Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Cooperation, Personal Accountability, and Dreaming Together

Dream Image by Dreaming Ceremony

The history of Christianity, of Judaism, of Islam, of Buddhism, and all the world’s principle religions are well documented in thousands of books. Almost nothing is published about the origins, evolution and structure of American Indian religious and spiritual practices.

American Indians used collective cooperation, an expectation of persons being personally accountable, and dreams to build their complex and beautiful, rich religious life.

This is quite unique among the cultures of the world (though consistent with all indigenous populations around the world).

Part of the problem is tribal diversity. The Lakota are as different from the Hopi as the French are different from the Swedish. Differences in culture, in food, in social habits, different in religious expression.

However, just as we can find common elements of humanity among all the cultures of the world (family loyalty, work habits, vacation behavior, etc), the careful student can find shared elements among all the world’s tribal cultures. One of these is the “clan system”, another is attitudes about “dreaming”.

Clan System
Every member, historically, of every tribal culture around the world was organized and lived within a clan system. It is very difficult for modern people, even trained specialists, to understand what the clan system is, what it means, and how to understand it. One of the first great casualties of the influx and imposition of modern cultures was the denigration, weakening, and in many cases, destruction of the clan system.

Historically, one might say traditionally, each person is born or birthed into the clan of their mother (in most tribes). The actual number of clans in tribes is variable, from a few, like seven, all the way up to forty or more.

Most clans are of the animals, but some include plants and even so-called mythical creatures. Animal clans are the most common. The most common are bear, turtle, eagle, fish, salmon, goose, weasel, otter, badger, and so forth. The most ancient of the surviving clans appears to be the fish clan. This clan is concentrated in the pueblo tribes of the American southwest but can be found in other large tribes around the world. Other clans types might include teh Arrow Clan, Big Earring Clan, Ear Clan, Butterfly Clan, Fire Clan, Water Clan and so on. Each addressing a different element of the environment, wildlife and plant life and so on.

Clan membership determines who does what ceremonies, group leadership, liaison responsibilities with other tribes, who attends to what duties and responsibilities and many other subtle and detailed features of both daily and religious life. Fo example, in the Ojibway culture it was the responsibility of the River Otter Clan, sometimes mistakenly called the Weasel Clan, to make all important ceremonial objects (and no one else). Clan members also had ceremonies, objects, clothing and ritual movements unique to their clans and very different from other clans, usually marriage to members of the same clan were prohibited. Another feature is that each clan contains a piece of the tribes total ceremonial knowledge, no one clan being responsible for all spiritual and ceremonial events.

This is a cooperative (not competitive) element of absolute beauty and power. The clans each taking parts of the ceremonial life creates a rich and complex tapestry of spiritual practices that easily, without central leadership, advances the spiritual life of the tribe through the four seasons. In this, as well, great balance was achieved as one clan would manage water issues, another the hunting, yet another the training of children, another deals with the plants, and so forth. Clans are specialists. Unique specialists. It was a way of addressing the entire circle of creation.

The absolute failure of modern research to understand the structure and value of the clan system is an intellectual disgrace. Its importance and significance has been and remains routinely ignored, almost invisible, while it remains, at the same time, the essential element with tribal ceremonial structure.

Dreaming (Together)

The dreaming was of great value, interest and focus in all ancient tribal cultures. This was another element in tribal culture that was devastated by contact from modern society.

Rock art around the world (petroglyphs) are tools used by tribal spiritual leaders to record group dreaming. No one knows this fact, and for decades science scratches its collective dense heads trying to figure out what petroglyphs are all about. You read it here first.

Tribal cultures dreamed together. For thousands of generations human beings slept together in big stacks and piles. This collective act of sleeping together is likely the process that evolved dreaming itself. Tribal cultures took dreaming very seriously. Dreams were used to understand migration routes, hunting locations, names and the structure of ancient ceremonies, among other things. This process has been absolutely devastated by the emptiness of modern life. Modern people stopped their ancient practices of self-empowerment and traded them for the intellectual slavery of organized religions and governmental control…and that was it, a great gift that sustained humanity for thousands of generations was lost.

Ancient tribal cultures gathered all over the world to create dreaming together ceremonies that lasted for weeks. Now not one tribe does this. It is gone. Here and there are a few tribes with some pieces and parts of their ancient dream knowledge still at work…but no one is paying attention.

I have spent many years working to recreate and share the ceremonial structure that originally enabled dreaming together. I put groups of people in a big stack together and make twenty four hours of old ceremonies in an effort to stimulate the medula obligata, the part of the brain connected to this ancient resource. It has been long and lonely work, but has yielded some interesting results. It has also revealed how absolutely disconnected modern people are to the power of their own dreams. What modern psychology and behavior science has to say about “the meaning of dreams” is nonsense, a waste of time. Most people dream at such a weak level that their dreams are essentially meaningless. Dreaming has become like muscles that are never used, so they are weak and do not work very well at all. The ceremonies have taught me that, in fact, dreaming can be educated, evolved and made more useful to daily life, to deeper meaning by “exercises” designed to directly achieve this result.

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