An Earth-based traditional cosmology
Spirit, soul and the sacred in nature
Awakening The Shamanic Force Within
Living in a predominantly urban world, it is easy to forget that shamanism derives from communities that were deeply embedded in the natural world, observed it closely and were connected to its spirits and the Earth’s soul. This is a big subject in shamanism, to which I cannot do justice in this book. That said, there can be no shamanic practice without the connection to nature and the deep knowing that we are an integral part of it because we are both planetary and cosmic beings. I will therefore concentrate on the sacred in nature and the connection between our souls and the natural environment. I will also introduce you to some basic tools that will enable you to reconnect to both nature and your own nature.
An Earth-based traditional cosmology
People all over the world who are still rooted in Earth-based traditions or connected to them have always maintained that being embedded in nature means being close to creation, the creator and the divine. In shamanic cosmology the sacred is directly experienced through creation and can be understood through observation and communication with the spirit(s) of nature.
From a shamanic viewpoint, everything in the web of life is not only alive and interrelated but also sacred, as it derives from the same spiritual field. Humans, albeit complex, are one of the manifestations of this field, but not a superior species. This is a knowing we have lost, and it has led to devastating consequences. The more we define ourselves as ’separate’ from nature, the less we follow the intent of the spiritual dimension from which we have arisen and the more we harm not only the manifest dimension of our Earth, which we can see in the ecological damage we have done, but also the spiritual and sacred dimension of the Earth and ourselves. It is therefore not surprising that we hear increasingly urgent calls from shamans, medicine people and tribal leaders to wake up to the dangerous level of our disconnection from the sacred in nature and our violation of her inherent laws.
For many generations we have been led to believe that the divine is somewhere ’out there’, but in fact we will — with some focus and engagement — find it ’right here’. The Aboriginal teacher and artist Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, who has received an honorary doctorate for her work, expresses this when she writes that it is easy for her to experience God when she hunts, is in the bush or is amongst trees, as her people have been so aware of nature that it is natural for her to feel close to the creator.1 And Carlos Perez Shuma, a Peruvian shaman, echoes this from the other side of the world when he says, ’…because in nature there is God and God talks to us in our visions.’2
This knowing of the divine in every living thing leads inherently to everything in nature being treated with respect, rather than being exploited for the gain of one species, namely our own. This doesn’t mean, however, that Earth-based cultures are sentimental about animals and plants. Animals are killed for food and plants are eaten, but understanding their inherent spirits leads to an honourable way of taking their lives. When I was in Mongolia I was touched by how the nomadic herders, whose livelihood was rearing and slaughtering animals, honoured their spirits. You could find animal skulls everywhere being used to house the spirits of the slaughtered animals. Societies that are still Earth-based will also thank the animal spirits for giving their earthly body for human nourishment and often hold ceremonies in honour of them. When I worked with shamans in South America, no food was consumed without offerings to the spirits and all leftover food was given away rather than binned. When they cut plants for healing or collected wood for a ceremony, they always left an offering in return and thanked the trees and the plants. In most traditions, including the North American, Inuit and Siberian, all edible parts of the animal are eaten, spirit guides are asked to lead the hunters to the animal spirit to thank it, and feathers, skins and furs are worn in ceremony. The contrast to our cruel factory farming and slaughtering of about 56 billion animals per year worldwide couldn’t be stronger.
Once we reconnect to the divine in nature and begin to feel it, we will also understand that sustainability is directly connected to this and appreciate the shamanic notion that nature teaches us right from wrong. Eli Gatoga, a Cherokee chief, expressed this when he said, ’The Indian made an effort to know of spiritual things from his own observations of nature, because all truth can be found in Nature.’3
The right way to live is in balance and harmony with the natural laws that are inherent in the underlying field of the divine mother. This means respecting the sacredness of all life, giving something back whenever we take something, honouring the spirits within nature, contributing positively to the underlying energetic spiritual field and striving to live in a way that sustains all creation.
Our current spiritual beliefs, based on our religions, do not support this right way of living, as they affirm human superiority instead of equality, guardianship and the sacredness of all living things: ’God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”’4
The contrast to indigenous teachings is strong. Here are just a few examples: Slava Cheltuev, a shaman from the Dyayat Kypchak clan of Russia’s Altai mountains, says: ’Our earth is sacred … living on the earth, each person must respect their place. We must respect it, protect it and it will give us life, it will give us health.’5 At the international Indigenous Leadership Gathering 2014, two of the four agendas had sustainability and sacredness at their heart, and Oren R. Lyons, university professor, author of many books and Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, pulls it together stringently: ’In the absence of the sacred, nothing is sacred. Everything is for sale.’6