Who Owns the Sacred? A Personal Search beyond (European) Indigenous Knowledge by Eline Kieft

For almost 35 years nature has been my sacred place. As an 8-year old, I started to pray to Mother Earth even though the protestant tradition in which I grew up only recognised ‘God the Father’. I went outside in my inflatable rowing boat to seek solitude (as an only child in a quiet family!) on a small island in the lake of our local park. I practised rowing and walking quietly to not break the sacred silence. I collected herbs to brew infusions in my little thermos flask with boiled water brought from home. I sung to the moon, and danced my love for all creation back through my moving body. Over the last 15 or so years, I spent many days and nights at Neolithic monuments, dreaming in ancestral burial mounds, time traveling in stone circles in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, England, Ireland and Brittany. This nature-based practice evolved naturally, and later incorporated my training with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies and the School of Movement Medicine. Nature is where I reconnect most easily with the Sacred, and listen to the whispers on the great web of life in which all of nature is a great teacher. Nature, for me, is a strong place of prayer, solace, awe, reverence, gratitude, joy, guidance, reconnection, healing and transformation. 

Rowing contemplation Image credits Henk Kieft

Yet I am confused. I am confused because although this way of connecting to the mystery feels the most natural and innocent thing in the world to me, my practice is criticised as “playing Indian” because I did not happen to be born into one of the indigenous traditions that kept nature-based (“shamanic”, for want of a better word) practices alive. Critique includes cultural appropriation in relation to colonialism and white privilege, as well as that any form of spirituality outside the five major religions is considered as empty, eclectic, post-modern consumerist product that lacks meaning and substance because of its diluted, selective ‘picking’ of traditions from other times and contemporary contexts.  

Ritual in West Kennet Long Burrow Image Credits Eline Kieft

I understand that many indigenous peoples call for “white” people to return to their own roots. In Europe much of our indigenous pre-Christian “pagan” traditions have been lost. Traditions that were apparently “Celtic” in origin (another problematic term) were either incorporated into Roman or Christian spirituality, or thoroughly annihilated during the Inquisition’s witch burnings. However, some seeds of wisdom survived. Roman conquerors described ‘druid’ practices they witnessed at the time of their arrival. Christian monks wrote down local stories handed down through oral tradition. Perversely, books like the Malleus Maleficarum, the book that the Inquisition used to capture witches, and subsequently through their recorded confessions, we glimpse what the North-Western nature-based practices might have involved. Also, some family craft has been successfully passed down through generations. These “seeds of evidence” show remarkably similar ingredients to contemporary “shamanic” practices, including ways to communicate with animist nature and the spirit world, relationship with power animals or familiars, the use of dancing, drumming and sometimes hallucinogenic plants to induce vision, and healing practices using the four elements water, earth, fire and air. 

However, revitalising this traditional knowledge in movements such as wicca, druidry, or neo-shamanism (to mention a few) also receives criticism. After all, how can we really know what an oral tradition was like 2000 years ago, what is the value of descriptions by successful conquerors or indeed testimonials given under torture, and how genuine can a contemporary recreation of a “new (age) body” of spiritual lore really be? So we find ourselves in a paradoxical Catch-22 or double bind situation. I full heartedly agree that it is essential to return to our own indigenous roots, but what can we do if simultaneously any attempt to do so is ridiculed, criticized or dismissed? How can we revitalise pre-Christian pagan cultural heritage with integrity after two millennia of near-absence, a collective memory gap, and an equally a strong ‘hold’ of Christian views that do not favour nature, body or gender and sexual equality?

Embrace Sligo Image Credits Jose Kieft

Dancing with the wind and trees Image Credits Henk Kieft

Thank you Mother Thank you Father Cornwall Image Credits Henk Kieft

Although most anthropologists will not like this generalisation, I believe that existential questions are of all times and places. People will always search for ways to communicate with the mystery, even though subsequent cosmologies and practices will be context-dependent. I wonder if there is a place before cultural compartmentalisation, where a spiritual practice based on nature is one of the most self-evident developments, to connect to earth, moon, sun, and stars, to nature’s seasons and the cycles of life, to scented herbs, to embodied practices to celebrate and give thanks. It is this practice I naturally developed as a child, instinctually, without instruction, because the instruction I received, in my understanding and experience, only partially touched on the wonder of life. 

Emerging from burial mound Image Credits Jose Kieft

Feather and Heather Burial Mound Brittany Image Credits Eline Kieft

What if reconnecting to (European) Indigenous Knowledge is not so much a matter of revitalising anything as much as it is of remembering ancient knowledge that lies dormant in our bones, in our very DNA? What if practices such as lighting a candle, sitting by a fire, being out in nature in solitude, working with plants and animals as teachers, do not belong to any culture in particular, but to all? What if no culture owns the stories of eagle, mouse, wolf, seal or butterfly, but if these other-than-human-beings “simply” empower us to remember the sacred nature of all of life, and of the power of transformation? What if no culture has the perfect answer to ‘right livelihood’ but together we learn what it is to be human and how we can take care of all life respectfully? What if we can honour our collective ancestors, who co-created such an incredibly rich tapestry of cosmologies and practices of which all the threads reverberate with and strengthen each other? What if we move beyond cultural boundaries and fears of misappropriation, towards the reverence of the mystery of beating hearts and shared humanity? What if no one owns access to the Sacred, and we are all responsible for honouring it together, in any way we can? 

I would like to meet you there, in respect and gratitude for diversity, and from a deep longing for inclusivity rather than separation.  

Gratitude Image Credits Jose Kieft

Leaning into the Ancients at Avebury Image Credits Celeste Snowber

Eline Kieft has danced from a young age, including rigorous classical and contemporary training to become a professional dancer. She explored indigenous ways of knowing through her studies in Anthropology (BA, MA). During her PhD in Dance at Roehampton University, London, she looked at dance as a modality for healing and spirituality, including embodied epistemologies and shamanic techniques. Eline currently works at the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) at Coventry University. She is a long-term shamanic practitioner and student of Jonathan Horwitz, as well as a Movement Medicine teacher, an approach for contemporary shamanic improvised dance. Finally, Eline is founder of Clover Trail, which offers soulful journeys to integrate the sacred into the everyday, and create your own meaningful and personalised art of living (mostly in France and UK). www.elinekieft.com and www.clover-trail.com.

Categories: Earth-based spirituality, Ecofeminism, Ecojustice, Embodiment, environment, Women's Power, Women's Spirituality

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36 replies

  1. Great questions.

    …as well as that any form of spirituality outside the five major religions is considered as empty, eclectic, post-modern consumerist product that lacks meaning and substance because of its diluted, selective ‘picking’ of traditions from other times and contemporary contexts.

    I do hear the above critique from some (not all) other white feminists in religion as well as from nonfeminists. When questioning Christian hegemony means including the other two “Abrahamic” traditions, I want to scream or to gag. When it then means including the big 3 plus Buddhists, I don’t feel much better.

    There is a great fear among the adherents of the so-called great religions of anyone who does not follow a tradition (ie a patriarchal tradition with texts teachings authorities) but rather seeks finds puts together and imagines…

    Like you I connected with nature as a child despite my Christian upbringing. I felt connected to a whole greater than myself and to all beings in the web of life.

    And I do agree that we can connect with nature without going through any other traditions. Our connection with nature will never be unconstructed, I would say, but it is real nonetheless, and at the same time, we should keep questioning our assumptions.

    As far as I am concerned the Celts and the Greeks were Indo-European warrior groups, and without serious deconstruction, their traditions do not convey the “wisdom” I am looking for. And I believe we also need to deconstruct neo-pagan traditions that in fact have derived a lot of their practices from the Masons etc via the western alchemical traditions (which were not feminist); and also that we need to resist the temptation to call any teacher or tradition “authoritative” but rather to use our own embodied relational knowing as our authority.

    My friend Carol Lee Sanchez said that it was fine with her if white people learned to love and feel part of nature from the Indians (where else would you learn it, she said), as long as we didn’t feel the need to wear feathers, to dance their dances, or to recreate their rituals–and I would add or to claim that we are teachers in their traditions (unless of course we have been adopted into a tribe and given the right to teach).

    I love your photos and would love to have slept in the places where you have slept. I have received wisdom in sacred places in Crete and I have repaid my debt by going back again and again and learning as much as I can about the spirituality of ancient Crete through artifacts, reading, and connecting to folk wisdom in rural areas.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hi Carol,
      Thank you so much for your careful and detailed reply!

