Indigenous Mind

Weaving the Way of Wyrd (PDF)

Weaving the Way of Wyrd: An Interview with Brian Bates

by Janet Allen-Coombe

Brian Bates, author of The Way of Wyrd and The Way of the Actor, is the leading exponent of a movement that seeks to revitalize Europe’s ancient shamanic traditions. Working from a scholarly and experiential approach, he has developed a contemporary shamanic practice based on the original Anglo-Saxon and Celtic traditions as documented in historical texts, art, and literature.

Born and raised in England, Bates lived in the United States during the 1960s. After earning his doctorate in psychology from the University of Oregon, he returned to England to serve as Research Fellow at King’s College, Cambridge. He currently teaches courses in shamanic consciousness and transpersonal psychology at the University of Sussex, where he also directs the Shaman Research Project. In addition to his academic career, Bates directs plays in London, teaches shamanic workshops for actors, and leads experiential courses in European shamanism.

Bates is perhaps best known for his historical novel, The Way of Wyrd, which documents in fictional form his research on ancient European shamanic practices. Recently released in paperback by Harper San Francisco, the book provides a fascinating narrative about Anglo-Saxon shamanism—and serves as a focal point for the following interview.

Janet Allen-Coombe: Wyrd is described in many ways in your book, The Way of Wyrd. Would you explain what word is?

Brian Bates: The term word is the original form of today’s weird, which means strange or unexplainable. Wyrd had essentially the same meaning more than a thousand years ago in shamanic Europe, but in sacred rather than mundane realms. Wyrd was the unexplainable force—the great mystery underlying all of existence—that was the cornerstone of Anglo-Saxon shamanic practices.

The essence of wyrd is that the universe exists within polarities of forces, rather like the Eastern concepts of yin and yang. according to Anglo-Saxon beliefs, the universe originally consisted of two mighty, unimaginably vast force regions—one of fire, the other of ice. When the fire and ice met, they exploded, creating a great mist charged with magic force and vitality.

This “mist of knowledge” exists beyond time, concealing wisdom about the nature of life that may be revealed to people traveling on the shamanic path. This creation cosmology was perhaps best preserved in Germanic and Norse myths and stories. It was also documented by early Roman functionaries who traveled through Western Europe.

The meaning of word can also be understood through the image of a vast web of fibres, an image that appears frequently in early European literature and artwork. The European shamans visioned a web of fibres that flow through the entire universe, linking absolutely everything—each person, object, event, thought, feeling. This web is so sensitive that any movement, thought, or happening—no matter how small—reverberates throughout the entire web. In some of the incantations preserved in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the British Museum, the journey of the shaman’s soul into the otherworld is facilitated by a spider spirit. When an Anglo-Saxon shaman wanted to understand the complexity of forces affecting an individual, such as during initiations and healing, the shaman visioned the pattern of fibres entering the person.

I will never forget the first time I consciously experienced these fibres. One day in early summer, I was walking alone in a forest in England, enjoying the flowering wild bluebells that blanketed the ground between the oaks and beeches. Suddenly I sensed a pulsing in my body, around my navel, and I felt sick. At first I thought I would vomit, so I stopped and leaned against a tree. Then I saw hundreds of lines of light coming silently and beautifully from all directions and passing through my body. They were like shafts of golden sunlight filtering through the trees, only they were coming from every angle. The image was so clear and strong that I started to follow some of the lines of light, walking right into them and along them. They seemed like warm fibres supporting me, and I felt as if I were walking on air. The longer the experience lasted, the more wonderful I felt. After a time, I lay down on the ground and went to sleep among the bluebells. When I awoke, the sensation had passed. I now know that this experience was only an introduction to fibres, and that working with them involves not only sensory experiences but also ways of balancing life with their help.

Allen-Coombe: Anglo-Saxon shamanism flourished over a thousand years ago. What made you decide to explore that once-forgotten shamanic path?

Bates: During the 1970s, my spiritual quest led me to become deeply involved with Zen and Taoism. However, despite the fact that I admired these traditions very much, I felt handicapped by my unfamiliarity with the cultural backgrounds—the mythology, imagery, and physical landscapes—which gave birth to these visionary paths. I decided that I needed to find a Western or European approach. When I met Alan Watts, whose writings had inspired my journey into the Eastern traditions, he encouraged me in my search to discover a Western parallel to these great Eastern paths.

Of course, such life decisions are rarely intellectual ones. In retrospect, I can see that my path into Anglo-Saxon shamanism actually started during my childhood. From four up to about nine years of age, I had many recurring dreams involving wolves and eagles. As a child, I had an especially vivid imagination and I occasionally experienced visions, some during illnesses. These experiences haunted my life and propelled me inwards to the imagery of the unconscious. In the small, traditional village where I grew up, the adults were fairly accepting of my inner world. Later, when I moved to a city, I found that most people were locked into the material world and had little time for the inner life, so I learned to be much more careful about sharing my dreams and visions. Without my knowing it, however, these early experiences had sensitized me to the way of the Anglo-Saxon shaman.

It has often struck me that most paths to wisdom—the ways that enable us to move forward in life—usually involve going “back” to the realm of inner experience. Most of us had vivid inner lives as children, but we soon learned to deny those realities, in favor of the consensually validated “real world.” Following the shamanic path involves reentering the image world we knew as children and returning to that source of wisdom which, as adults, we have forgotten.

My quest to find a Western path led me first to learn about the Druids. Contemporary British Druids have a well-developed approach to spirituality which reflects a deep reverence for the landscape and the sacred forces of nature. They look to the ancient Druids of two thousand years ago as a source of inspiration, although they do not claim direct descendence from them. Because my goal was to find a path that was well rooted in the ancient Anglo-Saxon and Celtic ways of wisdom, I set out to find historical documentation on the original Druidic beliefs and practices but soon became frustrated by the paucity of available material. Although I have a lot of respect for contemporary British Druids, I realized their path wasn’t for me.

I then spent two years studying alchemy, both theoretically and practically. The alchemical practices include many meditative rituals focused on processes of inner and outer transformation. These practices taught me how to be sensitive to inner change, how to observe the workings of the psyche in response to archetypal imagery, and how to use external objects and interactions as metaphors for internal work. However, as an esoteric magical system, alchemy failed to address my primary concerns—the practices of healing and divination.

Eventually I became involved in the path of Wicca, or Witchcraft. I was fortunate to be able to study with some remarkable women, who taught me many things that would be important for my later understanding of wyrd. In the process of researching the historical roots of Witchcraft, I came across a reference to Lacnunga, an obscure one-thousand-year-old manuscript in the British Museum (ms Harley 585)

Lacnunga is essentially the spell book of an Anglo-Saxon shaman. It contains a collection of magical healing remedies, rituals, and incantations. Historians estimate that the document was written by Christians in the tenth or eleventh century, although the material had probably been passed down orally for several hundred years, from the pre-Christian era. At that time, writing was the almost exclusive province of Christian monks and missionaries, and it was extremely unusual for a collection of indigenous pagan shamanic healing spells to be written in the Anglo-Saxon vernacular. Because of the pagan nature of the material, historians speculate that the manuscript was written by a scribe or novice, and not by a monk.

Through research, I learned that portions of Lacnunga had been translated by Anglo-Saxon scholars, but that there had been very little analysis of the manuscript’s overall content and meaning. I eagerly made arrangements to examine the original document in the British Museum. Lancing is a beautiful book—a small, thick manuscript on vellum leaves, wit little diagrams and drawings carefully scratched into the margins to indicate the end of one spell and the beginning of another. Although most of the entries were magical healing remedies and herbal treatments, I discovered among them some rituals for shamanic initiation and training. I immediately recognized the manuscript as a shaman’s handbook—a touchstone for entering the world of the ancient European shaman.

I became tremendously excited, personally and professionally, at the prospect of breathing life back into the practices described in Lacnunga. The manuscript literally changed my life, as I took on the challenge of rebuilding the practice of wyrd through an experiential, as weak as scholarly, approach.

I soon found that evidence for the way of wyrd is substantial, but that it is widely scattered in books, journals, manuscripts, and museums throughout Europe. One of my tasks over the years has been to pull together all this information and integrate it. The process is rather like weaving a tapestry, only the materials are facts and ideas, image and stories. I have consulted countless journals and books in subjects as diverse as the history of medicine; Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Germanic social history; Icelandic sagas; comparative mythology; folklore studies; archaeology; and philology.

My research has showed that although there were some differences in details of expression between the Anglo-Saxons and the Celts—the two major cultural groupings in early western Europe—there was much overlap between the shamanic practices of these peoples. The shamans served as healers, diviners, spell casters (particularly through the use of the magical languages of runes), leaders of sacred rituals and celebrations, custodians of tribal wisdom, and advisors to warriors and chieftains.

After several years of studying research material in order to understand the system of shamanism represented in Lacnunga, I decided to explore some of the healing rituals presented in the manuscript and to recreate the journey described in its incantations and narratives. My work included practicing meditations, memorizing the stories, and journeying—physically into forest landscapes at night and psychically into visionary landscapes.

From the start of the project, my aim has been to reempower the way of wyrd as a living shamanic path. Throughout this process, I have tried to maintain absolute integrity, so that readers and workshop participants can see exactly how the historical material is being used. For that reason, I have included in the bibliography of The Way of Wyrd well over one hundred references to the most accessible material, so that readers can explore the sources for themselves.

Allen-Coombe: In The Way of Wyrd, you present Anglo-Saxon shamanism through the fictional experiences of Wat Brand, a Christian scribe who apprentices to a pagan sorcerer. Why did you choose this format?

Bates: Originally I had intended to write a nonfiction book that would explain the nature of wyrd, but my first attempts failed to bring the wonderful material to life. I then decided to use the format of a fictional story in the hope that it would speak more directly to the imagination that to the intellect. I felt the readers would be better able to experience something of the nature of the shamanic quest if I told the story through one person’s journey into the way of wyrd.

While conducting my background research, I had studied a historically documented mission from Anglo-Saxon England, and I decided to use this setting for depicting someone’s initiation into the way of wyrd. I had learned that when Christian missionaries traveled into pagan areas of Europe, they often sent a junior member of the mission to journey through the countryside, gathering information about the rituals, beliefs, and practices of the indigenous shamans. Since a scribe called Wat Brand had actually lived at the mission I studied, I gave his name to the fictional scribe in my book. The Way of Wyrd describes Brand’s experiences in gaining the knowledge of wyrd, and his initiation by a shaman called Wulf.

In preparing the book, I wrote a series of essays for myself on fifty or sixty different aspects of the principles and practices of wyrd, based on my experiential studies and the historical evidence available about the European shamanic path. The actual structure of the book and the unfolding of Brand’s quest were dictated by these accounts of my research.

allen-Coombe: In your book, you describe an individual’s life as “ a cloth woven on a loom.” What relevance does this image have to contemporary life?

Bates: Contemporary psychological science teaches us to image our lives and psyches in terms of a machine—in particular, a computer. Although that model bears little relation to the organic, living, breathing reality of the human experience, we continue to make educational, professional, business, medical, and military decisions as though the computer model were a close fit to our reality.

In contrast, Anglo-Saxon shamanic cultures viewed each person’s life experience as an artistic pattern evolving on a loom. The motif of goddesses spinning individual fates appears many times in the spells and stories which have survived and is one of the best-documented aspects of Anglo-Saxon shamanism. Admittedly, images of spinning and weaving were more familiar in those eras, but the use of a creative rather than mechanical metaphor is worth studying—especially when considering how to change our lives. Instead of changing our “life program,” we can change our “life design,” using metaphors of color, shape, texture, pattern, and theme.

Becoming sensitive to the fibres that pulse and reverberate within our lives is an important practice of the way of wyrd. Sometimes, in contemporary word healing workshops, we paint images of the fibres penetrating our lives, starting with those influences of which we are consciously aware—people, evens, hopes, and fears—and then moving on to fibres which can be perceived only through meditation and inner visioning.

Even if you are highly motivated to change your overall life pattern, you can’t just change it immediately, as if inserting a new program into a computer—to do so would be to break your life. You can’t afford to lose the strength inherent in what you’ve already got. You can alter the pattern, expressing previous themes in new and different ways, but developing a new pattern must be accomplished harmoniously, in tune with the energies that created the original design. Therefore, when working with individuals who want to make changes in their lives, we help them to get a clear picture of their existing life patterns, and then we guide them to redesign tose patterns through use of artistic media.

One man I worked with had many psychological blocks to deal with. He had undertaken conventional psycho-therapy but still felt confused and paralyzed by the multiplicity of his problems. So, before delving into the content of his individual issues, we simply mapped them out until he saw an overall pattern to his life. Then he expressed that patter through artwork and dance, creating a map of his psychological states.

We first choreographed a dance sequence that expressed his past psychological states and then choreographed a ritual dance that enabled him to transcend his blocks. The first time that he performed the entire dance was a tremendous cathartic experience for him. Each subsequent time served as a centering process, allowing him to reach a state of presence within himself, and was a ritual act of faith in his liberation. Of course, life issues are complex and need to be addressed in detail, but this process provided him with a bird’s eye view of his situation, allowing him to get his bearings. The improvement in his general well-being was remarkable.

Allen-Coombe: Much of Brand’s work in The Way of Wyrd deals with developing personal power. What is power in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and how can people develop this kind of power?

Bates: In modern society, the concept of power has been debased—it is usually conceived of as power over other people. But in the European shamanic sense, power something that one ha within oneself. It is an enabling power which helps people resist being “overpowered” by others.

Forming relationships with guardian spirits is one practical way to nurture shamanic power. There are many accounts in European literature of shamans transforming into their guardian animals, both spiritually during initiations and ritually during celebrations and healings.

An important aspect of shamanic work is finding externalized forms—such as creatures, animals, or runes—that to only represent but give manifestation to one’s inner resources and strengths. The process has parallels with contemporary creative psycho-therapies in which a personal issue is given form through something external, such as a painting or sculpture. Even though we know the issue is “inside,” we seem to be better able to deal with it once it is transferred onto something “outside.”

One of the central premises of word is that, in certain states of consciousness, the boundaries between inner and outer realities become permeable and can be transcended. By working with guardian animals, we can get in touch with abilities that were formerly outside our awareness. For example, guardian spirits can give us access to many of those abilities that society has labeled “paranormal.” By embodying the fibres of word that reverberate through us, guardian animals can help us develop enhanced sensitivity to the myriad influences which constantly affect us but remain beyond the scope of our physical senses.

One way that I work with individuals is to help them connect with their guardian animals. Many people may be familiar with similar practices—where images of animals are induced and those animals danced—taught in short-term workshops. however, in contemporary word shamanism, we go much further in contacting this deep source of inspirational energy.

We begin by asking people to record animal dreams that they remember from childhood—nearly everyone has had them. Then we guide individuals on imaginal journeys to meet their guardian animals. That’s where the real work in word begins—people research their animals, observe them in the wild if possible, paint them, write stories about them, and work with them experientially and dramatically. This process is very personal and important, not something to be rushed. Some people training in word shamanism find that guardian animal work becomes a quest of high degree—a sustained path of exploration that illuminates many aspects of their lives.

