|Our Red Earth Observations On Internet Exploiters
Of American Indian Spirituality
|Death Among Us:
Encountering Internet Exploiters Of American Indian Spirituality
One will find that the "new age" exploitation of American Indian spirituality is typically justified by being upheld as "freedom of religion" and especially upheld as "freedom of religious expression" when openly taught. Any attempt, whether benevolent or otherwise, to explain that what is being taught is indeed inaccurate and potentially harmful will be furiously denounced as an attempt to deny the same.
THE DISSEMINATION OF DEATH: TEACHINGS
A typical "new age" collective does not usually openly declare that anything whatsoever is being "taught." This is to ensure a surface appearance of benevolence. If nothing is being "taught," nothing is being "exploited," is the reasoning one often finds within these communities. Additionally, this professed lack of teaching decreases the likelihood of someone quizzing and potentially exposing the community leader as a charlatan.
Instead, "new age" community leaders instruct/mislead their followers by calling the dissemination of their inaccuracies "sharing." They typically disguise the purpose of their community by describing it as a place to "share and discuss" (the leader's interpretations of) American Indian spirituality.
"NEW AGE VERSIONS OF AMERICAN INDIAN SPIRITUALITY"
"New age" communities often call their exploitative versions of American Indian spirituality "shamanism." Persons who study this "shamanism" are often said to be on the "red road," "walking the red path," or "walking the good red road." The leader of such a community acts as the "shaman" of the group, though he or she will typically deny or profess to abhor the title (more on this later).
The teachings which the "new age" community collectively refers to as "shamanism" always consist of a random assortment of the myths, beliefs, ceremonies, folk tales, and symbolism of unrelated American Indian/First Nations Tribes. Also incorporated into this "shamanism" are the beliefs of any number of world religions (i.e. Christianity, Buddhism, etc.) as well as non Western Hemisphere First Nations (i.e. African Tribes or Australian Aboriginal beliefs). Thus, a typical "shamanism" community could very well be presenting/marketing a collection of Christian, Buddhist, African Tribal, and American Indian Tribal beliefs to the public as an "authentic Native American path."
Exactly how the "new age" communities determine what beliefs should be "borrowed" from other systems of spirituality is not known. Primarily, the personal interpretations and beliefs of the community leader will be followed. Secondary emphasis is placed on the interpretations of whatever "new age" authors are popular in the occult press. The third and final emphasis is placed on the beliefs of the membership itself, probably to foster a sense of community unity and to attempt to convince the members that they are not being mislead, but rather are important contributors to the continuity of the "new age" community itself.
At any rate, once the collective beliefs are decided upon, they are then combined into "rituals" which are supposed to gain the performer any number of benefits such as material wealth, becoming irresistable to the opposite sex, various (and vague) form of personal "enlightenment," the ability to see and converse with "spirits," et cetera.
In addition to what has been covered thus far, there are several recurring themes in such communities which make them relatively easy to identify:
1. There is a fascination with spiritual beings which are referred to as "totems," "totem-animals," "totem-spirits," and various other names such as "power-animals." These "spirits" are based upon animals which are traditionally meaningful to American Indian Tribes (eagle, bear, hawk, etc*.). Much ado is made about the acquisition of such animals, and each person is said to have a specific number of them assigned to his person, the exact amount depending upon which "new age" version of spirituality you are studying, apparently. These animals are said to represent the individuals personal characteristics/traits, such as his personality, etc.
*Curiously, no one ever seems to claim anything but predatory or graceful (i.e. "deer") animals as "totems." One wonders who is remaining silent - surely someone out there has a flea, tick, or a maggot assigned to his person?
2. Second only to "totems" is the widespread use of a divinatory device erroneously called "medicine cards." This "new age" oracle takes the form of a deck of cards and must have been conceived after and modeled on the more well known "tarot" cards of popular occultism. There is apparently no set number of cards in a deck of "medicine" cards. They are employed by choosing a certain number of cards (according to instructions which will be supplied with the deck) and interpreting them. They are supposed to provide insight into one's "self" and "guide" one during times of duress, though "new age" adherents vigorously deny that the meanings of the cards are taken as absolute indicators of fact.
