fresh Air. Armstrong references her vast knowledge of history to explain how idolatry becomes the danger of monotheism. She provides a Renaissance background for today's schism between science and religion and the modern advent of atheism.

R. Crumb says his creation, Book of Genesis, is an attempt “to illuminate the text of Genesis by illustrating every single thing that’s in there.” Says Crumb, “It hasn’t been done before I think.” “There are hidden stories that are very strong” Said Crumb who was inspired by a life-long interest in ancient civilizations. Like Karen Armstrong, Crumb holds that, the Bible is not meant to be taken literally.

Illustration by R. Crumb

Saturday, September 26, 2009

All My Relations

Controversy over the new Darwin film Creation caused me to ponder why it might be that some Christians are so freaked out by Darwin’s theory of evolution. Is it just because they don’t like thinking that it took God 4.55 billion years to bring about the entire creation instead of a quick six days? Or, could wondering if this whole thing is still a work in progress be putting them on edge?

It seems to me that denial of our kinship with other species even if it is to set us apart and above the rest of them is a heartbreaking loss. In the Shamanic religions our kinship with other species is considered sacred. At the beginning of every Native Americans ceremony that I have had the honor to participate in respect is paid to “All my relations” acknowledging and honoring our kinship with all living beings.

I’m wondering today if being psychologically severed from kinship with other species doesn’t alienate people to the point where it is too painful for them to even think about it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Creation "Too Controversial"

The Darwins played by Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly

I’ve been writing about the history of religion in American mainly to set the context for my own spiritual quest. To that end I will soon resume my history of our spiritual heritage and the legacy of the native Pacific Northwest. But just now I’d like to leap ahead because it is absolutely astounding to me how singularly extreme some contemporary American Christians are when it comes to the theory of evolution.

The new British film Creation starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly opens in Britain on September 25th. The film opened the 34th Toronto International Film Festival but so far no distributors in the U.S.A. have picked up this 19th century costume drama about Charles Darwin and his family on the grounds that it is "too controversial".

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Ancient Northwest

Glaciers gouged out the river valleys of the Pacific Northwest and created the inland Salish Sea. The glaciers also created grasslands while the forests very slowly grew back. The earliest known inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest were grassland hunters of mammoth, bison, deer and elk. Post-glacial rising seas swallowed up evidence of any early inhabitants who may have lived along the shoreline before 5,000 years ago.

Ancient Pacific Northwest

Eventually Northwest tribes as we know them today developed marine based cultures along the shorelines. The inland sea was their highway and their food source. The wealth of their environment gave them the resources to develop stable centralized communities with complex art forms and sophisticated cosmologies.

Hamshamstsas Mask ~ Wood, cedar bark, baleen, red cloth, 1901

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hopewell Shamanism

American Indian Life Early Woodland Period - Susan A. Walton
Ohio Historical Society

Artifacts left by the Hopewell Mound builders depicting the transformation of humans into animals and the reverse indicate a form of shamanic religion where the wearer or holder of the object becomes imbued with the qualities of the animal depicted. Animal images of birds, wolves, bears and deer were common. Carved tubular pipes indicate offerings of smoke to the spirits and probable use of hallucinogenic substances used to alter consciousness.

Hopewell Pipe Bird Effigy - Carved Catlinite

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Did They Believe?

Field Museum of Natural History - Hopewell Hand, Mica

Ancestors of the Algonquins, Iroquois and Cherokees the Hopewell Moundbuilders and their predecessors the Adena occupied the river valleys of central North America from 200 BC to 1000 AD. Their impressive burial mounds and lavish grave goods show us not only that they traded extensively but that they had an elite ruling class and sophisticated culture. Delicate musical instruments, effigy pipes, copper and silver jewelery, pearl covered blankets and ornate headdresses are just a few of the articles found buried among their elite.