Allen-Coombe: Dwarves and giants play a significant role in The Way of Wyrd. Can you discuss these beings and their relevance to shamanic practices?

Bates: Giants and dwarves featured significantly in the initiatory visions of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic shamans, as may be seen in the accounts of shamans’ journeys to the upper world and underworld. They also play a role in some incantations in Lacnunga, but they are given particular prominence in shamanic vision quest stories in the Norse sagas.

Later, under the influence of Christianity, the indigenous Celtic and Anglo-Saxon spirits were redefined as angels or devils. Eventually, the shamanic imagery was preserved only in stories for children, where it could be dismissed as fantasy.

In pre-Christian European shamanism, giants were embodiments of the elemental forces that had created the universe, and they represented tremendous, unbridled power. Stories related that giants had both knowledge and wisdom, but—as giants were often aggressive—this knowledge could only be gained by the shamans at great personal risk.

Dwarves were the powers that transformed the elements of the universe into material form. In early European cultures, blacksmiths were associated with dwarves and magic because of their ability to transform the basic elements of Earth into tools, weapons, and jewelry. when shamans journeyed into spiritual realms, they often encountered sacred smiths, usually imaged as dwarves, who made unbreakable swords and knives, and beautiful jewelry with magical properties. these dwarf-smiths were also responsible for transmuting the body, mind, and soul of the apprentice into that of the shaman.

In our workshops, we work to activate the dwarf powers of transformation inherent in our lives. First, participants tell and enact stories of the dwarf powers that they know form European mythology. Since over the centuries most of these stories have been altered and turned into children’s moral tales, we examine and reentrant the stories in their original shamanic versions. then we recast the stories in terms of our own lives, putting these “dwarf energy” aspects to work for our personal transformation.

To ritually enact our own transformational tales, particularly within a group, is a remarkable experience. Many people discover that story details they had forgotten become manifest as the experiences are given magical power. It is not psychodrama as we know it in contemporary psychotherapy but rather an infusion of transformational energy into those important life experiences which have not been resolved or celebrated—or, even worse, which have been locked into our psyches by denial or the wrong kind of analysis. This work often involves some suffering and sacrifice, but it ultimately creates beautiful, magical things from the elements of our lives—just as the dwarves made beautiful, magical things from Earth’s elements.

Allen-Coombe: In The Way of Wyrd, Wulf teaches Brand about the shamanic use of runes. Can you tell us about runes and other methods of communication with the spirit world?

Bates: In recent years, many people have become familiar with the use of runes as an oracular system. Runes were much more than an alphabet of angular shapes; they were an important form of sacred communication in the way of wyrd and were used with great respect and reverence. Runes were traditionally carved into wood, rock, or occasionally bone, or into metal jewelry and weaponry. the process of carving runes was a way of centering, meditating, and communicating with Earth. The carving of runic messages to the spirit world was an integral part of most healing and divining rituals.

Contemporary work in the way of word includes the use of runes as an oracle. Of course just as with other divinatory tools, the power inherent in their use depends upon the sensitivity, skill, and journeying capacity of the person who is doing the reading.

There are many ways of getting in touch with the other realms, and all shamanic cultures employ ritualized and sacralized means of communication with spirit forces. Some cultures use dancing, drumming, and chanting; other use painting or creating sacred objects. In the European tradition, advanced shamans often traveled with trained drummers and chanters, who performed sound rituals to aid the shamans in communicating with the spirit world during healings and other sacred ceremonies. There is a manuscript description from about one thousand years ago of a North European shamans who traveled with thirty trained chanters—fifteen men and fifteen women.

Allen-Coombe: Were there very many Anglo-Saxon shamanesses?

Bates: A thousand years ago, when shamanic traditions thrived in Europe, male and female practitioners were equally prominent and were accorded equal status. They performed some functions in common, although other tasks were divided along gender lines. For example, women had authority over rituals dealing with childbearing and were specialists in divination—in reading the future of individuals, communities, and the landscape.

In Anglo-Saxon shamanism, both male and female shamans practiced healing and presided over spiritual rituals of various kinds, although usually separately. Men followed a male path of initiation and women followed a female path, but both paths had equal status. Entering the shamanic world of the other gender was considered an advanced form of shamanism. Those shamans who were able to acquire elements of the wisdom, techniques, and insights of the other gender were the most highly admired.

When Christian missionaries came to western Europe, they presumed that the indigenous spiritual structure was vested in the male shamanic advisors to the tribal leaders. Ignoring the role of female shamans, the missionaries concentrated on persuading the chieftains to outlaw male shamans and replace them with Christian monks and priests Consequently, although the male shamanic path was quickly driven underground, the female shamanic path continued to flourish for several hundred years. However, in order to control the still-thriving shamanic approach to life, the Christian authorities eventually turned their wrath against the female shamans and instigated the infamous witch hunts.

Allen-Coombe: What shamanic tools would Anglo-Saxon shamans typically carry with them?

Bates: Probably the most important tool of a European shaman was his or her staff. These staffs were carved with runic inscriptions and decorated with metalwork and objects of symbolic significance.

Norse sagas from over a thousand years ago describe shamanesses in northern Europe carrying staffs decorated with ornate stonework. Among other uses, these power staffs enabled the shamanesses to journey to spirit realms. The image in popular culture today of witches flying on magical broomsticks may have evolved from stories of these magical staffs.

European fairy tales are replete with wizards carrying magic wands and staffs imbued with healing powers. Today, we dismiss these stories as fantasy, but there is evidence that the shamans’ staffs were used physically during rituals to draw sacred circles on the ground and to heal people.

In the way of wyrd, most healing, divination, and initiation rituals involved creating circles for containing and concentrating the flow of life force—physical, psychological, and psychic energy.The use of circles is well documented in Anglo-Saxon and Celtic literature and artwork. Even Anglo-Saxon jewelry—rune-cut armoring, and torcs worn around the neck—was used to aid in concentrating power.

As in many other cultures, the shamans of Europe usually performed in ritual costumes that were representative of their power animals—their sources of inspiration. There are numerous literary descriptions of European shamans wearing costumes decorated with feathers, stones, and other magical objects.

In researching ancient texts recorded by medical historians, I also came across several references to shamans working with seeing stones. These stones, usually marked with a shape resembling an eye, were used by shamans to see into the spirit world and to vision the spirit state of a person during healings and initiations.

the first time I personally encountered a seeing stone took place during a workshop I was leading in the Alps. Our group was standing under a huge beech tree with gigantic exposed roots, clinging to the thin soil of the Swiss mountainside. Just as I was telling the group about seeing stones, I saw among the roots a brown and pink stone, with an exposed, white area in the shape of an eye. When I picked up the stone, it fit smoothly into my palm. My whole body began to tingle, and I immediately knew it was a seeing stone. I have since used it many times to read a person’s energies. The stone creates a channel of sight which allows me to vision a person’s fibres and energy channels, rather than his or her physical form.

Allen-Coombe: Can you tell us more about shamanic healing in the Anglo-Saxon tradition?

Bates: The historical basis of my understanding of wyrd healing comes primarily from Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the British Museum and from some smaller manuscripts housed in various other European museums. These “medicine work handbooks” provide a picture of the healing practices used in western European shamanic traditions.

Typically, healings started with a spirit reading of the patient. This reading would be carried out either by using seeing stones or by drumming and chanting until the shaman had a vision revealing the path to be followed in the healing. The healing process often involved “singing the patient better”—using an incantation to create a healing word web for the patient. The incantation, sometimes created specifically for that patient, induced imagery within the patient’s mind that catalyzed mind/body healing. Of course, the incantation also enlisted the assistance of the spirits and activated healing forces from the web of wyrd.

Sometimes it was believed that the patient had been possessed by harmful spirits , and the shaman then had to drive these sickness spirits away. This work required great care, because confronting dark spirits could be dangerous even for an experienced shaman.

In some cases of serious illness, it was believed that the patient had lost his or her soul. Lancing contains several incantations for journeying in search of lost souls. It was usually assumed that the soul had been stolen for a particular reason, or a combination of reasons, that had to do with the way the patient had been living his or her life. So, as step in retrieving the soul, the shaman had to find out why the person’s soul had been stolen and who in the spirit realm had stolen it.

In our contemporary wyrd practical healing work, the shaman’s job also includes helping individuals reweave their lives into a form which develops their strengths and protects their souls.

Allen-Coombe: What relevance does the way of wyrd have today?

Bates: I consider wyrd to be as relevant and powerful now as it was for our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Although our ancestors lived in a technologically simpler world, they were more sophisticated in spiritual matters than we are. We can learn from their wisdom, because they dealt with the same matters of mind, body, and spirit that we are still grappling with today. It’s important to remember that—although our physical and cultural environments have evolved greatly over the last few centuries—our deep inner nature has probably not changed much over the last several thousand years.

I also believe that the shamanic path can play an important role in solving crucial personal, social, and global issues that confront us today. Although the ritual forms of shamanism needed to solve today’s problems won’t necessarily be identical to those that flourished in traditional hunting or agricultural communities, the holistic vision of wyrd and many of its ancient shamanic elements—its concepts of life force, spirit guardians, and interconnecting fibres; its healing techniques; and its approaches to life and death—are still directly applicable to our lives.

the basic message of The Way of Wyrd is that we can recapture and revitalize a shamanic approach to wisdom that is based on Anglo-Saxon and Celtic traditions. In reading about wyrd, many people have a sense of recognition—a sense that it’s al something they already knew, deep down, but had forgotten. The way of wyrd is the archetypal shamanic wisdom of the European peoples. I would like to see this heritage take its place alongside the other great traditions of spiritual liberation, for anyone to learn from.

Allen-Coombe: What are your plans for the future, particularly in regard to your research work?

Bates: Recently, my personal research efforts—both scholarly and experiential—have been concentrated mainly on the processes of initiation and on the roles of male and female paths through the shamanic realm. I am currently compiling this material—as well as my findings in other areas of word shamanism—which I plan to work into a number of new books.

Moreover, since The Way of Wyrd’s publication in Europe, I have met many remarkable people who—without being knowledgeable about their European shamanic heritage—have been exploring shamanic practices in  their own lives. Because I believe that it is very important to encourage the exploration of shamanic practices in nontraditional settings, where there is little cultural support for the role of the shaman, I am writing a book about some of these encounters.

The response to The Way of Wyrd has been very strong in Europe and has enabled me to creat the experiential Shaman Research Project at the University of Sussex. The project is an unusual enterprise for a university, because our aim is not merely to build academic knowledge of a historical form of shamanism but to explore Anglo-Celtic shamanism at an experiential level. We now have six researchers directly involved in the project, and part of our work includes studying aspects of shamanism from other traditions around the world. We are also setting up a worldwide network of people who wish to be connected with the project on a regular basis. Ongoing research includes work on guardian animals, masks, masculine and feminine shamanic paths, sacred landscapes, and shamanic performance.

My overall aims are to recreate and reentrant the wisdom inherent in European shamanism and to apply its practices to personal development, psychotherapy, and healing, as well as to the broader issues of the environment, education, and the arts. I am interested in seeing that the insights of shamanism are introduced into as many appropriate settings as possible. This work is in its early stages, and I hope that I shall be able to report our progress widely as the project unfolds. It is time for the way or wyrd to take its place alongside the other great shamanic paths, so that its traditional wisdom can help us face the future.

Janet Allen-Coombe is a research psychologist at the Shaman Research Project, University of Sussex, and is currently writing a doctoral dissertation based on her research on guardian animals.

Brian Bates may be reached at the Shaman Research Project, Arts Building B, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, Sussex, England BN1 9QN

An Excerpt from The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates

“Do you really believe that you can read future events from a tiny snatch of bird flight? Do all your people believe in such omens?’

Wulf rolled on to his back and cupped his hands behind his head, squinting up at the sky.

‘Omens frighten the ordinary person because they believe them to be predictions of events that are bound to happen: warnings from the realms of destiny. But this is to mistake the true nature of omens. A sorcerer can read omens as pattern-pointers, from which the weaving of word can be admired and from which connections between different parts of patterns can be assumed.’

I was puzzled by his use of the term ‘wyrd.’ When used by monks orating poverty, it seemed to denote the destiny or fate of a person. I explained this view to Wulf and he hooted with laughter, sending the sparrows flapping from the shrubbery in alarm.

‘To understand our ways, you must learn the true meaning of wyrd, not the version your masters have concocted to fit their beliefs. Remember that I told you our world began with fire and frost? By themselves, neither fire nor frost accomplish anything. But together they create the world. Yet they must maintain a balance, for too much fire would melt the frost and excessive frost would extinguish the fire. but just as the worlds of gods, Middle-Earth and the Dead are constantly replenished by the marrying of fire and frost, so also they depend upon the balance and eternal cycle of night and day, winter and summer, woman and man, weak and strong, moon and sun, death and life. Thee forces, and countless others, form the end points of a gigantic web of fibres which covers all at the worlds. The web is the creation of the forces and its threads, shimmering with power, pass through everything.’

I was astounded by the image of the web, which seemed to me both stupendous and terrifying. I trembled with excitement, for I knew that Eappa1 would drink in such information like a hunter pinpointing the movements of his prey.

‘What is at the centre of the web, Wulf? Are your gods at the centre?’

Wulf smiled, a little condescendingly I thought.

‘You may start at any point on the web and find that you are at the centre,’ he said cryptically.

Disappointed, I tried another line of questioning. ‘Is word your most important god?’

‘No. Wyrd existed before the gods and will exist after them. Yet word lasts only for an instant, because it is the constant creation of the forces. Word is itself constant change, like that seasons, yet because it is created at every instant it is unchanging, like the still centre of a whirlpool. All we can see are the ripples dancing on top of the water.’

I stared at him in complete confusion. His concept of wyrd,obviously of vital importance to him, repeatedly slipped through my fingers like an eel. I went back to the beginning o f our conversation.

‘But Wulf, you say that the flight of birds shows you the pattern of wyrd, of these fibres; if you can predict events from wyrd, it must operate according to certain laws?’

Wulf looked at me with kind, friendly eyes. He seemed to be enjoying my attempts to understand his mysterious ideas.

‘No, Brand, there are no laws. The pattern of word is like the grain in wood, or the flow of a stream; it is never repeated in exactly the same way. But the threads of word pass through all things and we can open ourselves to its pattern by observing the ripples as it passes by. When you see ripples in a pool, you know that something has dropped into the water. And when I see certain ripples in the flight of birds, I know that a warrior is going to die.’

‘So wyrd makes things happen?’

‘Nothing may happen without wyrd, for it is present in everything, but word does not make things happen. Wyrd is created at every instant, and so word is the happening.’

Suddenly I tired of his cryptic responses. ‘I suppose the threads of wyrd are too fine for anyone to see?’ I said sarcastically.

Wulf chuckled goodnaturedly. ‘Sometimes they are thick as hemp rope. But the threads of wyrd are a dimension of ourselves that we cannot grasp with words. We spin webs of words, yet wyrd slips through like the wind. the secrets of wyrd do not lie in our word-hoards, but are locked in the soul. We can only discern the shadows of reality with our words, whereas our souls are capable of encountering the realities of wyrd directly. This is why wyrd is accessible to the sorcerer. the sorcerer sees with his soul, not with eyes blinkered by the shape of words.’

