Thursday, October 4, 2007

Essay Clarifying my Position as a White Woman Teaching Shamanism

Note: This essay is taken from "Traditional Native American Medicine People, Shamans, Patriarchy and the Concerns of the Feminine Principle", the introductory chapter of a book I'm writing about shamanic archetypal psychology, and is copyright protected. No portion of this essay may be reproduced in any form without my explicit written permission.

Many people think of shamanism, if they think of it at all, as a primitive or an occult system of beliefs and practices. Other people think shamanism is a religion of some sort, and that as such, it may be in conflict with mainstream Christian religions. In reality, shamanism is neither primitive nor occult, nor is it a religion, which implies a highly organized system of traditional beliefs and practices embedded within a strict hierarchical authority structure. Granted, the ways of some traditional medicine people in some tribal cultures may be structured in ways vaguely similar to the hierarchical structures of western religions. However, shamans are not medicine people in the traditional Native American sense. The path of the shaman has always been that of the loner; of the visionary who sees the unseen; of the psychic adventurer who uses special skills and talents to retrieve information, ceremonies and rituals, songs and dances, from realms of consciousness not ordinarily accessible to most people. In her journeys into such realms, the shaman gradually achieves a keen understanding of human nature, and of the archetypal structure of human consciousness. Furthermore, nontraditional- or creative- shamans have always blazed new paths, eschewing hierarchical traps in favor of creative, psychological and spiritual freedom. I identify with this type of healer. I believe that my work supports that identification.

Let me state at the beginning of this essay what my position is regarding Native Americans teaching shamanic ways to white people, and white people teaching shamanic ways to other whites, as there seems to be considerable controversy about such practices among Native Americans, and because my own experience with this phenomenon mirrors that of many white people. I was led to the Mohawk shamanic teacher with whom I studied women's shamanic ways because I first dreamed about her. In the dream, she was drumming to call people to study with her, and she challenged me to find her in physical reality. I knew where to look, because I recognized both the landscape and the city in which I had dreamed she was drumming. When I began to hear the same drumbeat in physical reality, day in and day out, I traveled to that city, and encountered her there within a few days. My relationship with her lasted three years, and it was one of the most important relationships of my life, one that I expected to survive the test of time and cultural differences. Unfortunately, it was not possible for us to achieve our goal of creating a bridge between cultures by working together. From my perspective, we failed largely because of historical wounds and cultural differences that it was not possible for us to resolve. I believe it's worth mentioning this, because I know that I am not the only white woman who has had such an experience with a Native American teacher. Some of the issues we encountered and failed to resolve appear to simmer today beneath the surface of some of the commentary in Forest's book, Dreaming the Council Ways: True Teachings from the Red Lodge, in remarks such as:
"Unfortunately, however hard it may be to say, the White race, throughout history, has brought ignorance, enslavement, extermination, rape, devastation, and blasphemy to all the originals of this planet...Because of this, a person of the White race must walk this sacred Earth with more humility than a colored person." (15)

It seems to me that such statements encourage white people to take on the ancestral blame rightly belonging to their forefathers, an undertaking that I reject, for several reasons. On a personal level, I believe in reincarnation. I have remembered more than one life in which I myself was Native American, and I have strong connections with Native American ancestral spirits who guide and teach me. To then assume blame for what my white ancestors may or may not have personally done to Native Americans several generations ago, and attempt to make it up to a contemporary member of that race as a condition of relationship, becomes a very tricky and dangerous psychospiritual stance. In that particular scenario, given my memories of past lives, I would be perceiving myself as both victim and perpetrator of the same crime. To take on such a convoluted position would necessarily put me- or anybody else foolish enough to do so- at serious risk of being exploited in any number of ways by those insisting that I personally accept blame for and atone for the history of my entire race.

In more general terms, I think it's both unwise and psychologically dangerous to enter into any relationship in which the first condition of relationship is that you must accept blame for something, and especially for something that you did not personally do. This creates a gross imbalance of power and respect between the parties involved. Furthermore, making another person wrong is always the first step taken by an abusive person who wishes to gain some type of "power over" another human being. We need to remember that how things start is how they tend to end. And there can be no good ending to a relationship that begins under such conditions. Finally, one should keep in mind that those who have been abused and are not yet healed, tend to become abusive themselves, and take steps to protect oneself from being victimized by this dynamic, however much one may empathize with the person's suffering, or however deeply one may love the person in question.