With evidence of temples, possible sacrifice, and feasting we can only wonder what they actually believed. Like the Anazazi their structures show evidence of a keen and exact
knowledge of celestial events and seasonal markers. They were hunters and gatherers who developed cultivated crops and a highly stratified society. Whatever their actual beliefs, it is clear that they had a powerful ruling class, highly developed understanding of math and astronomy, exquisite craftsmanship and a rich ceremonial life.

Hopewell Jewelry - Natural Pearls, Shell, Copper alloy, Obsidian

Southern Ohio, 200 B.C. - A.D. 500

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hopewell Culture and the Serpent Mound

Before we move forward in time this history would be negligent if it did not acknowledge the Hopewell culture that thrived in the woodlands around Ohio. Here is another impressive social and ceremonial phenomenon. It thrived between 200 BC and 500 CE. The Hopewell culture united a network of trade with other groups from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. Known as “mound builders” the Hopewell culture is identified by construction of enclosures made of earthen walls, often built in geometric patterns and mounds. Perhaps the most impressive is the Serpent Mound.

The undulating serpent winds back and forth for more than eight hundred feet ending with a triple-coiled tail. The neck of the serpent is stretched out ending with a wide-open mouth surrounding a 120-foot-long hollow oval feature thought to be an egg. This oval-to-head area of the serpent is aligned to the summer solstice sunset. The Serpent Mound's coils are aligned to winter and summer solstices and spring and Autumnal equinoxes.

The Serpent Mound, Ohio

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tsagaglalal - She Who Watches

Ancient Petroglyph on the Columbia River – Edward Curtis - 1910

While the Pueblo tribes of the prehistoric Southwest experienced their sweeping epoch (see prior posts) they were not alone on the continent. This ancient petroglyph with watching eyes is located on a cliff overlooking the Columbia River. The same pattern is recognizable in round twined bags of the Wasco/Wishram on the Columbia Plateau.

The legend of Tsagaglalal, “She Who Watches” begins before Coyote came up the river and changed things. At that time a woman lived in a great house where the village of Nixluidix was later built. She was chief of the entire region. Then Coyote came up the river and warned her, “Soon the World will change”. Then he turned her into a rock. He said, “You shall stay here and watch over the people who live here.”

Beaded Bag - Yakima - 1930-35
Yakima Valley Museum, Yakima Washington

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Traveling to the Plateau

Beaded Moccasins - Yakima 1920
Yakima Valley Museum - Song of the Creator

This week I am distracted with plans for a family road trip to eastern Washington for my nephew's wedding. Heading to that desert country on the Columbia river reminds me of one of my favorite exhibits at the Museum of Art WSU where I worked while earning my MFA. The show was called A Song to the Creator: Traditional Arts of Native Women of the Plateau and featured historic as well as contemporary work by Native Women from the region. Contemporary native women artists came and gave demonstrations. I spoke with one of the beadwork artists, she told me, "Everything I make is a prayer". It made me feel wistfully as if I'd been born into the wrong culture. I want to look more deeply into spiritual expression through art in native cultures but for now will leave you with these moccasins and a Yakima color guide.

Red means East, where the sun rises, brings wisdom
Yellow means South, sun shines all the time, where the sun lives
Black means West, where darkness and death live, where the sun sleeps
White means North, where snow is all the time; winter, white and cold
Blue means Sky, where the great spirit lives
Brown means Earth
Green means green things grow on the earth.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Restoring Hózhó

The Navajo word, "hózhó" means beauty, balance, harmony, or holiness. Navajo healers are called "Hatałii" or "Singers" and have been taught traditional methods to restore cosmic balance. Hatałii restore balance, beauty and holiness by creating sand paintings. They may use yellow ocher, pollen, red sandstone, charcoal, white gypsum, corn meal and crushed flower petals.

Navajo sand paintings are called, "The place where the Gods come and go". Sitting on the sand painting while the Singer chants a corresponding song helps the person in need of healing absorb power from the spirits who will absorb the illness. Once the sand painting has been used in a healing ceremony it contains the illness and must be destroyed. For some ceremonies a new sand painting is made each day for a number of days.