I knew Wulf’s views to be erroneous, yet I was fascinated by them. He spoke about his beliefs as confidently and fluently as Eappa explaining the teachings of our Savior. I rested my chin on my hands and tried to analyse Wulf’s ideas as Eappa would have wished. ‘Be sure you understand clearly everything you see and hear,’  he had cautioned. ‘You can remember only what you comprehend.’ I tried to identify the main tenets of Wulf’s beliefs and subject them to scrutiny, one by one.

Wulf leaned closer to me and spoke into my ear as if sharing a secret:

‘You are strangling your life-force with words. Do not live your life searching around for answers in your word-hoard. You will find only words to rationalize your experience. Allow yourself to open up to wyrd and it will cleanse, renew, change and develop your casket of reason. Your word-hoard should serve your experience, not the reverse.’

I turned on him in irritation. ‘I was chosen for this Mission because I do not swallow everything I hear like a simpleton. I am at home in the world of words.’

He smiled gently. “Words can be potent magic indeed, but they can also enslave us. We grasp from wyrd tiny puffs of wind and store them in our lungs as words. But we have not thereby captured a piece of reality, to be pored over and examined as if it were a glimpse of wyrd. We may as well mistake our fistfuls of air for wind itself, or a pitcher of water for the stream from which it was dipped. That is the way we are enslaved by our own power to name things.’

‘My thoughts are my personal affair,’ I said sulkily. I was here to listen to his beliefs, but not to submit to criticism of my private contemplation.

‘Thoughts are like raindrops,’ he persisted, introducing yet another of his interminable images. ‘They fall, make a splash and then dry up. But the world of wyrd is like the mighty oceans from which raindrops arise and to which they return in rivers and streams.’

Editor’s Note

Brother Eappa was Wat Brand’s teacher at the Mercian Monastery, where Brand served as a scribe. As part of his efforts to establish a mission at the Saxon court, Eappa sent Brand to “travel though the kingdom, gathering information on the beliefs and superstitions of the heathens.”

From The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates

Copyright 1992 by Brian Bates

Radical Presence (PDF)

Radical Presence
Beyond pernicious identity politics and racialism

Jürgen W. Kremer
3383 Princeton Drive
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
© 2002

[Published in ReVision vol. 24, #3, pp. 11-20.
Page numbers insert below in boldface.]

