The Role of Community Ritual in the Time of the Great Turning
Messages from Black Elk and Malidoma Some
Among all indigenous non-western cultures ritual is found to be a fundamental, integral, and instrumental practice incorporated into the daily tribal lifestyle. Various forms of ritual are expressed throughout the entire life cycle journey here on Mother Earth. Ritual is utilized in non-western cultures at the very beginning of life through a rite of passage that welcomes the birth of the human soul into this magical, energetic, and paradoxical plane of existence. A significant emphasis is designed into special ceremonies that support change through major life transitions. Furthermore, at the end of the life cycle ritual is invoked as a rite of passage that transitions the human soul from this world to the next plane of existence, which indigenous peoples would say is the return to the land of the ancestors. So throughout daily life as well as through major developmental and transitional stages, non-western cultures incorporate ritual as a way to initiate the sojourner into more deeply connected, expanded and evolved relationship with the various micro-to-macro planes of existence that interdependently interpenetrate one another on this Earth. Malidoma Some (1994) says that the purpose of ritual is “to create harmony between the human world and the world of the gods, ancestors and nature (Some p. 294).
In Western so-called civilized societies, the harmonious relationships that existed between the human species and its interdependent web of conscious and unconscious connections with all other has been severed or dulled at best. As a result, this disconnected and dysfunctional relationship has caused an epidemic of suffering that Malidoma calls “a great sickness of the soul” (Some, p. 138). This sickness of the soul interpenetrates the Western mind, which alienates the human experience from the natural rhythms and cycles of nature. As a result people become disconnected from their “original medicine,” abiding in the center or heart of the soul. This shunted (the act or process of turning aside or moving to an alternate course; i.e. a railroad switch) mechanical way of being in the world is the causation for a relentless state of restlessness for which there is no “civilized” cure.
Both Wallace Black Elk of the Lakota tribe in America, as well as Malidoma Some from the Dagara tribe in Africa agree that the Western educational process is at the root of the western dissociation from the fundamental core energies of life. Black Elk (1991) emphatically and poignantly proclaims that “education is the “point destruction begins” (Elk, p. 14). In agreement, Some believes that literacy causes an “eviction of a soul from its body – the taking over the body by another spirit” (Some, p. 156 ). Malidoma believes that through his experience in the white man’s left-brained non-imaginative model of Westernized education, and through his religious indoctrination, that he had grown away from himself into a mold that tried to make him into someone he wasn’t. All the while he yet “craved for himself” – that aspect of the soul wherein his original medicine yearned to be known, experienced, and expressed.
Black Elk “went inside of English language and looked through the white man’s eyes to see what he sees,” (Elk, p. 13 to understand how he observes things. Black Elk became aware that there were a lot of worldly false “camouflages” – rock and roll music, television, alcohol, etc. – that masked the true nature of reality, which could only be experienced through finely attuned bodily senses. Through his keenly skilled perceptions, Black Elk recognized that humans numbed their restlessness through these camouflaged activities and consider these experiences to be a form of “relaxation.” Furthermore, Black Elk feels that with the absence of indigenous ritual, as well as through the introduction of formal education, humans became disconnected from their center. This is why many native people say that the white man is “not a real human being.”
Concurrently, Malidoma feels that “as long as we are not ourselves, we will try and be what other people are” (Some, p. 236), which are soulless drones marching in synchronistic procession to the beat of a Westernized mechanical industrialized ego-centered greed-consuming culture. The path back to the indigenous soul – the return to oneself and its individual original medicine – that vibrates and moves in succinct harmony with the natural rhythms of life can only emerge when one is initiated into what Some calls “Traditional education.”
Traditional education from non-western cultures is grounded in a rooted connection with the natural rhythms and cycles of life where the center point of the seven directions exists in a state of soulful stillness and silence. Our center is the place where our original medicine – our innate talents and gifts – the silence, and the core of our essence abides and thrives. Once we merge with and kindle the latent potentialities of our center, those innate and unique soul gifts and talents emerge to effectively and efficiently interpenetrate the individual and collective fields of the unconscious with the consciousness. While abiding in and moving from this centered state of fullness of being, we learn to fully embody and then gift our unique talents in service to the tribal community. Furthermore, connecting with and operating from this center empowers the individual to calm the insidiously restless state of the Western mind. Unfortunately, the chaotic disorder sustained in the collective Western mind is clearly reflected throughout the unsustainable practices in Westernized world systems. In the face of global chaos, the only possible hope for the survival of the human and other species is a “Self-Centered” reclamation of the indigenous Soul and a transformation of the Western mind – which in essence what the christian tradition means when they say that one must be “born again.” We must become who we are to do what must be done!