Like the Katsina dolls, the sand painting is sacred and can not be produced commercially as art but alternative designs with purposeful mistakes are created for sale as contemporary works of art.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Many Helping Spirits - Hopi Katsinas

Sa´lakwmana - Sa´lakwtaqa
A maiden Katsina and
her Brother

Rainmakers From the Gods - Hopi Katsinam

Getting back to the Hopi and their Katsinas, the Katsina represent all manner of different spirits and are represented in dance and in carved dolls. Hopi have practiced Katsina religion at least since A.D.1300 when Pueblo culture Katsina figures start showing up painted on pottery. Hopi, Pueblo and Zuni all practice Katsina rituals.

Representing different aspects of the natural world from rain to watermelon, celestal bodies or animals like deer mouse or crow, katsinas intercede on behalf of the people. Pictured above, Sa'lakwmama is a maiden katsina. Her headdress represents the clouds. She and her brother, Sa'lakwtaqa, dance at midsummer.

Eventually, westerners started collecting katsina dolls as art pieces. The Hopi, who keep much of their sacred traditions secret, create altered versions of their sacred objects to sell as art. Georgia O'Keffee the great American painter who lived in and loved New Mexico painted the katsina doll below.

Kachina - Georgia O'Keffee

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is Monotheism Inherently Intolerant?

Asherah - Hebrew Goddess

Taking my Mom to church these last few weeks I enjoyed revisiting my protestant roots more than I expected too. I found myself wishing I could have that abiding Christian faith but kept bumping into the wall of monotheism. Yes, I can see one God as a universal creative life force but if “he” is “the father” where is the mother? And is there an inherent intolerance toward others built in to monotheism?

This made the interview with Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God posted on particularly fortuitous. (see prior post) Wright’s theory is that Israel was polytheistic for a much longer period than is commonly accepted and that monotheism rose out of Israel’s desire to punish its rivals by denying the existence of their Gods.

Wright sites Israelite King Josiah as a belligerent reformer who consolidated his political power by wiping out other people's Gods. Prior to King Josiah, Yahweh’s female counterpart Asherah also had a place at the temple in Jerusalem.

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez

Link to: Interview with Robert Wright on
Link to: The Suppression of Ancient Truths by David Larsen

Friday, July 24, 2009

God Is Back

Three New Books About God

A few years ago books by atheists were popular but tonight God is Back at least that is the title of tonight's program on To the Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio, broadcast locally on Seattle's NPR station KUOW and also available as a podcast. Through interviews with the creators of three new books and a documentary film, God, morality and the religious instinct are the evidence of God's return to the contemporary bookshelf.

NPR religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty wrote the book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality about her own spiritual exploration of religious experience through the eyes of science. Could spiritual experience be explained by brain chemistry? While her discoveries remain inconclusive, through her interviews with mystics, scientists and people who have experienced mystical and near death experiences she finds that science may conflict with divine intervention but could reasonably support the presence of an infinite intelligence.

In God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World by Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait, Wooldridge tells about finding burgeoning religious movements in a variety of contexts. For example how in China, Christianity is growing among young professional scientists who after years of religious suppression equate fundamental Christianity with success and modernism.

A Documentary Film

Film-maker Gini Reticker’s documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell records how a group of Christian and Muslim women overcame their distrust of each other to use prayer, singing and non-violent direct action to bring an end to the brutal civil war in Liberia, end the reign of the vicious dictator Charles Taylor and elect Africa’s first female president.

Finally, Robert Wright talks about his new book The Evolution of God describing the political context of the rise of monotheism. According to Wright monotheism was born of the politics of desperation, humiliation and a desire for retribution. Monotheism redeems itself through its movement toward moral truth but can still be seen to retain intolerance in the insecure.

