The Shamanic Dimensions of an Ecofeminist Narrative
By Gloria Feman Orenstein
In her recent book, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World,1 Native American feminist writer, Linda Hogan tells about how she had once prayed for an eagle feather from a living bird. After many years of prayer, she dreamed she was inside a Temple, and she told those who accompanied her to "Look Up". Then she woke up, and saw a large golden eagle fly towards her window. When she ran outside to see where it was, there was a feather in the road.
About this event she writes: "I know there is a physics to this, a natural law about lightness and air. This event rubs the wrong way against logic. How do I explain the feather, the bird at my window, my own voice waking me, as if another person lived in me, wiser and more alert. I can only think there is another force at work, deeper than physics and what we know of wind, something that comes from a world where lightning and thunder, sun and rain clouds live. Nor can I say why it is so many of us have forgotten the mystery of nature and spirit, while for tens of thousands of years such things have happened and been spoken by our elders and our ancestors."2
As an Ecofeminist and a student of three female spiritual teachers, two from authentic shamanic lineages—one The Shaman of Samiland (from Alta, northern Norway)3, the other a Jewish Clairvoyant, from France, Canada, and now California4, and the third, a Psychic Healer, Rosalyn Bruyere, a chakra specialist, energy Healer, and trance medium (with whom I studied for over ten years), I am compelled to address the absence of a serious discussion of Shamanism within Ecofeminist Theory.
Although we have identified the many ways in which western patriarchal Enlightenment civilization has constructed dualisms and hierarchies that link women, non-human nature, and indigenous and third world cultures in a category of "subordinated Others", we have omitted the spirit world from our consideration. Yet, by excising the spirit world from our world-view, we are disregarding numerous "others" whose agency and guidance actually affect our lives in powerful ways.
Here I am referring to the Creator or Creatrix, the ancestors, the unborn and deceased souls and spirits, the deities, and hosts of other beings and entities that cultures throughout time and across the globe refer to in their cultures' creation myths and other narratives (mythic for us, real for them), that their prophets have seen and heard, that their singers and tellers of tales have honored in music and story.
Western scientific civilization has constructed three basic amnesias: 1) Gynamnesia, our loss of memory of the civilization of the Goddess. We are now recovering this memory of some 35,000 years of history in which, according to the studies of Archeologist Marija Gimbutas, humans lived in more gender egalitarian relationships with each other, revered nature, and were more peaceable than we are. 2) Ecoamnesia, our loss of memory of our human connection to non-human nature. The Ecology, Environmental, and Ecofeminist movements are currently enabling us to recover that memory. 3) Shamanic amnesia, our forgetfulness of our interconnectedness to the spirit world of the ancestors, spirit guides, deities and the Creator/Creatrix of all Life. It is this third amnesia that is not being adequately addressed either by our contemporary feminist or ecology movements.
Having now studied with two authentic spiritual teachers who come from a shamanic lineage, that is whose parents and grandparents were shamanic healers and clairvoyants, themselves, I want to stress the importance both of experience over time and of cultural authenticity and integrity in the teachings that derive from a long lineage in which generations and generations have practiced and transmitted these difficult arts. It does take several generations in order for one to observe the myriad ways in which our actions, prayers, ceremonies, healings, etc. interact with the spirit world, and bring about visible changes in our lives in the material world, here on Earth.
I argue here that what we need in order to make real change are leaders whose spiritual knowledge has been learned over generations of time. Since we have all but eradicated such knowledge in the west, it is time that we took it seriously, and began to train people with such gifts, the "differently abled" spiritual guides now. It is this kind of knowledge that we might call wisdom. I would refer those who join me in a critique of the "weekend shamanism" that is being sold by New Agers of the white upper class to read Monica Sjöö's caustic analysis of this approach to so-called reclaiming spirituality in her book, New Age and Armageddon5.
Whether we refer to that "other" dimension as the spirit world, the realm of the ancestors, the Land of the Dead, the Land of the Unborn, etc., we must agree that as the third world and indigenous populations6 are undergoing a genocide that is intrinsically linked to the ecocide of the planet and the rape of their lands, connected to the hegemony of patriarchal civilization, and since these are the people who have traditionally been the guardians of shamanic knowledge, we (both the indigenous peoples and the western world) are losing all knowledge of the spirit world with them.
All this loss of land, indigenous cultures, and knowledge of the spirit world has grave consequences for women, everywhere. With our destruction of forests, rivers, land, and with the colonization of seeds via the imposition of western technology on cultures with earth-based spiritual practices, we are excising shamans, medicine women, native healers, spirit doctors, psychic surgeons, herbalists, mediums, Priestesses, and visionaries of all kinds, and with them all knowledge of the laws and functioning of the spirit world and its interconnection with the phenomenal world of our life on Planet Earth.
Simply stated, western civilization is raping the entire world of its soul. If we are, indeed, interested in attending to the discourses of indigenous peoples, as we claim to be, then we must take seriously what they tell us about the sacred relationships among humans, the planet, and the unseen dimension of the spirit world, populated as it is with ancestors, souls, spirits, power animals, deities, and a wide variety of other spirit species, this spiritual dimension of life has been suppressed in the west, and whenever people have spoken of it as if it were real and not symbolic or mythic, they have been labeled "mad".
Indeed, westerners who experience visions, who converse with deities, spirit animals, spirit guides, plant spirits, angels, or God, Great Spirit, Goddess, etc. are usually placed in mental asylums, treated with electro-shock therapy, potent and toxic drugs, or given lobotomies, which reduce them to a comatose or robotized state of being.
French feminist writer Jeanne Hyvrard has expressed the passion and desperation of a woman who is put in a mental institution because she has memory of a time before patriarchy, before a holistic vision was shattered, before dualities, before colonization, and she reaches out to commune with her protector deity, Mother Death, the goddess with bare breasts, serpents in her hands, and a dove upon her head--the figure we now recognize as The Cretan Goddess. Just as the knowledge of the figures of goddesses that have been marginalized and erased from patriarchal historical narratives can serve to prove the sanity of women who either see them or have memory of them, shamanic knowledge of the spirit world can also validate the sanity of those "differently abled" people who perceive them.
However, proving the sanity of visionaries is not the only reason we should embark on a quest for shamanic knowledge of the spirit world. As most native peoples will tell us, the reason for validating the information gleaned from prophets and visionaries is rather to enable and empower us to give adequate thanksgiving to those spirits for their beneficial interventions in our lives, for it is via our spiritual communication with the spirits that safeguards the balance and harmony of the planet.
Within the Ecofeminist movement, largely through the work of scholars such as Marija Gimbutas we have begun to recover the shamanic dimension of ecofeminist spirituality within our contemporary reclamations of the ancient Goddess Religion that predated patriarchy for millennia.
Through ritual and ceremony, using drumming, dancing, art and music, both women and men have been guided towards a celebration of the Great Earth Mother, Her mysteries, Her sacred sites, and Her powers. Ecofeminist spirituality has, it seems to me, used the Goddess as an all-embracing symbol under whose aegis a multitude of spiritual practices were explored. However, as Monique Wittig counseled in Les Guerilleres, "There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it. Remember.....You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to re-member. Or, failing that, invent."7
Contemporary women have both remembered and invented. They have remembered by journeying to sacred Goddess sites and shrines, and they have remembered by entering trance states in rituals of the earth and the moon. They have also invented via intuition and the arts.
While we cannot personally address, interview, or study with a mentor from Minoan Crete or Catal Huyuk, we can begin to listen to the teachings and the voices of those spiritual teachers from a wide diversity of indigenous traditions living today all over the planet. In warning us of the ecological disasters and the genocidal rape of their land and their people, these voices are also telling us that at the very heart and soul of their cultures is their connectedness, not only to the Earth, but to the spirit or soul of the earth and to the spirit of the Creator of the Universe.
The death of the soul (or spirit) accompanies largely atheist and agnostic scientific cultures. Our western Enlightenment monoculture is a shocking example of the death of the soul. As we have de-souled the earth through our science and technology, we are also de-souling humanity; we are alienating ourselves from the spirits of all of non-human nature in the cosmos.
It is traditionally one of the roles of the Shaman (as diverse as these roles are in a multitude of different cultures) to perform acts of soul retrieval.8 I would like to consider shamanism and soul retrieval as my reflection on additional problems posed by the New Reproductive Technologies. Both Mircea Eliade9 and Michael Harner10 have written extensively on Shamanism. Michael Harner has begun to train white westerners in the techniques of what he refers to as "core shamanism". An advanced practice that his Foundation for Shamanic Studies (headquartered in Mill Valley, California) teaches is soul retrieval. One of his students, Sandra Ingerman, now a Shamanic Counselor, has written two books on soul retrieval. She is a white western woman engaging in an ancient shamanic practice.