The burden of forgetting will worry their hearts.
(Rytcheu 1997, 242)
[P11] In the past I have used such words as “recovery of Indigenous mind” and “nurturing conversation” and “participatory or shamanic concourse” and “decolonization” to point to a particular consciousness practice or way of being present in the world or form of inquiry (Kremer 1997b). These terms point to a radical way of overcoming persistent identity politics and racialism as a consequence of historical wounds, supremacist thinking, collective amnesia, and the ensuing shadow material. For myself they implied the provocative, even outrageous, challenge to look at ancestral roots that were so obviously deeply marked by Nazi and Viking violence. Labels, such as “recovery of Indigenous mind,” can be a dangerous thing — whatever the initial clarification they may offer, they may just as easily turn out to be explosive or meaningless; discussants may wield them as mental swords trying to destroy each other’s careers; or they may become divorced from the live process to which they originally referred and this reification then turns “it” into something that may be “politically correct” — and then not. “Multiculturalism,” “white,” “traditional” or “Euro-centered” make this all too obvious. While we cannot do without labels entirely, what we can do is to use them lightly, maybe even with a sense of humor or irony. At worst “recovery of Indigenous mind” could be seen as a narrow path for true believers. Such quality of certainty would be as troubling as the certainty of dissociated, distancing objectivity that reflects the lostness of the white mind and soul. “Participatory or shamanic concourse” may always remain sufficiently obscure so as to be inured against such uses. What I am trying to point to is remembrance beyond the husks of identity modernity offers. And I would like to use words, labels, or concepts that admit to fluidity, that preserve the sense of the shifting ground our conjoining of reality and its interpretation always is.
The question I am asking myself is this: How can I imagine myself and my story outside the molds provided by the modern cultures I have been a part of? N. Scott Momaday has written that “we are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine, at least, completely, who and what and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined (1975, 96).” These words may have even greater urgency for those who have left their Indigenous roots long behind than for Native Americans. Paula Gunn Allen comments that “the way of the imagination is the way of continuity, circularity, completeness. The way of the intellect is the way of segmentation, discontinuity, linearity (1987, 563).” So, how can I use my intellect to imagine myself with place and time, yet outside the paradigmatic stamps that had brought me to adulthood? How can I develop a story of self in search of continuity and completeness? I am not sure what this measure of imagination all might mean, especially when I think that continuity also means the persistence of chance and such trickster figures as Loki and Till Eulenspiegel in my German background. What I am struggling with is an attempt to imagine my personhood as it has migrated between different places and through different times. Not as a linear list of segments, but an attempt at narrative continuity, however incomplete.
[P12] Presently I like the label “nurturing conversation” best for this process, because it carries an implicit modesty and mundaneness. I would prefer to say even more simply that presence in and through conversation is all this is. Such use of the word “conversation” is a paradox: From the perspective of presence and participation, from an Indigenous perspective as it were, its meaning is obvious and, in some sense, trivial. Yet, from the perspective of modernity and dissociation it desperately needs an epithet to indicate the quality that is not obvious to the contemporary modernist mind. Presence is nurturing, as a teacher who is present to a student is nurturing. Therefore the addition of the adjective “nurturing” seems appropriate as indicator of the quality I am trying to point to. The inspiration for this terminology came from the Andean group PRATEC which uses the phrase criar y dejarse criar, nurturing (raising) and letting oneself be nurtured, to describe the reciprocal activity of conversing with the world (Apffel-Marglin with PRATEC 1998). As I converse with other beings and presences I hope to nurture them and as I listen to them I may be nurtured — speaking and listening we give nourishment to each other as the conversation moves in its circles (among humans it shows itself in the flow of narrative realities). Of course, a conversation does not have to be verbal, and neither does it have to be serious — it can be in the exchange of food, in the dance movement, in the intake of air, in the rush of the waterfall, in the play of air currents in the bunch grass, in the song offered to the mountain, and in the melody brought down from high peaks on the wind. Conversations may be abstracting, serious, funny, witty, as if, ironic, tricky, long, short… Now I don’t like the label “nurturing conversation” quite as much anymore, since it only insufficiently covers the actions of the ceremonialist, the buffoon, the philosopher, the farmer, the writer, the scarab, the flintstone, and of so many other conversationalists. But I will use it for now, speaking it lightly, hoping that it will be read lightly.
So, what is this that I am trying to point to with this label and brief description? What practice does it require? It means that I make myself present to the current moment and to what went before, to present and past; it means to be present to the cycle of seasons, the celestial movements, the weather, the land, the past of the land, the plants and animals, and to fellow human beings; it means seeking a place in community, whether natural or intentional, where story, ceremony, cultural history, and individual history matter; it means the struggle to align rational, emotional, somatic, and spiritual senses, understandings, and meanings; it means remembering the stories of languages, the history each word carries; it means looking at shadow material and acknowledging and healing internal and external splits and denials. It means not just thinking about rights, but also obligations. It means discovering spirits in symbols and using metaphors to create the possibility of spiritual presence. And then there is the creative play of chance, vision, and insight, the movement of tricksters. Visionary narratives of this kind are boundaried by the land lived on, by the seasons, by the movement of animals, now seemingly chance, now predictable. Tradition, when alive, is mirror and inspiration, it challenges and is challenged as old vision rubs against new. This is something quite different from an asphyxiating traditionalism. Tradition is never singular, except in the minds of some mythologists or anthropologists; living tradition is always an agonistic play of contending interpretations. More than anything the practice I am trying to point to seems to mean listening and inner quieting, rather than speaking.
Such practice values the individual, yet needs to occur outside of an individualistic ideology. It is not a dis-course, but a con-course, a shamanic coming together in a circle in which truths are unfolded and refolded. Here communal reality creation is reviewed through talking as well as ritualistic embodiment. This circle has space for silence, humor, theater, dance, and all the other arts; scientific claims to truth need to rub shoulder with other aspects of human reality as they all struggle to align with each other. This is a practice of world creation and maintenance. Knowing is a practice of living. Living is the practice of knowing. Beingknowing. And evolving knowledge cannot find its point of alignment without vision. Truths cannot be achieved by means of the rational mind alone. The knowing of the body, the knowing of the heart, the knowing which comes from states of shifted awareness all need to inform agreed upon truths. Every consensus, temporary as it may be, has to withstand the challenges posed in verbal, rational discourse, yet such resolutions also have to withstand the challenges emerging from somatic, sexual, emotional, and spiritual experiences as the present embraces ancestral past, history, and ecological presence. Somatic knowing, intuition, and visionary insight need to see the light of the rational mind, while the mind needs to see the light that comes from other realms. Not an easy task at all. We will always remain challenged to reflect our resolutions, our truths in language, yet language is not the sole arbiter of truths in this process. This way we may appreciate scientific achievements not just abstractly or for the promise of their technological value, but by also connecting them to what our hearts know and what gender differences tell us. And we may appreciate them by connecting them to our somatic knowing and what they may look like in the face of visions across past and future generations. I would call this the practice of participation or the nurturing conversation. It is the work of preventing dissociation from various aspects of life and of healing splits that have occurred. Its opposite is normative dissociation, the socially enforced splits from aspects of life that are integral to Indigenous presence. The tragedy of the Western mind is the conviction that closure, Truth, and certainty are possible and desirable goals. Viewed [P13] from a distance this appears to be not only a loss of wonder, presence, and comedy, but an altogether ludicrous folly in view of the historical realities human beings have been engaged with. The overly serious questers for ultimate scientific truths are so often blinded and fail to recognize the comedy they are a part of (cf. Kremer 1992a,b).
Although the implications of these summarizing statements about the nurturing conversation can be read in a utopian vein, I am trying to talk about a humbling practice of conversation that struggles to honor and respect the right of individual beings, humans and others. Utopian visions may have been an inspiration to many on one occasion or another, yet, they have more than anything else spelled disaster and death in such dystopian forms as the search for the New World and manifest destiny, communism, or Nazism. Grand theories, utopian and otherwise, more likely reflect the end of a conversation in the mind of men desirous to impose their thoughts and obsessions than an opening to an evolving play of individual and collective narratives on a scale that humans can not only participate in with awareness, but can also enjoy. Such awareness and play would include the struggle with splits, denials, and shadow material. It seems improbable that the grand vision of a single individual or theory can correct the collective ills we are faced with. The individual practice of the conversation, however we understand it as unique individuals, seems to be an inevitable ingredient in the development of social engagement, community building, critical theory, and cultural exchange. Listening to ourselves and others patiently and with compassion and forgiveness seems to be mandatory. As human beings we seem to be terrifyingly unskilled in this. This is apparent whether we think of the history of racism, the Native American holocaust, and slavery in the U.S., the Shoah perpetrated by the Nazis, or even positive attempts, such as the various ways to deal with communist history in former East Bloc countries or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Amnesia always seems to be the most tempting route to deal with the shadows of history. I am not sure that there have been times when we were better at it, but I am sure that our present times require it desperately, maybe more than ever.
One could argue the case that we humans already have sufficient means in hand to address successfully our contemporary ills, such as environmental destruction, poverty, sexism, or the incredible number of children dying all over the world every day. Yet, we seem to fail to be committed to, or perhaps lack the psychological makeup and skills for utilizing the resources, the technologies, and the information we have at our fingertips to relieve the suffering and destruction that stares at us daily on tv, in the newspaper, and on the computer screen. It would be difficult to make the case that ecocide, children dying because of insufficient health care, the death penalty, lack of medical services, etc. are unavoidable in the face of all the riches, monetary, technological, and otherwise, we have available to us. We are constantly making choices as humans. Now that we can see so much of the world in an instant we are all complicit in the choices we are making. Complicity is the flip side of global awareness and interconnected knowing. Yet, within a particular framework of evolution and progress, within a particular understanding of the market, money, and commerce, the often disastrous results of such complicit choices seem inevitable consequences, a price that needs to be paid now in hopes that the situation will be remedied sooner or later. Whether it is the reluctance of the U.S. to empower a world court for crimes against humanity or the refusal (together with Canada, Japan, and others) to support the significant reduction of hot house gas emissions; whether it is in the refusal of rich nations to cease the exploitation of so-called Third World countries (where poverty, more than anything else, is the result of the destruction of ancient economic bases and the foreign exploitation of resources); whether it is the destruction of Indigenous languages and the increasing predominance of English through the worldwide web; whether it is the refusal of certain Christian organizations to cease missionizing Native peoples; whether it is the development of school curricula and testing procedures that re-create human beings as functional robots in front of the computer screen — all these are actions guided by choices that could be made differently. Obviously. So often we forget to question the framework within which choices are made.
However, the accelerated disappearance of animal and plant species, the increase in pollution, the continuing violence against Indigenous peoples, the frightening rate at which humans die because of war, starvation, and illness uncared for are simultaneously confronted by a wave of optimism that seems to see resolution of these ills in successful globalization and ever faster computer technology and information management. Fiber optics, the “evernet,” and other advances induce a new form of utopian thinking in which these technologies are expected to give rise to a new economy, not to produce smog, to give us access to unfathomable amounts of information in an instant, to abolish old job hierarchies, to make services location-independent, and to abolish the curse of alienation as people take charge of their destinies. Leisure, the arts, entertainment, friendship, creative pauses, and reflective thought may get drowned in all-encompassing economic activities that are done with ever greater efficiency (cf. Denby 2000). The success of these developments may create, with much greater universality than previously anticipated, the one-dimensional woman and man Herbert Marcuse (1964) talked about (and, indeed, the word “man” in One-Dimensional Man seems appropriate here given the male vision from which such human beings result). Doubtful as it seems, it is not altogether impossible that the potential inherent in such ongoing interconnectedness and instant transfer of information may also lead to the breakdown of national boundaries and age-old chauvinisms; to independence from work commute and hierarchical organizations; to a reduction in environmental destruction; to the preservation of endangered languages; and more. Paradoxically, the price for such developments may be the overarching success of the one-dimensional framework of American language based commercialism, the final success of a particular type of colonization of self, other, and world. Yet, all this is a matter of choice. The notion that progress can only be measured in terms [P14] of market value is the surrender of choice and responsibility. As long as profit remains the sole measuring rod for change and development we are participants in a one-dimensional paradigm that resists reflections upon its premises by invoking the specter of the loss of competitive edges.
Whatever incredible developments computer technology may be capable of, we still may want individuals who have the intellectual, moral, and emotional capacity to deal with the billions of bits per second arriving in their computer. What does it matter that I can download the Library of Congress or innumerable old movies in seconds or that I can nab countless tunes from the net if I don’t have any way to absorb these riches? What could be enrichment becomes mere noise and a certain number of bytes in the computer. What about cave painting from Ural mountains or the yoik of Sámi singers Mari Boine or Ulla Pirttijärvi in my computer if I can’t make myself present to them? What is the impact of information about persecutions and deaths in Chechnya, Iraq, Tibet, and elsewhere, if I don’t allow for the time to make myself present to such inhumanity? Yet, we could. We could at least try. And in that case things may slow down a bit and choice may enter as felt option. The increasing wealth of information available to more and more people still needs individuals to absorb, administer, use or enjoy it. Presence has the potential of developing alternatives to the one-dimensionality of the market, while lack of presence or normative dissociation increases the profit margin.
Our contemporary predicaments have prompted significant segments of the population in the U.S. and elsewhere to look for alternatives outside of the dominant frameworks. Buddhist meditation practices, Hindu rituals, mind altering substances, channeling, shamanic ceremonies, and intentional communities are among the avenues sought out. The interest in Indigenous peoples roams as the market place dictates which tribe and culture is presently sellable. It seems ever so easy to project nostalgically the lack and need of the culture we are a part of onto the tradition or teacher of choice. The resulting idealization and romanticization is ultimately self-defeating and may even be dangerous. It appears urgent and mandatory to learn from other traditions in these times, yet it seems crucial that we do so within a framework that is respectful of others and otherness and that does not impose implicit supremacist values. To do this without taking into account possible limitations, personal wounds of colleagues, friends, and teachers, or cultural shadow material would be folly. An even greater folly would result from the avoidance of one’s own personal and cultural shadow material, the catalyst for idealization and romantic projections. If people of white or Euro-centered mind, of whatever actual skin color they may be, are to engage in a conversation with fewer splits, then a painstaking conversation to recover aspects of self, culture, and history lost in personal and normative dissociative processes seems mandatory — and it is only then that the need for idealization may disappear and the other has a chance to appear as conversation partner. Real … denials … painful memories, and all — human.
The word Indian is not only a mistaken identification, but also a continuing signifier for the supremacist discourse of whiteness. As Gerald Vizenor and many others have pointed out, Indians were invented by the latecomers who could not see the Natives for who they were and are. Socialized as a white man in Germany it was Indians I had been trained to perceive. My idealizations of Native American people were initially fed by the romanticism the German writer Karl May infused in me as a child; Carlos Castaneda and others continued on grounds well prepared. Significantly, all these influences opened an avenue for my search for Indigenous knowledge, but they also made me susceptible to the impact of Indians acting out their traumas on my back or tempting me with essentialist or fundamentalist notions that perpetrate an unreflected authoritarianism (the seeds of fascism). Any survivor of genocide has to deal with the painful consequences of post-traumatic stress syndrome (or whatever else we might call it). When such suffering is not addressed, but acted out, alcoholism, family violence, sexual abuse, cruelty, deception, mistrust, unstable relationships, and other symptoms are the result. My idealizations have at times made it difficult to see these symptoms and I suffered from them in consequence. More importantly, they prevented me from true compassion and empathy, since I was not present in ways that could overcome the dynamics of victimry and tragic history. Racialism may rear its ugly head in any quarter. In consequence, while teaching, I have on occasion become party to cultural healing garnered at the price of divisive games of dominance rather than the appreciation of difference and the caring respect for different needs (nonetheless much healing happened in the midst of all of this). Part of my continuing challenge is to deal directly with romanticism, racism, and victimry when learning communities consist of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Idealization, in final analysis, is the persistence of shadow material and the refusal to engage with the reality of who we are in all our complexity.
This is, of course, a dynamic that is furthered by the New Age market and the mono-myth ideology developed by Joseph Campbell and others. Native peoples tell stories, not myths. Shamanic states of consciousness, at least in one sense, are subjective experiences beyond time; or encounters with eternity; or individual experiences of everpresent origins (Gebser 1985). When stories of such experiences are taken out of their historical Indigenous ceremonial context, then myths result. Dangerously, if these are further interpreted and decontextualized, as in Eliade’s (1963) in illo tempore, then we quickly get on the road to authoritarianism and fascism and the hypostasis of an individual altered state as social utopia easily birthes Iron Guards or brownshirts. Mythology is fundamentally the invention of white men that came to fruition in the middle of the 19th century when the emergent nation states were in need of defining epics akin to Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. At that time Elias Lönnrot created the Kalevala based on Karelian sung poems which later became the Finnish national epos. This represents maybe the clearest example of the invention and use of mythology in service of contemporary politics. It is important to [P15] remember that nation states are not natural communities, but, as the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has aptly pointed out, they are stressful and formed through stress. “Modern nations are not what traditional historians pretend they are, namely historic explanatory and originary communities; they are much more and fundamentally psycho-political suggestion bodies that have the character of artificial communities of stress. Thus they are of radically autoplastic nature, because they exist only to the extent that they arouse themselves, and they arouse themselves only to the extent that they tell themselves their reason for being in powerful fictive narratives and autosuggestive, stress-creating news” (Sloterdijk 1998, 44-45). Myths are the stressful creations of ethnographers as they take down the oral story and make it stop quivering as it reaches print. Nations supersede the intimate knowledge practices of tribal communities as abstraction and writing become increasingly important. The assumption that print is an evolutionary advance is ideological in view of the losses sustained in the abolishment of oral knowledge transmission. Yet, myths can be resuscitated at any time and return as stories.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote a dream story entitled Ragnarök, in which the gods make an unseemly appearance: ”Centuries of feral life of flight had atrophied that part of them that was human; the moon of Islam and the cross of Rome had been implacable with these fugitives. Beetling brows, yellowed teeth, the sparse beard of a mulatto or a Chinaman, and beastlike dewlaps were testaments to the degeneration of the Olympian line. The clothes they wore were not those of a decorous and honest poverty, but rather of the criminal luxury of the Underworld’s gambling dens and houses of ill repute. A carnation bled from a buttonhole; under a tight suitcoat one could discern the outline of a knife. Suddenly, we felt that they were playing their last trump, that they were cunning, ignorant, and cruel, like aged predators, and that if we allowed ourselves to be swayed by fear or pity, they would wind up destroying us. — We drew our heavy revolvers (suddenly in the dream there were revolvers) and exultantly killed the gods.” (Borges 1998, 322). Indeed, these gods (and goddesses) need to be killed, since their life is sustained by chauvinistic visions and colonial desires.
Carl Gustav Jung suggested that the Germans of the Third Reich were possessed by the god Wotan. Gods and goddesses are part of the paradigm of mythology — spirits make their appearance in Native stories. After all, the older word goð, on which the word god is based, was used by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturlusson to refer to spirits. It was abstracted, just as the Tungus word šaman became shaman, to serve the unfolding conversation of European peoples, a conversation dissociating and abstracting from the specifics of time and place. Maybe Borges’ dream story prefigures the possibility of killing the worn out contraptions gods and goddesses have become as Hitler and others have pressed them into their service. This then may make a different quality of spiritual presence possible. Maybe we need to draw our revolvers and exultantly and compassionately confront essentialist notions about life and world. Maybe this is the ragnarök that is ahead of us as the Great Year of 21,000 or so years changes (which may be the cosmic drama described in Old Norse poems like the Magical Ravenchant or Hrafnagaldr Óðins). This event refers to an astronomically observable event at the time of the completion of one cycle of the precession of the equinoxes: on the day of the winter solstice in 2012 the sun will be at the intersection of the ecliptic and the galactic equator, right in the v-shaped opening of the milky way (Kremer 2000b). What this rare conversational event may mean is for the interpretive work of the nurturing conversation to understand. We may story it in terms of ragnarök, a fateful spiritual moment in time (where we could say that the sun dips deep into urðrbrunnar, the well of memory, touching memory of old as the new Great Year begins); or the end of the Maya calendar (as the warrior twins descend down the Road to Xibalba, the black road to the place of fright, for renewal); or the Hopi prophecies (as the Pahana, “the white brother,” returns to contribute to the creation of balance in accordance with the original instructions). Or we may enter a Borgesian dream and work to purify ourselves of misguided utopian thinking, fundamentalist conceptions, and grand theories, thus seeking the play of unfolding narratives. The magic of that moment depends on the depth of human presence rather than any inevitable cataclysm or opening of the doors of heaven.
The proposition that a German connect with Indigenous roots is a difficult one. I have been exhorted to do so by Native American friends and colleagues on numerous occasions. The only way I could conceive of doing so was by painstakingly tracking the various historical changes and distortions of what might be called the layer of an Indigenous paradigm analogous to the wina·má·bakěya’ or Diné paradigm (the Pomo and Navajo people of the dominant discourse). I do not regard this dimly visible layer as ideal, not at all, however, I do think it mandatory that we give it greater presence in the awareness of the Eurocentered mind and that there are important paradigmatic matters we can learn from it. Simplistically, I distinguish three major historical layers to be worked through for the purposes of the connection with my own indigenous roots. The most recent layer is circumscribed by the Nazi abuse of Germanic mythology, with Richard Wagner as one of the important figures paving the way for Siegfried, Brünhilde, Wotan, Erda, and Walküren to be part of fascistic machinations. I associate the prior layer particularly with the Viking times, with the patriarchal and so frequently violent times of Óðinn, Sigurðr, Sigrdrifa, and Valkurjar (and the protagonists of Der Nibelunge Not). Beyond the Æsir layer of gods I can faintly see the Vanir spirits, maybe of megalithic times, the times of Freyja — a shamanic universe. To be sure, this is a rough outline; the knowledge we have about these traditions indicates complexities and the blurring of distinctions and connections. The fact that German prehistorians seem to have dealt insufficiently with the ways in which they made their subject matter a handmaiden of the Third Reich continues to stand in the way of a deeper understanding of the Old Europe of the more northern latitudes.
For me there is no presumption at all that Indigenous roots help us remember some ideal paradise from which retro-romantic minds can concoct yet another utopian system. But what I believe matters is the difference in paradigm [P16] between modernist thought and Indigenous paradigms. Here, it seems, the modern mind can learn something urgently needed for the future. Not dealing with the presence of Indigenous European roots and the history of distortions empowers romantic and nostalgic projections onto Native American and other tribal peoples. The “ecological Indian” and similar notions are birthed out of the perverse dynamic of idealization and an unconscious yearning to be Indian or some other Native on the one hand, and racism and Indian hating on the other. That we were all tribal at some point in history is trivial, what is not trivial is the lack of integration of tribal pasts and the resulting racist and genocidal machinations. Each tribe or people or nation has to deal with its history, including the history of whatever violence has or is occurring (whether slavery, cannibalism, clitorectomy, or whatever other atrocities). What remains stunning is the difference in scale and quality of the colonial violence (against women, nature, and Native peoples) that the modern Eurocentered mind has perpetrated; I fail to see something comparable in the violence among peoples engaged in what I have described as the struggle for conversational presence and balancing in a particular place and time.
Altered states of the shamanic kind come easy, in a sense. With the right know-how or for the right amount of dollars anybody can begin to explore alternate realities. The affirmation of such human potential is important, yet seems utterly insufficient as an isolated process. The shamanic work of Indigenous cultures is embedded in cultural practices akin to the nurturing conversation I have been talking about. Most such conversations have become fragmented and incomplete due to colonization and missionization, in places still vibrant, in others partially Christianized, in others almost folkloric remnants. Therefore the experience of alternate spiritual realities seems to require as prerequisite the experience of a specific alternate state of consciousness more difficult to attain than the shamanic state of consciousness taught in weekend workshops: compassionate presence to the various histories different peoples are a part of; empathic awareness of historical wounds and violations, of chauvinisms and white supremacy, of fractures and fissures in history as told by victors; listening presence on the land lived on. And compassionate presence to the ills that are being wrought today and that are part of all our lives. Prolonged presence to suffering seems to be a fail safe recipe for insanity since it is so prevalent all over the world. The difficulty of remaining present to such abundant pain and fear and anger is obvious. Just brief periods of intense awareness can drive me to despair, depression, anger, and other intense feeling.
What is at times seen as the classical shamanic initiation can be described as a process in which the initiand is entirely picked apart, down to each single bone, before being put back together. It seems to me that the contemporary shamanic initiation for people out of their Indigenous minds not only requires something of that sort, but also the prior dark night experience of our collective situation, past and present. Unless we allow ourselves to be picked apart by the monstrosities we have created in history we may not be able to re-create ourselves as human beings capable of a nurturing conversation without significant splits while holding those splits that seem inevitable for the moment in compassionate awareness. This I consider the healing of history and the washing of words. The spirits that lurk in the shadows are just as real as the spirit helpers a practitioner may wish to acquire. For me these issues became obvious as I was looking at the historical relationship between European and Indigenous peoples and as I was trying to understand what equitable knowledge exchange and a cross-cultural nurturing conversation might mean — I could not conceive of it without becoming present to the violent events of colonization, Christianization, genocide, and internalized colonization. And with it I had to acknowledge the state of consciousness, the normative dissociation, that enabled such global violence. This type of split seems to be the psychological ingredient necessary for the scale of violence we are faced with. Painful awareness of historical shadow material started a slow healing process.
The Chukchi writer Juri Rytcheu, in an article on The Future of Memory (1999), reports a conversation with the Inuit singer and dancer Nutetein, in which he told him that human beings are not merely to be measured in height and width, but also in terms of their depth of memory, since only that is what makes them spatially real, graspable, and visible. He continues: “Nutetein’s words admirably connect the human memory of tradition and cultural inheritance with the coming-to-consciousness of individuality and irrepeatability. Because a human being without roots and without acknowledgment of the ancestral cultural inheritance is — as Herbert Marcuse said previously — flat and one-dimensional, even if s/he claims to be a person of all the world cultures.”
I have undertaken a journey from origins in Germany to the recovery of the practice of the nurturing conversation, incomplete and flawed as it undoubtedly is. At first I had to deal with my conditioning as a German white man. This motivated the integration and transformation of the demons of the past. Work with Native American students demanded of me, I felt, that I become present not just to the colonial history of this continent, but also to the history of my ancestors that led to the paradigm enabling such global violence. At one point, while I was out in the desert fasting, the shoah was urgently present in my awareness. As part of confronting my feelings of shame I was trying to work through a story (Jewish poet Paul Celan’s Conversation in the mountains) and an Old Norse poem (Hrafnagaldr [P17] Óðins). My self sacrifice of food and dialogue with poetry and nature opened the vista to faint traces of cultural practices not immediately marked by structural violence and dissociation. While traveling in the arctic north of Sápmi I tried to be present to the shadow material that I carried as individual and as an individual representing a certain culture. I had to confront not only a history of colonization and missionization, but also of German occupation during World War II (Kremer 1998b). I have come to a place where I can envision spiritual and shamanic practice in a way that is also present to the violent history of the places of my settlement and the surrounding lands. For me the conduct of ceremonies provide an inspiration to see cultural and individual healing not as separate. To use images from the Old Norse literature: The fertilizing clay lifted from the well of memory need not become a folkloric or fairy tale image, but can be a shamanic vision that facilitates the presence of natural reason as people move in and out of trance, remember the fertile power of shadow material, and listen to different versions of origin stories. Indeed, history may speak then, in the way that the rill gurgles and the raven calls and the summer triangle sparkles overhead — and all of these may get listened to.
Undergoing the dismemberment by the demons of history is the recovery of the nurturing conversation. Occasional laughter at our follies, hypocrisies, and ludicrous grandiosities may be a useful additive to compassion and empathy in the struggle for more encompassing truthfulness. This may enable us not only to imagine how we might right historical wrongs, but also how we might use the powerful technology, the abundant resources, and the wealth of information in our hands for the benefit of individuals and communities. Shamanic initiation is the death of the self that we grew up to be and the rebirth of this self enlarged and changed by spiritual presences. Historically, people of Euro-centered mind generally have forced Native peoples to die as sovereign people engaged in their own and unique visionary nurturing conversation in the place they inhabited and, if they survived physically, forced them to be reborn as people of Euro-centered mind. The residential schools all over the American continent were the most obvious illustration of this genocidal violence; there the educational structure was designed to kill the Indian so that a person of European mind might live. Presently the challenge for people of white mind seems to be to die as the dissociated selves they have become and to be reborn as selves that can exercise not just their rationality but other neglected aspects of self experience. Thus they may re-awaken their potential to become present in the way of Indigenous peoples. This would increase the capacity to honor the multiple truths humans can create.
The problems our forebears were faced with are not the same challenges we have to answer to today. There is nothing simpler in earlier historical periods, just a different kind of complexity. Not reviewing the past amounts to the avoidance of complexity in service of the linearity enforced by market economy. If people who have left their Indigenous ancestry behind a long time ago want to re-enter such a framework they need to take account of the historical changes as well as the history that traces their split from the nurturing conversation. (Aboriginal peoples are confronted with similar issues in order to address the consequences of colonialism and genocide in a way that is self-affirmative and discontinues the victimization they have suffered.) In either case a creative and visionary and critical practice seems to be called for, not the folkloric or essentialist or fundamentalist re-creation of a world past. I would like to believe that this is what communities in their Indigenous or participatory mind have tried in the past when free of the threat of genocide, war, hunger, and similar overpowering dangers. The current ideological biases of much evolutionary thinking would like us to believe that such visionary self-actualization of self and community was uncommon among peoples frequently relegated either to pre-history or contemporary remainders of evolutionary stages considered long obsolete (cf. Kremer 1998a). While these communities or individuals probably rarely, if ever, have been ideal in the sense the romantic mind demands, they do provide a framework or images for a practice of being and knowing, an ontological and epistemological understanding that seems remarkably relevant today (beyond specific knowledge Indigenous peoples hold, such as the medicinal properties of herbs, ecological knowledge, etc.). All our dazzling computer technology seems to have increased actual work time in the U.S. rather than reduced it. Current technological developments hold the utopian promise that we may work always and forget about such diversions as leisure. Yet, peoples commonly labeled “hunters and gatherers” seem to have worked 3 – 15 hours per week — enough time to self-actualize with stories, crafts, ceremonies, love-making, ecstasies, etc. Abraham Maslow’s insights regarding self-actualization, so important in the field of humanistic psychology, thus appear as the remembrance of things past, but urgently needed for today.
We don’t need to share Bruce Chatwin’s enthusiasm and narcissistic idealization of “the nomadic alternative” in order to advocate freedom of movement. The movement of our ancestors seems to constitute a significant part of human history, whether in the form of the migration of the early Indo-Europeans into central and northern Europe; or the völkerwanderung of the European tribes (the Langobards, the Goths, and others); or the tribal movements in Africa; or the migration of the peoples known as Iroquois from what is now Mexico to their present location; or the Sámi peoples herding the reindeer on seasonal routes; or the movement of Warlpiri and other Aboriginal Australian peoples along their songlines. While some of us may prefer a sedentary life to nomadism or migration, the option of free motion, unconstrained by state powers should be there for everybody. Individuals and communities need to have the sovereign right for the visionary creation of their particular brand of conversation with the land they live and move on. Each place allows not just for one resolution of creative conversations with humans, animals, plants, stars, and spiritual presence, but for a variety of insightful solutions. The star constellation ursa major can be seen in many different [P18] ways and stories may give these particular stars different significance. The way Altair re-appears in the arctic north in the midst of winter to hail the return of the sun can give rise to a variety of ceremonies celebrating celestial movements and spirits. In so many cultures such narrative resolutions are balanced, or threatened, by the chaotic and disturbing presence of a trickster or clown figure. The resulting diversity of conversation can hold, integrate, digest, and even amuse itself about the facts empirical sciences are able to create, replicate, and apply. And such diversity of conversation can also integrate the positive values of the civil society that have largely arisen at the price of much human life, whether during the Nuremberg trials or on other occasions. Human rights, notions of egalitarianism, freedom, etc. can and need to be part of any nurturing conversation. The pejorative use of the word “tribalism” may point to areas of Indigenous discourse where indeed notions of traditionalism may be unduly restrictive or at odds with rights of the civic society — yet such finger pointing often simplistically seems to imply the inevitable superiority of the modern Euro-centered discourse while barring reflection upon its serious structural limitations. Each of these different discourses needs to find its own resolution for restrictions (mental, historic, economic, and otherwise) that may impede the visionary and creative unfolding of who we potentially can be as human beings. Equitable knowledge exchange is what is called for; otherwise mutual learning is impossible and exchanges are structured by implicit or explicit supremacist assumptions.
Gerald Vizenor has developed a discourse of sovereignty that transgresses beyond notions of inheritance and tenure of territory. In his discussions sovereignty appears as transmotion, as vision moving in imagination, as the substantive right of motion. “Sovereignty as motion and transmotion is heard and seen in oral presentations, the pleasures of native memories and stories, and understood in the values of human spiritual motion in languages. Sovereignty is transmotion and used here in most senses of the word motion; likewise, ideas and conditions of motion have a deferred meaning that reach, naturally, to other contexts of action, resistance, dissent, and political controversy. The sovereignty of motion means the ability and the vision to move in imagination and the substantive rights of motion in native communities” (1998, 182-3). He associates transmotion with natural reason, natural creation together with other creatures, and Native memories. Sovereignty of motion is described as mythic, material, visionary, the ethical presence of nature, and natural reason. I believe his descriptions question Eurocentered notions of sovereignty and challenge modern and postmodern discourses to reintegrate a dissociated past.
Umberto Eco (1998) has rightfully warned against the dangers of Ur-Fascism in New Age and related thinking. Yet, interest in the older traditions of Europe, her Indigenous knowledge, continues to be present. The increasing number of books of lesser and higher quality about Celtic, Norse, and other traditions attest to this. Calling for the suppression of this interest because of past fascistic abuses or contemporary fascistic tendencies is an insufficient response. After all, Wagner’s seductive sounds of Ur-Fascism continue to be played in opera houses around the world. We need to develop a discourse that is intelligent enough to take legitimate concerns, such as the possibility of Ur-Fascism, into account, yet recovers the potential of a nurturing, Indigenous conversation of European peoples. This would mean to develop a discourse, a nurturing conversation as it were, that critically turns European Indigenous thinking to deconstruct the limitations of modernist and postmodernist notions without resorting to a cult of traditionalism or irrationality, and without rejecting analytical criticism or values integral to civic societies, however imperfectly realized. Vizenor’s writing calls for a self-reflective response from within Euro-centered thinking.
While we can conduct the conversation I am speaking of as a retro-romantic endeavor that hearkens back to times imagined as ideal or desirable, we can also conduct it as visionary enterprise where the story, ceremony, and history of place and people can find a creative presence in contemporary times — real, not folklore or re-enactment; faithful to all that has occurred, not New Age fancy. True origins are never singular. The struggle for truthfulness needs to be unceasing, but skepticism of ever reaching complete truth equally needs to pervade each action, dream, performance, piece of writing, and ceremony. Seeking to understand our exact place in the weft and warp of the fateful lines created by the nornar from the auður, the riches, in the well of memory is necessary. Yet we should only do so by acknowledging our likely insufficiency for the task. Paradoxically, we may be destined to live up to our fate but incompletely. This makes the conversation a modest and humbling practice indeed.
At one point in my struggle to recover the connection with my roots I identified myself as “Teuton” or “Myrging.” I was standing in a circle of Native Americans who were affirming their presence amidst the projections and denials the dominant culture had foisted upon them. From the Native perspective such affirmation of ancestry seemed entirely natural (Kremer 1996c). But from a German perspective this identification may look anywhere from silly to nonsensical or ludicrous. I don’t think it was any of this. The labels Teuton and Myrging are as problematic as the label German, albeit for different reasons. Teuton provokes a connection with a memory not only of an unsavory part of German history, but also those parts of my ancestral history that are denied the presence that can heal the Karl May projections onto Native Americans of the desire for the mythic, the wild and natural, and communal connection. German is a label that is doubly problematic when applied to myself: First, I have crossed the boundaries between (at the time) the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America. After twenty years on the Native American continent I am neither German nor American, even though in both countries I can get away in either pose. My German upbringing is heavily coated with American experiences (as reflected in all my writing). Second, the label German is the figment of a particular nationalistic imagination and political construction that has little to do with the past or present possibility of Indigenous presence in the place I was born to; [P19] ultimately it is the shrinking of imagination into the essentialism of bloodline and heritage (Germany continues to determine citizenship predominantly by bloodline). That my bloodline could be considered pure is as much an accident of history, the chance encounters of my ancestors, as it is a particular way of constructing ancestral lines (and possibly the denial of Jewish heritage). It may be wise for Germans to remember that human beings were given blood by the trickster Loðurr or Loki, and a tricky affair it becomes when we forget such origins. The trickster has been in the blood since the earliest creation story we can associate with the Germanic peoples. During the Third Reich they forgot that the trickster has no stability, no center, no identity, just as blood is fluid and not stable, and is insufficient to provide originary identity. Loki — man, crossdresser and all — was too tricky for the German nation and they denied the trickiness of blood in consequence, just as its earliest history is now suspect and largely shunned. Fate is a never merely a bloodline, it is a creative vision that may limit itself as it enters blood and as blood enters vision. Thus I am neither German nor American and the Teuton or Myrging serves as a provocative and comic stand-in for a tribal figure whose absence has inflicted endless colonial violence onto Native peoples the world around.
Salman Rushdie, in discussing Günter Grass, describes the full migrant as a person who suffers, “traditionally, a triple disruption: he loses his place, he enters into an alien language, and he finds himself surrounded by beings whose social behaviour and codes are very unlike, and sometimes even offensive to, his own.” He then goes on to describe Grass’ life “as an act of migration, from an old self into a new one … The first dislocation, remember, is the loss of roots … The second dislocation is linguistic. And we know … of the effect of the Nazi period on the German language, of the need for the language to be rebuilt, pebble by pebble, from the wreckage; because a language in which evil finds so expressive a voice is a dangerous tongue … And the third disruption is social (1991, 277-278).”
I have migrated from what was then the Federal Republic of Germany to the U.S., I have become fluent in another language, and I have adjusted to new social codes, out of which the continuous denials of Native American presence and history may be the most offensive beside the unrelenting celebration of profit and money. My old self was rather safely moored to a critical, progressive modernist understanding of society and individual, nurtured through the student rebellion and activism of the late sixties and early seventies. I have begun a second migration from this self by deconstructing its modernist roots and the monstrosities of Nazi and other distortions, thus entering an imaginary borderland that, at first glance, appears out of place and time, but is defined by the concrete coordinates of collective shadow issues and the creative vision that arises from them in a specific place and time. Rushdie also wrote that “the very word metaphor, with its roots in the Greek words for bearing across, describes a sort of migration, the migration of ideas into images. Migrants — borne-across humans — are metaphorical beings in their very essence; and migration, seen as a metaphor, is everywhere around us (1991, 278).” As a metaphorical being I seek to evoke and vision myself in migratory motion across the boundaries and categories enforced by an attritive imagination. I seek to evoke and vision myself within a conversation where the tracks of history, shamanic imagination, natural cycles, and social conscience gather in nourishing creativity. Gerald Vizenor wrote, “the trick in seven words is to elude historicism, racial representations, and remain historical (1988, xi).” In our contemporary world so many people are migrants, people of mixed blood, culture, and tradition. The figure of the trickster giving humans blood may acquire new meaning.
So, here I stand on the place of my settlement, on Nomlaki land, where the people are absent to my German and American mind, yet present to the story my Teuton and Myrging mind tells and present to the stories the Vanir people, the pre-Indoeuropean people of the north, told. My presence arises not through the label Teuton or Myrging, it arises from lineages that emerged from Lithuania and the Alsace, from these border crossings that constitute my ancestral lines and from my own border crossings inside and outside. My presence arises from the boundary crossings of twinning, the androgynic and hermaphroditic exploration of memories in Waltoykewel and by the river Elbe. The Old Norse image of memory with the three women by the well spreading the white fluid of memory and destiny across the lands, with the guardian of the ages standing on top of the tree, has sexual connotations in the deepest sense of creativity. Reaching into memory to tell as complete a story as possible is creative and healing, re-generative. It celebrates the lifeforce we carry and the imaginative possibilities of our visionary presence boundaried by the cycles of the seasons and the flight of the raven. The observation of the black feathered bird is as important as its mythic counterpart Raven. The presence to Indian warriors, mission bells, digger pines means the double presence to scarlet red and brownish purple flowering plants and grayish-green pine trees as well as presence to the history of genocide with its creation of a tribal absence.
The three nornar, the fateful spirits of the Old Norse, weave destinies from thread that is spun from the sun and fastened to the moon hall. It is work that deals with the life giving force of the sun and the cycles of the moon as they reach into the spaces from which humans can envision themselves. These creations are nurtured by the imaginative act of the three women reaching into the well and providing lifeforce, auður, riches of memory. Selective memory throttles lifeforce. Digger pines need to be seen for what they were, what they have become, and what they can be. Germans need to be seen for what they were, what they have become, and what they can be. Teutons need to be seen for what they were, what they have become, and what they can be. The star Altair needs to be seen for what it was, what it has become, and what it can be. The Shift of the Ages needs to be seen for what it was in different stories, for what it has become in our understanding of these stories, and for what it may [P20] become as we deepen awareness. Our imagination is the horizon on which natural cycles, memories, plants, animals, and stars meet to create what may be generative and re-generative. The achievements of modernity may thus be part of our balancing act for the sake of the future. I no longer imagine myself as German or even as Myrging or Teuton. The idea I have of myself arises from the gap of gaps, the Old Norse gap ginnung, and the world snake, miðgarðsormr, holds me in the home that has never been my home as ravens fly overhead and bears flatten my tent.
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. So, here I stand, with stories coursing through me as my imagination is fueled by memory and vision, as I am aware of Nomlaki presence, as I am aware of the stories of Germany and her tribal peoples. The vanishing Indian is a concoction of genocidal imagination. The Karl May Indian is the denial of the multiple and Indigenous origins of Germany. I move now, uphill and downhill, following the line of song, following the threads that are spaces laid out for me by the nornar, covered with white clay. White thread in my ear. Maybe like my ancestors when they offered reindeer outside of Hamburg. The white thread to the sun, a sign of self sacrifice to vision and imagination. I continue to move, uphill and downhill. White. And not. Humbled. Crossing boundaries. A metaphorical being. Modern and postmodern. Real. Remembering. Imagining.
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Synchronicities (PDF)

