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Millennial Twins: An Essay into Time and Place

Millennial Twins

An Essay into Time and Place

Jürgen W. Kremer

© 2000

3383 Princeton Drive

 

Santa Rosa, CA 95405

 

jkremer@sonic.net

[Published in a slightly different version in ReVision, vol. 22, number 3, pp.29-43.
Use section numbers 1 through 48 for reference.]

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As storyteller I wonder at times what it would be like to be handed a story that has been taken care of across the generations. And now, during these days tinged with millennianism, to take care of it myself, and then to pass it on to the next generations using the best of my memory abilities, and the most beautiful words I have been taught; thus telling a story which has emerged over the generations from a particular place, from observing the beings that live there, from feeding on them and making offerings in exchange; thus taking care of a story that has a certain wholeness, even though it undoubtedly has changed with each storyteller giving his or her best; and even though such wholeness can at best be transitory only – in the telling at the right moment on the right occasion.

I have not been given such a story.

I have been given storysherds. That is all I have been given to take care of. Storysherds.

The broken pot in the museum becomes “false” when curators add to what they have found during the excavation. Adding the missing pieces would mean dishonoring its maker; but more importantly, it would be dishonoring the history of its breakage. Yet, it is possible to imagine that remaking the pot might not result in such dishonor. For it to be honorable it would have to be done right. Pueblo Indians recycle potsherds by grinding them to powder, making them part of the matrix for a new pot. Or the missing pieces would have to be found, one way or the other. Maybe then the entire pot can be made new. (1)

As caretaker of storysherds I am obliged to honor the sherds at hand, not to add to them willfully by giving in to my desire for wholeness. Wholeness cannot be willed. It takes the kind of imagination that arises from time and place. I will need all my skills. I need the patience of listening and seeing whether wholeness will emerge.

The millennium is not my story, yet I am part of it. My ancestors, for reasons only partly apparent to me, came to deal with their understanding of reality primarily in linear segments and fragments. The count that defines the millennium reflects this. And it is truly but a storysherd. Or a confrontation with the uneven edges of the pot’s breakage lines.

I am not of the land where I am writing this, yet I live on it and I am becoming part of it. This is where I have settled. My ancestors are of the European lands; there they and I grew up, yet nothing but storysherds have been passed on to me from those centuries of being in particular places. Taking care of my storysherds may make it possible to re-imagine the stories from which they broke away. In order to do so in a sacred way means caring for the sherds first and foremost; taking the risk of picking up the sherds. In renewing a vessel I not only need to visualize its pattern as whole and complete, but I need to give particular attention to the points of breakage, the patterns of the broken lines. This is my obligation as storyteller. Maybe then, later, I can make one story new. And, to be sure, it won’t be the story my ancestors handed down to me. But it will.

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[P30] To make stories of sherds is pre-eminently a modern endeavor, in a sense. Modernity has created so many sherds. The sherds gathered here are largely from twin stories.

So, this is a twin story, in a way.

It is the story of twin pines: The Native American tuwa, and its twin, the “digger” pine, pinus sabiniana of European perception. It is the story of particular movements in our galaxy, and the twin story of the end of the second millennium, and the beginning of the third. It is the story of a pair of twins – one afflicted by blindness, the other paralyzed – in search of their healing ceremony. It is the story of two brothers, one following instructions he has been given while the other one has yet to remember how he was and is to be. There are more twins, more pairings, masculine and feminine, male and female, that appear as I sort the sherds. The twins on the poles, one on each. And then there is Odysseus, and Odysseus Redux, for example. Sherds for a story.

This is also a story about two ways to make words, and to be made by words. Two stories colliding – one aware of the collision, the other barely noticing. One twin out of balance, split off, masculinized. Thus the balance of the other twin is affected. The balance between things is disturbed. Their internal balance is disturbed. For there to be balance the story needs to be made whole. This is a story of imbalance and imposition, and a story of healing imbalance.

These are the storysherds I have found as the millennium ends. I have gathered them in the place where I have settled in order to make sense of time and place. I am seeking for an integrity that can only exist when I am fully present to the movements of time and history as they arise where I sit. When I am fully present to all the beings around me.

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Words are what make us distinctly human. But more than that: in words lie our greatest power; we are most powerful through words. Words describe, they can invoke, deny, remember, identify, disidentify. Words help us see, they guide us in what we rely on as our reality. Not having words is forgetting. When we forget a word or name then the peril of that moment may translate into annoyance or fear.

To tell a story in the proper way, to hear a story told in the proper way – this is very old and sacred business, and it is very good. At that moment when we are drawn into the element of language, we are as intensely alive as we can be; we create and we are created. … Our stories explain us, justify us, sustain us, humble us, and forgive us. And sometimes they injure and destroy us. Make no mistake, we are at risk in the presence of words. (Momaday 1997. 169)

Words originate from a matrix of place and time, from landscape, myth, and history. Even our distance from such sources places us and times us. Imagination and creativity thus have ancient ties to realms so much contested in our contemporary understandings. This is a quality of imagination alien to most of the narcissistic and willful acts that are taken for creativity in contemporary dominant culture.

We are at risk in the presence of words. Getting a story wrong can be very dangerous. Getting it right requires all our imagination and creativity. And presence to whence words arise: place and time, landscape and history. Sacred business. Even, and maybe especially, as far as the millennium is concerned. It requires the precision of sacred work as personal imagination is held by the awareness of its sources. Will is in the discipline, the intention of presence, not the willfulness of individual acts.

What I take from this is that making millenarian words without being present to their origins in land and time puts me at risk. I have no intention to do so. This is why I am telling the story in the way I do. This is why the sherds are gathered in this pattern.

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The millennium is a precisely arbitrary moment, as Gould (1997) extensively and delightfully reminds us. Whichever way we look at it, arbitrariness remains as its most striking feature. As possible celebratory event of the Christian church it should already have been celebrated, given that Jesus was born 4BCE or earlier. Numerically the second millennium concludes only at the end of the year 2000, putting the beginning of the third millennium CE at 2001; this is how past turns of centuries, and even, predominantly, the one millennium of the current count have been celebrated. As arbitrary count, mostly disconnected from Christian eschatological thinking, it seems to deserve the same level of observance and excitement as the odometer of my trusty old car turning from 99,999 to 100,000 miles. Albeit rather brief, it was an exciting moment. And then, of course, this is a very European count. The Hebrew, Moslem, Mayan, Persian, Chinese, and other calendars give numbers for the same date that clearly do not suggest any millennianism.

The associated concept of Y2K, resulting from the same arbitrary count, gives rise to concerns that are, to a certain degree, clearly identifiable as technological and electronic problems. Y2K has become, at least in some circles, associated with apocalyptic thoughts arising from the ever more visible ecocide, relentless economic globalization, and other pathologies of modernity. And it has also given rise to hopes of ending these destructive trends through crisis, collapse. Hopes for the beginning of a phase of balancing and healing.

Interestingly, the millennium (of whichever actual date) and Y2K, are very close to an event that is highly observable and far from arbitrary: Many ancient and indigenous cultures have observed the precession of the equinoxes, maybe for as long as 39,000 years (2). According to various traditions, notably the Mayan, one segment in this cycle is coming to an end (in their case a whole calendar, the so-called Long Count). Of course, popular culture has already celebrated this event well in advance through the musical Hair which hailed the coming of the age of Aquarius.

The phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes occurs because of the wobble of the spinning earth. Every 2,200 years or so a new constellation rises heliacally – right before sunrise – at the vernal equinox. It is an observable astronomical event, and it is also interpreted within the zodiacal system of Western astrology. The observability of the precession should have given it clear scientific appeal, and thus great preference over an arbitrary count based on the mistakenly calculated birth of a religious prophet. Not so. Maybe it is the association with astrology that made it suspicious, maybe it was the vastness of scale.

The reasons for this can be found, so it seems, in the unfolding of a story during this past millennium, a story that has increasingly used words separate from landscape, and separate from natural, observable time. This makes it a dangerous story, especially as it is perpetrated across the threshold of the year 2000, and as it is relentlessly enforced through economic globalization at a time that many indigenous traditions regard as particularly charged with potential.

As indigenous traditions have it, how this charge is used will be determined by how the story is told, for ill or for good. Sacred places, such as the ones aboriginally belonging to the people of Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico can be used for heightened pursuits and celebrations of balance; but they can also be used for the development of nuclear power, as was done on these very lands in Los Alamos. The power is there for use. Good or evil.

Standing in line at the post office I watch the red figures frenetically turning on the digital countdown toward the year 2000. The legend above it reads:

TIME IS

RUNNING OUT

TO THE YEAR 2000

This apparent build-up toward some cataclysmic paroxysm, however, is reassuringly resolved by the means available to philately: “Collect the century in stamps” is the punch line under the frenzied counter.

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There are other punch lines to descriptions of time running out. (3)

The sun turns black, the earth sinks below the sea;
no bright star now shines from the heavens;
flames leap the length of the World Tree
fire strikes against the very sky.

This is one of the potent moments of time change my own Nordic-Germanic traditions have described as ragnarökur in the Eddic texts. It is a fateful time for those who reign. Rök means fate, line of events; ragna from regin, to reign. It is conceived of as moment of renewal; it is a transition during which the outcome is experienced as far from certain – even the gods and goddesses lack reassurances and are filled with anxiety. The poetic language of the seeresses in the Eddic texts captures this transition of the turning of an age with no lack of drama as the next description of the same moment shows:

Then wanes the power.
Hands grow numb.
A swoon assails
the white sword-Áse;[guardian spirit Heimdal]
Unconsciousness reigns
on the midnight breath;
Thought fails
in tired beings.

During Ragnarök we have fimbulvetur, the great winter, the world is set on fire by Surtr, the earth sinks into the ocean because of the violent movements of the Miðgarðr snake, the sun darkens and is eaten by Fenrir, the wolf, the earth shakes, the bridge Bilröst collapses, and the world tree Yggdrasill trembles – yet does not fall.

The words are just as dramatic in the descriptions of the subsequent renewal, as the seeress continues to prophecy:

She sees the earth rising again
out of the waters, green once more;
an eagle flies over rushing waterfalls,
hunting for fish from the craggy heights.

Hrafnagaldr Óðins or Óðin’s Prophetic Ravenchant describes how the new earth Jórunn (the previous earth Iðunn reborn) sits at the root of the tree, not yet awakened at this momentous time. There is a new sun, dóttir sólar, the daughter of the sun (which can also mean a new star, after the old constellation has disappeared at the vernal equinox).

Up rose the gods.
Forth shone the sun.
Northward to Niflheim
night drew away;
Heimdal once more sprang
up upon Bäfrast, [spirit or rainbow bridge]
Mighty clarion-blower
on the mountains of heaven.

The tree, the axis mundi, does not fall during Ragnarök. With the nornir at its roots, the Norse fateful spirits, women, it continues to stand as the measurer of time and fates.

These descriptors from the Old Norse tradition for the time of great change are not unique in tone or imagery. Presumably this is when a new constellation rises at spring equinox. We can find similar language in the Hopi prophecies or the words the Wintu seeress Flora Jones utters below buli phuyuq or way wan buli, a mountain so important that it is at times just referred to as bulit – that particular peak, meaning: Mt. Shasta (in Northern California). For the Native Americans living around Mt. Shasta it is the central balancing spirit in the universe, not a potential ski resort.

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I glance across my writing table and scan the surrounding hills. They were aboriginally peopled by one of the Wintun tribes, the Nomlaki. The pine trees rising individually, mostly, above the rest of the chaparral growth intrigue me. Each is a character of its own, each has apparent personality. Different, visibly unique. The perception of such individuality in the plant world commonly takes greater visual skills than I have acquired. Not so with these pines. Some pines have singular trunks, some have multiple trunks arising from one place like a bunch of flowers held together by raffia. At times a secondary trunk emerges midway to the top. Some trees are grouped in small and very loose stands. Their needle foliage allows me to look through them in many places. Oftentimes they don´t grow straight up, but lean downhill, with the top part on occasion appearing parallel to an imaginary level ground. But level ground does not exist amidst these steep hills.

One twin of these stately twin pines is called “digger” pine in much of the literature, since “Digger Indians” utilized their nuts. (3) In the middle of the last century, first the Indians of the Great Basin, then Native Californians were referred to in such manner, since they did not farm, but subsisted on roots, hunted, and collected seeds. They did not seem to measure up, in the eyes of the explorers, to their perceptions of the Plains and Mississippi Valley Indians. This represents one of the multitude of curious denials of the settlers’ own practices and history, since they regularly dug for roots along their routes. “What is good for an Indian is beneath notice for a white man,” is what many people in the mid-nineteenth century thought. All this notwithstanding the fact that the nut had saved the life of one of the members of the Donner party, for example. There are many ways to write the story of genocide and colonization, plant names seems to be one.

The other twin of these stately pines has many names, for examply towáni and sakky. It comes right behind the acorn in culinary importance, and, among the conifers, it was the most important food-giving plant for the Indians. Where this pine tree grows the Native Californians have their own names for them. Oftentimes the nut has a separate name from the tree, as in Patwin tuwa, the tree, and sanak, the pinenut. Wintu differentiates the unripe (xisi) and ripe pinenut (chati) in this fashion. Other Native Californian names are gapga (Klamath), towáni (Maidu), sakky (South Sierra Miwok), and náyo (Wappo). Hinton suggests that the “digger” pine could be renamed Towani pine or Nayo pine. Names of remembrance, acknowledgment, and presence. Rather than racism.

I manage to crack some of the pinenuts from the hills where I write. They are delicious. I don’t know the Nomlaki name for the nut or the tree. They are no longer around to be asked. Yet, they are present, and maybe one day I can hear their answers.

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Twins are regarded with awe in many cultures. Their special significance has oftentimes the double valence of being potentially dangerous (especially if not treated properly) or beneficial; they were feared and worshipped. The notion that twins come from the union between a mortal and a spirit or god seems widespread. In the Indo-European mythologies they oftentimes seem to be benefactors, healing mortals, protecting people from harm, rescuing seamen, and so on. Some are hero twins, saviors.

Among the Old Norse we find pairs that are not only part of a culture allowing sibling marriage, but that have also a twin air about them. Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn, Nerthus and Njörður, Freyja and Freyr. They also reflect their taste for androgynous qualities, at least in these ancient, Vanir layers of Norse mythology. Even in traditions where both twins are of male gender – as in the Diné, the Mayan, the Hopi, the Aztec traditions – each twin seems to be balanced by the other in terms of qualities; at times they can be meaningfully listed under the heading of feminine and masculine qualities (one tending heavenward, the other earthward; one dark, the other light; one may be good, the other wicked). They need each other for balance and completeness; if one is not present for the task imbalance ensues.

According to Hopi understanding there are serpent brothers or twins – Pöqanghoya and Palöngawhoya – on each of the poles sending vibrations to each other along the earth’s axis. The Twins are instrumental for the rotation and balance of the world.

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The past millennium is rich in historical events. The story is notable for what it tells and doesn’t tell, what is relegated to its margins or subjected to denial and forgetting. So many events recorded are truly remarkable. As are those that have not become part of the story as it is told. But even more than the history actually recorded by European consciousness it is notable for the ways in which it has forged its own story. As the count leading to the upcoming millennium has been shaped by Eurocentered thinking it is fitting to look at the inner workings of this story.

By the year one thousand Christianity dominates Europe. Even the people of such a remote place as Iceland finally convert to Christianity in order to avoid internal and external strife: A goði or chieftain in the north of the island conducts one of the traditional ceremonies, an útiseta, the Old Norse “sitting out” equivalent of the Native American vision fast or “going on the hill.” He comes to the realization that bloodshed would ensue if all of Iceland doesn’t convert to Christianity. He offers the carved spirit images of his tradition to the nearby waterfall, subsequently named Goðafoss, and becomes a Christian.

Since the middle of the millennium we find an increasing prevalence of what we now would call ethnic cleansing. The murderous forces, for large parts Christian church dominated, perpetrated genocide not just on indigenous peoples in other countries, but with oftentimes similar vehemence on the holders of indigenous knowledge within their own boundaries, particular through the persecution of women in the form of witchhunts. Genocide in service of the Eurocentered story is continuing relentlessly planetwide, primarily through the various forms of economic globalization a.k.a. Americanization (the destruction of sustainable economies and the creation of dependency in the name of progress and civilization). While we may be tempted to soften the shock of this process by calling it cultural genocide, it remains genocide as far as the termination of particular cultures and cultural identities are concerned – people are murdered as the indigenous persons they are, even though they may resurrect themselves as persons of Eurocentered minds. Pervasive ecocide and sexism are corollaries to this story.

The dynamics of the story have been discussed in a variety of forms. Marx tried put his finger on these acts of splitting and dissociation through his much criticized theory of commodity exchange. The Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko evokes it in ruthless poetry, describing the relentless death march of excess and imbalance.

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Above me in the night sky Venus in the west is almost straight across from Mars, who is a little south of the east. Last night Venus was right above the waxing crescent moon. Tonight she is straight to the right of the moon, west of it. Across these two nights the bright Venus and the growing moon form a beautiful equilateral sky triangle.

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It is May, 1999, and as I write this essay NATO continues to bomb Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing seems to continue unabated despite all the bombs. Relief for Kosovo seems far away. I nostalgically remember a drive along the Albanian border, and the poverty stricken, albeit unbombed Priština. There is upset in the U.S. about the Serbs’ continuing ethnic cleansing. I read an article. The words “… a grand experiment in ethnic cleansing …” jump out at me.

I am struck by these words.

The paragraph started out as follows:
As a boy Plenty Horses had been sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the boarding school founded in 1879 by Richard Henry Pratt, whose obsession was to “kill the Indian and save the man.” Carlisle was the model upon which an extensive system of boarding schools for Indians was based. The schools were prisons in effect, where Indian children were exposed to brutalities, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, in the interest of converting them to the white man’s way of life. It was a grand experiment in ethnic cleansing and psychological warfare, and it failed. (Momaday 1997, 101-102)

The book does not tell me when the piece was first published; I assume it was probably at least a few years before 1997.

Ethnic cleansing characterizes half the past millennium.

It is so much easier to be righteous about ethnic cleansing elsewhere than to face the continuing history of ethnic cleansing in one’s own country.

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Excess or imbalance could also be used as words to indicate the unfolding trends of the past millennium. Some indigenous cultures would call that evil. Traditional people with special spiritual powers are known to be able not just to work for good, but also to work for evil and imbalance. Before awareness of the medieval European witchhunts had a chance to infuse Native American use of the English language, workers of excess and evil were frequently called “witches” in Indian vernacular, thus assuming the Christian, pejorative use of the term. Silko uses the words witch and witchery in this sense, not as dishonor to the large number of European women practicing their indigenous knowledge, but to signify excess and imbalance. In her words: “Witches crawl into skins of dead animals, but they can do nothing but play around with objects and bodies. Living animals are terrified of witches. They smell the death” (1977, 131). The book Ceremony, the healing story of a mixed blood Native American, was written before their was any significant reassertion of the positive meaning of the word.

Long time agoin the beginning
there were no white people in this world
there was nothing European.
And this world might have gone on like that
except for one thing:
witchery
This world was already complete
even without white people.
There was everything
including witchery.

Then it happened.
These witch people got together. (…)
They all got together for a contest
the way people have baseball tournaments nowadays
except this was a contest
in dark things. (…)

Finally there was only one
who hadn’t shown off charms or powers.
The witch stood in the shadows beyond the fire
and no one ever knew where this witch came from
which tribe
or if it was a woman or a man.
But the important thing was
this witch didn’t show off any dark thunder charcoals
or red ant-hill beads.
This one just told them to listen:
“What I have is a story.”

At first they all laughed
but this witch said
Okay
go ahead
laugh if you want to
but as I tell the story
it will begin to happen.

Set in motion now
set in motion by our witchery
to work for us.

Caves across the ocean
in caves of dark hills
white skin people
like the belly of a fish
covered with hair.

Then they grow away from the earth
then they grow away from the sun
then they grow away from the plants and animals.
They see no life
When they look
they see only objects.
The world is a dead thing for them
the trees and rivers are not alive
the mountains and stones are not alive.
The deer and bear are objects
They see no life.

They fear
They fear the world.
They destroy what they fear.
They fear themselves.

The wind will blow them across the ocean
thousands of them in giant boats
swarming like larvae
out of a crushed ant hill. (…)

Set in motion now
set in motion
To destroy
To kill
objects to work for us
Performing the witchery
for suffering
for torment
for the still-born
the deformed
the sterile
the dead.
Whirling
whirling
whirling
whirling
set in motion now
set in motion.

So the other witches said
“Okay you win; you take the prize,
but what you said just now –
it isn’t so funny
It doesn’t sound so good.
We are doing okay without it
we can get along without that kind of thing.
Take it back.
Call that story back.”

But the witch just shook its head
at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur and feathers.
It’s already turned loose.
It’s already coming.
It can’t be called back.

(Silko 1977, 132-138)

I find hope in this story. Paradoxically, maybe. Recognizing the deadly smell which I also carry makes healing possible. I am part of a culture of death. Deadly as the prize winning story has been, knowing of it as story gives me the opportunity and challenge to tell it differently, to get it right. To heal my self. To heal myself culturally. To turn the story back on itself.

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A coopers hawk circles uttering a singular scream upon completion of each revolution. Gradually ascending it finally disappears westward and upmountain.

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Driving toward my place of writing retreat I parallel the Sacramento River northward. To the right and left of the interstate are rice paddies; the air is filled with insects and numerous low flying airplanes dispense toxic insecticides. I sneeze frequently as my body reacts to the noxious pollutants entering the car. Before the history of the agricultural abuse of this former vernal lake was possible, something else had to occur. It was the prize winning story making its way across what is now called California.