      I am trying not to get overwhelmed by all the intricacies and implications of these questions… while indeed continuing to challenge them. To go out and simply be with tree and river and mud… without letting the innate (dare I say) innocence be ‘squashed’ by the theoretical questions… It’s a fine balance… but it strengthens me to feel the caution and care many of us share regarding the questions…

      When you are next in Europe I would love to bring you to some of my favourite place, and we can dance and dream there!

      Warmest wishes,


  2. Eline
    I resonate a lot with your experience, organically growing my spiritual/religious practice over decades – a process I have understood as re-membering my hera-tage/heritage: and eventually able to do a Ph.D. in it, and let it grow further … for me it was an organic splicing together of Indigenous European tradition and Gaian spirituality that emerged, becoming known as PaGaian Cosmology.

    Don’t be too worried by all the critics – you’re not stealing anything or relying on other’s knowledge. As Carol says, your questions are good and appropriate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your words of encouragement. I love your word plays of indeed, re-membering our hera-tage! Can I read your PhD somewhere, or is it still gestating?


  3. Yes, yes yes! This has been my experience too. Thank you for sharing.


  4. Hi, I understand this 100% . I was that same kind of child, that same kind of grown woman . I just love this. If you love nature everyone tells you are wrong for doing so.
    -Love Michaela Maestas in Albuquerque New Mexico USA 87107


  5. Thank you for an inspiring post and beautiful, evocative photographs!

    My experience of how North American indigenous peoples regard cultural appropriation is the same as Carol’s.

    It’s a sensitive subject here as the United States as a collective entity has never directly or fully acknowledged a history that includes literal and cultural attempted genocide of indigenous peoples. Many critical issues remain unresolved, particularly the right of first nations peoples to protect their lands and waters from the depredations of the fossil fuel and mining industries.

    Your point is well taken. We can all have direct and unmediated connection with our common Mother, the Earth. I also was raised protestant, the daughter of an Episcopal minister. My two earliest dated memories are from the summer I was three years old. I confessed to an older cousin my (astonishingly detailed!) plan to kill God. My other memory from that time is my first encounter with the ocean. I stood in the surf, arms spread wide, singing for joy.

    Dance on!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Wow, these are powerful memories, thank you for sharing (makes me wonder if you read Pullman’s His Dark Materials – any resonance with your own detailed plans?)! Yes I feel the sensitivity of the subject… and my own naivety in it… dancing on the edge of “direct and unmediated connection”, as you write so beautifully, without wanting in anyway, shape or form to contribute to the atrocities of colonialism and power-over…. And the deep sense of loss of these original practices in Europe – how can we ever re-embody them with such a gap in time…

      Ocean too, for me, one of my strongest teachers… One of her most important lessons to me was not to make myself smaller, or bigger, in this shape or that – like her sometimes being wild, sometimes being calm, but whatever her ‘quality’ she IS. That helps me enormously, navigating the challenges of the everyday :-)

      Warmest wishes, Eline

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Such a beautiful, divine, open heart you have. What a divinely inspired journey you are walking. Thank you for sharing your lovely visions and your photos. I am inspired!


  7. I love this statement: “Nature is where I reconnect most easily with the Sacred, and listen to the whispers on the great web of life in which all of nature is a great teacher. Nature, for me, is a strong place of prayer, solace, awe, reverence, gratitude, joy, guidance, reconnection, healing and transformation.

    No one owns the sacred – Nature welcomes anyone who chooses to listen –

    As a woman with Native roots who grew up in the western world but was in love with Nature from the beginning and open to her teachings… I wondered for a long time if my relationship with Nature was rooted in my heritage – and it may be – however by learning directly from the Source it became clear that anyone can tap into this well – spring – all Indigenous people from all continents once did. And we can do so again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sara,
      that means a lot… indeed, like Chief Seattle questioned ‘how can you buy or sell the sky’, no one does, and no one can… the title of my post was a wink to his moving speech(1854, see http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/seattle.htm).

      I do think that searching for the spring, source, or well of the mystery is deeply inherent in our journey in human form… Over and over and over again. Although there is much to despair about, I also believe we are in good company!

      Warmly, Eline


      • I am glad… it is hard I think to be an indigenous person who has been persecuted by so many and yet, all of us have the potential to become students of nature – this is how Indigenous peoples learned that we are all interconnected – sometimes these people too get caught in a false dicotomy…


        • I loved your sentence in your previous comment “Nature welcomes anyone who chooses to listen” and indeed now again, the becoming ‘students of nature’… That is a beautiful empowering invitation. Thank you!


