Friday, 25 May 2018

FACTS AND MYTHOLOGIES

I have this notion that we need to treat our facts as mythologies, and our mythologies as facts. In particular, science is the most recent addition to our vast collection of stories about the world. I try not to see it as a special category that supercedes all the previous stories. The old creation myths, for example, contain important truths. But we cannot experience those truths if to us they are 'just' stories: they need to be felt as real - in a way that is no different to, say, the Big Bang, which of course no-one was around to see. 



And here's something we're not used to culturally: being able to hold two truths, two stories in our head, without having to eliminate one of them as 'false'. When it comes to death, on the one hand I like to be true to my experience and say 'I don't know, I really don't know'. And yet I can't resist a song like this from the Wintu people of Northern California:

It is above that you and I shall go;
Along the Milky Way you and I shall go;
Along the flower trail you and I shall go;
Picking flowers on our way you and I shall go.


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Thursday, 24 May 2018

ABORTION: AN INDIGENOUS VIEWPOINT

On Friday the Irish are voting on whether to repeal their abortion laws. Ireland has come a long way in recent decades. In 2015 they made gay marriage legal, which would have been unthinkable not too many years before. Being actively gay was itself only made legal in 1993. In the modern West we have one way of framing the argument for abortion: the woman's right over her body. And this is in the context of a wider sense of the rights of the individual. And that has given us a lot of protections and freedoms. Our system has given us a lot to be thankful for. But what might be an indigenous way of framing the abortion issue?


In his book Drawing Out Law: A Spirit's Guide, Native Canadian Professor John Borrows argues that a woman's pregnancy is, in their tradition, as much a community issue as an issue for the individual. It does not just come down to womens' rights over their bodies, though he has respect for that position. He says that in their culture everybody gets involved. So there is much more support for the woman. And the father is made to take his responsibility.

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And, he says, there is much less abortion as a result. In our culture, we have lost that sense of close community. And I think it makes the argument about individual rights one-sided. There is also the responsibility argument. Remember that from the point of view of the unborn child, abortion is generally wrong. And this illustrates a wider point for us, in our attempt to reclaim a sense of the indigenous attitude. Which is that we need to find ways of creating that close community involvement and responsibility, and move away from the atomisation that our society tends towards.

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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

WHAT DOES 'TRADITIONAL' MEAN?

I think the idea of 'traditional shamanism' can be like the bogeyman in the corner. How can what we do ever be 'traditional'? It can certainly never be traditional in terms of the forms, and God help us if it is. Imagine doing a sweatlodge, for example, exactly like the Lakotas might do one. What would it mean to anyone attending? It would be like something out of Gormenghast. 

I think what we CAN do is to imbibe the spirit of the indigenous way of feeling and understanding the world. And that takes time, and we need to be adequate to it. We need self-knowledge, we need a flexibility of mind that our culture often doesn't teach us. We need to drop any fantasies that Hollywood or the New Age may have sent our way. We need to read their stories and teachings directly. Books like 'Black Elk Speaks'. Most of us won't encounter teachers very much. I was fortunate enough to, a Canadian guy used to come and stay with me on and off. That didn't happen by accident, and I know I need to run with what I learnt. And even that was limited. But no doubt exactly what I needed. I'm still pondering it; the real path is a slow one.


Nowadays I find the books so good, they are my teachers. They take time and study and sipping. Read them like poetry. Not the interpreters like Storm and Swiftdeer. Of course they had some good things to say. What I do trust are the writings of those who are recognised by the indigenous peoples themselves. My personal interest is North American. I don't know why, it is just is. 

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And to return to the start, I can feel the fact that I don't know the forms very well - and never will, I'm not like that - to be the Spectre at the Feast. But I think it may also be my strength. I know damn well from my early years with Buddhism that the forms are secondary, that they can be a disempowerment. Particularly, maybe, when they come from a different culture to our own. I had that burnt into me over 18 years.

What matters is that I know how to change myself - to some degree how to do the Red Road, which is my bit; and how to be receptive to the Blue Road, which is Spirit. I've got some idea how to move towards a deeper balance within myself - which is the point of this whole thing. That is all that matters. That is the point of 'tradition', and if you can do that, then you are traditional. 



The forms I use, well who cares as long as they work. 'If it's real, it works; if it works, it's real' (Jim Tree: The Way of the Sacred Pipe.) But of course, they won't work without respect and understanding. And let's not forget The Circle of Life by James David Audlin. That is the book, more than any I have known, that I learn from, and that also reminds me that I do have some affinity for, and understanding of, this stuff.

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Monday, 21 May 2018

Living in Both Worlds

A shaman lives in both worlds. What this means on an everyday level, on the one hand, is that we are aware of the river of spirit that carries our life along - we just need to step in and trust where it is taking us; on the other hand, we attempt to incarnate, to be fully present in the material world. This way we are balanced, we are sane.

It is the East-West axis of the Medicine Wheel that I use, the Blue Road. The West is the Earth element, the place of the adult and his/her tasks. The East is Fire, the spirit vision which feeds the West.
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Sunday, 20 May 2018

PIPE

I had something quite specific to pray for today. I find it quite easy to forget that there is always spirit help, that I don't have to solve everything myself. I wasn't taught this at school So I got my pipe out and I gave thanks and I talked around all sorts of stuff and I made my specific request for help. And an hour later what I needed to happen, happened very easily of its own accord. Thank you guys There is always spirit help.


I was shown how to pray in a traditional way by a Chippewa Cree guy and his pupil. It's so different to anything we were brought up with. As to the form of the Pipe Ceremony, I'm not so good at remembering things like that. But I know the heart of it: how to relate to the natural world and to spirit, and how to have the conversation - a better translation than prayer.
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Monday, 14 May 2018

SHAMANISM AND STORYTELLING

In the SHAMANISM UK facebook group (which I admin) John Payne put up a post asking about the place of storytelling, song and poetry within Shamanism. And I think if you view Shamanism as a culture - and as a term that has come to refer to all indigenous traditions - then storytelling etc would naturally be a part of that. And it made me think about the nature of traditional storytelling.


A Chippewa Cree teacher/storyteller used to visit me. And his storytelling was very particular: he had been trained over a long time to get the stories exactly right, and how to explain their meaning. There was a strong vein of psychological understanding running through them, particularly to do with self-importance, and making fun of it. So that explicit didactic element - always done with humour and entertainment - had a different emphasis to the way stories are told nowadays in our culture, where we often back off from the didactic, maybe in reaction to our religious background. But all this term means is that we're being shown, via story and maybe its explanation, how to be a human being.

And nor would he come with a story prepared. It was not like that. It was responsive to the people present. So he would get people to ask questions, and eventually a story would occur to him in response to these questions.

So these 2 elements - the didactic, and the responsiveness - are not really how we do things. But maybe they would be the norm in a traditional culture?

Here is a link to an interview on Storytelling with Ron Evans, the Chippewa Cree guy I was talking about: http://montrealrampage.com/ron-evans-teller-teacher-elder-explainer/ The picture is of his English pupil Josie: Ron prefers not to do photos 😏
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Saturday, 24 December 2016

The Eagle and the Gremlin



To do this work we need to be open to ourselves in all ways, the gremlin bits as well as the eagle in the sky. The eagle isn’t earthbound, she sees things differently from up there. It’s a place from where the gremlins, the icky bits which we all have, are no longer ‘bad’. Because the first thing we need to do is to stop judging who we are, and just be open to experience. The judgements we make about ourselves, which we may not even know we are doing, are somebody else’s idea. We weren’t born with them. They belong to the past. They are what our parents needed us to be, or what religion needed us to be hundreds of years ago, or what society needs us to be to make us productive and docile.

This judging can take a lot of resisting when there are still strong messages coming in from society about who we ‘ought’ to be. To not judge ourselves, we also need not to be overly bothered by what others think of us, or at least our perception of what they think.

These things are never all at once. And we can begin by not judging ourselves for judging ourselves! We need huge sympathy for the way we are, for there are always reasons. It’s very simple, and very transformative. It’s the basis of many ‘mystical’ traditions. Just being open to who we are, and not judging.

This change in attitude can be quick, but it can take a long time to get to that point, to be able to see it. Judging can go very deep, it can seem like part of the fabric of reality – it can express itself as ‘moral standards’, a sense of being above ordinary people and their ‘mundane’ concerns. But that’s religion, and it always casts a shadow. We need to go beyond good and evil.

Age can help: it’s like we’ve seen over and again what we and others are like, and we can forgive it. It’s just what it is to be human.

So it’s a simple thing, even a quick thing, but it takes a long time and it’s difficult.

And we’ve been part of a judging culture for so long, ever since Christianity took hold 1000 years ago, that judging has become integral to who we are, it’s like the bones of our personality.

Once we begin to stop judging, then much that is unconscious can become conscious, because it is no longer bad or shameful.

With ‘shamanic’ work, if you are fortunate, something in you will hold you back until you have a decent handle on who you are. Hold you back, that is, from being some kind of healer. This can go on for decades, because really we may not be ready till we’ve been around a long time. Enough time to build up an ego and then start to dismantle it.

This seems to me to be in line with a traditional perspective. You don’t do courses to become a ‘shamanic practitioner’, that packaged product, largely shorn of traditional context, that we can ‘add on’ to our life in the space of a few short years. It’s about who we are, and about a context of participation in, and gratitude to the natural world and the spirit world, which are not different. It’s slow. There’s no pressure: the spirits have it in hand. The sense of reconnection to what we have lost – the massive soul loss of the last 3000 years, since we began to distance ourselves from nature – is joyful.

These are the things that matter. Finding ways to not judge ourselves and being open to who we are. And letting the natural world begin to reclaim us. Nature does not judge.
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