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Native American Indians

Category: Indigenous people

In the late 1980s, long before I had any interest in spirituality, I was in the USA working.  My husband flew over to join me from the UK for a holiday and we decided to visit New Mexico and the surrounding area.  Whilst there we visited Canyon de Chelley.  It was late afternoon by the time we walked round, quiet, few people, hugely peaceful, impressive and I had the eeriest feelings about it.  I turned to my husband and said 'I feel like I've been here before, but it wasn't the same then'.  He laughed – he clearly thought I was nuts. 'No'  I said 'it had water flowing through it and sheep and goats and it was green.  And there were corn fields and melons'.  He looked at me with sadness – all we could see was a dry dusty canyon with the remnants of a long lost civilisation, no water, no vegetation.  I lost heart a bit.

'And there were trees'  I said 'fruit trees'.

Well twenty or so years later I attended a course in which we used various techniques to explore past lives and I found myself, not in the Canyon de Chelley, but another canyon I have never been to, deeper, with a wider river, characteristic sage bushes, red rock hills, and a pueblo style village on the rim of the canyon with paths going down to the river below. 

I was somewhat shaken, particularly as I am white, blue eyed and fair haired,  but my roots are shamanic .  And so maybe I had been to the Canyon de Chelley, but as a visitor.

So I think of myself as a Native American at heart, which makes what I am about to relate quite a personal history and a very sad one at that, because as it turns out the Canyon de Chelley was like I somehow 'remembered ' it and the fruit trees, I have since found , were peach trees.

And the reason why the Canyon de Chelley is dry and dusty with only the remnants of a lost civilisation is because it was all destroyed by the American white man.

   

The lost nation

Perhaps the best book to have been written about the systematic destruction of a very spiritual people is that by Dee Brown – Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee.  Overall it is an historical account of the destruction of a huge population of people, millions were killed, starved to death, or died of a broken heart.  Those that weren't deliberately obliterated, became the victims of the diseases and epidemics introduced by the invaders – smallpox, influenza, diptheria, typhus, cholera and scarlet fever.  According to Richard Erdoes in his book Lame Deer seeker of visions about 90% of the indigenous Native American population was, one way or other, wiped out.

At one time the tribes of North America were numerous.  Their names today are barely recognisable Pequots, Montauks, Nanticokes, Machapungas, Catawbas, Cheraws, Miamis, Hurons,  Eries, Mohawks, Senecas, Mohegans, Cherokees, Choktaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles, Shawnees, Ottawas, Delawares, Modocs, Mohaves, Paiutes, Shastas, Yumas, Sioux, Dakota, Crow, Oglaga, Brule, Cheyenne, Arapahos, Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Navahos, Utes, Modocs, and Nez Perces plus more.  Today what happened to them would be classified as genocide, in the days in which this mass extermination policy was carried out it was called the policy of 'Manifest destiny'.

“there are atrocity stories, dozens of them.  I guess the mutilation of Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children at Sand Creek was the worst, if only because the victims were friendly toward their murderers and were bayoneted, many of them, where they stood huddled beneath an American flag”.

Tecumseh of the Shawnees
Where today are the Pequot?  Where are the Narrangansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket and many other once powerful tribes of our people?  They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun.

White Americans, in “an orgy of greed, perfidy, ignorance and malice” stole both land and identity from the native tribes in the belief that white men were ordained to own and rule the continent. 

“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they only kept one; they promised to take our land, and they took it”

Manifest Destiny was a simple instrument to operate once we got the hang of it.  We would buy or battle Indians off the land we wanted.  A treaty would be drawn, giving the Indians new land in perpetuity.  In perpetuity meant until we wanted the land we had given them.  At such time we would ask for the land we had given them to hold forever, and they might refuse to give it up.  Their refusal proved they were ignorant savages and we would defeat them with modern weapons and herd the survivors onto reservations”.

General James Carleton
There is to be no council held with the Indians, nor any talks.  The men are to be slain whenever and wherever they can be found.

It is worth adding that not only did the white man destroy almost an entire nation, but he destroyed the country he found as well.

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
Bear Tooth of the Crow
Fathers, fathers, fathers, hear me well.  Call back your young men from the mountains of the bighorn sheep.  They have run over our country; they have destroyed the growing wood and the green grass; they have set fire to our lands.  Fathers, your young men have devastated the country and killed my animals, the elk, the deer, the antelope, my buffalo.  They do not kill them to eat them; they leave them to rot where they fall.