"Medicine cards" are marked with various artwork including animals, shell gorgets, dreamcatchers, sunwheels, and even the paintings of artist George Catlin. (!) It should be painfully obvious that "medicine" cards are indeed the products of a sad "new age."
3. Symbolism. A great deal of fuss is made over certain American Indian symbolism, most notably the popular/commercialized "dreamcatcher" and the "medicine-wheel." While these symbols are apparently based upon "new age" interpretations of similar American Indian symbols, it remains to be pointed out that their presentation as part of an all-inclusive "Native American path" is - at best - inaccurate.
The discussion of the "new age" abuse of symbolism is well beyond the scope of this writing. Very roughly, the following can be said of the "new age medicine-wheel":
A. It is considered to represent interaction.
B. It is depicted as a quartered circle.
C. Each quarter is identified with one of the four cardinal directions.
D. Each quarter is assigned a color for ritual purposes.
E. It is roughly analogous to the "Sacred Circle" of the Wiccan religion.
F. Each quarter is identified with an "element" of the ancient pre-chemistry science known as *alchemy*. These are called earth, air, fire, and water.
4. There is an all-consuming obsession with ceremonies, particularly "new age" versions of the Pipe Ceremony, Smudging, and "Vision-Quests*," with a secondary emphasis on acquiring items associated with the ceremonies (i.e. the Pipe itself, smudging bowls, sage, feathers, etc.). Queries will often be seen from those desiring to purchase such items.
*Curiously, there is never a mention that a "quest" might take a great deal of time and be unsuccessful, nor is there a mention of any sort of fasting.
5. There is an obsession with books and the writings of new age authors who more often than not are not American Indian at all, and certainly not Elders. One particular book which is much invoked is called *Animal Speak*, by one Ted Andrews. Other works by such characters as Jamie Sams are highly regarded and treated biblically by the typical exploitative community.
A "new age" community typically includes a Leader and three divisions, these being Co-Leaders, Participants, and Readers. All of these divisions are guided by the Leader, so with him we shall begin.
The typical leader of a "new age" community will be male and generally aged 35-50 years, though it has been noted that there are many 19-23 year old full-fledged "shaman" operating on the internet.* Typically the leader is a Caucasian male or a mixed blood Native American who will not make an outright claim of being an Elder or a Teacher, but rather will claim something to the effect of having "studied with" or "studied under" various Elders of different Tribes. Often the claim to have studied "many different traditions" is made, though when pressed it will be found that the leader will not or cannot name the Elders he claims association with.*
*One wonders how a lifetime of traditional knowledge is gained within less than a quarter of a century with these young "shamen." ("Shame-On?")
*Amazingly, this unwillingness to authenticate himself will always be upheld by the "new age" membership as an example of the leader's wisdom! His refusal to validate himself is taken to indicate that he will not deign to authenticate himself to "troublemakers" who dare question his mystical authority.
Additionally, the leader will often be very eloquent and even more so intelligent. He will always be well versed in "new age" topics and other airy theories, being able to draw almost effortlessly upon the teachings of any belief system when interacting to illustrate his point of view. They are always well-read, dangerously authorative figures (thanks primarily to books, one might conjecture).
Finally, it will be seldom that one encounters the Leader of a "new age" community who does not have an "Indian sounding" screen name. Often these are actual American Indian names which are claimed to have been "bestowed" or "gifted" by "Elders"; at other times they are names apparently chosen to make the Leader appear otherwordly or immensely wise (i.e. "wolf-shaman," "Grandfather Day Eagle," etc.).