The word Shaman comes from the Tungus word (Tungus are people who live in Siberia and Mongolia), and it means "one who sees in the dark". Having personally studied with a Sami Shaman, and having spent some time in Alta, Norway in the winter, I experienced both the effects of prolonged periods of darkness (when the sun would set at 9:00 a.m.) as well as the effects of the magnetic North Pole on my energy field. Indeed, as we would venture out in the snow at midday in total darkness, we had to learn to see in the dark. And, the dark can be understood metaphorically as well, for my Shaman, always taught me that "the spirit grows in darkness". She said that the darkness she spoke about also referred to tests and trials involving suffering, sacrifice, and discipline. But it also reminds us that something is alive and growing in the darkness.
Shamans generally enter ecstatic trance states of consciousness via drumming or psychoactive plants in order to journey to dimensions one may conceive of, as Michael Harner has named them, "non-ordinary reality", in order to perform a healing by consulting the spirit guides, power animals, and deities. Quite often a healing is a soul retrieval.
According to Sandra Ingerman, who has performed hundreds of soul retrievals, the major cause of illness from the shamanic perspective is soul loss. She used the word soul to stand for vital essence or the spiritual part of a person. She informs us that soul loss is often the result of such traumas as incest, abuse, surgery, illness, addiction, loss, violence, injury, abortion or miscarriage, and the stress of combat and addiction.
The symptoms of soul loss include chronic depression, illness, feelings of emptiness, feelings of alienation, disconnectedness, fragmentation, incompleteness, listlessness, and trauma. When trauma occurs, a part of a person's soul may flee as a defense against the pain. This is diagnosed by psychiatrists as "dissociation". It is often a feeling of not being in one's body. Actually "soul loss is an adaptive strategy to the original trauma"11. While it protects one from feeling the pain, it leaves one feeling fragmented and empty.
It is interesting to note that soul loss is frequently the result of emotional and physical abuse, violence, battery, incest, sexual abuse, and rape. Considering the prevalence of violence towards women in our society, we might add soul loss to the long list of afflictions from which women suffer, many of which have been referred to as "gynocide" ,"femicide"12 and matricide. Thus, it is particularly important for women to pay attention to the teachings of shamanism, for this ancient practice enables us to retrieve the lost or fled soul fragments, and to restore wholeness to our lives.
In Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self,13 Sandra Ingerman gives many detailed descriptions of the healing of specific cases of soul loss by the shamanic journey to non-ordinary reality—to The Upper World, The Middle World, or The Lower World in order to search for, locate, and bring back the missing part of the soul that has fled from the sick person. Often this is accomplished with the help of spirit guides and power animals. Many people suffer from multiple soul losses, and are missing more than one part of their soul. I suspect that soul loss is involved with what we have been calling "women's fatigue syndrome" and other chronic states of illness from which women now suffer and that the medical community cannot cure.
However, it is not my purpose to describe the practice of soul retrieval. Rather, I wish to consider soul loss as a possible result of the manipulation and abuses of the New Reproductive Technologies as they are performed on women. Moreover, since these technologies involve the creation of life, itself, we are obliged to realize that our definition of life in western science is intrinsically materialistic. Have any of the scientists working on genetic engineering or reproductive technology ever considered the soul as they fiddle around with the material constituents of life?
In this paper I affirm that the shamanic dimension to Ecofeminism considers the definition of life, itself, to be larger than the biological, genetic description, and that the spiritual dimension of the "seed" (as discussed by Vandana Shiva) is an expanded but inherent aspect of the fundamental constituents of life, itself. Radical feminists and ecofeminists in the international Finnrage network have critiqued the new reproductive technologies thanks to the pioneering work of Renate Klein, Jan Raymond, Gena Correa, and Robyn Rowland, among many, and have noted the multiple ways in which the cycle of reproduction centered in the female is being dismembered, how women are being turned into egg producers, egg donors, uteri, and so-called "surrogate mothers"; how the mother is being fragmented, and, indeed, how reproduction is being separated from sexuality, in general. This will soon erase the asymmetry in human reproduction, in which women's wombs have always played the most important role.
