Learn about the origins and perspectives of this work
Water Location will Involve All of the Cosmos
The modern outlook has meant that the early human imagination of the world has lost cultural imagination of forces outside of the human. We're left in a seemingly mechanical world that works only on atoms, chemistry and physics. But the broader truth is that we are richer for having ideas about the non-human participants in life and the unseen forces that influence the world. In the old indigenous imagination, all of these are also "persons" and are co-members of community of life. This is what is meant here by "cosmology."
Elders of the Dagara, a tribe located in Burkina Fasso and Ghana in West Africa, decided to share their knowledge of healing. It was a way to show the value of their culture to their own youth. On their instruction, ritual leaders Malidoma and Sobonfu Somé came to the west three decades ago. Their writings have become classics in the field.
In the Dagara worldview, every person belongs in an elemental clan. The clan is like a home base for working with all of the elements. Elemental energies, in a person, or a community, need balance. The Dagara are particularly renowned for their storehouse of ritual, healing, and "shamanic" knowledge. Over the past two decades of working within these particular teachings, I have felt at home (I was in Africa as a child for a time), and became an appointed ambassador.
Earth, Fire, and Water are common in many "medicine wheels." The Dagara "separate the bones" from the Earth, and call that Mineral—stone, bone, crystal. The fifth element they call Nature—this is all living things; plants and animals. So it is an earth based cosmology, focused on the world we live in. It is also an animistic worldview, taking the position that there is spirit in all things.
The first surface level of seeing a cosmology can be called a map of the horizontal; but cosmological systems also have a vertical dimension. Spirit is the view from on high—the urge to "Unity," and transcendence. Soul is the wisdom of accepting what emerges from the low places—immanence and "Diversity." Both are needed to complete a "three dimensional" picture. A cosmology is a cataloguing system of traditional knowledge and wisdom.
To Find the Waters is to Find Your Own Voice
In the indigenous imagination, a person's fate is written by circumstances of birth, but their destiny is also a stamp of particular potential, inclination, and passion native to the individual. The troubles, challenges, and wounds you have experienced are a key to this gift. The healing process of becoming whole redeems wounds. It is redeemed wounds that are the source of healing.
In this sense, your voice is your own personal and one of a kind knowledge about the waters of life and the waters of death. The trouble you survive makes you a potential expert in dealing with that kind of trouble, and therefore being a trustworthy, credible guide for others. The voice of the wild genius in a person may be silenced and hidden behind conditioning or trauma. Releasing this voice is the business of healing.
"What is this?" asks Lyra in Phillip Pullman's trilogy
"His Dark Materials."
Your own redeemed trouble will have a grand idea to give a certain healing to the entire world, It is that generous. But it is not possible for one person. That longing inevitably gets tempered by the understanding that your own "medicine" needs allies, even allies who do things differently than you. Different medicines, the style they are delivered in, can help in other situations that you cannot.
Talking about it in this way, your "voice" is your medicine, what you create; what you particularly and uniquely bring to the perennial job of revitalizing culture. It can show up in diverse ways in a life, but also tends to be a unifying factor. Your own healing is pointing toward becoming a healer.
"It's an alethiometer.
It tells the truth.
You are meant to have it.
It is of the utmost importance
to all of us,
and perhaps to all creation."
The wild voice can be a revolutionary urge—it wants to create reform, it doesn't want to put up with the status quo. This can cause it to burst out in an explosive energy that can cause destruction. Seeing injustice, it can want to tear everything down and start anew. Dealing with this volatile energy, and bringing it to maturity, can be called the business of initiation, or initiatory work. Tradition and innovation are supposed to find a balance in each generation afresh. Each generation faces the task of journeying to find and retrieve the waters of life and the waters of death. The modern world has lost the ways of the dynamic conversation between tradition and revitalization. We are surrounded by mindless destruction and repudiation of tradition in the name of "progress."
Water Carrying is a Capacity of Knowing Grief
"“Grief is not a feeling it is a capacity. It is not something that disables you, we are not on the receiving end of grief we are on the practising end of grief.”
Our time is a time of ongoing obliteration against anything wild. Nature, and any cultures or cultural practice that dares to defy the supremacy of this project. And we carry the toxicity of passed down grief from the injuries and violence of the past. In turn, this toxicity gets acted out again.
A world that hungers from the lack of knowledge and understanding about grief will seek to erase anything old—cultures, traditional knowledge, even Eldership itself. In the place of Eldership we are left with simply "olders," uninitiated, unfit to lead culture, concentrated on their own convenience because there has been no visible way to deal with the grief of our times. We have lost initiation processes that could make olders into Elders, just as there has been a loss of initiations for young people.
An almost unrelenting grief. And it is dealt with, by and large, by ignoring it, or suppressing it. We don't have the old ritual ways of dealing with it and so it can end up being carried in people's bodies. Positive thinking and spiritual bypassing are understandable in a place that has lost the traditions of dealing with grief. Yet many cultures see grief as an essential guide for community.
Dealing with grief is to both release toxicity and to join with a sense of purpose to reform injustice. There is a toxic part which needs to get out and be expressed. There is another aspect of grief that gets picked up and carried. The real knowledge about how to deal with grief is not to be found in psychology, but rather in the indigenous understanding of the cyclic nature of life and the reciprocity that necessitates that grief and praise are two sides of the same coin.
"Everybody has to die. I will die, and you will die. The important thing is how to live until you die."
