Explorers—The Free Independent Study Course
Journeys | Explorers | Reception
In this section:
Welcome to the course
Working through the course
Support for your study
Welcome to the Course
Welcome to this introductory self study guide. This is a free resource, and you now have access to all of the resources immediately. You are about to embark on a journey to introduce the idea of working with ritual for healing. Through this journey, my hope is that you encounter ways of connecting with the natural elements that you can apply in your life. I hope you come closer to the mythic imagination which is a native quality of our humanity.
Working through the basic curriculum will give you a framework of understanding, inspiration to deepen your attention, and some practical experience to apply in your own life, or apply in your professional practice working with people. Beyond the course itself, this site has extensive resources for deeper investigation and learning.
On this page find the beginning of the course in the next section, some additional optional resources, and finally, at the end of the page, a reminder about our other work: deep study of ritual, myth and the Elements.
The course has been laid out to work best on a desktop or laptop computer. There is no need to give your email, but if you do, you can stay up to date on our email list.
NOTE—The material in the course is COPYLEFT —meaning you can share it as long as you properly attribute the authorship and communicate the conditions of the copyleft to each subsequent user. The videos are available publicly through YouTube.
The course is designed to work with small steps, what we call the "next best step." The sections of the course are laid out using a cosmology of 5 elements as the organizing principle. Along the way, by necessity, other concepts also make cameo appearances. But there is no need to understand it all at once . . . just go step by "next step."
Much injury to our souls is caused by the very structure of modernity. Many people struggle to feel welcome or to express their purpose. The modern world isolates people with their grief, both personal and global. People are confused about how to work with their ancestry and endure legacies that have been handed down, sometimes toxic ones. Change is forced upon us, and with the skills of agility and resources for adaptation sometimes out of reach, we get thrown into crisis.
Obviously these are big topics, and ones we wrestle with through our lives. This is only an introduction, but you can get some practical, applicable help. And I believe it will help you to ask some better questions about our relationship to the mythic world and natural elements.
The West African Dagara tribe represents the world in a cosmology of five "elements"—Earth, Mineral, Water, Fire, and Nature. This cosmology has been shared with the modern world through the work of Malidoma Somé and Sobonfu Somé. They have both written several books about ritual and healing from an indigenous perspective. An inland tribe, the Dagara were able to escape the worst effects of the slavery industry, and managed to preserve their culture into current times.
Because of this circumstance, and the work authorized by Dagara Elders to share this knowledge, we have a unique window into which indigenous intelligence and sensibility can be seen. Dagara ritual emphasizes the practicality of working with the "other-than-human" world of the elements and the mythic imagination. In this short course, we will attempt to do the same—each bit of work has practical "tasks" or "assignments" or "suggestions" to experiment with.
There is no need to "believe" anything in advance, or even later. Simply bring the open mind of a learner and explore.
Working through the course
Each section is suggested to take a couple of hours to complete. They are composed of reading material, curated videos, and practical assignments. You should be fine completing them on your own, but if you do consider the mentored version, it will be well worth the deepening.
Support for your study
If you are working as an independent learner, consider if you can find a friend to work through the material together. As the African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." All of us modern people could probably do well to consider the virtue of slowing down where possible to counteract the frenzy of the modern world that impacts our nervous systems, sometimes adversely.
"The way to do research is to attack the facts at the point of greatest astonishment."
“No, I would not want to live in a world without dragons, as I would not want to live in a world without magic, for that is a world without mystery, and that is a world without faith.”
“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”
Journeys | Explorers | Embark
In this section:
I believe you will meet some interesting teachers in this area of study and healing.
Consider finding a "buddy" to work with
Schedule two hours over each of the next five weeks
Optional, set up 30 minute "buddy" calls for support
Read through this section
Follow the prompts to the the 5 modules
You can always return here to find your navigation.
Study of ritual (or ceremony as some call it) traditionally had 3 main paths, which often overlapped. Skills of healing could be (1) handed down through lineage, (2) learned in an apprenticeship, or (3) could be acquired through direct "instruction by nature."
In fact, everyone who learns will probably have some influences from these three sources. Lineage, in an indigenous viewpoint, may not always have to meet the requirement of being "unbroken." Such energy seems to re-emerge as if from the ground up, even in dire circumstances of cultural decimation. Culture wants to live and be renewed, since it ultimately is sourced from the land, or, as they say in Australia, from "Country."
Those who are drawn to study ritual (in the indigenous sense of healing work within a context of animism), according to academic and first source literature, often experience a kind of calling to vocation that cannot, in the end, be denied. It is reported that refusal of the call can initiate a period of illness that will not complete until the quest has begun.
The modern medical system is under a critique of credibility because it can be seen as a model which treats the human being as a repairable machine. It does not have a robust understanding of the complexity of emotional and spiritual aspects of people in relation to health which is set in a context of community with nature and spirit. But the searching for something more holistic has meant that a plethora of alternative therapies vie for attention in a marketplace that can fall prey to the influences of fads and promises.
Within this background, it is prudent to suggest some checklist items that are easy enough to remember and apply when learning a healing technique or system. We should also remember along the way that each kind of medicine will have its "water of life" side, as well as the "water of death" side.
This is simply to say, that in the pursuit of health and wholeness, a system of healing will have a point of view on both ingesting nutrition and excreting waste. This can be rephrased as saying that systems of healing notice the need for both, one the one hand, nourishment and metabolization and on the other hand, differentiation or boundaries.
The West African Dagara tribe cosmology of the 5 elements emphasizes that healing work with the "Other World" should yield practical results. Below is a brief summary of the qualities of each of the 5 elements. Initially, look at the connection with the elements as a way of accessing nourishment, and clearing what is no longer serving health.
1. Earth—the element of welcoming, abundance, home. A main question here is, "does the attention to welcome go deep enough to begin to ameliorate the deep sense of dislocation in modernity?" At the same time, is it understood that this same wisdom must also be the foundation of boundaries of exclusion necessary for protection?
2. Mineral—the element associated with life purpose and structure. In the work, is there a sense of advocating for and championing the unique nature of each person to express? On the other hand, our unique nature is actually meant to serve community. This sense of service seems to be in tension with the "rebel-without-a-cause" freedom from edges and limits.
3. Water—the element which acts like an Elder to humans in the realm of grief. The ocean will never refuse tears, just as the Earth will never take a day off from its duty of gravity and place of home. Grief is the praise of what you have lost, just like praise is the grief for what you still see alive, because everything you love will eventually die. So the release of grief, the recognition of condition, means that the gentleness of listening, again, can only be protected by an equal type of fierceness, appreciation and gratitude, what Rumi called a "fierce eye for beauty."
4. Fire—dreams, myth, ancestors—the source of energy that influences us from the realms of mystery. Tradition is always meant to be rewed and updated to work practically. A way of talking about the influence of legacies that simply pass down injuries is the term "hungry ghosts." The Dagara say both that what is passed down through tradition can be nourishing, and that hungry ghosts need to be cut off from their vampire-like connection to living people.
Working with Fire will also be our doorway in to the idea of working with myth as a source of wisdom.
5. Nature—all living things, meaning plants and animals. Change from one state to another in nature reminds us of ourselves. The way that an aspect of nature always seems to be as it is with a comfort in full identity makes us long for a similar level of authenticity. Yet authenticity is not a simple matter for humans. We have the ability to mask our true identity. The skill of masking our true nature is potentially neurotic, but is also a delightful quality of humour and play, the juxtaposition of perspectives. Studying the wisdom of the nature clan is a way to deepen our ability to respond while keeping the native biological intelligence of our skills to react.
"Everything yields to diligence"
Journeys | Explorers | Resources
In this section:
Additional resources for study
Additional resources for study
f you are wanting to study more on your own, but want some guidance about which teachers are recommended in this area of ritual, myth and animism, this section is for you!
The following authors have written extensively, and any of their books are worthwhile.
Malidoma Somé (Dagara ritual and cosmology)
Sobonfu Somé (Dagara ritual and cosmology)
Michael Meade (working with myth and ritual)
Martín Prechtel (Tzutihil Mayan ritual and cosmos)
Robert Bly (soul work with myth and poetry)
Marion Woodman (soul work with myth)
Robert Johnson (soul work with Greek myth)
Lewis Mehl Madrona (Trickster Wisdom)
You can also find 5 sections of my book on this site.
"Proper teaching is recognized with ease. You can know it without fail because it awakens within you that sensation which tells you this is something you have always known."
“In the end we retain from our studies only that which we practically apply.”
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Journeys | Explorers | Invitations
Invitation to our paid programs
A quick reminder that we do run programs that are guided by teachers and mentoring. Because these programs are delivered in groups, the cohort support is a key feature that provides value. We would love to meet you in one of our programs if you have an interest in any of the programs below.
Until then, best regards,
Keep Going—your work is needed in the world.