However, with the new reproductive technologies, when the egg and sperm are joined in a test tube, they are considered to be playing an equal role in the reproductive process. This is because reproduction via test tubes ignores the womb and the nine important months of gestation within the woman's body. Janice Raymond in Women As Wombs14has shown how "the significance of pregnancy, labor, and birth have been shrunk to the size of a sperm"15 in cases of "surrogacy" which is also a misnomer for motherhood. Since it is the environment within the womb that for nine months creates the child, we may assume that so-called surrogate mothers who have to give up their child will most definitely experience soul loss, as well might their children, who for nine months have bonded to the blood and spirit of the body of their prenatal mothers. It is the womb of the so-called surrogate mother that affects fetal survival, birth weight, adult weight, bone structure, rate of growth, and other important vital elements of the life of the child.16
In Primal Connections: How Our Experiences From Conception to Birth Influence Our Emotions, Behavior, and Health17 Elizabeth Noble argues that newborns have already learned a lot in utero. "Newborns clearly remember music, stories, and songs to which they were exposed in the uterus. Verified memories relating to events experienced in prenatal life, such as concerts, carnivals, train whistles, and explosions, can be found in the literature."18
Similarly, newborns are affected by the pains and trauma that their mothers experienced when they were being carried in the womb. Pre-natal memories can be retrieved via hypnotic regression and rebirthing. "The recording of one's own conception suggests the presence of a soul."19 "The fact that ovulation, conception, and preconceptional states come up in dreams shows a psychic relationship between a woman and her ovum..."20
The transcription of prenatal and perinatal memories of clients under hypnotic regression yields evidence that neuroses in later life can be traced to events surrounding conception, implantation, delivery, the death of a twin in utero, labor, surgery and all the complications of these processes. What kinds of neuroses will wombless births breed? It is clear that the womb is a highly specialized environment, and it is sobering to speculate on what kind of being will be born who has not been nurtured in an organic womb, but only in a mechanical one.
My reflections on shamanism and on the cosmologies in which it is practiced, which envisage the spirit world as an extended part of all reality (although one not ordinarily visible) is the following: Contemporary science has sought technological means for creating and perfecting (according to whose values???) life as we have known it.
The "technodocs" who engage in research on the New Reproductive Technologies and Genetic Engineering participate in a definition of life that ignores the soul or spirit, and thinks about creating life without considering the effects of their technologies on the soul—either of the mother or the child, the earth, or by further extension the effects of these technologies on the ancestors or the other inhabitants of the spiritual realms. When I think about eliminating all forms of "imperfection" labeled "abnormal" via genetic engineering, not only do I reflect upon the definition of "abnormal" that the technodocs have established in the west, but I also pause and take time to express a serious cautionary consideration that has spiritual implications.
Moreover, when I think about eradicating all illness, I am immediately reminded of the fact that Shamans generally receive their calling via illness. Irene Diamond in her recent book Fertile Ground: Women, Earth, and the Limits of Control21 has warned us that modern science continues to trample upon the unexplained mysteries of life and death by eliminating chance, and also, I would add, by eliminating the will and moral agency of women. Indeed, the shamanic calling is primarily heralded by an illness that often leads one to the brink of death.
Native healer, Medicine Grizzlybear Lake describing his own calling writes "The calling comes in the form of a dream, accident, sickness, injury, disease, near-death experience, or even actual death."22 Medicine Grizzlybear Lake had four near-death experiences in which he met his spirit guides and teachers.23 He writes that death, dying, and illness are the school of shamanhood. It is also through power dreams and visions that the guardian spirits and spirit guides appear.
He writes: "As a young child I had nightmares, encounters with monsters, premonitions of accidents or illnesses, disasters that came true, changes in the weather before they occurred, discussions with talking animals, birds, fish, snakes, and dead relatives, and even trips to other planets in flying saucers. I had dreams of falling off cliffs, drowning, being chased by people who tried to kill me, monsters that tried to rip me apart, sleeping in a nest full of snakes, flying over cities, attending parties and gatherings, meeting people who in later years became a friend or spouse, and even dreams about my children before they were born. I actually "saw" my children before they became a physical reality."24
This leads us to consider the way in which the soul becomes a physical child. Most cultures have concepts of who delivers the unborn soul to the germplasm of the fetus and when this occurs. The Sami believe that the Great Goddess did this. None of this can be measured in a modern medical office. Since the activities of the soul and the spirit remain mysteries to us, it seems to me that we should pay attention to the teachings of native visionaries who would advise us to interrogate and respect and illness before we submit it to modern technologies for extinction. It may bring us important information, and it may be a gateway towards communication with another dimension. Indeed, as we have seen, the illness itself might be avoided if we learn how to stop attacks that occur in spiritual dimensions that we can access via our dreams—or that Shamans can access for us.
Shamanism calls into question our entire western concept of illness. Now that we have medicalized normal physical events such as pregnancy and childbirth, we are also medicalizing states of mind that shamans use to access non-ordinary reality, and labeling them "madness". If we continue to do this, we will miss out on the information that they bring us. Of course, I am not suggesting that we not treat illness. But I am arguing that there are other ways of healing that respect the wisdom of the spirit and the body in which the illness is lodged, and that cures and methods that do not poison the body with toxic substances, but work on the source of the disease, which is often in another dimension, are a viable alternative to our current medical practices.