The banks of the Sacramento river, in its whole course through the valley, were studded with Indian villages, the houses of which in the spring, during the day time were red with the salmon the aborigines were curing…. On our return, late in the summer of 1833, we found the valleys depopulated. From the head of the Sacramento to the great bend and Slough of the San Joaquin, we did not see more than six or eight live Indians, while large numbers of their skulls and dead bodies were to be seen under almost every shade tree, near the water, where the uninhabited village had been converted into graveyards. (E.G.Lewis 1880, 49, quoted from Goldschmidt 1978, 342)

Where I go has aboriginal names that are not recorded on any of the AAA maps I have in my car. Sunsunu, Noykewel, Nomlaka, Waltoykewel, Waykewel, Memwaylaka. Tehemet and Paskenti seem to be the only Nomlaki names that have survived in the forms of the county name Tehama and the town name Paskenta. Where I go is aboriginal Nomlaki territory. Here is how the prize winning story played itself out among them:
The malaria epidemic of 1833 was the first serious blow Western civilization struck against the Nomlaki. … There is no evidence of direct contact between Whites and Indians until mid-century … By 1851 settlers began to request that the Indians be segregated from the White population on a reservation. … In 1854 … Thomas J. Henley, established the Nome Lackee Reservation on a tract of 25,000 acres in the foothills of western Tehama County between Elder and Thomes creeks. .. By 1856, with the threat of Indian retaliation dissipated, the settlers became covetous of the “magnificent farm of 25,000 acres” and brought pressure for its abandonment. The Nomlakis and other Sacramento valley Indians were literally herded over the mountain to Round Valley in 1863, the Nome Lackee Reservation having already been taken over by Whites. … After several years a number of Nomlakis returned to settle in the foothills of their old territory. …By this time [1930s] there were but three rancherias left … , with probably no more than a score of households identifying themselves as Nomlaki. (Goldschmidt 1978, 342)

I recap to grasp what I have just read:
1833 Unknown number of Nomlakis killed by malaria epidemic brought in by White settlers.
1850 First direct contact between Nomlaki Indians and Whites.
1851 Segregation of Nomlaki Indians from Whites.
1854 Nome Lackee Reservation established.
1856 Pressures for the termination of Nome Lackee Reservation.
1863 Nomlaki Indians and others herded to Round Valley.
1870s Return of some Nomlaki Indians to their old territory.
1930s Three rancherias with half a dozen Nomlaki households each.
1970s Only scattered descendants are said to survive.

One of the Nomlaki Indians has described the trail of tears to Round Valley, the Nome Cult Reserve, in these words:
They drove them like stock. Indians had to carry their own food. Some of the old people began to give out when they got to the hills. They shot the old people who couldn’t make the trip. They would shoot children who were getting tired. (Margolin 1993, 165)

Before any direct contact the 2,000 plus Nomlaki Indians are severely decimated by disease brought in by White settlers. Within fifteen years of direct contact their indigenous culture is effectively destroyed. Eighty years after direct contact and one hundred years after indirect lethal contact only a few households identify themselves as Nomlaki in their traditional territory. This all began to happen a mere century and a half ago. It continues to be the prize winning story.

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Down from where I sit and write I watch the seasonal creek waxing and waning. Every morning the rill flows, ripples, and glitters in the sun. By afternoon I see nothing but a little wet sand and pebbles in the stream bed across which the tracks of my car tires deepen as I come and go. Butterflies still gather for the remaining moisture.

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Maybe it is impossible to think of the past millennium without interference of the recency effect. But maybe what has happened during this century is a crystallization of what has built over the previous 900 years, and not merely a perceptual distortion. Summarizing the current century Habermas (1998, 73) has pointed to the
horrifying traits of an age that ‘invented’ the gas chamber and total war, governmentally administrated genocide and extermination camps, brain washing, the system of government surveillance and panoptic observation of entire populations. This century ‘produced’ more victims, and resulted in more soldiers killed, more citizens murdered, civilians killed, and minorities expelled, more people tortured, maltreated, starved, and frozen, more political prisoners and refugees than was even imaginable until now. (Transl. J.W.K.)

I notice how I find it increasingly difficult to think about the purported advances Eurocentrism has offered the world. As long as I look at history or the sciences within this story, advances and advantages are visible, despite all the horrors. When I leave the framework of the Eurocentric story even the seemingly most obvious ways in which it has improved on people’s lives end up with a question mark. I notice how many advances have come about in order to address ills wrought by the prize winning story itself; to discern what advantages remain when I don’t take the story for granted is challenging. The story was not inevitable. Its continuation is not inevitable.

Human rights, such an obvious and persuasive example resulting from European intellectual traditions. Yet: to what extent were they drafted in order to address human catastrophes precipitated and perpetrated by the Eurocentric traditions themselves? Historically they were developed in response to atrocities perpetrated as a consequence of actions stemming from Eurocentric thinking. Not as result of enlightened thinking or of debates about cultural ethics. Yet, one could not think about the rights of indigenous peoples or genocide as legal concepts without the idea of human rights. And surely they also address imbalances, evil, and excess created by other cultures than those esconced in the European intellectual milieu.

Or the European enlightenment tradition, and so many scientific discoveries. Surely I don’t want to toss all of it out as I confront the horrors Eurocentrism has wrought; but just as surely the purported and celebrated advantages seem increasingly relative and questionable.

Is it possible to think about their value from a viewpoint outside of or before the prize winning story? How could I do that? Where and how is a healing standpoint possible that allows me to keep its totalizing tendencies at bay?

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Raven flies by many times this morning. I am reading stories by a bear. Over the last few days I have begun reading and re-reading all of N. Scott Momaday’s works. House Made of Dawn. The Ancient Child. So often, as in the following quote, he beautifully speaks something I feel, like in this case about the place where I am sitting and writing. Reading the quote I react to his male language. I assume that he uses the male gender because he speaks primarily of himself.

Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colors of the dawn and dusk. (Momaday 1969, 83)

Momaday’s Kiowa name is Tsoai-ta-lee, Rock Tree Boy. This is in reference to Devil’s Tower in South Dakota, a place sacred to the Kiowas, made famous in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. According to the Kiowa tale it is a tree stump, scarred by bear claws, tsoai-ta. Momaday is a bear. Much of his writing centers upon bear medicine, including the aspects which are difficult and unmanageable. After reading I drive the thirty-odd miles to town, on my way to the San Francisco Bay Area. After driving for a short while I surprise a bear as I turn around a bend on the dirt road. The bear seems young with beautiful brown fur. It turns and races toward the next bend and plunges down the steep hill. I get out of the car and hear it crashing through the brush. I find the tracks of its galloping and leave offerings in them. A redtail hawk circles above.

25

An old story brings my ancestors and the ancestors from peoples of this land together in a way I would not have dared imagine until more recent years. Diné medicine person Hanson Ashley once told me how his ancestral people went on to a migration west in the long ago, crossing the Bering Strait west, and finally meeting up with the people of the European North. They traded knowledge. Maybe this is why I have always been fascinated by the Diné (Navajo) chantway ceremonies, the Nightway in particular. Maybe it is just the beautiful sandpaintings. A number of Diné friends and colleagues have helped me out many times, and I have been privileged to be invited to parts of their ceremonies. One of the stories describing the origin of the Nightway ceremony and the reasons for its use as remedy against neurological sufferings of various kinds is given in the story of the stricken twins (Matthews 1902). As in most of their ceremonies, sandpaintings form an integral part of the proceedings, helping to place the afflicted person at the place of balance, so that they can be re-created with beauty for a long life.

It begins with a statement that I passed by on many of my readings, until its significance finally struck me: This is a story about song. This is not the place to recount the intricacies of this story, which cover almost one hundred pages. The plot pertains to the imbalanced use of our brains, or so it seems to me. Briefly: The twins are born as a result of a relationship between a Diné woman and Talking God. On one of their excursions they enter a cave which collapses on them, presumably because of bad medicine or a curse administered by another one of the holy people. As a result, one is paralyzed and the other blinded. Their human relatives reject them after several attempts at healing, and they wander the lands in search of wholeness. Each time they encounter spirits they have to tell the story of their mishap. And each time the holy people claim they cannot help them. It is an arduous story to read, but also a story of perseverance and final success.

I read the story of the stricken twins not as my own, but as a story that may help me understand the healing my own culture and cultural roots need. And maybe I can even find help for the healing of the genocidal wounds inflicted upon Native American peoples.

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Many people regard the Hopi Indians as the keepers of teachings and prophecies that are of particular significance at these times. Traditional Hopi Elders seem to have become more vocal as their original instructions are increasingly in peril of being forgotten by the Hopi people themselves. Notably, the traditionalists staunchly refusing to join the march of European progress on Indian lands are commonly labeled “the hostiles.”

Their prophetic stories are recorded in sacred tablets and rock carvings retold and reinterpreted by each generation of keepers and Elders. They give testimony to various migrations and the instructions originally given to the people by their creator. While the Hopi prophecies do not give a particular time and outcome for the purification and changes they describe, they do contain markers leading many to believe that the time talked about is now.

Central to the prophecies is the return of Pahana, the Elder White Brother. This return will begin a time of purification and judgment, Nuntungk Talöngvaka, and those who survive will be part of the next world. Survival depends on faithfulness to the original instructions. Pahana will be identified by the return of the missing piece of the sacred tablet that this group of migrants took with them on their journey toward the east. The true White Brother has yet to return.

I cannot help but compare the millennial story to those of the Edda, the stricken twins, and the Hopi story of Pahana. Thoughts about original instructions, song, seeing, and balancing float through my head. I focus on the root of my annoyance with the millennial frenzy: it is the realization that it is an imperial story, or the continuation and celebration of an imperial story. It is a violent imposition of humans not just upon observable time cycles, but just as much upon peoples not of Eurocentric minds, upon lands and waters, upon the air. It is thought gone wild, out of control. Time is reduced to a thin line carrying all kinds of claims to universality. Reduced to a singular line claiming to account for everything. It is the masculinized twin gone haywire, in dire need of its feminine counterpart. Inventing the millennium is a truly postmodern event. It reflects the cynical and disconnected side of its thinking in crystallized form. It is a frivolous story. The count reflects the imposition, it is not a natural count.

The official millennial celebrations are intended to show how far we have come, while, indeed, it is a quantitative measure of the unbounded pathology of the Eurocentric mind. We are tainted by a ghost, the ghost of dissociation and alienation; the other half needs to be reconstituted. The return of the twin. Brother. Sister. The honoring of the feminine. Inner balance.

In the Diné traditions a person tainted by an enemy, by alien presence is said to be sa’a naghái, in a masculine and aggressive mode of being (associated with long life). This is a state of incompleteness, because bik’e hózhó, femaleness and happiness, are missing. Maleness unmediated by femaleness. Masculinization. Both poles are required for harmony and balance (Farella 1984, 170). Internal balance is missing. Rational thought predominates unmediated by other human faculties.

Celebrating the millennium is a reinforcement of linearity, of dissociated thought, of masculinization, of disconnection from natural and observable cycles. Healing the story means balancing ourselves in the holistic stories of place and time. Making whole. Healing the story means engaging in the proper exchanges, those that create balance rather than rapaciously take. Placing ourselves at the center of creation where we are. Remembering. Making ourselves present.

28

Returning from the San Francisco Bay Area I drive again on the interstate through rice paddies, orchards, and olive groves. Interspersed are several wildlife refuges. I daydream of Native American names on the signposts. In some bi- or multilingual countries I have found bilingual signs, at least in areas where the minorities are the majority. I remember the Gaelic and English signs in Eire; and the Sámegiella and Norwegian signs in Finnmarku in the European Arctic North. I imagine not just seeing the town name Winters on the green sign, but also Liwai. Not just Yolo, but also Churup. Grimes together with Palo. Colusa together with Til-til. Paskenta and Paskenti. Bilingual signs have probably been a contentious issue in most places where they exist. They seem impossible in California or elsewhere in the U.S. where the memory of residential schools is largely suppressed, and where bilingualism is quickly experienced as a threat to the “white” ideal of what makes an American. So I imagine for the sake of remembrance, for the sake of a different story, for the sake of completion and balance.

29
I return into the hills of Waltoykewel. Easing the car down the hill and across the seasonal creek I notice that my dome tent doesn’t quite look the same. In fact, it is rather flat. On the way up I had noticed a tall Towani pine that had fallen across the road, and an entire roof that had been blown off a house. I wonder whether there had been high winds during my absence.

I walk around the pancake tent and notice scratch marks. Even some of the cement bags that I had used to secure the tent had been torn open. Nearbey I now notice bags of steer manure ripped open. I walk toward the building and notice clearly visible bear tracks. Parts of the provisional plastic covering have been torn from its sides, with claws marks and muddy swipes identifying the inspector clearly. I take the tent apart to find two flattened mice. The surviving deer mouse scoots downhill.

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At night I sit outside and listen to the wind. It is because of the pine trees that I can follow the movements of the wind spirit. At times nothing stirs where I am, yet I hear the wind rushing through a pine tree 20 yards away, rustling its needles.

Now I hear the wind way far in the distance on top of the next hill; I follow its course as it descends downhill through the individual pines, touching trees spaced wide apart, stirring a pine over here into a whisper, then one to the right. The wind’s breath moves, fingering the needle bunches, brushing them, prompting them to talk, then moves upward toward me, whispering, now moving more toward the left, then toward the right, snaking uphill. Wind brushes my face, and throws my hair into disarray. Wind teaches me about the lay of the land, its movements. Wind spirit.

32

A member of the neighboring Wintu tribe has given beautiful words to the process of learning through intimate relationship with place. The elders “learn the earth’s secrets by quietly observing. It is a secret language called knowledge that releases the spirit from stone and heals by tone of voice and by changing sickness into elements that flow instead of blocking life” (LaPena 1999, 18). This is what it means to follow our original instructions in a particular place and time. “Sacred names, dreams, and visions are images that connect the bearer to the earth; shamans and other tribal healers and visionaries speak the various languages of plants and animals and feel the special dream power to travel backward from familiar times and places” (Vizenor 1981, XVII).

This is what seers, seeresses, healers, shamans, medicine people, and Indian doctors did and do. We are at risk in the presence of words. We are in the presence of awesome power. Getting it right is healing, getting it wrong creates imbalance and excess. To be sure, there isn’t a singular way of getting it right. There are many ways of balance. Getting it right means being and acting from time, place, and history, roots. All relations. Being present.

Words are sacred. Always. Spirit breath. They have power. Always. They create even when we forget their power. Forgetting it often means creating imbalance, since forgetting the sacred breath and wind in words is imbalance.

To be true to a word means being true to its place and time. This is what integrity comes down to. Severing the connection between language and place signifies a lack of integrity. Forgetting or denying or destroying the language of a place is not just murder of people, but it is just as much violence to the plants and animals. Pinkson (1995, 127), based on his initiations into the Huichol tradition, captures this beautifully and accurately:
The original language of the people indigenous to a specific area on Mother Earth’s body grows directly out of the land itself. The vibratory essence of the natural forces in a given area grow upward from the bowels of the land and surrounding elements to form the plant life and vegetation of that area. The indigenous people live, eat, and breathe these natural elements. They die back into them and new generations birth back out again in the passage of generations. The land literally teaches them how to live in harmony with it through this ingestion process. They take it into their bodies. It “speaks” to them. Then it comes out of their mouths as language. They speak the vibrations of that land. Their language and creation myths are embodied vehicles for the wisdom of that place. I could now understand why maintaining the original language of indigenous people is important not just to their survival but to all of humanity. Original languages contain within their vibratory structure the operating rules for how to live in their home territory in a harmonious manner. The indigenous language is a nierica [gateway, JWK] by which to access the intelligence of place. Lose the language and you lose its vital instructions about right relationship.

It helps to know the language of the people of a place, whether human or animal or plant. I strain to listen to the beings in Waltoykewel. I do not know the Nomlaki language. I don’t have access to its vibratory structure which would tell me how to live in balance in these hills. I yearn to learn the language to honor the ancestors of this place. I don’t even know the name for the pine trees around me. All I know is that they were of great importance. Indeed, gathering them was so central, it seems, that there were different terms for the people gathering them, probably in the month of April: I read that dehke is an ordinary tree climber, lala an expert climber. And then there is olhehit, the man, a type of clown it seems, who yells underneath the tree where somebody is loosening the cones on top. But he doesn’t just yell, “he chants a long moaning heeee-e-e-e-e, which starts loud and gradually dies out, then starts afresh” (Goldschmidt 1951, 410). I want to call them hee pines.

Cati, as the neighboring Wintu say, are the obvious and natural trees of life in this area. Eating more pine nuts and studying the Nomlaki language may help me be in greater balance in this place. Bear was important for the Nomlaki. Grizzly bears used to be abundant here, before the 1850’s. It was common to see forty or more in a single day. They wrapped the deceased in a bear hide. Wemal is their name for bear.

The Wintu have a rich vocabulary related to these grand pine trees (Pitkin 1985); their language is closely related to Nomlaki. There are words not just for the green and the ripe nuts, but there is a specific verb for the removal of the pine nuts. I read mimiton hudes pel yewca – they gathered pitch from tree to tree. Then there are terms for pine needles, sugar, pine nuts with beading holes…

And cati nawus or kamilis – the pine nut skirt worn during dances in the ceremonial lodge.

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34

The Diné stricken twins continue their wanderings, and they continue to experience nothing but rejection of their requests for healing. Finally the spirits or holy people realize that they have been fathered by one out of the midst of the holy people. So they decide to give them a break, and begin to conduct a healing ceremony for the blind and paralyzed twins. As they are sitting in the sweat lodge they notice how the healing is starting to take effect. They exclaim with joy: “Oh! younger brother, cried one, I see. Oh! elder brother, cried the other, I move my limbs” (Matthews 1902, 244). At this moment of disregard for the instructions given the twins by the holy people the ceremony abruptly ends. Healing does not occur. They are forced to wander again, because now healing is preconditioned on the right offerings, no longer just their blood relationship to the holy people.

It is this moment of breakage that is repeated many times over. Breaking away from sacred origin, spirit kinship. This disastrous moment in the twins’ quest strikes me as analogous to what seems to happen so much within the spiritual New Age movement: In search of physical, emotional, and spiritual wholeness seekers wander this planet. And when they find something they publicly exclaim “Eureka!” and publish a book. Oftentimes forgetting about the obligations stories and ceremonies carry, disregarding the instructions for when to speak. Oftentimes forgetting the necessary offerings and exchanges. Indeed, there is a time and place to speak about all this. It needs to be spoken. But it needs to be spoken in wholeness, in balance. With all that has passed in a particular place. With compassionate ruthlessness. Without it beauty so easily turns to nostalgia and kitsch. Wholeness cannot be made up. Elders cannot be made up. Wholeness arises from following all the lines that come together in each of us. No exceptions to be made. No shortcuts.

35

A lizard is stuck in a cut open one gallon plastic container used for nail storage. I hear the scraping noise of its feet. I come to its rescue and take a close look at its very dark markings. Around one of its eyes it has striking pink blotches. The scales shine light turquoise in some places. The lizard disappears across the threshold, to the outside.

Half an hour later I walk to my writing table in the shaded area I have created. It is about thirty paces away from the building. I recognize the lizard with the pink blotches. It moves toward some chamise bushes. Just as I turn toward my chair I notice something moving very fast across the flat area. I freeze and see a garter snake darting along at lightning speed. The snake grabs the lizard. It bites the snake’s cheek to save its life.

Over the next twenty minutes I observe the snake devouring the pink blotched lizard, head first. Slowly the bulge moves further down the snake’s body.

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37

Jenkyns (1998, 4) comments on the difficulty of celebrating the beginning of a new millennium:
The scale of the anniversary, if we are to take it seriously, is of such magnitude that we do not know how to rise to the occasion. Newspapers and magazines may run surveys of the past year, or the past decade, even of the past century. But the past millennium? The idea is somehow absurd. Similarly, hundreds and thousands of people celebrate the arrival of a new year by getting drunk. How do you mark the arrival of a new millennium? Get very very drunk? As an event the millennium is either too large for us to cope with, or too trivial.
Misguided as the scheduled celebrations appear once we leave the precisely arbitrary count and the story from which it arises, I nonetheless like to think that human beings, past and present, were and are capable of thinking in, contemplating, or grasping time intervals of millennial length and even longer. After all, in terms of the 26,000 years long Great Year it is but about half a small year. Rather short in the big picture. Taking such long views seems to be urgently necessary. Grounding them in observable events rather than the runaway of Eurocentric counting seems equally necessary. As Native Americans would put it, we need to enable ourselves to think and vision seven generations forward and backward. And take responsibility within that scheme. Only then will we be able to discuss and discern which of the advantages and purported advances wrought by the European traditions hold up in the light of some larger view.

All stories have a tendency to be self-affirming, but addictive stories have this tendency to a pathological degree. The Eurocentric story of progress and civilization continues to be told. Whatever the adjustments, the structure remains fundamentally the same. It is the story of addiction to progress. Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous may not be able to help, but they can inspire us to become Eurocentrics or Progressivists Anonymous, or, in the words of Glendinning (1994), we can go into recovery from Western civilization. Understanding the figment of the millennium for what it is can be a first step.

38

Some days have passed now since I began writing this essay. At sunset the moon is no longer toward the west, but much closer to the south. And she is no longer a crescent, but rapidly approaching fullness. Yesterday at dusk the moon was straight above Mars. Tonight she is straight to the left or east of Mars. Another equilateral triangle in the sky. Now toward the southeast. 90 degrees.

