“Windigo, Windigo, please don’t steal my soul!”
This is a line from a story that haunted Moses Amik Beaver, who some of you know as the illustrator of Whispers of the Ancients, the collection of traditional legends that he and I co-authored. Some of you may also know him from the time he spent instructing here at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School.
Windigos are walking dead. They are the shells of people who were banished from their villages for some heinous offense. Having no reason to live or die, they wander aimlessly in the wilderness. Sometimes they lurk in the shadows not far from the village, in hopes of catching at least a glimpse of a former loved one. They would never let themselves be seen, as their horrendous appearance could cause someone to drop dead on the spot.
Moses left his remote village in North Ontario when he was a young man. Soon after, he started to feel like he was a walking dead. The Windigo story in Whispers was his favorite, because it was his story. And because it haunted him. It’s not surprising that the most soul-gripping artwork that he created for the book was for that story.
Moses is no longer walking dead. He was found expired in his jail cell in Thunder Bay, Ontario on February 13.
We called each other “brother,” in part because we both knew the pangs of banishment, and we both struggled to scratch or ways back to the realm of the living. We talked about what it was like to lurk in the shadows and peer from the outside, in. It drew us together.
Yet the only final words I have to send with him on his Journey to the Spirit World are “Eat fresh!”
He and I were driving down to my place late one night from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where I picked him up from the airport. We were still a few hours from home, and we were hungry. Yet all the eateries we passed were closed. Then he saw a sign that said “Eat fresh!” and he shouted it out. We stopped and got a couple of tunafish subs. They were soon gone, yet “Eat fresh!” stuck with us. Whenever we called each other, it was “Eat fresh!” instead of “Hello.” And whenever we parted, it was “Eat fresh!” instead of “Goodbye.”
Moses, may you now eat fresh again, and forever.
Postscript: Moses elder sister, Mary Wabasse, was killed in a car accident on the way down to Thunder Bay to tend to what remained of her little big brother on the cold concrete floor of that cell.
We can understand the intertwined experience of the archetypes the same way we understand the harmony of organs within an organism. Our eyes are the Guardian; our hands, the Nurturer; and our mouth, the Communicator. Each serves a distinct role, and yet there may be times when we communicate with our eyes or see with our hands. Meanwhile, the role of the archetypes in our clan or community can be understood through the metaphor of the senses: the Guardian is sight; the Nurturer, touch; and the Communicator, voice. The archetypal role is fluid and interchangeable, although the purpose served by each role is very specific. For example, even if we are seeing with our hands, we still identify the experience as one of seeing.
Understanding the archetypal energy resonating in you can help you access part of your core self—the base of your healing. When you can better recognize your own archetypal energy, you can also better understand how to enter into relationship with others. With that in mind, below we will examine each of the three archetypes up close.
Guardians have the ability to keep perspective, to organize, and to lead. They know how to put people into the right place. They are charismatic and other people are naturally inclined to follow them. They are also able to represent their people or certain interests and often serve as message bearers and emissaries.
Contemporary culture has exaggerated the role of the Guardian to a permanent character trait or position. In reality, it is much more dynamic. Leadership in the old way was based on the people deferring to a particular individual in a particular instance, and so it had more to do with contextual characteristics like knowledge, competence, skill in a particular area, etc. rather than simply aggression or entitlement.
Many of the people to whom we ascribe characteristics of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) would be apt for the role of the Guardian in hunter-gatherer cultures. ADD symptoms, such as the inability to stay focused on one thing or follow through on something, are actually desirable Guardian characteristics. The Guardian’s role is to keep tabs on what is going on all around the camp; however, if he gets lost in a project, things could slip by his attention. His role is to notice things that need doing, so that other people can follow up on them. That keeps him free to continue scouting and being on watch.
Guardian behavior is also often seen in organized team sports—with their fast-paced action, competition, and need to maintain perspective on multiple moving targets. In our present culture, team sports are often the only place people still have access to Guardian-like training and a clan-based mentality.
Nurturers naturally seek to create space around them that supports soul-to-soul communication and connections that go beyond a person and into the realm of ancestral relationship. Just being in the presence of a Nurturer can often feel like being in sacred space or enveloped in maternal energy. These individuals serve their clan by preserving and healing interpersonal bonds—they are the figures that hold the clan together and ensure its long-term survival.
In the old times, I imagine Nurturers were the people who “recognized” the new members of the clan and could “see” how they would come to serve within the clan. They also would have been ideally suited with helping their people in the choosing of mates, something I think we underestimate the value of in today’s culture.
Although a Nurturer may not demonstrate the sharp aggression of a Guardian or Communicator, she or he may nonetheless be assertive. At the root of this archetype is sensitivity or the ability to perceive and respond with a nurturing intent. Even if temporarily clothed in aggression or assertiveness, the Nurturer’s role is one of softness.
The archetype of the Nurturer figures strongly in interpretations of the archetypes through gender. The question then becomes whether you have the brain of a “nurturer” or a “provider”. Now, although nurturing is providing and providing is nurturing, we can consider them distinct roles, with nurturing associated with the female and providing associated with the male.
Behavioral gender differences are common throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. In only a tiny handful of animal species are male and female offspring raised differently, yet virtually all of them display specialized gender behaviors. Humans are one of those few species who tend to give gender-specific attention to their children. Yet we need to be careful about assuming that we have a nurture-vs-nature situation here—it could theoretically just as well be nurture magnifying nature.
Generally speaking, the evolution of gender roles goes something like this: women are generally the gatherers and men are the hunters; with women being oriented to the hearth and men drawn to scouting. With our early domestication, women turned to gardening and men to herding. The next stage found women spinning and men handling the draft animals. Setting aside the question of male and female capacities, what we know is that men and women served distinct evolutionary roles. In terms of our core nature, the gender roles are not in a hierarchy—much like the archetypes, they simply reflect our personal energy and the ways we may best serve our community.
Gender is a key factor in how our minds evolved and function, so it ought to be considered in recognizing who we are as psycho-emotional beings, and thus how it might also have affected our woundedness. With that said, it is only one factor and is not wholly deterministic, even though the archetypes are typically viewed as gendered: with Nurturers as females, Guardians as males, and Communicators as male. In actuality, the archetypal energies can manifest in a person of any gender.
Plenty Coup, Chief of the Crows, is remembered for his ability as a leader to create consensus, maintain perspective on options, and for the loyalty of his people even in the midst of detractors and criticism. Each of these accomplishments speaks to his archetypal energy as a Communicator.
In our culture it is common to see Communicator energy warped into its raw form, aggression, which can then be channeled into power addiction, deception, demagogy and control. This aggressor energy is used to keep our hierarchical system running. Strong aggressors are most likely to make their career up to high positions in politics, economy or church. They are the most “successful” in our society.
In Traditional cultures, the Communicator mirrors the needs of the group, whatever they might be. She stands simultaneously at the fore and in the background. She knows that in order for the clan to flourish, all of individuals in the clan need to be flourishing. When complacency settles in, the Communicator injects chaos into the mix and in that way serves the precursor to change.
A small change orchestrated by the Communicator can send a ripple through the group that brings forth a transformation, so it is important that every ear be attuned to the Communicator’s conducting. Although either Guardians, Nurturers, or Communicators can sniff out what is out of balance and needs to be addressed, it is the Communicator who usually initiates the corresponding action.
The contemporary and traditional understanding of the Communicator stems from the two kinds of
aggression that exist. The Latin roots of the word ‘aggression’— ad and gredi—basically mean stepping forward. In regular usage, the term has two definitions:
Someone who attacks.
Someone who initiates a course of action.
Contemporary culture most often associates aggression with only the antagonism of the first definition. Traditional cultures, however, more often use the second (which in common parlance you might describe as assertiveness). Initiating a course of action depends on good communication. It depends on the ability to hear all the perspectives and see all the needs of the circle and from there discern what the circle needs and where it needs to go. Whereas Guardians will be more much cautious and skeptical, as their role is to be on alert for where the clan is vulnerable, Communicators are confident. They must be, in order to effectively lead the clan on a particular course of action or to negotiate on its behalf with another clan.
The three archetypes—the Guardian, the Nurturer, and the Communicator—are not concrete roles, but rather “patterns of energy” that emanate from our limbic system. Each of us exhibits an energy pattern that corresponds to one of the archetypes. Our archetypal energy provides us with an indicator of the role we may play to best serve our community.