The leader of a "new age" community is never challenged by his flock and is acknowledged, usually with little or no fanfare, as the "shaman" of the the group, though (as noted earlier) he will vigorously deny the title if named or asked whether he is indeed a "shaman." He typically remains aloof, interacting with general observations or settling small quarrels among the membership, in an attempt to present an air of mystery. At all times he will attempt to remain an enigma, never becoming involved in detailed discussions, to further present himself as one who is already a "master" of whatever topic is being discussed in his forum. This aloofness is of course purposeful, as it ensures that he will not be questioned and potentially exposed as a fraud. It will also be found that when the Leader interacts through the written word (i.e. on a message board) he will end his interaction with a unique signature to further portray himself as wise, mysterious, and above all benevolent. "Walk In Balance," and We Are All Related" are two such phrases often used. The Lakota *Mitakuye Oyasin* or "All My Relations" is another extremely common signature employed by these characters.
It may also be discovered that the Leader maintains a personal website from which his version of American Indian spirituality is openly espoused. Oftentimes he may be selling course in "shamanism" from his site or other items marketed as "Native American." Such sites are typically loaded with American Indian themed artwork or other imagery and they are well worth examining in their entirety for reasons which will not be discussed here (legal issues).
The Co-Leaders of an internet based community of exploiters are well versed in "new age" topics and extremely vocal/outspoken. This, along with their acceptance of the Leader's authority, is of course what gained them their position. They typically have the same community administrative powers as the Leader, but they will always defer to him unless he is absent. They are fiercely protective of the Leader, and if an outsider attempts to question him, he or she (the outsider) will immediately find themselves in a hostile environment with one or more Co-Leader denouncing him/her as a "troublemaker" (more on "new age" debate tactics later).
Incidentally, it will often be noted in the case of male Leaders that the Co-Leaders are outspoken females. There seems to be a general trend among these men to surround themselves with cohorts of the opposite sex. It is tempting to address this further, but anything more would be pure conjecture.
Participants are members who are active in the "new age" community. They typically ask the questions, interact with one another on the message boards, and generally keep the community "flowing." They are usually somewhat versed in and follow a "new age path," and they often refer to themselves as "seekers" or other like terms.
The Participants or "seekers" may or may not be aware that they are contributors to exploitation. It is notable that in this group one often finds persons who only recently discovered that they are of American Indian descent, and it is further noted that these persons may indeed be making what they perceive to be an honest attempt at recovering (what they mistakenly believe to be) their Tribe's sacred Ways.
Overall, Participants react unpredictably in debates, their actions/reactions apparently depending in part upon the amount of time they have spent under the influence of the Leader. Some will defend the Leader without question, others will maintain an open mind.
These are identical to the Participants except they do not usually interact with the community. Readers may or may not be "new age" adherents. In this group can occasionally be found persons who are already versed in their Tribal beliefs who recognized the community as fraudulent right away, joining primarily just to see what silliness was being presented as being "Native American."
In encountering and asking questions of a "new age" community and its Leader, there are several factors one need be aware of. Let us assume we are speaking of a typical "new age" community which is teaching (or "sharing" or whatever they may say) "an authentic Native American path."
1. The Leader will use his administrative powers to remove you ASAP. Fortunately, he will be unable to do this quickly and still maintain the guise of benevolence, so he will typically make some or other vague observation to counter your "negative" observation about his community and then recede into his cultured enigmatic mode. When a false shaman is confronted by someone he knows or fears to be authentic, the typical side-stepping pronouncements will be such things as:
A. "There are many paths which can be followed."
B. "No one way is the right way."
C. "No one owns spirituality."
Such silly observations obviously have nothing to do with the fact that the Leader is exploiting spirituality and they are of course just further ramblings made for the purpose of attempting to appear kind and benevolent. (Perhaps a good counter here would be to note out loud that doctors do not practice medicine without a license, nor do Catholic Priests teach without certification. Bluntly, one does not just wake up one morning and decide for himself that he is an American Indian Teacher or Elder).
2. After the Leader assumes his enigmatic mode, the Co-Leaders will engage you in his place. They will make every attempt to make you appear as if you do not know what you are talking about, with primary emphasis on attempting to trick you into conceding that which the leader espoused before vanishing (A-C above). If one explains diligently and persistently that these observations are not relevant to the fact that exploitation is occuring, the debate will turn hostile. Expect the following irrelevant statements/observations to occur with regularity:
A. You will be denounced as attempting to "impose your views" on others.
B. You will be denounced as "not an Elder" (for whatever the reason). At any rate, the statement "You are not an Elder so..." will precede much of their interaction.
