Into the HEaRt of De-Criminalizing Indigenous Worldviews by Margot Van Sluytman

In prisons in Canada and around the world, a large percentage of criminalized people, who are more often than not, victimized people, Indigenous people make up significant percentages. In a recent *talk I gave, accompanying Indigenous Elder and Artist Philip Cote, we addressed what happens when colonial narratives and patriarchal narratives collide. The result is that our worldviews are shattered. When our worldviews, which are our foundational way of meaning-making, are dismissed, denied, and in the case of
cultural genocide: decimated, our heart health fails. Our bodies, our minds, our souls become disconnected become dissociated. Become imprisoned. Imprisoned in the figurative sense and eventually over time, in the literal sense.

Continue reading “Into the HEaRt of De-Criminalizing Indigenous Worldviews by Margot Van Sluytman”

Solstice Stories : Fire and Ice by Sara Wright

The winter solstice is almost upon us just as the first heavy snow buries the forest and house under 28 inches of snow. I never look forward to this shift into the cold, ice, and snow, although I do wrap myself in peaceful silence, sitting by the fire dreaming as twilight turns to night. My Norfolk Island pine and tipped balsam wreath shimmer with tiny stars. The scent of balsam soothes my senses and purifies the air. This month above all others is my time to honor the trees… I am keenly aware that Bone Woman and Old Man Winter are rising with the moon, whipped up by Northwest winds.

My scientist and naturalist friend, a member of one of the seven Indigenous Sioux tribes agrees with me that winter solstice is a dangerous time, one of the reasons in the old European way that everyone is masked while acting out winter solstice stories. These tales may vary in content but all have the same root. Shadow is on the move. Masks protect the people, the risk of exposure to danger is minimized in this way.

Continue reading “Solstice Stories : Fire and Ice by Sara Wright”

From the Archives: We are Mauna Kea: The Continual Protest for Maintaining Sacred Land by Anjeanette LeBoeuf

Anjeanette

Moderator’s Note: The blog was originally posted November 21, 2015. The movement for the sacred land is still relevant and active.

It seems like there is a perpetual debate over acquiring land for progress and growth versus the protection of land that has ties to religion, customs, and cultures. The history of America is littered with stories and events that deal with acquisition of land. The sake of growth, expansion, and progress takes precedence in the history of America. Our country’s geography is a road map of acquired land and the pushing aside sacrality.

Our country has treated sacred land in a variety of ways. Religious sites have found their way, at times, to the front lines of protest and change. Religions across the globe carry some sort of Mother Earth element. Hinduism has the goddess Pṛthivī, the Greeks worshiped Gaia and Hestia, and the Hopis called her Tuuwaqatsi. Papahānaumoku is Mother Earth to Hawaiians. She is the life-giving force and the ancestor to all human beings. Honoring the earth becomes honoring our mother.

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Continue reading “From the Archives: We are Mauna Kea: The Continual Protest for Maintaining Sacred Land by Anjeanette LeBoeuf”

Mirror Reflections by Sara Wright

The Old Woman still lives in the Forest as she once did in fairy tales. She can present her dark side to those who are uninitiated (mirror mirror on the wall…) but she also offers gifts to those that visit her wild untrammeled places… After a week spent in a forest where a river snakes her way through thousands of acres and beavers act as transformers I wrote this poem because even with the astonishing autumn crimson, orange, and gold I was drawn repeatedly to the mirror reflections of trees, leaves, clouds and sky in the still pools. When I untangled the why I wrote this poem realizing that what caught me was the importance of having an accurate reflection from another, person, or aspect of nature in which to see the world and self as whole. Accurate reflections are intimately tied to relationships of all kinds.

 Mirror Reflections

Relationship needs honest
Reflection – S/he knows a
Broken mirror won’t do.

Water is made of magic
  above and below
 Sky blue, slate gray,
  piercing orange
  flames fly through
 thin air –shafts of light
slice wavy ripples
  embrace the river’s flow,
Sand hill cranes
 and geese soar overhead…

Continue reading “Mirror Reflections by Sara Wright”

Fourth of July: A Time to Mourn by Sara Wright

I awakened to dove gray skies and the sweet scent of falling rain. Soaking in the greening of a fully leafed out forest and the stillness of early dawn felt like a gift because these quiet moments are precious and precarious on the weekend Americans celebrate ‘Independence Day’.

As a person with mixed heritage (Passamaquoddy) I am not one of those people. Indigenous peoples of the Americas have nothing to embrace on this weekend. We are still invisible; we are still discriminated against. We are still outsiders.

Along with the emphasis on Black Lives Matter I often wonder why Red people are not included in the current cultural outrage. These are the people who were deliberately poisoned with smallpox, and also murdered and herded onto reservations by the colonists who took over this once wild and untrammeled country, systematically destroying its beauty by slaughtering the trees and animals that once grew into stately giants or roamed free. Why would Indigenous peoples or any other minority celebrate an Independence Day that occurred at their expense?

Continue reading “Fourth of July: A Time to Mourn by Sara Wright”

Of Women and Wildflowers by Sara Wright

Women and plants have been in relationship since the dawn of humankind. Women were the Seed keepers. Women created agriculture. Women learned what herbs to use for healing. Women noticed wildflowers, loved them, grew them and painted them, created poems about them. Some women and plants still share a deep bond, and as an herbalist I am one of these women. My relationship with wildflowers stretches back to the first word I ever spoke – “cups” for the wild buttercups I loved and gathered as a toddler.  

