Category Archives: Anthropology

Samhain (Halloween), Harvest of Souls

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. The spookiness, the costumes, and the troops of kids and families marching through the streets, shaking down the neighborhood for candy has left an indelible imprint upon my Autumnal expectations. Like most traditional Western holidays, Halloween and the rituals associated with it are descended from ancient traditions lost on most of modern society.

The name “Halloween” is actually a contraction of the phrase All Hallows Eve, but that is the later Christianized name for the holiday that stretches back into historical obscurity. The earlier and more indigenous form of the holiday is of Celtic origin and was known as Samhain (Sow-un) in Ireland.

Samhain is a three day festival that begins sunset on October 31 and ends at sunset on November 2. Traditionally, it celebrates the last harvest of the season and is often regarded as the Gaelic (Irish and Scottish Celtic) New Year. It was the highest feast day on the old calendar. Samhain translates from Gaelic for “Summer’s End,” and it represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season.

As a harvest festival Samhain is full of deep symbolism. The warm season is over. The season of light is at its close and darkness regains its dominion of the land. The last of the season’s crops have been harvested. The fields, formerly lush and bursting with life now lay stripped of their bounty. The harsh autumn sunlight cast upon the barren fields creates an eerie atmosphere and a sense of dread as winter approaches. Amongst herding communities this is the time that traditionally concluded with the fall slaughters. This is also a time amongst many communities that kicks off the traditional hunting season.


Surrounded by dead fields, bloody slaughters, the turn toward hunting as a means of subsistence, the waning of the sun’s influence, and the impending frost which will kill off what is left of the season’s greenery makes the theme of death inescapable. These are often somber days, therefore it is important that this day is celebrated with much festivity and jubilation as things will only become darker and colder as times progress toward Yule.

The last sheaf of the harvest would be traditionally cut ceremoniously and fashioned into a corn dolly. The corn dolly is named for the corn mother and placed in a special location where she can watch over the household, hall, circle, or clan. She will serve to continue to bestow the blessings of the harvest upon the community all throughout the barren winter months.

Due to the spirit of darkness and death, Samhain is a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest. This time of year brings with it the highest potential for vision seeking and prophecy. This is a time for to meditate upon the subconscious powers of the inner cauldrons and the cauldron of Annwn.

There is much folklore associated with Samhain. Fairy mounds are abundant with the jubilance of the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk and the Sidhe. The Solar hero is slain in the boar hunt and lies dead until he is reborn at Yule. The Kernunnos archetype reigns from this time forward, leading the Wild Hunt through the skies and the countryside, herding the souls of those who died during the previous year and taken on animal forms. In Germanic tradition the Wild Hunt is lead by either Odin or Thor.

Traditional celebrations for this holiday are naturally enough centered on bonfires, torches, and lanterns. As the origin of the modern Halloween; masquerade balls and parades are also appropriate ways to celebrate Samhain. Revelers would march through the town streets from house to house singing seasonal songs. Soul cakes (little square cakes with currants) were given out to the roving bands, who would offer a prayer or song for the dead of that house. This is the origin of “trick or treat” in which young, costumed children venture from house to house collecting candy.

Harvest delicacies are abundant this time of year. Fresh fruits are traditional and symbolic. In Celtic countries apples are symbolic of the season. In America, corn and pumpkins are profound harvest symbols. In my celebration, all three are important. Corn and apples are paired as symbols of the old world and new world tradition and are the appropriate sacrifices for this day. Since Mabon is a traditional brewer’s holiday, by Samhain the beer is usually well prepared and properly aged. Ales and ciders are especially traditional at this time of year.

Halloween is a great holiday. Its roots run deep and its symbols have profound spiritual and practical significance that have been watered down by a civilization whose people largely no longer live in a seasonal and agricultural society dictated by the changing seasons, but within the preserved customs of Halloween, the real meaning of Samhain can still be observed.


Mabon, Harvest of Heroes

The Festival of Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals attributed to the neo-pagan and Western spiritual revivalist’s eight-fold Wheel of the Year. It is celebrated on or near September 21 and coincides with the autumn equinox. The festival has also been adopted by Revival Druidry as Alban Elfed; one of the four High Holy days.

Mabon is an interesting festival to write about. Although the date on which Mabon falls is astronomically significant, a festival by this name did not exist historically. Notable academic and occultist Aidan Kelly named the equinox festival “Mabon” after the Welsh legendary figure and member of King Arthur’s court, Mabon ap Modron. It’s positioned right next to Michaelmas, the Catholic Church’s Feast of St. Michael the Archangel who is said to be the most like God, and whose characteristics are perhaps the most reminiscent of the solar hero, complete even in archetype as a warrior and dragon-slayer.

Mabon is significant in that as the second of three harvest festivals it lies between two other significant historical Celtic holidays, Lugnasadh and Samhain (Halloween) and contains elements of both. The autumn equinox signals the end of the mythic cycle. With the sun’s height being at Midsummer, it has now begun to wane. Together with the spring holiday Ostara, Mabon is one of two days of the year when the daylight hours are of equal length as the nighttime hours.