Interview with Robert Wright
CD copies of the program are available at 1-800-747-7444.
Ask for program number 09-07-19-A. Show Title: God is Back

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kachina Dance

Hopi Kachina Dance, watercolor, 1921
The black-and-white figures are Kosharis, or Hopi clowns.
Philbrook Museum of Art

Disruption and reorganization followed the collapse of Chaco Canyon culture until eventually the people of the Southwest settled into the tribal affinities that we know today. Katsinas (or Kachinas) remain an important part of their spiritual lives. The Katsinas represent mostly benevolent spirits who, in somewhat human form, intercede between the people and the deities who bring rain and all the rest of life’s blessings. Katsinas are impersonated during seasonal celebrations where they perform dances and are fed sacred corn with the understanding that they will relay to the Gods the worthiness of the people to receive continued blessings.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

People, Prayer & Climate Change

Mythical Corn Ceremony
Ignacio Moquino (Zia Pueblo) 1938

After exploring the Anasazi I am left thinking about the relationship of human beings to the Earth and to climate change. Certainly the weather affects us. And, we know that today we humans are affecting the climate, not in a good way, by our carbon footprints. But, can we also affect climate with prayer, and through art?

A while ago I was reading about the Puritans. They took personal responsibility for storms at sea and harsh winters by blaming the weather on even their most private sinful thoughts. This seemed like neurotic self-absorption to me. Would they have been relieved to understand that everything was not about them? Or, did blaming the weather on their own sins give them some feeling of control over the dramatic circumstances they encountered?

Did the Anasazi priests lose credibility when their climate rituals failed to produce rain or did the rain actually abandon them because of something they did? Were they out of harmony? Had they possibly altered their landscape to the extent that it did in fact cause persistent drought? One way or another the great houses of the Anasazi lost the critical mass needed to hold together as the center of society for the San Juan Basin and its people. The people dispersed and survived by living simpler lives. Is there a lesson here for us?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance

Hopi Katsina Ewoto
Chief of Katsinas Controls the Seasons

The Hopi word Koyaanisqatsi means, “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living.”

It seems likely this is what happened to the Anasazi. After a millennium in the social, political and spiritual center of the entire San Juan Basin the great houses of Chaco Canyon were abandoned. No one knows what really happened but consider what we do know.

First, sophisticated architectural plans that took generations to construct in consistent precision alignment to the cardinal directions and seasonal rotations of the sun would have required both a high level of oversight and a large labor force. The great houses served as ceremonial centers to the entire region making it likely that a priestly class oversaw building construction, food production and seasonal rituals.

Then, a high arid desert culture dependent on agriculture was also dependent on rainfall and mountain snow. If the seasonal rituals were performed to induce rain for a century they worked. Then, around 1100 AD. A period of drought set in. Within fifty years the whole system collapsed, the great houses were abandoned and the people dispersed.

Undoubtedly drought would have caused the people to be discouraged and hungry. Did some form of human activity effect climate change? When the rituals performed to induce rain failed did the priests lose credibility and power? Did a state of Koyaanisqatsi cause the people to seek simpler lifestyles of greater harmony? It would seem so to me.

Earthenware Seed Jar, Anasazi Culture, 1100-1300 CE.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Anasazi of Chaco Canyon

Anasazi Cliff Dwelling - Photo: Peter Kunasz

For about a thousand years and before Europeans ever set foot in North America the people who were the hunter gatherers of the American Southwest built an elaborate and sophisticated centralized society in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Actively trading with their neighbors to the south, the Toltec and Myan, they started growing corn, beans and squash. As they shifted to agriculture they were able to settle and they built elaborate structures out of clay masonry. These buildings are precisely aligned to the four directions, aligned to the sun in ways that mark the solstices and equinoxes. We call these people the Anasazi. In Hopi Anasazi means “ancestors”, in Navajo, “ancient enemy”.

Underground rooms entered from above through a hole at the top are called kivas. The kivas were lined with benches and appear to have been used for ceremonial purposes. Flutes, body paint, crystals, turquoise, stone pipes and effigies are among the items found in kivas. The great kiva at Casa Rinconada could accommodate hundreds of people and it is believed that people traveled from the surrounding areas to visit the great kivas at certain times for ceremonies that marked the changing seasons.

Anasazi Frog Fetish - Turquoise and Jet
Pre-Columbian Jade

According to Dr. Shelley Valdez, a member of the Pueblo Laguna Tribe, the cardinal directions, "connect people, the seasons, the Sun and Moon's patterns, time, nature, the environment, the cosmos, and ceremonial systems. Observance of the cardinal directions and the Sun essentially ensured life by knowing when it was time to plant, harvest, and hunt for example."

Interactive exhibit - Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Link to: Traditions of the Sun

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Unexpected Source

Please bear with me as I momentarily leap ahead to Christianity and today’s service at Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church.

I took my Mom to church this morning. The sermon was on the parable, The Good Samaritan. In the story a man is traveling on the Jericho Road, this is a dangerous road. Bandits beat and rob the man stealing even his clothes and leaving him to die on the side of the road. A Priest on the road passes him by not wanting to violate any priestly taboos by touching someone dirty before performing his priestly duties. A Levite also passes the man by. It was the unlikely person, a Samaritan, who stopped to give aid and rescue this unfortunate traveler.

The minister asked us to think of Jesus as the unexpected source. As a Pagan, a Buddhist, and a feminist who believes in evolution, Jesus would be an unexpected source for me. However, I am in no position to quibble. Prayer is about survival. The shamanic hunters made prayers for meat. The Ancient Maize growers prayed for a good harvest. As a 21st century would-be artist working part-time for a non-profit I am in serious need of some livelihood restructuring. I need money. It sounds so completely crass, so vulgar. Maybe that is my hang-up. More out of pride than faith I just put my last five dollars in the collection plate. Payday is not until Wednesday. Jesus?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Blue Corn Muffins

Blue Corn, Photo: One Perfect Bite

Blue Corn Muffins

“The Native Americans of the Southwest call blue corn Hopi corn and it has spiritual importance to them. It represents the rising sun and the beginning of life, wisdom and understanding. Blue cornmeal comes from the dried blue kernels of corn grown on plateaus and mesas in New Mexico and Arizona.”
from: One Perfect Bite

Blue Corn Muffins...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite

2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno peppers, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh or frozen corn, thawed
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves
3/4 cup blue cornmeal (can substitute yellow)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1) Adjust a rack to middle-third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Grease a 6 slot muffin pan with non-stick vegetable spray. Set aside.
2) Melt butter in a small saucepan; add onions and garlic and cook until soft. Set aside to cool.
3) In a large mixing bowl, combine milk, eggs, bell pepper, jalapeno, corn and cilantro. Whisk in butter mixture. Set aside.
4)In a separate bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, soda, salt and sugar. Whisk to combine. Mix into the liquid mixture.
5) Divide batter evenly among the 6 muffins slots and bake for 16 minutes or until set, turning pan once for even baking. Yield: 6 muffins

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sacred Corn Used by Navajo Code Talker

Unidentified American Indian Marine uses a “Walky-Talky”
to send communications
in the South Pacific, November 1943

During World War II Navajo "Code-Talkers" developed a special code based on their native language. The code talkers served with bravery and distinction and were critical to the success of American forces. In an interview with the National Museum of the American Indian Navajo Code Talker Sam Tso who fought at Iwo Jima spoke of praying with corn.

"Before we hit the beach, the uh, officer on that ship he tell us to pray in your own belief. Me I just took out my corn powder as I was told by our medicine man and then pray. So, I think some of the kids join me to pray."