Recently, I joined a wildflower identification site online because wild flowers are so dear to my heart. Every spring I am drawn into the forest glades to meet my diminutive friends that burst unbidden, unfurling from moisture laden rotting leaves. So many are fragrant!

 With the summer solstice on the horizon and abnormally high temperatures, we are living a withering drought, and my intrepid little wildflowers are fading, their annual cycle completed earlier than usual. Even in a good year this wildflower season is never long enough for me.

Continue reading “Of Women and Wildflowers by Sara Wright”

Crane Song: Finding my way Home through Image, Myth, and Nature – Part 2 by Sara Wright

 

Read Part 1 here…  

Recently, I returned from the Southwest where I was introduced to the ceremonies of the Pueblo peoples, ceremonies that reflected my own spiritual practice reinforcing its authenticity. This interlude also allowed me to be part of a people who had never lost access to their roots. They had never given up their ceremonies or surrendered their way of life.

I returned to Maine with a much stronger sense of my Indigenous cultural identity than I had when I left. I hadn’t realized until I went to the Southwest how much this identity had been eroded by local people. Living in western Maine had brought me in contact with the frightening bias people have towards Indians; some are openly despised. Continue reading “Crane Song: Finding my way Home through Image, Myth, and Nature – Part 2 by Sara Wright”

Crane Song: Finding my Way Home through Image, Myth, and Nature – Part 1 by Sara Wright


The last gift I received from my very distant parents was a print of a Native American Medicine Wheel by Ojibway artist Joe Geshick. I received this present on my birthday in 1993.

When I opened the cardboard tube I was astonished by the image. A Medicine Wheel? As far as I knew neither of my parents had any idea that I had picked up the thread of my Native heritage and was studying Indigenous mythology. What could have motivated them to send me such an image? I was stunned by the seemingly bizarre synchronicity. Continue reading “Crane Song: Finding my Way Home through Image, Myth, and Nature – Part 1 by Sara Wright”

Navajo Night Chant – Part 2 by Sara Wright

Picture of Sara Wright standing outside in natureRead Part 1 here:

The original Night Chant involved four teams who danced twelve times each with half-hour intervals in between-a total of ten hours. The dance movements involve two lines facing each other. Each of the six male dancers takes his female partner, dances with her to the end of the line, drops her there, and moves back to his own side. The chant itself is performed without variation and has a hypnotic effect on the listeners. The only relief is provided by the rainmaker-clown named Tonenili, who sprinkles water around and engages in other playful antics.

The medicine men who supervise the Night Chant insist that everything-each dot and line in every sand painting, each verse in every song, each feather on each mask-be arranged in exactly the same way each time the curing ceremony is performed or it will not bring about the desired result. There are probably as many active Night Chant medicine men today as at any time in Navajo history, due to the general increase in the Navajo population, the popularity of the ceremony, and the central role it plays in Navajo life and health. Continue reading “Navajo Night Chant – Part 2 by Sara Wright”

 Navajo Night Chant – Part 1 by Sara Wright

Picture of Sara Wright standing outside in natureWith the Winter Moon waxing on nights when stars are falling from the sky and the winter solstice passage, I am much aware of the healing and dwelling place that I inhabit that also characterizes these dark months of the year.

Unfortunately, even those who acknowledge our seasonal turnings rarely honor the dark as sacred. At the winter solstice the emphasis is still on light.

As Carol Christ writes so succinctly we manage to celebrate light at both solstices – at its apex and as its return. Continue reading ” Navajo Night Chant – Part 1 by Sara Wright”

Changing Woman Speaks by Sara Wright

She climbed steep hills
and rubble to reach the meadow.
The flat – topped mountain peered down
at the woman
gathering stones
as if they were diamonds.
Amber, moss, pearl white,
rose red and orange,
gray and ebony – a luminescence
emanated from each,
almost as if the moon had
infused each flake and boulder
with her translucent light.
The Pedernal absorbed
her child-like wonder
and gifted her
with stones
that told a story
of a sea of shells and plants
that once lived there
before people.
Stones speak to
those who love them.

Notes on the Pedernal:

In Abiquiu, New Mexico there is a flat – topped mountain that is called the Pedernal that can be seen from most directions and has been painted and photographed from every angle. Indigenous peoples considered this mountain to be sacred. The mythical (Navajo) Changing Woman was born on this mountain, and it is said that she lives there still. Each year she is born in the spring, emerges as a young woman during the summer, becomes a mother in the fall, and turns into an old woman during the winter season, only to be born again. In the East she is Earth Woman, in the South Mountain Woman, in the West she is Water Woman and in the North she is Corn Woman. Changing Woman embodies Nature’s as a whole and since the Navajo trace their lineage through a matrilineal line she is the Mother of all the People.

The first way Changing Woman saves the world is by birthing the twins, the male aspects of herself. This embodied female/male energy is capable of taking action on behalf of all the people, ridding the world of monsters. It is important to note that the twins require the help of Spider Grandmother’s wisdom, guidance and protection because Spider Grandmother is Changing Woman’s older wisdom aspect, a continuation of her mother – line.

