I was at a workshop in the USA called “The Sacred Circle: an indigenous world view”, led by Native Americans. It was very impressive, and left me feeling inspired and strengthened. The most important thing for me was the combination of spirituality and politics. One moment they would be talking about treaty rights and the seizure of Indian land, and the next about how our attitude to the creation should be one of love. This mix is much of what makes paganism important to me, and it was very helpful to see that a place I and many others are striving to reach really does exist.
This year's meeting of the Traditional Elders’ Circle of the Indian Nations issued a statement condemning apartheid and racism. A few years ago their communiqué was on the natural law.
You may wonder how my going to this workshop fits in with Bob Gustafson's statement in the previous issue of Wood and Water. It seems that Bob is one of those Native Americans who does not feel their ways should be revealed to outsiders except very rarely, but I have the impression that few teachers feel that way themselves. As Catriona points out in her letter in the current issue, many of the traditional teachers, from all over the world it seems, are now deciding that it is time that their teachings should be brought into the open for all to share. I felt secure in the integrity of the teachers in that workshop because one was Oren Lyons, who Asphodel wrote about in a recent issue (using his Onondaga name of Jo‑Ag‑Quis‑Ho). I saw the TV program she wrote about, and his strength and gentleness showed through very clearly.
I am not at all clear whether tribal methods can be transferred at all to a non‑tribal society. Of course we can share some of the experience as welcome visitors. Those societies where one can obtain an animal helper know about the actual behaviour of those animals — what can it mean for one of us to obtain a fox as helper if the only foxes we know are in stories or in the zoo, if we cannot recognise the track of a fox, or its call, or the call of birds disturbed by foxes? Michael Harner, who is one of the whites with much experience of shamans, now gives workshops regularly, yet his book suggests the methods are easy, and he never raises any of these questions.
Bob was mostly writing about the use of traditional shamanic methods by whites in this way. Just as sitting‑rooms may have ornaments from all over the world, so we have a tendency to collect spiritual ideas from all over and use a little of each — colonialism of the spirit instead of the body. At its best this could lead to a synthesis of different was, but most often it is just a confusion. Is it really acceptable to use shamanic drumming as a workshop or ritual tool if the occasion is not wholly shamanic? Would we go to a church and later complain that the priest serving the mass was interrupting the spiritual quality of the church? And yet someone I normally respect highly felt that the blessings and prayers spoken by the (white) man leading a sweat lodge interfered with her spiritual feeling in the lodge. Finally, it is worth thinking about which American Indian sacred tradition has been most copied elsewhere in a totally secular fashion which now brings death and disease to millions.
Water 19, Lammas to Samhain 1986
Water always had a commitment to indigenous peoples’ issues, and
we published several articles on such matters from Native American
individuals and groups. We were particularly concerned that those
who claimed a spiritual practice derived from Native Americans
should also be supportive of these peoples’ political struggles.
More on this can be found towards the end of the article on the
Parliament of the World’s Religions).