However, the apprenticeship to become this kind of Healer does not reduce to four or even eight years as does medical training. It takes at least twenty-five to thirty years. My own Shaman teacher trained for thirty years before she was allowed to heal anyone outside of her family, and she ultimately died of a sorcery attack. So perhaps even that amount of training was insufficient. I am making a strong case for seriously reclaiming shamanism for I, myself, have been healed from serious illness over the past two and one half years by prayer, ritual, and shamanic techniques, or healing done in the spirit world by my healer in a deep trance and at a considerable distance from my body (over 90 miles away).
I have also been thinking about the traffic in eggs, fetuses, and all sorts of body parts within the context of shamanism. If shamans receive their training in lineages, from those in their lineage who have been shamans before them, and who know and transmit the laws of the spirit world and the methods and techniques of effecting healing and communication with spirits, what happens when those beings who were to have been born in a certain culture are born elsewhere, because the eggs and sperm have been frozen and transported to other parts of the world? Thus, if a child is born into a westernized monoculture, but this child has inherited the gift for shamanism, whether this gift is bestowed via the spirit world alone or is also transmitted in the genes, the result is that the child will be born into a culture that has no means of developing this gift, for western enlightenment monoculture is excising medicine people and institutionalizing visionaries.
If I raise this question at all, it is because I, myself, come from a rather strange lineage of power and also of abuse of power. My own paternal grandmother was a Tarot Card reader in Yiddish on the Lower East side. She was a woman of great spiritual power, but who often used her power to curse instead of to bless. In fact, she was often thrown into jail (I learned very late in life, because no one wanted to talk about her) both for illegal Tarot reading and for other things no one wants to mention. My father, one of her ten children, inherited her power, but could make nothing of it, for there was no one to train him. His mother was a negative force, and there were simply no other people who could guide him. My memory of him is of a "New Age Man" well before there were any "New Agers". In the fifties he used to go on long walks to breathe in the sun. He would spend time standing on his head, studying yoga, going on strange health diets, and he had several severe spiritual crises when he became very religious for short periods of time.
Apparently I inherited power in this lineage. As a young child I left the body frequently, but when I would tell my mother about this, she would laugh at me. I also have a history of callings to a spiritual path via illnesses that the medical profession could not identify. But it wasn't until I was forty-seven that an actual shaman teacher, the Shaman of Samiland, came into my life, found me via the spirit world, and put a name on all that had been so weird about my life. She told me that The Great Spirit had called me, and in 1987 I went to Samiland to begin my work with her. There I saw my spirit guide, I heard the voices of the dead ancestors calling me, and, over the four and one half years in which she lived (she died at 47 in 1991), I learned a great deal about the interconnection between the earth, humans, and the spirit world.
The irony of all this is that I come from N.Y., where I had been a "taxi addict", and I seemed a most unlikely candidate for treks into the mountains and across the tundra at the North Pole. However, I did accomplish all that thanks to my spirit guides and to God, which they call The Great Spirit. The fact that I am alive today, having developed the same illness that she died of, is, to my mind, a miracle. She would have said that she died of an illness caused by an attack by a sorcerer in a spirit war.
Today I am with a new teacher of a lost Jewish (I call it shamanic) matrilineage of power. Under her tutelage, and with her spiritual power, we are unraveling the threads of my bizarre personal history. However, the sadness of all this for me is that my culture did not provide a framework, a construct, or a cadre of professionals that could explain my experiences and illnesses to me, could diagnose and heal them, and could lead me on the life path of my destiny at an early enough age so that I could make use of my knowledge and power in more than a rudimentary way today. Since a shaman does inherit spiritual gifts and spirit guides from her own family25 (including ancestral spirits), if one is born via test tube to a different culture, particularly one that does not practice shamanism, how can the future shaman be trained? This is especially poignant when the states of consciousness necessary for this practice are labeled "insanity", and the potential shaman may be put into a mental asylum.
My personal example is that of a white western woman who laments the loss of sacred Jewish shamanic knowledge, but was blessed to encounter, in my lifetime, the one living person who embodies that knowledge. But native peoples are also suffering from the loss of their own traditional knowledge, especially when their religious rites (occasionally when they make use of sacred herbs like peyote) are deemed illegal.
