Saturday, 10 March 2007

Fake Shamen

Interesting article about fake healers problem among the Navajo nation of course since there is no such thing as an official traditional healer certificate (an we hope there never is such a thing) the problem can be found all over the American continent. Its a problem inside the Indian communities, and it is also a problem that the communities have with outside people, mostly white new-agers (such as Sedonia Cahill's THE GREAT ROUND organization) who use ceremonial pipes, Indian names and paraphernalia, chanting, sweat lodges, and other offerings of Indian spirituality... but without the Indians.

Helene Hagan in her fantastic article states:

"Like Bird Brother and Sedonia Cahill, the people in such networks all purport to have a spiritual calling and to be legitimately trained in one or more Native American traditions. The fact of the matter is that they are not legitimate in the eyes of any Native American community, nor do they hold any seminar, conference or ceremonies among Native Americans. What they have in common is that they steer away from real Indians, do not interact with them and absolve themselves of any responsibility toward the Native American community, locally or nationally.

Furthermore, some have the audacity to claim that the Native American medicine people and elders are "jealous" of their "powers" (comment by O'Shinna Fast Wolf in the same issue), a ridiculous notion which only reflects the low level of esteem such commentators hold for Native American spiritual leaders and elders who are concerned about the proliferation of fake medicine people. Such statements deny Native American intelligence and wisdom, and ignore the very real possibility that legitimate traditionalists would know how dangerous the manipulation of partial ceremonial knowledge can be to the individual and collective psyches.

Traditionalists know how damaging someone who is not trained properly can be when manipulating psychic forces or invoking spirits of the depths without adequate preparation. It is this knowledge which impels the real spiritual Indian leaders to warn against these "plastic medicine people"-whether they call themselves "medicine" men and women, "shamans" or any other name. No Indian spiritual leader speaks of ownership of spirit, as they have been accused of recently in publications of The Great Round, as such notion is idiotic. To even advance such a notion can ony stem from very ignorant people in matters of Native American spirituality. It also reeks of racism, for it belittles the intelligence of a group of people in such a way that can only be called racist.

When Sedonia and Bird Brother write or speak about ownership of spirit, they are showing childish ignorance of spiritual matters. Indians are not seeking to protect their ceremonies from being practiced by others who hold more "power". The issue of power is a very misunderstood one, indeed. It is one that involves the shadow of all individuals engaged in the healing professions in the western world. To know how to relinquish power is the first step to spiritual understanding and the step missing from all New Age Indian teachings. People are getting very rich indeed in misleading others into quests for "powers" toward false values.

Rather, Indians are concerned that bits and pieces of their ceremonies are used and manipulated without discretion, in an ignorant manner as to their consequences. They are concerned that such actions, based on slavish imitation and improprieties, can cause damage to others, and that the very people who speak so loudly of their concern for mental health are engaging in unauthentic spiritual practices. Psychic damage has been known to result from such experiences. The individual may not be able to link it directly and it may show up in unpredictable ways months and years later. Native American spiritual leaders are fully aware of these dangers.

To belittle the knowledge of Indians, and to pretend that their practices can be taken over by non-Indians harmlessly are indications of non understanding and arrogance. To fabricate new ceremonies out of bits and pieces of various Indian rituals, out of the full ritual context in which they are embedded, is to create psychic monstrosities. This, the fake medicine people are unaware of. Rituals have a context. They are a part of an entire fabric of a given society, and one ritual is only a part of a whole. The balance is in the whole, not in the parts. And the whole is still the full practice within Indian circles, founded on ancient Indian traditions, for Indian people. Others can pretend to achieve identical results with only outward paraphernalia and a patchwork of gleaned information as to the steps of certain rites, but they do not have the key to the whole meaning, the whole context, and how the parts complement and fit each other. They are crippling other human beings by subjecting them to only bits or parts of a whole system, without having the keys to the entire mental system.

This is truly what is at stake and why Indians are concerned. They know these people do not have a clue and through arrogance, greed for money, for results, for power, for prestige, for followers, for validation of their fantasy trips, or from simple ignorance engage in improper behavior. As to the claim that rituals are "generic" and not specific to any group of people, one must indeed be a trained anthropologist to speak to that issue. Sedonia and Bird Brother are not. Rituals have contexts, are context specific and emerge from the collective unconscious of a particular group.

There are patterns which are embedded in an ecosystem, particular to a given culture and which function precisely and effectively for a particular group. It is Theodore Rosack who emphasizes that we are on the verge of discovering that the deep unconscious is not just sexual (Freud), or spiritual (Jung), but related to the ecosystem in which we live. And in that regard we must understand how Western people have diverged very far indeed from their unconscious in a destructive way. The destruction of the environment goes hand in hand with the destruction of our relationship to the unconscious, which is at its very depth our natural habitat and its indigenous populations. The recovery of this relatedness of all things can be accomplished as individuals, simply, genuinely and honestly without external trappings or borrowed traditions.

Rituals have to do with the careful relationship to these depths and ways have developed among certain people to balance these forces which can affect the individual and collective mental health of a given group. Playing with rituals is a dangerous game and in this regard Westerners who play at being Indians are unaware and unconscious. That is why Indians are concerned. Such "plastic medicine people" are fooling around with mental health and in ways for which they are not properly trained by experts. It is not a question of dispute over who is right and who is wrong and who owns spirituality.

Furthermore, the views set forth by The Great Round publications that "rituals are generic" and can be borrowed from one group or another and passed around reflects abysmal ignorance as to the very specific qualities of ritual as it is elaborated by the collective psyche of a given group of people, and it is valid for them alone. No ritual can be borrowed. No ritual can be created as an innovation by one individual. In indigenous groups, innovation occurs only as it emerges from a vision or a dream of a member of that community and bears all the marks of having a collective meaning, and must pass the scrutiny of experts in that community. The contention, for instance, that the "Prune Dance" began to be practiced by these New Age people because some white man dreamt of the world as if it were dried up like a prune and therefore needed a new ceremony to juice it up, is a severe misunderstanding of the true nature of dream. That white man's dream referred to his white world and not to any Sun Dance, which is an Indian ceremony. It might have meant that this particular man's env-ironment was like a dried prune. The white man's arrogance is boundless.

And while indeed the Spirit exists for each and all, and manifests in many ways, the way a human group relates to the earth is very specific. Each ritual, item, song or action exists in a very real context of family and social life in a group, and carries meaning within this very group, and not for other people. To borrow bits and pieces and create some hodgepodge for one's own benefit, financial or emotional, and as one wishes, is indeed the American way, but it is also very sad. It is as if Americans were so spiritually bankrupt that they did not have any inner resources to draw from and had to borrow from others the source of any inspiration. To peddle such hodgepodge to others for a fee, be it vision quest, sweatlodge or other ceremony, is taking advantage of the gullible and disoriented and to profit by it. This is the true essence of charlatanism.

In Native American traditions, the holy men and women, the spiritual advisors and medicine people hold different functions in society and have very different training. But all are sustained by their community without benefit to themselves. In return, they know that their primary responsibility is to their community, and should they depart from that path, seeking fame or glory or financial gain, they are leaving their true vocation and will be shunned. True humility and service to others are indeed their remarkable qualities. They do not market themselves, do not publicize their skills and do not issue flyers. They work hard in silence and in true dedication to the welfare of others and they know well the dark forces which can overcome them should they depart from their obligations.

Indian medicine men and women train from childhood. They are not allowed to practice until they have undergone a long experience of the powerful spirits or psychic forces they will encounter first in themselves, long before they are singled out for specific healing tasks by others. They do not appoint themselves. Rarely does a medicine man or woman come to practice before maturity, for these very reasons. There is not a hint of this wisdom in any of the so-called teachings passed around in the "circles" forming around plastic medicine people."

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