The second and most critical way Changing Woman saves the world from “monsters” is because she secures the matrilineal line for the People. The matrilineal system traces descent through maternal roots. Men who marry move to the wife’s residence (matrilocal) and become part of the maternal family. Mothers, aunts, and grandmothers bring up the children, protecting, guiding, and teaching the children the ancestral family stories. This system unites Navajo society and creates the social structure of the culture connecting generations through kinship.

Although in present day Navajo culture Patriarchy has eroded women’s power the four tenets (harmony, beauty, balance, peace) remain part of the judicial system of the Navajo people.

The multicolored stone called chert and its darker twin, flint, are structural (quartz) parts of this mountain. These stones were once collected to craft the finest arrowheads for hunting.

This collection of chert fragments lies on my desk along with a vessel made by an Indigenous woman. These stones remind me of the power of Changing Woman and how she continues to work through my life even as I return to the North, my homeland.

The mountain absorbed
her child-like wonder
with pleasure,
and gifted one
who climbed to her summit
with a stone
that told a story
of a sea of shells and plants
that once lived here.
Stones speak to
those who love them.

In the myth Changing Woman never dies; she grows old and young again with the seasons. In the East she is Earth Woman, in the South Mountain Woman, in the West she is Water Woman and in the North she is Corn Woman.

Changing Woman embodies Nature’s as a whole and since the Navajo trace their lineage through a matrilineal line she is the Mother of all the People.

According to Navajo mythology the first way Changing Woman saves the world is by birthing the twins, the male aspects of herself. This embodied female/male energy is capable of taking action on behalf of all the people, ridding the world of monsters. It is important to note that the twins require the help of Spider Grandmother’s wisdom, guidance and protection because Spider Grandmother is Changing Woman’s older wisdom aspect, a continuation of her mother – line.

The second and most critical way Changing Woman saves the world from “monsters” is because she secures the matrilineal line for the People. The matrilineal system traces descent through maternal roots. Men who marry move to the wife’s residence (matrilocal) and become part of the maternal family. Mothers, aunts, and grandmothers bring up the children, protecting, guiding, and teaching the children the ancestral family stories. This system unites Navajo society and creates the social structure of the culture connecting generations through kinship.

Although in present day Navajo culture Patriarchy has eroded women’s power the four tenets (harmony, beauty, balance, peace) remain part of the judicial system of the Navajo people.

Above photo of plant and shell fossils in the chert was taken by Iren Schio

 

Working notes:

In Abiquiu, New Mexico the flat – topped mountain we call the Pedernal can be seen from most directions and has been painted and photographed from every angle. Indigenous peoples considered this mountain to be sacred. The mythical (Navajo) Changing Woman was born on this mountain, and it is said that she lives there still. Each year she is born in the spring, emerges as a young woman during the summer, becomes a mother in the fall, and turns into an old woman during the winter season, only to be born again. The multicolored stone called chert and its darker twin, flint, are structural (quartz) parts of this mountain. These stones were once collected to craft the finest arrowheads for hunting.

I have a passion for all stones but especially chert because of its colors. Chert and flint are microcrystalline varieties of quartz. Their crystals are so tiny that chert and flint fracture more like glass than quartz crystals. Skilled Native peoples chipped chert and flint pieces into arrowheads, spear points, scrapers, and other tools. The only difference between chert and flint is color: flint is black or nearly black, while chert tends to be white, gray, pink, or red and can be plain, banded, or preserve fossil traces.

 

Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.

The Mask and the Mirror – Part 2 by Sara Wright

   

Artist Debra Fritts

When I asked Debra about this circle she said “the circle around the eye is symbolic of the moon, a nightly ritual of seeing the moon.”  Curiously, women as ‘seers’ have an intimate relationship with the moon. Both eyes seem to be able to stare directly through the mask. The woman’s lips are parted; she is breathing but there is no sense that she is about to speak.

The length of the woman’s neck is accentuated by its distinct slate blue tones. This neck seems especially vulnerable – stretched perhaps to endurance. Suddenly it occurs to me that it is also a neck, like a chicken’s neck, that is ready for the chopping block. Has this woman lost her voice? Her ability to breathe? Is there a threat of being separated from her body? The suggestion of a body ends at the woman’s shoulders so we are left wondering…

Since our feelings and emotions reside in our bodies the suggestion here is that this woman may be without access to her body on an instinctual level. If so she is unable to protect herself. Blue is a color that is sometimes associated with death. In some Native traditions, like that of the Zuni and the Lakota Sioux blue is the color of the Underworld. Particularly touching is the pale four petaled flower to the lower right of the left half of the relief, a flower without a stem or root, or is this a wheel of some kind, one that is in motion – whirling – chaos? To my mind a number of aspects of this portrayal speak to the presence of death. Continue reading “The Mask and the Mirror – Part 2 by Sara Wright”

The Mountain and the Goddess by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoMother Earth does not discriminate. She cares for all her children in all their varied forms. Our ancient ancestors considered Earth and its many geological elements to be feminine and/or associated with goddesses – from caves, to rivers, lakes and seas, to forests, to agricultural fields, to mountains.

Continue reading “The Mountain and the Goddess by Judith Shaw”

The Feast of Santo Tomas by Sara Wright

This morning I went up to the village plaza in Abiquiu to watch the dancers parade around the church with their saint who is also honored at this village festival held every year at the end of November.