To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat. The hero meets his doom as either the hunter is slain by his intended prey, or as Arthur mortally wounded on the battlefield defending his kingdom against the forces of darkness and chaos. It could be a myriad of turns on this theme. The Solar Hero is dying, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in stealthily to rule the land.

Much like the other harvest festivals, this is a time to reflect on the past, especially the past year. What have your efforts yielded? What positive or negative results have you experienced as a result of your choices and behaviors? What did you do that has had positive results in your life that you could do more or again? What changes would you make for the coming year in order to have even better results? Give thanks for life and all the good fortune you have no matter how difficult the past year may have been.

Equinox time is also a traditional time to begin brewing. Consider that the season’s harvest of wheat and fruits is just now being gathered and distributed. The beers, wines, and ciders which are such a part of the Halloween and Yuletide traditions are begun at this time. Even as the summer’s project of cultivating the fields comes to a close, it’s time for the beginning of new projects.

A Critique of the Garden of Eden Story in Genesis

The “Garden of Eden” story in the Book of Genesis has always bothered me. It’s not a matter of criticizing this bit of religious legend because I disbelieve in it or the religions which claim it as their own. I’m pretty alright with most forms of the Abrahamic strains and the values they champion in society. I just find this to be poor story telling.

The Earth Always Required Tilling
In Genesis 2:5, God had created a barren Earth, with no vegetation because no rain had yet been sent and no man had yet tilled the soil. God then creates man (2:7), and then God, Himself plants a garden and causes every sort of good and edible plant to grow and then places man in that garden to “till it and tend it” (Gen 2:15).

God Knows He’s Dealing with Humans
In the middle of the garden, God placed the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9). We can only assume that there was a purpose for God to place the two trees so near each other, but the document never explains if there is any reasoning for this.

God then says; “Of every tree in the garden you are free to eat; but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat; for as soon as (in the day that) you eat of it, you shall die (Gen 2:16-17).”

Context and audience should be of utmost concern in a narrative in order to understand the intent of God’s instruction. God was talking to a man, and the following verses where God creates a woman to be his companion assure us that it was a male human He was addressing.

And humans die. It’s just what we do.

Despite the standard theological stance that Adam and Eve were created immortal, the document of Genesis never actually makes this statement.

To a human; “If you eat that, you’ll die!” would logically be understood by a human to mean that it is toxic in some way and will kill them within a day or so.

It does not however coincide harmoniously with a statement such as; “I know I put that tree right smack in the middle of your smorgasbord, but if you eat from it I’m going to kick you out of the garden, make you work like a slave, and THEN after 900 years you’ll die.” So God is not quite being fully honest about his intentions or plans involving the man who is being expected to trust Him.


The Serpent is Punished for Telling the Truth
In Chapter 3 verse 1, the shrewd (arummim) serpent shows up, and asks the woman; “Did God really tell you not to eat the fruit from the trees in this garden?” And the woman explains that it is from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that the humans are not allowed to eat or even touch because they will die.

The serpent says; “You are not going to die, but god knows that as soon as you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will become like divine beings who know good from bad.” Once again it is a human being addressed here. It is a fact that death is a natural part of the human condition and Genesis does not suggest otherwise.

So with full consideration for the participants in the dialogue of the storyline we can address the statements being made in proper context.

First of all when asked if it was true that God had forbidden them to eat the fruit of the garden, Eve answered that if they even touch it they would die. This is obviously an inaccurate statement and the serpent informs Eve of such.

The truth turns out to be precisely as the serpent states it; the fruit does not kill them, it opens their eyes to the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, modesty from immodesty. These are all traits valued by civilization.

There is no evidence for a rational accusation of deception on which to indict the serpent. On the contrary, the only information we have on him is that every statement he makes in Genesis can be substantiated within the text.

The story does not tell us whether or not the serpent knew how God would react to their eating of the fruit. This seems like a vital plot detail to be left out if this was how the author intended it to be understood.

But God does react, doesn’t He? Upon finding Adam and Eve clothed in modesty because they ate from the tree of knowledge and now were wise like gods, the man’s integrity automatically collapses as he blames his wife.

God then confronts Eve and she alleges that the snake duped her. This accusation has no merit. All of the serpent’s statements have been solid, but God does not even take a statement from the serpent. Instead God just curses him.

Still there has been no explanation as to why God put that tree in the garden in the first place if he didn’t want humans to eat from it.

There is a mighty intelligent reptile in this story, though. Perhaps the tree was there for the animals to eat and learn good from evil, but not for humans?. How else could the serpent have been so wise?

Are the Curses Really Curses?
The next thing God does is curse the woman with painful childbirth and then the ground with difficult tending. Here we see elements from an ancient fertility cult. It’s fairly common in most indigenous religions and philosophies to see a connection between agricultural cycles and female reproduction, so it is a natural connection to make between more difficult childbirth and more difficult farming.

However, this unfortunate obstacle only requires human ingenuity to develop agriculture in order to overcome it. Tilling the soil is something that the ground required anyway (Gen 2:5) and something Adam was doing already (Gen 2:15).