The following is an excerpt from my latest book, Becoming Nature: Learning the Language of Wild Animals and Plants. To learn more or to order your own copy, visit my Amazon.com page here.
I learned to connect with animals nonverbally when I went to live with Wolves. At first, I thought we spoke different languages, as I couldn’t understand their words, and they were lost with mine. Initially I thought I could train them to recognize some of my words, as I did with my dogs. However, the more I got to know the Wolves, the more I saw how complete they were already, and the more I felt like an outsider. Making them join my world by learning my language just didn’t seem right—I realized that I would be demeaning them by implying that my language was superior to theirs. I humbled myself before them and began listening instead.
Although I learned many of their words by listening, I soon realized that I was still missing something. I began to notice that their communications went well beyond the few words they used. Ever so gradually, I grew more sensitive to the silent voice on which they often relied.
What a revelation it was to be immersed in a world of sharing that was not voice reliant but instead based on intuition. Had I insisted on word-based communication, I would have only stymied my reawakening. And I would likely have drawn the conclusion that Wolves were simple creatures, capable of only basic communication.
A few years ago I learned about a young woman who spent her early childhood locked away in a corner of her house. She had learned only the rudiments of spoken language, so when she was found and rescued, the social welfare team put great effort into getting her verbal skills up to speed.
Because of their focus, it took them awhile to recognize that she could communicate very well without words. If only they could have listened at the onset.
To listen is to honor. Every human, animal, plant, and supposedly nonliving entity has something to teach us, and as soon as we recognize this we can start to truly listen. When we listen to Nature without a goal or objective, we learn amazing things and cultivate new relationships. Along with that, we gain new insights regarding our place in the Hoop of Life.
A recent stroll past the beverages section of my local natural foods store revealed five brands of kombucha in twenty-five plus flavors. In addition, there was kombucha soda pop—six or seven kinds. At the deli counter, I noticed kombucha on tap—eight flavors. Yet all I had to do to discover this latest health food craze was take a peek in our school’s glass recycling bin. Yep, mostly kombucha bottles.
For fifty years I’ve watched food fads rise and fall. First it was whole-wheat, which turned out to be just as high-glycemic as white. Then there was soy, until we learned that it packs estrogen. More recently, we have probiotics and coconut oil, even though the former turned out to be no better than eating foods that support healthy gut flora, and the proliferation of plantations producing the latter are destroying precious jungle.
But kombucha seems different. The health claims are taller—it’ll cure everything from terminal cancer to a bad date. And its adherents possess a conviction that reminds me of friends who believe in Sasquatch and aliens living amongst us. I had to know more about this latest miracle elixir.
A tad of research revealed that kombucha is a yeast-bacteria ferment of sweetened green or black tea. It contains the common by-products of fermentation, which includes acetic (vinegar), oxalic, and lactic acids. Nothing special there.
A little more poking around brought up evidence of glucaric acid, which is normally found in fruits and vegetables. It is said to aid in liver detoxification. And the acids in general can reduce the bloated feeling frequently gotten after eating starchy foods. Still, this could hardly account for my comrades downing bottle after bottle at nearly four bucks a crack—especially considering the thin stipend we all lived on.
It turns out that kombucha contains around 1-1½ % alcohol (about 1/3 of what beer contains), around half of the caffeine found in green or black tea, and residual sugar. Could these three ingredients be working synergistically to create the burst of energy and euphoric feeling that people experience? Perhaps these mood-altering and stomach-settling effects—along with effective advertising—contribute to kombucha’s addictive nature and its reputation for having healing properties. Whatever the case, this fizzy sweet-and-sour potion has become the drink of choice for many of my new-age friends.
I must report that along with kombucha’s real and imagined health benefits, I came across these cautions:
- Prolonged use may lead to liver damage and allergic reactions.
- Oxalic acid is known to bind with calcium, which makes it unavailable for assimilation.
- Acetic acid (vinegar) can destroy red blood cells, and it is an irritant which depletes digestive enzymes.
- Lactic acid, typically a waste byproduct of overextended muscles, must be metabolized by the liver, which robs the body of energy.
- When yeasts enter the digestive system, they set up a climate conducive to viruses.