  8. Thank you for this piece and for expressing some of what I feel, trying to find my place in spiritual practice, when all my roots were long ago cut away.

    “What if practices such as lighting a candle, sitting by a fire, being out in nature in solitude, working with plants and animals as teachers, do not belong to any culture in particular, but to all? What if no culture owns the stories of eagle, mouse, wolf, seal or butterfly, but if these other-than-human-beings ‘simply’ empower us to remember the sacred nature of all of life, and of the power of transformation? What if no culture has the perfect answer to ‘right livelihood’ but together we learn what it is to be human and how we can take care of all life respectfully?”

    I think the answers to these questions is yes, it is open to all, and owned by no one culture or group. I often feel frustrated because as someone of western european heritage I dont’ know where to look when told to go find my own indiginous roots. Really? Where are they? And I also have Jewish roots but they feel in ways very patriarchal and thus don’t help much.

    I find prayers where I can and use them, whether Native American, Hebrew, Christian, Buddhist, whatever. If they speak to my heart, they will speak to the Creator and express my feelings.

    I also have studied shamanism and it is in shamanic practices that I feel most at home and most able to communicate with and honor the Earth, and express my spiritual feelings.

    One year I did a ritual for a wounded place on the Earth. I chose an ocean beach near where I live and did a ritual for the Ocean. She told me that we must take care of her, that she is not infinite and cannot take all that we do to her. It was profound I do ritual for the ocean every year now, to honor her.


    • Hi Iris,
      So good to read-feel you… I resonate with the “I dont’ know where to look when told to go find my own indiginous roots. Really? Where are they?” And yet we have so, so many. It is however almost as we are no longer ‘entitled’ to them… We disrespected, ignored, forgot, severed, destroyed our own… which I think lead, in part, to awful colonialist exploits elsewhere… which makes me ashamed to return to that which “we” sought to annihilate.

      Writing this reply, I wonder if that is actually at the basis of my confusion that I explain in the post. A sense of unworthiness of celebrating nature and the mystery, because we have so thoroughly disrespected it, again, our ‘own’ roots here and other’s elsewhere. So what can I do to heal this sense of guilt (see also today’s post by Elizabeth Cunningham: https://feminismandreligion.com/2020/01/19/forgive-me-my-ancestors-by-elizabeth-cunningham/), what can I do to repair the innocence without shying away from the difficult questions?

      I am so grateful you did the ritual and heard what the Ocean needs. Thank you! Where are you based? Maybe one year I can join you!

      Warmly, Eline

      PS I also often find that the more mystical branches of christianity, islam, sufism “meet” each other in awareness of animist nature, divine mystery embodied…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Brave One!

    The seeker is bound to run into gatekeepers. Sometimes it is the patriarchy, often it is the purists who see the seeker as a contaminant. You may not enter because of your blood, menstrual or ancestral or class. Spit in a cup. Show your patents. How to elude, or overthrow, or make allies of these guardians at the gates of the sacred requires a perpetual regrouping of forces and resources. Press on. Your tribe is legion. We come in many guises–dancers like yourself, writers of speculative “fictions” like myself and Elizabeth Cunningham, priestesses, shamans. I like to think of us as part of a great reclamation project. Sometimes we are speakers for the dead, revitalizing dissed and dismissed female deities and practices. Sometimes we are gate-crashers.

    I am currently working on a Maya Godma Mystery. How can I on wait on the arbiters of the politically correct to before I create. I am pregnant with this transgressive work. Labor has begun.

    In my previous book, White Monkey Chronicles, I posited a multi-ethnic, undocumented divine child, his parents each with A-list patents–the bachelor Jew of the bible whose name we may not speak and the very married Hindu deity, Sita, whose husband Ram famously banished her on a false rumor of infidelity. But at the heart of the story I tell is the cosmic womb, birth place of stars and planets alike. The Godma, I have named her. We all share in her DNA.

    So I say, Welcome Sister!


    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow thank you Isabella, for your awesomely rich and resonating prose – I’ll check out your work and am encouraged by your understanding, your welcoming, your cheek-in-tongue trickster-warrior attitude. YES to reclamation in all shapes and sizes… Thanks for dancing alongside and here’s to a delivery that rocks the gates!!!