Having said the above, I must also say that without my teacher's guidance during the critical first few years after my initiation experience, during which I was so overwhelmed by shamanic visionary states that I could barely function in the physical world, I might not have emerged from that experience with my sanity intact. Therefore, I am, and will remain eternally grateful to her for guiding me through that period of my initiation. It was her willingness to try to teach whites that saved my sanity, and she did so in spite of harsh criticism from some Native Americans. I was present at one of her public lectures that was attended by several such Native American people. They were critical of her for charging for her teachings, and for teaching whites, and they continually challenged her as she lectured. By the end of the lecture, she was exhausted from this attack. Needless to say, this was a very unpleasant spectacle to witness, as it was for her to endure.Unfortunately, at the time I didn't know how to help shield her from the ill will to which she was being subjected. Today I do, and I would.

To Native Americans who become incensed with others of their culture who are doing their best to bring a message of sanity to an insane world, and who charge money for their time and efforts, I would first assert that such people incur considerable expenses related to travel. In addition, the energy and time such teachers devote to making themselves fit to teach others, preparing to teach others, and actually teaching others, needs to be restored to them by some means, as it is time and energy that's not available to them for earning money by other means. In an ideal world, such people would not have any financial responsibilities to meet, or would have the financial support of a community, working spouse or extended family, so that they could focus on their work and offer it freely. However, this is far from an ideal world. Without monetary remuneration, most such people would be in danger of becoming physically, psychically and financially depleted, and thus rendered incapable of carrying on their work. I believe they deserve to be compensated, and whether or not we like it, in today's world, money is the most valuable form of compensation that can be offered in exchange for services or teachings received.

There was nobody in my culture who knew what was wrong with me, or how to guide me through what I was experiencing following my initiation experience. Had my teacher not been there, willing to do so, I would have been in deep trouble and I knew it, so I was glad to pay whatever she asked for her personal guidance and workshops, and used my own resources to sponsor and advertise her initial teaching visits to Maine. To teachers struggling to heal their own cultural or personal wounds, I would suggest that they focus a great deal of energy on that healing before attempting to teach anybody else. In Forest's book, she speaks of the kinds of wounds she has suffered at the hands of white culture. Such wounds are profound, and like all such wounds, are the result of patriarchal abuse and oppression. One cannot help but feel great empathy for what she and others like her have suffered. However, when one fails to completely heal one's own wounds or to release one's own sorrows before becoming a teacher of others, one puts oneself and others at risk in particular ways.

One such risk, and perhaps the most dangerous one, is that one may overcompensate for feelings of low self-esteem and victimization by perceiving oneself as somehow enlightened or spiritually superior. When this occurs, one becomes blind to one's own flaws, wounds and neuroses, and they are then often projected onto others. We see this kind of thing happening all the time, particularly among cult leaders. The supplicant or student or apprentice is convinced by the teacher or leader that this or that or the other is wrong with her, that the teacher is above it all, is somehow or other their spiritual superior, and is the only one who can fix them, or show them the way to health, wealth and happiness. The results of falling into such a trap can be emotionally, psychically and financially devastating.

To anyone considering apprenticing to a Native American teacher or to a shamanic teacher of any race, I urge you to exercise extreme caution and critical judgment about the character, ethical stance, possible hidden agendas, and camouflaged personal issues the teacher may be struggling with before you make either a financial or an emotional committment to the person. Naturally, you will want to continue your search for a teacher elsewhere if this occurs. Sometimes two people simply don't click, for whatever reasons. If, however, you experience any of the following symptoms during an encounter with a potential teacher, or any other person, you should consider that you have entered a psychological danger zone, and you should exercise extreme caution regarding continuing the contact:

1. You are left feeling frightened, guilty, inadequate, diminished, or wrong in some vague way after talking with the person;
2. You feel "high" or somehow seduced by the person's charismatic personality;
3. You feel confused after reading materials the person has written, or after attending a workshop or having a private session with the person;
4. An attempt is made to convince you that you have some special gift or talent that could or should be directed towards helping the teacher carry out a messianic agenda of some kind.