Malidoma, a man trained in both Western and non-Western forms of education holds a unique and balanced perspective of two ideological out-of-phase contending cultures. He experienced how Western educational processes alienates one from their soul, and how indigenous traditional education causes a return to one‘s soul. That is why Malidoma firmly believes that “nothing important can happen until the person is fully integrated again” (Some, p. 163). To accomplish this goal of “remembering” who we truly are, the tribal community desperately needs mentors, facilitators — the ritual elders to guide the way. There is a creative genius that awaits expression in each of us, but we must go through the shadow to awaken, unpack and embody those embryonic gifts and talents. Malidoma states that “One man needs the eyes of another man to see what the shadow of the tree hides” (Some, p. 77). The elders in the community are best equipped and qualified to function in this capacity.
The elders facilitate this act of remembering” (Some, p. 310) in non-western cultures through psychically designed and intuitively orchestrated rituals, which are experienced through various types of rites of passage. Shamanic teacher and author Angeles Arrien (1993) states that this type of intentional and soulfully “directed energy causes change” (Arrien, p. 5). In absence of ritual, she has observed that when an adolescent is not initiated into adulthood, they will remain and adolescent for the rest of their life. So the presence of the elder is paramount for individual tribal members to stay intimately connected to their center while growing through their developmental stages.
Some (1994) feels that “the (elder) must live in the young like a grounding force that tames the tendency toward bold but senseless actions and shows them the path of wisdom. In the absence of elders, the impetuosity of youth becomes the slow death of the community “(Some, p. 310). Translating this understanding into how we perceive the mindset of the Western uninitiated leaders, we can clearly observe that they are stuck in the development state of adolescence. Suspended in this stage of human growth and development, uninitiated adults are “lost…in the overflowing energies of youth” that waste energy “in useless pursuits” (Some, p. 310). These “useless pursuits” are evidenced through the Western unsustainable theories and practices, which embody the “Great American Dream,” which in reality has become what I call the “Great American Delusion.”
Fortunately, a shift in the collective unconscious is unfolding and expressing through the Earth Beings that are connected and rooted to the core of their being where their individual original medicine lives. The Earth Mother is summoning all of Her children to return to their true home – their essential nature – their indigenous soul. A place for people in the Western culture is to begin is to spend quality time outdoors in Her sanctuary communing with the diversity found in the natural order of creation. “Solitary time that is spent in nature for the purposes of reflection and guidance reawakens us to our own life purpose and remembering the original medicine that is ours to offer to all creatures and human beings” (Arrien, p. 91). While spending time in Her presence, questions like the following can assist one in connecting with their indigenous soul and its purpose here in this Life — Where in my life have I brought forward the creative aspects of who I am? What is my original medicine (my gifts and talents) that is nowhere else duplicated” (Arrien, p. 104)? The quest you take is found in the quality and depth of the questions you ask. Simply put, the quest is in the question.
A renaissance of non-western “traditional education,” – the kind of indigenous education Wallace Black Elk and Malidoma Some experienced – is organically emerging and coalescing within the contemporary Westernized mind streams. As a result, an awakening is occurring both on an individual level as well as within the various systems that make up the whole of western societies. as an example, Ecopsychology is quickly becoming recognized as an integral and noteworthy academic component within the educational models, as well as in the mental health professions. Systems theory, Biomimicry, and permaculture have the potential to revolutionize the scientific field of inquiry and practice. Plant based medicines, and shamanic ways of healing are being embraced as authentic methodolgies for restoring holistic balance and healing to the physical body as well as to the emotional and mental states.
In non-western communities ritual and rites of passage are common observances and essential components of a healthy, integrative, sustainable, and vibrate tribal society. An organic expression of these ancient rites and ways of being with and experiencing the world are emerging in Western cultures with an authentic indigenous yet original voice. As each newly formed tribe deeply listens to the Earth Mother’s will, the ancestral voices, and their indigenous soul’s original medicine, new archetypical seeds are planted in the collective unconscious. Emerging from this womb of creative potential is genuine earth based rituals that contain the capacity to become integral components of Western societies that contributes wholeness to the tribe that has now become a planetary whole.
Some organizations that lead men, women, adolescents, elders, and those entering this realm that successfully assist them through ritualistic rites of passage. These kinds of organizations are exponentially growing in popularity throughout the Western culture. Examples of contemporary indigenous ritual and rite of passage practices: