“It boggles my mind that more people don’t see how we are the same people, who have undergone the same spiritual assault. The only difference between the Red Story and the White Story is we are in different stages of the process of spiritual warfare.”
Activist Lyla June Johnston said this in a moving and epic essay that she published on Facebook two years ago, just months before the struggles of a sovereign Indigenous nation captured the hearts and the imagination of the world when it stood at Standing Rock against Goliath, otherwise known as Big Oil. Lyla June, in fact, arose to greater national renown during that movement for her moving music video which inspired Native American solidarity. The song was also the soundtrack for a popular video that went viral on Facebook depicting the epic women’s prayer march led by my beloved friend, Cheryl Angel.
One of the most moving things to emerge in my life out of my Standing Rock experience was joining a budding conversation in this country concerning a unique way of combating the white supremacy that is gripping this nation. And that response or anecdote is connecting the descendants of the European diaspora in this country with their own deeper cultures and sacred wisdom.
Lyla June’s essay goes on to speak to the struggle she’s faced as a child of both Native and European cultures. She recounts a moving experience connecting with her ancient European ancestors:
They sang to me of their life before the witch trials and before the crusades. They spoke to me of a time before serfdoms and before Roman tithes. They spoke to me of a time before the plague; before the Medici; before the guillotine; a time before their people were extinguished or enslaved by dark forces. They spoke to me of a time before the English language existed. A time most of us have forgotten.
This is a song that I’ve heard many times in my life. I even wrote about momentarily feeling a cellular memory of the witch trials in a blog post I wrote about holding ceremony in a park in Missouri days before I left for my first trip to Standing Rock. And The White Goddess, Ceridwen appears in my dreams and meditations often, introduced to me by my own vivacious Scots-Irish-Welsh maternal grandmother decades after she left mortal existence.
Side wink: When I went to research this previously unknown-to-me goddess spirit that showed up in my meditations a few years ago do you know what I found? The most famous poem about her was written by a Victorian poet, Thomas Love Peacock, of my father’s English clan.
In fact, Welsh mythological traditions depict Ceridwen’s son Morfran’s horse as Guelwgan Gohoewgein or ‘Silver-White, Proud and Fair,’ famous as one of the Three Lover’s Horses of Britain. The name for White Horse Medicine was given to me in a vision years and years before I stumbled upon this fact.
Recovering personal ancestral traditions is never boring!
The key to this developing global conversation on decolonizing “whiteness” or the false categorization of the many-cultured peoples in this country as either White or Other is for those of us in the former category to embrace more fully the cultures from whence we came. This point can be lost at times for many healing practitioners who are drawn to New Age and shamanic teachings and seek the mystical and exotic Other culture.
Descendants of the European diaspora (westerners, for lack of a better word) carry a deep wound. Our own Indigenous Knowledge was stripped from us centuries ago by the same forces of Empire still inflicting genocide and imperialism upon Native North and South American peoples today. As immigrants to America, our recent ancestors often cast off cultural ties, seeing their antecedents as backward, restrictive, or even shameful thanks to the spread of politicized Christianity and the “American Dream.” This has led to complete assimilation into a new mainstream culture which is a highly imperialistic, mechanized, and homogenized – cut off from any real sacred roots.
This leads to the previously mentioned longing and a need to find the answers in the exotic Other. The Q’ero, like the Lakota, Hopi, Diné and others in the U.S. before them, recently became this Other for many in the west. In the 1980’s and 1990’s when they felt called to speak to the outside world in a big way for the first time, they were soon embraced by several people still in the grips of a highly capitalistic mindset. Now, what white westerners can’t easily find at home, they’ll run off to Peru to look for and find at Machu Picchu.
I’ve been so blessed by a close and rich relationship with my Q’ero elder don Mariano and his Inka ancestors and medicine; however, it was a reconfirmation and validation of my connection with my own ancestors and sacred places that was his greatest gift. In fact, don Mariano said over and over “make this your own. You have different apus (mountain spirits) and lakes” and “share this with your families and in your communities in your own way.”
It is this wise and generous spirit that makes the Q’ero unique and allows them to extend their huge hearts to the modernized peoples who have forgotten Mother Earth. Perhaps in their isolation they haven’t been as abused by charlatans and colonizers as their North American relations. For whatever reason, they don’t seek to control what is done with their medicine. They share openly what they are in desperate danger of losing at home due to many factors of modernization and the need to move away from their ancestral villages to earn income.
And now I get his deeper meaning. What my Andean practice taught me led me right back to the woods – to my own sacred places and practices. And my ancestors have always been around and communicating with me. So after some lovely cross cultural explorations and through my own ties to a deep, cellular ancestral Indigenous Knowledge, I’ve returned to my spiritual home.
It is from this experience and my time at Standing Rock that I’ve learned the finer art of cultural exchange and inter-cultural diplomacy and respect.
As I was reconnecting with my own Druidic cultures, I was been blessed to pass this precious endangered Inka medicine, in as pure a form as I possibly could, back to its genetic descendants in a beautiful twist of fate. I’ve been the chakaruna (bridge person in Quechua) for Peruvian- and Ecuadorian-born Inka descendants in Austin to become initiated and find their way back to their own villages, ancestors, and medicine. And with this development I heard the call to set down my teaching in that tradition, strengthen and deepen the already ever present connection to my own ancestors, and look at the greater issue of ethnoautobiography.
This need Americans have for deeper cultural connections and healing is nowhere more prominent than in our struggles with the imperialistic mainstream culture in our healthcare system. This is what drives my collaborations with my clients in Integrative Medicine who chose to step away from this unhealthy version of practicing medicine.
Next month, my Seton Cove Restoring Balance Luncheon topic will be Your Culture is Your Medicine. The practice of ethnoautobiography doesn’t seek to sell you on or teach you a particular culture or form of Indigenous Knowledge; but rather to inspire you to find, recover, and recreate your own. This demands that we strip our lives of false cultures that don’t serve us, and find unique and creative ways to blend our often somewhat defunct ancestral cultures with our connections to the loved ones and home places in our lives today. It also demands that we stop abusing the cultures of others. This includes those sacred forms of practice that have been homogenized by capitalism and stripped of all culture reference, such as core shamanism.
Jung said “Nature and Psyche are one, yet humanity is in a wounded relationship with Nature. It is when we forget that we are a part of Nature that we may go against it.”
I urge you today to go talk to a tree or release an old story to a rock that grabs your attention on your walk to the mailbox, and otherwise connect deeply with Nature. She’s waiting. She’s always been there.
In Lyla June’s words:
Our task is to shake the amnesia. To not be ashamed of our European-ness, but to reclaim our beautiful grandmothers, to reclaim our venerable grandfathers, to reclaim our lost languages, our lost ceremonies, our lost homelands and become one with the Great Sacred Motherland of Europe once again.
Eyers’s book Ancient Spirit Rising is an important part of the conversation surrounding the recovery of culture and ancestral traditions for those of us who are descended from the European diaspora in the Americas. Dually focused on reclaiming European indigenous knowledge and combatting appropriation and colonization of indigenous American cultures, she tackles concepts that have been heretofore difficult to articulate. She has found new ways to explore these two conflicts in the American psyche, as well as the answers that healing them demands. By following her into the wilderness of our own unknown Indigenous Knowledge, we often find it’s been there buried in Grandma’s recipes and the imagery of our dreams all along. The healing required of the homogenized American mind before we can authentically join Earth community is at hand. Thank you Pegi for carrying a bright torch!
River’s book Ethnoautobiography: Stories and Practices for Unlearning Whiteness, Decolonization, and Uncovering Ethnicities co-written with Jurgen Werner Kremer, is a treasure trove of free thought and practical exercises that I am still uncovering. Expect to see and hear glimpses of it in my classes in the coming months.
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It is my prayer that we all find what we’re seeking.