Shamans, Racism, and Greed

It is hot. Very hot! This is fitting, given today is Midsummer Day.

A couple of days ago, we got out of the city and into the natural world for the first time this summer. We traveled north, to the Champlain Islands, ate lunch at the local takeout shop, and hiked and swam. A lovely day! Not too hot, although the mosquitoes were, in the early evening, daunting.

In the heat, I’ve been thinking about racism. There was plenty of racism at home growing up. There was more intense racism in the southern and mid-western cities in which we lived. I found the racism at home confusing. After all, we had been on the wrong end of both racism and classism for generations. Of course, some of the racism was a fight to stay off the bottom rung. Even now, this racism is rampant in some parts of the Cherokee Nation.

I’ve also been considering greed. My sense is that both racism and greed are growing in our country. Often, they seem linked. Maybe everyone right now is afraid of falling to the bottom rung of the social and economic ladder. Frankly, I’m mystified. I was raised to believe we are all in this together, that what happens to one person happens to everyone. This is an old idea in Eastern Woodlands traditions. (Yes, racism and equality were at the table together when I was growing up. Go figure.)

It seems to me the conversation in our culture now is two fold. One aspect is about keeping what we have, not wanting to, or – Heaven forbid! – having to, share. The other conversation is about hatred. Liberals, people of color, persons of Arabic faiths or descent, Natives (of color or not), and immigrants are increasingly despised. It’s an old story. After all, greed drove the European westward expansion, the Trail of Tears, and the near extinction of the tribal peope of, what is now, California. It’s sure difficult to give up old ways. (Even the Boston Tea Party was a racist event. The Tea Party continues that dubious tradition.)

Greed shows up in shamanic circles as well. How many ads for using shamanism to increase personal wealth do you see in shamanic publications? How ironic. In many tribal groups throughout the Americas, medicine people and shamans were the most poverty stricken people in town. The focus of healers was the good of the community. There was this idea that wealth created greed, and both made poor leaders, and even poorer healers. (What does this say about our current political situation, where wealth dominates?)

Racism also comes up in shamanic circles, mostly in the form of idealizing Native peoples, and appropriating First Nations culture and beliefs. Of course, the problem is not living Native ideas and practices. The problem is taking ideas, practices, and beliefs, stripping them of cultural context, and selling them. Some people do this and become wealthy.

We live in challenging times. One might even be tempted to pick up Pachamama and try to carry her on one’s already sore shoulders. So, as the excessive heat builds, racism and greed grow, and things look increasingly bleak for our world, remember, this is hardly new. Racism and greed have been here a long time. We are  asked only to do our part in creating a just dream that sustains all people and the planet. As one of my teachers used to tell me, repeatedly, “The world is as it is. Just do what you can.”

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3 thoughts on “Shamans, Racism, and Greed

  1. “The world is as it is. Just do what you can.”

    So simple…And yet at times the most challenging aspect of our work. So often in ceremony we stand in the presence of pure and unrestricted love only to return to “the real world” of war, poverty, bigotry and fear constantly blown at us by the ever-present media.

    Being the light is easy – carrying it is something else entirely…

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