Sam Tso, Navajo Code Talker:
National Museum of the American Indian interview, 2004

Learn more about Sam Tso at:
The Sad Red Earth

Grain of the Gods

gelatin silver print, 1897,
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

One thing ice age hunting magic and later agricultural fertility rituals have in common is the central importance of food. Hunters relied on the shaman’s uncanny perception to secure a successful hunt. In the corn grower’s world the grain itself is considered sacred.

Corn as we know it today was slowly domesticated in the Valley of Mexico between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago. The name of its wild ancestral variety, teosinte, literally means “grain of the Gods”. As corn became domesticated it lost its ability to survive as a wild plant but also became a more palatable and a more valuable food source. From a tiny ear a few inches long with only a few kernels encased in hard shells it was selected over time to produce the plump juicy ears of corn we know today. 1

Corn remains influential in the spiritual traditions of the American Southwest. The Hopi prepare prayer-meal called Hooma from coarsely ground white maize. It is rubbed on the hands before handling sacred objects and is sprinkled on altars and shrines. The substance is considered sacred and is used for purification and as a vehicle to carry spiritual intentions. 2

1. Nicolle Ranger Fuller, National Science Foundation
2. Hopi Indian Altar Iconography by Armin W. Geertz

Teisinte - Modern Corn

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

John Trudell - Spirit Healer

John Trudell
“He is extremely eloquent therefore extremely dangerous.”
- The F.B.I.

My own financial insecurity coupled with the employment suggestions of my dentist’s assistant had me so depressed I could barely breathe. Then I started listening to John Trudell. Trudell is a Native American activist, poet and visionary. First, I watched the documentary film, Trudell by Heather Rae. Trudell was a spokesperson for the American Indian Movement in the 1970s. He has since become a visionary spoken-word artist greatly admired by the likes of Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and Robert Redford.

Then, I downloaded Trudell’s spoken-word chant song, Shaman (Make a Chant) on the album AKA Graffiti Man. It is available from itunes. I have been listening to it repeatedly. I feel much better now. I do not know if this is shamanic healing but my spirit was feeling crushed and John Trudell gave it a life force transfusion.

“Shaman gonna make a chant a chant a chant
Healing in a song a song a song
Shaman gonna make a chant a chant a chant
See who you are you are you are
Shaman gonna make a chant a chant a chant
Listen to your heart your heart your heart.”

A short excerpt from
Shaman (Make a Chant)
on the album
AKA Graffiti Man.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Second American Religion

Centeotl - Aztec Corn God

The first American religion was the shamanic hunting magic brought from the north by the ice age hunters. The second American religion came up from the valley of Mexico to the south. This younger spiritual tradition was an agricultural religion based on the cultivation of maize. Unlike the the hunting and gathering band's reliance on one or two shaman to interpret the spirit world the agriculturalists developed priesthoods and cults. Theirs was a ceremonial religion based on the fertility of the land. These two forms of religious expression intermingled for centuries among the tribes that populated the North American continent. Remnants of both survive in numerous variations throughout Native North American spiritual traditions.

reference: Atlas of the North American Indian by Carl Waldman

Blue Corn Maiden (Pueblo) by Gilbert Atencio

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Tuva Connection

Tuva: Shamans and Spirit

Presented by the Foundation for Shamanic Studies

Violently repressed for almost 50 years during the Soviet era, shamanism is experiencing an enthusiastic revival in the Russian region of Tuva, (between Mongolia and Siberia). This currant revival may be the closest contemporary example of America’s earliest religion or for that matter humankind’s most ancient spiritual practice. Photographer, Yann Mingard describes Tuvan shamanism… “According to the shamanic worldview, the world is divided into two realms, the real and the invisible, the latter being a projection of the real world inhabited by spirits whose actions influence the life of humans. Shamans are believed to have the power to see the invisible world and communicate with spirits. Some work in 'shamanic clinics' and have clients from all over the world. Other shamans prefer to live surrounded by nature, which they worship over all other things, working alone and receiving clients in their home, according to ancient traditions.”