In all such instances, your body is the best alarm system you possess. Pay attention to what it's telling you. If you experience fear, unease, anxiety or any other such indicator of danger, especially when it's accompanied by a phsyical sensation anywhere in your torso, you should immediately back away from the person who triggered such sensations...and stay away. Whether or not you ever grasp intellectually what transpired between the two of you, you can completely trust your body's knowledge of what transpired between you at a psychic level. When you experience physical sensations of danger in the presence of another person, however charming that person may seem, you can be absolutely certain that at best, this person's goals and needs are not compatible with yours, and at worst, that the person has a hidden agenda for you that may not be in your best interests. In either case, if you continue exploring the relationship, it's very likely that you will be hurt in some way by doing so, later if not sooner.

Often twistings of the truth and symptoms of hidden agendas are very subtle and hard to recognize, so you should allow yourself time away from the person to think, to evaluate, to listen to what your own body and heart are telling you about the advisability of working with that person. If you are recovering from a profound trauma of some kind, or have recently experienced a devastating emotional loss of some kind, it's likely that your capacity to engage in critical thinking may have been compromised. In that case, you must be even more careful and rely upon the input of trusted friends and family members, and perhaps that of a good therapist whom you trust, to help you make a good decision in the matter of choosing a teacher.

The processes that I personally went through regarding the above issues eventually clarified for me what it was that the Bear Spirit Clan had asked me specifically to bring into the world on its behalf, and what I had agreed to bring. Among other things, the Bear Spirit Clan asked me to be a translator of sorts. I am the keeper of many ancient tales and stories, and of a specific aspect of shamanic wisdom particular to the Bear Spirit Clan, all of which I have agreed to share with others. I realized that my entire life experience had prepared me to tell those tales and stories, and to organize and present the teachings Standing Bear, Chief of the Bear Spirit Clan, offered me in a way that that has the potential to be understood correctly by people in my own culture.

Forest is critical of what she calls the institutionalizing of shamanic ways and the "techniques" used by those promoting what she terms "shamanic institutions". She asks herself, " can people institutionalize shamanic ways?", and "If the spirit animal teachings are a sacred way into life, how can life be institutionalized?" (42) These are no doubt important and appropriate questions for her personally. While she may, of course, be right to feel that way, I think attempting to create the kind of bridge between cultures for which she advocates must have as its foundation respect for both the best of the Native American experience, mindset and perspectives...and the best of white culture's experience, mindset and perspectives. Each way has much to contribute to understanding how to live on this earth, and one of the contributions white culture can make to facilitate that goal is its capacity to engage in organizing material in ways that can be understood correctly by members of that culture.

This is not to say that I condone or support patriarchy in any way, as will become clear as you read on. I do believe, however, that it's not just Native Americans who have been abused by patriarchy. Countless white women have been, and continue to be abused and oppressed by patriarchy. I believe that white women actually have more in common in that respect with Native American and African American peoples than with most White males. I think this point needs to be understood by those critics of white culture such as Forest, who include white women in their critiques. Those white women among us who express patriarchal attitudes and behaviors towards other women or other cultural ways of being or thinking need to be understood as victims of patriarchal abuse, just as Native Americans do, and not as just another face of the oppressor, or of the enemy. In addition, I think we all need to understand and accept that there needs to be a synthesis of the ancient ways of the Earth with the ways of the Sky Gods, a perversion of whose realities has resulted in patriarchy. I don't think white culture is going to go away, nor do I think that Native American culture is going to once again become the dominant social and political force in North America, as some seem to hope it will. I strongly believe that mutual acceptance of cultural differences, and mutual respect and cooperation, without the interference of patriarchal ego inflations, are the attitudes that will bring about healing and harmony among the many different cultures now inhabiting North America.

