-Castaways vs. Caretakers

blog-27-12-16-2Native American shamans have practiced energy medicine for more than five thousand years. Some medicine people believe their spiritual lineage extends back even further. They remember stories handed down from grandmother to granddaughter that speak about when the Earth was young.

Even though the early inhabitants of the Americas had a complex astronomical knowledge, advanced mathematics, and sophisticated architecture, writing never developed in the Americas as it did elsewhere. Scholars overlooked the Native American spiritual traditions in favor of Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism, which left behind written records. For example, while Western theologians have been studying Buddhism for more than two centuries, it has been only in the last forty years that any serious interest has emerged in the study of Native American spirituality. The study of shamanism was left to anthropologists, who, with notable exceptions such as Margaret Mead, were poorly trained to study the spirit.

The wholesale destruction of the North American Indians by the European settlers drove the remaining Native Americans into disease-ridden reservations, where the elders carefully guarded the spiritual traditions. Understandably, they grew reluctant to share their heritage with the white dominators. The Indios in Peru fared no better. The Spanish conquistadors came to Peru seeking gold and therefore left the Inka spiritual traditions largely undisturbed. Yet what the conquistadors overlooked, the missionaries sought to obliterate.

The scraggly band of gold seekers that arrived on the South American continent brought a set of beliefs that were incomprehensible to the Indios. The first was that all of the food of the world belonged by divine right to humans – specifically the Europeans – who were masters over the animals and plants of the Earth. The second belief was that humans could not speak to the rivers, to the animals, to the mountains, or to God. And the third was that humankind had to wait until the end of all time before tasting infinity.

Nothing could have seemed more absurd to the Native Americans. While the Europeans believed they had been cast out of the mythical Garden of Eden, the Indios understood they were the stewards and caretakers of the Garden. They still spoke with the thundering rivers and the whispering mountains and still heard the voice of God in the wind.

The Spanish chroniclers in Peru wrote that when the conquistador Pizarro met the Inka ruler Atahualpa, he handed him the Bible, explaining to him that this was the word of God. The Inka brought the volume to his ear, listened carefully for a few moments, and then threw the holy book to the ground, exclaiming, “What kind of god is this that does not speak?”

In addition to the silence of the European God, the Native Americans were confounded by His gender. The conquistadors brought with them a patriarchal mythology that intimidated the Native American feminine traditions. Before the arrival of the Spanish, Mother Earth and her feminine forms – the caves, lagoons, and other openings into the earth – represented the divine principles. The Europeans imposed the masculine divine principle – the phallus, or tree of life.

Church steeples rose to heaven. The feminine Earth was no longer worshiped or respected. The trees, animals, and forests were available for plundering.

Today we still live in the grip of this disconnected worldview. We believe that if it does not breathe, move, or grow, it is not alive. We view energy from sources such as wood, oil, or coal as a fuel that we employ. In the ancient world, energy was considered the living fabric of the Universe. Energy was creation made manifest.

Perhaps the most important contemporary expression of this belief was formulated by Albert Einstein when he described the relationship between energy and matter in his equation E = MC2. In the West we identify with the side of matter, which is by nature finite. The shaman identifies with the side of energy, which is by nature infinite.