C. You will be called "white." This is commonly used against American Indians, and it is curious that a community which advertises itself as peaceful and racially harmonious will quickly use such racist terminology.
D. You will be called a "wannabe" (want-to-be) activist.
E. You will be dismissed as a "cyberwarrior." This is a term used by some when referring to persons who use the internet to participate in letter drives, etc. It is intended to be an insult, apparently implying that one is "all talk" online and (one would suppose) meek or cowardly in the "real world."
F. Expect to be denounced as a "fake," "wannabe," or "not a real" member of any and all legitimate cultural groups (your Tribe) or organizations (i.e. activist groups) that you are known to be affiliated or associated with. A statement often made by these expert judges of how American Indians act is "*Real* Indians do not act the way you are acting."
G. Expect to be mocked as the "self appointed savior" of whatever topic you are debating.
H. Further expect to endure various armchair psychological evaluations of your personality and character. Expect such ludicrous observations as "You are full of hate," "You must lead an unhappy life," or "You are an angry person."
I. Also expect that **any online communities** that you yourself may belong to will be subject to the wrath of the "new agers." Every attempt will made to identify your ENTIRE community with YOUR actions, thereby making it appear that a massive evil entity has "assaulted" the "peaceful seekers."
All of the above are of course irrelevant to any real debate and must be taken for what they are: insults. By employing such tactics, the "new age" community attempts to make one appear to be a disruptive influence with no real honorable intentions whatsoever. Additionally, if they are successful at provoking a hostile response, they will instantly appear at first glance to be a peaceful group of "seekers" who have been "attacked" for their beliefs. Again, note how the topic of the debate - exploitation - has been avoided entirely.
Another notable "new age" (not just "new age," perhaps) tendency is to refer to any debate that goes contrary to their own opinions as being "attacked." (?) "I was attacked for my views," is a commonly read phrase. This is especially true if a "new age" adherent in unable to convert one to his flawed beliefs or at least gain the concession that his "way" is "also right." One wonders how such an "attack" is accomplished through a monitor; surely it is a tactic worth learning.
Another tactic is to claim to be or have been "intimidated" in a debate. This is of course ludicrous, and both "intimidation" and "attacked" are nothing but tactics used to attempt to cast the legitimate individual into a position where they will be unconditionally accepted by all as persons who are racist, intolerant, bullies*, etc.
*Incidentally, "bully" is also often applied to persons who speak out against exploitation.
Finally, it remains to be noted that there *are" "new agers" and others who are genuinely interested in American Indian topics and who believe that what they are doing is valid. It is not unthinkable that such a person could become shocked or angry when confronted by someone who denounces his "path" as fraudulent. Perhaps this person has a stereotypical view of American Indians. Perhaps he ascribes to the "noble savage" or the "medicine-teacher" notion of First Nations People. If so, perhaps he or she really does believe, when confronted by an individual none too happy with ongoing exploitation, that he is witnessing racism, intolerance, etc. Admittedly this is conjecture, but a person who has never heard of such things as monthly commodities or the terrible living conditions of some reservations could very well think that he is being denied something he has a right to, or even believe that he is seeing racism. He must think it a bitter irony that the people he imagined to be so noble and peaceful do not act just like he always imagined they would.
Of course he will never know the greater irony.
We ARE the children of a People of Peace.
And war. And hunting. And trading. And everything else that societies consist of. We did it all, laughed and loved. After all, we were nothing more than individual civilizations within the same racial group.
And we did share freely.
We shared the land which no one owns with the newcomers.
The killed us and took it all, because their great God Of Peace told them that they had dominion over the earth and it was their Manifest Destiny to do so.
So they took it.
And now their children are so spiritually bankrupt that they want our beliefs, too.
Ironic, isn't it?
The Scare Tactic
As noted in the beginning, you will notice that any attempt to educate "new agers" about exploitation will be denounced as an "attack" on "their" religious beliefs.
Be further advised that if/when you begin speaking out against the "new age" norm, you will suddenly find that you are being denounced as "racist." Does the defense of one's spirituality, the unwavering demand that it remain unadulterated and taught solely by qualified individuals (Elders), indicate that one is racist? The answer to this if of course a resounding "NO!" Being traditional or perhaps a purist (which may be the best term here) simply means that you are a purist.
At any rate, be advised that the term "racist" will be employed against you and that the use of this word is a "new age" scare tactic. While "new age" persons may be ignorant of the fact that they are operating in error, they are definitely NOT ignorant of the attitudes prevalent in modern society. They know well that racism (although common) is abhorred and that labeling someone "racist" will immediately and unconditionally attract negative attention to the person so labeled. The vast majority of the public will automatically assume the worst of anyone they heard was a "racist" without taking the time to investigate the accusations for themselves. "New agers" know this, so they can and do use this term against you in the hope that you will "go away."
Further Considerations And Rebuttals To The Exploiters
STATEMENT: "I have the right to any spirituality I choose."
FACT: The idea that one has the "right" to "any" spirituality stems from living within a society steeped in Christian doctrine. Christianity is an all accepting, open religion, and so naturally persons who are raised within a society with this mindset will automatically assume that all religions/beliefs are "open" and "accepting" in the same way that Christianity is. This is inaccurate. Tribal religions do not actively seek converts, nor will one find a tipi full of Elders waiting to offer one spiritual advice. In short: we're a different culture with a different way of doing things - what you *thought* you knew about us is wrong.
Although it happened only recently for American Indians, it is a fact that in the U.S. you have the legally protected right to BELIEVE anything you choose to believe. No one can make you BELIEVE anything other than what you choose to believe. However, whether or not you believe that you have the "right" to misrepresent YOUR beliefs as an "authentic" American Indian belief system, it remains true that such action is immoral, trivializing, spiritually dangerous, and contributes to genocide.
STATEMENT: "You are trying to impose your beliefs on me."
FACT: When someone speaks out against exploitation, they could care less about you. Your beliefs are irrelevant are personal. When someone acts against exploitation, they are acting against a fraudulent hocus pocus pseudo-religion which is being presented as an "authentic path," usually by a fatcat fake cybershaman.
STATEMENT: "No one owns spirituality."
FACT: Wrong. Each Tribe owns its own spirituality. It is theirs alone. It was given to them alone...and it doesn't necessarily "work" for anyone else. In layman's terms: Try to imagine two groups of people. Now imagine that they are two new automobiles, completely different models. Would you use a repair manual for the first car to repair the second car? NO! The manuals are DIFFERENT. They only work for the car they were written for! Sure, they and the cars may SEEM similar, but they are not.
Listen and understand.
STATEMENT: "I am descended from two different Tribes and my Elders told me that...."
FACT: GREAT!!! If your Elders told you to mix beliefs, that is a PRIVATE affair between you and them and your beliefs now constitute and qualify as a PERSONAL - not a Tribal - belief system.
Now...did your Elders tell you to run out onto the internet and teach your beliefs to all and sundry?
STATEMENT: "I'm Native American at heart. Aren't we ALL red on the inside?"
FACT: Well. No. Actually we are several different colors on the inside. Look at your hands on the keyboard: aren't the oxygen laden veins in your hands blue?
At any rate, this is common statement and - amazingly - a much argued one. Let us be realistic here. We won't speak of things like CDIB's or Tribal enrollment - those are irrelevant. It is still simple. If you are a blood descendant of any of the indigenous People of the Western Hemisphere, then you are American Indian/Native American/First Nations/AK Native, or whatever your People may call themselves. If you are not - you are not. It's just that simple. It's DNA and genetics, not your lifestyle and how you "feel". Period.
STATEMENT: "But I have always had a strong attraction to American Indian beliefs."
