Archive for the Religion Category

Not by works…

Posted in Compassion, Healing, Religion, Shamanism, Spirituality on October 15, 2014 by Standing West

(This blog stems from a conversation I’ve had with an Elder on my Facebook page…)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The spirit of these words, given in order that we might learn humility, has been twisted to justify the killing, maiming, and raping of the World and her Peoples since they were codified. Who cares how I treat All My Relations, so long as I have faith?

How quickly we forget  these other words: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” …and it is with added shame that we’ve forgotten our neighbors don’t only come in the two-legged variety.  When the central theological dogma of your culture assures your “dominion over” everything, ANY form of nature reverence can be classified as sacrilege.  (Add that to a cultural vision based upon the consumption of resources, and it makes for a VERY dangerous worldview…]

I keep thinking lately of the poem “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Jesuit, surprisingly, with some very “pagan” ideals):

“The World is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

Written in 1918, it speaks with a voice at once much older, and yet VERY applicable to the condition of world of today…

The Golden Rule. . .

Posted in Medicine Wheel, Religion, Spirituality, sweat lodge on December 8, 2012 by Standing West

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

-Matthew 22:37-40

Often it is the meaning of those things with which we have the greatest familiarity that seems to elude us the most.  I cannot even begin to count how many times I heard these words in the Gospel readings at the Roman Catholic church where I served as an altar boy well into my teens, and at my Grandmother’s Pentecostal church where I attended Sunday School on weekend visits as a child; and always, the focus was on an outward expression of that love.

Again and again, I was told that I was a sinner – that I was unworthy of God’s divine love, and even less so of receiving the body of his Son; and yet I was also told that as a follower of Christ it was my duty to love my neighbor as myself.  If one is taught from the time he is old enough to understand such things that he is utterly worthless in God’s eyes, how can he expect his feelings to manifest in any way differently towards his neighbor?

All these years later, and due in no small part to my recent metaphysical studies, I have come to see these often-repeated words in a whole new light. Certainly Jesus’s teachings encourage us to love our neighbor.  But I have also come to understand that his words mean a great deal more than simply this.  The things we feel about ourselves will certainly manifest unto our fellow human beings, and by extension, the rest of the world.  If we cannot first recognize the divinity inherent within ourselves, we cannot hope to recognize that same divinity in anyone or anything else, and as a result, will have no problem exploiting them for our own material gain.

This, I believe, is why we so frequently see our leaders in the Western world holding aloft the Bible with one hand, and beating the drum of war with the other, while our lands are stripped of their natural resources, and the arm of our military might grows ever longer.  “When Fascism comes to America,” Sinclair Lewis tells us, “it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”

The nightly news is filled with reports of atrocities fueled by religions whose persecutory dogma have broken the backs of their followers with their own supposed unworthiness almost since birth.  How different this world would be if more of us had been taught that we are divine beings, created by a loving God who deems us worthy of sharing this beautiful world equally with All our Relations; and who in His infinite wisdom has placed us here as its caretakers.

Imagine for a moment if instead of separating God from the whole of creation and forcing us to buy ourselves back into His graces through Faith and good deeds, our Western religions instead taught us to embrace God as an inseparable part of all that is.  How many wars would we then wage in His name?  How many peoples would we attempt to convert to His “one true way” if deep in our hearts we already believed they were vessels of His light?

I have recently discovered  a great deal more in Jesus’s words than I did so long ago;  and I have also come to recognize a common thread in many other teachings as well.

In the inipi, or sweat lodge ceremony, for example, we pray in four rounds, the first of which consists of prayers offered for ourselves. Here we pray for strength, for guidance, and for healing.  And here we also cry out for a vision.  While some might consider such a practice selfish, the Elders tell us that we have every right to pray to the Creator for our own well-being, because in the Great Hoop of Creation, every living thing depends upon us.

In our lives, we are wives and husbands, adult children of aging parents, brothers, sisters, partners, parents, and caretakers of everything that exists.  As such, we need to be strong and healthy, blessed with clarity of vision, that we might better serve all beings with whom we share the entirety of Creation.