Bright Venus and bright Mars continue to face each other across the night sky for some hours after sunset. Their relationship is catalyzed by moon, the waxing process of the nornir, the lines laid out by the spirits of fate. Venus – Mars, Freyja, the great goddess and shaman of the north, and Týr, god of assembly and war, sky god.

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I reflect upon the various twinnings that inspired this millennial essay. The “digger” pine and its Indian twin by many names. The blind and the crippled twin. The Hopi and their Elder Brother, the White Man in possession of one of their prophecy tablets. Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn, Nerthus and Njörður, Freyja and Freyr. The Hopi warrior serpent twins on the poles. The precession of the equinoxes and the millenial count. This count, originally, had everything to do with Jesus as appropriated by the churches, by Christianity. In this understanding it is not a digital countdown, and has nothing to do with anticipated Y2K computer problems. Instead, it has everything to do with prophecy as given in the dramatic millenial descriptions of purification in the book of Revelation 20: 1-15. This prophecy was then interpreted within a particular count that had come afterwards.

So much of what makes us think about the millennium has to do with the Christian Church. Since Christianity was essential for the development of contemporary European thinking there is a rightfulness about this. Christian monotheism transcended the wildly varying local spiritual and religious traditions. This abstracting process resulting in universal claims can be seen as an instrumental step in the subsequent development of Eurocentric sciences. From this process originated a prosylotizing, missionizing agenda, as well as a potent relationship with the imperialistic ideology of the Roman Empire through Constantine’s conversion. All this prefigured and prepared the abstracting and universalizing claims of the sciences, put to practical use during colonization, and, now, globalization. Jesus as revolutionary Jew fighting for egalitarian politics, practicing open commensality (nondiscriminating food sharing as model for society), and healing (that can be interpreted in terms of shamanic traditions), seems to have been forgotten.

On my drives back and forth to Waltoykewel I listen to Homer´s Odyssey. Horkeimer and Adorno (1944) consider it the foundational text of European civilization, a testament to the dialectics of enlightenment, the rise of one-dimensional rationality. Odysseus is a figure central to the story of European cultures. He embodies the ideals of the male European hero. Strength. Beauty. Cunning. A man of exploits who claims credit for the Trojan horse stratagem while, in fact, others had been so inspired (Graves 1955, 330/1). The citizens of the doomed city are tempted to pull the wooden horse inside through the gates, with their own strength. They do this despite what prophecy had told them. I can think of so many Trojan horses: The horse of the Indo-Europeans; the coke; the refrigerator.; the VCR; video cassettes bringing images of middle class life into remote regions of Mother Earth. European and American culture is spreading everywhere, the progress virus is highly contagious and creates addictions. I think of the Trojan horses of economic development, Americanization as globalization. But I think also of the rise of human rights, the spread of feminism and education. Of course, this is primarily European style education.

And still, 4,000 or so children die every day. 80% of the wealth in the hands of 20% of the world population. Odysseus in the Trojan horse. The coke bottle is the Trojan horse of Americanization. I think about Odysseus’ wandering. He sets sail at the millennium, embarks on a journey home at the end of his colonial exploits. Departs from the trophies installed as Hollywood images. I imagine Odysseus Redux traveling to all the places of White Man’s conquests. A different journey home. Now it is the end of the colonial enterprise. He gets stranded in various places. Has to collect what he has left behind, the virus. The projections of his own “primitive mentality” onto native peoples. Gathers all the stuff he has left behind. He collects the images of progress. Images of primitivism. Images disparaging others as he disparages his own ancestral roots. Indigenous roots. Odysseus Redux. Odysseus healing.

41

The seasonal creek has now dried up. It only runs underground. No more rill resurfacing periodically during the night. The butterflies still alight on the places holding residual moisture. I read in a German news magazine that corn plants have been genetically altered to carry poison in order to kill insects eating them. The poison is also spread through corn pollen. Thus it is killing monarch butterflies and other insects not eating corn, but living near corn fields. Scientists warn against overreactions to this situation.

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The beginning date of the Mayan Long Count calendar is August 11, 3114BCE. It ends on December 21, 2012CE. (5) A crucial date within the cycle of the precession of the equinoxes. The beginning of a new Great Year. On that day the winter solstice sun conjuncts the crossing point of the galactic equator and the ecliptic. The Mayans called this area the Sacred Tree. This is a very rare event occurring once in several thousands of years. The Mayan calendar takes the precession of the equinoxes into account. It is able to predict this particular astronomical event. This is the moment of creation as described in the Popul Vuh. The hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque have to travel down the road of Xibalba for the sake of balance and renewal. This dark road is located at that place in the milky way where it has been obscured by interstellar dusk.

This particular area of the sky seems to have similar significance in Old Norse mythology. (6) It is associated with Urðarbrunnur, the well of memory, the fount from which the female spirits of fate lift the clay of renewal and fertility. It is located at the root of the tree of life. It is the place where the earth spirit to be reborn, Jórunn, appears. The beginning of a new Great Year, the beginning of a new cycle.

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The story of the stricken twins begins by informing us that “this is a story about song.” Singing and visionary seeing are closely related processes. In order for the Norse völvas of old to see and speak prophecy, varðlokkur, spirit songs, had to be chanted. Song and chant seem important in most every ceremony I know of. Chanted words, syllables, phonemes are the most important ones as they arise most directly from the spirit of place and time. Thus we are at greatest risk in the presence of words thus uttered.

The stricken twin story is about song. The twins are rejected twenty-one times. Each time they have to tell their story. After a number of rejections they are given a healing. And they utter words when silence was called for. They had disregarded the danger they were in. Oblivious to the risk they speak the miracle that is occurring. Through their folly they break the charm. They get sent away while being told that healing now can only occur if they make the appropriate offerings, bring the right gifts. The stricken twins leave. They weep and express their sorrow first in meaningless syllables, then in words. The spirits take note as they hear the words:

From meadows green where ponds are scattered
From there we come.
Bereft of limbs, one bears another.
From there we come.
Bereft of eyes, one bears another.
From there we come.
By ponds where healing herbs are growing,
From there we come.
With these your limbs you shall recover.
From there we come.
With these your eyes you shall recover.
From there we come.
(Matthews 1902, 245)

The ye’i, the spirits or holy people of the Diné, take pity on them, and help them to acquire the necessary offerings. This then, finally, leads to their healing. Twenty-one times the twins have told their stories, wandering all over their native lands.

The Nomlaki olhehit chants under the pine tree a moaning heeee-e-e-e-e as the important nuts are gathered for life. The pine nuts are not simply to be gathered, they are to be spoken to in a sacred manner. Not only because the sizable cones might hit the person underneath. The person underneath is not hurt because the tree’s need for conversation is honored. The olhehit knows the chant that nurtures the tree.

The twins told their story twenty-one times before receiving healing. They roamed their native lands from one spirit place to the next, back and forth. How many times will we have to tell the European story until there is healing? Until it is not a “witchery” story? Until we can turn the story back?

From the perspective of the pine tree and the ye’i and the dísir, the guardian spirits of the Old Norse people, we are traveling as paralyzed and blind people; we no longer know how to move with place, we no longer know how to see time. We have yet to make the right offerings.

I imagine the story of the relationship between the Diné and the European settlers being told, and retold, and retold. Until it is complete, until it has wholeness. I imagine then the sharing of ancestral stories. And I imagine European settlers making offerings to the Diné. It is not that we don’t know what to do. It is that we don’t do it.

Indigenous Elders have provided us with instructions that, at least, constitute a beginning point. Identifying the place of beginning is simple:
And so it is that when one doesn’t know the traditions one has nothing to light one’s way. It is as though one lived with a covering on one’s eyes, as if one lived being deaf and blind. Yet when one knows the traditions, one has vision to see…all the way to where the land meets the ocean. It’s as though one’s vision becomes as good as that. (Grey Mustache in Farella 1984, 24)
However, following the instructions arising from this beginning place is not simple.

We need to go through the arduous process of telling the story until we get it right. Gathering the storysherds. The story of the millennium is one of imbalance. It is not even right on its own Eurocentric terms. It is a precisely arbitrary moment. To give it power through words is to fuel imbalance and excess. It is getting it wrong. It means putting ourselves at risk. It means furthering the imbalance of masculinization, paying attention to one twin only. Inside and outside.

Healing comes on the wind brushing through those twin pines by multiple names – tuwa, gapga, towáni, sakky, náyo… Listening carefully we may be able to make the stories whole again. Turn the story around. Maybe then, one day, we can chant about excess and imbalance:

Whirling darkness
started its journey
with its witchery
and
its witchery
has returned upon it.

Its witchery
has returned
into its belly.

Its own witchery
has returned
all around it.

Whirling darkness
has come back on itself.
It keeps all its witchery
to itself.

It doesn’t open its eyes
with its witchery.

It has stiffened
with the effects of its own witchery.

Its is dead for now.
Its is dead for now.
Its is dead for now.
Its is dead for now.
(Silko 1977, 260-261)

It is not time yet. It is not dead. Excess and imbalance are continuing. There is much healing work to be done.

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The dictum that we need to remember history in order to avoid reproducing it proves insufficient in these millennial times. We need to remember ourselves as natural history, we need to remember ourselves as land, as stars, we need to remember our stories, we need to remember ourselves as plants and as rocks. Such memory can heal us from participation in an arbitrary count foisted upon ourselves and others. It may heal us all the way to the roots of our origins.

And then we may see, then we may hear, and all our relations may assist us. Our grievous sounds may turn to song, and song may help see and heal.

It just may help us pay attention.

After the fighting, Black Kettle’s sister, Mah-wis-sa, implored Custer to leave the Cheyennes in peace. Custer reports that she approached him with a young woman, perhaps seventeen years old, and placed the girl’s hands in his. Then she proceeded to speak solemnly in her own language, words which Custer took to be a kind of benediction, with appropriate manners and gestures. When the formalities seemed to come to a close, Mah-wis-sa looked reverently to the skies and at the same time drew her hands slowly down over the faces of Custer and the girl. At this point Custer was moved to ask Romeo, his interpreter, what was going on. Romeo replied that Custer and the young woman had just been married to each other.

It is said that Mah-wis-sa told Custer that if he ever again made war on the Cheyennes, he would die. When he was killed at the Little Bighorn, Cheyenne women pierced his eardrums with awls, so that he might hear in the afterlife; he had failed to hear the warning given him at the Washita. (Momaday 1997, 93)

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I walk into the computer store. On the shelf I see rows of CD-Rom packages entitled Civilization. The subtitle reads: The Will to Power. It is a strategic game.

48

The major portions of this essay were written during the month of May, 1999.

Footnotes

(1) The inspiration for the use of the word “storysherd” came from Scarberry-Garcia’s (1990) book on N. Scott Momaday; her text also provided some useful contextual information.
(2) As Finch (1991), following Massey (1907), suggests for the ancient Kemites.
(3) The four Eddic quotes in this section 8 are from: The first stanza from Terry (1990, 7), the second from Titchenell (1985, 267/8); the third from Terry op. cit., the fourth from Titchenell op. cit.
(4) Many of the descriptions as well as the quote in section 10 are from Hinton (1994); additional information is based on Heizer (1974) and Pitkin (1985).
(5) This discussion is based on Freidel, Schele & Parker (1993), Jenkins (1994), and Tedlock (1985).
(6) The following is based on Jonsson’s (1990) interpretation of the Eddic texts.

References

Farella, J. R. 1984. The main stalk. Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press.
Finch, C. S. 1991. Echoes of the Old Darkland. Decatur, GA: Khenti.
Freidel, D., L. Schele, and J Parker. 1993. Maya Cosmos. NY: Morrow.
Glendinning, C. 1994. My name is Chellis & I’m in recovery from Western civilization. Boston: Shambhala.
Gould, S. J. 1997. Questioning the millennium. NY: Harmony.
Graves, R. 1955. The Greek Myths: 2. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Habermas, J. 1998. Die postnationale Konstellation. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Heizer, R. F. 1974. They were only diggers. Ramona: Ballena.
Hinton, L. 1994. Flutes of fire. Berkeley: Heyday.
Horkheimer, M., and T. W. Adorno. 1944. Dialektik der Aufklärung [Dialectic of enlightenment]. NY: Social Studies Association.
Jenkins, J. M. 1994. The how and why of the Mayan end date in 2012 A.D. Dec94-Jan95, Mountain Astrologer, read on website.
Jenkyns, R. 1998. Review of Questioning the millennium. The New York Review of Books, vol. xlv, #9, 4-7.
Jonsson, B. 1990. Star myths of the Vikings. Swan River, Manitoba: Jonsson.
Margolin, M. 1993. The way we lived. Berkeley: Heyday.
Massey, G. 1907. Ancient Egypt in the light of the world. Baltimore: Black Classic.
Matthew, W. 1902. The Night Chant, a Navaho ceremony. NY: Knickerbocker.
Momaday, N. S. 1997. The man made of words. NY: St. Martin’s.
Pinkson, T. 1995. Flowers of Wiricuta. Mill Valley: Wakan.
Pitkin, H. 1985. Wintu dictionary. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Silko, L. M. 1977. Ceremony. NY: Penguin.
Tedlock, D. 1985. Popol Vuh. NY: Touchstone.
Terry, P. 1990. Poem of the Elder Edda. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Tichtenell, E.-B. 1985. The masks of Odin. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press.
Vizenor, G. 1981. Earthdivers: tribal narratives on mixed descent. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

 

Children of the Dawn: Return to Turtle Island – Knowledge, Wisdom and Truth

Return to Turtle Island

Children of the Dawn

Knowledge Wisdom and Truth

[Stan Nolton, Blackfeet, Circa 1990]

Return to Turtle Island – Knowledge, Wisdom and Truth –

-Introduction –

Throughout the course of recorded history, humanity has taken upon itself the responsibility of establishing a world order of social harmony and personal fulfillment. Although the virtues of this noble concept are worth striving for, most of the directions taken to this point, have also proven to be a significant factor for human conflict. As the global population approaches the threshold of another era, it does so wielding all the power and might that only centuries of physical experience could muster. Yet, deep from within humanities obscure beginnings which to a large part remain locked in mythology and speculation lays the veritable source of the natural Wisdom and Knowledge to have properly accomplished the task.

For as long as “Aboriginal” people can remember, the primary goal of Western civilization has always been to provide humanity with a uniform social conscience that would allow for the development and perpetuation of a single society. From this unified culture it was proposed that humanity could reach the pinnacle of its progression if unobstructed by the burdens of war and misery. Although one societal concept has emerged from the rest as the proclaimed model worthy enough to carry and interpret the collective skills of the species, it has in the process of of accomplishing this, compromised certain intrinsic values, that according to “Aboriginal” people, they should have been preserved. As a result, the turmoil, confusion and strife this world order was suppose to eliminate has inadvertently created further problems to solve.

With this world order now stumbling around beneath the weight of its synthetic inhibition, and, with no clear direction on how to reach the next level of development, all that there is to sensibly hold on to is the past.

As far as this situation goes, there is an old story among the “Blackfoot” people, that when translated, describes how as people, we all need to learn from our mistakes. In this old story, “Aboriginal” people are portrayed as existing in an unbroken, circular continuum of reality, never really progressing; yet, always remaining in a constant state of motion. This large circle of life, is compared to the greatest circle of the Sun. In the beginning, it is said, that all life came into being in the morning of creation. As far as progress was concerned, this perfect balance was the height of civilization. However, as some of the first people became too comfortable with perfection, a kind of disenchantment soon set in. Some people grew restless and thought they might like change. These people are known as Napi Kwan (The Changing People). Others were content and preferred things in there originality, for this they were named Ni Tsit Ta Pe (The Real People).

The Creator, seeing the discord among the people and their ways of thinking offered up a challenge to both. To each group of people there was given a gift, and set of rules or a constitution to live by for the duration of the contest. To the restless, the Creator gave the gift of change. To the content, the challenge of maintaining what there was in the face of change. For this contest the Creator provided one complete day which would start with the sun at high noon and end sometime after sunrise the next day. At the completion of the contest, the participants would again sit and evaluate what they had learned.

For the restless people the gift of change would be in the form of fire and would be used to litht their way; but, because of its limited intensity they would not be able to see beyond the light that they made for themselves. For the content however, the sun, moon, stars and the light of that first day would always shine brightly in their minds to guide them through their journey which would take them through several generations. As each generation would come into being as a part of the Great Circle of Life, they would mark the position of the sun for the contest and assume the responsibility of their particular period.

Although, this is only a condensed version of a more elaborate story which was last told in its entirety by a “Blackfoot” Elder who was of the generation known as “The Children of the Dusk,” it nevertheless bares a striking resemblance to what is happening today. As each generation has a different responsibility for maintaining the continuity, this Elder fulfilled his part by conveying the message from the “Children of the Setting Sun” to “The Children of the Night” and “The Children of the Dawn.” Since this story was told by the Elder, another generation has since entered the Great Circle of Life. Without a clear understanding of how all people form an important link in the Great Circle of Life, can we afford to negate our responsibility because we no longer appreciate the value of the old stories?

– The Perspective –

As a person belonging to the generation known to the “Blackfoot” Elder as “The Children of the Dawn,” I am also a product of the “Children of The Night.” What ultimately distinguishes night from dawn is the distance that a person is able to see. Having said this, it is not to say that one generation is any better than the next; but rather, it simply means that each generation has a different responsibility for maintaining the continuity of the Great Circle of Life.

After surviving the great period of darkness, I can only be thankful to “The Children of the DArk” and the previous generation for having seen to it by their enormous sacrifices and endurance that we, “The Children of the Dawn” have arrived.

The period of darkness which was marked by the reservation system and the apparent removal of our ability to see who we really are, has given way to a period where what we thought we had lost, was in fact only temporarily obscured by the night. This new period which we have now entered will be marked by a time of unprecedented, renewed excitement. Just as the birds are aroused into a singing frenzy each day in anticipations of the first rays of light; so to will it be with the “Children of the Dawn.”

After a short time of jubilation, there will be much work to do. Even though this period will be one of the most exciting times to live it will unfortunately be one of the hardest; for, in the period of darkness which we have come through, various nocturnal creatures scattered pieces of our belongings over the face of the earth. Therefore it is our duty as “The Children of the DAwen” to go out and put things back into their rightful order. Although we may not know what some items are, or, what they are for, the time will surely come when all will be answered.

As “The Children of the Dawn” it is our responsibility to prepare for “The Children of the Rising Sun.” As the enlightened generation, they will understand who we are and see how all people fit into the Great Circle of Life. Once again, just as the first people had seen clearly in their day, we will also understand what our purpose is. Not only will we clearly see who we are, but we will also see where we have come from and to where it is that we all go. Together, at the “Grand Sunrise” all generations will gather in celebration of completing a magnificent journey through the Great Circle of Life.

-The Assemblage –

As “The Children of the Dawn” it is with great honour that we have the responsibility of awakening our people. Although some may not wish to be disturbed at this time, it is important that they are at least given the opportunity to be properly reminded of their duty and reassured by our actions that it is alright to be who they are.

For most of “The Children of the Night,” the reservation system and the boarding school syndrome has taken a heavy toll. The people traumatized by these extreme forms of conditioning were effected to such an extent, that for some, reality goes no further than what they were taught. Although descendants of these people may speak a variation of their original language and claim to represent the position of their Elders before them, to a large part, there is little correlation between what was said in the past and what is actually happening today. Although “The children of the Night” are essential carriers of information vital for future generations, their vision seldom persist beyond the limits to which they were confined. What unfortunately resulted from the time of the forced indoctrinations was that a psychotropic wedge was temporarily driven between their original thought process and what is considered to be the spoken part of the language. However, with proper commitment and the right healing process, our societies can be restored back to their rightful position.

It has only been until very recently that “Aboriginal” people on the reservations have been permitted to leave their reserves. As more and more people become confident enough to reacquaint themselves with the land, the stories of the old people will slowly begin to take on a renewed reality. This relationship or bond connecting the “Aboriginal” people to the land and their environment, can be best described as a type of sacred constitution. It is from this constitution that everything which contributes to the identity of the “Aboriginal” people emanates. Whether its their lines of communication such as language, song and dance, ceremonies or, whether its their circuits of knowledge and wisdom concerning Geography, Astronomy, Philosophy, Sociology, or, what ever names they may go by today, what is known for cetain is that the entire being of the “Aboriginal” people has emerged as a direct result of the close, personal relationship they have with the environment through this constitution. Furthermore, from this constitution, it is the environment and not the people that determines who they are.

To date, “The Children of the Dawn” have converged on a massive campaign of utilizing the combined wisdom and knowledge of all our previous Elders to reestablish and appreciation of our original constitution. Although, the focus of this movement is to bring into question the perceived truth of our present existence, this can only be done by removing and carefully examining the layers of prevarication that accumulated during the period of darkness.  What is rather unfortunate about the whole process is that it can not be done without offending cerain certain people who are determined to forget about the past. However, because we are confident that the culture of our constitution is based on the values of equality, sharing and understanding, the potentially disruptive problems that currently exist can only be resolved once the balance of the original “constitutions” or “thought patterns” are restored; for, without truth, there simply can be no knowledge or wisdom.

What ever the popular ay of thinking may wish the “Aboriginal” people to be, what is certain is that an entire society of people, complete with their own distinctive institutions, existed relatively undisturbed for thousands of years in what is now known as the “Americas.” Although it may be the consensus in some academic circles that the “Aboriginal” people have lost, or, are in danger of losing their identity, for most of the people of this continent who chose to store the information of their identity in the huge, living, storehouse of the environment instead of in print, their identity is still very much alive. As a result everything from the very minute up to the most significant features of the environment still have a purpose and reason for being. In practically every instance where a particular name was used to describe something, it also serves as the means to access  other information vital for all people.

Therefore, in order to fully understand the Pe Ka Ne people, it is important to understand all the other “Aboriginal” people of the “North American” continent as well. In order to understand the it is imperative to know the continent first. However, in order to know the continent from the proper perspective, a person must be able to see beyond the countries, provinces, states, and cities which disguises what is actually there.

Before there was such a thing as “North America,” this land was known to most of the inhabitants as Turtle Island. With a little imagination it is not too difficulty to see why this would be. Alaska, is said, to represent the left front flipper of what resembles a huge turtle. Baja California is said to be the back left flipper, Mexico, is the tail, Florida, the back right flipper, Labrador, the right front flipper and the Elsmere Islands in the North are the head. As is the case with all turtles, the back or shell is divided into thirteen large areas which are then surrounded by numerous smaller areas. As with the real turtle, all the parts or areas of the turtle are what contributes to what it is. So too is it with all the areas of Turtle Island; in fact, this relationship is the basis of what determines the parameters for the sacred constitution of Turtle Island.

Within one of the thirteen areas on the turtles back which now takes on the present countries of Canada and the United States, the “Blackfoot” people still occupy one of these specific territories. As with all the other areas, the “Blackfoot” People have a responsibility of maintaining and protecting their area for future generations. This protection is more than just a matter of defending the area against outside intrusion, it also involves providing a mechanism for preserving the knowledge and wisdom from whatever adverse influences might occur.

For the “Blackfoot” people, Geography is far more than just a vast, open, empty area waiting to be discovered. Everything from the mountains, rivers, trees and rocks is considered to be a sacred keeper of knowledge. Within the area of Turtle Island which the “Blackfoot” people still inhabit, the land holds all the knowledge and wisdom as to who they are, their responsibilities as people and their relationship to past and future generations. As a living entity capable of such a feat, the land is respected and treated with the utmost honor. Despite the numerous attempts made by early “Blackfoot” people to demonstrate the integrity of their position, the difficulties in transferring the information from this medium to a print has proven to be one of the greatest obstacles to overcome. As a result, a large percentage of the common knowledge open to all people remains trapped in a metaphysical state of limbo.

It is only after careful examination of how the “Blackfoot” and English languages correspond with each other, does it then become obvious just how incompatible the languages really are. this in turn has a tremendous impact on the ability of the different has a tremendous impact on the ability of the different people to communicate. Although there has been an extensive amount of dialogue taken place in the past, for the most part, the communication that occurs remains at a very superficial level.

A good example of how this language distortion can be physically demonstrated is by simply observing the differences in nomenclatures used by the “Blackfoot” and the non-native people to describe the same geographical areas. For the non-natives, place names have little significance other than to identify a certain place or a particular feature. As a result there is Alberta, Calgary, the Bow River, the Elbow River, the Belly River, the Old Man River, the Rocky Mountains, the Nose Hill and so on. Without a map it would be very easy for a person to become disoriented and to eventually get lost. Place names are given so little consideration that they can be easily changed as the need arises; such as the case when the Belly River became the Old Man River in 1914.

For the “Blackfoot” people, place names are a manifestation of the special relationship that exists between the two legged and the rest of the universe. In the areas which include South Western Alberta and Northern Montana, the “Blackfoot” people consider this area to be the land of the Old Man. Just as Turtle Island is divided into specific areas, so too is it with the Old Man The Rocky Mountains of Alberta are said to represent the back bone of the Old Man. The Nose Hill in Calgary is the centre of his face, the Elbow River is a part of his arm, The Bow River is his bow, the Little Bow used to be his arrow, there was the Heart River, the Belly River, Chief Mountain was his organ, there was the Thighs River, the Knees River and down by Missoula, Montana there still is the Blackfeet River.

Further to this, there is the Old Woman with all her body parts listed in the vicinity of the Milk River, and in addition to this there is a whole collection of birds and animals arranged in a definite pattern throughout the whole region of what is now known as Alberta, Montana, and parts of Saskatchewan. From this mosaic of esoteric beings which holds the autobiography of a group of people from Turtle Island, lies the key for understanding the otherwise mythological world of the “Aboriginal” people of Turtle Island and other “Aboriginal” people around the world.

Epilogue –

Since the time when the “Children of the Night” were confined to reserves many changes have occurred to the environment, the people and to the land. This in turn has had a significant impact on the thinking process of the people. From actual geographical alterations to simple changes in names, the entire continent of Turtle Island has become a corporate empire of Canada, Mexico and the United States. Although each have their own economic agenda, “Aboriginal” people have had little or no input into these changes which have greatly effected their lives. Although a lot of our knowledge is preserved for us in the stories of our Elders, many of our people who still remember these stories have never actually had the opportunity to personally experience the areas where certain events important to their culture were supposed to have occurred. For those who have venture out to look for these sites, there is the increasing problem of accessibility to many of the sites from development.

As “The Children of the Dawn” we have a duty to see that the knowledge from these stories are once again connected back to the Earth to become living parts of our identity. To accomplish this task, it is necessary to completely return to Turtle Island and do a comprehensive examination of how all “aboriginal” people relate to each other and access the impact of how progress has effected their relationship and understanding of the Universe from how they originally knew it. This journey to Turtle Island, although totally mental in nature, will nevertheless be an exercise in repatriating the mind, body and spirit with a place that actually exists. As such, it has to be remembered that as of now, we are only visitors to this foreign place which has a completely different set of rules or constitution from that which we are familiar with. This journey which is essentially the same as taking a trip to Asia or other parts of the world has in itself certain conditions that must be followed.

That a Universal Constitution exists for the continent of Turtle Island complete with its own institutions.

Recognized that the territory of the “Blackfeet” is only one part of Turtle Island and others exist.

That the original institutions were excepted as the legitimate pillars which contribute to a distinctness of the society and therefore served a specific purpose.

That these societies still exist as distinct societies and must be respected.

Now that we have a partial map and a definite direction to follow, we the “Children of the Dawn” would like to resume the journey to Turtle Island. In the territory which is held under the responsibility of the “Blackfoot” People it is essential that all place names and original nomenclature be restored to there original title. Eventually, as we pass through each area to be visited, a more detailed map and understanding of Turtle Island will appear.

Come, let us walk together as one people on this journey.

Shamanic Initiations and Their Loss–Decolonization as Initiation and Healing

 

Shamanic Initiations and Their Loss —

Decolonization as Initiation and Healing

 

Jürgen W. Kremer

 

3383 Princeton

Santa Rosa

CA 95405, USA

jkremer@sonic.net

 

© 2000 by Jürgen W. Kremer

 

Published in:

Ethnopsychologische Mitteilungen, Band 9, Heft 1/2, 109 – 148

[Page numbers inserted below as P109 etc.]

 

 

Dedicated

to the students who

have shared this path with me –

in gratitude for the gifts

of learning they offered

 

 

[P109] I am a white man. White is short for “socialized into a Eurocentered frame of mind.” White is the name of forgetting. Forgetting so much of how we came to be where we are. I am a white man. Boxed into a box that likes to forget its name. I do not walk alone. Like other white men something walks with me. With me walks a shadow. Before me I project the shadow of forgetting where I came from. Behind me trails the shadow of the tears of native peoples. Below me I march on the shadow of the lands my peoples have raped. Above me looms the shadow of the spirits which I am blind to. All around me walks the shadow of domination, witchhunts, genocides, holocausts, sexism, racism. I do not walk alone.

 

When I walk into healing – how can I heal when these shadows walk with me? How can I heal when they obscure what lies beyond them? I hope to heal by remembering and seeing the shadows that walk with me so that I can become complete. So that I am not made of illusions. I hope to heal by purifying the shadow. So that I am not boxed in a box without names. So that I walk with the multitude, richness, and plurality that is me. Til árs ok til friðar – so that there may be fertility and peace. So that there may be friðr and heill before me – peace, wholeness, and health… may there be friðr and heill behind me… may there be friðr and heill below me… may there be friðr and heill above me… may there be friðr and heill all around me. So that, maybe, I can go on in beauty, friðr and heill. And so that, maybe, even we all can go on in beauty, friðr and heill. So that, maybe, I can walk with all my relations. So that, maybe, I get healed.

 

 

Who is the self that is getting healed?

So often people of the Eurocentered frame of mind are puzzled why indigenous people are upset when they see their healing approaches used in a context different from or alien to their traditional ways. Aboriginal people may then speak not only of abuse, misunderstanding, or appropriation, but also of the grave spiritual dangers ensuing as a consequence of healing done outside of what is defined as the proper practice according to indigenous beingknowing. This contribution attempts to address and clarify the significant [P110] differences in understanding the process of healing in the context of native (or indigenous) thinking vs. Eurocentered thinking.

 

Interest in Native American and other indigenous healing practices (and ceremonies in general) has increased quite dramatically in recent years. This surge in curiosity is fueled by the experience that the conventional western healing; paradigm frequently reaches its own limit and that the spiritual connections within one’s self, with community and with nature, have desiccated. While this yearning for holistic healing by way of indigenous healing practices stems from a valid desire and need, it raises not only ethical and political issues, but also epistemological questions: Is the Eurocentered way of knowing indigenous healing compatible with the native understanding and use of these practices?

 

Cosmologies are inevitably implicated in any healing activity, but our attempts to be aware of such cosmologies, and, even more so, our attempts to participate in them in an indigenous sense are a matter of choice, commitment, and presence. Two significant things follow from this: 1) If people engage with an indigenous paradigm in a non-indigenous fashion then they continue to act out the imperialistic nature of Eurocentered knowledge acquisition. 2) Healing endeavors offer a choice of the quality of conversation one wants to create for the future (indigenous vs. Eurocentered). This is true regardless whether one’s indigenous roots are present, recent, or have to be sought in the distant past amidst a crisscrossing entanglements of cultural, genetic, and other heritages.

 

A significant part of the unease and discomfort indigenous people have around the decontextualized use of native healing practices is the shadow material looming not just in the background of such endeavors, but becoming part of them. Using native healing approaches outside of an indigenous way of being means carrying the disease of the colonizing paradigm, in fact, perpetrating colonization. Removing the presence of these shadows means decolonizing for all of us ensconced in the Eurocentered paradigm (whatever the cultural roots). It means healing the diss-association from communal roots. It means recognizing the losses of our own cultures. It means recognizing the history of colonization, racism, and sexism. Only then arises the possibility of a knowledge exchange about indigenous healing practices that can be called equitable, instead of acquisitive, reifying, or appropriative. It may lead to the renewal of a more complete, holistic, and associative nurturing conversation.

 

My general framework is a discursive conversational stance of communal con-course, which resists the reification and ossification of what is usually described as “the other” (e.g., the Indian, the Sámi, the Aboriginal). It is an attempt to recover the traditional plurality of tribal or indigenous stories not only in the perception of other cultures, but particularly and foremost in the perception of one’s own roots. This means overcoming the denial of and separation from “the other” within one’s own self constructed in the [P111] Eurocentered fashion; it means discontinuing and healing the projective identification with indigenous peoples (the romantic colonization and containment of native life and history through Eurocentered sciences). The construction of indigenous peoples as “the other” is only possible as long as Eurocentered folk choose to forget their own indigenous roots, since out of this denial arises the legitimation of Eurocentered scientific dominance, progress thinking, and colonization. This approach is based on the recognition that the discontinuance of colonizing action is not just to cease outward acts of hostility, violence, and dominance, but just as much the internal abolition of the colonizer or the colonizing mind (the latter being a concept synonymous with the construction of the Eurocentered mind or consciousness).

 

I would like to be as clear as possible about the vantage point from which I am writing: The framework is a) decolonization and b) the healing of the masculinization of the phenomena of perceived reality. Any consideration regarding indigenous roots for people who are removed from them by more than a couple of generations needs to include such dimensions as politics, economics, law, cultural practices, ceremony, initiation, science, psychology. Healing the Eurocentered thought process from its dissociation or split from an embedded, nurturing, or holistic participation in the phenomena cannot be merely an individualistic process – it has to be a cultural, communal, and social process. I am writing as a man of Nordic-Germanic ancestry struggling with the depths of the scars of modern pathologies as they show themselves in individuals physically as such illnesses as cancer, addictions, chronic fatigue syndrome, and in social anomies (in Durckheim’s sense), ecological crises, continuing physical and cultural genocide of indigenous peoples, the crises of knowing, the persistence of sexism, institutionalized violence and racism, etc.

 

I am using the terms indigenous roots, indigenous consciousness, and the like not out of any presumption that this is something I have achieved for myself, or that I have reached closure to my personal process of decolonization (I do not believe that individual closure is possible without the healing of the communal, cultural contexts). These terms have been suggested directly and indirectly by Native American thinkers, Apela Colorado in particular (1994, 47):

The goal of the recovery of indigenous mind [is] to reunite people with their tribal minds. Each of the races of humankind was given a sacred circle or original instruction to live by. If our species is to survive, Euro-Americans must be supported in their effort to regain the Earth-based knowledge of their ancestors. Native Americans will help.

Churchill (1996, 386/7) spoke similarly when addressing an audience of Germans:

You must set yourselves to reclaiming your own indigenous past. You must come to know it in its own terms – the terms of its internal values and understandings, and the way these [P112]  were appplied to living in this world – not the terms imposed upon it by the order which set out to destroy it. You must learn to put your knowledge of this heritage to use as a lense through which you can clarify your present circumstance … You must begin with the decolonization of your own minds, with a restoration of your understanding of who you are, where you come from, what it is that has been done to you to take you to the place in which you now find yourselves.

Within the framework of his own indigenist approach he urges the expression of “German indigenism” (389). Mohawk (n.d., 17) speaks to the same issue when stating “I do not want people to adopt Indian rituals, because I want them to own their own rituals. I want them to come to ownership of experiences that are real for them. Then I’ll come and celebrate with them.”

 

According to all the native and indigenous people (shamans, medicine people and intellectuals) I have spoken to, the crucial point here is that indigenous roots are always recoverable. Indeed, indigenous leaders see such task as a historic necessity in our times. This is where their hope for the resolution of the current crises, particularly the ecological crisis, rests. For example, Bob Hazous, Chiricahua Apache, has stated: “Don’t come to Indian people and look for feathers and sweats and medicine men and stuff like that. Go back to your own history and find out who you are so that you can look at yourselves and see how beautiful you are” (1994). Implicit here is an assumption about “original instruction – words about purpose, words rooted in our creation, words that allow the human being an identity beyond the illusion of civilization,” as Native American writer Gabriel Horn puts it (1996, 49). Reconstructing indigenous consciousness is about the remembrance of these original instructions and the indigenous conversation with all beings they guide in a particular place at a particular time. While consciousness is a psychological term that has arisen from the individualism facilitated by the Eurocentered paradigm, it assumes quite a different meaning in an indigenous context: instead of being merely psychological it refers to a fluid and embedded awareness of and connection with all our relations – humans, ancestors, animals, plants, earth, stars, sun, and all others. And all this in the storied, imaginative, communal reflections of lived participation.

 

Even though the words “recovery of indigenous mind” have been suggested by Native American thinkers I have to admit to a certain degree of anxiety whenever I use words like these. So many concepts and terms have become superficial labels as they have entered mainstream or popular thinking that I am afraid a similar thing might happen with a romantic, nostalgic, or opportunistic appropriation of and identification with the word indigenous. This would be terrible and an outrageous misunderstanding of the process I am calling for. The remaining indigenous peoples continue to struggle for survival and recognition. Indigenous is a term with important political meaning. Any person of Eurocentered mind needs to assume (take it on!) this political meaning (together with all [P113] the other meanings the word indigenous connotes). Assuming it means a personal and social struggle for decolonization, it means fighting genocide, racism, sexism, and ecocide. Outside of that context the use of the word indigenous is abuse and devaluation of the struggle of aboriginal peoples and supports those who keep destroying indigenous cultures in conscious and unconscious ways.

 

The differences in healing paradigm between indigenous traditions and Eurocentered traditions can be understood as the result of different constructions of self (importantly, any self construction arises within a complex web of mutual causality; consequently, the perspective offered here should not be misread in a monocausal vein). There are multiple ways of identifying such differences; for the purposes of this contribution on healing I am using shamanic initiations as a marker to identify differences in self construction. This leads, in a sense, to the most fundamental questions:

 

Who are we healing? Which self are we healing when we attempt to relieve human suffering?

 

Are we attempting to heal the modern, Eurocentered, colonizing, or dissociated self? Or are we attempting to heal the indigenous self, the self embedded in community, land, and ancestry?

 

Are we attempting to heal the Eurocentered self, and make it more functional within the modern world of progress and dissociation? Or are we attempting to bring balance to the indigenous self by healing it from the source of creation as it is understood in the plurality of stories of traditions within which we are working?

 

The most succcinct way to describe my stance would be as follows: The exposure to Native American and other indigenous healing practices needs to be an occasion for people of Eurocentered mind to develop and remember their own indigenous healing practices. This process would include the integration of the western medical and psychological achievements from European indigenous perspectives – from the indigenous roots Eurocentered folk have recovered for a concursive construction of indigeneity for today and the future (not a folkloristic or retroromantic reènactment of things past).

 

In my attempt to clarify the issues I have just introduced I:

— describe and discuss what is usually seen as the classical shamanic initiation in Eurasia, the prequisite for the highest levels of healing in her indigenous traditions;

— discuss my understanding of indigenous healing;

— describe the historical loss of rites of passage and initiations leading to the construction of what can probably most accurately be called the Eurocentered self;

[P114] — contrast the modern paradigm of healing that arises from this self construction with indigenous understandings of healing;

— describe the process of decolonization as a rite of passage and initiation.

— I conclude with I poem and overview table “summarizing” the issues discussed in this article.

 

Shamanic Initiation

Most indigenous cultures seem to have a variety of specialists engaged in healing endeavors. Their native labels express their work succinctly, distinguishing between e.g., herbalists, bone setters, shamans, seers, diagnosticians. Given my background, my focus is on the Eurasian cultural areas which, amidst their rich diversity, have certain connecting strands. Here the jajan, saman, noaidi, völva, or seiðkarl embody the highest or deepest forms of seeing and healing; they are holders of the deep knowledge of their cultures and keep it alive through their ceremonial practices; they have been initiated by spirits into the lived knowledge of their cultures.

 

My Nordic-Germanic roots connect me with the vast Eurasian cultural complex that has certain common strands (Pentikäinen 1989). Within this rich area I begin my discussion with descriptions from cultures that are less impacted by Christian influences, and move subsequently to the Old Norse material that is much more fragmentary and influenced by Christian thought.

 

A feature on Tuvan shamanism filmed by Belgian Public Television (Dumon 1993) contains a brief moment where the interviewer asks the shaman whether he had to go through the shamanic illness in order to become a shaman. “Were you also sick?” The question leads us to expect a long explanation of such a significant event, however, the old man only answers matter of factly: “Of course, I was sick.” The brevity of the answer indicates how obvious, necessary, and inevitable the so-called shamanic illness or albystar (in Tuvinian). It is what makes and defines a shaman, whether woman or man or hermaphrodite. All other shamans shown in this movie have undergone similar trials as they were called to shamanize.[1][1]

 

The common language for the call to shamanize and the initiation is ‘initiatory illness’ or ‘shamanic illness.’ The following are excerpts from descriptions among the Evenki (Tungus) of Central Asia:

…He became tormented and timorous, especially at night when his head was filled with dream visions. On the day when he had to act as shaman, the visions stopped, he fell into a [P115] trance and stared for hours at an object. The pale and worried man, with his piercing look, made a peculiar impression. After his dream, the chosen man became uneasy and timid, began to meditate, did not answer when he was addressed and frquently heard ‘words whispered into his ears’ which he had to sing, žarižačan (literally: ‘to repeat’). That was the moment when, in shamanistic terminology, ‘the spirits entered his ears and brain’, telling him the words of the song. … [The Evenki] believed that the choice itself and the transfer of the assistant spirits to the novice were directed by the master spirit of the upper world. The first words heard by the chosen person were instructions, such as: … ‘do not commit evil things, only cure the sick. … I shall be above you, and take care of you, and give you strength.’ In his dream, the young shaman could see the shaman ancestors who also gave him instructions. Then other spirits came ‘whispering into his ears’. (Vasilevič 1968, 345)

The last sentence of this quote speaks most clearly to the difference between a psychologizing Eurocentered perspective and indigenous perspectives: the ancestors and other spirits speak to the initiand, self construction is fluid and open enough to have intercourse with such realities; this is different from an internalizing self construction comprehending and apprehending ancestors as various aspects of the monadic self (whatever psychological theory we might use). The process leads from the initial visitation by spirits to the acquisition of the necessary shamanic accoutrements, as described in the following statement from the Tuva (Soyot) of Central Asia:

A shaman is recognized by typical attacks of a special ‘disease’ called albystar. The person in question ‘goes off his head’, utters inarticulate sounds, breaks dishes, leaves the house and roams about the taiga, twitches in hysterical convulsions, is seized with nausea and rends his garments, etc. The ‘invalid’ repeats that the soul of a shaman ištig irgäk has moved into his body, that the spirit urges him to take a horse (by which the drum düŋür is meant) and clothes (ala xujaq) and to become a shaman. (Vajnštejn, 1968, 331)

 

Even in the Old Norse traditions, where shamanism fell prey to Christianity more than one thousand years ago, we find remnants in the records describing an indigenous self construction of the practitioners. For example, at the beginning of the Eddic poem reaching most deeply into the older layer of the culture we read how the seeress was raised by ancestral spirits:

Ek man iötna / ár um borna, / þá er forðum mik / fædda höfðu. / Níu man ek heima / – níu íviðiur, / miötvið mæran – / fyr mold neðan. (Völuspá, stanza 2)

I remember the Jötnar who were born at the beginning of time and reared me in former times. I remember nine worlds beneath the earth, nine giantesses, and also the glorious tree of fate. (Pálsson 1996, 47 & 58)

The völva is raised by giants, reared with primal spirits of old, one of them called Burr, the bear ancestor. Personal and collective or communal time are indistinguishable in this [P116] incantoatory account of earliest Norse history. The giants are primal spirits, presences from before human beings (If we accept Pálsson´s interpretation of iötna as Sámi we still end up with the same understanding: the seeress was raised in the presence of spirits or with spirits.)

