Tags: religion

Conflicts in Belief Systems

As a child, I was taught the same belief system based on the Bible, with God the Creator making the earth and all the creatures upon it, and with a special creation called the human being that has a soul and a special connection to God. That is a belief system rooted in the traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, blending the Semitic tribal desert peoples (like the children of Abraham, the Hebrews and Arabs) and others like the Egyptians, Hittites, Sumerians, Babylonians, and Persians. So I can relate to that.

As a child, I was also taught another belief system where God the creator made this earth and all the creatures upon it. Yet in this belief system, all of creation has spirits, animals, plants, mountains, wind, and all of it, not just human beings. We are all related, all connected in our flesh, blood and spirits, to the animals and the rest of creation. That is a belief system rooted in the traditions of the indigenous peoples of the New World, similar to many among the indigenous people of the world.

Science also is a belief system, which is rooted in the philosophy and rational traditions of the ancient Greeks and Romans of the Mediterranean, who blended their belief systems with each other as well as the indigenous people in their areas (Etruscans for the Romans, and the indigenous Cretans blended with the invading Myceneans as the base of the ancient Greeks). Later on these philosopher-scientists were the basis for the Renaissance, which blended rationalism of the Greco-Roman traditions with the religious faith of the Judeo-Christians traditions.

And the continuing development of this new thing called science eventually revealed so many things based on observation and reason that did not fit into the world of religious faith of revelation and tradition, that a split began, and this became known as the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason. The philosophers of the Enlightenment provided the basis for the new American Revolution, as well as the advancements in science, which drove the Industrial Revolution as well. Science and the scientific method became the hallmark of the modern age.

With all these different layers and sources, there was bound to be conflict between the various ideas, and this is so today.

There are extremes of science, where some scientists ridicule anything that is not based in empiricism and material reality, and some people disallow even the existence of the spiritual world, of the Creator. If they can't touch it and measure it, it doesn't exist to them.

There are also extremes of faith, where parents do not allow their children to be operated on, not even to save their lives, but rely solely on the power of prayer to heal their children. Unfortunately, this often does not work, and they blame themselves (or someone else) for having too little faith, or they blame God. Or other extremes of faith, where other people believe if they sacrifice their own lives for their religion through war, they will go to heaven.

Most people however find their own balance between the two extremes, based on their own choices and understanding. Some scientists do believe in God and the evidence of evolution.

So there are many, many layers of historical events and cultures to draw from, and make your own choices, according to your own standards...your own free will.

For me, and this is just my own personal experience, understanding and accepting the evidence for evolution and our physical origins in apes, didn't destroy my religious beliefs.

The physical evidence is pretty solid. For me, science explains the physical side of existence the best.

The spiritual side is explained most satisfactorily for me personally through religious beliefs and traditions that I was raised in, my Christian and my Native American beliefs.

How a person wants to look at it all, is something you have to decide for yourself. It may be a lifetime adventure. It has been that way for me.

Prayer and Magic

Daily rant: In a class on anthropology, a religious student has protested the anthropological definition of magic as an attempt to control the supernatural, in her mind, God, and thus Christians do not do magic. My response?

One thing to remember about words like "religion" or "ritual" or "magic" is that these are frequently used words that everybody uses all the time. Since we use them all the time, we have very particular definitions for many words: what picture enters our heads when someone else uses them, what they do or don't mean (which leads to a lot of arguments sometimes), and so on.

That's why it is one of the most important things to do when people begin talking about something: Agree on a common definition. You can't really get anywhere without agreeing on that, and there is no point trying.

For example, if I said to you... "I bought a chair." Think about that for a minute. A chair. Very common. Very concrete.

But I guarantee, some of you will think of a cartoon chair with a wooden back, or maybe a padded recliner, or maybe the chair you are sitting on right now, or a kitchen chair, or a swiveling chair, or...
Just that one simple word, "chair" and immediately people picture very different things. But the one thing they have in common is that you can sit on them. So a chair is something you sit on, right?