The discovery or invention of agriculture is the main driving force for civilization and necessarily leads to food surpluses, vocational specialization, the market, economics and an overall higher standard of living. It’s difficult to view this as a bad thing. But then it’s also difficult to see acquiring knowledge of good and evil, morality and immorality as being a bad thing.

God says; “by the sweat of your brow you shall get your bread to eat until you return to the ground from which you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return (3:19).”

This curse does not really imply that death is anything new. It sounds more like the type of thing that might come during a breakup or a domestic dispute; “You’re going to work lousy job’s your whole life! You’re nothing but dirt anyway! You came from dirt and you’re always going to be dirt!”

Certainly none of this should be taken literally. I think it was never intended to be anything more than a deeply thought-provoking story to teach community values through proto-historical metaphor and allegory. It’s just poor story telling.


The Language and Culture of Poverty and Wealth

Several years ago when I was in my early teens I heard someone explain that the main difference between people who remain poor and people who become wealthy and maintain their wealth is their view of the purpose of money. ‘The poor,’ he said ‘see money as something to be spent, while the wealthy see money as something to be invested.’

I was young and poor when I heard this so I didn’t fully understand it, but I could tell it had the ring of truth. Over the years it’s an idea I have explored more thoroughly and with great results.

Poverty is a huge concern in American society, and all over the world. Politicians, activists and social scientists spend countless hours on this topic, proposing solutions. Billions of tax and charitable dollars are spent and new laws and policies are made each year trying to rearrange society to combat it, yet millions of Americans remain poor.

Poverty and Wealth are Cultural

In 1966, the anthropologist Oscar Lewis coined the term “Culture of Poverty” and asserted that the deeply impoverished, regardless of ethnicity, history, or location on the globe all tend to share “remarkable similarity in the structure of their families, in interpersonal relations, in spending habits, in their value systems and in their orientation in time.” Like all cultures, once it has “come into existence it tends to perpetuate itself.”

Just as there is a culture of poverty however, there is also a Culture of Wealth that can be observed, a manner of living and relating to the world that produces and maintains economic stability and abundance in the lives of its participants. There are many factors, beliefs, ideals, values, and behaviors that distinguish one culture from another. Oscar Lewis identified 70 markers that contribute to the culture of poverty, and the culture of wealth is directly inverse to them. But what is the primary factor by which anthropologists categorize and separate cultures from each other?

Language Matters

The most significant factor that separates one cultural group from another is language. Similarly, subcultures within larger societies can be distinguished by their use of language, lingo, slang, jargon, vocabulary and professional terminology.

Linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf suggested that language and its use may have a significant impact on an individual’s perception, cognition and their view of reality. This is known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Numerous other linguists have suggested that features within language from vocabulary and grammar to phrases and metaphors influence if not dictate the structure of human thought. The manner in which we perceive and comprehend the world is heavily dependent on our understanding and use of language.

This is also the theoretical foundation for the discipline of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) which studies the effects language has on the subconscious mind and its influence on behavior.

The metaphors a person uses give the key to their life and the way they think. A person to whom life is an adventure is going to approach events quite differently from a person for whom life is a struggle.

Organizations use metaphors. An organization that prides itself on its team players is going to react differently from one that sees itself as a fighting force. One current metaphor for business is a ‘learning organization’, which conjures up a rather different picture.

Strangely the financial world is sprinkled with liquid metaphors. They talk of cashflow, flooding the market, liquid and frozen assets, floating a company. Money is like water, perhaps?
Metaphors are not right or wrong, but they have consequences for how people think and act. (O’Connor-McDermott, 122)

       

It’s well understood that in all fields of professionalism there is a lingo, a vocabulary, terminology that must be learned in order to function at even a novice level. If one aspires to be an engineer, a biologist, or a sailor he must learn the application of a particular vocabulary and vernacular. It should be no surprise to realize that economics, personal finance and simple successful household budgeting require a similar level of competency with its own vernacular, the language of commerce.

Robert Kiyosaki, the author of the popular Rich Dad series of financial books states;

The difference between a rich person and poor person is that person’s vocabulary. You need to learn words such as producer price index, profits and cash flow. In order for a person to become richer they need to increase their financial vocabulary. (Kiyosaki)

This makes sense. Pick up any book about finance and you will run across terminology such as: investment objective, index fund, international equity and the language of commerce, of the Culture of Wealth is revealed. If an individual never has a clear understanding of terms such as positive and negative cash flow, disposable income, financial assets and liabilities, he will never think to apply them to daily life and therefore find difficulty accruing and maintaining wealth.

       

ATTITUDE AND SPENDING PATTERNS

Without the language to conceive of basic financial principles, the Culture of Poverty carries with it many other behavioral factors that keep people stuck in the lowest economic bracket. This behavior is characterized by apathy or hostility toward wealth and finances, a belief in the virtue of poverty, as well as irresponsible and extravagant spending patterns in order to project an appearance of wealth. This equates to financial self sabotage.

Delayed gratification is a foreign concept to the culture of poverty. When the poor find a source of steady income they typically squander it through extravagant spending patterns on short term experiences and material things that quickly lose value. The financially secure however behave very differently.

Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D., author of The Millionaire Mind, a study of the lifestyle and habits of millionaires found that common behaviors of people whose net worth was $1 million or more included such habits as living below one’s means, entertaining family and friends at home rather than going to extravagant parties in the tradition of the beautiful people. Rather than spending their money on excessive consumables they chose to study and plan investments, attend religious services, and they avoided the use of credit and debt (Stanley 366).

Dr. Stanley found that most millionaires have a well balanced life style without the flashiness of rock stars and Hollywood celebrities. They lead relatively normal lives, but spend a good portion of their time on activities directly related to their financial goals.

       

Similarly, Rabbi Daniel Lapin has compiled a whole list of behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that tend to lead Jewish people into successful positions and financial outcomes.

Conclusion

In conclusion I’ll say again that poverty and wealth are cultural phenomena, and both of those cultures are in large part a result of language which determines a person’s perception of reality and therefore their behavior. Those individuals who escape the chains of poverty have learned to use and apply elements of the language of commerce while those who remain in poverty do not.

Once an individual familiarizes himself with the vernacular of finance to the point that he feels comfortable working with and applying it on a daily basis, he begins to view things from a much more financially competent perspective. Naturally, this financially competent perspective influenced by a familiarity with economic language is a significantly motivating factor to financially responsible behavior.

If more people of all ages were to become educated in this manner, though many individuals may still never become truly ‘wealthy’ those who put this education to use will come out of poverty and begin to establish executive control over many more aspects of their lives and their community.

If you really want to start learning to be financially independent, start by picking up a book on financial terms. It will change your life.



What is the Name of God?

Naming God can be one of the most challenging ideas to the religious mind. The Spirit from which all things emanate, the creator of everything is truly an unfathomable force in the universe. It is beyond gender and similar terrestrial attributes, but everything that is male and female exists within It.

This Supreme Being is the most exalted of all things in creation. It is also the most misunderstood simply for its incomprehensibleness. Due to the limitlessness of this Being and the limitations upon human understanding, this Being cannot even truly be imagined or thought about. The limitations on human understanding and imagination make it impossible to even construct an accurate thought of this Being therefore any thought directed toward It is in fact about something else, something less. Consequently it can be said that this Being is equally impossible to worship since to worship requires the ability to conceive of the object of worship which as stated is inconceivable. And this is the problem that is faced when trying to name God.

This force within the universe is the source of all things and the container in which all things are held. According to the Hindu scholar and former President of India S. Radhakrishnan in his commentary on the Bhagavadgita “God includes the universe within Himself, projects it from and resumes it within Himself, that is, His own nature.” This is the force in the universe which has been given many names.

The Hopi Indians of North America know Him as Taiowa the Creator of the universe whom in the beginning existed in endless space. Muskogees call Him Ofvnkv, the One Above or Hesaketamese; the Breath-maker. The omnipresence of Wakan Tanka in the Oglala-Lakota tradition is a central idea to the recognition of Him as the four quarters of the world. As Joseph Epes Brown noted from his discussions with the Oglala holy man Black Elk; “The message ‘Be attentive!’ well expresses a spirit which is central to the Indian peoples; it implies that in every act, in every thing, and in every instant, the Great Spirit is present and that one should be continually and intensely “attentive” to this Divine presence.”

To the Maya, divine unity was recognized in their supreme deity Hunabku, which translates as One-State-of-Being-God. Peter Tompkins explains; The Maya believed that their supreme divinity functioned through a principle of dynamic dualism, or polarity, active and passive, positive and negative, masculine and feminine, by which, through the agency of four prime elements, air, fire, water and earth (symbolizing space, energy, time and matter) the whole material world was engendered.

This Allfather figure was credited with dispensing all form of measurement and movement and the mathematical structuring of the universe, i.e. the divine laws of creation. In the simplest terms this One Being is the source that set the universe in motion and gave humans our most basic but most vital verb “to be.”

Rabbi Arthur Green describes the name YHWY as a verb artificially rested in motion serving as a noun. “A noun that is really a verb is one you can never hold too tightly. As soon as you think that you’ve “got it,” that you understand god as some clearly defined “entity,” that noun slips away and becomes a verb again.” Rabbi Green goes on to explain that a more proper translation for this Name should be “Is-Was-Will-Be.” The implication of this translation suggests that God the Almighty, Most High Creator is in fact the very essence of existence and a truly eternal state of Being. Green continues to say; “God is Being. The four letters of the Name, taken in reverse order spell the word H-W-Y-H meaning existence.’ All that is exists within God The Name contains past, present and future.”

Rabbi Green also notes that another possible conjugation of the Name is Ehyeh or “I shall Be” and says this is the deepest name of God and to listen to the God who calls himself “I shall be” is to surrender the illusions that we are masters of our own fate. Green continues to say that “when Moses needed to give the slaves an answer that would offer them endless resources of hope and courage, God said; Tell them “Ehyeh sent you.” The Timeless God allowed the great name to be conjugated, as though to say: “Ehyeh. I am tomorrow.” Even when pressed for a description or definition of God the Father,’ the Catholic Church claims His two names are Being and Love and describe Him as; “He is who is, as he himself revealed to Moses.”

The fullness of God has been assigned many names throughout the centuries, none the less which is the title “Supreme Being.” And perhaps that is it in the end; the incomprehensible fullness of God is simply the most perfect and complete state of being which propels the universe forward through existence. God is Being, both noun and verb, the substance of the creative principle of existence.

Sources;

Radhakrishnan, S., The Bahgavadgita, Indus, New Delhi, 1994, pg 215

Brown, Joseph Epes, The Sacred Pipe, Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1989, pg 65

Tomkins, Peter, Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, Harper and Row, 1976, New York, pg 283

Green, Arthur, Ehyeh, A Kabbalah For Tomorrow, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2004, pg 2

Flannery Austied, O.P., Vatican Council II, Vol. 2 Costello, New York, 1982, pg 389


Indigenism and Native Revivalism (2018)

 

The middle of the twentieth century saw an upsurge in Native Revivalism in western countries.  Although exploration of ancient Western religious traditions had existed in Europe and America since at least the 17th century, it was mostly practiced by eccentrics in secrecy and never had the wider popular appeal we see today.

With the ‘back to nature’ trend sensationalized by the 1960’s Flower-Power generation many doors were opened in the realm of altered-native religion.  Many hippies, realizing the difficulty of being accepted within Native American communities began a quest for connections with their own roots religion, leading them into exploring occult practices which over time progressed into the modern cultural revivalist movement.

Primarily, there are three wings within this movement.  I name them as such; Paganism, Heathenism and Indigenism.  On the surface, they all share many similar qualities, but represent three very different attitudes and beliefs concerning roots religion.

Paganism

This subcategory is the most common in the West and represents some of the most freeform and New Age spiritual ideas.  In this group we have modern witchcraft, Wicca, the Faerie traditions and eclecticism.  Typically the primary political interests of Pagans in general are those concerning freedom of religion issues, gender rights and ecological concerns.

Heathenism

Heathens are more geared toward recreating or revival of older and usually extinct religions.  In this category are groups such as Asatru, Imbas and other reconstructionist organizations.  Politically, heathens are often concerned with preservation of indigenous European cultural traditions, historical sites and language.  Generally speaking it’s also very important for Heathens to distinguish themselves from the more popular Wicca-oriented Paganism.

Indigenism

Indigenists represent living indigenous traditions of the world.  These are usually people somehow connected to a traditional native or aboriginal community.  This subgroup can easily stretch a bit to include communities such as the Vodoun, true Roots Rastafarians the Basques and certain Irish and Welsh communities of Europe.  Indigenists are politically tend to be involved with Native sovereignty struggles, land claims issues, ecological activism and cooperative communities.

Many individuals in the movement for Native Revivalism somewhat begrudgingly accept being labeled as a ‘pagan,’ though inside they feel more drawn to heathenry’s reconstructionist goals.  This yearning for an authentic connection to their indigenousness coupled with the goals of building and maintaining cooperative communities based on this separates them from the vast majority of the revivalists.  But it is when all these values become strongly aligned with and guided by the concerns and struggles of indigenous people in the world that they truly become Indigenists.

Indigenism is a little known term because in North America most Indigenists are Native American or “Native Hearts.”   Few if any people that are not directly involved in indigenous rights movements have ever even heard of the term.  There are many dynamics and complexities involved in this philosophy.  Indigenism is a spiritual perspective wrapped in a socio-political movement.

             

The socio-political dynamics of Indigenism and its relationship to Aboriginal people of the world is the driving force behind the movement today.  This is perhaps the most rational and revolutionary perspective in circulation today for the manner in which it flies in the face of both global Capitalism and Marxism, confronting colonialism and imperialism from both camps in many parts of the world.

Spiritual Purpose

When we take notice of the similarities between Indigenous religions we are often prone to question from whence they came.  Was there an original religion?  The question has in many ways been a significantly motivating factor in a lot of my earlier religious pursuits.  It makes for a great approach with solid, steady footsteps.  It can also represent a sort of red herring.  The answer to the ‘real’ question here just may be more in the modern Indigenist movement rather than in a quest for the ‘original religion.’

A particular Indigenist view on the origin of religion is such; that there is in fact only one Truth, one reality.  This Truth or reality is essentially the “Sacred Mystery,” the “Great Spirit,” or the “Creator.”  The ‘Creator’s’ reality is and has always been (to the indigenous) interpreted to us through our geography, ecology and community.  In essence, the creator’s ‘words’ are interpreted to us by the Earth or regional ‘divinities’.  Through the regional variations (or nature’s dialect) concerning the manifestation of these ‘truths’ and from our communities’ organization in coping with them we established our traditions and our religions.  This accounts for the similarities as well as the differences in indigenous religion.

Example; we must have water to survive.  Water is sacred.  This is a common theme in most religions.  But there is a very different practical and therefore spiritual perspective regarding the type of emphasis placed on water by desert peoples than by tropical islanders or swamp-dwellers (in most cases) even though the basic thematic construct is the same.  Naturally, this paradigm carries over into even deeper realms of religion.