 

The connection with one’s dream or vision or medicine power or personal gift is part of native life, manifesting in all the multitude of cultural ways. Reinforcing that connection is the function of rites of passage. Shamanic initiation, in the indigenous sense, is deepening or reinforcing one’s presence to the spiritual realities within a communal framework. While spirit(s) are part of all indigenous conversations, the awareness of and presence to spirit(s) becomes intensified and heightened for shamans. Thus the völva in Völuspá is raised with spirit(s) in such intensity and to such depths that she sees through time, that she remembers the beginnings of things, the center of her traditions (the tree of fate). As the descriptions above indicate, such shamanic initiations are not mere psychological processes. They are a process always also resulting in actions capable of manifesting healing. Paula Gunn Allen (1998, 47) aptly describes the difference between the psychologizing of spirit – a temptation to which many alternate Eurocentered approaches succumb in our current culture of psychology – and the indigenous conversation:

In tribal cultures, ecstatic, mystical states don’t so much convert into emotive personal experience as into physical experience or experience with direct effect in the physical (that is, as a consequence of entering an ecstatic state, a practitioner can do something actual). Visionary experiences, in themselves, are either a direct requirement for some ritual activity in which the individual is engaging or are a prelude to a life as a holy person.

The shamanic self is not so much constructed as affirmed and confirmed during initiations; it is the rigorous confirmation of something which has already been in the process of construction from early on. It is worthy of note that the ‘shamanic illness’ is not something an individual chooses as an endeavor during a sequence of workshops, but that the spirit(s) come to them. The shamanic self is initiated from the ‘outside’, to speak in Eurocentered terminology. We might say more accurately that other aspects of the weave that the fluid, participatory indigenous self is connected into impinge their awareness onto the individual mind. Or, more plainly:

The Indian has achieved a particularly effective alignment of [the physical and imaginative] planes of vision. … The appropriation of both images into one reality is what the Indian is concerned to do: to see what is really there, but also to see what is really there. (Momaday, from Blaeser 1998, 26)

So, this is a self which has easy concourse with spirits and spiritual dimensions, or rather: instead of being unconscious or in denial about such presences and concourse, it is present to it. This is the work of the völva, noaidi, and the various other shamanic practitioners.

 

[P117] Eliade, in his classic book Shamanism – Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1951/1964, 42), complains that not enough “care had been taken to collect the confessions (sic!) of … Siberian shamans” so that they are “reduced to the meager common formula: the candidate remained unconscious for a certain number of days, dreamed that he was cut to pieces by spirits and carried into the sky, and so on.” He sees the following detailed description as a relief from such reductions. This example may be the one most frequently quoted in the literature (see Popov in Dioszegi 1968, 137-146;  Elidade 1951/1964, 38-42; Halifax 1979, 37-49; Vitebky 1995, 60-61), and it can also be found on the internet (see below). Repeating this report one more time may thus contribute to a reification and ossification of what shamanic initiation is. The ones who escaped the care of the anthropological collectors may be the lucky ones, since they have escaped the grasp of anthropology, “the natural enemy of natives” (88), or more elaborately: “Natives are forever studied, invented as abstruse cultures, and then embodied in motion pictues as the simulated burdens of civilization. … These adversities became more grievous and caused a turn in the notions, courses, and literary canons at universities, but the treacheries and dominance of anthropologism, the obsessive, unmerciful studies of natives by social scientists, have not been overturned…” (Vizenor 1997, 86). With the opening of the East Bloc, anthropological attention has turned more intensely on her aboriginal traditions previously more difficult to access. Here is an abbreviated version of the account:

At first he was descending somewhere, then he grasped that there was a sea beneath him. While walking by the sea, he listened to the voice of upper disease who told that he would acquire the shaman’s gift from the Mistress of water and his shaman name would be Hotarie. After that he reached the shore. A naked woman, who was lying there, suckled him. She was the Mistress of water. Her husband Frosty God gave an ermine and a mouse to guide him.  They led him to the hill in the lower world where he saw seven tents. Dyukhade entered the second tent. The Smallpox people were living there. They cut out Dyukhade’s heart and put it in the cauldron to boil. Afterwards Dyukhade visited other tents and got familiar with the spirits of diseases who lived there. Still preceeded by his guides, Dyukhade came to that place of the Shaman’s Land where his throat and his voice were strengthened.  Then he was carried to the shores of the nine lakes. In the middle of one lake was an island and on the island there was a tree, quite similar to the larch, only its top rose to the sky. It was the tree of the Mistress of the earth. Beside it grew seven herbs, the ancestors of all the plants on the earth. In each of the lakes swam a species of bird with its young. There were several kinds of ducks, a swan and a sparrow-hawk. While singing songs and telling incantations, Dyukhade walked round all of the lakes. Some of them were very hot, some were terribly salty. Thereafter Dyukhade raised his head and saw men of various nations in the top of the high tree. There were Nganasans, Russians, Dolgans, Nenetses and Tunguses. He heard voices: “It has been decided that you shall have a drum from the branches of this tree.”  Then he grasped that he was flying with the birds of the lakes. As he left the shore, the Lord of the Tree called to him: “My branch has just fallen. [P118] Take it and make a drum of it that will serve you all your life!” The branch had three forks and the Lord of the Tree bade him make three drums from it. “I let you have three wives, who will watch over your drums,” he said. “The first drum you have got to use for shamanising women in childbirth, the second for curing the sick and the third for finding men lost in the snowstorm.”  Dyukhade took the branch and flew away with the birds. On his way he met a demiman-demitree creature who told: ” If you will be asked to shamanise in the case of serious illness and your heart will not be strong enough, then you will take this,” and he gave him seven herbs. “Each of them has its lords. If you will meet an orphan girl or a widow, you will help them.”   Then Dyukhade reached the large sea. He saw seven cliffs on the shore. When he got close, one of them opened. There were teeth like from the bear inside the cliff. The cliff said: “I am the Heavy Stone. By the use of my weight I hold the fertile soil in its place. The wind would carry it away without me.” The second cliff opened and said: “Let all men melt iron from me.” So Dyukhade studied seven days near the cliffs.  Afterwards the ermine and the mouse led him to the marshland. They reached the hill with swampy slopes. There was an open doorway on the closest slope, and they went in. The interior, except for the ice around it, looked like the one of the conical tent’s. There was a hearth in the middle of the room. On the left side two naked women were sitting. Their bodies were furry and they both had antlers (one of them had green ones). Both of them bore him two reindeer calves destined for sacrifice and nourishment. They gave him some reindeer fur for the shaman costume and for good luck with reindeer.  Then Dyukhade came to a desert and saw a distant mountain. After three days’ travel he reached it and entered an opening. There was a naked man working a bellows inside the mountain. On the fire was a cauldron as big as half the earth. The naked man saw Dyukhade and caught him with a huge pair of tongs. Dyukhade had only time to think: “I am dead!” The man cut off his head, chopped up his body and put them in the cauldron. There he boiled them for three years. There were three anvils on the tundra side of this mountain. The naked man forged Dyukhade’s head on the third anvil, which was the one on which the best shamans were forged. Then he chilled his head in the cauldron, in which the water was the coldest (there were three cauldrons with water). He said: “When you will be called to cure someone, you will remember – if the soul of your patient will be warmer then water in the first cauldron, it will be useless to shamanize, for the man is already lost. If the soul will be as warm as water in the second cauldron, your patient is not very seriously ill and you will shamanize to cure him. Water in the third cauldron has the temperature of the healthy body.” Then the blacksmith poured Dyukhade’s bones and muscles out of the cauldron and separated flesh from bones. He said: “As you have three of them too many, you will have three shaman costumes too.” Afterwards he said: “Your spinal cord is a river now, look at your bones floating away!” He fished Dyukhade’s bones out of the river and put them together. The bones were covered with flesh again. Only the skull was still separated. Then the blacksmith told Dyukhade to read the letters inside the skull. And Dyukhade read. Then the blacksmith covered the skull with flesh and put it to its original place again. He changed his eyes and pierced his ears, making him able to understand the language of [P119] plants. Then Dyukhade found himself on the summit of a mountain. He entered a tent and awakened – in his own tent.   Afterwards he behaved like an insane person: daily he sung incantations and frequently swooned away, nightly suffered torments caused by spirits. During the seventh year of his illness he went far into the tundra and met there a man who gave him back his heart, cut out at the very beginning of his shaman’s sickness. (A. Popov “Tavgitsy” – Trudy Instituta antropologii i etnografii, t. 1. vyp. 5. Moskva-Leningrad 1936, pp 85 – 93. Abbreviated translation by A. Lintrop at http://haldjas.folklore.ee/~aado/vis.htm)

 

As all these descriptions should make obvious: the call to become a shaman is not a light matter; the initiation is a journey where the person’s life is on the line, where not getting something right can easily mean death (see Eliade 1951/1964, 38-42 in particular). The patterns of call, initiation and instruction vary from culture to culture in accordance with the form the nurturing conversation takes in a particular place (local knowledge), time, ancestry, and ceremonial tradition (See Vitebsky 1995 for a brief, comprehensive overview). However, common to all is pressure from spirits resulting in a heightened presence to them, and the imparting of healing knowledge in a way that makes it available to the personal repertoire of the initiand – the person is getting initiated into the deep knowledge of his or her culture. This is the crucial point: while this process certainly has a psychological dimension it functions, when comprehended as a whole, entirely outside of not just a psychological paradigm, but outside of the boundaries of the Eurocentered paradigmata in general. Psychologizing spirit amounts to the appropriation and containment of Eurasian ancestries. Especially since Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949) Eurocentered individuals are prone to interpret initiation in psychological terms, particularly in Jungian archetypal terms (initiation into Self). While such process has psychological validity (there is, of course, such a process as the psychological initiation into the Self archetype), it is a partial interpretation of the Eurasian indigenous process of shamanic initiation (the call from and invasion of spirits) as is, hopefully, apparent from the above statements.

 

An illustration of such contact with spirits can be seen in the story of Óðinn being initiated by fasting and hanging on the tree of life for nine days. While fragmentary, it clearly contains some of the elements described above for Siberian shamanism. We reasonably have to assume that Óðinn started out as the village master shaman, who later became hypostasized and patricarchalized in the course of the emergence of Eurocentered social constructions. In the following quotation Óðinn undergoes shamanic initiation, what is really there and what is really there, come together, the physical and imaginative, spiritual planes get aligned. He is wounded and sacrifices himself for nine long nights on the tree of life, at the center whence the female spirits Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld renew life continuously from the sources of creation. The giant spirit of Bölthorn’s son (ancestral spirit of his uncle) teaches him the shamanic song for spirit calling, he drinks the mead, the [P120] herbal drink of ecstasy and in-spiration, thus becoming full of spirit and being present to spirits he learns from various spirits, ginnregin, the mighty gods,[2][2] the tools of his shamanic trade (runes, not merely letters or symbols, but images to make spirit present for shamanic work, invocations; carving runes means creating spiritual presences).

  1. Veit ek, at ek hekk 137. I know that I hung in the windtorn tree

vindga meiði á

nætr allar níu                                 Nine whole nights, spear-pierced,

geiri undaðr Óðni,

sjálfr sjálfum mér,                        Consecrated to Odin, myself to my Self above me in the tree,

á þeim meiði

er manngi veit                               Whose roots no one knows whence it sprang.

hvers hann af rótum renn.

 

  1. Við hleifi mik sældu 138. None brought me bread, none served me drink;

né við hornigi,

nýsta ek niðr                                 I searched the depths, spied runes of wisdom;

nam ek upp rúnar

Ïpandi nam,                                   Raised them with song, and fell once more thence.

fell ek aptr þaðan.

 

  1. Fimbulljóð níu 139. Nine powerful chants I learned

nam ek af inum frægja syni

Bölþórs, Bestlu föður,                   From the wise son of Bölthorn, Bestla’s father;

ok ek drykk of gat                        A draught I drank of precious mead

ins dýra mjaðar

ausinn Óðreri.                               Ladled from Odraerir.

 

  1. Þá nam ek frævask 140. I began to thrive, to grow wise,

ok fróðr vera

ok vaxa ok vel hafask;                                   To grow greater, and enjoy;

orð mér af orði                             For me words led from words to new words;

orðs leitaði,

verk mér af verki                         For me deeds led from deeds to new deeds.

verks leitði.

[P121]

  1. Rúnar munt þú finna 141. Runes shall you know and right read staves,

ok ráðna stafi,

mjök stóra stafi,                            Very great staves, powerful staves,

mjök stinna stafi,

er fáði fimbulþulr                         Drawn by the mighty one who speaks,

ok gørðu ginnregin                       Made by wise Vaner,

ok reist Hroptr rjögna.                  carved by the hightest rulers.

(Evans 1986, 68-69)                     (Titchenell 1985, 126-127)

This is one of Óðinn’s shamanic journeys recorded in the Old Norse literature, where he learns what he needs for his craft. While this description seems to contain but remnants of a complete cultural practice, these ciphers direct our attention to a quality of indigenous conversation present beneath the layer of Christianized descriptions and patriarchal conceptualizations. In this nurturing shamanic conversations Óðinn consorts with spirits and feminine sources of creation, renewal, and healing. Hanging from the tree of life he has accessed the deep knowledge of his culture.

 

 

Indigenous Healing

Healing is intimately connected with seeing: the perception of spirits and spirits is an integral part of any healing endeavor. Without seeing spirit there is no healing. Understanding spiritually what is out of balance and how healing needs to happen requires seeing. We find this form of seeing described in Eiríks Saga Rauða:

Slógu þá konur hring um hjalling, en Þorbjörg sat á uppi. Kvað Guðriður flá kvæðið svá fagrt ok vel… Spákonan þakkar henni kvæðit, ok kvað margar þær náttúrur nú til hafa sótt ok þykkja fagrt at heyra, er kvæðit var svá vel flutt.

The women then cast a circle round the ritual platform on which Thorbjörg seated herself. Then Gudrid sang the songs so well and beautifully… The völva gives thanks for the song to her and said many spirits have come to us and are charmed by what they hear as the song was sung so beautifully. (Jones 1961, 136)

The calling of the spirits is done by means of varðlokkur, the spirit song, which has a similar function to the drumming and inspired singing or chanting in other Eurasian shamanic traditions (varðlokkur is oftentimes translated as magic song, Zaubergesang; warlock is a related word; vörðr is soul, fylgja, the familiar spirit who follows, the spirit of the home and hearth, guardian spirit; lúka is what encloses the spirits, binds them). It is the power and beauty of the song that brings the spirits. The völva cannot do her seeing and prophecying without the spirits being present.

 

[P122] The various techniques of spirit calling have led many to interpret indigenous spirituality in terms of the dichotomous pair immanence – transcendence used in religious discussions of “major religions,” for example. However, this represents, I believe, a fundamental misunderstanding of native beingknowing, where even the term “spirituality” creates a division reflecting more the impact of Eurocentered thinking and splitting than the practice of native realities: spirit is everywhere, spirituality is everywhere, everything is spiritual. Everything is immanent, spirit is immanent, not separate or transcendant (immanence and transcendence are more like poles on a scale with many thick and thin places of connection inbetween). While there are all kinds of aspects and levels to this, and while our awareness of these various presences and aspects may be clear or clouded, all these aspects and beings are nonetheless present to indigenous beingknowing. By contrast, the dissociated mind needs to transcend in order to conceptualize or even reach any of these aspects that are immanently present to the indigenous or primal or natural mind, when in balance.

 

Such immanent worldview can be found even at the roots of the Eurocentered traditions. (Historically, they first turned against their own indigenous roots, and subsequently projected this shadow material out; this led to all the colonial and genocidal violence against indigenous people.) We can trace it clearly in someof the central concepts: Within the oldest layers of the Indo-European traditions we find healing, holy, and wholeness all as aspects of such an immanent world view.

IE*kai-lo-, which occurs in Goth hailjan, OE hælan, OHG heilen, and OBulg celjo, all of which mean “to heal.” What is expressed most directly through these terms, however, is not just the establishment of a vague state of “health” or “well-being” but more precisely a state of “wholeness, totality, completion,” as shown in the nominal and adjectival formations from this root, such as Goth hails, ON heill, OHG heil, and OBulg cel, all of which mean both “healthy” and “whole”… So desirable was this state of wholeness thought to be that two common IE formulaic greetings and toasts express the wish that the one addressed may be “whole.” Such a state of well-being and wholeness might be lost through injury or disease, whereupon the healer’s task was to restore it. (Lincoln 1986, 100)

The centrality of this concept of healing is apparent. Hitler turned this very understanding of heil through his evil genius on to the dark side; from an indigenous perspective one could venture to say that the constant everyday use of a formula in older times spoken for the sake of healing, blessing, and greeting, but now spoken millions of times every day for the sake of destruction and genocide, gave the fascism of the Third Reich a particular power and created the mass of bystanders and willing executioners so much in the public debates since Goldhagen’s book. Ever since the word denoting the process of healing carries the shadows of history, and is thus collectively in need of purification and healing. Lincoln’s analysis of the old Indo-European understanding of healing and wholeness identifies magic not as idle superstition, but rather as a

[P123] system of non-Aristotelian, homologic causality, whereby items connected to one another in a relation of underlying constubstantiality are considered capable of acting on one another. And what is more, the precise terms of these homologies are drawn from cosmogonic and anthropogonic myth. (1986, 110)

Within this worldview healing by acts of magical speech is the highest form of healing (ibid. 101). Magical speech, sacred poetry, singing, chanting are part of this evocative context, in which physical accoutrements and interventions form adjuncts which would be less effective if not accompanied by the spiritual presences created through sacred sound. Many words in the Old Norse and other Eurasian indigenous traditions use terms for ceremonial endeavors that are etymologically connected to chanting (Old Norse blót, seiðr, Evenki jajan, etc.), and many words for chanting are connected with seeing (even the English ‘singing’ is). (Another important complex consists of the words for knowing, the-one-who-knows, and seeing.)

 

Lincoln concludes his discussion of “magical healing” by saying

In considering the IE (Indo-European, JWK) vocabulary for the act of healing I noted that one term commonly used in this context, *kai-lo-, signified “wholeness, integrity.” It now becomes apparent just how awesome a task the production or restoration of such integrity must be, for it is not just a damaged body that one restores to wholeness and health, but the very universe itself. I also noted that the verb used to denote “healing,” *med-, stressed the knowledge and authority that enabled a healer to create proper order in an ailing patient. The full extent of such knowledge is now revealed in all its grandeur: the healer must understand and be prepared to manipulate nothing less than the full structure of the cosmos. (Lincoln 1986, 117/8)

Kailo and heill are terms that need to be understood in a communal frame of mind which includes humans, ancestors, animals, plants, and others. To conceive of them or of friðr (peace or Great Peace) as individualistic pursuits (analogous to the “pursuit of happiness”) means not seeing the obligations which weave the individual’s contribution into the communal fabric. Such weaving has its origins in the place from which the possibility of healing and balance emanate: creation and creation story. Óðinnfasting on the tree of life puts him at the center of anthropogenesis where he receives crucial instructions for his way as a shaman or seiðmenn. The following story from Snorri’s Prose Edda (Sturluson 1987) speaks to the centrality of healing and in-spiration emanating from the oldest layers of the story of the people. The literature commonly talks about the mead of inspiration or the mead of poetry, however, as we have seen previously, to be in-spired by poetic song is making the spirits present, is becoming present to them. Such poetic inspiration is not just seeing, but also the foundation of healing, of manipulating the structure of the universe through the power of the magic words chanted. Of course, the power of such tremendous [P124] manipulation is not the shaman’s, but that of the spirits; the power of the shaman is the capacity of varðlokkur, spirit calling, and then the skill of his spirits traveling to where they must go for seeing and healing (the intensification of indigenous presence); the rest is the grace of spirit(s).

 

The story of Óðinn’s recovery of the mead that is given below, illustrates a variety of things important in shamanic work: we read about shapeshifting, wrestling with spirits, the recovery of medicine, and a spirit which has been held by illegitimate owners, spirit journey. Remembering that magical speech is the highest form of healing the significance of the rescue of the source of such magic from thieves and murderers becomes evident. It is important to notice how the nature of the medicine of the mead changes as the story unfolds from creation: from the power of truce between two groups of spirits (the Vanir and the Æsir) to poetic in-spiration from one group of spirits only (the Æsir; Indo-Europeanization is thus strengthened).

