Ways of Knowing

SUNSETI’ve lived in the coastal South since July 2008. That is exactly 7 years to the month—the periodicity that apparently rules over my whereabouts.

Seven is a number associated with the personal journey, the desire to refresh perspective, endeavor, and relationships. The mystery is figuring out what that means in the latest warp of one’s universe.

Over my lifetime, I have devoted time to reset my internal compass, appreciating that life is a fleeting experience and one to be taken seriously but also with alacrity.

Between 1985-89, living in Southern California, I studied shield-making with a Native American teacher. She was patient and methodical in helping me understand this ancient spiritual practice. I continued to make personal shields through 1999. I saved only two of many. Each time I find them, stored in my belongings, they usher back the time and emotions when I created them as a way of knowing.

Basic Idea: A circular shield contains four quadrants which are directional, representing distinct aspects of an individual’s or a group’s spiritual journey. Each quadrant is given a specific color. North: white for wisdom and peace; white buffalo. South: red or green for innocence and receptivity; mouse. West: black for sunset, introspection and exit at death; bear.  East: yellow for sunrise, inspiration and the divine; eagle.

The circular shield itself is symbolic of the Earth, the Universe, the tribe, the family, or the whole individual. The first shield I made used an embroidery hoop as the frame. I stretched canvas over it and painted the shield. But that was just to start learning the meaning of the elements.

A willow branch is traditional for making the hoop. But that varies by region. In true shield making the artist collects the materials from nature with prayers given and tobacco offered as the willow branch, animal skin, and objects are collected. My first teacher allowed me to intuitively choose objects which she provided: feathers, shells, ribbons, etc.

If you wish to study shields, a good place to start is the collection at the National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington, D.C. If you have not been there, you should plan to go. It is a magnificent place. Online travelers will also find great educational articles and webcasts. You can explore the collections online as well. The current exhibit on the Inka Civilization is an amazing opportunity to understand the great wisdom of indigenous people and how their knowledge and experience can inform modern society.

Links to Explore:

Live Web Casts from the Naitonal Museum of the American Indian

Shield Making Materials

Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm

The Good Mind

The legacy of the Peacemaker [the man credited with bringing the Iroquois Nations together under a Pax Iroquois] is best illustrated in his concept of The Good Mind. The Peacemaker believed that a healthy mind naturally seeks peace and that a nation of individuals using reason and harboring good will in their hearts can not only establish peace in the worst circumstances but maintain it forever.

At the time the Peacemaker was born, the region was beset by wars among the five tribes (Onandaga, Mohawk, Huron, Seneca, and Cayuga). In some areas the hatred ran so deep that individual warriors practiced cannibalism on their enemies. These dark times were at least 1,000 years before the Europeans arrived in what is now New York State.

There are noteworthy circumstances surrounding the Peacemaker. First, his grandmother had a dream that a great man would be born who would save the tribes from utter destruction. He  was recognized as a youth for his exceptional qualities of mind as someone who would become a leader. But he had a problem—a speech impediment (stuttering)—which later required the assistance of the great Iroquois orator, Hiawatha, to help him accomplish his mission to bring the tribes of his nation together under the Great Tree of Peace—the democracy of constitutional laws and principles that exist to this day.

When I began studying with my teachers in Yuma, Arizona (see previous blog post, The First American Democracy) I was completely unaware of this body of law, the Iroquois legacy of which some passed into the U.S. Constitution, nor was I aware that the Iroquois Confederacy had maintained peaceful coexistence for 750 years before the founding of the fledgling American democracy.

The most important lesson of my four years of study was the reading of Basic Call to Consciousness, written as an address to Western civilization in the 1970’s when the Iroquois were still under threat and domination by the powers that be: the Canadian government and New York State legislature. Basic Call is still relevant in its astute analysis of the values that drive Western societies and how they lead to the destruction of the very basis of life.

In Basic Call to Consciousness Americans have a useful guidebook on how to strengthen our own democracy by broadening our bill of rights to include the natural world and all the life in it as sacred because,  everything emanates from our common Creator. Practically, the document gave the early constitutional authors further reason to formulate a bicameral congress and institute a process of checks and balances. For example, the Peacemaker charged the women of the tribe to act as arbiters of peace by choosing the male leaders and representatives and removing them should their thoughts and actions stray from the sacred purpose of the Great Law.

I remember being shocked to find this gem of a small book in whose pages lay all the wisdom needed to solve entrenched political, economic, and relational problems here and abroad.  But I realized the document was politically dangerous in the U.S. precisely because it would prevent greed and avarice from being the dominant drivers in our social and cultural enterprises. In fact, when my teachers suggested I read it, the book was out of print and hard to find. But I eventually did find a used copy at the Bohdi Tree bookstore in Los Angeles. It was considered an occult book and probably still is by a society that relegates any true challenge to its economic values as dangerous and suspect.