This is one of the two Native American festivals that is honored each year by the genizaros who are mixed Spanish and American Indian people who embrace and practice the Catholicism that was once forced upon them.

This eclectic community is made up of descendants of Native American slaves. Those captured in warfare were brought here, converted to Catholicism, taught Spanish and held in servitude by New Mexican families. The young women and female children endured the usual atrocities perpetuated on captive females including rape at the hands of their captors. Some New Mexican male genizaros gained their freedom by serving as soldiers to defend frontier villages like Abiquiu from Indian raids. By the late 1700s, genizaros comprised one-third of the population of New Mexico. Ultimately these non – tribal peoples were assimilated into New Mexican culture.

The dances are beautiful to witness with the smallest female children dressed in predominantly white regalia some wearing a rainbow of ribbons, the young girls were dressed in red and white and had red circles of war paint inscribed on their cheeks, some of the older women also wore red, many carried turkey or eagle feathers in their hands. Most wore face paint.

Continue reading “The Feast of Santo Tomas by Sara Wright”

“Para limpiar el corazon”: To Cleanse the Heart by Joyce Zonana

It should have been a wonderful journey, organized by three dear friends who run a yoga center in Costa Rica. I would be traveling with my husband, these friends, and thirteen other like-minded folk to the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the Andes highlands of southern Peru. We’d be staying at a lovely retreat center just outside Pisac, an ancient market town encircled by imposing mountains. And our itinerary would take us to some of the most important Inca sites, including the iconic, hauntingly beautiful and remote Machu Picchu.

jz-headshotIt should have been a wonderful journey, organized by three dear friends who run a yoga center in Costa Rica. I would be traveling with my husband, these friends, and thirteen other like-minded folk to the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the Andes highlands of southern Peru. We’d be staying at a lovely retreat center just outside Pisac, an ancient market town encircled by imposing mountains. And our itinerary would take us to some of the most important Inca sites, including the iconic, hauntingly beautiful and remote Machu Picchu.

We’d made the plans almost a year ago, and I’d been looking forward to the trip. But I fell sick several weeks beforehand and was hesitant to leave my Brooklyn home. Everyone assured me the journey would be magical, and so, feeling better but still uncharacteristically fearful, I reluctantly decided to go. Continue reading ““Para limpiar el corazon”: To Cleanse the Heart by Joyce Zonana”

Rejecting TMT: Protecting and Protesting the Sacred for Mauna Kea and for all by Anjeanette LeBoeuf

AnjeanetteRoughly 3 ½ years ago my FAR post was about the struggle that the Hawaiian people were facing with the proposed building of a Thirty Meter Telescope on the most sacred mountain in the Hawaiian Islands, Mauna Kea. When that post was published, there was a large social media presence and protests that helped cease construction of the telescope and sent the issue to the Hawaiian Courts. I am writing this post because Mauna Kea is again under threat. The Courts ruled in the favor of the telescope and for the last two months, large scale protests have gone under way on the road up to Mauna Kea.

Continue reading “Rejecting TMT: Protecting and Protesting the Sacred for Mauna Kea and for all by Anjeanette LeBoeuf”

Eagle Spirit Guide by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoEagle, with its soaring flight, its vision, and its courage, has inspired humans since our early days. Eagle, Lord of the Birds, is the ultimate symbol of grandeur, splendor and nobility.

Continue reading “Eagle Spirit Guide by Judith Shaw”

Windigo by Sara Wright

Windigo,

the Potawami Nations call him.

Malignant,

this spirit thrives

in the Northern Woods,

within the human soul.

Hatred for self or other

hidden

under Lies.

 

Windigo, the

Potawami Nations call him

He thrives

on greed.

Empty

He can never

Be filled.

Continue reading “Windigo by Sara Wright”

Iroquoian Women: Power Held and Shared by Carol P. Christ

According to Barbara Alice Mann, author of Iroquoian Women, women were at the center of a matrilineal Iroquoian society that could be called (though she does not call it that) an “egalitarian matriarchy.” As in other egalitarian matriarchies, including those of the Mosuo and the Minangkabau, women both hold power and share it with men. According to Peggy Reeves Sanday who studied many societies in the anthropological records, female power does not mean female domination.

In attempting to reconstruct the role of women in Iroquois society, Mann first had to engage in a painstaking deconstruction of the scholarly consensus that men ruled among the Iroquois. Believing that male dominance is universal, scholars ignored or explained away a great deal of evidence that Iroquoian women were and are at the center of Iroquoian society. Those who believe that academic scholarship is objective or relatively objective may have to revise their opinions after reading the masses of evidence of witting and unwitting distortion of Iroquois society that Mann uncovers. In order to reconstruct the role of women in Iroquoian society, Mann also had to deal with the fact that the American government destroyed much of Iroquoian oral tradition through policies of forced assimilation that removed children to government schools and forbade the speaking of native languages. Continue reading “Iroquoian Women: Power Held and Shared by Carol P. Christ”

The Gifts of Life: Do We Remember? by Carol P. Christ

Strawberries shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply scattered at your feet. A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not a reward, you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears.

Sweetgrass belongs to Mother Earth. Sweetgrass pickers collect properly and respectfully, for their own use and the needs of their community. They return a gift to the earth.