Indigenist religion is as much about physical and social action as it is about faith and philosophy.  And the truth it follows is the unobtainable truth that must be pursued continually through our lives.  The ‘Red Road’ doesn’t really have an end to it.  It is a way of life, not just a belief system.  If one gives up the pursuit, one effectively gives up the path.  You put your arrows down, leave the wild hunt, succumb to stagnation and lose all the ground you’ve gained, resorting to crude methods to deal with a sophisticated life.  This is why it is the ‘Way OF enlightenment’ not the ‘Way TO enlightenment.’

Political Purpose

Indigenism in America is heavily influenced by the work of The American Indian Movement, Russell Means, John Trudell, The Zapatistas, and to a lesser degree Che Guevara brought “back to the fire” (as Creeks say).  It is centered on ‘tribal’ communities and around Native struggles from the Americas to Africa, Scotland, Russia, Japan, Hawaii and anywhere else the Indigenous are oppressed, disenfranchised, or dispossessed.

The Indigenist perspective stresses social decolonization, and localism rather than assimilation and globalism as a means to our survival as a species.  Differences between culture and religion are to be respected because the Creator gave us different cultures and religions the same way we were given different landscapes.  Indigenism stresses more self-sufficient communities, ecologically sound commerce, and gentler kind of warfare.  These ideas also cut deeply into national boundaries, especially those of a colonial nature.

Importance of Indigenism

In the old days survival and self reliance was of the utmost importance to our ancestors.  And in a way this should still be a core concept in our religion today.  We never really know when we may be separated from the ‘tribe,’ when we may become lost in the forest, stranded on an island or a survivor of a major cataclysmic event.  If an individual’s core philosophy and ‘religion’ is based on survivalist concerns and his relationship to his environment, he’ll be more prepared to face his obstacles with the heart of a warrior rather than the ass of a couch potato.  Couple this with an indigenous commitment to your community and you have the foundations of true indigenous religion, the heart of the ‘original’ religion – ‘paganism’ at its core.

Indigenism is a practical philosophy and way of life respecting human nature and its response to the modern world.  It is not a utopian dream.  It’s not for everybody; it’s for indigenous people and those with indigenous spirits.  Colonial people and their respective governments will have conflicts with this perspective, being that there is too little emphasis on control of the individual and of the land.  But this is our way of life.  This is our faith.  And this is what motivates us to act.  We live as natural people gifted with our own freedom and ingenuity, keeping our roots as firm as our branches and remaining One.

(Originally written and published in 2005, now revised for 2018)


Lojah on the Musician’s Guild

I was recently a guest on the Musician’s Guild, a great internet show run by Richard Dunlavy and Darryl Oehmsen in Pensacola, Florida where they discuss the local music scene and promote the various players and performers in it.

In this episode 5 of the series I was honored to be a guest on the show where I played a few tunes, talked about my musical upbringing and how and why I came to use the moniker Lojah for my music.








A Creepy Time at Austin’s Museum of the Weird

Something called The Museum of the Weird sounds just like the type of place I should visit.  And during my most recent trip to Austin, Texas that is just what I did.

It’s tucked away in an old building from the 19th century that was reportedly the residence of actor Johnny Depp during the filming of What’s eating Gilbert Grape.   Upon first entrance it’s just like any other curio shop that can be found in a historical part of town, selling creepy stickers, posters and books about a varied assortment of mysteries, and legends.  For twelve bucks you’re handed a receipt which acts as a ticket to get you through a turnstile in the back.

At this point you come to a couple rooms stocked full with a collection of sideshow pieces, from voodoo sculptures, jars containing preserved deformities, and movie props.  After some time spent to ponder the collection, further in the back our guide met us and delivered her brief introduction accompanied with a brief video describing the museums “prized” piece, the Minnesota Iceman, a sideshow exhibit from the 1960s.

The Iceman is the first stop on the guided portion of the tour where the body of something resembling a Neanderthal is kept incased in ice in an old deep freezer.  This was the only portion of the museum where photography was not permitted.  In the spirit of the fun that this museum is meant to be I’ll withhold any critical opinions at this point so the reader can make up their own minds when they visit.

The final leg of the tour is a dimly lit wax museum containing the likenesses of Nosferatu, Dracula, the Hunchback of Notre dame, King Kong and others.

The Museum of the Weird is a fun little stop for tourists and oddity enthusiasts in Austin, Texas.  It’s worth a visit just to see some of the aptly described “weird” displays and exhibitions of art, culture, cinematology, technology, and just plain creepiness.

Watch the video below for a glimpse at Austin’s Museum of the Weird.



Lughnasadh: Harvest of Life

The Irish Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh is traditionally celebrated on August 1st but extends throughout much of the month. It is the first genuine harvest festival of the year and it coincides directly with the Anglo-Saxon holiday of Lammas.



The holiday is named for Lugh, the Irish hero of light. His name derives from the word for lightning and illumination. Amongst Germanic peoples, this day was sacred to the god Thor: the god of thunder, storms and agriculture. Thunder and lightning are obvious signs of rain and storm which are naturally an important ecological phenomenon for agricultural societies.