I doubt that the occasional bottle of kombucha is going to cause any harm. Aside from the above, my main concern for those who consume it regularly is the risk of creating a false sense of well-being. The kombucha high may either mask health issues or divert attention from them. It can also serve as a substitute for the proper diet and lifestyle practices that foster organic health and support core healing.
Yogurt, a great source of probiotics, is a boon to health because it helps establish healthy intestinal flora, right? The same is true of kombucha and other cultured foods, isn’t it? And how about probiotic capsules with billions of live cultures and dozens of strains?
This is what the food industry would have us believe, as they profit tremendously from this long-standing and mushrooming health fad. They want us to continually consume these products, thinking that they are essential to our health, or at least an important contributor. It turns out that there are two holes in their treasure ship, and either one is big enough to sink it:
Number 1: Prebiotics
Foods that support the growth of healthy gut bacteria, which are called prebiotics, work just as well as probiotics. Consuming foods that are high in fiber and fat, and low in starch and sugar-based calories, have the same effect on our intestinal flora as probiotics, without the side effects that come with their consumption. All dairy, for example, has naturally-occurring growth hormones and antibiotics that stress the immune system. They work well for growing cows, but not mature humans The energizing effect from most cultured and fermented foods comes from the sugar, alcohol, vinegar, caffeine, and/or other stimulants they contain.
Number 2: Damaging Diet
Probiotics allow us to live on the typical Western diet without gaining weight. Many people comment on how good they feel since they’ve started to eat yogurt or drink kombucha on a regular basis: They feel light, and they’re able to maintain a good figure. Yet in the long run, they end up suffering from the deleterious effects of their diet that probiotic consumption masks. This is not the case with prebiotics, which in and of themselves constitute a healthy diet.
Those who have not yet stoned me as a heretic ask the inevitable question: “Where, then, do we get healthy gut bacteria from?” The same place we’ve gotten it from before designer foods and costly pills came on the scene. For millions of years, we’ve had a source that provided many more strains of gut flora than could ever be packed in a pill. It was custom-designed for each individual and his/her specific living environment. To top it off, it was free and fun to consume. Okay, enough teasing—it’s nature.
Next question: how do we get nature into our gut? Here’s the fun part:
- Sit on the ground, play in the dirt, garden.
- Touch rocks and plants, climb trees.
- Spend time around animals.
- Eat raw food, washing it only when necessary.
- Hug people, hold hands, make love (yep, we are nature).
We often suppress these rich, local sources with our hygiene practices. Hyper-cleanliness, along with antibacterial soaps, alcohol-based sanitizers, and household cleaners are the big culprits. Instead, use vinegar, castile soap, bicarbonate of soda, and lemon juice. And let’s not overlook what may be the most ubiquitous suppressant of healthy gut functioning: stress.
There’s one more source that gave our ancestors a constant stream of intestinal flora: wild water. Hold a glass of clear pond or creek water up to the light and you will see a plethora of tiny organisms. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: put a drop under a microscope and prepare to be wowed. I don’t know that there is any better source for gut colonizers other than another animal’s gut.
However, DO NOT start drinking living water until the source has been thoroughly tested for pathogens and contaminants—and until you have been instructed in the proper protocol for introducing it into your diet.
It might appear that my primary motivation for this piece is to burst the you-need-us bubble that the health food industry has created. Even more so, I want to say that we typically don’t need to do anything extra to maintain our health when we reconnect with nature. This includes our psycho-emotional health as well. We have a tremendous innate capacity to maintain our wellness. All we have to do is break our codependent relationship with “health” food and return to an interdependent relationship with the land, water, plants, and animals—with nature.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with my therapist colleague, and this awareness is another one of the reasons why.
Ideals can play an important role in guiding our lives. At the same time, ideals can keep us crippled and dysfunctional. I see people-me included–hiding behind relationship ideals when we don’t want to admit our pain or inability to resolve differences. We hold ideals up as banners for action when we are unsure of ourselves and need justification for what we do. We use ideals to impassion and motivate us when it doesn’t come spontaneously from within. Even when we lack a reason for being, we can adopt a fill-in ideal.
* Own your own stuff.
* Don’t self-flagellate.
* Don’t dump on others.