But not everything you sit on is a chair. You can sit on a couch, on a stool, on a toilet, on a rock, on a garden wall, on a bench, on someone's lap, and none of those are chairs.

So if the definition of something as simple and concrete as a chair can be so tricky, then vague concepts like "religion" or "magic" can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings, can't they?

Most people in our shared culture, contemporary American mainstream culture, have firm ideas on what they think magic is.

There's the magic of a beautiful day or falling in love or holding your baby's hand.

There's the magic of the movies and CGI effects.

Magic is stage illusion like what David Copperfield does, illusion, stage magic, sleight of hand, legerdemain, a trick of eye and hand, for deception or entertainment. Pick a card, any card. May I have volunteer? I think everybody is aware of this kind of magic.

Magic also what you read about in Harry Potter or see in the movies, in "The Lord of the Rings", with people flying around and turning people into toads. A lot of videogaming use magic, World of Warcraft for example. Ding dong the wicked witch is dead. Grimm's fairy tales. This kind of magic is also something everyone has heard of, from childhood. Some think it's total BS, some would like to learn how to do it (fly or become invisible), and some avoid stepping on a crack so they don't break their mother's back (many superstitions are people thinking of this kind of magic).

This is the kind of magic that Muslims, Jews, and Christians are forbidden to do, according to their different scriptures (although the Christians are using the Jewish laws against it). And so if someone is Jewish, Christian or Muslim, they take great offense to someone saying magic is involved in anything they do. Magic is forbidden in those religions.

This discussion could be an entire class on its own. One of the most common classic classes in Anthropology programs is called "Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion." I took it myself as a grad student. It's a survey of practices associated with the supernatural and preternatural all around the world.

So part of what is occurring here is that we have run up against one of the basic taboos (forbidden things) in our culture, at least among those who are Muslim, Jewish or Christian. It's at the same level as Jews or Muslims eating unclean food (pork) or Hindus eating beef. For Christians, doing magic is not only against scripture (Do not consult soothsayers, etc.), it also implies you are consorting with demons, because magic is of the Devil, thus it is a road to Hell.

Here's something to consider.

The author is using the word "magic" in a particular way used in anthropology. But it is also a very very general way. He simply means "an attempt to control some aspect of the supernatural." He didn't say control an attempt to control God, he said "some aspect of the supernatural."

Luck, good luck or bad luck, could be considered supernatural. Don't walk under a ladder, hang a horseshoe up for good luck, and so on. Crossing your fingers. Step on a crack and you'll break your mother's back, and we avoid stepping on a crack or we could hurt Mom. That's magical thinking and a magical act: magic.

Doing any kind of ritual before an athletic competition, or before an interview for a job, or anything involving luck, would be defined as an attempt to control some aspect of the supernatural: God's Will for one thing. Throwing coins into a fountain or wishing and blowing out candles on a birthday cake would be considered magic.

Now remember, I am trying to explain how anthropology looks at it, not how YOU should look at it.

King Solomon built the Temple using evil spirits. Roman and Jewish authorities accused the followers of Christ as being magicians and sorcerors because of the healing and miracles they performed. The Three Wise Men were Magi (Magicians).

Jewish wise men work with the mystical system called Kabbalah, and Catholic monks in the Middle Ages practiced magic the Crusaders brought back from their wars in the Middle East. Queen Elizabeth had a official court sorceror named John Dee, and Protestant Scottish witches helped raise a storm that sank the Catholic Spanish Armada to the bottom of the sea. It is a complicated world. Even today there are curses uttered by churches like the Westboro Baptist Church that pray to God to destroy their enemies...other Christians and U.S. veterans.

Anthropology would define prayer as a kind of magic, because the person praying is not just thanking God for food, health, etc. (a prayer of gratitude), and not just praising God out of love and worship (a prayer of praise). Prayer is also of the third kind: Prayers of petition: what you want or DON't want to happen. Please give me a job! Please don't let her die! Please help me! Control or influence? Sometimes it is a fine line when dealing with people. People can't hardly control themselves, so it is ridiculous to think we could control God. But influence...? In either case, it's an attempt to assert your will on the supernatural. That would be magic, according to how anthropology defines magic.