In New Age and Armageddon26 Monica Sjöö critiques the ways in which white western upper class capitalists have profited from shamanism and other indigenous teachings. She notes that "in 1988 The Open Gate Trust ran a course in 'shamanistic studies' at a cost of forty pounds." She writes: "Shamanism seems to be lifted out of its context of tribal life and native people's struggle for survival and sacral communication with the Earth, Her plants and animals and cosmos, and used by wealthy and privileged white people as another form of healing and therapy."27 Sjöö talks about several New Age Shamans who are womanizers and of others who are creating an upper class of New Agers as an alternative aristocracy.
She also identifies shamanism as women's ecstatic experience based upon the research into Aboriginal Shamanism by Mary Antoinette Crispine Czaplicka, who wrote about Shamanism in Aboriginal Siberia in 1914.28 In various Siberian tribes male shamans wear female dress when they shamanize. "Androgyne shamans of transvestite type have been reported from northeastern Siberia among Chukchis, Koryaks, Asiatic Eskimos, and groups on Kamchatka....It is interesting however, that among Koryaks the transvestite shaman was considered the most powerful shaman of all shamans."29
Sjöö extrapolates, and concludes that women were the original shamans, and that their knowledge was passed down in oral lore over time. My experience with the Sami did not indicate that shamanism was either specifically connected to women or that women were the most powerful shamans, despite the fact that my own shaman teacher was a woman and that she was extremely powerful. My Western perspective on gender roles in this specific culture was that the female shaman was trained to think in ways that we in the West would consider "masculine". She believed it was important to be physically strong, and never shirked from tasks that we might associate with male construction workers such as building a teepee single handedly or going hunting for weeks at a time. Nor did she shirk from responding physically to physical assault. As she used to say: "A shaman must handle all things--even drunk men."
While I do not agree that we can conclude that Shamanism is originally linked to women (everywhere), I do think that women shamans can deconstruct our gender stereotypes and myths for us. I am certain that in Samiland when a female shaman goes hunting or out on a solo pilgrimage over 50 miles to a sacred site, she is thought of as "feminine" and not as "masculine". Indeed, I discovered that all Sami women, non Shamans, were encouraged to undertake tasks requiring enormous physical strength that would have been delegated to men in our culture.
Vandana Shiva has analyzed "maldevelopment" and "monocultures of the mind" in her important books Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development30 and Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology.31 In addition to destroying indigenous knowledge of plants and ecology, western monoculture is excising shamanism and shamanic knowledge of the spirit world from the planet.
In speaking about the arts of destruction and warfare, Vandana Shiva writes: "To legitimize the development of these arts of destruction, women, nature, and the colonies had to be robbed of their 'human' quality, their soul. They became spiritless matter, raw material."32
It is through spiritual ritual and ceremony linking humans and the land to the spirit world and the cosmos that women, as custodians of biodiversity, have been conserving the seed. According to Vandana Shiva "Sacred seed is perceived as a microcosm of the macrocosm ..."33 Conserving seed and respecting biodiversity are sacred acts. "For women farmers, the essence of seed is the continuity of life. For multinational corporations the value of the seed lies in the discontinuity of life."34
Seeds that are engineered, like fetuses that are engineered, violate the sacredness of the spiritual relation of the seed to the entire cosmos and its natural cycles of which both women farmers and mothers, in general, have been the custodians throughout time. Shiva reminds us that "profane seed violates the integrity of ecological cycles and linkages, and fragments agricultural ecosystems."35
At this point we might take a look at the wisdom contained in the Mother Goose Rhyme of Humpty Dumpty. Some have said that the Mother Goose rhymes passed on information about the Goddess Religion via the oral tradition. Mother Goose reminds us of Mother Goddess. Thinking about the engineered seed and genetically engineered egg, we now read:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall Humpty Dumpty had a great fall All the King's Horses and All the King's Men Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Humpty Dumpty, the egg, is always depicted as a male. This is the "technodocs'" egg--the egg that has been taken over by the patriarchy. This is the egg that had a great "Fall" (from the Mother Goddess reverence for the female) from its previous female generative source (not its male engineered source). Not one single man from the patriarchy could ever restore it to its former wholeness.
The Humpty Dumpty rhyme is a warning about gynocide, femicide, and and matricide as well as about the Fall of women from the Goddess civilization into patriarchal colonization of the egg and of the seed, now we know how, via the new reproductive technologies and genetic engineering.36 We might ask whether an egg that has been harvested and frozen, then defrosted and combined with an unknown sperm in a test tube, is a form of rape, since the woman whose egg has been combined with that sperm did not give her consent to that particular mating.