Tuva Shaman Healing Ritual
Yann Mingard for Time

Meanwhile back in the USA, I ordered Sandra Ingerman’s audio book, Beginner’s Guide to Shamanic Journeying from Sounds True. Ingerman is the educational director for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies and teaches about Shamanism throughout the world. On the Beginner’s Guide she gives an overview and then introduces the listener to the technique of “journeying” or entering non-ordinary reality to solve problems and contact spirit helpers.

Laying on my bed listening to it I began to drift in and out of dream states when I had a surprising… dream? vision? that woke me with a little jolt. I was riding a winged horse through a night sky filled with stars and planets… I was surprised. I’ve been asking to find my spirit animal. I was thinking maybe a frog would hop into my consciousness but my fleeting vision seemed like something out of Narnia or Harry Potter. A Pegasus? My first reaction was, “oh no”. It was too much like the little girl’s toy, my little pony.” But Ingerman says not to dismiss anything that comes. So I haven’t. Pegasus carried thunderbolts for Zeus. The Tibetan version of a flying horse, the Windhorse represents power swift as the wind. Now, I find myself whispering to my Spirit Pony. Thumbing through a catalog at work I found this poster by the Cree Artist George Littlechild. It captures the feeling of my dream vision.

Look Back to the Land by George Littlechild
Poster available from Native Northwest

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Politics of Appropriation

Annie Oakley & Tagg Paperdolls

Before we leave the ice age to further explore contemporary American shamanism let me say a word about contemporary shamanism as it relates to Native American traditions. According to the website, New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans, created by an activist group of Native Americans and their supporters “No traditional Native American or First Nations group calls their spiritual teachers, leaders or elders "shamans", which is a term native only to Siberia.” And, “Contemporary, New Age, "global" shamanism is characterized by cultural appropriation, eclecticism and personal spiritual connections.” *

Cultural appropriation when employed by a would-be shaman is legitimately viewed with skepticism. Considering the context of our blood soaked history it is easy to see why Native Americans take offense when they see non-natives blithely adopt the outward trappings of sacred native traditions. This is true especially when commercial gain or fraud is involved.

That is not to say a person of European descent cannot successfully undertake training in a Native American tradition. Nor is it to say that just because someone is of Native American heritage they are automatically qualified to teach tribal traditions. However, out of respect for traditional native American spiritual practices we should not confuse them with contemporary "global" shamanism.

* Since posting this I have noticed a few respected Native American voices using the term shaman in relation to Native spiritual tradition, The respected author and historian Vine Deloria Jr. in The World We Used to Live In and activist, poet and visionary John Trudell on his album AKA Graffitti Man in the song Shaman (Make a Chant). I believe the key to the complaint is not so much use of the word shaman but is about having respect for the traditions of others.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Shamanisn, Traditional or On My ipod?

Siberian Shaman ~ Christina Pratt

We get the word Shaman from the Tungus word saman associated with the hunting tribes of Siberia and central Asia that are genetically linked to primary groups of Native Americans. While a few remnants of these early hunting societies survive, shamanism itself is alive and well and downloadable off the Internet.

I have just started listening to Christina Pratt’s podcasts, Why Shamanism Now? as broadcast on Seventh Wave Radio. They are a free download on itunes. She makes a distinction between the terms "authentic" and "traditional". Because shamanic practice is a technology used to attain direct revelation from the spirit world, according to Pratt the criteria for authentic shamanism is success in connecting to the spirit world. Because shamanism is the proto religion of the human race these technologies come to us through many different cultural traditions some with more formalized training than others. Being trained in traditional methods is of course going to be helpful in achieving the sought for connection to the spirit world. The traditions alone however are not as critical as actually making the spiritual connection.

The ancient hunters purpose for using shamanism was survival. They relied on direct revelation to guide them toward a successful hunt. My own interest is just as practical. Can shamanic techniques of connecting to the spirit world or the life force help me make a living, pay my bills, live in good health and contribute to my community? And yes, find my spirit animal? This remains to be seen.