It's not necessarily how a Christian would define magic. Prayer of any kind is not magic to a Christian, it is merely talking to God. But trying to influence God's Will? That's what an anthropologist would call magic.

There are many actions in the Bible, many of the miracles, that anthropology would call a magical act (turning water into wine, bread into the body of Christ, walking on the water), EXCEPT that a Christian would differentiate such acts based on whether the person did it through the agency of God (a miracle) or the Devil (magic). That's how such acts are defined in Christian culture: was the nonordinary act done through the auspices of God (a miracle) or Satan (magic).

It makes sense, right? Thus Christianity has a difference between permitted and forbidden acts, just like every other religion does, and in fact just like every culture does.

Remember, this is a class in anthropology, and so all of this is from an anthropological point of view. I am not trying to change your minds about any of it, or make you think like an anthropologist. I am not trying to change your mind about your religion or beliefs. --My job is to teach you anthropology, not to believe in it. You have to make up your own minds. Science is wonderful at explaining physical reality, but it is a cold companion for a search for the human soul.

Don't Give Up

I think we can begin working our way back to a more mystical experiencing of the world around us. For example, through whatever religion or belief system you have, or through nature and the wonders around us every day. For example, I see the world around me as alive, all of it: people, animals, plants, the land, the sky, the water, all of it possessing a spirit and the breath of life.

That's how I was raised and that's how I experience the world, and how I interact with it. This is not always easy, considering the bustling world we all live in today, which certainly does not see the land and sky and water as alive, and mainly sees animals and plants as resources to be used as we wish to, and in fact, often sees even people as expendable things to be used and discarded.

I was raised both as a Catholic and in my Native American traditions, and although science is an integral part of my understanding of the material world, it is also innate within me to see things in a mystic way of everything being alive and having the rights to exist as they are. As I am an artist, that is also part of what I am, seeing beyond the appearances of things.

It has been a lifelong quest of mine to synthesize these often contradictory points of view I have been raised with and exposed to, in a way that makes sense for me, and which honors the truths found in each. It has been quite a "wrasslin' match" at times though, that's for sure! There are people in my life who don't like what science has to say, about human evolution for example ("I didn't come from no monkey!") and who see spirits in their own lives, and there are other people in my life who think belief in a living animistic world with spirits is nuts. Yet we all in the end have to find our own road, what makes sense to us.

So don't give up the search for balance in your life, between existing in the world of jobs and school and all that, and the more ancient worlds of spirit, nature, and family/ancestors.

Cultural (Mis)appropriation

The problem of cultural misappropriation, well, there's a lot to learn about, through the example of the sweatlodge deaths in Colorado. I'm an enrolled member of the Iowa tribe. I have seen over and over certain situations.

For example, if you are having a sweat, say, a nonnative person wants to participate. So you might say ok, if you are friends or at least know them. So they go, try to follow what is told to them, what to do. It's a good thing. A blessing. But then the next thing you know, this person is running a sweat themselves, without having been given the training, the right and responsibility, because it comes with both. It's like a pipe, not everyone in an Indian community is a pipecarrier, but every white guy or woman who is interested, thinks by definition, they have the capacity and the RIGHT to do it. Indians don't think that. Not every native person is a shaman, so why does every white person think they can be one? A shaman mainly serves the community.

..ok, so let's go back to that first guy who went to a sweat. Now that guest suddenly decides he has the knowledge to run a sweat. To make things worse, he starts charging people MONEY to go to it. (Isn't that what this culture is all about anyways? Money and the SELF?) That's the next stage. That lack of being humble. That greed. Now this guy calls himself some Indian/native sounding name, and he (or SHE) is running workshops to TRAIN OTHERS. A guy who had no training, now he purports to train others and charge hundreds of dollars, maybe linked workshops that add up to thousands of dollars. Sounding like cultural misappropriation yet? But wait, that's not the final stage.