In a very different poetic text entitled "Seed Dreaming," Robert Lawlor author of Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime,37 expresses the Aboriginal vision of the seed's relation to both the physical and spiritual worlds. "The seed is permeated with and surrounded by a field, a pre-formative entelechy drawing all growth toward a prescribed form and destiny/ Within the dreaming of the Seed pulses/the entire drama of genesis......From the realms beyond, of the Unborn and the Dead, the plant gathers its vital force"38
Whether in the plant world or the human world, the seed of life always has its spiritual counterpart. "To the Aborigines, no occurrence is caused only by physical mechanisms, especially the events and processes associated with life. They tend to see all causation as a combination of physical and spiritual forces acting in harmony with energetic emanations of the earth."39
Thus, by consulting the primal peoples, we see that the land and the spirit are intimately interconnected. "The phenomenal world is considered the dream of the ancestral beings. Neither the dream nor the phenomenal world is considered an illusion; rather, together they constitute reality."40
If the visible world is perceived as the trace of the dreams and activities of the ancestral spirits, then we can begin to understand how our rape of the land may affect the ancestral spirits as well. Everything we do to the phenomenal world affects the spirit world. Hence, the colonization of the human seed, with the violence and abuse it undergoes (being harvested, frozen, bred, defrosted, genetically manipulated, trafficked, implanted into an unknown body, etc.) will not only affect the soul of the child and the mother, but will also do violence to the ancestral souls via the violence and abuse of the spiritual dimension of that seed.
Considering soul loss as one result of abuse, might we not be heading towards a world of humans whose soul fragments have fled, might we not be breeding future humans who are open to all kinds of illness, depression, to dangers of all sorts, etc.?
Throughout time Aboriginal peoples have respected, honored, and celebrated these spirits through rites and prayer. The western patriarchal monoculture has abandoned these practices.
We are responsible for the fate of the universe, for as we participate in acknowledging and honoring the spirits, we co-create with them a world from which they will not flee. Earth without indigenous peoples, humans without soul parts that must be retrieved by Shamans, who will have been excised by our New Reproductive Technologies...this is our current story, and without anyone to perform a soul retrieval on all the manipulated and desacralized matter, both human and non-human from which the soul has fled, our monoculture's Universe Story will end tragically with the death-in-life soul loss of modern western civilization.
I strongly suggest that one way out of our current impasse is to reclaim shamanism—not as a new age commodified exotic self-indulgence trip, with weekend packaged tours to primal peoples, who perform ceremonies for rich white westerners (who rip them off, and return nothing to them and nothing to the land, and nothing to the spirits,) but as a serious cosmic world-view. We must begin now by training gifted psychic mediums, spiritual healers, who, in many cultures are women, as shamans, and we must respect their rootedness in their particular and diverse cultures and lineages. We must also begin to inculcate the values of respect for the inhabitants of the spirit world from birth onward, throughout the life cycle. In other words, we must pay back our enormous debt to the Earth Mother, to The Creator of All That Is, to all the inhabitants of the spirit world for the gifts of life and creation.
My personal story proves that a white Western woman from an agnostic background can be identified and discovered by the spirits and even returned to her power, BUT there had to be responsible, experienced teachers available to guide me. However, I have lost almost 50 years of training time. Our concept of time also needs to be discussed from the shamanic perspective, for it is possible that I have not lost any time at all—only in our linear concept of it. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether in this lifetime I will be able to develop my innate powers. Fortunately, I have had three extraordinary female teachers, and I am deeply troubled by the idea that we could be creating a future in which such people would no longer exist or would be locked up.
The shamanic dimension of an ecofeminist narrative would say that via our western patriarchal Enlightenment hierarchies and dualisms we have established humans as separate from and superior to both non-humans in the phenomenal world and to all of the spirit world, by simply discounting its existence. In the western scientific definition, life is conceived of as material, as genetic matter. No account is made of the spiritual dimensions of matter. Yet, these are the dimensions that ritual and ceremony have preserved intact so that the seeds of life, be they vegetal or animal, may be viable and quicken.
In a new ecofeminist cosmogenesis we would include spirit as a dimension of reality, and we would teach our children that everything we think or say affects everything else in the universe including our ancestors, all the spirits, and our Creator.
Indeed, most religious traditions, whether patriarchal or not, conceive of the Word as a powerful creative force. In order to regenerate the world, we must begin to pay homage to the Creator of all that is, and to acknowledge the aliveness and agency of spiritual entities as diverse as deities, guides, ancestors, and angels. To do so would be to RESOUL the universe, and it is incumbent upon us to do this immediately.