 

The mead Óðinn recovers by means of his shamanic work is spiritually of eminent importance: Its origins lie with the truce between the Æsir and Vanir groups of gods/goddesses or spirits. They had spat into a vat to seal the agreement, and then decided to create the wisest of humans, Kvasir,[3][3] out of it. Kvasir travelled through the world teaching his wisdom. He was killed by dwarves who preserved his blood, mixed with honey in three containers. The mead was passed on as recompense for the drowning of a giant. His son kept the mead putting his daughter in charge of it. This medicine, which was ceremonially created by the Æsir and Vanir spirits, and which became manifest in the wandering wise person Kvasir, then gets rescued by Óðinn during a shamanic recovery process, but changes its character significantly in the process – instead of being medicine mediating and balancing between the Æsir and Vanir spirits it now ends up in the possession of the Æsir as the mead of poetry (poetry is also known as Kvasir’s blood), from the seal of truce making between two aspects of spirits it turns into the in-spiration from [P125] and for one group of gods and goddesses; the magic of healing words and inspired song is now in the hand of the Æsir, spirits of Indo-European cultural context:

Óðinn told him his name was Bölverkr (“worker of trickery or evil”); he offered to take over the work of nine men for Baugi (“the bent one”), and stipulated as his payment one drink of Suttungr’s mead (Suttungr is probably “heavy with drink”). Baugi said he had no say in the disposal of the mead, said that Suttungr wanted to have it all to himself, but he said that he would go with Bölverkr and try whether they could get the mead. Bölverkr did the work of nine men for Baugi during the summer, and when winter came he asked Baugi for his hire. Then they both set off. Baugi told his brother Suttungr of his agreement with Bölverkr, but Suttung flatly refused a single drop of the mead. Then Bölverkr told Baugi that they would have to try some stratagems to see if they could get hold of the mead, and Baugi said that was a good idea. Then Bölverkr got out an augur called Rati (“drill, augur”) and instructed Baugi to bore a hole in the mountain, if the augur would cut. He did so. Then Baugi said that the montain was bored through, but Bölverkr blew into the auger-hole and the bits flew back up at him. Then he realized that Baugi was trying to cheat him, and told him to bore through the mountain. Baugi bored again. And when Bölverkr blew a second time, the bits flew inwards. Then Bolverk turned himself into the form of a snake and crawled into the auger-hole, and Baugi stabbed after him  with the auger and missed him. Bölverkr went to where Gunnlöð (“invitation to fight”, giant spirit) was and lay with her for three nights and then she let him drink three drafts of the mead. In the first draught he drank everything out of Óðrærir (“the one stimulating ecstasy”; originally the mead itself, but also the vessel containing it), and in the second out of Boðn (“vessel”), in the third out of Són (probably “blood, reconciliation, atonement”), and then he had all the mead. The he turned himself into the form of an eagle and flew as hard as he could. And when Suttungr saw the eagle’s flight he got his own eagle shape and flew after him. And when the Æsir saw Óðinnflying they put their containers out in the courtyard, and when Óðinncame in over Ásgarðr (the home of the Æsir) he spat out the mead into the containers, but it was such a close thing for him that Suttungr might have caught him that he sent some of the mead out backwards, and this was disregarded. Anyone took it that wanted it, and it is what we call the rhymester’s share. But Óðinngave Suttungr’s mead to the Æsir and to those people who are skilled at composing poetry. Thus we call poetry Óðinn’s booty and find, and his drink and his gift and the Æsir’s drink. (Sturluson 1987, Skaldskaparmal, 63-64)

This seems to be a very old shamanic story that finds clear resonances within the Eurasian complex, for example, in the Rig Veda of 1200-900 BCE: Here Indra, in the form of an eagle or with the eagle as helper spirit, steals the elixir of immortality, soma (which Wasson [1968] identifies with the fly agaric mushroom), the plant spirit of in-spiration and seeing. Verse 4.27.5 offers an interesting conjunction between “overflowing cow’s milk, the finest honey, the clear juice” (all presumably words connoting soma; see Wasson for [P126] extensive discussions), which, by bold Indo-European generalization, brings Óðr, the drink of in-spiration, to the milk the primal cow Auðumla offers as nourishment. Modern Icelandic óður (adj.) means not just “furious,” but also crazy and mad, which originally presumably would have been the “madness” of spirit possession or religious trance of in-spiration. Doniger O´Flaherty (1981, 128) comments that “Soma is the ‘fiery juice’, simultaneously fire and water”, and Auðumla feeds the primal giant spirit Ymir who was born at the place from which the world arises, Ginnungagap, the conjunction of fire and ice (cf. Gylfaginning, Sturluson 1987). Óðrærir is commonly translated as mead (German Met), considered the oldest spiritual drink; it is the drink of fermented honey (but also berries[4][4]), and a word which points to an old connection between Indo-European and Finno-Ugric cultures: Saami miehta (originating from Proto-Finno-Ugric of ca. 4000BCE; Sammallahti, 1998, 119), Finnish mete, etc. are related to the Pre-Aryan Indo-European language layer. In the words soma, mead, and óðrærir we find a constellation of the primal forces of creation, spiritual seeing, renewal, mantic poetry, nourishment from the center of creation and spirit(s), as well as atonement and peacekeeping.

 

The discussions of varðlokkur, kailo, and the mead of in-spiration serve to show that what so many of Euro-centered mind are looking for in Native American and other indigenous traditions can truly be found in their own roots, e.g. the Germanic-Nordic traditions. Healing is not a mere technology, but a spiritual activity which, while using certain pragmatic interventions such as herbs, is embedded in the deep structure of cultural beingknowing and the prerequisite initiations and lifeways. In my case healing can and needs to arise from the place where the Old Norse ancestors were created into their precise cultural identity. Just as it does for Native American tribes and other indigenous peoples. LaPena (1999, 18) comments beautifully: The elders “learn the earth’s secrets by quietly observing. It is a secret language called knowledge that releases the spirit from stone and heals by tone of voice and by changing sickness into elements that flow instead of blocking life.” This is what it means to follow our original instructions in a particular place and time. “Sacred names, dreams, and visions are images that connect the bearer to the earth; shamans and other tribal healers and visionaries speak the various languages of plants and animals and feel the special dream power to travel backward from familiar times and places” (Vizenor 1981, XVII). This is what the völvas, the seeresses, and the seers of the Nordic Germanic traditions did and do. The importance of the connection between language and place is described by Pinkson (1995, 127) based on his initiations into the Huichol tradition:

The original language of the people indigenous to a specific area on Mother Earth’s body grows directly out of the land itself. The vibratory essence of the natural forces in a given area grow upward from the bowels of the land and surrounding elements to form the plant life and vegetation of that area. The indigenous people live, eat, and breathe these natural elements. They die back into them and new generations birth back out again in the passage [P127] of generations. The land literally teaches them how to live in harmony with it through this ingestion process. They take it into their bodies. It “speaks” to them. Then it comes out of their mouths as language. They speak the vibrations of that land. Their language and creation myths are embodied vehicles for for the wisdom of that place. I could now understand why maintaining the original language of indigenous people is important not just to their survival but to all of humanity. Original languages contain within their vibratory sturcture the operating rules for how to live in their home territory in a harmonious manner. The indigenous language is a nierica [gateway, JWK] by which to access the intelligence of place. Lose the language and you lose its vital instructions about right relationship.

This visionary insight finds its reflections in the Nordic Germanic indigenous traditions where the power of the word arising from the lands is used in spells and runes, where the language of the Poetic Edda speaks an ancient wisdom from creation. But this statement does something else also: It clearly identifies the initiatory challenges for those who no longer live in the place of their ancestors, who have forgotten their language, and who may now live in places where the indigenous language has disappeared eating food that predominantly is not indigenous to their area of residence.

 

 

The Loss of Initiations

A dramatic and succinct description from Leslie Marmon Silko’s book Ceremony (1977, 132ff.) captures the rise of the Eurocentric story out of its Indo-European origins. Her use of the words “witch” and “witchery” is clear: it refers to the working of evil and imbalance. In its origins (Indo-European root weik-) it had religious connotations, the working of magic. These and similar words originally seem to have been rather neutral, although always holding the potential not just of good, but also of abuse of magical powers; however, the predominant identification of such words with evil and the devil clearly seems to be a consequence of the rise of Christianity. Before awareness of the medieval European witchhunts had a chance to infuse Native American use of the English language, workers of excess and evil were frequently called “witches” in Indian vernacular, thus assuming the Christian, pejorative use of the term. The word evil is connected to the Indo-European root upo and upelo-, meaning: exceeding the proper limit. And it is this that Silko talks about: It is the story of imbalance, the story of certain aspects of being exceeding their proper limit. It is in this sense that the sustained, thus pathological, dissociation of the Euro-centered endeavors from their balancing aspects can be understood as evil. (During the more than 20 years since the publication of Ceremony the word “witch” has re-established in pagan discourse as a positive and affirmative term.)

 

 

Long time ago

in the beginning

there were no white people in this world

[P128] there was nothing European.

And this world might have gone on like that

except for one thing:

witchery.

This world was already complete

even without white people.

There was everything

including witchery.

 

Then it happened.

These witch people got together. (…)

They all got together for a contest

the way people have baseball tournaments nowadays

except this was a contest

in dark things. (…)

 

Finally there was only one

who hadn’t shown off charms or powers.

The witch stood in the shadows beyond the fire

and no one ever knew where this witch came from

which tribe

or if it was a woman or a man.

But the important thing was

this witch didn’t show off any dark thunder charcoals

or red ant-hill beads.

This one just told them to listen:

“What I have is a story.”

 

At first they all laughed

but this witch said

Okay

go ahead

laugh if you want to

but as I tell the story

it will begin to happen.

 

Set in motion now

set in motion by our witchery

to work for us.

 

Caves across the ocean

in caves of dark hills

white skin people

like the belly of a fish

covered with hair.

 

Then they grow away from the earth

then they grow away from the sun

then they grow away from the plants and animals.

They see no life

When they look

they see only objects.

The world is a dead thing for them

the trees and rivers are not alive

the mountains and stones are not alive.

The deer and bear are objects

They see no life.

 

They fear

They fear the world.

They destroy what they fear.

They fear themselves.

 

The wind will blow them across the ocean

thousands of them in giant boats

swarming like larva

out of a crushed ant hill. (…)

 

Set in motion now

set in motion

To destroy

To kill

objects to work for us

Performing the witchery

for suffering

for torment

[P129] for the still-born

the deformed

the sterile

the dead.

Whirling

whirling

whirling

whirling

set in motion now

set in motion.

 

So the other witches said

“Okay you win; you take the prize,

but what you said just now –

it isn’t so funny

It doesn’t sound so good.

We are doing okay without it

we can get along without that kind of thing.

Take it back.

Call that story back.”

 

But the witch just shook its head

at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur and feathers.

It’s already turned loose.

It’s already coming.

It can’t be called back.

 

 

It is important to underscore that this process of the creation of imbalance is effected not with the help of shamanic paraphernalia, but by means of words, the power of words, the abuse of words, the imbalance or evil of the story – a story that inexorably grinds along, leaving many dead in its wake. The socialization of millions of people in conformity with this story of imbalance and its daily performance and reènactment as individual and cultural injunction constitute its power. As a story which pervades cultures, tribes, civilizations, and societies it cannot just be called back or counteracted with some medicine item as antidote. This requires words of balance, stories respecting proper limits, narratives healing the excessive dissociation from a self construction that acknowledges ourselves as whole and indigenous – the recovery of indigenous consciousness.

 

This story of the development of Eurocentrism from its Indo-European origins can be told in an alternate form using the information from scholarship which continues to be marginalized because it refuses to be part of the creation of imbalance (Silko’s “witchery”). The story is, of course, a complex one with many twists and turns, multiple currents and many voices to be heard. What I present in the following paragraphs is a mere outline of some of the major shifts that are relevant for the discussion of healing and cosmology.

 

— I postulate that the various Indo-European peoples had, at one point in their histories, an understanding or ideal of balanced living, a detailed understanding of their place in the cosmos and its cycles based on detailed ecological understanding, and reflected in their stories and communal ceremonies. The remnants of such understanding are reflected in etymological and other analyses, such as the ones provided from Lincoln above. We can possibly see them most clearly in the images of the tree of life, the anthropogenesis beginning with the nurturing cow Auðumla, and the presence of the feminine in the oldest [P130] stories preserved.[5][5] How and why these peoples changed from a cultural practice of balancing themselves with each other and their environment to a cultural practice of invasion and patriarchy (ultimately linear progress) remains mysterious, as Gimbutas achnowledges when she states that “this is a very serious question archaeologists cannot answer yet, but we can see that the patriarchy was already there around 5,000 B.C.” (n.d., 17). It is reasonable to assume that these oldest Indo-European layers had cultural practices similar in ideology and practice to those who have retained their indigenous ways to this day, although the specifics of their socio-cultural practices were, of course, unique in accordance with their location, specific histories, and local indigenous science inquiries.

 

— According to Gimbutas, beginning at about 4300 BCE the earliest inhabitants of Europe, the “civilizations of Old Europe” become Indo-Europeanized as three waves of Kurgan invasions effect a blending between the indigenous and indo-europen populations. The matristic, matrifocal or matriarchal cultural practices become obliterated in the process as the indigenous peoples are destroyed or assimilated. (In the Nordic-Germanic stories this is reflected in the conflict between the Vanir and Æsir resulting in partial cultural assimilation, the increasing importance of Óðinn and the lessening importance of Freyja and other Vanir goddesses and gods.) We observe the rise of patriarchy, hierarchy, abstraction, dissociation, as well as increasingly larger scale violence and invasions. Healing now becomes an endeavor increasingly shifts into masculine, priestly contexts, with rigidly ritualized forms eclipsing shamanic seeing and inspiration; some of the original healing interventions become marginalized as woman’s work as patriarchal forms of dominance gain strength. The Eurocentered medical sciences find their origin in Greece during the 5th century BCE with Hippokrates.

 

— The rise of monotheistic Christianity through its appropriation of the shamanic Jesus figure and the alliance between Christianity and the Roman Empire in 390-391 by Constantine constitute a major turning point toward increased patriarchal power and the rise of Eurocentrism. The descriptions in Tacitus’ Germania (ca. 98; 1967) reflect the relationship between the “barbarous,” indigenous Germanic (and other) tribes north and east of the Roman Empire from the viewpoint of “civilized” Rome. “They even think that there is a prophetic quality in women, and so they neither reject their advice nor scorn their forecasts” (67). With the end of the East Germanic and Slavic migrations, and the formation [P131] of various royal empires (Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Francs, etc.) anything resembling communal tribal or indigenous practices disappears rapidly in most of Europe as Eurocentrism progresses in the form of Christian missionization and colonization. The reign of Charlemagne (crowned as emporer in 800) represents a major shift, most apparently with the felling of the world tree Irminsul and the massacre of 30,000 Saxons refusing conversion to Christianity in 772 CE (Gimbutas 1999, 190).

 

— The oldest Nordic-Germanic knowledge about indigenous balanced living is recorded in sacred places, rock carvings, monuments, and artefacts accessible to the practice of indigenous science (cf. Kremer 1996). Most of what we know verbally is written down by Christians after Iceland’s voluntary conversion to Christianity in the year 1000 (with Snorri Sturlusson, 1178/9-1241, as central recorder and interpreter). Other written sources can be found in poetry, inscriptions, place names, folk customs, fairy and folk tales, as well as language etymology (the work of the Grimm brothers is seminal in this regard). Just as indigenous peoples have been identified as the Other, their practices getting reified in the process, so have the pre-Christian traditions been reified and safely othered under the gaze of the various Eurocentered human sciences (creating a textual and artefactual museum of Nordic-Germanic self-otherness equals to the dissociation from its origins, thus obscuring the potential of balanced cultural practices within an indigenous Nordic-Germanic worldview). In the oldest writings, healing practices are usually merely alluded to, either because the recorder was no longer initiated or because initiation prohibited the dissemination of such information to the uninitiated. We find much focus on spells and the power of runic knowledge, again with an increasing tendency toward rigid ritualization under the sway of men, increasingly eclipsing women.

 

Beginning with the Renaissance this story becomes the story of the rise of eurocentric sciences. Anthropology can serve as a particularly good illustration for the increase in Eurocentered dissociations and splits from indigenous origins. McGrane (1989) has done an admirably lucid job of tracing the history of the relationship between euro-centered cultures and the Other, the alien, the different – an “archaeology of anthropology”, so to speak. His analysis is helpful for understanding the loss of participation and presence to spirit(s) in greater detail. One of his fundamental premises is that “a culture that discovers what is alien to itself simultaneously manifests what it is in itself” (McGrane 1989, 1). He sees anthropology as an endeavor which is “fundamentally involved in the reproduction of Western society… It manifests and highlights that egocentric tendency of our Western mind to identify itself as separate from what it perceives as external to itself” (1989, 5). Using McGrane’s conceptualization we can break down the process of loss of participation or loss of initiation as follows:

 

— In the Renaissance (14th to 16th century) Christianity came between the European and the non-European; demonology determined that the Other, the fallen, was in need of naming, christening. Trances (and the concomitant healing practices) were seen as a practice which [P132] maintained the contact with demons and christianization meant the termination of such evil proceedings; killing or arrests of tribal members during ceremonies, the destruction or confiscation of artifacts (even during recent history, such as potlatch masks in Canada) are a result of this paradigm. The remaining old knowledge and practice are severely reduced during the three centuries of witchhunts, beginning around 1500. Much of the old knowledge is restricted to midwifery and herbalists. Indigenous cultural practices remain vital along “the margins” of Eurocentrism, particularly in the north and northeast (with the Baltic peoples and the Sámi people of the Arctic North the last be christianized).

 

— During the Enlightenment ignorance was the fundamental coordinate around which the understanding of the Other was constituted: indigenous peoples were living with the errors of superstitution. Trances and alternate modes of healing were seen as superstitious practices which could not provide any true help or serve a healthful function. The 17th and 18th century saw the beginning of colonization.

 

— The evolutionary thinking of the nineteenth century used the coordinate of time to understand natives as “primitives”, or as “fossilized developmental stage” from the prehistory of European civilizations. Thus trances were conceptualized as contemporary remnants of an outmoded, primitive human potential; their usefulness was seen as superceded by medical and other sciences. The 19th century saw the height of colonialism and imperialism. Dion-Buffalo and Mohawk (1994, 33) comment that “the psychological and social foundation of this period of conquest and colonization is found in the ability to coerce the peoples of the world to accept the rules by which European politics and ideologies claimed the power to determine what is legitimate about the human experience.” It is no coincidence that this was also the time in which evolutionary theories were first proposed. Epistemological and evolutionary thinking emerged out of the increasing split from the participation in the phenomena in order to understand and legitimize this dissociative logic of progress: Peoples participating in the phenomena become uncivilized with no possibility to discern truth because of insufficient dissociation. For example, Habermas (1997) makes this point clearly when he discusses the benefits and limitations of Cassirers The Theory of Symbolic Forms: It is the logic of progress and the process of civilization – Aufklärung, enlightenment – which destroys and needs to destroy the impact of participation in the phenomena, the presence to spirits, and the desire for a balanced, meaningful existence. Indigenous healing practices have been relegated to the realm of anecdotes, folklore, fairy tale, to be marginally investigated by Euro-Centered sciences outside of the major trajectory of Eurocentrism (see Kremer 1998 for details).

 

The process of Eurocentered progess and domination seems to impact indigenous peoples at this historical moment most significantly through a process which takes its analogy from the individual psychological process of projective identification (somebody is made to feel the shadow material of somebody else as if it were his or her own). The intra-Eurocentric denial of their own indigenous roots, the persecution of the Other in themselves (witchhunts, etc.), [P133] transforms the bloody and murderous colonizing forces into equally effective, albeit less physically lethal weapons: instead of killing people indigenous cultures get eradicated as natives begin to feel the bad feelings individuals constructed in Eurocentered fashion have about themselves; the devaluation of who they are pressures them to re-create themselves in the likeness of Eurocentered ideals. The ill feelings they have about themselves – expressed in the negligence of traditional ceremonies, pervasive alcoholism and violence, etc. – originated not from within themselves, but have their roots in the denial and projection of what Eurocentered minds have constructed as their “primitive,” “ignorant,” and “filthy” roots from which they have dissociated through the construction of so-called civilization, in contrast to the presumed savagery of their origins. Indigenous peoples carry the burden of the dissociative relationship of Eurocentered peoples to their own ancestries. They take on the such shadow material, as the following quote indicates:

Our stories help us to deal with shadow material individually and collectively; they connect the dark and the light sides of life. The predominant Eurocentered idea of goodness implies suppression and control of what is regarded as not good; this seems to be a behavioral pattern that can lead to genocide when taken to the extreme (when an extreme valuation of certain “good” traits is used as a way to scapegoat and then kill people who are seen as not sharing these traits). People of European descent are frequently surprised when their niceness is not experienced as such by Indians.  I feel this particular collective delusion of what a good human being is in the European sense has become part of our collective Native American delusions leading us to participate in our own genocide. It is an individualistic and profit-centered view of humans. By taking on this image that focuses so strongly on the light side we are led to the denial of genocide, since the Native American genocide is relegated to the shadow side of the good Western person. Consequently, we do not allow sufficient knowledge that genocide is still occurring, and that perhaps we are participating in it ourselves. This reminds me of our tribal children who have been attending Western schools since contact. There they are taught inferiority, linearity, and the objectification of the universe. They internalize this today, just as I did as a child. Growing up, the racism and the notion of humanity from the perspective of Western imperialism became a part of me. I took on the identity of a victim and lost my power. This is how I have taken on the collective shadow by identifying with the self-construction of the dominant culture. How can anyone really grieve when there is the delusion that genocide is not really occurring today? (Bastien 1999)

This process of internalized colonization continues to perpetrate cultural and even physical genocide. Another aspect of this process is captured in the following words by Silko (1977, 132):

They want us to believe all evil resides with white people. Then we will look no further to see what is really happening. They want us to separate ourselves from white people, to be ignorant and helpless as we watch our own destruction. But white people are only tools that the witchery manipulates.