The final stage is when this guy, maybe he calls himself Red Buffalo Thunder or something, he starts collecting his followers like some kind of guru, has workshops, has written a couple of books, has a 501(c)(3), etc. And THEN he starts criticizing the very same Indians who out of kindness, invited him in the first place. He starts saying how they really don't understand the truth, or that they misunderstand things, they don't do it the right way, that they have no right to say anything about him because he has his rights, dontcha know? That the INDIANS are the ignorant, bad ones because they tell him he should be doing that, that he is doing cultural misappropriation.

Now, do you understand? No, I figure some might and some still won't. They will still justify their rights, to do what they want, make the money they want, and write the books they want. And then people wonder why Indians don't want to talk to them anymore... Except of course for those Indians who have become shysters themselves, raking in the bucks themselves from ignorant nonIndians so eager to get some real Indian spirituality. Sad.

The intent in the guy's heart from Colorado (I was corrected, the event was in Sedona...figures!) was about money obviously. Having said that, the other part is that when you do those things, you assume a spiritual role of responsibility in that person's life...not being a big shot or a boss or a guru, but someone who is responsible for them. And whatever blowback occurs. It amazes me when people get mad about a priest or minister "having authority" and the same people go running to someone else who bosses them around spiritually.

But the main thing is, hey, if you are doing any of that stuff in private, for yourself, only, and you are experimenting with your own spiritual path, that's on you. Fine. That's between you and the spirits, you and the Creator. The problem comes when you (anyone, not talking about "you") assume any role of responsibility for others, or representing yourself as a spiritual leader.

I am not a spiritual leader. But I am also not a spiritual follower. As my uncle Herman Bearcomesout once told me, it's all out there, in the land, where it came from, look there. As the Hawaiians say, "Nana I Ke Kumu" (Look to the Source).

Hauntings, Time, Space, God

Hauntings, Time, Space, God

A few things I have learned that were revelatory:

1. Every place is haunted, in some sense of the term, because everything is alive, in some sense of the term. It's just that some places have more power and thus are more evident, some people are more sensitive, and certain times (tides) are "thinner" (seasons, weather, time of day).

2. Everything that is a "place" can be (or perhaps already is) haunted/occupied/possessed. And every location is "a place" (three-dimensional, width, breadth, length= 3D) but there are different scales of place in the physical: universe, world, region, landscape, site, a being/a person/an animal, object, and probably even smaller.

3. The fourth dimension (beyond 3D) is time, and time also is a physical dimension just as the first three, and applies to the physical and only the physical in the same way. Thus the "time-space continuum" truly is a continuum, the same thing. Eternity isn't really "forever," it just means outside time, time doesn't apply because eternity isn't physical. That's why God has no beginning and no end, because God is not physical and therefore time, as a dimension of the physical, does not apply to God.

Lance Foster
Lance Foster

The Power of Naming

The Bible, King James Version, Genesis 2
Gen 2:19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought [them] unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that [was] the name thereof.
Gen 2:20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

The Qur'an, Sura 2
[2:31] He taught Adam all the names then presented them to the angels, saying, "Give me the names of these, if you are right."
[2:32] They said, "Be You glorified, we have no knowledge, except that which You have taught us. You are the Omniscient, Most Wise."
[2:33] He said, "O Adam, tell them their names." When he told them their names, He said, "Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of the heavens and the earth? I know what you declare, and what you conceal."

"The magician looks about them and sees the magical potential in all things. Has this river no nymph, this mound no hero, this mountain no god? Perhaps under no name known today, but the magician is - like a second Adam - replete with the Power of Naming. Many locations have magical uses or associations, awaiting our use of mythic language. If, say, a prehistoric burial mound is associated with no name known now, then ask your spirits which of them or their companions and allies dwells there. What matter if no-one called the resident by this name before? Names change, but the ancient magic continues regardless. This extends to new places as much as old or rural ones; to any place with meaning for you. Reclaim the landscape, reinvest it with power and significance; be aware of the innate power and significance inherent in every place." (Jake Stratton-Kent, Geosophia I, p. 47)

Proof of Life After Death

"...But the future life- it is such an enigma And no one, no one can solve it. Listen! You are a healer, you are deeply versed in the human soul, and of course I dare not expect you to believe me entirely, but I assure you on my word of honour that I am not speaking lightly now. The thought of the life beyond the grave distracts me to anguish, to terror. And I don't know to whom to appeal, and have not dared to all my life. And now I am so bold as to ask you. Oh, God! What will you think of me now?"