  11. It is imperative today that we reclaim earth spiritualities, and many paths such as animism are above critique. I think the blowback you are receiving Eline Kieft is related to the term “shamanism” as a self-identifier, which as time goes on, has become the very definition of cultural appropriation. It is strange but true, that just the slightest change in terminology, i.e. drop “shamanism” and replace it with “spirit worker” or “animist” will work wonders, in one’s own perception and toward those around us. We can’t lose sight of the reasons why cultural appropriation and “white shamanism” has become such a huge issue in the first place. It isn’t because of “political correctness” or some over-zealous SJW’s (social justice warriors), it’s because First Nations in the Americas are reinstating boundaries regarding their spiritual and cultural property that should have been in place long ago, and during the recent years of empowerment for white women. Today, as First Nations are finding healing and recovery, we are being told loud and clear that “shaman” and “shamanism” are NOT terms for white people to use. It is because we respect the wishes of First Nations, and seek to undo the colonialism in ourselves and others, that we want to make these changes.

    As an active worker in the Ancestral Arts today, I am not seeing the ridicule, critique or dismissiveness you speak of (again, I’m pretty sure that the term “shamanic” is the problem). It is a given in most spheres that cultural reconstruction will be a *blend* of history, myth, genealogy and the imagination; and the other challenge we face is how to remount our European-based worldviews on lands already home to a diversity of First Nations. But nobody said it would be easy! There are proper protocols to follow, and at the same time that we recognize the ambiguities of being Settlers on Indigenous lands, we can still find ways to love Mother Earth and embrace our ethnocultures successfully. If you like, you can e-mail me at pegi-eyers@hotmail.com and I can offer a list of resources that will definitely clear up your confusion.

    The great project of our time is to fully reclaim our eco-selves, and how admirably you have done this work, and offer your land-emergent expressions! And yet if we don’t *try* to align with a specific ethnoculture, we run the risk of continuing the oppression of Indigenous peoples in the name of homogeneity, which is exactly what the colonial powers have been doing for hundreds of years. Reclaiming our authentic roots is *not* separation, but an act of the deepest reverence and meaning, as not only does it align us with our own Ancestors, it is a blow against Empire, which seeks to erase all cultural diversity. Embracing our “Unity in Diversity” will ensure that we enter the Sacred Circle peer-to-peer with other Indigenous cultures once again, secure in our own traditions.


    • Actually, my understanding is that shaman is a word that was used by Siberian spirit workers, not a Native American word, and was then applied (by academis, I think) to spirit workers and those traditions around the world.

      I call myself a shamanic practitioner, and I find it a useful way to identify who I am and what I do. In my WASPy culture, at least, I get looked at askance if I say something like energy worker or spirit worker, but at least there is a bit of understanding of what I am and do when I use the word shamanism.

      And how do I find the ethnoculture that my ancestors came from? WASP on one side, Ukrainian Jew on the other. I can’t do the Abramahmaic religions, and I am not sure where to look. I also can’t do Wicca as it is presented today. I am in a quandary.

      And here is something that no one talks about. What do you do when you know you have had past life-times that were on the American continent, and if you have some Native spirit guides and animals? I have discovered memories of various life-times and feel odd because as a white woman of European descent I am not supposed to do anything with them.


      • Therein lies the moral dilemma. First Nations are telling us that “shaman” describes the practices of the Evenki-speaking Tungusian and Samoyedic tribes of eastern Siberia exclusively, and that only practitioners from those Indigenous societies have the right to use it. It may be hard to hear about boundaries when we are so used to accessing any spiritual path we chose, but perhaps some paths are not ours to travel. The term “shaman” became popular all over the world due to early anthropologists, ethnologists and New Agers such as Michael Harner et al, but it doesn’t mean it’s right. Their versions of the original knowledge are what’s known in the social justice world as “whitewashing.”

        I’ve listened to, and been part of, hundreds of conversations with First Nations people who are horrified that white folks are using the term “shaman,” creating quasi-native identities for themselves, and inventing practices that are a pastiche not based on any particular First Nation. If we want to shift from the hurt and harm “white shamanism” causes to genuine First Nations, we have to assess how much we respect them, and their clearly-defined boundaries. All the more ironic when it is tribal ways that white people are yearning for~! And yet we are being encouraged to re-indigenize from our *own* root European cultures, and it’s not really that difficult. If we created an identity once as a “shaman”, we should be able to do it again based on practices and traditions that are genuine to our heritage(s)~!! :)

