Santa Solution: Restoring Our Guardians

animal spirit family shamanism story
© Hamid Sardar-Afkhami

Since working with Santa as a teacher (first here in 2010, then here in 2011) he has become more and more central to my shamanic work. It seemed appropriate for me to journey to him in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, given not only the time of the year, but the tragic loss of so many beloved children. He often shows up when I open a circle to teach about journeying, he has become a trusted guide in many things, not the least of which is in making gifts for my son.
When I asked him what remedy he would prescribe for us as a people, to heal the wounds that bring about such catastrophes, his one word response was: “Dance.” It may seem strange at first, but if you reflect on the centrality of dance in the life of so many communities it makes perfect sense.
He showed me that a people that have sacred community dance as a centerpost, have a place to connect all people of the community together. That is the environment where the broken parts of a people can be called together and made whole. This is where the hidden fractures so endemic to modern society can be laid bare and adressed. Dance is a central part of shamanic practice, enabling us to receive the many gifts of spirit, it should also be central to the life of any community.
The photo above appears as part of a show at the Annenberg Space for Photography running through Feb 24 2013 titled Ancient Wisdom in a Modern World. A beautiful blog post by the artist Hamid Sardar-Afkhami can be found here at that site. In it Hamid writes about how Reindeer connect the Duhalar people of Hovsgol (Northwestern Mongolia) not only to the land but to their ancestors. The Duhalar join a reindeer to each person for life. This animal protects them while they are alive and follows them into other worlds they may venture into, even beyond their own death.

From Hamid’s post:
“I will become immortal in this forest after I die,” Tsuyan, the old shaman matriarch explained.

“What is Dark Heaven?” I asked her. “It is the dark space on the other side,” Tsuyan says, “full of colors, sounds and voices from where the ancestors appear and reveal their message to the living.” On odd days of the waxing moon, Tsuyan would transform herself into a deer and fly off to a place called the Dark Heavens, a twilight world full of light, sounds and voices from where the ancestors reveal their hidden messages in the guise of various birds and beasts.

Core Shamanism teaches us that it is not unusual for a people to understand that animal spirits are connected to us at birth, keeping us healthy and protected throughout our lives. We can even go so far as to become one with them, journeying as them in non-ordinary reality and dancing as them in this reality. This idea of a special connection between individual and animal, between a people and a specie, is astoundingly common.
It also speaks to the profound compassion these beings have in their association with us. When you’re involved in healing through Core Shamanism its impossible not to one day be immersed in the extraordinary caring given by these beings. The love is overwhelming. The child photographed above was laid beside the massive white Reindeer by her Mother while she tended to her work. What could be more expressive of the intimacy that can flow so effortlessly between species.
A dear friend and colleague of mine journeyed to the spirits of the children who died in the shooting, she said she found them surrounded by protective animal spirits. In my own work I’ve found Animal Spirits to be the one’s most ready to hold our suffering, to hold the fragments of our society. They seem to be the first ones on the scene of suffering, and the last to leave. Many is the time I’ve witnessed them hold the most vulnerable parts of a person, parts others might not even be able to approach.
Their example fuels me when I take my turn feeding a newborn foster child we have this holiday season. We are providing sanctuary for her, trying to muster in each moment the same blessed compassion provided by the spirits. When her tiny body lets go in my arms, releasing all stress, all worry, as she drifts off, I’m reminded of how precious the shaman’s work with soul is. How extraordinary that any of us are ever trusted with something so precious.
We journey in the foster system with her, traveling the paths agencies have laid down to manage her time away from her parents and siblings, roads designed to offer opportunities for her to reunite her birth family. In a way she is an expression of the fragmented nature of our society, someone who was cast out of the nurturing world she needs most. She did not suffer anything near the losses at Sandy Hook, but a dystopian thread of violence connects all the children who suffer at the hands of their own community.
Agencies, institutions and laws do not heal people, that much is clear. At best they can provide opportunities for transformation, guide books, the names of mentors, directions to journey in. They are not in and of themselves, healing. That is the work of our fellow human beings, and the compassionate spirits who offer their wisdom and support.
And as Santa says, that is the work of dance. We have no central place to bring all things to healing. We have court systems, and hospital rooms and mostly empty churches. We have no shared cauldron in which to alleviate our wounds and restore a deep sense of sustaining peace.
This morning I journeyed to Santa to ask for gifts to present to my family. I was guided to dance in the night sky with Reindeer. This was my first time really connecting with Reindeers as power animals, though I’d often seen them in my work with Santa. The ecstatic sky-dance was a call out to the Universe from the depths of these amazing animals hearts. Truly sacred and celebratory, I was wrapped in the power of their spiral movement as we wound our way through the midnight winter sky. I’d not read about the Duhalar and their ways before my journey, but the image of the child, encompassed by this majestic animal, resonates deeply.
Our culture has trampled the ways of many indigenous peoples over the last few millennia,  miraculously though, the traditions of some still exist. Even in our own most garrish holidays there are glimmers of ways to reconnect, to dance, to find a way to peace and harmony with this blessed world. This is the season for that, with the darkness ebbing and family drawn close. Santa calls, the Reindeer call out to our most wounded children.
I wish you the glorious intimacy of the magnificent creatures of this Earth. May your holiday be blessed with their love, the love of your own community, and the resounding peace of the compassionate helping spirits. And of course, bless the children.


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