When I was younger we spent Easter with my aunt and uncle who were Southern Italians. A week before Easter my aunt would prepare the food. The tomato sauce was made from scratch with tomatoes that were canned and grown from their garden. The ravioli was also home made with ricotta and parmesan cheese that came from my uncle’s family village in Italy. The bread, the olives, the wine – all the food was carefully prepared to impress and to please.
Once everyone arrived we walked around the living room kissing and hugging every family member whether we knew them or not. It seemed tradition. If we didn’t want to hug and kiss distant relatives our parents would give us the evil eye. It was impolite and disrespectful not to greet everyone. They didn’t seem to care whether or not we rushed through it as long as we said “hello” to everyone in some shape or form. The more creative individuals got the more they received what they wanted...
For the rest of the afternoon the children played together in the basement and the adults talked, drank, danced, and argued all through the house. Supper was always the most pleasant moment of the day because the meal was always delicious and people always behaved during dinning. It was always after dessert that all hell broke loose. Someone always drank a little too much and said something completely out of context that triggered an old, buried family feud. The next thing you knew insults were flying and eventually so were punches. We were always out of my aunt’s house by 8:00pm.
When I look back at this story which I believe is quite typical for most people – I can actually see all eight roles of the Medicine Wheel. For example I can recognize the Fire Keeper in my aunt who literally worked all week to prepare a supper that lasted only 2 hours. You have to give the woman credit she had passion for food. When she cooked you couldn’t help but feel nourished. It was always delicious. She put effort and heart into cooking even though she worked from 9 to 5 every day. There were no “tv dinners” in her home.
On the Medicine Wheel – the Fire Keeper is about being FULL with need, desire, fantasy, intention etc… Basically it’s about whatever fuels us on a daily basis whether it be physical (food); emotional (fear, laughter etc…); mental (knowledge etc…) or spiritual. Ironically while I was writing this blog entry there was this commercial on television which said: “Geico Power – Major Passion.” I couldn’t help but giggle because this statement introduced synchronically the Fire Keeper role. We are constantly fed by all kinds of mediums. Even television and the media have become Fire Keepers (so to speak) in our lives because they feed us every day.
Coming back to my little story about Italian Easter day.
The Peace Keeper appears with the scene of the “hugs and kisses” in the living room. I remember arguing about this particular event approximately 10 minutes before arriving at my aunt’s. In the car my siblings and me were already trying to negotiate a way to walk in by the back door so we wouldn’t have to say “hello” to a few great-uncles and distant cousins who cared more about how much we were filling up every year than simply wishing us “Happy Easter!” The Peace Keeper is unfortunately more often about conflict than about peace. This role is about identifying an issue; bringing it to the surface; and finding a way to resolve it. A Peace Keeper is a good strategist. The individuals who creatively found a way to bypass the whole ritual of hugs and kisses without getting anyone upset where usually the expert Peace Keepers in the group. Those were the people I sought to imitate year after year.
The Visionary was my grand-father. He’s the one who gathered us all together every year for Easter. No matter how many times we fought and argued – he didn’t give up on the family and on bringing us all together under the same roof. A Visionary believes in his or her vision: “Quietly Brilliant (another commercial – which synchronically supports the topic)”.
The warrior would seem obvious to most. It’s true that often the warrior is seen as violent, aggressive, defensive and “warring” but the true definition of the word is “he or she who defends or carries the burden of truth.” It doesn’t always have to be done through anger and aggression. Unfortunately, we often see the warrior within this kind of scene. Yet, I remember on particular Easter where one of the kids came down the stairs and screamed to the adults: “Enough! For God’s sake can we make it pass 8:00pm this year…” There was lots more laughter than screaming that particular Easter.
Sometimes these eight roles hide in small packages!!!
The Nomad is about making links between people and between details in stories. In ancient times the Nomad was the stranger that came roaming into town promising news and stories from distant land. We always had a distant relative appear every Easter guaranteeing forgotten stories about our parents and grand-parents. Those moments were always quite special. They brought new perspective. We get used to seeing our loved ones in a certain way. Nomads share new points of view which inspire us to new relations.
The Dreamer was often my father. He made sure people were entertained all through the evening. He kept people from getting bored. He even came to check on us children and suggested games. He started conversations; complimented the women; brought the music for the dancing; and poured the drinks. Basically a Dreamer is someone who makes sure that there’s always movement. They are experts in manifestations. They understand that if there’s nothing happening there’s no learning, there’s no growth, there’s no potential for the unknown to surprise us. Without dreamers life would be a boring place.
The Initiator (at our Easter celebration) was always the person who more often than not out of jealousy, competition, regret or shame triggered a conflict between people. You could tell before the evening even started who that person was. An Initiator arrives with the conviction that “something has to be done about so-and-so.” Unlike the Peace Keeper who is looking to show there’s a conflict and that there’s a need for resolution, the Initiator is looking to push someone’s button and test their strength. Both are calculating and manipulative but both are looking for two different outcomes. If you look on the Medicine Wheel diagram – both these winds (roles) are face to face and so it makes sense that they project each other’s images somehow.
Basically the role of the Initiator is to test an adversary and to help this person grow beyond his or her fears and limits. Where it may seem at times that an Initiator is petty and cruel – an initiation and a functional, humble initiator can be quite helpful in the right situation and for the right reason. Unfortunately when it came to our Easter Sundays, our Initiators weren’t often experts and helpful but they in the end they often helped different individuals grow and surpass themselves.
Finally, the last role is the role of the Healer. Where in Western Society we understand the role of the Healer as a pill pusher or practitioner that can give a diagnosis, treatment and cure, in Shamanic circle it has a whole other definition. The Healer is usually an individual who has wisdom in a particular topic which means he or she is someone that has lived long and deep particular experiences and has come to a point where he or she is able to share it with others. Healing in Shamanic circles is often about listening and being able to understand someone’s story. It’s about being a guide and being a strong support. Usually, this role was carried by my grand-mother who listened to all sides of the story after Easter had passed and all year round. I think she’s the one who made it possible for everyone to understand each other’s perspectives. Perhaps, along with the Visionary (my grand-father) it was the Healer (my grand-mother) who made Easter possible each year.
We all possess 5 of the 8 roles on our personal Medicine Wheel. One in each direction as well as the center of our Wheel. Each role represents a different part of us. For example the East represents our Face Role: Our basic personality. The South is the tools we use to handle challenges in our daily living. The West represents the way we learn and the way we share with others. The North represents our vocation or our destiny: What role represents us in purpose? Finally, the center of our Wheel represents our intrinsic nature. Who are we inside!? The same applies when we are working with totems.