We cannot hope to do this on our own, and so we ask the Creator to bless us with His wisdom, and the things we need for the greatest good of All.  In this sense, we recognize that we are the touchstone of the Creator’s love.  We are the place where the pebble strikes the surface of the pond, and all that stirs within us ripples outward, influencing everything it touches.

It is no coincidence that as the water splashes the red hot Grandfather stones, and the steam rises towards the roof of the lodge, our Elders tell us that “Our prayers go into the center and rise out to the Universe.  They resonate forever among the Heavens and the stars, and return to bless us all.”

The teachings of the ancient shamans make clear that we must heal ourselves before healing our neighbors. Once we have healed our neighbors, we are able to begin healing our communities. After our communities have been healed, then – and only then – are we truly capable of focusing our efforts upon healing the world.  Whatever we may feel about the condition of our planet, we may do nothing to effectively help Her until we have taken the necessary steps towards bringing healing and balance into our own lives.  Without first accomplishing this, we can only sew anger, discord, and illness upon the very Earth we would seek by our actions to heal.

It is evident then, that the nature of the world in which we live hinges directly upon the way we treat ourselves.  If we poison our bodies with Styrofoam-wrapped, chemically-enhanced garbage, why should we treat our water supplies – or our children- any differently?   Understanding this, one would do wisely to consider the words accredited to Hermes Trismegistus: “Know then the greatest secret of the Universe: as above, so below – as within, so without.” 

We also find this principle beautifully illustrated within the Native American Medicine Wheel. As we stand in the East, with the rising of the Sun, a vision is given to us by the Creator.  That vision stirs within us in the emotions of the South, and manifests itself through us into the physical world in the West.  Finally, everything in Creation receives the benefits of that vision in the North.  Only if we are truly open to the will of the Creator, place our egos aside, and let that vision flow through us unimpeded by personal desires, will it enter the world for the greatest good of All.  Yet if we seek to bend that vision to our own selfish desires, or lock it away and refuse to share it with those for whom its gifts are truly intended, it will die on the vine, or worse, it will fester within us and rot, leaving nothing but pain and suffering in its wake.

I was once told by a teacher of mine that a Capitalist might look at the world and say something like, “modern man is building more computers today than he ever has before,” while a shaman observing the same world might offer something to the effect of, “Computers are using mankind to manifest themselves into the physical world at a much faster rate than ever before.”

This reflects perfectly, I think, the idea that all things are a living gateway through which The Divine’s creative impulses are expressed.  To put it plainly: all possibilities exist in an unmanifested state.  These possibilities bubble up randomly and vibrate within every living thing.  In Man’s case, he has been given the gift of free will, which allows him to decide whether or not he will act upon those impulses.  One could even say that we are like transistors, deciding whether or not we will allow that energy to continue to flow through us and out into the Universe.

If an impulse is allowed to continue, it then manifests through us, and “tunes” us to a different frequency.  Rippling outward, these vibrations reverberate against others around us, who then choose whether to allow themselves to resonate at that same level, or to continue to resonate at their own.   As an impulse gains momentum, it may grow to influence an even larger aspect of creation.  One need only look to the ideals of Nazi Germany, or the success of internet viral marketing campaigns to see this principle in action.  One also observes this clearly in the phenomenon of sympathetic resonance, where, for example, if two tuning forks are placed within close proximity, and one is struck, the other will soon begin to vibrate at the same frequency.

The idea that the world at large is deeply affected by what we carry within us is also summed up succinctly by Mahatma Gandhi, who entreats us to “seek to be the change (we) want to see in the world.”  With these words, Gandhi shows us that change can only come from within.  As we allow ourselves to change, the world around us will begin to do so as well. If in fact, everything is vibration, as Quantum Physics, and many other religions tell us, Gandhi’s words make absolutely perfect sense.

Consider also the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto who examined frozen water crystals through an electron microscope, and photographed their perfectly symmetric structures. Next he took the same water, and placed it into beakers labeled with phrases like “I Hate You”.  When he froze the water in these vessels, he found that the crystals were deformed. He and those who follow his work believe this experiment offers irrefutable proof that our emotions have scientifically measurable effects upon the world around us.