Heather Annette Seeley

At the moment I seem to be basking in the bounty of the synchronicities of the work

of Indigenous Mind. The light that balances the shadow is prevalent. I feel honored to see

this light of synchronicity at the moment. When I decided to delve into the work of

remembering I realized that there would be amazing moments, glorious remembrance and

the beauty of reconnecting with my ancestors. I never imagined that I would be blessed with

My Great Grandfather Ward Seeley is showing up quite often these days. After an

extended conversation with my Aunt Marion, my father’s half sister, in which we told stories

of birth and death, of joy and sorrow and family history. Marion found herself in the midst

of the conspiracy of spirit. My Step Grandmother, Marion’s Mother, Kaye Seeley resides in

an Assisted Care Facility in Minnesota. One day a new neighbor showed up and Grandma

Kaye decided to welcome her. This woman asked if she was related to the Seeley’s from

Michigan. She had worked for a doctor in Mayville and Detroit Michigan. This woman was

Ward Seeley’s secretary for many years. He delivered her children. Marion, after relaying the

story to me, indicated that had this happened a month or even a couple of days prior to our

conversation she would have thought of it as mere coincidence. But in the wake of our

conversation she found herself awe struck by the serendipity of it all. Each day in my prayers

I thank Ward Seeley for his presence of my path.