She clasped her hands.

"Don't distress yourself about my opinion of you," said the elder. "I quite believe in the sincerity of your suffering."

"Oh, how thankful I am to you! You see, I shut my eyes and ask myself if everyone has faith, where did it come from? And then they do say that it all comes from terror at the menacing phenomena of nature, and that none of it's real. And I say to myself, 'What if I've been believing all my life, and when I come to die there's nothing but the burdocks growing on my grave?' as I read in some author. It's awful! How -- how can I get back my faith? But I only believed when I was a little child, mechanically, without thinking of anything. How, how is one to prove it? have come now to lay my soul before you and to ask you about it. If I let this chance slip, no one all my life will answer me. How can I prove it? How can I convince myself? Oh, how unhappy I am! I stand and look about me and see that scarcely anyone else cares; no one troubles his head about it, and I'm the only one who can't stand it. It's deadly -- deadly!"

"No doubt. But there's no proving it, though you can be convinced of it."

"By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbour actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbour, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain." ='The Brothers Karamazov,' by Dostoyevsky

Difficulties with Both Gods and Magic

One idea that is out there in magic is that although God exists, we can never know God. That all of the faces of God are just gods. I have heard for instance, "In Exodus, you have the deity feigning Divinity, a storm god trying to assert absolute authority."
Well then...

Taking the idea that this is a particular storm god that arose in the eastern
end of the Mediterranean, that continues to assert absolute authority and is
carried to distant lands...I'd like your take on how history has played out.

I found it interesting that in the magical battle between Moses and the Egyptian
priests that Moses' god was stronger than those of the Egyptians, not just in
the battle but in the plagues to follow and the parting of the Red Sea.

And that same god has proven stronger than any of the other gods of other
peoples it encounters, in similar religious wars in Europe, St. Patrick vs the
Druids for example, and the Roman gods.

Here in the U.S., our tribal people's gods were overall unable to stem the
advance of the white people and this same god, under the American idea of
Manifest Destiny. And we lost everything and were nearly wiped out entirely,
millions and millions.

It is a record that the god of the Israelites at times apparently "chastises"
them: Babylon, Egypt, the loss of kingship under Solomon and then the
destruction of the Temple, and their diaspora, and then the persecutions,
pogroms and holocaust in Europe. Yet the Jews continue as an identifiable and
cohesive people, and they hold fast to a god for how many thousands of years?

As to the god(s) of Christianity, the only gods that seem able to resist it even
after lengthy contact and jousting are those in Asia (Buddha, Shiva, etc.) and
the god (which some argue is the same while others argue is different) of Islam.
If the god of Islam and the god of the Israelites is the same god, then, well, I
won't risk blasphemy.

So if there is absolute Divinity and all these gods are just faces of Divinity
and none are The GOD, then some seem to be stronger and assert themselves over
the other gods.

And what is the fruit of all of this in the world we live in now? Endless
worldwide war, and coming global environmental collapse. So what is the
difference between God and the Devil in this situation, if we are to judge the
Tree by its Fruit?

And further, if we are speaking of Trees and Fruit...

How did famous magicians fare in their lives, and significantly,
by the ends of their lives...what sort of fruit did their life Work bear for

Aleister Crowley and John Dee for example had bad luck and

Are there any famous magicians whose fruit of their Work included prosperity,
being surrounded by loved ones, happiness, children, etc.?

Judge the Tree by its Fruit, and neither Magic nor Religion seems to hold up very well.