That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage. The fields made a gift of berries to us and we made a gift of them to our father. The more something is shared, the greater its value becomes. This is hard to grasp for societies steeped in notions of private property, where others are, by definition, excluded from sharing.

The essence of a gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 27-28

Thanksgiving has come and gone. We gave thanks for the food placed on the table and for the family or friends who shared it with us.

In our culture giving thanks can feel forced: I remember how my brothers and cousins and I hated to be asked to say grace at Grandma’s house. When we have not been taught, it can be difficult for us to understand that nothing is ours by right. Continue reading “The Gifts of Life: Do We Remember? by Carol P. Christ”

Priestess at the Crossroads by Joyce Zonana

In order to transform what is happening at the Mexico/U.S. “border” (and elsewhere) we must first break down the borders within our heads—all the borders in all our heads. Mr. Trump tells us “If you don’t have Borders, you don’t have a Country”; my response today is: “Who needs countries? Who needs genders? Who needs races or competing religions? What we need is Coatlicue.”

jz-headshotAs so many of us recoil in horror at the Trump administration’s cruel attempts  to enforce an impenetrable border between the U.S. and Mexico, I find myself struggling to understand what he and his supporters mean by “borders,” and why they are so invested in maintaining them. The administration’s vicious immigration policy, recently epitomized in a brief tweet on June 19th, 2018—Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when slaves were finally freed throughout the U.S. at the end of the Civil War—“If you don’t have Borders, you don’t have a Country” has sent me back to Gloria Anzaldúa’s visionary 1987 book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.

Grounded in her experience as a queer mestiza raised in the Texas/Mexico borderlands, Anzaldúa’s bilingual, cross-genre manifesto argues for the transformative role of the mestiza, no longer “sacrificial goat” but “officiating priestess at the crossroads”:

Continue reading “Priestess at the Crossroads by Joyce Zonana”

 Witches in the Weeds by Sara Wright

In folklore Old women are believed to control all aspects of Nature – Fire, Earth, Air and Water, but in myth and story they have a special relationship with water.

The title “witches in the weeds” emerged after I did some research on the Datura plant. This plant is usually associated with old women and sorcery in myth and story. For example, in European mythology, the dark goddesses, Hecate, and Baba Yaga are associated with Datura. Datura is considered to be a ‘witch weed’ and is categorized as a poison along with deadly nightshade, henbane and mandrake. The seeds and flowers have a history of creating visions, delirious states, and causing death. Datura thrives in wilderness areas. Old women, dark goddesses and Datura have a lot in common.

Women and birds have been associated since Neolithic times. Scholar and mytho-archeologist Marija Gimbutas unearthed many bird-women sculptures that were fashioned out of clay in “Old Europe”. Old women in particular are most often associated with owls, herons, crows, ravens, and black birds of all kinds. It is probably the relationship between women and birds that is one of the roots behind the belief that old women can fly. The other root behind flight can probably be found in the relationship between women healers and the plants they used. Plants like Datura contain alkaloid properties (scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine) that are capable of producing visions of flight and are used by folk healers and medicine women and men. Continue reading ” Witches in the Weeds by Sara Wright”

The Brazilian Great Mother by Mirella Faur (Part 2)

This article was originally published by The Beltane Papers issue #30 February 1998. FAR is republishing it with permission from the author in order to digitally archive this important work. Part 1 is available here.

The indigenous Brazilian tribes worshiped all Mothers and believed they created life without the male presence. All Goddesses were virgins, but their virginity was only a symbol of independence and self-sufficiency, without any physical meaning. In some myths, the virgins are impregnated by numinous energies, manifested as animals (snake, birds, porpoise), forces of Nature (rain, thunderbolts, rays of light), ancestors or Deities. As other native people, they weren’t aware of the male participation in the conception and respected and revered the menstrual blood as something sacred, filled with magical powers, because after the “supernatural” ceasing of the monthly flow, life was created. Only after the interference of the white settlers and the massive Catholic indoctrination that the native cosmology was distorted, the Father assumed the main place, the Son became the second one in the divine hierarchy and the Mother was transformed in a suffering and silent virgin. Even so, many native traditions survived in the legends, folk beliefs, shamanic healing and magical practices as the Pajelança and Encantaria.

Besides the “Good Mother”, some of the native legends also mention the “Terrible Mother”, Boiuna, the Giant Snake of the Amazon River. The bottom of the river was her habitat and she appeared only at night, destroying boats and devouring people. Her terrifying aspect and her connection with the darkness, death and night are, as a matter of fact, features of the Dark Goddess, the Reaper, who controls the eternal cycle of birth, life, death and transformation.

Another manifestation of the Dark mother is Caamanha, “Mother of the Woods”, protector of the wild life who punished all intruders and violators of her domain. In other myths, she was transformed either in the Curupira or the Caapora, strange male beings, with twisted feet, who walked backwards, thus acting as guardians by misleading hunters or even attacking them.