Today you can find Basic Call to Consciousness on Amazon.com. I consider that progress!


Synchronicities

On my first break from the teaching, I drove to San Diego to stay with friends from my work days at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation.  At that time, the clinic gave health and wellness classes at Rancho la Puerto, a spa and retreat center near Tecaté, Baja California.  My friends arranged for three days of rest and contemplation. I was exhausted, and confused about whether to continue my education in Yuma.

The resort was on the grounds of a previous Essene community established in the 1920s. The library still shelved many of the community’s books. I wandered in there one evening, not knowing the background of the ranch, and found a history of how the community was founded by Edmond Bordeau Szekely, an internationally known translator and student of world religions. The American Essene Community flourished for over fifty years, and gradually evolved into the present-day spa as more and more people wanted to experience the Essene quietude, exercise, vegetarian food, and spiritual practice.

Szekely is the scholar who translated the Essene Gospel of Peace from the original Aramaic, the native language of Jesus. He was given permission to translate the texts that were kept under lock and key in the Vatican. Szekely later discovered he followed on the path of St. Benedict and the monks of the Monte Cassino Monastery who protected these documents through the ages.

The texts had been originally translated by St. Jerome in the fourth century. He found fragments of the original texts in many small communities in the desert.  Many of the residents who harbored the document fragments were descendents of the original Essenes.

These ancient documents precede the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran, and represent ancient teachings as old as eight thousand years B.C.E. (all the way back to Zarathrustra). They describe The Law. It is the same Law to which Moses referred. When St. Jerome was made the Secretary to Pope Damascus, who established a Papal Library, he was allowed to translate the ancient writings of the Essenes.

However, the translations caused a storm of criticism.  The basic principles of the teaching emanated from natural law, not the laws of man. This body of knowledge made it impossible to follow while promoting the ownership of land and the suppression of women and children to the rule of men (i.e. patriarchal government). The Essene Gospel was the original ecological literature of the west, binding human beings to the Earth and her natural rhythms in a cosmology connecting Mother Earth and Father Sky, the feminine and masculine principles.

When Pope Damascus died, his successor St. Augustine made sure these documents were suppressed. Jerome fled for his life to the desert. There he continued to search for more fragments of the ancient knowledge. After his death, Jerome’s manuscripts were scattered, but eventually many found their way into the Secret Archives of the Vatican, where they remained under lock and key.

The Essenes were a peace-loving sect that believed in the sacredness of all life, practiced vegetarianism, and held that there are spiritual manifestations for all physical phenomena. In this, they were the first quantum physicists: all matter exists in two forms, particle and wave – flesh and spirit.

They understood all of life in the universe as the Ocean of Life, and all thought in the universe as constituting the Ocean of Consciousness. It was their experience that angels connected these two realities. The Essenes believed that Moses understood this through the vision of his ancestor, Jacob, who saw angels ascending and descending a ladder connecting Heaven and Earth.

Essenes practiced self-improvement, which they deemed a life-long process. Achievement of harmony required a balance between earthly and cosmic forces. The heavenly father (cosmic) and the earthly mother (earth) are balanced: eternal life with earth; creative work with life; peace with joy; power with sun; love with water; wisdom with air. These correlations remind us that whenever we contact earthly forces, we are in contact with heavenly forces.

I eagerly read these teachings, and I was encouraged to learn that the principles and cosmology taught to me in Yuma were the same described in the Essene teachings. Here was an Earth-based spirituality making the connection between the material world and the world of thought at a universal consciousness level.

The Teacher of Righteousness in the Essene texts is believed by some to be Jesus, when he was between eighteen and thirty years of age. During this time, his whereabouts are not mentioned in the Biblical texts we have today.  Jesus and his family were Essenes, the ancient Jewish sect, existing from 250 B.C. to 60 A.D in Palestine. The community lived and taught a way of life consistent with Native American spirituality in which all things are imbued with the spirit of the Creator – rocks, water, air, plants, animals, and people. The philosophy of non-violence extended to animals, invoking a deep reverence for the living creatures of our planet. The last and most famous Essene-in-spirit was St. Francis. He lived and believed exactly as the Essenes, and his own writings are nearly identical to Essene texts.

So, I took this discovery of Szekely’s community, at the time I was questioning whether to stay with my Indian teachers, as an affirmation of the integrity of the work.  I returned to Yuma.