I also think it's advisable to take the long historical view of our present cultural dilemma. Throughout the history of the Earth, peoples have migrated from one location to another, bringing new cultural ways and spiritual practices with them. Many of the new ways and practices have historically been integrated into the geographically original culture, and the reverse has always been true as well. The new cultures have also always integrated some of the ideas and practices of the original culture into their ways. I believe that we are now in the tunultuous beginnings of just such a socio-historical process in the Americas. I believe that the turmoil and upheavals of our times are signs that a process of cultural and spiritual synthesis has begun in earnest, and that eventually, over time, such a synthesis may become complete, resulting in a new way of being for all the inhabitants of North America.

I envision the best of the ancient Earth-based cultures of the Americas and of the not-so-ancient Sky-based cultures of the millions of immigrants who have taken up residence here, eventually balancing and complementing one another. The shamanic Marriage of Heaven and Earth- or the union of the opposites of Earth/Feminine principle, and Sky/Masculine principle- as shown to me in a potent vision by Standing Bear, reveals how such a synthesis occurs at the archetypal level of deep shamanic consciousness. Much of my work with the archetypal psychology of shamanism is inspired by that vision.

Some Native Americans from Maine's tribes seem to have an approach to the problem of how to perceive and interact with White people that I find to be compatible with my own outlook. For example, in a recently published book by Karen Batignani, Exploring the Spirit of Maine: A Seeker's Guide, in the section on Maine's Wabanaki Confederacy, she speaks of the attitude of Arnie Neptune, pipe carrier and respected Penobscot spiritual leader:
"In hopes of facilitating the healing, he invites the people of Maine to learn the Wabanaki teachings in hopes that it will bring healing to the earth by stopping pollution and beginning a concentrated effort by all people to give back to Mother Earth whenever something is taken. The teachings are committed to a deep understanding that all of creation is One. (Italics mine.) (96)

For me, Neptune's stance reflects the kind of deep personal healing and ecumenical attitude that will ultimately be required of those who dare attempt to create bridges between the Red and White Lodges. As a white person who has always experienced shamanic visions, all of my life I have struggled with a sense that I had been born into the wrong culture, and with a feeling in my bones that I was somehow an outsider. I have also always struggled to come to terms with my appalled view of many of the ways of white patriarchal culture. In recent years, I've begun researching and attempting to verify family stories about a possible Native American ancestor from one of the Maine tribes on my father's side of the family. As the branch of the Kinney family to which I belong migrated south from the Houlton area to Danforth, and then to the coast, I assume the connection is with the Houlton Band of Maliseets, although I have not as yet been able to document it. When I am with tribal people, I feel very differently than I feel among my own people. I feel like I'm in the right place, like I'm with family. Whether that's because I have a genetic connection with them, or because of some other level of intrinsic compatibility, I'm learning that each of us must create our own bridges between self and "other" within ourselves.

During a recent visit to my home, after talking with me at some length about my shamanic initiation experience, Mother Light, a Native American elder and a compassionate, big-hearted woman, addressed my concerns about having been initiated into a shamanic path as a white woman, which has created a whole new set of cultural and social struggles for me. Her attitude was similar to Neptune's. She went to some lengths to reassure me that the color of my skin had very little, if anything, to do with my shamanic orientation. Another friend from one of the Maine tribes, with whom I also shared my concerns, looked me in the eye and kept saying "Just because you're red doesn't mean you're red", until I finally got her point, which was that just because I'm white doesn't mean I'm white in my heart or in my ways. The graciousness and acceptance of such Native Americans as Neptune, Mother Light, and my friend have gone a long way towards healing the wounds of my intial encounter with Native American culture and have enabled me to continue teaching and writing with some degree of confidence.

In the book from which this excerpt is taken, while I have not institutionalized anything, I have definitely organized the material in a way that I feel will be most easily assimilated by people from my own culture. I also teach shamanism by integrating this kind of organization into the forms and structures for teaching that I learned from Forest, which makes the material more accessible to my white students. This is not to say that I am not in awe of the great mysteries of shamanism's profoundly Earth-centered core, which, as Forest suggests, can never be instutituionalized, however diligently one might try to do so.

The theory of depth shamanism that I have developed combines a sophisticated philosophy of life with a deeply holistic archetypal psychology. It facilitates psychospiritual healing and wholeness and encourages individual perspectives on the nature of reality and the ways of the Medicine Wheel Mandala. At the same time, depth shamanism stands firmly on a foundation of ancient, time-honored women's shamanic ways, and incorporates an understanding of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all living things into its philosophy. This interconnectedness, which has been observed and worked with by shamans throughout history, is now beginning to be recognized and understood by certain scientists working in the fields of quantum physics and chaos theory. Interestingly, one such scientist, John R. Van Eenwyk, writes in Archetypes and Strange Attractors: The Chaotic World of Symbols, "Whatever we have learned from mathematics and physics about chaos theory, the Iroquois seem to have known intuitively." (123)

Shamanic attitudes, beliefs and practices designed to foster and protect this fragile and highly interactive web of consciousness and physical experience have evolved from shamanism's philosophical stance. Make no mistake, we are all part of this great web of life. Whether we are constructive and life-affirming, or destructive and life-negating parts of the web of life depends not only upon our religious, spiritual, political and cultural orientations. It also depends upon our individual characters, for which we ourselves become responsible once we reach maturity; upon our ability to think for ourselves (which, sadly, is not taught by most educational intsitutions); and upon our ability to move at will from the keft-brain thought processes of the Masculine principle, into the right-brain thought processes of the Feminine principle. Every action and every thought in which we engage during our physical lives influences and informs the incredible web of life to which we belong, so it behooves us to learn as much about ourselves, and about the web of life and our relationship to it, as we can.

The Medicine Wheel Mandala shows us the path to this level of self-knowledge. It teaches us respect for the interconnectedness of all things, and tolerance for the perspectives and views of others. One might say that depth shamanism takes a thoroughly ecumenical and democratic stance, in that its philosophy is one of inclusion, rather than exclusion. The reason for this is that when one views the world through the lens of a fully developed shamanic philosophy, one perceives each person's perspective on life to be equally valid. As we study the Medicine Wheel Mandala, we learn that we are each moving around the sacred circle it represents, but at our own rate and level of consciousness. For this reason, we are generally able to enjoy only the particular perspective afforded us by our particular position on the Medicine Wheel Mandala at any given time. Understanding this, we then realize that in general, no single person's perspective on any given situation or event can be entirely "whole" or accurate. It therefore behooves us to seek out and to listen to one another's opinions and perspectives, if we are to have any hope of achieving a balanced and comprehensive understanding of life and its often distressing and baffling events.

If one continues thinking along these lines and attempts to live one's life based upon this philosophical stance, one eventually discerns that not only is depth shamanism a philosophical stance, but that it is also a very sophisticated depth psychological orientation on a par with Jungian and archetypal psychological theory, with a notable difference: shamanic archteypal psychology honors and respects the wisdom of the Feminine principle, and finds it to be vibrant, healthy and powerful, rather than pathologizing it with patriarchal projections. Shamanic practices based upon a psychological understanding of the Medicine Wheel Mandala lead to the integration and reconciliation of psychological opposites, with the eventual result that one finds oneself at its Center position. When we reach this most desirable place of stability and balance, we are at last able to perceive events and people from all positions on the Medicine Wheel Mandala simultaneously. This level of psychological integration, with its inherent spiritual generosity, is the ultimate goal of depth shamanic practice, and the foundation of its ecumenical outlook.

Over the years, I have come to understand the Medicine Wheel as much more than a mere symbol of the spiritual realities and potentials offered to each one of us by the land upon which we walk. I have also come to understand it as a specific archetypal landscape that can be mapped using shamanic techniques, and as a psychic locus- or place- wherein reside specifically shamanic archetypes and energies. Once one has thoroughly mapped the landscapes of the Medicine Wheel Mandala, and has developed relationships with the archetypes inhabiting those landscapes, one can then use shamanic techniques to directly interact with them for purposes of personal growth and healing, and for assistance in helping others to grow and heal. The shamanic psychology of the Medicine Wheel Mandala and the Axis Mundi- or the Shamanic Tree of Life- also show us how to heal patriarchal pathology, and how to restore spiritual, psychological and cultural balance between expressions of the archetypal Feminine and the archetypal Masculine principles.

I hope you will feel inspired to participate in the rebalancing of the Feminine and Masculine principles that must be achieved if Earth and the life She supports are to survive these times, and to move towards a healthy and productive future. We cannot look to government, nor to science, universities or religion, generally speaking, to bring about these changes, for they are often the very institutions that perpetuate and foster the imbalance. We must look to women, the givers and nurturers of life, to lead the way. From a shamanic perspective, it is the sacred responsibility of women to do so. Historically, we have seen many levels of women's movements that have resulted in restoration of various political, social, economic and educational rights to women. But these hard won rights that have been restored have been rights grudgingly offered and enforced by patriarchal institutions in response to social and political pressures. While there is no doubt that women have benefited from such restorations of some of their rights, those who perpetuate patriarchy believe that they "gave" us our rights, as though they owned them in the first place.

Women's rights, and especially women's spiritual and cultural rights, belong to women alone. They are not advantages or privileges that patriarchal institutions or patriarchal males can bestow upon us. While we need laws to protect women and to enforce equal rights in patriarchal culture, we do not need the sanction of any patriarchal authority or institution to remember, reclaim and live by our ancient women's spiritual and psychological wisdom. The right of women to do so is a natural right, not one that must or can be granted to women by any external authority. Practicing women's shamanic ways can help each of us take the next step that's needed in the process of continuing to liberate ourselves from patriarchy, because it affords us the possibility of achieving psychospiritual empowerment.

By learning to understand and practice the holistic archetypal psychology of the Medicine Wheel Mandala, we can prepare ourselves to take our places in contemporary culture as spiritually and psychologically awakened and empowered women whose personal authority is ours alone, not a gift from any other source. Women themselves must calmly reclaim their inherent feminine authority. But before we can do so, we must first remember who we are. We must first reawaken and reintegrate our ancient women's wisdom into our sense of Self, individually and collectively, and perhaps most important, we must thoroughly shed internalized patriarchal projections about who we are, should be, or can be. Shamanic practice, philosophy and psychology can help us achieve such goals.

Ironically, many of us know that our great democracy was fashioned in large part after the principles and values of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, or the Iroquois Confederacy, as the French called it. What very few of us know, but should become aware of, is that this country's founding fathers did not accept the whole philosophy embraced by the Iroquois Confederacy- which guaranteed a natural balance between the Feminine and Masculine principles, and between women and men- as a model for the Constitution of the United States of America. They rejected those parts of it that spoke of women's wisdom and women's rights among the Haudenosaunee. As Mohawk Elder Lorraine Canoe says, in Profiles of Wisdom: Native American Elders Speak About the Earth:
"If the founders of the United States really understood how the Iroquois Confederacy worked, about the freedom of women to speak in council, to judge, to be head of household, to be the producer of children- had they known all that, the ERA would not have been needed thirty years ago. It would have been understood as part of the fabric of the Constitution. Because they didn't know that, they took only some of our confederacy laws to create the Constitution of the United States...They didn't consult the women. Women did not own land, were not entitled to hold land. They were not even entitled to vote because of that hierarchy coming here and beginning two hundred years ago to create a government without the input of women." (25)

In my opinion, therein lies the root cause of the many failures of equality and justice, and of the economic, social, political and environmental imbalances created by the patriarchal bias of those who drew up our Constitution. Patriarchy is the creation of an unbalanced and grotesquely inflated Masculine principle. When the Masculine principle rejects and oppresses the Feminine principle, the creator and nurturer of all life, and the keeper and dispenser of wisdom, it renders itself unable to engage correctly in its sacred responsibility: that of right action in the world. Without the guidance of the Feminine principle's wisdom, the Masculine principle suffers from a very dangerous form of ego inflation, and begins to act out of that ego inflation, rather than engaging in actions in the world that are founded in wisdom. Thus we have war, genocide, rampant greed, hideous poverty, and the grotesque abuse of women, children and elders. All are expressions of patriarchy.

In spite of the many advances made on behalf of women by women's rights groups, the abuse of women worldwide is escalating at an alarming degree. On Amnesty Internationl's web site, in Current Campaigns: Stop Violence Against Women, that organization states that "Violence against women is the greatest human rights scandal of our times. From birth to death, in times of peace as well as war, women face discrimination and violence at the hands of the state, the community and the family."