[P134] It attempts to contain ossified, categorically identified remains of indigenous cultures in museums, universities, books, conferences – all endeavors that Vizenor identifies with the end of imagination or what has been called the nurturing conversation with all relations:

Traditional people imagine their social patterns and places on the earth, whereas anthropologists and historians invent tribal cultures and end mythic time. The differences between tribal imagination and social scientific invention are determined in world views: imagination is a state of being, a measure of personal courage; the invention of cultures is a material achievement through objective methodologies. To imagine the world is to be in the world; to invent the world with academic predicaments is to separate human experiences from the world, a secular transcendence and denial of chance and mortalities. (Vizenor 1984, 27)

Internalized colonization manifests also in ways other than alcoholism or violence:

They think the ceremonies must be performed exactly as they have always been done… That much is true… That much can be true also. But long ago when the people were given these ceremonies, the changing began, if only in the aging of the yellow gourd rattle or the shrinking of the skin around the eagle’s claw, if only in the different voices from generation to generation, singing the chants. You see, in many ways, the  ceremonies have always been changing. … At one time, the ceremonies as they had been performed were enough for the way the world was then. But after the white  people came, elements in this world began to shift; and it became necessary to create  new ceremonies. … Things which don’t shift and grow are dead things. They are things the witchery people want. … That’s what the witchery is counting on: that we will cling to the ceremonies the way they were, and then their power will triumph, and the  people will be no more. (Silko 1977, 126)

It is only under the pressures of continuing genocide that ceremonial renewal finally may disappear, and that the definitions of what is traditional or indigenous may be remade in the images developed by anthropologists or the desperate rigid repetition of what are considered the final live aspects of a culture. However, whatever the temporary victories of genocide may be, renewal remains always possible as the land, even if abused, and the ancestors, even if neglected, continue to be present.

 

 

Contrasts in Healing Paradigms

The contrasts between indigenous healing paradigms and Eurocentered approaches can be made visible by looking at how each attempts to explain how healing happens. Within indigenous worldviews healing occurs within the narrative weave of the lived culture as it unfolds imaginatively from creation. Within the Eurocentered worldview healing is researched and understood within a paradigm of Truth, of cause and effect, singularity of [P135] story, and the objective records of experimental observations. This leads to two forms of inquiry which are qualitatively distinct.

 

The skeptical Eurocentered researcher would be primarily interested in the efficacy of Native American healing and would try to isolated the elements considered efficaceous or a necessary condition in healing ceremonies. Maybe the rattle or the drum or a particular herb or the temperature in the sweat lodge. The sympathetic researcher would also, in addition to this analytical approach, pay attention to the “set and setting” as it were, and would attempt to validate native approaches or find similarities, for example via psychotherapeutic approaches such as NLP (neurolinguistic programming) or Rogerian counseling, or via biochemical research of curative agents in herbs. The Eurocentered scientific approach commonly entails a stripping away of what is considered extraneous and the isolation of what is considered effective. Through this process it makes Other what is essential for native understandings.

 

Inquiry into native healing practices by way of what has been termed indigenous science, on the other hand, would begin with the culturally specific, ecologically and historically grounded indigenous understanding of friður or the “the good mind” (Colorado 1988), the balanced way of living in community on a particular land. Healing is needed when the “good mind” is out of balance, when the proper limits are exceeded; the cultural stories and myths then provide explanations. Indigenous healing practices then are based in a synthetic, integral approach to what is out of balance. Native science guides the healer to the point in the fabric where it is rent and where wholeness needs to be reèstablished. The ceremonies done are the precise knowledge and practice designed to create balance on all levels and from all levels (within the person on the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual levels, and by doing so on the level of spirits, community and nature which hold the individual); they are indigenous science. Their efficacy is established through the integrity and the wholeness of the healing ceremony.

 

The different motivations for understanding healing in the case of Eurocentered and indigenous sciences are of note: The researches of the native healer are done to increase the integrity and wholeness of the communal fabric and to benefit the individuals that are part of it. Eurocentered researches of native healing practices rarely seem to benefit the peoples researched directly, but they are a way to address the limitations of the western healing paradigm and to come to terms with events which Eurocentered scientists commonly consider anomalous, inexplicable or nonexistent; they are attempts to better an individualistic paradigm without fundamentally leaving or changing it.

 

Whether an image in a rock carving is perceived as symbol or as spirit marks the difference between indigenous knowing and Eurocentered knowing. The rock carvings in Bohuslän, South Sweden, for example contain extraordinary images from the Bronze Age northern European times. The Eurocentered mind understands them as an assemblage of symbols [P136] which represent certain beings which are significant in the world of the Old Norse and their ancestors; they are commonly seen as ‘symbols of healing’, or ‘symbols of initiation,’ where each piece of the rock carving stands for something else. This interpretation reflects the split in the dissociative Eurocentered mind: the different parts of the rock carving point to something which is elsewhere, outside of the representation. The participatory tribal mind relates entirely differently to the rock carving: The spirits are in the rock carvings, they are the rock carving. The making of the rock carving is the creation of the presence of these beings. The beings are not at all separate from what the carving looks like. Once the rock carving is there, they are there. And then they can be ceremonially honored and renewed by tracing the carving with red ochre or other pigments, by making offerings of amber, axes, etc. Blót, the Old Norse ceremonies of offering, bring rock carving spirits and the people present to each other. This simple distinction marks worlds of differences: Whether a rock carving is a symbol for something or whether it is a certain being indicates the consciousness process we are engaged in. In one case we have symbolic healing, in the other spirit heals. There is no simple technique which can bridge this difference. Each understanding reflects a different way of being in the world. There is no such thing as a simple switch from one to the other. Whether we use trances for symbolic work or to seek healing with and from spirit(s) is an indication of the consciousness and reality in which we are participating.

 

Jungian interpretations of rock carvings (or sandpaintings and other images), myths or healings do not reflect tribal mind. They reflect the process of the Eurocentered mind. Jungian psychology and related transpersonal approaches are certainly the closest to indigenous ways of being in that they validate the seminal importance of participation mystique and spiritual experiences. However, they are only accurate as long as they deal with the Eurocentered mind. There they can be very helpful. If such a psychology gets projected onto indigenous peoples, then grave misunderstandings result. What may be a good starting point for the Eurocentered mind means engaging the indigenous mind in a process of splitting and dissociation.

 

Within the western paradigm we pick an herb for its curative properties known to relieve a certain ailment. Herb collection is an entirely different event within an indigenous context. Here it is a ceremonial event which involves spirit and, especially the spirits of the plant to be collected. It is a participatory event with the plant relations which presupposes detailed knowledge, including knowledge of their language; it requires knowledge of cycles and the preparations necessary for gathering. It means understanding plants like any other intelligent people.

Prayer accompanies all plant use on the Navajo Reservation. … Plants are not picked randomly or wastefully. Rather, they are picked as needed, and then, no more than are necessary. An herbalist finds two of a particular species that she wishes to pick. To the largest and healthiest plant, she says a prayer and explains why she must pick its neighbor. [P137] An offering of shell, pollen, or other sacred material is deposited with the first plant. Then she picks what she needs. Afterward, the plant remains are buried with a final prayer. (Mayes & Lacy 1989, 2-3)

This is no longer the collection of an herb, but an engagement and appointment with spirit to help heal. What heals is more than the beneficial chemical ingredient in the herb.

 

Knowing the medical benefits of a sweat lodge purification or the effective chemical agents in an healing herb is certainly useful. But if this knowledge is not integrated into an indigenous science framework, then we fail to understand indigenous approaches to healing. If what we are doing is healing our Euro-centrically minded selves within the existing paradigm, then iatrogenic diseases which are an expression of the continuing dissociation; are the result (which is one of the reasons why natives are disturbed about the decontextualized use of their healing approaches). The correct technique used in a dissociated way is dangerous because it allows the appearance of a deeper healing that did not occur (individual benefits notwithstanding). Combining indigenous approaches with modern techniques on the basis of the story of excess and imbalance is not the same as integrating the knowledge from psychology and other sciences on the basis of indigenous beingknowing. If we are healing our indigenous selves through the remembrance of indigenous healing ways, then individual healing is also the healing of community and paradigm.

 

 

Decolonization as Initiation

Silko’s poetic evocation of the colonial process of Euro-centered thinking contains a crucial point: the most powerful creatrix of imbalance is not using shamanic accroutrements to wield her power, she uses words, a story. Her imbalancing is the story made of words that splits people more and more from participation, words developing a dissociative world view, where the fluid, participatory process of verbal descriptions turns into the categorical grasp of nouns attempting to wield control via reality definitions they create. This story has many names: we can call it the loss of participation; or the loss of the nurturing conversation with all our relations; or the shift from oral to written traditions; or the loss of sacred writing (rock carvings, runes, hieroglyphs, ideographic, etc.) to the linearity of alphabetical writing; or the change from sacred (cyclical, linear-cyclical, spiral) to linear secular time; or the rise of colonialism and imperialism; or the split of story into its aspects of history, personal story, scientific stories, and others; or the rise of patriarchy from its Indo-European roots to Euro-centrism; or the rise of Christianity; or the rise of the masculinized version of the evolutionary story. These and other vantage points provide ways of coming to terms with the story Silko tells so powerfully: creating imbalance by exceeding the proper limits, by focusing on certain elements at the expense of others (i.e., pathological dissociation).

 

[P138] When the competing workers of imbalance ask her to call the story back she shakes her head and answers: “It’s already turned loose. It’s already coming. It can’t be called back.” The story continues to be told the world over, and impacts every aspect of our lives, from the increasing dominance of the noun-oriented English language (most lately via the internet) to economic globalization. It is clear that the story has not been called back, and continues to dominate the majority of educational systems: more and more young citizens are unconsciously made willing participants and co-narrators in this story. If the story can’t be called back – what to do?

 

As we have seen in the brief discussions above, the story of imbalance and excess of proper limits was not told all of a sudden, but became more powerful over time as its addictive nature exerted a centrifugal force. The increasing literature on early human history and story attests to the various layers through which the telling has shapeshifted. Healing the story would mean peeling back through these layers, not merely for the advancement of the sciences, but to recover a quality of storytelling that is communal and participatory. Euro-centered thinking frequently misconstrues such endeavor as search of some sort of Eden or other paradisical original state of being (it is worthy of note that paradise has its roots in Greek paradeisos, a walled in garden or park, and related terms). Instead of linearly conceptualizing recovery as the reconstitution of a particular state or point of origin, I suggest that it is the reconstitution of a particular process or quality: the recovery of the indigenous quality of storytelling. Healing the imbalancing story of Euro-centrism means beginning to tell the story differently. The evocative power of the word is clearly understood by contemporary indigenous peoples, and it was just as clearly understood by the early Indo-European traditions (most obviously, perhaps, in the use of the Sanskrit mantras). Óðinn’s quest for the mead of mantic poetry, the search for the words of seeing, and his initiation into the sacred, healing use of runic letter carving share this understanding. The word story finds its root in Indo-European weid-, to see; here we find story connected with the wisdom of the prophet(ess) and seer(ess) (an element that, of course, continues to be present in the creativity of contemporary novels and their best authors).[6][6] The story cannot be called back, but it can be changed and told differently if we make ourselves whole again.

 

Telling a story in a participatory frame of mind instead of dissociated consciousness may sound simple enough. But just as the Indo-European healers of old needed to be able to be with spirit(s) in such a way that the entire cosmos was impacted, so does a different telling of the story change the cosmos we are living in. Changing the story is impacting the cosmos (as the cosmos impacts it). Instead of evoking and maintaining dissociation and splitting from an indigenous nurturing conversation, such telling would evoke participatory being. This is no small matter: it is the healing ceremony of the Euro-centered self, the [P139] reconstruction of who we are. Such an endeavor finds its parallel not in “a bandaid on a cut, but in heart surgery.” It is not a mere change in identity, but a foundational, qualitative shift in the process of how we construct our identities. This means we need to deconstruct ourselves as the beings we are so that there can be renewal from the creative source of our origins. While such healing clearly means the return, to use the language of the Old Norse, to the well of memory, Urðr, such remembrance is not for the indulgence of nostalgic or retro-romantic splits (dissociative endeavors indeed), but for the righting of the story for the future. Indeed, just like Óðinn, and other women and men before him, we need to be capable of transforming our selves so that we can drink oðrærir, the mead of in-spiration.The dissociated self commonly gets but very diluted sips from such powerful substance. Aspiring to drinking a higher percentage of mead means having our language fall apart so that the words of seeing can re-emerge, so that words can become in-spirited and healed, so that word, chant, and seeing are part of our lifeworld. And our language inevitably comes apart when we of Euro-centered mind confront the shadows that walk with us.

 

Placing ourselves (those of Eurocentered or Nordic-Germanic mind) at the creative source Ginnungagap is not possible as a direct, unmediated act, since we have divested ourselves from the self capable of getting there with immediacy. Recovering the self that can enter Ginnungagap, the maw of Miðgarðsormr, the world snake, means purifying ourselves from the self construction that is incapable of entering such a place, because dissociation disallows it to be present to the continuing reality of Urðr, Ginnungagap, Miðgarðsormr, oðrærir, and the other spiritual powers of the Norse universe of old. How this universe is to appear today will only become apparent to the self which has initiated itself into participating in its continuing creative, regenerative, and imaginative story. Putting ourselves into the presence of such powers of creation is only possible through the cathartic mediation of the grieving shudder over the story of imbalancing (“witchery”), the confrontation and ownership of the shadow material. As a consequence, what our story evokes may become different. Instead of the story of exceeding the proper limits, we create the possibility the contemporary celebration of indigenous healing stories even among peoples who like to contain their indigenous roots at a safe distance by putting them in museums, and various other reifying and distancing places.

 

 

Recovery of Indigenous Mind and Healing

The following poetic statement is modeled on Eddic poetry, particularly the rhetoric of the völva in Völuspá. It is an attempt to capture the change of the ages about that so many indigenous peoples talk about in a language appropriate to my own cultural background and ancestry. It also serves as an appropriate summary and evocation to what I have said about healing and cosmology. It is the voice of the seeress, the völva, speaking as she looks through the ages, from the past into the future.


[P140] I.

Heilir æsir!

Heilir ásynjur!

Heil sjá in fjölnyta fold!

Hail to the gods,

hail to the goddesses,

hail to the allgiving earth!

Mál ok mannvit

gefið okkr mærum tveim

ok læknishendr, meðan lifum!

Wisdom and lore,

as long as we live,

grant us, and healing hands! (from Sigrdrífumál)

 

I remember the giants who were born

at the beginning of time and

who reared me in former times.

I remember the Sámis who were born

at the beginning of time and

who reared me in former times.

I remember nine worlds beneath the earth,

nine giantesses,

and also the glorious tree of fate.

 

I remember towards the beginning of time

at the place where the giant Ymir lived,

there was neither sand nor sea, and no cool waves.

The earth did not exist at all,

nor heaven above:

only a yawning gap

and grass nowhere.

 

I remember when the sons of

grandfather and grandmother Bear

raised the lands,

they who made the great Middle World. (Free after Völuspá)

 

I remember the world of spirits,

I remember the world of giants,

jötun,

the world of dwarves,

álfar.

I remember the time when humankind was created.

 

I remember the three spirits

who found ash and elm

fragile and fateless.

 

I know an ash tree call Yggdrasill;

it is a tall tree

sprayed with white clay.

From there comes the dew

that dabbles the dales.

The evergreen tree towers above Urðr´s Well.

 

From the same place

come three knowledgeable maidens,

who emerge from the lake

that lies at the foot of the tree.

People call one Urðr,

the second Verðandi,

and the third Skuld;

they carved sacred markings

on pieces of wood.

They laid down the laws,

the fates of the people,

and chose life

for the children of humankind. (Free after Völuspá)

 

II.

And I remember

the beginning of a new world age,

when the stars changed places,

and I remember

when the tree of life

[P141] was fastened to the new pole star.

 

Yes, I remember

the world of spirits of the previous world age,

but I also remember the new age

when spirits turned into symbols,

and humankind thus became more lonesome.

And I remember

that even spirits and ancestors

felt more lonesome.

I remember the age

when language was sacred,

when words brought spirits,

when language was filled with spiritual energy.

And then I saw

how language,

how words

lost their powers,

and how the husks remaining

helped humankind to forget

how they are woven

into the world.

And then I saw

how language and writing

helped humankind to forget

how they are

intimate

participants in everything

that surrounds them.

And then I saw them

looking at reality

from the outside.

And I saw how

language became poorer

and poorer,

and reality moved farther

and farther away.

And I saw humankind

greedily grabbing

what remained as reality,

and how they forgot to

evoke the world, and

to chant it into being.

 

And I remember how

human beings slowly forgot

what their medicine gifts were,

how they forgot their totems,

how they forgot their clans,

and how they forgot that

they all were related

as red, black, white, yellow and people of mixed color.

And I remember how they

struggled to reconstruct their

relationship and similarities

through abstract models,

because they had forgotten

the specificity of their relationships.

And I remember how they sought their

universal connections through more and more

abstract thoughts

in order to find each other again.

 

And I remember the age when Óðinn

was a shaman still, seiðkarl,

when he was called Óðr,

when he used the drum on Sámseyja and elsewhere, and

honored women.

Two ravens sat on his shoulders

helping his seeing.

And I remember the new age when Óðinn

took knowledge away from women

and began to reign as patriarch.

 

And I remember the new age

when human beings were reared

[P142] separated from their ancestors,

separated from their stories and histories,

separated from their places of power and spirit,

separated from the healing arts.

And I have seen how they forgot

that happiness depends

on initiations into the higher self

and the world of spirit.

 

I remember seeing lonely humans

in search of completion and wholeness,

even though their ancestors

stood right by them.

I remember seeing lonely humans

blinded by symbols

so that the spirits remained hidden.

 

And I remember human souls

roaming the collective unconscious without bearings,

unable to see their own guardian spirits.

 

And I remember human beings

delving deeply into psychology,

getting trapped on the personal side

of the gateway to spirit,

and when they would chance to encounter

a spirit

they would feel nothing but fear.

 

III.

And I remember the times when the bridges

to spirit went up in flames and collapsed,

and the ancestor boats ceased

to shuttle across the milky way.

 

And I see now

how this world age

is coming to an end,

and that yet another

new age is about to begin.

 

And I see now

souls making the journey home

seeking the roots of their creation.

And I see how these souls

sit in ancestor boats

crossing the spirit bridges

purifying the abuses of the word “heil!”,

seeking healing for the innermost

of their cultures.

And I see humans

once again courageous enough

to sit at the center of their creation

for the sake of healing.

remembering

root meanings

 

kailo

healing holy

 

turning

to the root

kailo

source of wholing

clay of healing

kailo

root memories

reaching into riches

returning

nurtured

returning home

returning from home

healing

 

kailo

[P143] the good omen

from creation

 

issuing

from the fingers

of the woman of memory

white clay

smeared

over the body

wholesome clay

healing

fertilizing

the human tree

 

at the root of healing

is the remembrance

of the center

is the celebration

of the center of our world

 

at the root of healing

is placing ourselves

at the center of our world

the place of balance

 

at the root of healing

is the celebration

of the original instructions

are the prayers

for our courage

to step into the maw of the snake

ginnungagap

the abyss of creation

is the open mouth of the world snake

miðgardrsnake

the snake holding our world

the snake creating our world

through the fire and ice of ginnungagap

created from her mouth

 

healing is the courage

to step into the simplicity

of creation

the simplicity

of the original instructions

instructions for balance

 

purifying the abuses of the word “heil!”,

seeking healing for the innermost

of their cultures.

 

And I see how the past

becomes hotter and hotter,

and how humans find the courage

to warm themselves

at the fires of their ancestors.

And I see how humankind

remembers the conversation

with all relations.

 

And I see how woman and man

are willing to be taken apart

and ask the fire to consume

their addictions to civilisation

and progress.

And I see how woman and man

deconstruct their modern identities

to become aware that they are still

interwoven with their fellow humans,

the plants, the animals, and the rocks.

 

And I see spirits

once again

stepping out

of symbols.

 

And I see humans

remembering

that not only they need nourishment,

but that their relations

need nourishment also.

 

[P144] And I see how humans

find their balance

in the great cycle

of nurturing

and being nurtured.

 

Heilir æsir!

Heilir ásynjur!

Heil sjá in fjölnyta fold!

Hail to the gods,

hail to the goddesses,

hail to the allgiving earth!

Mál ok mannvit

gefið okkr mærum tveim

ok læknishendr, meðan lifum!

Wisdom and lore,

as long as we live,

grant us, and healing hands! (from Sigrdrífumál)

 

 

 

Summarizing Table

The following table gives a visual display of the major distinctions I have talked about throughout this article. The terminology used below is defined in its narrative context above. It may help to recall the broad outlines that underlie the detailed discussions.