In some Guarani myths we find mentions to the “Mother of Gold”, described as a beautiful woman or a brilliant globe, which seduced the gold prospectors and took them deep in the mountains, far away from the gold mines. Considered a Guardian of Mother Earth’s treasures, she sometimes manifested herself as Boitatá, who could appear as a phantasmagorical snake, with a luminous body and huge eyes, or only as a giant head, floating over hidden treasures, frightening or punishing those who destroyed Nature in search of fortune. Continue reading “The Brazilian Great Mother by Mirella Faur (Part 2)”

Mulling over Movies: Moana, Pt. 2 by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsEvery summer in the US, movie theatres show their newest big budget films, hoping to draw in large audiences. While I appreciate an air-conditioned theatre on a hot day, I love the opportunity to go to an outdoor movie screening.  These screenings are usually community-oriented opportunities for social gathering.  In my previous post, I talked about Moana, a Disney film I saw at an outdoor screening earlier this summer.  I enjoyed watching this movie with my friends and their families and I was delighted by the story itself.  It has several religious and spiritual themes and strong female characters. Previously, I spoke of the significance of myths in this movie.  Today, I’m focused on depictions of nature in Moana and their remarkable beauty.

Many feminist and womanist theologians and religion scholars have raised concerns about the interrelated dominations of women and nature, as well as the disproportionate hardships women and children are exposed to with increasing climate change and environmental degradation.  Our changing environment affects all life on the planet, but it is the people who are most vulnerable (physically, economically, politically) who at most at risk.  Obviously, animals and plants are endangered, too. Ethicists like me are interested in finding ways to address these concerns because we are committed the preservation of life.  As feminists, there’s more to it, though.  We recognize the way nature itself is often feminized (“Mother Nature”), which makes it even more troubling when it is cultivated without respect for the wellbeing of existing ecosystems and the life forces dependent upon them.

Continue reading “Mulling over Movies: Moana, Pt. 2 by Elise M. Edwards”

A Healing Home of Dreams by Joyce Zonana

I had few expectations before my visit in the winter of 1999 to Cairo’s Rav Moshe Synagogue, also called the “Rambam.” I only knew it to be an obscure synagogue and yeshiva associated with the renowned twelfth-century theologian, sage, and physician, Moses Maimonides.

I left Egypt as an infant with my parents in 1951. Now I was finally back, hoping to experience the place that had shaped my family. Accompanied by a Muslim Egyptian friend, I walked the streets my parents had walked, attended services in the elegant downtown synagogue where they’d been married, tasted the familiar foods of my childhood, listened with delight to the melodious sounds of Egyptian Arabic. But seeking the Rambam was little more than a whim, sparked by a few lines in a Guide to Jewish Travel in Egypt. “Not on any tourist itinerary,” the brief blurb stated about the derelict synagogue in ‘Haret al Yahud, the city’s medieval Jewish quarter, far from where my parents had lived. Still, I had to go.

Continue reading “A Healing Home of Dreams by Joyce Zonana”

Painting, Privilege, and “Going Tiny” in Hawai’i by Angela Yarber

Pelé by A. Yarber

It started with Pelé, the Hawai’ian Volcano Goddess who governs fire, lightning, volcanoes, and the flow of lava. When my little family set off on a big adventure in June 2015, I knew I’d research and paint her as a Holy Woman Icon, but I wanted to get to Hawai’i first so that I could experience her power firsthand. After three months volunteering without running water in Vermont, a month in southern Virginia’s finest fall foliage, and a holiday season traversing the country from east to west in a camper named Freya, we crossed the Pacific in search of Pelé.

The long-term goal of nearly two years of full-time travel was to discern next steps for our queer little family, and to find land to open an intersectionally ecofeminist retreat center. We always imagined returning to the southeast, likely buying land and creating the retreat center in the North Carolina mountains. Pelé had something else in store.

After three wild months volunteering on the Big Island, we fell in love, enlivened by this place we now call home: its beauty, the diversity of people, access to living off-grid, access to growing your own food, its rich culture and history, access to a vegan lifestyle, and the ability to live the majority of our life outside. In short, all of our plans were upended and recreated in the most beautiful and challenging ways because we knew Hawai’i must become our home. Continue reading “Painting, Privilege, and “Going Tiny” in Hawai’i by Angela Yarber”

Mulling over Movies: Moana, Pt. 1 by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsI love going to outdoor movie screenings.  Sitting outdoors on a summer evening with good company brings me joy.  Last week, I went to an screening of Moana, the Disney movie about a teenager who goes on a quest through the Pacific Ocean with the demi-god Maui.  Moana goes on this journey to help her people.  The movie came out last year, but I didn’t see it.  I have to admit that I wasn’t even interested in it until Simone Biles performed a dance to one of Moana’s songs on Dancing with the Stars. It was then that I realized that the movie has an empowering message.  I asked my friend Natalie, who is also a feminist religion scholar, about Moana.  She has three young daughters, so I trusted her to be more current than I am.  Her enthusiastic response sold me, as did her remark, “There’s not even a love story in it!”

Ah, Disney princesses and their love stories!  I’m old enough that I didn’t grow up with the Disney culture that children in the past few decades have, but I haven’t been immune to the Disney princess phenomenon.  I childhood pre-dated DVDs and digital downloads, but I still knew and cherished the Disney characterizations of Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. These young women were kind and virtuous and beautiful (according to Eurocentric standards), but their stories culminate with marriage to a charming prince.  It’s also problematic that so often, the villains in these movies were older women—wicked stepmothers or evil witches—who were motivated by jealousy and hate.