Mary Shaw, writing about the activist group 700 Women, which was created to raise consciousness about the need for rauthorization and passage of VAWA, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act in the United States, asserts that "In fact, more than 700 women are abused or sexually assaulted by their partner each day in the U.S. And four are murdered. That's more than the average number of U.S. troops killed daily in Iraq." Elsewhere she points out that "For each case that happens to catch the attention of the mainstram media, thousands more go unnoticed, mourned only by their families and neighbors within their own communities."

A prime example of the extent to which the abuse of women is escalating in our times is evidenced by attempts of scientists to create life in the laboratory. In my opinion, this is the ultimate negation of women and their proper roles as the creators, nurturers and protectors of life. Not only do such attempts to create life independent of women's wombs reek of patriarchal hubris, they also attempt to take from woman one of her most profound sacred actions and experiences- that of creating life through her body. This is a prime example of the Masculine principle's inability to engage in right action in the world when it refuses to respect or to be guided by Feminine wisdom.

Depth feminine shamanic psychology and philosophy offers a workable antidote to such excesses and imbalances. Not only do feminine shamanic psychology and philosophy support the reemergence and reactivation of the Feminine principle in contemporary culture, but shamanic practices and the shamanic journey experience are themselves intrinsically Feminine processes. To successfully engage in them, we are required to bypass ego consciousness and the literal, left-brain thought patterns of the Masculine principle, with which the ego is most comfortable. Shamanic teachniques empower us to enter into the depths of the right-brain consciousness of the Feminine principle. There is no other way to enter shamanic reality. Thus, engaging in shamanic work itself is something one can actively do to contribute towards the goal of restoring balance between the needs and responsibilities of the Masculine and Feminine principles. Each time we do so, a step, however small, towards healing the destructive results of patriarchal excesses and imbalances is taken.

From a depth shamanic perspective, in order to facilitate such healing, structures necessary to support a healthy balance between the Masculine and Feminine principles must be created and maintained, at archetypal levels of consciousness not ordinarily accessible to us. Every time a woman undertakes the use of shamanic techniques to heal herself from the generational effects of patriarchal abuse, the present imbalance shifts, however imperceptibly, towards balance. The same is true for men, but because women are physical manifestations of the Feminine principle, theirs is the more powerful shift. The Earth notices such shifts, and responds favorably.

What I am advocating is a simple, quiet movement among those of you who relate to what I have to say, towards balance and wholeness based upon the shamanic philosophy, teachings and techniques of the Bear Spirit Clan. In particular, I am speaking to all women who walk upon the earth of North America, whoever your ancestors may have been. Many of us are descended from European women, whose ancient connections to the land upon which they walked were not so different from those practiced in North America at the same time by indigenous matriarchal cultures.

Those ancient connections and the ways they inspired were first shattered by events such as the Burning Times of the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Archeologist Marija Gimbutas, who proved the existence of pre-patriarchal Goddess cultures in Eastern Europe, writes, in The Language of the Goddess, that during that time, "The murder of women accused as witches escalated to more than eight million. The burned or hanged victims were mostly simple country women who learned the lore and the secrets of the Goddess from their mothers or grandmothers." (319) Continuing religious oppression of the Divine Feminine further degraded those ancient ways and beliefs as misogynistic patriarchal religions continured to spread through Europe and the British Isles.

Furthermore, most of us whose ancestors came to the Americas from distant lands, whatever our ethnic affiliations may be, are the descendants of people who experienced the pain and loss of forced emigration due to religious persecution, famine, enslavement, natural disasters and other traumatic events. Even those of our ancestors who left their native lands by choice suffered the trauma of geographical and cultural dislocation, and the trials of assimilation into a new culture. Many Native Americans whose ancestors lived with, respected, and learned from the sacred geography of the Americas for countless generations, have been separated from their ancient roots by colonization, forced relocation, spiritual and economic oppression, and the demoralizing effects of senseless prejudice, which continues to this day.

