Saturday, August 06, 2005

Shamans Through Time

This afternoon I started reading Shamans Through Time, edited by Jeremy Narby and Francis Huxley; a collection of first person accounts made by Europeans over the last 500 years as they attempt to understand "shamans" of the various Native nations of North and South America. So far, I've only read the first few chapters, containing mainly missionary accounts from the 1500s and 1600s. In their view, Native "shamans" were seen as agents of the devil...wholly possessed of sorcery, familiar spirits, and moral debauchery. Unfortunately, much of the shamanic wisdom of the Americas was lost because of religious persecution.

Many Americans appreciate this country as a land of religious liberty, but few realize just how much the United States persecuted Native religions until relatively recently. Beginning with the first Christians to set foot on these shores, the colonial governments of North and South America began a systematic campaign to eradicate indigenous spirituality, culture, and language. I need not recount the acts of aggression committed in the name of God against Native people...the wars, genocide, forced relocation, slavery, disease, boarding schools, etc. It has all been documented before.

As recently 1913, my great great grandfather Steve Moses was tried in a court of law for exercising his religious freedoms and performing the ancient rituals of his forebears. He was acquitted, not because the legal system recognized the obvious violation of basic human rights, but because witnesses for the prosecution failed to appear. Otherwise, he would have gone to jail for the peaceful exercise of his religion.

Many Native spiritual practices were illegal in this country the United States Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. Imagine, in a nation founded on religious freedom, American's first people could not practice their spiritual systems without fear of penalty until 1978.

Think about that for a while.

Anyway, my interest in "shamanism" and Native spirituality in general stems from an experience of spirit beyond doctrine, creeds, or dogma. It is an "faith" rooted in deep awareness of my genetic experience.

As I read Shamans Through Time, I hope to see between the lines of religious bigotry and catch a glimpse of the "Faith of my Fathers" centuries ago.

No comments: