Shamanism Without Borders: Walk on the Wild Side

This is part of a message I received from Carol Proudfoot Elder. I’ve been thinking a lot about Spirit Animals in their many forms, and how they seem to me to be becoming more prominent in “ordinary life” as well. Her thoughts and observations are timely in that regard. Note: I did not include the 3 long stories she refers to.

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[In a previous message] I spoke of how the Animals seem to be calling us with increasing urgency these days. They are appearing in our dreams, our journeys, our newspapers, research, and hopefully to our consciousness.

And just last week, I came across an article in which Cornell University historian Dominick LaCapra claimed that the twenty-first century will be the century of the animal. He was referring to the fact that research into animal intelligence and animal emotions has become an established agenda in disciplines of evolution, ethology, psychology, anthropology, history, philosophy, and religious studies.

Furthermore, it seems that the research in these areas are challenging many of our basic assumptions about animals—-and we are discovering that animals are more similar than dissimilar to us… that in many areas such as cognition, empathy, fairness, and moral behavior it is more a difference in degree than in kind. I am fascinated by the studies being undertaken and partly because they are validating many of the teachings embedded in our Ancestors’ stories about our interrelationship with other Beings.

So many of these stories have as their narrative line how one of the animals taught human certain behaviors that would prosper the people’s survival and other behaviors that would restore balance when disharmony occurred. These range from Bear teaching how to make poultices, to Buffalo teaching the importance of using all and wasting nothing to learning from Squirrels how to store the seeds to observing how Wolves practice adoption procedures.

These are not anthropomorphic projections, which has always been the accepted way to cast dispersions on some forms of interpretation of animal behavior. Recent research has turned the discussion upside down and we now have to make sure we are not missing some important similarities.

I shared these stories [long stories not included – Gerry] because they speak about our partnership with the animals… and not just in the “ordinary world” but in nonordinary reality too. And I am sure the Ravens were expressing their gratitude for rescuing of their young in addition to reminding all of us in the workshop: “don’t forget about us… don’t forget about us.”

When we refer to shamanism without borders, there is often the assumption that we must move out beyond our usual boundaries… I’d like to suggest that if we pay attention, we will discover the animals, too, are moving beyond their usual boundaries and coming to us. Buried deep in their memories are times when the humans and the animals walked together – each recognizing necessary territorial spaces yet these are not the same as shutting them out of our lives.

Perhaps they too recognize that Earth herself is in trouble which means all of us are in trouble and by working together we can find solutions before it’s too late. In the stories above they are reminding us: care for the dying and care for their souls; tend the sick and relieve their suffering; protect the young and gather them into your care.

When a new focus e.g. shamanism without borders, develops among us, it’s important to make sure we don’t create other borders within the mind. In these cases, it is not a matter of going-out but of allowing to come to us and seeing what is already here-calling to us. From this perspective, perhaps the news informing us that more and more animals are encroaching on human territory (bears, coyote, deer, lions, etc.) is not that they come to take from us; perhaps they are coming to seek, to offer, some new, yet very old, collaboration with us.

Here in Santa Cruz, we are seeing the return of Mountain Lions, Bear, and Bobcats – their return is greeted with voices of alarm by some.  We need to make sure that Voices of Joy are also heard and that we make every attempt to speak with these Beings and learn how we can collaborate.

The shamanic community has a major role to play in such collaboration because we can speak with these animals; we can speak with their Ancestors; and we can discover and share with others what changes among us will contribute to a world where every being knows they have Home and this IS Home.

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