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
Of the 3,700,000 buffalo destroyed from 1872 through 1874, only 150,000 were killed by Indians.  When a group of concerned Texans asked General Sheridan if something should not be done to stop the white hunters wholesale slaughter he replied:
'Let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo is exterminated, it is the only way to allow civilisation to advance'

“not only did the American white man steal the land, he also destroyed it, even then.  When Kit Carson hunted down and killed a group of Navahos in 1864, destroying their hogans and their livestock, he also chopped down the peach trees they had planted”

Ah so that is where the fruit trees went.

   

What does this mean from our point of view?  It means that there are very very few people left  who genuinely know anything of the system that once was the means by which the Native American Indian obtained spiritual experience. 

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
“Our people died, died, died, kept following one another out of this world'.

Given the number of tribes and the number of observations, there is every reason to state that there would once have been any number of very effective systems in reality,  it is noticeable that from the accounts given by the remnants of that once gifted nation, there was a common set of techniques with tribal variations.

There is also reason to believe that the need to resort to drugs such as peyote, is a direct consequence of the massacre of the line of shamans.  Drugs are a mechanism of last resort.  Lose your line of shamans and you lose the inherent ability to have spiritual experiences.  Shamanic ability is largely inherited, so any form of massacre or decimation of a people is more than likely going to pretty well remove shamanic ability.

The little remnants of Native Americans left in the USA are these days also criticised for resorting to alcohol, much as the aborigines are criticised in Australia.

Lame Deer Seeker of Visions – John Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes
I figured out a few reasons for our drinking.  They may not be the right ones; I'm just speculating.
We call liquor mnji wakan – holy water.  I guess visions were so important and sacred to us that having our minds altered and befuddled by whisky impressed us in the beginning like a religious experience, a dream, a vision.  It didn't take much to make us drunk; it still doesn't.

Why were [are] white Americans so hostile and aggressive to other nations and each other?  It is, of course not just Americans, but there is a pattern that emerges.  If you look at the description of Gerald Heard, you will see that he believed that any man deprived of frequent guilt free sex and denied spiritual experience becomes a heartless fighting machine. 
Islam, Christianity [especially Puritanical Christianity] and Judaism are all political institutions rather than religions and all, by their extensive rules, deny men guilt free sex  and also deny them spiritual experience.  The result is aggression – a war machine. It is noticeable in all the accounts of the Native Americans and what they suffered that the chief culprits were the military – alone, denied sex and denied all spiritual experience.

There is an irony in this.  The American [white] nation above all others now appear obsessed with spirituality and probably because they are so far removed from it.  There are thousands of courses, thousands of books all about how to 'find your inner self', or 'open the path to the spiritual you'.  And of course they are a nation totally hooked on drugs – the mechanism of truly last resort and a very ineffective one at that.  Perhaps the deep sense of emptiness they are now experiencing is a sort of odd punishment for removing the one route they had to obtaining peace – the indigenous peoples.  I have yet to meet a happy contented white American, and I have worked with and known a fair number.  The ones I have met seem universally driven and extraordinarily lonely and unfulfilled.

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
John Sanborn to the Secretary of the Interior
The operations of General Hancock have been so disastrous to the public interests and at the same time seem to me so inhuman, that I deem it proper to communicate my views to you on the subject.... for a mighty nation like us to be carrying on a war with a few straggling nomads under such circumstances, is a spectacle almost humiliating, an injustice unparalleled, a national crime most revolting, that must, sooner or later, bring down on us or our posterity the judgement of heaven.

…... for example total exclusion.

Anyway enough of this. 

What it means from a practical point of view is that I have had to reconstruct the techniques used from the rather diverse and scanty evidence that does exist.  I have been unable to use current modern accounts or observations.

   

Beliefs

I think it goes without saying that the North American beliefs were based upon considerable amount of experience and were as well developed as their cousins the shamans of Northern Asia and Europe, as well as the Polynesians, Indians, Chinese and Japanese.

Energy and spirit

Energy was described in numerous creation myths.  There were numerous names for energy, for example, because there were numerous languages and dialects, for example

  • Pueblo North American Indians: Po-wa-ha
  • Sioux North American Indians – Wakonda
  • Iroquois mythology : orenda
  • Salish-Kootenai mythology : sumesh
  • Leni Lenape mythology : manetuwak

Spirit

Spirit was generally translated in English texts as Great Spirit.  There was the universal belief that the spirit was in everything, that all physical things were animated by spirit.  The beliefs were almost identical to the Shinto beliefs. 

Yet again, the names differ a lot between groups even though the concept is identical.  The term used to designate the spirits among many Algonquian groups, for example,  is Manitou.

The philosophy behind the concept of Manitou is also almost identical to that seen in Shinto.  There are individual spirits and all things have their own spirit - every plant, every stone, even machines.  But the manitous are also all connected into one integrated whole – an integrated system.  In the shamanistic traditions the manitous (or manidoog or manidoowag) are connected to achieve a desired effect, like plant manitous for healing or the buffalo manitou for a good hunt.   In the Anishinaabeg tradition manidoowag are one aspect of the Great Connection.