Lugh is of course more than a simple agricultural deity. As a patron of light, Lugh is the embodiment of all things light represents: intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment. Science and artistry are also considered to have been invented by Lugh. Considering his close association with the Roman god Mars, Lugh is a patron of martial prowess, which is perhaps best exemplified through his son Cuchulain. All of these attributes, whether agricultural or innovative attest to Lugh as a god of wealth, the guardian and benefactor of the tribe’s prosperity.  It is probably more than mere coincidence that this time of year in Anglos-Saxon tradition, bondsmen would pay their rent.

This holiday, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain represent the four main festivals of the medieval Irish calendar.  As the first true harvest festival in the seasonal cycle, Lughnasadh has certain associations with death.  In fact, the name itself translates roughly as “the wake of Lugh.”  Whereas holidays in the earlier seasons coincide with increasing life, harvest festivals are the first signs of the summer’s demise.  With the summer day’s becoming noticeably shorter at this time, it becomes quite obvious that winter’s grip is only a short way off.  Although the theme of a wake is a significant part of the festival, the overall atmosphere is generally one of joy and revelry.

The legends tell us that Lugh established the harvest fair of Lugnasadh in honor of his foster-mother Tailtiu at the Town of Teltown in County Meath.  Tailtu’s death was a necessary component in establishing the growing of the crops and the abundant harvest that follows.  These celebrations quite often resembled today’s Scottish Highland Games. Lugnasadh often involved horse races, and martial arts displays or competitions.  Competitive games such as chess were also a part of the festivities, representing Lugh’s victory over the Fomorian King Bres who previously controlled the powers of the Harvest, establishing the Irish agricultural tradition.

                     

Lugh is the hero of Light. For this reason he is often compared with the Sun, since the Sun is the greatest source of light with which humans and earthly crops interact. As a hero of Light, Lugh is also called Samh-ildánach, “the many gifted one,” because of his multiple skills in all the arts and trades.  Just as darkness represents ignorance, Light represents knowledge, and in this case knowledge of many, if not all things. In the old legends we find that Lugh (representing the Sun) conquers the Fomorians (representing darkness, ignorance and oppression). When this is done, Lugh wrestles from the King of primitive darkness the knowledge of cultivation and the harvest.

This is a celebration of the Harvest.  On this day families gather together to give thanks for the bounty of the Harvest and to reenact the mythological event that brought the Ancestors from a life of oppression and into a life of abundance with the knowledge of agriculture. It must be remembered that it is only with this knowledge that humankind has managed to not only survive, but to thrive in even inhospitable environments. It is agriculture that has allowed human beings to settle lands, build defensive structures and over all make life safer for acquiring food. This has allowed civilization to flourish and become specialized, developing art, literature, economics, and other remarkable aspects of material culture.

The Medicine Wheel

A prayer from the Oglala Holy Man Black Elk;
“Hear me four quarters of the world, I am a relative.
Give me the power to walk the soft Earth, a relative to all that is.
Give me eyes to see and the strength to understand that I may be like You.
With your power only can I face the winds.”

The Medicine Wheel symbol is a central spiritual and philosophical device used by many Native American communities.  It consists of an equal-armed cross placed inside a circle.  This is also a universal symbol that can be found throughout the nations of the world from the ancient days to today.  It has been called by many names; the medicine wheel, sacred hoop, solar disk and sun circle, just to name a few.  This symbol is central to Muskogee philosophy and is the basis for the layout of traditional ceremonial dance grounds.

As a symbol, the Medicine Wheel is made up of two symbols; the circle and the compass cross.

The Circle

The circle is the most basic symbol for life and divinity.  It is also the most perfect metaphor for God in geometry.  The circle, like the Creator has no beginning and no end and therefore it represents eternity.  Geometrically it is the essential symbol of balance and equality.  And as the perfect symbol of the Creator, you could expect it to be apparent in creation.

The circle is also the perfect metaphor for Nature, which is the manifestation of the Creator.  We find the circle everywhere in nature.  Natural things tend to be round or function cyclically.  The most obvious examples are the sun, the moon and the earth, all which are round.  The earth and other planets revolve around the sun in a circular motion.  On the earth, the circle can be seen like the signature of the Creator in the rings of a tree or the fruit growing upon it.  The seasons of the year follow a cyclical pattern with winter turning into spring, summer, autumn and then returning to winter.  The Oglala holy man Black Elk explained the meaning of the circle in this manner;

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.  In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.  The flowering tree was the living center of our hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it.  The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance.  This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle.  The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are the stars.  The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.  Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.  The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.  The moon does the same, and both are round.  Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were.  The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.  Our tepees were always round like nests of birds, and those were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.[1]

The Pawnee Indians regarded the circle with much the same philosophy.  According to one Pawnee priest;

The circle represents a nest, and it is drawn by the toe because the eagle builds its nest with its claws.  Although we are imitating the bird making its nest, there is another meaning to the action; we are thinking of Tirawa making the world for the people to live in.  If you go on a high hill and look around, you will see the sky touching the earth on every side, and within this circular enclosure the people live.  So the circles we have made are not only nests, but they also represent the circle Tirawa-atius has made for the dwelling place of all the people.  The circles also stand for the kinship group, the clan, and the tribe.[2]

The sun which we depend on so directly in our lives has served as another great metaphor for the Creator throughout history.  It is round and therefore the Medicine Wheel is also symbolic of this solar enlightenment.  For this reason the medicine wheel symbol is often displayed within a solar motif with the rays of the sun extending outward in eight directions.  With the sun circle and compass cross both being direct metaphors of the divine nature of the earth and the celestial respectively, the Medicine Wheel as a spiritual and philosophical tool is therefore an unparalleled tool for use in coming to knowledge of Nature and of Nature’s God.

