Homesteaders like me romanticize the farming wisdom of early US settlers. We dream of homesteads settled hundreds of years ago, lovingly nourished for generations since. If someone sold pin-up’s of Amish farmers, our walls would probably be plastered with them.
Some shamanic practitioners like me romanticize the wisdom of the Native peoples of the world as well. We are enamored by the lyrical intimacy woven by thousands of generations of people living a life unhindered by the presence of cultivation. Their every habit is informed by eons of suffering, joy and spiritual guidance.
The Americas were conquered by cultivation. Animal husbandry and crop cultivation pushed against the eden of a world of unspoiled beauty. Indigenous peoples must have seemed just like another kind of animal to people who imagined orderly harvests where forests lay. They were just part of the landscape that needed to be made productive. So entrenched were these mindsets it was considered almost criminal in some areas not to plow and spread manure and compost on your land.
Those of us who cultivate land displace many creatures, human and non-human alike. Even permaculture pushes and kneads at the world like clay. Is it really possible to develop a form of animal husbandry that is guided by core shamanism? Maybe there’s a good reason the early settlers didn’t talk to the spirits of the land – they were pissing them off all the time!
I remember being told that some native people felt animals kept through animal husbandry (including dogs) had lost part of their spirit. They were not whole unto themselves. Could this be true? Is my relationship with my animals so co-dependent as to rob them of something essential? The two romantics in me are about to start a war. Time to journey to the Spirit of the Land and ask her about this.
I could tell as soon as I tried to communicate to her my question I wasn’t really making sense. People separate from nature? Hmmmmm. Maybe not.
First she showed me how farming was at one time an alchemical process. Planting a seed was an act of connecting with energies deep in the earth. Each planting evoked the spiritual power of the land, drawing it up into the plant. This kind of farming required a deep spiritual connection to the land, one born of many generations of relationship.
Next she showed me the many indigenous peoples of the world who had symbiotic relationships with animals – be they on land, in the sky or oceans. Every relationship is unique, and it is in fact not static. The animal communities themselves are not static – a big surprise to me. Any given specie of animal is always changing, albeit at a much different pace than us. It has its own culture. Human and animal culture are constantly interacting, developing new bonds and releasing old bonds. We may think of them as soulless static objects to be corralled, but they are always present, always in relationship to us.
I came back with a word floating in my head: reciprocity. My fellow FSS teacher and good friend Lora Jansson often writes about this on her blog: lorajanssonshamanicservices.com . Everything happens in relationship, its just a matter of whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. Nothing belongs to anyone, we are simply engaging in a dance of exchange.
Carl Jung had many insights into how alchemy worked, a primary one had to do with the unification of opposites. We suffer most when energies fundamental to who we are feel in opposition to each other. This is a necessary state of separatio, one of ripe potential. If we can hold the opposites, witness them with the fullness of our hearts, minds and spirits, they will unite revealing themselves not to be opposites but gateways to a larger whole.
My inner-homesteder and inner-shamanic practitioner will probably have many moments of strife. I will feel sorrow when considering the losses of the original people of this land, I will also celebrate an abundant harvest and the protected land around us that is being allowed to return to its forested state. Perhaps if I’m able to revere the untamed lands enough my crops will dance at their edges and my livestock graze gently through their riches without stealing the soul of this blessed place.