Continue reading “Mulling over Movies: Moana, Pt. 1 by Elise M. Edwards”

Remembering Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s Life and Legacy: Champion of Universal, and Non-Human Rights November 12, 1648/51 – April 17, 1695 by Theresa A. Yugar

She studies, and disputes, and teaches,
and thus she serves her Faith;
for how could God, who gave her reason, want her ignorant?

—Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Villancico, or, “Carol”, in celebration of St. Catherine of Alexandria (1692)

05.Yugar 1The reason for this blog, and for writing it on this day, is to celebrate and remember the life and legacy of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

In 1994, I was exposed, by chance, to the life and writings of 17th century Novohispana feminist Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I am the product of twelve years of Catholic education, eight years of which were in an all-women setting. Again, by chance, I learned about Sor Juana in a liberation theology class while studying feminist theology at Harvard Divinity School. In this class, I learned about Sor Juana’s bold advocacy of the right of women to be educated. This spurred me to learn more about this Catholic Latina theologian whom I would later discover was the last great author of El Siglo de Oro (Spain’s Golden Age), recognized in her era as an esteemed poet, mathematician, astronomer, and more. This was the beginning of my life-long passion to reclaim the legacy of Sor Juana and her-story within the Christian, non-Christian Western tradition, and in Spanish and Mexican history. Continue reading “Remembering Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s Life and Legacy: Champion of Universal, and Non-Human Rights November 12, 1648/51 – April 17, 1695 by Theresa A. Yugar”

Standing Rock: What Does Easter Look Like? by Elizabeth Cunningham

As I write, Bakken crude oil is moving through the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe Reservoir, crossing treaty lands and waters that the Sioux Nation never ceded to the United States Government.

This, after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline since it was proposed in 2014, with hundreds of other tribes making formal declarations in support of the tribe’s opposition. This, despite ongoing lawsuits. This, after a prayer camp begun by a small group of indigenous youth in April, 2016 grew to several camps with a total population at one point of close to 20,000. This, after 4,000 United States military veterans came to stand with the water protectors in December, 2016. This, after the United States Army Corps of Engineers under the Obama administration denied the easement to cross the river and legally bound themselves to conducting an environmental impact study that the Trump administration aborted. This, after countless unarmed water protectors faced attack dogs, mace, rubber bullets, water hoses turned on them in sub-freezing weather, and noise cannons.  This, after the arrest of over seven hundred people (some charged with felonies and still awaiting trial) many of whom were strip-searched and held in kennels in an unheated parking garage. This, after hundreds of people camped all winter, surviving blizzards and bitter cold. This, after people remained standing in prayer until they were forcibly removed from the prayer camps on February 22nd, 2017. Continue reading “Standing Rock: What Does Easter Look Like? by Elizabeth Cunningham”

Religion, Dissent and Decolonial Approach in Latin America by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente and Juan F. Caraballo Resto

womanwithquran

Talking of decoloniality in religion and theology is today a fashionable stance that has been adopted even by the academic and political mainstream. As Latin Americans, decolonial perspectives affect us firsthandedly. For the last 500 years, our continent has nurtured resistance struggles against the racial, sexual, economic, ethnic and religious violences that emerge from the numerous process of colonization we have endured. With this in mind, in this article we contribute to the debate on decolonization of our religious phenomena.

Decolonizing is to Assume that all Religion can Operate as a Colonizing Agent

The expansion of European colonialism in Latin America transpired through all aspects of social existence and gave rise to new social and geocultural identifications (e.g. “European”, “American”, “Indian”, “African”, etc). The consequences of this domination reverberate to this day.

In this regard, we should not loose track of the fact that all abrahamic religions had their genesis within Latin America in the form of colonial presence. In other words, most of our religious expressions are the product of colonial forms of governance, which benefited from an exclusionary instrumentalization of the religious narratives as a tool to ‘dignify’ and ‘enhance’ the population as ‘colonial subjects’.

This was the case of Christianity. The mission carried out by the first European conquistadores in the Americas was characterized by the drawing of exclusionary theological lines that legitimized some, questioned others, and condemned many. Colonization thus manifested itself in part through spiritual violence on native populations. Evangelization, in this regard, was biopolitical in nature; it entailed the pushing of non-European bodies (and souls) into ‘Otherness’.

This illuminates unto why, for example, nowadays interfaith relations have become a problem, rather than a resource for many Latin American Christian congregations. It is often assumed that to establish lasting links of solidarity with religious ‘Others’ puts at risk the core elements which have been taught to enhance our population by the different metropoles that have governed and preached in our midst.

It is well established that for too long the bases of Christianity in the Americas were built upon imposed and/or conditioned conversions which constantly demanded and reminded people that in order to have ‘goodness’ reside in them, they had to be someone essentially different to who they were; they had to be Christian (Rivera Pagán 2013, 2014; Silva Gotay 1998, 2005). In this regard, long established religions such as Judaism, Islam, Spiritism, and Afro-Atlantic religions such as Santería or Palo have been relegated to inferior statuses in some still colonial contexts, such as Puerto Rico (Caraballo-Resto 2016; Román 2007).