There is a long line of doctors, nurses and healers on both sides of my family. In the

living generation there are three western doctors and I. (I am not quite sure how to label my

connection to healing at the moment, besides the fact that I am involved with plants and

ancestors.) After my maternal grandmother, Annette Bickel’s, passing the duty came to the

grandchildren to decided who would have possession of the medical bag that had been in

the family for at least two generations. A dark leather medical bag, embossed with E.H.

Bickel in gold print under the buckle that held the bag together it held old tinctures, scalpels,

medical mirrors, tools of the trade and items that took you back to the time of house visits

and non-corporate medicine. Most of the cousins bowed out of the drawing realizing that it

had great significance to the doctors but one cousin wanted to be a part. The drawing came

down to my two brothers (both are MD’s), my cousin and myself. My cousin won. My

brother’s were deeply distraught by this turn of events. Neither one of them being readily

emotional turned within in sadness. I sat dumfounded and disturbed. The event evolved

into a family drama in which three hours later my brother’s found themselves with my

cousin trying to convey to her the importance of this object in their lives. She was

unresponsive to their pleas. The wounds were inflicted. Both of my brother’s have

expressed their need to have the medical bag continue to be passed down to the doctors in

the future generations as a rite of passage into the healing profession. They have not heard

any response from the Bickel Family.

After the second conversation with my Aunt Marion, she found herself in the

basement going through the trunks of old things that she had inherited after my

Grandfather’s passing. I came home to find a message on my voice mail, “ Heather, it’s your

Aunt Marion. I was going through some of Dad’s old things and I came upon Ward Seeley’s

medical bag and I thought that you and your brother’s might like it.” That was it. A simple

message that send chills down my spine as tears flooded my eyes. Was this true? Had Ward

Seeley once again left me awe struck and humbled by his presence? I went to bed that night

with tears of joy in my eyes and a smile streamed across my face.

There have also been immense synchronicities within my dreams and waking life.

This has come as no surprise and still leaves me pondering, reeling and thankful for the

connections of the waking world and the dream world. My Great Great Grandmother,

Ward’s mother came into my dreams the other night for the first time. I didn’t even know

her name until a couple of days ago.

18 June 1999 Letter- In Appreciation of Dr. Colorado (PDF)


272-2 PUALAI ST.



18 JUNE 1999

Greetings return to you, Doctor Colorado, in the love and in the light of the ancestors, The Source of Life.

We of the ancestral tribal mind, dream our dreams and they are full of gentleness of the mind, the warmth of the heart and the humility of the soaring spirit; “Let peace prevail, enfold it with the red cloak”. If darkness comes persuade it to follow the way of peace. The ancestral bowl of light.

In appreciation and support of women of vision, like yourself, Doctor Colorado, there is a connection to the Universe where Kane retrieved from Lehua, the bowls of light and two red stones. Like the ancestors, you are connected to the Universe by your own visions as part of an inseparable aspect of creation- the merging of the ancestral tribal mind.

This sense, the intuitive avenue through the heart, opens the mind to the appropriate translation that it may enter the theoretical aspect of living and effectively integrate those feelings of the heart into usable theory of that ancestral tribal mind.

Since time on Mother Earth is so limited and time within the bosom of the Universe is so extensive, there is room for you to develop your own level of cosmic vision and give birth to it through the appropriate channels of physical reality.

The level of the material human mind is limited and grows slowly, but the level of the spiritual tribal heart is eternal, and as it becomes filled with aloha it changes the very nature of the material man into the vision he holds most dear: that of himself as an alive and integrated extension of the Universe- The Ancestral Grand Plan.

Doctor Colorado, you have distinguished yourself by a consistent superior performance of the ancestral mind on the beach of Quida, Benin, West Africa, January of this year, 1999. Proof of the quality of your instruction can be seen by the fact of students’ dissertation, one that I witnessed, in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa, this last March, 1999. You have clearly demonstrated that you are eminently qualified as a Kumu- an Elder, a teacher, and a foundation built and established with the ancestral strength of compassion. I appreciate, respect, and support your good work and recommend its essence to those of interest.

May the spirit of the land and all its relations, with the ancestral tribal mind of the Oneida, create a sanctuary fully imbued with aloha. With the permission of the ancestors I leave you, Doctor Colorado, in the love and in the light of the ancestors, The Source of Life; rejoicing in the power and the peace braided with the cords of patience, revealing the tapestry of aloha.


Hale Makua

Hono Ele Makua

The Traditional Knowledge Process (PDF)


A Review by Apela, Busaba and Martina

July 28 and 29, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

Lunar Eclipse

Working Title: HOW TWO DRAGONS DANCE TOGETHER, the beauty of



Paradoxical. Frustration if we try to direct. If I want to scream, the scream

doesn’t come.

I laugh and begin to cry.

TKN and RIM died at the Shadows during the student “evaluation.” At that

moment the Program began to live. Esther acknowledged the students

and said she would teach her songs to them. Was the “death” being

released by the CIIS admin.? Termination didn’t formally happen for

nearly a year.


Dreams end. What’s the process? Of death?

Who knows when to let go? How?

In English, the word “dead” has no movement. In our process we have

movement even though it has been a death. Movement because energy

is involved.

This is what connects the two opposites, the energy of movement.

Right Movement or Message of the Mask

Symbols of the process. Have to die to begin. Walk through the darkness

with new eyes to see through to the light. In the old way of thinking, going

back or into the darkness makes me want to run away in fear. But the

darkness has a message for us to learn. If we refuse to enter the darkness,

the Shadow returns each time with more fear because we have lost to it

before. Now we need to look back into it for the light which is the starting

point! As an individual this process applies. That’s how students arrived.

The darkness has to be through ME, how I am. We feel the connection to

self and others in the darkness and think beyond individualistic thinking. I

perceive the whole (how opposites can integrate, the individual and

whole of self/others.)

Traditional Example: The Story of Raven and the Light teaches the

negativity of light, it separates and differentiates.

We live our lives in a separate way because we don’t want to embrace

the darkness. I see that center of peace in my screaming.

How Do We Know We Are In The Darkness?

Never get my way, feels like I am losing everything because we can’t see!

We must be prepared for the bucket dropping on our head! “I can’t

believe I’m having so much bad luck!”

Admitting my darkness, i.e., I don’t know if I would like to work with Apela.

Is what creates the opening.

Each person is a mask and is a part of a greater mask being formed.

There is tremendous fear and worry. Trying to see in the darkness we

notice other sets of eyes looking back! That’s what makes us want to run

away in fear!

How Do We Know When We Have Learned The Lesson of Darkness?

Don’t know when and how it changed but we are brought to a new

consciousness through chaos. If you’re not afraid you can come close to


We have to experience the opposite energies. Western rational and

religious thought stresses the Light.

Gays are born with the 2 dragons together. Slowly heterosexuals have to

realize that being whole requires both qualities joined. Yet the boundary

doesn’t exist. It’s a paradox. We don’t know how to weave the 2 dragons

together. TKN teaches us, i.e., at the beginning we chased away the

White students but they kept following us. The more we ran the more they


Brian represented the warrior and observed that we have to

acknowledge the existence of the while world in us as individuals and


Benefits and Gains of Walking Through the Underground

“I’m more comfortable in the darkness.”

Less likely to be controlled by fear, anger, etc.

We get an energetic charge to us; when we get together, IGNITION!

People can see this energy and are drawn towards it.

Walking through the darkness honors our ancestors because that’s where

they are, in the obscurity of the past, our history.

To go back to the past, to remember, Makua

says, “We receive the greatest gift of the

ancestors which is the present. That’s why they

call it a present!”

We create with the pain; we bring life forward.

It’s a paradox. In chaos, we laugh and cry at one moment. Before

wedidn’t allow contradictions and ambiguities to coexist. Now we can,

and it’s why we can come back! (from the underworld)

I couldn’t see the meaning or the creative process because it was in

darkness! This is actually a protection.

It was meant to be that ways or we wouldn’t have the darkness to light

message of the TKN process.

A Spirit coming to live in a body must experience the density and darkness

of material form; it’s the only way to arrive.

Embodiment of the whole is entering darkness; therefore, walk through it.

Accept it.

This is the process t ground the Western Mind.

This trip through the darkness has been the curriculum; is the curriculum.

When we live it, the curriculum becomes us! Now we can pass it on.


How to we know this is an accurate representation of a creative process?

There are traditional stories that pertain:

Raven Breaks Light (Tlingit)

The Bluejay Story (Shoshone)

A Sweatlodge teaches the process. In the Sweat we feel fear. Fear of no

body because we can’t see and the fear of bodily limits, e.g., intense


Even the reflection that generated the notes was the same dark process. I

noticed how negative I was feeling but did not judge it. Instead, I thought,

“Oh, that’s interesting. I wonder what’s going on.” This comfort with my

own darkness and ambiguity is a result of the TKN process. I also retained

my objectivity in noticing my negativity. I thought, I’m unhappy.

Something must be wrong. It must be me. No, it’s not me, it’s Busaba.

She’s causing my suffering and should be punished!

I noticed this in an early morning drive east to the other side of the island.

As I approached the Pali or cliff that juts out to the sea and marks the

turning point of the journey, I became aware of these thoughts and

wondered how or if I would be able to get out of them today.

When Busaba and I sat down at the Mall to reflect on the TKN process, I

told her the thoughts I had on the drive over. She said she was in a bad

place, too; she was even wearing all black!

We decided to pray but I was so crabby that I couldn’t formulate words.

We sat in silence with our eyes closed for a few minutes and began.

Thoughts, memories and images flowed. Two and a half hours later, we

stopped. We were not late to go to the airport, which was the purpose of

the drive!

We noticed that even speaking of the dark journey changes time and

space. There was no time; there was no mall!

We struggled to recall the question that we began with. It was, “What did

you experience in the TKN process?” Busaba and I reflected on the

personal experience of being in the darkness. We spoke about ourselves

and realized that, in the darkness,

I can talk about me and even you but not really

you, just my view of you. You are a mask of

healing for me. This understanding bypasses the

ego. I can talk about my negative experience of

my experience of you without judgment of YOU.

This allows me to do my work; to examine you as

the teacher in my life and to own my own issues.

It’s transformative.

So, we began in silence; and acknowledged where we were at, including

the negative. We were present in the moment. This is the beautiful

beginning of who you are, what comes to you in your individual reflection

in the moment. Why is this true? (that this ‘insight’ is really true?) Because

at the end, we come to the beginning and we recognize the end

moment when we say,

OH, I SEE . . .

The ego blocks the experience of darkness or light and catches us in

chaoswithout our knowing.

What joins darkness and light? Birth! The process of birth and death. Hold

onto yourself through the darkness with silence, humility, release and

nonattachment. Then SCREAM!

In the process of going through the darkness, every level of our ife is hit,

personal, family, professional, community . . . you are compelled to open

more and more. This is a purification; this is birth and death; this is creation.

And it is the feminine Power of the woman, Earth, Moon, Water, Venus.

The way to face it is exemplified in the Shoshone song, “running With the

Buffalo.” When facing a winter storm on the prairie, the buffalo turns into it,

begins to walk with deliberate steps towards it and then lowers its head


As a result of the TKN process, I am able to be present with my Elders and

my oldest daughter now works with the language. (Martina)

In this conversation, Chyna, the author’s daughter, joined the discussion.

We have noticed that the dark journey is the power of money, Little

People, sexuality and transformation.0

Message from Hale Makua (PDF)

Greetings in the love and in the light of the ancestors, the Source of Life.

There is nothing better than a good cry to help restore your ability to think clearly.

Purification is needed when progress is blocked. Protection and purification are


Physical purification requires a healthy diet, adequate exercise and rest. If there is a block

from achieving physical purity, then it is time to make a change.

Emotional purity requires words and deeds to be genuine. This involves simplicity and

honesty. Grudges and resentments, time to release them. Mental purity is of clear

intentions. Spiritual purity is the focusing of the highest good. Release anything that

keeps you from shining.

Stay on track and shine brightly. The emphasis is on the importance of balance. Celebrate

the material world without clinging to it.

Develop spirituality without losing touch with the physical and natural world. This will

facilitate a state of balance. Pay close attention to all things, ideas, or persons that seem to

pull you off balance or trap you in emotional states. Approach all obstacles with an open

heart and be victorious.

You are the navigator of your canoe. Therefore, the only thing that is permanent is

change. Travel through changing conditions and chart your course carefully.

Sometimes strong winds and currents cause you to detour. You don’t need to worry.

Detours are also part of the journey. You may seem to go off course; you are still on your

way. Detours may even be necessary to ensure survival and success. You can only go as

fast as the wind will take you requiring timing and patience.

Notice where you are and who is on the journey with you and focus on the direction you

wish to go. Allow the wind to carry you.

Before we can harvest our crops, we must care for them with diligence, patience, and

persistence. Lono, the healer, breaks through and so do the spurts of energy needed to

complete a cycle. He appears when abundance is about to be harvested and to remind you

to share the fruits of your efforts.

Hawaiian Elder, Hale Makua

Reflections on Recovering the European Tribal Mind (PDF)

Reflections on Recovering the European Tribal Mind

Professor/Wizard Brian Bates

So what do we want to get back of the tribal mind? We need to identify the beauty, the insight, the spiritual nature of it. But we don’t want to say, “Hey, let’s all go tribal again, and everything will be alright.” It wouldn’t be. It would be just as bad as it is now. It happens now on a bigger scale, of course, because we have nation-sized consortia of tribes. But as soon as a country is ‘liberated’ — e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, it splits up and the tribal warlords begin to rule immediately. Nations don’t really work for humans. So what will/ We’d better be talking at the UN about all this, because no one has the answers.