Related terms used by the Anishinaabeg are manidoowish for small animal manidoowag and manidoons for insects; both terms mean "little spirit."  The name of the Canadian province of Manitoba, named for Lake Manitoba in the province, derives from the place name manitou-wapow, "strait of the Manitou" in Cree or Ojibwe.   Manitoulin Island means "spirit island."

NIYA is another possible synonymous names for spirit used by the Dakota Indians.  Without observations from these sources it was a little difficult to ascertain whether they were or were not.

The Trinity

Native Americans used the Sun and Moon symbolism to describe the Creator and Created.  The Annual Sun Dance festival was in part a celebration of the yearly cycle, but also a celebration of 'the Creator'.  The stars were one symbolic way of describing the more special Higher spirits.  Like Le Petit Prince.

The names for the Sun and Moon, Creator and Created differed because the languages of each tribe were different, for example............

Lame Deer Seeker of Visions – John Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes
They told me of the great gods Wi and Hanwi, the sun and the moon, who were married to each other........

But the symbolism more commonly used to represent Creator and Created was that of the Mother and Father, except that it was more subtle than that and was a system based on four symbolic figures.

CREATED

Grandmother     Unchi

CREATOR

Grandfather     Tunkashila

IMPLEMENTED/MANIFESTED

Mother     Ina

IMPLEMENTED/MANIFESTED

Father      Ate

The Native Americans referred to the Creator as Grandfather [Tunkashila], the Created as Grandmother [Unchi] and the Implemented as Mother and Father – Ina and Ate. 

Incidentally there is even more of an odd coincidence here because my mother's name was Ina!

Intelligence hierarchy

The Ultimate Intelligence – the sum of all function was called Wakantanka.  Generally speaking Wakantanka was regarded as inaccessible, so powerful there was no point in trying to communicate, beyond understanding and thus beyond the reach of the average human.

Furthermore, they believed that since the world was a world of contrasts, 'The 'Great Spirit' or Wakantanka, must also be both 'good' and 'bad' functions, as it were.  There was no 'devil' in Native American society, and it appears no spiritual place called Hell either, although it was well recognised that there could be 'bad' shamans who in effect created evil. It was only after the introduction of the Christian beliefs that God and the devil were treated separately, even then the separation was a bit loose.

Lame Deer Seeker of Visions – John Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes
Sinning makes the world go round.  You can't be so stuck up, so inhuman that you want to be 'pure', your soul wrapped up in a plastic bag all the time.  You have to be God and the devil, both of them.  Being a good medicine man means being right in the midst of the turmoil, not shielding yourself from it.  It means experiencing life in all its phases.  It means not being afraid of cutting up and playing the fool now and then. That's sacred too.

There was then a series of spirits – Intelligences - of lesser function.  The Native Americans tended to ask for help from the lower Intelligences, spirit beings, their former ancestors and the truly wise amongst their nation.  See observation 003109, for example.

Functions were personified as they were in the Greek system, thus functions that caused illness or pain were given human personalities to make them more 'real' and to help the shamans expel or negate the function.  Thus, for example, Iya was the personification of the 'malevolence' function, Gnaske was the personification of the insanity and paralysis function; and Niniwatu the personification of aches, pains, suffering and putrefaction.

The egg and the levels

Native American Indians recognised the Egg, the Matrix and the Levels and layers with the same symbolic names as in numerous other cultures – Earth, Water, Air, Fire.  The fifth level  - Aether - was equated with Wakan Tanka.  See observation 003110.

Within the egg, there was also the cardinal directions to indicate direction and position.  A colour coding system was used for the directions, although the coding was not universally the same – it isn't the same in other cultures I have found either, leading to occasional confusion.

The Red road went from South to North and was the spiritual path road which led to the Sun and Grandfather with no reincarnation.  The East West road was the black path [not blue as in many other systems] and was the road that led to reincarnation.

The Native American tipi was a symbolic representation of the symbolic cone.  Tipis were conical, grouped in a circular fashion [Egg]  around a camp fire [Ultimate Intelligence] with the top open [access to the Higher spirit and Intelligences].  Native Americans lived their whole lives immersed in spiritual symbolism.

The ‘Three worlds’

The Three Worlds of the Higher spirit, Conscious self and the Subconscious lower world are all recognised in the Native American culture.  The Higher spirit was called the NAGI in the Sioux culture.   See observation 003111, for an example.

Again the real problem here is the number of names for the same thing – I won't list them all there is no point.