FACT: All of mankind once lived and loved within the Tribal unit. All beliefs were probably originally earth oriented, much like American Indian beliefs. If you are not a Native American and you feel a strong attraction to Native American beliefs, most likely you are feeling the desire to reclaim YOUR TRIBE'S unique beliefs. Unfortunately, most of these are unknown today, but still...why not try to seek out, uncover, and re-discover the Ways of YOUR People first?
At any rate, most persons do not recognize that they are feeling a desire for their own Tribe's religion, and so they mistakenly identify their "call" as being a "call" to the beliefs of American Indians.
STATEMENT: "Exploitation is just an excuse for you jerks to have something to complain about."
FACT: Exploitation does many things, none beneficial.
1. It trivializes EVERY American Indian's beliefs. To see a self proclaimed shaman "teaching" what he says are our ways is the same to us as it would be for a Christian to witness Adolf Hitler preaching Sunday mass. It is not appreciated at all when the sacred is mixed with garbage and promptly posted - or worse, sold - online.
2. It is spiritually DANGEROUS! We have already shown that the Ways of a Tribe are meant for its members. What will happen to the man or woman who gets caught up in some cybershaman's lies? Yes, it's true that he or she may choose to go BACK to his "new age" beliefs...but don't we all have an obligation to at LEAST TELL him or her that s/he is being misled? And yes, it IS by self-appointment. No one cares about US but US.
3. It contributes to genocide. Since the advent of wars and armies it has been known that if you destroy a People's religion, you can dominate them entirely. As long as the beliefs endure, so will the People. In the days of city-states, entire CIVILIZATIONS would just stop - surrender - if an opposing army captured the Idol - which they literally worshipped as their God - of their city. In the New World, Christian missionaries were charged with this duty, which they were sometimes successful at, and sometimes not. All this aside, consider this: if everyone who decides that he is a shaman is allowed to promote his own false version of OUR beliefs, how long will it be - HOW MANY YEARS WILL IT TAKE - before the People don't know the difference between shamanic garbage and their true Ways?
It wouldn't really take that long, would it? Who knows?
But it *would* eventually happen, and the Ways would be lost. If not vanished, then indistinguishable from the "new age." In effect they would be gone...and then what? The final solution for the Indian problem?
"Since the advent of wars and armies it has been known that if you destroy a People's religion, you can dominate them entirely. As long as the beliefs endure, so will the People."
Apple: An insulting term used to demean a Native American. Being referred to as an "apple" means that you are being called "red on the outside but white on the inside."
Redskin: A term once used when referring to a scalp which had been cut from the head of a Native American. In times past, it was common to trade the fur of animals and scalps at trading posts. It is said that delicate and sensitive non-Indian women couldn't bear to hear a "scalp" referred to as a "scalp," so the term "redskin" was adopted in its place. Thus, a trader would refer to the "animals" he had killed as (for example) deerskins, coonskins, and redskins.
Shaman: An Asian Native term for a religious and social figure in Siberia/extreme Northern Europe. The precise etymology of the word is uncertain. It has been traced to the Pali word *sramana,* meaning "to know," and translated as "[the] One Who Knows." A well known group of People who looked to shamen for guidance were the Samik (Lapps) of Northern Europe. This Tribe, traditionally, were hunters and reindeer herders. Today they have been, for the most part, assimilated.
In America, the word "shaman" is used to indicate someone who is involved in some way with the occult "scene." "Shamanism" is now an all-inclusive term which could be used for any "occult profession." It is often erroneously applied to American Indian healers, medicine-people, etc.
Shame-on: A term used to mock online "shamen." It of course means "shame on you."
Sq#*w: A derogatory term applied to American Indian females. It refers to a private part of a woman's body. At one time, this is how American Indian Women were thought of in America. American Indians often refuse to utter this word, instead referring to it as the "S-word."
Twinkie: A term used for non-Indian People who teach, practice, or promote non-Indian beliefs while believing their actions/beliefs to be "authentic Indian beliefs." It is used as an insult.
Wannabe: A term used to describe persons who "want - to - be" (wannabe) American Indians. It is used as an insult.
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