Nawal El Saadawi
In the act of proper grieving, both communities and people reconnect more strongly with what is still alive, and know the difference between a thing that should be let go and a thing that should be fought for. A grief is a community situation for that reason. There is a lot of work to be done.
The Water Source is Located Through Ritual
In places that I have been to speak to people about the beliefs and realities of the indigenous world, there has been a consistent number of people who have been so touched, even profoundly shaken by what I was telling them that I have to believe that I was not so much appealing to their minds as I was awakening something within their souls — something that has always been there. This tells me that there must be an indigenous person within each of us."
Community must include three different kinds of community members—human beings, nature, and the spirit world. This last one includes ancestors, and what might be called archetypal energies by modern psychology. The communication between them is necessary, because they all live together, they are all part of the world.
Plant medicines are currently popular as a method for opening the doorway of communication to nature and the spirit world. But most indigenous cultures actually use rhythm (and recognize the Other Worldly nature of dreams). In the modern setting, there is a danger of using the doorway of plant medicines as a kind of consumer entertainment, without any clear responsibilities to contribute the message to community upon return. Skills of working with consciousness through ritual without substances are demanding, disciplined, and embodied practices, but not out of reach.
Ritual is not at all, in this sense, daily habits, or repeated mindless reenactments based on fearful taboos. Rather, it is an exciting conversation carried out between the Other World, humans, and the elements. The language, as mentioned above, can be in rhythm, dance, art, song, emotion, story, intuition, trance, divination, healing. It is a language with a history, a validity that is shown effectively, practically, through its ability to create intimacy amongst members of community.
In this context, ritual is an essential ongoing part of the life of community. Indeed, without ritual, there can be no true community.
It is meant to be radical, mature, sophisticated, serious in intent, wild in execution, humorous at moments, moving, accepting of tears, celebrating of change, noteworthy, extraordinary, stylish, revelatory, medicinal, initiatory, life giving and life restoring. Ritual is the native human language of retrieving the waters of life and the waters of death to revitalize culture for those alive today.
It must necessarily come from the ground of understanding death and grief. Our great love for the world, for everything and everybody that we care for is a reckless project destined to end in loss. We love them anyway, and that grief/praise is the ground of real community, the need for ritual, the necessity of gathering despite the storm, to put losses down, to pick up the living and celebrate what is being born and thriving or suffering. Ritual is about love.
Water Work Requires a Partnership with Trickster
"It is hard to see from the modern perspective that admitting to being in trouble or grief is a kind of leadership that shows the community where to go next.
Complaints are not a sign of weakness or failure, but rather, if delineated more clearly, an accurate diagnosis of the prescription for healing."
an Expiry Date
It is possible that you arrived here feeling the pain of challenges, and on the other hand, you might be a leader, or an emerging one, that is growing and interested in the kinds of things discussed here. Either way, those two impulses are connected.
Leaders face the task of continuing with their own development and healing and deepening their practice. Ultimately, that leadership is headed toward Eldership, which has standards of breadth and depth not called for by the modern world, yet absolutely necessary for the health of both culture and nature.
The facts of Eldership mean that your personal work will continue unfolding like layers of an onion being peeled. That's fine. Understand that this is normal. I know it is difficult to carry both the space holding of leadership and find the trust to be vulnerable in your own healing work. That is the way it is, and we will have to work through it.
On the other hand, you might be feeling, "This is what I am drawn toward, but I'm not planning to be a leader—I need these things myself!" Again, you are on a journey, and you will find that facing your own healing responsibly is a keystone to leadership. Facing trouble, and surviving it, really living through it, is a thing that makes what could be called becoming "street-wise" about that exact kind of trouble. So your wounds end up being the very thing that holds the secret formula to your gifts. This is the kind of knowledge that can be called one of the examples of "Trickster Wisdom." Some other examples:
"The mythological trickster figure is the God of reversals, treachery, and unexpected betrayals . . .
this “never—get—too—far—behind—or—ahead” energy is the source of the ecological principle of sustainability."
an Expiry Date
Feeling at home in any particular place only comes with feeling at home in the wide cosmos.
Voicing the true voice practically seems to necessitate listening to the unseen Other World.
Grief is a navigational guidance toward life founded on the knowledge of death.
Wild abandonment in trance is built from an ordered foundation and dedicated diligence.
Ritual is a "technology of community" with a surprising sophistication about change.
Tradition is meant to be disrupted and revitalized by purpose and the forces of wild voice.
Going down into diversity and confusion is the only way to ensure true unity and clarity.
The warrior sees things through the eyes of battle, the adventurer sees things through the eyes of love. But eventually, the warrior will have to graduate to the study of love, and likewise, the adventurer will have to know and understand a thing or two about battle. That's the way it is, it can't be apologized for. So that is here in this work, that tension, that uncomfortable brotherhood and sisterhood of differences.
Both battle and love require the masculine powers of penetration or standing firm as well as the feminine powers of reception or enclosure. Either can be active, either can be in repose—doing and accepting are both necessary. The different flavours of energy in gender are inherent in nature, they are frequencies, not boxes or labels. Notice that the sun and the moon work together just fine.
On the topic of gender, it must be said clearly: anyone who is in the many categories of "queer" is also welcome in this work. In fact, in some traditions, it is understood that the Other World doesn't even have a doorway of access without those weird people. Etymologically, "weird" comes from the Celtic "wyrd," meaning "connected to the Other World. Queer is weird, goodly, and rightly so, and if anything, we should join them, be unusual in our own way, like they are, not the other way around.