Shamanism, Indigenous People, and Climate Change

In the Dreaming Mother Earth glows in her perfection. In the Dreaming the Ancestors live happily. In the Dreaming Pachamama reminds us we may embrace Life in all its inexhaustible complexity and feel joy. Yet, also in the Dreaming we are shown the suffering that occurs when we no longer honor and sustain Mother Earth. Shamans, Medicine People, and  Seers of many First Nations cultures have seen these things, and tried to share them, only to have their words largely ignored. Even as I write this,  the living green of Amazonia, the Heart of the Earth, is shrinking (as is the permafrost of the bright, white North) as a direct result of our cold hearts.

Here in Vermont, the weather here has turned cool. This is a relief, as the past few weeks have been quite warm. Indeed, in much of the Northern Hemisphere the summer has been record-breaking in its heat. Temperatures in Siberia and Russia have been as much as 20 degrees Celsius above the long-term norms.  Climate studies out this week, and not challenged by most climate change skeptics, suggest conditions will only worsen in the next few decades. North Americans seem likely to be among the least effected, yet even here the heat will be excessive. Continue reading

Amazonian Shamanism, Part Three: Easter

In the past few days I have been thinking about a story told to me by my teachers Bernardo and Jenny. The story is this: Maybe twelve hundred years ago a teacher appeared in he Amazon basin. This teacher traveled throughout Amazonia, including Peru. He is said to have had scars in his side and around his head. He taught peace, and encouraged the people to stop their warfare and other violence against one another. He healed many people and was revered as a great shaman.

This teacher  warned the peoples of the Amazon that in the future a light skinned race would come from the east, bringing much suffering and destruction. He also promised that despite centuries of persecution and genocide, the peoples would rise again to teach their traditional values and vision to the world.

Soon after the European colonizers arrived, the people began to understand the time of hardship was upon them. They remembered the teachings of the great shaman, and recognized him in the Biblical stories of Jesus told by the Friars. Although the population of First Nations peoples declined precipitously, some people remained. Many remembered the stories of the great shaman and held them close to their hearts. Although they listened to, and recognized, the stories of the Friars, they were often confused by the behaviors of the Europeans, both soldiers and Friars. These men seldom followed the teachings of the great shaman as they professed. Their words and promises were empty.

Today many indigenous people in the Amazon continue to remember and honor the teachings of the great shaman. These courageous women and men, through the elders, medicine people, and shamans, are bringing their traditional values and knowledge, and the teachings of the great shaman, to the world.

Amazonian Shamanism, Part Two

Several years ago I spent a couple of weeks with friends and teachers on the Rio Negro, in northwestern Brazil. One day we were visited by a local healer and her daughter. The healer spoke to us about her practice, then went into a trance lasting two or three hours. During that time, she channeled a male deity/healer who spoke to each of us in turn. We came away with a profound sense of this healer’s life and practice. Her life was challenging: in addition to her healing work, she traveled long distances to sell eggs and poultry at markets.  In addition to long hours of trance, she consciously negotiated with offending spirits and other entities, gathered “bribes”, and performed rituals. Frequently she was told to sacrifice individual fowl and  other living beings; whenever she could, she simply released the birds and animals, rather than killing them. She maintained homing pigeons whom she loved, and used for such rituals.

The healer’s daughter was perhaps 15, sulking, and angry. She had already received a dream choosing her as a healer, and, having seen the difficulty of her mother’s life, wanted none of it. She wished only to be a “normal” adolescent, eventually go to college, see the world, and be a professional. The healer was angry that her daughter was refusing the spirits. Perhaps she was also concerned for her daughter’s welfare.

In the evening, following our meeting with the healer, I began to run a high fever. I went to bed early – bed being a hammock under a large, open sided gazebo.  The local jaguar family traveled by this gazebo many evenings, and I was sleeping adjacent their trail. In the night, the howler monkeys sang their jet-engine like calls to the jungle, calls that rose in volue as the night progressed. At some point, the jaguars came purring and sniffing near my hammock. I coughed and sweated and wondered whether I had developed Bone Break Fever.There was to be little sleep that night.

In the darkest part of the night, I began to dream waking dreams. In the dreams, guides showed me how to negotiate with spirits for the health and well being of people. I was shocked at the exorbitant demands of the spirits. They wanted gold, yachts, mansions. Who could afford such items? I was shown that frequently the spirits just wished acknowledgment for their needs and desires. Often they wished the essence of their requests, rather than the material thing itself. These negotiations were lengthy, often gravely difficult, and always demanding.

I awoke feeling deep gratitude to the spirits. Overnight I had gained some small knowledge of this ancient way of healing, and a much heightened respect for the sacrifices of the healer, and the reticence of her daughter.