A similar case, can be found within Islam. As mentioned in a previous article, many Muslim congregations in the Americas have done well in mirroring the colonial practices of Christianity. Despite common assumptions, some contemporary Muslim groups have come to our lands with the clear aim of Arabization and, again, through spiritual violence they categorize locals as “others” and, thus “subordinate” them as perpetual ‘underage believers’, who seem to need the Arab tutorial aid relentlessly. At times, their theologies are reminiscent of those expressed by Catholicism 500 years ago: A call to abandon local trajectories and spiritualities, in favor of adopting Middle Eastern names, language, arts and aesthetics, social manners, political causes and even diet. Only then, are us Latin American to be considered by some of these communities as “Noble Savages”.

Although some scholars linked to decolonial studies within Islam have difficulty accepting this, Islam has historically been instrumentalized as a colonizing agent in the Middle East, West Africa, Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.

If we talk about Islam and decoloniality in the same sentence, there should be honesty on these facts.

Colonization occurs not only through the sword and war, also through trade, culture and social discourses that become hegemonic and religion. In this regard, the ‘jihad of the soul’ is seldom devoid of politics. The absence of blood is not tantamount to a lessening of colonial violence. There are many and different ways to curtail, cancel and oppress a people without resorting to their physical extermination.

Religion and the Heterosexual Regime

Colonial religions in Latin America have been characterized by an hegemonic discourse based on heterosexuality as a compulsory scheme, androcentrism, ableism and speciesism. Historically, this has entailed the exercise of a new religious taxonomy (eg. ‘Moro’, ‘Marranos’, ‘noble souls’, etc.). Yet, this also corresponded to an encompassing system of power that intersected all control of collective authority, labor, racial relations, the production of knowledge, as well as sexual access and meaning.

It is well known that many indigenous peoples of the Americas were matriarchal, recognized more than two genders, recognized homosexuality and “third” gendering positively and understood gender in much more problematized terms rather than in the binary terms of subordination monotheistic system imposed.

Such dichotomy not only found its way in Latin America. It also transpired in parts of Africa, which were later linked to our Latin-American contexts by way of slavery. This has been dealt at lengths by Nigerian feminist scholar Oyéronké Oyewùmí, in her work The Invention of Women (1997). In it she states that gender was not an organizing principle in Yoruba society prior to European colonization (idem: 31). Instead, she argues that gender has “become important in Yoruba studies not as an artifact of Yoruba life but because Yoruba life, past and present, has been translated into English to fit the Western pattern of body-reasoning” (idem: 30).

So, it becomes all the more important to consider the changes that religious colonizers have brought, as well as the lip service we’ve paid to it, in order to understand the scope of our Latin American organizations of sex and gender under colonialism.

Theology of Dissent in Response to Religious Heteropatriarchy

A decolonial theology must be one of dissidence if it is to have any liberating character. ‘Dissidence’, here, is not used as a mere label of disagreement, but rather as a situational stance from which the very bases of our legitimization as colonial subjects are constantly contested. And just as the expansion of religious colonialism in Latin America transpired through all aspects of social existence and gave rise to new social and geocultural identifications, a decolonial theology of dissidence must do the same—starting from our own gendered bodies.

In sexual terms, Latin American women and non-heterosexual people have been historically defined in relation to heterosexual men as the norm. In other words, women are those who do not have a penis, and non-heterosexual men are those who do not use their penis according to the norm (Lugones 2003). From a decolonial theology of dissidence this must be contested—placed in a situation of uncomfortable political transactions perennially.

From this point of view, a decolonial theology of dissent is much more than a body of intellectual writings. It is a daily practice—a quotidian mode of resistance—that involves people at the grassroots where the challenges of exclusion are negotiated. Yet, something is to be said for the epistemological zones of privilege where colonialism is also instantiated. There is no decoloniality without resistance, and there can be no resistance against the traditional hegemonic enclaves where colonialism is legitimized, as long as the centers where knowledge is produced conceive people in resistance as “objects of study”, rather than “fellows in knowledge-building”.

Up to this day, ‘Otherness’ is one of the most deeply rooted archaeological legacies left by our colonial religiosities. Upon its finding, some people of faith in Latin America are now left to determine how best to deal with religion(s) in an inclusive, liberating and welcoming way, so that our social contexts become ones where religious, gendered, ethnic, linguistic, racial, and able diversities are not thought of as problems, but a resources to strengthen ties. Only then can we help truly shift this time of instability for our region.

Decolonizing religion in Latin America entails understanding that the religious question is always political, and as such must be contested. If there is any liberating potential in the religious phenomena, this is due to a lucid dissidence that eludes colonial privilege and embraces an ethical compromise beyond religious labels.

 

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a social communicator, writer, mentor in digital activism and community educator in gender and capacity development. She has led initiatives for grass roots female leaders’s empowerment in Latin America and Africa. She is an intersectional latin muslim feminist in the crossroads between Religion, Power and Sexuality. Her academic work addresses Feminist Hermeneutics in Islam, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. Vanessa is the founder of Mezquita de Mujeres (A Mosque for Women), a social media and educational project based in ICT that aims to explore the links between feminism, knowledge and activism and highlights the voices and perspectives of women from the global south as change makers in their communities.

Juan F. Caraballo Resto is professor of Sociology and Anthropology of University of Puerto Rico Reinto Cayey. PhD in Social Anthropology from University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Featured Image: Indigenous woman in Chiapas, Mexico, part of the Islamic mission of Dawa in the area, wearing a hiyab and showing a Qur’an in Spanish,

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