And of course, it’s not just tribes after each other’s throats because they are different tribes — a main driver is religion. How do we identify what is beautiful and healing about tribal spirituality which is different from major elaborated, organized religions like Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism etc.? Because the latter are a fast formula for hatred and bloodshed. There was plenty of that in tribal times, but we are in the best of it, and leave behind the worst of it.

My contention is that we all have within us ‘tribal mind’. We call it imagination, or intuition, or earth consciousness. It is repressed by over-reliance on analytical mind, just as the beauties of Christianity became malignant and poisoned the spiritual traditions it came into contact with, and sought to replace. And then along came the scientific ‘revolution’, and the Church adapted to it as fast as possible. So we need to help people get back in tune with their tribal mind. It can still sing the sacred songs, dance the tribal rhythms, if we teach people how to release it.

One way of releasing it is to take modern, western, alienated people, and help them to identify a tribal strand in their own heritage — one which speaks to them — and help them to learn about it. It will never be their exclusive ‘original’ tribe, because too much time has passed, too much mixing has happened. But to get back to ONE of our origin tribes is the key. Experientially, as much as possible. Not to utopianise these ancient tribal cultures, but to attune to those aspects of it which are healing, beautiful, wise. It is not something ‘other’ — it is already within them. This knowledge unlocks within the modern person something that has lain dormant — worse, repressed and forbidden — and their tribal mind can infuse their being with a balance which was missing. They still live in modern, western culture. But they SEE differently, they FEEL differently, they ACT differently. And because modern society NEEDS tribal mind desperately, to recover what has become unbalanced, this process will make the people we work with to become more effective people in contemporary society, and to act with greater balance, wisdom, compassion, imagination, and integrity.

I don’t want to recover the darkness of Saxon tribal culture. But I do so much want to reconstruct the beauty of the best of its spiritual heritage, its tribal mind. Can this be done? Can the ‘best’ of an ancient culture be separated from its context, then reconstructed, and integrated with contemporary mind? Well, a third of a million people bought my novel about Wyrd. This wasn’t because I am a brilliant novelist — I’m not– but it was because I was able to bring back for them the beauty of Saxon culture in a way they could EXPERIENCE. Some of them say it changed their life. And if a mere BOOK can change someone’s life, then there is hope, fo there are many other things that can be done to go further!

Of course, there is the HUGE shadow of what happened to the Native American peoples in recent history, and currently. You say that for the Indian peoples the war is over — now we have to work on the Peace. The Healing. That is a fabulous project. It is where the work on ancient western indigenous mind, and current indigenous tribal mind come together.

Remembering Who We Are: Recovering Indigenous Mind (PDF)

Traditional Greeting

It’s good to be here. My name is Apela Colorado; I will open this talk in a traditional Native way with a chant — a prayer. Foster Ampong, a Ka ko’o, or helper, is going to do that for us.

(Hawaiian chant, “E ho ‘i Mai,” a request to enter and to merge with the sacred wisdom.)

Can you feel that good, strong feeling in the room? It seems like Foster’s been doing this all his life, right? In reality, Foster just came back to his culture in January. I’m acknowledging this because the most powerful thing I can share with you is the belief in ourselves as native people and the proof that anything is possible when we’re in our indigenous minds. We can remember our power. We have an hour and a half to spend together and when I’m done with my presentation, I will ask Choctaw Elder, Pokni, Mary Jones, who has worked with me, taught me,and helped me for so many years, to listen, to reflect, and to close off our session prayerfully. We’ll also have a question-and-answer time at the conclusion.

I was excited to hear about Coumba Lamba; in fact, I’ve waited for more than 20 years for this day to happen. In the 1970s, I was doing my doctoral research on native alcoholism. I believed, and was trying to prove, that the answer to healing Native American addiction, which is the leading cause of death, was the return of true culture and spirituality. At the time it was a very radical claim to make. But I faced a difficult personal reality, one that ultimately brought me to this gathering. I wanted to find out why almost everybody in my family that I loved was either actively alcoholic or had died of addiction, and I didn’t want it to happen to me or to my children. So I started researching everything I could get my hands on. I read every study I could find, not easy in the pre-internet age, and besides I was living in a remote Native community without library or bookstore. After reading more than 250 scientific studies of Native alcoholism, I found out there were 247 differing opinions on what caused Native addiction. It seemed more like personal opinions than rigorous research. My sense of this was heightened by the fact that all of the research was conducted by non-Natives. None of the millions of dollars for the studies ever went to Native people, and certainly, none of it went to treatment for our suffering. The context of cultural control and domination evident in the research process drove home the point that addiction among American Indians had to do with being an invaded, oppressed people. Before contact we didn’t have addiction, after contact we did have addiction. Not hard to figure out, but none of the studies addressed it.

When I began my doctoral dissertation research, experts were telling us, “It’s your biology. You

lack the proper genes to metabolize alcohol – you are weaker, that’s why you become addicted.”

The subtext being that drinking alcohol is normal (at the time the Harvard University had

received a multi-million dollar grant, the largest ever to look at the genetic causes of alcoholism.

The donor was Seagram’s whiskey company.) I wanted to find evidence to support the view that

Native addictions resulted from invasion and expropriation – loss of culture, spirituality and life.

I succeeded, but what happened to me in the search, and how it happened, opened up the mystery

of the ”Great Knowledge.”1


I grew up in Wisconsin, and the one cultural person left in my family was my grandfather, who

chose me from his grandchildren and taught me Native values and ways. I wasn’t aware that was

what he was doing. I just knew that I loved him and wanted to be with him. Out of all of his

grandchildren, somehow, I was the only one that was born with a cultural leaning, with that kind

of calling and role in life. He saw it.

My grandfather died when I was just a young teenager, but before he died he relapsed and went

back to drinking. So, I actually lost him much earlier in a terrible way. The one person, in our

huge extended family, I could connect with emotionally was taken from me by alcohol. And then

I was alone. But because of that, I became totally committed to doing something about addiction.

But my grandfather was cultural and knew he should pass on what he knew of the Great

Knowledge. Just before he died, he made my grandma drive him three hours through a

dangerous snowstorm – to come talk with me. I was about twelve years old and really angry with

him for drinking. I did not want to be with him and he knew it. He sat in the easy chair, looked

hard at me (this made me madder) and leaned forward on his cane, and began to speak. What he

said scared the wits out of me. He described my life, naming things he could not possibly know,

and then laid out my future. He wanted my attention and he got it! Then he said, “Remember the

Pipe, Remember the Pipe, Remember the Pipe,” the Pipe being a central way to American Indian

Great Knowledge.

I didn’t even know what he was talking about. I had never seen an Indian pipe in my life. Until

1978, it was illegal in North America for Indians to practice our spiritual ways. It was made

illegal through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Administrative Codes and Practices. You could get

penalized, be imprisoned, or have food rations withheld for practicing indigenous ceremonies.

The ceremonies went underground and missionaries made certain that we grew to fear our own

ways. They justified this to stop the “reckless giving away of things.” A Blackfoot woman once

said, “the worse thing the white man ever did was to kill the buffalo and put us on welfare. They

only give us enough to live and we can’t share with each other.”

As I matured, I felt such loneliness. I kept looking for my reality, for the unconditional love that

underpins Native culture and that I felt with my grandfather. I recalled that he had wanted me to

go to university. So I did. Even though I was not conscious of it, I kept pursuing advanced

education trying to find him and to realize that love in my life. At age 27, I was accepted into and

entered a doctoral program at an Eastern Ivy League school. The wealth and privilege of the

place was beyond any experience I had had. I wondered why I had been accepted and learned

that the personal statement to my application is what did the trick.

1 Private conversations with Credo Mutwa, Great Sanusi of the Zulu, he refers to the ancient

indigenous wisdom as the Great Knowledge.

I had been afraid to apply, thinking I was not smart enough or good enough. The fear was so

great that I procrastinated until the night before the deadline when I picked up a pen (I didn’t

even type it) and wrote about my grandfather and I, and how he wanted me to go to university.

This was a completely unexpected thing and paradoxical. I was sitting in a busy airport, using

my lap as my desk, but was in a liminal state—a light, energetic, feeling came over me. I felt

alive again, and I had a hunch that I would be accepted. I was.

Getting in the door was one thing. Surviving was another. I didn’t know much about being

American Indian. There were no other Indians and few people of color. My identity and values

were challenged in every way. I did not fit and became more and more angry. This was a Jewish

university filled with brilliantly educated people, who were also intellectually competitive. In

class discussions, I never said a thing. I kept waiting for my chance, but was in a culture that

operated by different ways. People argued, asserted, cut each other off, and never, ever, left a

space open for someone like me to speak.

So, I started to fight. When the professor lectured, up went my hand, the only way to get the


Newtonian View of Universe is lonely: Atoms in the vast empty space-time is a reflection of the way the modern men feel of their existence (PDF)

I. Newtonian View of Universe is lonely.

— Atoms in the vast empty space-time is a reflection of the way the modern men feel of their existence —

1. Introduction. Where we stand now.

Newton formulated his Mechanics, some 800 years ago in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It was an instant success. What was new in the Mechanics was the Mathematics of Differential Calculus, which was a language capable of constructing descriptions and predictions on the basis of “infinitesimally” small segments. According to the Mechanics, if one knows a very very small fragments of the universe, one can know everything, including what will happen in the future. The sense of power generated in the minds of people then was enormous. For the first time in the history that it knew, human intellect became powerful enough to replace “Prophecy” by “Scientific Prediction”.

One must appreciate this revolution in human intellectuality. Before that time, people had suffered from “false prophets”, “demigods”, and corruptions of religious institutions etc., for long time. Often, their spiritual needs were taken advantage of. Finally, people got a “sure thing” which was “true” as far as they can see, and accessible to anybody who learned the art of the language. It encouraged and empowered Europeans to go out for the adventures of colonial explorations and manufacturing industries. It liberated their minds from fear of unknowns. Man no longer needed to fear the Nature!

It was not that there was no navigational technology to get to New continent. Columbus already knew navigation by stars in 1400s. By the seventeen century, accurate clocks were in navigational use to tell the position of a ship in the middle of ocean, within a precession of 100 miles or less. But for a large scale transoceanic trades to develop, a few brave men and desperados were not enough. They needed something more to make range number of people to feel “confidence” in themselves, not only for the voyages, but also for “investments”. Newtonian Mechanics gave that. Spaniards may have braved rough Atlantic Ocean in their quest of Gold in the New continent. But they were not free from the sense of “adventure” in the haphazard voyages. British after Newtonian Mechanics had “deterministic knowledge” of the Future. They could rationally calculate their fortunes, thinking that occasional failures and accidents were exceptions, not the rule. In the peak of the British colonial trading, the returns of investments were like 400%. There were risks and losses, of course, but the colonial trades were not risking for 10% profits like investments today do.

Today, even English speaking people, by and large, do not know the meaning of the trade and consequently would not understand what a great confidence giver Newtonian Mechanics was. They think that Newtonian Mechanics is just a “physics”. It was the backbone of the Imperialism, if not the essence of the culture. And one ought to note that the “Power” of the Europe name from the “confidence” in knowing the universe. we know that people and group of persons can perform a lot efficiently when with confidence. If we are to think of ways to empower people, the first thing to do is to build confidence in themselves.

But, you might ask me; “Why then is Europe in decline today?” What happened to the confidence by Newtonian Mechanics? Did the physics change?

The physics indeed have changed. But I shall talk about that later. It is more important to think about what we think as “knowing” first. The knowledge of Newtonian Mechanics was a “knowledge” at the particular historical situation. It was the “environment” that made it “effective” and “powerful”. Newtonian Mechanics contained many flaws from the beginning. It was merely one way of “perceiving” the world, not a “Truth”. As much as it was useful in the circumstance, people can take it as a “Truth” and “the Description of Reality”. At least it was advantageous to believe in it, say for the “power of positive thinking”, even though it was not true, or even be wrong.

But, Newtonian Mechanics contained metaphysical assumptions which were not visible. Newton himself did not see himself making assumptions. A philosopher I. Kant was very much impressed by Newtonian Mechanics and wrote a critique — ironically titled as “critique of pure Reason” —, but he failed to see alternatives to the implicit assumptions. He ended up saying that Newtonian Mechanics is the Truth, and all human thinking ought to copy the style. Today, in retrospect, we would say that the metaphysical assumptions are like “prejudices” in the sense they can not be justified, though they can be believable immediately.

In Mathematics, and Logics, the basic assumptions are called “Axioms”. They are not “prejudices” because they are explicitly said. The first “Axiomatic” system known to the European science was that of Euclid Geometry. (Euclid himself did not axiomatize the Geometry, but Geometry was simple enough to be reduced into a set of axiomatic propositions soon after it was rediscovered by Renaissance scholars.) It so happen that the scholars instinctively suspected one of Axioms of Euclid Geometry. The suspected axiom was that about “Parallel line”. The axiom said that there can be one and only one parallel line to a any given line passing  a given point outside the line. Other axioms were short in expressions — such as “There is a point on a line between two points on the line” etc. —.

If you have done some geometrical exercises, you would know that the Axiom of Parallel line is very powerful one used very often. You would say that the axiom cannot be false, otherwise the whole Euclid Geometry word collapse. You are right in one sense, that is, the axiom is not false. It so happen that there were two alternatives to the Parallel Axiom. And without changing any other axioms, one can build two different geometries known as “Non-Euclid Geometries” There are “not false” just as Euclid one was. And Einstein et al found good uses for Non-Euclid Geometries and many others which they made up after the discovery of the freedom in geometries.

Kant was wrong only in that assuming that “There can be one and only one Truth”. It turned out that there can be many “truth”. Or one could say that there is no “truth” in any of geometries. Mathematicians and physicists today prefer the later version. They would say that “science” is not knowledge of Truth. Science try to be “helpful” to people, not asserting the authority of being Truth.

Unfortunately, the majority of “scientists” and academics even today are still in the medieval habit of asserting Truth, and do not like to acknowledge “non-truth” status of their “sciences”. They are ignorant of the foundation of science. I would imagine, even after you learned of the freedom of choices in theoretical constructions, you do not like to admit that what you are believing is “non-truth”. Your intellectual megalomaniac tendency would not like to settle for being merely “helpful suggestions”, but like to assert “Truth”. Intellectualism is an expression of “Machismo” which is also a cover up for the fear of modern individual cut off from Love relations.

One has to appreciate how lonely and fearful it is to see Newtonian cosmology in order to understand why the modern intellectualism had emerged with the triumph of Newtonian Rationality in the Industrial Revolution.

It is a contradiction of Dr. Faust who was an all-powerful intellectual on one hand and yet being a lonely kid looking for Love on the other hand. Dr. Faust, in the play written by J.W. Goethe at the time Germany was coming to the Scientific-Technological Age. Goethe was a writer, poet, a close friend of a philosopher Hegel, but also a “scientists” as well. He did understand the “pang” of the coming age. The pang was intellectual in the case of Goethe, but did convey, the pain and bewilderment that many of people, particularly the newly emerging “proletariats” under the misery of the industrialization, felt. One may have to read Marx’s account of the lives of laborers then. Our capitalism was built not only on the blood and sweat of working people but also on the alienation of the people driven out of communal life — i.e. a network of affectionate relations among peasants —. We note, however, even Marx thought it a “progress”. It required up-rooting of the old “Cosmology”. If we are to look the “adapting problems” of the Natives in North America in a parallel with the history, we would also see the significance of “Cosmology”.