The aftermath of these traumas have been passed down to all of us, generation after generation. All of this suffering, all of this loss, all of this oppression, are the direct and indirect results of one thing: patriarchal abuse of power and its obsessive need to control and dominate. Patriarchy can be thought of as a monstrous archetypal pandemic that has destroyed the will to achieve and maintain spiritual and psychological wholeness in every culture it has infected. There are many people, both male and female, who have worked hard in the past and who are working hard at present within patriarchal political, social, economic and educational institutions to restore balance to the great imbalances patriarchy has created. Many of these people have been subjected to extreme expressions of abuse as patriarchy has attempted to silence them. Yet I believe that their efforts over time have nevertheless resulted in the creation of a dynamic archetypal structure capable of supporting the next step that must be taken in the effort to restore balance between the archetypal Masculine and Feminine principles, and between women and men.

There is now a critical need for women to stand upon that structure and to begin taking a particular kind of responsibility for bringing balance back to the world. Depth shamanism teaches us how to activate and integrate the power of the archetypal Feminine within ourselves. Women themselves can thus position themselves to speak, live and act within their particular cultural milieus as fully empowered physical expressions of that power. I have come to believe that this is the only antidote, or medicine, capable of healing patriarchy and the effects of patriarchy upon people and the Earth. Awakened and empowered women must offer wisdom to patriarchal ignorance and resistance to patriarchal abuse, in their personal relationships and within their communities and cultures. They must insist upon being consulted regarding all matters undertaken by patriarchal males that have the potential to negatively impact the environment and the quality of life for humans and all creatures of the earth for generations to come.

Yet how, living under rampant patriarchy, can we ever hope to once again take our proper places as women? If you are of European descent, you can begin by remembering the essence of the old ways that arose from the earth upon which your distant ancestors walked, which you carry still in your genes, and integrating them with the teachings that arise from the earth beneath your feet in North America. If you are of Native American descent, you can begin by remembering the ancient medicine ways that arise from the earth of North America, which you carry in your genes, and then by practicing them. If you have descended from African or another ethnic ancestry, you, too, carry full knowledge of the ancient, pre-patriarchal women's ways of your ancestors in your genes, and can remember and activate them by means of shamanic techniques. Shamanic philosophy can show us the way to accomplish these goals, and shamanic archetypal psychology can help heal the wounds both women and men have sustained and carried down through the generations under patriarchy.

Shamanic healing occurs as a direct result of being in the presence of, or directly interacting with shamanic archetypes. Shamanic practices, such as visualization of and meditation on the sacred content of the Medicine Wheel Mandala, acquaint us with the landscapes and archetypes of shamanic reality, while shamanic movements and breathwork teach us how to gather, hold and expend shamanic power for healing. Shamanic disciplines help us to bring the ego- that dangerous but necessary construct of the Masculine principle- under the guidance of the Feminine principle, wisdom, so that it can fulfill its sacred purpose of engaging in right action in the world. This is the case for both women and men. It is thus that we empower ourselves to maintain an ethical stance in the world, to do no harm, and to keep our psychological and spiritual balance as we spiral around and around the Medicine Wheel in our ever-evolving dance towards its Center. Shamanic percussion, particularly drumming, and practices for developing our latent psychic abilitites, prepare us to successfully and safely enter and return from shamanic realities, and to bring shamanic archetypes into physical reality for the purposes of healing. The study and practice of Depth Shamanism within the context of contemporary culture, based as it is upon the psychospiritual teachings of the Medicine Wheel Mandala, can help us achieve personal, generational and cultural healing and wholeness.


bill said...

i wonder if there is a difference between "humility" as it is defined in indigenous culture and "humility" as white culture defines it. it seems to me that humility=shame is a white construction rather than a fact-of-nature.

also, you might explore some of the tibetan buddhist writings on the student-teacher relationship for insight into "being a student" to a teacher whose culture, insight and worldview are very different from yours. a good place to start might be berzin's "a dangerous friend"

MaryNovak said...

Thank you for your article... my name is mary novak, i am a death shaman and i initiate both males and females as death when i roam the dream planes of earth. When they meet me, they have experienced 7 deaths as a real shaman and i am the 8th, if they make it past me, then they are initiated. It was done to me by a grandfather native from vancouver who passed the torch to the grandmother for the 2012 shift. My web is:

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libramoon said...

May I post this to the Seers and Seekers Yahoo group?