Different Keys for Different Doors

I have seen spirits. Maybe it's "an Indian thing." I know they exist, in what we commonly know as reality. It does take some mental shifts to get there, things that sometimes people might consider altered reality. Yet the actions of the spirits had results in the empirical world. I am an animist, I believe the world is alive, not just the animals and plants, but the air the clouds, the rocks, the seen and (usually) unseen. I was initiated into the old Latin rite Roman Catholic Church, and I believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. I am an artist, so I believe in anything, everything, and nothing. I am comfortable with Forteana which documents the weird world we live in (se Mothman and leylines and Skinwalker Ranch), and I believe magic exists as do nature spirits and haunted places. Because I have experienced it at various and unplanned points in my life. Not all the time, just enough to make you question it all.

At the same time, I teach an intro to archaeology class through an online university. I have the education and experiences as an archaeologist, and have worked as a professional archaeologist. When I do science, I put on my hardboiled science filter, the empiricist one that dismisses all that paranormal kook stuff. And the Atlantis stuff, and aliens from the stars stuff etc. Fringe archaeology just just doesn't wash, I'm sorry to say, none of that Atlantis or ancient aliens stuff. The material evidence runs counter, it does not support the claims, not even close.

But remember: Hancock's "teachers" and Jensen's "dreams" and Black Elk's visions... those are not material. You cannot submit an immaterial thing, like spirits or dreams, to scientific analysis, because it is the wrong tool. However, when one has a material thing to analyze and the analysis does not give you the answer you prefer, well, there it is. You have to work it out for yourself.

Certainly, people have the right to believe as they wish, to have the worldview they desire. I recently had to wade through a good and honorable fundamentalist Christian student's earnest discussion about God making the world already old, because after all, God could make Adam a grown man, so why not be able to make an old world, complete with fraudulent dinosaur bones? Where can one start? I don't want to critique or hurt people's beliefs, and I just am too old too be interested in rants or arguments, when I know it will not end up well for anyone. Just believe what you believe, read the material, think about it, and go from there. Make up your own mind...please.

In my archeology class, I have atheists, fundamentalist Christians, ex-Christians, conspiracists, fringe archaeology fans, scientists, average Joes, ...and people who would rather be shopping and who think getting an A.A. degree is going to land them a job right after they graduate with a 100,000 dollar salary. Where does one start? I just put the material out there, and it is up to people to use their own choice (of course the reality is there isn't much real free choice since our culture immerses us in Matrix-like thaumaturgy all the time). I tell them, believe nothing. Use your own mind...if you still can.

As for myself, I have a pocketful of worldviews, like keys on a janitor's keychain. Each opens a different door. The wrong key doesn't open a door for which it is not suited, no matter how we try to force it.

Winter is the Time of Storytelling

Winter is the traditional time for storytelling for most Native American tribes, including mine, the Ioway. From the first snow until the snakes wake up in the spring, because the traditions are that the snakes are guardians of the sacred myths and will bite you if they overhear your telling the stories.

Illustration: "Only Stories" by Lance Foster

The Iowa Indians (or Ioway Indians) lived in Iowa for ages untold. Iowa culture and history was passed on though stories. Stories might be of the long-ago time or of prophecies for the future. The stories told people how to live in this world and how to prepare for the next one. In "Only Stories," by Ioway artist Lance M. Foster (Hengruh: "Oldest Son"), it is winter, the traditional time of telling stories. At this time, snakes, the protectors of stories, were asleep and would not hear the stories they were told to defend by Wakanda, God. Here two families are visiting the warmth of their lodge, the chakiruthan. One man is telling a story of the past as well as a story of the future. The time of the past, of the coming of the Ioway clan ancestors, becomes the story of the future, the coming of a strange group of bearded whitemen with machines. Finally, the end of time becomes the beginning of time. In this way, everything becomes a circle and things are made right again. This is the way things have been and will be. This is what the stories tell us. As hard as it may be to believe, can we be certain they are..."Only Stories?"

I created this mini-graphic novel version of one of our Ioway tribal stories, about the origin of the Medicine Dance.

For the rest, go to http://ioway.nativeweb.org/iowaylibrary/mankanye_washi_1.htm
 Click the numbers at the bottom of the page to get to the next page.