So how does this affect one’s everyday life?  I would say that the implications of this understanding of Christ’s words, coupled  not only with the examples expressed here, but also with countless others easily researched, are nothing short of staggering if truly taken to heart.

How can one comfortably foster violence, hatred, and bigotry in one’s own personal spiritual space, knowing that once these feelings have taken hold, they will ripple outward beyond the confines of one’s own skin and resonate throughout the entirety of creation?

If we allow concepts such as these to poison our own minds and bodies, how can we continue to lay blame for the murder, starvation, corruption, and rampant exploitation of natural resources witnessed today at the feet of any but ourselves? In recognizing this, however, we must also allow ourselves to recognize that any radical shift towards healing, peace, and forgiveness, as witnessed in the works of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Jesus Christ to name but a few, all began with one single human being allowing a divine light to shine into the Universe through the lens of his or her own person; an act of which any one of us is truly capable. . .

Into the Woods. . .

Posted in Religion, Shamanism, Spirituality on October 18, 2012 by Standing West

In preparing to discuss the earliest roots of man’s spirituality, I decided to look at what may be the two oldest spiritual movements on the planet; those of Paganism and Shamanism.  Each share many commonalities.  Both have an inseparable tie with the whole of creation, through which an imminent divinity is directly and personally experienced.  Both recognize the existence of a spirit world, populated by a variety of archetypal beings with whom man may interact.  And sadly, both have also suffered greatly at the hands of organized religion.

From the plains of North America, to the mountains of Tibet, to Jungles of South America, cultures practicing shamanistic traditions have found their spiritual ways demonized by those seeking to bring the light of the “One True God” into the darkness of a people deemed heathen and primitive. Similarly, many practitioners of witchcraft and other pagan traditions were put to the flame during the horror of the Inquisition.

And while these two paths do indeed share many commonalities, they differ centrally in that while shamanism is, as Michael Harner points out, “a methodology” (Harner, 1990); Paganism is “an ancient European…nature religion that worships a goddess who is related to the ancient Mother Goddess in her three aspects as Maiden, Mother and Crone.” (Adler, 1986)

What is it about these two movements that causes them to continue to fall beneath the heel of Western Religion?  Perhaps it has something to do with their closeness to Nature, the very thing which Judeo Christian religion places beneath man, and over which its God bestows upon him imminent dominion.

Harner tells us that shamanism “is not simple nature worship, but a two-way spiritual communication that resurrects the lost  connections our human ancestors had with the awesome spiritual power and beauty of our Garden Earth.” (Harner, 1990)

This sentiment is echoed by Margot Adler in her influential work “Drawing Down the Moon” when she describes pagans as sharing “the goal of living in harmony with nature and…tend(ing) to view humanity’s “advancement” and separation from nature as the prime source of alienation.” (Adler, 1986)

Both Paganism and Shamanism, then, in a sense, return Man to his rightful place in the Garden of Eden.  Once there, his position is not that of ruler over the plants and animals with whom he shares his world, but that of loving care taker and family member.  As Adler tells us,    “Christianity is in absolute contrast to ancient paganism…(it)not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that every man exploit nature for his proper ends. . .In antiquity every tree, every sprig, every stream, every hill had its own. . .guardian spirit. . .By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feeling of natural objects.” (Adler, 1986)

Another aspect of these two movements that flies in the face of Western religion is the intimate contact their followers share with spirits.  Take for example the Eskimo shaman who, in addition to speaking with the spirits of the dead, may also work with “an infinite number of nature spirits that render (him) service, each in its fashion.” (Eliade, 2004) Compare this to the following description applied to one who practices the pagan religion of Wicca, or The Craft:  “She stirs up storms that invade whole communities of people. She conducts vast collective energies to our very doorstep…These undirected unhumanized spirit forces are symbolized for us as ghosts, dead ancestors, gods and goddesses come up from the world below.” (Adler, 1986).