I know, to be real is easier said than done. Yet, if we can sucker up to who and how we are and then move on, we have broken the spell of disconnectedness, both from self and others. Even more so, we have created an oasis of consciousness-idealism’s kryptonite. As like begets like, we are sure to encourage more awakening around us.
Several of us just came in from a great wilderness training run – we bore enough irritation (a slightly twisted ankle, some scratches) to know that we were pushing our edge, but not too much that it derailed us. The experience is a metaphor for the way I’ve lived my life, and it has brought me to a tipping point.
With sixteen years of training and experience, Abel has become quite the skilled and competent guide. Along with that, Lety’s essential involvement and the dedicated support of Susan and OdeMakwa (who are in training) have allowed me to get more engaged in what I am called to do. Over the past several weeks, I’ve reached around 2 million people on radio shows, I just returned from a TV filming in Boulder CO., a summit appearance is coming up, a publisher just asked for my next three books (we usually have to pitch them), we’re publishing five new books this year and have multiple video projects going, we just got a major donation for the Brother Wolf Sanctuary, our Natural Resources Committee got a grant for reintroducing wildflowers, the school is a flurry of new activity, and all signs indicate more of the same.
It’s time for me to get an assistant. Even with Jules on outreach, Nan transcribing, Andrew editing, Thorn in the office, Fox and Coyote on construction, and several others playing vital roles, we see that I need more editorial, book promotion, communication, scheduling, and whatever-else-comes-up help. We want someone who is bright, energetic, outgoing, dedicated to healing the wounds of civilization-and most importantly, likes to have fun! If this is you, or if you can recommend somebody, I/we would be tickled to hear from you*.
But before I sign off, I want to express my deep gratitude for everybody who has been a part of our success in bringing the Old Ways back to light. We did it as a Circle – all of you present and past staff, Seekers, volunteers, friends, and lovers. We are family. And let us all take a moment to honor the Elders of many nations who have guided us every step of the way.
*To apply, please email a cover letter and your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is another one of the awakenings I had during the unbelievable afternoon I recently spent with a fellow therapist.
How often have you heard people encouraging someone to be vulnerable, meaning to put down your guard and be open? Although it made sense to me, I felt uneasy about it, as though there was some inherent contradiction. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Clarity came during this unique sharing with the therapist. I realized that it is only from ego (i.e. self-protective) perspective that being open equates with vulnerability. From a fully functional perspective, to be open is to be aware and perceptive, which helps us be strong, centered, and open to support. Does this sound like being vulnerable? To me, it is quite the opposite.
The person who is guarded and shut down is actually the vulnerable one. She often ends up being overlooked, unfulfilled, and frustrated- i.e., victimized. Opening up is being engaged and in your power, which can greatly reduce vulnerability. The next time someone asks me to be vulnerable, I’ll tell him, “Thanks for the suggestion, but I’d rather leave my vulnerability behind and instead be strong and fully engaged.”
I just spent most of the afternoon with one of the trauma therapists with whom I work. It was a magical time-the synergy kept sending chills up our spines. I’ll share with you the bursts of awakening that came to me during that sharing.
A number of Native languages have no version of the verb “to be”. Curiously, nearly all professional writers shun the verb and its variations: I am, you are, he is, and so on. They consider it to be passive, and I suspect this is why it is not popular with Native people, who lead active, engaged lives. The issue with writers-and I propose that you and I make it an issue as well-is that the verb to be lures us into the glad/sad/mad trap.
Let’s take “he is,” which means next to nothing in and of itself. One is naturally drawn to ask, “He is what?” Let’s fill in the blank: “He is angry”. The rational mind would say, “Well, that’s expressing a feeling. What’s wrong with that?” The only problem is that it’s not a feeling-it’s an assessment. Using this form of expressiveness is one of the pitfalls many aspiring writers fall into, as it quickly separates amateurs from professionals. Instead of the passive assessment “He is angry,” an accomplished writer, Native person, or anyone who wishes to truly express feeling would say something like, “He leaned forward, clenched his fists, and gave a wicked scowl.” Now, that conveys feeling! Notice how we just went from observation to immersion, from safe detachment to, well, feeling, becoming impregnated with the visceral energy of the scene. This is how rich and real our emotional sharing could be.
My conclusion: For a feeling to be truly expressed, it cannot just be labeled; it must be felt.