Wisdom from nature and indigenous cultures
“Malidoma [Dr. Malidoma Some´] teaches that the healing power of nature, ritual and community is what the indigenous world offers to the modern world. In the indigenous world, community is integral to the harmony and balance of each individual.” from the mission statement of East Coast Village
The modern world of science and technology has learned a lot from observing nature and indigenous cultures’ relationships with the natural world. Unfortunately, we have also missed most of what nature and indigenous cultures have had to offer, and we further facilitated that tragedy by calling such cultures hicks, savages, superstitious, ignorant and pagan (in the negative sense most people assign to that word).
Organized religion went a step further, claiming throughout history that pagans–including witches–worshiped the so-called “devil” and needed to be put to death for their beliefs. These beliefs were not only natural but threatened the knowledge and wisdom a culture based on patriarchy had to offer.
Today, for example, we look at prescribed drugs as compounds invented in laboratories and produced in factories. While synthesized drugs have brought quality control and the benefits of mass production, they also come with a price based on a patent that allows drug companies to charge hundreds of dollars for little bottles of pills with ingredients that are probably worth a few pennies.
Yes, it can be dangerous for people without an herbalist certification or an oral tradition of using plants as medcine, much less prescribe them from others. Yet, when the medical establishment condemns the practice out of hand, they are overlooking the fact that many major drugs, past and present, originally came from plants and were frequently discovered by observing what native cultures used for medicine. One expert says that 120 distinct chemicals that come from plants are currently used throughout the world.
In a recent news story (A Doctor Discovered Why Insulin Is So Pricy In America — And How To Buy It More Cheaply) it was shown that insulin costs diabetes patients more than most of them can afford because a pricey biotech drug created in the 1970s took over the market so completely that the off-patent, generic insulin is no longer available in the United States. The whys and wherefores of medicines and their costs are part of a complex tangle of issues. The lack of natural drugs just might, in some cases, stem from our championing what comes out of a lab over what nature produces.
In The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram argues that “Humans, like other animals, are shaped by the places they inhabit, both individually and collectively. Our bodily rhythms, our moods, cycles of creativity and stillness, even our thoughts are readily engaged and influenced by seasonal patterns in the land. Yet our organic attunement to the local earth is thwarted by our ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs. Transfixed by our technologies, we short-circuit the sensorial reciprocity between our breathing bodies and the bodily terrain.”
We have been making excuses for years about the supposed Gods of science and technology at the expense of a shared relationship with the natural world and those who understand it. From time to time, we run across articles that focus on one indigenous culture or another that show one group has little or no cancer and another group has little or no stress and stress-related maladies. But such things usually stop at the curiosity-level “go figure” or the profit-motive level of “how can we synthesize what they know put it in a pill?”
Dr. Malidoma Some´, a widely known teacher of African wisdom, is the author of multiple books, including “The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual, and Community,” “Creating a New Sense of Home” and the now-classic “Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman.”
On his website, Dr. Some´ writes that “It is possible that we have been brought together at this time because we have profound truths to teach each other. Toward that end, I offer the wisdom of the African ancestors so that Westerners might find the deep healing they seek.”
I don’t reject art, culture, science or technology. I do reject thinking they are all we have. Dr. Some´ has things to teach us that we have turned a deaf and snobbish ear to for generations. Now we have a medical system nobody can pay for, global warming nobody knows how to fix and poverty that exceeds our comprehension. Something is badly out of sync and those who tell us that modern man is like a cancer upon the climate suggest that we ourselves are the problem.
Abram suggests we will never solve the major issues of life as long as we’re only willing to look at everything except nature and natural wisdom whether it comes out of Africa or the so-called “First Nations” (to use the Canadian phrase) who live invisibly among us.
I was taught what most kids of my generation were taught. Christianity is all there is. Paved streets are better than unpaved country roads. Science and technology are better than anything the witches, root doctors, and “illiterate savages” have to offer.
Undoing all that brainwashing can take a lifetime. If only, we could start fresh with our children and not addict them to false gods in the first place.
“I loved the way Campbell made magic part of the fabric of the place…Readers of magic realism will appreciate Conjure Woman’s Cat. Highly recommended.” – Lynne Cantwell, hearth/myth – Rursday Reads