And while communicating with spirits and returning onesself to the leafy bosom of Nature might be reason enough for Shamanism and Paganism to stand at odds with the forces of organized religion, there is at the very heart of the conflict, one central concept shared by both towards which no organized religion, with its ossified and dogma heavy power structure can turn a blind eye; and that is the simple fact that Shamanism and Paganism not only thrive outside the realm of central authority, they rail against it, and more importantly, they liberate those who practice them from its clutches.

Whether Great Spirit or Goddess, the creator is something which can be experienced personally.  The Shaman steps directly into the presence of that which gave him life and pleads for the good of his people.  For the Pagan, “(t)he statue and the sacred grove were transparent windows to experience…means by which the witness was escorted through to sacred ground beyond and participated in the divine.” (Adler, 1986)

And this, perhaps, beyond all other reasons is why both Paganism and Shamanism are currently experiencing a resurgance.  When all around him is measured solely by its material value, and the need to consume has dehumanized the tradesman, poisoned the rivers, and laid the rain forests bare,  many a man will seek comfort in the arms of the divine.  And rather than burden himself beneath the weight of secular authority disguised as the Word of God, would strip himself naked, stand upon the cool green grass, and howl at his Creator.

Our current experience, rife with political scandal, police brutality, insane wars in which greedy and frightened old men attempt to convince the rest of us that carpet bombing civilians is doing the work of God, and stories of child molestations in rectories and chuches, has taught many of us that the word of authority is not to be believed, much less trusted.

And so we’re left to find our own way home, picking and choosing that which rings true, and turning our backs on the rest.  While modern shamanic practitioners often follow the path of Core Shamanism, which seeing the symbols, spirits, trappings, and ceremonies as universal, lifts these things from their cultural contexts and makes them available to all,   modern Pagans often cobble together a religious experience based on everthing “from ancient symbols and ancient myths, to the old polytheistic religions of the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Celts, and the Sumarians.  They are reclaiming these sources, transforming them into something new, and adding to them the visions of Rogert Graves, even of J.R.R. Tolkien and other writers of science fiction and fantasy, as well as some of the teachings of the remaing aboriginal peoples.” (Adler, 1986)

It is as if Western Monotheism, with its shackles of blind obedience has left us cold, and so we weave a patchwork quilt of spirituality and faith to keep us warm.

Works Cited
Adler, M. (1986). Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess Worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today. New York: The Penguin Group.
Eliade, M. (2004). Shamanism Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Harner, M. (1990). The Way of the Shaman. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

“Out of the silence…”

Posted in ceremony, Inspirational, Religion, Spirituality on October 8, 2012 by Standing West

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of some friends this weekend;   the operative word in that statement being “Friends”.  It was a Quaker wedding, the first we’d ever been to, and the simple beauty of the whole thing struck a chord.

The Meeting  House was practical, even rugged in its construction, and I was taken back to the grange hall and country church my Grandmother’s family rented out for the family reunions I’d attended in my youth.    I was overcome by the familiar smell of ancient timber, and the immediate and tangible presence of the Divine.

After we’d gathered, the Clerk stood up and announced that we’d observe a few moments of silence; and that when everyone was ready, the ceremony would evolve out of that silence.  Within her words I observed not only a direction for the events that would unfold, but a clear and solid metaphor for the process of creation.  What she’d suggested was not the cold, stiff, ceremonial quiet I’d found myself smothered by so many times during my staunch Roman Catholic upbringing, but a wholesome, pregnant stillness, charged with immeasurable possibility.

After a few minutes, the couple rose, exchanged their vows, and signed the wedding contract.  When this was finished, the silence returned until all those who wished to speak had done so. Then, with a simple handshake, it was over.

When we find ourselves buried by the onslaught of activity that threatens to consume our every waking moment, and everything seems to hit us faster and faster, it’s important to remember to stop and catch our breath, to listen for the stillness behind everything, and to let our actions evolve out of the silence. ..

Posted in Religion, Shamanism, Spirituality on April 30, 2012 by Standing West

“A society that loses the capacity for the sacred, that lacks the power of human imagination, that cannot practice empathy, ultimately ensures its own destruction. “

 – Chris Hedges

An absolutely dead-on piece of writing which, if my own opinion were to count for anything, should be circulated far and wide…

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