Then, what so terrifying was Newtonian Cosmology? We are so brainwashed that we do not see the problem. We would say that Newtonian worldview is the true view of the Reality. It cannot be viewed in any alternative way. The Space-Time is there as Newtonian Mechanics says, independent of whatever we feel. We recall faintly that Einstein changed the worldview completely, but only a few among us dare to look at the universe in alternative senses.

Not that Einstein got it right, but he opened possibilities for different Cosmology. After Relativity of Einstein, there emerged Quantum Theory which stayed puzzling for a long time, but now coming to suggest us alternatives to Newtonian view and stimulated revival of “communal” senses of the universe. Thanks to those developments, we are now in a position to look back Newtonian World View and sense the problems in it. We no longer need apology in talking of our feelings in the ways we look at the Nature and the World, if not “Spiritual” Realms.

2. The Characteristics of Newtonian view of the World.

The characteristics of Newtonian view of the World are summarizable in a few brief statements. It says;

1) The Universe is a large empty Space-Time. Isolated Atoms exist in the vast vacuum. The Atoms are independent from each other and incapable of changing.

ii) There is no “Cause” — the Religious notion of cause is denied by Newton, his “Force” is not “cause”, despite the popular misunderstanding to be otherwise.

iii) There is no “Prophecy”. There is no “Purpose”, “Reason”, but accidents of conditions.

iv) Changes have to be “Forced”. And motions can only follow course “determined” (dictated) by the Mechanics of the Force. One simply has to be powerful enough to supply all energy needed for the desired motions.

v) Human Intellect is capable of knowing everything and to any accuracy desired. Hence, the courses of motions are controllable by Human Intellect.

vi) The Universe and everything taking place in it can be ‘measured” and treated in “Linearized Approximations”. (This is not from Newton himself, but held by the followers.)

Against such a set of assumptions, there have been several objections. A notable one among pre-Einstein time was that by E. Mach. Mach contended that there can be no such thing as Atom. He viewed that everything and anything is “related” to each others. An object is nothing but a symbolic representation of a “nexus of relationships” perceived by humans as a thing. The Universe then, is far from being “Vast Vacuum”, “Nothing”, “Emptiness”, but the theatrical stage of the relationships to unfold upon it as a drama. Even a minute grain of sand cannot move without moving the entire Universe in a complimentary mode. Mach advocated what we now call “Holistic View” of the World.

Oriental natural philosophy some three thousand years before stated that nothing is immutable, unchangeable, nor independent. We have yet to hear from Native Philosophy as to those issues.

Even within the Classical Physics, since emergence of Electromagnetic Field Theory in the 19th century, the “Empty Space” view of the Universe gradually gave away to more “sticky, filled-in” feeling of the Space. The vast “vacuum” of the Universe became something other than “nothing”. Rather, the “Field” concept made people to imagine and feel that there are “flows” of something invisible to us but nonetheless affects motions within. We can look at many pictures which M. Faraday drawn for the “Field”. They are remarkably beautiful. C. Maxwell who mathematized Faraday’s images into equations, also have drawn pictures, such as the Universe filled with “vortexes”. The only step missing was rebellion against the “god-like regularity” of Time Measure of Newtonian Universe. When the Time is also understood as a Dynamical entity, Einstein’s Relativity was born (1905). In that sense, we can view that Relativity was the first step by the modern intellectual to regain the “Enchanted Universe” that ancient people had.

[After reading this, don’t you ever say that Indians do not have the concept of time. they had a “Relativistic” sense of time. And in occasions like hunting Buffalos, they had to have split-second precession in their coordination of actions. they did that by “spiritually tuned in”. Otherwise, they could not survive. We, on the other hand, only have the “clock time” and have hard times coordinating our actions with people. We only know how to compete in Time, not cooperating. In WWI and II soldiers were often killed by the artillery fire from their own side, because of in-coordination in Time of the scale of minute.]

Interestingly, by Relativity, Time ceased to be an absolute measure, symbolizing the Newtonian Rationality. We now can appreciate why “primitive” people used to talk of Time as if an animated entity. Hegel’s notion of “spirit” as something to do with “Historical Time” was an attempt to revive the ancient Myth. But it was not understood in the Age of Newton. It would be respectable now, except that Hegelian sense of “spirit” is almost forgotten by the modern bourgeois intellectuals. [See Hegel on “Reason in History”. The famous remark of Marx “Knowing is not mere interpretation, but changing of the World” was in reference to Hegel’s Philosophy of History. Marx did not actually negate Hegel but stressed actions, Hegel did not deny “practices” either. The rhetoric of those Germans are excessively colorful, but often misleading. We need to read them with less polemical intensity but with more meditative reflection. Then we can appreciate what problems they were struggling with. Both of them tried anti-Newtonian view, but could not win the day. In terms of physics, I would make a parallel between the Electromagnetic Theory of M. Faraday and C. Maxwell with Hegel and Marx, respectively.]

We can compare such thoughts with the Western notion-prejudice of individual and see what implications the Western society led by Individualism has to pay for the assumption. Of course, the Western culture call it “Science” and deems the thinking in the mode to be “Rational”. Aside from punishing “individuals” for their crime and make them pay taxes, the western Metaphysics has no useful function. Rather, it forced upon itself many problems, among which Alienation of human lives and fighting wars and competitions are but two examples.

As noted before, the Western Metaphysics did make people to seek Power, Domination, in a conceit. But the results are less than praiseworthy. Its ill-effects and “pollutions” (both in substances and on minds) overweight any benefits that it brought upon the humanity. It was an “inappropriate” physics, in that sense.

The conceitedness comes in thinking that the “individual” can control deterministically whatever motion-change one desired. Humans simply do not have the energy to supply the motions. Rather, things do not happen by “Force”, but by “Triggers” in the sense a huge avalanche can be triggered by a mere whisper, when it is ready. Humans parasite on the Gifts of circumstances. Humans depend on the conditions of the Nature, just as a baby depends on the Mother. The baby cries and the Mother comes. But it would be a caricature of conceit, if the baby thinks it control and command the Nature, let alone “Force” the Nature.

The conceit from ignorance for itself is rather innocent. The western scientism went further than that. In its megalomaniac conceit coupled with the “lonely” view of the universe drive it to “conquering” other people in the context of colonialism. They could not see the relationships that come back to themselves. Their notion of knowledge was “isolationistic” and they thought they are above and beyond reactions. They saw everything including people as “objects” to be taken advantages. People in the old communal life would not dare thinking like that. But the age of science made it legitimate and praiseworthy calling it “rational”, “intelligent”.

The generosity of the Nature and people of the colonies let the “spoiled child” of the Europe abusing them go on a while. We note that even Marx failed to recognize the Gifts of the Mother Nature, in terms of fossil energy resources which enabled scientists and technologists to enlarge “productive power”. The industrialization would have been impossible without exploitation of the fossil energy resources. Marx did not see it, because he was like anybody else at the time believed in the hostile view of the Nature and thought that economy is based on “scarcity”, rather than “Gifts” of plentitude.

In retrospect, we would say that he ought to have noted the impossibility of the exchange economy without surplus. The origin of exchange economy is in Gift Giving in the surplus plentitude, not in the postulated “scarcity” of the Classical Economics. But the Newtonian View of the universe is a fearful one. What is not hostile cannot be taken serious by it. And, here we might reflect on the distinction between “Work” and “Play”. Today, we might operationally define “work” to be that which is pained and “Play” to be that which is not paid. But, then we have trouble as to house works that many of women do. They are not paid. Are they not “works”? In terms of the Gift economy, we can appreciate them as “Gifts”. But what the theory of economics do with “gifts”? It brushes off gifts as “irrational”. Although Marx advocated “dialectical” thinking, he could not deviate from the culture of theRationalism prevalent in his time. What is not either “Forcing” nor “Forced” is irrational and could not be a part of the intellectual work.

[As to the origin of “Economy”, Max Weber. The Theory of social and Economic organization would be a good introduction. K.H. Wolf, The sociology of Georg Simmel; K. Polanyi The Great Transformation, are also recommended. The later developments in the filed called “Economic Anthropology” are interesting, but I do not know good introductory text. Marx is said to have learned something from Iroquois Indians, but it seems that he missed a great deal, perhaps because it was a secondhand knowledge. For this, see M.K. Foster et al (ed.) Extending The Rafters.

Native Americans appear to have no compunction to write books about their wisdom. They probably do not understand the western intellectual hang-up about “writing on stone” to make oneself “Immortal”. My native friend, despite my prodding, pleadings and coercions, remains very “shy” about writing anything. It reminds me of Inuit way of non-assertion. It appears that they do not think they can be of great help to others, perhaps because of the long memory of oppression on native culture in the North America. Only way to get to their wisdom seem to be “stealing” the wisdom held in deep secret by snooping around them. It is almost as bad as asking questions to zen masters.]

As to the “Cause” and “Prophesy”, the modern physics after Einstein, came to think of various interpretations, including the “Time that goes backwards” and “Multi-dimensional Time”. The problems are not solved. We know without “purpose” that projects our thoughts into the Future, there can be no use of knowing anything. Yet, it is the most troublesome problem in sciences. It involves Time dimension where our ordinary Logics fails. I would say that the notion of “knowing” in the western intellect is an illusion. But then, we need something as alternatives which are not yet found.

I would imagine the future of cosmology has more to do with time or Time Dimensions than spatial extent of the Universe. Christian metaphor of the “one Linear Time as a measure” is too incompetent to deal with the universe. We need a dynamical sense of Time(s) which perhaps creates and annihilates. There are some attempts by physicists as to those kinds of Cosmology. At moment, however, ordinary people would reject them as insanity. They appear to be comfortable in Newtonian illusion and much rather stay in it till some catastrophe to drive them out of it. Basically, it is Fear of unknowns that keep them there. Unfortunate thing about the state of “Freeze in Fear” is that the catastrophe so invited by it may be worse. A good therapy in such a case is to suggest “crazy” cosmologies as fun-fantasies of tinker-toy plays. One cannot be creative in the defensive posture. To be courageous and creative, one way is to behave like children playing with the Mother Universe. Suppose there were some elements of eroticism in the play, I would imagine she would laugh and forgive us.

As to the “Linear Approximation”, I need to talk of mathematics a bit. The Differential calculus, which Newton, Leibniz and Seki invented almost at the same time, is a way of imposing Linear net of “Measures” on what are not Linear.

And Newton’s Mechanics talks of the “second order” terms in the linearization. The mathematical expression for “Force” reads as “the rate of changes of the rate of changes” (of positions of atoms/objects). The change is not linear when pictured on a graph paper. The graph paper is the ideal of “the net of linear measures”. The deviations from straight lines on the graph paper is like “sins” and needs “explanation”. Scientific “explanation” is a ritual of “exorcism”. By explaining one is pardoned. In that sense “explanation” is an “excuse”. And by the ritual, one gains a confidence.

Newton’s genius is in that he came up with a way of explaining: away the deviation from a straight line (linearity) by saying in the second order linearization one get a straight line. If not, one go on to the higher order differentials. Another psychological advantage is that by “differentiation” one get a number which gives an illusion of “constancy”. Hence, even though the differentials are not “objects” but rather “relations”, one can refer to them as if they are “objects”. Given our fear of motion/change, this conversion of “changing relation” to “constant object” is a good psychotherapy. But there is a price to be paid for it too.

The notion of “Measure” itself is a way of converting unknowns to “constants”. We humans are “ephemeral”. We know that. And that is why we desire “eternal constants”. Our science is from such a “sentimentality”, though we think we are “macho” in doing sciences.

Another thing to be noted is that the Linearity ideal also comes in the way “Statistics” is used to assert knowledge. We note tha Newton could not have reached to The Laws of Motion by statistical Analysis of co-relations. But, we still cling to the linear notion and correct all sorts of statistics. Mathematically, it is easy to see that Statistics does not “prove” anything. The best it could do is the “negation of negation” — double negatives of the kind such as saying “I have no evidence to say you have not killed your mother”, which the statistical scientists take as a good ground to say “You have killed your mother” —.

However, you try to tell that social scientists today. You would be considered insane. Because they “believe” in statistics as th only scientific way to know something. Even if they understand your mathematics and an elementary exercise in logic, they cannot stop their “belief”, because their intellectual pride and incomes depend on it.

The “Measuring” is, in mathematical jargon, a “mapping”, “projection” onto the line of Real Number. Why such a simple operation is thought so important? The answer seems to be that scientists and the public in general worship The Linearity. Something curved is “crooked” and evil. If it come back to make a loop, that is the dreaded Vicious Circle which the Western Religions tried so hard to negate. There is nothing in Newtonian Mechanics, as a mathematical system to object to Vicious Circles. And in fact, the loop structure is very important in Engineering of “Feed Back”. But the Western Science is not completely free from its religious heritages. Despite its brave renunciations, the Western Science is a part of Christianity, and carries taboos on thoughts.

[As to these points, perhaps Max Weber may be a good reference. See The Protestant Ethics and The Capitalism. L. White The Historical Origin of Environmental Pollution is also a good reading. “Some of my best friends” are Christian ministers. They agree on these, and go on to Liberation Theology. If you like to have “antidote” to my “poison”, perhaps H.Kung On Being a Christian, and Does God Exist, may be of good reference, though Kung is an excommunicated theologian. Interestingly Kung talks on Mathematics at a length. Mathematics and Physics are products of the Western Culture, yet they contain the seeds of their own death. From a point of view of the “Ephemerist”, that is good. The life of any individual entity, dogma, institution, ought to be finite, so that they can be replaced by better ones. That instance of eternal constant, immortality, is the problem.]

After going through the troubles of mathematics, modern science, and relate them to our environmental and social problems, we would come to convince ourselves that we do not need any apology talking of “Spiritual problems” of the Modern Age.

[J. Habermas edited a book titled “Observations on The Spiritual Situation of The Age”. MIT press 1985. It is a book in “Social Science”. But to use titles like that is no longer “crazy”. I suspect it may even become “fashionable” soon.]

If we look at the present situation with respect to Nuclear Arms Race, at an annual cost to us like 800 billion dollars, it becomes outrageously obvious that what we lack is not “scientific knowledge”. Scientific knowledge is good, if helps us. If not, we need to think them out. Science does have its way of death within itself. If one does enough of “scientific investigation” on the science itself, its limitations and even follies become undeniable, In that sense self-critical “sciencing of science” is important.

Another way of getting out the old science is to listen to what are repressed. As the cases of axioms demonstrated, opposites of widely held beliefs may be worth studying as the means of gaining alternatives. It is said that a great truth is great because its opposite is also true. Or one might say when one (system) becomes self-closed, its life is near the end. It means the loss of learning capacity. It happened to Euclid Geometry, and to Newtonian Mechanics. Hopefully our curiosity for unknowns would not die. Certainly, it appears that the curiosity with Cosmology is in its rise now.