Before any question on Shamanism, the Medicine Wheel or Dreaming people will ask me: “Where’s the book?”
I’ve often been told by agents, experts in marketing and other lecturers as well as members on the conference circuit that the lack of a book may have cost me some opportunities along the way. In response I have often said: “Opportunity in traditional Shamanism is defined very differently in comparison to Western society.” Still when I’ve seriously sat down to write through the years I’ve often spiralled around a timeless question:
“Should Shamanism remain within the realm of oral tradition? And how much is lost when it’s anchored down – written?”
After 20 years of teaching and journeying the Shaman’s path I’ve come to realize that the debate isn’t between oral and written tradition but between medicine words and dictionary words. I remember listening to my grand-father and my father tell stories when we were growing up. My mom had to beg us to go to bed because we weren’t budging if they didn’t stop talking. It didn’t matter either how many times they repeated the same stories it always felt like we were hearing it for the first time. Whether I was 4, 6, 15, or 19 years old these old family stories shared usually by the men in the family, were always captivating. By the time I finished University I wrote a few papers on the art of storytelling and often asked the question: “Is it the power within the experience, the power within the storyteller or the power within the words that makes a story great?” Believe it or not I could easily write on behalf of each of these perspectives if asked…
It was when I learnt about the Medicine Wheel and started asking the elders and medicine teachers how IT was called before it was named by a Jesuit priest in the 1800’s that I started to understand that words have power and that words can be magic. In Hebrew tradition words can be inspired by God. EC, a close Passamaquody friend, often taught us words and sentences in the Wabanaqi language. Words spoken by EC and other elders who fluently conversed together sounded like beauty. I know it seems strange to say that it sounded like beauty but I truly mean those words and the particular image it invokes. Through their words which I couldn’t meaningfully understand I could hear intention, experience, emotion, and life: Beauty. It was like suddenly being telepathic.
Telepathy is defined as a psychic connection or extrasensory communication. People often believe that telepathy means that we can hear what people are thinking; or that ultimately we can clearly send and receive thoughts from others. I’ve come to understand telepathy as an awareness to meaning. When I learnt about indigenous dreaming I was told that it’s not the single details within a dream that have meaning or convey a message but how they are joined together and how they translate. Can we truly understand telepathy through the peep hole of our Western conditioning if we could then, don’t you think more people would be telepathic? What if telepathy is the language of a whole other civilization: People who can recognize, translate and create medicine in words (as would say Medicine People).
In the traditional teachings that I have received it is said that every living creature travels through body, spirit and soul with every inhale and exhale. The silence between each breath is the dreaming. Body is referred to practical, tangible, and lucid experience. Spirit speaks of the memory of this experience and how it takes the form of a story that brings forth teachings, inter-relations, beauty, abundance, learning and healing. Finally, the soul is an ember that burns with a reality, a quest, and memories beyond anything from our earthly world. Each of these pieces come together during a moment in time. It is believed by Medicine People that growth, trust, love, wisdom, change or purification and renewal are not possible without these different parts.
Over a decade ago I went to a conference at a local University where a First Nation linguist spoke about the use of capital letters when writing stories from Aboriginal tradition. He shared stories where he mentioned words such as Thunder, Wolf, and Mountain – all written with capitals.
“Such words,” he said, “in my mother tongue are words that hold power. Like my name they too are written with a capital letter.”
I found it incredible that for as long as I had a journal, since early childhood, I too gave capital letters to the words that had meaning in my life. I remember a story about a bird who had died and how we had buried it in the back yard. My father had blessed the boxed where the bird lay and after burying it, he also told a prayer. In my journal the word bird, cross and prayer were all written with a capital letter. I struggled in school for years, all through college because I often used capital letters for words that grammar didn’t consider deserving of them. At the conference, almost 20 years after the first entry in my first journal this Mohawk scholar and storyteller explained that in many old religions words and spirit are one.
“Capital letters,” he said, “point out these words in our stories.”
In our society we’ve somewhat separated spirit from the words we use. Attitude, belief and social behaviour are what feeds words with magic. Today we have books filled with definitions, antonyms and synonyms; but we have yet to find a book that hold words with spirit. Perhaps, some people would argue with me and express that biblical texts are such books… Still, many First Nation ancestors and elders especially those who remember the residential schools would argue with that.
“The Moon, the Mountains, the Rivers etc… are sacred places,” Drami once said to me (an old friend), “they are the grand-parents of our world and should be remembered through the stories we tell and the stories we write.”
It doesn’t mean that I’ve solved the mystery of why I haven’t written a book yet and doesn’t promise either that I ever will write a book; but it does show you the debates that I deal with every day in my waking and dreaming reality. I’m a Rainbow Child or a child from the Butterfly Clan – I ask myself lots of questions and really, the answers don’t seem to matter much. I seek the experience of life and the experience of death: The meaning that lies in all things, all people, all places and all of Creation.
I do promise – to write a blog entry somewhere in the near future on the Clans. I have a feeling my reference to the Butterfly People will trigger a few questions out there – where people read what I write!! J