        Also identifying your roots through a DNA test doesn’t have to be such a quandary – most folks begin the reconstruction process with the culture that calls to them the most. Again, not that difficult, and there are many mentors and movements to follow right now, within all the European Indigenous traditions. As for UPG (unverified personal gnosis) and claiming past lives in First Nations cultures here on Turtle Island, do we really need to “go public?” Maybe it’s best to verify these possibilities, or explore over time as part of our *personal* mythology. After all, if one claims to have ancestry from i.e. the Lakota, are the ancestors of the Lakota also claiming that person??? LOL

        I hope this helps. Pegi Eyers ~ Ancient Spirit Rising


      • Thanks Iris, I hadn’t seen your response until today. I resonate very much with what you wrote. Indeed our birth lineages are increasingly complex, and indeed I haven’t had the courage yet to bring up past lives… but often have that same feeling-sense! Thank you for commenting. I would love this dialogue to nurture and empower true and authentic roots for all of us, deep into the soil, with respect to all life! I think we need all hands on deck to face our contemporary challenges, and I would be cautious not to loose the rich, and supportive experience of soil and ancestors and wind and weather, just because in parts of our culture that heritage has not been kept alive… Oh paradox of complexity!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Eline. I had brought up past lives not because I want to claim my place in a tribe today to gain whatever benefits might be perceived from that inclusion. I brought up my past lives because I feel they direct and influence me as to what to connect with and how to do it. I have past lives as a wise woman/witch in the British isles, and in North and Central American indigenous cultures. I feel the pull of all of those spiritual and nature-loving connections, not as conflicts but instead as pieces of my being to be brought into the present day for the use and healing of humans and our Mother Earth and all who dwell on her. My path then becomes remembering what I know/knew and how to bring it forth in harmony today.

          To add to this, my shamanic teacher was initiated by a shaman in Borneo. I have physical blood lines from western Europe and from Ukraine, probably part of the Jewish diaspora centuries ago. It all adds up to finding a middle path, instead of one path that is in a straight line from physical lineage or past lives/energetic lineage. Whew!


          • Absolutely! Aa wonderfully rich and complex tapestry, woven over many centuries and with many different threads…


    • Hi Pegi,
      Thanks so much for your detailed reply, which I only spotted today! I’ve read your book ancient spirit rising (I think we’ve even been in touch regarding that, 12-14 months ago – or maybe that was in my imagination and dream time :-))

      I love your word Ancestral Arts. That is very descriptive and accurate. I’m currently working on a book, weaving dance and nature-based practices (which is my preferred term), so these questions are highly relevant. I do resonate with what Iris Weaver says below, that people really don’t know what you’re talking about when you say energy or spirit worker. I also find that there is something archetypal in the ‘role’, whatever we call it. Priest(ess), Magician, Witch etc.

      When you wrote in your response to Iris Weaver below “that only practitioners from those Indigenous societies have the right to use it” – that would also exclude American First Nations people themselves, since the term originates from Evenki-speaking Tungusian and Samoyedic tribes of eastern Siberia exclusively, (who were in turn also influenced again by even more ancient lineages). So the terminology alone is a very highly confusing mine-field.

      I’m grateful for our discussion here, because I do sometimes find it becomes a taboo topic…I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, try keep an open dialogue, and indeed let the land-emergent expressions flow and speak through us. Thank you for your encouragement!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your thoughtful reply to Pegi’s comment, Eleni. It had brought up a great deal of turmoil in me, and I think you answered much more elegantly than I could have. Brava!


      • The reason that the term “shaman” erroneously came into use here in the Americas (and in places other than Siberia) by First Nations folks is because they lost their own culture, or rights to expressing their own culture, during the long years of colonization, and into the void took on the terms the early ethnologists, anthropologists and seekers of “exotica” were promoting. This macabre phenomena is known as “whitewashing,” or the process of appropriating Indigenous concepts by the dominant society, “painting them up and handing them back.” First Nations experienced slavery, conversion with fire or at the point of a sword, rape, infanticide, genocide, and total annihilation as in the case of the Beothuk and Taino. Indigenous people lost their land, villages, resources, material culture, oral traditions, and just about everything they had ever known. Can we even imagine what it would be like to be so completely decimated, scattered to the four directions, living in abject poverty, and subject to complete suppression, oppression, and the brutal whims of whatever early patriarchs happened to be in the region? Becoming a scholar on the history of colonization in the Americas is highly recommended (and not that difficult), as the genuine truth is in stark contrast to the oblivion, spiritual supermarket mentality and privilege that informs most modern white people. However bad you think colonialism was, it was much much worse. In the intervening years, First Nations have had to conform, assimilate, assume “white ways” as a survival ruse, and whatever else that catered to white needs, so they would live to see another day. This is known as “internalized colonialism” – and again, to not see the root causes of this behavior, or “blame the victim” is to participate in racism and colonialism all over again.