Androgyny

The merger of feminine and masculine aspects seen symbolically by androgyny was also practised within Native American society.  A male Native American might dress and act like a woman. Those Holy men who had joined with their feminine side were known as Winkte.  When genuine, they had all the capabilities of holy men – the ability to prophesy, go out of body, and heal and they had a special role in giving a spirit name to a child.  See observation 003112.

The Spiritual path

Within Native American civilisation, the spiritual path was to a greater extent life itself for the ordinary Native American.  They lived with the spirit and died with the spirit, all were aware of the spiritual world and lived their lives enmeshed in it.  But the 'medicine man' [the shaman], or more correctly the Holy Man, did go one step beyond the ordinary person and actively set out both to have spiritual experiences and merge with his Higher spirit, thereby gaining greater powers. A few achieved annihilation.  See observation 003113.

Any child that showed an aptitude for this role was  trained so that they could handle the responsibility, as it involved a great deal of sacrifice, not a little terror and pain and also meant that their role was one of considerable responsibility, they were healers, prophesied and also used out of body travel to spot enemies, game, water and so on.  See observation 003114.

Techniques

All the techniques devised to obtain spiritual experience show a strong understanding of the underlying mechanisms by which the process works.  They represent a very rich heritage of approaches.  There is only one drug – peyote and it is very clear from the descriptions that peyote is a late arrival and one that tended to be rejected by the 'holy men' themselves – the true shamans.  Peyote appears to have been an introduction for those who wanted a 'share of the action' but who didn't have the natural talent for obtaining it.

Lame Deer Seeker of Visions – John Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes
The peyote religion is something new.  It is not one of our ancient, native beliefs.  It came to us about 50 years ago spreading from tribe to tribe, always travelling north.  It must have started way back before Columbus, somewhere in Mexico, maybe among the Mayas and Aztecs and then slowly came up to the Pueblos, to the Navajos, to the Kiowas and Comanches, to the Oklahoma tribes and finally to us.  The peyote plant doesn't even grow anywhere near here.  The Sioux church members have to get it from Texas.

One of the things the Native Americans tried in order to preserve the abilities of the few shamans they still had left, was to keep them away from our schooling system, which may seem strange, but is eminently sensible.  Secondary school teaching is all about committing  to memory the beliefs of others, in order that the person can function within a man made system.  It has nothing to do with 'Reality'.  It is no test of intelligence, simply the ability to memorise and regurgitate and follow the system.  Furthermore it is also about  intellect – developing the reasoning system and the left brain – usually at the expense of the right brain.  As we have seen, this is the biggest block to spiritual experience there is.  There are other problems with our education system....

Lame Deer Seeker of Visions – John Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes
When Godfrey Chips showed signs of being spiritually gifted, he was forcibly kept out of school.  According to our definition of a good education, students are trained to think analytically.  Analysis fragments learning into discrete subjects; it encourages narrow specialisation in a single field.  In Native American culture, by contrast, they study the interconnections of the entire ecosystem.

The majority of the techniques I have documented are relatively straightforward, if a little hard on the people themselves, but there is one set of techniques which are carefully concealed in a whole mass of coded metaphors and analogies and that is those that relate to the sexual techniques. 

When Joseph Epes Brown, for example,  documented the seven sacred rites of the Sioux, he must have thought – faithful though the record is - that he was documenting some rather bizarre set of ceremonies whose purpose was long since lost in the mists of time.  Not at all.

The seven sacred rites all involve the sacred pipe and all are symbolic descriptions of the way the energy is managed in the body to obtain – safely – a kundalini experience.  Not one should be taken literally, there was no real ball game, although the rite may have been enacted as a means of keeping the memory of what you did going, and the preparation for womanhood clearly taught a bit more than just what happened when you had your first period.

Whether the meaning of these ceremonies has been preserved to the present day in Native American society is a moot point, it is difficult to tell how much has been preserved, but it does not take much imagination to see the parallels with all the other kundalini systems.

The 'Sacred pipe' is symbolic of the body and the spine.  The sacred pipe is sacred because it is the key symbol of kundalini experience and thus the merge with the Higher spirit.  Anything that involved 'the Sacred Pipe' was thus symbolically the means to enlightenment.

References

  • Lakota Woman – Richard Erdoes
  • Black Elk speaks – John Neihardt
  • Bury my heart at wounded knee – Dee Brown
  • Lame Deer seeker of visions – Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes
  • Teton Sioux Music – Frances Desmore
  • The Sacred Pipe – Joseph Epes Brown
  • The Shadow of a Ghost Lodge – Alice Fletcher [annual report of the peabody museum 1884]
  • The Sun Dance and other ceremonies – J R Walker

Erdoes's recorded interviews with Lame Deer, conducted as research for "Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions," are part of the Richard Erdoes Papers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Observations

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