1. Hogan, Linda. Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World. New York: Norton & Co., 1995.
2. Ibid. p.17.
3. The Shaman of Samiland (of the Sami people) who was my teacher was Ellen Marit Gaup-Dunfjeld. She died at the age of 47 in 1991.
4. My Jewish Clairvoyant Healer is Araina from Topanga Canyon in L.A. Her grandmother and mother before her were, as she is, one of seven sisters with seven spirits. Her grandmother was from Jerusalem, her mother from France, and she is from France and Canada, but lives in L.A. I truly believe that they constitute a practically lost shamanic matrilineage within Judaism. Araina would not use the word Shaman or Shamanism. She calls herself a Handmaiden of God.
5. Sjöö, Monica. New Age and Armageddon. London: The Women's Press, 1992.
6. The colonization of Tibet, although not an example from the western world, is another case that illustrates a male-dominated technocracy eradicating a spiritually-based people. Many would consider Tibet to be the repository of spirituality on our planet today.
7. Wittig, Monique Les Guerilleres. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985, p. 89.
8. Schlesier, Karl H. The Wolves of Heaven: Cheyenne Shamanism Ceremonies, and Prehistoric Origins. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987, p. 36. One of the words for an Evenk (Siberian) Shaman means "inhaling helping spirits", another means "to induce spirit helpers to enter one's body", and another is "to reach for the soul of a sick person."
9. Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy. New York: Pantheon, 1964.
10. Harner, Michael. The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
11. Ingerman, Sandra. Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self.. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991, p. 37.
12. Gynocide and Femicide are crimes against women, the killing of women, just because they are women--for no other reason. Matricide is a prevalent form of Femicide. The killing or disempowerment of the mother, whether cosmic, mythic, social or biological can be seen in a variety of patriarchal myths (Athena born of Zeus' head, Eve born of Adam) . . .and now the new reproductive technologies which reduce women's role in reproduction to that of egg donor.
14. Raymond, Janice Women As Wombs: Reproductive Technologies and the Battle Over Women's Freedom. San Francisco: Harper, 1993.
15. Ibid, p.68.
16. Ibid, p. 69.
17. Noble, Elizabeth. Primal Connections: How Our Experiences From Conception to Birth Influence Our Emotions, Behavior, and Health. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993, p.30, 31.
18. Ibid, p. 30.
19. Ibid, p. 42.
20. Ibid, p. 42.
21. Diamond, Irene. Fertile Ground: Women, Earth, and the Limits of Control. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994.
22. Medicine Grizzlybear Lake. Native Healer: Initiation Into an Ancient Art. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1991, p. 17.
23. Op. Cit. Schlesier, Karl H. The Wolves of Heaven. "...generally, election by the spirits had dramatic consequences. The neophyte suffered a severe initiatory illness followed by his or her experience of death, resurrection, and transformation......After the initiatory experience of death and resurrection, the spirits taught the neophyte their special knowledge including songs, terms, and ritual signs with which to call them: a secret language not to be used by otheres who were not in the shaman's condition." pp.37, 39.
24. Ibid, p. 32.
25. Op. Cit. The Wolves of Heaven. "Oftentimes the office (of Shaman) was inherited. In extensive genealogies that Vasilevich ...has recorded among Evenk groups, she found forty-eight cases in which it was remembered that shamans had inherited the helping spirits of shaman ancestors. In forty of these, they came from a grandfather of father/mother who had been shamans." p.37
26. Sjöö, Monica. New Age and Armageddon. London: The Women's Press, 1992. p. 237.
27. Ibid, p. 237.
28. Op.Cit. Sjöö, p. 217.
29. Op. Cit. The Wolves of Heaven, p. 41.
30. Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development. London: Zed Books, 1988.
31. Shiva, Vandana. Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology. London: Zed Books, 1993.
32. Mies, Maria and Shiva, Vandana. Ecofeminism. London; Zed Books, 1993, p. 177.
33. Ibid, p. 169.
34. Ibid, p. 172.
35. Ibid, p. 169.
36. The Humpy Dumpty rhyme was mentioned to me by my Healer, Araina, when I engaged her in a discussion about the entry of the soul. She believes (or rather knows) that the soul is called in by the love act of the mother and father. Of course she realizes that all these acts are not acts of love, but she does believe that the soul that comes into the fetus has to do with the wills and lives of the two humans that produce it. She does not know about test tube babies, but thinks it might be considered to be a rape, for the woman's will is not recognized in the mating of the egg with a sperm.
37. Lawlor, Robert. Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1991, p. 135.
38. Ibid, p. 135
39. Ibid, p. 159.
40. Ibid, p. 42.