EUROCENTRIC DISCOURSES                             INDIGENOUS TRADITIONS

MODERNITY AND ITS CRITICS                                  OUTSIDE EUROCENTRIC DISCOURSE

 

OPPOSING PAIR                                        THIRD PROCESS

MODERN CONSCIOUS-NESS CRITIQUES OF MODERN CONSCIOUS-NESS   RECOVERED INDIGENOUS CONSCIOUS-NESS INDIGENOUS CONSCIOUS-NESS
good subject

                                 

bad subject

 

  developing non-subject non-subject
unconscious participation breakdown of un-conscious participation   regaining conscious participation conscious participation
singular Truth

 

                                 

multiple truths

 

 

  re-contextualizing truths and Truth locally & historically locally & narratively contextualized truths and Truth
[P145] his-story

 

 

 

                                

her-stories

Story revealed as his-stories

 

 

  recovering female aspects of stories; remembering multiformous gender identities multiply engendered stories: Freyja-Freyr, Nerthus-Njörðr, twins, metamorphoses, spirit marriages
objective reality

 

                                

narrative realities

 

 

  recovering ancestral narrative realities & anchoring them in present ecology & historical moment communally & locally anchored narrative realities
rationality recovery of reasonableness   reasonableness reasonableness
imperial self non-imperial self   re-connecting self connected self
individualism

                                

individualism

 

  intentional communities natural communities
progress progress (albeit  questioned in appearance)   linearity struggling for balance balance
linearity variegated linearity   cyclical linearity cyclical linearity
dissociation suffering from dissociation   recovering participation participation
colonialism

       

post-colonialism

 

  decolonization beside, outside & inside of colonization

[Chart by Jűrgen W. Kremer, inspired by Mohawk & Dion-Buffalo. From Kremer 1999, Bearing Obligations.]

 

 

[P146-148] References

Bastien, Betty. “The genocide of Native Americans: Denial, Shadow, and Recovery” (with Kremer, Norton, Rivers-Norton, and Vickers). In ReVisionI, Vol. 22, #1, 13-20 1999

Campbell, Joseph The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Bollingen. 1949.

Churchill, Ward. From a native son. Boston: South End. 1996.

Colorado, Apela. “Traditional knowledge leads to Ph.D. “ (Interview with Pamela Colorado and Jürgen Kremer, by Richard Simonelli). Winds of Change, 9, #4, 43-48. 1994.

Colorado, P. “Indigenous science.” In ReVision, 18(3): 6-10, 1996.

Colorado, P. “Bridging native and western science.” In Convergence, XXI, 2/3: 49-67, 1988.

De Vries, Jan. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Leiden: Brill. 1977.

Dion-Buffalo, Y. & J. Mohawk. ‘Throughts from an autochtonous center.’ Cultural Survival, Winter, 33-35. 1994.

Dumon, Dirk. 1993. Shamans of Tuva. Feature of BRT, Belgian Public Television. 1993.

Eiríks Saga Rauða In Íslendinga Sögur (CD-ROM). Reykjavík: Mál og menning. (Transl. by Gwyn Jones as Eirik the Red. Oxford: Oxford. 1961)

Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism. Princeton: Bollingen. 1951/1964

Evans, David (Ed.). Hávamál. London: Viking Society. 1986

Gimbutas, Marija. The living goddesses. Berkeley: University of California. 1999

Gimbutas, Marija. “An interview with Marija Gimbutas.” (With David Jay Brown & Rebecca McClen Novick). In Magical Blend, 13-20. No year given.

Gunn, Allen, Paula. Off the reservation. Boston: Beacon. 1998.

Habermas, Jürgen (1997),  Vom sinnlichen Eindruck zum symbolischen Ausdruck, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt/M, Germany

Haozous, B. (1994). Interviewed in The Native Americans, pt. 4, TBS.

Horn, Gabriel. Contemplations of a Primal Mind. Novato, CA: New World. 1996.

Kremer, Jürgen Werner. “Introduction.” In ReVision, Vol 18, #3, 2-5.

Kremer, Jürgen Werner. ‘The shadow of evolutionary thinking.’ In Ken Wilber in Dialogue, edited by

Donald Rothberg and Sean Kelly, 237-258. Wheaton, IL: Quest. 1998.

Lapena, Frank. ‘In Vision We Can Balance the World.’ In News from Native California, vol. 12, #2, 18-19. 1998.

Lincoln, Bruce. Myth, Cosmos, and Society. Boston, MA: Harvard. 1986.

Mayes, Vernon & Barbara Lacy. Nanise’. Tsaile: Navajo Community College. 1989.

McGrane, Bernard. Beyond anthropology. NY: Columbia. 1989.

Mohawk, John. ‘Indigenous Creation-Centered Spirituality’ (interview with Charlene Spretnak). In Creation, 16-18. September/October. No year given.

Pálsson, Hermann. Völuspá. Edinburgh: Lockharton. 1996.

Pentikäinen, Juha Y. Kalevala mythology (trans. R. Poom). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1989.

Pinkson, Tom Soloway. Flowers of Wiricuta. Mill Valley: Wakan. 1995.

Rig Veda (Transl. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty). NY: Penguin. 1981.

Sammallahti, Pekka. The Saami Languages. Karašjohka, Sápmi: Davvi Girji. 1998.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. NY: Penguin. 1977.

Sturluson, Snorri. Edda (trans. Faulkes). London: Everyman. 1987.

Tacitus. Germania (Transl. Herbert Benario). London:University of Oklahoma. 1967.

Terry, P. 1990. Poem of the Elder Edda. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Titchenell, Elsa-Brita. The masks of Odin. Pasadena, California: The Theosophical UP. 1985

Vajnštejn, S. I. “The Tuvan (Soyot) shaman’s drum and the ceremony of its ‘enlivening’.” InPopular beliefs and folklore tradition in Siberia (Ed. Dioszegi). Bloomington: Indiana University. 1968.

Vasilevič, G. M. “The acquisition of shamanistic ability among the Evenki (Tungus).” InPopular beliefs and folklore tradition in Siberia (Ed. Dioszegi). Bloomington: Indiana University. 1968.

Vitebsky, Piers. The shaman. NY: Little, Brown, and Co. 1995.

Vizenor, Gerald. Earthdivers: tribal narratives on mixed descent. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 1981.

Vizenor, Gerald. The people named the Chippewa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 1984.

Wasson, R. Gordon. Soma. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1968.

 

[1][1] The available sources on Siberian shamanism are not without serious problems, and need to be discussed in the context of the history of Soviet ethnography, etc.

[2][2] Titchenell translates ginnregin as Vaner, the older layer of Norse gods or spirits, relating Óðinn’s wisdom thus to the deepest and more clearly woman-centered base of Norse mythology (with Freyja as the great goddess and primal shamanic spirit).

[3][3] ‘Kvasir’ is an interesting word: It is connected to Norwegian kvase and Russian kvas, denoting the fermented berry drink created through the communal chewing of the berries which were then spat into a vat. The mead of the skalds, the Old Norse poets, is also known as kvasis dreyra, Kvasir’s blood (De Vries 1977). English ‘quash’ and German (dialectical) quatschen are related. The latter word leads me to surmise an interesting etymology for this word, which can also mean ‘to talk nonsense, to babble’: talk in-spirited by the mead, by kvase, was increasingly considered nonsense, as it became unintelligible as people lost their ongoing and ceremonial presence to the world of spirit(s) – what people claimed to come from that world was increasingly considered Quatsch or nonsense, while before it had been the wisdom of Kvasir. (Just as the seeresses of the Delphic oracle increasingly appeared to babble nonsense, thus “necessitating” the interpretation by men, and resulting in the patriarchal control of intercourse with spirits.)

 

[4][4] It is beyond the scope of this article to display the rich web of connections in its entirety. However, it is worth mentioning that the berry, especially in its form as elderberry (Hollunder) is also the sacred blood from the female spirit or goddess (Frau Holle), and that we find lines leading us back into the Nordic culture at the times of Old Europe (cf. Gimbutas 1999).

[5][5] Within the Euro-centered frame of mind exists a strong tendency to read words like “traditional” or “indigenous” in a reifying fashion, postulating some stable, Edenic original state. While such projections of unfullfilled needs and desires may be momentarily satisfying, they reinforce the dissociative movements of progress thinking and the projective identification with indigenous peoples (making them feel our own shadow material as if it was theirs). We have to understand that whatever we are capable of identifying as beginning, original, traditional, indigenous, etc. immediately is always already imbued with history, and, whatever we manage to recover of it, we have to understand as the imaginative stories of communal truths, and not categorical statements of absolute truths.

[6][6] The Indo-European root weid- is connected to story and wisdom, while the root skei- (to cut, split) is connected to the word conscious; knowledge is connected to the root gno-, which has narration and normal in its wake.

On Speech and Dynamics: Introduction to Quantum Logic and then to the Logic of Native Science

Example of 4-in-relations see the picture on page 3 & 5.

On Speech and Dynamics

— Introduction to Quantum Logic and then

to the Logic of Native Science —.

I. Why Do Humans Speak?

1. This is an introductory note for “Quantum Logic”. But I

intend this note to be for a bit wider purpose. Namely, I am

interested in deciphering “Native Science” through Native

Language or, more technically, “Parole” (Speech). Therefore, I

step back and consider the role/function of “Speech” before I go

into “Logic”.

2. There is another reason to digress on “Parole”. That is, if

I simply start with Logic, people might say, “Who cares about

Logic?”. Indeed, native speakers, whether in English, Chinese or

in Tlingit, are not even conscious of “Grammar”, let alone

“Logic”. Scientists, in general, may know Logic as an academic

subject, but the overwhelming majority of scientists do not care

much about the technical sense of Logic. It comes “natural”, and

as much as explanations of Logic(s) require speeches in some

native language to be understood at all, “Logic” is not

fundamental. Human beings are not “Logical” at all, in that

sense. Science, as practiced by the majority of scientists, is

not Logical any more than it means “use of language”. Only selfconceited

academic idiots would think of “Logic” to be of any

importance.

But then, we observe that there are “Orders”, “Patterns”,

or “Rules” in the ways people say things. If some non-natives

come and speak in violation of the “Order”, natives would have a

hard time figuring out what the “foreign students” are saying.

The native speakers may not know precisely what the “order” is,

but they do sense if it is violated. Speech without the implicit

“order” does not make sense to them. That is, there is an

implicit “Natural Logic” which regulates how people

feel/think/speak.

That may well be “psychology”. But to say it simply as

“psychology” is no help to anybody. If we say it as “psychology”,

we need to explain how that particular psychology works.

[If you are an English speaking person, try to explain to a

Japanese person what is the “Psychology” which makes you feel

“natural” in using the articles “A” and “The”, beyond saying, “It

makes me feel right”. I bet you would have trouble. So far, I

have never heard an intelligible

2

explanation. Yet, as much as a large group of native English

speakers shares a certain, more or less identifiable, common

“natural feeling” about the usage of the articles, I would guess

that there exists a “Natural Logic”. What I refer to as “Logic”

includes such “linguistic habits”, though I am not going into

“Socio-Linguistics”, but staying within a small area of language

technology in the Sciences.]

It so happens that, for us who are either “Foreign

Students” or in search of the “hidden” science but wishing to

learn Native Science from “outside”, it has to be mediated by

“speech” (Parole) and, worse, through “translations”. We are

“ignorant learners”. [Those who are not do not need to read

this.] We respect the “Teachings of Don Juan” which is claimed to

be beyond “Linguistic” means to reach. But what we are attempting

to do here is very humble learning. We are not aiming for the

Power like Carlos Castaneda did. That was the “Fire Way” of

Learning. We try the “Water Way” of Learning, one drop a time,

but with continuous persistence. We do not pretend that this is a

complete learning, but just a part of the “introduction”.

In order to understand the Native Science, we need some

“explanations” in terms of some “Parole”. In that context, it is

convenient to regard what people can do well without. Conscious

“thinking” is beyond the “Science”. We do not need to assert, in

the McLuhanian Doctrine, that “Science is what is expressed in a

certain Form of Parole” (Media is the Message). But we

concentrate on the Science that is communicable, because that is

the only part which is accessible to us. Before we become

arrogant enough to reach for what are not “explainable”, we try

to understand what are “explainable”, or what are reachable

through guides of the “explainable”. Only after we learn that

part well, we shall be able to pay homage to what we have missed.

3

3. That brings us to the question of “Why Humans Speak”. Let us

try to understand what we are doing by “speech”.

For a naive start, let us make a simple model of “Human

Being” and locate the function of “Speech”. The simplest I can

think of is a “4 part model”. In this modeling, a human can be

represented by a picture below:

By “Eat/Breathe”, I mean all internal physiological functions of

a human body which have to do with maintaining the existence of,

and the growth of, the body. Seeing, hearing, touch sensing,

etc., are taken in analogy with “Eating”.

By “Act”, I mean motions of body, hands, and feet. It’s a

basic function to “goes to food, grabs them, and brings them to

mouth”.

“Think/Feel” is mainly done by Brain.

The first thing we note is that “Speak” part is not

necessary. That, in the picture below, is possible:

Plants (and many insects and animals, to a large degree)

lived, survived, and even “learned” in the Evolutionary sense,

for more than a billion years without “speech”.

Trees did not speak in our sense of language, but they were

able to “learn”. It was because they were “plural” (more than one

tree). When there are more than two trees (beings), there emerges

the possibility of communication and

4

“making love” between (among) them. In a picture, I can depict

what the communication looks like.

You note the Feedback Loop (Hoop) structure made possible

from the Plurality. The picture is the simplest one, and the Loop

can be more complicated and involve many other Beings. But the

Feedback Loop is essential for Communication. The Judeo-Christian

“Unidirectional Command” from God to something else is a patently

false image of communication. European Logic, which was developed

— in Judeo-Christian institution in particular for the need of

the Inquisition — is wrong from the start. I shall not talk of

the significance of “Diversity” for Communication in this note,

but the importance of Loop/Hoop has to be kept in your mind. I am

not helping Logic as a tool for fighting arguments. My “Logic”

would be useless for Lawyers who wish to be “powerful” in their

art of “Adversary Justice”.

The “Love Making” was done as the change of “T”, which can

be analogous to what System Engineers call “Internal State”. This

may be understood as “Thinking/Feeling Habit”, which affects

linkage between “E” to “A”.

The Loop of communication changes “T” part. It is like a

“Computer Virus” which comes into computer system as if “input

data”, but changes the “software” inside. As “signals”, computers

cannot distinguish the sneaking “program affecters” from “data”

inputs that are meant merely be processed by the “program”

(internal state). In the neuro-psychological term, “T” is

something like an “Emotional State”, if not “Mind” itself.

(3.1) [We might take a Hard-nosed Engineering way of saying

things to say “Mind” is a Nickname for the

Dynamics/Function/or Phenomenon of what goes on in the link

between “E” to “A”. It is not necessary that the “named”

exist as an identifiable object. We use the word “Mind” in

the same sense as Physicists use words like “Gravity”.

Gravity is a Phenomenon/Dynamics, not an object. Or,

“Rainbow” may be a better example. “Rainbow” is what we

see, not an object.]

5

It so happened that the “program” is a bit more “stable”

than “input data” (sensations, stimuli) and stays in the memory.

Some memories are in terms of “metabolic” dynamics, and they can

be made quasi-permanent. If that happens, they can be transmitted

to the next generation. That is the role of Love Making in the

Learning. In a simplistic picture, the process looks like the one

below:

The scheme works very well. Then why do we humans need

“speech”?

I think it is for “social” interactions, co-operative or

exploitive. A picture of “Exploitation” looks like:

The Co-operation may be depicted as the next picture;

4. We note that both “Exploitation” and “Co-operation” are

difficult, if the “Beings” have to communicate through “A”

(Action) channel alone. It is like talking through

6

“Body Language”. In a sense, “Actions” (Body Language) are

“honest”. But it takes up too much Energy to communicate

Information. You might appreciate this “Energy Cost” by imagining

our buying and selling through a strict “Exchange of latter with

Matter” alone. It is true that our Symbolic Exchange Media called

“Money” also makes so much room for “manipulations”, if not

“deceits”, “betrayals”, “treacheries”, “frauds” etc. But if you

are to shop around town with tons of Potatoes on your back, you

would say the exchange is not worth the trouble.

That “Speech” can be misused and abused for dishonest

purposes is a problem over which we are concerned. But on the

other hand, we can hardly help each other without talking. What

do you think young lovers do, if there is “sweet language to

talk”? They may have to “club” the desired mate and drag him or

her to their cave. You, faced with a potential mate who is

breathing fire like a dragon, cannot say that you “wish to know

him/her better, before going into a heavier relation”. As it is,

such situations are difficult enough even with talking-language.

In Learning, it is necessary that one has to risk

“mistakes”. In such a situation, Action (Body) language is too

heavy-handed and the damages are often irreversible. So we need

to have some means of doing “As If”. Without the room for

Imagination, our Creativity cannot function. And without

Creativity, we cannot learn — though we can Copy —.

In social scale Negotiations, we have to exchange what we

imagine, dream, or desire, as “possibilities” or “potentials”.

They are not expressible in terms of “Concrete Objects”. Our

language lets us imagine what is not existing. If you call that

“Dishonest”, that may well be the case. But what are you going to

do about the “Future”? The “Future” is what is not existing now.

And without your imagination of the Future, there can be no such

thing as “Will”.

Interestingly, one who does not have a “Will” is the most

telling characteristic

19 December 1988 Personal Correspondence on Rocks, Migrations, and Power

Dec. 19, ’88.

Dear Pam

There is a picture of “Rock Face” that you might look at. It has remarkable resemblance to the one that you gave me a photo of. It is in a book (page 260) Space Ship In Prehistory, by Peter Kolosiw [Citadel Press 1982. ISBN 0-8065-0731-1.] The book belongs to E. Milton, and I did not have a chance to make a copy. But you might find the book in Calgary. There is a mention of “Birdman” which is very much like “Raven” of Haida/North West Coast Totem. (see also the “Eyes” (copy8)). The book is talking about the possibility that people came to the Earth from other planet. That may or may not be the point that you are interested. But the resemblance in two Rock Faces might be of your interest.

The Rock Face was found in Easter Island. And it is said to be the face of God “Make-Make”. That sent me to look for more clues in Easter Island. Sure enough, there were others. Teh enclosed are som of pictures. Aku-Aku by Thor Heyerdale [Allen&Unwin 1960] has photo of Rock Drawings (copy 1) and sketch of Birdman (copy 2). Round Eyes are there too. Photos from Easter Island by Alfred Metreaux [Oxford U press 1959 (3)] and Modernization of Easter Island by J. Doiuglas Porteous [U. of Victoria Press 1981 (4)] are probably the same Rock Drawings as (1). Other artifacts are also similar to Haida/North West Coast ones.

In addition, there is a Stone Text in A. Metreaux’s book (copy 5). Another book: The Mystery Of Easter Island by Jean-Michel Schwartz [Avon Books 1973] talks of Written Text (6). A more detailed analysis of written Texts is given in a book The Eighth Land by Thomas S. Barthel [U. of Hawaii press 1978].

A story mentioned in Schwartz’s book tells of :Sparks of Spirit blown up went into Rocks”. The “Rock” is therefore revered as “Knowledge”. People there represent the “knowledge” by Red Rocks in a shape of Hat and put them on the gigantic Stone Statues. It also refers to “Sacred Turtle”. [I note that Hida Stories do not mention “Turtle”. It could be that in adaptation to a cold climate the name might be changed to something people there can see. I do not know the Language to check if there had been changes. On the other hand, I do not imagine Oneida see too many Turtles around in New York State. Yet “Turtle” survived. Why?]

Barthel’s book mentions “The Dream Voyage of Hau Maka” (7). A word “Hiva” frequently appearing in all these stories remidn me of “Kiva” of Hopi. “Hiva” is something like what you call “Cove” — incidentally, do you mean “Cove” is also called “Gii Laii”? —.

At any rate, it appears that people in ancient times traveled a great distance, or at least some minority did. It could have been “Space Travelers” or “Voyagers”. In Japan, there is no written story in that effect, but there are “folk beliefs” which suggest small group of “strange people” came. They can be Koreans, Polynesians, Chinese, Mongols, Eskimos, Ancient Europeans, or Space People. Unlike the large scale immigration of people that Anthropologists trace, they are characteristically of small group or an individual, like “survivors/refugees” of calamities

[My family is often suspected of such an origin. My ancestors were “strange” to villagers. They were poor uneducated peasants, but they apparently had innate ability to read and write, did art, craft works, mathematical part of land survey, etc., but not quite competent at “domestic economy”, nor were strong physically, of course, in Japan, people are all “mixed up”, whatever were their origins. So we cannot trace nothing much. Only the “strange” characters somehow emerge in family line.]

Such “Mixing” from “strange people” has a significant implication. It runs counter to the present Paradigm of Native American Movements in that “Race/Tribe” is not simple pure “red-or-white” object (not to be judged “black and whit”). A “Peopel” or a “Culture” is made up of different origins in Diversity (Genetic Pool). At this phase of history, I think it is important to stress the uniqueness of Native People/Culture, so that “Equality” and “Liberty” are restored. In a sense that is more to do with “Human Right”.

But, I mentioned the “Power” issue — not “Right” issues — that Native People Culture has to go into. and beyond that, there is an issue of “Fraternity”. You know very well that there are deprived and repressed people within what is referred as “The Whites”. Even in native society, some persons are “more equal than others”. “Welfare” that you are concerned has to do with the “Fraternity” part — i.e. how to live in a community —. The “community” is a collective living organism of many different kinds of people. How to “live” in that sense is difficult indeed. Certainly, economic inequality, political repression/discrimination, and hostile prejudice have to be removed. But that is not enough.

A “Community” shares a common understanding in a balance of diversity. The common understanding is the “Culture”. A “Culture” is not artifacts that museums display. A “Culture” is not what it “looks like”, such as color of skin, blood type, sexual relation/lineage, way of dress/foods/routines, norm of acceptable behavior, etc. It has more to do with “mental”, “inner” world of people. One way to get glimpse of it is through Language of the Community. But to “speak” a Language means to think/feel/experience. And there, comes a sense of “Universe” which is intimate and sensual. Perhaps we are trying to become “intimate” with a Culture. But as we know well, it is not easy to go beyond romanticizing.

Yours

Sam K.