        Every First Nation in the Americas would have had their own term for the role of healer, spirit journeyer or oracle, and it wasn’t “shaman.” What is the term for “shaman” in your own ancestral culture (or one of them)? It’s not that hard to find out, and it would feel wonderful to actually be using it. Mine is “Taibhsear” – which is Scots Gaelic for “vision seeker.” And yes I remember you now Eline – we had a short conversation about a year ago. Good luck with your book ~!


        • “religious conversion” I mean to say.


          • Hi Pegi,
            Sorry for late reply. For some reason I thought I had answered a while ago but can’t find the thread here… I followed up with your suggestion of finding “the term for “shaman” in your own ancestral culture “, which wasn’t so very easy, but resulted in some really exciting information… Thanks again! Much love, Eline


  12. You bring up wonderful, very important questions imo. I love the Cornwall photo, my grandfather came from Cornwall, and I have found tremendous healing in reconnecting with my Cornish heritage. I find that learning the ancient Cornish (Celtic) language has given me tremendous healing and spiritual connection. Seemingly little things such as the word “glas” – which means “green,” but only the green of living things, not artificial green. It also means “blue” and it can even mean “grey” and “silver” and “pink” when it is used to describe the ocean. Just this one word has opened up a nature-based spiritual connection for me, shifting my lens on reality and on the world in ways that nourish and heal me, that feel like a remembering of something once forgotten, as you say. For more on that, here is something I wrote: https://feminismandreligion.com/2019/02/28/celtic-awen-spiritual-homecoming-and-singing-with-trees-by-trelawney-grenfell-muir/
    I also have gradually come to appreciate the way Christianity carried forward so much of the traditions it eventually supplanted, as religion almost always does, by weaving together the wisdoms, stories, valuable insights, symbols, etc, in new ways, ways which people find helpful and healing. Here’s an excerpt from another FAR post of mine:
    “So I sat with that feeling, and I thought more about Jesus, and about the clergy stretching back generations in my family, back to Cornwall, back to a Celtic blending of Druidry and Christianity, back to Wesley, who rejected punitive shaming and defined sin as woundedness and Grace as healing, back to popular, joyfully wise Pelagius, whose Celtic faith was so mystical, so opposed to the rigid, sexist, fearful dogmatism of Augustine, that power-hungry leaders rejected him as a heretic. Sixteen hundred years ago, Pelagius writes,

    Look at the animals roaming the forest: The Divine Spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: The Divine Spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: The Divine Spirit dwells within them. Look at the fish in the river and sea: The Divine Spirit dwells within them. There is no creature on earth in whom The Divine is absent… When Our Maker pronounced that Creation was good, it was not only that her breath had brought every creature to life. Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops. The Divine Spirit is present within all plants as well. The presence of The Divine Spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with her eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.” (rev.)

    I hope you continue to connect with your Earth Spirit in healing and liberating ways, and continue to raise these important conversation topics. Bless your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you Trelawney, wow that is so strong – that your whole experience shifting through one ‘Green’ word. I didn’t know, and it makes me curious to learn more!!! Thank you also for the link to your piece on Awen. I can breathe deeper when I read it. So much is ‘lost’ in translation, indeed. I’m also aware of the amount of ‘unlearning’ we have to do, in order to let go of what we have been spoon-fed (knowingly and unknowingly bu virtue of the power of culture)… Thank you for connecting… You too, all the best on your path! Look forward to when our interests cross again!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I don’t see it as confusing.
    If you’re not “playing Indian” there is not reason to listen to the critics. End of story.
    People who *are* “playing Indian” call what they do Native American when they themselves are not Native American, and were not given permission by Native Americans to teach and promote those practices, etc. It is especially a problem when such a person makes money off of a tradition they have appropriated in this way. That is in fact exploitative, and a toxic expression of white privilege.
    By confusing the two, you’re casting doubt on the latter and indeed weaponizing your white privilege.
    You don’t need to confuse legitimate criticism from criticism that is not.


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