The Cross

The cross is a four cornered compass.  Each one of the four arms of the cross is attributed to a particular compass point, which is in turn associated to a particular philosophical or spiritual principle.

In contemporary society the four directions tend to be taken for granted and with little regard.  But to the elder ancestors they represented the very survival of the people.  Our ancestors did not have the crutch of a GPS on which to rely.  Instead they watched the sky, the path of the sun, moon, stars and even the shadows in order to keep track of the directions to avoid becoming lost or disoriented in the forest or on the prairie, something that could quickly result in death.  In fact the very meaning of the word ‘disoriented’ is to be incapable of locating the east.

Living in tune with the directions, the seasons and nature in general kept the elder ancestors alive, so naturally a system of philosophy developed about life and the hereafter as demonstrated through that symbolism.  Each direction is thought of as a separate land, world or dimension, symbolically if not literally.  Therefore each direction has its own natures, associations and inhabitants.  In some ways each direction is thought of individually as separate Heavens and their inhabitants are spiritual beings like angels, ancestors and medicine powers.

While the specific associations of each direction can vary greatly from people to people and from age to age, the following cardinal directions and their associations are based heavily off those that are most commonly encountered in native circles, with special emphasis placed on associations identifiable within Muscogee, Yuchi and Cherokee traditions.

                  

East — place of the sun

The east is associated with light and knowledge, because the sun comes up from the east and travels across the sky.  The sun is the source of life on earth and its light removes the cover of darkness, revealing what was previously hidden from view, therefore the east is associated with revelation, illumination and enlightenment.

In Muskogee lore it is the Hawk which flies highest of all creatures.  He is the messenger of the Creator, like an angel delivering prayers to Him and knowledge and revelation from Him.  It is traditional in Muscogee as well as many other traditions to face east when praying.

North—place of wind

The north is the land of wisdom, the breath of life and inspiration.  This is a land of elders, the source of ancestral wisdom and so the north is sometimes referred to as the “place of the white hairs.”  It is associated with the buffalo and the deer who live closely to nature and know her ways intimately.  The bald eagle is said to be stationed here, guarding the health and cleansing wind.

In the Creek Migration Legend, the people took the red and yellow fire from the north and mixed it with fire from the sacred mountain and this is said to be the fire that Creeks use to this day, which sometimes sings.

West—place of earth

West is the place of darkness and introspection.  The sun sets in the west and therefore this direction is associated with sleep and the subconscious.  The spirits of departed are said to travel to the western world and so it is associated with death and the afterlife.  The nature of the west’s earth association also connects it to the underworld caverns from whence tradition tells us the Muskogee people emerged.  This is the womb of creation as well, and therefore represents life at its most primal state and incubation.

The black bear is associated with this direction as is the panther.  The bear’s penchant for residing in caves and sleeping through large portions of the winter make him a skilled adept of navigating the womb of creation and the world of dreams.  Black Elk taught that the west is the home of the Thunderbird, which in Muscogee tradition is the Thunder being who brings the rains and lightning.

South—place of water

The south is associated with warm purifying waters and virtue.  These waters are specifically the deep bodies of water aside from the storm and rains.  For the most obvious reasons water is the element of cleansing.  Not only is it essential in daily hygiene but it is also vital in the human body’s natural process of purification and detoxification.  Water also represents change over time by the process of erosion which reshapes old landscapes and renews the earth.

Water is also intricately connected with the underworld.  Muskogee tradition tells us that the Great Snake guards the southern waters.

 

Together, the sacred circle and the compass cross portray the divine in both the ethereal and the physical sense.  It is important to understand that these are considered to be integrated and whole, not separate perceptions.  Each person must come to fully understand and integrate the teachings of each direction, one by one until they have traversed the entire compass in order to attain a life of wisdom and fulfillment.  All together it teaches us balance and provides us with the tools to build a healthy spiritual life.

The integration of these attributes and principles into a person’s spirit is achieved by diligent efforts in meditation, contemplation and daily application of these principles.  When we consider our relationship on the medicine wheel, we truly consider our circumstances; literally where we stand inside the circle.  These efforts can be heightened by living close to the earth and taking part in our native traditions.  This Medicine Wheel philosophy is a root philosophy which has influenced the lives of native people for centuries.  It is practical, logical and metaphorical.  It connects us to our time and place, instills our perception of the world with wonder and provides us with a basis by which we can contemplate our own nature and that of all creation.

[1] Neihardt, John J., Black Elk Speaks, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1932-1961 Pg 195-6

[2]Alice C. Fletcher, The Hako: A Pawnee Ceremony (22nd Annual Report, Bureau of American Ethnology, part 2; Washington, 1904), pp. 243-244. Cited by Joseph Campbell, Hero With a Thousand Faces